Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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94 and going strong

Today I made a special effort to ignore an looming migraine. My youngest brother picked me up at midday and we drove to Whanganui, about fifty minutes away. There we met two lovely ladies, and the four of us went out to lunch at a popular café situated in a garden centre. Over the next two hours we ate, drank several cups of flat white, reminisced about days from the 1950s through to the present, and even about the future.

Some of us had slow cooked lamb shanks, and others had beef and Guinness pie. Both delightful, filling and warming on a winter’s day. The café was cosy, but very noisy. For a Sunday it was very busy and the noise was just short of torture for an aspie with a migraine. Nevertheless I was very glad to be there.

It was around 3:30 pm when we left the café and returned to the home the two lovely ladies share. There we sat around a wood fire and our conversation ranged from almost forgotten memories to family and friends to politics to philosophy. More coffee – instant, not flat whites – until the sun had disappeared below the horizon. There was a little man inside my skull hitting the back of my left eye with a sledge hammer. The chat was gentle, warm and loving, and at times was able to push the thumping into the background. I’m glad I was there.

Then it was a fifty minute drive back home, through the deepening darkness. If you’ve ever traveled by car with a migraine, you’ll know how unpleasant that can be. My stomach was threatening to return the beef and Guinness back up the route it had taken several hours earlier in the café, but fortunately there was a reflex that just managed to keep the pie down. Finally I was home, much to my relief. But I was glad I made the journey.

It was a very special day for a special event. One that I’ve taken part in many times before. There won’t be many more, but I hope today’s won’t be the last. I recognise that I am very fortunate to have had as many as I have. I am grateful to have been able to be part of this special day belonging to one of the lovely ladies I spent the afternoon with.

Who were the special ladies? One was my sister. The other was an even more special lady who has had a huge influence on my life. She has shared a home with my sister for several years, and she was the reason we traveled to Whanganui.

She is my mother.

It was her birthday today.

She was born on the 29th of June, 1920.

Welcome to the start of your ninety-fifth year Mum.

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Some attitudes make me angry

The RSA (Returned Services Association) is objecting to a memorial to WW1 consciousness objectors being erected on ANZAC Avenue “because the avenue is named after the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and is there to commemorate those soldiers who fought in WW1”. Really? Surely ANZAC has come to include all those who fought or suffered in all wars.

Our conscious objectors during WW1 were treated abysmally. It’s a shameful blot on our history. In case you are not aware of their story, the following is a shortened version of what they went through.

Conscious objectors were shipped to the front line in France where they were beaten and starved. They would be bound hand and foot to stakes and placed in the line of enemy fire for up to four hours per day.

Lest we forget

Lest we forget

Another inhuman treatment was to restrain the objectors beside munitions stores if a store came under enemy bombardment. Could it be that they don’t want to be reminded that it was the ANZACs who were responsible for the treatment handed out to the objectors.

The memorial has been proposed by the Archibald Baxter Trust named after the most famous of the WW1 conscious objectors.  The purpose of a memorial is.to raise consciousness. What better place for the memorial than on ANZAC Parade.


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Worship and other secrets

I was going to write about my frustration of getting very little done over the past few weeks due to almost constant migraines and the resulting “brain fog”, but my thoughts have been hijacked.

The shortest day of the year has just passed, so it can only be upwards from here on, as the days get longer (unless you’re in the northern hemisphere, in which case, you’ve just had your longest day, and you’re now on a downward slope toward slope towards winter). It’s a lovely sunny day (but very cold), blue sky, and the wind turbines are glowing brightly on the horizon. The camellias and rhododendrons are coming into flower, and the silver green magnolia buds are swelling. There’s a grey warbler singing it’s heart out nearby, and outside my window there’s two pair of fantails performing their aerial dance as they chase insects too small for the human eye to see.

Altogether, the day is so pleasant that the frustrations of the past fortnight have all but disappeared. what remains doesn’t warrant a blog post. There’s also the fact that a post over on Mindful Digressions diverted my thoughts in another direction.

