Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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30th anniversary of Needle exchange program

One of the country’s most successful public health initiatives, the needle exchange program has become a network of hundreds of outlets. The first exchange outlets began operating in 1987 following legislation earlier that year that legalised the practice. The early adoption of the exchange program is one reason why AIDS/HIV is low within the intravenous drug using community in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to similar countries elsewhere. Thousands of lives have been saved by the program.
//players.brightcove.net/963482464001/HJiGOMree_default/index.html?videoId=5682891395001

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What’s so special about today?

I don’t know if today has any significance in your part of the world, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand  the 19th of September is a time to reflect on a major milestone in our country’s history.

It was 124 years ago today that women won the right to vote, making New Zealand the first self-governing country where women were able to vote. However it was not until 1919 that universal suffrage was attained – the right to vote and stand for election. So in this regard, New Zealand was somewhat tardy.

While considerable progress has been made since then – for example, 46% of senior position in the public service are held by women, we still have some way to go. Women are underrepresented in Parliament (only 30% of members of Parliament are women) and in senior management roles in the private sector.

There’s still a pay parity gap. Women on average earn 9% less than men. This is mainly because many of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, and where today women still greatly outnumber men, are undervalued and and are paid poorly. For example nursing, childcare, and teaching.

In the legal and medical professions, the majority of graduates since the early 1990s have been women, yet less than 20% of senior legal partners are women, and much the same applies to senior management in the medical profession.

So while we should be proud of the progress made, it’s also a time to reflect on what each of us can to to bring about true equality.


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Sexism in politics

Having grown up in a family with very liberal ideas on gender roles, I sometimes forget that not everyone holds similar values.

This week a TV interviewer put his foot into it by asking a question he really should have known not to ask.

This is Aotearoa New Zealand and the twenty first century. If he has been an employer, he would have been in deep doo doo for asking the question to an employee or prospective employee.

Thankfully his question raised the ire of the interviewee and a significant proportion of the community.

The question was to the new leader of the Labour party, who has a remote chance of becoming the PM (Prime Minister) after the general elections in September.

So what was the question?

“Is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”

The question and the anger it has raised seems to have been reported around the globe. See CNN and The Guardian as examples.

I’m disappointed that there are still men around who hold nineteenth century views of gender roles, but I am pleased that most Kiwi males have moved on.


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Trump’s ban on Trans in the military doesn’t go far enough

Trump is on the right track but banning Transgender people does not go far enough. Not by a long way. Hopefully tomorrow, he’ll correct the situation by banning Gays, Lesbians, Bi, Queer, Inter-sex and all forms of gender and sexual diversity.

But he shouldn’t leave it there. There’s two other groups that do even more harm and cost even more due to huge numbers in the military. They should be banned too. These are the Straight and the Cis-gendered people. Think of all the medical costs and veteran costs that would be saved, not to mention how little disruption would occur within the military with these two groups banned as well.


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River gains personhood

Back in October 2015 I wrote an post regarding the lack of respect fundamentalist Christians have towards Māori culture, and their confusing of cultural beliefs and practices with a direct assault on their “true” religion. What they failed to understand is that what Māori regard as Tapu (not ordinary, often translated as “sacred”)  remains the same regardless of their religion or non-religion. And they forget that the majority of Māori are Christian whereas the Majority of Pākehā are not. Even so, within Māori culture, concepts such as tapu, mana and mauri are an integral part of their world view.

While preparing this post I stumbled upon this conversation regarding the same incident. Lydia’s (the OP) assertion was that Māori had no rights to claim a mountain as sacred, or if they did, and it was legally recognised, then that’s proof of the establishment of a religion and therefore unconstitutional.

Ignoring for the moment that no law passed by the Parliament can ever be declared unconstitutional in Aotearoa New Zealand, most of the comments support Lydia using one of three arguments:

  1. Christianity is the only true religion and therefore has every right to trample over any other belief system.
  2. Places can be sacred, but only if they’re man-made and not in publicly accessible places.
  3. Recognising the values and practices of a minority is tantamount to the establishment of a religion.

