Wednesday, February 28, 2007

House of Lords Reform 2

Good article by Jonathan Freedland in today's Guardian.

Freedland highlights the absurdity of the British political establishment's claim of promoting democracy around the world, when it doesn't have the will to make its own legislature completely democratically elected.

It is in itself quite telling that the Commons can even debate whether the Lords should be elected by universal suffrage or appointed by the Prime Ministers. The House of Lords is a real political chamber with real political power, although subservient to the Commons by convention and the Parliament Act 1911 (which gives the Commons the power to enact into law any bill rejected by the Lords, provided a year has passed between the second and third reading of the bill in the Commons).

The House of Lords has the power to intiate and enact legislation, scrutinises bills, have members on important comittees and supplies members to the executive.

As Freedland points out, arguments against an elected upper house is in reality "an argument against democracy itself."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rugby Shirts 2.

Yesterday was a remarkable day in the 6-Nations Rugby tournament. No, I'm not referring to England's 'Historic' loss in Ireland, or the overdue removal of Irish nationalist bigotry in banning 'alien' sports from Croke Park. I referring to Italy's first ever away win.

The 37-17 win over Scotland was deserved for two reasons: 1) they played better than Scotland, and 2) their outfits were far superior than Scotland's.

Scotland used to have the coolest Rugby shirt of all rugby nations: dark blue with white collars. I have two Scotland replica shirts (and not just because why wife is partially Scottish and she thinks I look good in dark blue). However, what they played in yesterday is beyond ugly.

Before someone tries to tell me that changing and ugly uniforms are an integral part of professional sports and that I should just accept it, No, it isen't! In US sports, uniform design is conservative and without advertisements. The New York Yankees uniform, for example, hasen't changed significantly since the 1930's.

Whats up in Rugby? Is it just that Americans have taste and Europeans are slaves of the fashion industry? Rugby (and Football) needs to get its act together!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Israel, Apartheid and the Occupied Territories.

Although a UN report is unlikely to convince any supporters of Israels policies in Gaza and the West Bank, since many see the UN as anti-Israel, its likening of Israel's policy to apartheid should, however, be taken serious, considering the background of the author.

According to the this Guardian article South African Law Professor John Duggard, in a report for the UN Human Rights Council, states "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." Duggard's opinion is apparently based on policies such as "closed zones, demolitions and preference given to settlers on roads, with building rights and by the army."

As South African lawyer Duggard should be in a position to make such a statement. I can only welcome such a report as I have previously defended Jimmy Carters use of the word apartheid (which after all simply means "separateness")to the describe the situation in Palestine

Whether or not Israels policies are justified, taking into account all the circumstances, is another question. To deny its similarities with apartheid is, however, in my opinion dishonest.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

House of Lords Reform.

Can someone explain to me why British politicians (and British population) are so much against a democratically elected upper house?

Yes, I know the argument that the function of the Lords is to review and scrutinise legislation. However, unless the British public rejects democracy, this function is surely best performed by a fully elected chamber

My solution is simple and democratic: Proportional representation in a fully elected House of Lords would create a perfect balance to the unrepresentative House of Commons, which is elected by the first-past-the-post system.

In this way the executive would still be able to control the most important lower house, while at the same time be subject to scrutiny of an upper house where no party would have overall majority.

Of course the downside would be that probably more people would vote.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The time when kings go off to war.

This short report in today's Guardian, reminds me of 2. Samuel 11.

The Guardian writes that George Bush is sending 3.200 extra US troops to Afghanistan for a spring offensive there. This is very similar to 2. Samuel 11:1 where it says: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army." (NIV)

I'm not saying that the troop escalation does not make military sense or that the solders are sent out, like Uriah, to die. Neither am I hinting that Bush (nudge nudge, wink, wink) is up to anything immoral as he gets up from his bed and walks around on the roof of the White House.