I’m often reminded that only the brave or foolish blog about sex, politics or religion. I’m not particularly brave, and I don’t believe I’m foolish, although there are some who may think otherwise (regarding me being a fool). Never the less, I’m going to attempt to flesh out my religious beliefs over a series of postings. The intention is not to sway the views of readers, but to help me clarify what I really believe. Doing so on a public forum will likely encourage me to be think more carefully than I might otherwise, and the postings might elicit a few comments that will assist my thought processes.

With the introduction out of the way, it’s time to proceed.

When I was a small boy

As any young child does, I enjoyed listening to stories without discriminating between reality and imagination. It made no difference. My mother read stories to us every night and I was an avid listener of the children’s hour on the radio every evening. I was also an avid reader and absorbed stories about historical events, scientific discoveries, myths, legends, fables and fairy stories with equal enthusiasm.

I’m not sure what age I was when I began to recognise the difference between fact and fiction. Certainly by the time I was seven, I knew that stories such as Alice in wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels and Peter Pan were entirely fictional, as were fairies, the Easter rabbit, dragons and talking animals. In the case of Santa Claus, I had already concluded that reindeer can’t fly, and it would be a physical impossibility for one man to visit every home in one night nor was there a sack big enough to contain at least one gift for every child. This meant the the entire Santa story was a fantasy. Had I considered, the possibility the the jolly man might have been able to distort the space time continuum in order to deliver his gifts, then I might have believed in the story a little longer. But such concepts were beyond the reach of this seven year old boy.

Living in a nominally Christian society, biblically based children’s stories were ubiquitous. I had absorbed these just as readily as any other story. By the time I had decided Santa wasn’t real, I already understood that the creation stories in the Bible were similar in nature to other creation stories I was familiar with, such as those those from Maori and Greek mythology. I didn’t know what the symbolism of the stories was meant to be, and I didn’t know how to ask adults the appropriate question. My peers weren’t of any help, as they insisted that the biblical stories were true while the others were “just stories”, but were unable to justify their logic.

I was convinced that adults had a reason for making up myths to tell children, and that I didn’t understand because I was “too young”. I was sure I would learn the symbolism when I was older. I held the same notion about many of the bible stories, but I never questioned the existence of God or Jesus. I believed the adults knew the bible stories weren’t true but I was expected to believe them because I was a child. As I was convinced that I wasn’t meant to know the stories weren’t factual, I didn’t dare to approach adults about it.

On Sundays I attended Sunday School. We sat with the adults in Church for the first fifteen minutes of their service before filing out to Sunday School proper. In my mind, religion was a bit like sex. I understood the basics of procreation, but it was very evident that there was a lot more to sex than what I was permitted to know. In a similar vein, my child’s mind had concluded that there was a lot about God I wasn’t meant to know or understand. I accepted this as a burden I had to carry by myself as children shouldn’t know there was more to religion than we learnt at Sunday School, so it would be wrong of me to destroy the illusion. I was sure all would be revealed when the time was right. I reasoned that adults didn’t attend church just to pretend there was a God for the sake of their children, therefore there must be secrets about God in much the same way as there was about sex. That was enough “evidence” to cause me not to doubt the existence of God.

If you are still reading, you’ve possibly come to the conclusion that I had I had a somewhat unusual view of the relationship between adults and children. On that score you would be right. I was sure there was an adult conspiracy to keep the some truths from children, and that it involved creating elaborate stories (lies?) to keep even the existence of the real truth from us. I was also sure that there was a good reason for this deception and when the time was appropriate I would be let in on the secret. Because I believed I shouldn’t have had the knowledge that there were secrets, there was no one that I could turn to for answers. I was desperately curious, but knew I just needed to bide my time.

All that would change drastically before I turned eight, and that will be the subject of the next post in this series.


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I agree with the Prime Minister!

