Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Covid restrictions

Whenever media comment on the success the Aotearoa New Zealand has had in managing the pandemic, too often there is a mistaken belief that the citizens of this nation are living under some form of draconian authority that has made us prisoners in our own country.

In some cases it may be that messages to its residents from authorities or conversations between Kiwis is misinterpreted (either in ignorance or deliberately) to mean something sinister – for example the misconception that thousands of Kiwis are locked up in concentration camps indefinitely for refusing to take a covid test and by implication anyone who opposes the way the government is managing the crisis is also locked up. This myth is one actively promoted on Fox in shows such as The Ingraham Angle.

In most cases it’s a matter of making the “facts” fit a preconceived notion, one of which is that because they believe we are a socialist state (really?), we must have an authoritarian government that limits our freedoms and interferes in our daily lives. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

One only needs to see where this nation ranks on just about every freedom index known to see the fallacy of their beliefs. Whether it’s personal, economic, political, religious or any other freedom, Aotearoa New Zealand is ranked at the top or nearly at the top whereas their beloved America is seldom in the top twenty places. But specifically I want to illustrate that the approach to covid taken by our government has resulted in us having less stringent restrictions and more freedom than just about any other country.

Those who argue against restrictions often cite Sweden as a shining example of freedom during the pandemic. However Swedes do live under quite heavy restrictions – more so than the US. They also have suffered a heavy loss of life and the economy has slowed down significantly. Meanwhile NZ suffered a huge hit due to the lack of foreign visitors but the economy has bounced back to above pre-covid days and we go about our daily lives much as we did before the pandemic started. And while this country reports new cases almost on a daily basis, these are not cases in the community. They are new arrivals to this country who have tested positive while still in quarantine.

I’m going to present some information in the form of charts and tables that show that Aotearoa New Zealand is not a communist or fascist hellhole that many on the right claim it to be. I don’t intend to show whether or not the actions taken by our government are more effective than in other jurisdictions, only that they impacted on our freedom less than elsewhere. I’ve arbitrarily chosen four countries to compare with NZ: The United States because that is where the claims that we have lost our freedom are the loudest; The United Kingdom because their government seems to change their mind as often as most people change their underwear; Sweden because it has had no lockdowns and is looked upon by the the anti lockdown brigade as a shining example of how to manage a pandemic; and Japan because it’s the wife’s homeland, and like the UK and NZ is a group of islands.

First let’s look at the COVID-19 Stringency Index. The nine metrics used to calculate the Stringency Index are: school closures; workplace closures; cancellation of public events; restrictions on public gatherings; closures of public transport; stay-at-home requirements; public information campaigns; restrictions on internal movements; and international travel controls.

As can be seen from the chart below, the US, the UK and Sweden have had similar levels of stringency throughout 2020 and it’s only since the end of last year that measures in the UK have become more stringent.

Japan has had been significantly less stringent over all but still considerably more so than NZ. Note how New Zealand has responded. At any sign of an outbreak, the nation goes hard for a few weeks or days, but otherwise life is mostly “normal”.

The COVID-19 Containment and Health Index shows similar results. This index builds on the Stringency Index, using its nine indicators plus testing policy, the extent of contact tracing, requirements to wear face coverings, and policies around vaccine rollout. It’s therefore calculated on the basis of the following thirteen metrics: school closures; workplace closures; cancellation of public events; restrictions on public gatherings; closures of public transport; stay-at-home requirements; public information campaigns; restrictions on internal movements; international travel controls; testing policy; extent of contact tracing; face coverings; and vaccine policy.

Both the above charts clearly indicate when community transmission occurred in NZ and lockdowns were put in place. The first when around 1500 were infected, the second when around 100 were infected and the third where 4 people were infected. In each case, the restrictions were lifted only when health authorities were satisfied that the virus was had been eliminated from the community. And as can be seen, the containment measures taken during the last two outbreaks have still been less than the day to day containment measures in the US, the UK and Sweden.

If we look at some of the metrics used in the above charts we can see how these have worked out. Note that in some jurisdictions, management of the pandemic varies from region to region. So while the strongest measure indicated for a country may not apply everywhere, it applies to a significant section.

School closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required (only at some levels): US; Sweden
  4. Required (all levels): UK

Workplace closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required for some: US; Sweden
  4. Required for all but key workers: UK

Cancellation of public events

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended cancellations: Japan
  3. Required cancellations: US; UK; Sweden

Restrictions on public gatherings

  1. No restrictions: NZ
  2. Restrictions on large gatherings but above 1000 people: Japan
  3. Gatherings between 100 & 1000 people:
  4. Gatherings between 10 & 100 people:
  5. Gatherings of less than 10 people: US; UK; Sweden

Stay-at-home requirements

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: US; Japan; Sweden
  3. Required (except essentials): UK
  4. Required (few exceptions):

Face covering policies

  1. No policy:
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required in some public spaces: NZ; UK; Sweden
  4. Required in all public spaces:
  5. Required outside-the-home at all times: US

Public information campaigns

  1. None:
  2. Public officials urging caution:
  3. Coordinated information campaign: NZ; US; UK; Japan; Sweden

Public transport closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended closing (or reduce volume): US; UK; Japan; Sweden
  3. Required closing (or prohibit most using it):

Restrictions on internal movement

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommend movement restriction: Japan; Sweden
  3. Restrict movement: US; UK

International travel controls

  1. No measures:
  2. Screening:
  3. Quarantine from high-risk regions:
  4. Ban on high-risk regions: US; UK; Sweden
  5. Total border closure: NZ; Japan

Testing policy

  1. No testing policy:
  2. Symptoms & key groups:
  3. Anyone with symptoms: NZ; UK; Japan; Sweden
  4. Open public testing (incl. asymptomatic): US

Contact tracing

  1. No tracing:
  2. Limited tracing (only some cases): US; UK; Japan; Sweden
  3. Comprehensive tracing (all cases): NZ

Vaccination Policy

  1. None:
  2. Availability for ONE of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: NZ; Japan
  3. Availability for TWO of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: US;
  4. Availability for ALL of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: Sweden
  5. Availability for all three plus partial additional availability: UK
  6. Universal availability:

Income support

  1. No income support:
  2. Covers less than 50% of lost salary: NZ
  3. Covers more than 50% of lost salary: US; UK; Japan; Sweden

Debt and contract relief

  1. No relief: Sweden
  2. Narrow relief: US
  3. Broad relief: NZ; UK; Japan

So please tell me how New Zealand is in the grips of a brutal authoritarian regime after first removing our guns (another myth), while the US (or Sweden) is a model of covid management that should be emulated across the planet.


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A Twitter violation?

I know Twitter is coming down hard on those who violate their terms of use, but this is ridiculous.

I haven’t had a personal Twitter account, up until today, and now I’m locked out due to some violation or other, but have absolutely no idea what.

I hadn’t been signed up for more than 3 minutes when I was locked out when a tweet and the comments I was reading disappeared and was replaced with a message stating that my account was disabled until I could verify my identity! On acknowledging the message, I was directed to a screen where I was to enter my phone number As usual in these situations I checked the URL before I did so just to make sure it was valid. It was.

Every attempt at unlocking the account resulted in a silent phone call from Alabama in the USA (I was expecting an SMS message) and an empty email message. Then this message arrived by email:

We’re writing to let you know that your account has been flagged for unusual behavior that violates the Twitter Rules, and has been locked until you take the following steps: 

  1. Log into your account, or open your Twitter app on iOS or Android. 
  2. You’ll see a message about your account, and a prompt to click “Start.”
  3. Select your country/region, and then enter your phone number. 
  4. Click “Send code.”
  5. You’ll receive a message from Twitter with a confirmation code. 
  6. Enter the code you receive on the prompt screen. You’ll receive a confirmation. Please note, it may take a few minutes for your account to be completely unlocked. 
  7. If you’re still experiencing a problem after confirming your identity, respond to this message and provide us with more details about what’s happening. 

Please note, repeat violations of the Twitter Rules can lead to a permanent suspension of your account. 

Thanks, 

Twitter

I have no idea whether the “violation” is in regards to reading tweets and associated comments or whether it’s to do with being unable to verify my account. Keep in mind the only activity I had performed was to view two or three tweets and expand the comments. That was all apart from trying to unlock the account.

I followed the instruction provided as far as step 4. The “message” I’m supposed to receive in step 5 consists of a silent telephone call and an empty email. Impass! I’m at a loss as to how I’m supposed to enter a nonexistent verification code in step 6. I’ve emailed them with the details of what happened but who knows if any action will be taken:

Dear Twitter,
I signed up for an account today and tried to use my mobile phone number to verify my account. I never received an SMS message. After several attempts to resend the verification code, I opted to set up the account using an email address. This worked as I received the 6-digit code and was able to sign in. I received the code at 16:50 NZDT.


I started reading some tweets and as I was expanding some of the comments, a message popped up informing me that Twitter was unable to verify my identity and I needed to enter a phone number. That I did: [Ph number provided]. Almost immediately my mobile phone rang, but on answering it, there was complete silence. I waited a few seconds until the call terminated. The call came from [Ph number provided]. I tried re-sending the code two more times with the same result. I also tried using my home phone number [Ph number provided], again with the same result. 

Shortly afterwards, I received four email messages from info@twitter.com. The sending mail server was [server name and IP address provided]. The emails were all sent sent at 16:55:29 NZDT and were devoid of content. I have included the source code of one of the messages below. A few minutes later, this email to which I am now responding arrived. It was sent earlier than the 4 empty messages at 17:53:34 NZDT.


So my questions are:

  1. In what way have I violated Twitter’s rules?
  2. How do I unlock my account in the absence of a verification code?

Kind regards

Barry

Perhaps I might receive a response in a day or three, but who knows? Has anyone else faced similar situations with the social media giants?


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Earthquakes!

First a minute long 7.2 shake just at 2:27 AM this morning. I didn’t bother getting out of bed as it was more of a rolling motion than sharp jolts. New Zealand homes are designed to remain mostly intact during earthquakes. They may may not be habitable afterwards, but their structure does minimise serious injury and death. This particular quake knocked a few items of shelves but nothing was broken.

A few hours later another 7.4 earthquake struck around 900 Km offshore, and in the last hour an 8.1 earthquake struck just of the east coast of the North Island. The third tsunami warning of the day has been issued and evacuation orders have been made for some areas.

And of course so many are evacuating by vehicle causing massive traffic jams, whereas official advice it to walk, run or cycle where possible to avoid congestion. Why are so many people such idiots?

There have also been a number of less intense earthquakes of 5.0 or greater during this morning. Of course the big question in these earthquake swarms is has the biggest shake occurred? Typically the first shake is the largest, but today the strongest was shake was some seven hours after the first. This may even be the first stage of a long lasing swarm. We experienced such a swarm many years ago when we lived in Whanganui. The swarm lasted for around a month and with dozens of shakes, some of which made walking virtually impossible and it was necessary to crawl to cover.

I’ve experienced so many earthquakes during my seventy plus years that I’m rather blasé about them. Having said that, I rather enjoy the ride provided by long or severe shakes – a kind of adrenalin rush. We’ve experienced relatively little damage over the years. Only crockery and ornaments falling of shelves and cracks appearing in our home and in paths around it.

Living in a volcanic, seismically active region, most of us accept the risks of living here. There are a number of regular re-occurring earthquakes that have been documented. Perhaps the most threatening is the Alpine fault that stretches along almost the entire length of the South Island and fractures every 300 to 350 years. The last fracture occurred a little over 350 years ago so it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when”. Quite likely within my lifetime.

For the moment we have the task of letting friends and family living overseas that we are safe and sound.


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Balmy Summer Days

As we head into late February and temperature climbing above 29°C (84°F), today, my thoughts had turned to enjoying a pleasant relaxed day accompanied by some equally relaxing music. Then the painters arrived.

We’ve contracted painter to give the exterior of the house a total going over – all three storeys. The next few days are going to be constant noise with water blasters and minor repairs taking place before the painting starts in earnest. Not precisely a relaxing atmosphere.

Normally on days like this, the ranchsliders (Kiwi name for aluminium framed glass panel sliding doors) and windows are fully open to allow any breeze to flow through the house keeping temperatures in the comfortable range. Not today. While I might just be able to tolerate the noise (perhaps), the jet and spray from the water blasters are a different matter altogether. So they are all closed for the moment.

