Utopia is a dream – or is it?

Imagine a world where there is no war, nuclear/chemical/biological weapons are history and . A world where environmental problems are sustainable and the ecosystem is a healthy happy place. A world where crime is low, men and women of all skin colours and backgrounds get on without fear of discrimination. A world where politicians answer to their constituents.

It sounds great doesn’t it? The utopia envisaged by the Green Party and social justice campaigners is an admirable goal and one we should be striving to get as near as we can to.

The reality is rather more grim. One might have thought with all of the technology and know how in the Western world we might have been entering some sort of age where we are reaching an understanding with the world around us, even if it is rather lopsided. One might have thought after two harrowing World Wars that the international legal framework that began to be developed with the foundation of the United Nations would serve as a template for nations across the world to look up to. One may have hoped with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of Communism over the following two years that international rivalries might start to be put aside for a common good.

Sadly that does not seem to have materialized. And indeed after a period of a few years in which fleeting glimpses of progress were few and far apart, progress started rolling backwards. It is possible in the 20 years since 1999 to see how far the world has gone backwards, environmentally, socially, politically, and in the last few years also economically. Several interlinked causes can be identified for this massive failing:

  1. A few very rich people control the media, and are able to influence the narratives – divide and conquer; certain groups in society are the devil you know; fear of a brave new world where peace and reconciliation have a chance
  2. Dollars talk louder than laws and the lobbyist with the fattest bank account is more important to elected officials than the ordinary man who might not be aware of what is happening
  3. Those lobbyists are paying politicians to sabotage social progress by giving them substantial donations for their election expenses
  4. International law, which was something to strive for and uphold during the Cold War and early 1990’s is now some sort of bogeyman – a hindrance to the lobbyist and fearmonger

Environmentally the future is grim. If climate change does not induce massive social breakdown, the complete and utter destruction of the global ecosystem will. The rate of resource consumption has seen half of the known biosphere disappear before human eyes – if geologic time is compressed into a day, humans have been around for one (1) minute, and it is highly improbable we will be around for another.

Socially, the few very rich people in the world are looking for bolt holes. They are looking for places they can go when the socio-economic/environmental collapse that the anthropocene is, becomes reality. The progress on same sex marriage, the feel good banning of plastic bags and attempts to are just fluffy wool stuff being pulled down over our eyes, yet at the same time things that need to happen. Only the demise of neoliberal market economics will change this for the better.

Politically, the Putins, the Trumps and Jinping’s of the world all crave one drug above all else. Power. Cashed up with the huge resources of their individual governments propaganda machines at their disposal, a crumpled opposition that in the case of the first two is arrested, harassed and jailed on trumped up charges, beating them is an almost insurmountable task. And although the United States has not sunk to that level yet, its dysfunctional Electoral College system, the rampant availability of corporate dollars in return for doing as their lobbyists demand, mean their system is far from the free and fair thing it is portrayed as.

New Zealand might be grateful for its isolation at times. But as we are strongly integrated into the neoliberal system, and have been a champion of free trade agreements despite none of them having more than mediocre improvements in terms of our socio-economic well being, we will not be immune. As we have had a conservative Parliament rarely able to see the bigger picture and look beyond three year election cycles, opportunities to break out of the mould have gone by.

We will never be able to undo the damage that has been done to the environment on our own. Nor will ending the failed neoliberal experiment necessarily stop all of the economic impacts likely to happen. But if New Zealand embarks on a bold and brave adventure that I am going to try to describe over the next few days, maybe we can show the world a different way.

The Hikurangi Trench: New Zealand’s biggest tsunami hazard

Last night on the Seven Sharp programme, the hosts had a flat of young people in Napier City conduct and earthquake and tsunami evacuation drill. The earthquake, a fictional magnitude 8.9 on the Hikurangi Trench has triggered a tsunami and the occupants have 20 minutes to reach ground, with 60 seconds to get what they need and get out of the house. The objective immediately post earthquake was to get to Hospital Hill in a set period of time before a tsunami arrived.

The participants in the Seven Sharp drill did not quite make it. 2 young ladies and a young man had 60 seconds to decide what to take and get out of the house. They had to reach Hospital Hill about 2 kilometres away in the estimated 20 minutes they would have. They were out the door in a minute and were pretty sensible about what they took with them – something to stay warm, water and so forth and they had to carry it. Speed was of the essence, and at times despite the foot wear they were wearing, the ladies were running where they could.

One day there will be a substantial earthquake on the Hikurangi subduction zone. It will be anywhere between magnitude 8.5 and 8.9. It will last between 4-5 minutes and be felt the length and breadth of New Zealand. The above drill was aimed at Hawkes Bay, which will feel the full effect of the earthquake and be one of the first places to be hit by the tsunami – Gisborne and Wairarapa being next.

The biggest problem will not necessarily be the earthquake, although that will in itself be a massive event. Rather it is the tsunami risk that should cause people the most concern. From the subduction zone boundary to coastal Hawkes Bay is 110 kilometres. In the travel time of a tsunami that is about 20 minutes, possibly less.

