Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Thanksgiving

No, it’s not celebrated in Aotearoa, although Black Friday is now firmly on the retailers’ calendar, replacing Boxing day (December 26) as the day with the highest retail turnover. Besides, it celebrates a myth and a whitewashing of America’s colonial past.

Before ill health forced me into early retirement 15 years before I anticipated, I worked for the New Zealand subsidiary of a multinational information technology company. The managing director of the NZ subsidiary was typically (but not always) a foreign national – often American. In the early years of the 1990s an American was appointed to the role of managing director, and in his wisdom, he decided that as the parent company headquarters were located in the US, the NZ subsidiary should follow the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Staff located in Auckland where the NZ head office was located were “treated” to a luncheon with turkey and speeches that were mostly meaningless to the attendees. Staff in the fifteen or so branches scattered across the country were “less fortunate”, as all we were “treated” to was turkey sandwiches that had been couriered to each staff member in every branch.

I hate to think what it cost the company, as turkey was almost unknown here at the time. I presume it was imported specially for the occasion. The six staff members in the branch I was based at took one bite of a sandwich, and instantly tossed all their sandwiches into the rubbish. None of us had tasted turkey before, and not one of us liked the taste one tiny bit. The same occurred in every branch, and apparently most of the turkey served in Auckland had a similar fate. It’s not something the Kiwi palate could easily accommodate.

No one had the courage to inform the managing director what they thought of the whole Thanksgiving fiasco, so he decided to celebrate Thanksgiving the following year. While many Auckland staff found excuses not to attend the luncheon, the branches hatched up a plan of their own. Every sandwich package delivered to the branches was carefully repackaged, addressed to the Managing director and sent by overnight courier back to Auckland. There were about 80 staff members across all the branches, so when he arrived at his office the following morning, the managing director found 80 packages of stale turkey sandwiches waiting for him.

We never heard mention of Thanksgiving again.


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Empathy

Like many, perhaps most autistic people, I am suspicious of a lot of the work and research that Simon Baron Cohen is involved with, however sometimes he hits the nail right on the head. I recently watched a 2012 TEDx presentation by Cohen and he made some comments regarding empathy and democracy that are surely relevant today. Let me quote starting from 10:35:

10:35 “Empathy is vital for a healthy democracy; it ensures that when we listen to different perspectives, we hear other people’s emotions and we also feel them. Indeed without empathy, democracy would not be possible.”

11:46 “Empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution. We could wait for our political leaders to use empathy – and that would be refreshing – but actually we could all use our empathy.”

If I was asked for one word to describe what is lacking in American society and politics at this time, I think I would choose the word empathy.

If you wish to watch Simon Baron Cohen’s presentation in its entirety you can find it on YouTube: The erosion of empathy | Simon Baron Cohen | TEDxHousesofParliament.


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Musical Monday (2022/11/07) – Tangaroa Whakamautai

Most of the music I choose for Musical Mondays is from the 60s, 70s and 80s as these are the decades where I was most exposed to music and where I developed my preferences. But I’m not so set in my ways that I don’t don’t enjoy some music from more recent decades. This is one such song. In Māori mythology, Tangaroa is one of the deities present when the earth mother, Papatūānuku, and the sky father, Ranginui, were forced apart to let in the light and bring about the beginning of the world. He became the guardian of the oceans.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something almost spiritual in many modern songs in te Reo Māori, and Tangaroa Whakamautai is no exception. I find it exquisitely beautiful. I hope you do too. This song by Kiwi singer songwriter Maisey Rika was released in September 2012.

Some of the music video was shot on Whakaari (White Island), which is an active volcano that lies about 50Km (30 miles) off the coast of Aotearoa. It erupted explosively in 2019 killing 22 people and seriously burning and injuring 25 others. Access to the island is now prohibited to tourists.

