While the international community is paralyzed, Burma's monks are deservedly winning the hearts of the people with their relief work since the cyclone (IHT 30 May 08).
While the government has been criticized for obstructing the relief effort, the Buddhist monastery, the traditional center of moral authority in most villages here, proved to be the one institution people could rely on for help.
Monasteries in the delta--those still standing after the storm--were clogged with refugees. People went there with donations or as volunteers. Monasteries that served as religious centers, orphanages and homes for the elderly were now also shelters for the homeless.
As, at last a trickle of visa are granted to UN and other relief workers, Burma's Myanma Ahlin newspaper said that while the country welcomed international aid, "Myanmar people are self-reliant and can stand on their own without foreign assistance." The state-run newspaper said that people in the delta could survive on "fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers" if they could not get "bars of chocolate donated by the international community."
Previously I have concluded that armed intervention to help the cyclone devastated people of Burma would be foolish. Now I am not so sure.
Benedict Rogers works for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide, is Deputy Chairman of the British Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and has made over 20 visits to Burma and its borders. The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, reminds Rogers of Lady Hester Random in the movie Tea with Mussolini. A resident of 1930s Florence, she accepts Mussolini's assurances of his personal his personal protection and it takes a long time for her to find that he cannot be trusted.
After meeting Burma's leader, Senior General Than Shwe on 23 May, Mr Ban told the world that the general had agreed to allow international aid workers into the cyclone affected areas, regardless of nationality and had "taken quite a flexible position". No sooner had Ban Ki-moon left the country than the regime began to backtrack. Prime Minister Thein Sein announced that the regime would 'consider' allowing access to international aid workers, 'if they wish to engage in rehabilitation and reconstruction work'. Rogers says,
Declaring the relief phase 'over' before it has even begun is a death sentence for the desperate survivors, thousands of whom are still bereft of basic emergency aid, including food, medical care and shelter. To talk of reconstruction and rehabilitation when people are dying of starvation and treatable disease is a scandal. Unless aid workers are permitted to enter the cyclone areas without restriction, to assess the needs and monitor the distribution of aid, there will be few people left to rehabilitate and little point in reconstruction.
. . . Regime officials don't even attempt to conceal their contempt for human life. One official told foreign aid workers: "What you, westerners, don't seem to understand is that people in the delta are used to having no water to drink and nothing to eat."
. . . Burma's military regime is ranked as the most corrupt in the world, alongside Somalia, and it has shown its character in full colours in the past month. Of the aid that has arrived in Burma, only a trickle has reached the people. No more than a fifth of the 2.5 million cyclone survivors have received help. Much of the aid has been seized by the authorities and taken for their own use, or sold on the streets.
. . . But still the world's diplomats and politicians wait, and talk, and grasp at straws. Even the aid workers are too scared to speak the truth. Some will argue that we should not 'politicise' a humanitarian situation. But it is already politicised, whether we like it or not, by the regime. It is the regime's policies--not simply neglect, but deliberate, calculated obstruction--that are at the root of the crisis. It is the regime that is playing politics with people's lives.
With more than one million people believed to be homeless, and 200,000 feared dead, it it entirely reasonable that Rogers says that "The time has come for action instead of talk."
But what action? Rogers says that a quick deadline should be set for visas to be issued and access to be granted, without restriction, to all international aid workers. If the deadline is not met, the UN should exercise its 'responsibility to protect.' Foreign navies should intervene to deliver aid and "be prepared to deal with the consequences."
A report published by Vaclav Havel and Desmond Tutu in September 2005 found that Burma fits the criteria for United Nations Security Council (UNSC) intervention. Yet the UN is impotent, because China would veto any decision of the Security Council. God help us if the US and a "coalition of the willing" were to intervene unilaterally.
There are other ways to help unseat the Burmese régime; a boycott companies that trade with it for example. Nor should one be a tourist there. But this will do little for the people now in urgent need.
Rogers resist any comparison with Iraq, quoting a letter of 20 May to President Bush from Burmese democracy and religious groups. They write
Intervention will be seen as divine intervention by the Burmese people, not only to help the cyclone victims but also to finally free the entire nation from the military yoke. . . . Please do not compare Burma with Iraq, because Buddhist monks, students, Burmese patriots will happily assist you with whatever you need to go inside Burma and help the cyclone victims and entire nation. We are willing to go together with whoever enters Burma first. We will recruit translators, doctors and nurses. Many concerned Burmese citizens are willing to join the intervention. Please do not waste precious time.
"Too many times the international community has shown its impotence in the face of dictators. Burma presents an opportunity to be different.", Rogers says.
Dr Patricia Brennan, pioneering former president of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, was interviewed on the ABC's Religion Report on 28 May 08. This extract from what she said catches my particular attention.
It [consecration of women as Anglican bishops] will just roll on now automatically as it would in any institution. And so now it's not only that they're used to women bishops, they [the Australian people] want women bishops. They think it's normal, even people with no interest in the church are very sympathetic to it.
. . . I think that happens in social change. I mean the notion of a woman priest was obscene when I was in my 30s, and we first put the word 'woman' with 'priest', and I think that level of taboo was that there'd never been women in the sanctuary.
Crittenden: Like 'gay' with 'marriage'.
Brennan: Exactly right, 'gay' with 'marriage'. The fact that there's always been, everybody's known that people are gay, it's not something you have to announce with a big announcement, it's known, it may not be tolerated very well, it may not be sympathized with, but it's accepted. But one of the things that was said in the Western Australian press was that a woman bishop would increase sympathy towards openly gay. And I thought, isn't that fascinating? Openly gay. Gay is accepted, openly gay is the thing that sticks in the neck of the conservative church, because it means it's about relationships and it's about marriage, it's about it being normalised.
Crittenden: And that's where the taboo comes in.
Brennan: Absolutely. What consenting adults do in private, however it may be viewed is not of concern to the church, it's when something is blessed and especially a relationship is blessed.
Many could quite reasonably disagree. Some Christian ethicists would say that God, and hence the church, cares about what consenting adults do in private. Likewise, we cannot say that social change of itself is a mandate for change in the church's views. A social change must be one that reflects essential truth--holiness, goodness, freedom, justice--before there can be any imperative for the church to respond. And that essential truth, for us, is embodied in the person of Christ, as Christ is made known to us in Word and Spirit.
However, we, the church, have no choice but to bless wherever God the Spirit blesses.
God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it? See, I received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. (Numbers 23.19-20)
Australia has a deserved reputation of being home to numerous venomous biting and stinging creatures. Since spending my primary school years in the Stony Rises, a part of Western Victoria that was rocky and infested with snakes, I have never been too fond of them. Many of the volcanic rocks had been gathered up many years ago and made into superb dry stone walls, which are now an important heritage but make great homes for snakes.
However, a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that spiders and bees cause the most venomous bite and sting hospitalisations. Over 11,000 people in Australia were hospitalised because of a venomous bite or sting between 2002 and 2005. Bites from snakes accounted for just 15% of these, most commonly from Brown snakes (54%) Black snakes (15%) and Tiger snakes (11%).
Spider bites accounted for a third of the hospitalisations, especially red-back spiders (59% of the spider bites) white-tailed spiders (7%) and funnel web spiders (3%). (A white-tailed spider once bit my mother to her considerable distress.) Bee stings accounted for almost quarter of all bite and sting hospitalisations. Other nasties that put people in hospital include ants, centipedes, millipedes, jellyfish and stingrays.
The continuing fuss about Bill Henson's photographs of nude children has made me think. I am an keen advocate of child protection and a volunteer member of my church's child protection training team. But I am also a keen art lover and an advocate of civil liberties.
The protection of children must always come first. Psychologist Steve Biddulph writes that "Art or not, it's still exploitation" (The Age, 28 May 2008).
It is astonishing that the debate over Bill Henson's photographs has been framed as art versus pornography, as if these were mutually exclusive, tidy categories that settle the matter once and for all. And as if art somehow excuses us from moral behaviour.
The real issue is exploitation. That is also the issue in pedophilia. . . . Art is part of society, and however it serves to provoke, it has to do so within moral limits. [C]onsent is not a justification, as it is almost impossible for a young person to separate their own feelings from those around them, and they depend on adults to both affirm them, and yet give them space to unfold who they are, a process taking many years.
. . . Photographing teenage children naked and exposed, while it could be innocent and beautiful in a different kind of world, takes their power and their privacy away and lets the world in. It's using them.
Nevertheless, as Michelle Grattan highlights in the same issue of The Age, it was foolhardy of the Prime Minister to intervene as he did.
The trouble, if you are a Prime Minister, with mixing politics and art is that every now and then the artists bite the politicians.
Kevin Rudd got some nice mileage--to say nothing of great pictures--from having Cate Blanchett and others from the arts world as high-profile summiteers. Now members of the "creative session" have come together again and sent the PM a sharp message. It's elegantly worded of course; you'd expect nothing less from Cate and crew.
. . . Rudd let fly last Friday in the strongest possible terms, with an art critique included for good measure. . . . His spokesman said Rudd had put his "personal" opinion. What does this mean? He is PM, and there is no doubt that his ministers would think this "personal" view is the one they should follow. As the creative session members wrote, political leaders are "influential in forming public opinion, and we believe their words should be well considered".
That Cate Blanchett has been willing to lend her name to the letter should at least give her admirer cause to pause. She is mother of young children, no doubt aware of all the arguments about children, and hardly someone to be publicly defending anything "absolutely revolting" [which is what Rudd called it].
