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May 6 - May 8, 2002



Wednesday 8th May, 2002


No-One’s Long-Term Interest

Thomas Friedman is in Indonesia:


America needs to be aware of how its war on terrorism is read in other countries, especially those in transition. Indonesia is the world's biggest Muslim country. Its greatest contribution to us would be to show the Arab Muslim states that it is possible to develop a successful Muslim democracy, with a modern economy and a moderate religious outlook. Setting that example is a lot more in America's long-term interest than arresting a few stray Qaeda fighters in the jungles of Borneo.

A few stray al Qaeda fighters? In Borneo?


The Indonesian government has confirmed that the militant Islamic group Laskar Jihad has links with al Qaeda. Laskar Jihad has sent thousands of armed fighters to attack Christians in Sulawesi and Maluku. (No word of them in Borneo.)


Friedman’s point is that the corrupt Indonesian military and security services are itching to be given more powers, but that this is not in Indonesia’s own interests. And certainly when you recall the terror campaign the Indonesian military waged in East Timor, over many years, you have to agree.


Yet it is also crucial that Indonesia not become the next Lebanon, which is what could happen if Laskar Jihad and its allies are not repulsed.


Defeating Islamic terror is going to be no picnic. It could be lengthy and bloody. Great tact and skill are vital, based on a realistic assessment of the predicament. Dismissing the problem as “a few stray Qaeda fighters in the jungles of Borneo” is in no-one’s long-term interest.


-posted 2.10pm



Cranky Professor

Professor Michael Tinkler of Hobart & William Smith Colleges in New York is cranky, and he tells you all about it in his new blog.


His interests are wide-ranging. In an email to me he writes of his concerns about a friend who practises Tibetan Buddhism but who doesn’t seem to know much about it.


Somehow what seems like an 'oh, simple and quiet form of meditation' turns out, like so many 'other' religions, to have a huge burden of history that its Western converts either don't learn until they're into the whole mess or don't seem to want to know about.  It would be like becoming a Christian because you like the practice of prayer and drinking coffee with the community after church but aren't really interested in those Gospel-things and are offended when someone asks you 'why are there four of them and how can their accounts be reconciled?'


I touched on this theme in my book Living Water to Light the Journey (which I’m struggling to get up on this website; I’ve been pre-occupied with my Christian bloglist).


I wrote:


The spiritual and mystical traditions of Christianity have become an important part of my life. Yet I also see dangers in veering too far towards this side of religion—in putting all the emphasis on the experiential.


That is what worries me about idealistic young Australians who seek out an adviser for instruction in Eastern and New Age spiritualities. Too often they operate in “pick ‘n’ mix” fashion, moving from one fashionable, articulate guru to the next, absorbing a bit of Oriental philosophy and timeless wisdom and achieving some transcendental-like experiences. They feel they are on a voyage, journeying closer to the divine. Often it is little more than a pilgrimage deeper into their own egos.


In Japan, the country of the East that I know best, a person engaged in a spiritual journey will normally become attached to a teacher, and that teacher will be attached to a hierarchy of other teachers, some of whom will have many decades of experience. These teachers will be revered and respected, and they will put enormous stress on hard work and discipline, some of it intensely unpleasant. Dedicated study of traditional scripture will be required, and the teachers will also be likely to emphasise continuing humility, duty and service. There will probably be a strong ethical overlay.


Unfortunately, too often the Australian Oriental experience is designed to give people a quick fix, to make them feel better about themselves. And though there is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with feeling better about yourself, especially if you have problems, the point is that it is a short-term fix only. When big difficulties crop up in your life you may find that you have nothing solid supporting you. For me, it is the support of God that has proven to be one of the major differences between my past Buddhist experiences and my present life as a Christian.


-posted 1:10pm



ABC – Going to the Dogs

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is working hard to beat up tonight’s scheduled “Foreign Correspondent” programme on Korea’s dog meat trade. It has turned it into a news item, and it has made it the lead story on “Foreign Correspondent”. This morning’s Herald Sun warns: “Watch for horrifying footage of a dog being tortured to death. Some believe the fear creates hormones which improve taste.”


My wife is Korean. She’s had dog meat about once in her life (and hated it). It’s hardly mainstream. She says people eat it because they believe it boosts energy. Her theory is that the meat has such a rich taste that it must be cooked with numerous vegetables, spices and herbs to make it edible, and it is these that boost the energy, not the meat itself.


Why doesn’t the ABC investigate the massive infrastructure that undergirds the pet industry in Australia and other Western countries? In a world where millions of people are sick and starving, pharmaceutical companies sink enormous resources into the continual development of new, improved pet-care products.


Here in Melbourne we live in a well-off suburb, with vet clinics all around. It’s a huge industry. Our own vet moved just last month to lavish new premises. It cost us $168 six weeks ago when we took our golden retriever to him for her annual check-up, injection and flea treatment. Our oldest boy loves animals and would like to become a vet, but it’s as hard to get into a vet’s course at university as to enter medical school, so lucrative is this business.


Friends own a lovely sheltie which caught a virus earlier this year and became seriously ill. It was rushed to a clinic and placed on a drip for 10 days before recovering. The bill was $1,200. These people are good Christians who strive to raise their kids to be sacrificial in working to help the suffering of the world. But what do you do when the clinic phones every day and asks for instructions on whether to keep the dog on the drip and your daughter is so sick with worry that the dog might die that she can hardly eat or go to school? My friends are probably still in conflict.