One should not rely on the authorities to issue a warning in time. The warning system might well have been damaged in the earthquake. The people manning it might have injuries or other more immediate concerns such as making sure their headquarters is safe to occupy and getting the Emergency Operations Centre established in accordance with the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act, 2002. During that time a tsunami heading for nearby coast lines would have a significant head start.

In a real event though, things will be about 10x tougher. We will assume that it is indeed at night time. When the shaking stops different people will react differently to the situation. A lot will be in shock and not thinking coherently. Before one can leave the house or building they are in to go inland they need to be able to safely clear a route and make sure all of their fellow occupants are safe. 1 minute would easily pass in that time – 4-5 minutes to get out might be more realistic. The power will most certainly be out in large parts of the city if not across the region so there will not be any working street lights, traffic lights or other lighting to guide them. There will be constant aftershocks and some might be substantial events in themselves. In a city built on marine sediments, liquefaction will have flooded many roads, which will also be cracked. Downed power lines, foot paths blocked with debris from buildings and trees pointing in crazy directions will also hinder progress. And if all that is not enough, there will most certainly be people who are – semi-understandably – panicking even though that is the worst thing one can do and trying to drive out despite the obstacles and potentially blocking others.

The tsunami will behave differently depending on several physical factors. For example the sea floor topography will help to determine the size and shape of the waves as they approach. Will they slow down gradually as they run up a fairly open and gently grading beach, where the classic waves that most associate with tsunami’s will form? Will they be coming up a narrowing bay that forces the waves to converge and become closely packed with short distances between them?

So, there you have it. Could those of you in a tsunami inundation zone find your way to high ground following a big earthquake?

Is Shane Jones fit to be a Minister of the Crown?

Shane Geoffrey Jones is a 59 year two time Member of Parliament and Minister of the Crown.

Mr Jones entered Parliament in 2005 in 27th place on the Labour Party list. For the next nine years until his 2014 departure Mr Jones built up a reputation as a colourful M.P.

Combative on one hand, charismatic on the other, some may well see Mr Jones as the successor intended for when Mr Peters decides to end his political career. Divisive, yet well known and liked in key electorates it hardly seems like a logical choice for New Zealand First to be led by someone who only joined the party in the year of the election.

Mr Jones has courted significant controversy during his time as a Labour Member of Parliament and Minister of Immigration, as well as his current tenure as a New Zealand First Member of Parliament and Minister of Regional Development.  During the latter he approved the citizenship application of a Chinese man who it was understood was at risk of execution if he stayed in China. Mr Jones ignored official advice to decline the application because of false representations on it. The man was charged with false representations. The charges were later dropped, but not before Mr Jones was asked for the case to be referred to the Auditor General, which he agreed to.

Between 2014 and 2017, Mr Jones was out of Parliament, having chose to retire and become a Pacific Economic Ambassador. He re-entered Parliament in September 2017 as a Member of New Zealand First, just a few months after joining a party in which he had had little or no involvement with up to that point.

Since re-entering politics, Mr Jones’ reputation for controversy has continued. In March 2018, he and Air New Zealand engaged in a spat over the company’s decision to cut flights into Kapiti, with Mr Jones assailing the Chief Executive. A few months later he attacked Air New Zealand over their flight safety videos.

But his most recent spat is the most serious. Mr Jones took issue with a journalist for trying to hold him to account on reassurances he had made to colleagues over a meeting about a project where he declared a conflict of interest. Hamish Rutherford published a report regarding this. Mr Jones threatened to malign him in Parliament under Parliamentary privilege. Whilst this enables politicians to exercise freedom of speech to say whatever they want as long as it is done within the House, this is a serious issue because whomever is maligned has no legal comeback whatsoever.

A Minister of the Crown Mr Jones should know better – and I suspect Mr Jones does – than to make such threats and to think that he is somehow above scrutiny would be a contradiction of media freedom in New Zealand. It is after the entire purpose as far as I am concerned of the fifth estate to hold politicians and other officials to account.

International Womens Day and International Mens Day should complement each other

International Womens Day was on Friday 8 March. It was an opportunity to celebrate everything that females have contributed to society. It was a chance to acknowledge that whilst much good has been done, there is a lot more still to happen, and that not all countries are trying to move their women forward.

In 8 months time we will have International Mens Day. It will be a chance to acknowledge the contribution of men to our society, the issues we face and how we can move them forward. And it is a fully justified international day on the calendar. It is linked to I.W.D. whether either side likes it or not and proponents of both need to realize the opportunities for co-operation are too big to ignore.

To understand fully the problems that caused the #MeToo movement to form, and which drive and will continue to help drive the problem, we must look at the upbringing of men in our society. We must look at the broken families that many sexual offenders come from, the messages that men from those kinds of hostile environments where they would have had to fend for themselves and might have grown up with no father or mother figures in their lives.

