Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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.


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Rockin’ rollin’ ridin’

For some reason I’m not able to fathom, extreme forces of nature exhilarate me, never frighten me. As a teenager, I remember watching a violent electrical storm from our front porch when suddenly all I could see was a bright white flash, followed almost immediately by a wave of heat. A second or two later, I was in complete darkness. My first thoughts were “Wow! I’ve been blinded by a lightning strike. What a story to tell!”

Slowly  my vision returned, and I realised that the reason for the darkness was that there were no street lights or any form of lighting from houses in the neighbourhood. I was somewhat disappointed that I wouldn’t have such an amazing story to tell after all.

Lightening had stuck a large step-down transformer that stood about 15 metres from our porch, and the flash and and rush of heat was the result of the transformer exploding from the strike, plunging the suburb into darkness.

In my Early twenties, a brother and I toured the South Island. On the return Cook Straight crossing between Picton and Wellington, The Interislander ferry ran into a violent storm. I was the only passenger to occupy the front observation lounge as the ship’s bow was pointing at the stars one moment, then disappearing beneath dark water the next. Everyone else, including my brother, were huddled in the rear lounge with vomit bags held firmly to their faces, or had developed complexions that ranged from deathly white to assorted shades of green.

I thought the scene was rather funny, although had I been aware that many of the restraints holding the cars, trucks and railway rolling stock on the lower decks had failed, I might have had some concerns for the safety of my car. As it was, I was blissfully unaware of the damage being done below me and enjoyed wandering the top deck promenade while waves several stories high rush past, and the ship pitch violently beneath me.

Earthquakes have the same effect. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand, one gets kind of complacent with short quakes. We’re rather small in geographical terms – only 268,000 square kilometres (103,500 sq mi) in area, about the size of Colorado – but over 20,000 earthquakes are recorded every year. Most pass unnoticed, but there’s usually around 250 each year that are noticeable.

I’ve experienced a number of earthquakes over the years that have caused some damage to our home and contents, although nothing too serious. Each quake is unique and as they come on, I wonder what type of motion will result. Some seem to move in just one plane, for example horizontally or vertically. These, especially the horizontal ones, often have a few violent shakes towards the end, which seem to cause all the damage. The ones I enjoy the most, are those that have a rolling motion and feel as though they are moving in all directions at once. Think of riding a narrow gauge train travelling at very high speed over a poorly laid track with incredibly tight curves, where standing is impossible without holding on tight to the handrails on the seats around you.

Last night’s shake was like that. I was sitting in the lounge watching some late night television, and everyone one else had gone to bed. At 2 minutes after midnight I felt slight sensation of movement, and wondered if an earthquake was about to happen. Very gradually the movement increased, and within 15 seconds, I could see the ceiling fan, and bookcases moving. Shortly after I was watching the walls as they flexed and appeared to have waves moving along them. Doors started slamming shortly afterwards, and by the time a minute had passed, I realised that if I had intended to move to safety, the window of opportunity had probably passed. It would have been impossible to walk upright, and I would have needed to resort to hands and knees to make an escape. So I enjoyed the ride. I realised that with a shake this long, a major shock had occurred within a few hundred kilometres.

At about 5 minutes after midnight, the rocking and rolling had subsided somewhat, and I decided to check on the rest of the family, as I am aware that others do not view earthquakes as I do. I found my wife, daughter and her three children upstairs standing in doorways somewhat shaken. The length of the shake had prompted my daughter to gather her brood around her, and even now, fifteen hours later is reluctant to let them out of her sight.

Strong aftershocks are still being felt, and while only two deaths have been reported, Wellington’s CBD has been closed off due to fallen glass and masonry. Universities and schools have been closed and some roads are impassable. What I find interesting, is that aftershocks have been dispersed over a wide area, from several hundred kilometres south of where I live to over a hundred kilometres north. I wonder if it’s a precursor to the “Big One”. The Southern Alpine fault ruptures approximately every 330 years, the last one occurring in 1717. The fault line extends for over 400 kilometres and is expected to cause a magnitude 8+ earthquake when it ruptures, quite likely, within in my lifetime.

While I know it’s likely to cause widespread damage and possibly fatalities, I really would like to “ride the wave”. I can’t think of anything more exciting.

 

WoW – a spectacle

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Like many people on the autism spectrum I am hypersensitive to sensory input – especially visual and audio input. This puts some events out of my reach. Shows with flashing lights, pyrotechnics or loud music can trigger severe migraines that can include fuge states or display symptoms that look so much like a serious stroke that even doctors misdiagnose what’s happening. One show I would very much like to see live is WoW – World of Wearable Art.