Mr Rudd has confirmed his stance saying, "I gave my reaction, I stand by that reaction and I don't apologise for it and I won't be changing it. I am passionate about children having innocence in their childhood."
Meanwhile police have visited Canberra art galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, to examine the collections. The NGA (of which I am a member) has at least 79 Henson photograph, none of which were on public display. They include this Untitled 1990/91 (Paris Opera) (Young girl wearing jewelled necklace), from the series Studies for the Paris Opera. As well as seizing more than 20 Henson photographs from Sydney's Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, police have visited galleries in Newcastle and Albury. Mere possession by the galleries of child pornography is a crime. Of course art can be pornography and pornography can be artistic. But what is pornography exactly?
Opposition Treasury spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, who owns two Henson photographs, said police "tramping through art galleries and libraries" posed a threat to artistic freedom. "I don't believe we should have policemen invading art galleries. I think we have a culture of great artistic freedom in this country, and I don't believe the vice squad's role is to go into art galleries." Mr Turnbull said he was not commenting on the seized photographs, which he had not seen.
Seems to me that this time, at least, Mr Turnbull is on the side of wisdom.
Ceremonies were held in Germany on 10 May 08 to mark the 75th anniversary of the burning of thousands of books organised by the Nazis three months after Adolf Hitler came to power. The works of eminent German language authors such as Sigmund Freud and Heinrich Heiner were destroyed in fires across Germany on May 10, 1933. The Nazis called it a cleansing of decadent literature.
Or Yehuda is a city of about 30,000 people in the Tel Aviv District of Israel. It was established in 1950 as a settlement for sephardic immigrants. Backed by Shas officials, students from Or Yehuda yeshivas gathered hundreds of copies of the New Testament along with missionary materials, which were taken to a central location in the city on 22 May 08 and burned. (Shas is an Israeli political party, primarily representing orthodox Sephardi and Mizrahi Judaism, and is a member of Israel's coalition government.)
Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aaron, who is affiliated with Shas said that the messianic Jews are indeed breaking the law and should be held legally accountable. He proudly confirmed taking part in the event. He declared the level of missionary activity in his city to be intolerable, with messianic Jews going house-to-house to distribute their materials.
The burning of books has understandably created controversy. Some secularists questioned the wisdom of the decision to burn the books as well as the "moral values" of those involved. Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said that burning books has a negative association to the Holocaust. "It would have been preferable to find another way to dispose of the books and materials--but the main problem, the missionaries, remains." "We must respect holy writings of Islam and Christianity," Dr. Zuroff adds, "but we may not permit missionary activities targeting our youth," he concluded."
A lawyer representing the missionaries, said that the action of the Orthodox Jews is illegal and immoral, also drawing an analogy to the Nazis who burned Jewish books, leading to violence and the Holocaust. He noted that since the establishment of the Israel, not a single person has been tried for missionary activities, which are illegal when directed to minors. Messianic Jews still see themselves as members of the Jewish people, entitled to the full protection of the law and the basic civil rights enjoyed by all Israelis.
Phoenix has landed well on Mars. These days, its easy to be blazé about such things. Yet, it's impressive that a vehicle can be landed exactly as planned at 68° N, 233°E, in the Vastitas Borealis, the arctic plains of Mars, after a journey of 295 days and 679 million km.
Phoenix isn't huge; at the full width of its deployed solar arrays, it is 5.5m wide and it is about 2.2m high at the top of its meteorology mast. The landed mass of 410kg, including science-instrument payload and fuel, is all that remains of a launch vehicle and spacecraft that, fully fueled, weighed over 230 tonnes on lift-off from Earth. At its landing site Phoenix must endure temperatures from -73°C to -33°C.
I have argued that to be truly biblical, we have to imitate Jesus' teaching and his example, his deeds as well as his words. Jesus' demanding ethical teaching cannot be appreciated separately from his behaviour and activity. Both the biographical genre of the gospels on the one hand, and the ancient idea of imitation and Jewish rabbinic precedent on the other, suggest that Jesus' teaching must be earthed in his practical example, both of calling people to repentance and discipleship--but also his open acceptance of sinners, with whom he spent his life and for whom he died. Unfortunately, all too often those who do New Testament ethics today end up doing one or the other: that is, teaching a rigorist ethic with extreme demands which seems condemnatory and alienates people--or having an open acceptance and being accused of having no ethics at all! Seeking to follow Jesus in becoming both 'perfect' and 'merciful' as God is perfect and merciful (compare Matt. 5.48 with Luke 6.36) is not an easy balance to maintain, but one which is vital if we are to be properly biblical.
To study the scriptures requires the context of an open and inclusive community of interpretation. The movement for the abolition of the slave trade could only discuss what the Bible really said about slavery once slaves and former slave traders were present and their experiences were heard. Similarly, change in South Africa about apartheid as 'human relations in the light of scripture' needed the 'voices of protest', with blacks present in the Bible studies and their experiences being recounted. Equally, over recent years, we have struggled to read and re-read the Bible about the place of women in church leadership, as deacons, priests and now as bishops, with women participating in the debate and their experience being heard--and we still have some way to go here. The same has been true for debates about human sexuality: in the middle of the last century, divorce was not permissible and remarriage in church was not allowed--on biblical grounds. But through the debates and reports of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the experience of marital breakdown was heard and listened to--and then our understanding of a biblical approach for compassion and care changed how church treated divorcees.
Only such an open and inclusive community which includes homosexuals and listens to their experience can really grapple with what the biblical teaching is. This is how my biographical approach to Jesus and the gospels, indeed to the whole New Testament, applies to ethical debates. It requires attention to imitating Jesus' words and deeds, to hear the biblical teachings within the context of an open and inclusive community--and this applies to sexuality as much as to slavery and to apartheid. Such a debate would be a fitting tribute to the memory of Dean Eric Abbott and his own attempts to be inclusive as a 'friend of many', concerned 'for all peoples'. Such a debate within an inclusive community is the only way forward for us today if we truly want to maintain a claim to 'being biblical'.
With Lambeth happening soon, the idea of an Anglican Covenant persists, sadly. I still agree with Frederick Quinn's critique published in Episcopal Life (14 Apr 07). "Covenant" is a word that recently has entered the vocabulary of Anglicans. Covenants . . . have never appealed to Anglicans", he says. "There is little reason why they should now."
The problem is the difficulty of reducing unresolved issues like the role of Scripture, the relationship of autonomous provinces and the place of gender and sexuality to brief statements of black-letter law. To cut off the healthy evolution of discussion with restrictive covenants now is to risk producing a document the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Apiah described as having "the quality of those horoscopes that seem wonderfully precise while being vague enough to suit all comers."
Anglicans already have an impressive collection of carefully crafted historical statements enumerating our fundamental beliefs, including the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888; and the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer of 1979.
The modern idea of a church covenant originated with Heinrich Bullinger, a Swiss theologian during the Reformation. Covenants provided needed credentials for newly emerging Northern European monarchs and state churches, but Anglicans developed a distinctive way of resolving differences, as expounded in anti-covenant, anti-Puritan works like Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593) and in the writings of Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667).
Taylor placed a high premium on Christian reasoning. He wrote, "Scripture, tradition, councils, and the fathers, are the evidence in a question, but reason is the judge." For Taylor, "The heart of reason, that vital and most sensible part ... is an ambulatory essence, and not fixed."
Additionally, proponents of religious covenants then and now never solved the central problem of God's unbounded love, given to humanity through Christ. "God loves you. Full stop," is how Desmond Tutu often puts it. Reformation covenant writers got stuck in deciding who was saved and who was damned, assuming for themselves the self-appointed role of gatekeepers.
Quinn argues that the proposed Anglican covenant set up the same exclusionary role for today's Primates, changes the character of the historic Anglican deliberative process and turn the Primates into a judicial body. "Despite the everybody wants a covenant language introducing the document in the Anglican Communion website, nobody really wants a covenant except proponents of centralized authority."
What is amazing is, although the triggering issue for the larger dispute is sex, the proposed remedy is a power coup. How unAnglican can you get? The document should be rejected outright.
. . . Covenants historically were rejected by Anglicanism, as they should be today. It is time to heed the restless prodding of the Holy Spirit and move the wider church to a fuller sense of witness and mission.
Just so. The biblical concept of a 'covenant', after all, is that it something God gives to us, not that we make with each other, regardless of God.
On 5 Apr 07 in The Church Times no. 7517 David Edwards argued that the then new Anglican Covenant may already be out of date.
Will the new Anglican Covenant, which has already been drafted, be regarded as decisive by many people over many years? The history of attempts to define Anglicanism in a long text do not suggest a "Yes"--unless the Covenant is revised substantially as well as stylistically.
A declarations by Charles I reprinted both in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and subsequently, forbad "least difference" from the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563) and their "true, usual, literal", "plain and full" meaning. However, in 1865 Parliament decided that only a less precise "assent" should be required from the clergy, although the Articles remained "the doctrine of the Church of England", said to be "agreeable to the Word of God".
In 1974 Parliament gave the General Synod liberty to legislate about doctrine and worship, and the authority and a new oath was included in canon law in 1975 that was "at least as ambiguous", Edwards says, as the earlier assent to the Articles. What is "revealed" in scripture was now not Gods activity, but the Churchs faith, and the faith is to be "proclaimed afresh in each generation".