It seems that the Prime minister, the Right Honourable John Key and I agree on at least one thing. I suppose it was inevitable that we would have similar views on some topics, as we are both Pakeha males. However, I am surprised that it was over this particular topic, as it is a topic that can be somewhat controversial.

NZ flag

The New Zealand Ensign

So what is it that we agree on? Our national flag. It’s about time we had a serious discussion about the appropriateness of the current flag: the New Zealand Ensign. On this, John and I are in agreement.

Our current flag is a defaced Blue Ensign designed by a British naval officer in the 1860s and adopted as our official flag in 1902. New Zealand and Australia are the only two countries still retaining the Blue Ensign as the foundation of their national flag. It represents a colonial era long gone. NZers, and Australians have no problem identifying our respective flags, but other nationalities often confuse them. The cringe factor of seeing the Australian flag raised at a sports awards ceremony when a kiwi is on the podium is reason enough to want a change.

Australian flag

Flag of Australia

While the Australians entangle the flag debate with the debate on republicanism and inevitably heated arguments, we kiwis clearly see them as two separate issues and seem to be able to discuss the flag issue somewhat more rationally. If the two flags are going to be identifiably unique, then we will need to make the move ourselves.

Opinion polls indicate the a small majority of NZers want to retain the present flag. The older the age group, the higher the number wishing to retain it. However, when the current flag is placed among a selection of alternative designs, around 75% prefer one of the alternatives over the NZ Ensign. This indicates a widespread dissatisfaction with the current flag. The problem is finding a suitable replacement that nearly everyone can feel comfortable with.

Sliver fern flag

Silver fern flag

Amazingly, John and I also have similar preferences when it comes to a new design. We both like the idea of  the silver fern being part of a new flag. The sliver fern is used in many official logos, such as the NZ Coat of Arms, NZ police, NZ fire Service and parliamentary offices. It’s included in the logos of practically all NZ sports teams, and in fact almost every endeavour representing New Zealand. At international sports events, NZ supporters are more likely to be waving a silver fern flag than the NZ flag.

The Prime Minister has suggested that an parliamentary committee be set up after the upcoming elections with the idea of a referendum being held before the 2017 elections. It seems that members of many other political parties agree with this proposal.

I’m open to what a new flag may look like, so long as it is distinctive. The sliver fern on a black background does that for me, but there are several other designs that I like including the two below. I find either of these designs preferable to our current one. I look forward to some interesting discussion on a new flag.

Kyle Lockwood proposal

Proposal by Kyle Lockwood

proposal-dignan

Proposal by James Dignan

 


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On flu shots and statistical nonsense

This morning I took a pleasant twenty minute walk to my doctor’s surgery for a flu shot. This was the first time I have had a jab for the flu. It’s not that I’m afraid of injections, it’s just that I’ve never felt the need to be vaccinated against the flu.

Firstly, I’m one of those fortunate people who seldom catch the flu. If I do, It’s no more than a very minor nuisance.

Secondly flu shots aren’t cheap. My bank account would likely be lighter by around $50. That’s not an inconsiderable amount when my only regular income is my superannuation.

So why did I have one today?

It was free. As I recently turned 65, the health system in its wisdom has decided that I am eligible for a free flu vaccination. Do I really need it? possibly not. If the doctor’s surgery hadn’t phoned me, I would not have bothered But if it’s free, it’s worth considering. Besides, I’m not getting any younger, so I guess that the odds of becoming seriously ill with the flu is increasing.

While I was waiting the mandatory ten minutes after the shot before being allowed to leave, I picked up the morning newspaper. An article on the front page was titled “Dumb ways to . . . end up in hospital”. The statistics looked dubious immediately as one of the first “facts” they presented was that there were “nearly 200,000 hospital discharges in 2012”. That seemed to be an extraordinary low number for a population of 4.5 million people.