Tangaroa Whakamautai – Maisey Rika
Tangaroa Whakamautai

Te ararau o Tangaroa
E rere ki te papaurunui 
Te ararau o Tangaroa
E rere ki te papaurunui 
Te ararau o Tangaroa
E rere ki te papaurunui 

Tahora nui ātea
Te manawa o te moana
Te mauri o Tangaroa
Tangaroa whakamautai
Tangaroa whakamautai

Tūtara Kauika
He poutiriao
Te wai o Tangaroa
Te wai o Tangaroa

Te tangi a te tohorā
He tohu nō aituā
Te mau a Tangaroa
Te mau a Tangaroa

He kaitiaki
He taonga 
He tipua
He ariki
He taniwha
He tipua
He kaitiaki
He taonga
He tipua
Tangaroa whakamautai

An English translation by Maisey Rika:

The various waterways of Tangaroa
Flow back into its voluminous source

(x3)

The vast expanse
The heart of the ocean
The life-force of Tangaroa
Tangaroa commander of the tides

A pod of whales (or in reference to Tūtara Kauika the historical whale guardian ancestor)
A supernatural phenomenon
Evolving from the waters of Tangaroa
The waters of Tangaroa

The cry of the whale
Signals a warning
The power of Tangaroa
The power of Tangaroa
Tangaroa commander of the tides

A guardian
A precious treasure
A strange / supernatural being
A god
Of the ancient prehistoric realm
A guardian
A precious treasure
A strange / supernatural being
Tangaroa commander of the tides.


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An upside to the overturning of Roe v Wade

For America and Americans there isn’t any, but for us in Aotearoa there is an upside. Especially when it comes to women’s health. The reality is that in America, and especially in the conservative south, many professionals working in women’s health live in fear – fear of being shot, fear of their work places being bombed, fear that their families might become targets for anti-abortion extremists. Who would choose to live like that? If enquiries from American health professionals to New zealand recruitment services are anything to go by, many have chosen to seek safer pastures.

For many decades, Aotearoa, like many smaller nations have have been the happy hunting ground where large American and European health organisations poach health professionals by offering eye watering salaries way beyond our capacity to pay. We simply don’t have those resources. As a consequence this country is critically short of medical staff in practically every field. And covid has only made thing worse with staff often working beyond the point of exhaustion. But perhaps the tables are about to be turned.

While I have the deepest sympathy for American women who have had their bodily autonomy stolen, I’m grateful that as a consequence of Roe vs Wade, many qualified and experienced health professionals are looking for alternative places where they can practice what they have been trained to do without fear of imprisonment and without fear for their safety, the safety of their families, safety in their place of work and safety for their patients. Many are seeking to make a new, safer and more balanced life for themselves and their families here in Aotearoa. We benefit by a reduction in our critical shortage of health professionals. Everyone wins (except for America and its women).

The YouTube video below is from Sunday, a weekly documentary series shown on TVNZ’s ONE channel. This episode describes the plight of American women seeking abortions in the south of America and also the plight of their health professionals. I can’t imagine living like that. I suspect this outside perspective of what America has become will be unsettling to many of its citizens, but I also suspect that those who should see it will be the last to even consider watching a foreign documentary. That’s what religious and political intolerance does.


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Scary stories

Halloween was a few days ago. It’s an event I ignore. It didn’t exist in Aotearoa when I was growing up and personally I’d be happy if it remained so today. Thankfully, our current home has not been visited for Trick or Treating since we moved here 16 years ago. Perhaps it’s the unlit, tree lined zig-zag path that leads to the front door that puts kids off. Whatever the reason, it means I don’t have to pretend that Halloween is fun.

Halloween has brought up the topic of how folk with aphantasia (the inability to visualise mental images), such as myself, react to scary stories. Apparently we don’t. It might explain why I had no interest in sharing scary stories as a child. According to a Royal Society Publishing article the fear induced while reading or hearing a scary story relies on being able to create a mental image of the situation/event being described. No image, no fear.

The study measured skin conductivity of subjects while being presented with a scary or frightening story such as being in an aircraft as it crashed, or being trapped in a room full of spiders that then begin crawling over you. It’s well established that strong emotions are linked to skin moisture – the stronger the emotion, the wetter the skin becomes, lowering its electrical resistance. The control group showed significant increases in skin conductivity during the presentation of the scary stories but the aphantasiacs “flatlined” showing no change in emotions.

To check whether aphantasiacs lacked emotional responses, subjects were also presented with scary images. Both the control group and those with aphantasia showed identical responses. The study indicates the there is a close relationship between visual imagery and emotions. Both the control group and aphantasiacs presented the same emotional reactions when presented with real images, but only the control group did so when no images were presented as they were able to create the mental image of the story whereas those with aphantasia could not.

