Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Sexism in politics

Having grown up in a family with very liberal ideas on gender roles, I sometimes forget that not everyone holds similar values.

This week a TV interviewer put his foot into it by asking a question he really should have known not to ask.

This is Aotearoa New Zealand and the twenty first century. If he has been an employer, he would have been in deep doo doo for asking the question to an employee or prospective employee.

Thankfully his question raised the ire of the interviewee and a significant proportion of the community.

The question was to the new leader of the Labour party, who has a remote chance of becoming the PM (Prime Minister) after the general elections in September.

So what was the question?

“Is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”

The question and the anger it has raised seems to have been reported around the globe. See CNN and The Guardian as examples.

I’m disappointed that there are still men around who hold nineteenth century views of gender roles, but I am pleased that most Kiwi males have moved on.


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River gains personhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The elections are nigh!

Aotearoa New Zealand goes to the polls on the 23rd of September this year to elect our 52nd Parliament. Up until today, it has been difficult to see any sign of the upcoming event apart from the occasional news item and advertisement reminding us that we must be enrolled in order to vote.

However today the campaign begins in earnest as this is the first day on which candidates are permitted to put up election hoardings (billboards), which can be up to 3 square metres (32 square feet) in size.

Election campaigns here are quite different from the spectacle we see on our television screens regarding the American elections. Even from 14,000 Km away, we find the US elections over the top and tiring. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in the midst of it. Thankfully, ours are short and sharp and we find the two months of campaigning more than enough.

One reason that our elections are quieter is that there are very strict controls on how much candidates and political parties are permitted to spend. From today up until the day before polling day spending is restricted to:

  • $26,200 for an electorate candidate
  • $1,115,000 for a registered political party plus $26,200 per electorate contested by the party
  • $12,600 for an unregistered third party promoter
  • $315,000 for a registered third party promoter

That covers all forms of spending: hoardings, newspapers, radio, television, pamphlets, rallies – in fact every expense related to the election campaign. And thankfully, all advertising must stop by the end of the day before election day.

Although most parties have determined who will stand for which electorate, and have sorted out their party lists, official nominations don’t open until the 24th of August and close on the 29th of the same month, so I’ll wait until then before starting my own selection process for my preferred candidate and party. And unlike in many parts of the world, we get two votes: one for the electorate candidate, and one for the party vote. (an electorate is an area containing approximately 60,000 people, plus or minus 5%. The total number of seats each party gets in the Parliament is determined by their share of the party vote nationwide.)

Best of all, radio and television advertising can’t commence until the 23rd of August, so if you can’t avoid listening to commercial stations, you’ll only have to put up with it for a month max. Thank goodness!


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“Trump might do some good for democracy”

Now before you conclude that I have lost my marbles, read on.

Throughout the world, voter turnout at national elections have been declining, mainly due to apathy of younger voters. This is also true in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our most recent General Elections were held in 2014 and the voter turnout was at an all time low of 77%. Voter turnout for those under 30 years of age was 62%, while 88% of people my age voted.

The main reason put forward for poor voter participation by younger people is that they feel that they can make very little difference to the results. While there is some degree of truth in that, especially in electoral systems where “winner takes all” such as with FFP (First Past the Post), the same can’t be said of systems with proportional representation such that used here in Parliamentary elections. If a party gains 5% of the votes, it gets 5% of the seats in the Parliament. in other words, every vote counts.

We next go to the polls on Saturday the 23rd of September 2017 to elect our 52nd Parliament. The head of the Electoral Commission (the body that oversees national and local elections in NZ) believes we may see a reversal in the decline in voter participation this year. She gave two reasons: Brexit and Trump.

The results of both Brexit and the US presidential elections were due largely to voter apathy. In both cases, younger voters were strongly against the final result, and had younger voters participated in numbers approaching the national average, the results would have been different. It seems that finally there is evidence that NOT taking part in the democratic process can have serious consequences.

The good news here is that the younger generations are talking about how and why results such as Brexit and Trump as president could possibly occur. Both results seem contrary to common sense. I do hope that the head of the Electoral Commission is correct and that such discussion will lead to greater voter participation, especially among the young.

