The ACT Government has banned Focus on the Family from the ACT school system while it investigates allegations that the group has vilified homosexuals in the "No Apologies Impact" seminar that it has presented in some public schools. Focus on the Family has been accused of demonising homosexuality, painting it in the same light as bestiality and giving religious education in public schools without parental permission. The Canberra Times reports allegations that the seminar included claims that sex was bad, painted homosexuality in a similar light to bestiality and warned students they could become gay by watching gay pornography. Students were also allegedly warned they could become attracted to animals by watching animal pornography, that if a couple had sex it was the boy's fault and that girls should not provoke boys by putting their hair up and wearing make-up.
The NSW Education Department had accredited the seminar through its Performance in Schools program—which is not intended for religious education—but has now suspended the entire program and shut down its website. The former website said that the purpose of Performance in Schools was:
developing children's appreciation, enjoyment and participation in the arts in all its forms as part of their education. It acknowledges that only professional performers and practitioners practising their craft at a high level of educational and artistic competence can provide students with opportunities to experience live performances and presentations. To ensure the artistic and educational integrity of these performances and to meet its charter to protect the young people in its care, the Department of Education and Training strongly recommends that all schools accept only those performances that have been authorised to perform in schools and colleges through the Performances For Schools program.
It seems that the "No Apologies Impact Seminar" got under the artistic and educational radar. Focus on the Family advertises it as "Teaching young people to make healthy choices about sex and relationships . . . This seminar will give young people the opportunity to consider the truth about life, love and sex. . . . Topics include (but are not limited to) pornography, the influence of the media, the consequences of pre-marital sex and how far is too far."
So what's wrong with teaching young people moral and ethical behaviour? Nothing. But it would seem that Focus on the Family's approach has been neither ethical nor moral.
Our public schools are secular, by law. Nevertheless 'Religious instruction' is allowed a place in our schools, made available as such and taught by accredited religious workers, generally using a curriculum acceptable to mainstream Christian groups. (In private schools, the curriculum may be tailored to the spiritual concerns of a particular group.) Some public schools may also have elective courses in studies in religion, as well as education in the practical ethics of behaviour, and about sex and sexuality.
So far so good. But when these categories—religion, ethics and sex—are muddled in a public secular school (or any school for that matter), there is a recipe for half-truths, confusion and anger.
The Focus on the Family's seminar was accredited as performing art not religious instruction. It would not have been allowed access to schools as religious instruction. Yet the seminar has apparently been used in an unethical way to advance socially unacceptable ideas that are contrary to the religious understanding of many, and wrong in fact. If so, Focus on the Family has breached the ethical, spiritual and educational values that it so vehemently purports to uphold. It damages the potential for good of its ministry and makes it even more difficult for those who seek to present an open, thoughtful approach to spirituality and faith for young people.
In April, NASA's orbiting Swift observatory reported a distant gamma-ray burst from a massive explosion ending the life of a star. Ground-based measurements now find GRB 090423 to be the most distant and oldest object yet detected in our universe; it is some 13.1 billion light-years away, a hint of an explosion just 630 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was less than a ninth of its present size.
It's one thing to explore such remote recesses of time in theory. Its something else again to witness their afterglow. And GRB 090423 is an invitation for all of us to unfetter our imaginations. We imagine looking outward from that distant point knowing that our own exploration still lies some 13 billion years in the future.
The Pope is right on some things! After listening to a piano concert on 19 October Benedict XVI offered his reflections on "great music," saying that it can become prayer. The concert was held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the International Piano Academy and featured Chinese pianist Jin Ju. At the end of the concert the Pope thanked the academy and the pianist, who "enabled us to savor . . . the emotional impact of the music she played." He said that, "This concert has, once again, given us the chance to appreciate the beauty of music, a spiritual and therefore universal language, and hence the appropriate vehicle for understanding and union between individuals and peoples. Music forms part of all cultures and, we could say, accompanies all human experiences, from suffering to pleasure, from hatred to love, from sadness to joy, from death to life . . . Over the centuries and the millennia music has always been used to give form to what cannot be expressed with words, because it arouses emotions otherwise difficult to communicate. It is, then, no coincidence that all civilizations have given importance and value to music in its various forms and expressions. "Music, great music," he observed, "distends the spirit, arouses profound emotions and almost naturally invites us to raise our minds and hearts to God in all situations of human existence, the joyful and the sad." Thus, he said"Music can become prayer."
