Archive | May, 2010

June essay contest

For the last time, Maria Ozawa isn’t a member. Nor do we have an equally eloquent expert on sex harassment. Those recent posts are entries in our June writing contest. Interested?

Just write an essay on any of the following themes:

  • political correctness
  • science vs. superstition
  • loneliness and isolation

You may write on a combination of themes (like Ms. Ozawa did) but there’s no bonus if you do. (Except if you manage to allude to bukake.)

Two awesome prizes will be given during our second July meetup:

  1. Reader’s choice prize: awesome certificate and any Starbucks beverage.
  2. Writer’s choice prize: awesome certificate and the privilege to choose any freethought-related book worth P1,000 (the winner doesn’t have to pay anything, unless they want to get something more expensive.) Although the winner doesn’t get to own it — the book is added to the FF library — they get two months to finish reading the book before having to lend it to someone else. The winner must also post a short review of the book on our blog.

Joining is easy:

  1. Register for a contributor account.
  2. Compose your post (500-800 words) and tag it with “writing contest.”
  3. Submit your post before July 1. Submissions of nonregular contributors will be reviewed before publishing.

Mechanics for voting and judging will be posted before the contest deadline. In the meantime, start writing!

Posted in Announcements, Organization7 Comments

AIDS Candlelight Memorial Information

Here’s some information from PNAC about the AIDS Candlelight Memorial this Friday. Be sure you read the event program at the bottom of the post.

Remedios Circle (click to enlarge)

PARTICPATION GUIDELINES

  1. Registration starts at 3:00 pm at the Remedios Circle, Malate, Manila.
  2. The group will march from Remedios Circle to Rajah Sulayman Park, Malate, Manila.
  3. All participating individuals and organizations are requested to wear white during the event
  4. Candles and ribbons will be provided by TLF SHARE Collective, Inc.
  5. Transportation should be shouldered by participating individuals and organization
  6. Participating individuals and organization are expected to take a light meal before the registration
  7. Organizations are advised to bring their respective organizational banner/tarpaulin to be used during the event
  8. Please bring an umbrella in case of rain

Republic of the Philippines

Philippine National AIDS Council

CONCEPT NOTE

2010 AIDS CANDLELIGHT MEMORIAL IN THE PHILIPPINES

Many Lights for Human Rights – Remember, Honor, ACT

Background and Rationale

Since 1983, the world has been commemorating the AIDS Candlelight Memorial (ACM). A program of the Global Health Council, this activity gathers and mobilizes different sectors and groups in order to remember and honor those who have passed away due to AIDS and also to eradicate stigma and discrimination through education, advocacy and partnership. ACM serves as an important intervention for global solidarity, breaking down barriers, and giving hope to new generations. (International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, 2010)

The Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) maintains its solidarity with the global community in commemorating the ACM. The ACM contributes to the fulfillment of policy declarations of Republic Act 8504 (the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, or R.A. 8504) such as promoting public awareness on HIV and AIDS, the protection of human rights and civil liberties of people living with HIV and addressing the conditions that aggravate the spread of HIV. The 2010 ACM global theme is “Many Lights for Human Rights,” meant to promote both global solidarity and the need for collective action around HIV and human rights. (www.candlelightmemorial.org)

In the country, the ACM shall serve as public advocacy to position HIV and AIDS as crucial issue on the advent of a new administration in government. Its tone shall be solemn but with very clear messages of priority actions in the national response to HIV and AIDS. The ACM global theme is adapted with an addition “Remember, Honor, ACT” to emphasize our solidarity with Filipinos living with HIV and their loved ones.

The PNAC Secretariat shall engage technical services of TLF SHARE Collective Inc., an NGO involved in HIV and AIDS advocacy with a proven track record of mobilizing sectors and groups in Metro Manila, for the coordination of related events and mounting of the main ACM activity.

Objectives

  • To increase awareness on human rights dimensions of HIV and AIDS as social issue;
  • To remember and honor Filipinos who passed away due to AIDS and support those affected;
  • To mobilize government, private sector, development partners and affected communities for meaningful participation and foster solidarity between and among them; and
  • To promote, respect and uphold the dignity of persons living with HIV/AIDS

Participation

  1. GOVERNMENT
  • Government agency members of PNAC
  • Local government units in Metro Manila (GF HIV Rounds 5 and 6 sites)
  1. CIVIL SOCIETY and AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
  • Individuals and organized groups of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS
  • NGO’s and groups who work on HIV and AIDS
  • NGO’s and groups who work on human rights
  • Faith-based organizations and groups
  • Other socio-civic organizations
  1. PRIVATE COMMERCIAL SECTOR
  • Corporations and networks with initiatives on HIV and AIDS
  • Business networks for corporate social responsibility
  • Business process outsourcing companies
  1. DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS
  • Multilateral and bilateral aid agencies
  • International NGOs
  • Intergovernmental organizations (e.g. UN agencies)

PROPOSED PROGRAM FOR THE AIDS CANDLELIGHT MEMORIAL

Remedios Circle and Rajah Sulayman Park, Malate, Manila

28 May 2010 (Friday), 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Malate, Manila,

TIME Activity and Description FOCAL POINT/S
Venue: Remedios Circle, in front of Adriatico St., Malate, Manila
04:00 – 05:00 Assembly and Registration TLF SHARE (Participation)
05:00 – 05:30 Formation TLF SHARE (Participation)
National Anthem TLF SHARE (Program)
Ecumenical Prayer TLF SHARE (Program)
Lighting of CandlesTo be initiated by the Health Secretary, then passed on by representatives from different sectors to participants TLF SHARE (Program)
05:30 – 06:00 Parade Towards Rajah Sulayman ParkParade led by PLHIV Community and Health Secretary, then followed by PNAC and DOH delegation, then groups/sectors as registered. TLF SHARE (Parade) with MPD, Barangay Volunteers
Venue: Rajah Sulayman Park, in front of Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Manila
06:00 – 06:15 Opening Performance PLM Student Choral Society
06:15 – 06:30 Welcome Remarks Office of the MayorCity of Manila
06:30 – 07:00 Solidarity MessagesThematic Messages*

  • Leadership
  • Awareness
  • Service delivery
  • Advocacy
  • Partnership

*Based on the Report of the International Advisory Meeting of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial held last October, 2009.

