Windsor Humanist Society

April 29, 2008

The Leamington Arts Centre Gets a Quarter-Million

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The Leamington Arts Centre received $218,000 from the province Friday to revamp the gallery The Leamington Arts Centreand revitalize the uptown core, which may increase tourism and create new jobs.

“The improvement is well overdue,” said Mayor John Adams. The carpeting is more than 30 years old, the walls need painting and better accessibility is needed, he said.

The money will be used primarily to create better accessibility in the building by installing an elevator and constructing a barrier-free washroom, said Michelle Le Chien, director of the arts centre.

The Leamington Arts Centre teamed up with the municipality and jointly put in an application to the provincial Rural Economic Development Program.

“The goal is that the renovations will allow the arts centre to bring in expanded shows and bring tourism into the community,” said Paul Anthony, the town’s manager of culture and recreation.

Local artist Katherine Burton said revamped classrooms will increase the variety of art programs, such as writing programs, children’s programs, possibly even a dance or yoga class, she said.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after an April 26, 2008 article in The Windsor Star

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Gene Therapy: Significant Improvement With Congenital Retinal Disease

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An experimental gene therapy has helped restore partial vision to people with congenital retinal disease, according to breakthrough studies which provide hope for treating various eye illnesses.

Congenital Retinal DiseaseClinical trials showed success on three young adults at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia  who suffered from a rare and as yet incurable form of congenital blindness, according to studies published Sunday.

The retinal degenerations include Leber congenital amaurosis, or LCA, a group of diseases that affect light receptors in the retina beginning in early childhood and often causing total blindness in patients in their 20s or 30s.

“This result is important for the entire field of gene therapy,” study leader Katherine High was quoted as saying in The New England Journal of Medicine whose website reported the findings by a collection of international doctors and scientists.

“Gene transfer has been in clinical trials for over 15 years now, and although it has an excellent safety record, examples of therapeutic effect are still relatively few,” Ms. High said.

“The results in this study provide objective evidence of improvement in the ability to perceive light and thus lay the groundwork for future studies in this and other retinal disorders.”

Scientists used a genetically engineered virus as a vector to carry millions of copies of a normal version of the gene known as RPE65 to the patients’ retina via surgical procedures performed between October 2007 and January 2008.

A mutation of this gene that normally makes a protein needed by the retina which senses light and sends images to the brain, is responsible for a gradual loss of sight until the patients are blind.

About two weeks after the surgery all three patients, age 19, 26 and 26, reported improved vision in the injected eye and became approximately three times more sensitive to light than in the other eye, according to study co-author Albert Auricchio from The Second University of Naples, in Italy.

Standard vision tests showed significantly improved vision in the patients,” Signor Auricchio said.

Their vision “improved from detecting hand movements to reading lines on an eye chart,” said Albert Maguire, associate professor of opthalmology at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

In 2001 Mr. Maguire and his wife Jean Bennett were part of a team which reported successfully using gene therapy to reverse blindness in dogs affected by the same congenital blindness.

A separate clinical trial parallel to the Philadelphia study was conducted at Britain’s University College London, also on three young adults, with one 18-year-old patient showing improved visual function.

Researchers of that study concluded that there were no major adverse effects of the so-called Adeno-Associated Virus treatment.

“Of course, additional studies are needed in order to assess this approach fully, including the expansion of the study to include younger children, but these initial results suggest that AAV-based delivery of genes in the eye can be accomplished,” said research co-author Barrie Carter, executive vice-president of Targeted Genetics.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after an April 29, 2008 article coming over Agence France-Presse

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“Ban The Barbie Doll!” To Protect Iran’s Islamic Culture

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Iran, the world’s third largest importer of toys, is calling for a ban on Barbie dolls.  
 
Barbie in a Burqu'aa Iran’s top prosecutor has called for restrictions in the import of Western toys, saying they have a destructive effect on the country’s youth.

The Prosecutor General, Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi, said that toys such as Barbie, Batman, and Harry Potter would have negative social consequences.

Mr Najafabadi wants measures taken to protect what he called Iran’s Islamic culture and revolutionary values.

Correspondents say Western culture is becoming increasingly popular in Iran.

Mr Najafabadi’s comments were made in a letter addressed to Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi, and quoted in several Iranian newspapers.

“The displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter… as well as the irregular importation of unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to officials in the cultural arena,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter seen by Associated Press.

