Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Over 50,000 dead from tidal wave

Reuters reports that the death toll from Sunday's tsunami in the Indian Ocean has now passed 50,000. This is more than double the number I heard yesterday; and just as I am writing this on the television news they now say it could rise past 80,000:

"The apocalyptic destruction caused by the wave dwarfed the efforts of governments and relief agencies as they turned from rescuing survivors to trying to care for millions of homeless, increasingly threatened by disease amid the rotting corpses....

Sri Lanka and Indonesia reported death tolls around 19,000 each and expected them to keep rising.

"India's toll of 11,500 included at least 7,000 on one archipelago, the Andamans and Nicobar. On one island, the surge of water triggered by Sunday's cataclysmic undersea earthquake killed two-thirds of the population.

"At magnitude 9.0, the tremor was the biggest in 40 years. The chasm that it tore in the seabed off the Indonesian island of Sumatra launched a tsunami that raced across the Andaman Sea and struck Sri Lanka, southern India, the Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar and resorts packed with Christmas tourists in Thailand.

"The surge battered thousands of miles of coastline in a vast arc from Indonesia to Tanzania. Fishing villages, ports and resorts were devastated, power and communications cut and homes destroyed...

The cost of the relief effort will be in the billions of dollars, according to a U.N relief official, while hundreds of thousands of villagers have lost their livelihoods. The death toll may continue to rise as contaminated water and dead bodies spread disease; also in Sri Lanka from landmines that have come loose from the flooding.

The death toll is now estimated at over 158,000.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

What is democracy?

Given the title of this blogspot, Liberal Values, it would seem to make sense that I have devoted most of my criticism toward the right side of our political spectrum, who are in the ascendancy in our country and whose policies, I believe, will have long term destructive effects on our society and the world.

However, I also disagree on some issues with those further to the left on the political spectrum, particularly over the issue of human rights in communist countries such as Vietnam and Cuba. In the case of Cuba, there are a still a few people willing to overlook its gross human rights violations while praising the supposed egalitarian policies of that society. I oppose the embargo on Cuba and other restrictions, as I believe that isolation only serves to harden its leadership and gives Castro and his subordinataes an excuse for their various forms of repression.

Within the American Library Association, to which I have belonged, Cuba has become a hot topic, in particular the right of individuals to establish their own libraries without government interference and harassment. Some activists, based in the ALA-affiliated group, Social Responsibilities Round Table, have denounced those of us who support these individuals and seem to see it all as a U.S.-directed plot to overthrow the regime. In March of 2003, a political crackdown took place in Cuba in which 75 dissidents were given prison sentences ranging up to 28 years after rigged political show trials, in which they were charged with receiving funds and instructions from the U.S., among other things. To the SRRT activists, these rigged trials proved that these dissidents were indeed U.S. agents; but to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and every other major human rights group, all of these individuals were considered as "prisoners of conscience", unjustly imprisoned, who should be released immediately.

I might discuss this controversy over the Cuba crackdown more in a later entry, but for now, a related topic is a debate on the SRRT Action Council list over what is democracy. Conservative SRRT member Jack Stephens inquired on the list about a posted statement of the Cuban Culture Minister, who said, ""we propose the defense
of the values of social justice and authentic democracy." Should not an authentic democracy include free and fair elections, independent newspapers, opposition political parties, free access to diverse information sources and the right to speak freely without fear of imprisonment, Jack asked. To this, Dana Lubow (one of SRRT's main activists on Cuba) responded that she had checked the Harper Collins Dictionary of American Government and Politics (1992) and the Oxford Companion to Politics and the World (1993) and found in neither of them were elections, political parties or the press mentioned in their definitions of democracy. On the other hand, they did mention Marxist-Leninist model, which I guess to Dana proves that a one-party dictatorship such as Cuba can indeed be considered a democracy.

I checked the Harper Collins dictionary, and it did indeed mention the Marxist-Leninist model, but only in the sense that democracy is a concept which has different meanings to different people, even to the point that Marxist-Leninist totalitarian models can be considered democratic by some people. The book did not endorse Marxism-Leninism as a form of democracy.

