29 November 2006

Interfaith environmental conference

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I've spent the last couple of days at a meeting of the management board of SAFCEI -- the South African Faith Communities Environmental Institute. Our Archbishop Seraphim (seen here with Anglican Bishop Geoff Davies, the Executive Director of the Institute) has been a member of the SAFCEI board since its inception, and invited the board to meet at St Cosmas and St Damian Orthodox Church in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

You can read more about what happened at the conference itself in my LiveJournal.

But one of the things that became clear at the conference was the eagerness with which Canadians were destroying the environment. There are plenty of countries that have been pointed out as villains in the world, but Canada has not usually been among them. But the evidence has started piling up.

I had known for some time that Canadians seemed to have some strange ideas. They have had trolley buses in western towns like Vancouver, and that seems to be a good environment-friendly means of public transport, running it on locally-generated renewable hydro-electric power. But now they seem to want to run their buses on diesel fuel -- a non-renewable fossil fuel, most likely imported from the Middle East.

That's just odd, and anyway I'm prejudiced in favour of trolley buses.

But now, it appears, the Canadians are intending to bring aluminium ore here to South Africa, and refine it here using heavily-subsidised electricity generated in coal-fired plants, and export the ingots. So our electricity bills are inflated to make Canadian companies rich, our cities have to endure acid rain to make Canadian companies rich, and our non-renewable fossil fuels are being depleted to make Canadian companies rich.

And Canada is, apparently, one of the biggest pushers of genetically-modified foods.

That makes Canada a bigger threat to our life-support system than Al-Quaeda. Bush and Blair, move aside. Your villany has been superseded.

Now I'll have to Google to find out who the Prime Minister of Canada is.

27 November 2006

Running out of bandwidth

For the last couple of days we have had no internet access, because we have used up our 2 Gig limit.

This means that we cannot use e-mail or any other services for one week out of four, and so if anyone wonders why we haven't responded to e-mails etc, that is why.

There seems to be an idea the "broadband" means unlimited access, and so people scoff at complaints about sending e-mails with HTML codes that take up ten times the space of the message text, and things like that. I've never looked at YouTube videos that people put in ther blogs, or refer to in e-mails, and newsgroup postings, and we still run out of bandwidth.

Of course part of it is spam, but the fact is that bandwidth is not unlimited, even in these days of high-speed connections.

23 November 2006

HIV, Aids etc

Yesterday I went to a day-long seminar on HIV and Aids.

It was organised by the HIV Clinicians Society, and it was intended for HIV clinicans and religious leaders, and there were a couple of hundred people there. I won't try to summarise the proceedings, but a few points might be worth mentioning.

The first speaker was Clem Sunter, who is a motivational goal-setting bloke, and had just returned from helping the Chinese to beef up their economy. So he was dealing with the question of why it was necessary to have such a seminar. One of the questions he asks in these exercises is "What has changed in the last 5-10 years, and what hasn't changed?" And in this case he noted the following:

  • People are dying. The death rate, especially among people aged 25-35, has risen dramatically.
  • More people are infected
  • There are more players in the game, including the government
  • There have been advances in drugs, including triple-drug therapy
  • There is little change in prevention

Professor Des Martin spoke on transmission and testing, from the clinical point of view -- what is known about how HIV is transmitted, the progression of the disease, and advances in testing. Professor Rachel Jewkes spoke on transmission from an epidemiological point of view. Zackie Achmat, the flamboyant Aids activist, gave another motivational presentation from a somewhat different point of view. And so it went.

Speaking for myself, I found it useful to catch up. Some things had not changed -- there seems to be little known about transmission that was not known 5-10 years ago. What has changed quite dramatically is methods of treatment. Dr Leon Levin, a paediatrician, spoke on treatment of children with HIV/Aids. Most of the children with HIV infection would die in 4-8 years if untreated. Many people asked if there was therefore any point in treating such children, if they were going to die anyway. He said that in his clinical practice he had seen dramatic improvement in the health and quality of life of children after treatment.

All the medical speakers emphasised this point. There is no cure for Aids, just as there is no cure for diabetes, or high blood pressure or heart disease. Those who have the disease will have to continue treatment for life. If they stop their medication, the disease will return, and they will die. But the record of treatment for HIV/Aids is much better than that for other chronic diseases. It is more effective than the drugs used for treating heart disease, blood pressure etc.

I found the most useful part of the seminar the factual and scientific information given. When it got on to the role of religious groups, it tended to get fuzzy. Trying to say things that are acceptable or applicable or all religious groups tends to make those things vague and ineffectual. It might be better to disseminate the facts, and then let each religious group to work out for itself how it will interpret and apply the facts.

But there are some questions that one can ask about Aids and its social impact.