Best I can do is suffer the heat – anything over 25°C (77°F) is above my comfort zone, hope that headphones played up loud will drown out the water blaster, and listen to music while pretending to sit under a tree in dappled shade listening to songs such as in the three video clips below. Not sure why, but I’m in the right frame of mind to listen to songs such as these.

Bic Runga – Something Good
Something Good

 Just wanna know ya
 Just wanna talk to ya
 I wanna hear about your day
 I'd never leave ya
 Never be mean to ya
 I'd always let you get your way

 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today

 If I were honest
 I'd tell you everything
 But it keeps coming out as lies
 Its' not a promise
 In case your wondering
 It's not some blessing in disguise
 
 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today
 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today

 I know romance is not in fashion
 And my heart is on the line
 If you would be so kind
 To help me kill some time
 Then something good just might come crashing
 From the stars that light the sky
 If you would be so kind
 To help me kill some time

 Just wanna know ya
 Just wanna talk to ya
 I wanna hear about your day
 I'd never leave ya
 Never be mean to ya
 I'd always let you get your way

 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today
 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today
 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today
 Something good will come our way
 And maybe this good thing's gonna happen today
TEEKS – Remember Me
Remember me

 I wish I had the strength
 To tell you how I feel
 I wish I was brave
 Like the soldier on the battlefield
 See, my heart it races
 Every time you're around
 And I try so hard to speak
 But I can't seem to make a sound
 
 I know that if I walk away
 I'll wonder what you would have said
 And if you felt the same
 But if you don't
 It's okay
 
 I'll be right here waiting if you change your mind
 I don't care how long it takes
 I don't care about my pride
 If it's a thousand years
 Or a thousand more
 I'll be waiting
 And darling all I ask
 Please remember me
 Please remеmber me
 
 I wish I had rhythm
 Maybe I'd ask you to dancе
 I wish I could hold you
 Like my father holds my mother's hand
 
 I know that if I walk away
 I'll wonder what you would have said
 And if you felt the same
 But if you don't
 It's okay
 
 I'll be right here waiting if you change your mind
 I don't care how long it takes
 I don't care about my pride
 If it's a thousand years
 Or a thousand more
 I'll be waiting
 And darling all I ask
 I'll be right here waiting if you change your mind
 I don't care how long it takes
 I don't care about my pride
 If it's a thousand years
 Or a thousand more
 I'll be waiting
 And darling all I ask
 Please remember me
 Please remember me
 Please remember me

 All I ask
 Please remember me
Goldenhorse – Maybe Tomorrow
Maybe Tomorrow

 There's a story I know
 We all leave and let go
 There is nothing to hold us

 In a moment of time
 When the fruit becomes wine
 And the thought becomes the memory

 All of your sorrow
 Maybe tomorrow
 Will fade away in the air

 Trying to please me
 Making it easy
 It won't be there
 It won't be there
 In your life
 In your life

 There's a story I know
 We all leave and let go
 There is nothing to hold us

 In a moment of time
 When the fruit becomes wine
 And the thought becomes the memory

 All of your sorrow
 Maybe tomorrow
 Will fade away in the air

 Trying to please me
 Making it easy
 It won't be there
 It won't be there
 In your life
 In your life

 All of your sorrow
 Maybe tomorrow
 Will fade away in the air

 Trying to please me
 Making it easy
 It won't be there
 It won't be there
 In your life
 In your life
 In your life
 Oh, In your life


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Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success?

Nicholas Agar, Professor of Ethics in the Philosophy programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, suggests that our handling of the pandemic could be partly down to our distinctive Treaty of Waitangi relationship, and Māori ideas that enabled us to make it through without tens of thousands of deaths.

Here’s a question. How should we explain our success against the pandemic? Clearly, there are a few factors. The virus arrived comparatively late, meaning we could learn from other nations’ successes and messes; we had inspirational and scientifically-informed leaders; we are an affluent island-based nation with a comparatively small population.

I offer as a conjecture that our success can be partly traced back to our defining Treaty of Waitangi relationship and the way it brings together two peoples with different ideas about the world and how to inhabit it.

Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success? – Newsroom

Agar suggests that it is the blend of individualistic ideas of European settlers, mostly British, and the collectivist thinking of the Māori that has been the success story of the pandemic. Unlike the “don’t tread on me!” attitude of many in the West, the authorities in Aotearoa New Zealand have been able to introduce measures that we have, by in large, accepted as necessary under the circumstances.

Elsewhere similar measures have been implemented only where the draconian powers of an authoritarian state exist, such as in China. The means by which the Wuhan authorities suppressed community transmission of the virus would, I believe, have been no more acceptable here than in America. The concept of a “team of 5 million” is, I believe, a direct result of the way our two very different cultures with different world views are merging.

The opinion piece by Nicholas Agar can be found on the Newsroom website: Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success?


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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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Agreeing to disagree – opinions vs realities — unwrittengrace

As someone who belongs to a distinct minority that has been pathologised as being “broken” more so than accepted as different but equal, the post below speaks very much to my condition (Quakerspeak for “my experience is very similar’). Thank you gracenotes17 for your contribution to this very important topic.

I have often heard people say that it’s important to be able to voice your opinion and disagree with others’ without being accused of hate speech. To an extent, I agree. I think everyone has a right to voice their opinion, and when people are able to do so respectfully, it can be an opportunity […]

Agreeing to disagree – opinions vs realities — unwrittengrace


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Seeing is believing

Like everyone else on this planet (perhaps with the exception of the previous POTUS) I am not perfect, nor was I born that way. Today I want to focus on some imperfections I was born with. I’m using “imperfections” here in two different ways.

  • Those traits and characteristics that society deems as flaws disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with
  • Those traits and characteristics that one feels about oneself that are flaws, disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with.

Often times, what one perceives as an imperfection may not be deemed so by society, and of course the opposite is true – what society deems as an imperfection may not be deemed so by oneself.

In my own case an obvious example is autism. Almost certainly, no one in any profession would have considered I was autistic until perhaps the 1990s and the condition became better understood. I wasn’t diagnosed as such until 2010. My family had always been very accepting of my “quirkiness”, but the rest of society wasn’t. I was cajoled, teased, bullied, reprimanded, punished and violently assaulted for being “different”.

I perceive the world differently at many levels compared to non-autistic people, and I may post more on how growing up as an undiagnosed autistic affected my life at another time, but today I want to concentrate on the imperfections of my eyesight and vision, and how those have been perceived by myself and others.

I was born with both myopia and astigmatism although neither myself, family, friends or school teachers realised it. It was finally my music teacher who realised I was unable to read music notation in advance of where I was playing that lead to my first “real” eye examination when I was 12 years old.

Sure, for the previous seven years, I had passed the usual eye test at school where one reads an eye chart at a prescribed distance.

Tests were carried out on the entire class by putting all the students in a line and then taking the student at the front of line through the test. Not being particularly assertive, I usually found myself near the back end of the line. Alternatively, we sat at out desks and were called up in alphabetical order by family name. Either way I was always in the last quartile of the class to be tested.

I don’t recall how far through the chart we were required to go, but I think it was only as far as the line for 20/20 vision. I always passed the test with flying colours. I could rattle off the letters as fast as the best of the class.

The problem was that I couldn’t read the chart apart from the very top letter, and even that was very marginal. So how could I pass every time? By the time it was my turn to read the chart, twenty or more children had already read it in my presence. First with one eye and then with the other. I had heard the chart called out 40 or more times at varying speeds. More than enough repetitions for me to have memorised it.

I don’t recall whether the memorisation was intentional or not, but I do recall that the class consensus was that “failing” wasn’t a desirable outcome, just like failing any other test wasn’t. So everyone including myself did our best to get a “good” pass. I felt good when the adult conducting the test would say something like “Very good, well done Barry”. It was praise I seldom received from anyone other than my parents.

If I had understood how bad my eyesight was, what I was missing and how corrective lenses could change my perception of the world around me, I would have had no qualms about failing the test. Such is life. It took a rather crabby and domineering music teacher to recognise my disability.

Strange as it may seem now, I had no idea that my eyesight was so poor. In fact I had the perception that it was rather good, and I wasn’t the only one. This came about because whenever we travelled along the highways I was able to recognise roadside hoardings/billboards well before either the driver or my fellow passengers. In hindsight, the explanation is simple. I had learnt to recognise all the signs not by the wording or images but by the combination and pattern of colours, which in those long forgotten days (the 1950s) tended to be consistently the same year on year.

