Mark Green, who as the Democratic nominee for the Fort Worth seat in the U. S. House of Representatives challenged the Republican incumbent, Kay Grainger, in 2000, was our speaker at the August 17 meeting.  For all who missed his presentation, we, who were able to attend, extend consolation.  Mark is a very entertaining speaker who in addition to being a political activist has a keen interest in philosophy.

 Since the time of Plato a perennial concern of philosophers has been “what can we know and how can we know it?”  Fundamentalists of all religions claim that the only certain truths are to be had from the revelations contained in holy scriptures.  Humanists, by contrast, view all truth as provisional albeit susceptible to verification in many cases with a high degree of certainty through reason and experience. Holy books may reflect an accumulation of much wisdom, however, they are just as time-bound as any other source of knowledge and have to be evaluated in the light of scientific discoveries and of man’s continuing reflection on his own nature and destiny.

 Mark pointed out that we are the first generation in history having the capacity to feed, medicate and educate everyone on the planet given the will do so and the development of mechanisms for cooperating toward the attainment of those objectives.  Yet we have  been unable to lift a quarter of the world’s population out of the direst poverty; basic health care is denied to billions; illiteracy remains the norm in many countries; as for education, not only does a large portion of the population in the developing world lack the skills for economically productive lives, the same is true for a substantial part of the population in the so-called developed world.  There is a mammoth disparity between what is feasible to our human and physical resources and what seems likely to be accomplished any time soon given the political, religious and institutional barriers standing in the way.

 Even in the richest country on earth the realization of personal potential has been largely  thwarted by the development of a consumerist psychology.  The introduction of labor-saving devices on a massive scale after World War II held open the possibility of increased leisure allowing richer cultural and intellectual lives.  A half century later Americans are working pretty much the same number of hours and, arguably, leading more hectic lives due to longer commuter distances and the deterioration of public transportation. How did we get into this fix of always chasing more goods?  John Kenneth Galbraith, for one, has written eloquently on the power of the advertising industry to create wants previously unknown to us.  Can we break the grip of impersonal forces to lead more authentic lives?

 Mark noted that as a nation we are divided intellectually and psychologically and these differences are reflected in our politics.  As Bill Clinton recently opined in a television interview, Democrats and Republicans, at least in the main, see the world in distinctly different colors.  Or, perhaps one should say, the world is black and white for the latter:  Good versus Evil; the Sacred versus the Secular; Truth versus Falsity (“faith doesn’t strive for knowledge; it is truth”).  Democrats, by contrast, are more apt to see life in shades of gray:  eternal truths are few if any and the complexities of life render judgments on those things human always tentative. In this world, order is an anomaly, not the norm. We are always striving to catch up with a reality that is forever on the wing.  He suggested that the nation-state paradigm that has governed for the past two hundred years has been antiquated by the expansion of our knowledge of the physical and social sciences and by an increasing interdependence economically and intellectually.  Isn’t it time to put paid to religious, racial and ethnic quarrels and to rejoice in our common humanity?

 Sometime in the coming months Mark expects to publish a book of essays exploring some of these themes.  He has been fortunate, he said, to have had the time to read and reflect on philosophical issues during the past couple of years.  We will look forward to hearing further from him literarily if not politically.  He joined us at our pre-meeting dinner at Jason’s.  We who were there can attest to an engaging personality.


RECOMMENDED READING:  “Can the Sciences Help Us to Make Wise Ethical Judgments?” by Paul Kurtz, Skeptical Inquirer, September/October 2004. 

“Can science and reason be used to develop ethical judgments?  Many theists claim that without religious foundations, ‘anything goes,’ and social chaos will ensue.  Scientific naturalists believe that secular societies already have developed responsible ethical norms and that science and reason have helped us to solve moral dilemmas.  How and in what sense this occurs are vital issues that need to be discussed in contemporary society, for this may very well be the hottest issue of the twenty-first century.”  Thus Kurtz leads off a long discussion first of the objections to a naturalistic ethics {we cannot deduce what ought to be  (ethics) from what is (science), G.E. Moore’s “naturalistic fallacy”} and then secondly his own take on how science enlightens our moral principles.  This article ranks right up there with Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers for the attention of humanists.