So thank you Donald, you are the reason the next generation of Kiwis are beginning to take a greater interest in the democratic process. They don’t want to see our leaders behaving as you do.


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The Auld Mug is ours!

Almost every nation finds a sporting event so captivating, that it comes to a virtual standstill during the event. For Kiwis, this happens with international Rugby events such as the Rugby World Cup, the Bledisloe Cup and the current British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. The Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games would also be top contenders.

There is one other sporting event that sees our nation pause and television news shows devote prime spots for. And for this we have to thank the Australians. I don’t believe I just thanked the Aussies – I must be delirious.

Way back in the 1970s Australia started challenging the United States for the world’s oldest international sporting trophy – the America’s Cup. It had been held by the New York Yacht Club since 1857, and when Australia finally won the cup in 1983, they ended the longest winning streak in sporting history.

Australia is a nation we don’t mind supporting if we are not competing against them, and as we’re both sailing mad nations and small fry compared to America, our interest in the America’s Cup grew with each challenge. When Australia finally won, us Kiwis were cheering as loudly, if not more so, than the Aussies.

With the next challenge to be close by in Australia, and our natural desire to beat the Aussies at anything, interest was high enough to raise the funding necessary to make a challenge for the cup in 1987.

NZ’s KZ 7 (Kiwi Magic) was one of 13 yachts to compete for the right to challenge Australia for the cup. Perhaps our interest in the challenge series would not have been so intense if it had not been for one factor: Dennis Conner (who had lost to the Australians four years previously and went on to win the Cup back for America) accused the Kiwi team of Cheating: “Why would you want to build a fibreglass 12-metre [yacht] unless you wanted to cheat?”

We like to think that we are special when it comes to the matter of fair play, and that it is more important than winning. So when we were accused of cheating, everyone saw red and the cup challenge become personal to almost every Kiwi. How dare someone accuse us of cheating.

The Kiwis had no experience at building aluminium hull racing yachts, which was the international standard at the time, but had years of building ferro-cement and glass reinforced plastic yachts, so it was only natural for us to use that technology in an America’s Cup challenge. The challenges to the legitimacy of what became fondly known as the Plastic Fantastic saw Conner rise to the status of “Dirty Den – the American that kiwis loved to hate”.

I guess the fact that New Zealand is a tiny country gives us a sense of “David verses Goliath” mentality especially in events such as the America’s Cup where vast sums of money are sunk into challenges and defences. The kiwis have only a fraction of the funding available to other teams, yet in the America’s Cup events following our first attempt, New Zealand has won the right to challenge for the cup five times and defended it twice. In other words New Zealand has been in seven of the last nine America’s Cup finals.

Today, New Zealand once more becomes the proud holder of the America’s Cup and during that final race, much of the country came to a standstill, and news bulletins have headlined the win and very little else. When the team arrive home next week, there’ll be ticker-tape parades and numerous official and unofficial functions in honour of their success.

Then there’ll be the hard work to prepare for a defence in Auckland in 2021. With any luck, I’ll be there to cheer on my favourite team. Go Team New Zealand!


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Feijoa Season!

Love them or loathe them, at this time of the year are are unavoidable. We have a short  6 metre long hedge consisting of six feijoa bushes that runs along part of the south boundary of our section (residential property). Every few days we gather several kilograms of the fruit.

Feijoas

An over abundance of feijoas!

Today, our granddaughter picked up 8.5 Kg (about 19 lbs) of the very aromatic fruit in around ten minutes. Harvesting is by collecting fallen fruit from the ground – never by picking off the tree, as picked fruit fails to develop as much flavour and sweetness as fallen fruit.

Thanks to methyl benzoate and similar chemicals, the potent aroma is what makes feijoa so unavoidable. It is very distinctive and during harvest season, which for us is May and June, the house positively reeks of it. It’s one of those smells you either love or loathe. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who is indifferent to it.