As a humorous aside, it wasn’t until after I had my first set of glasses that I discovered that the name of one of the most ubiquitous signs at that time had been been assigned an “alternative” name by the family – an in joke I didn’t discover until I could read the wording myself: Cough Cough and Hammer was actually Gough Gough and Hamer.

I recall the sudden panic, almost terror that I experienced the first time I walked out of the optometrist’s shop wearing my new glasses. As the shop door was closing behind me and I looked ahead, I suddenly and simultaneously took a step backwards into the door and ducked. It literally felt like the world was being thrown at my face. The clarity of the detail of the shop fronts on the opposite of the road felt like they were a mere 6 inches (the NZ switch to metric measurements was still decades away) in front of my face.

It was perhaps the most disorienting experience of my life at that time. I was frozen to the spot. I don’t know how long I stood in that doorway ducking pedestrians and cars that seemed to be inches away, but were in fact yards away.

It seems rather odd now that it never occurred to me that the very obvious solution to my situation was to remove my glasses. An optometrist employee recognised my dilemma and pulled me back inside the shop and removed the glasses. After some quick instructions not to put on my glasses until I was in a small room that I was familiar with and to work up to bigger spaces from there, I was sent on my way.

As much as I wish my new glasses improved my life, they didn’t.

A characteristic of many people on the autism spectrum is the inability to subconsciously filter information arriving via the senses. For example in a crowded room where several conversations are taking place, most people are able to ignore conversations they are not participating in. Other conversations will only reach their conscious awareness when there’s a noticeable change such as in volume, pitch or body language – for example when an argument starts.

Most people have the ability to ignore conversation threads they are not participating in. I can’t. A simple analogy might be the example of being in a group conversation when all participants start addressing you all at the same time, at the same volume but all on different topics. I think the resultant confusion will cause most people to put their hands up and demand that the participants speak one at a time. That’s the situation I face all the time. ALL.THE.TIME!

It turns out that my ability to filter out visual stimuli as that same as my ability to filter out aural stimuli. I can’t. I found the bombardment of new visual information overwhelming and exhausting. Previously trees were largely blurry blobs of green. I could distinguish individual leave only at relatively close distances, so perhaps no more than a hundred or so leaves at any one time. Suddenly I was seeing thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of leaves all at once – every one a slightly different size, shape and colour, and all moving independently in the breeze. I didn’t know how to process all this new information.

Suddenly telephone poles and power poles had distinguishable cross arms, insulators of various colours but seemingly on no particular order or pattern. I could see the wires and the patterns they wove overhead. I could actually make out birds sitting on the wires or on rooftops, and even identify the species – something I had previously only been able to do from the pages of a book.

And speaking of books, whereas previously there was only a small area around the word I was reading where the shape of individual words could be distinguished easily (I recognise words by their shape as much as I do by the letters within them), suddenly every letter on the page became individually identifiable, every one of them yelling in unison “Read me NOW!”

Wallpaper patterns now continued right around the room instead of being discernible only in near proximity. On large buildings, all the individual windows could be seen. What’s more they formed regular patterns, and any break to that pattern became a distraction I couldn’t avoid being aware of. The same with pathways. Joins formed patterns that extended into the distance and any spot where the pattern was disturbed jumped out at me. I couldn’t help but notice it.

Never before in my life had been in a situation where I could distinguish the facial features of more than five or six people at one time. Now I could see all the features of everyone in the classroom ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Just too much information to handle. It didn’t help me with facial recognition, but it did allow me to apply the rules I used for identifying individuals at greater distances than previously. Crowds became a confusing collection of

Tiled roofs became a collection of thousands of individual tiles, many of which had individual characteristics I couldn’t help noticing. I could see the corrugations on corrugated iron roofs, and the rows of nails holding them down. Disturbances in the rows (a nail missing, irregularly spaced or out of alignment) shouted out “Look at me!”

