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Sun, Feb. 19th, 2012, 09:16 pm
Some perspective

Sometimes, we get so used to focusing on the frontier of battle that we forget how much ground we've already won.

I was reminded of that last night in a brief discussion on truth and the knowledge of truth. One person was criticising the scientific (and Christian) notion of there being knowable, objective truth, and of nature being part of that body of truth. It was comforting to realise that, had they been there, I would've been on the same page as many with whom I often find myself agreeing. My areas of disagreement with them are real and often important, but sometimes it's good to be reminded that I am not seriously challenged on everything I believe and that, in fact, quite a few foundational things are immune to the weapons of most of my most powerful opponents.

Sun, Feb. 19th, 2012, 08:59 pm
Apparently, the Bible and the CCC are homophobic

Or so the Guardian reports that Stonewall and Britain’s TUC are saying , if rather indirectly. It's no surprise that Stonewall is saying that, but I'm more surprised to see that coming from TUC. That could well be my ignorance about British politics, though; I hadn't heard of TUC before this report.

Anyway, the relevant part of the article reads:

Brendan Barber, the TUC's general secretary, wrote to Gove in December expressing alarm that a booklet containing "homophobic material" had been distributed by a US preacher after talks to pupils at Roman Catholic schools across the Lancashire region in 2010.

...

The booklet, which claims that "scientifically speaking, safe sex is a joke", explains that "the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals. Both acts are directed against God's natural purpose for sex – babies and bonding."

Referring to the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against individuals, Barber said: "Schools now have a legal duty to challenge all forms of prejudice. Such literature undermines this completely."

I've bolded and italicised what appears Read more...Collapse )

Mon, Sep. 7th, 2009, 01:30 am
Some Self-Criticism

Last night I read two notes on Facebook, posted comments on them both, and went to sleep. One of them was prompted by a priest that the author respected saying that the Catholic Church is the one true church and that other churches and religions are cult. It was generally about the arrogance of Christians claiming that they have the way to God to the exclusion of every other or most others. I wasn't up for debating the merits of the case that he outlined, so I just zeroed in on a statement he made about the truth:

Read more...Collapse )

I was so critical of my contributions that I kinda dreaded reading the responses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, no one has said anything along the lines of the withering criticisms I've had for my writing. The first person responded saying that my comment was well said (I suppose it was, but I still don't think the first part was true) and the second person hasn't responded to my comment on his note as yet.

Many times, I think I'm too harsh on myself.

Thu, Aug. 13th, 2009, 11:53 am
A Grammar Rant

Kendall El 04 de agosto a las 19:06 · Comentar · Me gusta
Liverpool accept Alonso bid

Kamal El 04 de agosto a las 19:28 · Eliminar
"Liverpool ACCEPTS Alonso bid"

In this context, Liverpool is either a plain singular noun (the Liverpool Football Club) or a collective noun(the Liverpool football team). I think the first is more likely; in that case, the verb is obviously in the singular. If it is, indeed, the second case, then the noun should take a singular verb since we're dealing with a collective noun whose individual members are inconsequential to the meaning of the sentence.

I'm sure they taught you all this in Prep School. Don't let the silly British media and the ape-ish West Indian, Australian, New Zealandic, South African and Irish media ruin your grammatical sense. For once the Americans and the Canadians (perhaps by virtue of some Canadian ape-ishness) have it right.

</vicarious rant>

Sun, Aug. 2nd, 2009, 04:44 pm
Campbell's Summary of the SVG Constitution 2009

So the government† has finally taken the initiative and included the draft new constitution in copies of each of the three weekly papers printed on Friday, 31 July 2009. That's just in time for Emancipation Day (175 years, yay!), but a full two months after the 28 May 2009 date on the cover of the constitution bill. The 48-page newspaper pull-out also includes a four and a half page article titled A brief summary of the main proposals in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution 2009 by Parnel R. Campbell, QC, Resource Person of the Constitution Drafting Panel, Chairman of the Constitutional Review Steering Committee (CRSC) (2007-2009), and Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission (CSC) (2003-2006). The document says that it's "A discussion paper presented to a Consultation hosted by the Windward Islands Farmers' Association (WINFA) on Wednesday 8th July 2009". That was just over 3 weeks ago.

