Kia ora: There was an interesting interview with Margaret Heffernan on Radio NZ, on Sunday Morning 16 March. Margaret discussed why competition can be the enemy of innovation and how competition may not always be the best way for us to win. These ideas are discussed in her book A Bigger Prize, Why competition isn’t everything and how we do better (2014) Margaret notes how competition regularly produces what we don’t want: rising levels of fraud; cheating, stress inequality, doping proliferating among athletes, and political stalemate. Winners seem to take all and the desire to win consumes everyone, inciting panic and despair. Competition often doesn’t work, the best do not always rise to the top and the so-called efficiency of competition creates a great deal of waste. Margaret asserts that around the world, individuals and organizations are finding creative, cooperative ways to work that don’t pit people against each other but support them in their desire to work together. I think these ideas are very good to explore. They meld very well with the writings of Guy Standing, who asserts we all have a vision, consciously or latently of ‘the Good Life.’ As social thinkers, we should encourage each other to contemplate what could be the Good Life in the future Good Society. Desirable options to be considered should be based on a reduction in the inequalities in the world. Expansion of these thoughts can be found in the Preface to Guy Standing’s 2009 book Work after Globalization. Reporting of growing inequality is increasing and in a recent report, Oxfam writes that Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling. Ben Phillips of Oxfam says ‘increasing inequality is a sign of economic failure rather than success.’
Monthly Meeting: Monday 24 March 2014
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
The 1918 Flu Pandemic
Ryan McLane studied the 1918 pandemic for his recently completed PhD thesis. This lethal influenza pandemic struck between October and December 1918. In two months New Zealand lost about half as many people to influenza as it had in the whole of the First World War. By the time it eased in December the death toll had topped 8600. Maori suffered heavily, with at least 2160 deaths.
But death did not occur evenly either among Maori or New Zealanders. Some communities were decimated while others escaped largely unscathed and death rates varied significantly between Pacific islands and between countries.
For his PhD research Ryan looked at the reasons for the different death rates and will give his perspective on this lethal influenza outbreak, New Zealand’s worst pandemic.
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 start time ***
the March meeting will begin at 8.00pm NOT 7.30pm
to enable attendance at the Pickering lecture at 6.30pm 24 March
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 bus routes 1 & 3.
Meetings this year will be on the 4th Monday of the month at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms, 4 Moncrieff Street.
*** Pickering Lecture: ‘To Mars and Beyond’ Dr Charles Elachi ***
Wellington: 6.30pm 24 March Shed 6 Queens Wharf
Christchurch: 6.30pm 25 March Aurora Centre Burnside High School 151 Greer Rd, Burnside
Hamilton: 6.30pm 26 March Hamilton Gardens Pavilion, Hungerford Crescent
Auckland: 6.30pm 27 March Dorothy Winstone Centre Auckland Girls Grammar School 16 Howe St, Newton
There is free entry and no registration for these lectures.
The Pickering public lecture series is hosted annually by IPENZ (Institute of Professional Engineers NZ) and aims to stimulate interest in engineering matters. The lectures are named in honour of Dr William Pickering (1910-2004), a Wellington-born engineer and scientist who was an eminent researcher in the United States space programme. This year Dr Charles Elachi from NASA will give a talk entitled ‘Exploring the Unknown- To Mars and Beyond. Dr Elachi, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recently led the recent mission to Mars with a rover called Curiosity.
Radio Access: Humanist Outlook, 783 kHz Wellington, was aired monthly at 10.30am on a Saturday. Due to rising costs it has been decided to discontinue Humanist Outlook. We intend to replace this programme with podcasts which will be linked to the Humanist website. We wish to thank Jeff Hunt, Joan McCracken and Kent Stevens who have fronted this programme for many years. Our final Humanist Outlook programme will air at 10.30am Saturday 29 March.
Past programmes are available as podcasts on www.accessradio.org.nz
Last Months Meeting At the last meeting Mark Fletcher showed fundamentalist video clips and analysed their interpretation of biblical prophecy showing how history is cherry-picked, simplified and even rewritten to make it fit a claimed prophecy. He illustrated how a confident fundamentalist speaker, who appears to have sophisticated biblical and historical knowledge was in reality quite deceptive, creating the impression of accurate prophesy when in reality their is none.
2013 Eileen Bone Scholarship Rebecca McHugh who was a House Leader and Prefect in 2013 at Naenae College received this award. The scholarship of $1000, will go towards the financial costs of studying at Victoria University. We thank the Humanist Charitable Trust for contributing this scholarship in memory of Eileen Bone, a valued past Humanist Society member and outstanding English teacher at Naenae College for many years.
Frank Dungey and the New Zealand Listener Did you notice in the February 8-14 issue NZ Listener in the Science page with Rebecca Priestly a question sent in by Humanist Society member Frank Dungey? Frank had noticed a simple relationship between faces, corners and edges of a number of geometrical shapes. Rebecca says ‘Great spotting Frank, however the formula has been known since the 1700’s.’ Congratulations Frank. If you still have this issue, read Frank’s question and the answer on page 48, and see if you can spot the errors on the page.