Rather it strikes me how matter of fact both stories are reported. I believe this is evidence of how Bush's war paradigm (i.e "I'm a war president!"), has lead to a normality of spring offensives, purges and surges. In short, a world where its the natural order of things for kings (and presidents) to go off to war in the spring time.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Security and Terrorism 2

I've finally got around to reading Jimmy Carters 'Palestine Peace not Apartheid', which my wife gave to me as a birthday present. Here's a quote from Carter which illustrates the point I was trying to make in my post 'Security and Terrorism' published on this blog the 13.02.2007.

Commenting on the cycle of attacks by Arab militants on Israel and Israel's overwhelming military response, Carter observes:
"Israel's powerful military force can, with American acquiescence or support, destroy the economic infrastructure and inflict heavy casualties in Gaza, Lebanon, and even other nations. But when this devastation occurs, guerrilla movements are likely to survive, becoming more united and marshaling wider support."*

* Carter, Jimmy. Palestine Peace not Apartheid (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2006), pp. 199-200.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Security and Terrorism.

At the heart of American conservative thinking lies a faulty analysis of what fuels terrorism and how America can increase its own security.

An example of this is exhibited by lawyers Lynn Chu and John Yoo in today's International Herald Tribune. In an comment, misleadingly entitled Why are the pacifists so passive?, on the Democrats position on Iraq, they write:

"Our national security interests here are high. If we falter now, it would be read as a "defeat" and embolden more terrorist attacks on us.

Once again, the world would begin to doubt American strength. This would undermine our ability to conduct credible diplomacy, while electrifying Islamists to further jihad."

This is where the reasoning breaks down. Yes, a failure now will be read as a defeat and will in the short term encourage use of violence against America, but doubts about American strength is not what fuels terrorist attacks on the US, nor is it a necessary prerequisite for "credible diplomacy". Rather its the perception of American strength that fuels anger and hatred of America. Al Quaedi deliberately attacked the US on Sep. 11 2001, because they wanted, and believed they would get, an aggressive American response.

The philosophy of terrorism, whether its done by Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), Red Brigades, IRA, ETA, Hizbollah, Hamas or Al Quedi, is to expose the violence and aggression of their enemies by provoking disproportionate responses to terrorist attacks. The disproportionate response will then rally people to the terrorist cause.

This tactic failed for the RAF and Red Brigade in Germany and Italy, was partially successful in Northern Ireland and the Basque region and has succeeded in Palestine.

If the US wants to "win" its "war on terror", it must abandon its belief in military force and coercive tactics, and realise it is actually the use of force that emboldens terrorists.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Allez les bleus!

In international Rugby I support France. I do this for several reasons, but the most satisfying is that they don't have shirt sponsors.

Rugby Union has, in my opinion, sold out after dropping its stick amateur code in 1995. Until then the game was played for the love of it and it was devoid of the commercialism that has ruined football (soccer). The lack of commercialism also meant that Rugby shirts never had sponsorships and were not subject to the ugly designs of sports manufactures like Nike and Adidas. Now, however, the traditional cotton rugby shirt has been replaced at the top level with synthetic fabrics, hideous designs and sponsor logo's.

I understand why clubs have shirt sponsors, they are commercial entities whose sole purpose is to make money. It is, however, beyond me why the national rugby associations have sold their images (or should I say soul) for mammon. The RFU's make more than enough money on tickets and TV rights, why do they need more money? They are associations, not businesses!

At least France has resisted putting an ugly cooperate logos on their shirt!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Offensive Defamation Laws.

Sometimes I find the law completely offensive. Particularly the law of torts (i.e. civil wrongs).

For example, the torts of 'Libel' and 'Slander' are in the UK based on defamatory statements refering to a particular person. The definition of what is defamatory was defined by Lord Atkin in Sim v. Stretch (1936) as a statement which lowers a person in the esteem of "right thinking members of society."

Right thinking members of society? Who are they? Those who believe in God, fatherland and university, or what?

Similarly, Section 1 of the Slander of Women Act 1891, which incredibly is still in force, states that "Words spoken and published... which impute unchastity or adultery to any woman or girl shall not require special damage to render them actionable."

