Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Secular education

Following on from yesterday’s snippet on Pastafarian rights, I note the US state department comment on religion in NZ schools:

The law provides that “teaching in every state [public] primary school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.”  A public primary school may close, including during normal school hours, for up to one hour per week, up to a total of 20 hours per year, to devote to religious instruction or religious observance, to be conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board of trustees.  If a public primary school provides religious instruction or observes religious customs, it must allow students to opt out.  Religious instruction or observance, if provided, usually takes place outside normal school hours.

This has been the rule since the 1870s. It’s a pity that a few boards of trustees seem not to understand what closed means in this regards.


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Pastafarian rights

That’s not a spelling mistake. I really do mean Pastafarian. For want of something better to do (my concentration has been off recently), I was wandering about on the internet and stumbled upon the U.S. State Department web site, and out of curiosity, looked up what that esteemed department had to say about Aotearoa New Zealand.

Most was kind of boring but some snippets did stand out. This one into their 2018 report on religious freedom in NZ made me smile:

In March an Auckland secondary school student stated that his school did not allow him to wear a spaghetti colander for his school identity photograph, contrary to his religious beliefs.  The student is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, otherwise known as Pastafarianism, which is a legally recognized religion in the country.  The student stated that he contacted the HRC over the incident but had accepted the school’s decision for the time being.

HRC is an abbreviation for Human Rights Commission, an independent authority that reports to Parliament, not the government. So all you Flying Spaghetti Monster worshipers, if you are looking for somewhere where your religion is recognised (one school excepted) then this is possibly an ideal spot.

By the way, did you realise that in 2001, approximately 1.5% of the New Zealand population claimed their religion as Jedi? That’s the highest per capita population of Jedi in the world. It’s been falling steadily ever since. Which is a shame. I much prefer “May the force be with you” than “God bless”. It has a more dramatic ring to it, don’t you think?


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If you’re not aware, today, the 29th of August is The International Day Against Nuclear Tests. Aotearoa New Zealand has long had an anti-nuclear weapons stance, which unfortunately the Prime Minister in the 1980s declared was “not for export”, possibly to appease the American administration at that time. The following is a presentation from Kevin Clements, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand.

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020 Kevin P Clements Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago As Albert Einstein said “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when […]

via Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. — Kevin’s Peace Musings


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I had high hopes for Julia, but now, just like Quincy, I too am fumingly mad about this.

Have you heard of the Sesame Street character Julia? She’s one of the newest characters in the Sesame Street lineup, and when she was introduced represented what was perhaps one of the most important steps forward for broader autism understanding and acceptance. Julia is Sesame Street’s first autistic character, and one of the first openly […]

via Sesame Street partners with Autism Speaks – A step backwards for autism acceptance. — Speaking of Autism…


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All Blacks retain the Bledisloe Cup

The Bledisloe Cup is a rugby union competition between the All Blacks (New Zealand national team) and the Wallabies (Australian national team). The All Blacks have held the cup since 2002, but in the first game in the series last week, the Wallabies soundly beat the All Blacks The competition became a hot topic of conversation in Australia, in the hopeful belief that they might be able to take the cup for the first time in 17 years.

Such was not to be. Perhaps it was the passion in the haka that fired up the All Blacks (or intimidated the Aussies):

No matter. We won 36 – 0


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I wonder what she wants?

On Wednesday morning around 8:40, the front doorbell rang. On opening it I saw a youngish middle aged, smartly dressed woman. Her hair dark hair, as was her attire and even her makeup. She was carrying a ring-binder folder in one hand and what appeared to be a guitar case in the other.

For the life of me I couldn’t think of a reason why such a person should be calling. Door to door sales people are a rare as hens’ teeth these days, and the guitar case kind of ruled out an official visit from some sort of authority. The possibility of this being a religious caller sprung to mind, but they usually arrive in pairs, and  such visitors turn up less than once a year.

Within two seconds of opening the door, I was leaning towards this being someone on a personal campaign, a survey of some sort, or someone representing a charity, but why the guitar case? To be honest I was puzzled by her presence, And I wondered what the purpose of her calling was all about.

Just then my peripheral vision caught something rapidly approaching from my left. Just as I began to turn my head to see what was bearing down on me with undue speed, the woman spoke.

 

“Hi Dad!”

That cleared it all up. The visitor was our daughter, and that object approaching at near the speed of sound was Milo, her Whippet/Labrador cross.

