President Obama has already done much that is good, but concerning Gaza, he has forgotten that diplomacy is not just talking with one's friends but also one's opponents. He wiil mistaken if he does not allow discussions with Hamas, which, for good or ill, remains the elected spekesgroup for the people of Gaza.
Former US diplomat and head of the International Crisis Group's Middle East program, Robert Malley, said on 26 Jan that the largely Western boycott of the Islamists is a failure. The recent battle in Gaza, he said, was for Hamas "about showing that they could stay in place without giving way, and from this point of view it has achieved its main objective. And Hamas seems reinforced in Arab and Palestinian public opinion, and then there's the criticism of Israel's war conduct from around the world."
Asked whether contact should be made with Hamas while it has not recognised Israel or renounced violence, Malley said that,
First of all, one point: Hamas exists and has survived. It's unrealistic to think that you can defeat it with an economic blockade, that you can defeat it with more 'moderate' forces (from the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas) or that you can defeat it militarily. These paths have failed in a crushing way.
That doesn't necessarily mean you have to start a direct dialogue with Hamas, but you have to think about how to deal with this question in a more intelligent way, by using all political and diplomatic instruments. And I'm not one of those who thinks that you have to be nicer to them and everything will be alright.
However reasonable they might appear from Washington or Paris, the Quartet's conditions are completely unrealistic in Palestine. No, Hamas will not recognise Israel, neither will it renounce violence. For political reasons, and for ideological reasons. These demands must be translated into concrete and digestible terms. So asking for a ceasefire for an indefinite period to be observed by both parties is much more pragmatic and realistic a solution than demanding they [Hamas] renounce violence.
And Hamas must say clearly that it would sign up to a peace deal, including recognition of Israel, if was ratified by a referendum of the Palestinian people. So the violence must stop and the semblance of a Palestinian national movement must be recreated that can talk in a legitimate and credible way when it negotiates with Israel.
[. . .] There are some matters on which you know that the American administration is going to completely change policy: it's going to start talking to Syria, talking to Iran, and it will be engaged from day one in the (Middle East) peace process. It's certain that if the relationship between these countries and the United States improves, then the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will get a new lease of life, which will create a new regional context that will also change Hamas's political calculations. Indirect methods will perhaps achieve similar results, but that will not avoid a deeper reflection on how to deal with Hamas. The paradox is that it's much to easier to speak about Hamas in Israel, including with the hawks, than in the United States.
There have been many prayers for President Obama, public and private, grand and simple. Slightly adapted, these are from the 1928 and current editions of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church..
O Lord, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty ruler of the universe, who from your throne beholds all the dwellers upon earth; most heartily we ask you, with your favour to behold and bless your servant the President of the United States, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of your Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to your will, and walk in your way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend the United States of America to your merciful care, that, being guided by your providence, they may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve their people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Is this a prayer that Australians can share?
A Prayer for the American nation and its next President, Barack Obama, by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire at the Opening Inaugural Event, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, 18 Jan 2009.
(published by the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.)
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will . . .
Bless us with tears — for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger — at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort — at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience — and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our [America's] new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility — open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance — replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity — remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State [with much of the world] needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our [America's] presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand — that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us [the American people] as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.
Once again, without comment; that comes later, perhaps.
Bishop sees prayer guiding Govt to do the right thing, by Graham Downie, Religion reporter Canberra Times (13 Jan 09)
Israel's high level of indiscriminate violence was inappropriate and must stop, Canberra and Goulburn's Anglican Bishop-elect, Stuart Robinson, said yesterday.
Settling into his new residence and preparing for his consecration on January 31, Mr Robinson spoke about his personal life, his beliefs and his expectations for his new diocese. This included qualified support for the ordination of homosexual people.
He was very concerned about Palestinians experiencing the horror of what could only be described as a war, he said. And although Palestinians had fired rockets into Israel, the response had been inappropriate. He was also concerned about large numbers of children and people not involved in any kind of skirmishes being caught up in the violence. "We need to be concerned for those people whose lives are being destroyed by such violence," he said.
Though not wanting to suggest there was a simple solution, he said that in Anglican liturgy, people prayed for peace in the world. "We are praying for our leaders and praying that God will raise up people who are just women and men of peace," he said. "I believe very much in the power of prayer and God's intervention.
"I am wanting to say to people in this diocese that we need to be praying for wisdom for our Prime Minister and for his Cabinet that they will act in a just and right way. I am committing myself to praying for the Prime Minister to make wise and godly decisions and in no way to be caught up in indiscriminate and careless warfare."