So they're late, but better late than never, right?

Mr Campbell's article is especially useful and I expect that much of the commentary in the immediate future will focus on the things the article says, the things it doesn't say, and the man who wrote the article. I have nothing to say about the man and I sincerely wish that people participating in these discussions would try really hard to not spoil their points and arguments with personal attacks. I have some things to say about the document, though. I encourage everyone to read Mr Campbell's article. I'll try to get an electronic copy of it and make it available as soon as I can.

On a whole, I thought the article was great. It does an effective job of pointing out most of the major changes to the constitution, and it even includes some reasons for some of these changes. It talks about quite a few things (one can suppose this is because the constitution changes quite a few things) but, naturally, spends more time on some things than others (probably because some things are more contentious and important than others). Four major changes occupy more space than all the others: the change of our head of state from the hereditary British monarch to an indigenous President; the change in the electoral and parliamentary system from a strictly first-past-the-post system to a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional representation system; the reductions in the powers of the Prime Minister; and the increases in the powers of the Leader of the Opposition (who the new constitution would renamed the Minority Leader). In talking about these major things Mr Campbell draws on personal experience, talks a bit of history, and makes comparisons with other Commonwealth countries.

The article isn't without its flaws, though. Foremost of these are the things the article notably does not talk about. It does not mention the proposed changes in the amendment process. That is, it does not mention the reduction in the minimum period between the reading of the constitution bills from 90 days to 60 days, and the reduction of the majority required in the referendum from two-thirds to three-fifths. The article also doesn't say that the change of our highest court of appeal from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice would not require another referendum. As a summary, one can't expect the article to include everything, but I really don't think that the changes in the amendment process are insignificant omissions.

Still, as I said, it's well worth the read. It's certainly the best composed, most informative and best argued piece on the constitution that I've seen so far. So if you haven't read it yet, go pick up a newspaper, pull out the pull-out, turn to page 43, read the article that begins there, and let us know what you think.

*****

† I should say that I don't know that the government did this; I think it did, but I don't know. The pull-out is included in all three papers and there's a bit on page 43 about the constitution being published under the auspices of the Clerk of the House of Assembly, but I don't think these things confirm that it's the government that did this, and I haven't heard or seen anything else anywhere to confirm or deny it.

Mon, Jul. 13th, 2009, 11:01 pm
9 intriguing things about HIV/AIDS

Here's a list of things about HIV/AIDS that intrigued or surprised me when I first learned of them. I have to admit: in more than one case I refused to believe the claim until I had what I thought was enough evidence to persuade me to believe it. (One generally shouldn't believe a counter-intuitive claim because a good friend of yours said she read it somewhere on the Internet.) So when writing this, I did my best to support each of the nine points with (what I hope is) sufficient reasoning.

I'm sure that when many people see some of these things they'll ask why on earth I chose to put this list together. Wouldn't people be better off not knowing some of these things? Don't some of my statements trivialise the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of people infected with HIV across the region? Don't they undermine the efforts of our public-health sectors and non-governmental organisations? Isn't this just foolish?

Maybe. I sincerely hope not and I honestly don't think so, but maybe.

The thing is, though, none of this is conspiratorial. This isn't anything like evidence that HIV was brewed in a lab. This is stuff from free, public UN, WHO and governmental reports. This is Wikipedia and news stuff. This is Google stuff. This is stuff that's out there in plain sight for anyone who really bothers to look.

1. The risk of transmission of HIV/AIDS is much smaller than you probably think.

What do you think is the intriguing things!Collapse )

And does this mean that if our prevalence rate were only 0.4% it would be incorrect to say that there's an HIV epidemic in the general population of St Vincent and the Grenadines?

