Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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X marks the spot

Kia ora.

Yesterday (before the nation closed down apart from essential services), I visited the service station (gas station) to top up the car petrol tank, and the supermarket to do our weekly shopping. I’m determined not to stock up on more than we usually do, and I was surprised that the urge to buy a little bit extra didn’t arise at all.

Mind you, the environment in the supermarket wasn’t conducive to looking out for bargins. The particular supermarket we frequent has a “quiet time” on Wednesdays between 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM with reduced lighting, reduced restocking of shelves, reduced noise (no public announcements or promotions, sound turned off on checkout scanners and registers etc) – perfect for those of us with sensory issues. Except yesterday.

Even though the store was no busier than on a typical Wednesday, the bright lighting, noise – especially the continuous COVID-19 safety warnings – made the whole experience less than pleasant. And as I’m the designated shopper for our household I had no choice but to grin and bear it. And get out as quickly as possible.

Neither the supermarket nor the service station were busier than a typical Wednesday. At the supermarket, I found a park right in front of the building entrance, and at the service station only four of the eight refueling bays were occupied. The most noticeable difference from normal were the bright yellow X’s at both locations.

At the supermarket there was a line of bright yellow crosses at two metre intervals on the floor at every checkout (four at each lane). And as we were reminded every few minutes over the public address system, the crosses were to mark the required separation space between shoppers. The only other obvious indication that the circumstances were unusual was that we had to pack our own bags and a requirement to use hand sanitiser before entering one’s PIN into the EFT-POS terminal.

The unusual circumstances were a little more obvious at the service station. The convenience store was closed and payments were made through the after hours night-pay window. Here they’d set up some barriers to form temporary lanes, and there on the ground, two metres apart were a line of bright yellow X’s, and several notices reminding us to stand on a cross while queueing.

So for the foreseeable future, X will indeed mark the spot.

From the vantage point of our home, we have a great view over our town amd extending to the ranges and wind farms in the distance. Feilding is not an especially busy place, but today, the absence of vehicles and people in the streets give the town an eerie post-apocalypse feeling. If I’d seen a line of zombies stumbling up the hill towards our home, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s that surreal.

This evening, as I look across town, vehicle headlights are conspicuous by their absence. However what is more prevalent than usual is the frequency of seeing blue and red flashing lights. I’m guessing the police are checking that the few cars still on the road are there for a valid reason.

So, as our first day of lockdown draws to a close, I have to wonder: Is this the new normal?

Kia haumaru, kia kaha


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Alert level 3 now, alert level 4 in 48 hours

Kia ora.

Life as we have known it is about to change. Three hours ago the Prime Minister announced that the country has moved from COVID-19 alert level 2 to level 3 immediately and will move to alert level 4 in 48 hours time.

The effect of Level alert 3 means:

  • Travel in areas with clusters or community transmission limited
  • Affected educational facilities closed
  • Mass gatherings cancelled
  • Public venues closed (e.g. libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, amusement parks)
  • Alternative ways of working required and some non-essential businesses should close
  • Non face-to-face primary care consultations
  • Non acute (elective) services and procedures in hospitals deferred and healthcare staff reprioritised

On Wednesday when we move to level 4:

  • Everyone must self isolate – Stay at home
  • Educational facilities will close
  • All businesses closed except for essential services
  • Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities
  • Travel severely limited
  • Major reprioritisation of healthcare services

In effect the country will shut down.

We’re fortunate in that at time of writing, there are only two confirmed cases where the source of infection cannot be traced. It was on that basis of there being a possibility of community transmission occurring that the alert level was raised to level 3.

In effect the country is shutting down for at least four weeks, and for the first time in our history, the government will introduce quantitative easing in order to lessen the hardships we’re about to face.

I am very pleased to see the government is in active negotiation with opposition political parties and the media about how those groupings can continue to play their part holding the government to account; there’s no suggestion of forming a grand coalition, which would in effect drastically reduce accountability of government decisions.

I also praise the Prime Minister in reminding Kiwis that kindness and cooperation within communities is of vital importance and in no way should citizens attempt to enforce the restrictions – don’t judge the appropriateness of the actions of others. That is the role of the authorities, if it is required.

