Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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American Exceptionalism?

What is it with a minority of Americans (it is a minority, right?) who genuinely believe the American constitution is as perfect and as flawless as they believe the Bible to be, and that everyone outside of its borders desire to live the “American Dream”, if not in America, then a close replica of it elsewhere.

One could be forgiven for thinking these Exceptionalists believed the constitution was conceived by God and that any criticism of it is tantamount to blasphemy and/or heresy. They believe that America is the greatest country on earth, and as a nation can do no wrong. I’ll concede that America is, for the time being, the most powerful country on earth, but as to being the greatest, I think not, and if it ever was, not for a long while.

What reminded me of all this is an opinion piece titled The True Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the article, KrisAnne Hall suggests that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could possibly be a singular point that can cause the destruction of America. Wow! I mean, WOW!

So, you may ask, what is it that makes Justice Ginsburg such a threat to America? Apparently she doesn’t bow down and worship the constitution in a manner that the writer believes is mandatory for all Americans and especially its jurists. Ginsburg stated on Egyptian TV in 2012 that if she were to write a new constitution for Egypt she would not model it on the American one. Oh the sacrilege! Oh the profanity! She actually suggested that it would be better to be aided by all the constitutional writings that have gone on since the end of World War II!

To the Exceptionists, the constitution is perfect and nothing can surpass it, even 200 years later. One could ask if it was perfect in every way, why has it had so many amendments over the years? But seriously, do they really think that in the 200 years since it was so brilliantly drafted, that other intellectuals, academics, and politicians could not come up with something that was as good, if not better? Acknowledging that probability is not to denigrate the American constitution, but simply to acknowledge that others can be just as wise as the American founding fathers were and build on what has been learnt in the past.

The writer questions Justice Ginsburg’s knowledge of the American constitution, but I wonder if the writer should question her own knowledge. She states that nation is founded upon the principles that “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. That may or may not be true, but it’s not stated in the constitution.

The writer claims the the founding fathers wrote in  set a “sunset” for the institution of slavery as evidence that they believed all men were equal. Actually they didn’t. They set in a sunset clause for the importation of slaves. Quite a different matter altogether. The writer also reminds Ginsburg that the Declaration of Independence states “ALL” men are created equal. True, but again that’s not in the original constitution. Even as late as 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was not unconstitutional. And Jim Crow laws were not successfully challenged in the courts until the 1960s.

As well as the sunset clause allowing the slave trade to continue for the time being, the acceptance of slavery can be seen in the Enumeration Clause and the The Fugitive Slave Clause. Did the founding father want an end to the institution of slavery? Some of them certainly did, but once again it’s not explicit in the constitution.

But hey, what do I know. I live in one of less than a handful of nations that do not have a codified constitution, and what laws we do have limiting and regulating the powers of government are most certainly not set in stone, yet we enjoy greater freedoms than Americans. What I won’t find is anyone declaring a jurist unpatriotic (I don’t think Kiwis ever use that term), unfit for office, or a traitor if their opinion of our constitution didn’t agree with theirs.

Hey Exceptionalists, be you American, national, religious, or otherwise, pull your heads out of the sand and look around. You might notice the world passing you by.

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Christmas is over for another year

Christmas Day has ended and we’re an hour into Boxing Day (well, in Aotearoa New Zealand, at least), and I’m thinking “Thank goodness it’s over for another year!” As I get older, I find family events such as Christmas are getting more exhausting, although no less enjoyable. Both migraine and being on the autism spectrum seem to be affecting my ability to cope with sensory over-stimulation more and more as I get older. For those who understand the spoon theory, I have fewer spoons than I had even 5 years ago, that I can use to pass as being “normal”.

This year was somewhat different than in previous years for several reasons. We hosted neither lunch nor tea (That’s dinner/evening meal to non-Kiwis) this year. Instead the whānau gathered at our daughter’s home for lunch, less than 10 minutes drive from our place.