 Republicans [at their convention] constantly declared they were going to deliver the blessings of liberty to the far corners of the world.  This is the party’s dilemma—it wishes to spread liberty to people whom it doesn’t really like.  Fareed Zakaria, Foreign Affairs editor, Newsweek





 We will meet at West Side Unitarian Universal Church at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday September 22.  because of its timeliness, we will be watching the documentary “Outfoxed”, an expose of the blatantly partisan bias in FOX’s presentation of the news.  No one will be surprised at that, however, you might not know to what lengths that network goes to slant its newscasts.  Come and find out.

 In October, we plan to have a discussion of timely topics:  a roundtable talk in which each participant will have the opportunity to give a presentation on something recently read, heard or seen deemed to be of interest to humanists.  Coming just 13 days before the presidential election, the meeting will have plenty to chew on.

 Our pre-meeting dinner will again be held at Jason’s Deli on Over Ridge Road (near Costco’s).  Turn right off S. Hulen (going south) and continue a couple of blocks.  Jason’s will be on your right. Dinner time:  5:30 p.m.



 We will meet on the third Wednesday, i.e. October 20.  Until further notice, we will continue thereafter to meet on the third Wednesday of each month, same time and same location.



 The 27th annual national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation will meet in Madison on the weekend of Oct. 29-31.  A featured speaker will be Susan Jacoby, author of the recently published Freethinkers: A history of American Secularism.  She will speak on “How Secularism Became a Dirty Word.”  Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker will be this year’s recipient of the “Emperor Has No Clothes Award.”  Author of The Blank Slate, Pinker was recently named one of the 100 most influential people” in Time Magazine’s “Scientists and Thinkers” category.  Receiving a tailor-made “Freethought Hero” award will be Michael Newdow, who brought the lawsuit against “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Registration forms and additional information can be obtained from:  FFRF, Attn: Convention, P.O. Box 750, Madison, WI  53701.



 On December 3,2004, the 13th Humanist Institute Leadership Class will begin.  The three-year course (2004-2007), graduate level program consists of intensive reading and reflection, and three annual seminars leading to a Graduate Certificate in Humanist Leadership.  Visit the Class XIII web page at for more information.



 David Croft reports that a new humanist organization has been established in Dallas, the Brights”.  For additional information go to



 A reminder that dues were to be paid in March.  If you are still delinquent and wish to retain your membership, please see Dolores. We continue to send the e-mail version of the Newsletter to persons who have not renewed their membership.   Anyone in this category who does not wish to receive the Newsletter any longer should notify the editors.  We have no desire to clog anyone’s system with unwanted mail. 




Thanks go out to Kimberley Rivera and Sandra Langley for forwarding material for the Newsletter.  We welcome contributions of both published articles and your views for incorporation in the Newsletter.




 In the second such case in three months, a federal judge in New York declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional Thursday though he called the procedure “gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized.”   U.S District Judge Richard Casey faulted the ban for not containing an exception to protect a woman’s health, something the Supreme Court has made clear is required in laws banning particular types of abortions.  (AP)



 The Justice Department released a harshly critical review September 1 that shows that prosecutors failed to turn over dozens of pieces of evidence to defense attorneys in the first major terrorism trial after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.  The review chronicles “a pattern of mistakes and oversights” so egregious that the government has agreed to abandon the terrorism portion of the case altogether.  The errors and possible misconduct were so rampant that, the review concluded, there was no reasonable prospect of upholding convictions on appeal of two defendants tried in June 2003.  (WP)



