Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Is Jonathan Franzen wrong?

Having observed neurotypical (non-autistic) behaviour for than more than half a century, as much as I hope Jonathan Franzen is wrong, it’s an option we should discuss. I feel that while we can probably develop the technology to avert a Mad Max like apocalyptic world, I’m yet to be convinced the the combined will of humanity will form in time to effect real change. By the same token, it’s unlikely that we can work together to effectively manage a transition to “the inevitable”, especially when many of the climate change deniers are in positions of power.

Quakers, social justice and revolution

There has been a lot of criticism of Jonathan Franzen’s recent article in the New Yorker, “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it”. Some of that criticism relates to choosing, specifically, a 2 degree Centigrade rise in atmospheric temperature as a limit we should not cross if runaway heating of the planet is to be avoided. No one seems to argue, though, that there is a threshold of warming beyond which runaway heating will occur.

Another interesting criticism relates to Franzen being an old white male, who is privileged to have his work published when people of color and/or women’s writings are not selected.

Then there is the criticism that he is not a scientist.

Not everyone thought Frazen’s arguments were completely off base. In an article…

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Update Aotearoa 11th May 2019

Recent newsworthy items of interest to me:

Australia’s most trusted politician is…

With just over one week to go before voters make their way to polling stations across the country to have their say in the federal election, a new poll has revealed just how much Aussies actually trust leading politicians.

Surprisingly, the results revealed that the politician who is held in the highest regard by Australian voters isn’t even an Aussie, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern came out on top. With a score of 77, Ardern emerged as the most dependable elected representative, with respondents also marking her the highest when it comes to ‘integrity’.

Read more (Starts at 60 Writers)

New Zealand fish stocks healthy and sustainable

Verified for another year – New Zealand fish stocks healthy and sustainable.

Research has again shown that New Zealand’s fish stocks are in great shape, thanks to a world-leading management system. The annual Fish Stock Status Report from Fisheries New Zealand confirms that 95 percent of all fish landed in New Zealand is from stocks that are sustainable and healthy. Fisheries New Zealand has verified the status of 169 fish stocks and found 142 stocks with no sustainability issues and 27 stocks that need to be rebuilt.

Read more (Scoop Business)

Auckland sweet shop owners jailed for exploiting workers

The owners of an Auckland confectionary shop have been jailed for worker exploitation.

Mohammed Atiqul Islam faced 20 charges in total, and was on Friday sentenced to four years and five months in prison. Those charges included 10 for exploitation, two for aiding and abetting a person to breach visa conditions, five for providing false and misleading information to an immigration officer, and two for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Read more (Newshub)

2019 Register of members’ interests published

Every year, Parliament publishes a summary of MPs’ interests, including certain assets, debts, and gifts they have received.

This summary is known as the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament. The 2019 Register was presented to the House this week by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard. It covers the period from 1 February 2018 to 31 January 2019.

Read more (New Zealand Parliament)

NZ introduces groundbreaking zero carbon bill, including targets for agricultural methane

New Zealand’s long-awaited zero carbon bill will create sweeping changes to the management of emissions, setting a global benchmark with ambitious reduction targets for all major greenhouse gases.

The bill includes two separate targets – one for the long-lived greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and another target specifically for biogenic methane, produced by livestock and landfill waste.

Read more (Sciblogs)


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Update Aotearoa – 8th May 2019

Some news items that are of significant interest to me personally:

Climate change bill, independent commission announced

The government has unveiled its plan to combat climate change, under which methane will be treated differently to other greenhouse gases, in response to push back from the agricultural industry.

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill – introduced to Parliament today – sets out a plan for the next 30 years.

The government has also set a new emissions reduction target for all greenhouse gases, except methane, to net zero by 2050, in line with New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“The government is today delivering landmark action on climate change – the biggest challenge facing the international community and New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Agriculture was “incredibly important to New Zealand”, Ms Ardern said, but also needed to be “part of the solution”.

“That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane” and adopted what’s known as a “split gas” approach.

Read more (RNZ News)

Should New Zealand history be compulsory in schools?

Is Aotearoa New Zealand alone in not mandating the teaching of its own history in schools?

