Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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What’s so special about today?

I don’t know if today has any significance in your part of the world, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand  the 19th of September is a time to reflect on a major milestone in our country’s history.

It was 124 years ago today that women won the right to vote, making New Zealand the first self-governing country where women were able to vote. However it was not until 1919 that universal suffrage was attained – the right to vote and stand for election. So in this regard, New Zealand was somewhat tardy.

While considerable progress has been made since then – for example, 46% of senior position in the public service are held by women, we still have some way to go. Women are underrepresented in Parliament (only 30% of members of Parliament are women) and in senior management roles in the private sector.

There’s still a pay parity gap. Women on average earn 9% less than men. This is mainly because many of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, and where today women still greatly outnumber men, are undervalued and and are paid poorly. For example nursing, childcare, and teaching.

In the legal and medical professions, the majority of graduates since the early 1990s have been women, yet less than 20% of senior legal partners are women, and much the same applies to senior management in the medical profession.

So while we should be proud of the progress made, it’s also a time to reflect on what each of us can to to bring about true equality.

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A farm digger cripples the nation

Perhaps cripples is a bit strong, but it’s certainly caused a crisis.

In a country with a relatively small population, the cost of having backup systems in place for everything is simply too expensive – until it’s needed.

And one of those systems that doesn’t have a backup is the supply of fuel to the city of Auckland. For those unfamiliar with Aotearoa New Zealand, Auckland houses a third of our population. Auckland, and the northern half of the North Island  are facing a severe shortage of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel, all because a farm digger ripped through the only pipeline that supplies Auckland with these fuels. In the fifteen minutes it took to shut the pipeline down, 70,000 litres (18,500 US gallons) of fuel were spilt.

The pipeline runs some 170 Km from our only refinery at Marsden Point in Whangarei to Wiri near the Auckland International Airport. It transports the equivalent of 300 road-tanker loads of fuel per day into Auckland. And here’s the problem: The Wiri storage depot can store at best six days worth of fuel. The repair to the pipeline will take at least ten days to repair. You do the Maths.

I don’t even know if there would be 300 tankers in the entire country, but I very much doubt it. However, as many tankers as possible are being moved to Auckland to maintain a meagre flow of fuel into Auckland. Of course, that’s going to affect fuel delivery in the rest of the country. So, being less than a week out from the General Elections, the government has to look as though it is doing something to resolve the crisis, while at the same time blaming the previous Labour administration (that left office nine years ago) for causing the problem. They’ve ordered the navy to use its supply tanker to move fuel from Marsden Point to ports around the country.

I’m not sure how well they’ve thought this through. If every available road tanker is up Auckland way, how is it planned to move fuel from the ports to distribution points?

At this point in time, international travel has been the worst affected. Airlines are being allocated just 30% of their normal daily fuel supplies. 23 flights out of Auckland were cancelled today, stranding around 2000 passengers. While domestic passengers can probably find alternative transport – walking for example, international passengers aren’t so lucky. This situation is expected to continue for a few days until airlines can make arrangements to make a special fuel stop either before arriving at Auckland or shortly after leaving.

So long as there’s enough fuel to truck in supplies to the local supermarkets, the crisis is unlikely to affect me personally.

Unless it goes past the end of next week.

I’m booked on a flight to Japan…


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The Jacinda effect, or how a week is a long time in politics

Is it a Kiwi thing to name political events after the first name of politicians? For example when Laissez-Faire economics was flavour of the decade in the 1980s, it was dubbed Reaganomics in the US (after Ronald Reagan), Thatchernomics in the UK (after Margaret Thatcher), but here in Aotearoa New Zealand it was called Rogernomics, (after Roger Douglas).

For the past month we have been faced with a new political event named after the first name of a politician – the Jacinda effect, also dubbed Jacindamania. Named after Jacinda Adern, it has turned a what was expected to be a boring and predictable general election into one balanced on a knife edge, with the major political parties leap frogging each other with the publishing of each new opinion poll.

Under our MMP electoral system, party representation in Parliament is determined by the nationwide party vote, and opinion polls can give a very accurate prediction of election results. During election campaigns, support for the major parties do not vary by more than a few percentage points. This year it’s very different.

At the commencement of this year’s campaign in July, the National party was polling at around 47% support while the Labour party was at 25% and falling. Of the minor parties, the Greens and NZ first were neck and neck with 10% each. Other parties were polling at 1% or less. The outcome was predicted to be that either National could form a government on its own or in cooperation with its current allies, NZ Futures, ACT and the Māori Party.

So what happened? First, the admission by Metiria Turei, the co-leader of the Greens that she failed to declare to Work and Income (the government department responsible for handling most social security benefits) when she was a solo mother and university student in the 1990s, that flatmates were contributing to her household income. Surprisingly, this omission, dubbed fraud by her opponents and an economic necessity by her supporters, saw her personal popularity rise, and the Greens rising dramatically to 15% support in the polls, and Labour dropping to 23%. Support for National also rose to 49%, making the election result an almost forgone conclusion.