*****

1. I'm referring to the WHO's consideration of a flu pandemic purely in terms of how widespread the disease is without regard for its deadliness. This BBC News article hints to that and also talks about concern for the panic that declaring a flu pandemic might have caused. Check also the WHO's own pandemic scale, which says nothing about deadliness, and talk of devising a flu pandemic severity index in the US.
2. Green, MS et al. When is an Epidemic an Epidemic? Israel Medical Association Journal 2002; 4: 3 - 6. http://www.ima.org.il/imaj/ar02jan-1.pdf. This is a short, easy read on the different ways different people use the word 'epidemic' and the impacts those differences may have.
3. Page 24. The sentence, "By 2002, only 36% of low- and middle-income countries had a fully implemented surveillance system; however, 58% of countries with a generalized epidemic (where HIV prevalence is above 1%) had such a system."

**************

Some UNAIDS publications

AIDS epidemic update report archive
2001 AIDS epidemic update
2002 Report on the global AIDS epidemic
2003 AIDS epidemic update
2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic
2005 AIDS epidemic update
2006 Report on the global AIDS epidemic
2007 AIDS epidemic update
2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic
</p>

Sat, Jul. 4th, 2009, 02:10 am
Catholicism and Carnival II

This is a follow-up to my previous entry Catholicism and Carnival. The responses [on Facebook] went a good distance towards helping me answer my questions. I started typing my thoughts on those responses with the intention of posting them as comments to that [Facebook] post, but I think they're long enough to deserve a blog entry of their own.

The main question was why does the Catholic Church not oppose carnival? My objective here isn't to criticise Catholicism, though I do realise that because of my position and the way I phrase my questions it may come across as though I'm doing that. What I want to do is figure out how the Catholic non-opposition and support for Carnival are justified within a Catholic framework. I'm basically wondering why the rationale for the evangelical condemnations of Carnival does not result in a similar Catholic condemnation of the the festivities. I realise that the Catholic church isn't the only one with such a stance, but I've chosen it for a variety of reasons, among which are that I know more about Catholicism than, say, Anglicanism, and because I think Catholicism typifies some of the other, older, established Christian denominations in this regard.

So to the follow up. People said lots of stuff in their comments. I'm using this note to address the points that were made in direct response to my questions. I commented on the other contributions in the comments section of the last note.

The reasons given for the Catholic church's non-opposition/support were:
  • It's our culture; it's part of our identity. [Shanique]
  • It's tradition. The church has not opposed (or has supported) carnival for years. [Kevon?, Kevyn, Anya]
  • It brings in money. Carnival is profitable so it would be difficult for the church to oppose it. [Kevon, Anya]
  • You can participate in Carnival without sinning. It isn't necessarily about excess. [Shaun, J'elle, Jomokie]
  • We're small, so it isn't something that would've attracted the attention of the Vatican. [Shaun]
I hope I didn't miss or conflate any.

From the above, I'd first strike out the money one. It may be a pragmatic concern for some Catholics and maybe even some leaders in the Caribbean's Catholic Church, but I don't think it's an ideological one. I don't think it addresses how Carnival fits into the Catholic worldview or ethic. If anything, I think that such a reason would be outrightly and soundly rejected on ideological Catholic grounds.

On the matter of culture/identity, the only way I could see a Catholic cogently arguing from that angle is if s/he says it's part of his/her Catholic culture and identity. I say this because I don't see how any Christian could seriously argue that something tolerated, accepted or promoted just because it is part of a society's culture or identity. The "It's our culture!" cry simply doesn't interact with the kind of universal, objective moral arguments that Christians usually make. One can imagine or read about a hundred and one cultural practices (honour killings, female circumcision...) that would not hold up to a second's scrutiny in any discussion set in a Christian moral framework. Perhaps one could argue something like:

1. Since something is cultural and
2. Given another reason
3. We should do Ex or we shouldn't do Zed

But I don't see how one could just say "It's our culture!" alone and expect that to stand.