Hon. Esperanza I. CabralSecretary

Department of Health

Hon. Austere Panadero

Ms. Jackie Badcock

Mr. Ed Chua

Mr. Jerico Paterno

Ms. Lorna Garcia

07:00 – 07:15 Mid-Program Performance PLM Student Choral Society
07:15 – 08:15 In Memoriam: The Filipino AIDS QuiltsPerformance of the “lotus ceremony” involving leading advocates from the PLHIV community The NAMES Project
08:15 – 08:20 Acknowledgement of Participants Masters of Ceremony

Guidelines:

Participating organizations must bring the following on 2010 ACM:

  1. Banner/Streamer of the organization supporting the 2010 ACM – prototype design is uploaded at www.pnac.org.ph
  2. Food, Transportation and Communication means of the participants
  3. Collaterals such as shirts, candles, red ribbons (if any)
  4. Water, towels, umbrella and fans since the venue is open air

PNAC Secretariat Contact Persons:

Ms. Joane Corbe – 0921 6170380 / 0922 6305920

Mr. Glenn Cruz – [email protected]

Posted in Announcements, Meetup1 Comment

Wrongness: A Propos for the Propagation of Political Incorrectness

There is a widespread suggestion that political incorrectness is a detriment to social enlightenment. There is a unanimous decision to avoid using terms that have derogatory connotations. A person’s inclination towards saying words such as fat, nigger, and midget is not only considered to be a symptom of malicious personal prejudice, it is also considered an affirmation of one’s own stupidity and ignorance.

But what many people don’t realize is that prejudice and political incorrectness is not just a cultural phenomenon, it is an inviolable human tendency – and, in my opinion, a social necessity.

I. Humorous Transcendence

One aspect of human intelligence that makes it superior to other species is humor. It is the ability to recognize the “wrongness” of a situation and actually derive pleasure out of it. Political Incorrectness is funny. It is completely incongruous with what is perceived to be appropriate. Our recognition of humor allows us to transcend the wrongness.

For example: “Let’s all go to my house, run around naked and try to pee on each other.”

There is a common and unanimous assessment that peeing on each other is wrong and the very act of suggesting such behavior is incongruous to what is expected of decent human beings, yet there is a level of amusement the notion, however absurd, provides.

The humor of wrongness, at the end of the day, trains human perception to recognize and transcend absurdity. It trains the human consciousness to better adjust to the absurdity of a mortal, human existence (It’s stupid – work, worry, suffer, and then die).

The truth is that it is hard to live at the brink of oblivion without first being able to recognize, transcend, and derive pleasure from the “wrongness” of one’s own human condition. Political Incorrectness trains the human mind to accustom itself to the political incorrectness of everyday existence.

II. The Re-Contextualization of Hostile Symbols

One reason political correctness is considered correct is because it implies a will or desire to dodge negative connotations that may be associated with certain signs and symbols – the term “African-American” is free from the “slavery” associated with the term “negro.” The term “homeless” is free from the “laziness” associated with the term “bum.”

Political Incorrectness challenges the notion of connotation.

Wearing a Che Guevara shirt does not make a person a communist, neither does it suggest that the said person advocates communism. In fact, the commercialization of such a symbol (Che’s face) is counter-intuitive to its original intention (anti-capitalistic) further proving the possibility of altering the meaning of symbols.

Limiting the usage of symbols (such as the Nazi symbol) that supposedly represent derogatory prejudices only further affirms the prejudice – the ideology – by isolating the symbol to a single meaning (Antisemitism).

The best way to neutralize strong symbols is to simply trivialize or create ambiguity with what these terms and symbols represent. Che’s image, for example, has ceased to be a political symbol. It has become more of an aesthetic symbol – representing a person’s fashion preference rather than his political ideology.

The same could be said of terms such as nigger, Jew, fag, tranny, fatso, bitch etc. Its constant usage from different contexts subverts its connotations. An example is the cartoon, South Park. Through constant usage, the cartoon has stripped these terms of their original connotations and has trivialized them as simply childish name-calling.

South Park’s attitude towards supposedly offensive terms is dismissive rather than defensive. This approach pushes the notion that “it’s not a big deal.”

These symbols of hostility do not have to hold any profound impact if its connotations are trivialized or dissociated from its symbols.

III. The Production of Authentic Art

One goal of art, particularly, expressionist art is to elicit an emotional response. The best of this type of art intentionally jars the human consciousness to inspire passionate discourse (argument) – to cause an inevitable collision between opposing views. Even bad art, kitsch art, or amateur porno can be an efficient avenue for such discourse. Political correctness, however, sits on the fence in an attempt to avoid such a confrontation – taming the spirit into domicile conformity.

Authentic art demands from the artist (and from the audience) a commitment to and an acceptance of his own volatile and, often, prejudiced inclinations. Authentic art requires authentic representation, which is not possible with political correctness, because political correctness is, supposedly, free from agenda.

IV. Conclusion

There are situations that necessitate Political Incorrectness (or, my preferred term, wrongness). A lot of what we consider humorous satire, a lot of what we call literature, is for the most part cleverly concealed with blatant prejudice. Satire – whether humorous or literary – is a highlight of human error and cannot be represented in a manner that could be considered, “politically correct.”

Posted in Society3 Comments

In Defense of Your Perversions: On Bukkake and Political Correctness

Konnichi wa. My name is Maria Ozawa. You may be familiar with my thespian work. I have a quite extensive portfolio, many of which have become contemporary classics and are thus in wide circulation. The subtle nuances of Super High-Class Public Whore, the profundity of Monster Swallowing Ecstasy, and the heartfelt introspection of both The Main Purpose of Special Delusional Bathhouse and Torture with Sperm 2 have endeared me to a large section of pornography’s purveyors.

Nonetheless, I have a number of detractors as well. These critics find my specialization, bukkake, to be grossly offensive in nature, touting this sexual art as politically incorrect, something that purposefully delights in the subjugation of the female via the showering of ejaculate from multiple sources. The act is deemed humiliating as the sperm is considered either a vile substance, a symbol of utter masculinity, or both. Thus, supposedly, womankind should be offended by bukkake, and can consider it politically incorrect should someone bring it up in conversation—the same way a woman can no longer be complemented on her sweet ass at office hours, unless the speaker is asking for a world of hurt.

Now, isn’t this the very essence of the argument against pornography itself? The answer is yes—50 years ago. It is 2010, kind reader. I would like to believe that we are above and beyond notions as archaic as ‘porn is bad’ and ‘sex is for married heterosexuals.’ If you’ve been able to read up to this point, this fairly suggests that you are not a moron and, as such, understand that women like sex a whole lot, too, and are as capable of delighting in a smorgasbord of perversions as men are.

