Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Election outcome

If you haven’t already seen the preliminary results of the general election, the Labour Party (the senior partner in the previous 3-party government coalition) has won an outright victory, meaning they are able to form a government on their own. This is the first occasion over the last nine election cycles that a political party has been in this position.

To me, that is what is most disturbing about the election results – that one party can govern alone. One of the strengths (although some may call it a weakness) of the MMP voting system is that it’s rare for a single political party to gain an absolute majority within the legislature – in NZ’s case the Parliament.

Since the introduction of MMP either of the major political political parties (National or Labour) have had to negotiate support agreements with one or more minor parties in order to form a government.

After the 2017 general election, although National held the largest number of seats (56), it was unable to negotiate a coalition, whereas Labour (with only 46 seats) succeeded in negotiating separate agreements with each of NZ First (9 seats) and the Greens (8 seats) giving them a working government majority of six seats.

I’m hoping that the new government does include at least one minor party, even though it’s not necessary to govern. Jacinda Ardern has indicated that she wants the new government to be inclusive, and one way of ensuring minority voices are heard is to include them in the corridors of power.

As an aside, Aotearoa New Zealand continues to increase the diversity of its legislature. Both Labour and the Greens have more women than men in their caucuses. Both National and Labour have women leaders, while the Greens and the Māori Party each have a male and female co-leader. According to one political analyst, 10% of the new Parliament will now be from the LGBT+ community. And as in the previous Parliament, Māori will have a higher proportional representation in Parliament than they do in the general population. Unfortunately, neurodiversity is not only under represented, it’s not represented at all. I’d like to see this change during my lifetime, but I’m not holding out strong hopes.

I am thankful that American style politics has not won over the more empathetic and conciliatory style seen here. At what is perhaps a a oblique barb at the US elections, Jacinda had this to say:

We are living in an increasingly polarised world. A place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another’s point of view. I hope [at] this election, that New Zealand has shown, that this is not who we are – that as a nation we can listen, and we can debate. Afterall we are too small to lose sight of other people’s’ perspectives. Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart.


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Done it!

The wife and I visited a nearby voting place to cast our votes in the General election and referendum. In and out in less than five minutes. I really feel for those in other jurisdictions (and America immediately comes to mind at this time) where the ability to vote is frustrated by gerrymandering, partisanship and regulations making the voting process difficult for those who are not of the “correct” political persuasion.

Advance voting is available in the fortnight before Election Day. However, at previous elections the wife and I have always left it to Election Day to cast our votes (by law it must be on a Saturday). Even though the nation is in COVID-19 alert level one (no restrictions domestically, but international borders closed to non-residents), we decided it was prudent to visit a voting place mid-week when there’s likely to be no or minimal queueing.

When we arrived, there was just one other person in the “queue”, and as it turned out, he wasn’t on the electoral roll. It took about a minute to determine he was eligible to enroll and was directed to the appropriate desk to register. As the wife and I had remembered to bring our EasyVote cards with us, it was a 15 second procedure to confirm we were on the roll and we were handed our voting papers.

This evening, three major TV networks carried an article on the difficulty that voters in Texas, USA were experiencing. Apparently there’s only one voting drop-off facility per county for absentee voting, which seems totally ridiculous. The county referred to in the news item has a population of 4.7 million – almost the entire population of Aotearoa New Zealand. I assume an absentee vote is similar to what we refer to as a special vote, which can be done at every voting place.

During the early voting period there’s around one voting place per 2,500 eligible voters, while on Election Day there’s one per 1,300 eligible voters. The result is zero or minimal queues, unlike those regularly depicted in news items of American voters queuing for hours. I wonder what the ratio of voting places to electors is in the various US states?

I don’t know how common it is to have to wait in line for five or more hours, but the frequency at which it’s depicted on our TV screens would indicate it’s not uncommon. What does seem alarming is that this seems more common in states and counties where Republicans are in control. Has partisanship in the US caused the democratic process to sink to this level?

If America was ever a model of democracy worthy of emulation (which I seriously doubt), it most certainly no longer is. It does help explain why Aotearoa New Zealand is listed in the Democracy Index as one of only twenty-two nations having full democracy, while the United States is listed as one of fifty-three nations having a flawed democracy.

