Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gone Away

I'm on the road, mostly unconnected, 'til Monday.

Priestly Words. With Commentary.

From the Washington Post:

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on doctrine, said the church considers same-sex attractions to be "objectively disordered" because "they do not accord with the natural purpose of sexuality." Although "simply experiencing a homosexual inclination is not in itself a sin," he said, homosexual acts are "sinful," "never morally acceptable" and "do not lead to true human happiness.

The bishop presents his beliefs as Eternal Verities beyond dispute. In fact, his reasoning is anything but universal or indisputable.

Natural purpose? To procreate, of course. No argument there. The natural purpose is revealed in our physiology. Traditional religion has no shortage of injunctions to reproduce and taboos against anything that would limit reproduction, traits necessary to ensure the survival, the same as any other animal living on this planet. Three thousand years later, human survival is not at all threatened by a lack of individuals. Our growth and technology may need ever more people but the world itself is threatened with overpopulation and consumption. So the natural purpose of sex among humans no longer serves the species well. Yet we as a species remain hard wired for sex. The church would have everyone refrain from sex unless procreating.

Sinful? What does that mean? Using the criterion of Doing Unto Others, I define sin as an act that inflicts harm and injury on another person, another being. Sex is not inherently harmful or injurious. When sex brutalizes and degrades, it is as likely to be heterosexual as homosexual. As long as sex is shared lovingly and caringly, with affection and consent, no harm ensues and no sin is possible. Others may define sin differently but harm and disrespect to others is to me the only real sin.

Never morally acceptable? Why is that? What is it about homosexual acts that is morally unacceptable? Sex is morally unacceptable when it degrades and disrespects others not because it’s two men or two women. An otherwise exemplary life is not somehow negated simply because the partners are the same gender and a fully intimate bond. What two people do in private does not concern me as a moral issue . How they treat each other, how they respect others, including me, is far more important.

Does not lead to human happiness? Since the church defines human happiness as following its path to God and a heavenly afterlife, a path that does not include a lane for homosexuals committing homosexual acts (or, for that matter, heterosexuals copulating without procreation), I can see why the bishop would say that. But looking at human relationships, I don’t see universal happiness among heteros. I do know committed, loving gay and lesbian couples who are happy as are many, but not all, heterosexual couples. One lesbian with a history of troubled relationships was no happier when she lived as a heterosexual. Homosexuality is no more a barrier to happiness than heterosexuality is a guarantee.

As much as the good bishop wants to offer his church’s view of homosexuality as universal truth, it’s still an opinion that limits human freedom in destructive ways. The anti-homosexual bias of the Roman Catholic and other churches who insist that homosexuality is a sin is a bias without justification other than the clerics’ edict. They are certainly entitled to their opinion and to run their church consistent with their beliefs. But I don’t accept those beliefs and do not want them inflicted on any society as some immutable universal truth.

If they want universal truths, I recommend the clerics read the first sentence of the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence. After that, it’s all subjective.

Apocalypse Now

The New Iraq:

Since midsummer, Shiite militias, Sunni insurgent groups, ad-hoc Sunni self-defense groups and tribes have accelerated campaigns of sectarian cleansing that are forcing countless thousands of Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad to seek safety among their own kind.

Whole towns north and south of Baghdad are locked in the same sectarian struggle, among them the central Shiite city of Balad, still under siege by gunmen from surrounding Sunni towns after a bloody spate of sectarian massacres last month.

Even outside the epicenter of sectarian strife in the central region of the country, Shiite factions battle each other in the south, Sunni tribes and factions clash in the west. Across Iraq, the criminal gangs that emerged with the collapse of law and order rule patches of turf as mini-warlords.

Since the war began, 1.6 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries; at least 231,530 people have been displaced inside Iraq since February, when Shiite-Sunni violence exploded with the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra, according to figures from the United Nations and the U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration.

There used to be a time when Sunnis and Shiites "were living like family. We were married to each other, we all had Sunni friends, we all had Shiite friends. It was all like a balloon that exploded," a gaunt, weeping Sunni woman said in her bare apartment.

Courtesy of the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Most Favored Pharmaceutical

If federal health officials are afraid of negotiating drug prices with Big Pharma, perhaps they should support a best price agreement. Just require that pharmeceutical companies offer government programs the best prices available to comparably large retailers. The idea that suppliers, including drug companies, must bow down to Wal-Mart's market demands but can insist on full costs for the American taxpayer is one of the reasons I dislike capitalism. The big retailers make their money in the difference between wholesale and retail. Public programs are denied the opportunity to use market power to negiotiate the same kind of lower costs.