“The irregular importation of such toys, which unfortunately arrive through unofficial sources and smuggling, is destructive culturally and a social danger,” he said.

The BBC’s Pam O’Toole in Tehran says the increasing popularity of Western culture has been causing concern in Iran’s clerical establishment for years.

Mr Najafabadi, a high-ranking cleric, said Iran was the world’s third biggest importer of toys, with many more being smuggled into the country.

In the past, Barbie dolls have been targeted by Iranian authorities bridling at their revealing dress.

In public Iranian women must cover their bodily contours – a rule, correspondents point out, that Barbie conspicuously fails to follow.

“We need to find substitutes to ward off this onslaught, which aims at children and young people whose personality is in the process of being formed,” Mr Najafabadi said.

Iran has made previous, unsuccessful, attempts to find substitutes for such toys.

A modestly-dressed version of Barbie and her partner Ken – named Sara and Dara – launched by Iran did not manage to counter the popularity of the Western version.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after an April 28, 2008 article over BBC News OnLine

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Windsor “Most Polluted City in North America” – Robert Kennedy, Jr.

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Michigan companies sued by Kennedy’s watchdog group “RiverKeepers”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Sunday at a forum of The Rotary World Peace Summit in Windsor that U.S. companies have made Windsor “the most polluted city in North America,” and he’s taking them to court to answer for the health toll they’ve taken.

RiverKeepers, Mr Kennedy’s Robert Kennedy Jr.environmental watchdog group, is taking Michigan companies, including power company DTE Energy, to court alleging they’re “damaging quality of life and public health here,” he said during a stop in Windsor.

“Mainly, the problem is Windsor is downwind from Detroit,” Mr. Kennedy told reporters. “A lot of the industries in Detroit, the air emissions make their way to Windsor. Windsor has some of the highest cancer rates, particularly thyroid cancer rates. Many other respiratory illnesses that are associated with pollution are more prevalent here than any other place in Canada. The air quality is regularly the worst in Canada. Windsor is downwind of a lot of really bad polluters.”

According to data from Cancer Care Ontario, the government-funded agency that provides cancer treatment, Windsor’s overall cancer rates are about the same as the provincial rate, although there are variations depending on the type of cancer. The incidence of lung cancer, for example, is higher here. The reasons for the variations have been the subject of debate among experts, some of whom point to emissions from diesel trucks, pollution from across the river, or pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Ohio valley.

Mr. Kennedy, an environmental activist, was in Windsor for the final day of The Rotary World Peace Summit. It brought 1,000 delegates here from around the world.

After an interfaith service with singing and prayers from the world’s major religions, Mr. Kennedy gave a speech called Our Environmental Destiny. He talked about the U.S. oil “addiction” that has caused wars and devastated America’s economy, prosperity and international prestige.

He lamented the practice of using up the world’s resources “for a few years of pollution-based prosperity.

“Our children are going to pay for our joy ride,” said Mr. Kennedy, nephew of the late president, John F. Kennedy. “Environmental injury is deficit spending. It’s a way of loading today’s prosperity on the backs of our children.”

He also talked about Windsor. Afterward, he told reporters his group is charging DTE Energy in Canada under Canada’s Fisheries Act, which states it’s illegal to pollute the waterways and allows citizens to independently prosecute offenders in criminal courts.

“If somebody does pollute and the government fails to enforce, then any citizen can step into the shoes of the Crown attorney and prosecute that polluter themselves,” Mr. Kennedy told reporters. “It’s a very powerful statute.”

RiverKeepers alleges the company’s power plants are depositing mercury into the Canadian side of the St. Clair River.

Contacted Sunday night, DTE Energy spokeswoman Lorie Kessler said because her firm is involved in litigation in Canada with Mr. Kennedy’s organization, she couldn’t comment on the allegations, but added all of DTE’s operations are in “full compliance” with state and federal emission regulations.

Ms. Kessler said she’s “somewhat baffled,” by the allegations. She said her firm is spending $1 billion to reduce emissions of mercury and other pollutants from its plants, including its plants on the water that are closest to Windsor.

Also, she said, DTE is “fully supportive” of State of Michigan measures to bring in mercury emission standards.

Mr. Kennedy said RiverKeepers has used the statute before in Canada. But this is the first time they’ve used it to charge an American company for pollution that was created in the United States and made its way to Canada. It’s something the government should be doing, he said.

