Six Degrees of Speculation: April 2007: Archives

April 23, 2007

If Only Someone Would Have Spanked Cho genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

It's always interesting to see the religious fanatic’s perspective on current events. If it isn't Pat Robertson blaming Katrina on Ellen DeGeneres and gays or Jerry Falwell blaming 9/11 on gays, abortionists, feminists, and pagans or Reverend Phelps blaming military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan on gays, it's the American Family Association blaming Virginia Tech on the separation of church and state. I found the following video at No More Mister Nice Blog and it offers the latest message from the AFA explaining how banning God from schools is responsible for pretty much everything that ails the nation.

The Day They Kicked God Out Of The Schools

Well there you have it...schools raise our children and we are helpless to impact the minds of our children because once the schools get hold of them, it's all downhill from there. But then again...I went to Catholic schools for twelve years and had far more religious training than reciting a prayer in the morning and I still ended up gay...and that happened without the help of any altar boy obsessed priest.

So what conclusions can we draw from my own life? Perhaps if we consulted the AFA, they would explain that "right living" depends upon what type of God one is exposed to in school...maybe Catholic school education isn't an acceptable presentation of God? I'm sure they can also explain why women had abortions before Madalyn Murray O'Hair and why boys had sex with girls before condoms were provided in schools and why there were gay people when sodomy was illegal.

Yes, society used to be perfect and everyone had a conscience and there was no violence, no infidelity, and no sin...ah the good old days! If we would simply put God back into the schools, nothing bad would ever happen...because we know that children cannot be influenced by the behavior of their parents...just teachers and peers.

Oh, one last thing...there is a charge of five dollars to receive your copy of this message...consider it a donation to God's latest enterprise. After all, it costs a lot of money to conjure up the next natural disaster to punish all the bad people.

Daniel DiRito | April 23, 2007 | 12:50 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 20, 2007

Catholic Church Says No To Limbo genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Tongue-In-Cheek

When I was growing up and attending Catholic schools, we were taught that a child that died before it was baptized went to Limbo and remained there forever. For a number of years now, my dad has been asking what happened to Limbo because he hasn't heard it talked about by anyone within the Church hierarchy. Well, it appears that Limbo has passed away. The Church's Theological Commission (are they licensed like Realtors?) issued the ruling today.

From Reuters:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where centuries of tradition and teaching held that babies who die without baptism went.

In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation".

The 41-page document was published on Friday by Origins, the documentary service of the U.S.-based Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine, even though it was taught to Catholics well into the 20th century.

"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation," it said.

The document stressed that its conclusions should not be interpreted as questioning original sin or "used to negate the necessity of baptism or delay the conferral of the sacrament".

In writings before his election as Pope in 2005, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made it clear he believed the concept of limbo should be abandoned because it was "only a theological hypothesis" and "never a defined truth of faith".


Well isn't that interesting. When my peers and I were taught about Limbo, the priests and nuns failed to mention that it was merely a hypothesis or that it wasn't yet part of Church doctrine. I can't say that this surprises me because it has been my experience that the Church functions along the lines of "you better believe this or else...until we tell you that you no longer have to believe this". Would anyone care for a dish of arbitrary and capricious? I hear it's quite tasty though difficult to swallow. But then I do have a bad habit of forgetting how the notion of infallibility works.

Perhaps the Church has realized, in this instance, that fear (don't let that baby die before being baptized a Catholic) may no longer be as effective as it used to be in keeping the flock in tow. One final not make a mistake and think that you can site this example for the reconsideration of other "teachings"...after all, we followers aren't privy to the inner workings of where hypothesis ends and doctrine begins.

Fortunately, it allows me another opportunity to have a little fun with Photoshop.

No More Limbo

Daniel DiRito | April 20, 2007 | 11:40 PM | link | Comments (1)
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April 18, 2007

Let's Blame The Atheists genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Big Questions

I realize that events like the tragedy at Virginia Tech are highly emotional and lead to countless reflections...but today I found one that elicited a double take. The posting is titled "Where Is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?" and it was written by Dinesh D'Souza who is employed at Stanford University.

Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.

The atheist writer Richard Dawkins has observed that according to the findings of modern science, the universe has all the properties of a system that is utterly devoid of meaning. The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference. Dawkins further argues that we human beings are simply agglomerations of molecules, assembled into functional units over millennia of natural selection, and as for the soul--well, that's an illusion!

To no one's surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it's difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho's shooting of all those people can be understood in this way--molecules acting upon molecules.

If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.

Oh my...where to begin? OK, seriously, I understand the point D'Souza is attempting to make and I can even appreciate his effort to dismiss atheism in little more than three paragraphs...but I struggle with his insinuation that atheists like Richard Dawkins would view the Virginia Tech tragedy as nothing more than molecules acting upon molecules.

Can this event be scientifically characterized in that way? Of course...but that's true of virtually all actions. D'Souza and other like minded scholars frequently seek to paint atheism as heartless and without conscience. It's the same battle the Catholic Church has waged against secularism for as long as I can recall. The argument basically posits that non-believers must therefore be something approximating ruthless hedonists who spend all of their time trying to disprove God through science. I respectfully disagree.

