Sunday, December 30, 2007

I have great hope for the Church: a Christmas/New Year's message

I have great hope for the Church.

And by "the Church," I mean the Episcopal Church first, the Anglican Communion second, and Christ's universal, catholic church third. I don't mean that I have the most hope in the Episcopal Church, and the least in the universal church. I mean that the Episcopal Church is my spiritual home, and it is a member of the Anglican Communion, which is a part of the universal church.

I have hope in the church because the church is changing. In changing, it is learning a new way of being.

The church is changing to include different faces. Faces from all around the globe. The center of power is shifting away from the West, away from Whites. Many Westerners and many Whites are wonderful people; all else equal, Westerners and Whites are no better or worse than people of any other race or nationality. However, a church that includes people from all around the world, but whose center of power is unduly dominated by Whites and Westerners is not a true church.

Now, of course, the Episcopal Church basically defines itself as the Anglican Province of the United States. It is a Western church, in terms of geography. However, the United States is not ethnically homogeneous. Almost all Americans are descended from immigrants, or else are immigrants themselves.

The face of the Episcopal Church is changing.

In addition to welcoming people of other races, we have welcomed women, and are in the process of welcoming LGBT people. We are not perfect. But the world is not perfect.

We are a church that is learning about environmental stewardship. About development. About human rights. About racism, sexism, homophobia. We are a church that is learning.

We are starting to let Jesus decolonize us.

Working alongside for our nation, our Communion, and the world, we can help find the way forward.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto assassinated

CNN has a report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who was challenging Perfez Musharraf for Pakistan's Prime Ministership. Pray for Pakistan.

The body of Pakistan's assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was being flown home Friday, as sporadic violence was reported in cities across the country.

Bhutto supporters grieve at the hospital in Rawalpindi where was pronounced dead.
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more photos »

Bhutto was killed Thursday leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry said she died from a gun shot wound to the neck, fired by an attacker who then detonated a bomb killing 22 other people.

Angry mobs took to the streets, blocking roads, torching cars and pelting rocks at police, local television footage showed.

Police fired on a crowd, killing two people, in the city of Khairpur in the Sindh province, GEO TV reported. In Peshawar, officers used tear gas and batons to break up a demonstration, the station said.

Authorities called for calm and police asked residents to stay inside.

Many obliged, shuttering shops or rushing home from work, and surrendering the streets to protesters who set fire to banks, shops, gas stations and more, Pakistani media reported.

It's all mayhem everywhere," Shehryar Ahmad, an investment banker in Karachi, told CNN by telephone. "There's absolutely no order of any kind. No army on the streets. No curfew."

Ahmad said that he saw dozens of burned-out cars as he drove home from work. A one-mile strip leading to Bhutto's Karachi house was a "ghost town," he said.

Bhutto's body was being transported to the family's ancestral graveyard in Gari-Khuda Baksh in Sindh province, where she will be buried later Friday, said Sen. Safdar Abbasi, a leader of her Pakistan People's Party.
The first leg was completed when, according to Pakistani TV stations, a Pakistan Air Force plane landed at Sukkur at about 3:15 a.m. Friday (5:30 p.m. Thursday ET).

Bhutto is expected to be taken the rest of the way to her ancestral home by helicopter. Authorities are avoiding road travel because it could be mobbed by grieving supporters, the television stations reported.

Her coffin body was removed from Rawalpindi General Hospital late Thursday -- carried above a crowd of grieving supporters. Video Watch Bhutto's casket carried from the hospital »

Bhutto spent her final moments giving a stirring address to thousands of supporters at a political rally in a park in Rawalpindi, a city of roughly 1.5 million that is 14 km (9 miles) south of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

She climbed into a white Land Rover and stood through the sunroof to wave to crowds after the speech.

It was then that someone fired two shots, and Bhutto slumped back into the vehicle, said John Moore, a news photographer with Getty Images who saw what happened.

Seconds later an explosion rocked the park, sending orange flames into the throng of Bhutto supporters and littering the park with twisted metal and chunks of rubble. The carnage was everywhere, he said.

The assassination happened in Liaquat Bagh Park, named for Pakistan's first prime minister -- Liaquat Ali Khan -- who was assassinated in the same location in 1951.

The attack came just hours after four supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif died when members of another political party opened fire on them at a rally near the Islamabad airport Thursday, Pakistan police said.

Several other members of Sharif's party were wounded, police said.

Bhutto, who led Pakistan from 1988-1990 and 1993-96, but both times the sitting president dismissed her amid corruption allegations. She was the first female prime minister of any Islamic nation, and was participating in the parliamentary election set for January 8, hoping for a third term as prime minister. Video Watch Benazir Bhutto obituary »

A terror attack targeting her motorcade in Karachi killed 136 people on the day she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile.

Bhutto had been critical of what she believed was a lack of effort by Musharraf's government to protect her. View timeline »

Two weeks after the October assassination attempt, she wrote a commentary for in which she questioned why Pakistan investigators refused international offers of help in finding the attackers.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Catholic cleric comes out against Jewish state

As reported by JTA, a Jewish news service:

The Roman Catholic Church's top cleric in the Holy Land said Israel should not be designated a Jewish state.

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah came out this week against the Olmert government's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state before peace talks can proceed.

"God made this land for all three of us so a suitable state is one who can adapt itself to the vocation of this land," said Sabbah, an Arab who was born in the northern Israeli town of Nazareth and who regularly officiates at religious events in the Palestinian Authority town of Bethlehem.

"If it's Jewish, it's not Muslim or Christian," he told reporters.

Sabbah had no word on whether a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should not be allowed to favor Muslims given those territories' sanctity to Jews and Christians.

Israel guarantees freedom of worship to all faiths.

My position is this. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal, and Israel must remove all settlements, remove the wall, and withdraw to the 1967 boundaries, aka the Green Line. Israel should also renounce an exclusive claim to Jerusalem.

However, Muslims and Christians would do well to remember that, like Indigenous peoples, many Jews derive their identity from their land. For many Jews, there is no option other than for Israel to be a Jewish state. Jewishness is more than just a religion, and more than just an ethnicity. It is an identity.

Now, of course, that identity can be misused for political gain, and there are those in Israel who are doing so. As I said earlier, a people who have been persecuted will often revisit the oppressive ways they have learned on others. However, Christians and Muslims would do well to gain some understanding of what it means to be Jewish, and what the Jewish people have suffered through the centuries. It won't produce any easy solution to the Middle East crisis, but it will produce understanding.

Pray for the Middle East.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What is Advent?

I'm stealing this snippet from a post by Elizabeth Kaeton on the movie Golden Compass:

Civil rights leader Howard Thurman set the stage for us to know this Christ when he wrote of Advent and Christmas as seasons of hope. "When the song of the angels is stilled," he said. "When the star of the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins … To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart."

Go read her full post if you like. It was from a sermon delivered on Dec 16, Rose Sunday. I'm not sure exactly why it's called Rose Sunday. However, we (Episcopalians and I'm not sure who else) have a wreath with four candles, and we light one each week of Advent. Three are purple and one is pink (or rose). Something like that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Employers grab accident victims' cash

Wall Street Journal has an article, posted on MSN Money on how health plans run for major corporations are forcing employees to allow the health plans a claim on any damages they receive if injured. The practice seems to be condoned by US courts; an appeal is on the way to the Supreme Court, but that Court has proven itself to be very friendly to business, and it's doubtful that the practice will be disallowed even if the legal grounds are less than clear.

This surely doesn't help Wal Mart's image, but the article features an ex-Wal Mart employee who suffered severe brain damage on the job, and won $419,000 after legal fees in a lawsuit. The money was placed in a trust for her care, and she requires long-term care, which is rather expensive. However, the theory that employers and health plans are using here is that, in an effort to defray the rising costs of health care, they are requiring workers who sign on to the plan to allow the plan first claim on any settlements they may receive in compensation. The recovered monies do, in theory, benefit others who participate in the plan.

The American Benefits Council and America's Health Insurance Plans, a health-insurer lobby, estimate health plans recoup about $1 billion a year in medical claims from accident settlements and other third parties. A cottage industry of auditing firms, benefit-recovery specialists and subrogation lawyers help them. They estimate that 1% to 3% of health-care spending is potentially recoverable from such claims.

