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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Things ableists say — Yenn Purkis Autism Page

Yenn has some very good points about how ableists treat people with disabilities – often in ways that are infantilising insulting or demeaning. I don’t view myself as disabled, but there are certainly times when society effectively disables me. Unfortunately many fully-abled people don’t realise how ableist their words and actions can be…

I recently had an unpleasant experience where a person gave me a hard time for using the accessible seat on the bus. I need to have two seats to myself due to sensory and proximity issues related to my autism. Apparently – according to this person – I didn’t ‘look disabled enough’ to use this […]

Things ableists say — Yenn Purkis Autism Page


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Legislative diversity

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


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

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

Disability

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

Neurodiversity

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

Ethnicity

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

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

Gender

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

LGBTQI+

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

Religion and spirituality

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

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

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

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

Youth

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

Quotas

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

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


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Arresting Ableism; Insight and Experiences of a Nonspeaking Autistic — NeuroClastic

Inside my mind there are a myriad of thoughts about the way autism is perceived and how autistic folk are treated. I have more than a dozen drafts on this subject that I am unable to complete as every time I try I feel a churning in my stomach and my thoughts fly in all directions – so much so that I can not organise them into paragraphs, sentences and words. I don’t know what that churning represents – anger, frustration, impotence – perhaps all of these, perhaps something entirely different. What I can say is that it makes me very uncomfortable, even more so when I’m unable to articulate what I really want to say.

Is is because I lack the language skills necessary to express myself adequately, or is that words themselves are incapable or expressing what I feel? I don’t know. But I do know when someone can articulate what I feel. The following article by Sabrina Guerra, a non-speaking autistic, speaks volumes quietly. Her specific experiences are different from mine, and yet (to use a Quaker phrase) she speaks to my condition.

Wisdom doesn’t flourish impeded by people’s egocentrism. Supremacy reigns unless we fight diligently to educate. Question all that you’ve ingested on a human’s worth. When the rights of abled people take precedence over those of disabled people, our great shame is evident, and we must not consider ourselves a modern, progressive society. I am passionate…

Arresting Ableism; Insight and Experiences of a Nonspeaking Autistic — NeuroClastic


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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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Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – No man is an island; HIV/Aids epidemic lessons we can learn from — Peter Davis NZ

The following article Looks specifically at two recent (as in my lifetime) infectious disease outbreaks in Aotearoa New Zealand and what we have learnt and still need to learn and perhaps more specifically what we should do in light of such discoveries. As is often the case, marginalised communities are mostly invisible to the majority, even when they are the most impacted by epidemics such as Covid. HIV/Aids and the 1918 Flu.

The Delta variant of Covid reveals features of NZ society we prefer to keep hidden but perhaps the pandemic provides us with an opportunity to learn more about those features and what we can do to make society more equitable. Although Peter Davis discusses the situation as it specifically applies to Aotearoa New Zealand, I suspect similar opportunities exist in most parts of the world.

Perhaps the only terms that may need clarifying for those outside New Zealand is the term DHB (District Health Board). At an administrative level, NZ is divided into 20 health districts each administered by a board partly made up of elected representatives and partly by appointments from central government. Bulk funding for each board is provided by central government and each board determines how those funds should be spent. As Peter points out, only 5% of the expenditure of the Auckland DHB goes to primary health care and a paltry 0.15% goes to public health. Surely this is where we must in the first instance revise our priorities.

Published in The New Zealand Herald, 10th October 2021

Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – No man is an island; HIV/Aids epidemic lessons we can learn from — Peter Davis NZ


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We All Need to Work More Autistically — Autism and Expectations

I, and I suspect many others on the autism spectrum, have found alternative forms of communications forced on society by the current pandemic less threatening, more comfortable and less open to miscommunication (from my perspective) than the usual face-to-face forms of communication that most neurotypical people engage in. As the post I’ve linked to below discusses, the way autistic people typically communicate can be advantageous even to those not on the spectrum, especially in the “new normal” that’s likely to be around for some considerable time.

