Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Two people and a plant: What a begonia taught me about racism and pacifism

I try to live by “seeking that of God” in everyone, but I have on occasions caught myself making quick judgements about another person that they don’t deserve. “Pacifism is so much more than a belief. It’s a daily practice”. It’s not an easy practice, but to me it’s a worthwhile one.

Peace and Justice Notebook

I’m from Winnipeg, which has a racism problem. It does. And, as much as I like to think that I’m some sort of exception to this racism, I’m not. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I have played a part in perpetuating that racism, and I’m not proud of it.

Since a Maclean’s article put this issue in the spotlight, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what role I play in this complex and messy problem, which has existed in Winnipeg since well before I was born, and sadly, will be an issue for the foreseeable future.

I moved to Winnipeg’s West End in 2010, which is known as a poorer area and has had a history of gang violence. As I moved from my family’s home in a cozy suburb in the north east of Winnipeg, I was well aware of the racism that exists in the city. However, I thought…

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Home grown terrorism threat?

It was revealed today that a threat has been made to contaminate infant formula and other milk products if the government doesn’t stop using 1080 poison for pest control by the end of March.

Blackmail threats were made by anonymous anti-1080 campaigners late last year and small packets of milk powder, contaminated with 1080, were sent to both Federated Farmers and Fonterra in November last year.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government will not negotiate with “eco-terrorists”. However the police deputy commissioner of national operations refuses to call it a terrorist act, saying police had been treating it solely as an act of criminal blackmail.

In some ways the threat couldn’t come at a better time for the government as the Prime Minister wants to pass controversial anti-terrorism legislation that will allow our spy agencies to legally spy on NZ residents – something they have been caught doing illegally over recent years. With an upcoming by-election which is no longer a certainty for the government, could this be the event that persuades voters to give up some of their freedom in order to defeat terror? I hope not, but it looks like John Key is going to milk the threat for all it’s worth.

Why is 1080 used?

1080 (Sodium Fluoroacetate) was first approved for use in New Zealand in the mid 1960s to control introduced pests such as possums, rats, mice, stoats and rabbits. These creatures are decimating our native fauna and flora. The poison is spread from the air in pellet form at the rate of about 2 Kg per hectare (about 2.5 lb per acre).

Until the start of human settlement in New Zealand around a thousand years ago, these islands were devoid of land mammals. Birds occupied all the niches occupied by mammals in other parts of the world – with one exception. The niche taken up elsewhere by small carnivores such as cats, stoats and weasels, remained empty in NZ. This lack of danger resulted in a bird population with very low reproductive rates and many became ground dwellers or lost the ability to fly.

When the Europeans arrived here a little over 200 years ago, they brought with them the pests that are now the target of the 1080 poison. NZ has one of the highest extinction rates in the world for animal species. and that’s likely to continue until the pests are eliminated. Possums also carry bovine tuberculosis, which is a threat to our dairy industry.

Currently 1080 is the most effective tool available to make a significant effect in reducing pest numbers. In 2013, 1080 was dropped over 448,210 hectares (1730 square miles), and last year aerial drops covered  550,000 hectares (2124 square miles)

Why is 1080 controversial?

The poison is highly toxic to all mammals including deer and dogs. The hunting community is against its use for this reason.

Some communities have concerns over aerial 1080 drops near waterways. They are afraid that they or their animals may be poisoned.

However a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment evaluating the use of 1080 was published in 2011 and concluded that not only should the use of 1080 continue to protect New Zealand forests – but it should be used more often. She also noted:

“It is seldom that I come to such a strong conclusion at the end of an investigation. But the possums, rats and stoats that have invaded our country will not leave of their own accord.”

“The clean green brand that New Zealand identifies with is at risk unless more is done to protect native animals and forests.”

There is one record of a hunter dying in the 1960s after eating a 1080-laced jam bait (which was later banned). An adult would have to eat about seven cereal baits to be lethal, although one bait could seriously harm a child.

1080 residues have never been recorded in public water drinking supplies and no human deaths from drinking affected water or food have been recorded. The Ministry of Health sets a drinking water standard of two parts of 1080 per billion parts of water, which has never been breached. At that level, a 60 kg (132 lb) adult would need to drink about 60,000 litres (15,850 gallons) of water in one sitting to consume a fatal dose. The highest record of 1080 in water was nine parts per billion.