“We would love the government to enforce the law themselves,” he said. “I wish the provincial government was suing Detroit Edison and prosecuting criminally. I wish the provincial government was suing all these corporations in Detroit who are diminishing the quality of life and injuring the health of children and adults here in Windsor.”

Mercury and lead exposure to children can reduce IQ, said Mr. Kennedy. He called it “child abuse.”

He said pollution here is also causing cancer.

“That’s assault and battery, and worse, because you can die from it,” Mr. Kennedy said. “And what’s the difference if you die from a brain tumour or if you die from a bullet? There’s no difference. This is crime — it’s real crime and it’s real victims. The province ought to be prosecuting it. We ought to be prosecuting it in Michigan.”

Allan Rock, a former federal justice minister and ambassador to the UN, said fixing pollution in Windsor’s waterways requires individuals becoming more aware of the challenges and what they can do, as well as pressuring governments to act.

He said governments must exercise their authority to reduce and eliminate “the pollution that’s all around us.

“The third thing it’s going to take is discovering a new way of doing things without the coal burning power plants, without the CO2 emissions from automobiles,” said Mr. Rock, honorary chairman of the summit. “Finding ways to use technology to bring greater economy prosperity while producing a cleaner environment.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after an April 28, 2008 article by Trevor Wilhelm in The Windsor Star

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April 28, 2008

Norway Loosens Church-State Bond

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In 2012 the Norwegian Church will be allowed to elect its own leaders, and the ties between state and church will be loosened. However, this is contingent on increased democracy in the church.

All the parties of the Norwegian National Assembly (Stortinget) have now agreed on the future of the state church.

The charter for a new state church establishment was submitted during a press conference Thursday, April 10, 2008.

The church will be allowed to appoint its own bishops as from 2012, but the presupposition is that the church will be undertaking a democracy reform.

The requirement of this reform is defined in the settlement which was submitted to the cabinet meeting as follows:

“The reform will be executed with a starting point in the report of the Bakkevig committee. The reform shall include the introduction of concrete alternatives, increased use of direct elections and church elections concurrent with public elections. Various organization models should be attempted and evaluated in cooperation with the bodies and agencies of the church, prior to the Storting’s approval of the final provisions governing elections to the Church Meeting and the Diocese Council.”

The settlement presupposes that a democracy reform in line with this definition has been completed in the Norwegian Church during 2011.

Ase KlevelandFurthermore, Article 2 of the Constitution will be adjusted. The phrase stating that “the Evangelical-Lutheran religion” shall be the religion of the state, will be replaced by a paragraph stating that “The articles of faith remain our Christian and humanistic heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state founded on legal protection and the articles of human rights.”

The settlement regarding the State/Church represents a decisive break-through for the viewpoints of The Norwegian Humanist Association (NHA), asserts President of the Board, Åse Kleveland.

“This constitutes a decisive break-through for the viewpoints and visions of NHA, and subsequent ratification will clear the road for a future division between state and church,” says President Åse Kleveland.

Together with the Secretary General of NHA, Kristin Mile, she is very positive to the improvement of today’s state church establishment outlined in the broad political compromise, even if it is far from the resolution of principles defined as the initial ambition of the association.

Thus, in the time to come, the Norwegian Church will have a special attachment to the Constitution, even if it is no longer the case that “the evangelical Lutheran teachings shall be the religion of the state,” but that “The Norwegian Church shall be the church of the Norwegian people.”

Furthermore, the church shall have its own Church Act, and regional and central church management will still remain a subdivision of the public administration, just to mention an example. At the same time it will be comprised in the Constitution that other faith and life stance associations shall be entitled to (financial) support in line with the Norwegian Church.

“We make a note of the fact that this is how far the Government was able to proceed this time, but, on behalf of NHA, we regret that a multicultural country like Norway will give priority to a single life stance community in the Constitution, even if all other faith- and life stance associations will be given equal support,” said Ms. Kleveland.

NHA react positively to the fact that the Norwegian Church will soon be able to elect its own bishops and deans, and to the improvement of Article 2, which implies that Norway no longer will have a state religion consistent with today’s situation.

“We are very glad that this indicates a break-through for our view points, when the state of Norway now proceeds from a constitutional provision for a single life stance community to the legal defense of democracy, a state founded on legal protection and human rights,” said Ms. Kleveland.

Article 2 of the Constitution shall now read as follows: “The articles of faith remain our Christian and humanistic heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state founded on legal protection and the articles of human rights.”