It's important to note that while this case features Wal Mart, and while I dislike many of Wal Mart's practices, many other employers are doing this. It's not just about the big W.

I'm sure that the companies have ensured that they are on good legal grounds. However, the practice is completely unethical. Insurance never covers all the costs of an accident or its aftermath. The monies are awarded to the victim, not to the insurer. Additionally, the insured is paying their premiums so that the insurer will cover them - why should they have to double-pay?

Regardless, it is no secret that health-care costs are on the rise. This is not something that a universal insurance plan, or universal healthcare, will address directly.

The Three Kings

Matthew 2 (NRSV)
The Visit of the Wise Men

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Do you really think this happened?

Astronomers have speculated over the nature of the "star" that the Wise Men followed. It could have been a nova, supernova, or planetary alignment. Grant Matthews belives that it was the latter, and went through NASA's database to try to determine which astronomical event it could have been.

All this is mildly amusing to me. I'm no scholar. However, there is no way any sort of star or planetary conjunction could have stopped over the place where Jesus lay. It's a mystery how our three wise men would have found Jesus, then.

Additionally, frankincense and myrrh probably had significant value. I wonder how Joseph and Mary lugged all that, plus the gold, around without getting mugged.

Temasek Holdings, Singapore's government investment fund, to invest up to US$5bn in Merrill Lynch

Sovereign wealth funds have been in the news recently. Merrill Lynch, a US investment bank hit severely by the subprime debacle, is seeking a capital infusion. Temasek Holdings of Singapore is apparently going to invest about US$5 billion.

That's a lot of money. Merrill made mistakes, bit it's very likely to rebound after the capital infusion. Temasek is likely making a good investment.

But more to the point for readers of this blog, the world is at a turning point. Asian countries are accumulating power. At this point, Singapore is not going to even think of exerting disproportionate influence on the United States through investment. Singapore is, for better and for worse, a staunch ally of the US, and this investment is of no security concern.

However, Singapore isn't the only country with a huge amount of sovereign wealth - other Asian and Middle Eastern countries are prospering. Investment in Western countries by Southern ones is going to increase. We've already seen some European countries react by protectionism.

Additionally, I'm reminded of an article I read, about Asian Christians being reverse missionaries in Western countries, and opening churches there.

Asians are seen as being more quiet and less interventionist than Westerners. However, power brings corruption. Asian countries have acted imperialistically before. Japan wanted a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" in the time leading up to WWII. China has invaded and colonized Tibet. Viewing Asia's increasing economic power as a threat to the sovereignty of Western nations is xenophobic, because Western nations and corporations already do exercise disproportionate power over the lives of Southern people. However, Asia's increasing power is a threat, because power brings corruption. Frankly, Asia has yet to understand the concepts of human rights, colonialism, and freedom. If we continue as we are, we will simply swap one colonizer for another. We will colonize the ex-colonizers - is that what we really want?

I was recently at a talk given by Wang Dan, the famous Chinese pro-democracy dissident who was imprisoned for years by the Chinese Communist Party. Wang Dan was harshly criticized by several in his mostly East Asian audience for apparently being too pro-West. Speaking from personal experience, Asians who criticize their own culture are often accused of being too pro-West. Wang Dan did, in fact, criticize the West for trying to contain China militarily and economically, instead of engaging with it and promoting democracy (by example, not by bayonet).

Wang Dan is, I think, a lot less "Westernized" than I am. He offers a vision of hope for Asia's future, rooted both in democracy and in Asian culture.

Isiah 40:3-5 says, in the NRSV translation:

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

The world is changing. Asia needs prophets like Wang Dan. Will there be prophets to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight a highway in the desert? Will there be Asian prophets to lead us out of empire and into freedom?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tying it together part I: Indigenous peoples, health, and internal colonialism

Why does it matter to Christians that Jesus is a victim of empire along with Kamehameha and Emma? Why does it matter to Christians that Jesus is Indigenous?

On Aug 8, 2006, in Australia, the Board of Inquiry Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse was formed in response to reports in the Northern Territories of high rates of child sexual abuse among Aboriginal Australians. Former Northern Territory Director of Public Prosecutions Rex Wild QC and Pat Anderson, a Alyawarr woman with many years’ experience of working in Indigenous health, chaired the Board.

The Board released a report entitled All Children Are Sacred. Its findings, taken from the summary page, are:

Important points made by the Inquiry included:

* Child sexual abuse is serious, widespread and often unreported.
* Most Aboriginal people are willing and committed to solving problems and helping their children. They are also eager to better educate themselves.
* Aboriginal people are not the only victims and not the only perpetrators of sexual abuse.
* Much of the violence and sexual abuse occurring in Territory communities is a reflection of past, current and continuing social problems which have developed over many decades.
* The combined effects of poor health, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, gambling, pornography, poor education and housing, and a general loss of identity and control have contributed to violence and to sexual abuse in many forms.
* Existing government programs to help Aboriginal people break the cycle of poverty and violence need to work better. There is not enough coordination and communication between government departments and agencies, and this is causing a breakdown in services and poor crisis intervention. Improvements in health and social services are desperately needed.
* Programs need to have enough funds and resources and be a long-term commitment.

It is impossible to set communities on the path to recovery from the sexual abuse of children without dealing with the basic services and social ills. It is our hope that no Aboriginal child born from this year on will ever suffer sexual abuse.
Rex Wild QC and Pat Anderson, Inquiry Co-Chairs

It recommends:

Education is the key to helping children and communities foster safe, well adjusted families. School is the way to keep future generations of Aboriginal children safe. Getting children to school every day is essential because:

* children are safe when they are at school
* school is a venue for educating children about child sexual abuse and protective behaviours
* education provides opportunity, empowerment and achievement and offers a way to overcome the social and economic problems which contribute to violence
* children can confide in their teachers.

The Inquiry urged the government to improve Aboriginal education systems, including local language development, to make education more effective for Aboriginal children.

A range of education campaigns
Education campaigns are recommended to inform people about:

* child sexual abuse and what to do about it
* mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse
* the impact of alcohol, pornography and gambling on communities, families and children
* the value of education, and encouraging a culture of parental and community commitment to sending children to school.

Alcohol remains the gravest and fastest growing threat to the safety of Aboriginal children. There is a strong association between alcohol abuse, violence and the sexual abuse of children. Alcohol is destroying communities. The Inquiry recommended urgent action be taken to reduce alcohol consumption in Aboriginal communities.

Family and Community Services (FACS) and the Police
Both need to work more closely with each other and with communities. It is important FACS and the Police build the trust of communities so everyone can work together to combat child sexual abuse. The Inquiry has also proposed an Advice Hotline so anyone who is concerned about possible child sexual abuse can call someone for confidential information and advice.

Family support services
Family support services need to be improved, particularly in Aboriginal communities, as this will help to strengthen families and keep children safe and healthy.

Empowerment of Aboriginal communities
Communities can take more control and make decisions about the future. The Inquiry’s report suggests ways in which this can happen including the role which men and women can play, the introduction of community justice groups and better dialogue between mainstream society and Aboriginal communities.

Commissioner for Children and Young People
The Inquiry recommends that the government appoint a senior, independent person who can focus on the interests and wellbeing of children and young people, review issues and report to Parliament.

John Howard's government, however, does not give a shit about Indigenous peoples' rights. Here's a list of what these idiots actually did, as reported by Oxfam:

1. Introducing widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land.

2. Introducing welfare reforms to stem the flow of cash going toward substance
abuse and to ensure funds meant to be for children’s welfare are used for that

3. Enforcing school attendance by linking income support and family assistance
payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land and
providing meals for children at school at parents’ cost

4. Introducing compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children to identify
and treat health problems and any effects of abuse

5. Acquiring townships prescribed by the Australian Government through
five year leases including payment of just terms compensation

6. As part of the immediate emergency response, increasing policing levels in
prescribed communities, including requesting secondments from other
jurisdictions to supplement NT resources, funded by the Australian

7. Requiring intensified on ground clean up and repair of communities to make
them safer and healthier by marshalling local workforces through work-for-

8. Improving housing and reforming community living arrangements in
prescribed communities including the introduction of market based rents and
normal tenancy arrangements

9. Banning the possession of X-rated pornography and introducing audits of all
publicly funded computers to identify illegal material

10. Scrapping the permit system for common areas, road corridors and
airstrips for prescribed communities on Aboriginal land, and;

11. Improving governance by appointing managers of all government business in
prescribed communities

12. Abolition of the CDEP scheme [a further key step in the Emergency Response
being implemented in the Northern Territory announced 23 July 2007]]

Howard's response ignores several of the recommendations of Little Children are Sacred. It introduces several measures that were not asked for, and some may be harmful to Aboriginal communities. It was not planned in consultation with Aboriginal leaders.

