Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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BILL PEDDIE’S TALK TO MANGERE ROTARY, 14 JUNE 2022 — Bill Peddie’s website

Yesterday afternoon two blog posts appeared on my WordPress Reader within an hour of each other, both of which had a gun control theme – both worthy of reblogging IMHO. The second post to arrive was this one by Bill Peddie.

BILL’S NOTES (which were supplemented with handout fact sheets) Why Gun Crime Should Matter – a reflection from New Zealand          by Bill Peddie Just a short while ago, in the middle of the night, a perfectly normal looking home, just down the road from where Shirley and I live, was apparently the recipient of a […]

BILL PEDDIE’S TALK TO MANGERE ROTARY, 14 JUNE 2022 — Bill Peddie’s website


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2nd Amendment — World’s Pain

Yesterday afternoon two blog posts appeared on my WordPress Reader within an hour of each other, both of which had a gun control theme – both worthy of reblogging IMHO. The first to arrive was this post by rautakyy.

“They are trying to take our guns!” In light of years of school shootings, staggering numbers of all sorts of gun related violence, and tragicomic amount of gun related accidental deaths, one might expect the US government and judical system might take a nother look at the regulatory laws on gun ownership. One could expect, […]

2nd Amendment — World’s Pain


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Harvard University Commencement speech

I have a confession to make. Although I have a rather soft spot for our Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, I have not voted for the party she represents since the 1970s, and I feel I’m unlikely to so for the foreseeable future. Our Jacinda has just about the right balance of optimism and pragmatism. She has been criticised by some for being too empathetic and kind and that leaders should be powerful and crush the opposition. But I disagree. Shouldn’t the very values we teach our children also be displayed in our leaders? I believe they should.

Earlier today (NZ time), Jacinda delivered the Harvard University Commencement speech for 2022. I have included two Youtube clips of her speech: the first being highlights selected by Guardian News (4:34), and the second being her entire speech (24:29). But first, here are the closing paragraphs of her speech as transcribed by yours truly:

You are, and will always be, surrounded by bias. You will continue to be exposed to disinformation, and over time the noise you are surrounded up by will probably only get worse. And perhaps that is why when your own constitution was adopted, benjamin franklin was asked what had been created and he replied [quote] “A republic if you can keep it”.

If you can keep it. Yes diversity of voice in mainstream media matters. The responsibility of social media matters. Teaching our kids to deal with disinformation; the role we play as leaders, it all matters. But so do you. How you choose to engage with information, deal with conflict; how you confront, debate; how you choose to address being baited or hated; it all matters. And in the overwhelming challenges that lay in front of us, and our constant efforts to reach into the systems, the structures, the power, don’t overlook the simple acts that are right in front of you: the impact that we each have as individuals to make a choice; to treat difference with empathy and with kindness – those values that exist in the space between difference and division, the very things we teach our children but then view as weakness in our leaders.

The issues we navigate as a society, after all, will only intensify. The disinformation will only increase. The pull into the comfort of our tribes will be magnified, but we have it within us to ensure that that doesn’t mean we fracture. We are richer for our difference, and poorer for our division. Through genuine debate and dialogue, through rebuilding trust in information and one another, through empathy, let us reclaim the space in between. After all, there are some things in this life that make the world feel small and connected. Let kindness be one of them.

Jacinda Ardern – Harvard University Commencement speech 2020
Jacinda Ardern receives standing ovation for Harvard speech on gun control and democracy | Guardian News
In full: Jacinda Ardern delivers Harvard University Commencement speech | nzherald.co.nz


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Legislative diversity

I started this post way back in November 2020 shortly after the General Election, but never quite got round to completing it. I wanted to make the point that some sections of society are still excluded from decision making processes that affect them, but as often happens for me, it morphed into something no quite as I intended. So it’s been sitting on the shelf until I decided what to do with it. I’m still not sure if it’s worth publishing, but it’s either that or bin it. I’ve chosen the former.


It’s a fact of life that most legislatures around the world are scarcely representative of the population they represent. For example, in most western democracies, wealthy males with sometimes tenuous connections to Christianity are over represented, while women, minority groups of all types and youth are underrepresented.