Even the title of D'Souza's piece is part of the propaganda. Is he suggesting that there weren't any atheists in attendance at these memorial events or that they would refuse to attend one? The truth is that many atheists are humanists, hence the term I heard so often during my Catholic upbringing, secular humanists. No group has a monopoly on grief nor should anyone attempt to draw those comparisons or conclusions.

So what then is D'Souza actually suggesting? I read a blog called Pharyngula, a science blog, and they have frequently debated topics that involve the intersection of science and religion. A number of months back, the site did a posting that asked the question, "Does Science Need Religion To Have A Conscience?". The following discussion is from a Thought Theater posting on the topic and I think it speaks to the assertions made by D'Souza:

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.

I then moved the discussion to Thought Theater and replied with the following:

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 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" 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 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 | April 18, 2007 | 10:39 PM | link | Comments (2)
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CU Student Jailed: Valid Reaction To Virginia Tech? genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Six Degrees of Speculation

Walking A Tightrope

A student at the University of Colorado was arrested following comments during a discussion of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Max Karson stated that he understood how someone might want to kill thirty two people along with some other remarks that a number of the students felt were threatening.

Karson also produces a controversial campus publication called the Yeti that contains what he characterizes as satire. Some view the publication as "hate speech".

Max Karson of Denver had spoken in a class on Tuesday "about understanding how someone could kill 32 people," university police Cmdr. Brad Wiesley said.

He was arrested later that day and pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of interfering with staff, faculty or students of an education institution.

Karson was to turn 22 on Thursday. CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said privacy laws prevented him from releasing any information about him.

Several witnesses told investigators Karson said he was "angry about all kinds of things from the fluorescent light bulbs to the unpainted walls, and it made him angry enough to kill people," according to a police report.

Michael Karson, Max Karson's father, told the Camera newspaper of Boulder that his son's comments may have been misinterpreted. The elder Karson questioned whether his son's free-speech rights had been violated.

"I would have hoped that state officials would know their First Amendment better than they seem to," he said.

Karson also has a video on You Tube that is included below. Be forewarned that the video contains adult language and simulated violence. I felt it was beneficial to post the video and allow viewers to comment on how law enforcement should react to these types of situations. I don't actually know how the authorities will be able to discern which statements (verbal or written) or which videos need to be viewed as threats to society. At the same time, I understand people's concerns and the instinct to be suspicious and cautious.

I've not had enough time to collect all of my thoughts, but my instincts tell me that we (society) would be better to focus on the dynamics that are creating troubled children and treating them than on how to craft a law enforcement policy that fully protects the public while also preserving our freedom of speech. Creating such a policy could be quite complex. An example may be helpful.

Everyone understands why it is inappropriate to yell fire in a theater and what the law enforcement reaction should be...but should making a video or writing a story that contains violence be considered a similar criminal act? Unfortunately, I think that's the conundrum we face as we consider establishing far more proactive guidelines while attempting to prevent another Virginia Tech. I'm inclined to think that we (society) often make the mistake of addressing the symptom rather than the core problem and I've never found that to be a very successful approach.

Feel free to share your own thoughts and observations.

The Interview

Daniel DiRito | April 18, 2007 | 9:22 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Best Of Thought Theater - Family Values: This Blows genre: Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Short Fuse

Following up on the Virginia Tech tragedy and my prior posting, I thought it would be beneficial to bring back a piece I wrote about a year ago. At the time, I was discussing family values with a focus on the objections to gay marriage. I've modified the posting to include only the portions I felt were relevant to an expansion of the dialogue initiated in the earlier Virginia Tech posting.

Family Values: This Blows

It's become fashionable to talk about family values. In today's culture wars, the posturing by various groups to become the definitive voice on the subject is rampant. All too often the debate centers on issues outside of the family in what appears to be attempts to vilify various segments of the population that don't meet with their approval.

From my perspective, children learn their values at home and the values they adopt are primarily discerned in proportion to the degree of sincerity and integrity they believe exists in their parents. In this construct, the degradation of family values originates within individual families as a result of a child’s perception that their parents are inauthentic and hypocritical.

In trying to then determine what is wrong with families, the indicators seem abundantly evident. Firstly, a family cannot succeed if the parents aren't committed to personal responsibility, a trait that frankly cuts a swath across all of society in its impact on the overall health of civilization. When personal responsibility is abandoned, so are the family and ultimately the society.

The family fails when parents demonstrate their own intolerance and disdain for others. It's not uncommon for a parent to have issues with their own parents and when they live out these failed relationships, their own children are taught that it's acceptable to choose conflict and estrangement rather than compromise and conciliation. This can take the form of a dispute with a sibling over money or the holding of a grudge against a former employer or coworker. Sometimes it's an instantaneous conflict with the soccer coach or the store clerk. Nonetheless, all of these actions have impact.

Families fail when mom and dad's relationship succumbs to failure through divorce or the demonstrated disdain for a spouse...often acted out in bitter divorce proceedings or custody battles where both parents savage the persona of the other in full view of the children. Frequently, these situations involve infidelity and betrayal that only further serves to tell children that commitment to the self far exceeds the keeping of commitments.

The family fails when children attend school for the first time rife with the prejudices of their parents. A child reared in a home filled with bigotry simply brings more bigotry to the society. This can take many forms...a hate for Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Arabs, Homosexuals, Catholics, Christians, Atheists, Conservatives, Liberals, poor people, wealthy people, and many, many more. The adoption of these unfounded hatreds foments conflict which ultimately damages the child’s ability to form and maintain relationships.

