Talking points for April 16

Good morning, Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in the United States for his first visit as leader of the Catholic Church and received an unprecedented presidential greeting at the airport. He started his six-day tour by telling the media that the sexual abuse scandal involving Catholic clergy in the US caused him shame, but the abuse scandal is only one of several controversial issues likely to come up during Benedict’s trip.

So what to discuss, then? Do we take a broad view and ask if religous leaders should be involved in politics? Do they have a moral obligation to promote the tenets of their faith? Are politicians seeking votes too eager to bring religious leaders into the political sphere?

Or should we focus on the Pope himself? How’s he done since his election in April 2005? Are his comments on the abuse scandal enough? What should his world role be?

There are more Chinese in the world than Catholics, so perhaps we should return to the issues surrounding the Beijing Olympics instead of talking about the Pope. The EU Trade Commisioner, Peter Mandelson, has warned against confronting China over Tibet. He says “direct confrontation” with China over Tibet, such as a trade boycott, would only hurt the interests of ordinary European and Chinese citizens. Protests must be balanced against the need to engage with a country going through “unprecedented” political change, he said. Is he right to urge caution? Is that the way to change China?

And is world opinion hardening against politicising the Olympics? Chinese state news agency Xinhua lists politicians who have recently expressed support for the Beijing Games. Will it be business as usual by the time the Games get going?

And there is the world food crisis, which Ros posted about yesterday. How can the world deal with the rising price of food?

Sticking with food – sort of – and conservative French legislators are moving towards a pioneering law that would target any means of mass communication — including magazines and Web sites — that promote eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia with punishments of up to three years in prison and more than $70,000 in fines. A worthy battle or none of their business? How does the media affect people’s body-image?

On Tuesday in Washington, America’s top military officer said Iran is likely to be the most important challenge for the United States over the next five years and that a way should be found to open a dialogue with Tehran. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran “is at the heart of a great deal of discontent and disruption and instability” in the Middle East. Should America be focusing more on Iran to solve problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere? Can dialogue work with Tehran? Do his comments undermine President Bush?

And finally, would you steal a can of Coke? Probably, but you wouldn’t take a dollar bill, according to research by Dan Ariely at MIT. He studies of behavioral economics at MIT’s Media Lab and Sloan School of Management, and his findings have me wondering “what keep us honest?” Do you take things that don’t belong to you? Is it OK to “borrow” some milk from the fridge at work? Or to bump up a test score when no one will know? Have a read and tell me what you think.

23 Responses to “Talking points for April 16”

  1. 1 VictorK
    April 16, 2008 at 11:01

    Mandelson is absurd. No country has suggested an economic boycott of China. He’s warning against a purely imaginary danger. As an unelected EU bureaucrat it is not for him to say how the elected governments of Europe should respond to the matter of Tibet or to any other issue. The role of people like him is to serve, not to direct. He should remember his place, be quiet, and conduct whatever negotiations he has to behind-the-scenes. And it is nobody’s busines to ‘change’ China. Getting China out of Tibet – a foreign country – is a different thing; but what happens in China, how much freedom and democracy ordinary Chinese have etc is something I couldn’t care less about. It’s a purely internal matter. Haven’t we had enough about China for now?

    With politicians going out of their way to support the Olympic games the politicisation of the games has been completed (having begun with the mindless decision to award them to a country like China in the first place). I suppose a good many of them will be the heads of the world’s many insignificant states, a good proportion of whom we can assume are in the pay of the Chinese.

    There are two regional superpowers in the Middle East: Israel and Iran. There’s nothing wrong with talking to the Mullahs. Iraq falls right within Iran’s sphere of influence. The Iranians should be leading the Muslim coalition that needs to replace ASAP the failed and discredited Western coalition in Iraq. It is entirely possible that Iraq is one of those problems without a solution; but that is something that the West shouldn’t be worrying itself about or squandering its blood and treasure over.

  2. 2 steve
    April 16, 2008 at 12:51

    Should governments target pro eating disorder websites? Well, there’s always going to be stupid people out there. Can we ban stupidity? I’d personally like that, but is it realistic to accomplish? I don’t think so.

  3. 3 Xie_Ming
    April 16, 2008 at 13:26

    Organized religion has always been inseparable from politics. The Roman Catholic Church has well-developed principles and tactics for the control of politicians and society (see Ryan and Boland, “Catholic Principles of Politics”, Sheen & Ward).