Secretary General of NHA, Kristin Mile is very pleased.

“It is emphasized that Christianity and humanism is our common heritage, while the important future direction, being secured by the Constitution, is democracy, a state founded on legal protection and human rights. This is a major leap ahead. For NHA whose life stance foundation is the articles of human rights, it is a victory to have these articles thus included in this important Article of the Constitution. What we get now is two “hazy” values as opposed to three very clear, concrete value definitions in the second sentence,” said Ms. Mile.

“NHA will still have to focus on the work for a real life stance equality,” emphasized Ms. Mile.

Ms. Kleveland said, “But we are now proceeding from actual fighting, to a stage where the consequences of this resolution of principles will be meticulously worked out.”

She adds that for the moment no decision has been made as to how the financial and administrative relationship between the state and the church will be resolved.

However, NHA is not at all pleased that the Norwegian Church will continue to oversee the management of burials and funerals, but – on the other hand – the association is rather more positive to the sections in the agreement that secure an investigation into the legalizing of the responsibility of the municipalities with regard to unbiased life stance ceremonial locations for weddings and funerals.

There are no optimal solutions. In the practical, everyday life of a democracy there are only compromises, and here we have a compromise where we have achieved a break-through for important demands. This we interpret as a victory, underlines Ms. Kleveland.

The leader of Norwegian Humanist Youth, Lars Petter Helgestad, is happy that the adjustments seem to be pointing in the right direction. At the same time he finds it frustrating that it is impossible to advance further towards a complete division between state and church in the year 2008.

“And I take note that, actually, we are in the process of getting into a situation where the state church will get rid of all the disadvantages of being a state church, as well as retaining all its privileges,” said Mr. Helgestad.

“We are on the right track, but we advance very, very slowly,” said former NHA General Secretary Lars Gule.

“The point is that the ideal solution, a complete division between state and church is not a radical utopia and an impossible project. This is well within the frame of what is a practical, political possibility. But we have a cabinet minister and a party that is clinging to an obsolete establishment. It is rather impressive that they are able to advocate a policy in defense of this anachronism, like. Giske and fractions within the Labour Party and the Centre Party have been doing,” said Mr. Gule.

Other clauses in the settlement:

  • The church retains the management of burials and funerals, in contradiction to the report of the Gjønnes Committee.
  • The King will still be obliged to embrace the Christian faith.
  • Religious freedom is legally protected by the Constitution.
  • The obligation of the state to support all faith- and life stance associations is legally protected by the Constitution.
  • The Norwegian Church has no membership fee.
  • The responsibility of the municipalities to provide unbiased life stance ceremonial locations shall be legally protected.
  • The provision stipulating that at least one half of the members of the government must be members of the state church will be deleted.
  • The church shall not be defined as a subject of legal rights and duties.

Democracy reform is an important pillar for The Norwegian Labour Party. At the beginning of the press conference, church minister Trond Giske (Labour), promised that the intention is that the church itself shall be allowed to appoint its leaders. However, Mr. Giske takes for granted that the internal church democracy will be improved by that time.

“The Labour Party considers it a vital pillar that the democracy reform is in place. Thus, we declare that on completion of this process, there is no need for the state to appoint bishops,” said Mr. Giske.

Consequently, he implies that The Norwegian Labour Party might oppose the church’s own appointment of bishops in the event of non-compliance with satisfactory democracy reforms in 2012. At the press conference Mr. Giske stated that obligations must be fulfilled in line with the definitions in the settlement, but he did not accept that the provisions are so “hazily” defined that it will be up to each and every party in 2012 to define its acceptance.

Furthermore, Mr. Giske emphasized that the new establishment does not entail any “division between state and church.” The church will remain a major public responsibility.

Dagrun Eriksen, representing The Norwegian Christian Democracy Party, stated in her introduction that the democracy reform demands are contingent on specific structures to promote democracy being in place, and not connected to the result. She was pleased to hear that Mr. Giske agreed to this.

The Centre Party’s Inger Enger was of the opinion that “the Centre Party had managed to leave its footprints” on this settlement. She accepted that the ties between church and state would be loosened, but stated that the ties between church and people would be strengthened.

She indicated that The Centre Party might oppose division in 2012 in the event that the democracy reforms might not be in place.

“If the democracy evaluations do not show the intended results, the Centre Party will not support a resolution to transfer authority to the church and allow it to appoint its own leaders,” Ms. Enger emphasized.

