Hip-Gnosis: May 2006: Archives

May 31, 2006

The Tortured Tales Of The Religious Right genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Guardian had an article today discussing the fact that there is dissention within the ranks of the religious right. Read the full article here.

In his consulting room in a suburb of Montgomery, Alabama, gastrologist Randy Brinson is a worried man. A staunch Republican and devout Baptist, Dr Brinson can claim substantial credit for getting George Bush re-elected in 2004. It was his Redeem the Vote initiative that may have persuaded up to 25 million people to turn out for President Bush. Yet his wife is receiving threats from anonymous conservative activists warning her husband to stay away from politics.

The reason he has fallen foul of men whose candidate he helped re-elect is that he has dared to question the partisan tactics of the religious right. "Conservatives speak in tones that they have got power and they can do what they want. Only 23% of the population embraces those positions but if someone questions their mandate or wants to articulate a different case, for the moderate right, they are totally ridiculed."

In his office in Washington DC, Rich Cizik, vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the largest such umbrella group in the US, is also feeling battered. His mistake has been to become interested in the environment, and he has been told that is not on the religious right's agenda.

"It is supposed to be counterproductive even to consider this. I guess they do not want to part company with the president. This is nothing more than political assassination. I may lose my job. Twenty-five church leaders asked me not to take a political position on this issue but I am a fighter," he said.

Another Washington lobbyist on the religious right told the Guardian: "Rich is just being stupid on this issue. There may be a debate to be had but ... people can only sustain so many moral movements in their lifetime. Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?"

The inconsistency and tortured logic of those on the extreme right becomes more pronounced on a daily basis. As they have felt embolden to show more and more of their true colors, I'm convinced they have set in motion their own diminishing credibility and influence.

What becomes more and more apparent is the underlying prejudice and bias that they have previously attempted to portray as a comprehensive moral doctrine. Clearly, as they have been confronted by an array of moral choices, the glaring incongruence’s have been illuminated leaving many to conclude that their movement is merely a fraudulent attempt to dictate the selective application of the judgmental and punitive beliefs they support.

To respond to the religious right lobbyist in DC who posits, "Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?"...the answers are many:

1. If God will solve global warming, then why do those on the religious right feel they need to interject their will on other issues...wouldn't the same God solve their concerns for the family and marriage...why do we need a constitutional amendment for some issues and not others?

2. Clearly, the goal of those on the right is to dictate the behaviors they value...especially relating to issues like sex, abortion, and marriage. Issues that relate to the pursuit of wealth at the expense of the climate interfere with the unfettered pursuit of power and influence...since they see the imposition of their beliefs as being dependent upon obtaining wealth which leads to the power to impose. They embrace the notion that he, who has the gold, writes the rules.

3. Does Pat Robertson wants to sell supplements that allow one to leg press 2,000 pounds because he accepts that God has a plan for each of us...or because he is afraid to die and wants to counteract Gods plan that includes the natural process of aging...or because he can make more money off the fear of death if he sells both salvation AND supplements to his followers?

4. If God will intervene to prevent the world from burning up...and at the same time he sent Katrina to punish the immorality of New Orleans (although his aim seemed a bit off since it also damaged other areas), then how will God make the subtle distinctions necessary to punish the bad and preserve the good? Is he only warming areas he dislikes? Will he provide AC to the good people?

5. If they are so convinced that the Lord is going to be returning shortly (rapture crapture) then why build bigger churches and amass wealth...why worry about what the Supreme Court may do 20 years from now...why worry about redrawing congressional districts in Texas to insure that Republicans will hold those seats?


Daniel DiRito | May 31, 2006 | 7:43 PM | link | Comments (2)
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May 30, 2006

Fred Barnes: Schill Plays The Gay Card genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

President Bush and fellow Republicans in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage will appear in an event in the White House Rose Garden to express strong support for its passage according to an article in the Weekly Standard.

JUNE 6, 2006, is an important date, not only because it's the 62nd anniversary of D-Day. It's also the day the Senate will vote on the so-called marriage amendment, which would amend the Constitution to restrict marriage in America to a man and a woman.

It won't pass. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House. When the Senate voted in 2004, the amendment got only 48 votes. This time, it's likely to get more--probably between 52 and 58--in part because a powerful and unusually ecumenical religious coalition is now backing the amendment. And President Bush, despite his wife Laura's admonition that the marriage issue ought to be kept out of politics, plans to host a pro-amendment event at the White House and speak out in favor of the amendment.

Thought Theater previosuly expressed the opinion that the apparent differences over the issue between Laura Bush, Bill Frist, and others was likely less about dissention and more about sending the necessary signals to various constituency groups.

The Weekly Standard article, written by Fred Barnes, goes on to point out that many Republican senators agree with Laura Bush that the issue should not be politicized and "requires a lot of sensitivity". Nonetheless, Senator Frist has moved forward with the scheduled debate and a likely vote. Again, I am convinced the Republican Party is simply playing the issue from all sides in order to appease those on the far right while also assuring moderate and liberal Republicans, the group with the biggest drop in approval numbers, that they are thoughtful and aware of the sensitive nature of the issue. Keep in mind that there is little doubt the measure will fail so the move to bring a vote is strategically motivated. Note the following excerpt:

Much of the conventional wisdom about the amendment and the marriage issue turns out to be wrong. For instance, the amendment is not being pushed by Republicans as a wedge issue aimed at dividing Democratic voters. Republican senators regard the issue as touchy and awkward.

Really? What's that little saying about a duck being a duck? Barnes conveniently goes on to connect the issue to the activist judge's rhetoric. The inference is that Republican's are being forced to confront the issue. I have no doubt this coy framing of the issue is entirely an orchestration by Karl Rove.

A second misconception is that it's sufficient for an elected official merely to declare his opposition to gay marriage. It's not anymore. The question now is whether an official will support efforts to block gay marriage from being imposed by judges at the federal or state level. And the way to do that in the Senate is to vote for the amendment.

The problem is not voters or legislators. They overwhelmingly support traditional marriage. Thirty-seven states have enacted laws in recent years--19 by referendum, the others by statute--to bar gay marriage. The problem is judges. On May 16, a Georgia judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage, which had been enacted in 2004 with 76 percent of the vote. The judge seized on a technical point, ruling the referendum covered two issues, same-sex marriage and civil unions, and not one, as Georgia law required. In truth, the referendum was drafted to deal with one issue, the protection of heterosexual marriage. At least nine states face lawsuits challenging their traditional marriage laws.

Note how Barnes clearly establishes the courts as the problem and even goes so far as to use the words "in truth" when telling the reader the judge is wrong. Whose truth is Barnes referring to with that remark? Clearly this is a continued escalation of the attempt to undermine the authority of the courts to interpret the law...which by the way is solely their constitutional purpose.

In Nebraska as well, a federal judge on May 12 nullified a referendum barring gay marriage. And in Massachusetts, the state supreme court by a 4-3 vote imposed same sex marriage, basing its decision on a state constitution adopted centuries before gay marriage became an issue.

Here we see Barnes using the strict constructionist rhetoric that is frequently put forth by Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas. The suggestion is that anything not specifically mentioned in the constitution cannot now be adjudicated based upon new information or changing circumstances. That notion is ridiculous.

In response, the Religious Coalition for Marriage was formed specifically to back the amendment. [...] The coalition was created to put strong public pressure on both politicians and judges.