Around 2% – 5% of the general population have aphantasia, while it’s estimated that 20% – 30% of autistics are also aphantasiacs. Most people with Aphantasia don’t realise that they have it unless they are tested specifically for it. I only discovered I have aphantasia in my mid 60s – around six or seven years ago. It might go someway to explain why I have difficulty identifying faces –even of those nearest and dearest to me. Perhaps it might also explain why I find little to no attachment to fictional situations, but slightly more so when I see it on a TV or movie screen.

Aphantasia is another one of those neurological differences where those with the condition are frequently described as suffering with/from the condition, in much the way autistics are often described as suffering from autism. If you are guilty of this, just stop it! Neither autism nor aphantasia cause suffering in and of themselves. Any suffering comes from how others disbelieve, devalue, ignore and gaslight the experiences of those with these conditions, and worse when we are punished because others perceive our responses to our experiences as being wrong.


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Musical Monday (2022/10/31) – Victoria

One of my all time favourite songs and ranks at number 8 in New Zealand’s Top 100 songs of all time. The song tells of a real life person known as vicky who used heavy makeup to hide the bruises inflicted by her then boyfriend and pimp. Often she used makeup and unusual clothing to hide the bruises on her body, arms and legs as well. It tells of the life of many caught in the sex trade before it was decriminalised in Aotearoa in 2003.

Victoria was the debut song of the Dance Exponents when they first appeared live at the Hillsborough Tavern on 15th October 1982, making this song 40 years old at time of writing. It was written by band member Jordan Luck, who as a naive eighteen year old didn’t at first realise why Vicky wore such heavy makeup. The song is just as valid today for many people (mostly, but not always women) who find themselves in an abusive relationship but unable (or unwilling) to escape from it.

Victoria – Dance Exponents. Song writer: Jordan William Hunter Luck
Victoria

She gets glances since they first greeted
Sent salutations that can't be repeated
She's become a social institution
Prepares her prey like an execution

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

She's up in time to watch the soap opera
Reads cosmopolitan and Alvin Toffler
Meeting in the places that she's never been to
She's got a mind but it's the clothes they see through

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

She lives with a man who sees her as money
Laughs at his lines that aren't even funny
She's in bed but she's not sleeping
is he a customer that's really worth keeping?

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

There's no such thing as romance blooming
Sundays are for washing and doing the hoovering
Talking to her friends on the telephone
Another jerk rings up who won't leave her alone

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?


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A Parliamentary milestone

For the first time in our history, women Members of Parliament outnumber men. With one vacancy in Parliament (a by-election is due soon) the swearing in of Soraya Peke-Mason yesterday means that there are currently 60 women MPs (Members of Parliament) and 59 men MPs.

Grant Robertson (an openly gay MP) who is Acting Prime Minister while Jacinda Ardern is in Antarctica, stated that It is a significant moment in the democratic representation of New Zealand. “At a time when we have a female prime minister, Governor General and Chief Justice, it is further evidence of the strides that we’re making in gender equality.” Notice that he said strides we are making – in other words there’s still progress to be made.

Aotearoa New Zealand made history in 1893 by becoming the nation to grant universal suffrage regardless of ethnicity, gender or property ownership. Then we progressed at a snail’s pace, with women not being able to be elected to parliament until 1919, and the first woman being successfully elected fourteen years later in 1933. As Ms Peke-Mason said, “Good things take time. No doubt it’s a special day for me but it’s also a historic occasion for Aotearoa New Zealand.”

What is significant is that it’s the left of centre parties where women are better represented. Of the 64 Labour MPs, 37 are women, while 7 of the 10 Green MPs are women. In contrast, the right of centre National party has only 10 women amongst its 33 MPs, and the ACT party does slightly better with 4 of its 10 MPs being women. It’s interesting to note that in the first 23 years of this century, we’ve had a woman Prime Minister for 14 of those years.

As a footnote Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation to elect an openly trans woman to Parliament in 2005. Following the 2020 general elections, our Parliament became the “queerest” in the world with 12 openly LGBTQI representatives elected – 10% of all MPs sitting in Parliament.


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Just another statutory holiday

Today, being the fourth Monday of October, is for most Kiwis these days little more than a public holiday known a Labour day. For most its history is unknown, and the reason why it’s commemorated at all is forgotten.

