Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Commenting

Since this has become an issue again, please read this blog's policy on commenting before leaving remarks. As a reminder, unsigned comments will not be published.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gay teens treated as humans by their families less likely to commit suicide

For years, religious fundamentalists in this country have contended that the fact that suicide and drug use were relatively higher among gay teenagers is "proof" that homosexuality is some sort of mental illness.

New research reveals the rather unsurprising finding that gay children whose parents are accepting of them are far less likely to commit suicide, fall into depression, have unprotected sex or become drug addicts. The risk of such problems is also dramatically lower for kids whose parents don't force them into a bogus 'cure' for their non-illness. Notably, research found that these kids had fewer problems even if members of their family were mildly uncomfortable with their sexual orientation, just so long as they weren't belligerently abusive.

Researchers found experienced high levels of rejection were nearly 8.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. They were nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression and almost 3.5 times more likely to use illegal drugs or engage in unprotected sex. That was compared with adolescents whose families may have felt uncomfortable with a gay kid, but were neutral or only mildly rejecting.

So basically, scientists found that kids who are treated by their families as human beings, rather than human garbage, do better in life.

It's sad that this will come as news to some people.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pope's vile bigotry

People wonder why the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging both practicing members and clergy. Certainly, the Church's steadfast protection of pedophile priests severely tarnished its reputation in many western countries. Another part of it is that while the world and its inhabitants are entering the 21st century, the Vatican is stuck in the 17th.

Most recently, the Church's leader, Pope Benedict XVI, actually said that saving humanity from homosexual and transexual behavior was as important as protecting the environment.

I understand the Church continues to follow ancient Jewish law that stipulates that both sex and marriage should be done strictly for pro-creation. Got that all you childless married couples out there!

To be say that non-heterosexual behavior was a threat to humanity is both absurd and vile.

I am just one example of someone who was born, raised and confirmed as a Catholic but has consciously after much reflection (not accidentally or because of laziness) stopped practicing because of the Church's moral decrepitude. If you're a man who has consensual sex with another man, you're a threat to humanity. But if you're a man who rapes a young boy, you merit protection. This has been the Church's de facto stance for some time.

The Pope even said that words like gender identity and sexual orientation "create serious uncertainty in the law."

Worse yet were his pathetic weasel words at the end lamely trying to defuse the inevitable controversy. He said that of course "unjust discrimination" against gays should be avoid.

But if gays are the serious threat to humanity that Benedict claims, then shouldn't this threat be eradicated at all costs? What sort of punishment or restriction can possibly be unjust against something as serious as a threat to humanity?

Thanks for your warm inclusiveness this holiday season, Mr. Ratzinger.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tis the season to share

NPR's All Things Considered had an interesting piece on e-charity. Organizations are becoming more creative and interactive in how they solicit donations. Given that helping those in need is an oft stated objective during the holiday season, here are some suggestions.

DonorsChoose.org is a site where you can help provide teachers with resources for projects that would otherwise be unavailable. According to the site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

The American Cancer Society maintains an interactive, multimedia site called SharingHope.tv.

One of the more intriguing sites is called Kiva.org. Many of you have probably heard of the concept of microfinancing, the founder of which, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the most recent Nobel Peace Prize. Kiva is a site that allows you to fund a microlending project by choosing it directly. It's kind of like sponsoring a child, except you're sponsoring a business. And they pay you the money back, within 6-12 months. (Microlending repayment rates are over 99 pct., significantly higher than the repayment rate to commercial banks). And due to the nature of microlending, you don't have to put forth much money.



And of course, here's a pitch for a few local charities I support...
-Glens Falls Area Youth Center.
-Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Southern Adirondacks.
-Warren/Washington County Homeless Youth Coalition.
-Family Service Association

Sunday, December 21, 2008

iBizzare

I wonder what it says that at present, the #3 and #4 most downloaded applications for iPhone are "Pull My Finger" and "iFart mobile"... especially since these are apps you have to pay for, not free ones.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dobson-lite to speak at Obama inauguration

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

So now President-elect Obama is going to have far right 'celebrity preacher' Rich Warren speak at his inauguration. This is a guy who said the main difference between him and James Dobson was tone, that Warren was nicer in pedalling his bigotry.

More annoying is how the punditocracy shamelessly praises Obama every time he gives the finger to the people who enthusiastically supported him. Every time Obama names a non-progressive to his team (pretty much every time so far), the yapping heads rave about it, saying "liberals can't have everything their own way" or "he's governing as a centrist."

I understand Obama's desire to have a balanced team and to be as inclusive as possible. It's certainly a change from the Bush strategy of giving the finger to the 49-53% of the country who didn't vote for him.

Balance is useful but where's the balance? He has conservative Democrats, corporatists, anti-abortionists, homophobes and theocrats. But where are the progressives? I understand they can't get every position, but a few? What kind of balance is it if you include everyone except your most ardent supporters?

