Thursday, December 22, 2005

This will probably be my last posting for 2005. (I'm now officially on holiday!) I hope you find time for some reflection amidst the busyness of Christmas, and look forward to a fascinating 2006.
Blessings, John
'After growing 25 per cent since 1999 against an OECD average of only 16 per cent, the New Zealand economy may be about to enter heavier waters,' Finance Minister Michael Cullen says. Dr Cullen was commenting on the release of the Budget Policy Statement [BPS] and the 2005 Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update. The Treasury now believes that growth will hold up stronger for longer than in its pre-election forecasts issued in August but that the slowdown, now projected for the 2007 and 2008 March years, will be deeper when it does occur.

In a landmark decision, US District Court Judge John Jones has ruled that intelligent design has no place in public school science classes, calling it religion in disguise. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, was a test of whether the theory of intelligent design(ID) -- the idea that some aspects of biology are too complicated to attribute to random chance -- could even be mentioned as an alternative to the theory of evolution. Jones concluded that letting public school students know about ID violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

There are increasing signs that court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage could pave the way for polygamy – something pro-family groups have long warned about. Earlier this year, judges on a New Jersey appellate court expressed concerns about same-sex marriage leading to the legalization of polygamy. In a 2-1 decision rejecting same-sex marriage in Lewis v. Harris, Judges Stephen Skillman and Anthony J. Parrillo wrote: "The same form of constitutional attack that plaintiffs mount against statutes limiting the institution of marriage to members of the opposite sex also could be made against statutes prohibiting polygamy."
~ Focus on the Family

The world’s largest exporter of information and communications technology goods like cell phones, laptops and digital cameras is now China. New OECD figures show its exports of $180 billion of ICT goods outstripped the US (USD140 billion) for the first time in 2004. China’s exports were up in the year by nearly fifty percent, from USD123 billion the year before.

In his best-selling book, Rick Warren explored the purpose-driven life. Now the popular pastor is tackling global poverty and disease.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput says the October murder of three Christian girls in Indonesia was an example of growing violence against Christians by Muslims across the world. "Anti-Christian discrimination and violence seem to be growing throughout the Islamic world," Chaput said. "I would call on all persons of good will - not just American Christians but American Muslims - to demand from our government and our ally Indonesia an immediate effort to end the violence against Christians in Indonesia." Chaput spoke at the US Capitol at a forum put on by Sen. Rick Santorum, entitled "Christmas Under Siege Around the World."

God and his teachings are on a roll, enjoying a surge in public support, writes Jill Rowbotham in The Australian. Yet while Australia's dominant religion is exhibiting a surge in public confidence and profile, overall numbers attending traditional churches are still falling. In the 1950s, 44 per cent of Australians went to church at least once a month; a 2003 national church life survey showed the figure was 19 per cent. But there are signs of new growth. Research by advertising company Clemenger Communications shows there has been a rekindling of interest. During a 1978 survey of twentysomethings, 26 per cent agreed religion was important in their lives, but a 2005 survey of people who had been twentysomethings in 1978 revealed that now 36 per cent agreed. Clemenger argues today's young people are more religious than their parents' generation, with 40 per cent of the twentysomethings surveyed in 2005 agreeing with the proposition. And 56 per cent of today's young people say they consider themselves spiritual even though they don't go to church. An exception to the denominational decline are the evangelical and Pentecostal congregations, which are experiencing massive growth.,5744,17580939%255E28737,00.html

The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents. Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior. According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

A government-appointed committee has proposed that Australian legislation be amended to allow both the creation of hybrid embryos and therapeutic cloning. If accepted by its Parliament, Australia would have the world’s most progressive embryo legislation. Amongst the radical reforms proposed are the authorisation of cross-species embryos, a practice allowed no where else in the world, hybrid fertilisation, therapeutic cloning, and the export and import of embryos. The report strongly supports the commercialisation of embryo research but stresses that patients must not share in the profits which might arise from the use of their tissue.
~ Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 20

in Switzerland, a university hospital will begin offering its wards for assisted suicides, provided that the person is of sound mind and incurably ill. Until now, Swiss hospitals had refused to cooperate with the suicide organisations which have flourished there. But after two years of debate and consultation, the University of Lausanne has opened its doors. “We are not trying to encourage suicide,” says the hospital’s legal and ethical director, Alberto Crespo. “ But at the same time, as a hospital, we have to respect the wishes of someone who wants to die. We can’t be paternalistic. We can’t decide for a person what they should do. It is up to the person to decide whether they want to live or not.”
~ Guardian, Dec 19