The coalition's initial statement said: "We take the unprecedented stand of uniting to call for a constitutional amendment to establish a uniform national definition of marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman. . . . This is the only measure that will adequately protect marriage from those who would circumvent the legislative process and force a redefinition of it on the whole of our society."

Once again, Barnes seeks to point out that these good people are simply responding to the unwarranted actions of others in order to defend the will of the majority. Clearly he is wrong. The courts are not in place to simply support the will of the majority. Were that the case numerous instances of injustice would have remained in place far longer and may have potentially still been in place today. Anyone that believes that the Republican Party is in the midst of wholesale disarray might want to take another long hard look. This is full-on campaigning.

Daniel DiRito | May 30, 2006 | 11:43 AM | link | Comments (0)
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S. Dakota Group Files To Stop Abortion Ban genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood

Abortion rights proponents in South Dakota submitted in excess of 37,000 petition signatures, more than double the amount required, in an attempt to force the issue to the ballot for a vote in November. Reuters has the full article here.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families said it had obtained nearly 38,000 signatures on a petition aimed at repealing an abortion ban signed into law by Gov. Mike Rounds on March 6.

The petition would be filed with the Secretary of State's office on Tuesday afternoon, and if at least 16,728 signatures are certified as valid, the scheduled July 1 implementation of the ban would be nullified and voters would be allowed to decide the issue at the ballot box in November.

"This law is just not feasible and is just very extreme," said Dr. Maria Bell, an obstetrician who helped sponsor the petition drive, in a press conference.

The South Dakota measure is considered one of the most restrictive in the United States. It bans nearly all abortions, even when pregnancies result from incest or rape. The law says that if a woman's life is in jeopardy, doctors must try to save the fetus as well as the woman. Doctors who perform an abortion could receive a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.

The ban's supporters have said they want the law to be challenged in court so it can make its way to a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court. They hope the law will help overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman's right to an abortion.

Daniel DiRito | May 30, 2006 | 11:27 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 27, 2006

Darksided: Trading Spouses Remixed genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

I found this video the other day while looking for a music video. It is kind of weird but I thought it was an interesting combination of the woman who went nuts on the television show Trading Spouses and criticism of the Bush administration and many of their policies. I thought it was creative to use the words of a "christian" fanatic to voice that criticism.

Daniel DiRito | May 27, 2006 | 10:02 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 26, 2006

Immigration & Assimilation: Can We All Get Along? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The issue of immigration has captured the attention of the American public. Those on both sides of the issue are passionate and vocal in expressing their preferred solutions. Having traveled throughout Europe in 2004, I learned that many of these countries have been dealing with their own growing influx of immigrant groups. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and other regional conflicts, many Eastern Europeans and North Africans have sought better security, jobs, and an improved standard of living in other well established countries. By comparison, the cultural and religious diversities they have encountered far exceed the American experience with the burgeoning influx of Mexicans. I found an interesting article on the difficulties associated with immigration and assimilation in The Hill. Some excerpts follow.

The six largest countries in the European Union are considering adopting an integration contract, proposed by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy at a G-6 meeting March 23, that would require immigrants to learn the language of their adopted country and accept relevant social norms or risk expulsion.

Integration processes often reflect one-way integration, in which the immigrant is expected to take the initiative to accomplish the level of integration that the state prescribes. However, in practice integration occurs as a two-way process: the state changes along with the immigrants it accepts.

For example, the United States has no formal immigrant-integration policy, other than a citizenship test requiring the demonstration of basic English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.

Evidence suggests that integration is more successful when governments make education programs accessible and provide individualized integration plans.

The recent rise in perceptions of insecurity and deep social divides between immigrant and existing populations are prompting immigrant integration reform in most European states.

Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and parts of Belgium now all mandate integration. While tailored to the individual state, these programs generally require the immigrant to be able to speak a basic level of the host-country language and to learn the country’s culture and customs.

Not only are European states becoming more proactive about integration but, as these examples demonstrate, nearly all the changes being debated are moving these states’ models toward being more restrictive. The Dutch government is seeking to revolutionize the integration process by requiring pre-immigration “integration screening" in the country of origin.

Much of the immigration debate throughout the West focuses on security concerns given events like 9/11, the London bombings, the Madrid bombings, the riots in France, and the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by a Muslim fanatic. Complicating the debate is the potential for fomenting hidden, though palpable, racist sentiments. Racism has been a topic of debate in Europe and many believe it has surfaced in the United States as the government has made a push to address the immigration issue.

Beyond security fears are public concerns about national identity. As globalization facilitates legal and illegal migration flows, a concurrent rise in public fears about changing national identity is occurring.

While such fears are often rooted in submersed racism, active integration policies are believed by the voting public to ‘protect’ the national culture, language, and identity.

Immigration also is perceived as a threat to the welfare state — even though the growth rate in most European countries probably would drop to near-stagnation if zero immigration were imposed.

The key risks in such immigration reform are the limitations of the models that states adopt. Indeed, at the same time as countries such as the Netherlands are shifting from multicultural to more assimilationist integration models, the failures of immigrant assimilation are becoming increasingly apparent.

Islamic immigrants in particular perceive policies such as the French rule requiring removal of conspicuous religious symbols in schools as a threat to their religious identity. Political rhetoric also contributes to these perceptions: Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk turned the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh into an integration issue, stating on the evening of the murder that “[failed integration] has gone this far, and it goes no further". Host country citizens may also blame failed assimilation on racial or religious differences, further exacerbating intercommunity tensions.

Indeed, integration is not achieved merely by labor-market and community participation; it also requires that the immigrant identify with and have loyalty to his new country. Mandating integration compels a speed of assimilation which may impede the developments of loyalty.

This observation is particularly interesting given the recent debate and passage of two bills that seek to identify the need to speak English as a key piece of assimilating into the American culture. During the debate, one of the arguments made was that successful integration was necessarily dependent upon the acquisition of a sufficient proficiency in English. Essentially, the point being made is that learning the language is in the self-interest of the immigrant. The article points out that mandating detailed programs intent on integration and assimilation runs the risk of actually creating resistance.

The article goes on to point out that security fears may be misplaced and misguided when countries attempt to mandate more stringent programs of assimilation and integration in the hopes of preventing terrorist activity.

Evidence suggests that most terrorists either are temporary visitors to the country or second-generation ethnic minorities — not aspiring immigrants. The Nixon Center reports that only 3 percent of known terrorists who have crossed Western borders since 1993 had permanent-resident status. Portraying long-term immigrants as a security threat may isolate them from broader society, inhibiting their integration.

If states were instead to focus on political assimilation — encouraging immigrants to accept the values of liberal democracies — while accepting cultural diversity, they would be better fitted both to reduce security concerns and to encourage immigrant identification with their new home. Managing integration programs effectively with this new goal in mind requires several key elements:

• Ideally, flexible and individualized plans for integration should be established for each immigrant as soon as possible after arrival, taking into account the main reasons the immigrant has moved, his/her cultural background, and the location to which s/he has moved.

• Integration fundamentally is a local process, and communities would benefit from funding to establish their own tailored integration programs.

• Political participation, such as the right to vote in local elections, can empower new immigrant groups.