Originally, the Australian government was quite involved in the planning of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia was moving toward greater recognition for Aborigines. And yet, Howard's government has backtracked on Aboriginal rights, and refused to sign the Declaration. Do you think they might have something to hide?

In the next part, I'll tell you more about point 5.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dirty facts about plastic recycling

Co-op America has an FAQ about recycling plastic in the US. I assume, however, that it applies worldwide. Did you know that only #1 and #2 plastics can get recycled, even though every other plastic (from #3 to #7) has that little recycling sign stamped on it? That #3 plastics can actually contaminate a batch of recycled materials? That #3-7 plastics are sometimes accepted for "recycling" (sometimes municipalities are under consumer pressure), and then get shipped off to developing countries, where they often get burned as fuel? Do you know what kind of shit gets created when you burn plastics? Still interested? Read the article.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

BBC: Why Thailand's King is so revered

From BBC

Not much can bring the life of the noisy, traffic-clogged heart of Bangkok to a halt.

But on Wednesday the streets were hushed, the cars and buses banished.

All you could hear were speakers playing the royal anthem, and thousands of flags fluttering in the breeze, held by people of all ages.

Most were dressed in yellow and had waited for hours for a glimpse of a stiff and stern-faced old man passing in a motorcade, on his way to the gilded halls and temples of Bangkok's Grand Palace.

And as it passed they shouted "Song Phra Charoen", "Long Live Your Majesty". Some had tears in their eyes.

What explains this extraordinary bond between people and monarch?

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is accorded an almost divine reverence, with titles like Phra Chao Yu Hua (Lord Upon our Heads) or Chao Chiwit (Lord of Life).

People prostrate themselves on the ground in his presence. Yet there is genuine affection too, and it goes both ways.

Thais talk of their love for him as though he were a cherished member of the family.

In his speeches to the nation he likes to joke and tease them.

Public relations
Earlier in his reign when he was younger and travelled a lot, he clearly enjoyed meeting and mixing with people from the poorest rural communities.

People often refer to his long life of service to the nation, to his experiments with agriculture and irrigation, many of them carried out on the grounds of his palace in Bangkok.

The formidable public relations machine which manages the monarchy's image makes much of these experiments, as it does of the king's other talents as a jazz musician and sailor.

But the real measure of these achievements is impossible to know in a country where all criticism of the monarchy is curtailed by the draconian lese majeste law (offence against the dignity of the monarch), and only lavish praise for the royal family can be published.

The reverence for the king seems rooted in something less worldly.

Time after time when Thais are asked about the virtues of King Bhumibol they refer to his proper adherence to the principles of "Dhamma", Buddhist teachings and the Buddhist concept of righteousness.

Our political system has been unstable all the time. So whenever there is a political crisis people expect the King to solve the problem
Prof Suchit Bunbongkarn

It is not just his practical deeds they are looking at, but his manner; his modesty, his reserve, his gentleness, and his apparent detachment from the world - qualities he has worked hard to perfect and project.

He is as much a spiritual leader as a worldly one.

During his six decades on the throne Thailand has undergone changes as wrenching as in any other country.

Per capita income has gone up 40-fold. An almost entirely agrarian society has become a substantially urban one. The economy has been swept along by the forces of globalisation.

Political upheaval

There have been other changes as well.

This king has reigned through 17 military coups and 26 prime ministers. The gap between rich and poor has widened, with conspicuous consumption and conspicuous corruption accepted as part of everyday life.

There has been a corresponding decline in traditional community and family values.

Amid this whirlwind, the king has remained a reassuring anchor, a man who embodies Thailand's history but who has also come to embody integrity and detachment from the squalid realities of day-to-day politics and business.

He has lived the myth of the virtuous monarch so well that almost the entire population believes in it and takes comfort from it.

And it gives him a unique moral authority. When he speaks, people listen.

They may, and often do fail to act on his advice. But he has been able to use that authority to settle a number of political crises.

I want to be making suits for him when he is 90 years old, when he is 100 - longer even."
Sompop Louilarpprasert
King Bhumibol's tailor

"If the country were in good shape politically, then the role of the constitutional monarch is not very difficult," explains Suchit Bunbongkarn, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

"But in the case of Thailand it is not easy because our political system has been unstable all the time. So whenever there is a political crisis people expect the king to solve the problem."

Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun describes King Bhumibol's authority as "reserve power" that, because it has been used judiciously and sparingly, has been decisive in maintaining the country's stability.

This power, he says, has been accumulated through a life of dedication to his job. It cannot, he points out, be inherited or passed on.

Fears and superstition

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn offers saffron cloth to monks in Bangkok (05/11/2007)
There is quiet concern about the abilities of the heir to the throne

That explains the acute anxiety now over the king's fragile health. Few imagine that any future monarch can match this one.

There are many reservations about the capabilities of his presumed heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, although these cannot be expressed publicly because of the lese majeste laws.

The succession itself is not completely clear, with the constitution leaving considerable powers to designate an heir to the 19-member Privy Council of senior advisors to the king.

The opacity that has preserved the mystique of monarchy in Thailand makes it impossible to discuss, let alone plan for the succession.

So Thais prefer not to think about it.

When I saw his tailor, Sompop Louilarpprasert, and asked him about the king's recent spell in hospital, he brushed it aside.

"I want to be making suits for him when he is 90 years old, when he is 100 - longer even."

It was Sompop who made the dazzling pink blazer the king wore when he came out of hospital.

Within hours, pink shirts were been sold in their thousands across the country, and there are days when some streets are a sea of pink.

In this superstitious country they now associate pink with the king's recovery. It will bring him good fortune, they say.

By wearing it they are literally willing him to stay alive for them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Asian outcry over Dutch adoption

From BBC:

A Dutch diplomat has denied trying to "get rid" of a seven-year-old South Korean daughter he adopted as a baby, amid public outcry over the case.

South Korean officials said Raymond Poeteray and his wife gave up the child because she had failed to integrate.

But Mr Poeteray told Dutch media that the couple had parted ways with their daughter because of ill health.

The case has triggered strong reactions in the Netherlands, South Korea, and Hong Kong - where Mr Poeteray works.

The couple adopted the girl, Jade, at four weeks old.

When they decided to put her in foster care in Hong Kong seven years later, Mr Poeteray said they were acting on the advice of medical specialists and social workers.

But the decision attracted outrage in some sections of the public and the media, both in the Netherlands and South Korea.

The Dutch daily De Telegraaf said Jade had been discarded like "a piece of household rubbish".

'Fear of bonding'

But Mr Poeteray told the same newspaper: "Our daughter is ill, that's why we had to part ways."

"After our daughter came to our family we found it was hard to make real contact with her... in 2004 Hong Kong medical specialists diagnosed that she suffered from fear of bonding in a severe form," Mr Poetering said.

"Despite what was written in the media we are not trying to get rid of our daughter and have not formally given her up.

"We are Jade's parents and we feel responsible for her well-being."

But a Hong Kong MP, Fernando Cheung, denied that the girl had been ill.

"The girl is actually in good condition. She's been observed by the experts from the social welfare department and she is perceived to be a normal healthy girl," he said.

"She seems to be living, or basically having a good condition under the current care of the foster parents."

Meanwhile, Asian media have been questioning the commitment of European parents who adopt Asian children.

Some politicians in South Korea are demanding restrictions or even an eventual ban on adoptions from their country.

I don't know the specifics of the case, and won't comment. However, I will note this: globally, Whites adopt far more children of color than the reverse. In fact, I personally know one couple and one single person who have done so. I have no problems with the people I know. However, the disparity in interracial adoption rates does cause concern.

Tying it together: Abp Desmond Tutu apologizes to gay people for persecution

UK Gay news has this report:
MANCHESTER, December 17, 2007 – Archbishop Desmond Tutu has apologised to gay people all around the world for the way they have been treated by the Church.

