Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Musical Monday (2021/10/04)

I intend to publish a music themed blog post on Mondays, hence the title. I doubt that it will be every Monday – I want it to be a pleasure, not a chore. We’ll see what eventuates. Here is the first Musical Monday post.

Parihaka

Tomorrow, the 5th of November marks the 140th anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by government troops, armed constabulary and militia volunteers. It’s a shameful blot on our history and shouldn’t be forgotten. It still seems that many, perhaps most, Kiwis are unaware of the event . Is Aotearoa New Zealand the only nation where the teaching of its history is considered optional?

That a community founded on Christian pacifist ideals should be destroyed because it was an impediment to the goals of European settlers and the government of the day speaks volumes to the attitude of most settlers at that time. Parihaka was a large town (for that era in NZ), thriving, modern (the first town in NZ with street lighting, the second with pumped water reticulation), very open, the centre for a large, mainly Māori, community. And that seems to be it’s major “problem”. It wasn’t “for the settlers, by the settlers, of the settlers, and to hell with the Māori”.

I learnt of Parihaka’s history as a child in the mid to late 1950s. I guess I was seven or eight at the time, perhap nine. My sources were from my school teacher, a Pākehā with a keen history of New Zealand, and An elderly Māori Woman who lived on the section (property) behind ours. She would have been well into her nineties, perhaps older, and had lived through the Taranaki Land Wars – another shameful blot on our history that preceded the incident at Parihaka, and many ways a precursor of what was to come.

Wikipedia provides a reasonably accurate although impersonal story of Parihaka, but fails to capture the “essence” of the story as I heard it, especially from our neighbour. After some sixty-five years, my memory of the details I learnt at that time are incomplete at best, but I do remember what I felt. It’s often claimed that autistic people are unable to be empathetic, but I can assure you that they way I heard the story told, it was as though I had personally lived in Parihaka in the months and years before and after the the destruction of that community.

WordPress, in its “wisdom” will not allow me to embed and publish my preferred version music video of Parihaka. I can embed it in draft mode but not publish it. It’s a 1989 music video performed by the writer/composer, Tim Finn, accompanied by The Herbs. You can view it here:

https://www.nzonscreen.com/embed/dd4667b3c374d53f

I’ve also embedded a Youtube video clip below the lyrics for the benefit of those who prefer to remain on this WordPress page. There seems to be a few minor changes in the lyrics, including the dropping of the name of one of the Parihaka leaders, Tohu, pepper has become salt, and dreamed has become watched, but the essential message remains the same.

Lyrics to Parihaka

My friend, My friend, I hate to see you suffer,
Events conspire to bring us to our knees,
My friend, my friend, you've taken this the wrong way,
Rise up, defend yourself, never give in,
Look to the sky, the spirit of Te Whiti,
The endless tide is murmuring his name.
Tohu, Te Whiti will never be defeated,
And even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain.
I'll sing to you the song of Parihaka.

Te Whiti he used the language of the spirit,
Then stood accused, the madman and his dream,
They saw the train go roaring through the tunnel,
They heard the voice travel on the magic wire,
But they loved the silence of the river,
They dreamed the dog pissed on the cannon's wheel.
Tohu, Te Whiti they'll never be defeated,
Not even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain.
I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka.

One day you'll know the truth,
They can't pull out the roots,
Come and take me home,
To weep for my lost brother.

They gather still, the clouds of Taranaki,
His children's children wearing the white plume,
So take me for the sins of these sad islands,
The wave still breaks on the rock of Rouhotu.
And when you taste the pepper that's on your pudding,
And when you taste the sugar in your soup,
Tohu, Te Whiti, they'll never be defeated,
Even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain,
I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka,
Come to Parihaka,
Weep for my lost brother,
The spirit of nonviolence,
Has come to fill the silence,
Come to Parihaka.
Parihaka – Tim Finn with The Herbs

It’s kind of ironic that we Kiwis commemorate Guy Fawkes Day as enthusiastically as the English, perhaps more so, but most of us fail to realise that we have something more significant to remember on that date – the courage of all those at Parihaka who in the face of hatred and violence stood firm to their principles of peace and love. Even now, more than a hundred years later, we are yet to truly understand that might doesn’t mean right. It’s too important to forget. Parihaka is a powerful reminder.


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Rule of law

In the wake of yesterday’s terrorist attack in a supermarket in Auckland, I’m seeing a lot if ignorance being expressed in online comments. And while most of the criticism is from right leaning, pro gun, anti immigration, pro Trump, American exceptionalism groups, I see see plenty of misinformation from all quarters being thrown about with abandon, including some from within Aotearoa New Zealand.

