Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A new strange world!

What a strange world COVID-19 is creating! The entire season of the New Zealand National Basketball League is being streamed on ESPN – all 56 games!

I have to ask why. It’s not like we rank highly in international basketball, and while its popularity as a participant sport is increasing, it has a very long way to go as a spectator sport here to match the likes of Rugby Union, Netball, or Rugby League. Is it because so little sport is being played in the US that broadcasters are desperate for any form of familiar sports code, irrespective of its source and quality?

If, at the beginning of the year, someone had suggested that a season of any NZ sports code would be live streamed in the USA, we would have laughed ourselves silly.

As I said, it’s a strange new world we live in!


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Two worlds (or living in a bubble)

It’s almost surreal. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we’ve almost forgotten what social distancing is, face masks are rarely seen and life is mostly back to normal.

Sure, there’s reminders of COVID days: Perspex screens remain at almost every checkout; a few shops display a QR code for scanning into the official COVID tracer app (but not enough to make use of the app meaningful); foreign visitors are conspicuous by their absence; and the Director General of Health still gives daily live updates on TV.

Other subtle changes like extra flexibility in the workplace and changes in advertising to promote domestic tourism and “buy local” may well become permanent fixtures.

Many ads that have used the allure of status, ego, excitement, adventure, one upmanship, or perfection to promote products have been replaced with ones where product promotion seems to be secondary to messages promoting kindness, empathy, sharing and similar sentiments. I doubt this will be a permanent feature, even though I would like them to continue.

For myself personally, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to attend Quaker worship on a more regular basis through the platform of Zoom – something that may never have been considered had COVID-19 not arrived.

Geographically, Aotearoa New Zealand is indeed isolated from the rest of the world, and we have compensated by being one of the world’s most prolific international travellers. The Big OE (Overseas Experience) has almost become a rite of passage into adulthood and responsibility for young Kiwis.

On the whole life here is back to normal, but I and many other Kiwis are beginning to feel that the metaphor of us being a bubble of 5 million is taking on an ominous reality.

Our borders are closed, and may well remain that way for years. Social unrest across the world, and particularly in America, is played out daily in news broadcasts. In some sections of the community, antagonism towards returning Kiwis is replacing antagonism towards immigrants.

There are now two worlds: A safe kind Aotearoa, and an increasingly hostile world “out there” where the Trumps of that world would like nothing better than to see our bubble fail if only to make themselves look less ridiculous. That may be an exaggerated metaphor at the moment, but the trend is definitely there.

Usually I’m blind to growth and changes in social mood and prejudice, but the trend towards isolationism, a “them and us” attitude,  I find unsettling. In the long term it’s unhealthy, especially for a small nation that has placed a heavy reliance on international cooperation in the course of its development.

The optimism and excitement that existed and I experienced as a teenager and young adult in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by something darker, at times almost sinister, at least in the eyes this child of the ’60s social revolution.

I hope I’m wrong, but my once enthusiastic optimism is now tempered with a little more caution and realism. Perhaps I am a child of another era and I’m mistaken in thinking the current generation is more conservative, serious, sombre and pessimistic than the one I have been immersed in all my life. But I have my doubts.


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Police Armed Response Teams

Aotearoa New Zealand is one of just a few jurisdictions worldwide where the police are not routinely armed. I have had great concerns that that was about to change.

Last year Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced that a patrols with armed police known as Armed Response Teams (ARTs) would be trialed for six months in selected areas of the country. If they were successful (what criteria would be used to measure “success”?), ARTs would be rolled out across the country. The trial ended in April.

I was one of tens of thousands of Kiwis who were sufficiently concerned about the prospect of police being routinely armed on patrol that we communicated our concerns to the police and to our Members of Parliament. It seems our concerns have been listened to.

In early April the Commissioner retired and was replaced by Andrew Coster. On the 9th of June Commissioner Coster announced that ARTs have been abandoned permanently. The pushback from the public and especially minorities has been strong. That’s good news.

In an interview on The AM Show on Wednesday, he said that police listened to feedback from the public before scrapping the ARTs. He said:

“The key issue here is having people routinely carrying firearms – I’ve made it really clear that’s not part of the policing model that I would support for New Zealand.

“Absolutely, we do have access to firearms when they’re required but the point is, 99 percent of the time when we’re interacting with the public we are not carrying a firearm and that, for me, is the style difference that’s important.

“We need to remember it was a trial and we are going to take a range of learnings from the trial, particularly in terms of how we keep evolving the skills and training available to the frontline to deal with the high-end firearms incidents.”