One was highlighted the very next day, when there was a news report about a doctor who was facing disciplinary action from a medical body for listing Aids as a cause of death on a death certificate, on the grounds that this was an invasion of the privacy of the patients, and threatened the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship.

That seems a strange kind of reasoning, as surely the same would apply to any other cause of death. If it is such a threat to privacy and patient confidentiality, then surely no causes of death should be recorded on any death certificates at all.

There are several good reasons for recording the cause of death on death certificates: to see if death was caused by foul play, to see what is statistically responsible for most deaths, which can guide efforts aimed at prevention or cure -- should we concentrate our efforts on reducing deaths from road accidents, or snake bites, for example. Which kills more people -- shark bites or mosquito bites?

The other thing is that at this Aids seminar, and in many other similar seminars, people have urged that the stigma must be removed from Aids. But surely keeping it off death certificates is one thing that perpetuates the stigma. When medical people speak with two voices, one urging the removal of the stigma, and the other urging its retention, to the extent of prosecuting those who list it as a cause of death, there will never be concerted action against this epidemic.

22 November 2006

Vomit and other interesting things

At the beginning of the year I wrote Notes from underground: Vomit and other interesting things and at the end of that post wrote
If anyone reads this blog because they did a search through blog search engines for references to vomit, I hope you'll let me know. Otherwise it might lie in decent obscurity for the next 35 years like my last reference to vomit.

Yesterday someone apparently found it by searching for "Vomit on the underground", but didn't tell me. I found out anyway.

That's blogging for you.

Technorati tags:

20 November 2006

Iraq: the new Thirty Years War

War could last 30 years:
New report calls for complete rethink on Iraq

The recent political changes in Washington may make very little difference to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is every prospect of the 'war on terror' extending for 30 years or more.

This is the stark conclusion of the 2006 International Security Report, Into the Long War, launched today by Oxford Research Group (ORG), one of the UK's leading global security think tanks, and published by Pluto Press.

The report, written by ORG's global security consultant, Professor Paul Rogers, analyses events over the last year in Iraq and the wider Middle East and points to the transformation of the war on terror into what the Bush Administration now calls the "Long War".

The dilemma facing the United States now is that if it withdraws from Iraq, jihadists groups may be able to operate without restraint in the heart of the world's most important oil-bearing region.

If it stays, though, then US soldiers become an increasing magnet for radical factions, with Iraq becoming a training ground for new generations of paramilitaries, just as Afghanistan was in the 1980s against the Soviet occupying forces.

The fundamental mistake was to terminate the Saddam Hussein regime by force, since this provided a "gift" to al-Qaida and other radical groups by inserting 150,000 American troops into the heart of the Arab world as what is seen across the region as an occupying force.

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan itself is now into its sixth year with a marked increase in Taliban activity at a time of record revenues from opium production. As well as NATO's forces, the United States has committed 20,000 troops to the country in a largely unreported
counter-insurgency operation that shows no sign of ending.

In spite of all of these problems, though, the hard-hitting report concludes that:

"There still lies the enduring importance of the Persian Gulf oil reserves, with both the United States and China increasingly relying on the region, which means that it would be entirely unacceptable for the United States to consider withdrawal from Iraq, no matter how insecure
the environment." pp.135-36

What is required is a complete re-assessment of current policies but that is highly unlikely, even with the recent political upheavals.

This is because, although the Democrats now control both houses of Congress, there is virtually no commitment to a full withdrawal from Iraq. Instead there are various moves to modify policy, including the option of withdrawing from the cities to a few major bases, but none
amounts to a really substantial change.

Commenting on those changes needed, Professor Rogers said

"Most people believe that the recent elections mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era but that does not apply to the war on terror.

In reality there will be little change until the United States faces up to the need for a fundamental re-think of its policies.

So far, even with the election results, there is no real sign of that."

ORG's Executive Director, Dr. John Sloboda, added:

"There is a growing consensus among those who have actually seen service in Iraq that the coalition presence is inflaming the problem, rather than being part of the solution.

Our June 2006 submission to the Iraq Study Group urged that 'the coalition should find no dishonour in recognising that most Iraqis want an end to occupation and a fresh framework could support them better in future'.

The carnage of the last six months has eroded any lingering doubt that the coalition must leave, and leave soon."

Notes to editors

1) Paul Rogers writes the International Security Monthly Briefings for the ORG website. Each year ORG compiles the briefings from the previous 12 months, together with new analysis, into an annual International Security Report. The latest of these, Into the Long War, will be published by Pluto Press on 20 November 2006. In this, Professor Rogers examines events in Iraq since May 2005 and assesses how they impact on other countries including Afghanistan, Iran and the wider Middle East.