Under my plan, federal health programs would negotiate the right to purchase at best prices. There would be no opportunity for "government run health care". Just the opporutnity to make capitalism work for public, not just private, gain.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting Out of Combat

Slate's David Greenberg makes an important observation about war in his analysis of the 2006 mid-term elections. Arguing against interpreting the results as simply a “six year itch” common to all two-term presidents, he discusses the particular factors influencing earlier mid-term elections where change was dramatic. Each election occurred in the context of significant events: recession, uncertainty, war. Greenberg’s conclusion about war is particularly worth noting.
Wars help presidents so long as the rally-round-the-flag effect holds up. The Iraq war did so for Bush in 2002 and even 2004 (though by then it was becoming uncertain whether the Iraq war was helping or hurting Bush). On the other hand, a conflict that has no clear end in sight vexes Americans of all political stripes, summoning up deep strains of both conservative isolationism and liberal anti-imperialism. As my Rutgers colleague Ross K. Baker, a congressional expert, wrote, last spring, "Combat fatigue is not a condition found only on the battlefield; it is also an affliction that has often been diagnosed in the voting booth." If there's a history lesson to be drawn from this year's election results, that one would be closest to the mark.

A conflict with “no clear end in sight” that “vexes Americans” speaks to the heart of the matter. This is where the burden of combat comes home to us civilians. We are vexed about what is being done in our name, especially when so many past assurances about Iraq have turned out to be lies, grossly inacurate or failed promises of an incompetent administration. After three years, “progress” in Iraq is an iffy proposition. What little has been gained toward democratic reform is overshadowed by Iraq’s descent into hell. Most Iraqis may not long for Saddam Hussein but they are severely disappointed about America’s complete inability to do things that Iraqis had previously done for themselves. Not to mention the death squads.

Combat soldiers know best what the descent into hell is like. They are there at our command, doing our bidding. They sacrifice their humanity, a sacrifice that only has meaning when it benefits the nation in some real way. In the same sense, combat degrades the civilian society that wages war. In 2003 Americans were told of grave threats requiring immediate military action and we were quite willing to pull the trigger if it meant safety. In the years since, rationales have come and gone as BushCheney struggles to find a real meaning for his war, to give us a reason to keep pulling the trigger. The lies and failures of the Iraq war have rendered much, if not all of this sacrifice, meaningless. No wonder we are vexed.

If the moral, ethical and policy questions weren’t difficult enough, combat is difficult to sustain physically. Difficult for the individuals called to duty but also difficult for the society that sends them. It costs a lot of money to keep US forces fighting in Iraq. They need lots of weapons, ammunition, food, vehicles–you name it–all coming out of Americans’ pocket books. Not the rich Americans, mind you, they have their tax cuts. Just average Americans, the same Americans who send their sons and daughters into the war. Sustained combat will drain the nation of resources even as it coarsens the America’s soul. That’s why combat is best managed in shorter applications, if at all.

America cannot sustain combat in Iraq indefinitely. Nor should we. America has lost prestige and credibility in Iraq; at this point the best America can achieve in Iraq is demonstrating its openness to ideas and a willing to recognize Iraqi national sovereignty. The US may have interests in Iraq but Iraqis live there. Other nations in the region, including Iran, also have interests. It's their home, too. America can only address our economic and security interests in the region successfully if we are cognizant of others’ interests and learn how to work with others. We have no imperial right to dictate or control their lives and resources.

Terrorism is a legitimate security interest for America. A serious but manageable threat. More manageable in a non-combat environment, I think. Society deals with any number of serious, ongoing threats using strategies that offer realistic, sustainable tactics and procedures for dealing with dangerous situations. A good parallel is criminal enterprise: terrorists are typically organized and function much like criminal gangs and syndicates. We don’t lay waste to our cities to fight criminal activity (some police departments are adopting military tactics and weaponry, but that’s another discussion). Instead, we investigate, assess, anticipate. disrupt and, ultimately, take down the organization. The same model will be far more effective–and sustainable–in dealing with terrorism.

For three years, BushCheney has fed Americans lies, distortions and exaggerated promises, asking the country to sacrifice more men, women and money in the service of a cause that has been muddled beyond belief, that has brought Iraq into civil war with no way out. It’s easy to see why Americans would want to rebuke this administration. I was disappointed it did not occur in 2004. But along with the satisfaction of a well-deserved smackdown well delivered, Americans also need to figure a way to salvage our national soul while still defending ourselves against real threats, not side shows like Iraq or exaggerated demons like al-Qaeda. That’s why, for me, one of the most important issues the new Democratic Congress can address is the “war on terror”. Two years ago, John Kerry recommended addressing terrorism as a law enforcement problem. He was derided unmercifully. I think he was, and still is, right. Perhaps the new climate in Washington will be more receptive to critical thinking.

I hope so because sustained combat will destroy us.