    When social groups move beyond shamanism, priests and rulers engage in relations of mutual support, legitimation and rivalry. The myths and culture of the society are molded and adjusted to accomplish the goals of the ideological state apparatus and the religious organization.

    Most spokesmen for organized religion are engaged in political propaganda as well as performing pastoral duties.

  4. 4 Xie_Ming
    April 16, 2008 at 13:59

    The rationale by which many in the West think that they are qualified to, or capable of, directing events in China is never explained. Indeed, it cannot be. Many Westerners proceed from an ingrained ideology that makes it impossible for them to become aware of the premises of their speech.

    Britain was convinced of the truth of its Christianism, and its political and economic principles. In bringing these “benefits” to the World through force of arms, it waged war on China to force it to accept the opium that the British Empire was producing. So much for moral superiority!

    The United States is run for an oligarchy and military/industrial complex. In a country that brags of its wealth, a very large number cannot afford medical care. Prisons are continually built, principally to house blacks whom the society is uninterested in integrating. The country spends vast sums on imperial conquest while lying to its own people about its motives.

    These are the countries that feel they have the warrant and competence to impose change on China?

    [Note that the BBC has not attempted to present a concise history of Tibet. Doing so would take the wind out of many.]

  5. April 16, 2008 at 14:04

    Why don’t we have a discussion about the looming humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe?

  6. 6 selena
    April 16, 2008 at 14:05

    Good Morning Peter and everyone. I hope it is as beautiful your way as it is here in my little corner of the world.

    Will someone please enlighten me with regard to the politics behind Bush’s meeting the Pope when he arrived in the US? I fail to understand the rationale. What can the Pope do for Bush? There has to be a reason for the unprecedented move by the President.

    This morning CNN is saying the Pope’s visit could affect the election results. How?

    Isn’t it time the world’s people moved past the power and control model exhibited by all the world’s religions? I don’t know about you but the spectacle of grown men kissing another man’s ring was beyond funny.

  7. 7 Ahmad Hammad
    April 16, 2008 at 15:09

    The greatest religious/spiritual leaders had always been at a distance with the kings/rulers. I have read at the BBC website that there will be a Bavarian dinner at the White House as a part of the celebrations of the 81st birthday of the Pope.
    It has sadened me a little.
    The lavishest feasts pollute the refined souls of the leaders who are supposed to take the masses to the heights of spiritual glory.

  8. 8 john in Germany
    April 16, 2008 at 16:04

    Listening to the BEEB i heard that the Pope had turned down his dinner with President Bush, and had a meal with 13 cardinals, i may be wrong with the number of cardinals.

    Mr Brown is also in America where he will be having a problem getting any publicity, as the Pope will be drawing more attention, and why not. Mr Brown could pee up the leg of the Liberty Statue, ans no one would take notice at the moment. That’s the way of the World. It was nice to hear that the Pope will refer to the so called immigrants, and the chances of making them legal. Hey everyone turns a blind eye to them; WHYS? Because if they all left, the American economy in some areas would collapse in a big heap. Would be like taking the crown wheel out of a gear box. The President will listen to the Pope and go his own sweet/sour way, there’s an election on the way, and he’s got to look at the future, . Bill Clinton doing ok i hear (Beeb).

    So China-Olypics- rest a while and lets see what the popes visit brings, OK? no? your problem.

    To Close, there are a lot of people that one can hate/ or admire, I hate Mr Mugabe-Admire the Pope (no I’m not catholic), No chance, not committing myself any more.

    May the Guardian Angels of those that need them-be ever attentive.

    John in Germany.

  9. 9 Xie_Ming
    April 16, 2008 at 16:11

    Peter has suggested Iran as a talking point.

    Israeli organizations and sympathizers continually propagandize for the destruction of Iran’s capability, for obvious reasons.

    Iran has a long history and an educated urban population. Their research, for example, is appearing in leading medical journals. They have oil and occupy a very strategic location. Their population is quite young and they are chafing under rule of the religious police.

    An enlightened Western leadership could respond to the overtures of Iran and engage in a successful cultural campaign, turning Iran into a very important ally.

    Such an initiative must begin with talks, rather than threats.

    This topic would be a worthwhile one, particularly when the propaganda drums again begin to beat.

    As long as Israel, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, by what right could one pretend to keep Iran from having them?