If you’re thinking that I rarely see our daughter, you’re wrong. She typically drops in four or five times each week. Nor was her appearance any different from what it normally is when she calls in before work, and that occurs at least twice each week when she drops off Milo. So why didn’t I recognise her?

Two obvious clues:  (1) Milo had been distracted by something she saw or smelled, and wasn’t at the door when I opened it; (2) I didn’t see our daughter’s car coming up our driveway. Either of these are conditions that prepare me to expect the visitor to be our daughter. Always, as it was in this case, her voice is what confirms her identity.

Face blindness, or Prosopagnosia affects about 2% of the general population, but is much more prevalent among those on the autism spectrum. I rely on features such as gait, mannerisms, body size and shape, but especially voice to recognise others.

Some clues such as hair style and colour, and skin tone are less reliable, especially with women, as they have a tendency to change these from time to time. This has lead to some of my most embarrassing moments. With women, even gait changes depending on the height of the heels they’re wearing. I’m very grateful that my wife does not like wearing heels, and even on occasions when heels are expected they’re only about 3 cm high (a little over an inch high) and doesn’t change her gait significantly.

I’m also grateful that she’s much shorter that almost every other adult (1.47 m or 4′ 10″), and has a gait typical of many Japanese farming families of her generation. Lets just say that the Western view of deportment was not a consideration. Both these characteristics help me pick her out in a crowd, but it’s her voice that truly identifies her. The accent and volume are very distinctive.

Couple face blindness with an inability to read facial clues and a similar inability to display them, and I find myself at a considerable disadvantage in social interactions. Unfortunately this is one area I have made very little improvement on through experience or experimentation.

I’m no better today than I was sixty years ago as a ten year old boy. Way back then first impressions of me ranged from odd, peculiar or quirky to just scary – the latter especially so if I made the first attempt at communication; it was safer to wait for others to make an approach. I would like to think I have made an improvement with first impressions since then, but have I?


Oh, and on the off chance that you’re wondering about the guitar case: On Wednesdays, I pick up the grand children from school. The guitar case, its content, and the ring binder belong to our granddaughter who has guitar lessons after school on that day.

Time hasn’t help me improve the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test linked to above. I typically score somewhere in the vicinity of  12 out of 36 (the median for males is 21/36). I tried the test today when searching for the link, but today and I achieved a lowly 7/36. I could probably done better by covering the images and randomly choosing one of the  four emotions provided for each image.


Abortion law reform passes first reading

The first reading of the abortion reform legislation has just passed 94 votes to 23. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs were not required to vote down party lines.

Source: Abortion law reform passes first reading


Although 94 votes to 23 might seem like overwhelming support to non-Kiwi readers, this is not how we do things. After a bill passes its first reading it’s referred to a Select Committee where it is considered in detail and where interested parties can make submissions. This process can typically take around six months. This is the forum where the issues are debated, and the public are listened to. Rarely does a bill pass through this stage without some changes. Shutting down debate does not resolve issues – it’s more likely to harden prejudices.

The Committee process will see and hear submissions from all sides including health professionals, women’s groups, the legal profession, social workers, members of the public – in fact, anyone who wishes to have a say on the matter. MPs (Members of Parliament), whether they support or oppose the legislation understand this, and realise that without reasoned discussion, an informed decision cannot be made. Many, but not all, are open to persuasion based on the facts presented.

I expect the vote at the final reading will be much closer, perhaps 65 votes to 55.


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Practicalities of abortion law reform

Somewhere between one in three and one in four women in Aotearoa New Zealand will seek and have a legal abortion at some time in their life. A decade ago, there were almost 21 abortions per year per 1000 women of child bearing ages, but  has been declining since. Last year it was 13 per 1000. Better education and contraceptives have seen a dramatic drop in teenage abortions while abortions in women in their twenties and thirties have risen slightly. Our abortion rates are not too different from countries in North America or western Europe, but unlike in the US, abortion here is a crime.

The law as it is now

The Crimes Act 1961 determines the grounds for an abortion under 20 weeks, which can be serious danger to life, any form of incest or sexual relations with a guardian, mental sub normality and foetal abnormality. Extremes of age and sexual violation can also be taken into account but aren’t grounds in themselves.

After 20 weeks gestation the grounds are different. Abortions can only be performed to save the life of the mother or to prevent serious permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.