Which brings me to my main point. I wholly respect the opinion of women who feel offended by bukkake, yet I also feel responsible for explaining why I myself am not offended. For me, and I am sure for a number of other women as well, a large group of men ejaculating all over a woman’s body at roughly the same time is a form of flattery. They find me desirable, and so much so that they are able to orgasm to my presence and, moreover, in the presence of their colleagues. It as an act of unity, stripped of shame and geared towards the quite literal adulation of the female. Is contact with semen harmful? No. Furthermore, semen’s being a symbol of masculinity is quite impotent in the case of bukkake as the seed is spilled, not sown.

But what of the woman’s whimpering? What of her writhing around and looking helpless? I myself see it as a form of kink. Some women delight in the idea of being dominated. This doesn’t instantly purport that they allow themselves to be demeaned by men in real life. That is an unfair assumption. What about men’s dominatrix fantasies? What about handcuffs and ball gags and other sadomasochistic accoutrements? A simple striptease, in fact, is enough to render a man powerless. Should we be condemning those, too?

Bukkake’s political incorrectness cannot be an absolute truth because political incorrectness is, in the first place, a matter of perspective. There is a far grander, more intensive argument regarding the demerits of our PC culture, but as I am a very, very busy girl, let me just throw two points out there for you, kind reader, to chew on. First, people are free to be offended by anything they want to be offended by, and they have the liberty to explain why they were offended. It’s only decent. Second, be that as it may, this does not immediately mean that what a person is offended by is wrong. It depends from one offensive entity to the next. Bukkake, an act wherein no one is actually getting hurt, doesn’t have to be seen as wrong.

In the end, bukkake is a fetish, and a harmless one. Some people like the idea, and some people don’t. And that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Or let’s put it this way: I am certain many of you, upon reading this essay, were quite surprised to find me sufficiently articulate, and quite able to profess intellectual insight. Many of you expected an adult video sensation such as myself to be a nubile idiot. But I’m not. There are just some things people prefer to do (or, in my case, be), and while these may seem unusual to some, there’s no point in deriding it if there’s no harm done.

There. I have said my piece to the best of my abilities, and I do hope, kind reader, that you were thoroughly enlightened. However, it is time now to excuse myself, I’m afraid. It has been quite a long day, and I am in dire need of a shower.

Posted in Society20 Comments

Politically Correct Harassment

Dear Julia,

It’s John, your supervisor. Again. I passed by earlier under the pretense of needing office supplies so I could have the opportunity to give you a gender-neutral compliment that did not fall under the often ambiguous umbrella term sexual harassment. But I couldn’t think of one.

So I decided to write this letter instead.

Before I proceed with anything else, I would like to ask you a hypothetical question: If I acknowledged the fact that I find your physical appearance to be enticing, would that be considered a potentially inappropriate compliment or could it be somehow considered a harmless opinion? Not that I find or do not find your physical appearance enticing. I have merely brought up a hypothetical situation we could examine together as mutually respectful colleagues.

Honestly, anyone can tell that you have healthy genes and excellent hygiene habits. But if ever I were to compliment you, it wouldn’t be on your appearance because such advances might be considered objectifying. And objectifying a co-worker certainly falls under the ambiguous umbrella term sexual harassment.

If ever I were to communicate my appreciation for another person’s being, I might simply leave a flower on her desk, as long as such a gesture would not be misconstrued as a courting gesture. Such a gesture might imply that I, being male, am performing the role of the active-gendered pursuer, which might force you, being female, to play the role of the passive-gendered object of desire – thereby, once again, disrupting the gender-neutral politics of our work relations.

These issues of gender-neutrality and personal boundaries within our working environment are serious matters that, apparently, our company has already taken steps to eradicate by enforcing office policies pertaining specifically to this issue.

But still, many believe that their rights are being violated. Many employees still feel that this matter has not been properly resolved and should be further discussed. In fact, I have been briefed that you are one of the more stringent advocates for the improved implementation of office policies.

I would just like to assure you that if you wish to discuss such a matter with me, the door to my office is always open. To ensure the privacy of our discussion, I would even allow for the closing and locking of my office door upon your entrance. As your supervisor, this matter is of great importance to me too. I’m sure our discussion will be truly productive – stressful, but productive.

To ease the tension or stress such a discussion might arouse, we can have a few drinks afterward, at a nearby bar. I can assure you, as your supervisor, that whatever transgressions might be committed should our judgments be compromised by the consumption of alcohol beyond our tolerance – should we, somehow, end up intoxicated, unclothed, and horizontally parallel to each other – it will not be printed on your permanent employee record. There is nothing to worry about.

Not that I am suggesting that such an event would occur, nor am I implying that you are the type of person who would participate in deviant behaviors such as fornication. Not that I condemn deviant behavior. I neither condemn nor commend such practices as long as the people involved are consenting adults.

But if you were, indeed, the type of person who would participate in such an activity, and if you were to suggest that such an activity should occur between us, I would not protest – in fact I might even encourage such an invitation by revealing the fact that many people have told me that I have the reproductive equipment of an African-American basketball athlete.

My encouragement, of course, does not mean to imply that you would prefer the reproductive equipment of an African-American person, since that would be racist. I am simply pointing out the fact that my reproductive equipment is disproportionate with my body mass index.

The fact that my reproductive equipment is disproportionate with my body mass index is often received with a positive response except by some people who have biases against physical deformities. I hope you are not one of those people because we have company policies against prejudice.

I expect a favorable response and I’m confident that you would provide one, unless of course you are a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with lesbianism.

I’m sure your strident efforts for better office policies on sexual matters are motivated by your personal office experiences. I assure you, Julia, I will find this person harassing you and he will be penalized accordingly. You can come to my office anytime to discuss this matter… even after office hours.

Your Supervisor,
Jerald Marcelo Pineda

Posted in Humor, Society4 Comments

Saturday Meetup: May 29 at Shangri-la Starbucks

RSVP on Facebook

You know it’s already late when the mall guard asks you to go home. Especially when you’re not even inside the mall anymore.

Two Sundays ago, a Shangri-la guard asked five Filipino Freethinkers to leave the taxi waiting area. It was past 2 am. We were continuing a discussion that had started at Agave, a restaurant we also left reluctantly after we’d finally noticed the waiters closing shop.

FF meetups. Some people just couldn’t get enough of them. I’m sure there would have been more than five of us in that waiting area if it weren’t for stupid school and work the following day.

But what if we had meetups on Saturday? Let’s find out.