Argument 1 is utter nonsense and I don’t consider it warrants further discussion. Arguments 2 and 3 I will take together as it seems many people, Christian and atheist alike, perceive alternative world views as being based in religion instead of being just a different way of perceiving the world around us.

The problem with many people in modern “Western” societies, particularly Anglophones, is that they see their culture, not just as one of many cultures, but as THE standard to which all other cultures will, when they fully mature, become carbon copies of. Just like many people think they don’t have an accent, only people from other regions do, many think the same way about culture. Other people have culture, but they themselves don’t because they do “what comes naturally”. How wrong they are.

Every aspect of our lives is coloured by the culture in which we are immersed. This includes, customs, practices, beliefs and values. If we live in a region which is mono-cultural, or predominantly so, then we are likely to see other cultural practices and beliefs as something added to, or taken away from, the “natural” state of being human. And if those practices and beliefs were to be removed, then we may think that those formerly holding those practices and beliefs would behave and think very much like us. And of course we’d be wrong.

The founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand is the Treaty of Waitangi which has largely been honoured by the crown more in its breach than by following its principles. English legislation and common law, as well as the English constitutional conventions became the laws of New Zealand in 1840 and Māori customary law was for all practical purposes erased, even though the Treaty gives it equal status with English law.

Over the last 3 or 4 decades, Pakeha in general have slowly come to the realisation that they have a world view that is different from, rather than superior to, the world view of Māori. I believe we are made richer by valuing alternative world views and even recognising and embracing such views legally.

Perhaps much of the “modern” concept of ownership is derived from the Abrahamic religions where God granted mankind dominion over all of nature. The result is that resources can become the exclusive property of individuals, communities, and (more recently) corporations, to be exploited for the benefit of the owners and with little regard to how it might affect other parts of nature, including other people.

In traditional Maori culture mankind is part of nature, not apart or above it. All things have a life force and rivers, mountains and forests are viewed as living entities, and are treated and respected as such. Just as one person cannot be owned, living entities cannot be owned. Communities can have guardianship or stewardship over a living entity but not dominionship or ownership of it.

These two differing world views have been at the heart of conflict between Māori and Pakeha for almost two hundred years and until recently no resolution that meets both views has been found. In the case of the Whanganui River, there have been ongoing court battles for more than 130 years.

This 2009 thesis discuses in depth why a resolution has been so difficult and then proposes giving rivers personhood as a possible solution. The author, James Morris suggests that a model based on a proposal by an American law professor, Christopher Stone could be adapted to New Zealand’s situation. Morris suggests that the benefits would be:

  1. because many Māori seek resolution of who owns rivers, affording a river its own legal personality would neutralise these arguments: the river would be its own entity and thus could not be owned
  2. as the river would be its own entity, Māori would have equal authority and control in decision-making with government authorities thus Māori tikanga (culture: including kaitiakitanga  and rangatiratanga aspirations) would have increased recognition.
  3. a river being its own entity under the law would better align the legal framework with the Māori worldview as Māori tikanga (culture) regards rivers as tupuna (ancestors). Tupuna cannot be thought of in fragments as is the case in New Zealand law (for example, the flowing water, the river bed and the river bank). Tupuna must be viewed holistically.
  4. a river having its own legal standing would benefit the health of the river as compensation would have to be applied for the benefit of the river as opposed to remedying a third party’s economic loss.

This model has been adapted here in Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2014 legislation was passed that made what was the Te Urewera National Park into a legal entity in and of itself with all the rights of a person. The purpose was to  protect Te Urewera for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance.

In March this year the Whanganui River became a legal entity with all the rights of a person. The legislation established a new legal framework for the Whanganui River, known in Maori as Te Awa Tupua, recognising the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea. Te Awa Tupua now has its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. The  legislation recognises the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui Iwi (tribe) and the river through their traditions, customs and practise.