• The strengths of tight-knit immigrant communities can also be leveraged to facilitate the integration process. Mentorship programs linking new immigrants with more experienced counterparts — such as exist for Somali youth in some U.K. communities — can strengthen community relationships.

• Perhaps most important, immigrants themselves are the best gauge of their integration needs. Encouraging immigrants to participate and contribute in planning for their own integration may be the best way to jump-start the process.

While an extreme analogy, all too often the integration and assimilation of immigrant populations is more akin to the zoo animal model than to a comprehensive program that humanizes immigrants beyond economic and political calculations. Evidence seems to suggest that such approaches run the risk of creating an outcome that is antithetical to the stated objective.

With regard to immigration, looking at the conflict and unrest that has surfaced in Europe may provide valuable insight and guidance as the United States begins this difficult debate. By comparison to many of the immigrant populations in Europe, Mexican immigrants have been peaceful and cooperative and are remarkably well integrated into the American culture. The decisions we are about to make may well determine if that will continue or if we will allow emotions, fear, and bias to hijack the process.

Daniel DiRito | May 26, 2006 | 11:37 AM | link | Comments (0)
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UPI: How Can Islamist Extremism Be Curbed genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

United Press International has a good article on how the West needs to rethink its approach to the growing wave of Islamist extremism. Read the full article here.

Bassam Tibi, a professor-at-large at Cornell University and faculty member of Germany's University of Goettingen, maintained the West cannot properly cope with jihadism, or faith-driven struggle, through an "old state-centered approach," and use of regular armed forces.

"In such cases (where religion is involved) then there can be no room left for rational conflict resolution," Tibi said Wednesday at an international conference held in Israel on radical Islam. He thus shared the analysis of some Israeli experts following Hamas' victory in the last elections.

Tibi, who proudly presented himself as a descendent of an old Damascus noble family, said Islamists perceive themselves as "true believers" and seek a new world order based on the Sharia religious laws. Islamism is a political ideology that seeks to replace the Western secular system.

"Political Islam is inspired by an Islamic nostalgia aimed at reviving Islam's glory... in a new Islamic shape," he maintained.

The Islamists seek to "topple existing regimes at home" and replace them with "the rule of God... (It) is not the restoration of the Caliphate, but rather an establishing of a nizam Islami (Islamic order) that ranks as a top priority on the agenda of Islamism."

"One cannot fight fundamentalists with armies," Tibi continued. "Jihadism is not only an ideology of religious extremism, but also a new concept of warfare."

Its most important element is to undermine the Islamists' "appeal and their call for an Islamic order.

Tibi advocated "a war of ideas... against the ideology of Islamism." It must involve Muslims, "to avert the perception of a war on Islam."

The article is particularly interesting because of the comparisons one can make to religious fundamentalists in the United States. Clearly, there are differences but the underlying thinking is quite similar. Both groups seek to establish a new order based upon ideological beliefs that emanate from religious doctrine. The concept of the nation/state becomes secondary to establishing the preferred religious hierarchy. Islamists have resorted to acts of violence to propel their movement. While this is a significant differentiation from U.S. religious fundamentalists, the question is whether the distinction is a function of philosophy or if it may simply indicate one movement has traveled further down the natural evolutionary path associated with such ideological thought processes. I'm hopeful the conclusion of the American experience will be the former.

Daniel DiRito | May 26, 2006 | 10:40 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 25, 2006

Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood

The latest HIV infection information from Uganda seems to indicate that the abstinence approach may be a disaster in the making. Uganda, long viewed as a model for HIV prevention success in Africa, appears to have taken a wrong turn in promoting the program described as ABC...A: abstinence first...B: be faithful in a committed relationship...C: use condoms if A and B fail. The Bush administration appears to be complicit in these alarming new infection rates by virtue of its push towards programs that emphasize abstinence while moving away from the promotion of condom usage.

From allAfrica.com:

Speaking at the ceremony, the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) Director General, Dr Kihumuro Apuuli, said despite financial support from the donor community, the rate of people acquiring HIV/Aids is still increasing.

He said, in 2005 130,000 Ugandans got infected compared to 70,000 in 2003.

One must understand a little of the history of Uganda's AIDS prevention efforts in order to draw any conclusions. Uganda was one of the first African nations to openly discuss HIV and to direct energy and money towards awareness. In 1986, President Museveni toured the country with a message that HIV prevention was a patriotic endeavor and basically introduced the above described program that has come to be called the ABC's of AIDS prevention. There is little dispute about these basic facts. However, since that time the interpretation of the resulting data has been widely divergent and controversial.

When the Bush administration announced its five year, 15 billion dollar effort to combat HIV in Africa in early 2003, it immediately embraced the Ugandan ABC program as a model for the rest of Africa. Since that time, two opposing views have emerged with regard to an effective plan to combat HIV in Africa.

The administration and numerous religious groups (most of these groups have limited HIV experience) believe that abstinence should be the primarly prevention message. Those with significant HIV prevention experience caution that abstinence can be an adjunct to condom promotion and distribution, but it is not a method that ought to be singularly enbraced and endorsed. They cite abundant research and data to support this contention.

From talk2action.org:

Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-sponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. But conservative evangelicals rewrote this history--with the full-throated cooperation of Uganda's evangelical first family, the Musevenis. As one Family Research Council paper put it:

"Both abstinence and monogamy helped to curb the spread of AIDS in Uganda...How did this happen? Shortly after he came into office in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda spearheaded a mass education campaign promoting a three-pronged AIDS prevention message: abstinence from sexual activity until marriage; monogamy within marriage; and condoms as a last resort. The message became commonly known as ABC: Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail."

This warped version of the true Uganda story became the mantra in Bush's Washington, with the "C" reduced more and more to an afterthought as time went by. For example, in piling on against a 2002 pro-condom comment by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Focus on the Family's James Dobson wrote condoms out of the story entirely: "Secretary Powell seems to be ignorant of the fact the Uganda has made great progress against AIDS by emphasizing abstinence, not condoms."

To see more about this shifting Bush administration emphasis on abstinence and faith based programs, please see the prior Thought Theater posting on the topic here. Questions about the Ugandan effort and their reports of successful results began to surface in 2004.

From BBC News:

An organisation helping people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda has questioned the authenticity of the government's statistics on the disease.

bq. Uganda is often held up as a success story and the government lauded for the progress it has made with the official prevalence rate put at only 6%.

But after conducting research in districts across Uganda, an NGO suggests the real picture is far worse.

They found prevalence rates as high as 30% and bad access to anti-retrovirals.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga, the executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda (NGEN), said he believed the HIV prevalence rate could be more than three times higher than previously thought.

"We have found the prevalence rate at this time is 17%," he told a news conference.

Additional data was reported in early 2005 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Take particular note that researchers seem to be confounded by the information they were gathering when they compared it to the reported declines in infection rates. Not only were they finding that abstinence was waning, they were puzzled that infection rates appeared to be declining. They point out that condom use seemed to be on the increase...possibly providing an explanation to the confusing data.

Research from the heavily studied Rakai district in southern Uganda suggests that increased condom use, coupled with premature death among those infected more than a decade ago with the AIDS virus, are primarily responsible for the steady decline in HIV infections in that area.

Uganda's "ABC" prevention formula -- standing for Abstinence, Be Faithful, and use Condoms -- has been widely credited with lowering that nation's infection rate from 30 percent in the early 1990s to below 10 percent today.