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day in Aotearoa New Zealand. It seems that no matter what date Labour Day or its equivalent is commemorated in numerous other nations, there seems to be an individual who is acknowledged as being the catalyst for the occasion. In Aotearoa it is an individual by the name of Samuel Parnell.

Samuel Parnell. Wright, Henry Charles Clarke, 1844-1936 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-020462-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23133932

Parnell, a carpenter from London, emigrated to New Zealand in 1840, and amongst his fellow passengers was George Hunter, a shipping agent, and on arrival in Wellington, Hunter asked Parnell to build him a store. According to Kiwi folklore, Parnell responded “I will do my best, but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter, that on the job the hours shall only be eight for the day … There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all.”

Hunter had little option but to concede to Parnell’s demands as skilled labour was critically short in supply. Parnell with the help of other Wellington workers set about making the eight hour working day the standard, informing all new immigrants that the eight hour day was the “custom” of the new settlement. In October 1840, Wellington workmen made a ruling that the working day was between 8am and 5pm, and according to legend, anyone found guilty of breaking this “commandment” was tossed into the harbour for their efforts.

The first Labour Day was celebrated on 28 October 1890 when thousands of workers participated in parades across the country. Government workers and many others were granted a day off work to attend. By this time the majority of workers enjoyed an eight hour day, but it was not a legal requirement. The fledgeling union movement wanted the Liberal Government of the day to legislate an eight hour working day, The Liberal Party was reluctant to upset the business community, and Kiwis had to wait for the arrival of the first Labour government which introduced the 40 hour week.

However, the Liberal government did introduce an industrial conciliation and arbitration system in 1894 – a world innovation at the time, and in 1899 made labour day a statutory holiday, with the date set as the second Wednesday of October. Ten years later it was “Mondayised” to the fourth Monday of October.

Over the following decades, the celebratory nature of Labour Day declined and certainly from my earliest memory of the 1950s Labour day parades were all but forgotten and the day had become “just another holiday”. It’s now late evening and as the day draws to a close, I wonder how many of my fellow Kiwis realise how much our way of life, has been influenced by the those early unionists who understood better than many of us today the importance of a proper life balance.


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What if it was us?

The title of this post is a question asked by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her speech presented to the United Nations General Assembly this morning (New Zealand time). I chose that title as it reflects how I see my position in the world. None of us live in isolation, what harms others harms each of us, no one has the right to impose their values on others, and we do have an obligation to ensure freedom is available to all.

Her speech covers a number of topics including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Reform of the UN, climate change, Nuclear weapons and the proliferation of disinformation and disinformation. It’s almost seventeen minutes in length, but I encourage all my readers to listen to it or read the transcription I have included below.

Jacinda Ardern’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly

E ngā Mana, e ngā Reo, Rau Rangatira mā kua huihui mai nei i tēnei Whare Nui o te Ao.
[To the authorities, leaders and representatives gathered in this Great Assembly of the World].

Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou katoa, mai i tōku Whenua o Aotearoa.
[Warm greetings to you all from my home country of New Zealand].

Tuia ki runga, Tuia ki raro, ka Rongo to pō ka rongo te ao.
[Unite above, unite below, unite together and listen as we come together].

 Nō reira, tēnā koutou kātoa
[I acknowledge you all]

Mr President,
Mr Secretary-General,
Friends,

I greet you in te reo Māori, the language of the tangata whenua, or first people, of Aotearoa New Zealand. I acknowledge the leaders who are here, gathered in person after a long and difficult period.

And as is tradition, in my country, I also acknowledge those who have passed.

Loss brings with it a chance for reflection.

And as leaders, between us, we each represent countries and communities who have lost much in these past few years. Through famine, severe weather, natural disasters and a pandemic.

COVID-19 was devastating. It took millions of lives. 

It continues to impact on our economies and with that, the well-being of our people. It set us back in our fight against the crisis of climate change and progress on the sustainable development goals while we looked to the health crisis in front of us.

And while we enter a period now where the crisis is subsiding, the lessons cannot.

COVID schooled us.

It forced us to acknowledge how interconnected and therefore how reliant we are on one another.

We move between one another’s countries with increasing ease. We trade our goods and services. 

And when one link in our supply chain is impacted, we all are.

The lessons of COVID are in many ways the same as the lessons of climate change.

When crisis is upon us, we cannot and will not solve these issues on our own.