The fact of the matter is, that even a day later, some information is sketchy, and will take some time for all the facts to emerge. While the government has successfully appealed a court ordered prohibition on some information regarding the terrorist, the court has required that his family have the opportunity to review that decision. So there is at least a 24 hour delay in some information becoming public. The government does not have the right to do as it pleases, hence the title of this post.

The government, as is every person and legal entity in this country is bound by the rule of law, and thankfully, in this nation there are no exceptions. This post is an opinion piece, and given my own biases and lack of the full facts, it should be treated that way. I have no intention that my interpretation of the facts based on the limited information available to me at this moment should be viewed as The Truth™.

We now know that the individual in question was on a terrorist watch list and was under close 24 hour close surveillance and had been for many months since being released from prison. He was surveillance averse, paranoid even, so it was necessary to ensure that the surveillance was as invisible as possible. At times that took the resources of up to thirty undercover agents at any time to avoid detection by that person. Enter covid. Given the current Level 4 lockdown in Auckland and lack of crowded environments, tailing an individual who is surveillance averse must present a number of problems if the intent is to hide the fact that surveillance is indeed being carried out.

The individual travelled by train from his home, then walked to the supermarket while being monitored all the while. Under level 4 lockdown, supermarkets strictly limit the number of shoppers allowed inside, so any “spy” nearby would be readily apparent to the individual. Therefore there were times when they were not in his immediate vicinity or in the same aisle as the individual. It was on such an occasion that the individual took a carving knife from a shelf display and he started his very short terror attack.

The most frequent question raised online has been why was the individual allowed to roam free. To this I say look at the title of this post. As it currently stands, there is no law that prohibits thinking about or planning terrorist attacks. An act of terrorism needs to have occurred or be under way. The current laws on terrorism suppression was enacted in 2002 in wake of the 9/11 attack in the USA, and due to the haste (by NZ standards) in which it was drafted has proved to be deficient. The 2007 New Zealand police raids in the Ureweras is ample evidence of this.

The terrorist had spent time in prison for the illegal possession of a knife and for possessing objectionable material (I presume extreme ISIS publications). The authorities had applied to the court for detention under existing terrorist suppression laws and/or alternatively GPS monitoring. These were declined by the court, which described the inability to detain those who were thinking about or planning an attack as the “Achilles’ heel” of the existing suppression laws.

And here is where I fail to understand the logic of some comments. On the one hand some say that the individual in question should have been locked up and the key thrown away, or deported, while on the other hand the claiming that the government has not got the right to limit their right to carry firearms while out and about in the community. Again I point to the title of this post.

Balancing the freedom of expression against the internal security of a nation is never going to be easy, and what puzzles me is why so many on the right and left demand their right to freedom of expression for themselves while demanding the suppression of those holding opposite views. Arbitrarily detaining someone or deporting them must never be allowed to happen. Never. Why can’t the critics understand this?

My point is that freedoms depend on those in authority acting only in accordance with the law. We saw a less dramatic case in the previous Labour led government when the minister in charge of granting oil exploration licences granted such a licence even though the Green Party, of which she was a member, strongly opposed oil exploration. She was strongly criticised by the environmentalists, some demanding her resignation. As was explained at the time, irrespective of her personal wishes, she was required to grant licences where all the requirements of such a licence had been met. They were. So her hands were tied. Her personal wishes or those of her political party were irrelevant. End of story.

Back to terrorism. Among the findings of the commission set up to investigate the Christchurch Mosque shootings was a recommendation that laws relating to the suppression of terrorism be strengthened, and of course many promoters of civil liberties, freedom of expression of all political persuasions expressed their concern about any move that might limit our freedoms. Even our Human Rights Commission had much to say on this. That is as it should be.

After considerable discussion, proposed changes were then drafted. If the authorities are to be prevented from acting from malice, over enthusiasm, or unintentionally restricting our freedoms, while the law being “fit for purpose” then proposed legislation will require careful consideration, with every T crossed and I dotted before it is presented to Parliament. I’m not surprised that that the drafting took more than six months.

Earlier this year, the bill was presented to Parliament, and as is standard practice here in Aotearoa New Zealand, after the first reading the bill was referred to a Parliamentary select committee. The select committee process can take considerable time – typically six to nine months. Any person who has an interest in the bill has the right to present a written and/or oral submission. After all submissions have been presented, the committee reports the bill, its findings and any recommended amendments back to Parliament for a second reading.