In the Rakai district, however, researchers found that abstinence and fidelity have actually been declining, but the expected rise in HIV infections stemming from such behavior has not occurred.

"Condom use may be offsetting other high-risk behaviors,'' said Maria Wawer, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, who presented the study at a session of the 12th Annual Retrovirus Conference in Boston.

The Rakai findings are based on an extensive and continuing process of interviewing 10,000 adults each year --a so-called population-based survey that is considered the gold standard for this kind of epidemiological research.

Reports of consistent condom use by men rose to more than 50 percent by 2002, compared with 10 percent a decade earlier. Among women, reports of condom use rose from virtually zero to 25 percent.

In order to fully understand all the factors that may explain these new infection statistics, one must also realize what was taking place within the Ugandan condom distribution program. In 2004, the Ugandan government suddenly issued a recall for condoms that were being distributed for free at numerous clinics throughout the country. The President of Uganda indicated concerns about the quality of the condoms.

From Avert.org:

In 2004 the Ugandan government issued a nationwide recall of the condoms distributed free in health clinics, due to concerns about their quality. Although tests showed there was nothing at all wrong with the condoms, the government said that public confidence in the brand had been badly dented, so they would not redistribute them. By mid-2005 there was said to be a severe scarcity of condoms in Uganda, made worse by new taxes which made the remaining stocks too expensive for many people to afford.

Some have said the US is largely to blame for the shortages. According to Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, "there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administration in the United States is now pursuing".

Mr Lewis has also said that PEPFAR's emphasis on abstinence above condom distribution is a "distortion of the preventive apparatus and is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred".

However, speaking in August 2005, Uganda's coordinator of condom procurement at the Ministry of Health denied there was any shortage of condoms, and said that new stocks would be distributed soon. She also said the government was committed to promoting all three parts of the "ABC" strategy: Abstinence, Faithfulness and Condoms.

From Kaisernetwork.org:

U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis and other AIDS advocates in August said the Bush administration's policy of promoting abstinence prevention programs and cuts in federal funding for condoms have contributed to a condom shortage in Uganda and undermined the country's HIV/AIDS fight. Uganda needs between 120 million and 150 million condoms annually, but since October 2004 only 32 million have been distributed in the country, according to the U.S.-based Center for Health and Gender Equity, also known as CHANGE.

In 2005, Act Up also took up the issue of the reported condom shortage in Uganda and the fears about the shift to abstinence programs that were emerging since the introduction of the Bush administrations efforts to combat the disease in Africa.

From Actupny.org:

(Manhattan) A coalition of AIDS activists held a demonstration in midtown Manhattan outside of the Ugandan Permanent Mission to the United Nations today to bring attention to that nation's severe condom shortage which is putting people at dangerous risk of HIV infection. The crisis has developed over the past ten months as the government of Uganda has stopped its robust program of public sector condom distribution. These condoms previously accounted for 80% of condoms available in the country.

Since May 2004, new shipments--some 30 million quality-approved condoms--have been sitting in government warehouses. Activists are demanding to know why, nearly a year into the shortage, health clinics are still unsupplied and the government is refusing to state when or how they will distribute the condoms. "This crisis could have been averted by the government long ago. The condoms are there, but what is in woeful shortage is the political will of Ugandan leaders to distribute them and promote condom use," said Sharonann Lynch of Health GAP.

Now activists in Uganda say the program has been overtaken by abstinence-until-marriage approaches as President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni are aligning Uganda's policies with the ideology touted--and financed--by the United States government.

Uganda is a country receiving funds from the President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The program requires a minimum of 33% of its prevention funds to be used for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and limits the distribution of condoms to specific high-risk groups. "The strident prevention politics tied to the Bush administration's AIDS funding are undermining sound prevention in the name of abstinence-only approaches. Scientific studies have shown the inadequacy of such methods, and President Museveni is neglecting the public health of Ugandans by bowing to Bush's pressure." said Eustacia Smith of ACT UP.

A comprehensive review of this body of information simply illuminates the misguided efforts of the Bush administration with regard to HIV prevention. The data not only show that the abstinence approach is at best suspect (and more likely, wholly insufficient); it clearly demonstrates that condom availability and usage are the essential tool in combating increasing infection rates.

One is left to wonder about the accuracy of the reported data. While the near doubling of infection rates is sufficiently alarming, it is even more frightening to consider the possibility that the information may be inaccurate. I have no way to verify the data and while I question the motivations of the Ugandan government, it may be several years before it can be determined if the numbers may have been deliberately under reported.

Uganda is a snapshot of a confluence of allegiances and events that will ultimately have led to more pain, suffering, and death. History will likely note that the matching ideologies of those in power in both nations directly led to the unnecessary spread of a deadly disease at a time when money and energy were available to enable the opposite. That is an unmitigated and inexcusable tragedy.

Daniel DiRito | May 25, 2006 | 9:46 AM | link
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May 21, 2006

Pope Assails Secularism (Update) genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions


Pope Benedict XVI continued his attacks on secularism and asserted that low birth rates in Canada were the evidence of the growing problem. Read the full article here.

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday that low birth rates in Canada are the result of the "pervasive effects of secularism" and asked the country's bishops to counter the trend by preaching the truth of Christ.

Benedict, who has spoken out several times in favor of large families, blamed Canada's low birth rate on social ills and moral ambiguities that result from secular ideology.

"Like many countries ... Canada is today suffering from the pervasive effects of secularism," Benedict told visiting bishops from Canada. "One of the more dramatic symptoms of this mentality, clearly evident in your own region, is the plummeting birth rate."

In my opinion, the linkage of low birth rates to secularism is an absurd generalization. The assertion seems to argue that having more children is an inherent good and a necessity. I'll offer my own generalization to expose the degree to which oversimplifications become the rhetoric of institutional ideologies. "The accumulation of wealth by the Catholic Church, that includes seeking money from struggling parishioners, is responsible for the pervasive poverty in the world." Taking it a step further, it seems far more logical to conclude that the growing cost of raising children has a much larger impact on the decline in birth rates in developed countries than does secularism. Consequently, one could easily make the generalized argument that the church is simply motivated by monetary considerations when it promotes higher birth rates...with the obvious intention being to create more Catholics to contribute more money to preserve the institution.

Separately, Benedict told the new Spanish ambassador to the Holy See that family based on marriage should not be "replaced or confused" by other institutions -- an allusion to gay marriage, which is legal in Spain.

Continuing with my generalization, the church opposes gay marriage and homosexuality because neither has the likelihood to create more Catholics who will contribute more money. Given the waning influence of the Catholic Church, particularly in Europe, it seems obvious that these antiquated doctrines no longer withstand the tests of reality. As people have become more aware and more educated, they have begun to rely on their own ability to understand the world in which they live...leaving behind much of what they see as irrelevant rhetoric.


Original Posting:

Pope Benedict has condemned gay unions; calling gay love weak. My own speculation on what is actually "weak" follows excerpts from the article.

From Bloomberg:

``Only the foundation of complete and irrevocable love between man and woman is capable of forming the basis of a society that becomes the home of all men,'' Benedict told a convention of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute today. The pope said ``confusing marriage with other types of unions based on a love that is weak'' should be avoided.

