Uncivil Unions: February 2008: Archives

February 22, 2008

Hillary's Stellar Debate Moment - Part Two genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions


A number of readers responded to the posting Hillary's Stellar Debate Moment. I truly appreciate hearing the thoughts and observations of my readers and I welcome engaging dialogue. I was going to reply in the comments section of the prior posting but I soon concluded it warranted a second posting.

I do so because I've noticed a trend that troubles me...one that is innately important to me and that highlights one of the overarching motivations behind the creation of Thought Theater. I'll attempt an explanation.

Throughout my life, I have prioritized the pursuit of more truth above all else (that doesn't mean I always lived it). In so doing, I often find I'm unable to permanently attach myself to any particular group, club, party, or affiliation. All too often, such allegiances include the requirement that each member adopt and affirm all of the beliefs (truths) of the organization...even if that arrests the pursuit of the truth...or...heaven forbid...demands the wholesale suspension of the truth.

What this means in practical terms is that I'm often viewed as a contrarian. I've accepted my role, though I prefer to characterize it as a commitment to seeking more truth...even if I find it painful...even if it makes me unpopular. What I've learned is that my pursuit of truth is far more sustaining than any of the perceived spoils that accompany affected affiliations.

Before I proceed to the topic at hand, some background might be beneficial. I attended high school at an all boys Catholic boarding school. We were allied with an all girls Catholic boarding school. Over time, it became vogue to denigrate the girls at our sister school and it became cool to date girls from the local high school. As with most trends in teenagers, the shift was facilitated by a vocal few and followed by the pliable masses.

Ironically, I (the closeted gay guy) came to the defense of the girls at our sister school...writing opinion pieces in the school paper assailing the mob mentality and the thugs who had triggered the entire ordeal. Simply stated, I defended the truth because it was the right thing to do. I took my share of flack from a few students but over time I won the respect of far more. In retrospect, it merely took someone to stand up and state the obvious. Sadly, it reinforced my belief that in the absence of a voice, the truth becomes little more than an amalgam of invented and inflicted animosities heaped upon the helpless and the hapless.

Having been bullied in grade school until I finally stood up for myself and bloodied the nose of the ringleader, I developed a keen sense of injustice and an unyielding commitment to fairness. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't remotely perfect then and I'm still not...but I can recognize a mean spirited assault in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, life isn't black and white or neat and tidy. Yes, when it comes to people, it's much easier to lump and label than it is to dissect and discern...but then who ever said the search for truth should be easy?

Hence, the most important thing I learned was that truth can be found in places and in people one wouldn't expect or predict. I came to realize that even a thug can speak the truth or act with fairness...but that required suspending my own bias in order to be objective...even while knowing I could rationalize doing otherwise. So what was the essential lesson? If I wanted fairness, I had to grant it to others...regardless of my own bias.

As I've followed politics and the upcoming election, I've found myself experiencing many of the same feelings and circumstances...and that includes allowing my own bias to interfere with the pursuit of truth. Fortunately, I'm still committed to fairness. With that in mind, I offer the following observations with regards to last evening's debate and the ongoing need to seek truth.

First, I'm including the content of an email I received in response to the posting. I also encourage readers to take a moment and read the comments in the posting as they provide the context for my remarks.

hi: i think you fell for a bit of theater--have you seen the utube of john edwards "after this is all done, we'll be ok" and its america he's worried about? or the clip of bill yakking about taking"hits." hill's greatest moment was empty gesture. the question was soft ball and hill was prepared with stolen words in an attempt to hit a home run. i thought you were more sophisticated than to buy her performance. or maybe your use of stellar was merely acknowledging the performing aspect. the message was old, the delivery not bad.

First, I love politics and I understand that it often involves emotions and that can lead to pettiness, anger, animosity, and partisanship. Human nature is such that we're all prone to bias...and politics may be the arena where it is most noticeable.

As such, I find myself troubled by the refusal of so many individuals to acknowledge any positive acts on the part of the candidate(s) they don't support. Even worse, I'm amazed that one Democrat is willing to assail another simply because they don't support the same candidate. Truth be told, how can Democrats call Karl Rove and the GOP ruthless when Democrats engage in the same behavior...within their own party's primary?