New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committees are somewhat unusual in that their decisions are generally by consensus. It is not a place for partisanship. Occasionally a consensus can not be reached in which case dissenting views are also presented to Parliament. I appreciate such a practice would be unworkable in some jurisdictions (I’m looking of you, America). It requires good faith discussion and accepting that compromise is a necessary part of politics.

The Prime Minister has had discussions with the leader of the Opposition who has agreed to cooperate in having the bill passed into law by the end of the month – considerably faster than the time such bills usually take. I’ll take this moment to remind readers that laws tightening gun ownership after the Christchurch Mosque shootings was not as a result of a dictatorial government. That government was in fact a minority coalition and could not pass legislation as it saw fit. That particular legislation passed through parliament only with the support of opposition parties. It was passed into law with every member of Parliament, except one, supporting the bill.

Personally, I think this single terrorist act is insufficient reason to hasten the passage of the bill. Any haste increases the chance that something might miss scrutiny – either to restrict our freedoms or to render aspects of the legislation ineffective under the law. I would not like to see this legislation to do either. Time will tell if my unease is justified.

Finally I’ll comment on the oh so many claims that confiscating guns does not make us any safer and this single terrorist act is proof of that. Gun confiscation is a myth and I wish the American gun lobby would give up on spreading this misinformation. Prior to the tightening of the gun laws there were an estimated 1.5 million guns in legal ownership. The 34,000 guns handed in as a result of the law change is but a drop in the bucket, but it does mean that access to military style weapons is more difficult for everyone including criminal elements.

No piece of legislation can remove every danger. But it can reduce harm. It reduces the opportunity for those who wish to do harm to obtain the resources needed to carry it out. No one in Aotearoa New Zealand is permitted to carry weapons of any type in public places. Even the police are not routinely armed. No, it doesn’t mean that nobody will ever carry a weapon, but knowing the sanctions the courts can impose on anyone convicted of carrying weapons in public means that most will think twice before arming themselves.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that the number of antisocial, violent elements in our midst would not be significantly different in either the US or NZ, yet if the argument that more guns makes for a safer environment, then this nation should be a very dangerous place indead. It is not. The statistics bear this out. Everything from police shootings (per 10 million, NZ: 2.10, US: 28.54), to murders (per 100,000, NZ: 0.99, US: 5.35). Crime rates in the two countries is, unfortunately, similar (per 100,000, NZ: 42.2, US: 47.7), so it would appear that lack of opportunity presented by restrictions of carrying weapons does indeed reduce physical harm.

This is apparent when we observe that burglary rates in NZ are twice those in the US, yet violence or deaths occurring during burglaries are almost unknown. Most are self inflicted by the burglar in their haste to escape apprehension.

No nation has a perfect set of laws covering every possible situation. Nor will any nation ever achieve such a goal. In the full knowledge that law makers and governments are just as fallible thas everyone else, our greatest protection is not a formal document in the form of a constitution (Aotearoa New Zealand doesn’t have one anyway) but the observance of the rule of law.


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Covid update 2021/08/26

I don’t normally include lengthy video clips on this blog, but today I’ll make an exception. The clip is of the daily briefing given by senior government politicians and public servants to the news media. Today’s briefing was conducted by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay. Most of it was (as could be expected) was about the current covid-19 lockdown, but other topics such as Afghanistan are briefly touched on as well.

For any who might be interested in observing how our leaders conduct such a briefing:

  • the Prime Minister starts her presentation at 0:01:40
  • the Director of Public Health starts presenting the statistical data at 0:03:00.
  • Question time starts at 0:19:55 and ends at 1:06:00.

For anyone interested in knowing how the current outbreak of covid is playing out in this nation (instead of guessing or listening to the likes of Fox News), I can’t do better than to point you to the official covid-19 website. There is a vast array of information available there, all based on solid science, not political posturing.

I, like most (but certainly not all) kiwis approve of this lockdown. As we have already proved, an elimination strategy can work. While it’s most likely an impractical strategy in the long term, it does buy us time to learn more about not only how this pandemic woks, but also other pandemics that are guaranteed to arise in the future. If the rest of the world had followed a similar strategy, then perhaps the world would be in a less chaotic situation that it is currently, and perhaps world economies would not have taken the hits that they have. The New Zealand economy is now above pre-covid conditions.