The picture is one I took a few days ago. The two bags our grandson is holding contain 5 Kg (11 lbs) of feijoas. Five bags of fruit were gathered that day totalling about 12 Kg (26 lbs). The three grandchildren gathered them in little more than five minutes

For those unfamiliar with the fruit, it tastes a little like guava, a little like pineapple, a little like pear and a little like tart berries. Yep, it’s like eating a very flavoursome fruit salad. Delicious! They are best eaten raw, but are very nice in a cooked desert such as apple and feijoa crumble. It also makes a wonderful aromatic jam.

Inevitably, we give away most of our crop to family, friends and neighbours, as do most people with more than a single bush – they’re such prolific croppers. The rest we consume fresh or it’s frozen for making into desserts or smoothies over the next six to twelve months.

As I have already mentioned, it’s a fruit you either love or loathe. At this time of the year, if you visit someone and the place doesn’t smell of feijoa then in all probability they do not like the fruit, and you can be sure they’ve turned down many offers of feijoas over recent days. Don’t risk harming a friendship by offering them any.


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Batten down the hatches!

Just as I begin recovery from the recent onslaught of a severe migraine attack, I find we are about to face a new onslaught. What was supposed to be the tail end of Cyclone Cook is making landfall about now. Over the last day it has intensified and has now been categorised as the most severe weather event to hit Aotearoa New Zealand in almost fifty years.

On the 10th of April 1968, Cyclone Giselle, the worst extratropical cyclone in New Zealand’s recorded history caused widespread damage throughout the country and the sinking of the Inter-Island ferry TEV Wahine, resulting in the death of 53 passengers.

Everyone has all but forgotten the name of the cyclone. Those like myself who lived through it simply remember it as the Wahine Storm ot Wahine Disaster. It’s an experience few can forget. Lets hope Cyclone Cook proves to be an anticlimax.

The clip linked to below is taken from the evening news bulletin that day. For those of us there it seemd more dramatic as we had the “privilege” of watching the event unfolding through our television screens and knowing that the weather prevented any effective rescue.
https://www.nzonscreen.com/embed/7e15d764847b5b81


Postscript: All very much a let down in this part of the country. The cyclone tracked further east than had been predicted and my side of North Island received only a moderate amount of rain and winds that fell short of being gale force. Other parts of the country did experience gale force winds and torrential rain, flooding, fallen trees, power cuts, block roads etc, here it could barely be described as a storm at all. Cyclone Cook will not go down in history as the second most severe weather event to hist the country in recent history.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 2)

In this first clip, Professor Lloyd Geering makes the point that since the Enlightenment, everyone is a heretic as we are all free to think for ourselves – we are all free thinkers – and make our own choices accordingly. As he points out “We are encouraged to think for ourselves” [3:08], but who are the “we” he’s referring to?

The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand had its formative years at the height of the Enlightenment, and this country has always had a significant number of individuals and leaders who were Free Thinkers, atheists and agnostics, as well as those of assorted religious traditions. Our isolation from the rest of the world meant we developed an individualistic attitude to living, with a very egalitarian attitude towards authority.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Professor Geering is referring to Kiwis when he says we are encouraged to think for ourselves, but to what extent can the same be applied to other nations – especially when it comes to religion.

From this relatively remote corner of the world, I see vast regions of the globe where people seem to be discouraged from thinking for themselves – especially in the way of religion. I blink in amazement when American bloggers, while confessing their atheism anonymously online, are extremely reluctant to come out to friends, family and community about their lack of faith for fear of a backlash. Reminds me of those being reluctant to come out as gay in the 1970s and early 80s. I would like to think their fears are more imaginary than real, but the stories told are too consistent  for that. Perhaps after the dark ages being brought on by the Trump administration, America will make a more rapid swing towards liberalism.

Early on on the clip, Professor Geering describes his understanding of God – not a supernatural being, but a set of values that include truth, justice, love and compassion. On that matter, he and I agree completely.


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Equality on the decline?

In 20o5 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation in the world where all top positions were held by women: the Monarch, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Chief Justice.

There have been other firsts that at first glance give the appearance that women are more equal here than elsewhere, including being the first country to grant women the vote. The 1976 relationship act and its amendments grant equal rights to both members of a relationship irrespective of marital status or gender is another.