The report charts a tumultuous period in the conflict, including a wider international perspective on the terrorist attacks in London and Sharm al Sheik, and an assessment of how US public opinion has changed as the war drags on.

2) Press copies of the report are available in hard copy only from Chris Abbott at Oxford Research Group. Please email chris.abbott@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk or call +44 (0)20 7549 0298 to request a copy. Unfortunately, no electronic version is available.

3) The report's author, Paul Rogers, is available for interview and comment. Please email paul.rogers@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk or call +44 (0)7867 982 061. ORG's Executive Director, John Sloboda, is also available for interview. Please email john.sloboda@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk or call +44 (0)7787 975 689.

4) Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, and Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group. Professor Rogers has worked in the field of international security, arms control and political violence for over 30 years. He lectures at universities and defence colleges in several countries, and has written over 20 books. He is also a regular commentator on global security issues in the both the national and international media.

5) Oxford Research Group (ORG) is an independent British think tank which seeks to bring about positive change on issues of national and international security. Established in 1982, it is now considered to be one of the UK's leading global security think tanks. ORG is a registered
charity and uses a combination of innovative publications, expert roundtables, residential consultations, and engagement with opinion-formers and government, to develop and promote sustainable global security strategies. In 2003, Oxford Research Group was awarded
the Niwano Peace Prize, and in April 2005 The Independent newspaper named ORG as one of the top twenty think tanks in the UK.


19 November 2006

Saints Barlaam and Joasaph

Today is the day of Saints Barlaam and Joasaph (in the Gregorian calendar).

As with many Christian saints, stories and legends about other people got attached to them, so that it is sometimes difficult to see what is historical in their lives, and what are transferred legends.

Saints Barlaam and Joasaph are interesting in this regard because their story has many features of the life of the Buddha, so that some have said that this is simply a Christianised version of the story of Siddartha Gautama -- the prince who left a life of luxury to seek enlightenment.

Comments, anyone?

17 November 2006

US Evangelicals on Kosovo

Any Orthodox comments on this:


(Sorry, the Blog this feature in Blogger Beta is broken - All the features of Blogger are now availabile in Beta -- what they don't tell you before you switch is that they don't work)

13 November 2006

On relativism and fundamentalism

Peter Berger has some interesting comments on relativism and fundamentalism and the way they interact in modern (and perhaps postmodern) culture.

There are some fields of study, and missiology is one of them, in which one becomes aware of how much our worldview is culturally conditioned. In electronic discussion forums, especially international ones, one also becomes aware of how different people's perceptions are, when they come from different cultures.

"Fundamentalists", in Berger's sense, appear to be those who reject relativism, and believe that the values and worldview of their culture are universal and equally applicable to all people everywhere.

I find this difficult, because it makes any kind of communication between different cultures and worldviews impossible. So I sometimes find the phenomenologists' "bracketing" can be useful -- when examining a particular phenomenon or culture or worldview -- accept it as valid in its own terms in order to try to understand it.

Another way of deescribing the "relativist" and "fundamentalist" views that Berger describes is as "subjective" and "objective". For relativists, all truth is subjective. The existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard coined the slogan that subjectivivity is truth. For fundamentalists (with a small "f"), truth is objective. They believe that there is objective truth out there, that it can be known, and they know it.

The trouble is that when one tries to look at things objectively, one sees that fundamentalists are actually very subjective, and fail to realise that objectivity is an unattainable ideal.

For myself, I believe that there is objective truth out there, and that it can be known, but it is primarily known subjectively. So I suppose that makes me a relativist fundamentalist, but not a fundamentalist relativist. Fundamentalist relativists believe that everything is relative and that there are no absolute truths, except one: the propoistion that everything is relative is absolute truth, and may not be questioned.

11 November 2006

Blogger Beta - yeccccch!

I finally succumbed to all the blandishments to switch to the "new and improved" Blogger Beta, and now I am being urged to try all the new features.

But I've just spent an hour or more trying to get some of the old features to work.

One of the reasons I created an account with Blogger was the "Blog this" feature, making it easy to create links to other blogs, or other posts that I wanted to remember.

But now every time I try to use it I am asked to log in (when I'm already logged in), and then when I do try to log in, I'm told that my account (theat I'm logged in to) does not exist.

If any Blogger users read this, please tell me if you have found a way to make this work.

10 November 2006

American elections

In reply to a comment on the US Congressional elections by golodhwgwath over on LiveJournal someone (non-American) commented that they now hoped that the US Congress would now tell the President that they money he wanted to spwnd on wars and bombs they were going to spend on hospitals and education.

My reply was:

Seconded, from another non-American.

