Wednesday, February 25, 2015

G is for Gondwanaland

New Zealand—and all the landmasses on the planet—exist because the continents drift around the globe. All the land in today’s Southern Hemisphere was once part of Gondwanaland, which began to break apart some 200-180 million years ago, during the mid Mesozoic era. Good thing it did.

When Gondwanaland broke apart from the other supercontinent, Laurasia, it ended the one supercontinent, Pangaea. However, Gondwanaland was actually far older than Pangaea, having formed between about 570 and 510 million years ago, Pangaea, on the other hand, didn’t form until around 300 million years ago. Pangaea was mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, unlike today’s earth.

When Laurasia broke up, it formed the landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere. Most of Gondwanaland became the lands of the Southern Hemisphere, with Antarctica, Madagascar, India, and Australia, separating from Africa about 184 million years ago. Australia then separated from Antarctica about 80 million years ago, and sped up about 40 million years ago.

New Zealand split from Antarctica between 130 and 85 million years ago. However, the shape and topography of New Zealand today has more to do with its location on the collision point of two great tectonic plates, but that’s a topic for another day.

New Zealand’s separation from Antarctica also led to unique plant and animal life in the country. There were no predatory mammals, for example, so birds such as the kiwi, kakapo, and takahē became flightless, and others often became large, like the Moa and Haast Eagle. Similarly, New Zealand has no snakes because, like predatory mammals, they didn’t make it here before the separation.

That separation also led to the survival of unique species, such as a species of reptile called the tuatara, which is often called a “living dinosaur” because it’s been around some 200 million years. The only survivors of the species’ order live in New Zealand. They share a common ancestor with lizards and snakes, which makes them invulable for studying how those species evolved.

And all of this is because Gondwanaland broke up.

The video above shows the tectonic history of earth, and also stretches 200 million years into the future when, some scientists believe, continents will again for a new supercontinent.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Good and bad

Yesterday was Auckland’s Pride Parade (NZ Herald Video], the third and biggest of them. We were at a wedding and weren’t able to go, but it seemed that for the most part it was a roaring success. However, there were some things that might be viewed somewhat differently by some people.

This year, the New Zealand National Party, the right-of-centre party currently leading the NZ Government, took part in the parade for the first time (the other major party, the New Zealand Labour Party, has always participated in the parade). This is a really good thing. I’m a staunch Labour voter, having never voted for National, so when I applaud the party for taking part, I sincerely mean that it’s a great thing, and a sign that even the Right is moving forward.

However: Two of the National Party Members of Parliament who marched should not have been there: National Party List MPs Melissa Lee and Alfred Ngaro both voted against the marriage equality bill and have, so far, never said that they’ve changed their positions now that the bill is law.

Without a change of heart or an apology to LGBT New Zealanders, their taking part in a parade celebrating LGBT people—the very people they voted against!—is, at the very best, vile and rank hypocrisy. At worst, it smacks of crass political opportunism, a kind of political pink washing: Trying to cleanse their anti-gay records by appearing in a parade for the very people they voted against.

Ngaro’s presence was particularly galling because only a few months ago he was using the marriage equality bill to rile up rightwing voters to vote against Labour. Clearly he has not only NOT changed his views, but he’s actively anti-gay, which makes his presence in the parade an insult to all LGBT New Zealanders.

I say again: It’s good National finally decided to take part in the parade as Labour has done all along. National MP Nikki Kaye pushed the idea of a revived parade (years after the former HERO Parade folded), and she should be applauded. She also absolutely should have been there. But why have two anti-gay MPs? Were no pro-LGBT National MPs available? National REALLY needs to understand that sending MPs with an anti-gay voting record is as bad as not being there at all.

Add it all up, and while it was good that National finally joined the parade, Ngaro and Lee should have stayed home.

This year was also the first year that New Zealand Police were allowed to march in uniform, something that I would’ve thought was a major step forward in relations with the Police. However, trans activists didn’t see it that way, and they protested participation by the Police. One protestor was injured in what the protesters says was excessive force by the police. I hope that a full, open and honest enquiry will get to the truth.

So, this year’s parade was diverse, with a bit of controversy, some protest, a lot of heated passion—and a whole lot of glitter. Just the way I like it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The people of New Zealand

There is a truth that some New Zealanders don’t want to face: We have bigots amongst us. Mostly this is in the context of race relations, and rightly so, because there are plenty of demagogues trying to exploit racial divides for political or commercial gain. But NZ has plenty of anti-LGBT bigots, too.