The wife had intended to refill the car today as some of the discounts on her loyalty cards are about to expire. We can usually save between $30 and $40 on a tank of petrol. However, I’m confident that enough people will ignore the advice not to panic buy that there will now be very long queues at every petrol station in town and there’s a possibility that supplies will temporarily run out today.

She’s taken my advice to forego the discounts and delay refilling until we need to, and given the requirement for self isolation, we’re not likely to need to top up the tank for a week or two. By then the panic and queues will be over and stocks will have been replenished. It’s also likely that petrol prices will have dropped significantly and we’ll be able to claw back some of the lost discounts.

It’s at times like this that I’m grateful we have a publicly funded health system. It would appear that directives to the health system in the America, especially to cease elective services, will result in significant loss of income at a time when it’s most needed. That can’t happen here. Also, with health services not being profit driven, health resources on a per capita basis are higher here.

But more than anything else, I’m grateful we don’t have an orange dimwit at the helm.

Keep safe, be strong.
kia haumaru, kia kaha


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Mushroom farming

I admit it. The wife and I are food junkies. We both like to experience new forms of cuisine. For us food is always an adventure. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand means that some of the foods that the wife grew up with in Japan are not available here, although much more is available than when she first arrived.

One item she has often missed is the lack of variety in the types of mushrooms available in this country compared to what is available in Japan. That’s unlikely to change much as the importation of fungi into this country is strictly controlled. The reason being that the effects of any foreign mushroom on our unique environment, should any get established in the wild, is unknown.

However two exotic species of mushroom are now able to be grown in Aotearoa New Zealand: shiitake mushrooms – under strictly controlled conditions, and oyster mushrooms which are are not controlled. It’s the latter about which I wish to sing my praises.

Oyster mushrooms are by far my favourite mushroom, although I’m not able to say why. Perhaps it’s because it has less of an earthy smell than other forms or perhaps it’s because its texture changes depending on the cooking method employed.

A few weeks ago a stall at the local Farmers Market was selling mini oyster mushroom farms. Essentially a large plastic bag filled with a material inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. We bought one. Finally, after several weeks of waiting, the very first batch of what will hopefully be a long season of mushrooms have been harvested and consumed.

I can tell you, that oyster mushrooms consumed within an hour of harvesting are absolutely divine. As we often do, tonight we cooked at the table. Tonight, copious quantities of oyster mushrooms, aubergine (eggplant), red capsicum (bell peppers), brown onion, finely chopped cabbage with mung bean sprouts, chicken kebabs, and finely sliced grass feed Angus beef steak, washed down with an NZ Sauvignon Blanc. What can I say but that it was like heaven on earth!


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What is prayer?

I was prompted to write this post after reading a post on Nan’s Notebook titled Prayer or Science? in which she quotes a few starting lines from an opinion piece in a local paper that urged its reader to pray for science. Nan finds the quoted lines dripping with irony.

It’s very clear that Nan’s experience is vastly different from mine. She states “As many of us know, the tendency to berate and discount science is prevalent among a large percentage of Christian believers” but that’s not my experience. Far from it.

I acknowledge there are some Christians may hold that view, but a large percentage? I’m not convinced. One explanation why we take different viewpoints might be our different personal experiences are very different. Another might be that the religious communities within our respective nations are very different. Or it might be because our understanding of what prayer is are very different.

I find the very idea that a God would allow harm or suffering to occur unless there’s sufficient pleas for him to do something about it quite appalling, and yet I do, on occasions, find myself in silent prayer. So what does prayer mean to me>

Perhaps I might have the skills to explain in less than a thousand words, but recent attempts at being succinct have been largely unsuccessful, so instead I will quote two testimonies from Quaker Faith & Practice that speak to my understanding.

2.28
There is little point in praying to be enabled to overcome some temptation, and then putting oneself in the very position in which the temptation can exert all its fascination. There is little point in praying that the sorrowing may be comforted and the lonely cheered, unless we ourselves set out to bring comfort and cheer to the sad and neglected in our own surroundings. There is little point in praying for our home and for our loved ones, and in going on being as selfish and inconsiderate as we have been. Prayer would be an evil rather than a blessing if it were only a way of getting God to do what we ourselves will not make the effort to do. God does not do things for us – he enables us to do them for ourselves.

Elisabeth Holmgaard, 1984

2.29
The sick and those caring for them have need of our prayers. But let us not imagine … that a few sentimental good wishes from a distance are all that is needed. Whenever we intercede in prayer we must be prepared for an answer which places a practical obligation upon us. A prayer is always a commitment.

Thomas F Green, 1952

Prayer is a call to action, not of God, but of ourselves.


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Why, oh why didn’t I indoctrinate my kids?

There are times when I wish I had indoctrinated my children, especially my son. That way, he’d probably still hold beliefs and values similar to, or at least compatible with, mine. Instead, I encouraged them to think for themselves; to seek out evidence and then draw their own conclusions. At times. as happened yesterday, I begin to question the wisdom of that.

I’m not a believer in absolute or objective truths, be they religious, social, or even scientific. I’m old enough to recall “Scientific certainties” that are no longer certain and in some cases disproved.

I can recall a time when homosexual acts were criminal and when the medical profession classified homosexuality as a disorder. It was first declassified as a disorder in Australia and New Zealand in around 1972, in America a year later and throughout the most of the world within a couple of years. In Aotearoa New Zealand, homosexual acts weren’t decriminalised until 1984, and in some parts of the world such acts can still be punished by life imprisonment,

As an aside, as a teenager, I was an avid reader of periodical magazines and other publications, especially if they contained articles of a scientific nature, and I first became aware of the possibility that homosexuality was not “wrong” in the mid to late 1960s through a number of articles I read that were mostly highly critical of, and sometimes angry at, a pamphlet titled Towards A Quaker View Of Sex first published in 1963. Although I didn’t get to read the entire pamphlet until more than forty years after its first publication, excerpts accompanying the articles seemed more reasoned and well thought out than most of the criticism leveled at it. Most of the criticism was related at the morality, or rather the perceived immorality that the critics believed the publication advocated.

And yet, most (but not all) of the conclusions reached in the pamphlet are now widely accepted as the norm: same sex relationships are generally viewed as within the bounds of normality; here, and in many parts of the world same sex relationships have equal footing with heterosexual relationships; here, a partnership is legally recognised by its nature and duration, not by whether or not it has been formalised by a marriage or civil union. We have still some way to go in accepting and recognising forms of relationships that do not involve only two people. For example in this country there is no legal recognition of a relationship that involves A & B & C, although the relationships between A & B, B & C, and A & C may be recognised.

I have drifted off topic somewhat. Now where was I? Oh yes, indoctrination. If I had indoctrinated my son into believing the Bible was not the literal Word of God, nor a rule book to live by, then he might not have reached the conclusion about a decade ago that indeed the Bible is literally the Word of God and is to be believed and followed to the letter. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever mentioned, let alone discussed, the Bible. I regret that now.

And yesterday I realised that I did not indoctrinate him sufficiently to be suspicious of conspiracy theories. They are “conspiracy theories” and not “conspiracies” for a reason.

Yesterday I discovered that he is convinced that the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was due to controlled implosions on multiple floors within the buildings. I had to forcefully end the discussion when he declared that all demolition experts agree that the buildings could not have collapsed the way they did unless they had been rigged by a demolition expert to collapse that way.

Sigh! If he had said “some experts” or “an expert” instead of “all experts” I might have been prepared to hear him out. I’m not closed to rational disagreements, but the use of “all experts” was sufficient evidence for me to conclude any discussion would not be rational.

I must admit I’m somewhat curious as to who he believes the “conspirators” might be. After all if it was “controlled”, it was planned, so who planned it and why? But in the interest of maintaining a mostly close relationship with my son, it’s a curiosity I’m not going to try to satisfy.