It’s understandable that the American elections take up almost as much news time as our own elections due the the influence America has on world affairs. But I wonder whether the fact that this nation is ranked first on the Corruption Perceptions Index while the US is ranked twenty-third (behind Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates) affects the slant given to American politics and politicians by our news services.

It’s almost a given that humorous scorn pertaining to Trump will find its way into the evening news most days of the week, and while we can laugh at the situation knowing it couldn’t happen here as our system doesn’t give so much power to one person, I wonder how many of us cringe knowing conspiracists and science deniers have a growing number of followers even in Aotearoa New Zealand.


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Day three of fifteen

Our general Elections are to be “officially” held on Saturday, 17th of October. Vote counting will commence after polling places close at 7:00 PM that day. However it has now become standard for voters to be able to vote early. We have been able to cast our vote since Saturday, hence, today being Monday, is day three of the the 15 day period during which we can cast our vote(s).

Although we have nowhere near the voter turnout that Australia has (voting is compulsory there), participation rates of 75% or greater are the norm here. And this year with greater promotion and availability of early voting, it’s likely that the turnout this year will be up on the 2017 elections.

One anomaly that early voting has revealed is the regulation that bans political advertising of any sort on polling day. This necessitates the removing of billboards, party banners etc before midnight on the day before polling day. Considering that voting now extends over two weeks and it’s expected that around 60% of all votes will be cast before polling day, either all political advertising needs to be banned for the entire time the polls are open or the advertising ban needs to be done away with entirely. But banning advertising on only the final day of polling is ludicrous in my view.

On a lighter note, here’s a (highly selective) comparison of last week’s leaders’ debates in NZ and the US. Apart from the obvious gender differences, our political leaders think more highly of each other than do American leaders.

A contrast of styles


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MAGA: NZ style

There’s a section of the conservative right in America, mainly evangelical Christians (although I’m not convinced that the term “Christian” is appropriate) who are are willing to excuse Trump of almost any evil in order to accomplish his proclaimed goal of Make America Great Again, whatever that is supposed to mean. I’m sure that to Trump, MAGA really means Make America Go Autocratic.

The values and ideals held by those in the MAGA camp in the USA are also held by some in this country, although thankfully they make up a significantly smaller percentage of the population. So much are they endeared to the US MAGA brigade that they have lifted the acronym, the red baseball cap, and all, and applied it to themselves.

Unlike in the US, they don’t have a hero to champion their cause, so instead have targeted the person who is the antithesis – Jacinda Ardern. It’s very clear to me that the characteristics and values of our Prime Minister that endear her to the majority of Kiwis are not those of the NZ version of the MAGA brigade.

So what does what does the acronym MAGA stand for?

Make Ardern Go Away

Pathetic really.


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Jet boating NZ style

For most of my regular readers the remote possibility of visiting Aotearoa New Zealand has become even more remote since the arrival of the current pandemic, and for the foreseeable future is likely to remain so.

I’m now at the age where an adrenaline rush does little more than remind me that my body isn’t what it once was. I prefer to reminisce and relive past experiences from memory rather than seek out new ones.

With that in mind, here’s a modern video clip of the same experience I had on the same river forty-nine years ago. As far as I can recall, the boat appears to be identical to the one I rode in way back in April 1971.

Rushing through a narrow river valley with literally just a few inches of water beneath you while travelling at a speed of 80 kph (50 mph) relative to the water (somewhat faster relative to the valley walls on the downstream run) definitely does create an adrenaline rush, but unlike a bungy jump, it’s not over in a few seconds. The g-forces you’re subject to apparently are similar to those experienced on a rollercoaster but as I have never ridden a roller coaster, I am not able to confirm. Certainly, decelerating from full speed to a standstill in just a boat length while doing a 360 degree turn (otherwise known as a Hamilton turn) is an unforgettable sensation.

So without further ado, here’s a recreation of my jet boat experience five decades on. I recommend you take the link to Youtube and watch it at full screen.

Here’s another jet boat tour. Observe the terrain you pass through on your way to the river.

If g-forces are your thing, then hitch a ride in jet sprint boat. These boats can accelerate from 0 to 130 Kph (80 mph) in less than 2 seconds. The top boats can pull 7 g-forces while maneuvering through the course. I’ve been told that there are more jet sprint tracks in this country than race car tracks. The jet sprint park below is about a forty minute drive from where I live.

On the other hand, if a little bit of white water is your thing, there’s rides such as this one at Taupō.

or this (but I’d recommend wearing a safety helmet here).


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It’s over for New Zealand: News from President Trump

Three campaign rallies and three times President Trump calls out the abject failure of the country of New Zealand in fighting the pandemic. It’s time Kiwis kissed their elderly and sick goodbye, throw away masks and hand sanitiser and await their fate. It’s no use fighting it, for as the PONTUS knows, it’s over for New Zealand. Everything’s gone.

So America, and the rest of the world, take a lesson from the dumb ass Kiwis – don’t try to emulate them. Celebrate the great job being done by Donald Trump. You only need to look at the US mortality rates to know how well they’re doing, and as the president has said, other countries would know just how well you’re doing if only fewer of you were tested.

If you think I’m jesting about the wisdom the President Trump, then I highly recommend you listen to the three video clips below. Not only will you be greatly informed, you will also be greatly inspired.

Donald Trump scoffs at NZ, calling latest Covid-19 cluster a ‘big surge’ – The US President added New Zealand to his campaign rhetoric in Minnesota.

Donald Trump mentions New Zealand in Covid-19 briefing for second time
The US president said during a White House press conference that Aotearoa “had a big outbreak”.

‘It’s over for New Zealand’ – Trump slams Aotearoa’s Covid-19 outbreak response yet again. President Trump made reference to a “massive breakout” here.

Now I realise the President was a short on details. Well it was a political rally after all. So I have prepared some charts. I’ve used charts because I know how well the President is able to explain them. You saw how he slayed that interviewer when he challenged the President: The President used charts to really sock it to that guy.

Just in case you find charts a little more difficult to read than the President, I have included a brief explanation below each one.

You can see that America is doing very good in new cases. There was a time in June where Sweden was winning, but they’ve since gone down and America up. But look at New Zealand – it’s over.
This one charts deaths. As you can see, there’s no comparison between New Zealand and the other three countries. It’s over New Zealand, beautiful. America does more testing than Sweden and England so that is why America’s score is not as big.
This is charting the number of tests done each day. America is winning big time. Look at New Zealand. Loosers. They should test like America does. That’s why it’s all over for them.
This chart is more difficult to understand as there’s some maths going on. You need to be a genius like President trump to grasp its complexity. See how good America’s percentages are – they are higher than the other country. England tried to beat America in April, but they couldn’t keep it up. Losers just like New Zealand. But America is doing just great.

As you can see, America is higher on every chart (except one, and that’s because America tests too much). If you want to keep America high in the charts, then don’t forget to vote for Donald Trump in November. If you vote for that other guy, America might end up like New Zealand.


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Move over Hollywood

Our (relatively) safe COVID-19 status has seen increased interest in basing international film and TV productions here. As well as Avatar 2 and Power of the Dog already under way, permission has been granted to another five production teams to enter Aotearoa New Zealand and due to start production soon. These include:

At a time where our livelihood from overseas visitors has all but dried up, such productions are a lifeline to our economy. The more. the merrier.


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The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?

Keeping the coronavirus out of Aotearoa New Zealand is fraught with difficulties, the most significant perhaps being that it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies. I’m glad I’m not the only person who regards the setting up of a Border Security Force as a potential source of abuse and tyranny.

Whilst the current multi-agency arrangement involving Customs, Health, Police and Military has revealed many flaws from managing security to testing for COVID-19, these are being acknowledged and corrected as they come to light. This is uncharted territory, and if anyone believes that a plan of action can be brought from the drawing board to fruition in record time taking into account every possibility with every permutation already considered and planned for, then they are living in cloud cuckooland.

Would a Border Security Force result in appalling forms of abuse as can be witnessed in countries such as Australia and the United States? I would hope not, but I’d prefer that the opportunity does not arise. Better to resource the existing agencies adequately and create a management task force dedicated to coordinating the agencies and quickly respond to issues as they arise.

If there are legal barriers to setting up such a task force in any future national emergency, then sure, bring in legislation that will allow it ensuring that transparent oversight is included. But having a permanent independent force with little in the way of transparent oversight on the American or Australian model with all their reported abuses? No thanks!