An Australian bank, ANZ, changed ATMs into “GayTMs” in a couple locations in support of LGBT Pride in Auckland, and one of those ATMs was vandalised. There have been plenty of people condemning that, of course, but others have been, shall we say, less reflective.

With that in mind, I present to you the people of New Zealand—all of these are actual comments on the New Zealand Herald:
• Homosexuals can do what they like, but I resent their misappropriation of a word that used to mean "cheerful".

• LGBTs have been bullying their own outlook of life onto the rest of society now for decades. Honest debate has been quashed by name calling [sic] and insults from the LGBT spokes people [sic]. They stole the natural beauty of a rainbow to be the pin up for what, let's face it, is an unnatural pairing.

People start rebelling if they are continually shouted down and forced to accept something which they either disagree with or have no opinion of. the [sic] LBGT community are now facing a second backlash against them, not for what or who they are, but because of their bullying tactics to force mainstream acceptance of their opinions.

I can have a debate with people of different political persuasions or religious bent, or scientific ideology. But I cannot debate with a gay [sic]. I am quickly denounced as a homophobe (which is insulting to the people who suffer real phobias, another reason the LBGT community have to be hated. [sic] get over yourself [sic]. being [sic] part of society is not dominating it. [sic]

• The whole concept is utterly ridiculous, PC new zealand [sic] gone mad.!!! [sic]
Why must the minority's [sic] be over represented [sic] catered to [sic].

• While I don't condone vandalism in any form I don't see why there should be an ATM machine desiganted [sic] specifically to the gay community? Should we have ATM's [sic] desiganated [sic] to colour of skin aswell [sic]?

• It's a real shame this has happened, however [sic] I think New Zealand is a haven for LGBTs compared with many, many counties [sic] in the world. Try Russia or the Middle East for example. I was in Jakarta, Indonesia a few years ago and witness [sic] transexuals [sic] being laughed at and shoved on the street by a group of people.

• ANZ's comment "Our Ponsonby GAYTM was vandalised this morning. Sadly some people still ignorant & intolerant" itself smacks of IGNORANCE & INTOLERANCE towards people who hold a different world view [sic]. Get over yourself [sic] ANZ. We don't all think like you.

• Why iss [sic] it necessary to have a GAYTM in the first place. I thought they just wanted to be accepted and treated like everyone else. Guess not.

• Really? was [sic] the straight community consulted before this ghastly abomination was conceived? of [sic] course, if something is thrust upon you without proper consent, or approval, people will get upset, and even take matters into their own hands. It might be an act of vandalism on the part of the perpetrator, but the act of exposing the GAYTM to the public is a much greater crime.

• There has always been a strong religious back bone [sic] in NZ society who personally view Gays as a sin against Nature and people who have abhorrent personal behavior [sic]. Even when these same people are publicly accepting of other peoples [sic] differences and supportive of their right to do whatever they like in the privacy of their own homes.

This is polarizing reaction [sic] when a minority group try and force their personal views upon the majority of society by staking claim of [sic] a publicly used utility [sic] such as a [sic] ATM and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a normal reaction when the ignorant and intolerant members of the Gay community do not respect the right of the Majority of society to "Not want to know"

• Having 'special' ATM's [sic] and Parades doesn't exactly scream wanting to be like everyone else.

• I'm sure we've all got something unique about ourselves we could have a Parade about, but most of us don't care to jump up and down on a Float showing how 'special' we and our exclusive club is.

• If it's no big deal to be gay these days, good for you, but the need to make a song and dance about it (literally) is what gets most people.

• For starters it didn't need the word gaytm [sic] on it. If they hadn't labelled it people would probably ignored it as a target. Sure the atm [sic] is still a little different but people wouldn't have cared. Then again it could have been vandalised by some people who don't like ANZ, people who didn't like the colour of the atm [sic], or people just being destructive for no reason. The main reason why it got hit is because they knew it would bring the press.

• this is the most stupid idea a bank has ever had ever! way [sic] to discriminate against the whole rest of the popoulation [sic] ANZ I will never be using you ever again.... this is aimed at a very small % of the population, where is the catholicATM [sic] or the DogloversATM [sic] or the StraghitATM?? [sic] howe [sic] obsurd [sic] the "gay" community are always wanting to be treated the "same" but demanding special treatment... get overyourself... [sic] pretty much no one cares if you are gay or not any more [sic]

• I would like to know why the ANZ feels they have to put up these ATMs? Can homosexuals not use a normal ATM?