BARBIE, that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely tortured by children, research has found. The methods of mutilation are varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving, according to academics from the University of Bath. The findings were revealed as part of an in-depth look by psychologists and management academics into the role of brands among 7 to 11-year-old schoolchildren. The researchers had not intended to focus on Barbie, but they were taken aback by the rejection, hatred and violence she provoked when they asked the children about their feelings for the doll. Violence and torture against Barbie were repeatedly reported across age, school and gender. No other toy or brand name provoked such a negative response.,,170-1939678,00.html

A national survey shows that The Snowman by Raymond Briggs is children's favourite Christmas story. According to The Independent, the animated story and cartoon book has displaced the Nativity as children's top story for Christmas. The survey of 1,000 children ranked Dicken's Christmas Carol and Clement C Moore's The Night Before Christmas third and fourth. But a Church of England spokesman said the "survey suggests that children see the Nativity as more than just a story and … find it unusual to group an event in with a selection of published titles."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters ended a series of meetings in Malaysia optimistic about the road ahead for a grouping of Asian powers that could one day rival the European Union. Leaders from the 10 Asean countries - plus Japan, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and India - are meeting in Kuala Lumpur for the East Asia Summit, the first time they have got together to talk about the possibility of a new power bloc.

The first woman to undergo in New Zealand a controversial "designer baby" test used overseas is on the way to having a child. Dr Richard Fisher, of Auckland fertility clinic Fertility Associates, said three patients were undergoing the testing, which is used with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). One, a 39-year-old is six weeks pregnant after five years of recurrent miscarriages. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, was approved by the Government with strict conditions in March. In the past, women had to go overseas to have PGD, which in New Zealand is permitted only to test for genetic or chromosome disorders including Down's syndrome and single-gene defects like Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis. Overseas, PGD has also been used for selecting the sex of babies for social reasons and some New Zealanders went to Sydney for this until Australia banned the practice.

A few years ago, the mere suggestion that a man on a plane could be a likely child molester, would have been greeted with derision. Now, however, not only has the concept been taken seriously by the airlines, but some public servants – including the Commissioner for Children - have said it’s a good idea. Stuart Birks, Director of the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation at Massey University, explores the emergence of this worrying trend towards the denigration of men.

A UK author and broadcaster condemned as "sinister" yesterday an inquiry conducted by police over comments she made about homosexuals on a live radio programme. Lynette Burrows, an author on children's rights and a family campaigner, took part in a discussion on the Victoria Derbyshire show on Radio Five Live about the new civil partnerships act. During the programme, she said she did not believe that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt. She added that placing boys with two homosexuals for adoption was as obvious a risk as placing a girl with two heterosexual men who offered themselves as parents. "It is a risk," she said. "You would not give a small girl to two men." A member of the public complained to the police and an officer contacted Mrs Burrows the following day to say a "homophobic incident" had been reported against her. "I was astounded," she said. "I told her this was a free country and we are allowed to express opinions on matters of public interest. She told me it was not a crime but that she had to record these incidents.

One of the central realities of the cultural darkness we see growing around us is the dawning of a post-Christian culture -- and a central reality of our emerging culture is the closing of the postmodern mind. Something is happening to the worldview, the mentality, and the consciousness of this age. If we listen closely, we can hear something like the closing of a steel door -- a solemn, cataclysmic slamming of a door. We have been watching the postmodern mind in its development, and it is now well developed. Not only do we see the themes of postmodernity taking hold of the larger culture, but we understand the challenge this pattern of thinking poses to Christian truth and Christian truth-telling. Tolerance is perverted into a radical secularism that is anything but tolerant. There is little openness to truth, and growing hostility to truth claims. Indeed, the postmodern mind has a fanatical, if selective, dedication to moral relativism, and an understanding that truth has no objective or absolute basis whatsoever.