The article then went on to say that you were more likely to end up in hospital being injured by a powered lawn mower than being injured by a gun. Over 200 were injured by power mowers which means than more than 1 in a thousand admissions to hospital were caused by lawn mower injuries. That seemed an impossibly high rate. Perhaps I should stop mowing my lawn.

Following a few other statistics about the number of discharges following dog bites compared to bee and wasp stings, and similar inconsequential injuries, the article mentioned that almost 70,000 patients were discharged after suffering injuries arising from their medical or surgical care. What!? One in three people were injured while in hospital?

I’ve been in hospital more than 10 times over that last few years, so either I’ve been incredibly lucky, or there’s something I don’t know about but should. Then I remembered that lies and statistics often go hand in hand, and resolved to clarify the fact when I returned home.

Although I couldn’t find the statistics for the year quoted in the newspaper, I did manage to locate the statistics for the preceding year. And they paint a quite different picture.

The “nearly 200,000” referred not to total discharges, but to hospital discharges involving unintentional and intentional injury.The total number of discharges was a little over one million. This puts the rest of the statistics in a more reasonable light. The “statistic” on in hospital injuries included complications after surgery, abnormal reactions to medication, no matter how minor and several other cstegories. Actual “medical misadventures” totalled less than 500, or less than 0.05%. I can breathe a sigh of relief.

The statistic of one in a thousand discharges following lawn mower accidents drops to one in a thousand injuries requiring hospitalisation. Perhaps I’ll have to find another excuse to avoid mowing the lawn. 189 people were discharged following “contact with a powered lawnmower”, while 73 were discharged following firearms injuries. The statistics don’t mention the number of deaths, and as admissions nationwide don’t seem to be kept, I’m not able to ascertain the relative danger mowers and guns, but I think I can sleep safely knowing that mowers are more of a threat to life and limb than a gun.

One interesting fact that struck me was the difference in the rate of discharges between males and females. The total rates are quite similar, but of the more than 700 types of injuries listed I am hard pressed to find any where male injuries are less frequent than female injuries. For almost all types, males are two or three times more likely to be hospitalised than females. In the case of guns, 71 of the 73 cases were male, while for lawn mowers, 143 of the 189 cases were male. So far the only injuries I have found where females clearly outnumber males is falls on stairs (2341 vs 1431) and unspecified falls (3389 vs 2196). The disparity of injuries between the sexes is worthy of a post in itself.

I’ve always had a healthy dose of cynicism when reading/watching news, and the article in question does nothing but to reinforce that cynicism. It’s a shame that so many people are easily taken in by “facts” without doing a little research of their own.


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A post over on Mindful Digressions prompted me to write this article about a character who enchanted me as a child. So thank you Doobster for the prompt.

I was about ten when there was a new addition to the household. It came in the form of a little black bundle of fur which was quickly named Blackie. He was a little kitten that my father had brought home to replace Smokey who had to be put down after coming off second best with a gin trap (not illegal back then, but prohibited in residential areas).

Smokey had adopted us when I was five, and was a very gentle, affectionate tabby, but was not much into play. We adored him immensely and he was sadly missed. There had been two attempts at replacing him, but for reasons I can no longer recall, both died after being with us just a few months. At first were were reluctant to become too attached to Blackie in case he was destined to a similar fate. But there was no denying his charm and intelligence.

Brother M, who was a little over a year younger than I, enjoyed tormenting his siblings (there seems to be one in every family). Usually it was his younger siblings, but I was also fair game. His favourite trick was to do something that would get another child in trouble. For example he would sit on the sofa beside me, hit me hard and yell “Ouch! Stop hitting me”. Our mother was fairly tolerant of sibling rivalry, but eventually M’s loud complaints at being bullied would result in her intervening. Of course I would be blamed as I was bigger than him.

Blackie was as much a victim of M’s tormenting as the rest of us. While I would never be so devious as to cause M to take the blame for something I did, Blackie had no such scruples. One in particular is still memorable.