Saturday FF Meetup
Date: May 29, 2010 (Saturday)
Time: 1:00pm – 4:00pm (right…)
Location: Starbucks (near cinemas) at Shangri-la Mall

Agenda:
* Polyamory
* Banning the Burka
* The ethics of eating meat
* Dr. Craig Venter’s Synthetic Cell
* The ethics of genetic engineering
* Atheist Solidarity Day ideas
* In one minute: your talents and hobbies

Posted in Announcements, Meetup1 Comment

FF Top Ten: May 23, 2010

Work piled up during the last couple of days, and quite frankly, it has been hell; A very fun and intellectually stimulating, mind you . Two of my magazine editors dumped six articles worth of work on my lap just last week, and it was frantic enough trying to get all that in before last Sunday that I had to put the news updates on hold.

Now that we’re back, one of the recent hot topics is Draw Muhammad Day. This event is intended to be a public protest against the limited freedom of speech imposed by Islamic regimes, and as you may have guessed, it has drawn a lot of fire.

Another matter that needs mentioning is the case of George Rekers, a board member of the strongly anti-gay NARTH movement. Rekers is himself a consultant for various other rightwing anti-gay movements in the US, which makes this latest news about him all the more ironic: He was caught red-handed in the company of a professional rent boy.

Even more damning than that however is a news report covering Rekers previous work on developing therapy to “cure” children of their homosexuality. Here is a segment of the report:

In 1974, Rekers, a leading thinker in the so-called ex-gay movement, was presented with a 4-year-old “effeminate boy” named Kraig, whose parents had enrolled him in the program. Rekers put Kraig in a “play-observation room” with his mother, who was equipped with a listening device. When the boy played with girly toys, the doctors instructed her to avert her eyes from the child.

According to a 2001 account in Brain, Child Magazine, “On one such occasion, his distress was such that he began to scream, but his mother just looked away. His anxiety increased, and he did whatever he could to get her to respond to him… Kraig became so hysterical, and his mother so uncomfortable, that one of the clinicians had to enter and take Kraig, screaming, from the room.”

Rekers’s research team continued the experiment in the family’s home. Kraig received red chips for feminine behavior and blue chips for masculine behavior. The blue chips could be cashed in for candy or television time. The red chips earned him a “swat” or spanking from his father. Researchers periodically entered the family’s home to ensure proper implementation of the reward-punishment system.

After two years, the boy supposedly manned up. Over the decades, Rekers, who ran countless similar experiments, held Kraig up as “the poster boy for behavioral treatment of boyhood effeminacy.”

At age 18, shamed by his childhood diagnosis and treatment, Rekers’s poster boy attempted suicide, according to Gender Shock, a book by journalist Phyllis Burke. Rekers, whose early experiments were the first to ostensibly demonstrate a “gay cure,” resigned from the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) last week, after it was revealed the gay escort had given him nude sexual massages. NARTH, however, stands by his science.

Another interesting non-religion news topic you might to catch up on is the recent development of a computer algorithm for detecting sarcasm in comment posts in Amazon.com. While I do think that it’s an awesome invention (and I’m not being sarcastic 😉 ), I can’t help but feel disappointed that we have now gotten to the point we need a bloody computer program to tell us when somebody is being sarcastic or not.

Whatever happened to good-old-fashioned common sense?

In any case, be sure to send in any interesting news you find over to the News Thread.

Hypocrisy: Anti-gay Christian activist’s luggage found in rent boy (via Miami New Times) Link

Brazilian Archbishop defends church, claims they’re just saving teens from their inner gayness (via Telegraph UK) Link

Op-Ed: Ten Ways Christians Fail at Being Christian (via Huffington Post) Link

Muhammad-drawing Swedish Cartoonist attacked during lecture (via The Sydney Morning Herald) Link

Iranian cleric counters Boobquake events, claims god sometimes attacks a nation as show of love. God is my psycho ex? (via AP News) Link

Nun excommunicated for allowing life-saving emergency abortion on mother (via The Freethinker) Link

Arabian firefighters may now save girls from fires too. In other news: What took them so long? (via The Puzzled Ponderer) Link

Idiocracy cometh: Texas School board removes references for Thomas Jefferson and US’ slave trade past from history classes (via Guardian UK) Link

Pakistan: We’re fine with suicide bombers, oppressing women, and killing nonbelievers. But drawing stick figures of Muhammad? You’re going down, bub! (via Yahoo News) Link

Scientists develop computer algorithms for detecting sarcasm. Still no word on BS detector or gaydar. (via Popular Science) Link

Posted in Others0 Comments

My Definition of God

God refers to a supreme being or a divine being.
Whether supreme beings or divine beings exist does not matter to me.
I live according to my own sense of right or wrong,
learning from experiences of past successes and past mistakes,
and any reward or punishment I may gain
are the results of the consequences of my acts,
and not because I prayed for a blessing or angered some god.

If a miracle were to happen in my life,
I would take it as a significant coincidence
rather than a sign of God’s existence.
For I know that miracles happen everyday,
to people of different faiths and values,
regardless of whether they pray.

If a great disaster were to mess me up
and make me believe in utter hell,
I would not blame God for it
or assume that his wrath is upon me.
I would not ask for his help and guidance,
nor would I believe that he would give it.
Instead, I will believe in myself,
in my strength to overcome this darkness,
and understand the weaknesses in me
that allowed it to happen in the first place.
I will aim to learn from this experience,
and strive to forgive myself
and the others who may have helped caused it.
And if I do not have the strength to forgive them,
I will keep in mind that bitterness
is a heavy thing to carry.

God, if he exists,
will not be bothered by what I do,
will not be collecting on my prayers,
will not be offended by my blasphemies.
But somehow, I cannot help but feel
that if he exists, he will
be somewhat proud of me.

Posted in Personal138 Comments

Dissent and Islam

Dissent and Islam

For many Muslims, the terms “dissent”, “humanism” and “secularism” are often tied with atheism and colonialism.  Many Muslims believe that secularism—defined as a separation between the mosque and state—is a product of the West along with Coke.  Fundamentalist Muslims claim that their version of Islam is the authentic version and that dissent came about from a deep feeling of inferiority caused by the West since the time of Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt. However, Islam in itself has produced many great critics, humanists, and doubters in its own ranks over the centuries without the West and since the very beginning of the new religion.  There were probably dissenters and doubters since the beginning of Islam, but we do not know much of their thoughts since Arabic did not have a written language at the time of Muhammad and the earliest writings in Arabic that we not suitable to Muslims—including various versions of the Qur’an and writings denouncing the Caliphs—were burned by the second successor of Muhammad, Caliph Uthman.