 Last week [8/25/04-9/04/04] President Bush issued four executive orders addressing matters that were subjects of recommendations by the 9/11 commission.  One of the four created a President’s Board on Safeguarding American Civil Liberties.  While it is laudable that a civil liberties board was included in the first set of presidential actions in response to the commission’ recommendations, the new board falls short of addressing the concerns that led the commission to recommend the setting up of a meaningful oversight board in the first place. …With twenty or more people, individual members won’t feel personally accountable or responsible, a fatal flaw for an effective civil liberties oversight board. …All its members are from within government and almost all are from the very agencies and departments whose actions are likely to be the subject of civil liberty challenges and complaints.  …Only outsiders can supply both the independence and the skepticism that are essential to evaluate the merits of government assertions of power that intrude on personal privacy. …Already the Patriot Act has been used to investigate official corruption, money-laundering and computer hacking.  …A properly functioning civil liberties oversight board should also be nonpartisan, and the way to achieve that is through a balanced appointment process.  The president’s panel is made up almost entirely of presidential appointees and senior staff members who serve presidential appointees.  But the public must have confidence that the board transcends the partisan interests of whatever administration is in power.  –Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 commissioner, and Lance Cole, consultant to the commission.  (NYT)



 President Bush, side-stepping an earlier campaign promise, is allowing the ban on assault rifles and oversized clips to expire on September 14 despite polls showing overwhelming public support for the ban’s renewal.  While amounting to only one percent of America’s 190 million privately owned guns, assault weapons account for a hugely disproportionate share of gun violence “precisely because of their macho appeal—they can transform Walter Mitty into Rambo, for a lot less money than a Hummer,” writes columnist Nicholas Kristoff.  (NYT, ABC News, FWST)



 Vice President has publicly stated his personal preference against the adoption of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.  He emphasized, however, that the president is the one making administration policy, not he.  Cheney has a lesbian daughter.  Cheney’s wife, otherwise a hard-nosed conservative, has also come out against the amendment.  [How personal circumstances do influence one’s political views!] (IHS)



 Florida’s Supreme Court scrutinized on August 31 Gov. Jeb Bush’s effort to keep brain-damaged Terri Schiavo alive against her husband’s wishes, sharply questioning how a special law that the legislature passed to prolong her life did not violate the separation of powers that the state’s constitution insures.  The justices also focused on the fact that the law does not require the governor to abide by any standards or procedures, as he is required to do when ordering stays of execution in capital punishment cases.  (NYT)





 In his wonderful book, “Summer for the Gods,” Edward J. Larson paints a picture of America in the mid-20s that’s oddly familiar:  torn between modernism and religious fundamentalism, Americans felt an old-time burning need for a burning bush.  Horrified by the moral and cultural declines of the Jazz Age, they turned away from internationalism and intellectualism.  Welcome to 2004 and “Summer for the Gods: Part 2: Revenge of the Public Officials.”  In a new wave of religious fervor, we resent that secular courts have chased God out of the public square.  Again we want public institutions to carry water for our churches.  And again, public officials happily flout the law to advance personal religious agendas.


In Horry [sic] County, N.C., last week, local officials opened their council meeting with a prayer to Jesus, despite the fact that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had ruled the practice unconstitutional.  …A Republican congressman called for a civil rights investigation last week, after the U. of  N.C. at Chapel Hill declined to recognize a Christian fraternity for refusing to accept non-Christian members.  Every other student group on campus is held to the university’s nondiscrimination policy.  The basis of the complaint: Such policies discriminate against Christians’ right to religious freedom and association.  During the recent confirmation hearing of a federal judge, J. Leon Holmes, several senators—concerned by his religious writings—questioned whether his extreme views would prevent him from applying existing civil rights and abortion law.  Holmes’s supporters countered that the Senate is anti-Christian, that federal judges cannot constitutionally be subject to “litmus tests.”

Add these incidents to the national furor over the amputation of  God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, and the president’s decision to hobble stem cell research for religious reasons, and it’s clear there is a growing wave of public officials convinced that their own, personal religious freedom renders the notion of a wall between church and state personally offensive and legally irrelevant.  …At the end of the monkey trial, H.L. Mencken wrote that Tennessee had seen “its courts converted into camp meetings and its Bill of Rights made a mock of by its sworn officers of the law.”  We are there again.  Maybe the judge and the jury were right to convict Mr. Scopes for teaching something so absurd as Darwinism.  We haven’t evolved one bit.  –Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate Magazine