M and sister B were sitting together on the couch, and I was quietly reading a book on the opposite side of the room when I heard B tell M to stop annoying her. M denied doing anything, but that was to be expected. This continued to occur at about one minute intervals, with the voices of both B and M slowly becoming louder. On the fourth or fifth occasion, I happened to look up just in time to see Blackie disappear behind the back of the sofa. Curious, I watched and waited. A minute later, Blackie’s head appeared above the back of the sofa, followed a moment later by one of his paws. The cat slowly stretched out the paw, gently patted B’s ear, then promptly disappeared from view. Of course, B again protested at being annoyed, and naturally M denied all responsibility. I was part way though telling them that Blackie was to blame when I changed my mind. I mumbled the rest of the sentence to an inconclusive ending and we all went back to minding our own business.

Another minute went by until Blackie performed the same trick again. This continued for about ten minutes and the complaining and denial had degenerated into an argument. I was beginning to think the better of my silence when our mother intervened. M was of course blamed as he was bigger than his sister, and was sent out of the room to “rethink his attitude”. I kept my mouth shut. Blackie appeared as if from nowhere, curled up on B’s lap and started his very loud purr.

That incident was the only one where I saw M being punished for something Blackie did. But until Blackie’s death, M was occasionally blamed for things I knew he couldn’t be responsible for. I kept my mouth shut. Yes, I admit it. I do have a (slightly) mean streak.

In those days we owned a dozen fowl, which kept us well supplied with eggs. They had an enclosed house and a yard of about 20 feet square to scratch around in. Every few days, the birds were allowed out to exercise on the adjacent lawn. The lawn was bounded on three sides by buildings and fences and by a garden on the fourth. The children were assigned the task of keeping the fowls off the garden and from escaping through the openings between the buildings. It kept us children quite busy.

While we had allowed Smokey to be outside during these “bird outings” as he shown no interest in them, our mother had though it prudent to lock Blackie inside while the birds were out. One day Blackie managed to escape. and he was discovered hiding behind a small bush, his tail swishing excitedly as watched the fowls intently. Our mother, in her wisdom, decided not to force the cat inside, and told me to keep a close eye on the cat and to intervene “only if necessary”. How I was supposed to do that I’m not quite sure as a cat in pursuit mode moves very fast.

As one bird approached the edge of the lawn near where Blackie was hiding, the cat got into position ready to pounce. I got up to grab the cat, but it was too late. Blackie sprang out just as the bird put its foot on the garden. The bird let out a loud squawk, did a quick u-turn and ran for its life towards the open gate to its yard with the cat in close pursuit. Blackie was so close that he could have easily brought the bird down by extending his paw, but he made no attempt to do so. He stayed right behind the bird until it passed though the gateway, whereupon he sat down nonchalantly licked a paw, then wandered back to his hiding place.

This continued for the rest of the afternoon. Blackie would remain on the garden, either hidden from view, or quietly stalking a bird if it approached the garden. He never made his presence known to the fowls unless one of them actually stepped onto the garden or attempted to go through one of the openings. At that point he would chase the bird all the way back to the gate to the yard, then walk back to the garden. Finally, it was time to return the fowls to their enclosure. This was a task that required the combined efforts of several people as the dozen fowl found ways of avoiding going through the gate. The moment Blackie understood out intent, he had the reluctant birds rounded up and inside the yard within seconds.

We continued to keep an eye on Blackie for a few weeks whenever the fowls were let out, but we never had to intervene. Finally, Mum felt it was safe enough for Blackie to mind the fowls on his own. For the rest of his life, he could be relied on to keep the fowls off the garden and from escaping. When it came time to return the birds to their enclosure, all we had to do was step onto the lawn and clap our hands. Within seconds all the birds would rounded up and in their yard. If he was able to he would probably have closed the gate as well. He had already worked out how to open doors inside our home. At school, farm kids sometimes boasted about the talents of their sheep dogs. Now we we able to boast about the skills of our “chicken cat”.

