Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Climate change education

I’m a firm believer that the purpose of schooling, particularly at primary and secondary school level is not to prepare the next generation for jobs but to prepare it for life. In this respect I believe the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand does particularly well, as we are encouraged to question and interpret for ourselves any and all information students receive.

So I’m somewhat disappointed by the stance taken by some members of the opposition National Party with regards to their criticism of the rolling out of climate change education resources for schools in 2020, which they are calling “indoctrination”. Is it because the Climate Change Minister happens to be the co-leader of the Green Party that makes it so unpalatable, or being (slightly) right of centre, do they see education only in terms of jobs and careers?

The simple fact is that there is no change in curriculum. The resources provide teachers with additional resource material. It also acknowledges that some of the information can cause stress or distress to some students, and provides guidelines to help teachers and parents address this when it occurs.

While I don’t believe any member of the National Party is a climate change denier, there are some who are yet to be convinced it’s a serious issue or that it is primarily caused by human activity. Take the comment of Judith Collins, a senior National Party MP (Member of Parliament) who has stated “The likely impacts of climate change are being hugely overstated by the media and political left”.

Many of her colleagues are also skeptical about the success of any attempt to reduce warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as the big players, especially the US, China and India are doing so little. They point out that as this country contributes only 0.17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, there was little point in the Zero Carbon Bill passed into law in November last year which includes a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and a 24 – 47 percent reduction in biogenic methane below 2017 levels by the same date.

But as Climate Change Minister James Shaw has observed, per capita, New Zealand is the 21st biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that small countries don’t get off the hook because collectively we add up to a greater total of emissions than the larger countries do.

What both amuses me and alarms me in equal measure, is the call by some conservatives to have climate change education treated the same as religious education. In NZ, schools can only offer religious education outside school hours, students must opt in, and lessons can be for no more than 20 hours per year. They also want climate change education to be “less extreme”, and in their opinion, less indoctrinating.

So what does climate change education involve? It’s part of the wider environmental education in New Zealand schools, which has been part of the curriculum for many years, the aims of which are:

  • Aim 1: awareness and sensitivity to the environment and related issues
  • Aim 2: knowledge and understanding of the environment and the impact of people on it
  • Aim 3: attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment
  • Aim 4: skills involved in identifying, investigating, and problem solving associated with environmental issues
  • Aim 5: a sense of responsibility through participation and action as individuals, or members of groups, whānau, or iwi, in addressing environmental issues.

The introduction to the curriculum guide states:

New Zealand’s natural and social environment is unique. A mild climate, cultural diversity, a small population with high levels of participation in outdoor activities, extensive marine resources, relatively clean air and water, a variety of national parks, and distinctive plants and animals all contribute to the special nature of the environment. As New Zealanders, we value our environment for recreational, aesthetic, economic, cultural, and spiritual reasons.

New Zealand’s future as a nation relies on our maintaining a quality environment. This environment includes its natural and built elements as well as its social and cultural aspects. It is air, water, and land. It is plants and animals. It is people, their communities, and their social and cultural values.

An understanding of the many factors that influence the environment, particularly the impact of people, is critical to maintaining and improving environmental quality. People have modified the land, introduced plants and animals, and utilised both renewable and finite resources. Understanding and responding to people’s impact on the environment therefore requires a multifaceted approach.

Now, if I believed in indoctrination theories then I’d start right here, particularly with aim 3 which aims to develop “attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment”. Why pick on a teaching resource specifically on climate change, which involves no curriculum changes when one of the aims of the curriculum itself is to encourage specific attitudes and feelings. This runs counter to the ideology of some conservatives which is to teach the facts, and only the facts (but only the facts I agree with), and that values are a parental responsibility, not the state’s.