Families fail when parents teach children the need to win but fail to instill in them the ability and the acceptance necessary to lose. This is perhaps one of the most negligent that there is no doubt that, when confronted with the many struggles of life; more of us lose than win. There is only one Super Bowl winner each year, a limited number of lottery winners, one Tiger Woods, one CEO of Microsoft, and so on. Far too often parents give children the false impression that they can, should, will, and must always win. Many of these children are destined for disappointment. They're apt to leave school in search of a job or a relationship or success absent the ability to overcome rejection or to endure failure.

The family fails when parents neglect to teach children respect for others. This can manifest itself in many ways...a child wandering the aisles of a store without regard for another customers ability to navigate the same space...not saying excuse me when moving through a crowded room...not disposing of trash where it belongs...not acknowledging a driver that allows you to merge onto a busy freeway or into a different lane...not thanking the waitress for bringing one's meal, and numerous other courtesies that collectively build a functional society and set the framework for successful future families.

Families fail when a parent gives a child twenty dollars to go to the mall because they want the child out of their hair. Other times it may allow a parent to make up for not attending the school play or the tennis match or simply not having the time to spend communicating with their children. Many times, a parent's work or social life leaves little room for children...sometimes out of necessity, but also sometimes by choice. Regardless, children eventually distinguish the difference.

Ultimately, the family succeeds one child at a time and that must start at home. The relationship of the Mexican couple down the street or the gay couple in the grocery store can only threaten one family...their own. Time spent obsessing about the actions of other families simply detracts from the precious time each family needs to succeed. The sooner families begin to act accordingly, the sooner the value of all families can be maximized. If and when this happens, the individual will flourish and society will endure.

I wrote the following poem called This Blows while thinking about this topic. For me, it captures the essence of the issues and demonstrates the subtle, yet foreboding ease with which a parent can lose contact with a child...leading to disastrous consequences. Such occurrences are all too common and familiar.

Let me offer a few caveats. I am not suggesting that the actions of Cho Seung-hui can be attributed to his familial circumstances nor am I arguing that problem children must always be the product of a failed family...we simply don't know enough about Cho to draw any conclusions nor do we have enough understanding of psychology to definitively determine how some individuals become so disturbed and disconnected.

Nonetheless, I suspect that most readers will be able to identify with the sentiments expressed in this poem because they have known a family of this type or a child that comes from such a family. Situations like the one depicted in this poem do not necessarily lead to a bad outcome or to the same tragic ending. Lastly, there is no doubt that our culture needs to identify and address the issues that may be contributing to the number of disturbed children.

Statue In Munich - 2005

This Blows

Raised down where you were brought up
Brought down where you were raised up

You shouldn’t need to be propped up
Cause you were brought up so proper

Time is money, it’s only money
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

You crammed all night for your last test
They said stick with it, just do your best

School teacher says the kid needs some help
They think he’s fine, there’s always the belt

Give it all you got, how much do you need?
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

Be with you in a sec, they can’t spare a minute
They’re all over it, but their shows never quit

Holler if you need them, just give them a holler
Better not bother them, they can’t be bothered

Whatever it takes, they can’t take anymore
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

They haven’t time, they must be martyrs
Don’t you mother him, he wasn’t fathered

Don’t blow it all, you blew your top
They blew your mind, you blew them off

These kids today, they grow up so fast
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

Hey mister neighbor, they seemed so normal
Kid was so sweet, the mom was adorable

Nobody’s home, it’s been dead there today
Headline tomorrow, is tomorrow OK?

Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow
No need to bother, he’s blown away…

Daniel DiRito | April 18, 2007 | 2:59 PM | link | Comments (1)
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April 16, 2007

Chain Letter Society: On The Virginia Tech Tragedy genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

Chain Letter Society

It is being widely reported that at least thirty people have been killed on the campus of Virginia Tech University. Apparently the shootings were carried out by a lone gunman that witnesses report to be a male in his early twenties. The motive is unclear at the moment, but the incident certainly looks to be reminiscent of Columbine and a number of other similar events that have happened in school settings.

Clearly, it is far too early to draw any conclusions about this particular tragedy, but let me suggest that it isn't too early to begin discussing the dynamics that may be contributing to the recurrence of these horrific events...carried out by individuals seemingly far too young to have problems so significant that they are willing to act out plans that can only be seen as life ending...even though it doesn't always end with their immediate death.

Again, we lack sufficient detail to fully understand this particular situation, but we are hearing that this shooter was perhaps looking for his girlfriend. My first assumption was that perhaps the tipping point for this shooter may have been the end of a relationship and the inability to accept that reality. Regardless, each of these events has been triggered in some way by circumstances that are apparently beyond the coping abilities of these young individuals.

The question is why? What is happening in our society that leads these individuals to commit unbelievable acts of violence with such detached disregard? Over the next few weeks, there will certainly be endless attempts to decipher the motivations and the mechanics that have made these situations all too prevalent. Let me offer my own hypothesis.