 In a July 15 complaint to the IRS, Americans United has charged that Jerry Falwell appears to have blatantly violated federal law barring tax-exempt groups from partisan politicking.  Falwell is using his ministry to urge the election of George W. Bush and other candidates and to implore supporters to make contributions to a PAC whose purpose is to secure the election of Bush and other candidates, wrote AU Executive Director Barry Lynn in the complaint to the IRS.  Falwell has claimed that no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status and that “every American pastor, as a tax-paying citizen, is free to express his views and opinions.”  Yet the IRS, after a four-year in the 1980s, concluded that Falwell “Old Time Gospel Hour” had helped to raise money for the “I Love AmericaPAC.  The settlement resulted in the retroactive revocation of the tax-exempt status of the Old Time Gospel Hour from 1986 and 1987 and required Falwell to pay $50,000 in back taxes for those years..  The televanglist was also required to take steps to prevent future violations of tax law and to circulate a statement detailing terms of the settlement to news organizations.  That statement also noted that the Liberty Federation, another Falwell outfit, had decided not to contest the revocation of its tax exemption in 1991.  The IRS had determined that the group did not operate exclusively for religious and charitable purposes.  (C&S)



 Before conservatives ousted moderate President Russell Dilday 10 years ago and replaced much of the faculty, Falwell, a pastor, television evangelist and founder of the Moral Majority movement, would not have been welcome at the seminary, which is one of the nation’s largest.  But times have changed.  Falwell, who was making his first appearance at the seminary, joked with reporters, telling them he was not going to get into politics “except to tell you to vote for the Bush of your choice.”  …”He [Paige Patterson] is the only [seminary] president I know who is slightly to the right of me,” Falwell declared.  …Patterson upped the political side of Falwell’s visit by also inviting Pat Carlson, chairwoman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, to speak before Falwell.  She made the most of it, stating her own Christian beliefs and urging those present to vote out “ungodly” public servants.  …In an interview after his address, Falwell said that if 200,000 evangelical pastors can get their members to vote Republican, it could swing the election to Bush.  –Jim Jones, religion columnist, FWST



 Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) says his bill allowing church-based electioneering would help the re-election prospects of President Bush and other Republicans.  According to a “Legislative Update” from the Religious Freedom Coalition (RFC), a Religious Right lobbying group, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) may try to include the Jones bill in an appropriations bill.  Current federal tax law forbids churches and charities in the 501©(3) tax-exempt category from endorsing candidates for public office.  These organizations may address moral and political issues, but they may not use their resources to support candidates.  (C&S)



 A nation-wide poll conducted by a California consulting firm found that 66 percent of Americans are against a constitutional amendment “to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States.”  Thirty-two percent favor it.  While the public at large opposed the amendment, 66 percent of evangelicals favored the proposal.  A poll by the Barna Group, an agency with a conservative religious orientation, also revealed that 79 percent oppose removing Ten Commandments displays from public buildings; 84 percent oppose removing “In God We Trust” from currency; 84 percent oppose removing “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance; and 59 percent favor teaching creationism in public schools.  (C&S)



 Teachers and instructional aides may not be placed in religious schools to teach religion and engage in sectarian activities with students as part of a federally funded community service program, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of Washington, D.C., ruled July 2.  Kessler noted that it is undisputed that the AmeriCorps program “offers program participants a national service education award…to work in religious schools where they teach religion to their students throughout the school day, lead their students in prayer multiple times a day, and attend Mass with their students.”  Kessler held that the program “results in impermissible government indoctrination in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”  (C&S)



 The first major study of the implementation of President Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” released by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, reveals a huge bureaucracy has been created to implement it, and signals “a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state.”  The nonpartisan Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy points out:  “Religious organizations are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvements to promoting child car seats to distributing Medicare prescription cards.”

 The report found that without legislative authority, “the president has aggressively advanced the faith-based initiative” through executive orders and rule changes.  The report mentions the following major regulatory changes by the Bush administration:

      --Allowing federally-funded religious groups to discriminate on the basis of religion in employment.

     --Permitting religious groups to convert government-forfeited property to religious purposes after five years, previously prohibited.

