Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Uninformed opinion

In my last post post I promised to comment on misconceptions that many Americans, especially those on the right, hold about my favourite nation – Aotearoa New Zealand. But before I start I need to make a small correction. In that post I included a link to Tucker Carlson’s opinion piece but I inadvertently referred to uninformed comment that was actually on a different Fox News article. That article is a news item titled New Zealand to enter nationwide lockdown after single coronavirus case found. I should probably have held off publishing the post until later that morning instead of at 2:30 am. I’ve been suffering from the effects of a migraine that won’t decide whether it should come or go, and I was up at that time because sleep evades me with that type of migraine. I should have had the sense not to click on Publish, but I did.

From a single case to five hundred

The Fox News item was published on the day we first became aware of covid being in the community, and perhaps one of the most repeated comments was that locking down for one reported case was idiotic. I’ll ignore all the comments about authoritarianism, fascism and comparisons to North Korea, and for the moment I’ll take for granted that an elimination strategy is the appropriate course of action for this this nation. My question to those who consider a lockdown on a single reported case to be an overreaction is this: If this nation is to maintain an elimination strategy, how many known cases in the community should there be before a lockdown is considered? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? As was has been illustrated by the events in Australia, gradually ramping up restrictions based on the number of known cases is simply too little too late.

Here’s something to consider: How many other cases were there already out in the community? Is this the only case or is it the tip of a covid iceberg? Remember that with the Delta variant, people can be infectious before they experience symptoms. There is also the question of how did the virus get into the community? There may already have been a super spreader event where hundred of people have become incubators for the next wave of infections. This has already proven to be true. The number of confirmed cases, only twelve days later is now 512. The detailed situation as it stands at time of writing can be found on the Unite Against Covid-19 website.

On the Sunday before the first case was discovered, members of the Samoan Assembly of God church gathered as a community for the day, including worship sessions and gathered meals. One attender had unknowingly caught covid and passed it onto hundreds of other attenders. And before anyone else accuses the church members of ignoring rules or flouting safety precautions, let me be quite clear: They were responsibly following not only the “letter of the law”, but also the “spirit of the law”.

Just like everyone else in this nation they were not subject to any rules regarding social distancing, mask wearing, or limits on the size of gatherings. After all, we’ve been having sports events and concerts with up to 50,000 attenders throughout the pandemic apart from the brief lockdown periods, and all without incident. I need to point this out as already members of the AoG church are facing a backlash over this. The congregation and its leaders had no reason to suspect that someone within their midst was infected. Why should they? After all, the last reported community case was way back in February.

The need for some sections of society to scapegoat minorities – in this case Samoans and Christians – is appalling and must cease. And just in case you require statistic to support my stance, of all ethnic groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Pasifika community has the highest vaccination rate for people over 40 years of age. They are also the most religious. So please no more talk about ethnicity or religion contributing to the current outbreak.

When we examine the number of ICU beds available in various countries, and see how even in the US, which has one of the highest number of ICU beds per capita in the world, still was stretched to capacity, and countries such as Italy had to ration access to ICU beds, it’s little wonder that NZ, with few ICU beds would look for another way to manage the pandemic. As a comparison, ICU beds per 100,000 of population are: US: 29.4; Italy: 12.5; NZ: 4.6. On a per capita basis, the US has more than six times as many ICU beds as NZ.

Freedom

Another common theme to run through the comments was that we suffer under an authoritarian government and our freedoms are on par with North Korea or life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The simple fact is that for the most part, this nation has had less stringent covid restrictions that the US, the UK, and yes, even more freedom than their golden boy model of covid management, Sweden

From 14 May 2020 to 11 August 2020 and from 31 August 2020 to 17 August 2021, Aotearoa New Zealand had fewer covid restrictions than the US, the UK and Sweden. Even during the period of 12 August 2020 to 30 August 2020, this nation was only marginally higher than the US and the UK. I included a Covid Stringency chart on my 2362 contacts post. But in case that is not enough, here’s some other freedom comparisons. I’ll restrict this to comparisons between NZ and the US as invariably, the accusations of a lack of freedom in this nation comes from Americans:

World Freedom Index

Economic
Freedom
Political
Freedom
Press
Freedom
Total
Freedom
Score
Ranking
Aotearoa New Zealand92.9298.0491.8494.261
United States of America82.8889.2279.1783.7627
2017 World Freedom Index

Cato Institute

Personal
Freedom
Economic
Freedom
Human
Freedom
RankingChange
from
2018
Aotearoa New Zealand9.218.538.871+0.01
United States of America8.668.228.449-0.11
The Human Freedom Index 2020