The law is an ass

Around 98% of abortions are perform on mental health grounds, and are essentially a means of getting around the current criminal nature of abortions. The Dunedin longitudinal study reveals that the most common reason given for having an abortion was not being ready, followed by relationship reasons, including being in the wrong relationship and being alone. In other words the law is an ass. The law should be either enforced or changed.

And here we differ markedly from the trend that we observe is going on in America. In early 2018, Andrew Little, the Minister of justice, asked the Law Commission to provide advice on what alternative approaches could be taken to ensure New Zealand’s abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.

Law Commission recommendations

Earlier this year, the Commission presented its ministerial briefing paper and offered three possible models:

  • Under Model A there would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed. The decision whether to have an abortion would be made by the woman concerned in consultation with her health practitioner.
  • Under Model B there would be a statutory test. The health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Regardless of which model may be preferred, the briefing paper sets out several other changes that could be made to align the law with a health approach to abortion. They include:

  • Repealing the current grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act.
  • Removing the requirement for abortions to be authorised by two specially appointed doctors called ‘certifying consultants’.
  • Repealing the criminal offences in the Crimes Act relating to abortion. Instead, other offences in the Crimes Act and health legislation that currently exist would protect women from unsafe abortions. If Model B or C is adopted, an additional offence could be introduced in health legislation for people who perform abortions that don’t meet the statutory test. In no case would the woman be subject to an offence.
  • Allowing women to access abortion services directly, rather than having to get a referral from a doctor as they do under the current law.
  • Removing the current restrictions around who may perform an abortion and where abortions must be performed. Instead, the provision of abortion services would be regulated by appropriate health bodies, the same as any other health care procedure.
  • Moving the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s oversight responsibilities to the Ministry of Health.
  • Requiring health practitioners who do not wish to provide health services in relation to abortion because of a conscientious objection to refer women to someone who can provide the service.

The full briefing paper can be found here.

The art of the possible

The legislation that is to be introduced into the parliament is essentially model C with all the suggested changes, but with the statutory test being at 20 weeks instead of 22. Andrew Little would have preferred model A, but politics is the art of the possible. It’s unlikely that a bill based on model A would be able to make its way through all stages of the process required to make it law. He’s indicated that the 20 week threshold was another of those compromises he needed to make to gain support from some members of parliament, notably members of the New Zealand First party. While the reforms might not be ideal, it’s certainly far better than keeping the status quo. As the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern commented “Ultimately, it is about putting something to Parliament that has the strongest likelihood of succeeding. This issue should not be in the Crimes Act.”

Polls indicate that around 70% to 75% of the NZ adult population favour decriminalising abortion, but to what degree liberalisation should occur is less clear. However, as elsewhere, those opposing reform are by far the loudest. In this country opposition is not entirely along religious or gender lines.

Passage through parliament

If the bill passes its first reading it will be referred to a select committee, which can then take months to hear submissions from all interested parties, and you can be sure that on this topic there will be a great many submissions. It’s most likely the the select committee stage will be a prolonged affair, as more that the usual numbers supporters and opponents will wish to make vocal submissions as well as written ones. This can be expected on issues where emotions run high.

After the select committee process the bill then has to pass the second and third reading before being passed into law, and as the minister of justice admits, there’s no guarantee that this will happen. However, it’s very unlikely that he would introduce the legislation unless he believed there was a better than even chance that it would get through all stages. Time will tell if he is correct.


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Come on then, I dare you…

I am reasonably tech savvy. I worked in the I.T. industry for 35 years providing technical support in the banking and retailing sector, and although I retired from the industry almost 20 years ago, I have retained an interest in it, and in computing in general.

So when my Spam filter catches an email such as the one below, I sigh, knowing every claim made is absolutely false. I don’t need to fear that there might be a chance that what I view online will be disclosed to anyone I might (or might not) know.

While I prefer to keep my online browsing preferences private, there is nothing that would be terribly embarrassing or worse if others were to discover them. And to ensure that I don’t stumble across websites I’d rather not see, my home network makes use of DNS filtering through OpenDNS.

It’s not perfect. I stumbled upon copies of the Christchurch shooter’s live streaming of the event when it appeared on popular social media sites in the days after the incident, even here on WordPress. But for me personally, I appreciate the high level of selective filtering it provides, so the chances of any user on my home network being able to view an online pornographic video are remote.

Leaving aside the remote possibility of anyone watching porn from my home network, let alone my computer, and for the benefit of the scammer, here’s why the email can safely be ignored:

Hello,

Hello to you too. If you had access to my computer as claimed further below, I’d expect you to know my name, and to use it to prove the legitimacy of your claim. Using a salutation without my name is the first indication that you really know nothing about me

As you may have noticed, I sent this email from your email account (if you didn’t see, check the from email id). In other words, I have fullccess to your email account.

No you didn’t. Spoofing the from address is an extremely simple and trivial process. Every email client (even Outlook Express)  provides an easy means of doing so. Besides, a quick check of the email header, provides all the information I need to know that the message originated somewhere other than my own email account. In this particular case you relayed your email via a Yahoo mail server located in the USA.

I infected you with a malware a few months back when you visited an adult site, and since then, I have been observing your actions.

Really? Even on the very remote chance that I accidentally came across an “adult” site and that the site contained malware you had inserted, the odds of it being code that could infect my computer are orders of magnitude smaller. I don’t use a popular Web browser and I don’t use a popular operating system. While no operating system is perfect, any vulnerabilities discovered in Linux are patched almost immediately. This is one of the advantages of using an open source operating system. So unless your code is targeted specially towards Linux, and is using some as yet unidentified vulnerability that you discovered more than a year ago, it’s simply not possible to install malware at the operating system level.

The malware gave me full access and control over your system, meaning, I can see everything on your screen, turn on your camera or microphon and you won’t even notice about it.

Even in the extremely remote chance that malware has been installed, and that it had managed to gain root access when my logon user ID hasn’t, nor do any of the applications, including web browsers, have root access, your claim that the malware was capable of manipulating my camera and microphone is laughable, You see, there needs to be a camera or microphone for you to manipulate. There isn’t. But ignoring that inconvenient truth, shall we continue?

I also have access to all your contacts.

Aside from having access to a nonexistent camera, your malware, you would need to have an intimate knowledge of my operating system, and the software installed. Your malware would have to know what software I use for my contacts and where on the system the information was stored. Give me that information and I might believe you.

Why your antivirus did not detect malware?
It’s simple. My malware updates its signature every 10 minutes, and there is nothing your antivirus can do about it.

As I run Linux on my computer, I have no need for antivirus software. You also clearly don’t understand what a signature is. It is not something within your malware. It’s something antivirus applications create from information gleaned from malware. It doesn’t matter how much your malware modifies bits of its code, the antivirus folk are clever enough to figure out how the modifications are made and build in a suitable method of identification. And as you have been sending me identical messages for more than a year, I have every confidence that if in fact there was any malware at all, every antivirus application would have long ago figured out how to identify it. So I have every confidence that even if I did run a version of Windows or MacOS, which I don’t, I would be well protected by any antivirus program I chose.

I made a video showing both you (through your webcam) and the video
you were watching (on the screen) while satisfying yourself.
With one click, I can send this video to all your contacts (email, social network, and messengers you use).

I’m rather fascinated by your claim. In fact I look forward to viewing said video. I’ve looked and looked, but for the life of me, I cannot find this web cam. Can you enlighten me?

You can prevent me from doing this.
To stop me, transfer $989 to my bitcoin address.
If you do not know how to do this, Google – “Buy Bitcoin”.

My bitcoin address (BTC Wallet) is 1Hmn2KAK2Z3VjkpMz26nmh9KVAV6KqYiYp

If you have access to my computer, could you not have simply accessed my bank account and my credit card details?  The username and password for my online banking are stored in encrypted form within my web browser and surely it would be a trivial matter for you to obtain it, especially if you have access at the operating system level. You wouldn’t even need to decrypt the password. With your supposed knowledge it should be a trivial exercise to fool the browser into decoding it for you.

After receiving the payment, I will delete the video,
and you will never hear from me again.
You have 48 hours to pay. Since I already have access to your system
I now know that you have read this email, so your countdown has begun.

As it’s been close to 9000 hours since I received your first email, and I have received around to 200 subsequent messages, why should I believe this 48 hour deadline is any more final than all the others? It’s quite obvious that you have no idea whether or not I have read your message. The most common technique for knowing if an email has been read is by embedding web link to a transparent 1 x 1 gif. My email application does not display linked images by default. I have to explicitly enable it for each message. The other common technique is to include a flag requesting an acknowledgement when an email is read. My email application is configured to never send an acknowledgement. Besides, I read the contents of your email from within my online Spam filtering system control panel, which, not being an email client, can not open links nor send acknowledgements.

Filing a complaint will not do any good
because this email cannot be tracked.
I have not made any mistakes.