Unfortunately, my wife has been a bit crook (Kiwi slang for being ill) over the last few days, so the ham is still sitting in the fridge, unglazed and uncooked. And everyone’s favourite trifle is yet to be assembled. Last night we were unsure if she would be well enough to join in the festivities, but this morning she felt well enough to brave the noise and commotion that normally accompanies such events.

Lunch was a typical Kiwi Christmas do, with a variety of hot and cold meats, plenty of salads made from seasonal vegetables and fruit, cold soups, and a few hot dishes for those who really want it. As usual, most of us ate more than we should, but hey, it’s only once a year.

Dessert was also typically Kiwi except that the pavlova was deconstructed, as one younger member of the whānau dislikes whipped cream that usually tops it. The pav was accompanied by panatone, fresh berries and melon, brandy snaps, fruit mince tarts, plenty of whipped cream and assorted other goodies I can’t recall offhand.

The weather had been deteriorating all morning, and just as lunch finished, the sound of thunder could be heard in the distance. As the exchanging of gifts commenced, we could hear the thunder getting ever nearer, while the sky became so dark that it was necessary to turn on the lights. Before long, flashes of lightning would light up the room followed by ever more loud crashes of thunder. As the gift exchanging was drawing to a close (it’s a long drawn out affair), a particularly bright flash of lightning was immediately followed by the lights flickering out and instead of a clap of thunder, we heard what can only be described as very loud static.

An hour later, and still no electrical power. Many of us were longing for a cuppa, but of course there was no way to heat the water without electricity. I checked the website of the local lines company (thank goodness the mobile phone network was still up) and discovered that over three and a half thousand households in the our town (population 14,000) were without power.

Many other towns in the region were similarly affected, so obviously the electrical storm was  widespread. It seems that such events are becoming more common, I daresay due to the effects of climate change.

The wife and I called it a day at around 4pm and drive home through a very heavy downpour. As the car came to a stop under the carport, the concrete flooring, dry a few seconds earlier, was suddenly inundated by a torrent of several centimetres of water that began cascading down the steeply sloped pathway. I had to back the car out into the open (where the rain was still coming down in buckets), so that the wife could safely exit it without water rushing over her shoes.

There was also the strange spectacle of little fountains jetting up between some of the joints in the concrete driveway. None of them were very high, perhaps only 20 centimetres at most, but there were dozens of them, and it did look impressive. Not sure it’s caused any damage underneath the concrete, but as there is little in the way of silt on top, I’m hoping for the best. Time will tell.

So that’s my Christmas for 2018. As I write this, some of my readers will only just be getting up and the sun is yet to appear above the horizon, so to you I wish your Christmas day goes at least as well as as mine!

 


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Eleven out of twenty years

Over the last two decades, a woman has held the top political role in Aotearoa New Zealand for eleven of those 20 years. It would be nice to think that we have gender equality, but although it’s getting closer, we are by no means there yet.

Earlier this year, the UN Women National Committee Aotearoa brought together Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former Prime Minister Helen Clark for a recorded discussion on a number of feminist issues. This is part of their #Trailblazing125 series of advice from prominent Kiwi women in recognition of 125 years of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Helen (yes, we refer to our leaders by their first name) has had a big influence on the mindset of many people irrespective of whether or not you agreed with her politics. It was because of her, that people like Jacinda grew up not considering that gender might be a barrier to the top political job in this country.

It seems to me that what is holding women back (in the NZ context) is not the barriers imposed on them by others, but a lack of confidence in their own ability. There is still something in the way women are conditioned by society whereby they are less likely to put themselves forward for a role than is the case for men. Hopefully that attitude is no longer encouraged.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former Prime Minister Helen Clark talk gender equality


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Contrasting styles

I stumbled upon this Guardian video clip a short while ago, showing excerpts from speeches at the UN General Assembly by Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern. It contrasts Trump’s America first with Ardern’s global cooperation and kindness. I think it neatly sums up the difference between the American and New Zealand styles of leadership:


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Māori Action songs

Way back in the 1950s, learning, and participating in aspects of Māori culture and history was part of the curriculum of the primary school I attended. At that time, this was not so common, so I feel blessed that from an early age I understood that Māori culture was a rich part of the cultural heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand instead of something belonging to a pre-European stone age people that no longer had any relevance.