Freedom House

Political
Rights
Civil
Liberties
PointsRanking
Aotearoa New Zealand1199`4
United States of America228362
Freedom in the World 2021

Reporters Without Borders

ScoreRanking
Aotearoa New Zealand10.048
United States of America23.9344
2021 World Press Freedom Index (higher score = more restrictions)

Reporters Without Borders also classify the US as an Enemy of the Internet due to high level of surveillance carried out by the authorities. Currently 20 nations are listed as enemies of the internet, so the US is in good company with China, North Korea, Russia, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Economist Intelligence Unit

Regime
Type
Electoral
process
and
Pluralism
Functioning
of
Government
Political
Participation
Political
Culture
Civil
Liberties
ScoreRanking
Aotearoa
New Zealand
Full
democracy
108.938.898.759.719.254
United States
of America
Flawed
democracy
9.176.798.896.258.537.9225
Democracy Index 2020

State of World Liberty Index

2021
ranking
2020
ranking
2019
ranking
2018
ranking
2017
ranking
Aotearoa New Zealand11111
United States of America2515202024
State of World Liberty Index 2017 – 2021

I freely accept that there are some criticisms of how the data is collected and rated for each of the indexes used above, but overall I think we can be confident that they provide a reasonable comparison of the two nations. I think it is safe to make the claim than Aotearoa New Zealand does not have fewer freedoms than the United States of America.

Slow vaccine take up

Several comments referred to the New Zealand population and made the observation that with such a small size the population should be able to be vaccinated in just a few months. Now think for a moment. If our population is one sixtieth the size of the US, it would stand to reason that the number of workers capable of giving a jab would also be one sixtieth of the numbers in the US. And given that a smaller percentage of the NZ workforce is employed in the health services than in the US, all things being equal it would actually take a little longer.

The fact that only 18% of the population is currently fully vaccinated also gave rise to the assumption the Kiwis are reluctant to be vaccinated. Wrong again. On many occasions over recent months we’ve learnt that there is only one or two day’s supply of vaccine available in the country. The problem isn’t on the demand side, it’s on the supply side.

None of the vaccine manufacturers have manufacturing facilities in this country, so all vaccines need to be imported. Given that practically every other nation is in a worse position than us, and that a number of countries have ruled that manufacturers must satisfy domestic requirements before they are permitted to export, is it any wonder that this country faces a number of hurdles in maintaining a regular supply of vaccine. The Government has also provided vaccines to our small Pacific neighbours as they are in a more vulnerable position and less able to cope with the pandemic if it arrives on their shores.

For there to be a high vaccination rate so that everyone can be vaccinated by the end of the year, there there needs to be a big increase in the number of people who perform the procedure competently. This is more than simply knowing how to jab a needle in someone’s arm, but also all the recordkeeping, safety protocols, etc that the vaccination rollout requires. Training has been underway for some time.

However the vaccination rollout is now in full swing. Anyone over the age of thirty is now eligible to be vaccinated, and currently 78% of those eligible have received at least one shot or have booked their first shot. From the beginning of September, everyone over the age of 12 will be eligible, and it is expected that everyone will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of the year. Currently the vaccination rate running slightly ahead of plan. Only then will the government look at other processes for managing covid.

Gun confiscation

Of course a number of comments brought up the mythical confiscation of guns in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings. This has been interpreted in two different ways by commenters.

  • That so few guns were handed in, is a sign that Kiwis have thumbed their collective noses at authority. This seems to be the NRA interpretation of the facts
  • Nobody is allowed to own guns in NZ and are therefore defenseless when it comes to resisting the government.

Obviously both theories can’t be correct. The simple fact is that there was an estimated 1.5 million guns that were in legal ownership before the shootings. That estimate today has not changed. The government buy back was for a specific type of weapon that, following a law change, could not be owned on a Category A gun holder’s licence. As firearms are not licensed here, the number of weapons affected by the change was unknown. Various estimates of the number of weapons affected ranged from 25,000 to 60,000. In the end the buyback resulted in 34,000 guns being handed in. While gun ownership here is estimated to be around a quarter of that in the US, we are still ranked in the top 20 nations for gun ownership.

Economic collapse

A claim by many commenters that the New Zealand economy has collapsed or is rapidly heading that way due the the elimination strategy. Again, the evidence is very different. GDP in Aotearoa New Zealand is now above pre covid levels.