The slogan "Think Globally, Act Locally" has long been beloved of Greens and others who care for the Earth and for responsible environmental action. But now we have a pressing need to act globally.
Thomas E. Lovejoy, when president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, said that "the environmental profession has changed from one in which simple and often local interventions would work, to one in which we have become planet doctors. (International Herald Tribune 19 Jan 07).
Even though we should know better, it is natural to regard what we grew up with as the normal state of affairs. Indeed, every generation has a different view of "the good old days." This is particularly troublesome with respect to the environment and nature. Without some perspective of what might be "normal," it is hard to understand the impact we have had on our planet and what to do about it.
At the time I turned my hand to environment and conservation, the number of endangered species worldwide was modest. To be sure there were the first signs of more pervasive problems heralded in Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," but they seemed amenable to straightforward and simple fixes.
Hole in the ozone layer? Find a substitute for chlorofluorocarbons. Acid rain and acid lakes? Reduce sulfur emissions and do it economically by creating a market for sulfur trading. An endangered rainforest? Create a protected area.
To be truly effective in most endeavors, including environmental work, it is important to lift one's gaze from the particular to assess periodically the overall state of the exercise. That can determine whether and how to alter strategy as new environmental problems emerge and understanding deepens. Current indicators can only tell us about the moment, whereas we need to be cognizant of shifting environmental horizons — what could well become future baselines unless action is taken. Doing so, one can only conclude that the environmental profession has changed from one in which simple and often local interventions would work, to one in which we have become planet doctors.
In the oceans and on land it is impossible to find a place unaffected by human activities. We live in a chemical soup of our own making. Even in the Arctic and Antarctica, animals accumulate toxic compounds in their tissues. Rainforests and virtually all other natural habitats are in retreat. The number of endangered birds, mammals and plants is soaring from multiple causes. Perhaps as many as one quarter of all amphibian species are endangered through a strange combination of factors, including a fatal fungal disease. With no tadpoles, some streams have turned bright green from unconstrained algal growth. The great global cycles of carbon and nitrogen are badly distorted, producing, among other things, climate change and acidifying oceans from greenhouse gases plus multiple dead zones in estuaries and coastal waters. The rising temperatures are already stressing coral reefs. In some parts of Siberia, the thawed permafrost bubbles with methane like a Yellowstone hot spring.
While there is enough on the planet's environmental horizon to make us all want to throw up our hands, as planet doctors we know diagnosis is just prelude to treatment. There is a tremendous amount that can be done to right the imbalance without wrecking the global economy. Indeed the recent Stern report on climate change, whatever its flaws, clearly demonstrates that the implications of a deteriorating environment are more serious for the economy than the cost of addressing it. Action is required in all segments of society: Government needs to put the right incentives in place to encourage, for example, the right kinds of biofuels and other alternate energy sources. Individual human aspiration needs to be provided choices that are environment-friendly.
Clearly, there is an enormous role for the private sector. Happily, there are many signs that some companies view this as an opportunity. The aluminum company Alcoa, in one of the most energy-intensive industries, is seeking to make its Brazilian operations carbon-neutral and sustainable in other ways as well. Generators made by Caterpillar run on methane from landfills. Time magazine has analyzed the carbon in its product life cycle from tree harvest to disposal.
This is not the first time in our history that humanity has faced a huge and unprecedented challenge. Environmental degradation is largely avoidable. It only requires us to take the planetary diagnosis as seriously as our own individual annual checkups, and rise to the challenge with all of our innate creativity.
1. Coro Gott ist mein König von altersher, der alle Hilfe tut, so auf Erden geschicht.
God is my Sovereign since ancient days, who all salvation brings which on earth may be found.
2. Aria con Corale in Canto Ich bin nun achtzig Jahr, warum soll dein Knecht sich mehr beschweren?
I have lived eighty years, wherefore shall thy thrall still more complain, then?
Soll ich auf dieser Welt Mein Leben höher bringen,
Durch manchen sauren Tritt Hindurch ins Alter dringen,
Ich will umkehren, dass ich sterbe in meiner Stadt,
So gib Geduld, für Sünd und Schanden mich bewahr,
Auf dass ich tragen mag bei meines Vaters und meiner Mutter Grab.
Mit Ehren graues Haar.