Unfortunately, even today, we find some Kiwis of non-Māori descent who see no value in the indigenous culture of this land, and object to Te Reo (the Māori language) being part of the education curriculum, and Māori culture as something outside what they consider “New Zealand culture”. In other words it has no place in a modern society. I hope I am correct in observing a decline in this type of thinking.

As some 95% of my reader are not from Aotearoa New Zealand, I want to occasionally blog about the indigenous culture that makes this country special, and is having an increasing influence within our society. I have posted a few articles relating to aspects of Māori culture and values in the past, particularly where they have some influence on myself or the wider population, including:
I am a mono-linguist (12 September 2018)
A Creation Myth (17 March 2018)
River gains personhood (24 July, 2017)
Treaty of Waitangi 101 (20 October 2015)
Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really? (15 October, 2015)
Our new flag? (1 September 2015)
Farewell Haka (6 August 2015)
Songs that move me (20 March 2015)

Until a back injury forced a early retirement, my father was a physical education adviser for what was then the Department of Education. One of his roles was “on the job” physical education training for primary school teachers, which meant we often saw him only on weekends. He was very passionate about developing a love for activity that challenged both the mind and body. With this in mind, he encouraged both folk dancing and Māori action songs alongside team sports, swimming, athletics and playground games that did not require direct adult supervision.

Māori action songs were traditionally an art form and used to improve various skills. For example, poi action songs improved strength and suppleness of the wrists. For women, this improved skills in weaving and basket making, while for men, it improved their skills in wielding weapons used in hand to hand combat. Rākau games and action songs improved hand/eye coordination.

Rākau are wooden sticks, typically between 40 cm and 60 cm in length ( approximately1.5 ft to 2 ft), while a poi is a weight attached to a string that is then swung in rhythmic patterns. Traditionally poi were made from harakeke (flax) and raupō (bulrush), but today can be made of almost any material.

As a performing art today, both poi and rākau are performed mostly by women. In play, many schools encourage rākau games for both genders and for both Māori and Pākehā alike. To a large extent, my father was responsible for their popularity in the Taranaki and Whanganui regions during the second half of the 20th century.

As a child, I had less coordination than most of my peers, probably related to my undiagnosed autism, and while I found the poi and rākau challenging, I found them enjoyable. I’m convinced that I am not as clumsy as I would have been had it not been for these and similar activities.

Although the video clip below is relatively recent, the chaos is similar to how I remember the activity as a child. Notice the use of rolled up magazines instead of wooden sticks. When learning, they are less painful ! The second video clip illustrates a somewhat more polished performance, followed by the poi.

There are two forms of the poi: the long and the short. The string on the long poi is the distance from finger tip to shoulder, and for the short poi it’s the distance from finger tip to wrist. They are both just as difficult to master, and I never did get the hang of twirling contra-rotating long poi in one hand. The next clips illustrate the short and long forms respectively. Enjoy


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Curmudgeon day

Today I’m “officially” a curmudgeon. Opinions expressed here today may not necessarily be held by me tomorrow.

He’s no husband

I’ve watched a number of video clips from American current affairs programs and talk shows related to our Prime Minister’s visit to the United States. I’m surprised that Clark Gayford was frequently referred to as her husband (and occasionally spouse). Only recently has it occurred to me that this occurred during daytime shows, while late shows referred to him as Prime Minister Ardern’s partner.

Just to make it clear America, Jacinda Ardern and Clark Gayford are not married, have never been married, nor are they in a civil union. And yes they have a daughter. Why haven’t they got married? Because they haven’t got round to discussing that. Will they get married? It’s nobody’s business but their own.

I’m sure such relationships are not that unusual in the USA these days, although perhaps not as common as here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Is there some unwritten rule, some remnant of nineteenth century religious fundamentalist morality that says that such arrangements are socially unacceptable for political leaders and cannot be openly mentioned in case it corrupts delicate minds, hence the need to refer to Clark as “husband”? I kid you not, that is how it appears from this distance.