Just as America prides itself on its liberty and freedom, NZ has always prided itself on its egalitarianism – both between the sexes and the population as a whole. In fact, back in the 1940s a visiting academic suggested we should build a statue proclaiming our egalitarianism in the much the same manner as the Statue of Liberty proclaims freedom in America.

The myth persists in both countries. Sadly America has slid well down the freedom and liberty ladder, even though over half the population believe it is the most free nation on earth. Our claim to egalitarianism has take a huge tumble since the mid 1980s. Fewer Kiwis believe in our own myth. Approximately 75% of the population no longer believe that everyone in NZ receives a “fair go”. But that leaves a quarter of the population still believing that we are a nation of equals.

Why the sudden change in equality since the 1980s? In what was a sort of political revolution, the leftist Labour party adopted radical economic reforms much like “Thatchernomics” in the UK and “Reaganomics” in the US, only more extreme. Known here as “Rogernomics” (named after the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas) it saw the halving of the top tax rate, the slashing of social welfare, the privatisation of much of the public sector (sold mostly to foreign investors) and a reduction in the bargaining power of workers. Tariffs and other trade protections were eliminated resulting in a massive transfer of unskilled jobs overseas.

The initial result was high levels of unemployment and the social conditions that typically accompany it. Today unemployment is more “acceptable” but we now have a class of “working poor” that struggle and frequently fail at keeping their family out of poverty. Today, about one in five children live in households where the income is below the poverty line. I believe this is totally unacceptable.

New Zealand has the unenviable reputation of now being the nation with the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD. While we are far from reaching the level of disparity seen in the USA and some developing nations, we approaching the likes of the UK. While it’s true that displays of wealth are still frowned upon, there is a growing acceptance that poverty is a “natural” part of the social fabric. I don’t.

One outcome of the economic reforms has been an increase in the disparity of income between men and women. Prior to the reforms, and into the first few years afterwards, the difference in income between men and women had been declining and was well on the way to being eliminated. There were dreams of Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to achieve true pay equality. This has been shattered over the last two decades as the gender pay gap has increased markedly to around 12% (based on hourly income, more so if based on actual income).

One of the measures of freedom I take seriously is socio-economic mobility. This is the ability for someone to move out of the socio-economic group of their parents. In America, the “Land of Opportunity” around half or slightly less move to a different group. By contrast, in NZ it was around 75%. This has declined and is now hovering around the 70% mark.

It has barely been a generation since the economic reforms, and as they become a permanent feature of of our society, I suspect that socio-economic mobility will decline further. That, along with the growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for social disharmony – perhaps on the levels we see in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere. The mind shudders.

Equally unnerving is that it brings the prospect of us growing our own Trump –  someone gaining enormous wealth through a largely unregulated economy, and at the cost of a low skilled workforce, and then gaining political influence by telling those worse affected by those very practices that he will make things right for them. Yeah, right.


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What do ads say about me?

I’ve heard it said that one can get learn much about a country by observing their ads. I’m sure something similar could be said about individuals by observing what types of ads they enjoy/prefer.

For no particular reason, I present below four of my favourite ads seen on NZ television over the last 25 years.

Toyota Bugger – 1990.

This is perhaps my favourite ad of all time simply because so little is said – essentially just one word repeated seven times over a period of 45 seconds.

Tip Top Togs Togs Undies – 2006

Personally I loathe budgie smugglers and would never wear them, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand they can be seen in all sorts of (inappropriate) places over the summer months.

Ghost Chips – 2011

It’s an unfortunate fact that NZ does not not do well in the drink driving stakes. Here’s one ad that chose not to use shock tactics to get the message across. The ad includes the words “I’ve been internalising a really complicated situation in my head” which has now developed a life of its own and can now be heard any time someone reveals they are having difficulty reaching a decision.

Instant kiwi – 1993

Instant Kiwi is a form of “Scratch-to-win” game of chance run by the Lotteries commission. During the 1990s their ads were based on the  “can do” attitude theme. For me it was a toss up between the ad shown below and another of their ads depicting the catching of a trout by means of a Bungee jump.