• A Good Man

    Writing a weekly column requires that one should keep a close eye on, with a view to commenting on, the major events of the past week. President Trump’s latest travails or mis-steps, the latest ups and downs of domestic politics, the risks posed by major developments like global warming, the deficiencies of major organisations – these are usually the stuff of a weekly column.

    But every now and again, events much closer to home – more personal and emotional – take precedence. And so it was last week, when I attended the funeral of my much-loved brother-in-law, Douglas John Weir Short.

    Doug died after a long illness as he approached his 82nd birthday. He was a dairy farmer and kiwi-fruit orchardist who had lived and farmed all his life at Te Mawhai, just outside Te Awamutu, until he eventually retired to Tauranga.

    In his earlier years, he had been a very good sportsman, playing rugby for Waikato at junior level and was also an excellent tennis player, as I learned after many hard sets against him on his family’s tennis court.

    As a young man, he took over the successful dairy farm developed by his father, Jack, and as a farmer and orchardist, he was superb. He had a lively and enquiring mind and was always seeking better ways of doing things. He was in many ways an engineer manque, and he took great pride and pleasure in the successful engineering career of his son, David.

    He was also the hardest worker you were ever like to meet. As a young man, he would spend the summer hay-baling for the farms in the district, putting in many long, hard, hot days when he would rather have been at the beach. He did everything at top pace and optimal commitment.

    But Doug was most of all a family man. To him, family was everything. As his children and grandchildren movingly testified at his funeral, he was a wonderful father and grandfather, always supportive and loving and, most of all, fun. His love and concern for family extended well beyond the nuclear family and embraced all those within the wider family; my son, Charles, on his “OE” in New Zealand from the UK, was taken under Doug’s wing, and my own grandchildren recall with pleasure and sadness the fun they had, when little, as they prepared him, by scattering herbs over him as he lay on our sofa, to be “barbecued”.

    I had been his best man when he married my sister, Ngaire, and it was undoubtedly the close relationship that my wife Gill and I, back home on holiday from the UK, developed with Ngaire and Doug, on memorable touring holidays together in the South Island, that was a major factor in our decision to come back to New Zealand to live.

    My excuse for writing on this theme is not just a wish to pay tribute to a good, kind and decent man. I think the story of Doug Short’s life and of the contribution he made and of how much he meant to his family and community has a wider significance.

    It is people like Doug, up and down our great country, who have been the bedrock on which New Zealand society has been built over generations. We all owe him, and people like him, a great deal, and that debt requires us to go on building, in their memory, the good society they helped to create.

    Unlike me, Doug had little time for politics, but he provided an object lesson for us all – on how to lead a life that was worthwhile and well lived. His last years were tragic, in that he could hardly move though illness. But it will be Doug Short in his heyday who will live on in the memories of all those who knew and loved him.

    Bryan Gould
    29 August 2018

  • Noise Pollutes

    Yesterday was wonderfully warm and sunny at Ohiwa Beach where we live in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Our enjoyment of the winter sunshine, as we sat on our deck overlooking the beach, was however ruined by the noise made by a small motor cycle as it roared up and down the beach for a couple of hours.

    The bike was ridden by a boy of school age who obviously relished the sense of freedom and speed produced by riding at full throttle. He would no doubt have been surprised to be asked to desist, on the ground that he was spoiling the enjoyment of many others (and not least that of a seal sunning itself on the beach); and in today’s selfish age, he would not have thought for a moment of doing so.

    The incident brought home to me, however, a truth that can easily be overlooked. At a time when we are becoming more conscious of our environment, we may not always recognise that one of the most pervasive forms of pollution is noise pollution.

    There is of course growing evidence that high levels of persistent noise pollution can be very bad for one’s health, but I do not go so far as to suggest that yesterday’s young motorcyclist and his joyriding were a threat to our health or to the wider environment. But I am very much aware that there are others in our society for whom incessant high levels of noise are a real obstacle to the quiet enjoyment of their living space.

    Those who live close to Auckland airport, for example, put up with the sound of aircraft landing and taking off every few minutes throughout the daylight hours and beyond. Many would no doubt say – “what do you expect if you live near to an airport?” But the affected residents reply that the noise levels have, over recent years, risen to intolerable levels and frequency, and that, since no one seems concerned to do anything about it, the prospects are that it will get even worse.

    The general reaction to complaints about this phenomenon is that it is the price “we” (or at least “they”) must pay for the boom in tourism and for the greater efficiencies achieved by our airlines, and by Air New Zealand in particular – and there is no doubt that these factors have played an important part in creating a greater noise nuisance for those living under the flight paths.

    There are now many more aircraft in the air, but there are other factors that have – the residents say unnecessarily – made the problem worse than it need be. The planes themselves are bigger and, in order to save fuel (and fuel costs), they fly lower and slower – and therefore more noisily) as they come in to land.