Many big American “mega-churches”, with thousands-strong congregations will close on Christmas Day amid fears of poor attendance. Instead, they are holding multiple services in the run-up to 25 December and encouraging worshippers to spend Christmas day with their families. Revd Gene Appel, a senior pastor at one of the six largest US churches, the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, said. "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralising the church on Christmas. The best way to honour Jesus's birth is for families to have a more personal experience on that day." Although it’s common for the rapidly-growing “mega-churches” not to hold Christmas Day worship when it falls during the week, it’s rare to cancel a Sunday service.

A red crystal has been added to the red cross and red crescent as a third symbol for the worldwide relief movement. The decision of the 192 countries signed up to the Geneva Conventions will admit the Israeli humanitarian movement for the first time and create a “neutral” symbol that can be used where other emblems would be viewed as provocative. The Israeli Magen David Adom Society, which uses the Star of David within its own borders, has said it will use the crystal when working internationally. “The adoption of an additional emblem devoid of any national, political or religious connotation” will give “a new instrument ... to protect military and civilian medical services on the battlefield,” Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told delegates in Geneva.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The government seems to be blind to the inherent incompatibility of its economic and social policies. A report from the New Zealand Institute this week points out that exports currently make up only 29% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is well below international standards, even for other small countries. The Institute says we will have to substantially lift our game if we are to maintain economic growth. In response, Government minister Trevor Mallard says one of the problems is that New Zealand has too few risk takers. Here lies the government blindness. Entrepreneurs take risks only when they think there is going to be a financial return. They do not take risks if they are taxed too heavily when they make a success of the venture. Furthermore, New Zealand does not encourage risk-taking because when people are successful they are criticised for being rich, and the government uses its social redestributive policies to reduce the gap between rich and poor. The government cannot have it both ways. If it wants successful entrepreneurs - and that is the only way the economy will grow - it has to stop slamming them when they achieve. Too many have already voted with their feet and shifted production overseas.

Chinese authorities have admitted for the fist time that organs from executed prisoners are being sold to ailing foreigners. According to the London Times, Huang Jiefu, the Deputy Health Minister, says that the practice is widespread and must be regulated more consistently. The aim of new legislation, says Mr Huang, is to end the commercialisation of organ transplants. It will also improve China’s image and give condemned prisoners a greater say in what happens to their bodies. There are no official figures on the number of official executions in China, but Amnesty International estimates that there are between 3,400 and 6,000.
~ London Times, Dec 3

Therapeutic cloning has taken another body blow with a report in a leading journal that cloned embryos appear to be genetically normal, even though most cloned embryos develop abnormally. The implication is that scientists are still far from understanding the cloning process. The findings also suggest that therapies from therapeutic cloning are not around the corner. “Even if cloned embryos are born, many are not normal and die prematurely,” Wolf Reik, of the UK’s Babraham Institute, told The Scientist magazine. At first embryonic stem cells may look normal, but problems may emerge later on.
~ The Scientist, Nov 29

For a performance in its "winter program," a Wisconsin elementary school has changed the beloved Christmas carol "Silent Night," calling the song "Cold in the Night" and secularizing the lyrics. According to Liberty Counsel, a religious-liberty law firm representing a student's parent, kids who attend Ridgeway Elementary School in Dodgeville, Wis., will sing the following lyrics to the tune of "Silent Night": Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm.

It appears the morning-after pill does not reduce pregnancy and abortion rates. During a panel discussion at the National Press Club's Newsmaker Forum last week, Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, admitted that the morning-after pill does not reduce pregnancies and abortions as originally touted.