Still, more than 71 percent of Italians are favorable to gay civil unions such as those allowed in the U.K., Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium, according to a January report by research group Eurispes.

While the 1929 Lateran Treaty outlines the separation of church and state in Italy, about 43 percent of Italians believe the pope has meddled excessively in politics, according to the Eurispes report, published Jan. 17.

In my opinion, what seems weak to me is the character of the priests who violated the law and their vows when they decided to molest innocent young children. What seems weak to me is a hierarchy that allowed the molesting to go on for decades. What seems weak to me is those in positions of authority who covered up the molesting and moved priests from parish to parish knowing full well they were likely to re-offend.

What seems really weak to me is that these hypocrites think they hold infallible moral authority. History is riddled with examples of the Catholic Church burying its collective head in the sand when courage and candor was needed. See a prior Thought Theater posting on the silence of the church during the Holocaust and their continued misguided opposition to condoms with regards to the AIDS epidemic here.

Daniel DiRito | May 21, 2006 | 12:06 PM | link | Comments (2)
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May 17, 2006

Al Gore: The Rapture Wrecker genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Tongue-In-Cheek

Think Progress has a posting on the roll out of a campaign supported by big oil companies to downplay the role of global warming and to paint some as alarmists. Included in that group would be Al Gore. Read the full article here. Americablog also has a posting here.

Doesn't Al Gore realize that the rapture is on the way and he has no right to play God and try to stop it? These damn do-good secularists just can't mind their own business and let the world end on the Biblically designated time frame. I hate when that happens! Al, back off!


Al Gore: The Rapture Wrecker

Daniel DiRito | May 17, 2006 | 2:11 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Hedwig: Tommy Gnosis Sings "Wicked Little Town" genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tuned Out & Video-Philes

One of my favorite movies is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It's funny and its sad; its silly and its serious. On the surface the movie is about two people who fall in love and then fall apart. It is actually far more complex. In reality, the movie is about only one person who is struggling to find the second half of him. This song is near the end of the movie and it is the point at which Hedwig finds his other half. As you watch the video, be sure to note that the cross that appears on the forehead of the singer (his name is Tommy Gnosis...which is significant because it was one of the "lost" gospels...see Elaine Pagels take on the meaning of this gospel here) ends up on the forehead of Hedwig, the man who is watching the other sing. If you haven't seen the movie, it is worth renting.

Daniel DiRito | May 17, 2006 | 7:14 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 10, 2006

Bill Maher: Religion, Atheists, & Torture genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

I thought this clip was very interesting because it seems to be related to my prior posting on "Does Science Need Religion To Have A Conscience" which you can read here. Reza Aslan, author of the book No God But God is part of the panel. He makes some interesting observations about the origin of religions and how they are often based upon the views of men like Jesus and Muhammad who acted as critics of the world in which they lived. He argues that the followers subsequently shape the religion and it's doctrines to meet their beliefs.

Daniel DiRito | May 10, 2006 | 6:27 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 7, 2006

Does Science Need Religion To Have A Conscience? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

I recently did a comment posting on Pharyngula, at scienceblogs.com. The topic was about whether or not "science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do." PZ Meyer, the sites author, wrote:

"No, we don't need religion for that. Atheists can have a conscience, too, and we are aware that there are human limits to what we should do. Too often, religion is used as a justification for doing the inhuman to heretics and unbelievers...and to pagans. It's a piss-poor substitute for morality, unless you think propping up the obscenely rich or damning people for what they do with their genitals is "morality" (and isn't that also an awfully petty concern for their majestic deity?)."

You can read the entire post and comment thread here.

The following was my comment posting:

I'm not a religious person and I don't believe in an afterlife. Ironically, while I also won't stake a claim to being a Christian in the defined and institutional sense of the word, I am content to support the notion that the examples offered by a man (fictional or factual are irrelevant to me) named Jesus can guide us to change. His is the story of a social critic who dissected the fallacies and hypocrisies that permeate the human experience. He did so at great personal risk because I believe "he" saw it as I choose to see it...if one man can elect to pursue and follow "truth", then he is entitled to believe and expect that all men can do the same.

In doing so, when each individual makes this necessary choice, we will cease pursuing and negotiating for a better, future destiny...and we will finally live heaven on earth. Our destiny is of our own making. I refuse to allow religion, or those who believe it is theirs to define, to remove that destiny from my earthly grasp. In the end, we can choose to be good people that honor humanity without submitting to any religious institutions or doctrines. Attempts to argue that science needs religion to keep it humane are therefore absurd.

The following was one of the replies to my comment:

While a generally agree with you thoughttheater, I must as a similarly flawed human take the stance that just because someone "attempted" to lead people to a better world, based on his own interpretation of what would make one, I would be a fool to assume that he a) had the knowledge necessary to adequately assess the consequences of his theories, b) sufficient knowledge of world customs and cultures, many of which he could have known nothing about and c) a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic biological drives that led to both the social structure he fought and the one he advocated, to succeed. History is rife with people like Jesus and Marx, who had utopian idea[ls] that "sound" good, but ignore the basic realities of how, and why, humans think and act the way they do.

The only functional system is one that sways with the occasional punches thrown by the individuals that "fail" to fit into the structure. Societies are like bridges. Build them to sway to little and they break, let them sway too much and they vibrate themselves into the point of failure. We barely understand the stresses that can screw up one person, based on a rough estimate of their personality. Jesus, Marx, et al, tried to build bridges with no understanding of the materials, no comprehension of the scale of time needed to succeed and no clue what the existing, never mind new, stresses would be.

The bridges they built collapsed, but society survived by living in the wreckage, until some other fool came along and tried a new design. Only, just as we still fail at building new structures, we continue to fail at building new societies. The problem is, when a real bridge falls down, someone looks it over to find out "why", societies sadly keep being rebuilt using various combinations of historical ideas, with no grasp of the reasons for failure and no desire on the part of those that proclaim themselves as the arbiters of morality and social order wanting to learn from the mistakes, never mind ever doing so. Progress when it's made is made in spite of such people, and like old world church builders, if it works and doesn't look offensive to them in some fashion; they adopt it, then claim they knew all along that it worked. When it doesn't, they more often than not try to rebuild the same unsupported towering columns, defective dome ceilings and fancy pedestrian threatening crenalations and physically impossible arches. And of course, they blame demons and goblins (or atheists and liberals) when the whole edifice collapses.

Rather than to simply try and respond in the comment thread at Pharyngula, I thought it might be a good topic posting here at Thought Theater. I think the question is fascinating and one that gets little real discussion given the believer / nonbeliever rhetoric that seems to permeate the bulk of the dialogue.

I read the reply to my comment several times as I wanted to ruminate on it before composing a response. Given the limits of a comment thread discussion, I was pleased with the degree of communication that had transpired. Nonetheless, the pace of a written back and forth never quite approximates the speed with which a face to face discussion can lead to a better understanding of each individual's ideas and thoughts. Notwithstanding, I will proceed to elaborate.

First, in my offering Jesus as an example, I wasn't actually attempting to support an established doctrine but moreover to demonstrate what I perceive to be an effective method for the pursuit of "truth". Underlying all of my beliefs is my strong conviction with regard to the sanctity of humanity. For me, nothing holds greater weight...nothing. Keep in mind that I stated that "the examples offered by a man (fictional or factual are irrelevant to me) named Jesus can guide us to change." Therefore, my focus was on an endpoint; not a prescribed path...hence the key word "guide". To give an analogy, suppose we want to obtain a total of ten particular items...say marbles. The way we count those marbles may be different but the goal is something we can agree upon; we all generally concur on how to define a marble and we all have an understanding of what the number ten means.