The Archbishop recently criticised the church for being ‘obsessed’ with homosexuality but speaking on the only gay programme on the BBC he goes further and says he’s ‘sorry’.

The Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner says “sorry” to the worldwide LGBT community in an exclusive recorded interview with Ashley Byrne, presenter of Gay Hour, to be transmitted tonight (December 17) on BBC Radio Manchester.

“I want to apologise to you and to all those who we in the church have persecuted,” Archbishop Tutu says in the interview.

“I’m sorry that we have been part of the persecution of a particular group. For me that is quite un-Christ like and, for that reason, it is unacceptable.

“May be, even as a retired Archbishop, I probably have, to some extent, a kind of authority but apart from anything let me say for myself and anyone who might want to align themselves with me, I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry for the hurt, for the rejection, for the anguish that we have caused to such as yourselves.”

The interview is something of a “scoop” for BBC Radio Manchester, a local radio station who’s Gay Hour – officially LGBT Citizen Manchester – is broadcast every Monday.

It can be heard world-wide at 8pm tonight UK time (9pm Central Europe, 3pm EDT in USA or 7am on Tuesday morning in Sydney) via the BBC Manchester website. The programme is then available on ‘audio on demand’ for a week (same url). It will also be permanently available on the Canal Street website from tomorrow.

LGBT Citizen Manchester is produced for BBC Radio Manchester by Made in Manchester Production.

Meanwhile, I've not been posting news related to the Anglican Communion's impending demise. However, a recent letter by the Archbishop of Canterbury has both liberals and conservatives furious. He slams conservatives for interfering in the dioceses of other bishops, and liberals for going against the mind of the Communion.

He seems to say that further steps in the direction of inclusion by Western Anglicans will be harmful to the Anglican Communion. Read Father Jake's analysis here.

There will be many people hurt by this. To be blunt, for the Global South-aligned conservatives who seek to poach our churches and persecute LGBT people using state means, the hurt is self-inflicted. They could say, this isn't a core point of Christian doctrine; let's cooperate where we can to feed the poor. But they can't seem to do that. I'm not a priest, and I'm not required to be charitable, so my concern isn't for these folks.

My concern is with the LGBT community that considers themselves Christian. If the Episcopal Church should take a step back, there will be those who leave. There will be those who have already left, who will say, this is just more evidence that the church (the small c catholic church) is screwed up.

And so, I would like to join in Desmond Tutu's apology.

I would also like to ask, would you join us, and help us decolonize the church? We need your help. The church is at a turning point in its history in many ways ... we need the help of all peoples to turn this church into something worthy of the name.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Freedom is coming: Our Lady of Guadalupe and a reflection for Advent 3

A reading from Revelation 12:

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day is observed on Dec 12. I've written a reflection about her here.

Our Lady is not so well known among Protestants, but I think she has one critical lesson to teach us this Advent. The Woman of the Apocalypse, described in Rev. 12, is commonly associated with Mary. She comes at the end of time, bearing a child - the Messiah, who is to defeat the dragon, associated with Satan.

And in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary comes as an Aztec, a member of a tribe that has just suffered genocide, a tribe that is now enslaved by the Spaniards. Mary is Indigenous. As denoted by her maternity band in the image, Mary is pregnant. Therefore, her Son, Jesus, is Indigenous.

My sisters and brothers, God is decolonizing us, preparing us for the kingdom of God. Watch and pray.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tying it together: why Christians must oppose governments that force their values on others

Ekklesia, a liberal Christian think tank in the UK, has this report.

The World Bank risks doing more harm than good, if it is allowed to continue attaching harmful economic conditions to its development loans, international development agency Christian Aid has warned.

The agency is urging the UK government to press hard for World Bank reforms today, (Dec 13) as it takes part in a high-level donors meeting in Berlin to discuss the next round of dispersals for 2008-2011.

At issue is the Bank’s practice of requiring countries to modify their economic policies in exchange for loans and debt relief. These changes often benefit European and US investors much more than the people living in developing countries, say campaigners.

Christian Aid is calling on the UK government to withhold funds until the Bank stops demanding that recipient countries implement economic reforms such as privatisation and trade liberalisation.

Following widespread criticism, including from the UK Government, which threatened to withhold £50m in 2006, the Bank recently established five Good Practice Principles, which purportedly did away with the practice of imposing economic conditions, known as “conditionality”. But the European Network on Debt and Development, EURODAD, has found that more than two thirds of IDA loans and grants (71%) remain conditional on economic reforms that can adversely affect the poor.

Olivia McDonald, Christian Aid’s World Bank expert, said: “European governments should not be taken in by the Bank’s assurances that the imposition of harmful economic conditions has stopped. Using the Bank’s own figures we’ve found that the evidence quite clearly states the opposite. And stories from poor communities around the world demonstrate the continued impoverishment that dictating inappropriate economic policies to poor countries causes.”

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Sheilagh Kesting, and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop Idris Jones have also written to the Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, in support of Christian Aid’s call for withholding funding until the World Bank stops imposing economic conditions.

Christian Aid researchers recently travelled to Nicaragua, which was forced to privatise its electricity service in return for World Bank assistance.

In Nicaragua, electricity privatisation was rushed through in 2000, with a promise to increase coverage and lower tariffs. Seven years later, the small gains in coverage have been overshadowed by bills escalating by up to 400 per cent and daily blackouts lasting up to seven hours in many neighbourhoods. It is also heavily reliant on imported oil-based electricity generation, which damages the environment.

The emphasis that the World Bank places on using fossil fuels to power development is also of concern given the impact that climate change is already having on poor countries. The European Parliament has called for an end to public European support for fossil fuel projects, and campaigners want governments to follow suit by withholding funding.

Paul Brannen, Christian Aid campaigns manager, said: "European governments have a final opportunity in Berlin to send a strong signal to the World Bank that they need to change the way that they do business and stop forcing an outdated economic model on developing countries. Without the threat that funding will be blocked, the Bank will be able to pursue policies that undermine the fight against poverty and lead to further environmental devastation."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm in the middle of finals week, so don't expect a lot of updates

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I'm in the middle of finals week, so there haven't been a lot of updates. I actually planned the beginning of Advent series (Dorothy, Sojourner, Harvey, Kamehameha & Emma) months in advance, but hadn't got anything else planned. Expect updates to be skimpy until the holidays.

Meanwhile, here's a hymn that's especially appropriate for Advent, and the coming of the Lord. It's based of Isaiah 40. Credit for the lyrics and the midi file goes to Oremus. They're an Anglican site with both a bible and a hymnal.

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning 'neath their sorrow's load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald's voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Azucena Villaflor, disappeared on or about Dec 10, 1977: Reflection for Advent 2

Advent is about hope and expectation and waiting. The season also has strong ties with eschatology, the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and humankind. The term derives from the Greek eskhatos, meaning "last."

December 10 is also International Human Rights Day, the date on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. It was a time when nations were determined that the horrors of WWII would never again occur. The General Assembly said that respect for human rights "is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

From Wikipedia:
A forced disappearance occurs when an organization forces a person to vanish from public view, either by murder or by simple sequestration. The victim is first kidnapped, then illegally detained in concentration camps, often tortured, and finally executed and the corpse hidden. In Spanish and Portuguese, "disappeared people" are called desaparecidos, a term which specifically refers to the mostly South American victims of state terrorism during the 1970s and the 1980s, in particular concerning Operation Condor.

According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force on July 1, 2002, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, "forced disappearances" qualify as a crime against humanity, which thus cannot be subject to statute of limitation.

In Argentina, the Dirty War, or Guerra Sucia, lasted form 1976 to 1983. It was not a war against an external enemy, or a civil war in the strict sense. The political history of Argentina is complicated and I do not fully understand it. But it is fairly clear that the Dirty War was a state-sponsored campaign of violence against perceived Argentinian "subversives". Here, "subversives" seems to include trade unionists, socialists, communists, and anyone perceived to be affiliated. There is evidence that because of the fear of Communism, the United States assisted or at least condoned the violent acts of the Argentine military in its own and other Latin American countries.

Estimates by human rights groups place the total casualties in the Dirty War at 30,000. A report conducted by Argentine security forces in mid 1978 and later published estimates that up to 22,000 people had been killed or disappeared by that time.

The country later reverted to civilian democratic rule, but the war criminals were able to manipulate the legal system to escape prosecution. Often, when pregnant women were abducted, they were allowed to give birth, and then they were murdered. "Subversives breed subversives," so their children were often given to military families. These things have all left a scar on the Argentine psyche.