We have become a society that is obsessed with winning…what I have called the “Chain Letter Society". Let me explain. A chain letter is basically a pyramid scheme whereby a list is circulated and those receiving the list are asked to send money to the first name on the list, add their own name to the bottom of the list, and then forward the list to a number of new people (often ten). Over time, each name is supposed to reach the top of the list and each person is supposed to receive large sums of money from the many people participating in the chain. The problem with chain letters is that, by sheer mathematics, they cannot work except for possibly those few individuals who originate the letter. The bottom line is that there aren’t enough people on the planet to allow all those who participate to benefit.

So how does that relate to today’s tragedy? Again, we have to consider the mathematics of life. In this country, the value placed on being the best, being number one, or being famous has become a focal point for our American culture. Parents today raise children to believe that they are privileged and can and will be the best…and the inference is that they must in order to have worth or value. It’s as if narcissism has become the trait of choice.

Is this an oversimplification? Perhaps, because the desire to succeed or achieve need not lead one to get a gun and kill people every time one fails to win. Nonetheless, one can surmise that the push to be first and the sense of privilege instilled in children will no doubt manifest itself as pathology in some portion of these individuals.

It seems to me that a growing number of parents no longer teach their children to find self-satisfaction outside of the construct of being the best at something or being famous. All too many parents believe that they can and should raise the next Tiger Woods…the next American Idol. One need only read the news to see the signs. It’s the father at a soccer game that attacks the referee or the opposing coach or even a child they view as a rival to their own son or daughter. It’s the mother who tells her daughter to attack the girl that was selected to be a cheerleader. It’s the parent that pushes or schemes to assure that his or her son or daughter date the boy or girl from the prominent family.

Sadly, in this construct, a successful life becomes elusive because it requires one to be the best…and by definition only one can be the best…leaving the rest to be viewed as the losers. Granted it’s more subtle than overt…but then doesn’t that simply help explain why no one anticipates that these perpetrators are about to cross the line of no return? If a child perceives that their parents love or approval is conditioned upon the success of the child…again whether that be spoken or implied…intentional or not...then more and more children are going to find themselves alienated and lost.

Further, if these individual’s first experience with alienation comes from those who should be considered fundamental and unconditional loved ones…it shouldn’t be difficult to understand how they can dehumanize fellow students or co-workers. It also shouldn’t be a stretch to think that they can blame fellow students or co-workers for their lack of success and therefore hold them responsible for their perceived alienation at home.

In watching the aftermath at Virginia Tech, one sees signs of the dynamic I’m suggesting. Each of the major cable news networks appears to have been deluged by student callers seeking to tell their story on national television…and that included at least one student that had actually been a shooting victim. Maybe I’m wrong, but should calling CNN after being shot be the instinct we want driving our children? What does that say about the priorities we are communicating to our children? Should recounting ones experience with being shot on national television become second nature? Doesn’t that indicate a misguided value system or at the very least a desensitization to the real meaning of tragedy and death?

I guess I would close with a suggestion that we need to reevaluate our values and begin to focus on raising our collective kindness quotient. Shouldn’t being a good person have merit and why can’t that measure come from sources other than our current standards of success…standards that seem to suggest that goodness is obsolete? Why is the Miss Personality or the Sportsmanship award viewed as nothing more than a consolation prize? Why is having one’s name on the television screen an acceptable instinctual reaction to untold tragedy?

What is going to happen when today’s children…raised with the belief that they can and will achieve notoriety and fame…realize that most of them aren’t the best and won’t succeed in that quest? What coping skills are we instilling and what alternative measures of success are we fostering in our children? In our earnest, though possibly misguided, desire to see our children have more and be more are we not setting them up for disappointment and failure?

The mirror of narcissism can only reflect back visions of grandeur. Isn’t it time we begin to see ourselves as we are, not as we aspire to become? In the end, we achieve our greatest success when we find ourselves. Finding that person is a process of reflection…but not the kind that can be found in a mirror.

Daniel DiRito | April 16, 2007 | 2:15 PM | link | Comments (18)
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April 14, 2007

Feeding Frenzy: What's Eating Us? genre: Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Food Chain

We live in a world that likes to focus on flash...the best news is breaking news that portrays the latest tragedy...whether that be a plane crash, a shooting, a celebrity death, or any of a number of calamities. At the same time, slower burning, less inflammatory catastrophes unfold at a reliably steady pace each day. The question is what makes one the focus of near obsessive attention and the other an item to be placed obscurely on the back burner?

Several months back, Thought Theater did a posting about an article that pointed to a classic example of this phenomenon...the expansion of humanity...around the waist. While we do see an occasional news piece on the topic, it rarely breaches the psyche to the same degree that, for example, Anna Nicole Smith's death and the battle over who fathered her child...or the number of U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq has achieved. Clearly, a number of Americans could cite the number of troops lost, but only perhaps a handful could offer the statistics on deaths attributed to obesity.

A new article was published this week on the possible identification of what is being called the 'fat' gene. While the discovery is significant, much more research will be needed to fully understand this genetic component and just how it influences weight gain. Notwithstanding, it seems to me that the prevalence of expanding waist lines is also influenced by factors other than genetics...although in some regard one could probably argue that the genes we possess create the person we become...likely including some of the psychological factors behind our less than desirable behaviors and bad habits. The full article can be found here.