For some, this is the “natural order” and they see nothing wrong or untoward with this situation. Others keenly feel that in order to have all voices heard, it is necessary that diversity in the makeup of the legislature should approximate that of the community from which it is drawn. I lean towards the latter. But it would seem that most people here have no opinion one way or the other in this matter. Perhaps in this nation it might be understandable, but is it desirable?.

Disability

Aotearoa New Zealand does better than many other nations when it comes to diversity within its legislature, although we still have a long way to go. One example would be that approximately one on four or one in five Kiwis (depending on the measurements chosen) have some form of disability but no MPs (Members of Parliament) have publicly admitted to having a disability.

Neurodiversity

Of special interest to me is that although somewhere between 5% and 12% of the population is neurodiverse (depending on how you define neurodiversity), as far as I can discover, no MP is neurodiverse.

Ethnicity

People of asian ancestry, most of whom are of Chinese or Indian descent are also underrepresented. They make up 12% of the population but only 7% of the Parliament.

In the October Elections, fewer Māori were returned to the Parliament than in the previous two general elections. In the Previous Parliament, 23% of MPs were Māori. This has now dropped to 21%, but remains higher than the 17% of the general population who identify as Māori. Pasifika people (those from Pacific island nations) too, while making up 7% of the general population, make up 9% of MPs.

Gender

Women have almost reached parity with men. In this country females slightly outnumber males (100:97), and now make up 48% of all MPs. When compared to our neighbours (Australia 31%, Pacific nations averaging 6%) we are doing very well. When we look at gender representation by political party, we see that the parties of the left have more female representation than male, while for parties on the right, the opposite is true.

LGBTQI+

Approximately 4% of Kiwis are openly LGBTQI+ although the real number is most likely higher. Parliamentarians are more forthcoming in this regard as 11% of MPs are openly LGBTQI+. This lead to one British tabloid headlining an article with “NZ Parliament Gayest in World”. Although this nation was the first where an openly transgender person was elected to the national legislature, there are currently no openly trans MPs.

Religion and spirituality

I’m not going to attempt to define what religion or spirituality are as even academics in these fields cannot agree. In fact some definitions are mutually exclusive. In the NZ context it can be confusing. Around a third of the population claim a Christian affiliation, and only 45% of the population claim any religious affiliation according to the 2018 census.

Other surveys indicate that 25% have a firm belief in a deity or higher power and a further 45% believe in some form of higher power to some extent for at least some of the time. Within the Christian community the concept of God ranges from an omniscient omnipotent being to metaphor/personification/symbol representing our highest ideals, and the trend is towards greater polarisation of these opposing concepts.

The consensus among both the religious and non-religious alike is that New Zealand is one of the most secular nations on this planet. Whether one is religious or not, or is affiliated to a religious or spiritual group is usually a private matter, and that applies to politicians as much as it does to the general population.

This makes comparing the religion of the legislature and general population somewhat difficult as the religious beliefs of most MPs is not on public record. However, anecdotally it does appear that parties on the right have a slightly higher proportion of “religious” however that might be defined, than parties on the left. Based on the limited amount of information available, it appears that religion and spirituality amongst MPs is not significantly different from the general population.

Youth

While we do have some MPs in their twenties, and in the past a few have been in their late teens, I suspect this is one form of diversity where the “nature of the job” will means that the young and the old will always be underrepresented. There is a small movement calling for the voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16, and if it ever came to a referendum I’d support it, but for the time being only the Greens consider it a topic even worthwhile discussing.

Quotas

I’m not in favour of quotas to ensure all forms of diversity are proportionally represented, and yet our electoral system (MMP) is based on the premise that political parties should be represented in parliament proportionally based on their support in the voting population. Isn’t this a form of quota based on political affiliation? If we demand proportional representation across the political spectrum, why not across other spectrums of society?