I understand the desire to win...but I have never sought to win if it involved having to abandon my belief in the pursuit of truth. That means that I accept that "the truth" won't always be on my side...and it won't always vindicate me and vanquish those that I oppose. At the same time, if I'm committed to the truth, it will always lead me towards more of it...sometimes willingly and sometimes kicking and screaming. I cherish that reality even if it has the potential to kick my butt.

I mean no disrespect by the following remark, but it needs to be said. Time and again, people, motivated by their own bias, make statements that make them appear to be "full of shit". It's the equivalent of calling a square a circle and then expecting everyone to agree with you...simply because it supports the reality you're promoting. Sometimes it works...especially if one is skilled at manipulation...but it never circumvents the actual truth...ever.

Sadly, those who choose this approach, often aim their efforts at those who, by and large, share their same basic goals and objectives (e.g. Dems on Dems)...but for any number of reasons they seek to achieve those goals and objectives by virtue of their preferred path. I view such acts as unenlightened episodes of intellectual dishonesty. It's akin to the notion that the end justifies the means. I don't think it's that simple.

Let me explain. Truth is a function of consistency and those who seek to be affiliated with the truth can only remain so if their words and deeds are in fact consistent with it. Truth requires vigilance and commitment. Call it being on the watch for the flip flop effect...call it being willing to call a lie a lie...call it an insistence that deception and deceit must be exposed whenever it rears its head...but that which isn't consistent with the truth can never be called an impartial demonstration of objectivity and rationality. Hence truth can set us free or it can make us prisoners of our refusal to face it.

So let's return to the email and the issue of Senator Clinton's "stellar debate moment". A number of folks have pointed to the hypocrisy found in Hillary Clinton accusing Barack Obama of plagiarism and then proceeding to use the words of others in her closing remarks. So what truth can we discern from this inconsistency? Here's where it gets complicated.

First, I would argue that the definition of plagiarism has been stretched to score political points. We're all guilty of using words, ideas, and expressions that we've heard or read...but that fails to meet the intent of plagiarism. Making such an accusation may be an acceptable political strategy but it isn't consistent with the pursuit of truth.

Second, this means that Hillary's actions were inconsistent with the manipulated truth she had previously sought to create. At the same time, the fact that she demonstrated this inconsistency doesn't nullify the truth of the words (borrowed and original) she spoke last night...just as her accusations directed at Senator Obama didn't negate the truth of the words (borrowed and original) he recently spoke.

The fact that the Obama campaign employed the same manipulation of the truth in accusing Senator Clinton of plagiarism following last evening's debate was also inconsistent with the truth...albeit done as a tit for tat response (a rationalization). You see...this is the danger of deviating from the consistent pursuit of truth. It becomes a never-ending struggle to create truth rather than to find it and to honor it.

So let's look at Senator Clinton's actual remarks. Those intent on assailing the Senator have focused upon a small portion of a statement that was nearly three minutes in duration. I view that as an obfuscation of the truth. Her statement was more than "we're going to be ok but I'm not so sure America will be" and "I've taken some hits in my life". Ignoring the entirety of the statement is an attempt to score political points through manipulation. It's done all of the time...but it isn't consistent with the pursuit of truth.

Further, we've all found ourselves in situations where the words of others best describe our truth as well as larger, far more encompassing "truths". After all, the bulk of our thoughts have been experienced, spoken, or written by others. There just aren't that many original thoughts or wholly unique ways to express them. If there were, we'd all be esteemed authors and poets.

That brings us back to the intended meaning of the word plagiarism. The manner in which it has been utilized in this campaign is absurd...and the more we all embrace its false meaning; the more we convolute its true meaning. Such is the process that accompanies the destruction of language and therefore our ability to communicate effectively and honestly. It's truly an example of the slippery slope effect...and the deconstruction of fundamental truths.

I challenge everyone to go back and look at Senator Obama's face while he listens to Senator Clinton's closing remarks. I'm convinced that what you will see in his face is an acknowledgment and an affirmation of the truth he's hearing...regardless of whether some small portion of it was "lifted" from others. In the end, the truth of the words she spoke resonated with Barack and with the audience. It was a real moment because the listeners grasped the truth of the spoken words...even if it was a "performance"...even if Barack thought it was a performance.