On April 30, 1977, Azucena Villaflor and 13 other women, whose names are listed below, started marching on the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. Azucena's son Nestor, and his wife, Raquel Mangin, had been disappeared. They wore white scarves, symbolizing the dove of peace, and these became the mothers' symbol. They also wore rose buds - a white one if they knew their child was alive, a red one for those who were dead. They had asked the Ministry of the Interior, the church, the police, the military, but there was no acknowledgment that their children were even missing. And the not knowing itself was part of the terror.

The Mothers started to know each other while knocking on those doors and one evening in April of 1977, while they were waiting for a priest at the Stella Maris Church, one of them, Azucena Villaflor de Devicenti, said: "If we do this on our own, we will not get anything. Why don't we go to the Plaza de Mayo and when we become a large group, Videla (then president) will have to meet with us ... "Azucena Devicenti chose the Plaza de Mayo as the meeting place because it is located across the street from the Government House (Pink House) and for being a historical and traditional place for demonstrations.
From the Easy Buenos Aires City website.

Azucena Villaflor herself was disappeared on Dec 10, 1977, which was also International Human Rights Day. The Mothers had published a newspaper advertisement with the names of their disappeared children. She was abducted at night by soldiers. She was probably tortured, as were many of the disappeared. Her body was identified in 2005 by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which was created to locate and identify the bodies of the disappeared. Her skeleton displayed the forensic evidence of a large impact, and she had likely been drugged, bound, and thrown out of an airplane over water, which was a common way of killing someone so that the body could not be found. These flights were known as vuelos de las muerte, or death flights.

Azucena's remains were cremated and buried at the foot of the May Pyramid on the Plaza de Mayo. The Abuelas (Grandmothers) of the Plaza de Mayo continued the mission of the Mothers, establishing a genetic database to help identify children who had been abducted and given to military families (some were adopted internationally in good faith on the adoptive parents' parts). 56 children were located, 7 of whom died. 31 are with their biological parents, and 13 are being raised jointly (the good faith adoptions). Many of the military adoptive parents managed to escape justice.

However, when one of the first parents to be prosecuted said that the child was better off with him, because he had not harmed her and that to remove her would be far more traumatic to her, the Supreme Court of Argentina disagreed. They ruled that the murders, disappearances and abductions were now public. Paula, the child, would soon learn. And besides, she was living with the man who murdered her parents. Mary-Claire King, an American geneticist involved with the Grandmothers and in genetically testing children, details the story of the abductions, the setting up of test procedures, and the fight to prosecute.

I consider human rights to be essential to the complete development of the human race. Those leaders who fail to endorse human rights have something to hide.

However, it's very easy to advocate for human rights from behind a desk - or from a blog. Azucena Villaflor was on the front lines of human rights. She surely knew or suspected that she was placing her life in danger. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Azucena stepped out in love and faith for her son and her daughter in law. Right now, human rights are supported by a body of international law in its infancy, by uncertain national laws ... and by hope, and faith, and love.

In this Lentz icon, Mary is dressed as one of the Mothers. The Mothers would hold photographs of their children, and would wear rosebuds: white if they hoped their child was alive, red if they knew their child was dead. As the practice of disappearance spread to other Latin American countries, so did the practice of the Mothers. In this icon, Mary has no photograph of her Son, only His crown of thorns. The white hand print in the bottom left is the blanco mano, the emblem of Salvadoran death squads. Lentz' icon of Oscar Romero is similarly defaced by the presence of military helicopters.

Whenever someone is murdered, or tortured, or left in poverty, or discriminated against, God's image is defaced. But God is found in the faces of those victims of torture and disappearance, and whenever we stand up for human rights, we stand up for God. We Christians cannot stand by when human rights are violated. If Azucena Villaflor had the faith to call her murderous government to account in the Plaza del Mayo, we can have that faith also.

For Azucena Villaflor and the other Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo:

Berta Braverman

Haydée García Buelas

María Adela Gard de Antokoletz

Julia Gard, María Mercedes Gard

Cándida Gard

Delicia González

Pepa Noia

Mirta Baravalle

Kety Neuhaus

Raquel Arcushin

Sra. De Caim

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Kamehameha and Emma: Reflection for Advent 1

Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and
individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the
exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or
Article 2, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(Note: I edited this on 12/3, adding some last-minute updates.)
Do you know what it's like for Indigenous people to have one of their own numbered among the saints?

Tonight, we observe the feast of Kamehameha IV and Emma. Kamehameha was the fourth king in the Kamehameha dynasty, founded about 1810. Kamehameha and Emma were Anglican by birth, but Christianity had come to Hawaii not long before either was born. Christianity started out nearly 2,000 years ago as a small religious cult, and now has over 2 billion followers. Through millennia, Christians have held on to their beliefs in the face of torture and death. They have also evangelized to every corner of the earth. We would not be here today if not for evangelism.

But, even evangelism has a dark side.

In 1778, Captain James Cook of England made the first European contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Soon afterwards, Western merchants came to buy sandalwood, which was abundant on Hawaii and greatly in demand in China. They brought the Hawaiian natives Bibles, guns, and rum.

Kamehameha the Great, the founder of the Kamehameha dynasty and the grandfather of Kamehameha IV, organized the commoners into a labor force to go up the mountain, cut sandalwood, and bring it to the harbor, in addition to their usual subsistence farming. Sandalwood nearly became extinct, and many commoners died from disease, and malnutrition. Meanwhile, the king used the force of the arms he bought from the traders to unite the Hawaiian Islands. He also bought Western luxury goods on credit, driving the island into debt.

Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the
right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local
affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
Article 4, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Kamehameha I died in 1819, by which time the island’s population had been halved, to 150,000, from smallpox and other diseases. Christian missionaries started to arrive on the island in 1820. They established a written Hawaiian language, and taught the Hawaiians to read and write. To be fair, many missionaries were concerned with the welfare of the Hawaiian people, who were often being exploited by the merchants, and who suffered from high rates of alcoholism. The missionaries tried to help the Hawaiians start their own industries. And they tried to defend the Hawaiians against exploitation by the traders.

But Christian missionaries were also one of the forces of 19th century colonialism. They tried to impose their standards of modesty, banning the Hawaiians from dancing the hula. They prohibited working on the Sabbath, which interfered with native agricultural production. Many missionaries eventually became advisors to the monarchy. They and many chiefs advised King Kamehameha III to proclaim the Great Mahele, or division, in 1848. The missionaries thought the old system of land distribution was backwards and kept the people in poverty, and they did want to empower the people. The Mahele theoretically allowed commoners to claim land they worked on. However, few commoners were literate enough to understand the declaration, and the immediate result was further centralization of ownership with Hawaiian chiefs.

And in 1850, the law was amended to allow foreign ownership. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by 1890, 75% of all privately owned land was owned by foreign businesses, and much of it was devoted to sugar cultivation. Eventually, five former missionary families came to own the sugar industry. They dominated many other aspects of Hawaiian industry, and came to hold much political power as well. The Big Five sugar producers got the most fertile land, and diverted much of Hawaii’s limited fresh water for refining sugar.

Additionally, Kamehameha III saw the native Hawaiian population halved again, to about 75,000, from a smallpox epidemic. He survived two coup attempts by Westerners, and died in 1855.

1. Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental
integrity, liberty and security of person.
2. Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace
and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or
any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to
another group.
Article 7, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

And so, Kamehameha IV became king when things were bad and getting worse. He was the nephew and adopted son of Kamehameha III. Born in 1834, and educated by Anglican missionaries, he ascended to the throne in 1855, at age 20.

Queen Emma was born in 1836, and was the granddaughter of John Young, a friend and military advisor to Kamehameha the Great. She married Kamehameha IV in 1856, and they had one son, Albert.

Beginning at least with King Kamehameha I, the people were accustomed to royalty who ruled with pomp and power and lived in luxury. In contrast, Emma encouraged her husband to create public hospitals and long-term care facilities, to care for a population being decimated by foreign diseases. The legislature denied them funding, but they went around the island with a notebook, soliciting funds from rich and poor alike. The Queen’s Medical Center in Honululu was the fruit of this campaign, and it still stands today.