Machines will perform euthanasia on terminally ill patients in Israel under legislation devised not to offend Jewish law, which forbids people taking human life. A special timer will be fitted to a patient's respirator and will sound an alarm 12 hours before turning it off. Normally, someone would override the alarm and keep the respirator turned on, but, if various stringent conditions are met, including the giving of consent by the patient or legal guardian, the alarm would not be overridden.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In the UK, David Cameron will be declared the next Tory leader on Tuesday after winning twice as many votes among party members as his rival David Davis, according to a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph.

"A proposal to pay women in Italy not to have abortions is rapidly gaining momentum as politicians of right and left alike give it their endorsement. The scheme - put forward by the left - comes against a background of mounting pressure from the Roman Catholic church for a rethink of the country's 1978 abortion law. The language issuing from the Vatican has grown stronger in recent weeks with one cardinal describing abortion as "the worst kind of murder". On Wednesday a parliamentary committee gave the go-ahead for a commission of inquiry into the workings of Italy's act, passed at a time when the feminist lobby in Italy was stronger and more active than today. One reason why the latest initiative has gathered support is that it addresses Italy's failure to produce enough children. In 2003 the fertility rate - the number of children per woman of childbearing age - was only 1.27, one of the lowest in the world. A slight increase in recent years has been due to immigrant mothers. The low fertility rate threatens to undermine competitiveness and make Italy's welfare system unsustainable.

Amid growing evidence that some of the tiniest materials ever engineered pose potentially big environmental, health and safety risks, momentum is building in the US Congress, environmental circles and in the industry itself to beef up federal oversight of the new materials, which are already showing up in dozens of consumer products. But large gaps in scientists' understanding of the materials are slowing the development of a regulatory scheme. Equally unresolved is who should pay for the additional safety studies that everyone agrees are needed. At issue are "nanomaterials," made of intricately engineered particles and fibers as small as 1/80,000th the diameter of a human hair. At that scale the laws of chemistry and physics bend, giving familiar substances novel chemical, electrical and physical properties. An estimated 700 types of nanomaterials are being manufactured at about 800 facilities in this country alone, prompting several federal agencies to focus seriously on nano safety. Yet no agency has developed safety rules specific to nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are already being integrated into a wide range of products, including sports equipment, computers, food wrappings, stain-resistant fabrics and an array of cosmetics and sunscreens -- a market expected to exceed $1 trillion a year within a decade. Preliminary studies suggest that most of these products do not pose significant risks in their bulk form or embedded in the kinds of products that so far use them. But the same cannot be said of the particles themselves, which can pose health risks to workers where they are made and may cause health or environmental problems as discarded products break down in landfills. Lab animal studies have already shown that some carbon nanospheres and nanotubes behave differently than conventional ultrafine particles, causing fatal inflammation in the lungs of rodents, organ damage in fish and death in ecologically important aquatic organisms and soil-dwelling bacteria.

Aid agencies and local Christian leaders have warned of a looming crisis in Southern Africa , The Baptist Times reports. Failed rains across large parts of the region, coupled with agriculture and health undermined by widespread HIV, political inertia and inadequate policies mean that millions of people face starvation. Tearfund launched an emergency appeal this week focusing on Malawi and Zambia . Malawi Baptist minister Revd Booker Banda said people in his area now have nothing to plant during the sowing season “because they ate all that was left”.

"It is one Christmas list that is proving too much for even the most determined Santa - a multitude of politically correct clauses has caused a shortage of jolly, bearded fellows in Australian shopping malls. Disillusioned by a growing number of rules imposed by recruiting agencies and shopping centres to guard against litigation, men who have brought smiles to the faces of thousands are reluctantly deciding to call it quits. In some centres they can no longer hand out lollies, pat children on the head for fear of insulting religious beliefs, put children on their laps unless they get permission from parents and they cannot have photographs taken with youngsters unless their hands are in full view. So worried have some Santas become of being sued that they are demanding extra helpers to act as witnesses just in case a complaint is made.