Given the nature of the topic, the Ministry of Education has released a wellbeing guide to accompany the teaching resources. It includes a reminder to parents which can be applied outside the climate issue, particularly the last sentence, which I have emphasised below:

REMINDER
It can be difficult to see your child struggling, unhappy and anxious. You might even feel guilty or responsible. Your child may be frustrated with you and other adults about the current climate change situation. With any unpleasant feeling your child has, it is tempting to want to “fix it”. However, the most important response is acceptance and acknowledgement of feelings, within a caring relationship. Being with your child, whilst they come up with their own solutions and ways of dealing with things, is harder – and more important – than it seems.

For anyone interested in what the fuss is about, here are the links to the teaching resource and the wellbeing guide:

Climate Change Learning Programme – Teacher Resource (.pdf, 7.09 MB)

Climate Change Learning Programme – Wellbeing Guide (.pdf, 0.75 MB)


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Is this the hero we Autists have been waiting for?

Greta Thunberg was recently named Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, which makes her the first ever openly-autistic Person of the Year. This, as you can imagine, is kind of a Big Deal to the autistic community worldwide.

To understand why, read the rest of the article GRETA THUNBERG IS NAMED TIME MAGAZINE’S PERSON OF THE YEAR. IS THIS THE HERO WE NEED? over on The Aspergian blog  (approximately 3 minutes reading) and also GRETA – OUR WARRIOR PRINCESS (approximately 4 minutes reading)


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So, I’m an anti-Semite

Well, according to a recent declaration by the so called leader of the free world, I am. Trump’s recent announcement that Jewishness is a race and nationality, and that anti-antisemitism includes opposition to the political and foreign policy actions of Israel places me very firmly as being antisemitic. I am highly critical of some of the policies of Israel with regards to their treatment of Palestinians and the misappropriation of Palestinian land. That being so, then I am indeed officially guilty of antisemitism, just as much as I am anti-American and anti-Christian for opposing some political and foreign policy actions of America, anti-Islamic for opposing the philosophy and actions of Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Saudi Arabia, anti-Buddhist for opposing the Myanmar governments genocidal actions against the Rohingya, anti-Chinese for opposing the detention and “re-education” of ethnic Uighur Muslims, and anti-Australian for being critical of their inhumane treatment of the “boat people” refugees.

I also wonder what peril is placed upon Jews by such a declaration, particularly that Jewishness is a nationality. Could it be used against them at some time in the future? Such a declaration was made in Nazi Germany around seven years before I was born, and that didn’t end very well for the Jews, did it?

New Zealand’s neighbour to the west – Australia – bars citizens with dual nationality from holding some forms of public office on the grounds that such people have divided loyalties. Recently some members of the Australian Government found they were ineligible for the office they held as they unknowingly were also New Zealand nationals.

As “race” is not something you choose or can renounce, does that mean a Jew in America will always have dual nationality whether they like it or not? At sometime in the future, could it be determined that as Jewishness is a nationality, then Jews have divided loyalty and are therefore ineligible for some forms of public office or even all forms of public office? Could this not then be extended to exclude any position that is considered of national importance? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

As Padre Steve points out in his recent post Who is a True Jew, Christian or any other Faith? This is Not a Question Left to Secular Government, this sets a very dangerous precedent.


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Words and actions have ‘immeasurable consequences’

Below are the UN general assembly Speeches by the president of the United States of America, and the Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand. Do they even live on the same planet?

Jacinda’s speech in English starts at 1m 5s if you wish to skip her formal greeting in te Reo Māori, but out of respect for our culture, please don’t.


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Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?

The Rt Hon Helen Clark was the keynote speaker at this year’s Peter Fraser Lecture where she posed the question that is the title of this post: Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp? It’s not a quick read (approximately 3,500 words) but I feel it’s worth the effort. The link to the lecture is at the end of this post.

For small nations such as Aotearoa New Zealand, A working system of international multilateral agreements is necessary for survival, as it is for all smaller countries and for most of the world’s population. A handful of large nations can bully their way to wealth and “success”, and I would class Trump’s MAGA one such example, but at what cost to the rest of the world? If a powerful nation unilaterally decides to pull out of an agreement it freely entered into and then attempts to punish others for continuing to honour said agreement, the consequences for international cooperation can be profound.