Essentially, my premise is founded on the notion of "truth". Note that I am not supporting what I would characterize as dogma or doctrine...that being Truth. That begs the question, what is "truth?" To understand that premise, one needs look no further than the underlying principle, "the sanctity of humanity." The individual that responded to my remarks stated:

"I would be a fool to assume that he (Jesus)...a) had the knowledge necessary to adequately assess the consequences of his theories, b) sufficient knowledge of world customs and cultures, many of which he could have known nothing about and c) a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic biological drives that led to both the social structure he fought and the one he advocated, to succeed."

There is "truth" in those remarks. However, they do not refute the endpoint...they simply explain that he (Jesus) may have been more distant from it then than we may be now. Obviously, at the time one would have expected people to believe that the world was flat or numerous other incorrect assumptions. More importantly, in seeking "truth" we can be wrong until such time as the data tells us otherwise...so long as we continue to seek it and to honor the sanctity of humanity. If the stated goal is sincere, doctrine and dogma will not stand to block the newfound "truth"...it will support it since it is consistent with the end goal...more "truth" to bolster humanity.

Science, as I see it, accepts the methodology I am advocating. At the same time, goodness, as the logical adjunct to the concept of the sanctity of humanity, can travel simultaneously and in synchronicity with science without the need for religion. In my construct, the advancement of humanity is the ultimate objective. To say it differently, religious doctrine is not allowed to intervene and insert judgments that distinguish beyond the basic definitional denominator...our humanity is sacred.

Repeating a portion of what the other commenter stated:

"The problem is, when a real bridge falls down, someone looks it over to find out "why", societies sadly keep being rebuilt using various combinations of historical ideas, with no grasp of the reasons for failure and no desire on the part of those that proclaim themselves as the arbiters of morality and social order wanting to learn from the mistakes, never mind ever doing so."

Again, there is "truth" in these remarks. I agree that many seek to determine the direction of society based upon their own doctrines of morality...that is typically found with most religions...and it is often unwavering in spite of any sufficient evidence to the contrary. In fact most religions don't actually seek to build societies...they seek to keep them as they envision them, based on dogma, for all of perpetuity. Nonetheless, that doesn't refute my basic premise...it merely points out the obstacles that are created. Another example might be beneficial. Since the origin of the Bible, numerous interpretations have been offered and, more recently, more documents have been exposed that seemingly indicate that the content that was placed in the Bible, to a large degree, was chosen by those in positions of authority.

Clearly, there are Gospels that were not incorporated into the Bible. The fundamental premise is that God spoke to those who authored the Bible and yet it is obvious that humans had to make determinations as to which conversations were real and which were fabricated. That endeavor was necessarily based upon doctrine over science and that dogma continues to assert authority today despite the evidence that the methodology remains subjective and therefore potentially flawed. Jesus, whether factual or fictional, challenged many of the notions found in the Old Testament. Presumably, he did so because he felt the doctrines it contained conflicted with his pursuit of a larger "truth". Was his purview sufficient for eternity...of course not. Has his methodology remained valid...I contend it has. Keep in mind that I called him a social critic which by its nature defies conventional precepts in order to expose more "truth"...a construct that remains fully consistent with my contention.

I want to come back to one of the commenter's remarks. He indicated that individuals like Jesus and Marx must have had "a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic biological drives that led to both the social structure he fought and the one he advocated, to succeed." In theory, this still remains true. We don't understand all of the biological factors within the individual and therefore the society. Nonetheless, we have the ability to pursue them. Again, the goal remains consistent...the pursuit of more "truth"...and the methodology is still valid...continue to dismantle and question without reliance on doctrine in order to find more "truth". Jesus and Marx approached change by pointing out the very things the commenter objects to...a reliance on established methods despite evidence to the contrary. They both promoted change by explaining the faults with the status quo. In other words, sometimes the visions for the future are nothing more than the dissection of the foibles of the past. In that regard, both Jesus and Marx told us what was wrong and what to walk away from...the absence of "truth"...and to move towards what might be better...the discovery of more "truth".

Not long ago I saw a play in Denver called Marx in Soho by historian Howard Zinn. The premise of the play is that Marx has come back for one day to defend himself and his theories. The following is from Westword, a Denver publication:

He is not a Marxist, this Marx insists, going on to condemn the power-mad thugs who terrorized Russia and China in his name. He describes his belief system as essentially humanistic, a blueprint for a classless society in which everyone is free of want and able to develop fully as human beings.

On the other hand, the critique of capitalism is spot-on, since capitalism, too, carries within itself the seeds of its own corruption. "I predicted that capitalism would increase the wealth of society, but this wealth would be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands," Marx says, describing the America we know with absolute precision. When he talks about the manipulation of patriotism to make people "forget their misery" and thunders against capitalism's tendency to commoditize everything, including art and human individuality, it's hard not to stand up and cheer.

Although Marxism contended with capitalism for dominance and legitimacy over much of the twentieth century, few Americans know anything but a cartoon version of it; Marx in Soho is an excellent antidote to this ignorance.

The point of the play, and my point about those who seek to advance social change in the interest of the sanctity of humanity as the underlying premise, is that it is not the choice of those who call for change, in order to promote change, that stops change; it is halted by the failure of more to choose it because they see the sanctity of humanity as secondary to the singular objectives of the individual. I contend that this is in fact the hidden, yet compelling, force behind religion. Establishing a construct that "allows" the individual to take priority over the whole of humanity (I think the acceptance of humanity being inherently flawed is a choice) and at the same time be provided with the opportunity to obtain redemption is the very essence of religion. Once in place, this collective mentality allows the individual to come first because it is supported by the accepted premise that humanity is flawed. Subsequently, as part of the fundamentals of religion, forgiveness can then be obtained by supporting and participating in religion.

There are scholars who contend that the actual message of Jesus was in fact that all men are the sons of God because humanity is sacred. In other words, his message was that we must all choose to honor the sanctity of humanity. One often hears it expressed that he was "the only begotten son" of God. It isn't hard to conclude that the reference simply meant he was alone in his choice to honor the sanctity of humanity here on earth. His fate speaks to the fact that established beliefs can and do hinder the unbiased and unfettered pursuit of more "truth".

Once our humanity and its obligations are subrogated to religion, a whole new hierarchy has been fabricated by the few for the many. When this happens, religion has thus supplanted our accountability to humanity such that our actions in relation to others are viewed through this new prism. Unfortunately, the prism is different from one religion to another. In one way or another, they all attempt to place value judgments on some or all of our natural human activities such that the sanctity of humanity becomes secondary to the principles of any particular religious doctrine. This is often done regardless of conflicting scientific information thereby frequently suppressing the acceptance or pursuit of more "truth".

The example of Jesus cannot be characterized as that of a rigid doctrinaire. In the end, if Marx or Jesus were to actually return to this world as it now exists, I believe they would analyze the prevailing Truth, assimilate the actual "truth" available, compare and contrast both, offer their views on the degree of either's legitimacy, and lastly, and most importantly, choose to live all the "truth" available despite the potential risks...while remaining committed to seeking more...ever mindful of the underlying objective...the sanctity of humanity. The visionary, whether placed on the horizon of yesterday or today, always looks backward before moving forward...yet always remains a visionary.