On whether he would ordain homosexual people, he said that outside marriage, sexual congress was inappropriate. But celibate people who had a same-sex attraction may well be ordained "as long as they take the notion of being celibate seriously".
"If somebody, in a discreet way, tells me they have same-sex attractions and are not in any way seeking to be in a same-sex relationship and are seeking to honour Christ in their life, that is a person I can confidently ordain and confidently encourage to be involved in Christian ministry."
In principle, he believed a register of same-sex unions would be fair and just. But people on that register would effectively be denied ordination.
His influence over Canberra the political city was yet to be seen but, "I am hoping to meet and build a relationship with the Prime Minister and other leaders in Government and Opposition. "I am hoping to actively be involved in praying for them and with them and, with the senior leaders of the diocese, seeking to influence them."
In which direction? "In a way which we believe will better our society and honour Christ."
The Federal Government has acknowledged that its reform agenda had increased public servants' workload, yet it continues to do nothing in response, except to reduce funding and staffing. I support much of what the new(ish) government intends but, like many public servants, I am find the umremitting pressure rather wearing and may well quit sometime in the next year or two.
Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the Government believed in working hard. "We believe these difficult times ... require hard work and strong focus on protecting our economy, on protecting Australian jobs and we're going to continue to work to do that." Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said the Government should heed warnings from the public service. "If people are exhausted ... then they're not going to be productive. An excess of workaholism is not good for productivity.".
The Community and Public Sector Union has urged the Government to abandon its arbitrary budget cuts that had "eaten away at the essential services Australians rely on, costing jobs, reducing wages and slashing the service standards that Australians expect". "More Australians are expected to face tougher times ahead and public servants are working hard to deliver the essential services needed. But they are increasingly hamstrung by the Federal Government's routine and arbitrary budget cuts of 3.25 per cent [the so-called efficiency dividend]. Australians, especially now in our growing hour of need, expect the highest standards in Government services and that's why it's urgent we get the funding right." Mr Gepp said yesterday the union would launch a "major campaign" against the Government's cost cutting before the May budget.
Public Service Commissioner Lynelle Briggs, has warned that bureaucrats are struggling with a "massive additional workload" and more staff could quit as a result. "I think if the Government wants good policy advice with some carefully nuanced perspectives on where to go, then people need time to have a break," Ms Briggs said in an interview. "The alternative is that we continue to work at this rate and we get used to it. But if the Government is going to do that they're going to have to pay us more. It's as simple as that." Ms Briggs said that "The cumulative weight of efficiency dividends over the past 20 years or so has been enormous. And that in combination with only partial funding of salary increases in the public service, together with the things we're asked to absorb, has taken a big toll."
During his joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy last Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said:
Unfortunately, the Israelis didn't learn from Lebanon war they wanted to eradicate the resistance but the answer was that the thought of resistance has been augmented. The resistance is not an organization to dismantle, or an individual to be assassinated or a weapons cache to be destroyed .It's a thought that expands they committed the same fatal mistake again, and now this thought is spreading more and more
Regardless of the merits or otherwise of their aims, that is why the Israelis will fail to suppress Hamas resistance. The resistance is an ideal, to be sustained at any cost in blood or treasure. It will be overcome not by war, but by peace.
The calumny heaped on the departing George Bush is remarkable in its vehemence: instance the The GuardianEditorial (17 Jan 09)"In the end, the only good thing to be said for Mr Bush is that he made Barack Obama's election possible. He cannot go too soon. Good riddance."
But he may at least be praised for designating three areas of the Pacific Ocean as marine national monuments, 195,112 square miles in all (505,145 square kilometres)equivalent in area to a square about 442 miles or 711 kilometres each side:
The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument consists of three components: the waters and submerged lands encompassing the coral reef ecosystem of the three northernmost islands, the Marianas Trench, and a series of active undersea volcanoes and thermal vents.
In the US, a national monument is similar to a national park except that the President can declare an area of the United States to be a national monument Congressional approval. National monuments receive less funding and afford fewer protections to wildlife than national parks.
Did he get his idea from The West Wing? In season 1, episode 8, the staff trying to work out how the President can sign a banking reform bill into law without having to accept an amendment attached to the bill by two Republican senators that would allow strip mining of federal land in Montana. They comes up with the solution that the Antiquities Act of 1906 be to suggest that the federal land be converted into a protected National Park after signing the bill. The solution works.
