TODAY'S GUEST BLOG
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Thursday, 25 September 2008
TODAY'S GUEST BLOG
* the Monarch is the the Supreme Governor of the church (theologically Jesus is the head),
* the Church performs a number of official functions,
* Church and State are linked
The Church of England also has a law-making role in Britain. Twenty-six bishops (including the two Archbishops) sit in the House of Lords and are known as the Lords Spiritual. They are thought to bring a religious ethos to the secular process of law. The Church of England fulfils a civic responsibility too. Its bishops and priests are responsible for performing state weddings and funerals, acts of remembrances, memorial services as well as grand occasions like the coronation. After events like the Gulf War or major disasters, the country 'comes together' to mourn under the spiritual guidance of the Church of England. It is a broad church, representing a wide spectrum of theological thought and practice. They are:
* a belief that the Bible contains the core of all Christian faith and thought
* a loyalty to a way of worship and life that was first set out in the Book of Common Prayer
* celebration of the sacraments ordained by Jesus - that of Baptism and Eucharist or Holy Communion
* a system of Church order that stems from ancient times and is focused in the ordained ministry of Bishop, Priest and Deacon
* a firm commitment to the ministry of the whole people of God, lay and ordained together
* a way of Christian thinking that involves Scripture, Tradition and Reason held together in creative tension.
Right - that is enough of that. I see it as summarising that an Archbishop is not expected or required to have any especial knowledge of how things work in the real world. His duties are all connected with religion. They may get near the concerns and morals of the common man by way of their Lords Spiritual connection but it will have come from briefs or position papers prepared for them by others of like mind. I cannot think of any process where Archbishops and laity come together for a face to face exchange of ideas. Their current Crusade about payment of bonus, how hedge funds make their money and the 'Greed is Good' world of Gordon Gekko as portrayed in film comes very late in the day. The perception of iniquities where many bonus arrangements seem so unfair to the average employee is not new and has not been sheltered from debate.
So, where have the Archies been all this time? They have been very vocal and proactive on homosexuality and opportunities for women. Or have they? Their concern was very limited - In 1992 when General Synod passed a vote to ordain woman not everyone in the Church of England was in agreement. In 1993 it passed the Act of Synod setting up an official structure to enable parishes to refuse women's ministry. Many of the headlines regarding the Church of England since 2002 have regarded the rights of homosexual priests. The Church of England allows for the ordination of gay priests as long as they are celibate. Alongside issues of homosexual clergy, the wider Anglican Communion has been wrestling with whether to sanction same-sex blessings. Both these issues could cause divisions within the Anglican Communion with the provinces of the global south (Nigeria, South East Asia, South America among many others) threatening to split permanently from those sanctioning the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy - mainly in North America. A commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury and headed by Dr Robin Eames, Primate of Ireland made recommendations on the matter in autumn 2004. So - here again, their contact with the wider world was limited and filtered through a dog/clergy collar.
My lack of belief questions the entire realm of "the Church" and its place in my life so I should not be surprised at the apparent ignorance of my Lords Westminster and York. If not ignorance, the late coming to condemnation. It is not as if they lacked inspiration or example. I think of "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away" The modern decision making tool of "What would Jesus do...?" does not come into it. Evicting money changers anyone?
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Designer vagina trend 'worrying'
A leading urogynaecologist has spoken out against the growing popularity of cosmetic vaginal surgery.
Professor Linda Cardozo, of King's College Hospital, London, says little evidence exists to advise women on the safety or effectiveness of procedures.
These include operations to make the external appearance more "attractive" and reshaping the vagina to counter laxity after childbirth, for example.
She discussed the issues at a medical meeting in Montreal, Canada.
A Google search showed over 45,000 references to cosmetic vaginal surgery, yet on medical databases such as PubMed or Medline there were fewer than 100.
Professor Cardozo said the most established vaginal cosmetic procedure was reduction labioplasty - a procedure to make the labia smaller - which is requested by women either for aesthetic reasons or to alleviate physical discomfort.
"Women want to emulate the supermodel. It's part of a trend. But they should know that all surgery can be risky.
"Most of the procedures are done in the private sector and it's totally unregulated."
The exact numbers of procedures carried out are unknown.
In the past five years there has been a doubling of the number of labial reductions carried out on the NHS from 400 in 2000/1 to 800 in 2004/5.
The evidence from existing case studies shows that the procedure, which costs about £2,000 at a private clinic, does have positive aesthetic results but it is unclear whether it resolves feelings of psychological distress or improves sexual functioning, she said.