Our son in law is involved in WoW and our daughter invited my wife and myself down to Wellington to see the show. It’s something I’ve always wanted to see ever since it started back in the 1980s. However, after discussing the matter with family, we all came to the conclusion that it was not a show would have a good outcome for me.

So this evening while my wife, daughter and grandchildren spent an evening spellbound by the spectacular sets, costumes and choreography, I spent a very quiet evening in my daughter’s home babysitting a cat and dog. Such is life.

(Excerpts from the 2015 show)


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Marriage and property rights

I’m surprised by the similarities and differences of what makes up marriage property rights in various countries. Most nations have moved to the position where property is owned in equal share by both partners in a marriage, and in the case of divorce or separation, many countries are working towards, or have moved to ‘equal-sharing rules’ in which the presumption is that both partners have contributed equally to the marriage and therefore property and child rearing responsibilities should be divided equally.

As more countries recognise same sex marriages, people in such relationships are also achieving the same rights to property as heterosexual couples. This is perhaps more true in “Western” countries than elsewhere.

Where I see a greater difference is in what is recognised as a marriage in different jurisdictions. For example, in England common law marriages aren’t recognised at all, and only a few states in the USA recognises common law marriages. Usually one half of the partnership will be seriously disadvantaged should they decide to split up.

Matrimonial property in NZ

If you were to search the law books of Aotearoa New Zealand for a definition of matrimonial property, you’d be searching for a very long time as it doesn’t exist. The main reason for this is that as far as property is concerned, it’s the relationship between a couple that determines property rights and not a marriage certificate.

What would be termed common law marriage in other jurisdictions is termed de facto relationship here. It is one of three types of relationships that are covered by the Properties (Relationship) Act 1976 and its amendments. The other two types are marriage and civil union.

The act has four principles, three of which are relevant here:

  1. that men and women have equal status, and their equality should be maintained and enhanced
  2. that all forms of contribution to the marriage partnership, civil union, or the de facto relationship partnership, are treated as equal
  3. that a just division of relationship property has regard to the economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses or partners arising from their marriage, civil union, or de facto relationship or from the ending of their marriage, civil union, or de facto relationship

If you live together as a couple and are not married or in a civil union, you’re legally considered to be in a de facto relationship.

For all practical purposes, a relationship begins when a couple start living together or have their marriage or civil union formalised (which ever happens first), and ends when they cease living together or one of them dies. The act also makes provision for the dissolution of a marriage or civil union, but as that can only occur after not living together as a couple for two years, it’s not really of any significance here.

All property acquired, used or shared after a relationship commences is considered relationship property, while property previously acquired becomes relationship property after the couple have been living together for three years.

So here in NZ all couples, whether in heterosexual or same sex relationships, in marriages, civil unions, or de facto relationships are treated equally in regards to property rights. Personally, I believe thus is how it should be. What is also of significance is that there is no necessity for a couple to have a sexual relationship, or even to live in the same residence for a de facto relationship to exist. If there is a dispute about a relationship existing, then the following criteria are taken into consideration, but the absence of one or more of them does not necessarily  mean they are not a couple:

  1. The duration of the relationship
  2. The nature and extent of common residence
  3. Whether or not a sexual relationship exists
  4. The degree of financial dependence or interdependence, and any arrangements for financial support, between the parties
  5. The ownership, use, and acquisition of property
  6. The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life
  7. The care and support of children
  8. The performance of household duties
  9. The reputation and public aspects of the relationship.

As there are no advantages to being in a marriage or civil union as far as property rights go, it begs the question why do so many couples eventually marry? There are no tax advantages in having a relationship formalised in marriage or civil union as incomes can not be pooled or shared in NZ. Each person is taxed individually. Income from shared property such as interest from a joint bank account, or rent from a shared property is divided equally and then added to the income of each individual.

About one in three relationships in NZ end before the death of a partner, and after five years, de facto relationships seem to be as stable as marriages and civil unions. Around two out of five couples live in a de facto relationship, and it seems to me that it’s time to question whether marriages and civil unions need to be formalised by the state at all. As there’s no legal or financial benefits in having a document that says a couple are married, why should the state get involved?

I can understand the desire for a couple to want to publicly declare their commitment to each other, in fact I think it’s admirable. But does making it a legal contract make the commitment any stronger? It would seem no if the NZ experience is to be believed. Can anyone give me a strong reason why relationships should be registered and made legally binding in the form or marriage or civil union?


