Kia ora: It is stormy today, here in Wellington. After the storm several weeks ago, many Wellingtonians had a new appreciation of how life has been for the people of Christchurch. Except, in Christchurch the difficulties carry on. Once the storm abated here life returned to normal, except for those who experienced the disastrous effects of the weather on both land and housing.
There was an interesting report recently about the increase of hurricanes over the Atlantic. New research from the Met Office has raised the possibility that man-made aerosols, a form of industrial air pollution, may have impacted upon the number of Atlantic hurricanes. This research, published in Nature Geoscience, suggests that aerosols may have suppressed the number of Atlantic hurricanes through the 20th century and even controlled the decadal changes in their numbers. The effects of .aerosols make conditions less favourable for hurricanes. .Dr Nick Dunstone, a Met Office climate prediction scientist and lead author of the research, said: “Industrial emissions from America and Europe over the 20th Century have cooled the North Atlantic relative to other regions of the ocean. Our research suggests that this alters tropical atmosphere circulation – making it less likely that hurricanes will form.” He added: “Since the introduction of the clean air-acts in the 1980s, concentrations of aeroso.
Monthly Meeting: Monday 22 July
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
TED is a non-profit organisation devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. It began in 1984 and the website www.TED.com was launched in 2007. Their mission is to spread ideas, as ideas have the power to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. TED.com offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers. They also hold annual conferences, a recent one TEDGlobal 2013 was held in June in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Three talks have been selected for the evenings presentation.
Alan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change (18 mins)
Desertification is a word for land that is turning to desert. It’s a process that happens if we leave ground bare, allowing water to evaporate. Even heavy rainfalls will quickly vanish. This process is huge, affecting about two-thirds of the world’s land, because the fate of water and carbon are tied to soil and organic matter. When soils are damaged, they give off carbon. In the 1950’s, Savory helped to set aside large areas of Africa for national parks. As soon as they removed the people, to protect the animals, the land deteriorated. His theory, backed up by data, was that it was because there were too many elephants. So they shot 40,000 elephants. But the deterioration only got worse.
Alan Savory was recently interviewed by Kim Hill.
Peter Singer: The why and how of effective altruism (18mins)
If you’re lucky enough to live without want, it’s a natural impulse to be altruistic to others. But, asks philosopher Peter Singer, what’s the most effective way to give? He talks through some surprising thought experiments to help you balance emotion and practicality. Peter Singer is an Australian moral philosopher. And finally to make us laugh.
Robin Ince: Science versus wonder? Does science ruin the magic of life? (9mins)
In this grumpy but charming monologue, Robin Ince makes the argument against. The more we learn about the astonishing behaviour of the universe — the more we stand in awe.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend..
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm *** Please note the day and venue ***
Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff Street, Wellington.
Moncrieff Street is off Elizabeth Street, which is off Kent Terrace, Wellington – a short distance from Courtney Place on trolley bus routes 1 & 3.
Meetings for 2013 will be held on the 4th Monday of the month at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms, 4 Moncrieff Street.
Radio Access: Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 20 July, 17 August, 14 Sep, 12 Oct and 9 November.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.
International Humanist and Ethical Youth organisation (IHEYO) Asia Humanist Conference, Cebu, Philippines 21-23 June:
“Beyond Barriers: Humanist Approach in Combating Injustice against the Disadvantaged and Marginalized Youth in Asia.”
This conference tackled human rights issues affecting our society today and humanist approaches to alleviating appalling conditions of humanity especially those of marginalized and disadvantage youth in Asia. Eleanor Middleton attended the conference with Uttam Niraula from SOCH Nepal. On 21 June, World Humanist Day, the participants celebrated their diversity with a cultural evening. Eleanor, representing New Zealand, sang Pokarikariana. Eleanor has written a report for the IHEYO newsletter which we will reprint at a later date. A short comment via Facebook communication was:
What I liked most, was that what they really focused on in the conference – that humanism shouldn’t be about arguing the existence of god, but rather about helping humanity as a whole.