At this point, we cannot put the covid genie back in its bottle, and while I see much criticism of the route taken by New Zealand (especially from the American Right), isn’t it possible that the “New Zealand experiment” might provide some clues on how to better manage the next pandemic? I just want to remind our critics that the elimination strategy has never been thought of as a “final solution”. It’s a stop gap measure until a better way of handling this pandemic (and the next) is understood. It buys us time, something that most nations didn’t consider. As yet, science is has still much to learn about covid

To all those who say that covid will be with us forever, and it’s pointless to fight it, you might well be right. But what if you’re wrong? Once you’ve thrown in the towel, there’s no going back. Currently the jury is out on the best methods the world might be able to use to lessen the harm caused by pandemics. To those who claim we’re a bunch of scaredy cats, all I’m going to say on the matter is we’re not a bunch of quitters who gave up the moment the fight became difficult. To borrow from a popular commercial, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

I like to be reasonably informed on a large range of topics, and in light of our lockdown, I’ve been curious how people beyond our borders view our handling of not only our current lockdown but how we have handled the pandemic in its entirety. And to ensure I cover all bases I make a point of looking in, from time to time, on sources that express values contrary to my own. Afterall, there’s definitely a limit on how much you can learn by only listening to those who don’t challenge your current perspectives and prejudices. So I do make a foray into sources such as Fox News from time to time.

What strikes me about much online discussion, especially as it applies to Fox, is that as well has having those who are well enough informed to reach rational conclusions (even though they may reach a conclusion that is diametrically opposed to my own), there is a significant number who are, for the want of a better term, too ill informed to participate in meaningful discussion. And New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic is no exception.

Take a look at the discussion that follows the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” August 23, 2021. Although only a portion of the show was dedicated to the NZ lockdown, the discussion following is almost exclusively about that topic. I really couldn’t care less what Carlson’s politics are, but he really does need to learn that a sentence taken in isolation, out of context, and in a different cultural setting than the one he is immersed in does not necessarily convey the meaning understood by the conveyer or the receiver of the entire message.

Carlson makes a point of highlighting a sentence spoken by the Prime Minister, and failing to understand the context in which it was uttered makes the assumption that it must be understood in isolation from everything else she said at that news briefing, and everything else she has said since the pandemic first became a concern at the end of 2019. That sentence was “Don’t talk to your neighbours”.

Please Tucker, think for a moment. Since the beginning of the pandemic the Prime Minister has made a point of emphasising the necessity of being kind; checking on neighbours, friends and family; to help out whenever there is a need, including shopping for others who are unable to do so; to keep communications open with each other. How do you think that would be possible if we didn’t talk to our neighbour? The answer: it wouldn’t be possible. Period. Kiwis do understand the implied meaning of that short sentence, and while I don’t expect you to implicitly understand it’s context, I do expect someone in you position to at least discover the context in which it was uttered.

Just for your benefit, Mr Carlson, here is an expanded version of that sentence as every Kiwi will have understood it: “Don’t talk to your neighbors if it means breaking your bubble”. I really don’t want to go too deeply into what a bubble means to us in this context, but bubbles vary depending on the Covert-19 Alert Level. At Level 1, the entire nation is a single bubble, which means there are no restrictions with our borders, while at Level 4, each household is a seperate bubble. And I would like to remind you that for seventeen of the last nineteen months we have been at Alert Level 1. Can you say the same for the US? If you want to argue covid restrictions, first check out the COVID-19: Stringency Index.

I do find the discussion on that page rather interesting. If I ignore all the conspiracy theorists that seem to be attracted Fox News, there are still several categories that I can divide the comments in to: those who have made an attempt, to understand the NZ strategy for managing the pandemic; those who realise they lack sufficient knowledge and seek to understand it; those who do not realise they lack sufficient knowledge and make assumptions based on incomplete or false information; and those who are absolutely, and without a doubt, convinced that they have a better grip on the situation than the entire science community that advises the New Zealand government and policy makers.

It’s a complete waste of time trying to discuss the NZ strategy with the conspiracy theorists and those who are convinced they understand all there is to know about pandemics and how to manage them and refuse to even listen to the experts in that field. They are the willfully ignorant. Those who are the uninformed and the ill informed – the ignorant, but not willfully so – are a different matter. I don’t feel it a waste of time or effort in providing them with some resources that they can use to become better informed. I intend to do just that in the next blog post The aim isn’t to persuade them to agree with my perspective, but to provide them with some resources that will allow them to make their own informed conclusions.