GDP Growth 2021Unemployment
2020
Unemployment
2019
Govt dept as
% of GDP
Aotearoa New Zealand+1%4.6%4.1%41.3
United States of America-3.5%8.1%3.7%127.1

Given that international tourism and international students accounted for a significant portion of this nation’s revenue, GDP and employment, and have all but disappeared since the arrival of covid, I think that a positive grown in our GDP vindicates this nation’s elimination strategy.

Immigrants

A common misconception among many commenters was that the US could not close its borders because their immigration rate is too high and that no one immigrates to NZ. If so, how can they explain the fact that one in four Kiwis are immigrants while a mere one in seven Americans are? The simple answer is that Aotearoa New Zealand has a relatively high immigration rate.

Population density

Comment was often made of New Zealand’s low population density, and if the population was spread evenly over the whole country, the low density would indeed be a significant factor. However 77% of New Zealand’s population live in the smaller of the two major islands, and 35% of our nation’s entire population lives in the vicinity of the city of Auckland. The population density of the North Island is 80 people per square mile. This is comparable to states such West Virginia (76) and Missouri (88). One third of the entire population of Aotearoa New Zealand lives in a region where the population density is approximately 3,100 per square mile.

The conspiracies

And there are a lot of them:

  • Marxist plot
  • Fascist plot
  • Female leaders cause harm
  • New World Order
  • Vaccination causes more harm than covid
  • Covid is a fallacy

There are more, but Fox News being such a toxic site, I’ve had enough.


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As for leaders …

The worst, the people hate,

The next best, the people fear,

The next best, the people honour and praise.

But for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.

When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves!

Lao Tzu, 4th century BC

The more I think about it, the more I think Lao Tzu is right


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

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

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

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


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Is the violence over? I have my doubts

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

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

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

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


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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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Day three of fifteen

Our general Elections are to be “officially” held on Saturday, 17th of October. Vote counting will commence after polling places close at 7:00 PM that day. However it has now become standard for voters to be able to vote early. We have been able to cast our vote since Saturday, hence, today being Monday, is day three of the the 15 day period during which we can cast our vote(s).

Although we have nowhere near the voter turnout that Australia has (voting is compulsory there), participation rates of 75% or greater are the norm here. And this year with greater promotion and availability of early voting, it’s likely that the turnout this year will be up on the 2017 elections.

One anomaly that early voting has revealed is the regulation that bans political advertising of any sort on polling day. This necessitates the removing of billboards, party banners etc before midnight on the day before polling day. Considering that voting now extends over two weeks and it’s expected that around 60% of all votes will be cast before polling day, either all political advertising needs to be banned for the entire time the polls are open or the advertising ban needs to be done away with entirely. But banning advertising on only the final day of polling is ludicrous in my view.

On a lighter note, here’s a (highly selective) comparison of last week’s leaders’ debates in NZ and the US. Apart from the obvious gender differences, our political leaders think more highly of each other than do American leaders.

A contrast of styles


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The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?

Keeping the coronavirus out of Aotearoa New Zealand is fraught with difficulties, the most significant perhaps being that it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies. I’m glad I’m not the only person who regards the setting up of a Border Security Force as a potential source of abuse and tyranny.

Whilst the current multi-agency arrangement involving Customs, Health, Police and Military has revealed many flaws from managing security to testing for COVID-19, these are being acknowledged and corrected as they come to light. This is uncharted territory, and if anyone believes that a plan of action can be brought from the drawing board to fruition in record time taking into account every possibility with every permutation already considered and planned for, then they are living in cloud cuckooland.

Would a Border Security Force result in appalling forms of abuse as can be witnessed in countries such as Australia and the United States? I would hope not, but I’d prefer that the opportunity does not arise. Better to resource the existing agencies adequately and create a management task force dedicated to coordinating the agencies and quickly respond to issues as they arise.

If there are legal barriers to setting up such a task force in any future national emergency, then sure, bring in legislation that will allow it ensuring that transparent oversight is included. But having a permanent independent force with little in the way of transparent oversight on the American or Australian model with all their reported abuses? No thanks!

With a general election coming up in less than two months, several political parties are promoting a Border Security Force, but this does not appear to be on the radar for the governing Labour party at the moment. However, they are just as subject to public pressure as other parties, so I want to put my position now in the hope that I’m just one of many voices opposing the formation of a Border Security force.

On this matter I can do no better than reblog Robert Glennie’s post on Will New Zealand Be Right?

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New […]

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?


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“Necessary, reasonable and proportionate”, but unlawful

That’s the opinion of the High Court of New Zealand after a legal challenge to the COVID-19 lockdown. The challenge was only partially successful, in that the court found that all but one of the orders made in regard to the lockdown were lawful. What was not lawful was the “stay at home” order.