With a general election coming up in less than two months, several political parties are promoting a Border Security Force, but this does not appear to be on the radar for the governing Labour party at the moment. However, they are just as subject to public pressure as other parties, so I want to put my position now in the hope that I’m just one of many voices opposing the formation of a Border Security force.

On this matter I can do no better than reblog Robert Glennie’s post on Will New Zealand Be Right?

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New […]

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?


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Honorary mammal

The Kiwi comes from Aotearoa New Zealand and its succulent green or yellow flesh is delicious on top of a pavlova.

No! Wait! That’s a kiwifruit, not a mammal, real or honorary. They originally came from China in the late 19th or early 20th century and were known as Chinese gooseberries until it became an export commodity, at which time the name proved to something of a hindrance. Having both “Chinese” and “berry” in the name proved to be too much for the sensibilities of Americans at the time so a new name was coined.

Sorry. The Kiwi is a two legged mammal that…
Umm. I thought Kiwis were real mammals, not honorary ones.

Now you’re referring to human beings who consider Aotearoa to be their home. Yes they are real mammals. I’m referring to another 2 legged creature.

Oh! You mean the bird?

Precisely. One of the peculiarities of Aotearoa New Zealand is that prior to the arrival of humans around 800 years ago, the only terrestrial mammals inhabiting these islands were three species of bats – flying mammals. On the other hand, there was a vast range of flightless bird species.

Kind of back to front compared to the rest of the world

Back to front?

Flying mammals and flightless birds.

I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But back to the kiwi. It’s often referred to as an honorary mammal because it exhibits some characteristics that are very mammal-like and rarely, if ever, seen in birds. Here’s a few examples:

The power of flight is very costly in terms of energy requirements and birds have made a number of evolutionary adaptations in order to minimise this cost. Think weight reduction.

Bone structure: Birds typically have lightweight bones filled with air sacs to reduce weight. Flightless birds may have slightly denser bone formation but still retain air sacs. The kiwi on the other hand, has heavy marrow-filled bones just like mammals.

Reproduction: Female birds typically have a single ovary, again an adaptation to reduce weight. Kiwi have two ovaries, and just like mammals, ovulation occurs alternately in each.

Leg muscles: Birds have considerably less leg muscle mass compared to mammals of equivalent size. Again an adaptation to reduce weight. However, the kiwi has gone to the other extreme. The legs make up one third of their total weight.

To put that into perspective, a typical kiwi is about the same size as a fowl (chicken) and weighs in at slightly over 3 Kg (around 7 lb). If you were able to buy kiwi meat from the supermarket, a single leg would weight around 600 grams or 1.3 lb. That’s some leg! Kiwi put those legs to good use.

Adult kiwi can easily outrun humans, and their legs and sharp claws can be used to fend off introduced predators such as cats, stoats, rats and possums. However, dogs can wipe out entire kiwi population in single area almost overnight.

Skin: Kiwi have tough leathery skin that is more mammal like than bird like.

Vision: Birds rely on good eyesight for survival. In the case of nocturnal birds, eyes become oversized to ensure adequate light reaches the retina. However, Kiwi imitate many mammals that occupy a similar ecological niche in other parts of the world. Eyes are small and eyesight is poor. Kiwi are very long sighted. So much so that even objects on the horizon have a focal point well behind the eye. Kiwi have almost no binocular vision (where the visual fields of both eyes overlap). They cannot even see their own beak! Rare for birds, they cannot see colour.

Sense of smell: On the other hand, their sense of smell is highly developed. In the bird world, only the condor has a better sense of smell. Birds typically have a bony ridge between the eye sockets. In the kiwi, this space is occupied by a nasal cavity, just like mammals.

Birds typically have their nostrils at the base of their beak. Not so the kiwi. It’s the only bird with nostrils at the tip of the beak. This is used to help locate underground grubs.

Sense of touch: The nostrils are surrounded with mechanoreceptors (pressure-sensitive receptors). It was once thought that kiwi located prey entirely by smell, but new research indicates that the mechanoreceptors might allow the kiwi to detect prey up to 10 cm (4″) underground.