I believe that legislatures should reflect the diversity of those who elect them, although not necessarily in exact proportion to the population. For society to be truly inclusive, everyone should feel that their voice can be heard. For those with a disability and for the neurodiverse, there’s clearly a long way to go. We should be proud of our success in achieving the diversity we have in the Parliament, but let’s not rest on our laurels just yet.


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Guitars, not guns

In Afterword, following this morning’s Quaker Meeting for Worship, some attending expressed their frustration of feeling so powerless in the light of the Ukraine invasion, when another mentioned the part Aotearoa New Zealand and its military played in not only bringing a brutal war to an end but the bringing of long lasting peace. It was brought about without a shot being fired, not because they had overwhelming power but because they were powerless – no weapons whatsoever, even for self defence. Instead they armed themselves with guitars and the haka.

After Meeting, I located the documentary titled Soldiers Without Guns, a documentary thirteen years in the making, produced by TMI Pictures, directed by Will Watson, and narrated by Lucy Lawless. Strictly speaking most of the narration is by participants and victims of the conflict and those attempting to bring peace, principly New Zealand military personnel, and the women of Bougainville. Lawless helps tie it all together and informs the viewer of the history that led to the conflict.

The war in question was waged on the island of Bougainville, ran for ten long years, and cost the lives of one sixth of the population. It was as brutal as that currently waged by Russia in Ukraine and previously in Syria, with civilians being targets and victims. Sure it was not on the same scale as those wars, as the populations and resources of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville are tiny in comparison to those of Russia and Ukraine. But the methods were just as brutal. It seems to be that this pattern of warfare that is becoming only too common.

The 2019 documentary is long at 96 minutes but fortunately avoids the graphic gore and brutality of the conflict. It brings to the fore the pain and suffering experienced especially by the women and children, but also the hope, faith and strength of those who suffered the most. It show that there are alternatives to the use of violence to end violence.

At its heart I feel the documentary demonstrates how aroha (bringing together in peace, love, giving and forgiving) can be more effective than brute force in ending conflict that results in a genuine peace (not simply a lack of violence), the role women can play in bringing conflict to an end, and how forgiveness can be more effective than retribution.

On this last point, I believe that the decision not to prosecute war crimes, irrespective of who carried them out, was the correct decision and, in my opinion should be considered in the Ukrainian conflict. The reasoning was simple: Those who are guilty have nothing to lose and everything to gain by extending the war in order to avoid or delay punishment. Justice comes in many forms, and in my mind, retribution and punishment are poor forms of justice at best, and are outweighed by the process of restorative justice and the saving of lives that would have otherwise been lost by an extended conflict, not to mention the reduction of pain and suffering that could have continued for years, perhaps decades.

Some may say that forgiveness is not the Western way. Perhaps, but isn’t it a central tenet of Christianity? If Western history can teach us anything it’s that retribution is usually planting the seed of the next conflict. It hasn’t worked for the West in the past. There’s no evidence that it will work in the future. As is eloquently spoken in the documentary, “Human beings are only mistake makers. The only real mistake is the one we learn nothing from them”.

In some ways, the documentary emphasises the influence of Māori culture on NZ society and the NZ military as a significant factor in helping bring an ending to the conflict – that no other nation was capable of doing so. Perhaps in this specific example it might be true because of our awareness and valuing of non-Western culture, but I would like to think that other nations – including large, powerful and wealthy ones – are also capable of doing the same: bringing peace without the use of force. All that is required is a willingness to take the risk. I think it’s worth it. What’s your opinion?

I have located two sources of the documentary: NZ On Screen and Vimeo. WordPress will not allow me to embed the NZ On Screen video but did allow the Vimeo version. It is a powerful and moving documentary and illustrates an alternative non-violent method of resolving conflict – one that’s no less risky, but potentially with immeasurably better outcomes.

Soldiers Without Guns (2019)


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A personal response to the occupation of Parliament grounds

Yesterday Aotearoa saw a level of violence between protesters and police we haven’t seen for forty years. That was in 1981 during the South African Springbok rugby tour of this nation. The government of the day refused to ban the tour on the grounds that governments should not interfere in sporting events. Also many at that time had convinced themselves that by continuing sporting contacts with South Africa, that nation would see how a multicultural society can function and so abandon Apartheid. My father was of this opinion and I admit as an idealistic teen in the 1960s I was hopeful that by maintaining sporting and cultural links with South Africa, they would learn from our example. By the mid 1970s I had come to the conclusion that Apartheid ideology had so closed the minds of the South African authorities that reason, persuasion and showing by example would not work.