  10. 10 steve
    April 16, 2008 at 16:21


    When Israel, India and Pakistan start talking about wiping other nations, other UN members, off the map, you’ll have a point. Until then, you don’t. Iran is run by theocrats, ones that support worldwide terrorism. THey aren’t rational. The reason why there was never going to be nuclear war between the US and the USSR was that the leaders were rational on both sides. There’s no point in killing off the world. When you are an insane person who believes in an afterlife, rationality doesn’t have much impact on you when you think being killed gets you 72 virgins in heaven….

    If they were secular, I wouldn’t have a problem with them having nuclear weapons. Religious nuts should NOT have nuclear weapons.

  11. 11 Vijay
    April 16, 2008 at 16:25

    Virginia Tech anniversary?
    I thought your two previous days broadcasts on skin colour and race were leading up to a Virginia Tech anniversary show.
    You know something about Americas chickens coming home to roost vis a vis racism ,gun control and social alienation .

  12. 12 steve
    April 16, 2008 at 17:03

    @ Vijay:

    Cho was mentally ill. Apparently in the korean culture (embrace diversity) it’s not a popular thing to accept and deal with mental illness. Denial is the rule. I had a Korean friend who was very mentally ill in high school, and his parents absolutely refused to get him psychiatric help, and he just got worse and worse until he ran away. The shooting had nothing to do with racism, gun control (guns were banned on campus), nor even social alienation. It was about mental illness, and not treating it.

  13. 13 Xie_Ming
    April 16, 2008 at 17:41

    “An enlightened Western leadership could respond to the overtures of Iran and engage in a successful cultural campaign, turning Iran into a very important ally.”

    Without overtures, dialog, trade and cultural communication, “regime change” would be very slow. Threats and isolation only strengthen the regime.

    How was change effected in such apparent monoliths as East Germany?

    There are more women university students than men in Iran. The population is very young. When there is regime change in the USA, the ground will be ready for a successful cultural campaign.

    Totalitarianism requires isolation- communication defeats it.

  14. 14 selena
    April 16, 2008 at 17:46

    Steve, the question is: who defines a religious nut? Is a Christian, who believes that his mission in life is to fulfill “God’s promise to Israel”, a religious nut?

    Truth is in the eye of the beholder!

  15. 15 steve
    April 16, 2008 at 18:22


    Do christians whose mission in life is to fulfill god’s promise to israel pass fatwas? Violently protest? Behead people because they don’t agree with them or are different?? Sorry, but Islamic extremists are much more dangerous than Jewish or christian extremists. That’s why you can readily insult catholicism on the BBC and realize you won’t get killed over it. The clerics in Iran are absolutley insane. If you really want to die so badly, then encourage them to get nuclear weapons. They simply aren’t rational and in no way should be allowed to have nuclear weapons, unless you want to die in a nuclear fireball. Remember, MAD works by what it stands for. Mutually assure destruction. It works on the fear of death. Radicals don’t fear death, they welcome it. That’s why they are more likely to use nuclear weapons.

    Sorry if the truth isn’t convenient.

  16. 16 Nge Valentine
    April 16, 2008 at 19:22

    Hello to the entire crew,

    Akways interesting, religion in problems, controversies upon controversies. I think the pope is in great difficulties because the whole world is looking at him. What makes things more crutial is that there are prooves that priest tend to do the oposite if what they preach. How comes, will christians still maintain their faith ir belief in such priest? Let someone let me know. “Do what I say and not what I say” for sure will be their repply.
    I think this issue of priest hood and marriage should also be a point of discussion for it is gaining grounds each and every blessed day. What is funny is that we now tend to look at what at first was being thought as bad to be good, the abnormal is becoming normal, INCREDIBLE.

    Mondialisation, is it ruining us or what…

  17. 17 Xie_Ming
    April 16, 2008 at 20:31

    There are terrible overgeneralizations above- attributing Sunni actions to Shi’ia clergy and then saying “the clerics in Iran”..

    In fact, there are great differences of view among the Shi’ia clergy in Iran and strong-arm tactics are required to keep them under wraps.

    (In Israel, there are many who speak of the nuclear “Sampson Option”. Certain military claim that the West can be blackmailed by the threat of a self-destructive attack by Israeli nuclear- armed submarines and missles). Of course, most value their own skins too much for that.

