November 29, 2010

Africa & US Policy - Ethiopia on the Frontline of a "Clash of Civilizations"?

UPDATE - ETHIOPIA: Government arrests hundreds of opposition supporters March 20, 2011

Here is what the US State Department says about the current government of Ethiopia treatment of political opponents:

"In June 2008, former CUD vice-chairman Birtukan Mideksa was elected the party chairman of the new Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party at its inaugural session in Addis Ababa. In October 2008 the Ethiopian Government arrested over 100 Oromo leaders, accusing some of being members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). At the end of December 2008, after detaining Birtukan several times briefly during the month, the government re-arrested her, saying that she had violated the conditions of her pardon (she was one of the prominent opposition leaders pardoned by the government in the summer of 2007). Her original sentence of life imprisonment was reinstated and she remained in prison until she was pardoned and released on October 6, 2010.

"In April 2009 the Ethiopian Government arrested 40 individuals, mostly Amhara military or ex-military members allegedly affiliated with Ginbot 7, an external opposition party, for their suspected involvement in a terrorist assassination plot of government leaders. This party was founded in May 2008 in the United States by Berhanu Nega, one of the opposition leaders in the 2005 elections, and advocates for change in the government "by any means." In August 2009, the Federal High Court found 13 of the defendants guilty in absentia and one not guilty in absentia. In November 2009, the court found another 27 guilty.

"In simultaneous national and regional parliamentary elections in May 2010, the ruling EPRDF received approximately 70 percent of total votes cast but won more than 99 percent of all legislative seats in the country. Election Day was peaceful as 93 percent of registered voters cast ballots, but independent observation of the vote was severely limited. Only European Union and African Union observers were permitted, and they were restricted to the capital and barred from proximity to polling places. Although those few independent observers allowed access to the process did not question the EPRDF victory, there was ample evidence that unsavory government tactics -- including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters -- influenced the extent of the victory.

"Overall, the 2010 elections were not up to international standards because the environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place. The EPRDF used the advantages of incumbency to restrict political space for opposition candidates and activists. At the local level, thousands of opposition activists complained of EPRDF sponsored mistreatment ranging from harassment in submitting candidacy forms to beatings by local militia members – and complained further that there was no non-EPRDF dominated forum to which to present those complaints."

Yet here is State's description of the US relationship with Ethiopia:

"Total U.S. Government assistance, including food aid, between 1999 and 2009 was $4.7 billion. The U.S. Government provided $862 million in assistance in FY 2009, $345 million of it for combating HIV/AIDS. In addition, the U.S. Government donated more than $374 million in food assistance in 2009 to help the government cope with a severe drought.

"Today, Ethiopia is an important regional security partner of the United States. U.S. development assistance to Ethiopia is focused on reducing famine vulnerability, hunger, and poverty and emphasizes economic, governance, and social sector policy reforms. Some military training funds, including training in such issues as the laws of war and observance of human rights, also are provided but are explicitly limited to non-lethal assistance and training."

Not a single mention of any concerns about the heavy hand of the Government of Ethiopia in keeping political opposition in jail and quiet....

Original Post:  Why Are We (the US) Supporting Repression in Ethiopia? by William Easterly and Laura Freschi

Short answer:  US efforts to support and maintain political stability and maximize the US's influence in the Great Horn sub-region trump the Ethiopian government's persecution of its own people when distributing or withholding the aid the US and international donors provide.  The US gives the Ethiopians aid to keep the government strong and the populace from revolting, and to keep Ethiopia relatively stable in an otherwise unstable sub-region.  At the same time, the US chastises the government of Ethiopia for its treatment of its political opposition.  The Ethiopian government accepts being chastised without too much protestation, keeps getting aid and the US has absolved itself of supporting a corrupt and repressive regime.  The US sees itself as working for the long-term greater good of the sub-region at the expense of the short-term good of the Ethiopian people.

November 28, 2010

The Case For Human Evolution, Science and Reason - A Reading List

Since I began studying physical and cultural anthropology nearly forty years ago, I have been asked the following question many times:  Why do you accept evolution as an explanation of Life, and that humans originated and evolved on Earth?

The short answer is the similarities between humans and many other animals in particular, and all other life forms on Earth in general, are obvious.  Similarities, broadly speaking, imply similar origins.  If plants and animals are of the Earth, and humans have very much in common with these life forms, then humans are of the Earth as well.  All Life relies on Earth's food, water and air.  All Life grows, reproduces, dies.  Life and Earth are inseparable.  Humans and other animals are inseparable.  Humans are of the Earth.

My earliest inkling that I was very similar to certain other animals occurred in early childhood, especially in Fairbanks, Alaska from 1954-59.  Although I had not learned the terms or specifics, I could understand the general concepts.  Simply by looking and comparing I saw many physical and behavioral similarities between myself and most of the animals, especially mammals, I encountered:  head, body, limb structure; five-digit hands (paws); bilateral symmetry (left and right sides along a center line); male-female differences; the five senses; warm bloodedness; ability to "think"; the experience of pain; dreaming; eating, drinking, sleeping; parenting; play; learning; illness, disease; birth and death.  I did not know at the time why such similarities existed but the observable facts compelled me to intuitively feel connected to Earth and its other life forms.