     Allowing federally-funded religious groups to build and renovate structures used for both religious worship and social services.

     --No longer requiring religious social service providers to certify they exert “no religious influence” (Veterans Administration).

     Allowing students to use federal job-training vouchers to receive religious training to work at a church or other religious group (Department of Labor).


The White House estimates faith-based funding grants increased 41% by the Department of Health and Human Services and 16% by Housing and Urban Development in fiscal year 2003.  The Administration claims five federal agencies provided grants of $1.7 billion that year, or 8% of the $14.5 billion awarded.  (Freethought Today)



 A disabled religious school student does not have a constitutional right to demand publicly funded educational services in a religious environment, ruled the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The parents argued that to get the level of services their son requires, they would have to forgo sending him to a Catholic school, thus violating their freedom of religion. The Courts held that parents who choose private education do so knowing that they may have to give up some services.  “Persons opting to attend private schools, religious or otherwise, must accept the disadvantages as well as any benefits offered by those schools.  They cannot insist, as a matter of constitutional right, that the disadvantages be cured by the provision of public funding.”  (C&S)



 Since they lack meaningful oversight, voucher plans and charter schools too often spark fraud and abuse—and leave children out in the cold.  In Houston, officials have arrested a minister who ran the now-defunct Prepared Table Charter School.  The Rev. Harold W. Wilcox and three of his relatives are accused of misappropriating $3 million in state and federal funds.  Some $51,000 in school money allegedly went to help pay for Wilcox’s house.  He is also charged with stealing money from the School’s free-breakfast and lunch program—funds that were supposed to help poor children.  …Newspapers reported that that a Christian school in Polk County [FL] accepted vouchers for disabled students even though those children had pulled out of the school.  …Officials in Wisconsin have kicked two private schools out of that state’s voucher program.  …Finally, there is Ohio.  One voucher school there had a convicted murderer on its staff.  Another school was so run down that the building had no heat or working fire alarms.  A third “educated” children by showing them videos all day.  …Vouchers and other privatization schemes might look attractive at first glance.  In reality, they have too often failed students.  It’s time to shut them down before anyone else falls victim to these scams.  (C&S editorial)



 The French parliament recently approved a law banning conspicuous religious symbols from public schools.  Although the law applies to Christian crosses, Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans and other religious symbols, the clear target of the legislation is the headscarf worn by  Muslim women and girls.  The French have been agitated for some time by rising Islamic militancy and the new law seems to have resulted from public pressure to do something about it.  Still more recently two French journalists were kidnapped in Iraq and initially the condition for their release was repeal of the law.  Muslim spokesmen in France, however, have condemned this act of blackmail and have called for the journalists’ unconditional release.  The kidnappers apparently have backed off, although as of 9/20 the two journalists had not been released.  The Institute of Humanist Studies asks whether as humanists we can support the ban or is this an  unacceptable infringement of personal liberty.  What do you think?  (Le Monde, IHS)




 Civilized people are supposed to respect each other’s religious beliefs.  It may be rude to ask—but why?  Any clear-eyed person can see that blind faith in “ancient religious texts” serves as the foundation for much of what troubles the world.  In the Islamic world, tyrants and terrorists rely on the Koran to justify the brutal repression of women and homosexuals, the use of children as suicide bombers, and the murder of Americans for the crime of their disbelief.  Not all Muslims have such retrograde views—just those, like Osama bin Laden, who insist that the Koran is the literal word of God.  In the Koran, “non-Muslims are vilified on every page” as tools of Satan and worthless infidels; in Koran 9:l23, for example, every Muslim man is commanded to “make war on the infidels who dwell around you.”  Christianity also is afflicted with dangerous literalism.  Here in the U.S., fundamentalists in the White House and Congress use the Bible as justification to block condom distribution and family-planning education, to choke off vital stem cell research in defiance of the public will, and to mount a mean-spirited war on gay marriage.  “It’s in the Bible!” the literalists cry.  But so is God’s command that men “who lie with” men “shall be put to death.”  In fact, the Bible also calls for the faithful to kill adulterers, infidels who work on the Sabbath, and children who curse their parents.  We properly ignore such nonsense, all of which was written when mankind thought the world was flat and eclipses were signs of divine displeasure.  “Perhaps it is time we subjected our religious beliefs to the same standards of evidence we require in every other sphere of our lives.”  --Sam Harris, author (LAT)



 Empirical evidence doesn’t matter for him, …like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will conquer reality.  It won’t.  –Conservative writer and former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan on President Bush’s unwillingness to face up to facts in Iraq.