One of the earliest known critics was Isaaq Ibn al-Rawandi, an Afghan philosopher who lived around 827 (or roughly two hundred years after Muhammad). In his most famous work, Kitab al-Zumurrud (The Book of the Emerald),  al-Rawandi slammed Muslim traditions beginning with Muhammad.  The Muslim traditions in particular he found offensive was faith in tombs, prayers to saints, imams, mythmaking, and elevating Muhammad to a man-god. Al-Rawandi said the Prophet performed everything, including his miracles, conveniently around only small groups of his followers and wives.  Small groups of followers can easily lie or exaggerate the truth, he argued. In particular, one miracle known to Muslims as the Isra and Mi’raj—the Prophet’s claim of flight to Jerusalem on a magical creature and to describe Jerusalem in detail as a miracle—is simply fraud (makhraq) considering that the distance between Mecca and Jerusalem is not very great. It is conceivable, according to al-Rawandi, that a person could go from one of these cities to the other and back in one night by horseback and besides, there were no witnesses who were not already a follower of or married to Muhammad. In addition, it is known that Muhammad did travel in caravans as far as Damascus in his youth so again, it is not inconceivable that he knew the area very well.

One of the most celebrated doubters was Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (sometimes spelled as Rhases or Rhazes in the West), who is considered the father of modern pediatrics as well as the inventor of rubbing alcohol.  He was a Persian doctor who lived around 865. Relatively early on in Islamic history his major works were: The Prophets’ Fraudulent Tricks , The Stratagems of Those Who Claim to Be Prophets, and On the Refutation of Revealed Religions.  Al-Razi’s criticisms went deeper than al-Rawandi .  He believed that all religions were man-made and any one who calls himself a prophet is either delusional or in need of medical attention. What is attributed to Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were nothing new—including their miracles.  Anyone could be a prophet and most of the prophets claim the exact same experiences—visitations by angels or some sort of other divine manifestation only seen by them. Indeed, not even the idea of monotheism was new as that idea existed in Egypt before the time of Moses.  Religions, according to al-Razi, simply rehash old tribal myths and ideas and claim it as a new revelation while

…[if] the people of this [or that] religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed…

Eventually the common people came to accept these myths as “truth without questions” because  “being long accustomed to their religious denomination, as days passed it became a habit. Because they were deluded by the beards of the goats, who sit in ranks in their councils, straining their throats in recounting lies, senseless myths…[and preaching] so-and-so told us in the name of so-and-so…”

Al-Razi also believed that the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims is an elitist God since:

On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals, that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people’s guides, and make people [permanently] dependent upon them?

If God is divine, al-Razi argues, could he not simply reveal himself directly to the people or at the very least write down his own revelations clearly instead of constantly depending on illiterate disciples and books that contradict each other. In speaking about the Qur’an itself, al-Razi writes that

You [imams] claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: ‘Whoever denies it [the Qur’an], let him produce a similar one [Verse 2:23-25].’ Indeed, we shall produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter… You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: ‘Produce something like it’?!

Al-Razi goes on to say that a person does not need religion to be a good person and “[a] gentility of character, friendliness and purity of mind, are found in those who are capable of thinking profoundly on abstruse matters and scientific minutiae.”

A century later, an Arab poet by the name of Abu al-‘Alā Ahmad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sulaimān al-Tanūkhī al-Ma’arri wrote over 400 poems dedicated to rebuking religion in general.  Al-Ma’ari lived in a very dangerous time. Caliph of Baghdad had established an office called the “arif al-zanadiqa” – the Islamic equivalent of the Grand Inquisitor.   The new Inquisitor had a book called the Zanadiqa (“Heresies”) where he would walk around and stop people to ask them religious questions. If a person answered in a way that sounded like anything written in the Zanadiqa, they would be stoned or beheaded.  This naturally annoyed people and caused al-Ma’arri to criticize Arab culture which lead in turn to writing poetry against all religions.  Al-Ma’arri wrote that:

“Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.”

One of al-Ma’arri’s most famous poems, “The Cheat of Sacred Rites” describes his general feelings towards religion:

O fools, awake! The rites you sacred hold

Are but a cheat contrived by men of old,

Who lusted after wealth and gained their lust

And died in baseness—and their law is dust.

And his “A Spoken Lie Enforced by Blood” succinctly critiques conversions:

Had they been left alone with reason,

they would not have accepted a spoken lie;

but the whips were raised to strike them.

Traditions were brought to them,

and they were ordered to say,

‘We have been told the truth’;

If they refused, the sword was drenched with their blood.

They were terrified by scabbards of calamities,

and tempted by great bowls of food,

Offered in a lofty and condescending manner.

The poetry of al-Ma’arri was so striking yet eloquent that authorities decided not to go directly after him. The irony of al-Ma’arri is that his works on Arab culture are also considered one of the first anthropological works about Arabs as well as the first dissent against Arab monoculturalism being imposed on all Muslims.

The legacy of the Arif al-Zanadiqa of al-Ma’arri’s time can still be seen today in the lack of openness to intellectual ideas in the Middle East.  It is from the Arif al-Zanadiqa that conversions into other religions became illegal and intellectuals, as well as artists and musicians, were prosecuted for heresy.   The Inquisition sought to return Islam to its “Golden Age” in the 7th century during what era of the first four successors of Muhammad also known as the “Four Rightly Guided Caliphs.”  This time period where supposedly all Muslims were pious, happy, well-fed, singing songs to Allah (in a cappella, of course, since musical instruments are the Devil’s), obedient to rulers, and modest.  This is the same myth that fundamentalist sects like the Taliban as well as the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia preach about and try to emulate. These are the same types of people that chain children in Islamic schools until they memorize the Qur’an (i.e. as in Bangladesh), gluing the anus of homosexuals (i.e. Iraq), imprisoning rape victims (i.e. as in Saudi Arabia), and marrying off nine year old girls (i.e. as in Egypt).

That is not the way any religion should be. It is not the way any human should behave.  The creed of the Arif and all future fundamentalist followers was man talaba al-din bil kalam tazandaqa (“Anyone who seeks to know faith or religion by reason is already a heretic”).   This “Golden Age” myth has more to do with the politics and privilege than religion and reality. Besides, one of the problems with that Golden Age myth is that it ignores the little things like, oh say, facts. For example, three of the four “Rightly Guided Caliphs” were assassinated by Muslims.

In addition, as mentioned earlier, dissent appeared early on. In spite of the Arif al-Zanadiqa dissenters continued to write notably al-Farabi, al-Jahidh, and al-Hamadhani and continue to produce modern thinkers such as Anouar Majid, al-Jabri, Irshad Manji, Ayatollah Taleghani, Reza Aslan, Soroush, Shabbir Ahmed, and many others.  No matter what Islamic fundamentalists–and for that matter what Christians perceive of Muslims–think, dissent has always been present, will always be present, and is not simply an import of the West.