IHEU World Humanist Congress Oxford 2014 The Congress has now sold out, however the British Humanist Association are planning to expand the Congress and a waiting list has been set up.
The waiting list can be found here.
The Philippines and Typhoon Haiya To help the devastated Philippines donations may be made directly to PATAS, (Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society) at their website . PATAS is an Associate member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and recently hosted a regional International Humanist Youth Conference. Eleanor Middleton represented the Humanist Society of New Zealand at this conference.
Like us on Facebook Look us up on Facebook, add your views, see Humanist–Atheist–Secular items of interest. https://www.facebook.com/HumanistNZ
Visiting Nepal and meeting up with SOCH, Nepal’s Humanist Society
Iain and I never expected to visit Nepal for a second time. We had always remembered our first visit early in 1985 when we went to Nepal to do the Everest Trek. Our trek was amazing, and climbing Kala Pattar on Pumori, was spectacular. In 2011, Eleanor, our younger daughter decided to do volunteer work with ISPICE in Dharmasala Valley in Northern India and then visit Kathmandu for 10 days on her way back to NZ. Iain contacted Uttam Niraula from SOCH, Nepal’s Humanist Society, and asked him to meet Eleanor at Kathmandu airport and see her safely to her Hotel. Eleanor did a Kathmandu Valley walk, and then visited Chitwan National Park. She arrived in Kathmandu at the very time in January 2012 that SOCH purchased a school. This was the dream of several SOCH activists who want to enable Nepalese children to think freely without any preconceived notions. They want the school’s students to enjoy the process of discovery and to reflect upon the vast possibilities of being human.
In 2005 a long awaited secular state was established in Nepal, yet all national institutions had been created during the earlier Hindu regime. Even though now a secular state, Hinduism remains deeply entwined in Nepalese daily life. SOCH realised that a movement was needed to help people become aware of the importance of secularisation and the creation of a science based society. It is essential that scientific and rational thinking is encouraged from childhood. Because of the deep entwinement of Hinduism with daily Nepalese life SOCH did not want to establish an anti religious school. They desire a school where students are encouraged to think for themselves. Many of the parent’s of the school’s students have a religious background, and it is difficult to convince them of the need for free thought. It is challenging to work in a closed society using new ideas, but SOCH is very determined in their goal to help coming generations understand the need for free thought and a scientific attitude for Nepal’s future prosperity.
With Eleanor’s visit coinciding with the school purchase, a school visit was of great interest to Eleanor. In her travel blog Eleanor and Elephants, Eleanor writes about this visit. On her return to NZ, Eleanor was determined to return as the vision of SOCH was compelling.
Eleanor returned to Kathmandu in March 2013 for an initial 4 months, to volunteer with SOCH and Ambience International College as the SOCH school is called, but events transpired to convince her to stay for a further 8 months, until early March 2014. Iain and I found ourselves contemplating a second visit to Nepal, to see Eleanor, meet up with SOCH, and to do another trek in the Annapurna region. Preparations were made and Rochelle Forrester, another Humanist Society Council member decided to join us. Rochelle had also helped Eleanor with some sponsorship, to enable her longer stay in Kathmandu.
As our departure loomed, a message came from Eleanor requesting that we bring over some of her books as one of her classes were very eager to create a school library. Already they were bringing books from home towards this end. I love to buy books and with some support from the Humanist Council I purchased a suitcase full of books to take with us.
Once in Kathmandu, and after instruction from Eleanor we braved the Taxi system out to Old Baneshwar, the Kathmandu suburb where Ambience College is situated, about 15 minutes walk from SOCH headquarters. We attended Eleanor’s class where she discussed with the students how they would organise their library. It was a delight to witness the students’ eagerness with their library venture. More books were forthcoming from various sources and I purchased more from Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel. After we left Eleanor purchased some more to fill in gaps in subject material. While in Kathmandu we helped cover some of the books. Students helped complete this task. A corner in the school staff room has been set up as the library, with a dedicated bookshelf, colourful rug and library system for cataloguing and lending books being organised by the students, with Eleanor’s initial assistance. While helping out with the library venture we shared the lunch provided by the school for the students. Our favourite dish was rice pudding.
Another activity we were able to attend was a Science Open Day. Students were encouraged to set up their own science experiment, individually or as a group with their friends. Working towards this Open Day, had its difficulties but the Open Day afternoon was immensely successful.
Currently the school has 200 pupils ranging in age from 4 years to 18 years. There are 26 staff members, with the management team and advisors having a Humanist background. SOCH has established a fund to sponsor poor children to study at the school, as there are many without access to a good education. An illustration of the need, is a 9 year old boy offered sponsorship because he does not have a father and his mother earns only RS 3000/month. (approx NZ$36.00) while school tuition is Rs.2000/ month, (approx NZ$24.00) and it is not possible to pay this fee and their room rent. SOCH has plans to provide accommodation for very welcome international volunteers. Already the school has enjoyed help from volunteers from Australia, NZ, Scotland and The Netherlands.