Now if someone argues that it's part of his/her Catholic culture and identity (and it seems that a case can be made there given Carnival's origin as a pre-Lenten festival), that quite naturally raises the question of why. Why is it part of Catholic culture? Why has it become a Catholic tradition? If we phrase the question in terms similar to the ones I initially asked we'd see that we're back to the start. Saying it's part of our Catholic culture and identity doesn't answer the question.

From there we could go nicely into the "It's tradition" reason, but I'll put that off for a bit because I think there's really something there. So before I get to that, I want to talk about the last reason that I find insubstantial. That reason runs something like "we're too small for the Vatican to pronounce on it". That sounds reasonable. But not everything is left up to the Pope or the Vatican to decide, right? Surely if there's an issue in a region then the priests, bishops and cardinal(s) of that region can come together and decide something, can they not? Plus, I gather that Brazil's carnival is rather like ours in the respects that I've outlined. I think Brazil has the world's largest Catholic population, so it is anything but insignificant.

So now to the "It's tradition!" reason. I can see how that would be compelling to Catholics. Whereas Protestants champion (or claim to champion) sola scriptura, Catholics are unapologetic about the role that 'Holy Tradition' plays in their faith. As most Catholics should know, though, in Catholicism there's a difference between common-t 'tradition' and capital-t "Holy Tradition". Whereas one is considered fallible and not truly an indispensable part of the Catholic faith, Catholics consider the other as authoritative as Protestants take the Bible. Granted that Holy Tradition is usually used to mean the teachings and practices handed down from the Apostles, the early Christian community and prominent later Christians, I don't think that any Catholic would seriously argue that the Caribbean carnivals are part of Holy Tradition.

So if it's a tradition it's definitely a common-t tradition. We're familiar with the history of Carnival, so we have an idea as to why that tradition has developed. It seems that good question can be raised as to why it was allowed to develop in the first place (see Jo-Ann's comment in the last note), but let's leave that aside for now and ask another question: why has it persisted after its initial development when, by almost everyone's assessment, the Caribbean's Carnivals have changed?

I think the Catholic answer to that question might be in the final reason: that Carnival isn't necessarily about excess and sin. A person can participate in and enjoy Carnival without sinning, without participating in its excesses, and without condoning the wrongdoing by his/her mere participation.

This seems like a very slim line to use as a route of escape, especially given the strict and largely consistent Catholic sexual and larger moral ethic. So far I don't think it works, but, as I said, the responses have moved me some way along understanding the Catholic position here, so I guess I'll work with this new-found understanding for now.

Thu, Jul. 2nd, 2009, 01:24 am
Catholicism and Carnival

I don't get the (official?) Catholic non-opposition and outright support for Carnival. I really don't. Does anyone know a sound rationale for it? How can a church with such a strong and apparently consistent sexual ethic not condemn the hypersexualised carnivals of the Caribbean? Perhaps it will help if I sketch the evangelical opposition to the practice. Maybe someone can identify where a Catholic worldview would identify a failure in our reasoning and show me why it differs on this. But before I do that, I'll try to outline my understanding of the supporters' position. (Maybe someone can also point out where I'm wrong in this.)

As any apologist who enjoys Carnival will tell you, Carnival is about culture and fun. It's about cultural expression that fuses the region's Christian and European traditions with its African and tribal traditions. It's about creativity. It's about having a good time. It's about social commentary -- airing the societies' problems in songs about poverty, gender inequalities, abuses and politics in creative ways. It's about showcasing women's beauty, talent and (lack of) knowledge.

But it's also a festival of and to the flesh. In the 'original' form that we still see in Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica, it's about a farewell to the flesh before the 40-day Lenten period. It's the time you free up and forget your inhibitions. It's the time we bend the rules of fidelity and make exceptions to our codes of integrity and decency.