In an interview with Stuff, Commissioner Coster said:

“We have a model of policing by consent and that means we need the vast majority of people to see as legitimate the style in which we’re policing and it’s been clear to me that there has not been acceptance of this as an appropriate style of policing in New Zealand.”

How much of the decision to scrap the ARTs was based on public pressure and how much was based on the personal preference of the Commissioner, we’ll probably never know, but what concerns me is that our politicians considered that the arming or non-arming of the police is an “operational matter”.

As commissioner Coster said, policing is by consent, and on this basis, I believe it is important that any change in operations only occur with public consent after widespread consultation. While I don’t want to see politicians become involved with normal police activity, I believe there is room for legislation that would prevent major operational changes from occurring without parliamentary approval.


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Contrasting styles

The leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States of America have radically different styles and perspectives. I’m quite confident that a majority of Kiwis hold similar values to those expressed by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Can the same be said of Americans regarding the values expressed by Donald Trump?

Below is a clip taken from parts of the UN speeches of the two leaders. For those who find the Kiwi Accent difficult, I have included a transcription below the video clip.

JA: If I could distill it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand, it is simple and it is this: kindness.

DT: America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.

JA: In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism, the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism might just be as good a starting point as any. So let’s start here with the institutions that have served us well in times of need and will do so again.

DT: We withdrew from the human rights council and we will not return until real reform is enacted. For similar reasons, the United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.

JA: New Zealand remains committed to continue to do our part to building and sustaining international peace and security, to promoting and defending an open, inclusive and rules-based international order based on universal values, to being pragmatic, empathetic, strong and kind.

DT: The United States is the world’s largest giver in the world, by far, of foreign aid but few give anything to us.

JA: Tēnā koutou. Tēnā koutou. Tēnā koutou katoa.
[Salutations to you all.]

DT: Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the nations of the world. Thank you very much.


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It’s official: Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are essential workers

While I do have some minor niggles with the management style of our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it’s quite evident that her degree in communications has put her in good stead during times of crisis – the Christchurch mosque shootings, and now COVID-19 being two examples.

Sometimes it’s the response to “less important” matters that shows true leadership and an example of this is her taking time to send a personal message to children in her post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday:

You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers, but as you can imagine at this time of course they are going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well and their own bunnies.

And so I say to the children of New Zealand if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make it to your household, then we have to understand that it is a bit difficult at the moment for the Bunny to perhaps get everywhere.”

But I have a bit of an idea that maybe in lieu of the Bunny being able to make it to you home, maybe you could create your own Easter hunt for all the children in your neighbourhood?

So if you are one of those homes that’s had a teddy in your front window, maybe draw an Easter egg and pop it into your front window and help children in your neighbourhood with their own Easter egg hunt – because the Easter Bunny might not get everywhere this year.

post-Cabinet media briefing 6 April 2020


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Mushroom farming

I admit it. The wife and I are food junkies. We both like to experience new forms of cuisine. For us food is always an adventure. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand means that some of the foods that the wife grew up with in Japan are not available here, although much more is available than when she first arrived.

One item she has often missed is the lack of variety in the types of mushrooms available in this country compared to what is available in Japan. That’s unlikely to change much as the importation of fungi into this country is strictly controlled. The reason being that the effects of any foreign mushroom on our unique environment, should any get established in the wild, is unknown.

However two exotic species of mushroom are now able to be grown in Aotearoa New Zealand: shiitake mushrooms – under strictly controlled conditions, and oyster mushrooms which are are not controlled. It’s the latter about which I wish to sing my praises.

Oyster mushrooms are by far my favourite mushroom, although I’m not able to say why. Perhaps it’s because it has less of an earthy smell than other forms or perhaps it’s because its texture changes depending on the cooking method employed.

A few weeks ago a stall at the local Farmers Market was selling mini oyster mushroom farms. Essentially a large plastic bag filled with a material inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. We bought one. Finally, after several weeks of waiting, the very first batch of what will hopefully be a long season of mushrooms have been harvested and consumed.

I can tell you, that oyster mushrooms consumed within an hour of harvesting are absolutely divine. As we often do, tonight we cooked at the table. Tonight, copious quantities of oyster mushrooms, aubergine (eggplant), red capsicum (bell peppers), brown onion, finely chopped cabbage with mung bean sprouts, chicken kebabs, and finely sliced grass feed Angus beef steak, washed down with an NZ Sauvignon Blanc. What can I say but that it was like heaven on earth!


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Is Aotearoa New Zealand really werewolf free?

According to data released under the Official Information Act, there has been no werewolf encounters reported to police over the past three years. Over that time police handled 316 complaints relating to supernatural or extraterrestrial events, but none regarding werewolves.