Apparently it is more serious to imply that a woman is unchaste or adulterous than to imply the same about a man. The Slander of Woman Act makes it easier for woman to sue for slander, by making statements of a womans unchasity actionable without proof that she has acually suffered damage from the statement. Perhaps the law thinks such statements actually enhance a mans standing in the esteem of "right thinking members of society"?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Adventism in Europe.

(This is an article written for and published on the blog "Re-Inventing the Adventist Wheel").

The Danish Union of (Adventist) Churches announced Feb. 1. that, due to financial problems, it had fired two of its ministers and was retiring a further four ministers in the summer.* The Union also announced this will mean that some congregations will not be appointed a minister. The Unions financial problems are due to falling church membership and tithe income.

Membership in the Danish Adventist church has been falling for many years, and stands today at 60% of its 1960's level. The church has already been through several financial crises and has cut back its activities and and institutions in the last 15 years. With one controversial church plant as an exception, all Adventist churches in Denmark fit into what church growth theorists call ‘dying churches’, i.e. churches long past their growth or plateau phases. So while Denmark was one of the first countries in Europe in which the Adventist church had a presence, it might be just the first one in which the church disappears.

The really sad thing is that Denmark is not an exception in this part of the world. Although the Adventist church in Europe is growing numerically (with the exception of Scandinavia), this growth is based on immigration or through evangelistic efforts amongst immigrant groups. In Germany the church has numerous Yugoslavians and other Eastern European members. In Spain growth is fueled by immigration from Romania, while In the Netherlands its from West Indian and African immigration. In Britain the church is almost entirely made up of members with West Indian, African, Eastern European or Asian backgrounds. Without immigration the decline in membership in these countries would have been more rapid than in Denmark.

Is all this a problem? Not if church membership is the parameter on which we evaluate the work of the church and if we don’t mind simply being a cultural phenomenon. Migration to Western Europe is likely to continue in large numbers and will continue to boost the church's membership. But if, on the other hand, we believe the church has a calling to reach all nations and peoples, then the church is failing the hundreds of millions people living in Western Europe who are not recent immigrants or decendents thereof.

I don't have a single answer of what do with this problem. I do, however, believe in the power of the gospel. That telling the story of Jesus will affect and change the lives of those hearing it, even secular Europeans.

To tell the story of Jesus effectively, I believe we must face the challenge of breaking out from the cultural norms that surrounds our form of christianity. We must be able to speak to people who do not accept the bible as normative or authoritative. In doing this we cannot get by with mediocre teaching and unsound biblical exegesis. If we can approach the bible without our presupposition and cultural baggage, then in there, I believe, is a powerful message relevant to all people, nations and tongues.

*The official announcement can be read (in Danish) on, or click here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Counting the Vote.

Trust is a vital component of a democracy, in particular for the election system to work. Voters must be able to trust the electoral process and the certainty of the result.

That is why its a good idea for voting machines to produce paper trails, so votes can be recounted manually and repeatedly if necessary. It is, therefore, good news that Florida has announced a shift to a voting system with paper trail. For more this New York Times article.

Yet, somehow I am amazed that US states insist on using voting machines. Manual vote counting is not difficult and inspires more trust. In Denmark, where I as a Civil Servant participated in counting votes, only paper ballots are used and votes are counted at least twice withing 24 hours of the polling stations closing. The first count is usually completed within two hours and the second the following day. If the counts don't not match up, the ballots will be recounted until a certainty of the result is reached. The counting is a public event and monitored by election officials representing all the different political parties standing in the election. Although trust is still important for the system to work, it is created by the transparency and certainty of the count.

In the 2004/2005 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine, it was actually lack of trust that undermined the initial election results. Although only circumstantial evidence of electoral fraud was proved, the political system gave into the protests because of the perception of fraud and breakdown of trust.

After the 2000 Florida election debacle, trust in the election system in the US seems low. The political response has been an upgrading of voting machines. However, machines do not inspire trust. I can only hope that the political powers in the US will realise this and focus on transparency and paper documentation, rather than technology.