From the latest article:

A gene that contributes to obesity has been identified for the first time, promising to explain why some people easily put on weight while others with similar lifestyles stay slim.

People who inherit one version of the gene rather than another are 70 per cent more likely to be obese, British scientists have discovered. One in six people has the most vulnerable genetic make-up and weighs an average 3kg more than those with the lowest risk. They also have 15 per cent more body fat.

The findings provide the first robust link between a common gene and obesity, and could eventually lead to new ways of tackling one of the most significant causes of ill health in the developed world. One in four British adults is classified as obese, and half of men and a third of women are overweight.

Obesity is a main cause of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. An adviser to the Government’s health spending watchdog said recently that the condition was a bigger national danger than smoking, alcohol or poverty.

FTO will not be the only gene that influences obesity, and inheriting a particular variant will not necessarily make anyone fat. “This is not a gene for obesity, it is a gene that contributes to risk," Professor McCarthy said.

The research involved too many people to control for exercise and diet, so it is not yet known whether FTO affects how much people eat or how active they are. But it may explain how people with apparently similar lifestyles differ in propensity to put on weight.

Independent experts called the discovery highly significant. Susan Jebb, of the MRC Human Nutrition Unit, said: "This research provides clear evidence of a biological mechanism which makes some people more susceptible to gaining weight in a world where food is plentiful and sedentary lifestyles the norm."

Note the distinction made about the discovery that states, "This is not a gene for obesity, it is a gene that contributes to risk." Again, the finding is significant but I prefer to focus on the other factors that contribute to the rapid increase in obesity. To that end, let me return to the older article.

From the older article:

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - An obesity pandemic threatens to overwhelm health systems around the globe with illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, experts at an international conference warned Sunday.

"This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world," Paul Zimmet, chairman of the meeting of more than 2,500 experts and health officials, said in a speech opening the weeklong International Congress on Obesity. "It's as big a threat as global warming and bird flu."

The World Health Organization says more than 1 billion adults are overweight and 300 million of them are obese, putting them at much higher risk of diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.

Zimmet, a diabetes expert at Australia's Monash University, said there are now more overweight people in the world than the undernourished, who number about 600 million.

I found the information in the last paragraph fascinating...overweight people now outnumber the undernourished! The reason I find it fascinating may surprise my readers...but I guess the element of surprise may well be what we all prefer. It is fascinating to me because it seems to be consistent with the polarization that permeates the United States and much of the world...perhaps a further sign that humanity is woefully out of largely at the extremes.

As I ponder these thoughts, I'm again reminded of the recent media focus on the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Many within the blogosphere marveled at the incessant coverage of that event and a number wrote about the apparent misplaced focus given the numerous problems facing the U.S. and the world. While I understand the argument, I don't think it precludes an attempt at understanding why we're drawn to these tabloid tragedies. In my own mental musings, it struck me that the obesity issue and the Anna Nicole Smith case are both about consumption...the feeding frenzy.

So what is it that we're feeding? The question brings to mind something my dad likes to discuss...that being what makes sports teams and sporting events so popular. His theory has always made sense to me and it seems to fit into the topic of this posting. As my dad explains it, little in life offers clarity...we frequently navigate this life with the uncertainty and the anxiety one might equate with the structure of a movie. Each of us is attempting to complete the movie that is our own life story but it can't be done in two hours or with the formulaic structure that makes the movie watching experience so satisfying. Further, the ending is virtually unknown.

The same is true of a sporting event...there is a clear objective, a defined set of rules, a finite time frame, and a winner and a loser...all achieved in a few hours...but notably absent the same tangible consequences our own life choices may bring. In essence, these events are an opportunity to be a voyeur rather than a player. It is a detached opportunity to step away from the realities of ones own existence and engage in a moment of fantasy acted out by others and providing a fifty-fifty opportunity to be a winner...a statistical equation that we must find at least equal to, or, perhaps more favorable than the odds we apply to our own potential for a "successful" outcome.

Food neatly fits into this equation in that it sustains ones opportunity to remain in the provides the promise of more time to succeed...or its absence foretells of our likely demise. As the world (our daily existence) has become more convoluted and uncertain, we are apt to migrate towards those things that offer a degree of certainty. Food and sports events provide those outlets...and situations like the death of Anna Nicole Smith or the tsunami or Katrina give us reference points that reinforce our ability to conclude that our own life isn't so bad in comparison to many others.

Unfortunately, what this becomes is the process of living life by substitution. Each pound gained is symbolically the weight of our own unresolved anxiety and each time we subjugate our own success to a victory won by our favorite sports team, we begin to lose sight of our own struggle...feeding more and more on the junk food of life in an effort to ignore our own obstacles and the need to execute our own game plan. The feeding cycle expands and so do we in a perpetual process of denial...reinforced by our own observations of those who surround we each expand our own denial we find reassurance in those who surround us.

Sadly, that denial also leads us to effectively ignore those who suffer the deprivations we fear...their plight must be ignored because they serve to amplify the anxiety inherent in our uniquely human awareness of our mortality. Counter intuitively, we use tragedy and suffering...self-administered in front of the television in measured the tonic of comparison. Not only do we watch the suffering in New Orleans to support our favorable existence...we must have it in order to sustain ourselves.