Sixty years on and and the same distractions still occur. What I have learnt is how to consciously push them into the background. Over the years I have got better at doing it and it probably takes less effort to do so. There are still times, especially leading up to and during a migraine where I find all the visual information overwhelming. It’s nice to be able to remove my glasses and move into a visually gentler and less harshly chaotic world where I’m not assaulted by detail.

While I mostly appreciate the details I seem to notice when no one else does, there are times when I wish I could simply not notice them in the first place – just like everyone else.


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Seeking someone to blame

Why is there a tendency for many people to lay blame where none is justified? This country seems no more immune than anywhere else. Take for example the announcement yesterday of a single Covid-19 case having been discovered in Northland. (For the benefit of those not familiar with New Zealand geography, Northland is the region north of Auckland – the long skinny bit at the top of NZ)

The facts are that a woman returned to New Zealand after a work related trip to Europe. On return she spent the required 14 days in MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) before returning home. During MIQ she had the required tests on day 3 and 12 and both returned negative. At some time after release from MIQ, she started to feel unwell and obtained another Covid-19 test which returned positive. The result of genome testing (which occurs for every infection in NZ) is not yet available (at time of writing) so the source of her infection is yet to be determined.

She did all the right things – she had installed the NZ Government Covid app on her phone; kept bluetooth on so that the phone could record when it was in proximity of other phones with the app installed and bluetooth enabled; she religiously scanned the QR code that is required to be displayed at all shops and public venues; she sought a test when she felt unwell. In other words, she did everything right, which from my observations is more than about 80% of the public do – especially scanning the QR code.

Yet on social media the woman is being condemned at so many levels. Of course there’s those who choose to ignore the information available and have decided without evidence that she is a rich privileged woman who went on an overseas holiday and evaded isolation on her return, or received special treatment while in MIQ.

While it’s okay to question whether or not it was necessary to travel overseas or whether alternatives such as Zooming might have been better, without knowing the details, it’s wrong to jump to conclusions. For all I know she might be part of an airline crew that maintain vital links between this country and the rest of the world. Yet it seems that almost half the country are saying “If she chose to leave NZ, she should stay out until the pandemic is over”.

I wonder how many of her critics scan the QR code at every shop and every venue they go to? I can almost guarantee the majority do not, nor will they have the Covid app installed and bluetooth enabled. It is not the infected woman who poses a danger to the country, it is those who fail to practice the simple measures that the government has asked us to do: Scan the QR codes; keep bluetooth on; seek a test if you display any Covid-19-like symptoms.

The borders will never be able to keep Covid-19 completely so long as there is some level of movement of people and goods between this nation and the rest of the world. More than most countries, ours relies on international trade to survive. We are simply not large enough to be able to manufacture every item that modern society relies on – especially if we continue to remain an open economy free of government control.

The best we as a country can to is limit the risk of the infection getting past our borders. Even more importantly we need to maintain a highly efficient track and tracing system that can follow up cases faster than they can spread. This is more true now than ever before in light of the new virulent strains now spreading across the globe. This requires that everyone does their bit by using the NZ Government Covid app to record every location they visit and to keep bluetooth on whenever they are away from home. And where QR codes are not available, use the Covid app to manually record a visit. Not much to ask is it?

Please stop laying blame, especially when you are not in possession of all the facts. Consider all the criticism this woman is receiving. If you thought you too might receive similar criticism if you received a positive Covid test result, how soon and how willing would you be to undertake a test if you showed Covid-19 symptoms?

As the Prime Minister rightly points out, both international treaties and our own human rights legislation prevent the government from baring NZ citizens from leaving and/or entering this country. Do you really want the government to limit our freedoms, when for a minor short term inconvenience (scanning QR codes) we are in perhaps the most free nation on the planet?

For those conspiracy theorists who fear the Covid app will result in Big Brother (or reptilian overlords or whatever) monitoring your every movement, do some research on what the app actually does. It reports absolutely nothing to anyone. It simply stores within your phone scanned QR codes and the unique ID of any other Covid App equipped phone with bluetooth enabled. The information is stored for 30 days before being deleted. The health authorities cannot access the information stored. The only way they can can access to the information is for you to upload the data via the app when requested – a unique code must be entered before uploading can begin.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield shows a scan poster for the Covid-19 tracer app.
Source: Stuff 23 Oct 2020