St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington: Sir Lloyd Geering’s lunchtime lecture series:
From the Big Bang to God: The Evolution of Human Thought”, July 9, 16, 23 & 30 from 12.15pm
We humans live in two worlds: 1 The physical universe (whose evolution from the big bang to the arrival of homo sapiens was covered in the last series entitled Evolution: The Real Genesis) and 2 The world of human thought (which humans have constructed in the last 50,000 years). It is through the lens of this latter world we view, that we come to understand, and make our response to the physical universe of which we are a part. This series sketches the evolution of this second world from the invention of language to the ‘death of God’ and the new responsibilities we now find ourselves facing.
‘Separation of Church and State” Wellington, New Zealand 13 July 2013:
This was an informative and stimulating afternoon. The separation of Church and State is an important issue being debated around the world. Recently, in Ireland, Elida Radig of the Australian Progressive Atheists spoke about separation of church and state at Atheist Ireland’s international conference on Empowering Women Through Secularism, Dublin 29-30 June 2013. Elida’s talk is available on Youtube: “Elida Radig on separation of church and state” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPhbs_q4Kk8. Below are short summaries covering each presentation. They are not intended to be comprehensive, just a short indication of some of the speakers’ thoughts. It is intended to produce a book, to be published in 2014, that will include chapters by the contributors to the conference with additional material from other contributors.
Dr Meg Wallace, former lecturer in law, University of Canberra:
‘How do we ensure freedom of belief in a NZ Constitution’, Meg asked. “Should we have state-belief separation in a New Zealand constitution?” Meg’s emphatic reply is Yes! Secularism may be divided into three categories: religious secularism dealing with the worldly aspects of managing their institutions and charitable works, philosophical secularism, a world view and ethical code and political secularism which is impartial to the dictates of religious or other beliefs by the state in the exercise of its political power. A government will not insist that a person must subscribe to and observe the religion or beliefs of others. Neither should a government favour those who hold or promote any religion or belief, nor unjustifiably disadvantage or oppress those who hold or promote any religion or belief. As an individual, a person may follow personal values and beliefs within their family, religious or other social groups. As a citizen, a person must act towards others of different creeds according to values that all citizens can endorse. All citizens must recognise the laws of the land and have restraint where the practice of their creed impinges on the rights of others. Meg discussed the Draft Constitution of Fiji, where the above criteria have been incorporated into the Constitution document and asked “If Fiji can achieve this, why not NZ and Australia?”
Dr Caroline Sawyer, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Victoria University: ‘Lessons from the UK’:
The “establishment” of the Church in England gives the Anglican bishops a direct constitutional role, and so a link is maintained between the Church and the New Zealand state of which the Queen is the formal Head. When Henry VIII broke with Rome it may not have just been because of his marriage dilemma with Anne Boleyn but perhaps for financial reasons – Henry VIII’s treasury was almost empty and the monasteries were very wealthy. The Thirty Nine Articles of the Anglican Church may have their origin in money and power. Today, in England the demand for disestablishment, or separation between church and state, is characterised by widespread indifference. Recently the monarchy is suggesting that its role is to support all faiths, although it is unclear how this will work in practice. When the Archbishop of Canterbury attempted a public explanation it was widely reported as an endorsement of the establishment of sharia law. The historical background of church-state relations is very broad so Dr Sawyer chose to look at the development of one aspect of everyday life – the marriage and divorce laws. Caroline discussed how the past establishment of Church governance has shaped the state law in both England and New Zealand. Legal principals of marriage are religiously based, rather than based on cultural understanding and practices.