We send an occasional donation or invoke our outrage at the government or any number of responsible "others" in order to offset the guilt that is bound to percolate to the surface from time to time...but we do so again to feed ourselves. We choose political and ideological sides because these false constructs provide the means and the mechanism to abandon our humanity. We change the debate and the dialogue into an abstraction similar to a sporting event which provides each of us with the institutional cover necessary to detach from the ethical bankruptcy that threatens our consciousness and we feed its falsity with the frenzy of fanaticism.

Yes, there is an "insidious, creeping pandemic". And yes, it is fueled by consumption...but in a quintessential irony, it is our humanity that we are consuming. Unless we begin to value and seek more "truth", we will devour ourselves into oblivion.

Daniel DiRito | April 14, 2007 | 9:16 AM | link | Comments (0)
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April 11, 2007

Imus, Bias, Devils, And Heaven genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Don Imus

I’ve never been a Don Imus devotee. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I listened to any portion of his show. I’ve never met the man and I know next to nothing about his character or his motivations other than what I’ve garnered during this rancor over his racially charged remarks.

So what do I know? I know that people on both sides of the political divide have sought to take advantage of the situation. While that isn’t necessarily wrong, it is indicative of a much larger problem in our society. In the broadest sense, it’s the oversimplification of us versus them…good versus bad.

To make my argument, the best example I can offer is from the 2004 presidential election and the circumstances surrounding John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. At the Democratic convention, Kerry made his oft quoted announcement, "Reporting for Duty", and so began a series of volleys intended to frame the issue for the voting public. The two choices offered were that he was either a courageous war hero who risked his life for his fellow soldiers and then focused his energy on opposing a war that was wrong…or he was a cunning opportunist who crafted his actions to garner the accolades of a heroic soldier in order to provide him with the vehicle to make inflammatory accusations about the war and his fellow soldiers to promote his own political and personal gain.

Back to Imus. There is no doubt that his actions triggered this mess. His derogatory comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team were ignorant and inflammatory. His words were immediately met by a barrage of criticism and that is as it should be. In short order, MSNBC acknowledged the inappropriateness of his remarks and suspended him for two weeks. As an outside observer, that certainly seems warranted.

So now what? Well, this is the point at which it gets tricky. This is the juncture at which the situation becomes larger than the sum of its parts. This is where it becomes less about Don Imus and more about ideology and advantage for those in search of opportunities to engage in the dialogue of us versus them…good versus bad…from positions that have eclipsed the essential considerations of those involved in and impacted by the transgression. It’s not surprising and it’s nothing new…but it is wrong.

Duke Blue Devils

Let me attempt to explain. Fortunately, today’s headlines provide a relevant example…the dismissal of rape charges against three Duke University La Crosse players. By all accounts, the local District Attorney sought to manipulate the system and the media to further his own agenda…regardless of the intended purpose of his office…to determine the guilt or innocence of the alleged perpetrators.

First, my own mea culpa. When it was reported that one of the accused had previously been involved with, and charged in, a gay bashing incident, I felt justified in doubting the assertions of his friends and family that he was incapable of the alleged rape. In my own way, I wanted to punish him and all those who would commit crimes against gays…and I made the rape incident about more than those charges and the guilt or innocence of those alleged to have committed those specific charges.

I wasn’t alone. A number of influential Black leaders came to the defense of the alleged victim. Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting they were wrong to come to her aid or to advocate on her behalf. Had that been the limit of their actions, I wouldn’t be able to use the situation to advance my argument. However, they too sought to make the incident about more than the needs of the alleged victim and ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the accused

The media outlets were also duplicitous. Almost immediately, the cost of tuition at Duke University was discussed and the social and financial standing of the families of the accused was reported. The inference to the excesses of class and status was palpable. They went further. They also portrayed La Crosse as the sport of choice for the privileged and hinted that the ability to participate might involve implied racial considerations. As is so often the case, the media sought to expand and exaggerate the breadth and depth of the situation…because it better served their need for sensational stories to attract viewers.

So what are the connecting points? Essentially, our culture has devolved into the serial practice of partisanship without regard for the individual or the pursuit of the truth. We’re not looking to find the truth, we’re looking to create truth and that is a pivotal distinction. As such, each issue becomes the flagship for opposing interest groups and the epicenter for partisan politics. Those actually involved in this and other incidents (and they are often victims) become nothing more than pawns in an elaborate game of chess…and they are frequently further victimized.

How does it play out? In ways that defy logic and deny reason. Don Imus has yet to speak with the Rutgers basketball team and they have not yet had the opportunity to confront him directly. Imus has apologized numerous times in countless ways…through the media. The Rutgers players have reacted…through spokespeople and the media. I’m sorry but when I see how these situations unfold, I am convinced that we suffer the severest form of "nothing is as it seems". Until we begin to realize that resolution and redemption begin at the most fundamental level…person to person…accused with aggrieved…true progress cannot be achieved. Why are direct dialogue and a face to face meeting between Imus and the Rutgers players the last consideration?

Frankly, we are fast becoming the epitome of a Jerry Springer society. It seems to have become more important to have an audience and notoriety when confronting conflict than it is to attain resolve and mutual respect. That model seems to serve the needs of the exploited and those who seek to exploit; reinforcing all that relegates objectivity to the outhouse while making the frailty and imperfection of the human condition a spectacle that harkens back to the Coliseum.