Blackie, like most cats, had a dislike of dogs. The only exception was an elderly cross-bred terrier that lived next door. He was too feeble to jump the low fence in the front of the section, (for non-NZers, a section is a residential property or lot). We didn’t have a front fence, so Bib, as the dog was affectionately named, would push through the hedge separating the two sections whenever he wanted to go for a walk. Blackie and Bib could be often seen lying together as if they were the closest of friends.

Blackie’s dislike of dogs turned to irrational hatred (Bib excepted) when he was about nine months old. One day a cocker spaniel managed to corner Blackie and he was unable to escape. Before he could be rescued, Blackie took matters into his own hands (paws?) and struck at the dog’s nose. The dog gave a loud yelp, turned tail and ran for the safety of his home several sections up on the other side of the road. I recall seeing the dog disappear behind the house with Blackie still in hot pursuit. A little latter Blackie reappeared, his tail standing up as if in pride as he trotted back home.

We didn’t see dogs on the street so often after that. Blackie made sure of it. If he saw any dog within half a block of our section, he would be off after it instantly. I never saw a dog stand up to our cat, and there were some large dogs in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately his hatred of dogs lead to his demise when he was a little over two years old. He was hit by a car in one of his mad dashes across the road in pursuit of the cocker spaniel.

He was sadly missed and will forever have a fond place in my memories.


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“If I was you, I would kill myself”

Believe it or not, those words (slightly paraphrased) were said to me by a counsellor I was seeing. That was five years ago. The reason I was seeing the counsellor is irrelevant to this story suffice to say that it was related to a matter that seriously affected my relationship to those nearest and dearest to me.

I had just completed describing my everyday life to her when she uttered those words. It wasn’t something she blurted out, but was a slow and careful statement made after a moment of silence. I wasn’t shocked by her statement, but I remember thinking that it was was an inappropriate comment for a counsellor to say to a client. I didn’t understand then, and still don’t understand now, why anyone in my situation would want to contemplate suicide, but I when I have discussed the inappropriateness of her comment with others, many have tended to agree with her.

So what is it about my life that others think should make it unbearable?

For as long as I can remember I have had headaches. I’ve also had periods when I become totally disoriented and confused. There would be occasions when, for example coming home from school, I would discover I was somewhere I didn’t recognise and didn’t have a clue how I got there. There would be times when I couldn’t comprehend what people were saying even though I understood each of the words they used. Sometimes I would forget the meaning of specific words. Sometimes a word I wanted to utter was replaced by something totally different. Sometime my sensitivity to light and sound became unbearable. Often these cognitive problems coincided with the headaches, but not always. Not knowing any different, I thought this was normal.

As I entered puberty, the headaches become more frequent and often were accompanied by bouts of nausea and vomiting. These were diagnosed as migraines. These migraine attacks would  occur somewhere between  once every few days to once or twice a month. I was still plagued by the cognitive problems but less frequently than the headaches, and not realising that they were not normal, I never mentioned them to anyone. I was assured that I would “grow out” of the migraines, and by the time I was twenty, the migraine attacks were down to about one every two or three weeks.

This state of affairs remained until I was in my thirties when the migraines slowly increased in frequency. It was also beginning to dawn on me that there were significant events that I had no memory of, and couldn’t be explained away as forgetfulness. There were times were I felt a distinct disconnect between my mind and my body – almost like I was simply an observer of another being. I also noticed that sometimes I would forget how to do simple things such as tying my shoelaces, or, if I did remember how, I couldn’t get my fingers to cooperate. I became sufficiently concerned about these issues that I finally mentioned it to my doctor when I turned forty.

A series of tests revealed nothing untoward, and I suspect the medical profession thought I was making it all up. I almost convinced myself that it was “all in my mind” and perhaps I should seek the help of a psychiatrist. I didn’t. The migraines continued to increase in frequency and intensity through my forties, as did the cognitive problems. I found I often missed door openings and collided painfully with the door frame or find that the fifteen minute drive from work to home would take an hour and a half.