Growing up in Korea, my wife always had a dog as a pet. But if it got sick the expectation was that it would probably die. You didn’t take it to the vet. Sometimes my wife would come home from school and find that her dog had disappeared. It was sick, and her father had somehow disposed of it. She’d cry for a few days, and then get another dog. That was life.


But strange Asian eating habits are always good for a laugh and a bit of shock-horror in the Western media. When I was a freelance journalist in Tokyo I always knew that I could sell a report on the (very few) restaurants that sold grilled snake and raw horsemeat and turtle blood and simmered grasshoppers and barbecued sparrows. I stopped writing the stories because I felt that newspapers just published them in order to poke fun at the Japanese, and I didn’t want to be part of that. These restaurants were not at all part of mainstream Japanese life. Most Japanese have never eaten those dishes.


The average Australian knows next to nothing about life in South Korea (one of our biggest trading partners). The ABC would serve its viewers better if it devoted its resources to stories that helped us towards a better understanding of the country.


-posted 11:30am



Tuesday 7th May, 2002


Downward, But Not All That Downward

A quarter of Australian church-goers believe the Bible is the word of God and is to be taken literally. The Sydney Morning Herald seems surprised the proportion is so high. But what on earth do the rest believe?


The National Church Life Survey questioned 435,000 church-goers one Sunday last year, and found a mixture of modest gloom mixed in with some, well, modest joy. One of the researchers gallantly tried to express the mood:


I'm not sure that overall it's all that encouraging ... but the downward trend is not as downward as I was expecting….There are some positive notes, so you could say the church is evolving ... we're just not sure exactly what it's evolving to.


-posted 12:30pm



Fruit-Loving Toddlers

A reader in Atlanta wishes to put in a plug for the Melbourne journal AD2000, which he considers to be “a global flagship among Catholic journals in English”.




Point taken.


Unfortunately, he then continues:


Oh, and one more thing. Mr. Roth, on behalf of: a) all truly sport-loving Americans, and b) all American parents of fruit-loving toddlers, I wish to thank your country for: a) the Australian Football League and b) Bananas In Pyjamas.


I have lived in Melbourne (the heart of Aussie Rules football) for nine years, and have yet to watch a complete match, so yawn-inducing is this travesty of real football.


Bananas in Pyjamas were last seen planning the forthcoming allied bombing campaign of Iraq.


-posted 11:20am



Banned in Melbourne

The Age, Melbourne’s “quality” broadsheet, has refused to publish a cartoon by Michael Leunig, one of its regular cartoonists, apparently deeming it anti-Jewish. The cartoon is here, and a commentary from last night’s Media Watch TV programme is here.


-posted 9:30am



Why Pim Fortuyn (Probably) Wouldn’t Be Assassinated in Australia

The Australian right seems incapable of producing a figure with the passion of Jean-Marie Le Pen. The best we can manage is the rambling racist drivel of failed politician Pauline Hanson. Our left might be good at posturing, but we’ve never thrown up the fiery criminality of the Baader-Meinhof gang or the Red Brigades or the Weather Underground. No Pim Fortuyn-style assassinations, either (we pray).


Gerard Henderson explains:


If you are looking for ideology in a democratic society, give Australia a miss….Certainly Australia is not without serious debate on matters political, economic and social. It's just that the level of intensity seems less than in comparable nations in Western Europe and North America….Australia's success in the 20th century has been due primarily to the fact that this is a practical society. This explains why, whenever attempted, economic and social change (including immigration) has been achieved with relative success. This non-ideological ethos has also led to a situation where Australia has experienced very little crime motivated by political, religious or ethnic belief. Think Australia; observe empiricism - with only occasional exceptions.


It’s the same with religion. My wife and I often bemoan the weakness of Sunday worship in this country—the lack of passion or real joy, the utterly sensible approach to it all. And then we look at countries where people do get passionate about their religion—Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East—and we have to think that Australia really is the Lucky Country.


-posted 9:10am



Monday 6th May, 2002


Melbourne Anglicans Reply

Roland Ashby, Director of Communications of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, has sent the following email in response to my article concerning Anglican Media Melbourne.


I apologise if our website has created the impression that we are biased in favour of the Palestinians. If such an impression has been created it has certainly not been intentional. It is true that our reporting has been influenced by reports and appeals from the Anglican Bishop in Palestine concerning the current situation. Archbishop Watson's statement was also made in direct response to this. However, the Archbishop made it very clear in a comment to The Melbourne Anglican that he is equally concerned about violence perpetrated by the Palestinians. "Suicide bombing is a terrible development in the history of war. I am appalled by all forms of terrorism and violence perpetrated by any group of people," he is quoted as saying in the lead article in this month's issue of The Melbourne Anglican. This article is also on the website under The Melbourne Anglican. We have traditionally been even-handed on the Middle East issue. Please refer to the article, also on the website under The Melbourne Anglican, August 2001, "Christians should not take sides in the Middle East."


-posted 1:45pm



Anglican Hall of Fame

I worship at an Anglican church, and I’m not anti-Anglican, despite the article I posted two days ago on Anglican Media Melbourne. Christopher Johnson at Midwest Conservative Journal isn’t anti-Anglican either, despite some concerns. He has launched the Anglican Hall of Fame, and invites nominations.



Upstart Bloggers

John Leo writes about blogging in US News and World Report.


The first commandment of blogdom is that anyone can become a pundit. Nobody is in charge. Bloggers can say anything they want and get their message out with blinding speed. This is unsettling to us lumbering print guys. Six or seven times I had to abandon a column because some upstart blogger beat me to it.


He mentions the phenomenon of Christian blogging, and cites this site. Thank you.


-posted 12:55pm