I predict that it won’t be too long before Taranaki (the mountain under discussion in the links in the first two paragraphs of this post) will also gain personhood. I’m sure this new way (for Pakeha) of looking at the world will be confirmation by fundamentalist Christians that indeed the official religion of New Zealand is animism. However, most Kiwis, Paheha and Māori see this as a “meeting of the minds” and perhaps creating a new culture out of two older ones. This opinion piece expresses what most Kiwis feel about the forging of new ideas such as personhood of natural entities.

Is the concept of personhood for natural resources a viable option in other parts of the world, to preserve those resources and to respect and protect indigenous cultures? Or is this a case of New Zealand loosing the plot as suggested in this What’s Wrong With The World article.


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“Trump might do some good for democracy”

Now before you conclude that I have lost my marbles, read on.

Throughout the world, voter turnout at national elections have been declining, mainly due to apathy of younger voters. This is also true in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our most recent General Elections were held in 2014 and the voter turnout was at an all time low of 77%. Voter turnout for those under 30 years of age was 62%, while 88% of people my age voted.

The main reason put forward for poor voter participation by younger people is that they feel that they can make very little difference to the results. While there is some degree of truth in that, especially in electoral systems where “winner takes all” such as with FFP (First Past the Post), the same can’t be said of systems with proportional representation such that used here in Parliamentary elections. If a party gains 5% of the votes, it gets 5% of the seats in the Parliament. in other words, every vote counts.

We next go to the polls on Saturday the 23rd of September 2017 to elect our 52nd Parliament. The head of the Electoral Commission (the body that oversees national and local elections in NZ) believes we may see a reversal in the decline in voter participation this year. She gave two reasons: Brexit and Trump.

The results of both Brexit and the US presidential elections were due largely to voter apathy. In both cases, younger voters were strongly against the final result, and had younger voters participated in numbers approaching the national average, the results would have been different. It seems that finally there is evidence that NOT taking part in the democratic process can have serious consequences.

The good news here is that the younger generations are talking about how and why results such as Brexit and Trump as president could possibly occur. Both results seem contrary to common sense. I do hope that the head of the Electoral Commission is correct and that such discussion will lead to greater voter participation, especially among the young.

So thank you Donald, you are the reason the next generation of Kiwis are beginning to take a greater interest in the democratic process. They don’t want to see our leaders behaving as you do.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 2)

In this first clip, Professor Lloyd Geering makes the point that since the Enlightenment, everyone is a heretic as we are all free to think for ourselves – we are all free thinkers – and make our own choices accordingly. As he points out “We are encouraged to think for ourselves” [3:08], but who are the “we” he’s referring to?

The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand had its formative years at the height of the Enlightenment, and this country has always had a significant number of individuals and leaders who were Free Thinkers, atheists and agnostics, as well as those of assorted religious traditions. Our isolation from the rest of the world meant we developed an individualistic attitude to living, with a very egalitarian attitude towards authority.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Professor Geering is referring to Kiwis when he says we are encouraged to think for ourselves, but to what extent can the same be applied to other nations – especially when it comes to religion.

From this relatively remote corner of the world, I see vast regions of the globe where people seem to be discouraged from thinking for themselves – especially in the way of religion. I blink in amazement when American bloggers, while confessing their atheism anonymously online, are extremely reluctant to come out to friends, family and community about their lack of faith for fear of a backlash. Reminds me of those being reluctant to come out as gay in the 1970s and early 80s. I would like to think their fears are more imaginary than real, but the stories told are too consistent  for that. Perhaps after the dark ages being brought on by the Trump administration, America will make a more rapid swing towards liberalism.

Early on on the clip, Professor Geering describes his understanding of God – not a supernatural being, but a set of values that include truth, justice, love and compassion. On that matter, he and I agree completely.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 1)

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Lloyd Geering
By Schwede66 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hello children. Once upon a time, long, long ago (1967 to be precise) the peaceful existence of the inhabitants of the Land of the Long White Cloud was disturbed when a professor who was the principal of a theological college declared that important Christian stories were really myths. The land was disturbed, not by the message contained in the proclamation, for a sizeable proportion of the population already held similar views. No, the disturbance was caused because of the public nature of the pronouncements, and by a member of the clergy no less!