"An industrial revolution is happening in the pit of the Sydney Opera House. Under a new interpretation of WorkCover rules, players in the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra can't be exposed to sound levels higher than 85 decibels averaged over a day. This will have implications for orchestral music generally, but its immediate impact is being felt on, of all things, the Australian Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. To avoid any one musician being exposed to excessive sound, the orchestra is working with relay teams of extra musicians: four separate horn sections, four of clarinets, four of flutes, and so on. The orchestra that begins a particular performance isn't necessarily the same one that finishes it. It's a logistical nightmare and an expensive one, adding $100,000 to the ballet's production costs. And all this for a score as lyrical and romantic as Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, never mind the noisily modernist Rite of Spring."

Some stark new clinical evidence shows that men and women are just not the same upstairs. "The comedians are right. The science proves it. A man's brain and a woman's brain really do work differently," a research team from the University of Alberta in Canada announced yesterday. After analyzing magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) of 23 men and 10 women, the team found that the sexes use different areas of the brain even when working on exactly the same task.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"The First Law of Holes says "stop digging". It applies, universally, to anyone who's in a hole. And Dr Alan Bollard, Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand certainly is in a hole." This piece from Keith Rankin is a very easily understood analysis of the current (and near future) state of the economy, and as close to essential reading as I have seen recently. He explains clearly the significance of things like the high value of the NZ dollar, and the huge trade balance deficit.

Vatican media have reported on the "horrible and atrocious" conflict that the people of northern Uganda continue to suffer at the hands of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. In its Sunday edition, L'Osservatore Romano reported on a complaint made Nov. 25 by Dennis McNamara, special U.N. adviser for the displaced in humanitarian crises, on his return from a mission in the African country. In a press conference in Geneva, McNamara confirmed that the atrocities perpetrated by the "olum" -- or "grass," as the LRA rebels are called in the Acholi language -- continue systematically. Such atrocities prolong a situation "which is among the most neglected and serious in the world" and which, in the absence of outside intervention, "could worsen," stated the Vatican's semiofficial newspaper. Among the tragedies are that of the child-soldiers. Since 1986, rebels have forced tens of thousands of boys into combat or slavery. The target of the conflict, led by Joseph Kony and his LRA rebels, is the Kampala government. The price of war in Uganda includes the torture and death of innumerable civilians. The death toll is estimated at more than 120,000.
~ Zenit news service

Why the future doesn't need us. Bill Joy, cofounder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems writes: "Our most powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered species. By 2030, we are likely to be able to build machines, in quantity, a million times as powerful as the personal computers of today ... As this enormous computing power is combined with the manipulative advances of the physical sciences and the new, deep understandings in genetics, enormous transformative power is being unleashed. These combinations open up the opportunity to completely redesign the world, for better or worse: The replicating and evolving processes that have been confined to the natural world are about to become realms of human endeavor. In designing software and microprocessors, I have never had the feeling that I was designing an intelligent machine. The software and hardware is so fragile and the capabilities of the machine to "think" so clearly absent that, even as a possibility, this has always seemed very far in the future. But now, with the prospect of human-level computing power in about 30 years, a new idea suggests itself: that I may be working to create tools which will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species. How do I feel about this? Very uncomfortable. Having struggled my entire career to build reliable software systems, it seems to me more than likely that this future will not work out as well as some people may imagine. My personal experience suggests we tend to overestimate our design abilities. Given the incredible power of these new technologies, shouldn't we be asking how we can best coexist with them? And if our own extinction is a likely, or even possible, outcome of our technological development, shouldn't we proceed with great caution?

A team of French surgeons has broken a new ethical and surgical frontier by carrying out the world's first face transplant on a woman who was savaged by a dog. The 38-year-old patient suffered severe injuries in the attack to her nose, lips and chin. Her damaged face was replaced by a "triangle" of the same features taken from a dead donor.

Adoption law should be liberalised to allow single people and gay couples to engage surrogate mothers, says a major report in the Australian state of Victoria. This is part of a major overhaul of laws on reproductive technology proposed by the Victorian Law Reform Commission. If passed by the state legislature, it will probably influence other states as well.
~ BioEdge newsletter

In a 5-0 decision, the Swedish Supreme Court has acquitted Pastor Ake Green of charges he committed a hate crime by preaching a sermon that condemned homosexuality. Per Karlsson, a member of the Swedish bar and adviser to Pastor Green, says the court cleared the Pentecostal pastor because it chose not to view his sermon as hate speech and because the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, would have likely overturned Green's conviction and 30-day sentence on charges he agitated against a minority group.