And while we’re on the subject, Jacinda’s family name is Ardern, not Adern or Arden, or as in one case, Aden.  I saw all those forms in online publication that should have known better. Yes, I’ll acknowledge that New Zealand English in non-rhotic, but that simply means we don’t pronounce the letter R at the ends of words or within words unless it’s followed by a vowel. It doesn’t mean we drop the R when writing.

Oh, and when spoken, the stress is on the second syllable of Ardern, not the first. It’s not supposed to rhyme with harden. And ease up on the formality will you! When addressing her directly, especially on talk shows, it’s Jacinda, just as with previous Prime Ministers it was Bill, John, and Helen. The job title is attached rarely and only if really necessary (or if you don’t like the person or their policies).


Literal idiots

Anyone who reads the Bible as a literal work or thinks that is how it should be read is an idiot. This applies to both the religious on one side and the agnostic and atheist on the other. There is a much sense in attempting to prove the Bible is true by constructing implausible explanations as to why obvious inconsistencies are not inconsistent as there is in attempting to prove it false by finding its many inconsistencies – and let’s face it, there are many.

The Bible is no more than a collection of works by multiple authors, some dating back to when culture was preserved through oral history. It’s value today lies in the fact that it gives us a glimpse into the evolution of a very anthropomorphic tribal god of war into a perfect, all powerful, all knowing, all seeing deity. It consists of allegory, metaphors, oral history, lessons in morality, essays on the human condition, even erotica. It displays prejudice, bigotry, hatred, kindness, generosity, ignorance and wisdom. In fact it tells us a lot about ourselves as human beings, about the human experience. What it doesn’t do is tell us how to apply what we can learn from it (and the many other works from the many traditions that modern society has access to) to how we live today. That’s up to us, individually and collectively.


Work and play

The fourth Monday in October is celebrated as Labour Day here in Aotearoa New Zealand. This year, it fell on Monday the 22nd. Legend has it that a carpenter by the name of Samuel Parnell fought for, and gained, the right of an eight hour working day way back in 1840. It became an official public holiday in 1900.

Essentially it recognises the right to have a healthy work/life balance. In light of modern technology, work can now intrude on one’s own life 24/7 and can seriously impact one’s life and health, is it time to re-evaluate what Labour Day represents?


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I’m not White, I’m skin coloured!

How do I know I’m not white? My six year old grandchild told me!

This morning I was hanging up the washing. It’s a task that has fallen to me as I have a 35 cm (14 inch) height advantage over my wife. Anyway, young T was with me and we were taking turns naming the colour of items as I hung them up. On hanging up a particular towel, I called out “Brown”.

“Don’t be silly, Jii-chan. It’s skin colour!”

(Jii-chan means grandfather in Japanese, and distinguishes me from their paternal grandfather, who they call Opa). The towel was a light brown, almost beige colour, and it never occurred to me to think of it in any other terms.

So I corrected myself and said “Well, it’s really a light brown colour, don’t you think?”, to which he again asserted that it was skin colour and not brown – not even light brown.

In light of a recent post by Clare (Why I’m talking to white people about race), I was struck by the fact that instead of describing people in terms of colour, young T was describing colour in terms of people.

“But not everybody’s skin is the same colour”, I reminded him.

“I know that! You’re a silly Jii-chan.”

“So, if you told someone that you dried yourself with a skin coloured towel, what colour would they think it was?”

A moment in thought, then a lightbulb went off. “Oh yeah! I’d have to say whose skin colour it was like!”

“When I visited America, everyone said I was white.”

“That’s silly, Jii-chan. Nobody’s white. Nobody’s the same colour as that towel”, said young T pointing to a white towel I’d just hung up. I have to agree.

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“You’re not white, Jii-chan!”