In the Quadrilateral of 1888 the scriptures were called "the rule and ultimate standard of faith", containing "all things necessary for salvation". The Nicene Creed, which jumps straight from the incarnation to the crucifixion, was declared to be "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith".
The draft Covenant to be adopted by Lambeth 2008 shifts the emphasis from unity for existing Christians to "transformative" evangelism, so that "peoples from all nations" receive "new and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ". The "Catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition", and "biblically derived moral values", are essential in the mission. Biblical texts must be handled "faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively, and coherently" with the aid of "our best scholarship", but "primarily through the teaching and initiative of the bishops and synods".
Each of these attempts to state the basis of Anglican doctrine reflects the situation of the groups concerned, and is therefore liable to look dated in due course.
. . . [T]he Lambeth Conference will be dominated by a reaction against . . . liberalism by bishops feeling the need for a clear identity in the Churchs mission, either in a Britain now largely secular, or in a world where non-Christian religions have revived vigorously. But the new Anglican Covenant is not likely to provide a permanent identity. Like other substitutes for the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles, it avoids any clear statement of the reasons for Anglican diversity or disunity. Thus it does not mention the controversy about homosexuality, in which biblically derived morality is in tension with the modern knowledge that this condition is natural for an important minority of humankind, as created by God through evolution.
In a modern, post-modern, or modernising world, this tension will have to be understood with a great care for the facts, and either accepted or overcome. It will no longer be possible to dismiss the world in a simple declaration of faith, as the Articles did when they pronounced that "works done" before the grace of Christ is received through faith are "not pleasant to God". It will have to be accepted that God works in many ways--in science, for example, or in non-Christian religion and spirituality. And there will have to be fresh expressions of a faith that has the life, teaching, and work of Jesus firmly at its centre.
Churches in New South Wales, the ACT and some other states of Australia need to take note of a case recently decided in the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal: OV and anor v QZ and anor (No.2)  NSWADT 115, 1 April 2008.
This case may well affect church schools, for example, should they seek to exclude gay and lesbian young people from participating equally in a school activity. It will also have an effect on foster parenting policy and possibly some other aspects of the churches' social welfare activities and worship.
Sections 47 and 49ZP of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 prohibit unlawful discrimination in the provision of services on the grounds of marital status and homosexuality. However, section 56 of the Act exempts 'appointments by a body established to propagate religion' and 'any act or practice of that body that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion'.
In the this case, the Tribunal decided that the Uniting Church's Wesley Mission was not able to discriminate against two gay men who had applied to be foster parents.
The Church admitted discrimination against the men because of their homosexuality, but offered the religious defence allowed under section 56. The Tribunal held that the religious defence was not been made out. To establish the religious defence under NSW law, it had to be shown that:
the offending conduct (the discrimination) was done by a body established to propagate religion; and
the offending conduct was either:
an act or practice that conformed with the doctrine of the relevant body's religion; or
necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of the religion the body was established to propagate.
The Tribunal held, of course, that the Wesley Mission is a body established to propagate religion. The question then at issue was whether the discrimination against the two gay men was an act or practice that (a) conformed with the doctrine of the Mission's religion, or (b) was necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of the religion.
On (a) the Tribunal held that the religion in question was simply 'Christianity'. Although Wesley Mission argued that Biblical teaching makes 'monogamous heterosexual partnership within marriage' both the 'norm and ideal', the Tribunal found that the Mission had 'failed to establish that the nominated doctrine constitutes a doctrine of the Christian religion.' The Tribunal was not persuaded that it was in fact a doctrine of the religion of the Uniting Church (that is, Christianity) for it is common ground that there is a diversity of beliefs within the Christianity on homosexuality.
The Tribunal determined, therefore, that the religious exemption for discrimination could apply only if (b) the discrimination was necessary to avoid injuring the religious susceptibilities of all (or at least a significant majority) of the adherents at once. Because of the diversity of views within the Christian religion about homosexuality, the Tribunal found that it was not possible to offend the religious susceptibilities of all or most Christians on homosexuality and, therefore, that the discrimination exemption does not apply.
The gay couple were awarded $5,000 each in damages. Wesley Mission was ordered to ensure that its members undertake appropriate training and development to enable them to properly identify acts of unlawful discrimination, and that the Mission develop and implement programs and policies aimed at eliminating unlawful discrimination.
An example of the implications of this case for us is that a church school in NSW (or the ACT, where the law is similar) could not use religion as a reason for preventing a gay or lesbian student, for instance, from bringing a same-sex partner to a school's 'formal.' -- a social dinner dance for senior students.
There is a real risk that a church school or other body may inadvertently offend against the law as established in this case, believing that religion entitles them to discriminate against gay people in certain ways. (It may even be arguable that it is illegal to discriminate against gay and lesbian people with respect to ordination, but that is a question for another day, and not something to be argued in the courts!)
I would be dismayed if the openness and acceptance that we share in many parts of the church here in Canberra were harmed by a court case occasioned by ignorance of the law as it now appears to be.
Regretably, still seems that invasion of Burma to help its people would be unwise. So what to do?
In the PBS Religion and & Ethics newsweekly (16 May 08) Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University discusses the international community's 'responsibility to protect'.
Responsibility to protect (R2P in shorthand) is a relatively new concept in foreign affairs, but one which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2005 and which in essence recognizes that the international community -- that is, U.N. member states -- have a right to intervene through U.N.-sanctioned collective action when countries cannot or will not protect the human rights of their own people against serious violations of international law.
. . . Even some proponents of R2P, including the U.N. Secretary General's special advisor for R2P issues, Professor Ed Luck, argue that the doctrine would be misapplied if the international community were to intervene in the case of Burma -- that R2P is to be specifically applied to crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.
Luck is right, but in my view the deliberate blocking of aid that could avert the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Burmese people constitutes a crime against humanity. The world is not obliged to come to the aid of the Burmese people; that is precisely the job of their government. But if governments, aid groups, and individuals around the world reach out to the Burmese simply on the basis of our common humanity and the corollary desire to stop suffering where we can, then the Burmese junta's determination to put itself between its people and that aid is nothing short of murderous.
Beyond the law, however, is the even more vital question of what practical steps can be taken to give the R2P doctrine effect -- or simply to change the situation on the ground. Sending helicopters into Burmese airspace without permission is likely simply to add violence and bloodshed to the Burmese people's woes, creating a war out of a natural disaster. Sanctions against Burma as a whole simply punish those who are suffering. Sanctions aimed at changing the lifestyles of individual junta members and their families could be more effective, but have presumably been tried. Other alternatives include inviting the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court to prosecute individual members of the junta for crimes against humanity, or working intensively with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to suspend or even expel Burma unless it accepts aid. ASEAN has just passed a charter of human rights; Burma makes it a mockery. ASEAN diplomats will argue that carrots work better than sticks, but then they must come up with the carrots that work -- immediately.
Burma's generals are forcing the world's citizens to stand by and watch their people die. We have the legal doctrine to authorize action, but actually saving lives in Burma now requires both political will and practical tools.
Janet Rae-Dupree writes in NYT (4 May 08) that researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks. It seems we direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. The more new things we try the more inherently creative we become. Old habits are with us to stay, but new habits create parallel pathways that can bypass them.
"The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder," says Dawna Markova, author of The Open Mind We are taught to 'decide', yet to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.
All of us work through problems in ways of which we're unaware. We are each analytical, procedural, relational (or collaborative) or innovative. But from puberty the brain preserve only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life. In the West, this has lead to many of us being analytical or procedural rather than relational or innovative collaborate. Yet we cannot resist this successfully; to knowing what one is good and do even more of it creates excellence.
This is where developing new habits comes in. If you're an analytical or procedural thinker, you learn in different ways than someone who is inherently innovative or collaborative. Figure out what has worked for you when you've learned in the past, and you can draw your own map for developing additional skills and behaviors for the future.
What i would do, often, is simply read what I need to know. Others find other ways of learning better.
It's when we stretch ourselves that change happens and new, valuable habits begin to form. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It's in the stretch zone in the middle where change occurs.
It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer's and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day -- listen to a new radio station, for instance -- found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general."
Thus the Japanese technique called kaizen calls for tiny, continuous improvements.
So that's how I must learn to exercise more, for instance!
It is almost beyond dispute that the imprisonment of the entire people of Gaza, their denial access to the outside world, and the destruction of their property is collective punishment prohibited by international law.
"No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible." Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907, Article 50
" No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited." Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949. Article 33
"Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations." Article 53
International law clearly prohibits an occupying power from imposing collective punishment on the occupied population. Yet that is the fate of the people of Gaza.
Jimmy Carter is a man whose conclusions are worthy of respect. (Guardian 8 May 08)
The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished.
This gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in Gaza was escalated dramatically by Israel, with United States backing, after political candidates representing Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority parliament in 2006. The election was unanimously judged to be honest and fair by all international observers.
Israel and the US refused to accept the right of Palestinians to form a unity government with Hamas and Fatah and now, after internal strife, Hamas alone controls Gaza. Forty-one of the 43 victorious Hamas candidates who lived in the West Bank have been imprisoned by Israel, plus an additional 10 who assumed positions in the short-lived coalition cabinet.
Regardless of one's choice in the partisan struggle between Fatah and Hamas within occupied Palestine, we must remember that economic sanctions and restrictions on the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel are causing extreme hardship among the innocent people in Gaza, about one million of whom are refugees.
