Archive for April, 2007

Substantive Work on Reducing Abortion

April 30, 2007

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, recently wrote a good article on the need to take concrete steps to reduce abortion. “Abortion – From Symbol to Substance” is a much more compassionate and sensible take than what I typically hear from the Pro-Life advocates on the Right. This is an agenda I can get behind.

Wallis mentions two bills which have been offered up in congress, ones which take steps to deal with the roots of abortion instead of merely condemning or criminalizing the fruits. HR 1074: Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, and HR 6145 [109th]: Pregnant Women Support Act are both worthy of encouragement. Sadly, neither bill has a sponsor from Utah, all of whose Representatives are LDS and supposedly advocate life and helping those in need. Why not give your representative a call, see whether or not they endorse these bills, and recommend that they back the bills.

In reading Rep. Lincoln Davis’ press release announcing the bill, I find it particularly interesting that while such religious organizations as The National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, have found it justified to back Representative Davis’ Pregnant Women Support Act, the two of the most prominent religious groups who speak most loudly on moral issues and abortion specifically have not supported the legislation. Perhaps this is because those organizations are more concerned with exclusion, retribution, and building a base of power through moral grandstanding than in compassion and real solutions to the moral issues? While those and similar groups have exerted considerable control within the pro-life movement over the years, those who are pro-life don’t need to follow their lead. Those concerned with life can join together on this different road to deal with the tragedy of abortion, a road more Christian in my view.

Christian Campaign on Darfur

April 27, 2007

Slowly but surely, as year after year passes without any action on the genocide in Darfur, the momentum is growing for action to end the slaughter. Sojourners/Call to Renewal has been calling attention to the tragedy for almost as long as it has occurred. In his article “For God’s Sake, Save Darfur! End the Politics of Delay” Adam Taylor of Call to Renewal makes his latest plea for action, and raises awareness of the ongoing week of “Global Days for Darfur,” of which this Saturday’s Save Darfur rally at Washington Square is a part.

It’s Just a Joke

April 27, 2007

John McCain has recently caught a bit of flack in the media for both a blatantly staged photo op in Baghdad which he claimed was evidence of improvement in Iraq—one in which he had the advantage of a heavily armed military escort—and for cavalierly joking about bombing Iran at a campaign stop in South Carolina. When questioned about the indignation over his joke, McCain insisted “lighten up, get a life.” It was, after all, just a joke.

Should people let their feathers get ruffled by statements which are “just a joke”? My first inclination is to dismiss McCain’s foolish singing. I’m a smart-alec myself. Sometimes we say things to get a reaction. Why make a big deal about some throw-away statement tossed out there in a moment of levity. What’s the harm?

When I was a youth, I was often admonished in the Church that we need to watch what we say, that our words mean something. Leaders from the General Authorities of the Church down to bishops and youth leaders would warn us specifically to avoid inappropriate or off-color jokes and stories. There is harm in jests. Typically my elders would interpret that to refer to sexual content or swearing. But are those really the some total of inappropriate content? Is that all the Lord cares about in our conversation?

Tony Campolo, Evangelical minister, was noted in The Progressive to have made an interesting observation.

First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Well said. There is so many things more inappropriate than the words damn, shit and hell. And I tend to suspect that the Lord finds many topics of conversation as offensive as crude sexual references or stories.

I know of more than one active, decent LDS member who has told racist jokes. At each occasion, I was shocked and dismayed. None of them has given any other evidence of racial bigotry, and I have little reason to think that they would act anywhere nearly as crudely as their jokes suggest. But can there be any reason to think that our Father is fine with jokes in which the punchline revolves around murder? If He is saddened when we objectify his daughters in jokes of a sexual nature, how hurt must he be when he hears those who claim to follow him referring in a quip to the killing of his children?

One of the reasons our leaders give us not to talk frivolously about sex is that so we are not desensitized to the true beauty and intimacy of sex. I can hardly believe he is any less concerned about our desensitization to the pain, suffering, and death of his children. According to LDS theology, the one sin greater than adultery is murder. Whether talking about the casual killing of blacks, or the casual bombing of thousands of people in a foreign nation, I doubt such jokes are any less objectionable than those about sex or swearing. Even if we have no real intent or desire to commit such crimes, the subject is not one to be treated lightly by a moral people, one trying to follow the Prince of Peace and Love.

