Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Would your national leader be seen doing this?

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What’s wrong with some Kiwis??

In a recent Colmar Brunton poll conducted for TVNZ’s One News, 18% of the population believe that our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ability to govern the country will be negatively impacted by the birth of her first child in June. That means almost one in five Kiwis believe motherhood is incompatible with running a country! I thought we were beyond that sort of thinking.

There have been several PMs (Prime Ministers) in the past who have had children while in office, but I can not find a single poll that queried the nation’s opinion and about whether or not the upcoming birth would have a negative impact.

The difference? The other PMs were male. Strangely, although the number of comments by the public in the media are few, there does not seem to be a significant difference of opinion by gender in how becoming a parent might affect her ability to run the country.

Most comments have been around the fact that due to the many sleepless nights ahead, the PM will not be in a condition to make wise decisions. For goodness sake! This is Aotearoa New Zealand. Most Kiwi fathers will have just as many sleepless nights as their partners, and during the night might even change the baby’s nappy (nappy = diaper) more often than his partner, leaving her to perform the one task he is incapable of: breast feeding. The odds are that previous PMs have also been just as sleep deprived as Jacinda will be.

Why did One News think up the idea that a poll on her ability to govern was even newsworthy? This has me somewhat baffled. Perhaps they thought it might be more controversial that it turned out to be? There’s no doubt in my mind that news media are just as capable of creating news as they are of reporting it.

Perhaps they wanted to show how progressive we as a nation are. If so, that fact that one in five of us think that motherhood is incompatible with a major role outside the home reveals we are not as progressive as we like to imagine.

On the other hand, if the intent was to create controversy by illustrating how conservative and traditional we are in contrast to our image of ourselves as being progressive and liberal, especially regarding gender roles, the result must be disappointing. The response from the public has been much along the lines of “(Yawn) So? (Yawn)”.

For those who missed the results in the clip above, the results of the poll How do you think becoming a parent will affect Jacinda Ardern’s performance as Prime Minister? are:
59% No difference
18% worse than now
15% better than now
6%  don’t know
1%  refused to answer

Thank goodness, no one has conducted a poll regarding the appropriateness of the PM being in a relationship that is not formalised in the manner of a marriage or civil union. I can be reasonably confident that the reason for there being no such poll is because (a) more than 90% of the population would consider it irrelevant, and (b) it would bring out the very worst of the very small number religious fundamentalists who like nothing better than to vilify anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideas of morality. While controversy might be good for business, being seen as vehicle for hatred and bigotry is not. Perhaps this is just a “Kiwi thing” that extreme views are not encouraged.

When I think about the fact the the leaders of the two political parties that make up the current government (Jacinda Ardern of Labour and Winston Peters of New Zealand First and who are also Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister respectively) are not married to their partners, yet no one here thinks anything of it (the few religious fundamentalists excluded), or considers it in any way remarkable, perhaps we are somewhat progressive in our thinking after all.


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To speak or not to speak, that is the question

That dear readers, is a question I’m unable to answer. At (almost) 68 years of age, I still don’t have a clue when it’s my turn to speak. And it’s not for the want of trying.

I often get it wrong even in one on one conversations, but if I’m in a group of two or more other people I’m like a fish out of water when it come to practising  conversational turn taking.

It appears to me that conversations consist of one person leading and others following, adding variable length interjections from time to time  (the nature and frequency of which varies from culture to culture), and then by some mysterious mechanism the lead is transferred to another member of the group.

To a person like me, the ability of others to smoothly navigate a conversation is more than an art or skill. It has the appearance of the participants having some sort of ESP or supernatural ability that is used to negotiate who says what, and when. In fact there was a period in my childhood when I was convinced this was true, which goes a long way to explain my brief fascination of the paranormal at that time.

I’m sure there’s a discipline of science that studies the mechanism by which people negotiate  conversations, but the average person seems to have no idea how they do it. Believe me, I’ve asked. Typical responses are “I’ve never thought about it” (so I gather), “It comes naturally” (no it doesn’t), “It’s instinctive” (no it’s not), “what a stupid question!” (why?), “everyone can do it” (really? I can’t)), “just take your turn” (when is it my turn?), “just observe and you’ll learn” (I’ve been observing for more than 60 years, so how about a hint or clue?).

