Wednesday, May 31, 2006

To kneel or not to kneel

Working at the LHG is a thankless task. Not only are we understaffed, malnourished, and barely read - but lets face it, religion nowadays usually isn't a happy topic. You have no idea the number of fanatics, bigots, murderers, molesters, and tooth fairies that show up at our office every day. Yet every now and then there is a ray of hope. Change may be on the horizon.

For example, the U.S. Catholic church is in the midst of a gripping and momentous debate as to whether it's kosher to kneel in church. As the Los Angeles Times Reports: "The debate is part of the argument among Catholics between tradition and change. Traditionalists see it as the ultimate posture of submission to and adoration of God; modernists view kneeling as the vestige of a feudal past they would like to leave behind."

Some churches have banned kneeling, altar boys have lost their jobs for kneeling, parishioners have walked out of mass to kneel outside church. It's heartening to see the Catholic church tackle the great moral issues of our time.

LHG on this debate: Get a life.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

From London

LHG is in London - will post again next week.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Finally, a church I can believe in

Vamos carajo

Soccer or God? The choice is clear: Anglican clergy don't care if the Second Coming is near - they want to watch the World Cup.

But beware.

To quote Bob: "The Archbishop of Canterbury and others might remember the last time religion and English football mixed at the World Cup. A little something called the Hand of God."


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

God works in mysterious ways

Professors: the unsung heroes of our time

While the Da Vinci Code movie apparently almost sucks - its negative portrayal of Opus Dei has benefited the organization, leading to a rise in people interested in joining its army of murderous albino monks.

What does the LHG think? We support any book or movie that has a heroic professor as the star.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sex, Babies and Catholics

Monica Bellucci: Gotta love the unitive

A cool argument, courtesy of Charlotte Woods-Hill:

First, let me set it up:

For the Vatican, couples who are finding it impossible to have children can only resort to treatments and techniques were no donor is used, no spare embryos are created and the means of assisting the infertile couple to have children does not replace sexual intercourse within a marriage. While in some cases the rejection stems from the status of the embryo (within Catholicism the embryo is a person, so the destruction of unused embryos within invitro fertilization is akin to murder) in all cases the rejection is based on the Catholic understanding of the sexual act.

Sex is valid when, within marriage between a man and a woman, it combines two elements: the unitive element, and the procreative element. In a nutshell, sex needs to include a husband and a wife actually engaging in intercourse (the unitive) without contraception and so open to the creation of new life (the procreative). This understanding rules out:

a. donated sperm (violates the unitive - sperm doesn't come from the husband and sex between the couple isn't involved).
b. donated eggs or a surrogate mother (violates the unitive - egg doesn't come from the wife and sex between the couple isn't involved).
c. artificial insemination of the wife with the husband's sperm (violates the unitive - this time wife and husband are included, but no sex between them).

Now let's use artificial insemination to exemplify the argument:

The Vatican opposes artificial insemination because it violates the unity of man and woman within procreation. The problem, however, is that this understanding of procreation is based on the guy's experience of procreation and ignores the girl's. Think about it - the guy is only involved when sex is taking place; for him the unitive and procreative are literally inseparable. To be blunt, he only participates when inside. It's quite different for the girl - for her procreation goes beyond the sexual act - the unity of the bodies - into a nine month process. For the girl, the unity between the unitive and the procreative is just a part of a much longer process which is her own. If one went by the female experience, one of the major arguments against artificial insemination comes unglued.

The upshot: In this at least, Catholic theology is not neutral or mainstream. Instead, to quote Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, it's malestream - unwittingly based on the male experience.

Madame Bovary

Shave those legs

We've never been a fan of Madame Bovary; but we do find Flaubert's temper amusing. This is from an 1872 letter:

"All this for the sole purpose of spitting out on my contemporaries the disgust they inspire in me. I shall proclaim my way of thinking, exhale my resentment, vomit my hatred, expectorate my bile, ejaculate my anger, sluice out my indignation..."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Judas Iscariot, Savior

I bet you've betrayed with a kiss

For all the recent hoopla surrounding the Gospel of Judas, the best retelling of Judas' treason remains Borges' short story "Three Versions of Judas." It makes Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code look as controversial as Sunday brunch.

Read it, and spread the word.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

French or Freedom Fries: Thanks for Commenting

Hernanii, author of the forthcoming bestseller Golden Boys, writes:

Hernanii: ivo, do you really think 9/11 has this kind of explanation: american bombs pouring on an innocent world? which bombs? where? careful: you are only halfway of saying that 9/11 was "deserved".

Hernanii: reading more carefully, i realize now that you're not endorsing any specific views, you're just using an infortunate comic strip.

