It’s spring in Auckland and, despite wild weather, everything that should be flowering is. The kowhai trees have been a mass of yellow blooms this year, our own no exception, and with all these flowers the tui -- native birds second only in fame to the kiwi -- have arrived in unprecedented numbers to drink their fill of nectar. Tui (singular and plural) generally stick to the bush so it’s always a thrill to hear them in the garden.
You hear them first, as they are noisier than the blackbirds and sparrows that predominate in the suburbs. The tui call always makes me smile because it is not one sound but a varied repertoire borrowed largely, I think, from other birds and whatever it hears regularly. It’s hard to describe but Wiki does it pretty well: the calls “combine bellbird-like notes with clicks, cackles, timber-like creaks and groans, and wheezing sounds.” Anecdotes about these clever mimics abound and talking tui have their share of YouTube videos.
Then you see their black forms in the trees with their little tufts of white at throat, which earned them the name of parson birds in colonial times. In fact they are not plain black but in different lights show a variety of colours -- mainly a greenish-blue sheen. They are entertaining to watch as they turn themselves this way and that to insert their long, curved beaks into the drooping kowhai blooms, often bending over to make almost a complete circle or hanging upside down from a spindly branch. This lovely video shows you exactly what I mean. In between drinks they’ll often sit on a treetop and simply yodel their hearts out.
Kowhai are a native legume and not particularly interesting trees for most of the year and I’ve often wondered why I planted not one but two in our garden. However, it’s become clear to me these past two weeks that their great purpose in the scheme of things is to serve the tui. And the purpose of the tui is to delight humanity. And the purpose of humanity? Surely not just to please ourselves…
And now, to business.
Our most important article this week is the text of an intervention by the Vatican representative, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, at a high-level United Nations meeting on the rule of law. In a diplomatic way it shows why discussions about human rights, law and justice so often end in stalemate at the UN -- that is, because the concept of human dignity as the founders of the organisation understood it is neglected and even sabotaged.
Three articles deal with the status of the unborn child and abortion, which, although many would like it to disappear, remains the most important moral issue of our time and a live issue in many countries. Margaret Somerville and Monique David write from Canada on this topic and Vincenzina Santoro reports on conscientious objection in Italy.
Also: Mariette Ulrich writes about the childless trend in Canada; Anthony Esolen about the Australian Girl Guides’ new oath, in which, instead of swearing loyalty to God, to the queen, and to Australia, each girl will swear, “I will be true to myself and to my beliefs”; and our Stratfor article examines a strand of Islam known as Salafism.