If I should in this world my life extend yet longer,
Through countless bitter steps into old age advancing,
I would return now, that I die within my own town,
Help me forbear, from sin and scandal me defend,
So that I may wear well beside my father's and mine own mother's grave.
With honour my gray hair.
3. Coro Dein Alter sei wie deine Jugend, und Gott ist mit dir in allem, das du tust.
Thine old age be like to thy childhood, and God is with thee in ev'ry deed thou dost.
4. Arioso Tag und Nacht ist dein. Du machest, dass beide, Sonn und Gestirn, ihren gewissen Lauf haben. Du setzest einem jeglichen Lande seine Grenze.
Day and night are thine. Thou makest them both, the sun and the stars, their own appointed course follow.
Myths about working for the government notwithstanding, my colleagues and I work hard and work smart. What I increasingly resent and find difficult, however, are the ludicrous deadlines for much of what we do. Multi-million dollar decisions that effect the lives of many are sought in a few hours or minutes. Australia's Government has deluded itself into believing that efficiency equals speed, and that longer work hours produce more and better decisions. Much expectation of rapid decision making comes from electronic communications, especially word-processing and e-mail. The myth is that because It can be done faster, it ought to done faster.
Recently, the retiring head of the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, David Borthwick, concluded a 36-year career by saying that the public service is so busy doing the Government's bidding it lacks time to properly check whether its policies actually work. He said that the public service wanted to develop more effective policies, "but our agencies are so flat out, so stretched, that we have scant capacity to invest in serious thinking". "[More] than ever, governments are reactive to the intense pressure of the 24-hour news cycle."
John Freeman's Shrinking the World The 4,000-year story of how email came to rule our lives (to be published this month) is a history of how changing methods of communication have eroded the great distances between us. The telegram, newspapers, synchronised time and railway networks have changed everything from the nature of military intelligence to the messages we write to loved ones. There's an extract in the Wall Street Journal (21 Aug 09)
We need to slow down, Freeman argues, to concentrate our short lives on the things most important.
Our society does not often tell us this. Progress, since the dawn of the Industrial Age, is supposed to be a linear upward progression; graphs with upward slopes are a good sign. Processing speeds are always getting faster; broadband now makes dial-up seem like traveling by horse and buggy. Growth is eternal.
. . . The ultimate form of progress, however, is learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace, emailing at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us. It is encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world, encouraging a further distancing from our bodies and our natures and our communities. We can change this; we have to change it. Of course email is good for many things; that has never been in dispute. But we need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives.
In the past two decades, we have witnessed one of the greatest breakdowns of the barrier between our work and personal lives since the notion of leisure time emerged in Victorian Britain as a result of the Industrial Age. It has put us under great physical and mental strain, altering our brain chemistry and daily needs. It has isolated us from the people with whom we live, siphoning us away from real-world places where we gather. It has encouraged flotillas of unnecessary jabbering, making it difficult to tell signal from noise. It has made it more difficult to read slowly and enjoy it, hastening the already declining rates of literacy. It has made it harder to listen and mean it, to be idle and not fidget.
This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, workplace meltdowns, and unhappiness. How many of our most joyful memories have been created in front of a screen?
If we are to step off this hurtling machine, we must reassert principles that have been lost in the blur. It is time to launch a manifesto for a slow communication movement, a push back against the machines and the forces that encourage us to remain connected to them. Many of the values of the Internet are social improvements—it can be a great platform for solidarity, it rewards curiosity, it enables convenience. This is not the manifesto of a Luddite, this is a human manifesto. If the technology is to be used for the betterment of human life, we must reassert that the Internet and its virtual information space is not a world unto itself but a supplement to our existing world . . .
The speed at which we do something—anything—changes our experience of it. Words and communication are not immune to this fundamental truth. The faster we talk and chat and type over tools such as email and text messages, the more our communication will resemble traveling at great speed. . . .
This is a disastrous development on many levels. Brain science may suggest that some decisions can be made in the blink of an eye, but not all judgments benefit from a short frame of reference. We need to protect the finite well of our attention if we care about our relationships. We need time in order to properly consider the effect of what we say upon others. We need time in order to grasp the political and professional ramifications of our typed correspondence. We need time to shape and design and filter our words so that we say exactly what we mean. Communicating at great haste hones our utterances down to instincts and impulses that until now have been held back or channeled more carefully.