LHG: Hernanii, in no way does the LHG believe 9/11 was deserved. On this, there is a view that we do endorse - 9/11 was an atrocity. Perhaps the comic strip is unfortunate but it does highlight another view held at the LHG, that there are actually some valid reasons why the US is disliked abroad - which can be summed up by saying that the US relates to the rest of the world in terms of double standards. Just a few examples: a hypocritical foreign policy, the use of military might or covert operations or sanctions to unsettle foreign governments and punish populations, refusing to subscribe to international treaties, allowing itself the preemptive strike use of nuclear weapons, violating the Geneva convention and more.

Here's another article that reflects on the "hate US" phenomenon, this time focusing on the US's "soft power," its cultural influence.

PS. For the record (and for the office in charge of green card applications): the LHG is actually rather fond of the US...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

French or Freedom Fries

These books offer an answer...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Did Howard Dean just mess up...

Dean: the rebel yell

the party platform on gays, or is this another example of what we at the LHG call strategy #3 - "if you can't beat them join them?"

The Dismal Science

Why can't a nation sue an economic team for malpractice? If you're a doctor and you give a wrong diagnosis that leads to death, or the wrong medicine that leads to serious injury, you can be sued for malpractice. So why not sue an economic team or institution for prescribing the wrong policy advice when that advice leads to tragic economic consequences?

Economists often tell you to think in the long term, but as Keynes once put it, "in the long term we're all dead."

Idolatry alive and well #2: thanks for commenting

In reference to the posting "Idolatry alive and well #2," writes: "Of course the institutions of the world govern according to this policy. Institutions (politics plus business) fundamentally lack ethics and morality because it is not tied to profit. Now ethical behavior may be governed through laws and legislation, and on the surface most MNC's preach ethical business behavior (a must in order to save face), but we all know there are MANY loop holes that these corporations exploit and go unnoticed to the average constituent and consumer. The sad truth is that unless ethical behavior can be tied to profits or regulated through laws, most corporations will rape, embezzle, steal, and exploit the unprotected and unrepresented (i.e., the poor, the environment, and the animals).... Thank god for the watch dog companies- these are the people we need to support. "

LHG: Yes, corporations often exploit and watchdog companies are important to monitor and inform the public of such behavior. From our perspective, however, the problem runs deeper. The LHG believes it's possible to argue that the institutions that govern the global economic order - the IMF, World Bank and the WTO - are creating a system in which it is harder and harder for poor countries to overcome their poverty. A simple example: today's rich countries weren't born rich, they grew rich through weak intellectual property rights and protected industries (not to mention slavery and colonialism). Yet today strong intellectual property rights - the same kind that condemns thousands to death in Africa through AIDS - and the opening up of national industries to foreign competition is the norm. The US, however, was famous for stealing technology from other countries and most European countries didn't set up a strong patent for pharmaceutical products until the 1970's - when they had a comparative advantage in the field. Another simple example: How can a country that doesn't produce anything other than, say, bananas, start to produce cars or computers unless it can protect the infant industry? It's impossible, it takes time to be able to compete with established producers.

Why the focus on depriving poor countries of the very same tools once (and often still) used by the rich? Here's one suggestion, penned by Friedrich List, a well known economist who lived in the 19th century:

"It is a very clever common device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him...Any nation which by means of protective duties and restrictions on navigation has raised her manufacturing power and her navigation to such a degree of development that no other nation can sustain free competition with her, can do nothing wiser than to throw away the ladders of her greatness, to preach to other nations the benefits of free trade, and to declare in pertinent tones that she has hitherto wandered in the paths of error, and has now for the first time succeeded in discovering the truth."

Kelly12luv, thanks for commenting.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Got Balls?

Balls: the bigger, the better

The Democratic Party is finally trying to come up with a vision of what it stands for. That's good news, but here at the LHG we do have one concern. It's easy to find the balls to develop a vision when the other party is in disarray. It's harder when your opponent is strong, and yet that's when it's most necessary. The firmer the Republican hold on congress, the house and the presidency, the greater the Democrat's need for a compelling vision for themselves and the nation as a whole. Otherwise the latter's only strategy is to hope for the former's failure; a strategy, needless to say, lacking both vision and balls. So, are these newfound balls muchos huevos grandes or more like the mushy little cocoa puffs LHG fondly ate before discovering cocoa pebbles?

Only time will tell.

Monday, May 08, 2006

So sue me

Lawyers knocking on your door? Rejoice, they're spreading Christian love.

Sex, or la Novia Manuela

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Sex is a no win proposition: If you don't wear a condom you're an irresponsible bastard; and if you do, you're a sinful bastard.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Line to Remember

Casting His Economist's Spell

Famed economist John Kenneth Gailbrath died recently. Here's a great quotation, stolen from la ciencia maldita: "if you can't comfort the afflicted, at least afflict the comfortable."