You see, up until that time, theology was a subject that had to be avoided at all costs. No one spoke openly about what they believed, for there was sure to be someone who would disagree vehemently with those beliefs. The people of the Land of the Long White Cloud were mindful that bringing theology into the open would be a recipe for discord, as would discussing politics. So they chose to discuss other important matters such Rugby, Racing, and Beer instead.

And so children, for more than two years, debates over the Resurrection, the divinity of Jesus, the Creation, whether mankind had an immortal soul, and much, much more, could be heard in sports clubrooms, local pubs, in the work place and on radio and television, and even on picnics! Discussions could be heard everywhere across the Land of the Long White Cloud. Yes, you could even hear such discussions in churches.

The open discussion frightened some of the laity of the Church, for like narrow minded people everywhere, they wanted their beliefs to be the only beliefs allowed. So they plotted to have the professor, removed from office. After much scheming, and with the aid of just one member of the clergy, a plot was hatched and charges were laid in the General Assembly of the Church against the professor. Those charges were “doctrinal error” and “disturbing the peace and unity of the church”, which were as close to charges of heresy that they could find.

Now children, it may seem strange in this modern day, but back then, the trial was broadcast live on national radio, and up and down the Land of the long White Cloud, people stopped to listen to the progress of the trial. And as we all know, the outcome of the trial was very much an anticlimax, because the charges were dismissed as being unsubstantiated.

Slowly, the discussions returned from religion to the more worthy causes of Rugby, Racing, and Beer, and the good people went back to keeping their own beliefs to themselves, just as it always had been. The professor started publishing his ideas in books and magazines, which were read avidly by some, and ignored or burnt by others. And so peace once again returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud. But…

Some of the plotters weren’t satisfied with the decision of the General Assembly and they continued plotting and scheming to do away the the good professor, but as we all know children, they didn’t succeed. And the professor became a highly sought after public speaker, within Christian churches and other religions and within humanist and secular groups as well, and where, to this day, even though he is 98 years old, he continues to advance the causes of a non-theist, secular Christianity.

But children, even though the plotters didn’t succeed, they keep on scheming. They still want their version of the Christian story to be the only permissible version. So how do you know a plotter? Firstly, they are not very good at keeping their plans secret. They usually call themselves Fundamentalists, so that’s a dead give away. But the most telling way to recognise them is to listen to what they say. If someone tells you that their stories are true and everyone else’s are lies, then you will have found one.

The above story is not necessarily the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but it’s my story and a close enough approximation. Unlike Trump’s press secretary, I’m not going to claim that it’s “alternative facts”. First and foremost it’s a story. Second, It’s more or less how I remember the event, and after fifty years, my recollection of the event must be tainted by later memories. Thirdly, it’s my blog and I’ll darn well tell the story my way.

For Non Kiwis, the Land of the Long White Cloud is a translation of Aotearoa, the Māori name of New Zealand. The professor is Lloyd Geering, who at the time the controversy broke out was the principal of Knox Theological College and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand – the church which tried him for heresy. He will celebrate his 99th birthday in February.

While my own beliefs had already been formed along similar lines by the time the controversy broke out, Professor Geering provided me with the resources I needed when justifying my beliefs to others. I was still a teenager at the time, so was lacking in confidence, while he was a few years older than my mother. I guess I would identify Sir Lloyd as being my most significant religious mentor.

I know many Christians (and atheists for that matter) in other parts of the world will fail to see anything Christian in his message, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand secular and liberal Christianity is well accepted, even within the mainline churches. What liberal/secular Christianity has done is push those with pre-enlightenment beliefs into the extremes of Fundamentalism and evangelicalism, which has seen some growth as a consequence. However, such groups still make up a very small section of the Christian community, and likely to always remain so.

I have found a series of Youtube videos compiled from a 2007 Television One documentary on Sir Lloyd Geering.  I plan to link to these in parts 2 to 11 of The Last Western Heretic. with my own comments where appropriate.


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Equality on the decline?