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Stills and other things

I don’t like the taste of tap water – especially that provided by our local authority. Whatever they add to it to make it safe, also makes it unpalatable as far as I’m concerned. So for a long time, I’ve been distilling water for use in tea and coffee, rice making, and any food or beverage where water is a constituent part. I happened to mention this in an email to someone I regularly correspond to in America, and he wanted to know how difficult it was for me to get a permit to own operate the still. Apparently it’s illegal to even own a still in his state, let alone produce alcohol for consumption. Somewhat surprised (America supposedly being the land of the free) I did a little research, and was surprised at what I discovered.

Is Aotearoa New Zealand the only country in the world where I can legally distill my alcoholic beverages unfettered by government regulation or red tape?

I don’t need:

  • a permit to buy, sell or build a still
  • a licence or permit to own or operate a still
  • to report or record how much alcohol I produce
  • to pay excise duty or tax on the alcohol I produce
  • to have my still inspected

So long as I’m not going to distribute it commercially, (or produce illegal substances) what comes out of the still is of no interest to the authorities.

Regulations sometimes seem illogical and petty. While I can legally buy or sell all the paraphernalia and consumables for the production of all alcoholic beverages including beer, wine and spirits, the same can’t be said of tobacco products. It’s illegal to sell or even gift tobacco plants, but perfectly legal to sell or otherwise trade tobacco seeds. While there’s no limit in how much alcohol I produce for personal consumption, there is a limit of 15Kg per year for tobacco products, although there doesn’t appear to be any inspectorate capable of monitoring home production of tobacco.

I know that smoking causes long term health problems, but then so can excessive alcohol consumption, so why regulate home tobacco production, but not alcohol production?

While we’re on petty regulations, I’ve learnt that here in NZ you can be fined up to $1,000,000 or be imprisoned up to 10 years for carrying out a nuclear explosion. The law doesn’t make exceptions for testing nuclear weapons, so if you’re brought before the courts for detonating one, an excuse of “I was only trying it out” won’t get you a lighter sentence.

The USA is sending a naval vessel to NZ for the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations later this year. Thank goodness the Trump won’t be in power then. What do you think would be the likelihood that he would want to challenge our antinuclear laws by requesting the US send a nuclear powered or nuclear capable ship?


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Brexit a warning sign?

It seems that a significant factor in the minds of those who voted in favour of leaving the European Union was concern over the rate of immigration. Aotearoa New Zealand has three times the immigration rate per capita compared to the U.K. 

Does this mean that we Kiwis are more tolerant and accepting of immigrants? Or is the Brexit vote a warning sign that we too might become more xenophobic in the future? What should we do to ensure that dislike and even hatred of those who are in some way different does not raise its ugly head more than it does now? Does the leader of the New Zealand First party have a point when he says that our present rate of immigration is unsustainable? Or is he simply fear mongering? 


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Shock Horror: A racist in the NBA

Steven Adams is a Kiwi playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s come under some criticism for using the term “quick little monkeys” to describe Golden State guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Apparently this has raised the ire of some sports fans and commentators, accusing Steven of racism. In some quarters his apology is not accepted, or seen as not genuine.

I must admit that I had to do some Googling to understand why the term is considered a racist remark in America. Here “little monkeys” has absolutely no racial overtone. It’s usually used either as an endearment for a group of active children, or in frustration when unable to keep them under control. A child escaping the clutches of a parent is likely to be called a “quick little monkey”.

The term is less often used when referring to adults, but to a Kiwi, describing opponents who you can’t pin down or control as quick little monkeys would come naturally. I suspect He was going to say they were “quick little buggers” (perfectly okay in NZ) or perhaps “quick little f**kers” (not suitable for early evening TV), and thought better of it in case they weren’t acceptable in the US.

The whole thing is a storm in a teacup. The issue should died down as soon as Steven gave his apology and explanation. But apparently not…

The Nightly Show


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Go Helen!

The UN has begun the process of selecting a new Secretary-General. Among the candidates is Helen Clark, a Former Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand. I’m not biased, but of course she’s the best candidate for the post.

During the past week candidates have been given the opportunity to give an “Informal dialogue for the position of the next UN Secretary-General”. By all accounts our Helen gave a good account of herself. If you’d like to watch her presentation I have provided two links below.

Opening remarks only (10 minutes)

Opening remarks and Q&A session (2 hours 15 minutes)

Why did the President General Assembly addressing Helen as Mrs Helen Clark, when, if she’s being addressed formally she prefers Ms Helen Clark? UN Protocol or ignorance?

I’ve been asked before why I show disrespect for some public figures by using their given name only. In case anyone hasn’t seen my explanation, here it is: In typical Kiwi fashion, we refer to public figures we admire or respect by their given name only, and we often address them this way to (depending on the circumstances). Those we dislike are usually given their full name, without title, or if we really dislike them, just their family name.