Who knows, maybe he'll find a job in his administration for James Dobson.

I can't say I'm disappointed in him because I didn't expect much in the first place, other than him not being anti-science, anti-intellectual and hate mongering. And that's certainly an improvement but I know a lot of well-intentioned people who had high hopes for him. And I'm sure most of them will continue to give him a free pass for the next 4-8 years just because he'll be less nightmarish than the medieval regime he's replacing. But I wonder if Rick Warren is what they had in mind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not quite getting the concept

A few times a year, my company hands out a newsletter with tips on healthy living. I'm not sure if central human resources produces it or our insurance carrier. But you know the usual: exercise, eat right, don't sit hunched over a computer desk all day, etc.

Our company provides employees with free coffee and it subsidizes the cost of soda.

But you have to pay full price for milk and juice.

The 'p' word

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

I see that President-elect Obama has named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as his agriculture secretary.

It seems like he's given a cabinet post to everyone who ran against him in the primaries no matter how briefly... except Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards.

Not coincidentally, these were his only two Democratic opponents who had the audacity to acknowledge the existence of people that were neither rich or middle class*.

(*-Sorry, I'm not allowed to say the 'p' word because it's 'class warfare')

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A truly lame lame duck ducks

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

By now, most of you have probably heard that during a particularly patronizing press conference by President Bush in Baghdad, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the American misleader as well as a number of verbal insults. It is the only accountability for this massive crime against humanity that Bush is likely to ever face.

Shoe throwing is one of the most serious insults in Arab culture. The journalist was wildly praised in the Arab media. An ironic reaction in a region that, Bush and his cronies claimed, was supposed to be magically transformed into a pro-American utopia after the invasion of Iraq.

The journalist's boss pointed out that the reporter was no disgruntled Saddamite and pointed out that "his family was arrested under Saddam's regime." The journalist ' his actions were for Iraqi widows and orphans,' according to the BBC.

Following the shoe 'assassination attempt,' some brain dead journalist actually asked Bush if he felt threatened by the incident. American soldiers are out there dodging IEDs. Iraqi civilians are being targeted by savage militias and homicide bombers. And someone had the gall to ask Bush if he felt threatened by a flying shoe?

Worse yet, Bush continued to pontificate about how the incident provided that the 'new' Iraq was so fantastic because a guy was free to throw shoes!

The journalist was arrested and hauled away. This shows how completely ignorant Bush is of any notions of what real freedom is all about. If you get arrested for doing something, then BY DEFINITION you are NOT really free to do that something. It doesn't take Einstein to understand this.

Worse yet are unconfirmed reports that the journalist is being tortured in US custody. He allegedly suffered a 'broken hand, ribs, suffered internal bleeding and sustained an eye injury.' I hope he enjoys his 'liberation.'

The rumors may or may not actually be true, though the charges were made by the journalist's brother. But it's a mark of how far America's reputation has fallen that the rumors are completely plausible. Do the delusional still think 'they hate us because we're free'?

This presumption of guilt what happens when you have an immoral administration allergic to the most fundamental notions of civilization deciding to essentially legalize a barbaric practice like torture... in the name of 'freedom.'

A particularly pathetic thief

Local headline: Woman charged in cancer fraud:
'Victim' who collected thousands of dollars wasn't sick, police say


I don't know. She sounds kind of sick to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

YouTube for human rights

Radio Netherlands' excellent The State We're In program talked about an interesting new website called Witness.org.

It's basically a YouTube-like site where people can post videos exposing human rights' abuses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

International Human Rights Day

Today is the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Obviously the election of Barack Obama is a good sign for respect of human rights and the rule of law, most notably because of the US president-elect's promise to close the kidnapee camp at Guantanamo Bay and the imminent end of the culture of impunity in which wallowed the Bush administration. I wrote an essay on the occasion of last year's International Human Rights' day and it's worth reposting.

**

The basic framework for international human rights is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The content of the Declaration was due in large part to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was President Truman's appointee to the United Nations' Commission for Human Rights, which elected her chairman. All UN member states have ratified the Declaration, which is essentially the closest thing to a world constitution. Since all UN member states have chosen to accept the document, they should all respect it.

Much of the Declaration is what one might expect from a human rights' document. It contains provisions on the equality of all citizens, the right to not be a slave, the freedom of religion and freedom of movement.

There are many provisions which the US government is blatantly ignoring in the so-called war on terror, including (but not limited to):

-Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. (Article 2)

-No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

-Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. (Article 8)

-Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. (Article 10)

-Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (Article 11, Section 1)

The US is not the only violator of the Declaration. But it's particularly galling since an American was the driving force behind the document (to say nothing of the fact that such violations are being funded with my tax dollars).