Had McCain been joking about bombing Canada or Norway, the joke might have been taken differently. But the reality is that who or what you joke about matters. I can personally attest to the fact that jokes about adultery become considerably less humorous when someone close to you has been hurt by adultery. Jokes about capricious military carnage are doubtless likewise less funny when other nations in the region have found themselves subject to rather capricious military operations, and when the jokester has been supportive of the military actions of a president who has accused the nation in question of being a member of an “Axis of Evil.”

As a leader of our nation, and one seeking no less than the highest leadership office in the most influential nation on earth, McCain must recognize that his words mean something, even words spoken in jest (as should all of us seeking to become closer to Christ—or even just more compassionate with our fellow human beings). McCain’s verbal blunder isn’t the worst thing he could have done. It wouldn’t be a determining factor in my vote, and I don’t believe it is worth making a big deal over. But his rationalization of the joke is more disappointing, and should give us all the opportunity to think about what we treat lightly.

Bob Francis Calls for a Free and Independent Press

April 27, 2007

“Liberalmedia.” That’s the word conservative leaders use often when they talk about the mainstream media (outside of AM radio, of course, which is dominated by thsoe same conservative leaders and pundits). The words are no longer separated in their minds, but are now one compound word: liberalmedia. This is their explanation whenever reports do not fit their concept of reality (as Stephen Colbert pointed out in his superb satirical presentation at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner “reality has a well-known liberal bias”).

I used to think that the epithet was merely sour grapes, or a self-deluding mantra with which to console themselves when facts didn’t go their way. However, Eric Alterman has suggested another alternative. In his book, What Liberal Media? The Truth about Bias and the News, Eric relates conservative charges of liberalmedia bias to the ref baiting. In sports, it isn’t uncommon for coaches and fans to accuse referees of bias against their teams, haranguing the referees for perceived slights and errors. Referees are only human, and there is a very real possibility that the repeated haranguing may make them more gunshy in the future, or willing to give the home team the benefit of the doubt in the future. Coaches understand this, and some will bait the refs with very deliberate, calculated intent in order to gain favorable treatment for their own team. Alterman suggests that leading conservative politicians and media figures have adopted the exact same strategy in their treatment of the media. Its an interesting theory.

Whatever the reason for the pretense, the concept of the liberalmedia is false. The foundation upon which they build that contention is quicksand. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t any bias in the media. The reporters, editors, and owners who make up the media have their own sets of biases. Additionally, the media as individual units and as a group as a whole are subject to influence from outside sources. They are only human.

Bob Francis of Sojourners discusses how the media were very successfully influenced by the Right to support the conservative agenda and that of President Bush’s administration after 9/11 in his essay “Can You Help Me Find the Free and Independent Press?” And he is right on the money. The media were willing, if typically unwitting, accomplices in the deceptions perpetrated upon the American people. The voices who challenged the administration’s claims—and there were many—were largely excluded from the mainstream media.

Despite what conservatives may think, it isn’t the role of the media to accept the statements of the establishment at face value, or to play “nice” with people in power—conservative or liberal. The role of the Fourth Estate is to challenge the established powers, to look for contradictions or fallacies, and to permit a voice to the dissenting perspectives which the political powers would ignore or repress. It is by filling that role that the Fourth Estate can help check ambitious men from expanding their power beyond acceptable limits and exercising unrighteous dominion (such as warrantless wiretapping, provisions in the Patriot Act challenging our civil liberties, using political influence to alter scientific data to suit their own political agenda, and most importantly, taking a nation into war under false pretenses). As Francis suggests, when we needed an aggressive and determined Fourth Estate most of all, they were nowhere to be found.