No doubt the Rutgers players were drawn into this fray through no fault of their own…which should afford them far more leeway as well as the right to determine the method and the means to achieve reconciliation. Unfortunately, the interlopers that seek to parlay the predicament are soon dictating the dynamics…fueling resentment and recalcitrance in order to advance their agendas. Putting them on display seems to be more important than facilitating the confrontation and apology that is necessary to begin the healing process and the restoration of their hard earned dignity.

Beyond that, the actual merits of Don Imus the man or the employee cannot and should not be ciphered through public opinion…especially public opinion that results from the systematic hijacking of the incident. In fact, one might be safe to suggest that those manipulating public opinion may well have more malicious motivations and intentions than those that underlie the incendiary words uttered by Don Imus.

Parental Advisory

This situation isn’t and shouldn’t be about whether liberals or conservatives, this race or that race, hip hop or honky-tonk, one group or another, are more offensive and therefore more responsible for all that is wrong with America. I am not capable of judging the whole of Don Imus nor am I capable of crafting a recipe to fix all of America…and neither are the countless pundits and partisans who have sought to frame it so.

I may be wrong, but I’m convinced that fostering or fixing the direct relationships we currently have is where we will begin to find solutions to our much larger societal issues. Consequently, I’m also not willing to subjugate the rights or responsibilities of the individual for the benefit of some beguiled brotherhood. When we do so, we endorse a system that substitutes subjectivity for substance and we are all diminished.

I’m not a religious person…but I often find kinship with the imagery surrounding the portrayal of one called Jesus and his teachings of understanding and forgiveness. For all the banter I hear about the Bible and Christian values, it certainly seems to me that we are fast abandoning what many view as the sacred "tablets" in favor of the sacrosanct tabloids. If I’m right, all I can say is heaven help us.

Daniel DiRito | April 11, 2007 | 7:57 PM | link | Comments (8)
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April 9, 2007

Web Civility And Easter Bonnets genre: Indie-Script & Six Degrees of Speculation

Easter Bonnet

Today the New York Times has an article discussing the state of civility in the blogosphere. The article opens with the question, "Is it too late to bring civility to the web?" Rather than answer the question directly, I'll offer a corollary observation that provides long established insight into the answer.

While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn't difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called rush hour traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness...or in its extreme...road rage. Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.

Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself.

Ixoye Christian Bumper Sticker

OK, not to belittle the intentions of these two men, but again I'll point to traffic to make my point. Anyone who has been blocked from merging into traffic from the onramp or had another vehicle veer suddenly into an opening the size of a small Yugo just in front of them at sixty miles an hour during rush hour or been flipped off by an otherwise perfectly normal looking housewife understands that badges serve little purpose in informing others of the behavior to be expected. I've been flipped off, cut off, and blown off by soccer mom vehicles sporting bumper stickers that say, "my child is an honor student at ABC grade school" as well as by those bearing the famous fish symbol containing the secret Christian code "ixoye"...intended to allow Christians to identify each other...and by vehicles bearing many other "values" driven badges.

The problem on the highway or the internet isn't going to be resolved through a badge system. Did anyone attend Easter mass yesterday and witness the value of not the crucifix behind the altar or the statue at the entrance; I'm talking about the pretty new Easter outfits...complete with bonnets and bow ties. These are the outfits worn by the same people who also attend Christmas mass every year without fail...and then get into their shiny clean vehicle and race out of the parking lot without ever yielding to the old woman walking to her car that is parked in the back row because she forgot that it was Easter Sunday and foolishly arrived at the same time she does each and every Sunday.

Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decay into ugliness than those in other media.

Nowadays, those conversations often take place on blogs. At last count, there were 70 million of them, with more than 1.4 million entries being added daily, according to Technorati, a blog-indexing company. For the last decade, these Web journals have offered writers a way to amplify their voices and engage with friends and readers.

But the same factors that make those unfiltered conversations so compelling, and impossible to replicate in the offline world, also allow them to spin out of control.

I agree that anonymity is a problem on the blogosphere but it isn't new behavior as evidenced by the driving habits of countless adults. Frankly, if the problem cannot be extinguished on the roads when the consequences of such actions are far more dangerous and the potential to be caught (license plates anyone?) is greatly heightened, what should lead us to believe that the internet will be any different?

I respect the efforts of O'Reilly and Wales but the problem is far larger than the blogosphere and it has become a symptom of what ails our modern culture. We have learned to dehumanize others and to remain aloof and self absorbed...fully able to discount others regardless of the risks or the consequences. As my father has stated on countless occasions, if two people who supposedly love each other enough to get married can't find enough common ground to make more than half of all marriages succeed, what makes us think the remainder of our human interaction will be civil?

Let me offer another example. I like the Oakland Raiders and I've occasionally spent time reading some of their fan forums that exist. One would assume that Raider fans or fans of any ilk that support the same team would have a kinship...but they don't. Seriously, go find a forum for your favorite sports team and you will find nothing more than a group of individuals more focused upon demeaning the comments of others than joining in support of their chosen team. Ironically, many of these individuals are commenting on a team sport and offering their observations on how the "team" should weed out those players who detract from the team dynamic...all the while ridiculing the thoughts, appearance, heritage, age, and so on of their fellow fans. It is completely counter intuitive yet fully representative of what is so wrong with our "modern and civil" society.