It was only eight years ago that I learnt there is an explanation for the reason I find conversation so difficult: I discovered I am on the autism spectrum. However being armed with the knowledge why I fail to recognise non-verbal clues (a skill most people don’t realise they possess), does little to help me. If I concentrate exclusively on another’s body movements or tone of voice, I can maybe recognise something that possibly might be non-verbal clues. However, it’s a moot point as the concentration required means the words spoken have gone in one ear and out the other and I’m unable to relate what might have been expressed non-verbally with what the person has said.

When I first learnt I was on the spectrum, my only “knowledge” of autism was through the film Rain Man. I wanted to prove I wasn’t autistic, and tried many online tests in an attempt to prove the experts wrong. I failed totally. One test I tried (on many occasions) is the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. This test measures one’s ability to identify emotions in others by looking at an area around the eyes and without any other input.

The test consists of looking at a total of 36 pairs of eyes and choosing one of four emotions to match the image. The mean score is roughly 27/36 for women, 25/36 for men and 22/36 for people who have been identified as having Asperger Syndrome or “High Functioning” Autism. I’ve tried this test on numerous occasions, and the very best I have achieved is 16/36. However most of my results have been close been between 10 and 13, which is only marginally better than one would expect from a tossing a dice to choose an emotion.

So the next time someone appears to be rude by interrupting inappropriately, just consider the possibility that they might struggling, almost to the point of exhaustion, of trying to fit in and having no idea why they don’t. They struggle to fit into your world almost every moment they are awake. It won’t hurt you to try to fit into their world sometimes.

For those who would like to try the test for themselves, there are online versions at http://socialintelligence.labinthewild.org/mite/ and https://www.questionwritertracker.com/quiz/61/Z4MK3TKB.html. The latter requires Adobe Flash, and provides the answers, both of which are good reasons for me to avoid it.


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Where’s our flag?

As the 2018 Commonwealth Games draws to a close on the Gold Coast, one thing has struck me. When the TV cameras pan over the spectators we see:

The English supporters waving this:
England

The Kenyan supporters waving this:
Kenya

The Canadian supporters waving this:
Canada

And of course, the Australian supporters waving this:
Australia

So it might be reasonable to assume the Kiwi supporters would be waving this:
New_Zealand

 

Wrong!

 

Instead you’ll see them waving this:
silver-fern-flag

We had a flag referendum couple of years ago and decided to retain the current flag. So why do we seem to have a reluctance to fly it?


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Still cattle

A little while back I took Milo (a beautiful dog that belongs to my daughter’s family) for an extended walk that included an excursion into the countryside. During the walk I happened to pass what seemed like a tranquil scene. It was so still and calming that I had to stop and take a snap of the three cows in a paddock. The only camera I had with me was the one on my phone, which happens to be very basic – not even a zoom. But even before I took the photo I realised the scene was not all it seemed to be…

Three cows in a paddock
I know the picture isn’t the best quality, but if you look closely you might notice that the three cows have iron constitutions.

Yep, they are made entirely from corrugated roofing iron.


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The land of awkward terrorists, communists and fascists

For several weeks, I’ve been struggling with completing a post regarding the Kiwi propensity to avoid conflict and how it has a tendency to neutralise extremist views. Today I stumbled across an opinion piece first published in April 2017 which neatly summarises what I was attempting to write, and even poses a question very similar to what I wanted to ask.

So in the interests of getting a post out at all, I have abandoned writing my own, and refer readers to the Stuff article New Zealand: the land of awkward terrorists, communists and fascists.


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The Kiwi Rite of Passage

Taking an OE, or Overseas Experience, has become a characteristic activity of Young Kiwis over the last fifty years. Young New Zealanders head overseas for an extended period, usually immediately after graduating university, although often before beginning (and sometimes instead of undertaking) tertiary study. It has become such a social norm, that failing to show some work experience or extended stay overseas on one’s CV can put one at a disadvantage in job applications. Colloquially termed The Big OE, it’s estimated, that at any one time, one in five kiwis are living or travelling overseas. To make up for this “loss”, we have a high immigration rate. One in four New Zealand residents are immigrants.