In 20o5 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation in the world where all top positions were held by women: the Monarch, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Chief Justice.

There have been other firsts that at first glance give the appearance that women are more equal here than elsewhere, including being the first country to grant women the vote. The 1976 relationship act and its amendments grant equal rights to both members of a relationship irrespective of marital status or gender is another.

Just as America prides itself on its liberty and freedom, NZ has always prided itself on its egalitarianism – both between the sexes and the population as a whole. In fact, back in the 1940s a visiting academic suggested we should build a statue proclaiming our egalitarianism in the much the same manner as the Statue of Liberty proclaims freedom in America.

The myth persists in both countries. Sadly America has slid well down the freedom and liberty ladder, even though over half the population believe it is the most free nation on earth. Our claim to egalitarianism has take a huge tumble since the mid 1980s. Fewer Kiwis believe in our own myth. Approximately 75% of the population no longer believe that everyone in NZ receives a “fair go”. But that leaves a quarter of the population still believing that we are a nation of equals.

Why the sudden change in equality since the 1980s? In what was a sort of political revolution, the leftist Labour party adopted radical economic reforms much like “Thatchernomics” in the UK and “Reaganomics” in the US, only more extreme. Known here as “Rogernomics” (named after the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas) it saw the halving of the top tax rate, the slashing of social welfare, the privatisation of much of the public sector (sold mostly to foreign investors) and a reduction in the bargaining power of workers. Tariffs and other trade protections were eliminated resulting in a massive transfer of unskilled jobs overseas.

The initial result was high levels of unemployment and the social conditions that typically accompany it. Today unemployment is more “acceptable” but we now have a class of “working poor” that struggle and frequently fail at keeping their family out of poverty. Today, about one in five children live in households where the income is below the poverty line. I believe this is totally unacceptable.

New Zealand has the unenviable reputation of now being the nation with the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD. While we are far from reaching the level of disparity seen in the USA and some developing nations, we approaching the likes of the UK. While it’s true that displays of wealth are still frowned upon, there is a growing acceptance that poverty is a “natural” part of the social fabric. I don’t.

One outcome of the economic reforms has been an increase in the disparity of income between men and women. Prior to the reforms, and into the first few years afterwards, the difference in income between men and women had been declining and was well on the way to being eliminated. There were dreams of Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to achieve true pay equality. This has been shattered over the last two decades as the gender pay gap has increased markedly to around 12% (based on hourly income, more so if based on actual income).

One of the measures of freedom I take seriously is socio-economic mobility. This is the ability for someone to move out of the socio-economic group of their parents. In America, the “Land of Opportunity” around half or slightly less move to a different group. By contrast, in NZ it was around 75%. This has declined and is now hovering around the 70% mark.

It has barely been a generation since the economic reforms, and as they become a permanent feature of of our society, I suspect that socio-economic mobility will decline further. That, along with the growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for social disharmony – perhaps on the levels we see in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere. The mind shudders.

Equally unnerving is that it brings the prospect of us growing our own Trump –  someone gaining enormous wealth through a largely unregulated economy, and at the cost of a low skilled workforce, and then gaining political influence by telling those worse affected by those very practices that he will make things right for them. Yeah, right.


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Dear America

I make no bones of the fact that I believe Trump represents the worst of American values and “The American Way”. The fact that someone such as he could be freely elected to office at a time when the world requires inclusivism and pluralism, not exclusivism and exceptionalism (and I mean in a humanist and secular sense as well as in a religious sense), makes me wonder whether collectively America has lost its marbles.

Do values such as “love and warmth and sympathy” as expressed in my father’s last poem, and so important in my whanau (wider family) count for anything any more? Trump certainly fails on all counts from what I can see.

Professor Clements is the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, and Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association. I believe his post I have linked to below speaks for most Kiwis.

Dear America and Americans There are only 9 days before Donald J Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA. This is a prospect that appalls most New Zealanders as it does millions of others all around the world. We had no say and no vote in the election so can only watch […]

via Dear America — Kevin’s Peace Musings