Riot squads were created for the specific purpose of ensuring the rugby tour went ahead. They were confronted by thousands of anti Apartheid protesters who were determined to prevent matches from being played. There was violence on both sides but the public perceived the police as being brutal and the worst offenders. It shook the public’s confidence in the police to act reasonably, with restraint and with respect. It took decades for that confidence to be restored and I believe within some communities, confidence is still tentative at best.

For the past three weeks there has been an occupation of Parliament grounds. Protests on Parliament ground are an established part of our political system. But this was different. The protesters chose to occupy the grounds instead. Encouraged by the protests in Canada, they blocked the roads in the vicinity of Parliament and the Beehive – the building that houses the executive branch of government.

However it was more than a protest. Elements hurled abuse at passersby wearing face masks. Even children on the way to and from school were verbally abused. Faeces was thrown at police. The original core were mostly those objecting to covid mandates especially those related to some sectors of the workforce where the mandates effectively mean “no jab, no job”. In an interview, one protester described his situation as grim. He had lost his job, and was about to lose his home, and all he wanted to was to return to the work he loved. When asked what that was, he informed the interviewer in all sincerity that he was a caregiver looking after the disabled and elderly, but he didn’t want to be vaccinated. It seemed he genuinely did not understand the harm he could cause to those he cared for.

The original protesters were soon joined by anti vaxxers, covid hoax believers, QAnon believers, 1080 objectors (a topic for another day), 5G protestors and more. Before the end of the first week, there, were up to 3000 people occupying Parliament grounds and some of those present were openly hostile calling for extremes such as the arrest and trial by “people’s courts” of politicians of all persuasions, leading health professionals and advisers, and senior government officials and administrators. Some called for the military to take over – a coup.

For the police the occupation was a case of damned if we do, damned of we don’t. The right to protest is an integral part of our system and had the police moved in early, there would have been public disapproval, even though the occupation was illegal. Confidence and trust in the police is an essential component in their ability to carry out their role. Also, as the police commissioner has noted, if they had moved in to remove the occupation in the first few days, the response from the three thousand occupiers could have been very nasty, and the public would more than likely have been highly critical of the police action. From the perspective of the police, they had to balance the harm that was being caused by the illegal occupation against the harm that could occur if the occupation turned into a crowd of 3000 rioters rampaging within metres of the seat of government. There are no fences or other barriers to prevent or limit access to Parliament building or the Beehive. Had a riot occurred and government buildings breached, we would have been looking at a situation not dissimilar to that in the US on 6 January 2021.

Instead, the police waited while sworn staff from across the country were being deployed to Wellington. There are less than 9000 police officers across the entire country, and there’s certainly not enough within the Wellington region to control an unruly mob of 3000 bent on harm and destruction. The last thing the police wanted was to prod an angry bear while they were unprepared for its response. They were also concerned for the wellbeing of the many children the occupiers had with them.

By yesterday, the occupation had dwindled to a core of several hundred, and that’s when the police moved in. Even so, the response by that hard core sector was quite shocking to most Kiwis as the events streamed live into offices and living rooms. For a few hours, Ukraine was forgotten. We’ve witnessed many riots over the decades, but only from a distance. Not within our own borders. Not for more than forty years.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, acknowledges the pain felt by many during the pandemic is real and many have fallen for misinformation and disinformation to such an extent, that not only is their belief strongly held, many are willing to act on it. As she pointed out, much of the false information comes by the way of social media. People are less trusting of authority world wide and countering it through traditional channels such as main stream media is less than fruitful. The disaffected have come to view such platforms as being complicit in causes they are fighting against.