On the other hand, we seem to be facing a witch invasion or perhaps infestation. A total of 120 incidents involving witches were reported. Unfortunately the report is sketchy on the nature of the complaints or whether we should take special precautions to protect ourselves from possible witch-caused harm It doesn’t even provide information on how to identify the creatures. Surely the police are failing in their duty here.

At least we can be grateful the ghosts are less common, or at least have less reason to be reported to the police. Over the three year period, a total of seventy ghost related incidents were reported.

There were 67 reported extraterrestrial events – 37 reports of aliens and a further 30 UFO sightings. How many of the sightings turned out to witches flying on broomsticks isn’t reported, but due to the prevalence of witches, I have no doubt some of the sightings were misreported.

I have no time for zombie movies or TV series, but perhaps they have been created to help us accept a zombie presence in out midst. They seem to be more common than many of us think. In all, police recorded 59 zombie related incidents.

Given that most incidents are not reported to police, and apart from zombies, paranormal beings are intelligent enough to want to hide their presence from the authorities, I think what has been reported is only the tip of the iceberg. We all need to be vigilant and keep a watchful eye open to any possible paranormal activity.

Returning to the lack or werewolf reports, I suspect it’s also a case of misreporting. In human form werewolves are virtually indistinguishable from humans, especially if they remember to shave their hairy knuckles. When in wolf form, any activity has probably been recorded as dog related incidents. I’m also mindful that a bite from a werewolf turns the victim into one, so they are unlikely to want to report the incident. On that basis, I have serious doubts that this country really is werewolf free.


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Climate change education

I’m a firm believer that the purpose of schooling, particularly at primary and secondary school level is not to prepare the next generation for jobs but to prepare it for life. In this respect I believe the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand does particularly well, as we are encouraged to question and interpret for ourselves any and all information students receive.

So I’m somewhat disappointed by the stance taken by some members of the opposition National Party with regards to their criticism of the rolling out of climate change education resources for schools in 2020, which they are calling “indoctrination”. Is it because the Climate Change Minister happens to be the co-leader of the Green Party that makes it so unpalatable, or being (slightly) right of centre, do they see education only in terms of jobs and careers?

The simple fact is that there is no change in curriculum. The resources provide teachers with additional resource material. It also acknowledges that some of the information can cause stress or distress to some students, and provides guidelines to help teachers and parents address this when it occurs.

While I don’t believe any member of the National Party is a climate change denier, there are some who are yet to be convinced it’s a serious issue or that it is primarily caused by human activity. Take the comment of Judith Collins, a senior National Party MP (Member of Parliament) who has stated “The likely impacts of climate change are being hugely overstated by the media and political left”.

Many of her colleagues are also skeptical about the success of any attempt to reduce warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as the big players, especially the US, China and India are doing so little. They point out that as this country contributes only 0.17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, there was little point in the Zero Carbon Bill passed into law in November last year which includes a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and a 24 – 47 percent reduction in biogenic methane below 2017 levels by the same date.

But as Climate Change Minister James Shaw has observed, per capita, New Zealand is the 21st biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that small countries don’t get off the hook because collectively we add up to a greater total of emissions than the larger countries do.

What both amuses me and alarms me in equal measure, is the call by some conservatives to have climate change education treated the same as religious education. In NZ, schools can only offer religious education outside school hours, students must opt in, and lessons can be for no more than 20 hours per year. They also want climate change education to be “less extreme”, and in their opinion, less indoctrinating.

So what does climate change education involve? It’s part of the wider environmental education in New Zealand schools, which has been part of the curriculum for many years, the aims of which are:

  • Aim 1: awareness and sensitivity to the environment and related issues
  • Aim 2: knowledge and understanding of the environment and the impact of people on it
  • Aim 3: attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment
  • Aim 4: skills involved in identifying, investigating, and problem solving associated with environmental issues
  • Aim 5: a sense of responsibility through participation and action as individuals, or members of groups, whānau, or iwi, in addressing environmental issues.

The introduction to the curriculum guide states:

New Zealand’s natural and social environment is unique. A mild climate, cultural diversity, a small population with high levels of participation in outdoor activities, extensive marine resources, relatively clean air and water, a variety of national parks, and distinctive plants and animals all contribute to the special nature of the environment. As New Zealanders, we value our environment for recreational, aesthetic, economic, cultural, and spiritual reasons.

New Zealand’s future as a nation relies on our maintaining a quality environment. This environment includes its natural and built elements as well as its social and cultural aspects. It is air, water, and land. It is plants and animals. It is people, their communities, and their social and cultural values.