Posted in Religion10 Comments

Moral Standards and the Elo Rating

During the first half of the 19th century most Americans probably considered themselves highly civilized and morally upright compared to the native tribes – the “savages” – and yet they practiced slavery. After the emancipation they probably thought they had now become a more humane society – but their racial discrimination would still be considered barbaric by today’s standards. Today we may consider ourselves ethical, but there is a real possibility that in the future we shall also be called barbaric because of how we treat animals.

Morality has always something to do with how we relate to our fellow human beings (unless you consider masturbation a moral issue), and we are only as moral as how we treat others in relation to our society’s standards.

In chess, players are rated for their relative skills – meaning how good they are in comparison to the entire world pool of active competitors – using the Elo rating system. There is no absolute value for each four-digit rating; the figures merely show how good a player is compared to present competition.

For example, Mikhail Tal was World Champion in 1960–1961 but he got his peak Elo rating of 2705 in January 1980, which means his rating was even higher in 1980 but in spite of that he was no longer world champion. Today, an Elo rating of 2705 would only put Tal in 33rd place.

It has been argued that “due to increased knowledge of the game including the use of computers in preparation, the top players of today are simply better than the best players of ten, twenty or fifty years ago.” As levels of competition increase and game standards improve, the actual ratings decrease in relative value. What may be considered a high rating at a certain period may be called average a few decades later.

Going back to morality, I guess we can say that due to economic and intellectual progress the top moral societies of today are simply better than the top moral societies of ten, twenty or fifty years ago. And just as competitive standards in the world chess community would go down if a software virus or some electromagnetic pulse somehow destroyed all the chess programs and databases leaving chess players with nothing but talent and skill, moral standards are expected to deteriorate when a country is stricken with famine or natural calamity, and crimes such as stealing may not even be condemned as much especially if they were done in order to feed one’s starving children.

And this reminds me of Season 3 Episode 11 of Boston Legal where Alan Shore defends a New Orleans doctor who euthanized five patients because Hurricane Katrina flooded the hospital – cutting off power, drinking water, and medical supplies – and no help was coming. The following are the closing arguments of the assistant district attorney and Alan Shore:

Assistant District Attorney: This isn’t a complicated case. The defendant lethally injected five people, causing their deaths. Might they have died anyway? Maybe. So what? That doesn’t give this doctor the right to take the law and, more importantly, their lives into her hands. Physician-assisted suicide isn’t even lawful in this state. To kill a patient without his consent—do I really need to stand here and argue the illegality of that? And even should you be inclined to engage in the moral debate defense counsel would like you to, you have to apply the law as it stands today. And, as it stands today, when you knowingly, intentionally cause the death of another human being—that’s murder. No matter how bad things get, this is still the United States of America, not some third world nation, and we don’t permit people to kill other people. If we forgive that kind of lawlessness, if we tolerate that kind of anarchy, we cease being the United States of America.

Alan Shore: I read an article in The New York Times Magazine not too long ago. It was about how the elephants in Africa are going mad—raping rhinoceroses, killing people, attacking one another, stampeding without provocation. These intelligent, sensitive giants have become very, very disturbed. The cause, they believe, is overwhelming, unrelenting trauma—stress. Be it poachers shooting at them and their families, or land development squeezing and destroying their habitats—profound and irreversible changes to everything they know about their world, everything about what it means to be an elephant. And it’s driving them mad. Elephants aren’t being elephants anymore. Up is suddenly down. That’s what New Orleans was like during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Up suddenly became down; down was up. This wasn’t the United States of America that week. It wasn’t third world; it was utter chaos. The set of norms and logic that we apply to everyday life were gone, and everything was wrong. A friend of mine told me that when he was finally able to get out the city three days after the hurricane, he drove by a body lying on the sidewalk—right up the road here—a body of a man, partially clothed, being eaten by an alligator. And my friend wasn’t shocked. He wasn’t even surprised. He was just fleeing. This was not the United States of America, nor any place else for that matter. During that horrendous week, the United States of America was nowhere to be found. My client, Dr. Follette, was to be found. She was there. When the storm hit and the devastating effects started to become clear, and then dire, and then desperate, she stayed. Even when so many others around her were leaving, she stayed with those five patients, each facing an inevitable and imminent, and excruciating death surrounded by pain and suffering and degradation unfathomable to those of us who were not there. She stayed and helped and cared and watched as those five patients slipped quietly into the good night. In a setting that was punishing, cruel, and unusual, her actions were humane.  Like those elephants in Africa, so many people during that terrible time of chaos and desperation seemed to lose…themselves. Seemed to lose their innate sense of humanity. Dr. Follette never did. She never did.

For the moral absolutists, certain actions are either right or wrong regardless of the intentions and circumstances, such as lying in order to save a life or killing another person to prevent any more needless suffering. But as societies improve in terms of resources and the general wellbeing of the citizens, people tend to become more sensitive to the inconveniences they cause their fellow humans regardless of race, economic status, age, or gender. And sometimes they may even become aware of the sufferings endured by the animals they domesticate such as the tethered dogs and the farmed chicken. But for societies that degenerate due to extraordinary circumstances, it may come to a point where it becomes a dog-eat-dog world.
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And for societies that stagnate – where superstition and medieval practices continue to prevail, where people take hearsay as divine revelation, and where churches try to impose birth control laws written by a pope long gone – there you will see what it means to have an absolute moral standard.
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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author innerminds‘ and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.
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Posted in Religion, Society3 Comments

Reverie

I had a dream —

That darkness was all there is to see

That cold is all there was to feel

That there was nothing beyond this cocoon of despair

That, this seeming emptiness

Rendered the very fabrics of existence meaningless

And threw actions into overwhelming futility

It was absurd,

I had a dream.

And I woke up

Then there was light — a timeless luminance

And these sunrays filled me with warmth from within

And I — I am a butterfly!

Fluttering, wings engaged against the still air

Birthed into this enigma of Being,

Embracing the Open that transcends time.

I have endured the deepest winter,

And as the light pierced through this absurdity

I at last discovered —

That there was in me,

An invincible summer.