Perhaps misinformation and disinformation are now the greatest threat to democracy and freedom. As it grows, the willingness of individuals and groups to act on strongly held but false beliefs will increase. Censorship or curbing platforms of expression is draconian, limits our freedom of expression and will ultimately fail. Suppressing protests and demonstrations is undemocratic and undermines our right to publicly disagree with authority. Placing those perceived as troublemakers under close surveillance reeks of a police state and makes us all fearful of possibly being spied upon.

I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps there’s none. Perhaps the very freedoms enjoyed by liberal democracies will be the instrument of their own destruction. Perhaps, but for now I prefer to believe that social dissatisfaction is caused through an ever widening gap between those with power and those without, the haves and the have nots, the educated and the uneducated. These we mostly have solutions for. What we now need is the willingness to put those solutions into action.

The Youtube video below depicting the ending of the occupation of Parliament grounds may seem tame by international standards, but for many, perhaps most Kiwis, it has been very distressing. On a brighter note, in less than 24 hours, more than 5000 volunteers have signed up to help clean up and restore Parliament grounds to their original condition.

The ending of the occupation of Parliament grounds captured by a Stuff reporter.


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The Beehive and tinfoil hats

Well, since the 1940s it’s actually aluminium foil (or aluminum if you’re from North America), but it’s still referred to as tinfoil here. And for those who are unfamiliar the our political system, the Beehive refers to the building that houses the executive wing of government. It’s named so because, well, its architecture has a more than passing resemblance of a beehive and there’s a lot of buzzing and scurrying around going on inside.

So what, you may ask, is the connection between the beehive and tinfoil hats? Well, according to some of the protesters camping out on the lawns in front of the Parliament, everything. The protesters, now into their third week of occupying the lawns and blocking surrounding streets with all manner of vehicles are a motley lot consisting of covid deniers, anti vaxxers, anti maskers, anti covid mandates, opponents of 5G technology, 1080 opponents, QAnon theorists, and more. There’s even some who want the military to depose the government and ban all politicians irrespective of political party affiliation from ever being a part of any government in the future.

As you can imagine, after two weeks, with no running water and no proper sanitation, there’s a high risk of diseases such as dysentery breaking out, and indeed it has. Some protesters are suffering from nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, blisters and “flu-like symptoms” which the protesters deny is covid. To quote one protester, “Only a fool would take a covid test”. Instead they put it all down to high powered EMF radiation being beamed at them from the Beehive. They’re “protecting” themselves with tinfoil hats, foil thermal blankets, and “holistic natural remedies”. I kid you not.

While they may have loony ideas, I’m not convinced that they necessarily have mental health issues. Most, but not all, of the protesters appear to be from the lower socioeconomic rungs of society and lacking in the skills necessary to think critically. And while it’s easy to scoff at their beliefs, I think it’s reasonable to to hold the view that there but for fortune go you or I.

Joan Baez – There But For Fortune. Music & lyrics by Phil Ochs

More challenging is how we can assist them and even more importantly how to assist their offspring learn the skills necessary to be able to think critically. Education helps, but even in this nation that had been (note the past tense) the most egalitarian of nations for over a hundred years, education benefits the affluent and privileged much more than the poor and disadvantaged. We shouldn’t write them off, but does anyone know what could be done to make a difference?


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The virus antidote: political leadership, progressive government, public services — Peter Davis NZ

I will let Peter Davis’ article speak for itself. There’s nothing more I need add.

Published in Social Europe, 21st. December 2021.

The virus antidote: political leadership, progressive government, public services — Peter Davis NZ


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Gender self identification

Aotearoa New Zealand has had a history of being pioneers in social change, either as the instigator or an early adopter, and has at times been described as the world’s social laboratory. Here’s a few I can think of without recourse to to an online search:

Universal suffrage, old age pension: socialised medicine; a comprehensive social welfare system; inflation targeting; the 40-hour week; an arbitration system for workplace disputes; decriminalisation of homesexuality; gender self-identification on many legal documents; same sex marriages; state funded remote learning for school aged students; legal personhood to elements of nature (forests, and river basins etc), to name just a few.

