Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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30th anniversary of Needle exchange program

One of the country’s most successful public health initiatives, the needle exchange program has become a network of hundreds of outlets. The first exchange outlets began operating in 1987 following legislation earlier that year that legalised the practice. The early adoption of the exchange program is one reason why AIDS/HIV is low within the intravenous drug using community in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to similar countries elsewhere. Thousands of lives have been saved by the program.
//players.brightcove.net/963482464001/HJiGOMree_default/index.html?videoId=5682891395001

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Murphy has a lot to answer for

When I was a an I.T. Engineer, one of my clients had the family name of Murphy. Whenever something went wrong, she would comment that her uncle had a lot to answer for. She was of course referring to Murphy’s Law. She knew several hundred of variations of the law and she could apply a specific variation for practically any circumstance:

  • The faster you need a hard-copy, the more people will be using the only office printer.
  • no matter how idiot proof you make a program, the boss will employ a bigger idiot.
  • Debugging is at least twice as hard as writing the program in the first place.
    So if your code is as clever as you can possibly make it, then by definition you’re not smart enough to debug it.
  • The odds of toast landing butter side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
  • Parts that are difficult to install will freely fall out on their own.

Why mention Murphy’s law? The weather has been unseasonably hot and stable for more than a month, but after yesterday’s Too Hot! rant post, the weather has changed. Strong blustery winds and 15°C (59°F) temperature, and it rained heavily overnight. Murphy most definitely has a lot to answer for!


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Too Hot!

Since returning from our holiday in Japan a little over a month ago, I’m beginning to wonder if somehow we’ve moved into a parallel dimension.

The people look and behave the same, places look the same, even the politicians seem the same (although the government has changed). What is different is the weather. It’s not New Zealand weather as I know it.

Aotearoa New Zealand is well know for its temperate climate. Not too cold in winter. Not too hot in summer. The average daily maximum temperature in December in my home town is 20°C (68℉), But not one day this month has the maximum daily temperature been below 24°C (75°F). I started writing the piece late morning and already the thermometer is at 23 24 25°C (77°F) outside and climbing. According to my weather station, the maximum temperature so far this month has been 34°.3C (93.7°F)!

Perhaps if you reside on or near a continental land mass, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about but weather in Aotearoa New Zealand can change unexpectedly, and newcomers to NZ frequently get caught out. Sustained high or low temperatures feel oppressive when one lives where daily temperature variations can be as large as seasonal variations, and it’s not unusual to experience four seasons in one day.

And I suspect being an Aspie doesn’t help the situation. For me, anything below 15°C (59°C) is cold, and a trigger for the symptoms of Raynaud syndrome. Anything above 23°C (76°F) and I begin to sweat profusely, and within a relatively short time I’m saturated. As I’m unable to use any antiperspirants (hypersensitive skin), the result isn’t pretty.

When hot, I find clothing extremely uncomfortable – especially typical NZ male attire. I’ve resorted to wearing a yukata in an attempt to make life more bearable. It definitely helps.

The MetService (meteorological bureau) informs us that this summer is going to be exceptionally hot, dry and windy. Already many regions have seen new seasonal records set and it’s barely mid December! Ocean temperature in many places is 2°C warmer than normal for this time of year and toxic algal bloom is affecting the gathering of kaimoana (seafood) in some areas. Not good.

There’s another issue  I have with the summer season: hay-fever. It’s started somewhat earlier this year than normal. Typically it doesn’t start until mid to late December, but this year it started in mid November. For me it lasts continuously for around two months. Let’s hope that this year will be the same – over in mid January instead of the usual late February.

If you get the impression I’m not fond of summer, you’d be right. Roll on Autumn!


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Strolling through a winter summer wonderland

For the 90% of the world’s population who live north of the equator, Christmas carols such as Jungle Bells and Strolling through a Winter Wonderland have some meaning, even if it doesn’t actually snow. At least in comes in the cold season. Like minorities everywhere, the 10% of us who live in the southern hemisphere are denied our rights: Our right to celebrate a seasonally appropriate festive season.

I say it’s time to take a stand! No more Christmas cards with snow and holy! No more songs about white Christmases! Down with them all.