Posted in Entertainment, Poetry, Religion11 Comments

Homosexuality and Islam

Normally when you ask an Imam (a religious scholar) what is “Islam” they will respond with “Islam is peace”, “Islam is the straight path”, etc., etc. Then when you ask about homosexuality in Islam, the answer will range from “it is forbidden” to “it is unnatural”, “it does not exist”, or “it is a grave sin”.   Some imams may even go on and clarify of the different various punishments for homosexuals, depending where they are from in the Middle East. For example, in Saudia Arabia, the normal penalty for homosexuals caught in the act is to either be beheaded in a public square or to have a wall collapse on them.  In Iran–which practices a different branch of Islam–the penalty is lighter. One either has the option of therapy (sometimes this involves electro-therapy), sex change (half paid by the government), or to be hung in a public square.   Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, in accepting his “Humanitarian Award” in 1999 given by  the National Council of Christians and Jews, stated that:

Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption… No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.

It should be noted, however, that outside of Africa, Iran, and the Arabian peninsula homosexuals are not often persecuted (meaning executed). Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, technically has no national law against homosexuality though the government maintains a “sensitivity” to that topic. Islam of course is not alone in this. Cuba and other former Communist countries in the Eastern Bloc also prescribed the death penalty since homosexuals represented a “decadent bourgeois” lifestyle. Most of Christian Africa, notably Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, as well as segments of Orthodox Jews still prescribe the death penalty.

Generally speaking, much to the disappointment of the Commission on Elections, the Philippines does not have a law–either secular or in the adat (traditions followed by Muslim indigenous peoples)–that specifically makes homosexual conduct “illegal” or prescribes specific punishments.  Actually, adat in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines traditionally stated that there were more than two genders thus the term “Third Sex” is more acceptable in those countries than say in Western Europe.  This can also be explained in the way Islam was brought to Indonesia which later would affect Islam in the Philippines. Islam in Indonesia was a negotiated process.  The rulers of the various Indonesian kingdoms accepted Islam but only certain segments or what the Wali Sanga (Nine Saints) called “ship building”.  The rulers adopted the trappings of Islam (the frame of the ship) while retaining the customs and certain ancestral beliefs to be incorporated as “adat” which then was incorporated into their own “shariah” or legal code.  Thus there was more tolerance of not only other religious groups, but branches within Islam notably Sufis and Shiites. This would later influence the way Islam came into the Philippines. This is one of the reasons why Islam in Indonesia and the Philippines is different than Islam in the Middle East, much to the displeasure of certain Middle Eastern scholars. Malaysia was also influenced by the Wali Sanga but now have become deeply influenced with conservative Indian and Saudi Arabian innovations thus has moved to criminalize homosexuality as well as ethnic cleansing their history of anything non-Sunni Islamic.

Like their other monotheistic counterparts, Islamic imams use the story of Lut (Lot) and Sodom to explain why homosexuality is a grave sin.  The specific Qu’ranic verse is:

And (We sent) Lut when he said to his people: What! Do you commit an indecency which any one in the world has not done before you? (7:80)

The key words are “any one in the world has not done before you”.  The city of Sodom probably existed around 1800 BCE, whereas the lovers King Neferkare Pepy II and General Sisenet are believed to be dated around 2300 BCE. The tomb of the same sex Egyptian couple Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep is also dated around 2450 BCE.  All of these existed before Sodom so same sex practices were definitely done way before Sodom. We also have depictions of Mesopotamian walls and Greek pottery also showing homosexual practices earlier than 1800 BCE. Again, affirming whatever was going on in Sodom was not new under the sun and already existed in art at least in that region for thousands of years.

The other favorite verse is:

Most surely you come to males in lust besides females; nay you are an extravagant people.(7:81)

This verse brings up the same problems with translations as Christians have. The word ‘Fahisha’ has been translated denote indecency in verse 7:80, and the word ‘extravagance’ or ‘transgressing bounds’ has been used in 7:81, it is important to understand that both these words are related. According to Abdul Majid Daryabadi, (Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Volume I. Pakistan: Darul-Isha’at Urdu Bazar, 1991: pg. 310) the word ‘Fahisha’ as follows:

…in its general significance is ‘an excess; an enormity; anything exceeding the bounds of rectitude.’ but when particularized, signifies ‘adultery or fornication’

This means that indecency and extravagance are in fact interrelated, as both are referring to a practice conducted in excess, especially in violation of laws.  Therefore, one can infer that the “sin” of Sodom was either excessive adultery beyond the bounds of what is lawful or another activity which was being done in excess perhaps boastfully.   Verse 29:29 is a bit more clear:

What! Do you come to the males and commit robbery on the highway, and you commit evil deeds in your assemblies?

What is committed in assemblies is not really known. It could be anything from election fraud to gambling or some mass kinky orgy. But here again while it clear that God was pretty much more upset at the robberies than what was going on in the assemblies or else that would have been mentioned first.  One can deduce from the verses that Sodom was conducting a lot of various activities, including adultery and robberies, which basically ticked off God. The truth of the matter is that there is no clear Quranic verse which prescribes punishment for homosexuality or bisexuality. It is only in the Hadith, or Sayings of the Prophet, that the worst verses against homosexuals, Jews, women, etc. are found.  The Hadith does not have the same wieght as the Qur’an as the Qu’ran is believed to be a revelation whereas the Hadith are sayings or proverbs that supposedly come from the Prophet (though there are many disputes which are actually from the Prophet and which ones were simply out of context or made up).  Unlike the Hadith, the Qur’an has a number of verses that  state that diversity is a good thing. For example:

And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors; most surely there are signs in this for the learned. (30:22)

and

O people, we created you from a single pair of male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant. (49:13)

In other words, diversity in Islam should be a good thing. It’s part of distinctions. Just as according to the Islamic faith, God created various tribes, nations, tongues, and colors, perhaps God also created various sexual orientations and human relationships.

Those verses are often ignored but are consistent with biology. After all diversity is a biological fact. Insofar as homosexuality and bisexuality are concerned, researcher Bruce Bagemihl has shown that homosexual behavior has been observed in nearly 1500 species, ranging from orangutans to dolphins.  So again, homosexuality and bisexuality are part of diversity and is natural since it is found in nature in thousands of species.

The fact of the matter is that the real threat the religious right of the various monotheistic faiths is not homosexuality or even sin. It is the fear of the loss of control. As Daw Suu Kyi said, “Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely. It is the fear of losing power that corrupts absolutely”. Diversity in itself represents a threat to control. Questioning textual meanings is questioning their authority to interpret according to their own ideas.   It is far easier to tell people to do this and do that, to wear a beard, to look like a 7th century Arab, behead this person or that person, than to encourage debate and dialogue which in time would lead to a real understanding.  The real theological issues whether for Christians, Muslims, or Jews is not about the nature of God, but on the nature of power–who has it and who will use it. Priests, imams, rabbis, etc. all need to perpetuate their version of the “City of God”, a hierarchy on earth as it is in heaven, particularly an all male hierarchy composed of a “chosen people” (e.g. Arabs for Islam, Jews for Judaism, and Anglo-Europeans for Christians). Homosexuals, women, people of color, and people who differ from their opinions (i.e. freethinkers) do not fit into their views of the City of God unless money is involved. If these matters were truly issues about theology or morality, the various prophets of the monotheistic faiths have already clarified those matters–above all else love and let live.