 

In Aotearoa New Zealand it’s rare to refer to people in terms of colour. It’s more typical to refer to their ancestral cultural group or place of origin. Instead of hearing people described as white, black, brown, red or yellow, you’re more likely to hear them described as European, Pākehā, Polynesian, Māori, Native American, African, Chinese, Indian etc. So I’m not surprised he had no idea, that I’d be identified as being white in many other parts of the world.

That doesn’t mean that young T isn’t aware of cultural differences. Even at six, he’s aware that protocols differ depending where one is, and what might be acceptable within one group might not be acceptable within another. I want him to be familiar and comfortable in the cultures of his grandparents: Pākehā, Japanese and Māori, but I hope he never learns to associate those cultures and the differences between them with race. In fact I hope he never learns the concept of race. Culture and ethnicity, yes. But race, no.

On the other hand, when he’s ready, I want him to understand that history has not always been kind to some communities, and some ethnic groups have been disadvantaged by the actions of other groups, including our own. We, as members of humanity, have a responsibility not to allow the status quo to continue, but to take an active role in striving for a more equitable world.


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What is Christianity?

At the  SoF (Sea of Faith) conference in 2000, Lloyd Geering gave a presentation titled “Christianity Minus Theism”. In it he asks what is Christianity:

  • Does [the term ‘Christianity] refer to ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’? (Jude 3)
  • Do we mean, for example, the belief system expressed in the creeds and confessions of the church? (including the doctrine of the Trinity?)
  • Does Christianity consist of living a sacramental life within the authoritative institutional structure called Mother Church?
  • Is the essence of Christianity to be found in accepting Jesus Christ as ones’ personal Lord and Saviour?
  • Does Christianity mean accepting uncritically a set of ancient scriptures as the written record of what is ultimately true?
  • Or does Christianity consist simply of a set of moral values by which to live?

He follows up by stating: “Various groups at one time or another have promoted one or more of these definitions, as the essence or sine qua non of Christianity”. As an example, the religious tradition with which I am associated, would, in general, consider that none of the definitions (with perhaps a modified version of the last one) are necessary. On the other hand, the church to which my son belongs believe that the fourth and fifth definitions (accepting Christ as Saviour and the Bible is true) are absolutely essential – one cannot be a Christian otherwise.

Geering elaborates by stating “Modern historical research has made it very clear, however, that there has never been a time when all who confessed to be Christians (or followers of Jesus) shared exactly all the same beliefs. The New Testament phrase ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ was itself part of the developing Christian myth, that faith consists of embracing a set of beliefs which are permanent and unchangeable. Christian beliefs have changed and diversified through the centuries. Today, more than ever before, Christianity has no definable and eternal essence on which all Christians at all times, or even at any one time, agree. It is misleading, therefore, to use the term Christianity in a way which implies that it names some objective and unchangeable essence or thing, such as the theistic belief in God.”

I agree entirely, which might explain my irritation when I see bloggers claim Christians believe X, or Christians oppose Y or Christians do Z. Such statements are grossly inaccurate. If one wants to make a statement about a group of Christians, identify the group instead making a generalised and inaccurate claim.

Lloyd Geering suggests we look at Christianity not as a unified whole, which clearly it isn’t, but with this metaphor: “I suggest we think of Christianity as a stream of living culture flowing through the plains of time. Sometimes, like a river, it divides into substreams and sometimes it is joined by other streams. As it flows onward it gathers new material from the banks it passes through. Sometimes the fluid material in it crystalizes into more rigid objects. Sometimes it drops these objects and other forms of sediment it is carrying along. There is a tendency for people to regard the visible objects in this cultural stream, such as the priesthood, episcopal government, creeds and even the Bible, as being of the essence of the stream. In fact they have less permanence that the stream which carries them along.”

He then finds it timely to be critical of those who oppose changes in Christian thought: “Through church history people have attempted to reform the church. Their critics have warned that they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That is a misleading metaphor. Christianity has no permanent and absolute essence. There is no ‘baby’; there is only the bath water, or what is preferably called the on-going cultural stream, broadly known as Judeo-Christian.”