Here, for example, is what Helen Clark had to say about the US withdrawal from international nuclear agreements:

The UN is also a bystander as key parts of the nuclear weapons control architecture is dismantled. The most egregious example is that of the Iran nuclear deal which was endorsed by the Security Council. The US withdrawal from the agreement was a direct challenge to the authority of the Council which all Member States are bound to uphold. The expiry of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and what is now Russia is a major threat to peace and security, but one the multilateral system in its current state is not equipped to address.

The hypothesis presented by the former Prime Minister’s talk is that the multilateral system is struggling for relevance, that the world it seeks to function in is not that of 1945, and that its core institutions, like the UN Security Council, have been unable to adapt.

Her talk covers:

  • the successes the multilateral system has had
  • the pressures it is now under
  • the importance of continuing to engage constructively with it
  • examples of the development of more inclusive forms of multilateralism

I appreciate, that many Americans have little concern for what goes on outside their borders, and the US has practiced isolationism in the past, and is fast retreating into a new form of it, but for the sake of the whole world, it’s the wrong choice in my view.

While the US isn’t the only player causing a breakdown in international cooperation, it’s clearly a significant, if not the most significant, player. I know most thinking Americans already understand this, whereas Trump supporters will blame the rest of the world, so perhaps this post and Helen’s talk might be a case of preaching to the converted.

Helen Clark’s talk can be viewed in its entirety at Rt Hon Helen Clark: “Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?”. Annual Peter Fraser Lecture, Wellington, 12 August 2019.


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If you’re not aware, today, the 29th of August is The International Day Against Nuclear Tests. Aotearoa New Zealand has long had an anti-nuclear weapons stance, which unfortunately the Prime Minister in the 1980s declared was “not for export”, possibly to appease the American administration at that time. The following is a presentation from Kevin Clements, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand.

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020 Kevin P Clements Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago As Albert Einstein said “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when […]

via Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. — Kevin’s Peace Musings


Abortion law reform passes first reading

The first reading of the abortion reform legislation has just passed 94 votes to 23. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs were not required to vote down party lines.

Source: Abortion law reform passes first reading


Although 94 votes to 23 might seem like overwhelming support to non-Kiwi readers, this is not how we do things. After a bill passes its first reading it’s referred to a Select Committee where it is considered in detail and where interested parties can make submissions. This process can typically take around six months. This is the forum where the issues are debated, and the public are listened to. Rarely does a bill pass through this stage without some changes. Shutting down debate does not resolve issues – it’s more likely to harden prejudices.

The Committee process will see and hear submissions from all sides including health professionals, women’s groups, the legal profession, social workers, members of the public – in fact, anyone who wishes to have a say on the matter. MPs (Members of Parliament), whether they support or oppose the legislation understand this, and realise that without reasoned discussion, an informed decision cannot be made. Many, but not all, are open to persuasion based on the facts presented.

I expect the vote at the final reading will be much closer, perhaps 65 votes to 55.


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Practicalities of abortion law reform

Somewhere between one in three and one in four women in Aotearoa New Zealand will seek and have a legal abortion at some time in their life. A decade ago, there were almost 21 abortions per year per 1000 women of child bearing ages, but  has been declining since. Last year it was 13 per 1000. Better education and contraceptives have seen a dramatic drop in teenage abortions while abortions in women in their twenties and thirties have risen slightly. Our abortion rates are not too different from countries in North America or western Europe, but unlike in the US, abortion here is a crime.

The law as it is now

The Crimes Act 1961 determines the grounds for an abortion under 20 weeks, which can be serious danger to life, any form of incest or sexual relations with a guardian, mental sub normality and foetal abnormality. Extremes of age and sexual violation can also be taken into account but aren’t grounds in themselves.