To consume a fatal dose from an animal that had died from 1080, an adult would need to eat at least 37kg (81 lb) of meat from that animal. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has not detected 1080 in any commercially-produced foods since testing began in 1999.

However, some people are so concerned by the possible dangers of 1080, that they formed the Ban 1080 Party which stood in the 2014 general election. They received 5,113 party votes (0.21 per cent of the total vote).

Personally, I’m happy for the 1080 drops to continue until the last of the vermin is dispatched. As for the blackmailer/terrorist, if they attempt to carry out the threat and put innocent children at risk, they’ll be no better than the likes of the barbaric murderous ISIS.


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The pox on you ISIS

There’s no doubt that members of ISIS are some of the most barbaric, murderous, cruel, vicious and downright evil miscreants to blight this earth, disguising their hatred for all that is decent behind a mask of religion. With  monsters like them I find it very hard to maintain a belief that every person has a capacity for good.

Currently there is a discussion under way in this country about changing our national flag. Personally I believe our current flag looks too much like the Australian flag, and the Union Jack is no longer an appropriate component for our flag. I posted about it here. As the Australians seem reluctant to change theirs, it looks like the onus is on us Kiwis to change flag. Later this year and early next year NZ will hold a series of referendum to choose a possible replacement.

silver fern

The silver fern

So what have ISIS and a new flag got in common? Political Correctness gone mad. My preference for a new flag (and until recently, the Prime Minister’s) is the silver fern on a black background. However the Prime Minister has chickened out of the idea because the ISIS flag has a black background. He’s afraid that the use of black will give the appearance of New Zealand supporting terrorism. The piker.

Next there’ll be a move to discourage the waving of the traditional silver fern on a black background seen at every sports event where a New Zealand team participates. It’s seen more often at sports events than our national flag. Seriously, is there anyone who would confuse the silver fern on a black background with the ISIS flag of the shahada on a black background?

I believe the silver fern on black is the logical replacement for our existing flag, and would have been the most popular alternative. However, PC and ISIS have combined to destroy any chance of it being selected. A pox on both Political Correctness and ISIS I say.


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America the Land Of The Free: Fact or Myth (part 3)

In my previous posts in this series I looked at press freedom and economic freedom. In this post I’ll look at a freedom that every American believes they excell at – democratic freedom.

Democratic Freedom

Firstly, lets look at some figures from Freedom House.

What does Freedom in the World measure?
Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

Freedom House does not equate legal guarantees of rights with the on-the-ground fulfillment of those rights. While both laws and actual practices are factored into the ratings decisions, greater emphasis is placed on implementation.

Comparing our five countries, the USA, France, JapanSouth Africa and New Zealand, all achieve a score of  1 (Free) (on a scale of 1 to 7) for political rights and civil liberties, while South Africa scores 2 (Free) for each.

No doubt about it. The US does as well as many other countries. But lets look at another source – Global Democracy Ranking. According to their mission statement:

The Democracy Ranking is an annual ranking of all democracies (country-based democracies) in the world by focusing on the Quality of Democracy in an international perspective. The Democracy Ranking publishes the ranking scores and displays ranking score increases or decreases over time. The Democracy Ranking is a ranking of the Quality of Democracy in the sense that the ranking scores should reflect a ranking of democracies according to their differing qualities; and the Democracy Ranking is a ranking for the Quality of Democracy, because it wants to contribute conceptually to how democracy quality may be measured as well as wants to support the awareness how important democracy quality is for the further development, reform and enhancement of democracies.

They also state:

The Democracy Ranking applies the following conceptual formula: Quality of Democracy = (freedom & other characteristics of the political system) & (performance of the non-political dimensions) The non-political dimensions are: gender, economy, knowledge, health, and the environment.

The Dimensional structures (and weights) are: Politics (50%), Gender (10%), Economy (10%), Knowledge (10%), Health (10%) and environment (10%). The total score enables each country to be ranked.

Comparing our five countries we see the following rankings: USA 16th, France 15th, Japan 21st, South Africa 71st, and New Zealand 7th. The top three placings are held by Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) also ranks countries by Democratic Freedoms. It measures five criteria: Electoral process; Functioning of GovernmentPolitical participationPolitical culture; and Civil liberties.