The next pandemic will not be prevented by one country’s efforts but by all of ours. Climate action will only ever be as successful as the least committed country, as they pull down the ambition of the collective.

I am not suggesting though that we rely on the goodwill of others to make progress. 

We need a dual strategy. One where we push for collective effort but we also use our multilateral tools to make progress.

That’s why on pandemic preparedness we support efforts to develop a new global health legal instrument, strengthened international health regulations and a strong and empowered World Health Organization.

It’s why we are such advocates of the World Trade Organization and its reform to ensure supply chains remain open and critical goods and services are not subjected to protectionism in times of need.

It’s why we have worked so hard within the Paris Agreement to see the action we need on climate, while also doing our bit at home including putting a 1.5C warming limit into law, increasing our NDC to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and quadrupling our climate finance commitment.

Whether it’s climate, trade, health crisis or seeking peaceful solutions to war and conflict – New Zealand has always been a believer in multilateral tools.

We were amongst the founding members of the United Nations as governments of the day recognised that the perils of war would only be avoided through a greater sense of shared responsibility.

The basis on which this institution was formed, remains as relevant today as it was then.

But without reform, we risk irrelevancy.

There is perhaps no greater example of this than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Let us all be clear, Russia’s war is illegal. It is immoral.

It is a direct attack on the UN Charter and the international rules-based system and everything that this community should stand for.

Putin’s suggestion that it could at any point deploy further weapons that it has at their disposal reveals the false narrative that they have based their invasion on. What country who claims to be a liberator, threatens to annihilate the very civilians they claim to liberate?

This war is based on a lie.

But I recognise, that for the people of Ukraine who have lost loved ones, their sense of peace and security, their livelihoods – these are all just words. 

They need us, as a global community to ask one simple question: “What if it was us?”

Our ability to answer that question with any confidence that we have the tools as a global community to act swiftly and collectively has been severely undermined.

In March when we most needed the UN Security Council to act in the defence of international peace and security, it could not. It did not fulfil its mandate because of one permanent member who was willing to abuse its privileged position.

That was wrong.

We will not give up on the ability of our multilateral institutions to stand up against this illegal war or to take on the many challenges we face. 

These institutions are the ballast we need but it’s a ballast that requires modernisation, fit for the tumultuous waters we all face.

That is why New Zealand was pleased to champion the Veto Initiative. Not only does it provide an opportunity to scrutinise the actions of the permanent member who cast a veto, the Veto Initiative gives the whole UN membership a voice where the Security Council has been unable to act.  

But we continue to call for more than that.

For the United Nations to maintain its relevancy, and ensure that it truly is the voice of the breadth of countries it represents, the veto must be abolished and Permanent Members must exercise their responsibility for the benefit of international peace and security, rather than the pursuit of national interest.

There are other battles that we continue to wage as a nation, including our call for a global response to the use of nuclear weapons.

Our history of championing not just non-proliferation, but a prohibition on nuclear weapons is grounded in what we have witnessed, but also what we have experienced.

We are a nation that is both of the Pacific and within it. 

It was in our region that these weapons of war were tested. Those tests have left a mark on the people, lands and waters of our home.

The only way to guarantee our people that they will be safe from the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is for them not to exist.

That’s why Aotearoa New Zealand calls on all states that share this conviction to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Some will call such a position naive. Some believe that we are safer as a result of nuclear weapons. 

In New Zealand, we have never accepted the wisdom of mutually assured destruction.

It takes one country to believe that their cause is nobler, their might stronger, their people more willing to be sacrificed. None of us can stand on this platform and turn a blind eye to the fact that there are already leaders amongst us who believe this.

Nuclear weapons do not make us safer.

There will be those who agree but believe it is simply too hard to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons at this juncture. There is no question that nuclear disarmament is an enormous challenge. 

But if given the choice, and we are being given a choice, surely we would choose the challenge of disarmament than the consequences of a failed strategy of weapons-based deterrence.

And this is why we will continue to advocate for meaningful progress on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Progress and consensus that was recently blocked by Russia – and represented a backward step to the efforts of nearly every country in the world to make some even limited progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

None of this will stop New Zealand’s advocacy.

We will remain a strong and passionate advocate for efforts to address the weapons of old but, also, the weapons that are new.

The face of war has changed. And with that, the weapons used. The tools used to challenge the statehood of others are hidden and more complex.