Continuing in this strobe-lit techno-rave communication environment as it stands will be destructive for businesses. Employees communicating at breakneck speed make mistakes. They forget, cross boundaries that exist for a reason, make sloppy errors, offend clients, spread rumors and gossip that would never travel through offline channels, work well past the point where their contributions are helpful, burn out and break down and then have trouble shutting down and recuperating. The churn produced by this communication lifestyle cannot be sustained. "To perfect things, speed is a unifying force," the race-car driver Michael Schumacher has said. "To imperfect things, speed is a destructive force." No company is perfect, nor is any individual.
It is hard not to blame us for believing otherwise, because the Internet and the global markets it facilitates have bought into a fundamental warping of the actual meaning of speed. Speed used to convey urgency; now we somehow think it means efficiency. One can even see this in the etymology of the word. The earliest recorded use of it as a verb—"to go fast"— dates back to 1300, when horses were the primary mode of moving in haste. By 1569, as the printing press was beginning to remake society, speed was being used to mean "to send forth with quickness." By 1856, in the thick of the Industrial Revolution, when machines and mechanized production and train travel were remaking society yet again, "speed" took on another meaning. It was being used to "increase the work rate of," as in speed up.
There is a paradox here, though. The Internet has provided us with an almost unlimited amount of information, but the speed at which it works—and we work through it—has deprived us of its benefits. We might work at a higher rate, but this is not working. We can store a limited amount of information in our brains and have it at our disposal at any one time. Making decisions in this communication brownout, though without complete information, we go to war hastily, go to meetings unprepared, and build relationships on the slippery gravel of false impressions. Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources. If we waste it on frivolous communication, we will have nothing left when we really need it.
Everything we say needn't travel at the fastest rate possible. The difference between typing an email and writing a letter or memo out by hand is akin to walking on concrete versus strolling on grass. You forget how natural it feels until you do it again. Our time on this earth is limited, the world is vast, and the people we care about or need for our business life to operate will not always live and work nearby; we will always have to communicate over distance. We might as well enjoy it and preserve the space and time to do it in a way that matches the rhythms of our bodies. Continuing to work and type and write at speed, however, will make our communication environment resemble our cities. There will be concrete as far as the eye can see.
. . . We need context in order to live, and if the environment of electronic communication has stopped providing it, we shouldn't search online for a solution but turn back to the real world and slow down. To do this, we need to uncouple our idea of progress from speed, separate the idea of speed from efficiency, pause and step back enough to realize that efficiency may be good for business and governments but does not always lead to mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships. We are here for a short time on this planet, and reacting to demands on our time by simply speeding up has canceled out many of the benefits of the Internet, which is one of the most fabulous technological inventions ever conceived. We are connected, yes, but we were before, only by gossamer threads that worked more slowly. Slow communication will preserve these threads and our ability to sensibly choose to use faster modes when necessary. It will also preserve our sanity, our families, our relationships and our ability to find happiness in a world where, in spite of the Internet, saying what we mean is as hard as it ever was. It starts with a simple instruction: Don't send.
A new criminal bylaw passed by the provincial parliament of Aceh imposes torture, violates basic rights to privacy, and fails to protect victims of sexual violence. The new law calls for adulterers to be stoned to death and punishes fornication with flogging — 100 lashes each for homosexual conduct and for sexual relations between unmarried partners. The law passed on 14 September 2009, and although Aceh's governor, Irwandi Yusuf, has said he will not sign the law, it will take effect in mid-October unless national authorities intervene. In addition to criminalizing all sex outside of marriage, the new law fails to criminalize marital rape and introduces discriminatory and unjust evidentiary requirements to prove rape. In doing so, the law places sexual assault victims at risk of being punished for engaging in illegal sexual conduct, instead of providing victims of violence or abuse with clear channels for redress.
Aceh has long enjoyed relative autonomy from the central government as a Special Administrative Region (Daerah Istimewa), including a semi-independent legal system, and Acehnese authorities have previously introduced certain sharia provisions, including dress codes and mandatory prayers. The law violates the Indonesian Constitution and fundamental principles of international human rights, including the rights to life and freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, protected in articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN Committee Against Torture, had unconditionally recognized stoning and flogging as torture. Indonesia acceded to the Convention Against Torture in in 2006. Aceh's Islamic Criminal Code directly contravenes Indonesia's obligations under these conventions.