That's a line I want to remember.

Top Ten Reasons Why Democrats Need to Get Religion

10. 45 percent of Americans percent go to a religious service once a week.

9. 61 percent of all voters go to a religious service once or twice a month.

8. Two-thirds of all voters are members of a religious congregation.

7. Eight in ten Americans believe in judgement day.

6. 84 of Americans percent believe that Jesus is the son of God.

5. 90 percent believe in heaven.

4. 90 percent pray to God

3. 96 percent of Americans believe in God

2. Half of the Americans who believe in God claim to have experienced God’s presence in the past twenty four hours (I’m hoping today is my lucky day).

1. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the world

Idolatry alive and well #2: Thanks for Commenting

In reference to my posting on idolatry as incarnated in TRIPS and pharmaceutical companies, Confucious-Pillar writes (LHG commentary inserted inbetween):

CP: While it is very easy to place all the blame for this supposed atrocity on U.S. pharmaceutical companies (whom I, for the record, do not support in any way. They steal from their own people too.), at what point do we hold individuals responsible for their own plights? AIDS is treatable upon manifestation, but its transfer is also highly treatable via a much less costly option: abstinence. Contemporary statistics as per South African Police reports entail that a South African woman is raped every 36 seconds, and a child every 15 minutes. Surely it is our duty as educated individuals to share our abundant knowledge, and thanks to individuals like Bill Gates (who is responsible for the single largest charity effort known to man), Africa is currently developing the infrastructure necessary for the spread of information and ideas.

LHG: Yes, contracting AIDS is often the result of irresponsible conduct - but that doesn't change the fundamental issue. Currently, it's only those who can afford the high cost of such drugs - the wealthy minority of humankind - who don't pay for their irresponsibility with their lives. For the majority, death is the price.

CP: I'm not contending that our current administration is justified in its hypocrisy, but were we even able to offer cost-effective, even free HIV treatment to third world countries, would they have the necessary infrastructure to administer these treatments? Also, who would ensure that this medication doesn't fall into the hands of other self serving individuals who would seek to horde supplies in lieu of helping those in need? I realize that pharmaceutical companies bickering over intellectual property laws does little to amend the problem, but giving away the fruits of our labors to a people who would scarcely know what to do with them could prove even more disastrous.

LHG: They do. South Africa and Brazil provide two examples of countries that are able to provide AIDS drugs to their population far below the cost of such drugs in the United States. Of course, an underlying issue is whether health should be considered a fundamental human right.

CP: I agree that medicinal information should be available to all those in need, but at what point do we recognize the fact that the development of advanced HIV treatment consumes a tremendous amount of tangible resources (not to mention countless hours of research by individuals who could easily find a higher wage designing anti-depressants)? I firmly believe that the U.S. should make some sacrifices for the third world that drives our super-consumption, but the problems go much deeper than simple matters of medicine.

LHG: Drug companies argue that patents are needed to recoup the money spent on research and development of new drugs. Studies have shown, however, that U.S. drug companies often spend more on marketing, advertising and administration than they do on research and development. Of the 1035 new drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug administration between 1989 and 2000 only 15 per cent were innovative drugs. The others were modified versions of new drugs with low research and development costs. In the specific case of AIDS, many drugs were developed by publicly funded laboratories and tested with public funds. To top it off, pharmaceutical companies based in the United States, Europe or Japan today barely produce, let alone research, drugs against malaria or tuberculosis, which ravage the Third World yet are extremely rare in the industrialized nations. The whole industry is geared toward the wealthy - either by focusing on drugs that are of interest to the wealthy or pricing drugs so that only the wealthy can afford them. Paul Farmer's Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor is good on this topic.

Confucius-Pillar, thanks for commenting - what would I do without you?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gandhi Phone Home

Gandhi made ahimsa (non-violence, non-injury) the centerpiece of his understanding of Hinduism. Unfortunately, not everybody agreed; he was murdered by a Hindu nationalist with a fundamentalist take on Hinduism.

As the reaction to this movie shows, Hindu fundamentalism is alive and kicking. Yes, Islam is not the only religion with an active fundamentalist streak.

Idolatry alive and well #2

Remember my post "Idolatry alive and well, " where I focused on Larry Summer's justification for dumping polluting industries in the poorest parts of the globe? LHG is toying with the idea of arguing that Summers' line of reasoning isn't an aberration - it's actually how the world works. What the hell, I'll say it - the institutions that govern the world operate according to that idolatrous logic. Here's an example - the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement the World Trade Organization (WTO). I know it sounds dry, but bear with me.

TRIPS has to do with patents and the stakes are most visible when dealing with the pharmaceutical industry. Here's an example: In 2002, the World Health Organization estimated that six million people with HIV/AIDS would clinically qualify for antiretroviral therapy. In the same year, however, only an estimated 60,000 were actually receiving therapy. TRIPS, the pharmaceutical industry, and the governments of the wealthy nations act together to ensure that only those who can pay the price of drugs are able to live with AIDS.

In South Africa, AIDS is a pandemic: the South African economy is predicted to be 17 per cent smaller in ten years than it would be without AIDS. By 2010, there are expected to be 2 million AIDS orphans in South Africa. To deal with the crisis the South African government passed the Medicine Act in 1996, which tried to make essential medicines more accesible through, for example, compulsory licensing. (In compulsory licensing you break the patent and produce the drug yourself at far lower cost. AIDS therapy that costs $15,000 a yr in the US costs only $4000 or less in Brazil).

In response, the United States government argued that the Medicine Act violated TRIPS, imposed trade sanctions and placed South Africa on the “301 Watch List” of countries under scrutiny for their trading practices. Only intense activist pressure on Al Gore, who was then campaigning for President, led the US government to back down. Nevertheless, thirty nine multinational drug companies filed lawsuits against President Mandela in 1998 further tying up the law in South African courts.

In 2001, on the other hand, Canada overrode Bayer’s patent for the anthrax treating drug Cipro. Health Canada stated: “Canadians expect and demand that their government will take all steps necessary to protect their health and safety.” Unlike AIDS in South Africa, however, Canada had yet to face a single diagnosed case of Anthrax. The United States followed suit by threatening to buy generic substitutes, asserting the very same rights denied to countries crippled by AIDS.

In this model, medicine is only for those who can pay, and is judged as valuable insofar as it can be paid for by the wealthy. James Orbinski, international president of Doctors Without Borders, summed it up: “He who can’t pay, dies.”

Sounds like Summers's logic to me...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What did Jesus do?

LHG loves this description of what Jesus did....

There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled boy of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is his victory and His reign.

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.) 370-371

Monday, May 01, 2006

What would Jesus do?

Here at the LHG we both strongly agree and vehemently disagree with Gary Wills' take on Jesus and politics. We agree because Wills is right when he says that the Jesus of the Gospels "is dark, scary and demanding" - far more demanding than any secular politics can ever grasp. The ethics that Jesus taught - turn the other cheek, love your enemies, if asked for your coat give your cloak too - is just too radical to ever become an institutional politics. So to try to make his ethics a political program is to water down the message and thus betray the messenger.

Wills, however, skirts over a key problem. Why was Jesus so radical in his ethics? Most New Testament scholars believe Jesus was so radical for the simple reason that he thought that the end of the world as we know it was right around the corner. The Kingdom of God was at hand and thus our usual worldly concerns should no longer be of concern - none of our usual standards of behavior apply when God is about to build the Kingdom upon the ashes of the old.

So, there really is no easy way to put this: Jesus was wrong. God did not step in - the end of the world did not come. It's the fact that Jesus was wrong that makes Wills' answer simplistic. The Christian needs to draw connections between Jesus' ethic and contemporary politics because s/he can no longer assume the end of the world is near. The Christian must live, and live politically, here and now.

What Wills says should not be done, must be done. Otherwise Christianity has failed to learn the lesson from Jesus' mistake.

Are all deaths equal?

“Since September 11, I’ve been thinking about that incident, about how we in the media participate in a process that confirms and reconfirms the idea that death and murder are tragic, extraordinary and intolerable in some places and banal, ordinary, unavoidable, even expected in others...Are we, in the media, neutral observers of this deadly mathematics? No. Sadly, it is we who do much of the counting. It is we who have the power to choose whose lives are presented in Technicolor, and whose in shades of grey. It is we who decide when to cry ‘tragedy’ and when to shrug ‘ordinary;’ when to celebrate heroes and when to let the bloodless statistics tell the story; who gets to be an anonymous victim - like the Africans killed in the U.S. embassy bombings in 1998 - and who gets to have a story, a family, a life - like the firefighters in New York. On September 11, watching TV replays of the buildings exploding over and over again in New York and Washington, I couldn’t help thinking about all the times media coverage has protected us from similar horrors elsewhere. During the Gulf War, for instance, we didn’t see real buildings exploding or people fleeing, we saw a sterile Space Invader battlefield, a bomb’s-eye view of concrete targets - there and then none. Who was in those abstract polygons? We never found out...The global “we” - as defined by London and New York - now reaches into places that are clearly not included in its narrow parameters, into homes and bars where local losses are not treated as global losses, where those local losses are somehow diminished relative to the grandness, the globalness of our projected plan.”

Naomi Klein, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (
New York, NY: Picador USA, 2002) 165–67.

Hasta el Nobel no Paramos

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