The other day I was at work and was hit by a revelation. It had been nagging at me for a while – I could feel that something had shifted. But I never would have predicted that I would be facing the world of work with a social advantage due to my autism. I’ve had […]

We All Need to Work More Autistically — Autism and Expectations


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Post Covid-19 freedoms

Terms such as freedom and liberty are often thought of as being clear cut in what they mean – everyone agrees on what those words mean. Or do they?

I think most Americans and Kiwis would agree everyone has a right to be able to drive on public roads. However we understand that driving can have serious repercussions if one doesn’t have the necessary skills to to do so safely. In order to limit the amount of harm, drivers need to provide evidence that they have the necessary skills to control a moving vehicle – a driver’s licence. Once you have shown you can competently control a motor vehicle, you retain that right until you prove that you no longer hold the necessary skills – a serious driving offence or a failed eyesight test for example.

While the US constitution guarantees some form of firearms ownership for the purposes of a “well organised militia”, and NZ doesn’t even have a codified constitution, both nations to have a long standing tradition of gun ownership, which might be reasonably be viewed as being a “right”. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the consensus is that the right to gun ownership is similar to the right to drive. It’s necessary to prove your competence to own and use a weapon safely, and this is done by a testing regime no less strenuous than that which applies to driving a vehicle.

My impression of the US is that the right to own, and perhaps more importantly carry firearms is more divided. While I think the largest block hold views not too dissimilar of the predominant view here, there are significant blocks that hold different views. At the one end there’s the card waving NRA membership that demand nothing less than a completely unregulated, uncontrolled “right” to own and carry weapons, even opposing background checks for goodness sake! Anything else is an attack on their constitutional “rights”. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a small group who call for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment or at least a reinterpretation of what it really means.

So when it comes to firearms, opinions in the US are more divided on what rights and freedoms mean and what limits, if any, should be imposed when balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of others, including the community as a whole. I believe most people understand that as well as rights, we have responsibilities, and that those responsibilities, if they are to be fairly shared, may need to be regulated in some way. I think the same is true when it comes to covid-19.

In his post “Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – Vaccine passport and smoke-free law” Peter Davis draws on the NZ experience of how the attitude towards smoking has changed over the decades – from one where smokers were exercising their “rights” to smoke and non-smokers had little or no recourse, to one where the dangers of second-hand smoke are understood and now prohibited in workplaces and most public venues – and how this precedent might be applicable to covid-19. It’s worth the read, and it might help some of those still sitting on the fence to understand why the unvaccinated may find they have fewer “freedoms” than the vaccinated.

Given that the evidence overwhelmingly confirms that one in three people who contract covid-19 have at least one symptom of long-covid, even 18 months after first being infected, the impact of long term health and social costs are, as yet, unknown. How can anyone on their right mind claim their “right” to unrestricted movement surpasses my “right” not to suffer long term health issues caused by their recklessness?

In many ways, we have been playing pandemic “Russian roulette” for decades – especially as the cost of international air travel has declined significantly. By way of example, when I first travelled to Japan in 1971, the return air fare cost the equivalent of 75% of my annual salary. International travel was not something one did without some long term planning and saving. It certainly couldn’t be undertaken on a whim. If I was still in the same job in January 2020, the same return journey would have cost as little as 1.5% of my annual salary. Pre covid, a trip from Aotearoa to Australia could cost about the same as a night out at an upmarket restaurant.

We must acknowledge that with so many people moving around the globe we have indeed become a global village. In the past the relative isolation of villages, towns and nations meant that pandemics were relatively rare, and when they did occur, they spread at a slow pace. That is no longer true.

We are far more mobile these days (well, pre-pandemic), than we have ever been in the history of our species, and this presents a greater risk of new infectious diseases spreading at uncontrollable rates across the planet. In many ways I think we have been lucky that this pandemic has been relatively mild, especially when it comes to fatalities. We may not be so lucky next time. And as sure as night follows day, there will be a next time.

It’s wishful thinking to assume we will ever return to pre-covid days. It’s not going to happen. The public (well most of us) now understand the harm a pandemic can bring – something epidemiologists have been warning us for years while we and the politicians we elect have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to their message.