In its landmark decision in the 1994 case of Toonen v. Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, charged with authoritatively interpreting the convention and monitoring states' compliance with it, found that criminalizing consensual homosexual conduct violates the rights to privacy and to nondiscrimination reflected in that treaty. The criminalization of adultery also violates internationally recognized protections for private life. Article 17 of the convention specifically protects against arbitrary interference with individuals' privacy. Indonesia must oblige the Acehnese provincial parliament to reject the proposed law.
I'm never quite sure whether 'organic' products are better than 'non-organic'. Because of the growing use of dodgy claims on product labels, Australia has long needed assurance that foods and other products labeled organic are genuine. Now a new Australian Standard has been published AS 6000-2009 Organic and biodynamic products supported by organic growers, industry bodies, certifiers, associations, consumer groups, retailers and government.
The Standard establishes a uniform framework for how to grow, produce, distribute, market and label organic and biodynamic products. Products complying with the standard must have been produced following natural, sustainable, ethical and environmentally-responsible farming practices. The Standard requires:
thorough records of farming and production practices throughout all stages;
verification of organic claims through a process of independent, third party certification;
practices stipulated in the Standard to be applied to the land for no less than three years before any products can be labelled organic or biodynamic;
the almost absolute restriction of pesticides and fertilisers produced from the synthetic chemicals;
a complete ban on the use of genetically modified products;
operators to have a farm biodiversity and landscape management plan as part of their organic management plan; and
the use of organic and biodynamic livestock feed for livestock products labelled 'organic' or 'biodynamic'.
The Australian Standard, which is currently voluntary, is based on the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce, Edition 3.3, which governs the export industry, so that the two align.
A great satisfaction in growing old—one of many—is assuming the role of a witness to the wobbling of the world and seeing irreversible changes. The downside, besides the tedium of listening to the delusions of the young, is hearing the same hackneyed opinions over and over, not just those of callow youth but, much worse and seemingly criminal, the opinions of even callower people who ought to know better, all the lies about war and fear and progress and the enemy—the world as a wheel of repetition. They—I should say "we"—are bored by things we've heard a million times before, books we've dismissed, the discoveries that are not new, the proposed solutions that will solve nothing. "I can tell that I am growing old," says the narrator in Borges's story "The Congress." "One unmistakable sign is the fact that I find novelty neither interesting nor surprising, perhaps because I see nothing essentially new in it—it's little more than timid variations on what's already been. "
— Paul Theroux. Ghost train to the eastern star: on the tracks of the Great railway bazaar Hamish Hamilton, 2008, p. 4.
I've commented previously that B.R. Myers is a particularly enlightening and informed commentator on North Korea. In this Wall Street Journalpiece (1 Oct 09) Myers writes on North Korea's codification of its "extreme, nationalist regime" in a new constitution, noting it to be national-socialist (fascist?) not communist.
The average North Korean doesn't know the country's national constitution well, but at least he has a solid excuse: Kim Jong Il keeps the working masses ignorant of the rights that are formally granted them, which include freedom of speech and demonstration. But just because Pyongyang's constitution is hardly worth the paper it is written on does not mean that alterations to it are beneath notice. For the ruling elite, its preamble and first few articles serve as a broad indication of the regime's ideological direction.
Which is why the latest version of the North Korean constitution, made public on Monday by the South Korean government, is worth paying attention to. Unlike earlier versions, it omits all mention of communism, while referring here and there to the "military-first" brand of socialism that has guided the regime since the mid-1990s. It also designates the National Defense Council Chairman—Kim Jong Il, of course—as "supreme leader" of the country. Last weekend a North Korean press representative explained to South Korean officials that Kim did not consider communism to be viable "as long as U.S. imperialism exists."
These changes do not reflect a sudden shift in policy. Despite the world media's tradition of referring to North Korea as a "hardline communist" or "Stalinist" state, it has never been anything of the sort. From its beginnings in 1945 the regime has espoused—to its subjects if not to its Soviet and Chinese aid-providers—a race-based, paranoid nationalism that has nothing to do with Marxism-Leninism. (This latter term was tellingly dropped from the constitution after the collapse of the East Bloc.) North Korea has always had less in common with the former Soviet Union than with the Japan of the 1930s, another "national defense state" in which a command economy was pursued not as an end in itself, but as a prerequisite for rapid armament.