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Improving with age

Like good wine, I’m improving with age. For instance:

  • Mindfulness: Whenever I bend down or squat to retrieve something at or near ground level, I make a conscious sweep of the area to see what else I might be able to do while in that position.
  • Descending stairs: Once upon a time I used to descend stairs one step at a time. I’ve recently discovered bouncing down stairs one your behind is faster. I have to admit this skill is I don’t intentionally use due to the discomfort it causes, and I still start the descent with the intention of doing it one step at a time. But nevertheless, I often find I’m at the foot of the stairs earlier than expected.
  • Hearing: With my hearing aid turned on, I hear every sound. And I mean every sound, whether I want to or not. In particular the rustling of paper or plastic, and water from a tap or loo flushing sound like a jet airliner taking off.
  • Taste: I can now eat super spicy food that one I couldn’t tolerate. Now I can actually get to perspire profusely, turn bright read, and partially loose my voice and still enjoy a super hot Thai, Indonesian or Indian dish.
  • Forgetfulness: This is a skill that I have always been rather good at, especially with faces and names. But nowadays, I’m capable of forgetting almost anything.
  • Temperature sensitivity: when I was young, I was scarcely aware of changes in temperature. So much so that I more or less wore the same attire and footwear all year round. My improved sensitivity means that even a few degrees variance sees me looking to change my attire.
  • Awareness if pavement/footpath irregularity: Until I hit sixty, it was extremely unusual for me to notice uneven surfaces. I could even step over a curb and be almost unaware that I had. Now I notice almost every surface irregularity. The irregularity alarm (a sudden lurch forward to regain balance) is now triggered several time a day.
  • Understanding time: when I was young, I was under the mistaken impression that days were too short and years too long. Nowadays, I realise that days are much longer, and years are really very, very short.
  • Maturity: I used to associate growing up with growing old. Now I understand that they are unrelated. I wonder if I’ll ever truly grow up?
  • Wisdom: If only I had some of the wisdom I possess now when I was much younger…


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Is Aotearoa New Zealand really werewolf free?

According to data released under the Official Information Act, there has been no werewolf encounters reported to police over the past three years. Over that time police handled 316 complaints relating to supernatural or extraterrestrial events, but none regarding werewolves.

On the other hand, we seem to be facing a witch invasion or perhaps infestation. A total of 120 incidents involving witches were reported. Unfortunately the report is sketchy on the nature of the complaints or whether we should take special precautions to protect ourselves from possible witch-caused harm It doesn’t even provide information on how to identify the creatures. Surely the police are failing in their duty here.

At least we can be grateful the ghosts are less common, or at least have less reason to be reported to the police. Over the three year period, a total of seventy ghost related incidents were reported.

There were 67 reported extraterrestrial events – 37 reports of aliens and a further 30 UFO sightings. How many of the sightings turned out to witches flying on broomsticks isn’t reported, but due to the prevalence of witches, I have no doubt some of the sightings were misreported.

I have no time for zombie movies or TV series, but perhaps they have been created to help us accept a zombie presence in out midst. They seem to be more common than many of us think. In all, police recorded 59 zombie related incidents.

Given that most incidents are not reported to police, and apart from zombies, paranormal beings are intelligent enough to want to hide their presence from the authorities, I think what has been reported is only the tip of the iceberg. We all need to be vigilant and keep a watchful eye open to any possible paranormal activity.

Returning to the lack or werewolf reports, I suspect it’s also a case of misreporting. In human form werewolves are virtually indistinguishable from humans, especially if they remember to shave their hairy knuckles. When in wolf form, any activity has probably been recorded as dog related incidents. I’m also mindful that a bite from a werewolf turns the victim into one, so they are unlikely to want to report the incident. On that basis, I have serious doubts that this country really is werewolf free.


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Climate change education

I’m a firm believer that the purpose of schooling, particularly at primary and secondary school level is not to prepare the next generation for jobs but to prepare it for life. In this respect I believe the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand does particularly well, as we are encouraged to question and interpret for ourselves any and all information students receive.

So I’m somewhat disappointed by the stance taken by some members of the opposition National Party with regards to their criticism of the rolling out of climate change education resources for schools in 2020, which they are calling “indoctrination”. Is it because the Climate Change Minister happens to be the co-leader of the Green Party that makes it so unpalatable, or being (slightly) right of centre, do they see education only in terms of jobs and careers?