In 1860, Kamehameha and Emma petitioned the Church of England to help them establish an Anglican church in Hawaii. The Church sent two priests and a bishop, and the king and queen were confirmed in 1862.

But in 1863, Albert died, at age 4. Kamehameha felt he was responsible, and he was already in ailing health. At the funeral, he preached a sermon that expressed a deep, profound faith, but it seemed that he had lost the will to live. He died without an heir at age 29, on November 30, 1863. Emma declined to rule, retreating to focus on good works. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that both of them were in despair at having failed their people.

Good works alone could not save Hawaii. Kamehameha’s brother succeeded him, but also died without a successor, ending their dynasty. Hawaii then had three elected monarchs. Kalakaua, the second elected monarch, was forced by a militia allied with descendants of the missionaries to sign a document now called the Bayonet Constitution. The Constitution denied the vote to many native Hawaiians and stripped Kalakaua of his executive power. The Constitution’s author was Lorrin Thurston, the Interior Minister, a child of missionaries, and a powerful businessman. Lili’uokalani, Kalakaua’s sister and successor, tried to abrogate the Bayonet Constitution and draft a new one. She was deposed when John Stevens, the U.S. Department of State Minister, called in the marines, allegedly to protect American civilians. Later, as you know, Hawaii was annexed to the US.

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and
teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to
maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the
right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the
repatriation of their human remains.
Article 12 part 1, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Wikipedia defines colonialism as the “extension of a nation’s sovereignty over territory beyond its borders by the establishment of either settler colonies or administrative dependencies in which Indigenous populations are directly ruled or displaced.” Colonialism necessarily entails oppression: establishing political, physical and psychic dominion over Indigenous people. And often, they internalize that oppression, and perpetuate it on others.

Jesus said in tonight’s Gospel, what you did to the least of these, you did to me. He said elsewhere, sell all you have, give to the poor, and you will enter the Kingdom. Instead, the church established in Jesus’ name to serve those on the margins has been an historical agent of colonization, racial prejudice, and environmental destruction, in Hawaii, and in Indigenous communities all over the world. Empire has colonized the church. Empire has turned the church into an instrument of colonization.

Now, lest we think it’s only churches that support empire, or that religion is the sole force for oppression and conflict, we should remember that staunchly atheist Russia colonized many other countries during the Soviet era. Ask Ukrainians about the Holodomor, a genocide perpetrated during the Stalin era, or ask Tibetan exiles about China. If you could somehow remove everyone’s religion bone, the justifications for colonization would change, but they would still be there. It is sadly a part of the human condition to exert dominance over others, to bend them to what we think is best for them. Empire doesn't need religion to colonize.

But it is also clear that, while churches in imperialist countries should have vigorously denounced colonization, they supported it instead, with enthusiasm. The church identifies itself foremost with the oppressed and the marginalized, and yet it’s a terrible irony that the church has disenfranchised, or helped to disenfranchise, Indigenous peoples all around the world. Malcolm X criticized the church for being so intertwined with the dominant culture that it couldn’t confront racism. Is it the same way with Indigenous peoples’ rights? Are we doomed to always conquer and colonize? Is there hope for us?

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their
cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected
in education and public information.
Article 15 part 1, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Native Americans often speak of transformation in their myths. The Anglican Indigenous Network has spoken several times of its calling to transform the life of the church. They believe that “God is leading the Church to a turning point in its history and that the full partnership of Indigenous peoples is essential.” Indigenous peoples in the Network have pledged to contribute their “vision and gift to transform the life of the Anglican community.”

Thousands of years ago in Israel, there was a tribe that derived its identity from its land, and that maintained a unique identity, heritage and history. That tribe was subject to military conquest, colonization, economic exploitation, and cultural destruction by many conquerors over the centuries, and at last by the Roman Empire. Jesus is a member of this tribe. Jesus is Indigenous.

And I think Jesus is waiting to transform His church. At our baptisms, we are asked, “Will you seek and serve Christ in every person, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We are not asked to run around bringing Jesus to others, because we do not have Jesus. Rather, we are called to go to others, to serve the Christ that is in them.

If there is hope for the church, if we are to advance the Kingdom of God, rather than the kingdoms of this world, then we must help lead this nation and the world away from empire and towards freedom. Can you imagine a church, country, a world that has renounced empire and colonization? We can start by acknowledging the needs, rights and the voices of Indigenous peoples in our midst and around the world. We can start by letting Jesus transform, redeem, and decolonize us.

The rights recognized herein constitute the minimum standards for the
survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.
Article 43, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Modern reformulation of the Apostles' Creed from a Latin, modern perspective:
I believe and I live in God the Just One, the Liberator,
who created the world and my neighbor,
and in Christ of Nazareth, his only son,
and my only head,
who was born of a woman like my mother,
suffered under the oppressor's might,
was despised, marginalized, and crucified.

He descended upon the mechanisms of power,
staged a coup d'état,
and is in command, together with God the Just One, the Liberator,
And soon, when everything is under control,
he will pass judgement on rich, poor, and indifferent.

I believe in the church, which lives in the world and for it,
in liberation from alienation,
in the equality of human being,
in the Prince of Peace,
and in the new life dawning on the horizon of history.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Remembering the politician who banned anti-abortion websites

Declan McCullagh has this article posted on his blog, The Iconoclast.

Henry Hyde, the former Illinois congressman who led attempts to impeach President Bill Clinton and was a longtime foe of abortion, died on Thursday. He was 83.

The Associated Press has already published an extensive obituary of Hyde, a Republican who retired from Congress at the end of the last session. What the AP doesn't mention is Hyde's authorship of a federal law--still on the books today--making it a felony to distribute information over the Internet that relates to obtaining an abortion.

Hyde's successful amendment to an unrelated telecommunications bill in 1996 extended the Comstock Law to "interactive computer services." The amended language is here:

Whoever...knowingly uses any...interactive computer service...for carriage...any drug, medicine, article, or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use; or any written or printed card, letter, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind giving information, directly or indirectly, where, how, or of whom, or by what means any of such mentioned articles, matters, or things may be obtained or made...shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, for the first such offense and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both, for each such offense thereafter.

I've highlighted the most relevant portions of the Hyde Abortion Web Ban in bold. Another section of that law, for which Hyde was not responsible, bans the transmission of any "matter of indecent character" (goodbye, Goatse) and any "filthy phonograph recording, electrical transcription, or other article or thing capable of producing sound" (so much for a large percentage of rap MP3s and MySpace profiles of bands).

The Hyde Abortion Web Ban was never challenged by groups like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, or People for the American Way, all strong supporters of the right of women to have an abortion. It remains the law of the land today, even though it criminalizes things like discussing RU-486, not to mention online pharmacies actually dispensing it. (Hyde, for his part, entered into a House floor exchange with Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, and said that he never meant the law to ban discussions of abortion.)

So were the ACLU and its ideological pro-choice allies slacking? Not exactly. What happened is that after the Hyde Abortion Web Ban got glued onto the Telecommunications Act, the Clinton administration decided not to enforce it on grounds that it violated the free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment. Instead of vetoing the measure, which would have been a cleaner solution, President Clinton said in a signed statement that the Hyde Abortion Web Ban was "unconstitutional."

Attorney General Janet Reno then wrote in a letter to Vice President Al Gore: "This is to inform you that the Department of Justice will not defend the constitutionality of the abortion-related speech provision of (the law) in those cases, in light of the Department's longstanding policy to decline to enforce the abortion-related speech prohibitions (in the related statutes) because they are unconstitutional under the First Amendment." The Bush Justice Department has not prosecuted anyone under it either.

But because the law still exists, a future Justice Department could prosecute Americans under it, especially if a future Supreme Court takes a more restrictive view of free speech and abortion rights. Henry Hyde may have his revenge yet.

Friday, November 30, 2007

10 things your primary care physician won't tell you

From Smartmoney.

1. "They should put me on the endangered-species list."
A good primary-care doctor — someone to coordinate your health care, help choose your specialists and be the first to diagnose just about any problem — is the key to good medical treatment. But they're getting harder to come by. According to a 2007 study, it took new patients in Massachusetts an average 26 days to land an appointment with one. Why? Fewer med students are going into primary care: Interest is so low that the number of primary-care internal medicine residency positions dropped by more than 50% in the past decade. "We're not really getting the best and brightest in primary care," says Kevin Pho, a Nashua, N.H., physician who writes the blog Kevin, MD. "And that's where they're needed."