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Getting what one deserves

Over the last few hours I have read a number of blogs pertaining to the situation in Afghanistan. Many of those blogs are blaming the rapid fall of the nation to the Taliban on the inhabitants, often implying that it must be what they really want, otherwise they would have fought. What the bloggers seem to forget is that the West had already reached the conclusion that it was inevitable that the Taliban would eventually take control – perhaps in a few years. Long enough to appear that their withdrawal appeared “honourable”.

Think for a moment. If the West had reached that conclusion doesn’t it seem feasible that the Afghanis themselves, being so much closer to the ground, also reached the same conclusion. A sense of hopelessness coupled with a fear induced by the barbarity of the Taliban is more than enough for most people to become resigned to their inevitable fate. Few folk will fight, whether by way of arms, civil disobedience or the pen where there is absolutely no hope of a different outcome.

One writer suggested that as women are at least as numerous as men and have more to lose, they should take up arms, and if they don’t the implication was that they deserve (or want) what they get. History has proven time and again that a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and fear can be used by the few to control the many. How is the situation in Afghanistan any different than the rise of fascism and naziism in Europe between the two world wars, the rise of Stalinism, Maoism, Pol Pot, Apartheid, and in the US, slavery, Jim Crow and McCarthyism? How many nations and communities fell to colonial rule/occupation for similar reasons? Military might was not the only tool used.

It’s not only minorities that can feel a sense of hopelessness, it can exist in significant majorities for exactly the same reason: loss of hope. A hope that they might escape Taliban authoritarianism has led to some people taking stupid risks such as attempting to cling to the undercarriage of departing aircraft. In their mind, the risk was worth the effort whereas the risk of remaining and opposing the incoming regime seemed futile.

The advantage with fanatical beliefs is that they are separated from reality. While they are often religious in nature they don’t have to be. Taliban fighters are confident in their belief that their efforts will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the next. Their blind faith that their cause is just and will prevail just as surely as night follows day gives them all the will needed to continue fighting regardless of what the true situation is at any given moment.

Meanwhile back in reality, the typical, man, woman, father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt has to weigh up the consequences of their action. Would opposing the Taliban pose greater risks of harm to themselves and to those they care about than doing nothing – especially if they perceive their opposition is doomed to failure? I don’t think I need to remind readers, that the inhabitants of Afghanistan will be only too well aware of the atrocities that the Taliban are capable of inflicting on not only those who oppose them, but on their families and communities as well.

To a large extent, the West has only themselves to blame for the current situation, and for this reason I was less than impressed with President Biden’s speech. He considers himself blameless. Instead much of the blame he places on Trump, the Afghan government and military. His own military advisers had predicted the inevitable outcome of a quick withdrawal, although not the speed at which it would occur. Biden, like so many others I have heard and read today imply that the Afghanis will get the government they deserve. They don’t.

With few exceptions, the occupation of Afghanistan was based on military and perhaps political objectives of the West. Humanitarian objectives have been mostly ignored except where they were an advantage to the military and political objectives. If the same effort had been put into targeting humanitarian outcomes for their own sake, I wonder whether the current situation would have eventuated. I’m enough of a realist to admit there would be no guarantee of a better outcome, but on the other hand there’s no guarantee that it wouldn’t. However, from a purely military and political perspective, I don’t think any outcome, other than the one that is currently playing out, was possible – especially in the way the allies handled the two decades of occupation.

I do not know what should be done to reduce the harm that will inevitably occur to many innocent people in the wake of the Taliban takeover, and for this I accept my share of the blame. I’ve had twenty years in which to argue for a more humanitarian approach to moderating the effects of fanaticism on populations but have remained relatively silent until now. In the words of Nanci Griffith “I am not at the wheel of control, I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil“. Are any of us any different?

Feel free to substitute Belfast and Chicago with any other place of conflict of your choosing

It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go – Nanci Griffith

I am a backseat driver from America
They drive to the left on Falls Road
The man at the wheel's name is Seamus
We pass a child on the corner he knows
And Seamus says,"Now, what chance has that kid got?"
And I say from the back,"I don't know."
He says,"There's barbed wire at all of these exits
And there ain't no place in Belfast for that kid to go."

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in Belfast for these kids to go

A cafeteria line in Chicage
The fat man in front of me
Is calling black people trash to his children
He's the only trash here I see
And I'm thinking this man wears a white hood
In the night when his children should sleep
But, they slip to their window and they see him
And they think that white hood's all they need

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in Chicago for these kids to go

I was a child in the sixties
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney and Cronkite and Martin Luther
Oh, I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can't drive on the left side of the road

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in this world for these kids to go


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The Case for a Non-Commercial Public Broadcaster — Peter Davis NZ

Once again Peter Davis has reflected on a topic that has been on my mind for some time – public broadcasting in the online multimedia age. It’s a topic worthy of discussion particularly in light of the trend towards the polarisation of ideas and beliefs.