As I see it we have two options: freedom from documentation and a restriction on movement, or freedom of movement accompanied by documentation, vaccination passports being one of them. I know which I would prefer. How about you?


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As requested: you are simple

There is one New Zealand blog I follow where I disagree with almost everything that is posted. I follow it to remind myself that there are locals who have a radically different world view from mine. My opinions of their postings range from ignorant claptrap to idiotic nonsense, although very occasionally (and I emphasis very occasionally) I find a post that I can almost agree with.

My impression of those who comment on the blog is that most are anti-vaxxers, covid deniers, conspiracy theorists of various types, and mostly right wing (by NZ standards). In a post today, the writer lamented the fact that they had to cancel a restaurant booking due to the yesterday’s lockdown notice. Let me quote part of the article:

Call me simple and definitely cynical if you like but I fail to see any value to any of our group, the restaurant and its staff and the New Zealand Covid extinction by locking down anywhere south of about Hamilton and locking down the South Island is surely over kill. 

Ok, I call you simple. It’s not about you.

In my view the blogger has a ludicrously overly simplistic understanding of how covid is transmitted. We know: the Delta variant is highly contagious – even a fleeting contact such as one person walking past another in a park; the case identified yesterday had been infectious in the community for many days and had visited at least 25 locations over that period, some hundreds of kilometres apart; the source of the infection is unknown; Kiwis are a highly mobile lot and I guess there’s been many tens of thousands of us who have travelled in and out of the Auckland and Coromandel regions from all around NZ over the past week. I can guarantee there have been hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who will have travelled between the poster’s home town and Auckland or Coromandel during the period in question.

While it’s highly unlikely that the writer or their dining friends will come into contact with an infectious person, the odds are very high that someone in their hometown who will be either a primary or secondary contact of the yesterday’s case or one of the six related cases identified so far today. Likewise, there’s probably thousands who have travelled between Auckland and the South Island in the week prior to lockdown. Sure, it’s highly unlikely that a specific person (the blogger in this case) will be a person of interest, but you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s at least one person in his hometown and the South Island who will be.

I think the blogger fails to understand the exponential rate of transmission of the Delta variant. It has an R0 factor of between 5 and 8. This means that a single person, on average, will infect between 5 and 8 other persons. In a best case scenario, one person will infect 5 who will infect 25 who will infect 125 who will infect 625 who will infect 3125. that’s a total of 3906 people in just five iterations. In a worse case scenario, and ignoring any superspreading event, the same number of iterations will result in a total of 37,449 infections.

Two independent modelling exercises indicate that with the immediate level 4 lockdown as of last night, the single reported case is likely to rise to somewhere between 50 and 130 before it’s squashed. It’s already at seven, and as yet we do not know the source of the current outbreak, the modelling may greatly underestimate what the final figure will be.

At the start of the pandemic, our government had intended to follow the same course that most other nations did – flatten the curve to prevent the outbreak from overwhelming the health system. However even the most optimistic modelling projections showed that the NZ health system would be totally overwhelmed in very short time. Hence the change to an elimination strategy shortly after covid arrived here. Given that this is the first lockdown we’ve had outside of Auckland apart from the initial 6-week lockdown in March last year, I am firmly convinced that it has been the correct path to follow.

We do know that this particular outbreak is related to the New South Wales, Australia strain of the Delta variant, so now there is a scramble to trace exactly how it arrived in this country. Genome sequencing can estimate how many intermediaries there have been between a known case and a newly discovered case, and due to the strictly controlled nature of entry into Aotearoa New Zealand, I think that there’s a good chance of tracking its path from NSW to NZ.

Update: As of 7 pm, today, the total number of cases has risen to ten. One case is a teacher at a high school, another is a fully vaccinated nurse in a public hospital, and another is a student who attended a lecture yesterday along with 80 others. These three instances are possible super spreading events that could seriously skew modelling estimates. One case is now known to have a connection with the border. Similar to the situation elsewhere most of the delta infections are in younger adults – here, mostly in their 20s.


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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