28 May 2010

Three cheers for the RANZCOG!

It’s encouraging to know that Aussie doctors unequivocally oppose the horrible practice of female genital mutilation – euphemistically referred to as ‘ritual nicking’ in this case – despite the knee-jerk objections of cultural relativists. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists appears to possess a moral backbone evidently lacking in their American counterparts, who actually considered a less drastic form of clitoral cutting as a compromise between religious ‘requirements’ and adherence to human rights. To their credit though, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has since outrightly rejected this policy.

PodBlack Cat’s blog write-up on this topic has additional content and links, including a couple of videos, one of which is an interview with author and human rights activist Waris Dirie, who underwent genital mutilation when she was a child. Rant & Reason also has a post that expounds on the issue in more depth.

If there is one lesson that we should take away from all this, it is that there is demonstrably little value in holding on to traditions from a bygone age that are not only irrelevant to today’s reality, but also proven to be harmful, whether physically or psychologically. Modernity isn’t exactly the hell-on-earth disgruntled nostalgics believe it to be, despite having bequeathed us the nuclear bomb, big box stores, e-mail spam and Justin Bieber. Cultural practices whose origins lie in a nomadic, patriarchal, tribal past are indefensible if their current exercise flouts every single bit of progress humanity has since made in our understanding of what contributes to people’s welfare. Whatever their gender.


25 May 2010

The irony of anti-cult laws

Amid the political grandstanding, media sensationalism, indignant protests and nervous murmurs surrounding Independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s call for anti-cult laws comme les Fran├žais, it seems that people forget one crucial point: all religions were once cults. The big players are simply the lucky few who, thanks to various factors, eventually grew into the global behemoths they are today, mega-corporations of the soul whose products aren’t material consumables but rather intangible ministrations to the psychological need for teleological narrative and ontological meaning endemic to our species.

24 May 2010

Australia tells Israel: "Mate, that shit ain't cool"

You've got to respect the Australian government's decision to expel an Israeli diplomat over the forging of Australian passports for Mossad agents to off Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. While journalists are legally obligated to qualify their statements with words like 'allegedly' and 'suspected', the rest of us are free to entertain the not-quite-preposterous belief that Israel did order the hit and did forge those multinational passports to allow the assassins unimpeded entry into Dubai.

The Opposition flings accusations of Arab-courting at PM Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, yet what did the Liberals actually expect them to do? Wag their fingers at Israel and go 'tsk tsk'? Say "Now that's not very nice" and leave it at that? We're talking about a blatant breach of trust and security between two sovereign states.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop allowed that "in the absence of proof, it would be appropriate to reprimand, appropriate to chastise the Israeli government." But wouldn't a reprimand in itself imply some level of guilt, of culpability, on Israel's part? Yet the Opposition shies from following this to its logical conclusion, one supported by mounting evidence that the sophistication of the passport forgery and the hit itself bears the stamp of the Mossad.

Israel pulled off an assassination that may have benefited them militarily. But dragging innocent, unsuspecting friends into your dirty fights isn't a politically savvy tactic. Because some of those friends might actually feel, y'know, betrayed.


20 May 2010

If I were a pilgrim...

I’m not easily given to romantic fancies. This resistance to idealizing people and especially places probably explains my lack of enthusiasm for globe-trotting. Years of imbibing international anecdotes and photographs from books and magazines have suppressed (for the moment) any desire for first-hand experience. Especially when the benefits of armchair travelling include low monetary costs, minimum stress and the avoidance of that terribly deflating sensation one gets the moment you realise that you’ve travelled half-way across the world only to encounter the same globalised locales, food, dress and lousy manners.

But I would consider leaving that comfortable armchair to go on a pilgrimage. And my Mecca would be the Royal Society in London.

The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge was founded in November 1660. It is the oldest organization of its kind, being one of the earliest institutions formally dedicated to the pursuit of scientific discovery. Isaac Newton was its president from 1703 until his death in 1727. One could argue that the founding of the Royal Society marked a significant moment in the history of ideas. It was the beginning of the cultural and political ascendency of science and its practitioners.

The Royal Society prefigured the formation of similar organizations across Europe, notably the French Academie des Sciences (founded in 1666). No longer were scientists isolated individuals often deprived of resources and support. With the founding of the Royal Society and its sister organizations, scientists had a forum where they could gather and share ideas, discoveries and funds. This networking accelerated the progress of science from the 17th century onwards.

I hope to one day visit the Royal Society building in London to pay my respects to a group of brilliant individuals who stood for curiosity, intelligence, reason, progress, knowledge and truth. Incidentally, I’d also like to drop by the Creation Science Movement’s Genesis Expo in Portsmouth, since the CSM (which claims to be “the oldest creationist movement in the world”) represents exactly the opposite values.


Photo by Kaihsu Tai