But the main purpose of this essay is to highlight some of the provisions of the Declaration that might not be expected in some quarters but are considered no less fundamental human rights under international law.

Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (Article 17, Section 1)

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. (Article 22)

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. (Article 23, Sections 3 and 4)

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. (Article 24)

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (Article 25, Section 1)

I think it's interesting how the Declaration reflects how the scope of rights and freedoms is viewed differently in different parts of the world. The American tradition is to view rights very narrowly, in a negative sense. Most of the Bill of Rights' amendments begin, "Congress shall pass no law...." The framework of rights in this country is very much based on the individual and is almost exclusively centered around economic considerations. People should thrive or starve exclusively on their own (or by the roulette wheel of private charity).

Rights and freedoms are viewed differently in other parts of the world. People in most other western countries, for example, accept rights and freedoms but also accept the counterbalancing notion of social responsibility and the greater good and a governmental role therein. To take one issue, they generally view universal access to health care not as stealing but as providing a key service to every citizen. They don't view the "right to get sick and die due to lack of access to health care" as a freedom worth having. The framework of rights in most other western countries has more of a balance between economic, social and, in some cases, cultural considerations.

Americans view rights as protection against the oppression of government; the pursuit of happiness means to be left alone. Europeans view rights as protection against the oppression of chance; the pursuit of happiness means being given a real opportunity to do so. People in some parts of the world view rights as the protection against chaos or disorder. Everyone has their own perspective. Every society has their own priorities.

But the Declaration is what all countries have consciously accepted should be the basic framework for rights and freedoms.

Monday, December 08, 2008

This says it all

I received an email from the RPCV (Peace Corps alumni group) organization today. This snipet encapsulates what has been the mentality of the Bush administration and their opinion of non-militaristic forms of engaging the world since, literally, day one.

The Returned Peace Corps Community has been selected from among groups around the country to march in the Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 20, 2009.

We've applied for each parade in recent history and last participated in 1997.


Meaning they were rejected in 2001 and 2005.

Says it all, really.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fun with crazy people

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

Some of you may have heard that a guy has filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of Barack Obama's election, based on the premise that he's not really a 'natural born citizen'. The guy is from the town right next to mine and is well-known for his activities questioning various governmental powers. Some of what he does seems a bit silly but I really don't have any problem with him asking questions. I just wish a little common sense would be part of the equation from time to time.

Because it's a national story partly about from around here, the editor of the local daily wrote a column on him. On the website, some people came out in support of him and against the editor.

I pointed out, among other things, that Obama has a passport, which means he had to prove he was a US citizen.

This other guy, who I've sparred with before (mostly about hockey, ironically), treated my observation with contempt.

"He has a passport he must be a citizen"? Okay. There's some real proof! My God, think before you speak, he spat.

Some people spout their delusions with the absolute dead certainty that they're taking from God's lips himself.

You see, a passport IS proof of citizenship. The SOLE POINT OF A PASSPORT is to serve as proof of citizenship. In order to get a passport in the first place, you must produce many documents, including PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP. A passport is, BY DEFINITION, proof of citizenship.

Then again, maybe he has secret intelligent from Santa Claus that Obama's passport was a fake too.


Update: a passport is not proof of natural born citizenship, but it is proof of citizenship. My comment that was being addressed by this person addressed the 'natural born' and 'citizenship' aspects in two separate sentences. His reading comprehension skills haven't been great in the past so maybe he overlooked it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Best books of the year

As many of you know, I'm a book junkie. And it being December, sites are putting out their 'best books of the year' lists. Here are some...

New York Times'
-Best children's books

-Best books



The Christian Science Monitor's
-Best non-fiction books

-Best novels

-Best children's books

-Best short stories


The best I've read this year...
Non-fiction: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop. Probably one of the two or three most insightful works of non-fiction I've ever read. If you want to understand why divisiveness has exploded in this country and why actual dialogue about politics has virtually vanished, this book goes a long way to explaining why.

Fiction: The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. I usually avoid best sellers (and clichés) like the plague, especially in fiction. This is based on the premise that such books need a certain lowest common denominator effect in order to gain mass appeal. But this novel is actually lived up to the hype.

Young adult fiction: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. A compelling novel about two outsiders that's just strange enough to grab your interest but never degenerates into predictable coming-of-age cheesiness.

Readers, feel free to leave your own recommendations.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blank checks are bad policy

I'm skeptical of giving a blank check to save GM and Ford, just as I was skeptical of giving one to save the financial industry or to fund the (continuing) Iraq Aggression. That said, I have a hard time understanding why many of the same legislators who are demanding the auto makers provide a viable plan before forking over TENS of billions of tax dollars refused to demand that Wall St. or Commander-in-Chief Bush produce a viable plan before forking over HUNDREDS of billions of tax dollars. Congress is right to expect some accountability from Detroit. It's too bad they don't demand any accountability from those who want far more.