Posted in Religion, Society28 Comments

Iglesia ni Cristo's brand of democracy

Risa Hontiveros may be a devout Roman Catholic but her values are very inclusive in the sense that she believes in the individual’s right to self-determination and freedom of speech; thought and action have to be defended in the law. While she may have had socialist and left leanings, this does not detract from the fact that she has done her homework as a member of congress representing the Akbayan! party list.

She was hardly a prominent national figure as the surveys showed. In Pulse Asia polls conducted just a few weeks before the elections, her awareness rating (determined by an affirmative response to “do you know this person?”) was at 62% – easily the lowest in the bunch that had a statistical chance of winning in the May polls.

She ran a spirited campaign but what did her was probably how the Iglesia ni Cristo poured in votes into the elections. The religious sect has always practiced bloc voting in national and local elections. Each member of the religious organization is strongly encouraged to vote for the sect’s ticket for the sake of unity and the common good.

Eleven of the twelve senators that the INC endorsed are likely winners. The only candidate to have crashed into the top twelve is Serge Osmena – a former senator. Ruffy Biazon who is currently in a distant 14th is the only one from the INC’s list that is likely to fail in winning a seat. Risa Hontiveros is sitting idly in 13th – over 800 thousand votes behind erstwhile 12th placer TG Guingona.

The estimates regarding the Iglesia’s support are varied. Some quarters peg it at over four to five million while more realistic numbers approach 1.5 to 2 million supporters. Regardless, in an election where Lito Lapid (author of one bill in six years) and Tito Sotto is ahead of Risa Hontiveros, a solid voting bloc is absolutely a game changer.

It’s really hard to say whether or not serious manipulation is happening. For one, the people voting are consenting adults who for some reason or another decided to give up the right to think for themselves and let their overseers decide what’s best for them and their congregation. It’s hard to knock them for driving mental and spiritual slaves into precinct to vote for the sect’s choices if the freedom and individuality of the member are willingly given up for the common good.

Free thought is the very thing and the only thing that Freethinkers hold most dearly. But what happens when a person chooses to give it up? Is it still free though in action? In the name of justice, the person still is exercising his right to self-determination in that sense. Whether or not he is aware of the other options is moot; it would have been a wiser decision had there been no monopoly of perspectives before the choice was made.

Posted in Politics37 Comments

The Responsible Writer

[Author’s note: This is part 2  in a series of articles written primarily as a sort of online workshop-slash-discussion hook to get writers and authors in our organization or those with similar interests to share writing tips, techniques, and style guides with others. Feel free to pitch in and throw your own two-cents on how to improve your craft.]

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Series List:

Part 1 –Writing a Social Commentary

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Preface

This article describes in greater detail the ‘Research Paper’ mode of writing as introduced in Part 1. As the name implies, it is more fact-based and makes heavy use of citations from other sources to support the writer’s chosen thesis. It is the most formal of the three and is closest to the prose format prescribed in the academe. But since this is a blog post, some room for informality may be allowed to cede to the writer’s artistic discretion.

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Do Your Homework

A good article of this genre consolidates news and data from may different quality sources, giving readers the highlights and other pertinent selections from the source material that is relevant to the over-arcing topic. Of course, you have to be well read on the topic first so you can choose from the best sources. Different news sources, authors, and reporters all have personal biases or approach the issue from different angles so you have to do a good deal of comparison beforehand. Like shopping, resist the urge to go with the first thing you see. There are many good news aggregator sites like Google News or news cooperatives like the Associated Press website can help the intrepid researcher with a lot of the legwork. Since you get to read news off different contributing sources using aggregator sites like these, it’ll be easier for you to see which details are real facts and which ones are just exaggerated opinions.

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Where’d You Get That From?

Citations should be done properly not only to avoid issues of plagiarism but also to allow the responsible reader to check the credentials of the sources used or to read more on the background details if they so choose. As such, an ethical writer shouldn’t cherry-pick or quote-mine selected passage off his or her source and use it out of context. Sources should be quoted or paraphrased in the spirit in which it was originally intended by the original writer; unless specifically mentioned otherwise by the referring author. You have the right to dispute or challenge the source material’s claims later on, but do give the original author the courtesy of not mutating his thoughts beyond recognition and still attribute it to him just to give yourself a false sense of being backed by “authoritative sources”.

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Connect the Dots

Another hallmark of a good article of this type is bringing out trends from different sources. For example, it would help readers see a holistic view of the issue if you would research not only on current events relating to the topic but also provide a bit of history or background story as well. That way, readers who aren’t familiar with the topic can appreciate the whole picture. By narrating to your audience pertinent bits of events as it unfolds in time, you’re connecting the dots while helping paint a macro view of the situation. A good historian knows that events are never isolated occurrences. Something led to them or exacerbated the situation. And by drawing a fairly comprehensive time-line of events, you’re showing readers the *whole* truth, not some distorted half-truth that merely suited to illustrate your point. It’s easy to paint someone as the “villain” of the story when you cut to the part where this group of people all of a sudden decides to mount an unprovoked attacked against someone else. There is no such thing as an unprovoked attack. For things to escalate to the point of violence, there is always a series of events that pushed one side past the tipping point. So it’s your job as the freethinking researcher to not only see it through the end, but also to start your narration at the point where things started to matter.

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Fitting Square Pegs into Round Holes

The biggest pitfall in consolidating different sources is making connections that aren’t there.  There are a bunch of logical fallacies you can fall for so make it clear as to the nature of the relationship between different pieces of information you are putting together. By implying, or worse, explicitly citing connections that aren’t there, you run the risk of intellectual dishonesty. If there is no direct causality between A and B, don’t imply that there is. There is nothing more irksome than pretending coincidence is scientific fact. Your arguments will only appear shaky and people with half a brain can spot bullshit a mile away (unless they share similar delusions)

Sure you want compelling data to support your claims or quotations from famous personalities to back up your sentiments but if you mangle it too much… to the point where the statistics already tell a totally different story, then your piece ceases to be a journalistic endeavor and is reduced to mere propaganda.

So that’s all for now, more to follow. And if you care to share with other readers your favorite reliable news sources, please do post links to them below in the comments section.

Posted in Others4 Comments

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