    The technology that enables them to fly safely as they land has also developed and changed. New navigational systems (such as Next Gen) allow the incoming planes to fly more precisely so that they can land in greater numbers in a shorter time; the residents find the increase in the number of aircraft movements an additional burden to bear.

    It is not hard to identify those who benefit from such developments. Air New Zealand has been able to produce record profits, and has been congratulated and thanked for doing so by its principal shareholder, the government.

    And so, the issue resolves itself in the end into a familiar trade-off – on the one hand, the ordinary citizen and the environment in which he or she attempts to live a good and enjoyable life and, on the other, the interests and profitability of big business and the willingness of the wider public to see the one sacrificed for the other.

    Our fellow-citizens are surely entitled to expect from the government they have elected to represent their interests, not least against the rich and powerful, (isn’t that the point of democracy?) that a better and fairer balance will be struck. To shrug the shoulders and say “too bad” or “that’s the way it is” is not good enough.

    It’s time we understood that the argument that “it’s good for business” is not and should not be the last word, and leads us into a dead end.

    Bryan Gould
    13 July 2018

     

  • Hit Him in the Slats Bob

    As we wait for Joseph Parker’s bid to become undisputed world heavyweight champion this weekend, how many of us recall that New Zealand’s first world heavyweight champion was Timaru’s Bob Fitzsimmons?

    Fitzsimmons was a Cornishman whose family moved to New Zealand when he was a child, and he grew up in Timaru where a statue of him, commissioned by Bob Jones, now stands.  The red-haired Fitzsimmons – nicknamed “Ruby Robert” and “the Freckled Wonder” – was relatively small for a heavyweight but he had developed enormous punching power from his work as a teenager in his father’s blacksmith’s forge and was renowned as one of boxing’s hardest ever punchers.

    He is the only man to win titles at three different weights – middle-weight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.  His first title was at middleweight, the next (amazingly) at heavyweight and the light heavyweight title came later (when he was 40), when the division was first recognised.  His most famous fight took place in 1897, in Carson City, Nevada, and was against the heavyweight titleholder “Gentleman” Jim Corbett.

    The fight, which was one of the earliest sporting contests to be filmed (and the film can still be seen), is remembered both for the manner of Fitzsimmon’s victory and for the role played by Fitzsimmon’s wife, Rose.  The much heavier Corbett was a worthy champion and was boxing well; he looked to be on course to retain his title.  But, late in the fight, Rose – who was ringside – famously called to her husband, “Hit him in the slats, Bob!”

    Rose had seen that Fitzsimmons needed to switch his attack from his opponent’s head to the body.  Fitzsimmons duly followed his wife’s advice, came in under Corbett’s lead, and unleashed his famous “solar plexus” punch.  The punch was so fearsome that Corbett went down and he was so disabled by its power that he was unable to continue.

    Fitzsimmons (and, one presumes, his wife as well) did not find it easy to enjoy the fruits of his success.  He spent unwisely, was addicted to gambling and was unduly susceptible to confidence tricksters.  But his achievement lives on as one of the great moments in boxing – and Rose’s injunction to “hit him in the slats” as one of the most perceptive and decisive interjections ever offered in a sporting arena.

    Joseph Parker’s efforts this weekend will not depend on such an interjection.  But he will carry with him, one hopes, in his fight against Anthony Joshua, the spirit of Bob Fitzsimmons – and of Rose.

    Bryan Gould

    25 March 2018

     

     

  • What Has Happened to Australian Sport?

    Australians love their sport and, as we all know, they are very good at it.  But, in recent times, the evidence is mounting that their proud record is being sullied by the unavoidable conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with Australian sport.

    The most recent evidence to support this thesis came in this month’s first cricket test between Australia and South Africa.  David Warner’s scuffle with a South African player, and Nathan Lyon’s bizarre and nasty action, having run out the South African A.B. de Villiers, in appearing to drop the ball on his face as he lay on the ground, came in the wake of a series of similarly unpleasant moments, many of them involving cricket.

    We do not need to go back far to recall the “underarm bowling” incident involving our own cricket team and it was, after all, the Australians who invented both the term and the practice of “sledging” – the use of constantly repeated nasty and personal remarks designed to unsettle one’s opponents.  This practice – which has now become something of an art form, and is defended as a legitimate element in Australia’s game-day strategy – is not restricted in Australian sport to cricket; indeed, it reached its high (or perhaps one should say low) point when Nick Kyrgios, the notoriously badly behaved Australian tennis player, remarked to an opponent as they crossed at the net in a close match, that he should know that his girlfriend had slept with another named player.

    What is disturbing about these incidents is that they are not just lapses on the part of wayward individuals but seem to be endemic in, and part and parcel, of the underlying attitude to sport in Australia.  So important has sporting success become to the Australian psyche, it seems, that “anything goes” as long as the victory is secured.