North Korea is, in other words, a national-socialist country—one lacking imperialist ambitions, to be sure, but one that must still be seen on the far right and not the far left of the political spectrum. The only thing that has changed over the past 15 years is the country's readiness to show its true colors to the world. Despite this, some foreigners continue to misinterpret the regime's sporadic efforts to regain total control over the economy in terms of an attempted "re-Stalinization." In fact it has made no serious effort to resocialize the enormous amount of property, including real estate, that has been amassed by traders and officials in the past 15 years. Nor has it stamped out open-air markets. Instead it tries to control and monitor these markets better, with a view to preventing the diversion of able-bodied workers from farms and factories, and stopping the trade in items stolen from state industry. In short, Kim wants to call the economic shots to maintain internal security and to pump as much money as possible into the army; Stalin doesn't enter into the equation, let alone Marx.
So far, the United States government has never been interested enough in North Korean ideology to look beyond Pyongyang's lip service to communism. An element of wishful thinking is involved, given that Washington wants the current nuclear stand-off to end as peacefully as the Cold War did. Perhaps this new constitution will finally make America realize who it is dealing with: a leader who derives his entire legitimacy from a pledge to maximize his country's military might. Kim is aware that he cannot disarm without committing political suicide. This unfortunately means that negotiations with Pyongyang, whether bilateral or multilateral, can never bear the sort of fruit that détente with the Soviet Union did.
Some in Washington have suggested that negotiations can nonetheless be an effective adjunct to sanctions, the hope being that the U.S. can chatter away with the Kim regime until it finally collapses from a lack of funds. But if North Korea is not a communist country, there is no reason to expect it to fold like one. Party propaganda derides the old Soviet Union for nothing so much as the way it went down "without a shot." With the Dear Leader's uranium centrifuges spinning every hour, running out the clock seems a very dangerous strategy indeed.
Go Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, observes (JoongAng Daily, 2 Oct 09) that the new constitution "provides the constitutional and systematic groundwork for North Korea as a military nation."
The Constitution of 1972 established the "Revolutionary Leader Theory" and the 1998 revision established the system of the National Defense Chairman by providing for "Seongun," or a "military-first" policy. [. . . ] The newly revised Constitution dramatically reinforces the authority and duties of the chairman and stipulates the powers that have been executed by the chairman. The chairman [. . .] not only leads national projects in general but also has the authority to ratify and abandon treaties and declare states of emergency. The Constitution seems to give the chairman [Kim Jong-il] authority similar to those of a president in a Western country.
North Korea has advocated military-first politics as the basic ruling system of the Kim Jong-il era since the death of Kim Il Sung. When the Constitution was revised in 1998, it created a government system centered on the National Defense Commission but did not reflect a specific leadership philosophy for the military-first policies.
The latest Constitution states that North Korea takes military-first policy and the juche ideology of self-reliance as "the leadership guideline of activities," and adds military servicemen as one of the sovereign classes. While the 1972 Constitution included "soldiers" as sovereign power holders, they were dropped in the 1998 Constitution. The most recent revision replaced soldiers with "military servicemen." By adding military-first policy as a leadership ideology and including military servicemen as sovereign power holders, North Korea wishes to constitutionally complete a military state. The military-first doctrine is not at the same level as the juche ideology, but more of an embodiment of it.
It is notable that "communism" has been removed in the revised Constitution. When socialist countries are collapsing and struggling to keep people well fed, communism is a far-fetched idea. The socialist objective of realizing distribution based on labor is hard to attain under present conditions, and the communist idea of realizing distribution based on demand is not in sight.
China assumes that becoming a socialist state is a long process that takes over 100 years. It is pursuing rapid economic growth as a primary socialist stage. North Korea also proposes its own socialist theories and is more interested in resolving immediate challenges. It seems to have omitted the communist objective since defending socialism is the highest priority in the confrontation with imperialism.
In response to the international community's demand for improved human rights, a human rights clause has been added to the Constitution, but it also contains new clauses on reinforcing the ideological revolution, labor classes and collectivism, reflecting an intention to tighten control over society. Clauses on much-anticipated economic reforms are nowhere to be found. After all, the Kim Jong-il regime seems to want to remain a military nation centered on armed forces. Meaningful policy change and legislation will only be possible when the North-U.S. hostility is resolved and Pyongyang has confidence in the system's stability. A more serious change in policy direction will be made after 2012, a period when Pyongyang says it will become a powerful and prosperous nation.