The Government recently established a working group to look at the possibility of establishing a new public broadcasting entity. At present Radio New Zealand (RNZ) is almost the only agency that adheres to a public broadcasting mandate largely free of commercial imperatives. Television New Zealand (TVNZ) is in public ownership, but in all but name […]

The Case for a Non-Commercial Public Broadcaster — Peter Davis NZ


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Kindness is not enough – an open letter to the Prime Minister of New Zealand — Matthew Wright

While many of my readers might reasonably think that Aotearoa New Zealand is a paradise on Earth, given my favourable descriptions of this nation, it is far from it. I still consider it the “best little country in the world” but it has it’s flaws – too many for me to stay silent about. Our housing crisis is just one of them. This article By Matthew Wright highlights the failure of successive governments, including the current one, to tackle social issues in anything other than a neo-liberal monetarist framework established by the Labour Party in the 1980s.

Dear Jacinda, It’s nearly six months since your government came to power with the first clear majority any party has had since MMP began, on the public expectation that you would lead the country out of the neo-liberal framework that has driven so many social problems. Instead, all that’s happened is – nothing. And then, […]

Kindness is not enough – an open letter to the Prime Minister of New Zealand — Matthew Wright


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Is the violence over? I have my doubts

As much a I prefer not to “interfere” in the politics of other nations, the influence that America has on the world due to its wealth, size and power, persuades me that I cannot in good conscience ignore events in that nation. From time to time I will share posts written by others more skilful than I on the American situation. This post by Padre Steve is one such post. With apologies to the good padre I have given the post a new title that reflects my concern.

I fear that Padre Steve is may well be correct: The great trial facing America has just begun. The violence is not over.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I watched the second day of Donald Trump’s second Impeachment trial transfixed by the masterful way in which the House Impeachment Managers presented the documentary evidence and connecting the dots from the election night until 6 January. I struggled to think of a title for the article because the evidence […]

The Impeachment Prosecutors Open: The defendants denounce the law under which their accounting is asked. Their dislike for the law which condemns them is not original. It has been remarked before that: “No thief e’er felt the halter draw with good opinion of the law.” — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World


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Institutional racism?

One of the difficult parts of being part of a minority group is having your group or aspects of your group defined by the majority group. As an autistic person, every time I leave home I am subjected to a world that pays little heed to the needs of neurodivergent folk. At best there is token allowances for which I’m expected to be grateful. For the most part, I’m expected to put on a mask of normalcy no matter what, and hide my true identity. But should I?

Ethnic minorities also face similar hurdles. Yesterday in Parliament an MP (Member of Parliament) was prevented from speaking by the Speaker, and was eventually ordered from the House when trying to raise a point of order over the matter. His crime was that, in the opinion of the Speaker, he was not dressed appropriately. Standing orders require that in Parliament MPs must be appropriately dressed, which is for men to wear a jacket and tie as part of “business attire”.

In an email sent from Speaker Trevor Mallard, to MP Rawiri Waititi, the Speaker said that a review of the Standing Orders supported members dressing in formal wear of the cultures they identify with. This lies at the heart of the matter and I will address this shortly.

Rawiri Waititi was wearing a business shirt and jacket, but instead of a tie he wore a hei-tiki. For many Māori, the wearing of a hei tiki is part of their cultural, spiritual and personal identity. The fact that he was prevented from speaking raises several issues in my mind. I’ll get the least controversial aspect out of the way first.

What is “business attire?

A quick search online revealed a range of “business attire”, including “casual“, “smart casual“, “business casual“, “business informal“, “business professional” and “business formal” just to name a few. And that’s only for Western dress. Whew!

In the New Zealand context, I would argue that typical business wear for men over recent decades is dress shirt, dress trousers, dress shoes, a jacket and for most occasions a tie is optional. Here, I use “typical” to refer to accepted Pākehā dress (around 70% of the population identify as Pākehā or NZ European).

The Speaker is of the view that ties should be optional and last year he sought the opinion of MPs about abandoning the rule on ties. Apparently there was little support for a change, so the standing order remains – a tie is mandatory. Fair enough, you might say. The majority have spoken, so that’s the end of the matter. To me that shouts out tyranny of the majority.