. . . There are fervent arguments heard on both sides concerning blame for a lack of peace in the Holy Land. Israel has occupied and colonised the Palestinian West Bank, which is approximately a quarter the size of the nation of Israel as recognised by the international community. Some Israeli religious factions claim a right to the land on both sides of the Jordan river, others that their 205 settlements of some 500,000 people are necessary for "security".
All Arab nations have agreed to recognise Israel fully if it will comply with key United Nations resolutions. Hamas has agreed to accept any negotiated peace settlement between the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, provided it is approved in a referendum of the Palestinian people.
This holds promise of progress, but despite the brief fanfare and positive statements at the peace conference last November in Annapolis, the process has gone backwards. Nine thousand new Israeli housing units have been announced in Palestine; the number of roadblocks within the West Bank has increased; and the stranglehold on Gaza has been tightened.
It is one thing for other leaders to defer to the US in the crucial peace negotiations, but the world must not stand idle while innocent people are treated cruelly. It is time for strong voices in Europe, the US, Israel and elsewhere to speak out and condemn the human rights tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people.
The inclusion of photographs of naked adolescents in an exhibition by noted photographer Bill Henson has provoked undue public attention, including from the police--and the Prime Minister, no less.
Mr Rudd described the pictures as "revolting", which is stupid when he hadn't seen them in context, but he has a point in saying that "Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected. . . . For God's sake, let's just allow kids to be kids."
Trouble is, not all children are or have been allowed to be "just kids". Perhaps we need art to confront us with this.
The gallery has announced that it will remove some pictures and then re-open the exhibition.
Bill Henson is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists and is internationally respected. His works are held in every leading art institution in Australia and are included in the collections of a number of the world's most prestigious art museums. The Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria have both recently held a retrospective of 30 years of the artist's work, which has been described as "timeless sculptures made with a camera".
The critical thing is that the children photographed are and have been fully protected. This the police will investigate. The children and their families did give permission for them to be photographed. But can children give informed consent to such a thing? The proper response to that question is usually "No".
Henson's work explores the edgy alienation peculiar to youth. His images of vulnerable young people reveal a deep, somewhat sad reality. We are compelled to look, yet distressed by what we see. Let's not use censorship to shield us from our disturbing inner feelings.
Henson's pictures are not titillating. They're not pornographic. Yet I do find these images, for example (not from the show) to be a little disturbing. And isn't that the point?
Well, yes. But Clive Hamilton, formerly of the Australia Institute sees the controversy as the result of a society in which children are being exploited in increasingly eroticised ways and the Internet has changed the context in which artistic images are used. He was interviewed on the ABC's PM yesterday (23 May 08).
I've argued that previously when perhaps it was a more innocent age, then artistic representations of children, as is the case with the Bill Henson exhibition, wouldn't have provided difficulty. But in an age where children have been so heavily sexualised by commercial organisations and by the wider culture and where there's so much more alarm about paedophilia then I think the presentation of a 12-year-old girl, for instance, naked to the public, really has quite a different impact and raises new concerns.
In particular, when they are placed on the internet, they're flashed around the world within hours and even though the website from the gallery in question has been taken down, the images of this girl who is about 12 we believe, are all around the world and can be used for all sorts of unpleasant purposes.
And I argue that she . . . could not possibly understand the implications of being presented naked to the world, even though the presentation is very aestheticised and that therefore she could not give informed consent. So there are serious ethical problems with having these child models presented in this exhibition in this way, particularly putting them up on the internet.
Are you accusing the gallery owners, the parents, the artists of a certain naivety then?
Absolutely. . . . [A]rguably [Henson] and the gallery owners are innocent victims but they should have known better. They should have been aware that the way that children have been presented in recent years is bound to create difficulties when you present them not in an eroticised way I'd stress--the pictures aren't in any sense pornographic--but the context makes the presentation of children in the nude, you know, troubling.
You did mention the internet earlier. Has the invention of that new medium changed the argument somewhat?
I think it's changed it completely. I mean if we imagine going back 30 years and this sort of exhibition being put on in a gallery and it was seen by its intended audience, that is those who have presumably a sophisticated appreciation of photography as art, then . . . I certainly wouldn't have a problem with it. But when the same pictures become consumed, if I can use that commodified term, by a range of people for quite different and unintended reasons, which will have impacts on the child models in question, through the internet, then I think there are serious worries about that.
I mean, if this girl at age 30 has . . . has a career and an integrity and a history behind her and suddenly these pictures pop up in a magazine or on the internet, I'd imagine there's a good chance she'd be humiliated.
An Editorial in Commonweal 85(10), 23 May 08 sums up well the world food situation and what must be done. But will it be done?
An 83% rise in food prices over the past three years has been catastrophic for those on the margins of the global economy. Even in the West, many struggle to make ends meet and some go hungry. The causes are becoming all too familiar.
They include more people to feed, richer diets in some emerging countries (such as India and China), severe drought in Australia, the destruction of crops from natural disasters in Bangladesh and Burma, the diversion of staple crops (principally corn) into biofuel production, higher costs for transport and petroleum-based fertilizers, diminished government support for agriculture, and futures markets that unwittingly inflated prices for rice and other grains.
Prices are unlikely to fall. Responses must include
higher crop yields, promoted by government action
a return to simpler diets (so that less grain is expended on raising beef, pork and chicken)
reducing the distances food travels from producer to consumers
"in the United States, our government's wholehearted support for corn subsidies that encourage the production of ethanol should be reexamined. The strain on the food chain is now apparent."
"Energy conservation" Commonweal argues, "thus holds the key not only to protecting the environment but to feeding our planet."
In Kenya's Daily Nation (22 May 08) Mr Charles Njonjo, former Attorney-General of Kenya and "staunch" Anglican criticises as cowardly those bishops of the Kenyan church who have declined to attend the Lambeth Conference. Most will join Archbishop Nzimbi in staying away. Some who do share his stance have registered for the conference.
Evaluations of Mr Njono's political career vary; he has his supporters and his critics. But he makes some fair arguments here. He writes:
Members of the Anglican Church in Kenya would like to know why our bishops are not attending the Lambeth 2008 Conference. Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi is reported as reasoning thus: "Lambeth 2008 should have been about a return to God in view of these realities, yet it's obvious that won't be the case. Canterbury has sanctioned homosexuality. We cannot be going there to keep up with its theological gymnastics."
Is this not missing the point of Lambeth? Isn't this cowardly? This conference is central in our church tradition as one of the four instruments of the Anglican Communion. It is intended to, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, express episcopal collegiality worldwide, and gather bishops for common counsel, consultation and encouragement, and serve as an instrument for guarding the faith and unity of the communion.
It is here that the bishops should stand to differ with their own peers on issues they feel are pertinent to the communion in terms of doctrine and spirituality, which is why they are bishops.
Mr Njonjo notes that a number of conservative who had planned not to attend will now do so. He says that "The split within the Anglican communion . . . needs to be addressed head-on. This conference is important to those Anglicans who wish to remain with the larger communion." Mr Njonjo is saddened that the church may have reached its limit in the division on homosexuality.
The sad thing is that there seems to be no way the Anglican Communion can fully acknowledge that difference and find a way of gracefully dealing with it." Therefore the bishops of Kenya [and elsewhere in Africa, I would add] must consider the need to provide strong, active participation in the discussion and debate on the acceptance and adoption of the proposed Anglican Covenant at Lambeth 2008.
Mr Njonjo makes some other points and then conncludes:
I find it impossible to keep quiet when people are frequently hounded, vilified, molested and even killed as targets of homophobia for something they did not choose--their sexual orientation. Where is our Christian charity?
How sad it is that the Church should be so obsessed with this particular issue of human sexuality when God's children are facing massive problems--poverty, disease, corruption and conflict!
Times Online lists Libby Purves' choice of the 'best' 20 reilgious t-shirts. To me, most of them are either tacky, feeble, look hideous, or all three.
A few Christian thinkers have written about the gospel, the consumer and the tee shirt, Stephen Nicols for instance. He quotes John Kavanaugh, who
sees a rather stark contrast between what he broadly calls "consumer values" and "Christian values." Consumer values emphasize the "commodity form of life," which reduces people to things, minimizes personal communication and sees relationships as transactions. Kavanaugh further speaks of the commodity form of life creating an "empty interior," in which we lose our sense of our self and which leads to "broken relationships," with advertisements telling us that cars and clothes can do more for us than people. Such a dehumanized form of life results in the "degradation of justice" and a "flight from the wounded."
This commodity form of life also affects more than our shopping. Kavanaugh observes, "It affects the way we think and feel, the way we love and pray, the way we evaluate our enemies, the way we relate to our spouses and children. It is 'systematic.'" Christian values, on the other hand, emphasize the "personal form of life," which counters the commodity form in every way. This personal form finds its fullest revelation in Jesus Christ. The personal form of life also speaks to the deepest "identity, needs, and capacities of human nature."
Given how Kavanaugh frames it, capitulating to consumer culture as the means for evangelism means adapting to a commodity form of life, a form that seemingly runs counter to Christ's rather personal call and commission of the original fishers of people. Commodifying evangelism turns persons who relate into customers who buy, a rather alien approach to that of Christ's call to make disciples.
-- John Kavanaugh. Following Christ in Consumer society: the spirituality of cultural resistance. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991, pp. 3-19, 31, 71.
This all seems a bit over serious to me. But a least a religious t-shirt should either be in good taste or have some punch in its message--preferably both.