The simple fact is that there is no change in curriculum. The resources provide teachers with additional resource material. It also acknowledges that some of the information can cause stress or distress to some students, and provides guidelines to help teachers and parents address this when it occurs.

While I don’t believe any member of the National Party is a climate change denier, there are some who are yet to be convinced it’s a serious issue or that it is primarily caused by human activity. Take the comment of Judith Collins, a senior National Party MP (Member of Parliament) who has stated “The likely impacts of climate change are being hugely overstated by the media and political left”.

Many of her colleagues are also skeptical about the success of any attempt to reduce warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as the big players, especially the US, China and India are doing so little. They point out that as this country contributes only 0.17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, there was little point in the Zero Carbon Bill passed into law in November last year which includes a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and a 24 – 47 percent reduction in biogenic methane below 2017 levels by the same date.

But as Climate Change Minister James Shaw has observed, per capita, New Zealand is the 21st biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that small countries don’t get off the hook because collectively we add up to a greater total of emissions than the larger countries do.

What both amuses me and alarms me in equal measure, is the call by some conservatives to have climate change education treated the same as religious education. In NZ, schools can only offer religious education outside school hours, students must opt in, and lessons can be for no more than 20 hours per year. They also want climate change education to be “less extreme”, and in their opinion, less indoctrinating.

So what does climate change education involve? It’s part of the wider environmental education in New Zealand schools, which has been part of the curriculum for many years, the aims of which are:

  • Aim 1: awareness and sensitivity to the environment and related issues
  • Aim 2: knowledge and understanding of the environment and the impact of people on it
  • Aim 3: attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment
  • Aim 4: skills involved in identifying, investigating, and problem solving associated with environmental issues
  • Aim 5: a sense of responsibility through participation and action as individuals, or members of groups, whānau, or iwi, in addressing environmental issues.

The introduction to the curriculum guide states:

New Zealand’s natural and social environment is unique. A mild climate, cultural diversity, a small population with high levels of participation in outdoor activities, extensive marine resources, relatively clean air and water, a variety of national parks, and distinctive plants and animals all contribute to the special nature of the environment. As New Zealanders, we value our environment for recreational, aesthetic, economic, cultural, and spiritual reasons.

New Zealand’s future as a nation relies on our maintaining a quality environment. This environment includes its natural and built elements as well as its social and cultural aspects. It is air, water, and land. It is plants and animals. It is people, their communities, and their social and cultural values.

An understanding of the many factors that influence the environment, particularly the impact of people, is critical to maintaining and improving environmental quality. People have modified the land, introduced plants and animals, and utilised both renewable and finite resources. Understanding and responding to people’s impact on the environment therefore requires a multifaceted approach.

Now, if I believed in indoctrination theories then I’d start right here, particularly with aim 3 which aims to develop “attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment”. Why pick on a teaching resource specifically on climate change, which involves no curriculum changes when one of the aims of the curriculum itself is to encourage specific attitudes and feelings. This runs counter to the ideology of some conservatives which is to teach the facts, and only the facts (but only the facts I agree with), and that values are a parental responsibility, not the state’s.

Given the nature of the topic, the Ministry of Education has released a wellbeing guide to accompany the teaching resources. It includes a reminder to parents which can be applied outside the climate issue, particularly the last sentence, which I have emphasised below:

REMINDER
It can be difficult to see your child struggling, unhappy and anxious. You might even feel guilty or responsible. Your child may be frustrated with you and other adults about the current climate change situation. With any unpleasant feeling your child has, it is tempting to want to “fix it”. However, the most important response is acceptance and acknowledgement of feelings, within a caring relationship. Being with your child, whilst they come up with their own solutions and ways of dealing with things, is harder – and more important – than it seems.