Gay Morgan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Waikato. ‘Lessons from the USA’:
Gay gave us a brief overview of how religious tolerance developed over the centuries in Europe. To end the dissension and warfare after the Reformation it was decided to let the Prince of the region decide the religion. Those not of the desired faith were to move to another region where their faith was allowed. Gay suggested that this was ethnic cleansing in another guise. However, this did not work well and so tolerance of other creeds slowly developed. A similar pattern occurred in the early American colonies. Many colonies became identified with a particular Church creed. This was resolved with the Religious Freedom Bill of 1779. However, over the following three centuries interpretation of the US Federal Constitution’s 1st Amendment rules pertaining to religion and the separation between church and State, have evolved to some very unforeseen and unintended consequences. An example has been a controversy arising over teaching traditional PE and Yoga, even though the ancient Yogic terms had been renamed. Difficulties have also arisen in differentiating between cultural traditions and religion, and in determining ‘what are ‘religion’ and ‘church?’
Dave Armstrong, playwright and Dominion Post columnist:
Dave joined the three speakers for a panel discussion Dave writes frequently about education, religion and secularism. He recently wrote about the vexed issue of karakia in state schools. “But what about karakia like the one that students at a West Auckland primary school are made to recite? It asks the “Lord” to “look after us, guide us with your work today, in your holy name”. Whatever language it is in, it sounds like Christian propaganda. But the trouble in this country is that if you disagree with some aspect of Maori cultural practice, you often find yourself with some rather unsavoury redneck bedfellows. They see Maori culture as inferior and, to quote a comment on a Right-wing blog, full of “stone age mythology and primitivism”. Yet many Pakeha who object to karakia in schools have no problem with the parliamentary prayer, our “God-chosen” monarch, our national anthem, English prayers recited at assemblies of high-decile state schools, and other forms of state-sponsored hocus-pocus. Yet the minute the prayers are in Maori there is hell to pay.” Dave suggested to us that as New Zealanders we are complacent, we don’t care about this issue very much. We don’t like to cause a fuss. In fact we are rather like sleepy hobbits. Reflection on world history has shown that religion develops out of poverty. As long as we have problems in our society we will have religion.
Ngaire McCarthy, a past president of the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanist
Ngaire also joined the panel Ngaire was a passionate speaker, speaking about her ancient Maori culture that has been colonised in many different ways, forcibly by the early British and then coercively by new laws, politics, capitalism, guns, the bible, and benevolently by marriage. Christians took words from the Maori language and twisted them to suit their own beliefs. For example, wairua does not mean spirituality. Literally translated it means ‘two waters’-life threatening & life giving, calming & violent, peaceful & powerful. Water is the life force of the whenua sustaining us all. Karakia does not mean ‘to pray’; it is a chant to ensure a favourable outcome to any occasion. Ngaire feels that there is a firm line between culture and religion. Culture is the evolution of a people and its land – their traditions, philosophies, values, ethics, food, music, language, art, and mythology. Religion is the belief in and worship of an invisible and non-speaking entity. Ngaire is of the strong opinion that that there must be no room in NZ Public Schools for the spreading of religious propaganda. State Public Schools must adhere to the NZ Government core educational curriculum. It is time, Ngaire thinks, that the constitution is updated to include a clear separation of church and state so that the two act as independent organisations.
Dr Bryce Edwards, Department of Politics, Otago University
Bryce had some closing observations and suggestions to advance the cause of Church State separation. Bryce suggested that a Member of Parliament be approached to put forward a Bill advocating Separation. However this could be too great a step. It could be more achievable to progressively remove religious clauses from individual statutes. Blasphemy could be removed from the Crimes Act. Tax Exemptions for religions could be removed from the Charities Act. The Education Act could remove the Nelson Clause. Perhaps the Education Act could be an important Act to concentrate on first. In NZ there is not a strong correlation between voting and religion. Christian Parties that have entered politics have not done well at the polls. It appears that there is a strong stance against religion in politics in New Zealand. Religion is regarded as being for the private sphere rather than the public sphere. In the US it is regarded as necessary for a president to profess a Christian faith, but in New Zealand we allow our public figures to declare that they are agnostic – but it is not yet popular to be an atheist. Dr Edwards observed, as had Dave Armstrong, that we are ‘a passionless people’, we don’t seem to really care very much. It is this attitude that may be the biggest hindrance to achieving the separation of Church and State.