During the subsequent round of questions, Mr. Giske underlined once more that there will be no automatic release enabling the church itself to appoint its own leaders. This is entirely dependent on the democracy reforms.

“However, at the same time, it is not optional for the parties themselves to define what they consider to be ‘sufficient democracy’ when we reach 2012. This is clearly defined in the settlement,” Mr. Giske stated.

He affirmed that Labour and Centre have a thought-provoking minority, and in case the democracy reforms are not satisfactory, Labour and Centre might stop the transfer of authority to the church in 2012.

There was some advance excitement as to the role of The Centre Party in the settlement. The Centre Party’s crystal clear Central Country Meeting resolution was that they cannot accept that the state will let go of the bishop appointments. However, it now seems that the party has agreed to this, contingent on a church democracy reform prior to 2012.

Labour has been the other strong defender of the continued participation of the state with regard to the appointment of bishops. However, Labour has not committed the party as strongly as The Centre Party.

The problems became evident during the resolution process in the National Assembly. This matter requires a two-thirds majority because of the necessary amendments to the Constitution, and thus the government parties Labour and Centre was dependent on persuading the opposition.

(In a normal case of a 50/50 vote this would not be a problem. Norway’s present government is elected from a majority of the mandates in the National Assembly, but not a two-thirds majority).

However, among the opposition the situation is completely different. The opposition demanded that the church was to be released and be allowed to appoint its leaders on its own. Consequently, the government parties were compelled to give way during the negotiations.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.McAllister, after a April 23, 2008 article by Even Gran and Kirsti Berg over Fritanke.no (the online news publication of Human-Etisk Forbund – The Norwegian Humanist Association – Translation from Norwegian by Tone Haugen Jensen) – Translation from Norwegian by Tone Haugen Jensen

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April 1, 2008

Russia Doomsday Cult Prays For Sign To Leave Bunker

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Leader doesn’t join his followers in the bunker, saying God had “different tasks” for him.

Pyotr Kuznetsov - Cult LeaderFourteen members of a Russian doomsday cult on Tuesday abandoned the remote underground bunker where they had been hiding for nearly half a year awaiting the end of the world.

The local chief negotiator said 14 cult members who remained underground would spend the night in the bunker praying for a sign from God that it was time for them to come out.

“They understand this is a chance the Lord is giving them,” said Oleg Melnichenko, deputy governor of the Penza region where cult members have been holed up since October.

“They will pray all night in the hopes that a sign comes to them to leave their bunker,” he told reporters as the light faded after a day of negotiations with members of the cult.

The group that came out of the bunker early on Tuesday included two girls aged 8 and 12. The negotiator said they decided to leave after a section of their dugout collapsed, the latest in a series of cave-ins.

“All are in good health, considering they have spent half a year underground,” said Mr. Melnichenko.

“They have refused medical attention and are now in a house, praying, where they say they will stay until Orthodox Easter (on April 27) … They said that God had given them a signal to leave.”

The sect is an ultra-devout splinter group of the Russian Orthodox church. They reject processed food and say bar codes on products are the work of Satan.

They sealed themselves off on October 27 in an earthen bunker dug into a gulley near the village of Nikolskoe, 750 kilometres south east of Moscow.

Cult members had refused to come out of their bunker before the apocalypse, which their leader Pavel Kuznetsov — now undergoing psychiatric treatment — predicted would happen in April or May this year.

They had threatened to blow up gas canisters in their bunker if police tried to bring them out by force.

A Reuters reporter who crawled down into a now abandoned section of the bunker found a makeshift kitchen and a sleeping space hollowed out of the earth. Among the belongings left behind were a chess set and pages from a children’s book.

Someone had carved large images of flowers and plants on the walls and cardboard covered the floor.

Seven female cult members left the dugout at the weekend after meltwater caused part of the earth structure to collapse.

All the cult members who have emerged from the bunker were being kept in cottages in a nearby village. They brought with them supplies from the dugout, including jars of pickled mushrooms. Police were stopping reporters from speaking to them.

Officials had for weeks been trying to persuade members to come out, negotiating through a ventilation shaft. They brought self-declared prophet Mr. Kuznetsov, and an Orthodox priest, to help with negotiations.

Mr. Kuznetsov did not join his followers in the bunker, saying God had different tasks for him.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after an April 1st, 2008 article by Chris Baldwin over Reuters

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