One of the things I find quite bewildering, reading stuff on the net, is the number of Americans who claim to be Christians, and yet are prepared to argue vehemently, and indeed self-righteously, about how positively immoral it is to spend money on healing the sick, and yet believe it is quite moral to spend that money on fragmentation bombs to shred little children to pieces.

And they urge their fellow Christians, as Christians to vote for politicians who promise to do those things.

It's a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack!

This is a reply to a post in LiveJournal.

I tried to reply in the LiveJournal comments, but kept getting this message:

Gateway Timeout
The following error occurred:

[code=GATEWAY_TIMEOUT] A gateway timeout occurred. The server is unreachable. Retry the request.
Please contact the administrator.

Notes from underground: A Youth of the Apocalypse

Several months ago I wrote about the Death to the world e-zine here Notes from underground: A Youth of the Apocalypse

Now someone has given me a new link where you can find Death to the World: the last true rebellion on line.

Since I wrote the original, there have also been some new developments in South African monasticism.

Technorati tags: , , , , , .

09 November 2006

Warmongers - Bush & Rumsfeld

It looks as though the Democratic Party in the USA has taken control of congress -- but will they be able to restrain the lunatic in the White House?

It is good to see that the warmonger second-in-command, Rumsfeld, has resigned. But the warmonger-in-chief is still there, so he may yet decide to bomb Iran.

A Republican-controlled congress was either unable or unwilling to stop Bill Clinton from bombing Yugoslavia, so we're not out of the woods yet.

07 November 2006

Liberty Scott: Cheering the death of a dictator

I thought this was worth blogging as one of the most succinct and accurate summaries of the political legacy of the late PW Botha: Liberty Scott: Cheering the death of a dictator

06 November 2006

What to do with old dictators

Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death while PW Botha is offered a state funeral and flags fly at half-mast.

Is that the difference between Muslim values and Christian values, or what?

In South Africa there is much talk of the need for moral regeneration, and every now and then there are reports in the media about religious leaders and political leaders, and even sometimes business leaders deploring the "culture of violence" and calling for the teaching of values.

There is a problem in teaching values, say, in schools in a multicultural society, where some are quick to complain about other peoples' values being forced down their throats. But it is at times like this that one realises that ubuntu is alive and well, and that one of the core Christian values of love of enemies come to the fore, and that projects to promote values, like Heartlines, are not just whistling in the dark.

PW Botha was not in the first rank of dictators of the 20th century. He was not up there with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. He belonged a bit lower down the list, along with Pinochet of Chile, Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and a few others. Unlike many, he did not create the evil system he presided over, he inherited it from his predecessors, and his contribution was to prop it up and prolong it with ever more brutal repression of those who opposed it. There were signs, just before his fall from power, of his willingness to change, when he invited Nelson Mandela, the jailed leader of the opposition, to tea at Tuynhuis, his official residence. But, unlike Adriaan Vlok, his minister of police, he showed no indication of repentance or remorse.

Nevertheless, the South African government, including President Thabo Mbeki, showed the kind of magnanimity that indicates the enormous difference between the values of the new South Africa they are trying to create, and those of the old South Africa that PW Botha was trying to preserve. It's at times that these that I feel proud to be a South African.

And I wonder what would happen if these values had been (or were to be) applied in the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel/Lebanon/Palestine instead of raining down bombs on people?

Tags: ,

04 November 2006

The Undercroft: Sailing to Byzantium?

Many Western Christians are unaware that Orthodox Christians approach Christian unity and ecumenism from a very different angle than most of Western Christendom, and when they do discover it, are often baffled and infuriated. The Undercroft: Sailing to Byzantium? puts a finger on some of the differences in approach, and expresses them very clearly.

Brits believe George Bush is a bigger threat to world peace than Kim Jong Il

Though the British government supported the US invasion of Iraq, the British public believe that that has made the world a more dangerous place, a recent poll shows.
It exposes high levels of distrust. In Britain, 69% of those questioned say they believe US policy has made the world less safe since 2001, with only 7% thinking action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased global security.

The finding is mirrored in America's immediate northern and southern neighbours, Canada and Mexico, with 62% of Canadians and 57% of Mexicans saying the world has become more dangerous because of US policy.

The US public will presumably show their view when they go to the polls next week.

03 November 2006

National Novel Writing Month

I'll probably not be writing much original stuff here this month.

After challenging other Charles Williams fans to join National Novel Writin g Month and write a Charles Williams-type novel, I thought I'd better do myself what I was urging others to do.

So I'll probably mostly be blogging links to other blogs I find interesting.

The Gaelic Starover: Evangelicals for the Prince of Peace

The Gaelic Starover: Evangelicals for the Prince of Peace

There's also a book recommendation that looks quite interesting.


Related Posts with Thumbnails