Make a Submission Humanists support Church State separation. To make a submission on church state separation to the Constitutional Advisor Panel go to: http://www.ourconstitution.org.nz/How-to-make-a-Submission . Submissions are due by 5pm 31 July 2013.
Last months meeting:
Perceptions and beliefs about Endangered Species presented by Dr Pamela Mace
Pamela started the meeting by asking the question, Is Humanism only about Humans? Or, do humanists care about other species, particularly endangered ones?
The illegal international wildlife trade for pelts, other body parts, exotic pets, medicine or for collections is estimated to be more than US$40 billion per year. It is second only to the illegal narcotics trade. The value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries alone has been estimated as between USD $10-23 billion per year (MRAG & FERR, 2008) The value of the illegal international timber trade has been estimated at USD $7 billion per year. Illegal wildlife trade, excluding timber and fisheries is estimated to have a value of USD $7.8-10 billion per year (GFI, 2011) In 2009.
It was horrifying to see the following figures: 30,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa in 2012. Rhino poaching has increased by 5,000% in the last 5 years in South Africa. Over 5,400 endangered Asian big cats have been killed for trade since 2000. 30% of all timber traded globally comes from illegal sources. A dreadful statistic is that in the last 10 years, more than 1,000 park rangers have been killed in the line of duty.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES was formed in 1975, primarily in response to the plight of elephants and large cats, and there are now 178 members, most of the recognised nations of the world. The CITES list of endangered species now includes 5,000 species of animals and 29,000 species of plants.
The wild African populations of elephants are estimated to have been reduced from approximately 26 million in 1800 to about 470,000 today. China today has the largest ivory market, much of it carved from poached African elephant tusks. Pamela had a slide showing crucifixes carved from ivory. Since 1970, the world rhino population has declined by 90 percent, with five species remaining in the world today, all of which are endangered. Rhino poaching has hit a 15-year high which is exacerbated by increasingly sophisticated poachers who now use veterinary drugs, poison, cross-bows, helicopters and high-calibre weapons to kill rhinos. People in Vietnam will pay up to $300,000 USD per rhino horn (about $100,000 per kg). Why? Because an unfounded rumour swept Vietnam in the mid-2000s that imbibing rhino horn powder had cured a Vietnamese politician’s cancer. Shockingly the last wild rhino in Vietnam was killed in 2010. In South Africa, trophy hunting has been promoted as a means of getting local populations involved in conservation and so help with poverty alleviation, but this has been overtaken by organised criminal rings. The use of Rhino horn elixirs for fevers and liver problems were first prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine more than 1,800 years ago, by the early 1990s demand was limited and today Rhino horn has nothing to do with traditional Chinese medicine and is not described as a treatment for cancer in Chinese medical texts. Data from M. Knight indicates that from 1990 to 2007 very few Rhino were killed, but from 2007 till 2012 the rate has risen sharply to more than one Rhino being killed a day.
Tigers are extremely threatened with estimated numbers in the wild about 3,200. There are as few as 20 in China. The largest population of tigers, about 1,400, is in India, but this is half the number of tigers that were there a decade ago. In the early 20th century there were more than 100,000 tigers. This vast decline is a result of shrinking habitat; and demands from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): “Tiger bone combined with other traditional medicinal herbs has the effect of nurturing the Yang, strengthening the bone and curing rheumatism. Its aphrodisiac qualities create wonders.” Tiger pelts, a status symbol will sell for $20,000 and paws sell for $1,000. International and domestic trade in tiger bone is banned in China, but the ban is not enforced. China has many tiger farm, however, animals are often kept in poor conditions. The Wildlife Protection Society of India has said that: “All demand for tiger parts is coming from China. Unless the Chinese change their attitude, the tiger has no future on this earth.” The Year of the Tiger also greatly increases the demand for Tigers. Asian bears suffer dreadfully. The wild population in China is between 16,000 and 50,000; but may be as low as 25,000 for all of Asia.