Daniel DiRito | May 7, 2006 | 8:09 AM | link | Comments (2)
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May 5, 2006

The Bible Made Him Do It? genre: Hip-Gnosis

Situations like this lead me to question the rhetoric being used in right leaning educational institutions. I find it hard to imagine anyone decides to go out and burn down an adult bookstore at 20 years old without being fed a bit of extremist ideology. Frankly, I feel sorry for the kid.

From the Associated Press:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A Bible college student has been charged with arson for allegedly setting fire to an adult bookstore.

Benjamin Daniel Warren, 20, is a student at Crown College, a fundamental Baptist college and seminary of about 900 students in Knoxville. Police said he confessed to the crime and told investigators he realized [it] was a sin.

Warren waived a preliminary hearing this week, and a grand jury is considering his case.

Authorities said a man wearing black clothing and a ski mask and carrying what proved to be a fake gun entered the Town and Country Bookstore on Jan. 31 and asked the clerk if anyone was inside. Assured the store was empty, he ordered the clerk to leave.

He poured about six gallons of "an ignitable liquid" inside the bookstore and set it on fire, according to an arrest warrant.

No one was injured, but the fire destroyed $600,000 in merchandise and caused up to $300,000 in damage to the building, owner David Stubbs said.

Police had no clue to the masked man's identity until Warren surrendered in early April.

Daniel DiRito | May 5, 2006 | 2:56 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 4, 2006

Holy Wars genre: Hip-Gnosis & Rhyme-N-Reason & Six Degrees of Speculation

The category “Rhyme-N-Reason" is intended to be a place to share poetry that stimulates thoughtful reflection. For me, writing poetry is cathartic. It’s a way to encapsulate a group of feelings or thoughts that might be on my mind such that when I’m done writing, I experience a level of resolve that is both comforting and motivational. It has the same effect for me as listening to a song with which one has a significant connection. It takes you somewhere you’ve been or to something you’ve felt or experienced and allows you to further interpret the intended meaning or the lesson learned. Hopefully this can be a place for readers to pause and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings. Your comments are welcomed as well as any poetry you might want to share.

I wrote the following poem called Holy Wars while thinking about conflict and what makes it so prevalent. It speaks to the "tit for tat" mentality that I've recently been writing about and how difficult it becomes to step back from this escalating rhetoric. The poem also attempts to expose some of the hypocrisy that exists in the words and the choices of those in positions of leadership.

Holy Wars

Decisions made by dignitaries, neither will retreat
Time to launch the missiles, the price of pride is steep

Issues framed in declarations, soldiers winning decorations
The uniforms delineate, flying flags to note each nation

The minions meet the mortar, the victory’s essential
Sent to do the bidding, so death’s inconsequential

Men meet to fight the battle, the enemy they blame
The blood pours on the soil, the colors all the same

A knock upon the door, they say your son has died
The message is the same…for mothers on each side

We choose to hate the foe, the people are the pawns
The culprits in the castle, the kingdom must be strong

The order is reversed, the laws of god invoked
Lives are bought and sold, the flames of hatred stoked

Someone pulls the strings, the reasoning is spun
The guilty are absolved, the damage has been done

The origins forgotten, when abundance was provided
Then greed became the norm, so humanity subsided

They say the goal is heaven, and yet its things they seek
The deeds defy the words; the strong must be the weak

No man exceeds another, yet often do they try
The truth cannot be hidden; it’s in each person’s eyes

Each one of us diminished, when one destroys another
Men preceded nations; we’re in this world together

Daniel DiRito | May 4, 2006 | 7:01 AM | link | Comments (0)
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May 3, 2006

Immigration: The "Tit For Tat" Mentality genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

When I was in high school, I used to occasionally write for the school paper. At the time, I never wanted to write a regular column on a scheduled basis. I wanted to write when I was moved by an issue or a topic. Typically, I would write after a subject had been aired by the opposing sides and when there seemed to be no resolution in sight...when it finally looked like the sides had exhausted the ever so frequent "tit for tat."

Since I launched Thought Theater, I've recently found myself in similar situations with the same instinctive feelings. Let me try to explain. Many blogs seek to report on the daily buzz...those polarized and partisan issues that become red meat for those on opposite extremes of the spectrum. I've done some of it myself as it's easy to get caught up in the perceived need to attract site visits. The risk in doing so is that it often prevents the rumination I think is necessary to boil out the impurities in order to obtain a potable conclusion.

Those who have read some of my postings will know that I'm often troubled by the rhetoric, the rudeness, and the random barrage of attacks that permeate many comment threads...not to mention a number of the actual blog postings. That's not to say I am opposed to a raucous debate...debate being the key word...meaning some degree of decorum is afforded in order to avoid a slide into personal attacks and demeaning and derogatory dishing. I much prefer wry sarcasm, clever witticism, or pointed, yet thoughtful and provocative humor.

That brings me to today. I think the anxiety born of a nagging sense of being on the fringe of my own comfort zone had gotten the best of me. As I've jumped around from site to site in the last couple days, something hasn't felt right. I've felt the need to rush to react and respond and at the same time I've felt the pull of restraint that is ingrained in the core of my identity. Once I stopped to acknowledge the problem, relief ensued.

I decided that I would step back today and reflect on what I've seen and heard...like I used to do all those years ago. It's funny because that has always been the motivation behind Thought Theater. As so often happens in life, I had to admit that I found myself traveling the wrong path. The following snippets from the blogosphere are offered to demonstrate how the debate about a particular topic (immigration) can quickly evolve into the "tit for tat" mentality I mention above. At the end, I've added my own additional reflective thoughts on the immigration topic and a much larger vision of wholesale social change.

The Immigration Debate:

It seems to me that Monday's nationwide protest has triggered a tipping point in the debate. By this, I mean much of the restraint and nicety has been expunged such that we have evolved towards a more frank and, at the same time, more frightening discourse. The indicators are numerous. They include debate over the flags carried by protesters, the signs and placards being displayed, the chants and sayings being spoken, the language with which they are spoken, and so on and so forth. It's the time in the debate where symbols of convenience are extracted in order to put forth biased propaganda to foment the opposing extremes. Some examples follow:

From Wizbang:

The protests were scheduled for today, May 1, for a reason: it's May Day, the day set aside to celebrate the communist uprising. From CNSNews:

Monday, May Day, is International Worker's Day and the communist celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is also a day when illegal immigrants plan to boycott work, school and shopping in an effort to show the contribution of undocumented aliens to the U.S. economy.

Protesters will march in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to urge Congress not to support a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), which would make it a felony to illegally enter the U.S. or facilitate the illegal entry of someone else.

Calling it "a day without an immigrant," boycott organizers chose Monday because of its socialist and communist roots, according to Lee Siu Hin of Immigrant Solidarity Network. "We're linking workers' rights and immigrant rights. That should be very clear," Lee told Cybercast News Service.

