Kia ora: I am lacking in thoughts this month and I have many thanks for Aaron Davies who has helped out. AND SO from Aaron: ‘Despite the calendar showing summer getting closer, the wind and rain outside here in Wellington seems to suggest otherwise. The election happened, and many people in my social circles are quite disappointed with the result. The nature of our political system means it may be weeks or even months before we actually have a final result. History does have a precedent for that! Summer could come with a radical change, or another three years of the same. But with both outcomes people will still have the power to lobby governments and promote causes of great importance. The past few months have been a personal challenge for me – struggling to find employment while dealing with many of the challenges of life. Despite these hurdles I strive to take comfort and power from knowing that I can contribute to the forging of the future, even if only in my own little way.’

Monthly meeting: Monday October 9, 6.30 pm

A Basic Income Calculator

Iain Middleton presented this paper at a recent Economic and Social Research Aotearoa Conference at the Auckland campus of Massey University. Basic Income theories have been proposed for many years, indeed centuries. Now, in the early 21st century, momentum for a Basic Income is growing as societies grapple with the issues of accelerating inequality, an increasing rate of automation, and artificial intelligence. Guy Standing writes in his recently published book Basic Income: And How We Can Make it Happen (2017):- “Leaving aside instrumental reasons for supporting a basic income, the thrill lies in the potential to advance full freedom and social justice, and the values of work and leisure over the dictates of labour and consumption”. The question is then asked: “What will a Basic Income look like and how can it be funded?” Many different proposals have been suggested but it is often difficult to check the validity of the claims made for the different proposals or to compare the different alternatives. Calculations to evaluate the various claims are tedious and time consuming requiring the development and comparison of large tables.

 

A tool has been devised to allow anyone to quickly evaluate the different Basic Income Proposals for New Zealand, a Basic Income Calculator. An extensive evaluation must encompass many parameters. There are four important parameters to consider – should a Basic Income be tax free or taxed, and should we continue with the present progressive tax system or change to a flat tax? Two principal options stand out, a taxable Basic Income with a progressive tax, similar to our present New Zealand Superannuation scheme, and a tax free Basic Income with a flat tax. The Basic Income Calculator is designed to be easy to use. It allows different combinations of the above four parameters and other inputs to be immediately assessed, showing the impacts on the incomes of individuals with different income levels, before and after a Basic Income. Graphical outputs are provided to quickly assess the impact of a Basic Income. These graphs plot: Income before and after a Basic Income over a wide range of income levels; show the change of Income in absolute dollars and as a percentage; show the change in the effective tax rate; and provide comparisons between the principal options. The funding of a Basic Income and the effects of different scenarios on alleviating poverty and income redistribution will be illustrated and discussed.

Note the change of day to Monday 9 October, as the venue is not available on the 1st Monday.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

2017 Humanist Society NZ AGM 1.00 pm til 4.00 pm

This year’s AGM will be held Sunday 29 October in the Mezzanine Floor Meeting Room at the Wellington Central Library. Interested persons are very welcome to join us on our Committee. After the AGM we will discuss plans for the IHEU General Assembly which is to be held in NZ next year. We hope to showcase our beautiful country with a Road Trip. The General Assembly will open in Auckland 3-6 August 2018 followed by the Road trip down to Wellington for a closing event. You are invited to join us. We would like your ideas for unusual, interesting and fun sightseeing excursions to incorporate along the way.

Advance Notice for November meeting: Jonathon Harper will speak to us about Peter Ellis, the child care worker who was accused of sexual offences involving children at the Christchurch Civic Creche in 1993. Peter Ellis was caught up in what is now termed ‘day care sexual abuse hysteria’ which originated out of California in 1982. Peter maintains his innocence but has not yet received a long overdue pardon. This is an injustice that must be remedied.

2018 Global Atheist Convention, Reason to Hope. 9–11 February 2018 Melbourne Australia The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) has announced that evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and Ben Goldacre, best-selling author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma, will speak at this Convention. Tickets are now on sale for the 2018 Global Atheist Convention, via the Convention website at atheistconvention.org.au.