For anyone interested in what the fuss is about, here are the links to the teaching resource and the wellbeing guide:

Climate Change Learning Programme – Teacher Resource (.pdf, 7.09 MB)

Climate Change Learning Programme – Wellbeing Guide (.pdf, 0.75 MB)


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You share intimate and private details about your child…

Point 9 from Sometimes my Heart Hurts for your Child

Over on Speaking of Autism… Quincy has written a heartfelt piece aimed primarily at the autism community, but it is also relevant to the wider neurotypical (non-autistic) community.

The article is quite long (approximately 9 minutes reading time), and each of the points Quincy makes shows how much the autism community fails to understand the autistic community. For this reason, I’m re-posting each point as a separate article here, because each point is important.

Before I start, I feel I need to explain the difference between the “autism community” and the “autistic community” The autistic community consists of people who are autistic, whereas the autism community consists mainly people who are directly or indirectly involved with autistic people (typically family members and those involved in the “treatment” of autism), but are not typically autistic themselves.

Each of Quincy’s points illustrates just how far the autism community and the wider community has to go to meet the autistic community even part way.

You share intimate and private details about your child without obtaining their consent.

There has been a trend by which people detail very private and personal information about their autistic children publicly online. They film meltdowns and post the videos. They post their child’s toileting habits and potty charts. They share all of their diagnoses and medical histories. All without any semblance of an OK from their child. And it needs to stop.

Can’t we have some semblance of empathy? Would you want someone to post such details about you on the internet, open for everyone from friends to future dates to future employers to see? No? Then why are you posting this about your autistic kids? Some will defend this practice, saying it’s for “awareness,” and others unapologetically do it to try to gain sympathy for how “hard” it is to raise an autistic child. I don’t believe either of those are anywhere close to valid reasons to expose your child like that, but either way, intent does not erase harm.


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You describe your child as a mystery…

Point 8 from Sometimes my Heart Hurts for your Child

Over on Speaking of Autism… Quincy has written a heartfelt piece aimed primarily at the autism community, but it is also relevant to the wider neurotypical (non-autistic) community.

The article is quite long (approximately 9 minutes reading time), and each of the points Quincy makes shows how much the autism community fails to understand the autistic community. For this reason, I’m re-posting each point as a separate article here, because each point is important.

Before I start, I feel I need to explain the difference between the “autism community” and the “autistic community” The autistic community consists of people who are autistic, whereas the autism community consists mainly people who are directly or indirectly involved with autistic people (typically family members and those involved in the “treatment” of autism), but are not typically autistic themselves.

Each of Quincy’s points illustrates just how far the autism community and the wider community has to go to meet the autistic community even part way.

You describe your child as a mystery and long to know what their world is like, when I know exactly what their world is like.

So many describe autistic people as mysteries. Parents say they long to know what’s going on inside their autistic child’s head, that they could understand.

Well, I have good news: there is a way you can see your child’s perspective! You ask other autistic people! It seems so obvious, yet so many neglect this. Despite the fact that the autism spectrum is broad, I am convinced that there really isn’t a fundamental difference between different autistic people.

I can relate to every autistic person I have ever met on an autistic level, even the ones who superficially “aren’t like” me. I find my autistic experiences bring the same as their autistic experiences, and I can use the fact that I’m also autistic to help you understand your child. Now, many parents do listen to other autistics, and to all those that do a sincere thank you.

Yet so many parents don’t want to listen to autistic people. They may read something written by an autistic, momentarily think “wow, that was profound, I’m glad I read that,” and then move on prioritizing non-autistic voices on autism over those who literally live autism. Or, at worst, they get belligerent. “Not like my child” is the commonly repeated phrase. But the thing is, we are like your child.

That doesn’t mean everyone is a carbon copy clone of your kid, or that we have all the same struggles, or all the same co-occurring conditions, or are equally as disabled. But we are both autistic. And like I said, there’s not a fundamental difference between other people’s autism.

We do understand your child from firsthand experience. Plus, many of us literally were just like your child. The non-speaking kid who has a meltdown every time he hears a hairdryer and needs prompting and constant aid to do the basic things? For many of us autistic adults, we were exactly like that at that age. We lived exactly that. So give us the benefit of the doubt and let other autistic people help you understand your autistic child.