Hearing: Few birds have highly developed sense of hearing. Kiwis are an exception. As with the areas of brain related to the sense of smell, that area related to hearing is larger in size and more complex than other birds of similar size. The external ear openings are large and can easily be seen

Whiskers: Cats and many nocturnal mammals, have whiskers to aid in the detection of objects in close proximity in the dark. Kiwi have whiskers on their face and base of their beak that serve the purpose.

Burrows: Like badgers, kiwi build burrows where they hide out when not foraging and for nesting. Kiwi sleep standing up.

No preen gland or tail: Other birds have a preen gland near the tail that supplies oil used to keep feathers weatherproof, waterproof and in good condition. The kiwi has neither.

No wings: Well not quite, even though the genus name Apteryx means wingless. Flightless birds typically have rudimentary wings equipped with flight feathers. The wings retain some purpose such as for display in attracting a mate or fending off opponents, to assist in balance, and to allow safe descents from a height. Not so the kiwi. A human in freefall with outstretched arms has greater powers of flight than a kiwi. It’s vestigial wings are barely 3 cm (about an inch) long, are not feathered and remain hidden under the kiwi’s plumage.

Hair-like plumage: Kiwi look soft and fluffy. Most birds have feathers equipped with hooks and barbs that keep the feathers in the neatly arranged vanes. Kiwi do not. The feathers hang loose, and in appearance look like fluffy hair or fur.

Body temperature: Birds typically have a body temperature of between 39ºC – 42ºC. Kiwi have a body temperature similar to mammals: 37ºC – 38ºC.

Other facts about kiwi.

Species: Up until the 1980s it was thought that there were only 3 species of kiwi. However, with the aid of DNA technology, it’s now known that there’s at least 5 species. What is unusual is the fact that there is very little difference in physical characteristics between species and DNA testing is necessary to identify them. The mechanism whereby five distinct species with almost identical characteristics could evolve in a relatively small geographical area is not fully understood, but one theory is that New Zealand was repeatedly fragmented by glaciers during Middle and Late Pleistocene. Fragments remained isolated long enough for speciation to occur but there was nothing to drive differentiation. It’s now known that there were many more species prior to the arrival of humans.

Huge egg: We Kiwi like to claim that the kiwi produces the largest egg in comparison to its body size, but the claim can also be made of the bee hummingbird. Both species produce an egg that’s up to 25% of the weight of the mother. A kiwi lays an egg that is about six times heavier than a chicken egg.

Birds’ eggs are typically 35% – 40% yolk. Kiwi eggs are 65% yolk.

In two kiwi species, incubation is shared equally by both parents, but in the other species the female takes no part in the incubation. It’s a male only task. Given the size of the egg she has to lay, I’m surprised any female kiwi would want to have anything to do with it.

Mate for life: For the most part Kiwi form lifelong monogamous partnerships. I say for the most part because while males always remain faithful, female kiwi are known to abandon their mate if she comes across a male she finds more attractive.

Declining numbers: Kiwi take around five years to reach sexual maturity, and in most species the female produces only one or two eggs each year. Mainly due to mammalian predation, only about 5% of kiwi chicks survive into adulthood. It needs to be around 20% to maintain the population. In areas with extensive (and expensive) predator control kiwi populations can double approximately every ten years. Nationwide, the kiwi population is declining at around 2% per year.


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“Necessary, reasonable and proportionate”, but unlawful

That’s the opinion of the High Court of New Zealand after a legal challenge to the COVID-19 lockdown. The challenge was only partially successful, in that the court found that all but one of the orders made in regard to the lockdown were lawful. What was not lawful was the “stay at home” order.

The Court concluded that:

By various public and widely publicised announcements made between 26 March and 3 April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, members of the executive branch of the New Zealand Government stated or implied that, for that nine-day period, subject to limited exceptions, all New Zealanders were required by law to stay at home and in their “bubbles” when there was no such requirement. Those announcements had the effect of limiting certain rights and freedoms affirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 including, in particular, the rights to freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and association. While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law and was therefore contrary to s 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

It’s important to note that the court recognised that while the government did have the authority to make such regulations, it did not in fact make them. That was corrected in regulations made nine days into the lockdown that did make the “stay at home” order lawful

For those interested in in the details of the court’s decision, a High Court media release can be found here (PDF), and the full judgment can be found here (PDF).