Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

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A Creation Myth

Growing up I was familiar with both the two creation myths of the Bible and of several variations of creation as told by the Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand. I don’t recall either the Biblical or Māori version as being any more “true” than the other. Neither were thought of as being real events, but as a vehicle for conveying an understanding of the human condition. In this, the oldest of the creation myths, which found in the second chapter of the Genesis, is the only one that sets out to blame the “sins” of the world on humankind.

Interestingly the three versions are strikingly at odds as to the order in which man and woman are created.

Genesis 1: Man and woman are created equal on the 6th day.
Genesis 2: Man is the first living creature, while woman is the last creature created, and from a rib of the man.
Māori mythology: Humankind was not created until an indefinite time after the separation of sky and earth. The first two of humankind are both female.

Here is one variant of the Māori creation myth:

It was from this myth that I was taught that personal desires can have consequences that may be harmful to others, and so one must be mindful not just of ourselves but of others as well. I notice that within Māori mythology, there is no attempt to explain the nature of “good” and “evil”. Instead they seem to tell us that actions have consequences: some desirable, some undesirable.


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Census “Night”

Once every five years, on a Tuesday evening in March, everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand completes a personal census form, and one person in each household completes a dwelling census form. This year Census night was the 6th of March, but unlike previous censuses, this one is being conducted online. Already this has caused widespread concern.

While there is an option to complete a paper based census form, you have to request that the forms be posted to your home address. Unlike previous censuses, there is not an army of thousands of enumerators armed with forms roaming the countryside to ensure every resident, tourist, freedom camper, homeless person etc receives and returns the census forms. The fact that a household pass-code was mailed only to dwellings with known addresses means that many more people than in previous years will miss out.

And as in many cases the letter containing the pass-code arrived only a few days before census night, those that are unable or unwilling to go online will not have enough time to request and have delivered paper forms in time for census night.

As I see it, the poorer sections of the community and also the elderly are more likely to not have a means of completing an online form. Within both groups, the odds of not having access to an internet connection or a smart phone are much higher than for other groups, yet these are the very people that are most likely to benefit from services and support that is funded according to population counts. For example, health districts are funded by central government based on the population within the district.

Even with a paper based census, some health districts have been underfunded as those in the lower socio-economic groups are more likely to fail to complete a census. And as these are the very people that place the most load on the resources of health districts, some district health authorities are struggling to remain solvent. The new method of collecting census data is only going to exacerbate the problem.

I appreciate that collecting census data on line results in a considerable cost saving, but if it results in inadequate or inaccurate data, what’s the point? I do hope that more thought goes into how data is gathered by the time the next census roll around in 2023.

Census Questions

The range of question asked were very similar to those of previous years, but I was pleased to see that some were more open ended than previously.

Damp Homes

Until the 1990s, newly built homes were poorly insulated and a great many NZ homes suffer from dampness, mildew and mould. Then around the start of the millennium, many homes built in the 1990s began to display what is now termed “Leaky Home Syndrome“. This is likely to be a financial burden on home owners, local authorities and central government for some time.

I don’t recall seeing questions about damp homes in previous census, but this time there were two questions specifically about damp homes: “Is this dwelling damp?” and:
Can you see mould
I have a sneaky feeling that if the previous government had not lost the November elections, this question would not have been included.


In previous censuses, this question was usually multi-choice and asked for your religious affiliation, with the major religions and denominations, “no religion” and “object to answering” listed, plus an option of “other” with a small space for writing a name of an unlisted religion. This year, the question is more open ended and did not ask for affiliation, but one’s actual religion.

I thought quite a bit how I should respond to this question. In previous years, I’ve either selected  “other” and written “Religious Society of Friends”, or selected “none” as I’m not a believer in the supernatural. I’ve never been completely happy with either choice as Quakers are included in “Christian, other” for statistical purposes, and I don’t usually consider myself Christian. On the other hand, although I don’t believe in a supreme being or any other supernatural manifestations, I consider myself religious and take the tenets of Quakerism seriously. I finally settled on “Non-theist Quakerism”, and I’ll leave to the statisticians to decide what that means.
At the last census, 42% claimed no religious affiliation, while 49% claimed a Christian affiliation. It’ll be interesting to see if “no religion” outnumbers all the Christian factions/denominations combined.


For the third census in a row, the question on ethnicity has annoyed me. The term Pākehā has been dropped from the multi-choice answer in favour of “New Zealand European”. I don’t identify as European, and prefer to use Pākehā. So once again I selected my ethnicity as “other” and wrote in “Pākehā”.


There seemed to be more questions about difficulties one experiences due to health issues. These included:

  • Do you have difficulty seeing, even if wearing glasses?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing, even if using a hearing aid?
  • Do you have difficulty walking or climbing steps?
  • Do you have difficulty remembering or concentrating?
  • Do you have difficulty washing all over  or dressing?
  • Do you have difficulty communicating using your usual language, for example understanding or being understood by others.

I don’t recall a similar series of questions in previous censuses, but perhaps the questions have more significance now that I’m in my late 60s, and I found myself answering some of them in the affirmative.

Other questions such as sex, income, voluntary work, employment status, education levels etc. were similar to those in previous censuses. I made a mental note that my income 20 years ago was more than seven times larger than it is today, and when inflation is taken into account it was more than 10 times greater. Such is life. Yet we don’t feel any worse off than we did back then. We’ve been on three ocean cruises in the last five years and generally have spent more on leisure activities over the last decade than we ever did when both of us had full-time professional careers. In hindsight, perhaps we didn’t have our work/life balance quite right.

In past years Census Night was a family affair, all sitting around the table completing our forms. That feeling just wasn’t there tonight. Sitting in front of the computer screen doesn’t compare. Will I ask for printed forms next time round? Definitely not. I will miss the “good old days”, but completing the census online was quick and effortless, not to mention that mistakes were easier to correct!

Why are our censuses always conducted on a Tuesday in March? Statistically, these are the days when the least number of people are in transit within Aotearoa New Zealand.

Now we just need to wait until the early results of the number crunching starts to trickle out in a month or two.


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.


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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!



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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Mirry Christmus

It seems that even Santa has trouble with the Kiwi accent:

Mirry Christmus end a heppy New Year



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:



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.