Racism

I’ve titled this article “institutional racism?” simply because it’s a term that will be most familiar to my readers. To my mind, the term race is a very blunt tool when it comes to understanding the oppression of and discrimination against minorities. I see race as being a set of physical characteristics that make one group distinctive from another. It says nothing about culture, cultural expectations or cultural values.

Regretfully, racism (judging a person or group by their physical appearance) does exist in this country. I have witnessed it although it has never been directed at me in Aotearoa New Zealand in a form that I am able to recognise. I have experienced “low level overt racism” while in Japan, especially in the ’70s and ’80s. In recent visits to Japan, it’s mostly limited to assumptions that I would prefer to use a knife and fork instead of chopsticks, or that I would be more comfortable shaking hands than bowing, neither of which are true. I have an intense dislike to shaking hands and avoid doing so as much as possible. My eating utensils of choice are chopsticks, even for some western style meals.

My children did experience overt racism as youngsters, principally from their peers, and if they are subjected to racism as adults it’s more likely to be covert in nature. If racism has been directed at the wife, she has been oblivious to it, although she has described incidents where I suspect racism has been a factor.

However the issue at the heart of the article is not about race but about custom and culture.

Cultural oppression

While in Japan, I knew it was inappropriate to blow my nose into a handkerchief or to eat an ice cream while walking along the street. Japan is very much a monocultural society, and while I attempted to adapt to the subtleties of Japanese culture, many I were oblivious to, and as a Gaijin visitor I was given much more leeway than I would be given if I had had a more permanent residence there.

Aotearoa New Zealand claims to be a “bicultural multi-ethnic” society. Our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, guaranteed Māori as Tangata whenua (literally “people of the land”) equal partnership with the British Crown and specifically protects land, customary rights and traditions. For most of this nation’s subsequent history the treaty has been ignored. Only in the past fifty years have the descendents of those settlers and more recent arrivals begun to recognise the significance of that founding document, and then, often grudgingly.

I don’t believe racial discrimination is a significant issue in this country although it does exist and can deeply affect those subjected to it. On the other hand cultural oppression is vey significant. Any law, regulation, requirement or expectation that diminishes, devalues or denies aspects of cultural identity is effectively cultural oppression. This particularly applies to Māori, given their status as tangata whenua, their rights under the Treaty, and as they constitute a significant minority within this country.

A hundred years ago, the accepted view, including by some Māori leaders was that the best hope for Māori was assimilation – effectively making Māori into brown Pākehā. The practice and teaching of Māori knowledge and wisdom was suppressed as was the use of Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). No room or recognition was given to Māori custom or values. Some Pākehā still hold the same view today.

It didn’t succeed. It created a downtrodden, demoralised subculture that has and continues to have serious repercussion for Māori and to a lesser extent for the rest of society. Thankfully the last fifty has seen an almost miraculous revival of Māori culture, and some of it is rubbing off on sections of the Non-Māori population. This is, in my opinion, healthy for our society.

With that background out of the way, let’s return to MP Rawiri Waititi and his “missing” tie. I believe the Speaker made the wrong call on several grounds. I’ll go through these in the order they come to mind, not in order of importance.

Letter of the law versus spirit of the law.

I’m a firm believer that the spirit/intent/purpose of of a law/regulation/rule is just as important at the letter of the law. Why was the law drafted in the first place? I would argue that the tie rule was not simply an arbitrary rule enforcing a culturally biased dress code, but part of package to maintain the dignity and respect that Parliament deserves as the highest court in the land. The tie rule should be applied in a descriptive manner, not in a prescriptive manner.

Clearly, the wearing into the House of a dirty singlet, a wrinkled pair of stubbies and worn out jandals (thongs to Australians and flip flops to the rest of the English speaking world) would lower the dignity of Parliament. But so too would the wearing of a weather beaten food stained tie and jacket retrieved off an old scarecrow that had been in a cornfield for several years. Yet it would meet the letter of the law as the standing order is currently worded.

Instead, Waititi wore a dress shirt, a business suit and replaced the tie with a culturally significant alternative adornment. I fail to see how this could possibly have negative effect on the dignity of Parliament and in fact I believe it enhances that reputation by not imposing the preferences of one culture onto another culture.

Freedom of expression

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA) guarantees the right to freedom of expression in any form and this should not be restricted. An example of this that NZ law prohibits the desecration of the national flag of any nation. However the courts have have taken the view that the public desecration of a national flag is a legitimate way of expressing an opinion regarding the actions or stance of a country or its representatives and so is protected by the NZBORA. I think it would require that the only motive for the desecration was to cause offence before there was any likelihood of a prosecution being successful.