A leading historian has renewed calls to make New Zealand history a compulsory subject in schools. Vincent O’Malley says the Ministry of Education’s reluctance to mandate the subject is not good enough.

He says the current curriculum was “failing” young people. “Any half decent education system anywhere in the world should deliver a basic introduction to the country you live in, that you grew up in. Ours is failing to do that. A lot of young people are asking to learn about this history.”

Read more (TVNZ One News)

Standards vital for new cannabis industry

MANU Caddie, chief executive of Ruatoria-based Hikurangi Cannabis Company, says a University of Otago academic is right to claim cannabis is unable to be considered a medicine because it contains multiple active ingredients.

Professor Michelle Glass published an opinion piece in the New Zealand Medical Journal last week suggesting there is no need for the Ministry of Health to develop new regulations governing cannabis as medicine because the Medicines Act already outlines the standards a product needs to reach in order to be considered a medicine.

Mr Caddie says recognition of cannabis as a medicine is challenging when whole plant extracts contain active ingredients in addition to THC and CBD.

Read more (Gisborne Herald)

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says anti-vaxxer parents are ‘pro-plague’

The education minister doesn’t think children shouldn’t miss out on school just because their parents are what he calls “pro-plague”.

The Northland DHB has suggested unvaccinated children stay home from school for the next two weeks, after two known cases of measles have been discovered. Northland has the lowest immunisation rate in the country at 85 percent.

Chris Hipkins said the DHB should be stepping up to ensure the region has sufficient immunisation levels. “Clearly there is an issue there that the DHB needs to address, they are responsible for that. I don’t believe that kids should be denied their right to an education, particularly if it’s a conscious choice by their parents not to immunise”, he said.

He said he uses the term ‘pro-plague’ for anti-vaxxers because that’s what they are. “It is a statement of fact. It is a ridiculous position, it is not based on science, there are very good reasons why we require a certain level of the population to be immunised, so that we’re not susceptible to massive outbreaks.”

Read more (RNZ News)

Mohua goes from rare to common in 21 years

The once rare mohua/yellowhead has for the first time become the most common native bird counted since predator control began in the Landsborough valley in South Westland.

Mohua numbers have risen more than 30-fold and overall, native bird numbers have doubled in the 21 years since monitoring began in 1998, recently analysed Department of Conservation (DOC) results show.

DOC Principal Science Advisor Dr Colin O’Donnell says the long-term study charts the response of 13 native bird species following sustained predator control to suppress rats, stoats and possums.

Read more (Scoop Sci-tech)

Celebrating New Zealand Sign Language Week and working toward an accessible future

For Deaf Aotearoa‘s executive assistant Erica Dawson access to political knowledge and information has “opened a whole new world”. It started in 2017 when a sign language version of the final debate between Jacinda Ardern and Bill English began.

For the first time the clash was aired  with a hand-to-hand battle between interpreters. Signs for policy words needed to be created, and people within the deaf community helped ensure viewers were given the correct messages from Ardern and English.

Last year Ardern announced all post-cabinet press conferences would be interpreted into NZSL going forward. That’s meant for the first time in Dawson’s almost 30-year life, she has been able to follow politics.

Read more (Stuff National)


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Update Aotearoa – 11th April 2019

NZ’s environmental watchdog challenges climate policy on farm emissions and forestry offsets

The greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, from burping and urinating livestock, account for about half of New Zealand’s total emissions. These agricultural emissions have been the elephant in the room of New Zealand climate policy for some time.

report released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) this week suggests New Zealand should treat biological emissions differently from carbon dioxide emissions. It also says afforestation is a risky approach to combating climate change if planting trees is used to offset carbon emissions.

The report threatens to turn environmental policy and its principal policy tool, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), on its head.

Read more…

New Zealand’s Pacific reset: strategic anxieties about rising China

China’s expanding influence is complicating strategic calculations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Small states, dependent on maintaining high levels of trade with China to secure their prosperity, are loathe to criticise or take actions that Beijing could find objectionable. This is creating a dilemma over how small states can protect their national interests at a time when China’s growing influence threatens the status quo.

New Zealand illustrates this dynamic. It watches China extend its influence into the microstates of the South Pacific, a region where New Zealand (and its ally Australia) have long enjoyed a position of prominent influence.