Here’s something a little more appropriate:


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The far right is poisoning New Zealand!

How the far right is poisoning New Zealand is an opinion piece in the Washington Post, and I suspect most who read it and are not familiar with the politics of Aotearoa New Zealand will reach the conclusion headlined in the piece.

But do the “facts” used to support the headline stack up?

First of all, what is meant by the far right? I don’t think we’ll all completely agree what is meant by far right in politics, but this definition from Wikipedia seems reasonable:

Far-right politics is a term used to describe politics further on the right of the left-right spectrum than the standard political right, particularly in terms of more extreme nationalist, and nativist ideologies, as well as authoritarian tendencies.

The term is often associated with Nazism, neo-Nazism, fascism, neo-fascism and other ideologies or organizations that feature extreme nationalist, chauvinist, xenophobic, racist or reactionary views. These can lead to oppression and violence against groups of people based on their supposed inferiority, or their perceived threat to the nation, state or ultraconservative traditional social institutions.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some at the claims made.

New Zealand First has traditionally been an afterthought in New Zealand politics. Really? The New Zealand First Party has been a coalition partner in 3 of the last 4 governments. Its leader, Winston Peters has held the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in two previous administrations, and held the role of Treasurer in one.

And no matter what one’s of opinion of Peters might be (and mine are not very favourable), those under forty are unlikely to have known a time where he hasn’t been in the headlines. There’s no doubt that he’s a populist, cares little for political correctness, enjoys controversy and being in the spotlight. Peters formed NZ First in 1993 after resigning from the National Party, and has been its leader ever since. The party and Peters are so closely intertwined, that the two names are frequently used interchangeably. Being an afterthought in NZ politics? Absolutely not.

Mack then stated “a far-right party that received just seven percent of the vote had the power to decide who would rule“. Two problems here: far right and power.

New Zealand First policies do not fit with the definition of far right as defined above. Most political commentators here call the party centrist, fitting somewhere between the two major parties: National (centre right) and Labour (centre left). To put the left/right divide in NZ into perspective, the centre right here is further left than the centre left in the USA.The left wing of the American Democrat party would be in alignment with the NZ National party.

Peters is guilty of making racist comments in the past, although never when in government, and I think he would qualify as a bit racist, but he has shown no animosity towards immigrants and ethnic groups already in NZ. The party is anti immigration, although they support an increase in the number of refugees being admitted to the country. The party is socially conservative and Peters voted against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1980s, civil unions in 2005 and marriage equality in 2013, but as far as I can see, neither the party nor Peters has advocated repeals of the legislation. At one time he and the party campaigned for a repeal of the so called “anti-smacking” legislation, but that seems to be off the radar for the time being.

In many ways Peters is an enigma: Highly combative yet liked and respected by political allies and foes alike. I’m not fond of his style, nor many of the policies held by NZ First, but it really does take a vivid imagination to paint either as being far right.

If one does the maths, there were some 15 different possible scenarios that could have been played out in the formation of a stable government after the September elections. Some, admittedly, were unlikely to happen but there were a number of scenarios that could have formed stable governments without the involvement of NZ First. To claim that a party with 7% of the popular vote had the power to decide who would rule, is a failure to understand the nature of negotiation. Labour, the greens and NZ First reached an agreement to form a viable government. Let’s see: Labour 36.9% + NZ First 7.2% + Greens 6.3% = 50.4%. I think that’s sufficient public support to give them the right to form a government. National did not have a moral right to form a government simply because it had 44.4% of the popular vote.

Mack claims that Peters and NZ First held the country to ransom by delaying a decision for weeks while making increasingly extreme demands. Huh? Negotiations started the day after the final vote was declared, and were concluded ten days later. Given that any agreement had to be ratified by members of three political parties (four if you include the negotiations between National and NZ First that were going on at the same time), it was quite an achievement to conclude negotiations in less than two weeks.

And what were the extreme demands that apparently Ardern had kowtowed to? Slashed immigration? A plank In labour’s election platform was the reduction in the net migration gain, currently running at over 70,000 per year, which is placing a strain on housing stock and infrastructure. The section of the coalition agreement on immigration starts with “As per Labour’s policy…” So no far right plan imposed on the new government.