 It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.  –Abdul Rahman al-Rashad, general manager of the satellite television station Al-Arabiya, reacting to recent murders of hostages in Russia and Iraq.



The press has made a big issue of how President Bush and Senator John Kerry are both trying to woo voters from groups that usually support the other side, be they military veterans, Hispanics or Jews.  Yet one group that receives almost no attention is Christian evangelicals.  We are repeatedly told they form the president’s unshakeable electoral base.  But in truth, this claim is vastly simplistic:  the fashionable image of masses of white evangelical voters, stirred up by the tricks of Karl Rove and led by Bible-thumping clergymen, marching in lock step to deny rights to women and to gays, is hardly borne out by the data.  Rather, the real Republican base is the same as it was before Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” appealed to religious Protestants in 1968:  the wealthy and the powerful.  …While it is true that white evangelicals tend to be more conservative socially, as well as religiously, than the average American, there is little correlation between religious conservatism and political conservatism.  For example, in social survey, about 40 percent of Americans who believe in the literal, word-for-word interpretation of the Bible describe themselves as “politically conservative.”…In the last two presidential elections, about 62 percent of white evangelicals voted Republican—or about 7.5 percent more than among other American Protestants.  [The difference contributes only about an additional l.6 percentage points to a Republican advantage.]  Moreover, those 1.6 percentage points are spread across all regions, not concentrated in the South, where the evangelicals supposedly contribute to the Republicans’ red state advantage.  Clearly, claims that evangelicals have hijacked the nation’s politics are greatly exaggerated.  In fact, polling data show that President Bush’s real base is not religious but economic, the group he jokingly referred to as “the haves and the have mores.”  …if recent patterns hold, a majority (about 52 percent) of poor southern white evangelicals will vote for Mr. Kerry in November, while only 12 percent of affluent Southern white evangelical Christians will.  Most poorer Americans of every faith—including evangelical Christians—vote for Democrats.  It’s a shame that few pundits, pollsters or politicians seem to notice.  –Michael Hout, professor of sociology at U.C. Berkeley, and Andrew M. Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of sociology at the U. of Arizona (NYT)




The number of Americans living in poverty increased by l.3 million last year, while the ranks of the uninsured swelled by 1.4 million, the Labor Department reported August 25.  It was the third straight annual increase for both categories.  Approximately 35.8 million people lived below the poverty line in 2003, or about l2.5 percent of the population.  The rise was more dramatic for children.  There were 12.9 million living in poverty last year, or 17.6 percent of the under-18 population.  Nearly 45 million people lacked health insurance, or 16 percent of the population.  That was up from 43.5 million in 2002.  Meanwhile, the median household income, when adjusted for inflation, remained basically flat last year at $43,315.  Whites, blacks and Asians saw no noticeable change, but income fell 2.6 percent for Hispanics to $32,997.  (AP)



To live longer, it is best to live as a couple.  A recent study by the University of Warwick shows that both men and women who live alone drink more, work more, skip more meals and lack emotional stability.  More than cigarettes, wine and anxiety about gaining weight, a solitary life gravely undermines one’s health and reduces life expectancy by several years.  The presence of a partner is an incentive to take care of oneself and to feel more responsible.  (Le Monde)