Gentle reader, permit me to endorse this Editorial from The Tablet (3 Oct 09), adding that it must apply to all religions and denominations.
The correct response to abuse
Weeks before he was elected Pope in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke in a Good Friday meditation of "filth in the Church", a remark interpreted as a denunciation of those involved in clerical child sex abuse. Cardinal Ratzinger had more insight than most into the grave sins committed by priests against innocents: as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he had read plenty of reports of sexual misconduct.
The shame of those crimes was not limited to the individual priests involved, however. All too often, in countries such as the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom, church authorities, from parish to diocese and up the hierarchical chain, put the avoidance of scandal above the protection of the young and above justice. No wonder then that the Church remains tainted by that history. This week, at a meeting of the United Nations human rights council in Geneva, it was accused of covering up child abuse and being in breach of several articles under the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
In response, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, issued a statement saying that only 1.5 to 5 per cent of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse. He also said that such abuse was far worse in other denominations and in Jewish communities. This is an argument akin to a teenager caught taking drugs pointing out to his parents that the kids over the road are drunk. As Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, remarked: "Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel."
That there is child sex abuse occurring in other Churches should be noted by the Catholic Church — not as a defence of itself but as a starting point for dialogue. Best practice for dealing with the problem should be shared as well as theories about the causes of abuse. Critics of the Catholic Church have often claimed that abuse is linked to celibacy. But if it is also occurring in denominations where no such tradition exists, then the cause must presumably lie elsewhere.
Media coverage sparked by the archbishop's comments served to deflect attention away from the work that the Church has done in recent years in trying to ensure that abusers are weeded out before they come into contact with children through their ministry. Those charged with priestly training try to ensure men with paedophiliac tendencies are not accepted at seminaries; child protection policies have been developed and people charged with those policies work at parish and diocesan level.
Then there are the historic cases of abuse going back many years. Where once there were cover-ups, the Church in places such as Britain has cooperated with the police to bring past child abusers to justice. Excuses of the kind made for film director Roman Polanski this week — that he should not be extradited from Switzerland in connection with having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl because it happened 30 years ago and he has suffered enough in his own life — might wash among the film world's intelligentsia but not among the Catholic laity.
Rather, sorrow, humility and justice are the only responses acceptable to the abuses that moved Cardinal Ratzinger to such righteous fury.
A text for an Anglican Covenant will soon go to the many provinces of the Anglican Communion for consideration and possible adoption. The plan is that if a province breaches the Covenant, it will be excluded from the 'instruments' of the Communion (the Lambeth Conference, the Primates' meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council). At World Anglican Forum (30 Sep 09) Anglican scholar Dr Bruce Kaye gives good reasons why this covenant is not a good idea for Anglicans. Kaye says that the development of the Covenant process has been open and consultative but nevertheless "very rushed for a proposal that has such long term consequences."
As Kaye says, "The crucial issue is the ecclesiological significance of any international arrangements between provinces occasioned by the spread of Anglicanism around the world and the globalisation of human communities, including the Anglican communities." In other words, what kind of unity or uniformity is appropriate at an international level, which is what the Covenant is about. In my opinion, very little. The Anglican Communion is (or ought to be) simply a fellowship of national/provincial churches.
The constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia says that certain national decisions have effect in a diocese only if assented to that diocese. It may also be impossible to adopt the Covenant unless every one of the five metropolitan dioceses agrees. The very idea of an international inter-provincial covenant of is at odds with the way the Australian church is organised. So what will be the penalty on Australia if we are simply unable to adopt the Covenant with the agreement of every Diocese?
Whatever the present conflict is, and I'm not sure what it in fact it actually is, it has something to do with the place of homosexual people in the public life of the church. Again as Kaye says, "Such conflict is appropriately dealt with in relational terms and through conflict resolution methods which are well known in the wider community. These were not tried. The theological issues to do with the actual conflict have not been the subject of serious communion level engagement."
In addition to the institutional mess that the Covenant will generate, Kaye argues that it does address the question of how we Christians ought to act particular context that is relevant to that context and also faithful to the Gospel.