After 20 weeks gestation the grounds are different. Abortions can only be performed to save the life of the mother or to prevent serious permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.

The law is an ass

Around 98% of abortions are perform on mental health grounds, and are essentially a means of getting around the current criminal nature of abortions. The Dunedin longitudinal study reveals that the most common reason given for having an abortion was not being ready, followed by relationship reasons, including being in the wrong relationship and being alone. In other words the law is an ass. The law should be either enforced or changed.

And here we differ markedly from the trend that we observe is going on in America. In early 2018, Andrew Little, the Minister of justice, asked the Law Commission to provide advice on what alternative approaches could be taken to ensure New Zealand’s abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.

Law Commission recommendations

Earlier this year, the Commission presented its ministerial briefing paper and offered three possible models:

  • Under Model A there would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed. The decision whether to have an abortion would be made by the woman concerned in consultation with her health practitioner.
  • Under Model B there would be a statutory test. The health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Regardless of which model may be preferred, the briefing paper sets out several other changes that could be made to align the law with a health approach to abortion. They include:

  • Repealing the current grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act.
  • Removing the requirement for abortions to be authorised by two specially appointed doctors called ‘certifying consultants’.
  • Repealing the criminal offences in the Crimes Act relating to abortion. Instead, other offences in the Crimes Act and health legislation that currently exist would protect women from unsafe abortions. If Model B or C is adopted, an additional offence could be introduced in health legislation for people who perform abortions that don’t meet the statutory test. In no case would the woman be subject to an offence.
  • Allowing women to access abortion services directly, rather than having to get a referral from a doctor as they do under the current law.
  • Removing the current restrictions around who may perform an abortion and where abortions must be performed. Instead, the provision of abortion services would be regulated by appropriate health bodies, the same as any other health care procedure.
  • Moving the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s oversight responsibilities to the Ministry of Health.
  • Requiring health practitioners who do not wish to provide health services in relation to abortion because of a conscientious objection to refer women to someone who can provide the service.

The full briefing paper can be found here.

The art of the possible

The legislation that is to be introduced into the parliament is essentially model C with all the suggested changes, but with the statutory test being at 20 weeks instead of 22. Andrew Little would have preferred model A, but politics is the art of the possible. It’s unlikely that a bill based on model A would be able to make its way through all stages of the process required to make it law. He’s indicated that the 20 week threshold was another of those compromises he needed to make to gain support from some members of parliament, notably members of the New Zealand First party. While the reforms might not be ideal, it’s certainly far better than keeping the status quo. As the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern commented “Ultimately, it is about putting something to Parliament that has the strongest likelihood of succeeding. This issue should not be in the Crimes Act.”

Polls indicate that around 70% to 75% of the NZ adult population favour decriminalising abortion, but to what degree liberalisation should occur is less clear. However, as elsewhere, those opposing reform are by far the loudest. In this country opposition is not entirely along religious or gender lines.

Passage through parliament

If the bill passes its first reading it will be referred to a select committee, which can then take months to hear submissions from all interested parties, and you can be sure that on this topic there will be a great many submissions. It’s most likely the the select committee stage will be a prolonged affair, as more that the usual numbers supporters and opponents will wish to make vocal submissions as well as written ones. This can be expected on issues where emotions run high.

After the select committee process the bill then has to pass the second and third reading before being passed into law, and as the minister of justice admits, there’s no guarantee that this will happen. However, it’s very unlikely that he would introduce the legislation unless he believed there was a better than even chance that it would get through all stages. Time will tell if he is correct.


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Political leaders can change our opinions

I have been a regular participant in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) for many years. Their website describes NZAVS as a

20-year longitudinal national study of social attitudes, personality and health outcomes of more than 60,000 New Zealanders. The study is broad-ranging and includes researchers from a number of New Zealand universities, including the University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago, and Massey University. The NZAVS extends our understanding of how New Zealanders’ life circumstances, attitudes, values, and beliefs change over time. The study is university-based, not-for-profit and independent of political or corporate funding.