In any given year, 35 percent of the people with tuberculosis, nearly one third of those with hepatitis C and 17 percent of the people with AIDS pass through jails and prisons.  Faced with budget crises, many correctional facilities back away from testing inmates, fearing they will be required to pay for expensive treatments.  Condoms are banned or are simply unavailable in more than 95 percent of the nation’s prisons.  The correctional system processes nearly 12 million people a year.  It is especially vulnerable to AIDS and other blood-borne diseases that spread easily through risky, unprotected sexual acts.  Concern over the problem led to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, requiring the Justice Department to collect data on prisoner-against-prisoner rape and act to prevent it.  One study shows that about 70 percent experience their first same-sex encounters only after landing behind bars.  The infections these men pick up in prisons cycle back into the community once they are released.  The American prison system is now dominated by the dangerous notion that distributing condoms would encourage prisoners to break the rules by having sex.  Health officials have pointed out that condoms are freely distributed in prisons in many countries, including Canada.  With millions of people regularly exposed to H.I.V. in the prison system, the entire country has both a moral and medical obligation to confront the sexual realities of prison life.  (NYT editorial)



“Lurking beneath the surface of every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalist cause that exalts us, the kind that war alone is able to deliver.”  [Chris Hodges, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning].  When war psychology takes hold, the public believes, temporarily, in a “mythic reality,” in which the nation is purely good, our enemies are purely evil, and anyone who isn’t our ally is our enemy.  This state of mind works greatly to the benefit of those in power.  One striking part of the book describes Argentines’ reaction to the 1982 Falklands War.  Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, the leader of the military junta, cynically launched that war to distract the public from the failure of his economic policies.  It worked:  “The junta, which had been on the verge of collapse, instantly became the saviors of the country.”  The point is that once war psychology takes hold, the public desperately wants to believe in its leadership, and ascribes heroic qualities to even the least deserving ruler.  National adulation for the junta ended only after a humiliating military defeat [by the British].  –Paul Krugman, columnist NYT.





The scientific study of twins goes back to the late 19th century, when Francis Galton, an early geneticist, realized that they came in two varieties: identical twins born from one egg and non-identical twins that had come from two.  ...The twin rule of pathology states that any heritable disease will be more concordant (that is, more likely to be jointly present or absent) in identical twins than in non-identical twins—and, in turn, will be more concordant in non-identical twins than in non-siblings.  Early work, for example, showed that the statistical correlation of skin-mole counts between identical twins was 0.4, while non-identical twins had a correlation of only 0.2.  … This result suggests that moles are heritable, but it also implies that there is an environmental component to the development of moles, otherwise the correlation in identical twins would be close to 1.0.  Twin research has shown that whether or not someone takes up smoking is determined mainly by environmental factors, but once he does so, how much he smokes is largely down to his genes.  And while a person’s religion is clearly a cultural attribute, there is a strong genetic component to religious fundamentalism.  …The lesson from all today’s twin studies is that most human traits are at least partially influenced by genes.  However, for the most part, the age-old dichotomy between nature and nurture is not very useful.  Many genetic programs are open to input from the environment and genes are frequently switched on or off by environmental signals.  It is also possible that genes themselves influence their environment.  Some humans have innate preference for participation in sports.  Others are drawn to novelty.  Might people also be drawn to certain kinds of friends and types of experience?  In this way, a person’s genes might shape the environment they act in as much as the environment shapes the actions of the genes.  (Economist magazine)



First the fish began to disappear.  Then villagers at Buyat Bay began developing strange rashes and bumps.  Finally in January, Maura Stirman, aided by a $1.50 wet nurse, gave birth to a tiny shriveled girl with small bumps and wrinkled skin.  After much suffering, the baby died in July.  The infant’s death came after years of complaints by local fishermen about waste dumped in the ocean by the owner of a nearby gold mine, the Newmont Mining Corporation, the world’s biggest gold producer, based in Denver.  It also kicked up a political brawl pitting Indonesia feisty environmental groups against the American mining giant, which has been trailed by allegations of pollution on four continents.  The fight has aroused intense interest in mining circles and among environmental groups for the fresh concerns it raises about how rich multinational companies—especially those that extract resources like coal, copper and gold as well as oil and natural gas—conduct themselves in poor countries.  Newmont denies it is responsible for the pollution.  But on August 31, an Indonesian government official announced that Newmont “had illegally disposed” of waste containing arsenic and mercury in the ocean near its mine site, and had failed to get the required permits from the Ministry of Environment since 1996.  The company may face criminal charges.  (NYT)