We did do a four day trek in the Annapurna region with a fabulous guide Shiba Adhikari and followed this with a visit to Chitwan National Park, where we saw amazing animals and birds including a very large Nepalese Owl.
On our return to NZ we remember the warmth and welcome of SOCH.
After discussion with our Humanist Council we would very much like to continue an association with SOCH and their school. While visiting we noticed some badly needed school building maintenance. On request, a quote to do this work was provided, and the Humanist Council has decided to help with these repairs. Further, members of the Council have decided to share the cost of providing sponsorship for one student. We invite Humanist members, if you so wish to join us with providing some more sponsorship opportunities for Nepalese students. More details will be outlined in upcoming newsletters or you can email us at[email protected]
James H. English
Grinch or Greater Good
The War on the Humanist Image
As the holiday season got into full swing, the American Humanist Association (AHA) took some heat from the religious right for blocking a public school from participating in Operation Christmas Child, which distributes shoeboxes containing toys and religious tracts to kids overseas. Writing for the Christian Post, Janet Parshall not only accused the AHA of depriving poverty stricken children, but also of persecuting and attempting to silence religious groups with which it disagrees. She went on to paint atheists and humanists as angry and heartless—a dishonest characterization at best, but the go-to portrayal for those of us who have left the bondage of superstition behind. While Parshall’s claims were incorrect, she did make one good point: What are we humanists offering in opposition to those who would further superstition?
First, it’s important to clarify that any public school participating in Operation Christmas Child is running afoul of the U.S. Constitution. Run by Samaritan’s Purse, the program has two stated goals, the first of which is to gain converts to a particular form of Christianity, the second being to help the needy. So, while they are helping the disadvantaged, they’re doing so with an implied caveat: to receive these gifts, you must convert as a show of gratitude. It’s no surprise that they target the most vulnerable—destitute children in foreign countries. (I contacted the ministry and confirmed that their effort is concentrated almost exclusively overseas, with less than 1 percent of the boxes distributed within U.S. borders, in First Nations Reservations).
Though Parshall was correct in pointing out that students aren’t placing religious materials in the shoeboxes, Samaritan’s Purse does so prior to delivering the gifts as part of an active evangelical ministry effort. A public school’s participation in this program, then, is a de facto endorsement of a particular sect of the Christian faith and a First Amendment violation. By stopping public schools from participating, AHA is not preventing Christians from doing so as individuals, nor is it persecuting those of the Christian faith; AHA is safeguarding religious freedoms for all by ensuring a governmental institution is not endorsing a particular religious doctrine.
Parshall’s article went on to perpetuate the illusion that humanists and freethinkers are seeking to eliminate the Christmas holiday. This is untrue, but we ourselves are laying the groundwork for the perpetuation of this modern day myth; the AHA and other groups are stopping First Amendment violations, but we’re failing on another level altogether: providing alternatives.
We must understand that individuals assembling shoe-boxes full of goods for children in need are not so much motivated by the goals of the distributing organization— meaning they may not be thinking about winning converts—as they are motivated by a compassionate desire to help those who are suffering. This good intention is present even if others seek to exploit it to further superstition. We humanists must show an equal desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to demonstrate how our mutual goals can be met without adding conditions to kindness.
The AHA sent letters to two public schools informing them that their affiliation with Operation Christmas Child violated the Establishment Clause, and they did so on behalf of parents whose children attend those schools. In at least one case, before seeking legal representation with the AHA, parents first asked the school to consider doing a toy drive with Toys for Tots, a secular charity, but the request was ignored. Perhaps in the future, groups like the AHA should offer more alternatives to religiously affiliated charities. International Humanity Foundation, Children International, Doctors without Borders, Plan UK, and Save the Children all spring to mind. None of these groups have hidden agendas, and although I’m not a lawyer, it seems difficult to imagine that schools donating to these groups would find themselves in constitutional hot water.
John Cole, The (Scranton, Pa.) Times-Tribune
Here, the AHA and like groups have a fantastic opportunity to introduce and facilitate partnerships with nonreligious charities. We go from taking something away to providing a better alternative that satisfies the compassionate desire to help. After all, the essence of humanism is compassion. This, above all other things, should guide our decisions, our actions, and our responses. EH.
James H. English is a published author with a wide professional background and currently resides in northern New Jersey.
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The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a non-profit society dedicated to Humanist thought and ideals in New Zealand.
The Society supports: ethics giving the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others; the constructive use of rational thought and scientific enquiry; democracy and human rights; personal liberty combined with social responsibility; a secular world based on observation, evaluation, and revision, rather than any fixed dogma; the fulfilment of human potential through the visual and performing arts, music, and literature; and Humanism as a life stance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through ethical and creative living available to everyone everywhere.