Traditional combat, espionage and the threat of nuclear weapons are now accompanied by cyber-attacks, prolific disinformation and manipulation of whole communities and societies.

As leaders, we have never treated the weapons of old in the same way as those that have emerged. And that’s understandable. 

After all, a bullet takes a life. A bomb takes out a whole village. A lie online or from a podium does not.

But what if that lie, told repeatedly, and across many platforms, prompts, inspires, or motivates others to take up arms? To threaten the security of others. To turn a blind eye to atrocities, or worse, to become complicit in them. What then?

This is no longer a hypothetical. The weapons of war have changed, they are upon us and require the same level of action and activity that we put into the weapons of old.

We recognised the threats that the old weapons created. We came together as communities to minimise these threats. We created international rules, norms and expectations. We never saw that as a threat to our individual liberties – rather, it was a preservation of them.

The same must apply now as we take on these new challenges

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we deeply value our right to protest. Some of our major social progress has been brought about by hikoi or people power – becoming the first country in the world to recognise women’s right to vote, movement on major indigenous and human rights issues to name but a few. 

Upholding these values in a modern environment translates into protecting a free, secure and open internet. To realise all of the opportunities that it presents in the way we communicate, organise and gather.

But that does not mean the absence of transparency, expectations or even rules.  If we correctly identify what it is we are trying to prevent.

And surely we can start with violent extremism and terrorist content online.

On March 15, 2019, New Zealand experienced a horrific terrorist attack on its Muslim community. 

More than 50 people were killed as they prayed. The attack was live-streamed on a popular social media platform in an effort to gain notoriety, and to spread hate.

At that time, the ability to thwart those goals was limited. And the chances of Government alone being able to resolve this gap was equally challenging. 

That’s why, alongside President Emmanuel Macron, we created the Christchurch Call to Action.

The Call community has worked together to address terrorism and violent extremist content online. As this important work progresses, we have demonstrated the impact we can have by working together collaboratively.

We’ve improved crisis reactions, stymieing the ability to live stream attacks, we have crisis protocols that kick in to prevent proliferation.

We are also focused on prevention – understanding the interactions between online environment and the real world that can lead to radicalisation. 

This week we launched an initiative alongside companies and non-profits to help improve research and understanding of how a person’s online experiences are curated by automated processes. This will also be important in understanding more about mis and disinformation online. A challenge that we must as leaders address.

Sadly, I think it’s easy to dismiss this problem as one in the margins. I can certainly understand the desire to leave it to someone else. 

As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech we value so highly.

But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value.

After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble? How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists? How do you ensure the human rights of others are upheld, when they are subjected to hateful and dangerous rhetoric and ideology?

The weapons may be different but the goals of those who perpetuate them are often the same. To cause chaos and reduce the ability of others to defend themselves. To disband communities. To collapse the collective strength of countries who work together.

But we have an opportunity here to ensure that these particular weapons of war do not become an established part of warfare.

And so, we once again come back to the primary tool we have. Diplomacy, dialogue, working together on solutions that do not undermine human rights but enhance them.

For those who have not sought out the Christchurch Call to Action, I ask that you consider it. As with so many of the challenges we face, we will only be as strong as those who do the least.

In these times, I am acutely aware of how easy it is to feel disheartened. We are facing many battles on many fronts.

But there is cause for optimism. Because for every new weapon we face, there is a new tool to overcome it.

For every attempt to push the world into chaos, is a collective conviction to bring us back to order.

We have the means; we just need the collective will.

Mai i tōku ukaipo Aotearoa, karahuihui mai tātou, nō reira, tēnā tātou kātoa.
[From my homeland, my source of sustenance, to yours, let us come together, all of us].

Nō reira, tēnā kotou, tēnā kotou tēnā tatou kātoa.


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Spirituality, is it “woo”

Over on Nan’s Notebook, Ark wrote in a comment[T]hey love to include bullshit terms such as spirituality and other ‘Woo’ words“. To Ark there’s no doubt that it’s woo. I’m not persuaded that spirituality is “woo”.

Twelve days ago I attended a pōwhiri at a marae about an hour’s drive from home. The experience, as has every other pōwhiri I have been part of, is indeed intensely spiritual. Before I continue, here’s a brief description of a pōwhiri:

A pōwhiri usually begins with manuhiri (guests) gathering outside the meeting grounds. An older woman from the host side performs a karanga (call) to the manuhiri. This is when the visitors start moving on to the marae. A woman from among the visitors will send a call of response and acknowledgement. The visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men. They pause along the way to remember their ancestors who have passed on.