There are more than 12,000 bears suffering cruel conditions in Asia’s bear farms mainly in China and Vietnam. They are held in cages smaller than a telephone booth, where they are unable to stand, or sometimes even to turn around. Iron bars prevent them from hibernating as firm ground is needed. They are confined so that bile can be extracted from their gall bladders and used in TCM. A tube is connected to the gall bladder, causing an abdominal wound that is opened up to 3 times a day to stop the tube from closing up. Infection and muscle atrophy is common Bear bile is said to treat a wide range of ailments, from fevers to heart disease; but many modern alternatives are available. To be continued in August newsletter.
This year our monthly meetings will be on the fourth Monday of the month. Mark your diaries now so that you do not miss a meeting.
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Last months meeting John Hutcheson gave us a talk entitled, “We’re all in this together – Uniting Secular New Zealand”. Referring to the old trope about herding cats, he pointed out that lions know how to cooperate when they hunt. Diverse as we are, humanists, atheists, theists, sceptics, rationalists, and others can and should cooperate when working together for a common purpose. In March 2012, 30,000 secular people from dozens of different secular groups descended on Washington to remind congress that secularism is valued in America. He spoke of a vision, a cohesive but diverse secular movement; the challenges, the obstacles ahead and why we must do this; and then outlined how it might be achieved. He pointed out that the Religious Right in America had combined to create a large and well funded force for “Theocratic Fascism”, or theofascism. He suggested that a wide secular movement needs to both accept differences while setting aside some issues to keep sight of larger causes. Occasional spats, he said, were both natural and healthy, pointing out that we are not Borgs, or a least not all of us are Borgs. Featured in the Star Trek TV series, the Borgs were a fictional race of cybernetically enhanced humanoids with linked minds and no independent thought who worked together like a hive of bees for a common purpose such as the forcible assimilation of other sentient species.
Referring to the recent visit of Sean Faircloth, John saw Sean’s goal as two fold: to unite the secular movement nationally in the countries he visited, and internationally – New Zealand and America face similar problems, sometimes from the same people. Working together across borders we can influence, or perhaps shame governments into better behaviour. At one level Sean’s visit is a plea for international help against theofascism in America. It cannot be ignored, for the same reason a broken sewer line cannot be ignored. Working together across borders we can influence, or perhaps shame governments into better behaviour. Bringing groups together can create a movement to counter the encroachment of religious imprimaturs in law and culture, create a larger political force, raise the public profile of issues and the movement, and represent the interests of over a million kiwis.
He saw the issues for New Zealand as Religion on Secular Schools, Religion in Politics, abuse, and the low profile of the secular movement. John outlined problems with charter schools overseas, and some of the distorted reasoning given to justify the teaching of creationism in schools before showing a video about the Good News Club, that outlined how religions movements were infiltrating schools in America. He pointed to similar action in New Zealand and how religion was influencing New Zealand politics. The Good News Club, is operating in NZ.
To counter the influence of the religious, he suggested action that secular people could take, such as advocacy, protests, outreach projects, welfare activities, billboards, guerrilla marketing, the internet, and just talking to lots of people. He suggested supporting reproductive rights, involvement with schools to combat church groups critical of teaching evolution as fact, and support for victims of abuse by Catholic priests. Activism, he suggested, has moved on line – there is now a new generation of tech savvy people eager for information, jokes, memes, and humour. Google is a friend, with a little searching you can find rebuttals to propaganda – most nonsense can be debunked in ten minutes. Wikipedia, while not perfect, is a great place to start. Mock their beliefs because it works, and because some of their beliefs are dangerous. By working together, both locally and nationally, he concluded, we can provide significant and perhaps overwhelming opposition to religious imprimaturs in New Zealand law, and internationally in conjunction with overseas groups.
2013 Dates This year our monthly meetings will be on the fourth Monday of the month. Please mark your diaries now.