Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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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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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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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Why am I not surprised?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Politics – NZ style

“I hope that people, when they see us together, they realise that what they see about politics on the news isn’t actually the full story,” McAnulty added. “Chris and I are a good example of being on other sides of the House and having differing views, but it doesn’t stop you being people and it doesn’t stop you being mates.”

National’s Chris Bishop calls out Labour’s Kieran McAnulty over ‘big gas guzzler’ amid climate emergency


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Lessons from the Disunited States — Bill Peddie’s website

This thoughtful post by a Christian and fellow Kiwi reflect, I believe, the thinking of most reasonable people, not only in Aotearoa New Zealand but throughout much of the world.

The excruciating four year unfolding circus on the US political scene makes the New Zealand political scene seem very tame in comparison. Unfortunately, for good or ill, we are bound to the leading Western powers by historical ties of trade and defence. The mixed blessing of Vietnam and Iraq should still be relatively fresh in […]

Lessons from the Disunited States by Bill Peddie — Bill Peddie’s website


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The wife and Trump

At 2 PM today, local time, the wife sat down in front of her computer, put on her headphones and watched the live streaming of the Trump/Biden debate. Meanwhile I attempted to perform a variety of tasks on my computer – some business, some leisure.

I got little done.

What the wife lacks in stature, she makes up in volume. She may only be 147 cm (4’10”) tall but there’s no crowd on earth that can drown her out – even the roar of 50,000 Rugby fans at Eden Park witnessing the All Blacks scoring a winning try.

Every few seconds, the air would be disturbed (literally) by “AH, SHUT UP!“, “” “STUPID!“, “LIAR!“, “バカ!“, “YEAH YEAH!“, “THAT’S RIGHT!“, “嘘つき!” and quite a few unrepeatable phrases.

My gentle suggestion that she watch the debate on the TV at the other end of the house so that I would be less affected by her outbursts resulted in a few of the aforementioned phrases being directed at myself. I resigned to having an unproductive afternoon.

I suppose I could have mowed the lawns instead, but somehow being outside and knowing that what I hear above the lawnmower can also be heard by the neighbours is more uncomfortable than sharing the same space with her. Perhaps it’s that when I’m inside, whether or not the neighbours can hear her is hypothetical, whereas when I’m outside, it’s bloody obvious.

Four years ago, the wife’s relationship with Trump was one of disinterest. But over the intervening period, it’s grown in intensity. You could almost say she’s obsessed by him. She’ll spend an hour or more every day on Youtube watching clips of Trump or about Trump.

So what does the wife like about Trump? Absolutely nothing. She loathes the guy with passion. As to why, I can only say that having known her for fifty years, she never does anything by halves. It’s 120% effort or nothing. Trump qualifies for the former and then more.

Personally, I hope Trump loses the election and fades into oblivion – for my sanity as much as for the sanity of America. But I have a nagging fear that whether or not Trump loses the election, we will not have seen the last of him.


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Election outcome

If you haven’t already seen the preliminary results of the general election, the Labour Party (the senior partner in the previous 3-party government coalition) has won an outright victory, meaning they are able to form a government on their own. This is the first occasion over the last nine election cycles that a political party has been in this position.

To me, that is what is most disturbing about the election results – that one party can govern alone. One of the strengths (although some may call it a weakness) of the MMP voting system is that it’s rare for a single political party to gain an absolute majority within the legislature – in NZ’s case the Parliament.

Since the introduction of MMP either of the major political political parties (National or Labour) have had to negotiate support agreements with one or more minor parties in order to form a government.

After the 2017 general election, although National held the largest number of seats (56), it was unable to negotiate a coalition, whereas Labour (with only 46 seats) succeeded in negotiating separate agreements with each of NZ First (9 seats) and the Greens (8 seats) giving them a working government majority of six seats.

I’m hoping that the new government does include at least one minor party, even though it’s not necessary to govern. Jacinda Ardern has indicated that she wants the new government to be inclusive, and one way of ensuring minority voices are heard is to include them in the corridors of power.

As an aside, Aotearoa New Zealand continues to increase the diversity of its legislature. Both Labour and the Greens have more women than men in their caucuses. Both National and Labour have women leaders, while the Greens and the Māori Party each have a male and female co-leader. According to one political analyst, 10% of the new Parliament will now be from the LGBT+ community. And as in the previous Parliament, Māori will have a higher proportional representation in Parliament than they do in the general population. Unfortunately, neurodiversity is not only under represented, it’s not represented at all. I’d like to see this change during my lifetime, but I’m not holding out strong hopes.

I am thankful that American style politics has not won over the more empathetic and conciliatory style seen here. At what is perhaps a a oblique barb at the US elections, Jacinda had this to say:

We are living in an increasingly polarised world. A place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another’s point of view. I hope [at] this election, that New Zealand has shown, that this is not who we are – that as a nation we can listen, and we can debate. Afterall we are too small to lose sight of other people’s’ perspectives. Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart.