Friday, November 18, 2005

Another Thing About Poverty

There's a story in this week's Newsweek about a riff between the Pope and the official papal tailor. I guess the Pope likes his old tailor instead of the one that's been making Pope suits since the 18th century (that's quite a long-term deal they have there).

It kills me how much the Pope must be spending on clothing to have a tailor whip him up special outfits for different occasions. It kills me more that he was photographed wearing Prada loafers at a recent event.

I'm not saying he's as out of touch as the Republicans who voted for the $50 million spending cuts, but he's certainly off in that direction.

Congress Should be Ashamed

The House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that cuts $50 million from the budget in the name of deficit relief. A fine and worth goal, except that the money is coming out of programs that help the poor such as Food Stamps, Medicare, the school lunch program, and student loan funding, among others. It is a disgrace that this could take place, especially after the visibility of impoverished Americans was made so obvious after hurricane Katrina.

It made me especially mad that originally there was a measure included that would cut Food Stamps and school lunches from the same families. Thankfully that was removed (now only food stamps will be cut from those families), so at least some children will be able to get at least one hot meal a day during the week, but the fact it was in there at all offends me to my core.

Another thing that offends me is the pork bill that was signed into law a few months ago. Not one Congressman stepped up and offered to give up their pet programs in the name of budget relief. One Congressman (I think he was from Nebraska) literally threw a tantrum on the House floor about the issue. Shame on everyone who voted for this bill.

Finally, in another week or so they will vote to extend some of Bush's tax cuts to the wealthy (capital gains, etc). The net result will wipe out any gains the deficit would receive from this spending cut and in fact add more to the deficit. So this "reverse Robin Hood" bill makes it perfectly clear where the priorities of the Republican Party lie. (Not a single Democrat voted for this bill.) Screw the poor and pass me another turkey leg I guess.

Vatican Comes Out Against Intelligent Design

In another encouraging statement, the Vatican's chief astronomer (the Vatican has a chief astronomer?) said that Intelligent Design isn't science and has no place in science classes. He pretty much said it was wrong to consider it along side the Theory of evolution and noted it would be appropriate for it to be discussed in a religion or cultural history class.

Go Vatican!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

First Torture, Now Chemical Weapons: Which Country is Run by Criminals?

Allegations of torture in Iraq are growing with the recent discovery of an Iraqi Interior Ministry facility that had been mistreating prisoners. Some reports show, however, that the basement prison is just the tip of the torture iceberg in Iraq, however, and there are many more places like it run by the Iraqi government.

Not great news for an American government that's still dodging claims of secret CIA torture prisons and allegations that torture of Iraqi prisoners was more widespread than just Abu Ghraib. Makes me wonder how President Bush can stand up and say flat out that we don't torture when it's going on in prisons all over the world that are run by us or run by the new Iraqi government right under our noses.

At the same time Bush is saying we don't torture, Cheney is lobbying Congress to exempt the CIA prisons that don't exist from a new no-torture amendment that Senator John McCain is trying attach to a defense bill. Taking it one step further, Bush threatened to veto any defense bill that includes the anti-torture amendment.

There's only one explanation here: Bush is lying. Torture is happening because it is condoned at the very top of our government, and suddenly we don't look much better than the evil dictator we went into Iraq to remove.

It gets more damning. White phosphorus, a chemical that ignites when exposed to oxygen, was used in munitions in the 2004 offensive in Fallujah. Initially the Pentagon denied reports that it was used for anything other than smokescreens and flares, but they recently backtracked and admitted using it as an incendiary weapon against insurgents.

White phosphorus burns anything it contacts and is very hard to extinguish. It is especially difficult to remove from exposed skin, and if there is enough of the substance it will continue to burn flesh down to the bone. The use of white phosphorus as a toxic or caustic agent would make it illegal under an international chemical weapons convention, but the U.S. government is merely claiming that they did not use it against civilians. That's nice, but how could such a weapon be used against any person when it's illegal? And where's the widespread media coverage? This story broke yesterday and until today I had only read about it on the BBC.

Between widespread torture and prisoner abuse and the use of chemical weapons in battle, it really makes me wonder which country is being led by an evil dictator. Oh yeah, that's right -- our evil dictator was elected. Twice.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Finally - A Reasonable Statement by the Vatican

After enduring months of idiotic statements and press releases by the Vatican (Harry Potter books are evil, intelligent design has merit, seminaries must report homosexual activity, etc, etc), finally I've heard something that doesn't make me wish I was Episcopalian. Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has been working on a project to end prejudice between science and religion. The fact that such a project exists is encouraging enough, but he issued a statement urging the faithful to listen to what modern science has to offer and warning that ignoring scientific reason could turn religion into fundamentalism.

It gets better.

Referring to the church's 17th century denunciation of Galileo (you might recall he took the blasphemous view that the Earth rotated around the sun, which was contrary to the church's view that the Earth was the center of the universe), Poupard said "The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future... The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer, just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice in humanity."

When asked specifically about the intelligent design debate going on in the U.S., Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed Pope John Paul II's 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis." Monsignor Basti said "A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false. (Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof."

Cardinal Poupard, giving official Church voice to a belief that I think many scientists share, said that what was important was that "the universe wasn't made by itself, but has a creator." But, "It's important for the faithful to know how science views things to understand better."

I can't tell you how good it makes me feel that, even though conservative voices are many in the Church right now, there are still a number of people who can be reasonable, logical, and rational -- while speaking officially for the Church.