    Most Australians would dismiss any talk of “fair play” or of “the spirit of the game” or of “sportsmanship” as the talk of “losers” or, at best, hopelessly old-fashioned.  A deliberate aggressiveness is thought to be the key to success and, when victory is won, an excessive triumphalism is expected as the appropriate Australian response.  And, if a David Warner or Nick Kyrgios is criticised for bad behaviour, most Australians would defend them and their actions as long as they win – indeed, as with sledging, the bad behaviour is seen as an essential part of a winning strategy.

    None of this might matter if it were a purely sporting phenomenon.  But attitudes such as these, seen in sport, are (predictably enough, given the important place occupied by sport in Australian society) sadly reflective of the attitudes that increasingly imbue Australian society as a whole.

    Individual Australians can be the nicest people in the world, but I am sure I am not alone in having noticed an increasing intolerance of other views, an unwillingness to consider the interest of others, and a harder-edged nationalism in the voice and face that Australia now displays to the rest of the world, and not least to their friends.  It is as though the citizens of the “lucky country” can hardly believe their luck and are determined to make sure that they make that luck pay and that no one else tries to muscle in.  These trends seem to have been exacerbated by the growing realisation that Australia has the opportunity to play an increasingly important role in the region and in the world as a whole.

    The best friends are often those most prepared to speak frankly.  The risk in speaking frankly, though, is that offence is taken.  But the risk is worth it – and, in sporting matters, as long as the Bledisloe Cup continues to elude our Aussie friends, we are well-placed to put up with the odd bit of sledging when we point out the (sadly and increasingly) obvious.

    Bryan Gould

    7 March 2018

  • Where TECT Money Does the Most Good

    Some years ago, as Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University, I found myself heading a fund-raising campaign to raise money for an Academy of Performing Arts at the University.  There is no tradition in New Zealand, as there is in America, of charitable giving on a large scale by wealthy individuals, and we quickly exhausted the possibilities of those generous souls who were able and prepared to help.

    I was beginning to despair that we would ever reach our $20 million plus target, when a local charitable trust, the Wel Energy Trust, came to the rescue.  The trustees of the Trust were constantly torn between, on the one hand, using their available funds to help consumers by funding discounts on electricity bills and, on the other, supporting worthwhile local projects.  It was our good fortune that they opted to support us – and the result?  A world-class facility that has brought great pleasure and prestige to both the University and its community.

    The Tauranga Energy Consumers Trust (TECT) – the Tauranga equivalent of the Wel Energy Trust – have faced a similar choice.  Their current practice is to use the greater part of their available funds (which are derived mainly from their large shareholding in Trustpower) to issue cheques to Trustpower consumers so as to reduce, seemingly, the burden of their electricity bills; and they make grants only with what is then left.

    They are now considering changing that practice so as to become a charitable trust, ready to support a wider range of local projects that might not otherwise get off the ground.  This will have the effect of reducing the amount of money that is sent out to consumers by way of regular cheques – and, not surprisingly, there is no shortage of objectors to such a change.

    For individual consumers, particularly those on low incomes, the non-arrival of the cheques (even though the blow is to be softened by the immediate payment of a substantial lump sum of $2500 to each customer and the continuation of a further five annual payments) will mean that an apparently significant boost to their budgets will be removed.  Everyone enjoys getting “something for nothing”, particularly when the “something” can be spent on whatever they like.  And one suspects that what many would miss is the thrill of receiving a cheque in the post.

    Trustpower, too, say that they oppose the change, for reasons that might seem obvious.  Competition in the electricity supply industry is hotting up, and consumers are increasingly likely to go to a website established for the purpose to check where they can get the best deal.  When consumers discover that their Trustpower bill is higher than they might have to pay elsewhere, it is very convenient for Trustpower to be able to point to the TECT cheques as reducing the net cost.

    There are many businesses of course, who would love to have a fairy godmother paying out cheques to their customers so as to allow them to go on charging above the going market rate for their product.  From the customer’s viewpoint, however, the budgetary benefit delivered by the cheques would be just as real if they were just charged lower prices instead.

    It is hard to see, in other words, the particular advantage to be gained for the customer from a convoluted process which allows Trustpower to go on charging more than they should and then being able to point to a cheque being paid out by a third party.  Wouldn’t it be simpler for the customer if Trustpower just reduced their charges? – something they won’t do, for as long as the cheques keep coming.

    The decision as to which course to take will be made by consumers.  In the end, the answer should depend on a clear-eyed analysis of the economics, and a clear answer to the question of who really benefits from the current practice.   Those answers should then be compared with the potential boost to the city from the ability to fund major projects that would otherwise never reach fruition.  As always, money delivers more when it is not spent in small amounts by individuals on their own purposes but is brought together into larger totals and invested in projects for the good of the community.

    Bryan Gould

    28 January 2018

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