On the other hand there are some social changes that remain uniquely Kiwi. For example: ACC, a universal no-faults accidents compensation and rehabilitation scheme; PHARMAC, an agency that negotiates the supply and purchase price of pharmaceutical medicines and devices with manufacturers and distributors on behalf of the nation; decriminalisation of prostitution.

As is only natural, there are critics of every social change, but on the whole, I believe we as a nation are better off because of these changes. Many of the changes have been deemed radical, especially by outside observers. These are often the same sources that describe Aotearoa New Zealand as conservative, unimaginative, and even stuffy. Generally, I don’t think Kiwis see either ourselves or the social changes this country has pioneered as being radical.

Instead, I think the Kiwi spirit of being pragmatic and our sense of fairness and egalitarianism is largely at play, along with a liberal sprinkling of a “can do” attitude. In other words, the changes have not been seen as radical or reforms, but instead viewed as practical solutions to problems that unfairly burden sections of society. One MP (Member of Parliament) recently made the observation that law making is not for the majority (they can look after themselves), but for the disadvantaged – those to whom society denies equal rights and opportunities.

A week ago today, the BDMRR (Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration) bill passed its third and final reading in Parliament. The bill, as it was originally introduced to Parliament in 2018 was to update a previous act of the same name to streamline it, tidy up some inconsistencies and to take into account changes in technology. Nothing in it that could have been considered controversial or radical, so why has it taken three years to reach this point?

During the Select Committee stage, the interested parties can present oral and/or written submissions on the proposed law. During this process, there were a significant number of submissions asking for the right to self-declare the gender marker on one’s birth certificate, in the same way as we have been able to do for several decades on official documents such as a driver’s licence or passport. Up until now, the gender marker on birth certificates could be changed only by submission to the Family Court. By unanimous decision, the Select Committee recommended amendments to the bill allowing for self-identification.

This was a leap too far for the coalition government of the day, because the proposed amendments were added by the Select Committee after the closure of public submissions and made significant changes not foreseen at its introduction to Parliament. In effect, while those desiring the changes had been heard, there had been no opportunity for a wider perspective on self-identification to be heard – an essential aspect of democratic principles.

The government of the day, decided to delay the passage of the bill until a new round of consultations and public submissions regarding self-identification could be held. In Aotearoa, this can often take considerable time. Finally, earlier this year, a SOP (Supplementary Order Paper) covering the proposed self ID changes were introduced to Parliament and the public were able to make submissions specifically on gender self-identification.

At the completion of hearings, the Select Committee recommended some minor changes and these were accepted by Parliament. Finally on Friday, the BDMRR bill, with gender self-identification, was passed by Parliament. What perhaps was surprising what the majority by which it passed.

I appreciate that gender identification, whether or not it’s by self-identification or not, can be a controversial topic. The current (toxic) arguments that seem to be part of the argument in the UK and the US were largely lacking here, but nevertheless, I expected some MPs to very vocal in their opposition to self identification. I was quite surprised by how little there was.

A common theme that many MPs spoke to was that while the self-identification provisions will have little to no impact on most Kiwis, it will have a significant positive impact on a small sector of the community – the transgendered, intersex, non-binary and gender nonconforming.

Not one MP spoke in opposition to self identification. A number brought up the fact that as the gender of those who do not have a NZ birth certificate such as immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers and temporary residents, who are not covered by the provision of the new act will be worse off than they are at present. There is already a large body of MPs who are intent on seeing this anomaly corrected under separate legislation.

So how many Parliamentarians opposed the legislation? Not one. The BDMRR bill, including all the provisions for gender self-identification was passed unanimously. Every MP, be they from the centre left Labour Party, the centre right National Party, the libertarian ACT Party, the environmentalist Green Party, or the indigenous Māori Party, voted for it.

It’s not that common for legislation to pass unanimously. It didn’t happen with the introduction a Social welfare system, ACC, PHARMAC, homosexual law reform, the decriminalisation of prostitution, civil unions or same sex marriages. Even changes to gun ownership laws following the Christchurch mosque shootings had one dissenting vote, so I was more than a little surprised by a unanimous decision in this case.