And there was little evidence that "vaginal rejuvenation" - the surgical repair of vaginal laxity, with a price tag of about £3,000 - improved symptoms and was any better than doing simple pelvic floor muscle exercises.
She said robust research was needed so that doctors could properly advise their patients. In the meantime, she urged surgeons to remain cautious and operate only as a last resort.
In her presentation at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 7th International Scientific Meeting, Professor Cardozo said: "Cosmetic vaginal procedures raise a number of serious ethical questions.
"Women are paying large sums of money for this type of surgery which may improve the appearance of their genitalia but there is no evidence that it improves function."
Rights court 'yet to start work'
MRG says there have been major human rights crises in the last decade. The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, set up 10 years ago, has yet to hear a single case, according to campaigners at Minority Rights Group. The report by the group says this is despite human rights crises including Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. It blames a lack of political will on the continent.
Only 24 of 53 African Union member countries have ratified the protocol creating the court in 1998. According to the MRG report being launched in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, an effective pan-African court is crucial because minorities and indigenous peoples often fail to receive justice from national legal systems. "Africa's peoples deserve better. If human rights on the continent are to come of age, the court must start its work without any further delays," the report's author George Mukundi said in a statement.
No case has yet been heard although judges have been appointed, the rules of procedure agreed and a location established in Arusha, Tanzania. The group also blames bureaucracy for the slow start.
We get an immense amount of criticism about our colonial rule and how dreadful we were. I cannot imagine this sort of situation existing when the Bwana Makuba did his rounds.
After all the heat and drama that accompanied his Far Eastern tour and return to UK, we seem to have lost track of what is happening with Paul Gadd aka Garry Glitter. I cannot imagine that such a strong personality has settled own with his scrapbook and mug of cocoa. The restrictions that were supposedly imposed upon his gallivanting away to his nirvana did not seem too onerous. What - if anything - have the child-abuse honey pots done to improve the chances for 3rd World kids to evade the toils of sex adventurers?
Gadd was expelled from Vietnam on August 19th after he served almost three years for indecency with two girls aged 11.
Four days earlier another high-profile paedophile, Christopher Neil, a Canadian teacher (pictured), was jailed by a Thai court for 39 months for molesting a 14-year-old boy. Interpol had launched a worldwide hunt for Mr Neil after photographs of him having sex with boys were found on another paedophile’s computer, with his face blurred in a swirling pattern.
South-East Asia has many of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, and some large populations of Western expatriates. But it also has weak law enforcement, a large sex industry and much poverty. So it has become a favoured destination for paedophiles. Mr Gadd, who has spent time in a British prison for possessing child pornography, was expelled by Cambodia in 2002 after allegations of importuning for sex. He later turned up in Vietnam, and was arrested in 2005. Mr Neil travelled Asia as a language teacher while seeking boys to molest.
In March a United Nations envoy on children’s rights, Juan Miguel Petit, accused Cambodia, along with Thailand and India, of doing too little to curb child-sex tourism, for fear of damaging tourism revenues. But there are signs that the authorities are starting to take action and that it is having results. Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), a charity, notes that Cambodia prosecuted 17 paedophilia cases last year, a sharp rise on previous years. Samleang Seila, APLE’s chief in Cambodia, says police are increasingly prepared to act when presented with evidence but are constrained by limited manpower. Tom Steinfatt of the University of Miami, who studies the trafficking of women and children in South-East Asia, says under-age prostitution has declined sharply in Cambodia. It is now a “very small” part of the sex industry there. His studies suggest that the number of child prostitutes in Cambodia is far below earlier estimates of 15,000.
Mr Samleang says some countries are trying harder than others to stop their nationals going abroad to molest children. America and Germany, he says, are leading the way in issuing warnings about suspected paedophiles travelling to Cambodia. By contrast, in the recent prosecution of a Russian man for abusing boys, the judge said a Russian embassy employee had paid the man’s fines. Richer Asian countries, such as Japan, whose paedophiles travel to Cambodia, are also responding inadequately, says APLE’s Mr Samleang. Matthew Friedman, who runs a United Nations project to curb the trafficking of women and children, says such countries would not want to be seen as protecting their paedophiles: a bit of “peer pressure” from the more conscientious countries would easily persuade them to take a tougher line.
Some countries now have laws to prosecute nationals who molest children abroad and to curb paedophiles’ foreign travel. Britain this week announced a toughening of its laws, to allow for travel bans of up to five years on convicted paedophiles. But children’s charities criticise the government for making insufficient use of the existing law.