2017 NZ Skeptics Conference: A message from The NZ Skeptics Conference 2017 team.  

This year’s NZ Skeptics Conference is happening on the weekend of the 24th – 26th of November in Wellington, and we’d love to see you there. The weekend starts on the Friday evening with a pub quiz all about skepticism. Come along and show us your knowledge on such topics as the MMR vaccine, over-unity devices and HAARP. The evening is open to anyone who’s registered for the conference. We have a great line-up for both Saturday and Sunday. We’re especially excited to have Cara Santa Maria (from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast) and Britt Marie Hermes (an ex-Naturopath who now blogs for Science Based Medicine) joining us this year from overseas, but we also have some fascinating local and Aussie speakers. You can see a list of our current line-up of speakers on the conference website. Tickets are available for the entire weekend or just one day, and there’s a discount for anyone who’s unwaged. On the Saturday evening we’re hosting a dinner (separate registration required) where you can chill out with fellow skeptics, chat with our speakers and enjoy some weird and wonderful entertainment. If all of this sounds fun, please head to our website and book your place now:  conference.skeptics.nz If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the conference organising team at [email protected]. We look forward to seeing you in November!

Advocating for the Rights of Women in Bangladesh

Prithu Sanyal, from Bangladesh, who has found asylum in Germany, is continuing his efforts to advocate for the rights of women in Bangladesh by developing an internet portal “Nari” (Women) which will work for feminism by publishing news of oppression to women and articles in Bengali from feminist writers. In the following letter, Prithu describes his plans:

‘You might know, I was looking to get myself engaged in activities for human rights. When I didn’t get any hopeful news from others, I thought, what if I could start something by own self! In this way, I planned three projects to start. “Nari” is one of them. I will also write you later about rest others It is not necessary to mention that the women of Bangladesh are under transgression in every sectors from home to ministry like other developing and underdeveloped countries in the world. They are being deprived even from their basic human rights. Let alone domestic violence, women are not safe even in the street. Rape is like a common event in Bangladesh. You will get more than three news of rape in newspapers daily and big number of sexual assaults are not coming out in the scene for various barrier.

Yes, you will get a huge number of women or girls are working in the garments sector as it is very cheap to get them for work. Actually, this sector is in continuation for this cheap women workers. There are little number of women also working in various corporate offices also. But, they are also being paid a discriminated salary in comparison with man in same position.

Though we have our Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and the leader of the opposition are women, but is not the original scene. Socially, our women are living like scary animals in society. Till now they do not have the permission to go out for work in almost all part of the country. They are completely bound to their family of guardian for any decision. It is really unbelievable that the government has also approved a law for the marriage of under aged girl where a child could be married to obey the decision of family as the age of girl is not mentioned in the law.

On the other hand, maximum girls are thrown out from the education after primary and secondary levels. It also keeps the almost all women uneducated and worthless in the society. Who are coming out from these obstacles and having higher education, they are also not in good situation in the society. Most of them are going back to the kitchen to follow traditional life of a housewife. Very few numbers of them are going out for jobs and they are being oppressed by the surroundings also. I already mentioned, the women are leading a life of scary animal in the society. Almost in all of the offices women are being sexually harassed.

After Taslima Nasrin, there is nothing found countable in Bangladesh which is effective to promote empowerment of women. Though there are some NGOs are working but it is very little and not from intellectual level.

Despite all of the situation, it is really hopeful that we found some women and girls are expressing their views and thinking for women’s rights in their writing in social networks who are not well organized. We also found some female writers and activists who wrote courageously and got their life in risk. This is why, I planned to build a platform to publish their writings and spread from one place which could aware others about their rights and encourage to write and express their views also. There is no way to deny that sharing thoughts can change society and an organized movement also supportive to reduce risks of attack from opposition.

To build the platform, I shared my idea with another exile writer and activist named Choity Ahmed who is now staying in Sweden and she agreed with me to start. We planned to start a website in Bengali language where we will publish news of oppression to women and articles in Bengali from feminist writers. We also contacted with some writers and shared our idea who became very happy after having this news. I am sure, we will be successful to promote feminism in Bangladesh by our works.

We named our portal “নারী” (NARI) which is a Bengali word means women. We set our motto “ সমতাই লক্ষ্য” means “equity is the goal”. The developer is working to build the website and he will pass it to us on 24 August. We planned to start it from first September after one week of trial. Meanwhile, I started the Facebook page to get audience and advertise. The web address is https://nari.news, and the Facebook page is https://facebook.com/naridotnews.’

What is Behind the Violence in Myanmar?

Francis Wade, a free lance journalist has published a book, about the unrest in Myanmar  Myanmar’s Enemy Within, Buddhist violence and the making of a Muslim ‘other (August 2017) explaining the deep roots of the violence, and the long-term persecution of the Rohingya people.