One shirt in Purve's list that really does look good and has some impact is this, from Islamic vendor Ilmwear. It has ummah meaning 'community', next to the US pledge of 'One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all'. The words on the fingers of the hand speak of Islam's five pillars.
Comments on the Timesonline article had a few punchy ideas:
Easter's off, they've found the body.
God doesn't believe in atheists.
I'm a non-practicing atheist.
I've found Jesus: hiding behind the sofa.
Jesus is coming . . . quick, look busy.
Jesus is coming and he is pissed.
Jesus isn't lost. Do I need to find him?
Jesus saves, and makes incremental back ups.
Jesus saves, but Pele scores off the rebound.
Jesus was a Palestinian.
Joseph coming out of the stable saying 'It's a girl'.
Muslims do it five times a day.
Think it possible that you may be mistaken.
Seems that Guinness have a record for everything. On 15 Nov 2007 aussieBum apparently broke the Guinness world record for the world's biggest underwear. And just in case it wasn't quite clear what was happening, there were plenty of young men around to add, err . . . emphasis.
The underwear, constructed from red, soft, Eurojersey Sensitive(R) fabric, took over two months to produce. Measuring in at 15.9m wide and 10.55m high, with a waist of 32m, the underpants include 300m of fabric, 500m of wide elastic, 5000m of cotton thread, a 1.5m x 6m logo, and weigh an astonishing 180 kg. The garment was too large for even a sailmaker to fabricate. The aussieBum team spent hours on their hands and knees, hand stitching the underwear, with a team of people feeding the fabric and elastic through an industrial sewing machine.
I would have thought that they wouldn't be underwear unless someone could wear them. Silly me.
The Global Peace Index uses a detailed and well founded methodology to compare the peacefulness of nations. Founded by Australian entrepreneur and philanthropist, Steve Killelea, it forms part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank dedicated to the research and education of the relationship between economics, business and peace.
Besides the rankings and detailed scores published on the Vision of Humanity website there is a detailed annual report, written in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit. As the 2008 report says (p. 3)
The concept of peace is notoriously difficult to define. The simplest way of approaching it is in terms of harmony achieved by the absence of war or conflict. Applied to nations, this would suggest that those not involved in violent conflicts with neighbouring states or suffering internal wars would have achieved a state of peace. This is what Johan Galtung defined as a "negative peace" -- an absence of violence. The concept of negative peace is immediately intuitive and empirically measurable, and can be used as a starting point to elaborate its counterpart concept, "positive peace": having established what constitutes an absence of violence, is it possible to identify which structures and institutions create and maintain peace? The Global Peace Index is a first step in this direction; a measurement of peace that seeks to determine what cultural attributes and institutions are associated with states of peace.
Internally, Australia is a peaceful nation. But it does have a sophisticated military capability, is a some risk of terrorism, and has a high level of involvement in UN peacekeeping and in regional task forces (East Timor, the Solomons) as well as other less peaceful foreign military activities (Iraq, Afghanistan). Setting asides whether they are good nor not, these things do push down Australia's ranking under the GPI to 27th on the list of 140 nations and just inside the top 20%. The 26 countries ahead of Australia are the following:
I find it disconcerting that Australia cannot be at least as peaceful as Canada.
Global Peace Index Rankings 2008
The list of the least peaceful nations is, sadly, unsuprising: Russia, Lebanon, North Korea,Central African Republic, Chad, Israel, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq.
Australia has increased its overall score for peacefulness, despite increases in incarceration and the importation of conventional weapons. It is too early to see the effects of the Rudd Government's foreign policy on Australia's peacefulness. Possibly Australia will move up the index as it withdraws from foreign conflicts. Some of our neighbours, especially Indonesia, have become more peaceful, auguring well for Australia's peace.
James and I saw Chess--The Musical at Sydneys Theatre Royal on Friday 9 May. Not being from Sydney, it wasn't until we arrived at the theatre that we realised it was an amateur production (by the Balmain Light Opera Company) -- which surprised us in such a large and prestigious theatre.
Among the singers Leighton Watts as Molokov and Patricio Ulloa as Anatoly, both with deep voices, were excellent. Female leads Lucy Boocock as Florence and, in a smaller role, Sarah Hyland as Svetlana were also easy on the ear. Ed Stiener's voice was not big enough for the role of Freddie and the required American accent injected some harsh tones into the upper register of his voice. Charlie Voyagis was okay as the Arbiter but, again, lost tone on some high notes.
The ensemble singing in the big production numbers was good and sounded choral, but the orchestra sounded tinny at times. Some orchestral crescendi were mistimed with the clash of cymbals, etc., too far behind the top volume of the vocal line. The dancing was OK, but . . . amateur.
Some aspects of the production were simply farcical, especially the seemingly recycled backdrops. The backdrop for the scene in Merano, Italy, was clearly a depiction of Montmartre. The backdrop for "One night in Bangkok" showed Indian architecture, not Thai, and the 'Thai' temple was decorated by a large and very Chinese dragon. Mobile phones were an anachronism. The selection of costumes for the chorus was very odd. Cowboys?
In her review Beverley Kennedy comments that Chess is "an extremely difficult piece of theatre to mount and that "kudos must be given to the Balmain Light Opera Company for its brave--if overly ambitious--production."
She finds many points to commend in BLOCs production. "A minimal set and neat costume design were paramount to the focus remaining on the actors and their interpretation of the music and the songs. The direction too was smooth and enhanced the music as the centre of this particular piece."
In the first-night performance Ms Kennedy also saw some flaws, such as missed lighting cues and some "abysmal" tuning in the orchestra. These seemed to have been ironed out by the time James and I saw the show on the second night. But Ms Forbes is right when she concludes that "being in a venue such as the Theatre Royal, there is an expectation that a production should be of a professional standard, and while it was clear that every effort was made, it fell short on too many counts for it to work in such an unforgiving and demanding space."
The price of almost $70 was cheaper that what a fully staged professional production might cost, but too much for what was delivered.
So . . . some decent singing, but that was about it.
In an official statement French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade has announced that France will press the UN to pursue universal decriminalisation of homosexual conduct. The statement and my rough translation are below.
This is an important move as homosexual conduct remains a crime in 75 countries and is punishable in by death in Iran, Mauritania, part of Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Entretien de Mme Rama Yade avec les associations plusieurs associations Lesbiennes, Gays Bi et Transexuelles (LGBT) (17 mai 2008)
Rama Yade, secrétaire d'Etat chargée des Affaires étrangères et des droits de l'Homme, a reçu aujourd'hui, à l'occasion de la Journée internationale contre l'homophobie, plusieurs associations Lesbiennes, Gays Bi et Transexuelles (LGBT) engagées dans la lutte contre les discriminations fondées sur l'orientation sexuelle.
La secrétaire d'Etat a annoncé aux associations que le Gouvernement reconnaissait désormais officiellement cette Journée internationale contre l'homophobie.
Elle leur a également présenté le principe d'une initiative européenne appelant à la dépénalisation universelle de l'homosexualité, qui serait portée devant l'Assemblée Générale des Nations Unies lors de notre prochaine Présidence de l'Union Européenne. Elle a souhaité que cette initiative soit conduite en étroite concertation avec les associations LGBT.
Madame Yade s'est engagée à évoquer les cas d'homophobie constatés lors de ses déplacements à l'étranger.
Meeting of Mrs. Rama Yade with Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transsexual (LGBT) organisations (17 May, 2008)
On the occasion today of the International Day Against Homophobia, Rama Yade, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, received several organisations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) people committed to the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Secretary of State announced to the organisations that from now on the Government officially recognized this International Day Against Homophobia
She also announced a proposal for a European initiative calling for universal decriminalisation of homosexuality, to placed before the General Assembly of the United Nations during the forthcoming of [France's] presidency of the European Union. She wished that this initiative be conducted in close consultation with LGBT organisations.
Mrs Yade committed herself to drawing attention to cases of homophobia during her missions abroad.
The UK Government also announced its own commitment to ending global discrimination against LGBT people.
In a statement issued on the international day against homophobia, the Government said it has made great strides in recent years in combating homophobia in the UK. The goal is full equality in the enjoyment of human rights by all those lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who live in the UK.
Marking the International day against Homophobia, Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said;
"There are 75 countries around the world where same sex relationships are prohibited, and nine countries where they are punishable by death. Despite repeated condemnation by the UN Human Rights Committee, discrimination and denial of peoples basic human rights due to sexual orientation continues. Human rights are universal and should not be determined by sexual orientation or gender identity.
"We are committed to promoting equality and ending the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) around the world and have developed a programme to help achieve this. Working with human rights activists, international institutions and non-governmental organisations and like minded governments the Foreign Office is targeting states where same sex relations are illegal, to raise our concerns and encourage them to change their laws.
"Our work concentrates on those aspects of discrimination where UK intervention may have a positive effect such as, non-discrimination in the application of human rights; decriminalisation of same sex relationships; support for LGBT activists and human rights defenders; health and health education; raising LGBT issues at international / multilateral institutions; and direct engagement with key countries."
A couple of days ago, James and I paid $45 for a 25kg bag of rice that less than a year ago would have cost $26. Even we in Australia are not exempt from spiraling prices for basic foods, though we have the buying power to obtain what we need. Even the international press has noted that Australia's drought is contributing to the worsening world food shortage, especially of basic grains.