Catching foreign child-sex tourists is only part of the problem. Mr Friedman notes that South-East Asian governments still sometimes talk as if there were no home-grown paedophiles. Often, as used to be the case in the West, the powerful are used to being above the law, and children who complain of abuse are disbelieved. But again, things seem to be changing. Last year a former deputy speaker of the Thai senate was jailed for molesting under-age girls. In another case two Bangkok schoolteachers were accused of molesting pupils. Their school campaigned in their defence but their prosecution went ahead and they were each given 50 years’ jail.
All the while a European can travel in such countries exhibiting what appears to be incredible wealth to the locals, their perverted needs will be met. The authorities know very well what is happening when two eleven year old 'housekeepers' move into accommodation alongside a middle aged man. The pressure upon police and public health agencies has to be to make them deal with what they know.
For uni candidates today, there are other concerns as it seems that the jobs market is flooded with graduates. The Confederation of British Industry worries this is the case: on September 17th it launched a task-force to consider not only whether the wrong sort of graduates are being turned out but also whether supply risks outstripping demand.
This is likely to be what concerns students most. A survey released on September 11th by Sodexo, an education-outsourcing company, found that for more than half of them the prime reason for pursuing a degree was to improve job or salary prospects, or that they had to for their chosen profession. Only 9% wanted to increase their knowledge of an area of interest.
At first glance, the earnings uplift looks worthwhile. An estimate in 2006 suggested that in purely financial terms a degree produced the same lifetime-income stream as giving an 18-year-old with two A-levels £160,000 to invest. But cracks are appearing in the “graduate premium”. For one thing, it varies immensely by field of study (see chart): men with arts degrees can expect to earn less than if they had skipped university entirely. (The relative returns for graduate women are higher not because they earn more than men but because less-qualified women earn very little.) For another, its value is increasingly dependent on the detail.
Robin Naylor, at Warwick University, has found that the average return to a degree has held up well over the past 20 years, but it has become more variable: the university now matters greatly, as does the degree class. “The penalty for not having a degree is high, but the penalty for getting the wrong one can be even higher,” he says. And Francis Green, of Kent University, has discovered that in 2006 a third of graduates were working in jobs that did not require a degree, up from a quarter in 2001; they earned a third less than those who were using their degrees.
It is too late for this year’s freshers to reconsider their university careers; but what should next year’s batch do? Those who are in it for the money should be ruthless about what they study and where—and then be sure to work hard and get good marks. Or they could throw away the calculator and follow their hearts. “It’s a big risk, going to university, much bigger than it used to be,” says Mr Naylor. “But if you study something you like, then even if you don’t earn so much, there is a better chance you’ll work in a field you love.”
In my short life as a Young Communist (I joined for the heavily-subsidised travel to Russia), I saw sense in the directed education that the Communists were working to at that time. Their Five Year (or longer) Plans determined, for example, how many engineers the Plan would need. They then arranged that a sufficient number of the right kind of engineers were found and trained to do that job. Directed labour was anethma to the British way of life but it did mean that the work got the workers needed and the people had training and a guaranteed job at the end of it. Funnily enough, we did have directed labour - look up Bevan Boys and the work they did in the coal industry during the 2nd World War.
As regards Mr Naylor's comment, “But if you study something you like, then even if you don’t earn so much, there is a better chance you’ll work in a field you love.” is a valid one. But just how many art historians or media studies graduates can the country support? If they are on low earnings, they will have the collar of student debt around their necks for a very long time. Working in a field one loves at low return is somewhat like love in a garret; money does not make love easy to find but makes things a lot more comfortable whilst waiting for love to come around.
Following up on the background to my Beginning of the End post, I came across a report from Michael Yon - a journalist embedded with our PARA Regiment in Afghanistan.
On 02 September, the enemy sniper was at it again, and so five British snipers were searching for probable firing positions. At one point, there was credible information that the Taliban told the sniper that they could provide him an American scope. The sniper said he was happy with his iron sights. He was a terrible shot, but sooner or later he might get lucky.
The Brits know exactly who the sniper is. About half a dozen fruit trees occluded fields of fire, so the soldiers cut them down. The Brits offered to pay for the trees, but were bound by regulations on how much they could pay. Major Adam Dawson told me the amount was something like $20 per tree, which of course is tantamount to zero. Achmed, an Afghan neighbour, came to collect the money, but the owner of the fruit tress had told Achmed not to accept payment. The owner was livid, saying: “I can’t believe Achmed let them cut down my trees! I’m going to go @#%& his wife!” I don’t know if anything happened to Achmed’s wife, but I do know that the Brits said the owner of the fruit trees bought himself a sniper rifle. He’s been shooting at Gibraltar ever since.