For decades Myanmar has been portrayed as a case of good citizen versus bad regime – men in jackboots maintaining a suffocating rule over a majority Buddhist population beholden to the ideals of non-violence and tolerance. But in recent years this narrative has been upended.

In June 2012, violence between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in western Myanmar, pointing to a growing divide between religious communities that before had received little attention from the outside world. Attacks on Muslims soon spread across the country, leaving hundreds dead, entire neighbourhoods turned to rubble, and tens of thousands of Muslims confined to internment camps. This violence, breaking out amid the passage to democracy, was spurred on by monks, pro-democracy activists, and even politicians.

In his book, Francis Wade, explores how the manipulation of identities by an anxious ruling elite has laid the foundations for mass violence, and how, in Myanmar’s case, some of the most respected and articulate voices for democracy have turned on the Muslim population at a time when the majority of citizens are beginning to experience freedoms unseen for half a century.

In a blog by Samira Shackle on the New Humanist website: newhumanist.org.uk, Samira asks Francis Wade some questions.

Should we be surprised at the violence between Buddhists and Muslims we are now seeing in Myanmar?

We should be shocked, but not surprised. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims—the primary target of the 2012 violence—have been forced to flee their homes in western Myanmar into Bangladesh since 25 August. We’re witnessing a pogrom of unimaginable intensity—ethnic cleansing by forced removal. But for this to happen, and for the military to receive the popular support it appears to have, certain conditions and perceptions need to be in place. The denial of citizenship to Rohingya means they lack state protections, however limited these are in general in Myanmar. Soldiers are seemingly free to execute civilians and raze entire villages without fear of legal recrimination. Once you’re legally cast as a pariah group it feeds local perceptions of you as an alien entity, of threatening intent—you must have been made stateless because to allow you to be a citizen would imperil our security. You cannot have the rights that would grant you greater political power, because that would be used to pursue whatever cause your group has set out to achieve—in the case of the Rohingya, the theft of resources, the Islamisation of Myanmar, and so on. It produces the same mental state that we’ve seen presage other campaigns of ethnic cleansing. Look at how these same processes developed among supporters of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies. It is primarily fear, aided hugely by dehumanising propaganda and policies—tight restrictions on movement and access to healthcare; checkpoints at which Rohingya must show ID cards, and which reinforce this perception of them being a threat. That fear helps to justify the violence towards this community, and construe that violence as defensive. That’s how you sell a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Hence a situation has arisen whereby those who criticise the military’s actions are rounded upon by the same people who for so long opposed the military. Now that it has ostensibly stepped back from power, a newer, even more menacing threat has emerged in the form of a Muslim group with apparently Islamising intentions. We’ve seen versions of this play out in transitional societies across the world.

Buddhism is often understood in the west as an exceptionally peaceful, serene religion. Is that view simplistic?

You’d be hard pressed to find any justification for violence in the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, which is what the majority in Myanmar practice. But what’s always forgotten in these analyses of how certain religions are supposed to “be” is that people act primarily as human beings, with human fears and anxieties. During several conversations with monks and Buddhist laymen that I recount in the book, I was told that while Buddhism doesn’t support violence, those Buddhists who have perpetrated violence acted with the conviction that if Buddhism ceased to exist in Myanmar, the country would descend into anarchy. “If the Buddhist cultures vanish … there wouldn’t be the influence of peace and truth. There will be more discrimination and violence,” one person told me. We have this habit of essentialising the belief systems and cultures of faraway places. We’ve done this as much with Buddhism as Islam, stereotyping them and attaching different qualities to each. It’s a way to better interpret the exotic—to radically simplify it—but in the process, all nuance and objectivity is lost. These may be Buddhists committing violence, but they’re also humans. I think it’s key to look beyond the religious element—it appears to me more an expression of nationalist-based anxieties, of which the fear of Buddhism’s demise is but one aspect.

 

Humanism is a philosophical perspective; a way of viewing the world, using evidence based beliefs rather than super natural authority. We live in a world where everything is political so it is not possible to be humanist and non-political. However humanism has no belief about which is the best political party, about the environment, socialism or capitalism, belief in a republic or a monarchy or whether we should legalise currently illegal drugs. It does mean you will be opposed to the imposition of religion or any supernatural, non-evidence based, belief system on society by the means of state power and you believe the best way to understand the world around us is by evaluating the evidence and reasoning from the evidence.