Student Rally for Darfur

April 25, 2007

The extent of my activism during my teen years was to pin a flag to my shirt in support of Gulf War I (as embarrassing as it is to admit it; fortunately, my understanding of world events, history, and political events has grown considerably since then, and my understanding of morality has matured). Considering my own lack of teen involvement and my current political engagement, I find it incredibly refreshing to see students and teens take an active interest in events larger than themselves and to actually try to make a difference in this world.

Solomon Awan and Hanna Saltzman are two such students. They have taken it upon themselves to take a stand against the genocide in Darfur, and are hosting a rally at Washington Square this Saturday (04/28/07) at 1:00 to raise awareness on the issue. Solomon is a student at Westminster College and refugee from Sudan. Hannah is a high-school student at Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, and founder of a school chapter of Help Darfur Now. You can hear about their stories during this interview on KCPW’s Midday Metro.

The genocide in Darfur is perhaps the only current conflict of which I’m aware that I do believe may genuinely merit military intervention. Serious action of some sort is urgently required—people are dying every day. The administration has for months talked in stern tones about meeting this challenge. To this day, they have done nothing. As much as their machinations and blunders may have tied up our military, surely there is something the U.S. can do to help end the ongoing calamity. Stop in at the rally this Saturday, learn more about this horror, support these bright and optimistic youths, and see what you can do to make a difference.

Captain, I’m not Reassured

April 25, 2007

In response to my post on this administration and the simplistic manner in which they try to frame the occupation of Iraq like a game, we heard a word from an Iraq vet, who has apparently served a stint in Iraq not too long back. Captain Sykes confidently assured us that the pacification (interesting that he would use that term;as a military euphemism, it has a rather disturbing history) is moving forward apace, and that the morale of the troops is fine.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the Captain’s timing, coming as his comments did about 5 days after “Nearly 200 people have been killed in a string of attacks in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad – the worst day of violence since a US security operation began,” a day after a bomb attack on a Baghdad police station killed a dozen and wounded scores more and one day prior to the killing of nine U.S. soldiers in “the volatile province of Diyala,” in what is “the worst single US loss on the ground since late 2005.”

I can’t say that I’ve been inspired…

I’m glad that the Captain feels morale is high. But the Captain cannot speak collectively for the troops in Iraq any more than I am can speak for Utah or the U.S. collectively. I’ll trust that this is true for himself, his unit, and others serving around him. There is a diversity of opinion within the military establishment and those connected with them.

Guy Raz of the NPR show Morning Edition produced “Members of Military Make War Views Known,” yesterday in which he interviewed a number of soldiers frustrated by the occupation of Iraq. He met with Johnathon Hutto, a founder of the Appeal for Redress, which has been signed by almost 2,000 active duty service personnel.

The ranks of soldiers joining The Iraq War Veterans Against the War are growing. The organization opposes the war in part because of the consequences of the multiple, lengthy tours on the soldiers and family.

Many who are not speaking out are still suffering from the effects of participating in the pacification. An LA Times report (posted here on Common Dreams) that more than one in three soldiers returning from duty in Iraq pursued help for emotional issues.” One in eight were diagnosed with serious psychological disorders, such as PTSD. The symptoms of the toil this war is taking on our soldiers is alarming.

Rieckhoff, who spent a year with the Army in Iraq, thinks the survey underestimates the number of problems.

“I had 38 guys under my command. One shot himself in the leg to go home. Seven of them got divorces, one is in a mental institution, and one took his own life a few months after he got back,” he said. “Not everyone comes home with post-traumatic stress disorder, but no one comes home unchanged.”

Daniel Zwerdling of the NPR show All Things Considered reported in December that while military studies show up to a quarter of service personnel have displayed symptoms of serious psychological trauma, the army may have been disregarding the severity of the price the troops pay. In his story “Soldiers Say Army Ignores, Punishes Mental Anguish,” he explored a number of rather troubling stories from Ft. Carson in Colorado. A follow up last month “Military Mental Health Care Under Scrutiny,” demonstrates that the problems on Ft. Carson were not an abberation. Katherine Johnson expressed her grief over what this continued occupation has cost her son.

Johnson says that today, her son sometimes seems like a stranger.

“He gets angry easy,” she says, haltingly, “and he’s also afraid to be alone. But the main thing I’m concerned with is that he’s turned to alcohol, and this was not typical of my son.”