I had just turned fifty when it was decided I could no longer work full time, and I had my first EEG and brain MRI. The EEG was “inconclusive”. The MRI revealed an unusual occurrence of white matter, but was “considered not to be relevant” to my symptoms. Shortly after this I was picked up by the police as I was apparently staggering around town as if I was intoxicated. It seems they thought I might be having a stroke and when I came to I found myself in the unpleasant noisy and brightly lit environment of the Emergency department of a nearby hospital.

This was the first of many occurrences where I have ended up in hospital with stroke-like symptoms. Despite multiple MRIs, EEGs, CT scans, x-rays, blood tests, spinal taps and psychiatric examinations, no definitive explanation has been found. The closest they have come to a diagnosis is “it’s possibly atypical migraine”.

At sixty I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. This possibly gives an explanation as to why I don’t feel as distressed about my condition as others think I should be. And while I can intellectualise why perhaps others might find my life is distressing, I just can’t feel it.

Now I’m in my mid-sixties, and my headaches, cognitive skills and motor skills fluctuate on a daily basis. Some days I’m almost in a vegetative state, on other days I feel like I’m a kid again. Some days I worry about the stress I undoubtedly impose on my family.

But on the whole, I am happy. I can still admire the beauty of a sunrise, experience the thrill of a thunderstorm, delight in the squeals of joy from small children. When I’m able, I can still enjoy taking part in a deep philosophical discussion, or feeling the breeze on my face on a long walk.

Yes, life is good.

 


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The end of a (financial) era?

New Zealand’s isolation from the rest of the world has resulted in some unique evolutionary developments. This is true for more than just our fauna and flora. It also holds true in the business world. Whereas in most parts of the western world eBay is a household name, many NZers haven’t a clue what it is. However, we all know what TradeMe is.

Then there’s our eftpos system. For 30 years NZers have enjoyed free electronic transactions through eftpos, where payments are made by transferring funds directly from the purchaser’s bank account to the retailer’s bank account at the time of purchase. Who the purchaser or retailer banks with is irrelevant. All that is required is a plastic card and a PIN number for the purchaser and a cheap terminal for the retailer. We don’t think twice about using eftpos for purchasing items costing as little as one dollar (or less).

I, like a lot of NZers, never carry cash. I carry a single card which doubles as my credit/debit card and as an eftpos card for my personal and business bank accounts. An eftpos transaction is often cheaper than cash. If I purchase an item valued at $4.98, I pay $4.98 via eftpos, but $5.00 if paying by cash as the smallest coin denomination is 10 cents.

But all this is about to change.

Visa and Mastercard, which have a virtual duopoly on the credit/debit card market, are strongly pushing their “contactless” wave and pay technology. That in itself is not a problem. I can see the convenience of not having to remove a card from my wallet and entering a PIN. The problem is that Mastercard and visa own the pay and wave technology and won’t allow it to be used for eftpos transactions.

Currently, eftpos is universally available. Every dairy and café accepts eftpos but many do not offer credit card facilities due to the high cost of transactions. The smaller the value of their transactions, the less likely they are to offer credit card payments. It appears that all new bank cards are being issued with wave and pay technology enabled and no way of turning it off. Does this mean that I will have to resort to using cash when purchasing a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar? Will the introduction of pay and wave technology be the death-knell of eftpos in much the same way as the introduction of rats, weasels and possums were to much of our indigenous flora and fauna? Or will it spur our inventive genius to evolve an alternative and independent payment system?

Only time will tell.


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So very calm

The view eastwards from my home office window

The view eastwards from my home office window

Being well into my sixties, it seems that I should no longer be surprised by the everyday little things we encounter in our daily life. It occurs to me that I am surprised by the effect that the view from my home office window has on me.  It’s a lovely warm winter’s day – 16°C (61°F). What I find surprising is a realisation that there is not the slightest hint of a breeze. Even the the wind turbines in the distance are still.