There's a new Narnia trailer out (9min in length). See it here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I have just started a new job. Until I see how my day pans out, it is likely that postings to Canary will be a little less frequent. Keep coming back, though.

Air New Zealand and Qantas have declared that men are not safe to be near children. They banned men from sitting next to unaccompanied children on flights, sparking accusations of discrimination.

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello said he plans to delete 2100 pages, or 30 per cent, of tax law in the biggest simplification of the country's tax code. "This is a major reform to Australia's tax legislation, a dramatic improvement to reduce complexity in Australia's tax system," Costello said in Melbourne. The changes will delete obsolete sections of the legislation.

A corruption scandal has forced a vote of no-confidence that has toppled Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government, triggering an unusual election campaign during the Christmas holidays. Canada's three opposition parties, which control a majority in Parliament, voted against Martin's government, claiming his Liberal Party no longer has the moral authority to lead the nation. The loss means an election for all 308 seats in the lower House of Commons, likely on Jan. 23. Martin and his Cabinet would continue to govern until then.

Tablighi Jamaat, the Islamic missionary group, has announced plans to build a mosque next door to the new Olympic stadium. The London Markaz will be the biggest house of worship in the United Kingdom: it will hold 70,000 people - only 10,000 fewer than the Olympic stadium, and 67,000 more than the largest Christian facility (Liverpool's Anglican cathedral). Tablighi Jamaat plans to raise the necessary £100 million through donations from Britain and "abroad".

Swedish Pastor Ake Green will find out Tuesday whether he is going to jail for publicly preaching against homosexuality in defiance of Swedish law. But the prosecution of the Pentecostal pastor is but one sample of the anti-religious activity currently under way in the Scandinavian nation. The Swedish government has proposed cutting out the religious aspect of independent religious schools in the country, a Swedish online newspaper called The Local has reported. According to the proposal, the curriculum and teaching in religious schools would have to be entirely free of any religion to qualify for government funding. The only roadblock to the plan comes from Sweden's Green Party -- an environmentalist political party which has no relation to Pastor Green. "People should have the option of schools with a confessional standpoint as long as the teaching is impartial," Green Party education spokeswoman Mikaela Valtersson said.
~From Focus on the Family news service

Witchcraft is moving into the mainstream in the Netherlands. A Dutch court has ruled that the costs of witchcraft lessons can be tax-deductible, the Associated Press reported Oct. 31. In England, meanwhile, Portsmouth's Kingston Prison has hired a pagan priest to give spiritual advice to three inmates serving life sentences, the Telegraph reported Nov. 1. The prisoners have converted to paganism and, according to prison rules, are allowed a chaplain in the same way as those with Christian or other religious faiths. Denying them a pagan chaplain would infringe their human rights, said John Robinson, the prison governor. Earlier, on Oct. 17, the London-based Times newspaper reported that pagan priests in all prisons will now be allowed to use wine and wands in ceremonies held in jails.

German experts are questioning the country's law against incest after a judge sentenced Patrick S to two-and-a-half years in prison for his incestuous relationship with his sister, Susan K. The 28-year-old man grew up with foster parents and did not meet his 21-year-old sister until 2000. Since they met, the siblings have had four children. After the first child, Patrick received a suspended sentence. He began serving a 10-month prison sentence in connection with the second and third child shortly after fathering the fourth. Germany's incest law only punishes heterosexual intercourse between close relatives such as siblings or parents and children, which means that infertile siblings would face prosecution, while a sister who was inseminated artificially with the sperm of her brother would not have to stand trial. Saying that the law is based on outdated moral concepts, legal experts have said that Germany should follow the example of other countries, such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Turkey, Japan, Argentina and Brazil, where incest is no longer punishable.
~ Deutsche Welle, Nov 13

A UK government agency is launching an inquiry into doctors’ reports that up to 50 babies a year are born alive after botched National Health Service abortions. The investigation, by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH), comes amid growing unease among clinicians over a legal ambiguity that could see them being charged with infanticide.