A recent NZAVS newsletter included the headline “Political leaders can change our opinions” which I found intriguing. My first thought was that politicians typically try to determine the opinions of potential voters, particularly in Aotearoa New Zealand, where the differences between the centre right and centre left are very small and there are very few issues that polarise  public opinion.

But then I thought about Trump and wondered how much his opinions and those of his supporters influence each other.  Research shows that the positions taken by political leaders and political parties can have an important impact on peoples’ preferences, even on issues that are supposed to reflect personal preferences. The newsletter reports:

How much can our own attitudes be affected by our political leaders?

In 2015, then-leaders of National and Labour publicly expressed their personal opinions on whether the New Zealand flag should be changed, with John Key (National) arguing New Zealanders should choose a new flag, and Andrew Little (Labour) arguing New Zealanders should keep the current flag. We measured public support for changing the flag both before and after these opinions were published in the media.

Overall, 30.5% of National party supporters and 27.5% of Labour party supporters changed their original opinion to match their party leaders. This research provides a rare real-time example of politicians’ influence on public opinion.

To learn more, read the article from the Association of Psychological Science

Although the research was conducted only on Kiwis, I wonder to what degree the same effect occurs in other countries. Anyone care to comment?


Just for the record, I’ve wanted a flag change since before I was old enough to vote, and I still hold that opinion. If Australia changes their’s before we do, then I might consider it a less pressing issue, but one still worth pursuing.


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Update Aoteraroa 22nd May 2019

As selection of Aotearoa New Zealand news items I found interesting…

Member of Parliament is provided with security escort

Sigh. Even in our relatively liberal multicultural society and perhaps because of the Christchurch massacre, white extremists seem to be more confident about expressing themselves more openly, while still hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.

Green MP (Member of Parliament) Golriz Ghahraman is being provided with a security escort any time she leave Parliament due to the nature of of online comments about her. Comments go so far as to discuss lynching. I don’t know what security is provided to legislators in other countries, but here the only other polititian to have a security escort is the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

Read more (Reuters)…

Surge in Australians pondering move to New Zealand after election

There has been a spike in interest among Australians in moving to New Zealand since the Australian elections.

Immigration New Zealand says four times the usual number of Australians visited its website and information site New Zealand Now on Sunday, the day after the Liberal coalition’s surprise win.

Expressions of interest in moving to New Zealand were 25 times higher than the week before.

But as the video on the linked article suggests, there may be other reasons why Aussies want to move here 🙂

Read more (Stuff)…

What if NZ movies and TV actually included all New Zealanders?

Migration plays an important role in shaping Aotearoa New Zealand society. New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, is now “more diverse than London“, and one in four New Zealanders have come from elsewhere.

[The above link to Statistics NZ is broken at time of publication. Instead, refer to this news release]

The large number of arrivals from across the Pacific region has given Auckland the largest Pacific Islander population of any city in the world. Almost one-quarter of Auckland’s population is now classified as Asian. This itself is a catch-all term for a wide range of peoples and cultures covering half of humanity.

But while diversity in New Zealand is greater than ever, there is a gap between the society we see around us and what is reflected on screen.

Read more (NZ Herald)…

New Zealand-led research could change the way doctors treat asthma

New Zealand-led research on asthma treatment is being called a “game changer” for stopping mild asthmatics from having severe attacks, an author of the study says.

The four-country study conducted by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It involved 675 people who had been taking medication to relieve their symptoms, and divided them into three groups: one just using a reliever inhaler when they had symptom, one using preventer and reliever inhalers and one using a combined preventer-reliever inhaler only when they had symptoms.

Study co-author Richard Beasley said the third group had half the risk of a severe attack compared to using the reliever inhaler alone.

Read more (TVNZ News)…