Mack also claims they’ve also put forward legislation banning non-citizens from owning property. Ah, no they haven’t. The proposal is to prevent overseas investors from purchasing and speculating in existing housing stock. There will be no restrictions on non-citizens who reside here from doing so. And foreign investors will still be able to build and own new housing stock. This has been Labour policy since 2013.

So what has NZ First achieved? An increase of the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2020. This is about $2 more than labour had proposed. The biggest “concession” gained by Peters is funding of regional development to the tune of 10 billion dollars over 10 years. There’s also an agreement to review the existing Super Gold Card with the possibility of replacing it with a new generation Super Gold Card. If these are extreme demands from the far right, I’ll eat my hat.

As for the white supremacists clashes outside Parliament: Six National Front members were holding an annual rally on the steps of parliament when they were glitter bombed and man-handled by several hundred anti-racism protesters. If this is a sign of increased support for far right ideals, what should I make of 60,000 who took part in a far right rally in Poland?

When we look at the new Labour NZ First government, it must be noted that 41% of the executive are Māori or Polynesian, and within the combined caucuses of Labour and the Greens, 50% are women. Hardly a good sign for white supremacists and bigotry.

Before I close this rant over the Washington Post’s appalling journalism, I need to point out that governance agreements between parties in New Zealand tend to form very loose coalitions. To maintain party distinctiveness, the agreements have “agree to disagree” clauses. These allow parties in government to vote against each other on matters important to them.

An example of this is likely to arise when the TPP free trade treaty comes up for ratification in Parliament. Both NZ First and the Greens oppose the treaty and will most likely vote against it. This will not be a threat to the government due to the agree to disagree arrangements. In this particular case, the government will be able to rely on support from National, but there will be other occasions where it will be unable to raise the support necessary to pass legislation, even with major concessions to other parties. However, such events are very unlikely to bring down a government.

If you’d like to know more on how our novel arrangements for multi-party governance is developing in New Zealand, you might like to read the PDF document MMP and the Constitution published by the Victoria University Faculty of Law. It’s a little old, being published in 2009, but it does illustrate how pragmatism rather than ideology influences how the country is governed.

Sorry Ben Mack, but if New Zealand is being poisoned by the far right, then the rest of the world must be in its final death throes.


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So we’re teaching our kids to hate wild animals?

Well, according to professor Marc Bekoff in this article and this article in the Huffington Post we are.

Yes, we want to eradicate some species from our shores including possums, rabbits, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, rats and mice, and some of want to go further and include goats, pigs, deer, peacocks cats and dogs in that list.

Does that mean we hate those species? Or does it mean we love kiwi, kōkako, kākāpō, takahē, tīeke, tuatara, wēta and powelliphanta more?

The good professor objects to the organised killing of possums. In fact he’s been recorded as saying “It’s time to put away the guns, the traps, the snares, the poisons. The lives of individual animals matter, and killing is not the answer”. Perhaps the good professor would like to have a quiet word in the possums’ collective ear about the harm they are doing by destroying the forest canopy and that their predation of eggs, birds and insects is contributing to the extinction of many species. He might also like to mention that as they have no predators here, they might like to reduce their birthrate to a manageable level.

Alternatively he might like to find a viable method of non-traumatically capturing 30 million possums and shipping them to Australia. I’m sure the Aussies would welcome all 30 million of them back with open arms. Then perhaps he can suggest solutions for the other invasive species I’ve mentioned.

The professor makes the ridiculous claim that as these invasive species have been here for more than 50 years, they have every right to live here in peace. Our native and endemic flora and fauna have lived here for up to 80 million years. Do they not have a right to live here in peace? Those invasive species we wish to eradicate have contributed to one of the greatest mass extinctions in recent history. As around 80% of our fauna is endemic to New Zealand, if they disappear here, they’re gone for good.

I’m all for treating animals compassionately, but these foreign pests have been anything but compassionate to our native and endemic species. If they can’t learn to get along with the original inhabitants, it’s time they moved elsewhere. We are facing a conservation crisis, so the time to play nice with these critters has passed.

For a viewpoint that contrasts starkly with that of Professor Bekoff, see this article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.


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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.