The masses of illegal immigrants probably don't realize they're being used as tools for communist propaganda. They're being told that the protests and boycott are to celebrate the contributions of immigrants in America when in fact they are being use by the communist party in an attempt to manipulate America's political landscape:

Today's protests are an attempt at an immigrant revolution. The protests' organizers, ANSWER, a communist organization founded by Ramsey Clark, have convinced the illegal and legal immigrants that they are the oppressed "proletariat" exploited by the "bourgeoisie," which is why they use language (we clean your toilets, we watch your children, we pick your fruit and vegetables) that pits the illegal and legal immigrants against the middle class. This is classic communist propaganda meant to "empower" the masses of the "oppressed" immigrants and to intimidate congress and the American people into giving illegal immigrants full amnesty.

From The American Thinker:

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela does not lack for ambition. Sitting atop billions of petrodollars, closely allied with Fidel Castro (whose life span soon is nearing its natural end), Chavez is already sticking his nose in the business of other Western Hemisphere nations, supporting leftist candidates, Marxist rebels, aimed at toppling American imperialism, and buying far more arms than would be necessary to defend his borders.

There is every reason to suspect that Hugo Chavez may even be playing a planning and supporting role in today's (May 1st - the Communist holiday) "Day Without an Immigrant" demonstrations.

This is an issue we ought to be watching closely. If Hugo Chavez is instigating or financing any of this, then we are seeing a whole new kind of attack against the U.S.

The deeper truth is that irredentism is congenial to our serious enemies because they recognize its potential to subvert America.

From The Influence Peddler:

It fascinates me that supporters of the 'immigrant cause' have selected Monday, May 1, to try to get America to stand up and notice them. It demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of American culture, a tribute to Marxism, and a tin ear as to how to appeal to a majority of Americans.

What is the significance of May 1? Why is that date International Workers' Day, as apart from any other day on the calendar? Because May 1 marks the day in 1886 when Chicago labor leaders organized a strike against the McCormick reaper plant. On May 3, two strikers were killed by police during a fight on the picket lines, and the next day anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket Square, where eight police officers were killed when a fused bomb exploded among them. Police opened fire and four protesters were killed. The Haymarket Riot was born.

Ultimately 8 leaders of Chicago's anarchist movement were arrested and convicted for the crime. All but one were (was) of German ethnicity. They had all advocated violence to overthrow the current system. Four were hanged. These 8 anarchists became martyrs to leftists around the world, and May 1 became the day to celebrate their 'sacrifice.'

From Michelle Malkin:

She provides a group of photos to support her assertion of a Marxist, anti-American motivation underlying the protests.

Compare the NY Times' white-washed May Day photo section with these candid shots of yesterday's National Day to Hate the Yanquis:

Protest Warrior Chicago exposed ugly, American flag-trashing advocates...

And a Che-approved (reference to Che Guevara), border-sabotaging message...

And Slapstick Politics in Denver saw a pro-illegal immigration sign-waver who makes the open-borders agenda crystal clear.

Is this our inevitable destiny? If the GOP and the White House roll over, they won't have to play dead in 2006 and 2008. They' will be long-gone cold and stiff.

Look, I no more think the immigration debate is about communism than I think it is simply about granting amnesty and the full rights of citizenship to illegal immigrants. Those who attempt to make it either are simply couching hidden agendas they are fearful to express. Are some of those in this debate on the extreme...absolutely. I have no doubt some are communists (I would more likely say Marxists but I use communists to keep consistent with the rhetoric). Do some prefer fully open borders without enforcement thereby allowing unfettered immigration...sure. Do some prefer a full-scale round-up of all illegal's in order to return them to their country of origin...yep. Do some simply dislike Mexicans and find it convenient to oppose them by speaking in broader terms about the illegal immigration problem...no doubt. Do any of these positions represent a majority consensus or are they the appropriate focus to bring to the debate...not a chance.

Where does that leave us? Back to where I started...near the end of the "tit for tat" debate that has done nothing to resolve the underlying problem. So where is the "truth?" In my opinion, smack dab in the middle. The vast majority of illegal immigrants worked on Monday like they do every Monday. They had children to feed and take to school in the morning. They had to stop at the grocery store after work to get what they needed for dinner. They do the right thing day in and day out because they came here out of despair and a hope for a better existence. They appreciate the opportunity to be in this country and they are willing to do what may be necessary to obtain citizenship.

As to the communists and those who believe in unfettered border crossing...well those people existed before this issue and they will exist after this issue is resolved. Picking a handful of communists out of a crowd estimated to be less than ten percent of the total illegal immigrant population serves only one purpose...inciting and promoting an unspoken agenda for those who lurk within our society just waiting for an opportunity to unleash anger and hatred. Are they a large portion of society...of course not.

It is no different on the other end of the spectrum. Picking a handful of bigots out of the crowd of those opposed to illegal immigration, which represented a miniscule percentage of the citizenry of this country, and reporting on their remarks also serves only one purpose...to incite and promote an unspoken agenda for those who lurk within our society just waiting for an opportunity to unleash anger and hatred.

Can value judgments be made about these opposing extremes...sure. One might be a lesser evil than the other. However, stoking the anger and hatred of one side or the other does nothing to solve the problem. It might feel good for the moment but if change is the goal, and at times I seriously doubt that it is, then the methods must become effective and they must be chosen and measured accordingly.

I'll offer some further speculation. Not unlike many of our politicians, a number of blogs have figured out that the means to their own success (which equates with success for the individuals behind the blogs) is most easily attained by courting those on the extreme. Again, those in the middle are busy working, taking children to school, and stopping at the grocery store. That's not to say they don't care about the issues. I believe they do. At the same time, I would argue that they don't like the rhetoric because it becomes the only obvious constant. The change they desire and the solutions they seek with regard to the larger societal issues are consistent with the realities they face in solving their own problems on a daily basis...if they don't solve them, life becomes untenable.

Sadly, many blogs are simply microcosms of the larger problem. In order to obtain influence, wealth, and power, they succumb to the path of least resistance while claiming to be purveyors of change...they court the extremes. I would contend that speaking to those on the fringe provides the quickest results. I understand and accept that reality but I can't condone it. Do many of them believe in the causes they promote...sure they do. Are many of them able to separate self-interest from public service...I don't know but I'm skeptical. Does the inability to honor those competing interests have the potential to compromise the pursuit of meaningful change...unfortunately I submit that it does.

I'm not a religious person and I don't believe in an afterlife. Ironically, while I won't stake a claim to being a Christian in the defined and institutional sense of the word, I am content to support the notion that the examples offered by a man (fictional or factual are irrelevant to me) named Jesus can guide us to change. His is the story of a social critic who dissected the fallacies and hypocrisies that permeate the human experience. He did so at great personal risk because I believe "he" saw it as I choose to see it...if one man can elect to pursue and follow "truth" then he is entitled to believe and expect that all men can do the same. In doing so, when each individual makes this necessary choice, we will cease pursuing and negotiating for a better, future destiny...and we will finally live heaven on earth. Our destiny is of our own making. I refuse to allow religion, or those who believe it is theirs to define, to remove that destiny from my earthly grasp.

Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2006 | 12:14 PM | link | Comments (4)
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May 3, 2006

Virginity Pledges Not Effective genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health indicates that virginity pledges are not that effective and the ability to monitor the participants is fraught with difficulties. Todd Zeranski of the Bloomberg News Service reports the following. Boston...

Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2006 | 7:53 AM | link | Comments (2)
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