The scientist who cloned the world's first human embryo has resigned in disgrace from an international body after admitting that he lied about the source of the eggs used in his experiments. Professor Woo-Suk Hwang of Seoul National University in South Korea apologised for repeatedly denying that some of the eggs had come from junior members of his own research team. He said he was sorry for making misleading statements when questioned about whether the eggs had been procured unethically from young female colleagues.

Without a single exception, responsible stem sell scientists are outspoken foes of reproductive cloning. Nearly every plea for the legalisation of therapeutic cloning or for government funding ends with a sentence insisting that reproductive cloning must be banned because it is unsafe. Many bioethicists, however, take a longer term view and foresee a day when cloning will no longer be unsafe. In that case, they contend, it ought to be treated as a human right. The latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics contains the most recent argument. "Cloning combined with certain types of genetic modification can be ethically justifiable when carried out by infertile, lesbian, or gay couples as a means to have children with a genetic relationship to both members of the couple," argues Professor Carson Strong, a bioethicist at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. He stresses, however, that access to cloning should not be limited to these cases. He identifies lack of uniqueness as the principal argument against cloning. This difficulty could be overcome by adding and deleting genes in the clone, making it unique and giving it "a nuclear DNA relationship to both members of an infertile couple". The principal reason on which Prof Strong grounds his defence of reproductive cloning is reproductive freedom, provided, of course, that there is no danger of birth defects. Although some writers have argued that cloning is contrary to human dignity, Prof Carson has described this elsewhere as a nearly meaningless concept. "There are serious problems in specifying what the essence of a human is and in achieving a consensus on this matter," he wrote in another journal earlier this year.
~ Journal of Medical Ethics, Nov; Reproductive Biomedicine Online, March

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I've started a new job this week, which has slowed me down a bit. However, I hope to keep posting as time permits (maybe on a slightly reduced basis). Here are some of the gleanings from this week:

An inquest into the suicide of a high-profile right-to-die campaigner has ended with a coroner calling for national debate on euthanasia. Nelson Coroner Ian Smith yesterday ruled Ralph Vincent had died at his own hands, and warned the question of voluntary euthanasia was not going to go away. "It is a difficult subject and a matter Parliament will need to deal with in the future. And it is something the nation will have to deal with and address," he said.,2106,3489094a11,00.html

A new version of the Joffe bill to legalise assisted suicide in the UK has been given an unopposed first reading in the British House of Lords. The changes to the first draft are modelled on Oregon's experience with assisted suicide. "A law which requires the patient to take the final act... seems to reassure doctors that the patient is exercising a choice and is less difficult to them on a personal level," says Lord Joffe. There is little chance of the bill being passed, but it has created an enormous controversy in Britain. ~, Nov 19

A bill to remove prostitutes from the streets of Manukau City was introduced into Parliament this week. The local bill, if passed, will make Manukau the first city in New Zealand to ban street prostitution. Labour MP Tim Barnett, who championed the Prostitution Law Reform Act through Parliament, said the Manukau move would drive prostitution underground. But Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis says, "The people of Papatoetoe have had a gutsful [of street prostitution], and in other parts of Manukau, these people are parading themselves in the middle of the street, leaving all kinds of objectionable items on the sidewalk and outside business premises."

The Russian parliament has gave preliminary but overwhelming approval to a bill that pro-democracy and human rights groups have condemned as a Soviet-style assault on freedom of association and expression. The controversial legislation would effectively ban the work of foreign human rights groups and charities and strictly regulate the activities of domestic organisations, making it easy for the Kremlin to shut down undesirable groups on a technicality at a moment's notice.

President Bush used his recent China trip to press not only for economic cooperation, but also for human rights and religious freedom in that country. But Chinese officials, unlike in times past, were unresponsive and even defiant. During the trip, Bush tried to make his point on religious freedom by praying with Christians in a state-approved church. "My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly," he said. Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, says Chinese leaders showed no signs of goodwill toward the president on the subject. "The Chinese government fiercely resisted the call for more religious freedom in China," he said. Fu said that hours after the president left China, eight house-church members were released from prison. Two of the eight reported that they had been beaten and tortured by Chinese authorities.