The Court concluded that:

By various public and widely publicised announcements made between 26 March and 3 April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, members of the executive branch of the New Zealand Government stated or implied that, for that nine-day period, subject to limited exceptions, all New Zealanders were required by law to stay at home and in their “bubbles” when there was no such requirement. Those announcements had the effect of limiting certain rights and freedoms affirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 including, in particular, the rights to freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and association. While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law and was therefore contrary to s 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

It’s important to note that the court recognised that while the government did have the authority to make such regulations, it did not in fact make them. That was corrected in regulations made nine days into the lockdown that did make the “stay at home” order lawful

For those interested in in the details of the court’s decision, a High Court media release can be found here (PDF), and the full judgment can be found here (PDF).


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To trace or not to trace, that is the question.

Aotearoa New Zealand has, for now, eliminated the virus causing COVID-19. It’s eliminated as there is no community infection, and the occasional one that appears is related to a known cluster, where the person involved is already in isolation, or the person has recently returned from overseas and is in a supervised quarantine facility.

One aspect of controlling the virus has been the success of contact tracing, which has improved considerably since the beginning of the outbreak, especially after the process became centralised instead of being the responsibility of each of the nation’s 20 health authorities.

In this this nation, contact tracing has relied on a call centre “interviewing” persons who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 and then contacting known or likely contacts. Unlike in Australia, Singapore and Korea, the process has not been automated through the use of technology such as smartphone apps.

There are a number of reasons why we haven’t adopted technology to assist in tracing contacts. The most obvious is privacy. Many of those offering a smartphone solution rely on Bluetooth and the transmission of contact information to a centralised database, both of which pose security and privacy issues. Bluetooth is inherently insecure, and I never have Bluetooth enabled unless I wish to transfer data specifically with another Bluetooth device belonging to someone I know and trust.

As Bluetooth cannot discriminate on the type of proximity to another device (on opposite sides of the same room or right next to each other but in adjascent and isolated rooms for example), most of the “contacts” are irrelevant or red herrings. Bluetooth also requires a high level of trust between devices, and this is not something I’m prepared to give up.

Perhaps automating a contact history might be useful in nations where community transmission of the virus is widespread, provided there is a means of separating the wheat from the chaff that will invariably result by such a collection system. But in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, where their is no community transmission, any advantage is outweighed by security and privacy concerns.

However, today is the official release of a government approved app that also meets my approval. I downloaded it last night and am comfortable about using it.

The app makes use of QR codes that business establishments can set up at entry points, which you can voluntarily scan as you enter the premises. The data is stored within the phone only and is not transmitted in any form, but can be voluntarily transmitted to contact tracers on request. Data older than 31 days is automatically deleted.

In effect, the app is a personal “places I visited diary”, and as such I am comfortable using it. Unlike almost every other app this one does not need or request access to any smartphone service apart from the camera (to capture the QR code). What it lacks is any means of entering any locations that don’t have a QR code available to scan, and this is a serious weakness in my view.

I had been using my phone’s GPS and the Google Map Timeline to record my movements in case they were needed to trace my movements. But it is very unreliable both in recording where I’ve been and at what time. For example this morning I left home just before 11 AM and visited two locations. I was back home by 11:30.

The Google Maps timeline has no record of me being at the first location, but records me leaving home at 12:06 AM (10 hours and 51 minutes before I actually did), arriving at the second location at exactly the same instant. However, it did accurately record the time I left there, and the time it took to travel home, although it recorded that I arrived at an address three sections (properties/lots) away from home.

Yesterday, it recorded that I visited two places several blocks away, even though I never left home. The last time I visited the supermarket, it recorded the time I spent there as travel time between two other locations I passed by but didn’t stop at. Go figure.

While the typical Kiwi probably trusts our authorities more that the typical American trusts theirs, it’s not unconditional, and I believe the official NZ COVID Tracer does not require much in the way of trust while still being a useful tool in contact tracing if the need arises. I think on that basis, it’s uptake will be greater than if it relied on connectivity and/or external data storage.

One issue is finding the App on Google Play. You can’t. I don’t know what the situation is with Apple’s App Store. Searching for COVID tracers, results in only the official WHO apps being located, even if “NZ” or “New Zealand” is included in the search terms.

It seems that Google is filtering out every tracing app apart from the WHO Apps, probably due to there being a high probability of them being intentionally or unintentionally being open to abuse. Even typing in the app name “NZ COVID Tracer” does not locate it. The only way I could find it was to go to the Ministry of Health NZ COVID Tracer app Webpage and click on the link provided there. Thank you Google (not!)