Read more…

New Zealand’s new gun law: What you need to know

Politicians have almost unanimously passed a ban on high-power guns in response to the Christchurch mosque attack.

So what will change, what won’t, and how did it happen?

ALMOST UNANIMOUSLY?

Of 120 members parliament, only one opposed the changes: the libertarian Act party’s sole MP, David Seymour. He argued the laws have been rushed through too quickly and without enough consultation.

By legislative standards, the process has moved at lightning speed. Lawmakers often mull bills for at least six months. Friday will mark four weeks since the March 15 terror attack that killed 50 people in Christchurch.

Read more…

Why A New Zealand Official Insists ‘Facebook Can’t Be Trusted’

Rachel Martin talks to New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner John Edwards, who criticized Facebook after last month’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch were live-streamed on Facebook.

Read more…

 


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So we’re teaching our kids to hate wild animals?

Well, according to professor Marc Bekoff in this article and this article in the Huffington Post we are.

Yes, we want to eradicate some species from our shores including possums, rabbits, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, rats and mice, and some of want to go further and include goats, pigs, deer, peacocks cats and dogs in that list.

Does that mean we hate those species? Or does it mean we love kiwi, kōkako, kākāpō, takahē, tīeke, tuatara, wēta and powelliphanta more?

The good professor objects to the organised killing of possums. In fact he’s been recorded as saying “It’s time to put away the guns, the traps, the snares, the poisons. The lives of individual animals matter, and killing is not the answer”. Perhaps the good professor would like to have a quiet word in the possums’ collective ear about the harm they are doing by destroying the forest canopy and that their predation of eggs, birds and insects is contributing to the extinction of many species. He might also like to mention that as they have no predators here, they might like to reduce their birthrate to a manageable level.

Alternatively he might like to find a viable method of non-traumatically capturing 30 million possums and shipping them to Australia. I’m sure the Aussies would welcome all 30 million of them back with open arms. Then perhaps he can suggest solutions for the other invasive species I’ve mentioned.

The professor makes the ridiculous claim that as these invasive species have been here for more than 50 years, they have every right to live here in peace. Our native and endemic flora and fauna have lived here for up to 80 million years. Do they not have a right to live here in peace? Those invasive species we wish to eradicate have contributed to one of the greatest mass extinctions in recent history. As around 80% of our fauna is endemic to New Zealand, if they disappear here, they’re gone for good.

I’m all for treating animals compassionately, but these foreign pests have been anything but compassionate to our native and endemic species. If they can’t learn to get along with the original inhabitants, it’s time they moved elsewhere. We are facing a conservation crisis, so the time to play nice with these critters has passed.

For a viewpoint that contrasts starkly with that of Professor Bekoff, see this article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.


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River gains personhood

Back in October 2015 I wrote an post regarding the lack of respect fundamentalist Christians have towards Māori culture, and their confusing of cultural beliefs and practices with a direct assault on their “true” religion. What they failed to understand is that what Māori regard as Tapu (not ordinary, often translated as “sacred”)  remains the same regardless of their religion or non-religion. And they forget that the majority of Māori are Christian whereas the Majority of Pākehā are not. Even so, within Māori culture, concepts such as tapu, mana and mauri are an integral part of their world view.

While preparing this post I stumbled upon this conversation regarding the same incident. Lydia’s (the OP) assertion was that Māori had no rights to claim a mountain as sacred, or if they did, and it was legally recognised, then that’s proof of the establishment of a religion and therefore unconstitutional.

Ignoring for the moment that no law passed by the Parliament can ever be declared unconstitutional in Aotearoa New Zealand, most of the comments support Lydia using one of three arguments:

  1. Christianity is the only true religion and therefore has every right to trample over any other belief system.
  2. Places can be sacred, but only if they’re man-made and not in publicly accessible places.
  3. Recognising the values and practices of a minority is tantamount to the establishment of a religion.

Argument 1 is utter nonsense and I don’t consider it warrants further discussion. Arguments 2 and 3 I will take together as it seems many people, Christian and atheist alike, perceive alternative world views as being based in religion instead of being just a different way of perceiving the world around us.

The problem with many people in modern “Western” societies, particularly Anglophones, is that they see their culture, not just as one of many cultures, but as THE standard to which all other cultures will, when they fully mature, become carbon copies of. Just like many people think they don’t have an accent, only people from other regions do, many think the same way about culture. Other people have culture, but they themselves don’t because they do “what comes naturally”. How wrong they are.

Every aspect of our lives is coloured by the culture in which we are immersed. This includes, customs, practices, beliefs and values. If we live in a region which is mono-cultural, or predominantly so, then we are likely to see other cultural practices and beliefs as something added to, or taken away from, the “natural” state of being human. And if those practices and beliefs were to be removed, then we may think that those formerly holding those practices and beliefs would behave and think very much like us. And of course we’d be wrong.

The founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand is the Treaty of Waitangi which has largely been honoured by the crown more in its breach than by following its principles. English legislation and common law, as well as the English constitutional conventions became the laws of New Zealand in 1840 and Māori customary law was for all practical purposes erased, even though the Treaty gives it equal status with English law.

Over the last 3 or 4 decades, Pakeha in general have slowly come to the realisation that they have a world view that is different from, rather than superior to, the world view of Māori. I believe we are made richer by valuing alternative world views and even recognising and embracing such views legally.

Perhaps much of the “modern” concept of ownership is derived from the Abrahamic religions where God granted mankind dominion over all of nature. The result is that resources can become the exclusive property of individuals, communities, and (more recently) corporations, to be exploited for the benefit of the owners and with little regard to how it might affect other parts of nature, including other people.

In traditional Maori culture mankind is part of nature, not apart or above it. All things have a life force and rivers, mountains and forests are viewed as living entities, and are treated and respected as such. Just as one person cannot be owned, living entities cannot be owned. Communities can have guardianship or stewardship over a living entity but not dominionship or ownership of it.

These two differing world views have been at the heart of conflict between Māori and Pakeha for almost two hundred years and until recently no resolution that meets both views has been found. In the case of the Whanganui River, there have been ongoing court battles for more than 130 years.

This 2009 thesis discuses in depth why a resolution has been so difficult and then proposes giving rivers personhood as a possible solution. The author, James Morris suggests that a model based on a proposal by an American law professor, Christopher Stone could be adapted to New Zealand’s situation. Morris suggests that the benefits would be:

  1. because many Māori seek resolution of who owns rivers, affording a river its own legal personality would neutralise these arguments: the river would be its own entity and thus could not be owned
  2. as the river would be its own entity, Māori would have equal authority and control in decision-making with government authorities thus Māori tikanga (culture: including kaitiakitanga  and rangatiratanga aspirations) would have increased recognition.
  3. a river being its own entity under the law would better align the legal framework with the Māori worldview as Māori tikanga (culture) regards rivers as tupuna (ancestors). Tupuna cannot be thought of in fragments as is the case in New Zealand law (for example, the flowing water, the river bed and the river bank). Tupuna must be viewed holistically.
  4. a river having its own legal standing would benefit the health of the river as compensation would have to be applied for the benefit of the river as opposed to remedying a third party’s economic loss.

This model has been adapted here in Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2014 legislation was passed that made what was the Te Urewera National Park into a legal entity in and of itself with all the rights of a person. The purpose was to  protect Te Urewera for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance.

In March this year the Whanganui River became a legal entity with all the rights of a person. The legislation established a new legal framework for the Whanganui River, known in Maori as Te Awa Tupua, recognising the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea. Te Awa Tupua now has its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. The  legislation recognises the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui Iwi (tribe) and the river through their traditions, customs and practise.

I predict that it won’t be too long before Taranaki (the mountain under discussion in the links in the first two paragraphs of this post) will also gain personhood. I’m sure this new way (for Pakeha) of looking at the world will be confirmation by fundamentalist Christians that indeed the official religion of New Zealand is animism. However, most Kiwis, Paheha and Māori see this as a “meeting of the minds” and perhaps creating a new culture out of two older ones. This opinion piece expresses what most Kiwis feel about the forging of new ideas such as personhood of natural entities.

Is the concept of personhood for natural resources a viable option in other parts of the world, to preserve those resources and to respect and protect indigenous cultures? Or is this a case of New Zealand loosing the plot as suggested in this What’s Wrong With The World article.


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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.