You fail to understand how emails are sent. I can tell exactly the last server and location that the message passed through before it arrived at my mail server (yes, I have my own mail server). Armed with that information and the cooperation of email server hosts, I can track the message to a vpn and beyond, or to a compromised computer. I’ll concede that I’m unlikely to find your identity, but that’s of little concern.

If I find that you have shared this message with someone else, I will immediately send the video to all of your contacts.

Well, as you can see I have shared it. Come on then, send the video. I dare you.

Take care

Of what?

Some further details for those still reading: Some of the messages contain a username and password that I possibly did use many years ago, but not in the last ten years. Over the three decades that I have had online access (does anyone remember NCSA Mosaic?), I have been notified a few times that a website I use has been hacked and and there’s a remote chance that user credentials might have been compromised. This is the most likely source of the user credentials included in some of the scam attempts. In most cases, they have been sites that I had stopped using, but even in the two cases where I am still an active user, I’m not particularly concerned.

You see, I never use the same username and password on more than one site. Yes folk, I’m one of those nerds that use a different user ID and password for every website, and for every computer login. Perhaps I’m fortunate in that I also own several domain names, and can create an unlimited number of email addresses. So even though a great many websites now require an email address as the user ID, I can still create a unique email address/user ID for each and every site.

What the scammer probably doesn’t realise is that every Spam filtering system worth its salt, now recognises such messages as Spam, and will have done so for many months. The intended recipient is unlikely to even see these blackmail attempts.


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The country that most closely follows Qur’anic principles is…

I find little to distinguish the principles of secular humanism from those of most religions, and in holding that view I tend to find myself a target of the “fundamentalists” of both the religious and non-religious kind. In this regard, I’m probably typical of a relatively large section of those who call Aotearoa New Zealand home. It is important to note that I am referring to principles and not practices. The reason why will become obvious in a moment.

Way back in October 2015 I wrote a piece titled Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really? in which I was critical of an article by John Tertullian on MandM. He was of the opinion that there is only one “true” religion, and as a consequence all others must be false. When it comes to the environmental crisis we find ourselves in today, I see the reverence bestowed upon nature by Māori (and no doubt other cultures with spiritual/religious beliefs, which the West often perceive as primitive, and collectively label as animism) in which all animate and inanimate forms possess a “life force” or “essence” (called mauri in Te Reo Māori). In this country the concept of mauri is becoming a motivator for Pākeha as it has been for Māori in taking care of our planet. It is the principles, or essence of mauri that motivate us, not necessarily a specific set of beliefs about what it is.

Which brings me to the point of the post. The Islamicity Foundation owns the Islamicity Indices project, which according to their website:

The Islamicity Indices enable Muslims to focus on the indisputable source of their religion—the Qur’an—and are a continuous performance indicator of their rulers, governments and communities. The Indices also provide a simple approach to explain Islam to the non-Muslim world. With a better understanding of Islam in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, peaceful reform and effective institutions will be more readily achieved in Muslim countries.

While I acknowledge that not every Muslim will come to the same conclusions as the Islamicity Foundation on what are the most important Quranic principles (supporters of ISIS and Al-Qaeda being glaring examples), my experience with Muslims in this country indicates that those principles are ranked highly.

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims;
I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.”

 

Mohammad Abduh

Of particular note is the comment “The Islamicity Indices substantiate the observation that Western countries better reflect Islamic institutions than do countries that profess Islam and also provide the compass for renewal and progress in Muslim countries.”

I believe it’s important to understand that the principles underlying a belief system should not be confused with the institutions and practices of those who follow that system. While institutions, practices and dogma change with time and location, the principles or “essence” remain essentially the same. In fact I see a similar “essence” in almost every worthwhile belief system, be it spiritual, religious or secular.

So now, (with appropriate drum roll please) the country that most closely follows Qur’anic principles is…

Aotearoa New Zealand

I stumbled upon this quirky piece of information here, and then found dozens of similar articles following a quick search of the internet for verification. What I find interesting is that on many Christian sites, one statement of fact has been altered. In non-Christian articles we read:

New Zealand has no official religion and nearly half of the country’s 5 million people identify as Christian

Whereas in most Christian based articles we read:

The country of New Zealand does not have any official religion and close to 5 million of the people in the country identify themselves as Christian.

I would like to think that the more than doubling of Christian numbers in these articles was a case of human error by one writer of one article that became a source of information for all the rest. Or am I being too optimistic about the motivation of some writers?