Although China's top population official, Zhang Weiqing, has acknowledged that his country's sex ration "has not been checked effectively", he insists that the current one-child policy should remain in effect. To lower the ratio of boys to girls, which is as high as 130 to 100 in the southern provinces of Hainan and Guangdong, the government plans to outlaw sex-selective abortions, launch a modest pension plan for parents with no sons, and to step up a public education campaign that "girls are as good as boys". ~ Reuters, Nov 15

Is the Internet transforming our sex lives as much as the birth control pill did? Yes, says Regina Lynn,'s 'Sex Drive' columnist and the author of a new book about modern sexuality. Thanks to e-mail, blogging, instant messaging, Web cams and the myriad ways we now have to stay in touch electronically, Lynn says we are in the middle of a new relationship revolution.

American children conceived with donor sperm are seeking their biological father through an internet website - and finding half-siblings by the dozen. Using the Donor Siblings Registry, a web site founded by Wendy Kramer and her 15-year-old donor-conceived son, some teenagers and their mothers are holding family "reunions" -- nearly always without Dad, who is just a number on a vial of sperm along with fragments of personal information. "They are building a new definition of family that both rests on biology and transcends it," comments the New York Times. Sperm bank officials estimate that 30,000 children are born each year from donor sperm, but no one knows how many there really are because the industry is unregulated. "As half-siblings find one another, it is becoming clear that the banks do not know how many children are born to each donor, and where they are. Popular donors may have several dozen children and critics say there is a risk of unwitting incest between half-siblings," says the Times. ~ New York Times, Nov 20

A British scientist is working on creating sperm and eggs from embryonic stem cells. The artificial gametes could be useful for infertile couples. They could also be used by gay and lesbian couples so that they would not have to rely upon egg and sperm donors. The technique should be mastered in the next decade, according to the Observer. ~ Observer (UK), Nov 13

Twice as many women as men are filing for divorce or separation in Ireland, citing "familial strain", including household finances, work-life balance and a lack of family support as reasons for marital break-down. It is 10 years since divorce in Ireland was legalised by a referendum vote with a less than 1 per cent majority. Adultery, alcoholism and domestic violence were the main reasons cited in the early years. ~ The Sunday Times, Nov 20

Every baby attending a day nursery or who is in the care of a childminder in Britain will be taught a new national curriculum devised by the government. Inspectors will check that the children are developing in four areas, including becoming "competent learners" - with skills such as comparing, categorising and recognising symbols and marks. It is the first time the government has prescribed what children should learn under the age of three, and some parents and teachers are up in arms about the move. National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations spokesman Margaret Morrissey said: "From the minute you are born and your parents go back to work, as the government has encouraged them to do, you are going to be ruled by the Department of Education." ~ The Telegraph, Nov 9

Couples who marry between the ages of 23 and 27 have the best chance of living happily together until death parts them, according to a study carried out for the National Fatherhood Initiative in the United States. It was based on a survey of 1503 Americans aged 18 and older between late 2003 and early 2004 and asked questions about attitude and aspirations towards marriage. University of Texas sociology professor Norval Glenn, who conducted the research, said that 98 per cent of those questioned were married, had been married or wanted to marry. "We are a very marrying country," he said. But the average age of (first) marriage is rising. Currently it 27 for men and 26 for women, compared to 23 and 21 in 1970. Those who married later "tended to be stable, but less happy", said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, who reviewed the study. ~ AFP/Yahoo News, Nov 17

Three-quarters of Britons think the UK should retain its Christian ethos, a suvey for BBC News 24 has found. Although only 17 per cent said they attend church regularly, 67 per cent described themselves as Christian. And support for Christian values also came from 69 per cent of Jews, almost half of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus and 44 per cent of those with no faith. The poll of 1,019 adults for News 24’s “Faith Day” on Monday also found that over a third of respondents were totally ignorant about Islam.

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