I say “we” because both men and women have contributed to this sorry state of affairs and all who have need to own their contribution. I probably sit off to one side from the mainstream #MeToo movement and that is fine by me. I want people to stop and think about why, because there is a purpose behind it.

I am different. From a very early age I have known I am different, and have grown to accept that.  A combination of hearing loss (now compensated by a hearing aid), physical handicap (which has largely been overcome, except for a slight speech impediment) and severe hypertension mean  I grew up mentally in some respects much faster than many in my age group.

It has caused me inordinate amounts of grief. When I was younger and trying to get my head around all of this, there were days when I just wanted to shut myself off from the world. The worst part was missing social cues in various social situations, such as a change of subject, interrupting, not realizing I was not involved and so on. I would get grumpy at some of my best mates for no reason and they eventually stopped being friends and to this day I regret it, but I knew no other way. The one or two times someone confronted me about things I had done or not done I would get upset that no one had the courage to tell me earlier.

When I was at intermediate I experienced heavy and prolonged bullying that only stopped when another classmate got so upset that he went home and told his dad, who rang my Mum. The following day there was an urgent meeting between my mother, myself and the teacher. The perpetrators were very lucky not to get suspended. It was a combination of physical and mental bullying – after P.E. belongings would be thrown into the girls changing quarters so that I would have no choice but to wait until they had changed and left; down trousers; flour being thrown on food I was cooking in home economics classes among other things. Both girls and boys participated in it. The worst though was actually by a girl who smashed my hearing aid.

There was mental bullying too. I was a sissy, a fat bastard, someone who would never be able to love or be loved. I was apparently a pervert and a fiddler. The accusers even arranged a boys only class meeting with the teacher to lay into me with further false accusations.

I am lucky. I had a supportive family. I learnt right from wrong before anything happened. Not everyone does. Because not all boys have that support they are prone to derailing and becoming abusers themselves, but not nearly enough is done to stop that kind of situation happening.

So, my message is simple. We should help our men folk get over bullying, because in turn we are probably doing ourselves a major favour getting them out of an environment where they might come to believe that abusing women is an acceptable idea.

If you do nothing else, show your teenage son/daughter this. It does not need to be like this, but until we accept the damage that this kind of behaviour does, #MeToo will have a purpose for existing.

No place for Jihadi’s in New Zealand

Recently it has emerged that a New Zealander who served with what most people recognize as Islamic State, wants to come home and says that despite his activities, he is still a New Zealander. But was this really Islamic State he fought and not something masquerading as one, whilst being something entirely different?

Islamic State is not a State and nor is it Islamic. It is Daesh. The term Daesh is an Arabic term normally uttered with disgust or contempt and it refers to those who try to impose views on others that any proper discourse would take to be bigotted. It takes the most outdated parts of the Qu’ran and turns them into law. Those laws and the principles on which they were founded are completely contrary to New Zealand, New Zealand law and New Zealanders expectations.

A person who leaves New Zealand to support such an organisation is thereby saying that they no longer want to respect the laws and customs of New Zealand. They are saying that they support a type of organisation that is expressly forbidden under New Zealand terrorism laws and that they see no problems with actions that pose a potential threat to our national security.

Such a person cannot have a place in New Zealand. Should such people be allowed to live in New Zealand they would have to be subject to surveillance that under any other circumstances I think New Zealanders would disagree with, and possibly even protest.

Thus I come to the conclusion that Mark John Taylor, a New Zealander who has gone to Syria and served Daesh has no place coming back to New Zealand. Mr Taylor has committed a criminal offence in burning his New Zealand passport, as well as encouraging people to wage jihad on A.N.Z.A.C. Day. His remorse is at best, questionable – was he really naive and just being silly or did Mr Taylor really know what he was doing? My thoughts are that it is probably the latter: he knew what he was doing and why.

How Mr Taylor comes back to New Zealand is unknown. He faces a number of legal and logistical hurdles, long before he gets to the New Zealand border (airport). The first is that there is no New Zealand diplomatic presence of any kind in Syria, which means that he would have to leave the country and go probably to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey to present at a New Zealand embassy or other diplomatic mission. Having made it that far – and assuming he was not held at the border of his country of choice – Mr Taylor will have no documentation on him since he destroyed his passport and whatever New Zealand mission he presents at will become aware of his past and might well conclude that it is not proper for them to issue him some kind of visa or other documentation allowing him to go home.

And then, even if he somehow makes it to Customs at a New Zealand airport or other border entry point, Mr Taylor will be of keen interest to the New Zealand Police and Customs. He will most probably be taken into custody whilst they establish who he is, his intentions and whether he poses a threat. He will have to answer before a court of law or other hearing as to what he was doing in Syria and be prepared for the probability of criminal charges relating to that.

So, whilst it looks like we are not going to strip him of his nationality, there probably cannot be a much harder legal road ahead if he tried. And as it is of his own making he should not expect sympathy.