Then the unexpected happened. With less than two months until the elections, Andrew Little, the leader of the Labour Party, resigned. I guess we’ll never know whether he jumped or was pushed, but clearly the resignation was due to his very poor personal ratings in the opinion polls and the effect that was having on the Labour Party. The party elevated the deputy leader, Jacinda Adern to leader, and the results were astounding.

Within days, the Jacinda effect saw National and Labour polling within a few percentage points of each other, and they have gone on to take turns at being the most popular party. Currently they both sit at around 40% – 43% support, depending on the poll. It seems certain neither party will be able to govern on their own.

The Jacinda effect has not only had a detrimental effect on National. It has had a devastating effect on the minor parties. Whereas the Greens had 15% support and NZ First 12% support – 27% between them, the Greens dropped to just under 5% support and NZ First to 7%.

Under MMP, a party gaining less than 5% of the party votes is ineligible for any party seats unless it also gains an electorate seat. That could mean that the Greens might not make it to the next Parliament. That would be a shame, as that leaves NZ first as the only potential government partner. And there’s nothing that Winston Peters, the leader of NZ First, likes better than being seen as the “king maker”.

What’s the problem with that you may ask. Look at it this way. Think of Donald Trump as Winston Peters on steroids. While he’s nowhere near as egocentric as Trump, he’s the most xenophobic, nationalistic politician we have. The name of his political party – New Zealand First – gives a clue to where he stands. And when I say his party, I do mean his party. Winston created it, leads it, and when he eventually leaves politics, so will NZ First.

What I like about our political system is that under MMP no party has been able to govern on its own. The major parties must rely on minor parties to form a government. Typically these are not coalitions, but agreements on matters of confidence and supply. This means that the governing party is not able to railroad legislation through Parliament, but must negotiate support for each bill, and not necessarily from their supporting partners.

It also means that other parties don’t automatically oppose every piece of legislation that comes before the House. I like to think that legislation is more considered and debated rationally as a consequence, instead of the “It’s good because we wrote it” and “It’s bad because they wrote it” mindset that occurred in the days prior to MMP. In those bad old days, it was not uncommon for bills to pass though Parliament without amendments, only to be found wanting after they came into effect.

Our unicameral legislature inevitably means that some poor legislation sneaks through, but these days, the lack of absolute power in Parliament for the governing party, and scrutiny that legislation undergoes through our select committee system means as it’s nowhere near as common as it once was.

The problem with Winston Peters is that he’s likely to demand full coalition instead of the more loose arrangements that have become more or less the convention. If he has a talent (apart from the ability to spend ten minutes not answering an interviewer’s question), it’s getting what he wants in political negotiations. While he makes politics in this country interesting, I really wouldn’t like Winston and his party to be the tail that wags the dog.

As to where my party vote will go, that’s no-one’s business but my own. But I will say this: I have voted every three years since 1969, and not once in all that time has my vote gone to a party forming the government. The odds are that it’s not going to be any different come the 23rd of September. So no matter which party or parties form the next government, it’s unlikely that I voted for them.


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The Orange Guy

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All Americans know who the orange guy is, and for that past year, so does most everyone everywhere who is not a cave dwelling hermit. It’s the guy to the right.

For most of us he’s the butt of jokes and provides current affairs programs with something to fill in time when news is otherwise in short supply.

But there is another orange guy who’s been around for for several decades here in Aotearoa New Zealand. As far as we know the guy doesn’t have a name, so is only known as the Orange Guy. The Kiwi orange guy is very different to tRump, except that he too is fake.

Our Orange guy is a gender-neutral, ethnic-neutral, political-neutral amorphous blob that appears for a few months once every few years and then, unlike tRump, completely disappears. The guy has been around for a couple of months now and I quite certain we’ll see no more of the person after the 23rd of this month.

Personally, I think our Orange Guy is much more likeable than the other orange guy. I can’t find any recent clips of the Orange Guy, but here’s one from 2014.


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How I know yesterday was Father’s Day

  1. My daughter phoned to wish me a happy Father’s Day.
  2. My son dropped in give me a cordless drill set as a Father’s Day gift.
  3. Ads on TV promoting all kinds of gifts from socks to stuff for DIY projects to massive armchairs with beer chillers in the arm rests suddenly stopped appearing at every commercial break.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand Father’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in September, but in this household the celebrations are really about the respite loved ones get from being made to feel guilty for not buying their father expensive gifts they can’t afford and he doesn’t need and doesn’t want. It also means that those same commercial interests that had attempted the guilt trip on loved ones also stopped trying to convince me I’m unloved because my children haven’t lavished me with extravagant gifts.

Of course it will start all over again in a few months time as Christmas approaches.

Actually I told a porky above. My son didn’t call in to give me a cordless drill set like the one I’ve been hoping he’d give me ever since the one he borrowed came back with a burnt out motor and a broken gearbox. In fact he didn’t call in at all.

Oh all right. He didn’t even call. Or what’s App. Or text.

I wonder if he’s still alive…


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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!