To discount her statements because one thinks she prepared and practiced speaking them is to suggest that she should be singled out as a candidate who isn't entitled to avail herself of the long-established practices of public speaking and politicking. To suggest that the question was "a softball" ignores the fact that both candidates were given the same opportunity to answer it. It was a level playing field. Negating Senator Clinton's "home run" answer because she was prepared for the question is utterly illogical.

The truth is that most of what we see in a debate is performance. Criticizing a candidate for a stellar performance is akin to shunning a good movie because one of the actors (who you don't particularly like) was superb. Yes, we're all entitled to our subjective conclusions...but passing a biased opinion off as an objective analysis circumvents the discernment of truth.

It happens all the time in politics and all too often in life. It is a virulent virus...one that has the potential to replicate so fast that we're on the verge of untruth becoming a pandemic infection. Even worse, how does one cure a disease that is self-inflicted and self-perpetuating? If the motivation to pass a virus exceeds the desire to defeat it, then sickness has trumped sanity.

Truth is never old and it remains truth whenever and wherever it is delivered. Truth isn't the sole domain of any individual; it is bigger than than...because it must be. One can dislike the messenger while still acknowledging and accepting the message.

Politics is an attempt to get voters to embrace both. Regardless, if we collectively focus on affirming truth whenever and wherever we see it, hear it, read it, or find it, we send our own message of rejection to those who may be engaged in delivering a corrupted version of it. If we consistently send that message, we inoculate ourselves from the ravages of untruth and we single out those who have become its carriers. In so doing, we begin the process of retraining the body politic to reject deceit and deception and we set in motion a system that rewards those who pursue it and perform it...consistently.

The truth is...when the end and the means are one and the same...the truth is.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Austin Debate, Barack Obama, Bias, Democratic Nomination, Fairness, Hillary Clinton, Justice, Karl Rove, Partisanship, Politics, Truth

Daniel DiRito | February 22, 2008 | 6:07 PM | link | Comments (5)
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February 8, 2008

Spanish Bishops Give New Meaning To The "Bully" Pulpit genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

Jose Luis Zapatero & Pope Benedict

In an effort to reassert their relevance, Catholic Bishops in Spain are rallying their shrinking congregations to oppose the country's sitting government and it's leader, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The Bishops hope to influence the March 9th election and remove the secular government that brought the legalization of gay marriage and more expedient divorce proceedings.

In Spain, the Catholic Church has a long history of participating in the blurring of the lines between church and state. For much of the Franco era, the church and the state had a mutually beneficial relationship that restored the Church to privileged status and provided it with state funding. Despite having apologized to the Spanish people for their duplicity with the dictatorship, it appears the Church has once again decided to inject itself into the Spanish political process.

While the Spanish clergy has released moral-guidance notes in most elections since Spain became a democracy in 1978, it has never before so pointedly targeted a candidate.

In December, the first church-organized protest in 30 years drew 1 million supporters in Madrid; Pope Benedict XVI spoke via video link. The capital's archbishop accused the premier of taking a "step backward for human rights.''

"I can't accept that they say laws made in this legislature are undermining democracy or are a reversal for human rights,'' Zapatero, who will have lunch with the Vatican's emissary in Madrid next week, said today in a radio interview. The church's attitude "has to change.''

Zapatero's Socialists led Rajoy's People's Party by 44.6 percent to 38.2 percent in a Jan. 21-31 poll by the newspaper Publico, and it isn't a given that Rajoy will benefit from the church's efforts against the government. While 78 percent of Spain's 45 million people identify themselves as Catholics, regular church attendance fell to as low as 27 percent last year from 36 percent a decade ago, according to polling by the Center for Sociological Research.

The church "isn't doing the PP any favors,'' said Francisco Llera, professor of political science at the University of the Basque Country in Leioa, northern Spain. "It may undermine the party's support among moderate, liberal and non-religious voters.''

In my opinion, the Catholic Church suffers from the ailment that so often afflicts those who crave authority and lack the ability to employ persuasion ...when they sense their power may be diminishing, they become even more dogmatic and authoritarian. While that approach may have worked in an ill-informed and under educated world, it seems fully lacking in this day and age. Unfortunately, like with so many other hierarchical institutions, their ability to adapt to change is negligible.