Cherrie Brunner of Syracuse, N.Y., knows this all too well. She had such trouble finding a new doctor that she stuck with her old one despite problems — when she had blood in her urine, for example, she had to wait a week for an appointment, and the office then tried to cancel. But find a new GP? "I want to," says Brunner. "But when friends say, 'my doctor's great,' he won't take new patients." (Brunner's doctor had no comment.)

2. "I'm the pauper of my profession."
One big reason fewer medical students are specializing in primary care is pure and simple economics. In 2006 primary-care doctors earned an average of $171,519. That might sound like a lot to most working people, but it's less than half of what dermatologists made that same year. And the call of more-lucrative specialities is only likely to get louder for today's residents: According to one study, the income of primary-care doctors, adjusted for inflation, actually fell by 10% between 1995 and 2003. "Students are not dummies," says Pho. "They graduate with $130,000 in debt; why should they go into primary care?"

The income of primary-care doctors is under such pressure these days because general practitioners are paid roughly $30 to $70 for each patient they see regardless of how long the individual visit. That scale, based on Medicare reimbursements, has changed little since 2000. "Reimbursement for primary care is lousy," says John Ford, an assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "They put a premium on volume, not on spending time with patients."

3. "Sorry, your 12 minutes are up."
These days it seems like a visit to the doctor involves little contact with an actual doctor. Instead, most of the time is spent explaining problems to assistants and having blood drawn by nurses. Indeed, doctors have been beefing up their support staff — physician's assistants and nurse practitioners — to help them squeeze in more patients. They say this assembly-line approach is necessary because they get paid about the same for each patient no matter how long it takes. It certainly has been effective; some doctors are able to see 40 patients a day. That's one every 12 minutes. And it doesn't show signs of slowing: According to one survey the average number of patients doctors saw grew by 7.5% from 2004 to 2005.

While this system isn't inherently bad, it can be abused, says Ford. Assistants may have a different philosophy from the doctor, leading them to treat problems differently as well. Communication can break down, causing confusion about medications, and a misdiagnosis by an assistant is always possible. Some doctors do take things to the extreme: In the Massachusetts study, 41% of patients had an appointment during which they never saw the doctor.

4. "I hawk for Big Pharma in my spare time."
Your physician relies on his best judgment when deciding what drugs to prescribe. And influencing that judgment is big business. Market-research firm IMS has found that the pharmaceutical industry spends $7.2 billion a year targeting doctors with ads and sales representatives. That translates into $8,000 in marketing money spent on each of the 900,000 doctors practicing in the U.S. today. "The introduction to pharmaceutical representatives starts as early as medical school, and it never really stops," says Pho.

The real amount is certainly much higher, since these figures include only journal advertising and salaries of sales reps, not their expenses. Drug reps give away pens, cups, hats and shirts, and buy office staff lunch, all in hopes of nabbing time with the doctor. But that's just the beginning — drug companies know doctors are more likely to take their cues from other doctors, so they sponsor weekend seminars at expensive resorts featuring presentations by physicians. Drug companies pay these docs to give informative talks about medical conditions — for which the company's drug gets pitched as the best remedy.

5. "Sore throat? You might be better off going to the mall."
When Mary Furman got a call from her daughter's school at 10 a.m. one day last year, she was sure it was strep throat, but her pediatrician couldn't see the girl until 4. Furman decided to try a new clinic she'd noticed at a nearby Wal-Mart; they were in and out with a prescription in under an hour.

Walk-in clinics are springing up across the country. They're run by nurse practitioners, who diagnose simple maladies, like strep throat or flu, and provide prescriptions, medical advice or referrals if the problem is beyond their scope. These clinics have caught on in part because they're fast and don't require an appointment, says Steven Cooley, a physician and CEO of SmartCare Family Medical Centers in Denver. They're also cheap — $40 to $60 a visit, versus $150 for a doctor or $300 for an ER visit — and many take insurance.

Today there are about 460 such clinics, but analysts expect the number to jump to 4,000 by 2009. When visiting one, says Jim King, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, ask to have your records forwarded to your doctor, and be sure to tell him about any medication prescribed at the clinic.

6. "I hate technology."
It's almost impossible to imagine anyone doing his job these days without a computer — except your doctor. Although billing and other systems may be computerized, when it comes to medical records, many GPs still prefer pen and paper. New electronic medical-record systems can print out clear prescriptions that are cross-referenced with medical databases to avoid incorrect dosages or dangerous drug combinations; hospitals can access patient histories in case of emergency; and care can be better tracked over time. But as a group, primary-care physicians have been slow to adopt the technology: A recent study found that only 28% use these systems. Why? They can cost up to $70,000, and cash-strapped GPs see little payoff.

For most patients the benefits of the technology are huge. It eliminates prescription errors due to illegible handwriting. It ensures that patients get the right dosage. Records won't get lost. It reminds doctors when they need to monitor their patients. And specialists and others can easily forward electronic records to your GP. "I'd seriously consider changing doctors if he didn't have an electronic records system," King says.

7. "Your insurance company is calling the shots."
these days doctors have more freedom to send you to a specialist or order expensive tests than they once did under managed care. But that doesn't mean the system is fixed. For starters, your insurance provider's pool of doctors may lack, say, a great cardiologist, King says. And with increased deductibles, it's often the patient who foots the bill for a referral or an expensive test.

Insurers also still wield the power when it comes to hospital stays, says Jerome Epplin, a geriatrician and clinical professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine; he has recommended that a patient spend four days only to have the insurance company overrule him, refusing to pay for the last day and sticking the patient with the bill. "We are powerless over it," Epplin says. "It's incredibly frustrating." Mohit M. Ghose, spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, says, "When I hear physicians speaking like this, it tells me that physicians need to be working more closely with plans to understand what the guidelines are."

8. "My legal history is none of your business."
Today's insurance plans give patients a wider range of doctors to choose from, but patients don't have any more information to help them decide. "If insurance companies really wanted to bolster patient choice, they would give patients the ability to make informed choices," says Peter Lurie, deputy director of the health research group at Public Citizen. The best information about doctors is off-limits to patients. It's the National Practitioner Data Bank, which state medical boards and hospitals use to do background checks, and it includes information on disciplinary actions and malpractice payments.

To find out if your doctor has been sued, you'll have to go down to the local courthouse, but if your doctor has moved around, you'll get only part of the picture. The best publicly available information is tracked by state medical boards, many of which publish this information on their Web pages. If yours doesn't, you can pay $9.95 for a report from, a site run by the Federation of State Medical Boards.

9. "If you're over 65, don't bother me..."
As troubling as things are in primary care, the situation is worse when it comes to treating elderly patients, especially those on Medicare. Doctors who specialize in geriatrics are certified by the American Board of either Family or Internal Medicine, and they're increasingly rare. Right now there is just one geriatrician in the U.S. for every 5,000 seniors, about half of what we should have, according to the American Geriatrics Society.

The problem is that fewer medical students are choosing this subspecialty: Last year only two-thirds of geriatric fellowship programs were filled. That's because treating older patients who have multiple, often complex problems is about the worst way a doctor can make a living. Medicare doesn't compensate much more for a 45-minute appointment with a patient with dementia, hearing loss and a half-dozen other maladies than it does for seeing someone for a simple checkup. "It is fiscal suicide to go out there and say, 'I am a geriatrician,'" Robinson says. "You get the patients that require the most time that pay the worst."

10. "...unless, of course, you're willing to pay extra."
unfortunately, the shortage of geriatricians is worsening. As med students shy away from geriatrics, the number of people over 65 is set to grow faster than ever as boomers retire. The American Geriatrics Society estimates that by 2030, there will be a shortage of about 36,000 geriatricians in the U.S., up from 7,000 today.

Though the situation seems dire, there are ways to guarantee qualified care. One approach is to see a good primary-care doctor who is also a geriatrician long before you need one. Epplin says that in southern Illinois, not many doctors accept new Medicare patients, but when their existing patients go on Medicare, they keep them. Other approaches can be costly. In Sarasota, Fla., where Robinson practices, many doctors provide "concierge" service: Patients pay an annual retainer of about $4,000 in exchange for their doctor's cell number and upgraded access. Other physicians in Florida have begun asking patients to pay an annual administrative fee of about $200 or $300 to help them continue to provide individualized care. These pricey options aren't what most people have in mind when they think of health care reform, but they may be the only way to maintain ready access to a good doctor.