And we can go further. As the Christian and other prudential opponents to Carnival say, it's also about excess. It's about sex, sex and more sex -- sex with (barely any) clothes on, protected sex, unprotected sex, sex between people who don't know each other, sex between unmarried people, and sex between a married woman and a man she isn't married to (yuh woman butting me!). It's about alcohol (the only thing better than rum is more rum!). And it's not about alcohol in moderation. It's about getting so drunk that you're brave enough to wind on that woman or sleep with that man. It's about those nights you hope you'll never remember with the friends you may very well forget.

With all this in mind, it's hard for me to imagine a coherent Catholic (or Anglican or Methodist or any other orthodoxish Christian) apology for Carnival. So, what's the reason? What're the arguments? What's excuse? Does anyone know?

And oh, I'm talking about the official (or semi-official or de-facto official) reasoned and/or revealed position of the church or the majority of its clergy here. We all know that in every denomination of Christianity the practice of the laity (and even the clergy) can differ widely from the church's official doctrine or accepted norm. This isn't about the hypocrisy of the young evangelical pastors who preach about abstinence and preach against carnival and end up drunk and wasted J'Ouvert morning. (Yes, that's a major issue, but it isn't the issue I want to deal with here.) This is about the pastors and priests and deacons and churches that don't see anything intrinsically or otherwise wrong with Carnival.

Fri, Jun. 19th, 2009, 12:19 pm
With what before the Lord?

6"With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
8He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
~ Micah 6: 6 - 8 (ESV)

Fri, Jun. 19th, 2009, 03:05 am
Hating Reason?

I told a good Internet friend of mine the other day that I hate moralising. I had just reasoned, fairly cogently, I think, in defence of the people who did not condemn outright the murder of one of three or so prominent American abortion doctors. And I hated it. I hated that I could come up with that reason; I hated that I could see a light under which I found that reasoning compelling. I hated my empathy. I hated, I think, reason itself. But I couldn't find a good reason to justify my hatred.

And that wasn't the first time I hated reason. I generally love reasoning and thinking about all sorts of things largely because the rudimentaries come easy to me and I think I am fairly good at it. In my teens I relished the chance to go online, read things, and spar with others. Back then, my biggest concern was thinking through my beliefs, trying to find ways to defend them, and trying to make corrections where needed. I'd pretend that human justifications are stricly rational, even if some of the premisses are hidden or something. I'd argue strongly for objectivity and absolutism, and against subjectivity and relativism. I'd think that finding a single, apparently irrefutable argument against a system should've been enough for someone to drop that system right there.

It's very different today. I still generally believe in objective truth and that the subjectivity is in experience, but I've been almost compelled to focus, it feels, more on the subjectivity of experience than the objectivity of the truth. I still enjoy reasoning to conclusions from premisses and discovering wonderful new things I didn't know. And I still learn sobering things that contradict what I believe and force me to change. But right now, I'm really, really preoccupied with some frustrating things about reason.

I sometimes hate the finality of reason. I hate how unavoidable some conclusions are because of certain premisses. At the same time, I hate the uncertainty of the finality of reason. There's always this thought near the back of my head that I could just be missing that piece of information or two that would drastically change the picture. Just because I've been checking and rechecking my working several times a month for the last seven years doesn't mean that I'm right. Maybe I'm forgetting something. Maybe I never knew it.

And perhaps most of all, I really hate what these things mean for my personal morality. When I was younger, I understood and accepted many of the moral teachings of my faith. But it was a sort of distant understanding. These things are plain, I thought. I get them and they're easy. I know people are different -- different people are tempted in different ways; but why do people still repeatedly do such wrong things when the moral imperative against them is so obvious and undeniable?

Well, today, I don't think I understand those things much less than I did then, but there are new pieces of things to consider. Hahaha. I now know firsthand why people do wrong things even when all their powers of reason tell them they're wrong. And it's exceedingly frustrating how good I've become at making excuses and crafting explanations. Although I find the existence of an objective ethic compelling, I find it hard to condemn people for almost anything. It's as though I think people's weakness is excuse enough to not demand good of them.

But, as you can imagine, I don't really think that.

And I feel as though this entry was crap.

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