The image shown in the header of this blog is cropped from a snapshot of the view from the terrace outside my office window. There are three wind farms on the ranges seen in the distance, although they are not easy to identify in the picture, being taken on my HP Slate tablet. I’m not sure of the total number of turbines but each wind farm has between 50 and 80. Today, not one of them is moving. The day is eerily calm and the effect is carried over into my being.

Today is not a day for ranting. It’s more a day for gentle reflection and being grateful for the blessings life has bestowed on me: an amazing wife, two wonderful children, three absolutely adorable grandchildren and good health (if I ignore the migraines). I have a mortgage free home with views that are simply stunning and change by the hour.  It’s almost perfect.

Except…

It’s Sunday, which means it’s race day at the nearby motor racing circuit. We are at an elevation so that even though the circuit is around a kilometre away, we get the tortured sounds of screaming engines from various  parts of the track, without any intervening obstructions to moderate the noise.


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The abuse of power?

Our democratic system has been evolving for over 150 years and is likely to continue to change, albeit at a slower rate than in the past. We are one of a handful countries that don’t have a formal written constitution (Israel and the United Kingdom are others that spring to mind) and a Unicameral legislature (parliament). Members of the executive are selected from members of Parliament. Parliament has absolute sovereignty, and there is no institution that can override its decisions.

Parliament has entrenched some legislation relating to elections, which requires either 75% support in Parliament or a simple majority in a referendum. However the entrenchment act itself is not entrenched, so in reality a simple parliamentary majority is all that is required to change the general elections from once every three years to once every 1000 years. Legally there is nothing you or I could do about it.

Our democratic system is open to abuse due to its lack of checks and balances. So it begs the question why do we enjoy the highest levels of freedom in the world? I’m afraid I can’t answer that with any certainty, but I see a number of trends that put our democratic process at risk.

Loss of egalitarianism: Until the introduction of Rogernomics in the mid 1980’s we were one of the most egalitarian nations on earth. Poverty was almost unknown, and where it did exist, it was largely due to lifestyle choices of a family’s primary income earner. The wealthiest 1% of the population held a relatively small proportion of the nation’s wealth compared to today’s top 1%. By and large, members of Parliament not only represented their electorate, they were also representative of their electorate.

Charting the bell curve of the population as a whole and members of parliament would have resulted in very similar charts. Today it’s quite different. The chart for the population as a whole shows a flattening of the curve. The tails at either end of the curve have extended and the highest bulge in the graph has moved noticeably towards the poorer end of the chart. We now have the dubious reputation of having the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD.

While we do have some members of parliament from poorer backgrounds there is an increasing number of millionaires and multimillionaires present. The bulge in the bell curve of the wealth of parliamentarians has been moving in the opposite direction to that of the general population.

Our parliamentary representatives are becoming less representative of us. Issues that are important to lower income groups have become less relevant to them as they have become more isolated from those they represent. This is apparent in the attitude the National Party has with its fund raising dinners.

For anyone who is not familiar with the controversy, dinner guests get the right to have a private conversation with a government minister by making a suitable “donation” – typically between five and ten thousand dollars. While this may not actually result in the buying of a minister’s support, the public and no doubt the wealthy (and often foreign) business people see it differently. At least one minister has admitted that his thinking on a topic has “shifted” after such private discussions, although he claims he wasn’t “influenced” by them. Yeah right!

What these ministers can’t or don’t want to see is that not only must government be free of corruption, it must be seen to be free of it.  They are walking a very slippery slope with this practice.


This post was going to be about the misuse of Parliamentary urgency to pass non-urgent legislation, but once started, took on a life of its own. The issue I have with the use of urgency it that it bypasses the Select Committee phase of the process where members of the public have the right to present written or spoken arguments for or against the bill – A very important part of our democratic process. This will be a rant for another day.