Australia's rice production has collapsed to less than 2% of what is has been, due to six years of drought. This collapse is contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months -- increases that have led the world's largest exporters to restrict exports, promoted hoarding and provoked violent protests in many countries. The Myanmar cyclone and looming famine in North Korea have only worsened the situation
The export price of Thai 100-percent B grade white rice, the world's benchmark, has nearly tripled in price since the beginning of 2008 and a short while ago was $US 1,000 per tonne and climbing. It may reach $1,300 or more.
Scientists and economists worry that the reallocation of scarce water resources -- away from rice and other grains and toward more lucrative crops and livestock -- threatens poor countries that import rice as a dietary staple. Australia now has some of the world's highest rice yields for a given quantity of water. But the water isnt available and many Australian farmers, for example, are abandoning rice to plant less water-intensive crops. Others have sold their fields or their water rights.
Poorer nations worry that subsidies from rich countries to support biofuels, which turn food into fuel, are pushing up the price of staples.
However rice is not used to make biofuel and more than 90 percent is consumed in the countries where it is grown. Global reserves have declined by half just since 2000 and countries that buy rice on the global market are vulnerable to price swings.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set up by the United Nations, predicted last year that even slight warming would decrease agricultural output in tropical and subtropical countries. Moderate warming could benefit crop and pasture yields in countries far from the Equator. Enormous quantities of food will need to be transported from areas farther from the Equator to feed the populations of countries closer to the Equator.
In a piece inTime (24 Apr 08) Jeffrey D. Sachs argues that practical solutions to the shortage do exist, but require decisive action.
The crisis has its roots in four interlinked trends. The first is the chronically low productivity of farmers in the poorest countries, caused by their inability to pay for seeds, fertilizers and irrigation. The second is the misguided policy in the U.S. and Europe of subsidizing the diversion of food crops to produce biofuels like corn-based ethanol. The third is climate change; take the recent droughts in Australia and Europe, which cut the global production of grain in 2005 and '06. The fourth is the growing global demand for food and feed grains brought on by swelling populations and incomes. In short, rising demand has hit a limited supply, with the poor taking the hardest blow.
The solutions? Sach suggests three actions.
Apply the example of Malawis "which three years ago established a special fund to help its farmers get fertilizer and high-yield seeds. Malawi's harvest doubled after just one year. An international fund based on the Malawi model would cost a mere $10 per person annually in the rich world, or $10 billion in all.
Abandon subsidies encouraging conversion of food into biofuels.
Weatherproof the world's crops as soon and as effectively as possible, with better msall-scale local water storages, for example.
What is true for food will be true for energy, water and other increasingly scarce resources. We can combat these problems--as long as we act rapidly. New energy sources like solar thermal power and new energy-saving technologies like plug-in hybrid automobiles can be developed and mobilized within a few years. Environmentally sound fish-farming can relieve pressures on the oceans. The food crisis provides not only a warning but also an opportunity. We need to invest vastly more in sustainable development in order to achieve true global security and economic growth.
Nessun dorma! (None shall sleep). But in Canberra it is not Turandot or Pavaroti that keeps the city awake, but Kevin Rudd. In a famous speech Paul Keating one described himself as the Placido Domingo of Australian politics. Perhaps Kevin Rudd is the Pavarotti.
But, with Calaf in Turandot, Canberrans will sing "Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vinceró! Vinceró! Vinceró!" ("Vanish, O night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At daybreak I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!")
The lights in office windows burn bright well into the night, a running joke exists in the public service over a "pyjama allowance" and the cafe at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is doing a roaring trade in peppy pills and powders, Berocca and No-Doz.
Welcome to the city that never sleeps. Canberra, the seat of power, the national capital, one tired town. And the mayor and councillors of this sleepless city? Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Labor Government.
Mr Rudd hit the ground running after washing away the Howard government in November, declaring almost immediately his Ministry would work through the Christmas and New Year holiday period with only Christmas Day and Boxing Day off. It seems he wasn't joking and also seems to have extended this work ethic indefinitely.
Senior officials of the public service have spoken of their exhaustion, especially in the first few months of Mr Rudd's tenure, requests by the Prime Minister for briefings and updates keeping the midnight oil in demand. But the frenetic pace shows no signs of slowing, according to a high-ranking Treasury official. "Being budget time, obviously, the chairs in this place hardly have time to cool down before the next day starts," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity."But it has been like this for most of the year and certainly it was exciting to begin with but a few cracks are starting to show."
Union officials have cheekily suggested claiming a pyjama allowance for its members and it is a running joke among Liberal staffers and the media that the Labor Government, and especially their leader, who won office on the defence of workers' conditions would seem to be imposing the most punishing hours on their own staff.
"I have just finished a 10-hour day and I will be back at 7am to get on top of what I couldn't finish today," one public servant said. "And the thing is, once you reach a certain level in the APS, there is no flex or overtime. It is great to get the step up the ladder but this year has been as hard as I can remember."
There is a suggestion that long hours do not necessarily translate into a superior end product. Former Canberra Times public service reporter Paul Malone said, "There is a degree of paternalism about the way [Mr Rudd] is running things and maybe it comes from his office as well, the demands they're making as if people cannot judge for themselves when they come into work in the morning, when they should leave or what they do during the day."
Jang Jin-sung (a pseudonym) was formerly former court poet to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and has become a best-selling author and media sensation in South Korea, where his poems about the brutality of everyday life in North Korea have now been published in a volume entitled For 100 Won, My Daughter I Sell. The work evokes the wrenching poverty and devastating famine that have killed so many North Koreans since the 1990s and forced thousands to risk their lives fleeing their country. Asia Times (16 May 08) has reprinted the title poem
Jang was a member of the General Federation of Korean Literature, and the Culture and Arts Department of the Party's Central Committee. But he fled that life and all its comforts to cross the Tumen river into China, and eventually settled in South Korea. He believes that North Korea's only hope is its people:
Tiny it is,
But the speckle of hope
Through the power of life
Firefly of my soul
The glimmer is a firefly.
Robert D. Kaplan notes (IHT, 14 May 08) "an increasing degree of chatter" about the possibility of an "armed humanitarian intervention" in Myanmar, an American-led invasion of the Irrawaddy River Delta.
Because American armed forces are now gathered in large numbers in Thailand for the annual multinational military exercise known as Cobra Gold, they could reach the Irrawaddy Delta relatively quickly. . . . [A]n enormous amount of assistance can be provided while maintaining a small footprint on shore, greatly reducing the chances of a clash with the Burmese armed forces while nevertheless dealing a hard political blow to the junta. Concomitantly, drops can be made from directly overhead by the U.S. Air Force without the need to militarily occupy any Burmese airports.
In other words, this is militarily doable. The challenge is the politics . . .
A strong international coalition would be essential. Burma's ally China, as well as India, Thailand and Singapore are in a very uncomfortable diplomatic situation, Kaplan says, because of their investments in and business dealings with Myanmar. Yet, "By just threatening intervention, the United States puts pressure on Beijing, New Delhi and Bangkok to, in turn, pressure the Burmese generals to open their country to a full-fledged foreign relief effort.
The catch is that if an invasion resulted in the collapse of the régime, the invaders"would have to accept significant responsibility for the aftermath." With numerous ethic minorities making up a third of the population, disorder might not be far away. Myanmar is "a mini-empire ruled by the ethnic-Burman military that could crumble into its constituent mountainous parts, especially as the democracy advocates have demonstrated little ability to run a country."
Having long ago lost social shyness,
and as an enjoyer of eye contact,
it is strange and ironic that now, when I see
faces in the exit crowd
I go to make start towards them
suddenly to remember I have no voice (*)
and the background hubbub
prevents its carrying.
This gives substance to encroaching impotence.
Retired bishops are amongst those
with whom some feel a certain diffidence
-- a fear of presumption and intrusion.
This feels funny too, though not laughingly ridiculous
when one is caught in a lonely spot.
An invitation, necessarily lighter than a summons
is required and I resort to this
in my thirst to re-establish past connections,
inveterate nostalgic that I am.
Looking at death's final impotence,
impending and unavoidable,
I am pleased and comforted that I will find there
a companion of humble demeanour but vast importance
who couldnt even move a hand to brush away a fly!
He's there for all death strugglers, I believe.
This is a likeable picture of Senator Obama from the 19 May cover of Time.
He is smiling and may be relaxed. To me he seems deeply tired. Tired to the bone. I am sure Senator Clinton must feel the same.
I marvel at the incredible feat of endurance that is required of candidates running for high office in the US. If it doesn't kill them first, I suppose this may ensure that candidates have the strength to serve.
Large agencies with an established presence are having the most success in getting help to people suffering in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Thus far, much of the assistance has been through the purchase and distribution of goods within Burma/Myanmar.
So far, Red Cross seems to have had the most success in importing relief supplies, with 10 flights reaching Yangon in the last few days with over 35 tonnes of supplies. These flights are but the beginning of a massive logistical operation but, after initial concerns, Red Cross says, a rhythm is being found for aid delivery. It expects that, by the end of this week, 17 flights with 130 tonnes of aid will arrive from around the region. They will deliver mosquito nets, tarpaulins, hygiene items and jerry cans as well as emergency shelter supplies.
CARE Australia CEO, Dr Julia Newton-Howes says that CARE has been purchasing supplies in Yangon to ensure that its distribution to the Irrawaddy delta of food and water happens immediately. It is essential that the UN and government authorities agree on an appropriate mechanism for the entry of staff and the receipt and distribution of goods,.