Do they feel discriminated against when their ATM is just a machine in the wall with no floral patterns? Are they intimidated by a normal stock standard ATM?

Surely the share holders [sic] must be pretty filthy seeing such a waste of money on something that is always going to be vandalised (yes, regardless of how you feel about "haters" they will always be there) and therefore more money wasted.

Turn them into normal ATMs, pocket my money you charge me for using it and be done with the pro homo campaign that obviously has many opposed to it.

ANZ would do well with a bit of market research. They would find that (despite the media obfuscation [sic] and over selling [sic]) the vast majority of us still find homosexuality offensive. Yes, most say live and let live. But most don't want it rammed down their throats.

• I found these ATMs offensive when I first read the article about them. It's just another example of the hypocrisy of the 'LGBT community'. On the one hand is the "we want to be treated equally, we're normal, we're just like everyone else". On the other hand is "we're special, we celebrate how we're different from everyone else, we want a gay version of everything". Any straight person who makes a mistake about whether a gay person wants to be treated equally or specially is labelled a bigot.
And on Twitter:
To ANZ: “well I think if it’s your thing we should remove our accounts from you” and “Seems you prefer gay customers, would you like the rest to move” and “I don't mind what gays get up to in private, but don't expect business to puss [sic] it in my face”

Another user: “I agree with you. If not being normal is your thing thats [sic] fine but businesses shouldn’t waste money on this sort of crap.” And, “it could be that they're sick & tired of having this gay stuff shoved in their faces all the time”
Let’s re-cap, shall we? An Australian bank decides that as marketing ploy having “GayTMs” in a couple locations is a great idea. One of them is vandalised, for whatever reason, and in the Internet that becomes “the gays” demanding something or other that they have no right to demand in the first place (um, like respect, for example?) and when “normal” people attack, well, that’s just what we deserve—we had it coming! Do I have that about right? I know I do, thanks.

And to all the frightfully nice people who offered their sage wisdom online, I can only say, with the utmost love and respect, “fuck you very much”. Anyone who thinks that’s too harsh clearly doesn’t have a clue, but I’m happy to help such people find one.

Fortunately, MY readers aren’t like that. But unless you stand up to those who are, you’re not terribly far removed. The line between modernity and age-old bigotry is fine, but easy to spot—IF you want to.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

F is for ferns

If there’s one plant that’s most associated with New Zealand, it’s the fern. It provides both national emblems and the distinctive look of much of the New Zealand countryside. There are around 200 species of ferns in New Zealand (which is a lot for a non-tropical climate), about 40% of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Probably the best known New Zealand fern in the silver fern (Cyathea dealbata), or ponga in Māori (photo above, showing the fronds’ silvery underside, which give it its name). The silver fern is the emblem worn by all our national sporting teams, and also found in logos for New Zealand companies and organisations.
NZ Coat of Arms

The fern has many official uses, too, ranging from the Coat of Arms of New Zealand (right) to war memorials, and it’s also used on graves of fallen New Zealand soldiers. It’s even been proposed as the basis for a new New Zealand flag.

Sometimes, the tightly wound new frond, called a koru, is used as a symbol, too. It forms the basis of the logo for Air New Zealand, our national airlines, among many others. I took the photo of the koru (below–click to enlarge) a few Springs ago in our back yard.

 When I was a new immigrant, one of the most startling things to me was seeing forests of tree ferns—massive things, many metres tall. To me, rasied in the Midwest of the USA, it looked as if dinosaurs might be seen wandering by. It turns out that ferns are nearly twice as old as dinosaurs, emerging during the Devonian period of the Paleozoic era, some 380-400 million years ago (dinosaurs first emerged in the middle to late Triasic period of the Mesozoic era, some 230 million years ago). This means, of course, that ferns were around at the same time the dinosaurs were, so my imagination wasn’t too wrong…