The British go by a chart that details how much they are allowed to pay for certain items they destroy. A tree, a car, a house, even a life—everything has its price. In Iraq, the payments truly could assuage anger at times. Few transgressions inflame the passions more than a sincere feeling of being manhandled and treated unjustly. The perception of injustice—especially coming from Americans or British, who many people see as monetarily omnipotent—can earn a bomb in the road, or a bullet in the head.
During 2005, the 278th Tennessee National Guard spent considerable time one day in the boonies of Iraq’s Diyala Province trying to find a shepherd to pay after they accidentally ran over a sheep with a Humvee. I also saw shepherds in that same area, on numerous occasions, waving down the 278th to show them mines or ammo they found. Time and again the shepherds collected large amounts of ammo, and sorted it by type for easy accounting and destruction. The 278th paid the shepherds and blew up the caches out near the Iranian border. Everyone was happy. The Iraqis made money. We didn’t get blown up.
But at another American unit, I recall officers grumbling and haggling over how much they would pay Iraqis for ammo they were turning in. These weren’t the rich Iraqis who sent their kids to Sandhurst or Paris for school, but the poor, uneducated ones who worked in dirty places where they sometimes found explosives, or perhaps earned some money planting them. And I thought what a shame—those Iraqis might, after all, sell the same explosives to terrorists, or get paid more to just bury bombs in the roads. Such bombs killed or wounded literally tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. But there is a natural tendency among people the world over: few among us seem to like to pay poor people a fair price for anything. We think poor people should work for next to nothing and be happy for it. I have seen this kind of contempt for the poor throughout the world. Rich Iraqis do it to poor Iraqis. Rich Americans to poor Americans.
In Afghanistan, it’s probably only a matter of time before the man who lost the trees shoots a British soldier, or a British soldier shoots the man’s head off, all for a pittance. The British soldiers are extremely competent, professional, and treat the Afghans well. They are soldiers that the British public should be proud of, and Americans are always proud to call them friends and allies who can be relied upon when bullets start flying. But the accounting department at home is putting these British soldiers into a rough situation and creating lethal enemies.
C-Company, 2 Para, has fired 17 Javelins in combat during this tour. The soldiers are very fond of the missile system, and are reticent to talk bad about Javelins for fear they will not get any more. But out of those 17 Javelins, one went errant, and another failed to launch. The other 15 struck their targets.
That is Yon's report. Every likelyhood we will expend $130,000 because some penny-scraping bureaucrat valued olive trees at $20. There is the chance that getting the "We Made Him A Sniper' into the target picture will expose a British soldier to counter-sniping. If Mr. Sniper gets lucky, we may call in air support forces to deal with him. Vastly more expensive than $130,000 and every chance of civilian deaths from collateral damage. And so it goes on.
Reports are circulating in America that US intelligence analysts are putting the final touches on a secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan that reportedly describes the situation as "grim", but there are "no plans to declassify" any of it before the election, according to one US official familiar with the process. According to people who have been briefed, the NIE will detail the situation in Afghanistan, seven years after the US invaded in an effort to dismantle the al Qaeda network and its Taliban protectors.
Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at the Rand Corporation think tank, called the situation in Afghanistan "dire." "We are now at a tipping point, with about half of the country now penetrated by a range of Sunni militant groups including the Taliban and al Queida," Jones said. Jones said there is growing concern that Dutch and Canadian forces in Afghanistan would "call it quits. The US military would then need six, eight, maybe ten brigades but we just don't have that money," Jones said.
Last week, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress "we're running out of time" in Afghanistan. "I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan," Adm. Mullen testified.Perhaps foreshadowing the NIE assessment on Afghanistan, Adm. Mullen told Congress, "absent a broader international and interagency approach to the problems there, it is my professional opinion that no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek in Afghanistan."
So, that seems to suggest the end of hostilities in Afghanistan. Our forces announce that they see no military solution - the mantra in almost all terrorist wars going back a long way. The change in leadership after the elections will allow a new perspective without embarrassment. Money will be the decider; the problems at home will surely preclude any furter adventures. The post-mortem on Iraq and on Afghanistan would highlight decision needed about what has to be done regarding Iran. We are not achieving anything in Afghanistan that could not be attained at far less cost in lives and money were we to withdraw and concentrate in detecting terrorists and terrorist plans within UK.
TODAY'S GUEST BLOG
This is the article that discusses the report - if there is one that is!