Australians have thus far donated over $520,000 to CARE Australia's Cyclone Nargis Appeal. CARE has been working in Myanmar/Burma for 14 years-mostly on food security, health programs, HIV/AIDS prevention and on water and sanitation. It has 500 staff members in Myanmar/Burma working on projects in 120 villages and towns across the country.
World Vision reports today (15 May) that its aid deliveries have begun to move after the government permitted it access to those in need and allowed it to control of the supply and distribution of its aid. World Vision has established an operations base in the eastern part of the delta, through which aid is beginning to flow. Relief goods are currently being purchased in-country, but World Vision hopes to bring in aid flights in the next few days, as soon as it receives government clearance. World Vision is now providing 25,000 people with emergency kits, including tarpaulins, mosquito nets, children and adult clothing, blankets, buckets and cooking utensils. Fifty kilogram bags of rice, from the UN World Food Programme, are being provided and in the Yangon area, 78,000 people have received rice, water and other basic relief items.
The Burmese generals do not lack for funds to spend for the relief of Burma's people, if they were willing. As Sean Turnell describes in The Guardian (4 May 08) Burma's military rulers have been robbing their people of billions earned from the countrys energy revenues. Despite decades of economic mismanagement by the generals, Burma is emerging as an energy producer. Burma now earns foreign-exchange of $1-1.5 billion p.a. from its large offshore reserves of natural gas, Gas from Burma generates around 20% of Bangkok's electricity supply. More gas fields are in prospect.
"Alas," Turnell says, "almost none of Burma's gas revenues actually feed into its budget, owing to a rather ingenious device employed by the Burmese junta." Earnings are recorded at the official exchange rate of six kyat to the US dollar. But the informal (and illegal) black market rate is about 1,000 kyat to the dollar.
Thus, Burma's gas earnings of around $1.2bn for 2006-07 are rendered into a mere 7.2 billion kyat in the country's public accounts - less than 1% of official public spending. At the market rate the earnings are equivalent to 1.2 trillion kyat - an amount large enough to eliminate Burma's budget deficit. No one knows where or how Burma's generals hide the money they keep away from the public accounts. Yet money has been found for a new capital city, military pay increases and more.
Southeast Asia journalist Brian McCartan suggests why Myanmar's junta steals foreign aid. "Myanmar's generals may have more than self-promoting propaganda in mind by commandeering aid provided by international donors and insisting that the military deliver it without the assistance and expertise of foreign disaster relief personnel. . . . [T]hey are also haunted by an almost pathological fear of a split inside their own ranks."
Lack of food is a perennial problem in Myanmar's army. In the 1990s, orders were issued to the army to be self-sufficient and live off the land. But the country's rice production has been badly damaged and foreign rice is increasingly expensive.
From the junta's perspective, the group that needs to be fed first is the 400,000 strong military, rather than the desperate civilian survivors of the crisis. With their respective family members, the military's associated numbers could be as high as 2 million, according to one Western military source. To the generals, the people now gathering in makeshift camps can be controlled, but only if the military remains united. An army without food or with starving families, especially in an army where most of the soldiers were forcibly recruited, is much more likely to revolt.
If soldiers are not given priority in aid distribution and are unable to feed themselves, mutiny is possible. "To the junta's top generals, far away in their bunkers in their secluded new capital at Naypyidaw, the aid distribution policy is apparently political survival at all costs," McCartan says. "But as it becomes more apparent to the wider suffering population that the junta is only looking after its own that policy could stoke more unrest than it avoids."
The indexing sub-routine says that this site has a vocabulary of a mere 12,149 distinct word forms (excluding non-indexed words like 'a', 'the', 'and', 'an', etc.).
This is rather less than a fully educated vocabulary!
In one sample of university-educated native English speakers, they were found to have a 'receptive' vocabulary of from 13,200 to 20,700 base words or 'word families'. A word family is a base word and its inflections and derivations. [Goulden, R., Nation P, & Read J.(1990). How large can a receptive vocabulary be? Applied Linguistics, 11(4), 1990, pp. 341-363. Receptive vocabulary is words understood while listening or reading, which is usually large than one's productive vocabulary, the words one is able to use to speak or write. There are other similar estimates.
Michael McCarthy, in Assessing development of advanced proficiency through learner corpora (Position paper. Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research, Pennsylvania State University, October 2007) sumarises research that shows that round 2,000 word-forms are used very frequently in everyday spoken and written English. Remaining, non-core, vocabulary occurs with relatively low frequency but is massive in size (between 30-50,000 word-forms being in use in everyday talk, and considerably more in everyday written texts, perhaps up to 80,000 words. To appreciate most texts, with an at least 98% recognition of words, a receptive vocabulary of much more than 10,000 words would be required.
Only very rarely do I encounter a non-technical word that I don't understand. I would suppose my vocabulary to be up around the 80,000+ mark. Maybe I should inflict more words on you, dear reader.
This entry increases the not too much vocabulary to 12,176.
Recently published Issue 6 of Asian Rights Journal says that "Three countries in the Asia Pacific Region are on the list of those countries globally facing a food crisis, the top of the list is North Korea."
Undernourished population: 35 percent
Rice price: up 186 percent since April 2007
Overall food prices: up 70 percent
In 2007, catastrophic flooding wiped out anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of North Korea's staple corn and rice crops. Earlier this month, the regime announced it was suspending the food ration system in its capital for six months, a sign that leader Kim Jong Il's administration is bracing itself for another crisis. The North regularly produces only about 80 percent of what it consumes, a figure likely to shrink to about 60 percent this year. But that hasn't stopped the regime from alienating the very donors--international aid organizations, the West, and South Korea--that have aided it in years past. Kim has annoyed his counterparts in the West and South Korea with harsh rhetoric and continual delays in nuclear negotiations. Responding to the tough stance of new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Kim's party newspaper Rodong Sinmun vowed that North Korea "will be able to live as it wishes without any help from the South." Maybe that's true for Kim and his associates, but for the 6.5 million North Koreans who live with chronic food insecurity, it spells trouble.
Prediction: The current food crisis could be the worst the country has ever seen, according to an unnamed North Korean official quoted in USA Today. That's saying a lot, considering that famine during the 1990s killed an estimated 2 million people.
An editor of Asian Rights Journal, Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki of the Australian National University writes in the Sydney Morning Herald (12 May 08) that "again the world is dithering while innocent people starve."
In the 1995-97 famine 600,000 to one million North Koreans starved to death. Professor Morris-Suzuki writes graphically of what it was like, as seen through the eyes of a friend of hers. "Now the nightmare is beginning again." South Korean aid organisation Good Friends reports that deaths from starvation are beginning to occur. Professor Morris-Suzuki gives a clear explanation of the causes of this repeated famine.
The origins of this disaster lie in the brand of marxism North Korea pursued from the 1950s. The dream was to convert the cold and mountainous country into a self-sustaining granary. High-yielding rice strains were developed, fertiliser factories built and chemicals poured on to the land to increase productivity. Forests were felled and the mountainsides turned into terraced fields of maize.
But the climate and terrain have never been suited to large-scale rice production and, in retrospect, the consequences seem horribly inevitable. Deforestation produced huge flooding--a big cause also of the present food crisis. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost access to cheap fuel imports to sustain fertiliser production, and without fertilisers the so-called high-yield rice plants died.
The country's growing isolation from the rest of the world has made the situation worse, and soaring global food prices have added another toxic ingredient. The erratic behaviour of the leader, Kim Jong-il, has tested the patience even of the country's closest ally, China. The new Government in South Korea has said it will take a much tougher stance on aid than its predecessors did, and will no longer provide fertiliser, further endangering this year's harvest. Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems oddly indifferent.
Professor Morris-Suzuki urges action by countries that have diplomatic relations with North Korea, including Australia. Our government is "well placed to take a leading role in drawing global attention to this crisis and encouraging a co-ordinated international response. If we fail to act now, how many more will die waiting in vain for the sacks of food that never arrive?"
Indeed so, sadly. But my dilemma is, " Precisely what is it that other countries can do?" We lack the means to force the North Korean régime to do anything. Invade? Hardly. There is no guarantee that huge quantities of food aid (difficult in a time of world shortage, but nevertheless possible) would reach the people who most need it, unless there is close management and monitoring on the ground by the donors. Without most unlikely reforms, the present appalling situation may reoccur in a few years.
Since the Sunday announcement that the Rudd government would use Commonwealth powers to disallow civil partnerships in Canberra on the grounds they would too closely mimic marriage, it has coped a lot of criticism, nullifying the praise it has received for its decision to reverse many laws that financially discriminate against same-sex couples.
Yet I cannot avoid the feeling that it is much ado about very little. The announcement of federal reform of many laws that discriminate against same-sex couple will be vastly more valuable in practice. The ACT has accepted a compromise that would allow same-sex couples to register their relationships and have a ceremony paid for by taxpayers, but without any legal recognition. The federal government correctly argues that its policy is based on the national ALP policy platform. Yet Mr Rudd had said in December that same-sex unions were a matter for the states and territories. Tasmania has already introduced a system of registering same-sex relationships, which the federal ALP supports in its official policy. The only difference is that the ACT proposal required a ceremony that provided for public acknowledgement of the relationship.