The New Zealand Department of Convervation, which has a stylised koru in its logo, provides these Fern Facts:
  • The leaves of ferns are called fronds and when they are young they are tightly coiled into a tight spiral. This shape, called a ‘koru’ in Māori, is a popular motif in many New Zealand designs.
  • Ferns can be categorised based on their growth form such as tufted, creeping, climbing, perching and tree ferns.
  • One notable New Zealand fern is bracken (rārahu), which grows in open, disturbed areas and was a staple of the early Māori diet in places too cold for the kūmara to grow. The roots were gathered in spring or early summer and left to dry before they were cooked and eaten.
  • The silver fern or ponga is a national symbol and is named for the silver underside of its fronds.
  • The mamaku is New Zealand’s tallest tree fern, growing up to 20 metres high.
  • Wheki is another type of tree fern that can be distinguished by its hairy koru and ‘skirt’ of dead, brown fronds hanging from under the crown. It often forms groves by means of spreading underground rhizomes, which give rise to several stems.
  • Most ferns reproduce sexually, but some ferns also have efficient means of vegetative reproduction, such as the underground stems of bracken and the tiny bulblets that grow on the surface of fronds of the hen-and-chicken fern.
These days, one common fern is actually a pest: The tuber ladder fern, which is invasive and crowds out native ferns. I’ve battled them at every house we’ve lived in, and sometimes it seems kind of hopeless. Fortunately, our current house has several large native tree ferns (and no ladder ferns—yet).

Ferns are a symbol of New Zealand, in much the same way that the maple leaf is a symbol of Canada. Anyone who visits New Zealand will instantly see why that is. Plus, they’re really beautful.

Photo credits:

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Furbabies Three

I haven’t wanted to post anything for a few days (actually, this month has been tough…), but then this morning I saw all three furbabies resting on the bed and I had to take a quick snapshot. That meant I had to post the photo. Of course.

And, once again, the furbabies save the day.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Learning stuff

One of the things that the Internet, and YouTube in particular, excels at is making it easy to find out stuff. Whether it’s learning how to fold a fitted sheet, or a shirt, or maybe the effects of sitting all day, or anything else we might want to know, some site or video will tell us.

The trouble, though, is similar to that with news sites: How can we tell what’s good and useful, and what’s, well, not? For me, much of it is trial and error, usually because I stumbled across something. That’s certainly the way I’ve found a lot of useful YouTube Channels, ones that teach me stuff. I’ve shared many videos from those channels over the years.

But sometimes a recommendation from someone I know—even just when they share a video—can help me find new sources for learning stuff. The video above, from WatchMojo, counts down the “Top 10 YouTube Make You Smarter Channels”. I’m subscribed to many of the channels they list, but it gives me a few more to check out (and yes, I’ve shared a WatchMojo video before, too).

The thing I find YouTube most useful for is when I want to know how to do something: Chances are good there’s a video to instruct me on whatever it is I want to learn how to do. The “how to fold” videos I’ve shared are examples of this. I’ve also found text-based sites with instructions on how to do something I want to learn, but videos seem to make the skill easier to learn. Maybe that’s just me.

Finding good and reliable sites to learn stuff is relatively easy, I think, and worth the effort. Who wouldn’t want to learn new things?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Strange reflections

Whenever someone near to my own age who is well-known, or even just known to me, dies, it gives me pause. It’s that whole reminding me of my own mortality thing, because it reminds me of the fragility of my life, and that, statistically, the years ahead of me are more than likely to be fewer than the ones behind me.

Today I heard that Steve Strange (real name Steven John Harrington), one of the centres of the New Romantic movement in the 1980s, and lead singer of Visage, died of a heart attack aged 55. He was a little over four months younger than me, and he was also part of my youth.

The only Visage song I knew was also their biggest hit, “Fade to Grey” (video above). I loved that song when it was new, and it’s one of the few from that era that I sought out in digital form. The song reached Number 6 in Australia, Number 8 in the UK and Number 10 in New Zealand. I have no idea how well it did in the USA, but in those days I didn’t much care about such things.

I found out today that Steve Strange was also in the video for David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” (below), and I see him clearly in one frame at least. That was before “Fade To Grey”. I also learned that he was one of the leading club promoters of what came to be called the New Romantic sound.

But this isn’t really about Steve Strange as such, much as I like that one Visage song. Instead, this is about the extreme discomfort I feel when I hear about an age peer dying. When my high school friend Hector died, I described it as being like the wind was knocked out of me. When someone who I didn’t know—but who was nevertheless significant in my life—dies, it also affects me. When the person is the same age as me, more or less, the effect is magnified.

Over the years, many famous people who were a touchstone from my childhood or youth or early adulthood have died, and each time I’ve felt a twinge of loss, though more a reminder of lost youth. When an age-peer dies—whether close to me or a famous stranger—I think of my own possible mortality, and that’s something I never did when I was younger.

Statistically, the years ahead of me are more than likely to be fewer than the ones behind me. I know that. But when another part of my youth dies, I’m forced to face that fact. When the person is an age-peer, I find myself realising that there, but for the grace of whatever, go I.

Fade to grey.