Overall rankings (and score out of 10) are USA 19th (8.11), France 27th (7.92), Japan 20th (8.08), South Africa 29th (7.90) and New Zealand 5th (9.26). The EIU ranks Norway (9.93), Sweden (9.73) and Iceland (9.65) as the most democratically free countries. What will surprise most Americans is that the most free countries are those that embrace the welfare state.

Breaking down the USA and NZ results, we get: Electoral processUSA 38th= (9.17), NZ 1st= (10); Functioning of GovernmentUSA 24th= (7.5), NZ 4th= (9.29); Political participation USA 15th= (7.22), NZ 3rd=(8.89); Political CultureUSA 14th= (8.13), NZ 14th= (8.13); Civil liberties: USA 44th (8.53), NZ 1st= (10). NZ out performed the USA on all but one criteria, where both are ranked equally.

I’ve now compared press freedom, economic freedom and political freedom, and America, while not doing too poorly is certainly not performing as well as I expected.

Of the five countries I’m comparing, the order of ranking so far is:

Press freedom: New Zealand, France, South Africa, United States, Japan

Economic freedom: New Zealand, United States, Japan, South Africa, France

Democratic freedom: New Zealand, United States, Japan, France, South Africa

While America may still be a land of the free, it’s no longer (if it ever was) the land of the most free.


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America the Land Of The Free: Fact or Myth (part 2)

In my previous post in this series I looked at press freedom. In this post I’ll have a quick look at economic freedom.

Economic freedom

According to Wikipedia:

Economic freedom or economic liberty or right to economic liberty is the ability of members of a society to undertake economic direction and actions. This is a term used in economic and policy debates as well as a politicoeconomic philosophy. One approach to economic freedom comes from classical liberal and libertarian traditions emphasizing free markets, free trade and private property under free enterprise. Another approach to economic freedom extends the welfare economics study of individual choice, with greater economic freedom coming from a “larger” (in some technical sense) set of possible choices. Other conceptions of economic freedom include freedom from want and the freedom to engage in collective bargaining.

The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal produce an annual survey of of economic freedom based on ten criteria: Business freedom; Trade freedom; Monetary freedom; Government size; Fiscal freedom; Property rights; Investment freedom; Financial freedom; Freedom from corruption; Labour freedom.

How did the five countries (USA, France, Japan, South Africa and New Zealand) perform? The rankings (out of 100) are: The land of the free, USA 12th (76.2), France 73rd (62.5), Japan 20th (73.3), South Africa 72nd (62.6), and New Zealand 3rd (82.1). The two Highest ranking countries were Hong Kong and Singapore, while the lowest ranked countries, as might be expected were North Korea and Cuba.

Of the 5 countries in my comparison, only New Zealand was classified as Free. The USA and Japan were classified as Mostly Free, while France and South Africa were classified as Moderately Free.

Comparing NZ and the US, America performed better at Labour Freedom (98.5 : 91.4) , Government Spending (51.8 : 43.0), and Trade Freedom (87.0 : 86.8), while New Zealand performed better at Property Rights (95.0 : 80.0), Freedom From Corruption (91.0 : 73.0), Business Freedom (95.5 : 88.8), Monetary Freedom (87.6 : 76.6), Fiscal Freedom (70.4 : 66.2), Investment Freedom (80.0 : 70.0), and Financial Freedom (80.0 : 70.0).

The Fraser Institute also creates an index of Economic Freedoms. They measure five broad areas: Size of Government: Expenditures, Taxes, and EnterprisesLegal Structure and Security of Property RightsAccess to Sound MoneyFreedom to Trade Internationally; and Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business.

The most recent Fraser Institute report ranks USA 12th (7.81), France 58th (7.21), Japan 23rd (7.60), South Africa 93rd (6.73), and New Zealand 3rd (8.25). As with The Heritage Foundation index, Hong Kong and Singapore came out on top, but neither Cuba nor North Korea were included in the report. The Fraser Institute list the Republic of Congo, and Venezuela as the lowest ranking countries.

A comparison between NZ and the US shows America performed better at Size of Government (5.3 : 5.6), and Labour market regulations (9.0 : 8.7), while New Zealand performed better at Legal System and Property Rights (8.8 : 7.7), Sound Money (9.7 : 9.3), Freedom to Trade Internationally (8.5 : 7.7), Credit market regulations (9.9 : 8.5), and Business regulations (7.4 : 6.7).

It’s somewhat of a surprise that when it comes to economic freedom, a country with a mixed economy outperforms a country purportedly based on capitalism and private enterprise.