I do like his use of the baby and bathwater metaphor. There is no baby! This where I feel both Christian Fundamentalists and New Atheists make the same mistake. They both see a non-existent baby and then draw polar opposite conclusions.

The full transcript of Lloyd Geering’s presentation can be found here.

 


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I am a mono-linguist

I’m not proud of the fact that I can speak only one language. I live in a multicultural society, and yet I can converse only in English. My wife can converse in two languages. My daughter can converse in three languages and can get by in several more.

I’ll concede that in my formative years, and through much of my adult life, the general consensus among New Zealanders, including many Māori, was that as English was “the international language” there was no need to learn any other.

It wasn’t long after marrying a native Japanese speaker that I began to recognise how impoverished my life experience was by knowing only one language. So much of what we experience and comprehend is tied up in the culture and language(s) we live within.

Perhaps I’m more fortunate than many in the same situation in that being autistic, I have always lived within a strange culture with a strange language, and different cultures and ways of understanding the world are no more strange to me than the one I live in. In fact some aspects of other cultures make more sense to me than the one I grew up in.

Although my comprehension of other languages is very limited, I fully understand how language directly colours one’s world view. Knowing more than one language broadens one’s horizons at so many levels, and I regret that I have never taken the opportunity to seriously learn to use another language.

Why am I writing this piece? This week is Māori Language week – Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, and I’m reminded that language and culture are closely intertwined. You cannot fully comprehend one if you do not understand the other.


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Celtic Illusion

Last night the wife and I went to see a show in the nearby city of Palmerston North.


I missed most of it.

The problem is that being autistic and a migraineur is incompatible with watching modern shows. Bright lights, strobe effects, pyrotechnics and loud noises are not only very unpleasant for many autistics, including myself, they can also trigger a migraine attack. Over the years I’ve learnt how to minimise some of the ill effects by closing my eyes, blocking my ears and even covering my eyes with my hands to filter out strobe effects when eyelids prove to be inefficient.

So I spent more than half of the show with my eyes closed and hands over eyes, and tried to ignore the fact the my sternum was vibrating unpleasantly due to the volume of the speakers. Consequently I missed most of the illusions incorporated into the act. I also missed the moment when one of the dancers slipped/tripped/fell, although I did see her being assisted off the stage. I hope her injury isn’t serious.

So what did I see? Our tickets were for seats in the front row, although both of us thought we had booked seats a few rows back as we are aware of how modern productions can overload my senses. Being so close, there were opportunities to observe the footwork of the dancers. All I can say is that it is incredible. The speed and precision is something to behold. I wouldn’t be surprised if injuries are very common to the performers.

By keeping my view to floor level, I avoided the worst of the spotlights sweeping over the auditorium, and I tried to convince myself that as it was Irish dancing, the only thing that matters is footwork. But as the show combined dance, illusion, music and song, there was an awful lot that I missed visually.

We saw another Irish dance show a few years back, and I was disappointed when I realised the the sound of the footwork was not coming from the dancers, as occasionally the sound got slightly out of sync with the dancing. With this show however, there was no doubt where the sound of the footwork was coming from, especially when I noticed tiny floor mounted microphones around the stage.

I was exhausted by the time the show ended, but the wife was in her element. She’s the kind of person who loudly and vigorously supports a performance with clapping, frequent standing, shouts of surprise, gasps and anything else that displays her pleasure. As a group of women who were sitting behind us commented afterwards, watching my wife was as enjoyable as watching the show itself.

There was I slinking down in my seat trying hard not to become a nervous wreck and wishing the torment would end soon, while she was practically standing on her seat yelling for more! Talk about contrasts. It’s not the kind of antics one expects from a tiny grey haired 70 year old Japanese woman. If there’s anyone else in the world that can beat her enthusiasm, I’d be very surprised. She’s probably the reason they did four (or was it a hundred?) encores. But I wouldn’t swap her for the world 🙂

As for the show, would I recommend Celtic Illusions? A definite Yes! But if you’re on the spectrum or prone to seizures or migraine attacks, I suggest it might be more sensible to stay away.