Every democracy is flawed, certainly that is true with out society, but it is absurd to say that in a modern society you can have democracy without free elections, an independent press, free speech, or opposition parties. When people are not allowed to speak freely and consider divergent views, nor to peacefully organize independent political alternatives to the political leadership of their society -- in short, when dissent is systematically suppressed -- then that society is not a democratic society, no matter how much the regime or it supporters may claim it to be so.

It is sad that within the American Library Association the most influential activists on Cuba are individuals so willfully ignorant on Cuba's repressive nature and on what consitutes a genuine democracy.

Christian persecution in America?

The New York Times cultural critic Frank Rich takes on the notion that Christians are persecuted in today's edition:

As Mr. Gibson shrewdly contrived his own crucifixion all the way to the bank, trumping up nonexistent threats to his movie to hype it, so the creation of imagined enemies and exaggerated threats to Christianity by "moral values" mongers of the right has its own secular purpose. The idea is to intimidate and marginalize anyone who objects to their efforts to impose the most conservative of Christian dogma on public policy. If you're against their views, you don't have a differing opinion — you're anti-Christian (even if you are a Christian).

Friday, December 10, 2004

My son, a poem

My Son
by Jeff Pepper

All of the badges you earned as a Scout
The rod and the reel you took fishing for trout
The fielder’s glove you wore playing ball
Remnants of you, son, we treasure them all.

Your girlfriend still calls us just to say “hi”
She and your mother have a good cry
I sometimes go walking down by the lake
The never-agains make my heart ache.

My son, my son, did you have to go?
Your mother and I, we’ve been missing you so
You went off to war, and there met your end
I’ll never go fishing with my son again.

A woman somewhere prays softly, alone
Her daughter’s en route to the main battle zone
She tries not to worry, but who wouldn’t fear
The flag-draped return of her own darling dear?

May their duty conclude with a loving embrace
No dreaded news, no chaplain’s grave face
No siege of despair when the anguish ebbs low
I wish these on no one, not friend, not foe.

My son, my son, did you have to go?
Your mother and I, we’ve been missing you so
You went off to war, and there met your end
I’ll never play catch with my son again.

Our leaders give reasons why it must be so
Are we to believe them? I really don’t know
If this month it’s one thing and next month it’s not
It gets me to wondering why my son fought.

You can’t undrop a bomb, you can’t unshoot a gun
You can’t unkill a person – once done, it’s done
Leaders, you must be surer than sure
There’s no undoing the damage of war.

My son, my son, did you have to go?
Your mother and I, we’ve been missing you so
You went off to war, and there met your end
I’ll never embrace my son again.

copyright Jeff Pepper 2004

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Book banning in Alabama

An Alabama legislator is seeking to ban from all public and university libraries in his state any books or other materials that include any kind of gay orientation. Even plays such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" would be banned under this legislation. A public librarian in the state estimates that half the books from libraries could be removed, depending on how one interprets the law. Hard to believe this legislation could get very far, even in Alabama, but in the present state of affairs, who can know for sure? See Kim Chandler's article in the Birmingham News.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004



By Jeff Pepper

The election of Bush fills me with wonder…
How could the voters make such a blunder?
I’ve lived many years as a citizen/resident
And I’ve never seen such a bad President.

Accomplished incumbents can run on their laurels.
Bush, on the other hand, ran on his morals.
Dub, I’ve got morals, too, I might note
And God knows there’s no way I’d give you my vote.

Brother, please tell me, in which gospel is it
Jesus favors the rich during His earthly visit?
Sister, I’m stumped, was it in Galilee,
That He preached the pre-emptive war policy?

The Prez moves me to pray, environmentally
I pray no one discovers oil in Yosemite.
If he sleeps through the global warming threat
We may not need to repay the national debt.

Did you like Columbine? Then Bush is your man.
He got rid of that pesky assault weapons ban.
But by non-mainstream lovers, he’s so offended
He wants our great Constitution amended.

We lost our big chance to tell him to stick it.
Now this prickly Bush will turn into a thicket.
The flower of this Bush doesn’t smell like a rose –
Pee-yew! Four more years of holding my nose.

copyright Jeff Pepper 2004
(Reprinted here with Jeff's permission).

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