Waititi feels very strongly that Māori have been subjected to “colonial oppression”, and who can blame him. The evidence is there for anyone who cares to look. Outside Parliament, Waititi stated that his hei-tiki is his tie of choice. It ties him to his tīpuna (ancestors), whenua (the land where his ancestors have lived and where their placenta are buried), and his people. He went on to say that the political party he represents will not be subjugated nor assimilated to dated colonial rules. “I will not be forced to wear a tie.. this is about standing up against subjugation or assimilation”. Is not the wearing of a hei tiki an expression of his identity and also a stance against what he views as cultural oppression by Pākehā.

Who decides what is “culturally appropriate”?

Waititi has described his dress as “Māori business attire”. Is it the place of the (Pākehā) Speaker to determine what is Māori business attire, or is that the domain of Māori? From my observations, a great many Māori businessmen display a hei tiki or other traditional forms such as a hei matau (stylised fish hook) instead of, (or sometimes over) a tie.

Rawiri Waititi listens to the Speaker’s reprimand (photo: ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF)

Being culturally sensitive

Māori culture is going through a renaissance and there is growing sense of pride for their traditions and values and how those are expressed. What right have I as a Pākehā to say how Māori should express their culture? The Speaker suggested that Waititi take the tie issue to the Parliamentary business select committee for adjudication, but as Māori are a distinct minority on that committee, isn’t it still a case of Pākehā deciding whether or not a hei tiki is “appropriate”? I would consider it insulting if I were in Waititi’s position. Surely we’re all adult enough to listen to the aspirations of groups that are not our own.

Recognising the rights of others

We live in a pluralistic society with many cultures, religions, lifestyles, and outlooks. There’s more than enough room for them all. We all deserve to be able to live a life as we best see fit. There is no place however for one group to impose its values and practices on another, be it cultural, religious, political or economic.

Epilogue

I was going to rant on some more, but circumstances have changed. Today Rawiri Waititi returned to Parliament in the same attire as yesterday. When he rose to speak, there was an audible sigh from Speaker Mallard, but he did not prevent Waititi from speaking. I won’t speculate on why the Speaker had a change of heart, even if it appeared to be somewhat reluctantly. But I am pleased that he did. It was the correct decision. He should have made it yesterday.


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Why am I not surprised?

It came as no surprise to me that the Capitol siege occurred. Perhaps what I find more surprising is that it ended more quickly and with less violence than I would have predicted. Perhaps we have Trump to thank for that as he belatedly urged his supporters to disperse peacefully and return to their homes. According to news reports I heard this morning, New Zealand time, it was viewed by many insurrectionists as an order from the Commander in Chief that had to be followed.

Had the mob been larger and Trump remained silent, I shudder to think what the outcome might have been, and the four known deaths (at time of writing) would have paled into significance. My question is why did Trump, given his ongoing claim that the election result was fraudulent, decide to issue the “go home” directive?

Somehow I don’t think it was in the interests of democracy or the welfare of his supporters, so what was it? Did he come to the realisation that his supporters would follow him to hell and back if he so ordered, and that with a better organised command structure he could be the leader of a militia that the constitution clearly allows for in order to protect the people from a tyrannical government?

The irony of course would be that his followers have mistaken which part of the government is being tyrannical. While it may have been lost to his supporters, it’s clear from non-autocratic leaders around the globe that most of the free world views the Capitol siege as an attack on democracy.

I’m somewhat disappointed that our own Prime Minister was rather guarded in her comment avoiding any direct blame on Trump. I would have much preferred her to have spoken in terms similar to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who placed the blame clearly on trump’s shoulders: “I deeply regret that President Trump has not conceded his defeat, since November and again yesterday. Doubts about the election outcome were stoked and created the atmosphere that made the events of last night possible”.

Somehow I doubt that the number of Trump’s supporters who would be prepared to participate in an insurrection are not as small or insignificant as Biden and others are suggesting, and there may be not just tens of thousands but possibly hundreds of thousands who would be prepared to commit to a militia if such a call was made. Regardless of the final outcome over the next few weeks, the myth of a fraudulent election is not going to go away any time soon and suspicion of American authorities and particularly the federal government does not bode well for democracy in America in the short term.

While I have no doubts about Trump’s legacy, I suspect Biden’s will depend on how well he restores faith in America’s system of democracy.