Even a cursory reading of church history shows how Christians have had to adjust over time and in different contexts on matters which they previously thought to be fundamental and non negotiable. This is not an argument for anything goes. It is simply to draw attention to the complexity and difficulty of living in the world without being of the world, of testifying to Jesus' Kingdom which is not of this world, while living in this world. In a rapidly changing world this is one of the most important and difficult issues facing Christians. It is clearly at issue in the present Anglican conflict, but it has been neglected in the way in which the present conflict has been approached.
We haven't done the theology. Or, rather, some of us have done just enough of the theology to discover that there is no possibility of international agreement and that a covenant that assumes such agreement to be possible is seriously misguided. As Dr Kaye said in an earlier post
The Anglican covenant is coming to a synod near you and it is not a good idea. It has come like an express train in part because it is really a piece of crisis management, even though it is designed to be a permanent part of global Anglican relations. . . . It fails to grapple with actual issue in the present conflict. It fails to take account of the complexity and diversity of decision-making in the provinces. . . . It assumes an idea of the Anglican Communion which is novel, conflicts with the history of Anglican ecclesiology and will almost certainly have the effect over time of institutionalising divisions on a wide range of issues.
Amnesty International has been marking Banned Books Week, directing attention to the plight of individuals who are persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read.
While the People's Republic grandly celebrates its 60th anniversary, China does not hesitate to abuse human rights and limit freedom of expression.
In just one of many examples, scholar and activist Liu Xiaobo, 54, was formally arrested on 23 June 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power". He had been held under "residential surveillance" since 8 December 2008, without due process or access to a lawyer.
Liu is one of the signatories to Charter 08, a proposal for political and legal reform in China. Chinese police seized him from his home in Beijing on 8 December 2008, two days before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the original planned launch date of Charter 08. In violation of the Criminal Procedure Law, the police failed to inform Mr Liu's family about where he was being detained or to provide them with a detention notice within the first 24 hours. The police placed him under "residential surveillance", a form of house arrest that can be used for up to six months without charge being made and should have expired on 8 June 2009.
Liu, has been arbitrarily detained before because of his writings. He spent several years in detention after 3-4 June 1989, when Chinese authorities cracked down on the democracy movement centred around Tiananmen Square.
Human rights activists in China who attempt to report on human rights violations, challenge policies that the authorities find politically sensitive, or try to rally others to their cause, face serious risk of abuse. Many are jailed as prisoners of conscience after politically motivated trials, while growing numbers are being held under house arrest with the police conducting intrusive surveillance and standing guard outside. Since the beginning of 2009, a year with several sensitive anniversaries in China, the crackdown on human rights activists has intensified.
(Poster by Camden Forgia from Arizona State University)
The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words: their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19.1-16 NASB.
The psalm was in my mind as I read Verlyn Klinkenborg's lovely short editorial, "Planetary Matters" in the New York Times today (30 Sep 09)
Not long ago, I found myself driving east across Kansas at dawn, cutting across the north/south band of the Flint Hills. Venus was riding bright above the horizon. And as I drove, I began to think about the morning star's orbit around the sun.
Everything felt oddly stationary—the stars fixed overhead—except for my car humming along the blacktop and the grasses on the stone outcrops bending under a southern wind. Yet Venus was roaring along in its path, rotating clockwise on its axis while orbiting counterclockwise around the sun. Earth was roaring around the sun, too, except that our planet happens to rotate clockwise on its axis. In the grand scheme of astronomical motions—imagine, too, the rotation of the Milky Way and the overall expansion of the universe—my car had come to a virtual standstill, though I was doing 80.
I cannot do the calculations to sum up all those motions, to figure out how fast and in what direction I was really moving as I drove across the prairie. It's no easier sitting at my desk, watching October roll across the landscape, a bright day following a warm, wet night when the falling leaves adhere to every surface. Somehow, I can't help imagining my life as a vector with a velocity and direction I cannot calculate.
A day isn't just a standard measure, all the same size so each fits on a calendar page. A day is a period of light, an astronomical event. I felt that on the road that Kansas dawn. The broad swath of the sun's light rolls upward from the darkness, morning after morning, and then we roll outward into the ocean of stars at night. It seems extravagant, a glorious squandering of motion to give light, and life, to the grasses bending under the breeze, slowly retracting their shadows as the sun begins to climb.
I've felt much the same, driving at night across the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, with the dark so close and the heavens so distant, completely alone in a universe of motion.