The NYT, jaundiced as usual when it comes to George Bush, commented:
This is the vast stage on which President Bush is trying to salvage his environmental legacy. It's strange but true. Mr. Bush, who has been monumentally indifferent to the health of continents and the atmosphere, is going down in history as a protector of the oceans.
On Tuesday, he designated three huge areas of the western Pacific as national monuments, declaring that their fish, birds, reefs and other marine life were more important than commercial fishing, drilling and mineral extraction. The protected waters encircle the Northern Mariana Islands (including the Mariana Trench, the deepest canyon on Earth) and parts of a sprawling collection of reefs and atolls known as the Line Islands.
They are a dazzling world of undersea volcanoes, pristine reefs, endangered seals, turtles and whales and intact food chains ruled by sharks. In protecting nearly 200,000 square miles of ocean, an area far bigger than California, Mr. Bush has outdone his decision in 2006 to set aside 140,000 square miles in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. . . .
Nonetheless, the new monuments are not nearly as big as they could have been and the protections could have been more stringent.
Big as they are, the monuments are not nearly enough to offset eight years of Mr. Bush's bad environmental policies, marked by inaction on climate change, the sacrifice of millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas exploration, and indifference bordering on hostility to endangered species and fragile ecosystems.
Given that record, why did he create these new ocean monuments . . .? We can take him at his word that it was the right thing to do, but we have to note as well that the areas protected are staggeringly far away and not notably prized by the corporate interests whose priorities the Bush administration has for so long made its own. . . . An environmental trophy was lying on the ground, and Mr. Bush, with just days left in his presidency, simply picked it up.
The spiralling violence in Gaza tragically illustrates the fact that the cycle of mutual threat and retaliation have no lasting effect except to reinforce the misery and insecurity of everyone in the region. I want to express my grief and sympathy for the innocent lives lost in this latest phase of violence. People of all faiths in this country will want to join their voices to the statements of the Christian Muslim Forum and the Council of Christians and Jews in urging a return to the ceasefire and efforts to secure a lasting peace. We must unite in urging all those who have the power to halt this spiral of violence to do so.
Those raising the stakes through the continuation of indiscriminate violence seem to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. It must surely be clear that, whilst peace will not wipe out the memory of all past wrongs, it is the only basis for the future flourishing of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. The recent statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Church in Jerusalem reflects a clear awareness that there can be no winners if the current situation is allowed to persist. Its continuation can only condemn ordinary Palestinian and Israeli citizens to the prospect of another year of fear and suffering.
Urgent humanitarian needs have arisen through the attacks on Gaza and Israel and they demand a generous response to local appeals for support, such as that issued by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem for its hospital in Gaza. But this humanitarian response, both local and international, needs to be matched by redoubled efforts in the political sphere.
The prophet Zechariah declared, "Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of Hosts". The New Year is an opportunity for a new initiative that will set the tone for what lies ahead. Religious leaders, most particularly those of the region, have an urgent responsibility in supporting the search for peace and reconciliation. But it is the political leaders and opinion-formers who hold the key to implementing the necessary changes that can bring hope. Can they not agree a period of truce as the New Year begins, so that the communities of the Holy Land may once again explore how common security might at last begin to replace the mechanical rhythms of mutual threat? Might the outgoing and incoming Presidents of the USA combine to make such an appeal and pursue its implementation?
The Anglican Communion worldwide stands alongside other religious communities and humanitarian organisations in its commitment to supporting any such initiative. Without such a sign of hope, the future for the Holy Land and the whole region is one of more fear, innocent suffering and destruction.
To support people of Gaza in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, I can think of few better ways than a donation to the Ahli Arab Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. In Australia, donations may be made through Anglicord and, in America, through the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
I discover that overnight on 31 December 2008, I aged by more than expected.
The time it takes the Earth to rotate (a day) is getting longer by about 0.002 seconds a day, as it is ever so gradually slowed done by the drag of the tides and the atmosphere. For years its not been precise enough to define a second as simply as an 86,400th of a day. Its now 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a 133Cs atom at rest and at 0°K, as measured by ultra-accurate atomic clocks.
Since 1972, 25 leap seconds have been inserted in our time keeping to keep Univresal Time in step with the atomic clocks — which is what happened at the last second before midnight, GMT, last night on the advice of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service thus increasing my age by 0.0000000512% or 5.12*10-8%. Scandalous!