In fact, she says, he gets so drunk that “we’ll call him on the telephone and he doesn’t know who we are.”

“You have no idea what this has done to us,” Johnson says, starting to sob. “I just want my son back.”

I can’t deny that I’m a little concerned about the Captain’s glib certainty that he and the troops are “a-ok.”

Sometimes a nation must pay a heavy price in the blood and tears of her sons and daughters to advance a higher cause. We certainly have plenty of examples in the Book of Mormon of very bloody wars fought in defense against invading armies. But a war of aggression and pacification based on lies is not one such a higher cause. The “isolation of Iran” is not such a higher cause, unless this administration can prove that Iran is a serious and immediate threat without that isolation—and given the dissembling this administration engaged in when last they tried to convince the U.S. about grave peril, the bar set for such proof must be set high indeed.

The administration has again resorted to weak attacks and framing the debate in the prideful form of a contest to win or loose. Rather than discussing the merits of the claims of congressional Democrats, Vice-President Cheney accused Senate majority leader Reid of “defeatism.”

I guess when there are no merits to your argument, you must resort to appeals to churlish pride.

Candorville and Khalid Sheik Mohammed

April 25, 2007

Darrin Bell, creator of the comic Candorville,made a great point about the recent confessions of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in his 04/22/07 strip. Check it out.

3rd Avenue on Family Values

April 21, 2007

I enjoyed this fine little observation on family values over at 3rd Avenue.

Gayle Ruzicka’s Crusade Against Gardasil

April 17, 2007

I started this before my unintentional hiatus, when the bill itself was still a hot topic. I decided to complete it, as I think it is still relevant, both for the specific topic, and for the way it relates to the way we deal with other issues, like sex ed.

A new vaccine has been creating quite a stir on the political scene in a number of states around the nation, including Utah. Merck boasts that Gardasil can protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading cause of cervical cancer. Excited by the promise of this medication, a number of politicians around the nation have sought to promote the use of this vaccine, producing bills sponsoring anything from mandatory vaccinations to education and subsidization. in the recently ended session of the 57th Utah Legislature, district 46 Representative Karen Morgan sponsored HB 358, a bill which would originally have provided one-million dollars for the Utah Health Department to “establish a program to educate citizens about the risks of cervical cancer and prevention of cervical cancer and to begin an immunization program.” The bill was vehemently opposed by conservative legislators and leaders. In the end, the bill was passed, but as the neutered HB 358S02, in which the immunization campaign was removed, the education campaign was twisted to promote the conservative agenda, and the funding was gutted.

Fortunately John Huntsman Sr. has the compassion and integrity to have recently pledged to fully fund Morgan’s program.

What is it that so perturbed the Right about this vaccine? Gayle Ruzicka of the Eagle Forum was one of the most vocal opponents of Morgan’s bill, and is a good example. She expressed a number of concerns, among them skepticism of the safety of the vaccine and the conflict of interest in Merck helping to sponsor such legislation. These doubts certainly sound reasonable. I think it wise to be cautious about the sorts of promises and assurances made by corporate giants. Merck is, after all, the same corporation which gave us the Viox fiasco. All evidence I’ve seen suggests that while we cannot know for certain what the long-term impacts will be, Gardasil has been thoroughly tested. But I’m willing to explore the issue further. Additionally, I don’t like the idea of a corporation seeking to manipulate legislation in order to essentially guarantee themselves subsidized profits or marketing—especially for a multi-national corporation with revenues in the billions. Ruzicka’s apprehensions seem worth exploring.

But then there is the issue which destroys every shred of Ruzicka’s credibility.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said mandating the vaccine is going too far. She also said that it’s not right to vaccinate children against bad behavior.

“Anytime you tell young people a vaccine is going to save them, you are sending the wrong message. Nothing is foolproof,” she said.

“The only thing we know that will guard against sexually transmitted disease is abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage. We cannot keep vaccinating our children against bad behavior. We need to teach them and trust them.” (Ogden Standard Examiner, “Many promote cervical cancer vaccine; others warn against it“)

In other words, Ruzicka doesn’t want girls to be vaccinated against this STD for fear that it would encourage promiscuity.