    Only by opening communication and trade can many views obtain currency within Iran

  18. 18 steve
    April 16, 2008 at 21:41

    Xie Ming:

    Israel has had nuclear weapons for 40 years now and they haven’t nuked anyone. Are you losing sleep over the possibility they might in some irrational bout launch a bunch of missiles at mecca? I doubt it, because you know they are ruled by rational people. As much as I know you hate Israel, are you honestly losing sleep over israel having nuclear weapons?

    I don’t care that India has nukes, I don’t care that France has nukes. I wouldn’t care if Canada had them… Why? Because they are ruled by rational people…

    If there were an Islamist takeover in Pakistan, I’d be very nervous.

  19. 19 selena
    April 16, 2008 at 22:36

    Steve, are you living in the same world as the people of Palestine and Iraq?

    I agree with you; sorry if the truth isn’t convenient!!

  20. April 17, 2008 at 07:39

    Hi Xie_Ming,

    Akbar here in Tehran

    I am flattered at your positive impressions of Iran. There are excellent prospects for Sino-Iranian economic and political ties.
    What do you think of of widespread child abuse by pedophile priests in the Catholic Church, or sodomy at Shiite seminaries?
    Do you think cult practices, extremism, cloak and dagger tactics of prelates are justified? Should we foment unrest and contribute funds, personnel and military hardware to the ethnic-religious struggle in Iraq?
    China has been eulogizing the proletariat movement in Iran where sweatshops and slave labour thrive. Do you think this is genuine or politically motivated?
    Are there any commonalities between the acquiescence of docile, moneyed classes in Iran and the economically affluent in China? Will social abuse and exploitation disappear if it is simply ignored?

  21. 21 Vijay
    April 17, 2008 at 16:18

    Mr. Steve
    I think you have failed to comprehend my comment I suggest you read it again and see if it scans better.If you still don’t understand it ,I will do my best to explain it to you.
    On second thoughts I’ll just tell you what I meant.
    The comment was about the two previous programmes and the programme makers thinking .

  22. 22 Verity
    April 17, 2008 at 20:13

    The attempt has been made (above) to distinguish Israel from
    “insane clerics” who would use nuclear weapons.

    In fact “In Israel, there are many who speak of the nuclear “Sampson Option”. Certain military claim that the West can be blackmailed by the threat of a self-destructive attack by Israeli nuclear- armed submarines and missles”. Simply Google “Samson Option” to find out more.

    The second, and very important, fact is that there are many fundamentalist extremists in Israel. These believe that we are in End Times, etc., and they exercise great influence over the Israeli government.

    Despite the hysterical propaganda fostered by Israel, it seems that the present leadership of Iran is following an eminently sane international policy.

  23. May 13, 2008 at 12:46

    Sorry Burma, China, I’m Alright Mate

    TEHRAN – Tragedy in Burma has claimed over 100,000 lives and the toll is still rising; the earthquake in China will probably claim another 30,000 to 40,000. What does it all signify?
    An earthquake of the same magnitude hit Quazvin in Iran in 1959, I think.
    We loaded a 10 Ton truck full of foodstuffs, and traveled 100 Kms. to the region a couple of days after the disaster. Some parts of the province were hardly accessible, and had received no help. I remember seeing a couple of strands of hair sticking out of the ground in some places. That was all that remained of the victims. In other places, people were frantic and ferocious. Nothing had reached them. Hungry, thirsty and without shelter, it was traumatic.
    The earthquake in Bam in Iran a couple of years ago claimed some 40,000 lives. A friend of mine, divorced at the time and living in Tehran, took his children to find their mother who was from the region. The children dug her out from under the rubble and took her to burial.
    It’s always the same, relief never reaches the survivors in time.
    What is the message? Is it that we are helpless in the face of natural disaster? For all the fancy scientific tools of the modern era, no-one warned the Burmese, Chinese or Iranians of impending doom!
    Surely the message is to wake up, siphon off some of the adoration for the Beloved and channel it to the our brethren.
    It is pathetic to hear the United Nations say that they must be ‘terribly careful’ not to contravene international laws or offend the Burmese government.
    No wonder English lads, G.I.s, Spaniards and whatnot die by the hour and the day in Baghdad, Mossul or Basra? Same again in Afghanistan. Same again in Lebanon. Where is the courage to say no?
    Military parades in Moscow, Communal Prayers for Georgie, All Hail the New World Order.

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