So what lures young Kiwis to foreign shores?

A sense of adventure? Its been argued that the reason NZ had such a high rate of military volunteers during the first and second world wars was that young men saw it as the only opportunity they would have for an adventure in a foreign land. There’s no doubt that our isolation and small population makes other places seem more enticing and exciting.

Seeking one’s roots? Aotearoa New Zealand is a young country, and there would be very few individuals who don’t have at least one parent, grandparent or great grand parent who was born overseas. Depending on which branch of the family tree I follow, I am a second generation, third generation, fourth generation or fifth generation New Zealander. My wife is an immigrant, as is my daughter-in-law. In that respect, I’m a typical kiwi. Young people today have a greater interest in their roots than do people of my generation and have a genuine interest in where their family came from.

Career prospects? Kiwis are often highly sought after, particularly where the reputation of our work ethic and “can do” attitude precedes them. There’s certainly no denial that overseas there are pay scales and career opportunities that we can only dream about here. On returning home, that experience gives them a distinct advantage in the job market.

The lure of bright city lights? Sure, why not? World wide, there are over sixty cities with populations larger than our entire country, and if you include metropolitan areas, that number swells to 100. I have a distinct dislike for it, but most young people seem to crave for the excitement that can be found where the lights are brightest.

Economising? Strange as it may seem, this is a factor. New Zealand is very isolated geographically, and to get anywhere outside the country is expensive and takes a long time. The cost of travel to and from foreign destinations is relatively high compared to the cost of living there. So why not cram as much into one journey as possible by making it last a year or three?

There’s no doubt a myriad of other reasons, including that fact that this country and even its biggest cities just too quiet or dull for some. But eventually most return, sometimes with a new partner in tow to set up a new family. For although it’s an expensive place to live in, there’s no better place in which to raise a family.

A beneficial outcome of such a significant number of our young adults spending an extended period abroad is that they experience a wide variety of cultures different from their own. This means that on return they are, generally, more accepting, tolerant and appreciative of alternative cultures and life styles found within Aotearoa New Zealand. And that can only be a good thing.

So our rite of passage is the Big OE. What’s the rite of passage where you live?


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(A belated) Happy Hundredth Birthday Sir Lloyd

For the last 2 months I have wanted to dedicate a post to the achievements of Sir Lloyd George Geering who reached the great old age of 100 on the 26th of February this year. The problem is I have been struggling not only with what I should say, but how I should say it.

While I’m able to spout facts as well as anyone (especially if it’s on a topic I have an interest in), expressing more abstract notions presents a real problem for me. I’m not sure whether my thought process is closer the that of the autistic mind or that of the neurotypical mind, but I have great difficulty in converting what I feel/sense about ideas and concepts firstly into words and then into a series of ordered sentences.

So I will simply say thank you Sir Lloyd for helping me realise that my beliefs were not “way out” or heretical way back in the 1960s when I liked to think I was Christian and for affirming to a large sector of NZ society, both within and without Christianity, that religion does not have to be steeped in supernatural beliefs.

Oh, and a very happy (and belated) 100th birthday!


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Wahine fifty years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster with the loss of 53 lives. I was almost 19 at the time and can still recall listening to the minute by minute live radio commentary as the disaster unfolded. What is so memorable is the feeling of helplessness. The ferocity of the storm meant the would-be rescuers could only watch while remaining onshore.

At that time, television broadcasting was only eight years old in Aotearoa New Zealand and this was the first occasion where a significant disaster was able to be recorded as it happened.

Almost no one remembers the name of the ex tropical cyclone (I had to look it up: Cyclone Giselle) that collided with an Antarctic front over Cook Strait causing perhaps the most severe weather event in NZ in the last 100 years. Everyone remembers it as the “Wahine Storm“.

Unsettled weather is common for this time of the year. Today, much of the country is experiencing gale force winds, tornadoes and snow. Where I live we are experiencing high winds, reaching gale force at times, and it’s currently 8°C (46°F), whereas at the same time yesterday it was calm, sunny and a mild 19°C (66°F). However, today’s weather is nothing compared to this day 50 years ago.