(we’ll put aside the fact that Ruzicka was less than honest in implying that Morgan’s intent was mandatory vaccinations, when HB 358 was only to education the public about the vaccine and make it available to everyone)

The issue is saving lives, and conservative leaders insist on making it an issue of sexual morality.

The reasoning just doesn’t make sense. Seatbelts and airbags do not encourage people to drive more recklessly. On the other hand, knowing the dangers of smoking hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of people from beginning the habit over the past few decades. Likewise, The risk of pregnancy has been around for as long as man has existed, and various venereal diseases have presumably been around almost as long, yet people have engaged in extra-marital sex virtually from the dawn of time. It is important to try to educate people on the risks we face for our decisions, but fear of the potential consequences seems a less than effective deterrent. Nor does it show much respect for the intelligence and character of our children if we feel we need to rely on fear to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The simple truth is that some young adults are going to have sex. Good and righteous parenting—unlike fear—will likely reduce the odds, but it is no guarantee. We’ve plenty of scriptural examples of good and righteous parents whose children fell into grievous sin (Lehi, both Almas, most of Jacob/Israel’s sons). Is the slim chance that fear will keep our daughters chaste worth the risk to their health and lives should they stray? I find the prospect ghastly.

Ruzicka seems to forget that women aren’t always truly in charge of their bodies. There were 920 reported rapes in Utah in 2005. Do they deserve to risk the disease for the sin of being victims? What about the women who may not actually be physically assaulted, but are coerced into sexual activity? Or the woman who is unaware that her husband is unfaithful, and is about to pass on the virus caught elsewhere?

I agree with Ruzicka that sexual intimacy is something which should be reserved for the bonds of marriage. Nor would I make this vaccine mandatory. But I deplore the interference in legislation in an impotent effort to further that agenda, and find it intolerable that so many conservatives would put that agenda above saving lives.

Global Warming and the Poor

April 16, 2007

Despite interference by political operatives from various governments—including the U.S.—The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report on the human impact on the climate, and the resulting climatic impact on the planet. Among its most interesting conclusions were those regarding who will bear the brunt of consequences of climate change.

“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (BBC News, “Billions face climate change risk”).

The poorest communities will be least able to adapt to the changes which continued and accelerated climate change will bring—a rather common-sense conclusion, if you think about it. Additionally, the report indicates that many of the poorest regions in the world, such as Africa and much of Asia, will face some of the resulting climate shifts.

Hardly surprising. The proponents of the modern globalization under nominally free-market principles have long promised that the expansion of this economic system will bless the lives of all. They insist that “development” and “modernization” under their terms is a “win-win” proposition for everybody involved, lifting all boats. In reality, the powerful maximize their benefits and externalize their costs onto the backs of the weak. The powerful nations and interests get countless cheap baubles and trinkets, creature comforts and conveniences, all to entice us into the cycle of conspicuous consumption. An elite few among the powerful obtain incredible wealth in the bargain. The weak, on the other hand, get sweatshops, the disruption of local communities and cultures, the decimation of their resources, and the biggest chunk of environmental bill for the resource consumption of the powerful. We take their material and labor, and give them back our effluence. Hardly a worthy fulfillment of the promise of free-trade to “the least of these.”

What we are doing now under those economic principles is clearly not helping our brothers and sisters in poorer countries around the globe. If we put aside the dogma and look at the evidence, the idea that systematic and widescale shifts in resource consumption would hurt poorer nations is simply false. If the conclusions of most of the worlds most knowledgeable scientists are accurate, we risk delivering those brothers and sisters into terrible tragedy if we do not make some serious efforts to mitigate the processes we’ve set in motion. We can start by promoting fair-trade over free-trade, localization of economies where possible, the greening of our industries, and drastically reducing basic consumption. We cannot in good conscience pacify ourselves with the minor, convenient efforts. Picking up litter and making sure your car is properly maintained just isn’t enough if we’re going to be responsible for the mess we’re causing and do right by those in need.