When that reality is coupled with the Church's checkered past...that being their long history of erring on the side of those powerful zealots who assured their existence at the expense of their adherence to their espoused values...one shouldn't be surprised by their declining influence and the growing perception that they remain a boisterous, though increasingly irrelevant monolith. Their expanding malevolence in the midst of a changing world simply hastens their demise.

Tagged as: Catholic Church, Divorce, Francisco Franco, Gay Marriage, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapateo, People's Party, Pope Benedict, Secularism, Spain

Daniel DiRito | February 8, 2008 | 11:09 AM | link | Comments (1)
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February 5, 2008

Kansas Supreme Court Halts Abortion Grand Jury genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Uncivil Unions

Conservative Nanny State

If you've never heard of Phill Kline, consider yourself lucky. At the same time, if you oppose those who have made a career of vilifying abortion providers for political gain, Phill Kline may be enemy number one. When one hears the expression, "What's the matter with Kansas?", the former Attorney General's fingerprints are apt to be found. Fortunately, Kansas voters rejected Kline's reelection bid. Sadly, the defeat did little to deter Kline's obsession with criminalizing the actions of abortion providers and intimidating those who have had the procedure or might consider it in the future.

Today, the Kansas Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the latest efforts of Kline and his zealous supporters to review the medical records of some 2,000 women who visited the clinic of Dr. George Tiller, a prominent medical provider who has become the focus of the anti-abortion crusade.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a grand jury from obtaining patient records from a physician who is one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers.

The grand jury is investigating whether Dr. George Tiller has broken Kansas laws restricting abortion, as many abortion opponents allege. The grand jury subpoenaed the medical files of about 2,000 women, including some who decided against having abortions.

Abortion opponents forced Sedgwick County to convene the grand jury by submitting petitions, the second such citizen investigation since 2006 of Tiller, who has long been at the center of the nation's abortion battle. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and eight years later a woman shot him in both arms.

Tiller's attorneys asked the Supreme Court to quash the grand jury's subpoenas, and the court agreed to block their enforcement until it considers the issue.

Chief Justice Kay McFarland said Tiller's challenge raised "significant issues" about patients' privacy and a grand jury's power to subpoena records.

The grand jury is seeking records of all women who visited Tiller's clinic between July 2003 and last month and were at least 22 weeks pregnant at the time. The grand jury also subpoenaed information about current and former employees and referring physicians.

The edited patient records would not have the women's names, but they would have patient identification numbers. Tiller's attorneys claimed in court last week that in an earlier investigation, former Attorney General Phill Kline was able to track down patients' names using the identifying numbers on patients' files.

The tactic has been employed by Kline and his supporters for a number of years and many of his detractors see it as an effort to terrorize women who might seek out an abortion.

Kline's effort to portray himself as a law and order prosecutor are little more than a sleight of hand designed to oppose abortion. His willingness to victimize women who have made the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy demonstrates his disregard for the privacy of these individuals as well as the lengths he will go to advance his political aspirations.

Additionally, Kline and his ilk hope to highlight the flexibility granted to physicians in making exceptions to late term abortion restrictions. The courts have required that many of the laws limiting late term abortions be designed to allow physicians to protect the health and welfare of the pregnant woman...a provision abortion opponents would prefer be omitted from such laws.

One can only hope that the Supreme Court will limit these virtual witch hunts and maintain the privacy and dignity of the women in question. All too often, those vehemently opposed to abortion fail to consider the difficult circumstances confronting these women.

The fact that these same activists frequently object to comprehensive sex education and unrestricted access to birth control simply compounds the issue. I find it ironic that many within the GOP accuse the Democratic Party of favoring a nanny state. Truth be told, countless Republicans not only favor a nanny state; they would like to mete out their own brand of punishment to those who fail to comply with the imposition of their narrowly defined beliefs.

Tagged as: Abortion, Contraception, Dr. George Tiller, Kansas, Kansas Supreme Court, Late Term Abortions, Phill Kline, Planned Parenthood, Premarital Sex, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Roe v. Wade, Sedgwick County, Sex Education, Teen Pregnancy

Daniel DiRito | February 5, 2008 | 2:14 PM | link | Comments (0)
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