The Land and Wilderness Conservation Fund has also suffered [neglect along with other environmental programs].  In 40 years, it has invested $12.5 billion in a staggering array of open space programs, ranging from urban playgrounds and new parklands in the nation’s suburbs to big chunks of the Everglades and the Grand Canyon.  During his 2000 campaign President Bush promised to finance the program at its statutory maximum, $900 million, with half for the states and half for land purchases by the federal government.  His actual requests have been smaller, and Congress has been even stingier.  Astonishingly, the House has provided only $94 million in state money for the next fiscal year and nothing at all for federal purchases.  In the end, both this program and the Wilderness Act [setting aside more than 56 million acres from development, a commitment to which the Bush administration is now reneging] are less about money than about values on which it is impossible to put a price.  They deserve better.  (NYT editorial)



A decade ago, the world’s leaders met in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).  There, they crafted a plan to achieve “reproductive health and rights for all” by 2015.  …On paper, progress has been impressive.  Governments around the world have introduced legislation that reflects the ICPD’s aims.  But when it comes to turning policy into practice, “mixed success” is the verdict of a report card just released by Countdown 2015, a coalition of voluntary bodies involved in the field.  Take contraception, for example.  According to the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA), 61 % of married couples now use contraception, an 11% increase since  1994.  This has helped push global population growth down from 82m to 76m people a year over the past decade.  …Sometimes, a high birth rate is a result of people wanting large families.  But often it is due to a lack of affordable contraception.  UNFPA estimates that 137m women who want to use contraception cannot obtain it. As Amare Bedada, the head of the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia points out, “We don’t need to tell our clients about contraception.  They see their plots of land diminishing, and they tell us they want to limit their family size.”  …Poor women still die in huge numbers from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth.  According to UNFPA, 920 women die for every 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa.  …Plenty of studies have shown what it takes to reduce maternal sickness and death.  [Antenatal health care, cheap and simple drugs, trained midwives, local emergency obstetric centers]  Yet another subject that needs to be tackled more effectively is youth sex.  The largest generation of teenagers in history—a whopping 1.3 billion 10-19-year-olds—is now making its sexual debut.  …In many countries, youth-friendly programmes have sprung up to offer advice and assistance on thorny issues such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases—now soaring worldwide at 340m infections a year.  …One significant obstacle to tackling these problems is money, or rather the lack of it. …Reproduction, it seems, is no longer a sexy subject.  As Steve Sinding, the head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), points out, donor interest in the past was stimulated largely by fears of a population crisis.  When the Cairo Conference reframed the issues in terms of women’s health and reproductive rights, that demographic rationale was lost, taking funding with it.  …What the field of reproductive health lacks in resources, however, it makes up in ideology.  Over the past ten years, battles have broken out between contending views of sexuality, pitting religious conservatives—primes inter pares, the Vatican—against social liberals.  The fight has become particularly fierce since the election of George W. Bush as America’s president.  Mr Bush’s socially conservative views are reflected in the way America, the world’s leading donor for reproductive health, spends it money at home and abroad.  [Social liberals argue the influence of socially conservative policies] does little to stop women seeking abortion, legal or illegal.  Surveys from hospitals in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya suggest that anywhere from 20-50% of maternal deaths are due to complications resulting from unsafe backstreet abortions.  …Opponents of  [U.S. and Vatican] policy argue that it imposes on foreigners restrictions which are unconstitutional in America…that Mr Bush is flexing his conservative muscles abroad—and therefore appeasing his supporters at home—precisely because he cannot deliver a domestic anti-abortion agenda. [The U.S. is withholding $34 million appropriated by Congress from UNFPA out of dissatisfaction with its policy of not disavowing abortion.]…Today’s battles over abortion, abstinence and condoms are casting a pall over the field, and complicating what is already a formidable task.  Making sex safer and reproduction less risky in the 21sst century requires all the tools to hand.  Policies that restrict people’s choices should not be a fact of life.  [To which, we say amen!]