One last warning by way of another example. I was driving by a local high school at the end of the school day and stopped by a red light at the closest intersection. Several cars in front of me were trying to turn left and once they had the green arrow, they were unable to turn as many of the students were crossing against the signal. Even worse, many of the same teenage children were scowling at the drivers trying to make that turn...enough so that it crossed my mind that if one of those drivers were to honk or yell out their window, they might find themselves extracted from their car and pummeled right there in the intersection.

So what's the warning? The parent that is attacking a blogger or another commenter in a comment thread or that is flipping off another driver while shuttling the neighborhood kids to soccer practice or raging about the ex-wife that wants her alimony check is raising the next generation...and they are raising them to want more, to demand more, to diminish others, to be confrontational, and to further undermine any remaining semblance of the civility that we espouse on badges and through trite symbols in a never ending spiral of hypocrisy and self-deception. A badge is worn on the surface and while I applaud the attempt to bring awareness, what we need must penetrate far deeper than the pretty outfits worn on Easter Sunday.

This article is linked at Outside The Beltway to a feature called Beltway Traffic Jam.

Daniel DiRito | April 9, 2007 | 7:48 AM | link | Comments (2)
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April 5, 2007

Catholicism Must Evolve genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Snapshot Thoughts

Science tells us that humans evolved over millions of years and will continue to evolve. History and the positions of the new Pope, Benedict XVI, tells us that the Catholic Church is still struggling to evolve...often holding fast to institutional traditions despite being confronted by new challenges. The position of the Church is that Catholic teachings are not secondary to cultural influences...or said more clearly...what they believe to be right and wrong rarely changes.

Notwithstanding, a review of history demonstrates that the Church has held wrong views and taken inappropriate and misguided positions on a number of issues. Sadly, it still relies on the infallibility of the Pope in establishing doctrine, regardless of numerous examples disproving the notion. In doing so, it often lags the rest of society in accepting and acknowledging new information. One can argue that this makes it easier to view the Church as a follower rather than a leader since they are frequently espousing dogma until they can no longer do so in good conscience. In addition, their need to remain viable has on occasion facilitated a voluntary recantation.

In my opinion, the Catholic Church views unchallenged authority as one of its most cherished possessions...and it has no doubt proven a valuable tool in maintaining control over the beliefs and values of its followers. After a brief period of conciliatory gestures by the new Pope, he has begun to assert the authority many anticipated might become the hallmark of his papacy. The following excerpts are from an Associated Press article found at

(Vatican City) After sliding smoothly into his job as pastor of his flock, reaching out to dissidents, other faiths and countries long hostile to the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict has started drawing the line.

With his 80th birthday and the second anniversary of his election as Pope approaching this month, he has rebuffed calls - including by bishops in his native Germany - to let divorced Catholics who remarry participate fully in the Church.

He has warned Catholic politicians who must decide on such issues as abortion, euthanasia and marriage that Catholic values are "not negotiable.'' And he has closed the door on any relaxation of the celibacy requirement for priests.

Benedict's persistent defense of the "traditional family'' based on marriage between a man and a woman has emboldened Italy's bishops, who are waging a fierce battle against the government's proposal to extend some rights to non-married couples, including same-sex unions.

One of the Pope's prime targets for a rekindling of the faith is Europe, which he recently described as "going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history.''

Having already lost a battle in predominantly Catholic Spain, which went as far as approving gay marriage, Benedict has now turned his sights on his own backyard.

Enrique Miret Magdalena, a respected moderate Spanish theologian who is himself 93, said Benedict is "an old man, and the papacy weighs heavily upon him. He's afraid of change.''


I agree with Magdalena's assessment; but the legacy of John Paul II set in motion a clear shift to the right. Benedict was widely seen as his theological enforcer and John Paul's appointment of numerous conservative Cardinals assured that his doctrinal precepts would be sustained well into the future. Benedict's election further entrenches this move to the right. What remains to be seen is whether the Church can turn the tide of religious complacency and secular momentum that is found throughout Europe. If the Church continues to see authority as the means to reestablish the relevance it seeks, I would anticipate their continued decline.

I believe that the widespread access to education and its appropriate reliance on the scientific method will require the Church to revise its arguments and conduct a reasoned dialogue with its followers. Fear and force must accede to an open exchange that recognizes facts over faith when the evidence is compelling.

The following graphic is not intended to suggest that the Catholic Church is responsible for all that ails the world nor all the conflicts that have transpired during its existence. Nonetheless, it is intended to point out that if the Church is, as it argues, an agent for good, then it must stand up for the oppressed, the weak, and the abused…when it happens; not years later when it decides an apology is warranted.

Leaders act…and if the Church wants to have a voice in leading the world, then it must reverse its propensity to sit on its collective hands when so many in the world are in desperate need of a hand. Far too many people have suffered or lost their lives at the hand of those who take liberties under the guise of self- righteous symbols. If the Catholic Church wants its symbols to be respected, then its symbols must stand for more than arbitrary authoritarianism. Evolution is necessary.

The Evolution Of Catholicism

Daniel DiRito | April 5, 2007 | 6:00 PM | link | Comments (4)
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