An understanding of the many factors that influence the environment, particularly the impact of people, is critical to maintaining and improving environmental quality. People have modified the land, introduced plants and animals, and utilised both renewable and finite resources. Understanding and responding to people’s impact on the environment therefore requires a multifaceted approach.

Now, if I believed in indoctrination theories then I’d start right here, particularly with aim 3 which aims to develop “attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment”. Why pick on a teaching resource specifically on climate change, which involves no curriculum changes when one of the aims of the curriculum itself is to encourage specific attitudes and feelings. This runs counter to the ideology of some conservatives which is to teach the facts, and only the facts (but only the facts I agree with), and that values are a parental responsibility, not the state’s.

Given the nature of the topic, the Ministry of Education has released a wellbeing guide to accompany the teaching resources. It includes a reminder to parents which can be applied outside the climate issue, particularly the last sentence, which I have emphasised below:

REMINDER
It can be difficult to see your child struggling, unhappy and anxious. You might even feel guilty or responsible. Your child may be frustrated with you and other adults about the current climate change situation. With any unpleasant feeling your child has, it is tempting to want to “fix it”. However, the most important response is acceptance and acknowledgement of feelings, within a caring relationship. Being with your child, whilst they come up with their own solutions and ways of dealing with things, is harder – and more important – than it seems.

For anyone interested in what the fuss is about, here are the links to the teaching resource and the wellbeing guide:

Climate Change Learning Programme – Teacher Resource (.pdf, 7.09 MB)

Climate Change Learning Programme – Wellbeing Guide (.pdf, 0.75 MB)


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Pavlova and Pōhutukawa

Two words synonymous with the Christmas season and summer in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Pavlova

If you’re not a Kiwi or an Aussie, you probably think if a pavlova (if you think of it at all) as a meringue dessert topped with whipped cream and berry fruit. And you could be forgiven for thinking that.

In fact I have been served such a thing in overseas restaurants and even on a cruise ship renown for the culinary skills of its chefs, all incorrectly described as pavlova. They were not. They were, as I described above, just meringues topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

So what’s the difference between a meringue and a pavlova? I think of a meringue as being either crispy throughout, or being a softer, slightly moist texture when used as a topping such as on a lemon meringue pie.

Meringues

What I have been served as a pavlova outside of Aotearoa New Zealand or Australia, is more or less a larger version of a meringue as shown on the left above, smothered with whipped cream and strawberries and sometimes kiwifruit. That, a pavlova does not make!

These are not pavlovas!

On the other hand, a pavlova has a very thin crispy exterior only a few millimetres thick, and a soft, moist, fluffy interior, so soft that it collapses when gently squeezed between tongue and the roof of the mouth. It’s so fragile that it can’t be picked up with your fingers. Without the crispy exterior, any fruit placed on top of the pavlova would sink right through it. In fact the whipped cream spread over the top is more dense than the interior of a good pavlova. A good pavlova often looks like it’s about to collapse with the crust cracking once it is decorated.

Real pavlovas

Here ends my lesson on distinguishing the difference between a real pavlova and a fake one,

Pōhutukawa

The pōhutukawa is sometimes referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree, as in some parts of the country it flowers at Christmas. Like much of the NZ flora and fauna, its population in the wild is decreasing due to predation by introduced species – in the case, the common brushtail possum from Australia. The possum, with its voracious appetite for green leaves, buds and young shoots, eats many of these trees to death.

Fortunately, the pōhutukawa’s spectacular displays of crimson flowers make them a desirable plant in larger gardens, and they are now distributed well beyond the region they naturally flourish in. With careful pruning, they can be kept to under four metres high.

The Pōhutukawa

One particular pōhutukawa tree has a special place in Māori mythology. On Cape Rienga at the northern tip of Aotearoa New Zealand, an ancient Pōhutukawa clings to the side of a cliff and overhangs the ocean below. It’s estimated to be around 800 – 850 years old and would have been a relative youngster, perhaps no more than a hundred years old, when humans first set foot on this land. The tree is special in that it is the departing place of the deceased on their way to the legendary home of their ancestors – Hawaiiki-A-Nui.

According to myth, the spirits of the deceased travel along the coast until they reach this particular pōhutukawa. They enter the underworld by sliding down its roots and into the sea. Then they travel out to Three Kings Island, where they climb a peak to bid a final farewell to Aotearoa before commencing their long journey to Hawaiiki-A-Nui.

I’m aware of one other myth regarding the pōhutukawa. According to legend, the crimson flowers represent the blood of the warrior Tāwhaki. He fell to earth while attempting to find heaven to seek help in avenging the death of his father.

A growing trend among Pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) is the adoption of the Māori tradition of planting a pōhutukawa as a living memorial to the dead.