Relationships between the ACT and the federal government on which it depends for its well being have soured. ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope characterised the federal decision to disallow the civil unions as "a dreadful day for the Australian Labor Party". Mr Stanhope said:
What hurts me so much, is that the attitude of Kevin Rudd and Robert McClelland is no different from the attitude of John Howard and Phillip Ruddock in relation to the democratic rights of the people of the ACT and the human rights of gay and lesbian people in our community.
At the end of the day, the Commonwealth made not a single concession to the ACT Government; it was just a blanket position of opposition, no different to John Howard's.
I don't believe for one minute that by recognising gay and lesbian relationships under the law, we are in any way diminishing marriage. It's my 36th wedding anniversary tomorrow. Recognising the loving relationship of [gay Labor MLA] Andrew Barr does not diminish my marriage one iota and I challenge anybody to suggest it does.
An angry Stanhope said he was embarrassed that his federal Labor colleagues would both deny human rights of gay and lesbian people within his community, and show disrespect for the democratic rights of the people of the ACT. "At both levels, Prime Minister Rudd has failed dismally.
Andrew Barr says that is a fair assessment. He says it seems gay people are tolerated and accepted but have not been embraced as full citizens. "I've never been so disappointed in the Labor Party as I am today. But we've got to move on, we've taken a step forward and let's recognise that and this fight will go on for years ahead I'm sure."
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell had described the Rudd Government's position as "hypocritical" and "appalling", and accused Mr Rudd of being unduly influenced by the Christian lobby on the issue.
In 2006 Labor senators Kate Lundy and Penny Wong spoke passionately against federal intervention. Mr Stanhope said his federal colleagues could "rightly be accused of gross hypocrisy" and that when push came to shove, their "grand speeches" were just empty words.
Federal MPs have also attacked Kevin Rudd's decision and raised concerns that this threat flies in the face of a mandate the Stanhope government has from Canberra voters to introduce the legal reforms. Left-wing Rudd ministers including Tanya Plibersek have declined to publicly endorsed the decision. Northern Territory Labor Senator Trish Crossin, who is also a senator, said she could not support the use of Commonwealth powers to intervene in a territorys laws. ACT Labor MP Annette Ellis said today she was concerned in-principle at the intervention. NSW Labor MP Julia Irwin said she also had concerns.
But ACT senator Kate Lundy and Labor MP Bob McMullan have no commented, prompting claims of gutlessness from the Liberal Party, especially from Liberal senator Gary Humphries who stood alone against his party to support the ACT laws in 2006. "Usually in politics theres a fig leaf of difference between the circumstances that allow a government to back flip from what they did in opposition. Theres no fig leaf here.".
Asked what difference there was between McClelland and Philip Ruddock, the much-criticised attorney of the Howard government who overrode ACT legislation on civil unions, Rodney Croome, of the Coalition for Equality, said to Andrew Fraser of the Canberra Times (1 May 08), "In the eyes of a same-sex couple in the ACT who want to solemnise their love and commitment, I don't think there would be any difference. Both stand in the way of formal recognition of same-sex love, or, more to the point, their leaders do. . . . In my view, the Federal Government is bullying the ACT on this simply because it can."
Fraser opined (on 2 May 08) that there was at least one area where Prime Minister Rudd had a golden opportunity to draw a clear distinction between himself and John Howard, if he had had the nerve.
It comes from the ACT, which continues to have the temerity to insist that Territorians be allowed to govern themselves, just like everyone else in the country. There are two issues ripe for Rudd to seize:
That a properly elected and competent ACT Parliament (it's not just about the local Labor government) be allowed to legislate, within power (a power confirmed by Rudd himself in his very first week in office).
That formal recognition of unions (not, even on the ACT Government's formulation, "marriages") be provided for same-sex couples.
This would involve leadership.
The changes that Rudd's first law officer, Robert McClelland, announced this week for the financial security and equity of same-sex couples were universally hailed as significant and long overdue.
. . . As Corbell said, the mechanism is undemocratic and anachronistic, providing for the Queen's representative to dismiss the will of a section of the Australian people as expressed at the ballot box. It is possible only in the territories, and fits the description from Rodney Croome, of the Coalition for Equality, for disallowance itself: "bullying" that is done only because the Commonwealth can.
One option, Fraser notes, would have involved the Federal Government asking the Governor-General to recommend amendments to the ACT legislation that would have to be put before the Territory's Parliament. This would have meant that the Rudd Government would have had to publicly put forward its preferred course, rather than simply negating whatever the ACT put up. It had one big advantage, or challenge, Fraser says. It would have ensured that Rudd cannot be painted as Howard.
But that was not enough for the Prime Minister to act.
Today's The Canberra Times (5 May 08) reports that the ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell launched a "blistering" attack on the Rudd Government yesterday as he "capitulated" on his bid to legislate for same-sex civil unions.
Mr Corbell's anger is thoroughly deserved. However I have been concerned that a stand-off between the territory and federal government might prevent anything being done to allow formal recognition of same-sex relationships in the ACT.
The compromise adopted by the ACT Government will allow same-sex couples to register their relationship and have a ceremony paid for by taxpayers but carrying no legal recognition. The ceremonies will be conducted by the Registrar's office and cannot be vetoed by the Federal Government because they will not be written into legislation.
Faced with implacable opposition from the Rudd Government over formal ceremonies, Mr Corbell lashed out at what he called "fear and bigotry" influencing the outcome. "We are angry, disappointed and frustrated with the approach of our federal colleagues," he said. "We think it is appalling, unacceptable and completely at odds with the territory's status to make these laws for itself. It is a hypocritical position, it is a contradictory position and it is not a position that consistently adopts the principle of equality which they claim to profess in other areas of law reform," he said.
Mr Corbell accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of being unduly influenced by the Christian lobby on this issue. "There is no doubt there is an element of either fear or bigotry at play around this whole debate," he said.
In the SMH Mr Corbell is quoted as saying "Given the stubborn refusal of the Federal Government to consider any compromise, the territory has decided to amend its legislation to provide for a form of civil partnerships without ceremony. This will allow gay and lesbian couples in Canberra to legally formalise their relationships and unequivocally demonstrate their legal status so as to access Commonwealth superannuation, taxation and social security law reforms."
The federal government's action, although consistent with the ALP's national platform, are a reversal of its election policy that it would allow the ACT to make an autonomous decision. In December Mr Rudd said he would not use Commonwealth powers to override same-sex marriage laws passed by states and territories, as the Howard government did. "On these matters, state and territories are answerable to their own jurisdictions. State and territory governments are elected to govern, they are accountable to their constituents," Mr Rudd said then. Later, however, he directed Mr McClelland to threaten to override the ACT legislation, as the Coalition government did the last time it was put forward.
The decision by the ACT to water down its proposal, and adopt civil partnerships without legally recognised ceremonies, brings the territory into line with Tasmania and Victoria. But the Federal action is possible only because the ACT is a territory and not a state.
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland repeated yesterday that the ACT's original proposal mimicked marriage. Mr Corbell again rejected this assertion and said the first informal ceremonies between same-sex couples should occur later this month.
After the earlier intervention by then prime minister John Howard, senior Labor figures spoke passionately in defence of the ACT's right to legislate for same-sex couples. Frontbencher Penny Wong, now a minister, said then the Howard government was using the issue as a political football to exploit prejudices in sections of the community. ACT Labor Senator Kate Lundy, who also spoke out against Mr Howard's actions then, yesterday welcomed the compromise. Senator Lundy would have done better to support the territory people who elected her and the local government that represents them.
Episcopal Caféstates that Archbishop Williams will not allow Bishop Gene Robinson to function as a priest in England during the Lambeth Conference. Thinking Anglicanssays that "In the Church of England, the legal position on preaching is not the same as the position on 'exercising priestly functions'. It appears that an overseas bishop would not necessarily need permission from anybody but the incumbent of the parish in order to simply preach there.
It is here reported that a spokesman for the Archbishop, on 2 May 08 denied press speculation that Dr Williams was attempting to silence Bishop Robinson and has confirmed that Bishop Robinson has not been banned from pulpits in the Church of England. The Archbishop had not issued Bishop Robinson a license to officiate, but canon law does allow the Archbishop the ban a preacher.
However, on the BBC's Hardtalk, Robinson said he would not preach without the permission of the Archbishop. "In the past he has . . . declined to give me permission to preach and to celebrate the Holy Communion and I would never do so without his permission."
Episcopal Cafédescribes an email to Robinson which Williams cites the Windsor Report and recent statements from the Primates Meeting in refusing to grant Robinson permission to exercise his "priestly functions" during his current trip to England, or during the trip he plans during the Lambeth Conference in July and August. The email, which came to Robinson through a Lambeth official, says Williams believes that giving Robinson permission to preach and preside at the Eucharist would be construed as an acceptance of the ministry of a controversial figure within the Communion.
Yet, Williams has not denied permission officiate to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who gave his support to a failed legislative attempt to limit the rights of Nigerian gays and their supporters to speak, assemble and worship God collectively. Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Bernard Malango, the retired primate of Central Africa who dismissed without reason the ecclesiastical court convened to try pro-Mugabe Bishop Nolbert Kunonga for incitement to murder and other charges. Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone, who has now claimed as his own, churches in three others provinces in the Anglican Communion. Nor has he denined permission to preach and preside to Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emanuel Kolini of Rwanda, or Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, all of whom have ignored the Windsor Report's plea not to claim churches within other provinces of the Communion.
Mild mannered though I normally am, and in many ways an admirer of Dr Williams, I cannot but describe this denial of Robinson's priesthood as cowardly and a disgrace.