Once on the marae grounds, the guests and hosts sit down facing each other. When they are all seated, speeches are made and a song is sung following each speaker to support their address. Customarily, the final speaker for the visitors will present a koha (gift) to their hosts.

To finish the ceremony, visitors and hosts greet each other with a hongi (the ceremonial touching of noses). After the pōwhiri, kai (food) is shared, in keeping with the Māori tradition of manaakitanga (hospitality).

What is a pōwhiri? Understanding the traditional Māori welcome

In total there may have been fifty guests and hosts, perhaps a few less. All the speeches during the pōwhiri were in Te Reo Māori, as were many of the speeches during the sharing of kai. I struggle in crowds. I find them overwhelming and I mean in a negative way, even in large family gatherings. Yet when I move onto a marae I feel “at home”, in much the same manner as I feel when attending a Quaker Meeting. I feel embraced, becoming one with those present. It seldom happens elsewhere.

I cannot speak Te Reo, and the few words of Māori I do know did little to help me understand the speeches, but even so I could detect the speakers’ connectedness through their pepeha. More importantly I felt the connection. It’s the being connected, being one with something beyond self that makes one’s experience spiritual. That connection enabled me to stand and speak, and for the first time in a long while I didn’t need to rehearse what I wanted to say.

Morning rain

I felt the same type of connection this morning, not with people or a community, but with nature. I stood on our balcony while steady rain fell, hiding the Ruahine and Tararua ranges and the Manawatu Gorge that separates them. The rain muffled the sounds of Feilding traffic below As I stood I felt I became one with the environment. I noticed a slowing of my breathing and of my pulse. There was a sense of belonging, a calmness that I don’t usually experience.

I noticed too that I stopped scripting. For those who don’t know what scripting is, it’s a bit like learning lines of a script for a play. I’m not really able to create sentences on the fly so my head is always shuffling words around to make intelligible sentences, memorising them and then storing them away for moment when it might be useful to pull it out and recite. It’s a process that seldom stops while I’m awake, and at times it becomes so distracting that I lose concentration on whatever task I’m undertaking at that moment. But this morning it wasn’t there – silence, serenity, being one with nature, or perhaps the universe? It then hit me that in the ceremony of the pōwhiri I wasn’t scripting either.

If I had been living several centuries ago, I might have attributed the “being one” with some type of agency – a spirit or mystical force or energy, as that is certain how the experience feels. At a time when the existence of such agencies were taken for granted, I would have had no reason to suppose it was anything else. But I live in a “rational” secular world with a better understanding of how the mind functions, so I can attribute the experience of “oneness” to the marvel that our brain is. Knowing it’s caused by chemical and electrical circuitry in the brain doesn’t make it any less an awe inspiring experience.

Dismissing such experiences as “woo” diminishes what it is to be human. I don’t know if Ark has ever fallen in love, experienced the euphoria of a crowd of spectators when their team wins a sports event or the satisfaction that comes when a difficult task has been completed. I haven’t. I can’t even imagine what those experiences feel like. But I’m certainly not going to call them “woo” simply because I don’t understand or experience them. I’m not usually aware of emotions, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not able to predict what people might do in a second’s time let alone in a minute or an hour, so I’m always of an uncertainty when around people. But in the environment of a pōwhiri or a Quaker meeting everyone becomes part of a whole which is predictable. There’s a routine created by custom fashioned over centuries.

A similar predictability applies to nature. Seasons come and go regularly as does day and night. Clouds tell me when rain is likely and how much will fall. Wind changes direction over hours as does its intensity. In one sense nature and ritualised social occasions talk to me, informing me what will happen next. There is no need to rehearse what I might need to say in the next moment, minute, hour, nor predict what might happen.

Being autistic is a little like taking part in a play where you have been given the script to Sound of music (even though I can’t hold a single note in tune) while everyone else is working to the script of Hamlet. It’s disorientating, confusing and stressful. So spiritual experiences take on even more significance whenever they do occur. It’s a sense of calm, peace and euphoria all at once, and unless you’ve experienced it, you have no idea what it is like. It is, literally, indescribable.

Woo? I think not.