Investors flock to Malaysia's Super Corridor

KUCHING, Malaysia (MarketWatch) -- It's called the MSC, the Malaysian Super Corridor, and it's attracting the investment attention of big money and institutions all around the world.

Malaysia is poised for enormous growth. Predictions for the economy in 2008 are robust. Venture capitalists and developers are investing in real estate, technology and communications. The country is looking like it will become a major business hub in years to come.

Take a look at Kuala Lumpur. Built out of the jungle, the city is thriving with shopping malls like the KLCC and the famous Petronas Twin Towers attracting people in droves. When I was there, business meetings and conferences were being held all over. Pete Sampras and Roger Federer were holding an exhibition tennis match and the city pulse was on par with that of New York. The hotels and buildings are sparkling new, and more are going up every day.

If the MSC takes hold it will be a force to be reckoned with. Here's why: Malaysia is just Western enough to attract investors from Australia, Europe and the U.S. And it is just Eastern enough to attract investors from China and Japan. China is already taking the lead. A local businessman told me that Chinese interests control about 50% of the businesses near him.

The Malaysian government and the MSC, an organization in its own right, aren't keeping the place a secret. Advertisements are all over the international news networks and the local papers.

The Malaysian government sees the MSC as its big chance to compete on the international level. It boasts a hub, or corridor, that is being developed rapidly and attracting businesses ranging from real estate to telecommunications to technology. It is sparking job growth, stock growth, economic growth -- growth with a capital G.

To be sure, Singapore, its neighbor, has already proven to be a major business success. Malaysia faces competition from the rest of the world as well as very little infrastructure to begin such a 21st century endeavor.

Jungle transformation
Besides, the MSC will ravage the land here more than it already has. Malaysia is a pristine place, full of jungle and unspoiled natural resources. That will all change if the various stages of the corridor take hold and envelop the states of Sabah and Sawarak, where myriad species roam wild.

Officials from the state of California were visiting when I was in Kuala Lumpur, vetting the MSC. They said they are interested in pursuing relationships in the area -- potential investments and sharing of resources.

What will attract people here are the prices. Malaysia is cheap. A two-story compound of a home on Sawarak is about $100,000. You can get a full dinner, including appetizers, drinks and dessert for a little more than ten bucks.
In terms of stock prices, Malaysia has followed Asia and the rest of the world of late, seesawing. But values are said to be available.

The Malaysian government admits that the MSC will corrupt land, but says the economic benefits of jobs and industry will outweigh that and help its people.
It won't be up to them, however. There isn't enough local wealth to put Malaysia in riches. It knows that. It needs outside investors to reach the type of growth it has in mind.

That means it will have to rely on the business strategies of foreign firms to propel its growth. And that may not so neatly mean jobs for the Malaysian people. There is a huge influx of Indonesian labor in the country. Outsourcing capital also means outsourcing the management of the economy to an extent.

By those rules, the market will win, even if that means at the sacrifice of the people and the land that it is built upon. Whether the MSC will fulfill the high hopes the Malaysian government has remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: It will have a dramatic effect on how things are here.

Prizes not patents on drugs?

(Fortune) -- What to do about the high cost of drugs? A cadre of academics and economists has a radical new answer: Take away the exclusive product patents the government grants a new drug and replace them with one-time cash awards to the innovating company.

Not surprisingly, this is one prize Big Pharma says it doesn't want. Even so, the idea of "prizes not patents" is gaining support and sparking a heated debate over the price of medical innovation.

Here's how the so-called "prizes not patents" scheme would work, according to its supporters: The federal government would set up an $80 billion innovation fund, and rather than grant exclusive patents, officials would use the pot of cash to reward each company's new drug discovery with a one-time prize. Regulators would then take the new drug's formula and place it in the public domain, where any other drugmaker can copy it, make a duplicate medicine, and rush it to market. The hope is that the ensuing market competition would generate dramatically lower prices for new medications.

Such policy notions would have little traction if not for the overwhelming feeling that drugs are too costly. Drug treatments are becoming an increasingly larger part of the U.S. healthcare budget. And as baby-boomers begin to sign up for Medicare's new prescription drug benefit, taxpayers and politicians are fretting the costs. Americans spent $274 billion on prescription drugs in 2006, an increase of 82% over spending in 2000. Medicine prices have risen faster than the rate of inflation in each year of this decade.

According to a study by the AARP Policy Institute, the average senior citizen taking four brand name medications saw a cumulative increase of $1,461 to fill prescriptions between 2000 and 2006. Reform advocates fear that increasing costs can limit patients' access to life-saving drugs. Some of the most expensive drugs, in fact, are those for cancer treatment.

Moreover, some policymakers believe prizes would solve more than just high prices. They say the plan would create an incentive for companies to research and develop medicines diseases that are more prevalent in developing countries - ailments drugmakers currently considered to be less lucrative.

If the new patent scheme sounds downright Soviet, that's because it is. Actually, the old Soviet Union tried awarding prizes for innovation, but according to most Russian policy experts, the system failed to generate scientific creativity. Supporters of this new plan point out, however, that the Soviet's were too stingy, and didn't offer large enough prizes.

The prize plan is gaining new clout in recent months. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz advocated the idea in a recent syndicated column. "[T]he patent system with all of its distortions has failed in so many ways," Stiglitz lamented. Last month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the idea in the form of the Medical Innovation Prize Act of 2007.

Earlier this month on the presidential campaign trail, John Edwards promised to make drug patent reform a part of his healthcare agenda. The former North Carolina senator told a gathering in New Hampshire that the plan would "create a different dynamic for drug companies and particularly for breakthrough drugs in big areas like Alzheimer's, cancer, etc." "We'd offer a cash prize for research and development of these drugs, but they don't the patent," Edwards explained. "So, we eliminate the monopoly."

Big drugmakers shudder at the idea of more government involvement in their business. "A prize system could interrupt the flow of funding needed to guarantee research success and could inject the government into decisions about research priorities," says Ken Johnson, senior vice president of PhRMA, the drug industry's main lobbying organization. Johnson insists out that the current patent system hardly grants the lucrative monopolies critics describe.

While it's true, for instance, that patents last 17.5 years, unlike other industries, drugmakers conduct an average of about 12.5 years of research on medicines before they can gain FDA approval. That leaves roughly five years of patent exclusivity for a drug company to recoup its industry average $800 million investment. "We believe that any weakening of the current patent system could be potentially devastating for patients," Johnson says.

The idea of government prizes for drug innovation is the brainchild of James Love, an economist who is director of Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Love has made a name for himself in the nation's capital as a consumer advocate, lobbying and working to pass legislation in areas including technology, intellectual property and health care. He is often criticized for being anti-business, but he believes his prescription for drug companies couldn't be more pro-industry.

"We're saying we want to give $80 billion a year to biotechs, Big Pharma," says Love. "Is that really anti-business? To me, it's a market-oriented alternative to an unproductive, ethically challenged system. Patients prefer a free market, but they don't like monopolies where you pay $100,000 a year for cancer medicines."

So where does the $80 billion come from? Love explains that the federal government spends more than $100 billion each year on pharmaceuticals via the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Veterans Administration and the federal workers insurance plans. He says the prize plan "would easily pay for itself" with the savings achieved through lower prices for new drugs.

Under the Sanders bill, which Love co-authored, the innovation fund would have a board of trustees determining which innovations deserve prizes. As imagined by Sanders and Love, the board would be comprised of 13 members, including the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the commissioner of the FDA, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine presidential appointees (three representatives from the business sector, three private medical researchers, and three consumer advocates).

For every drug approved by the FDA, the board would determine whether and in what amount to award it's designers. Award payments could be staggered over as much as ten years, with no single drug being granted more than 5% (or $4 billion) of the fund in any given year. An 18% portion of each year's fund would be set aside to award research in neglected diseases, AIDS vaccines, and medicines for responding to bioterrorism.

Love's proposal is grand, but he believes that Big Pharma is facing a strong headwind as government grapples with ways to pay for its health programs. "It's either going to be price controls or prizes," he says. "Prizes are more market driven." Clearly, if industry wants to avoid this scenario, they had better start fashioning some new ideas of their own.