November 17, 2010

Bigotry, Beliefs and Values - The Stakes Are High, The Way Forward Difficult

Some have accused me of bigotry following my post of October 29th, Obama Is Intelligent, Well-Educated, Caring - Save Us From Him, Say Republicans and Tea Partiers.  In that post I repeatedly pointed out that I was certain that not all persons who consider themselves to be conservative, Republican, white and Christian support all the beliefs and values of these respective groups, all the time.  Despite my efforts not to stereotype all members of these groups there were some who read my post and took my comments very personally, and nevertheless believe I think all people in these groups possess all the beliefs and values of these groups.

In my post I took issue with the core values and beliefs of these groups, not those of every individual member, as they are currently expressed politically.  Again, I did not say that all conservative, white, Christian, Republicans have the same beliefs and values.  However, I remain convinced that there is enough in the core beliefs and values of these groups to make a strong case for viewing their ongoing political efforts as a desire to return America to a previous era when these groups enjoyed relatively uncontested power and near exclusive privileges.

Incidentally, when I asked a friend if he thought I had hit a nerve with some people, he said, "Not at all, Jim.  You smashed the s___ out of their nerves with a sledge hammer!"  Ouch.  I was not attacking persons or their nerves.  It was their groups' core values, beliefs and motivations I sought to criticize.

As for the accusation that I am a bigot, it seems to me that may not be correct.  Wikipedia, my quick and evermore widely respected source for definitions, says that a bigot is someone who is "obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, irrationality, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern American English refers to persons hostile to those of differing race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, various mental disorders, or religion."

"What’s So Great About Christianity" by Dinesh D’Souza – A Review

What's So Great About Kant?  A Critique of Dinesh D'Souza's Attack on Reason by Michael Dahlen, Skeptic, August 17, 2011

Everyone has an understanding of what the world is and how it works, and what human beings are and should do in the scheme of things. These understandings vary in content, scope and accuracy.  All such understandings should be respected.  However, not all understandings, worldviews or points of view are worthy of reverence.  All are not truthful or valid for describing the realities of life on Earth or man’s place in the universe.  All do not provide good guidance for individual and group behavior.  One need not accept all others’ perspectives on life as equally valuable.  Some are less truthful, are harmful to individuals and humankind and should be opposed.  Such is Dinesh D’Souza’s view of the universe, life, Earth and humankind as presented in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity.

At first glance the book appears to be a treatise in defense of Christianity under attack from atheism, secularism and science.  There is more to the book than this.  Essentially, D’Souza’s book is about what he believes to be the natural intellectual and moral depravity of the human individual and humankind.  He has no respect for or confidence in human empirical investigation, experience and knowledge regarding the most human of matters – human nature and humankind’s place in the biosphere and universe.  For him humans are incapable of understanding their nature and natural history.  They are insufficiently endowed to develop a moral belief system.  They are incapable of guiding and controlling their behavior on Earth or in the universe without supernatural intervention.

November 15, 2010

"W's" Book, "Decision Points" - A Companion Reader

Republican, Independent or Democrat; Conservative, Moderate or Liberal - Read This Brief Reality Check Regarding Bush's Reflections on His Foreign Policies

George W. Bush's foreign polices really were that bad.  Worse still, they will continue for some time to do harm to other nations and the biosphere, and lower America's ability to influence and lead world affairs.

For more free-thinking regarding American foreign policy, see my previous posts:

The Delusions of American Foreign Policy
Re-Writing the "Four Bs" of American Foreign Policy?
The Overseas Plans of Our Diplomats and Soldiers - Transparency in Government

A New Human Species?

November 4, 2010

First Ugandan Mutwa (formerly Pygmy) Receives Bachelor's Degree

Uganda's First Batwa Pygmy Graduate

In article, UG Forest Guide Kanyabikingi, a Mutwa: "There is no life for us inside or outside the forest. We can neither live in our original habitat nor are we allowed to have our own land."

For those interested here's a great book on the relationship between Bantu-speaking peoples and the Twa-speaking peoples they encountered during the Bantu migration (Diaspora) from West-Central Africa into the Congo rain forest:  The Pygmies Were Our Compass: Bantu and Batwa in the History of West Central Africa, Early Times to c. 1900 C.E.

November 3, 2010

Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue - A Book Review

Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue (2001) by Paul Woodruff, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas.

Here is the crux of the book:  Reverence is a virtue characterized by respect for all who are kind and just, including the strong and the weak, the intelligent and the ignorant.  It is a feeling of awe toward powers greater than ourselves.  It is a capacity for empathy and humility.  Reverence can be taught and learned, and strengthened through repeated acts of reverence.  It is essential to personal and societal well-being.  It need not be, but can be, religious.  It should be grown.

Other reviewers have commented that the book could and should have been condensed into article form.  I agree.  For example, the author repeats his thesis and main points too often and the examples from ancient Greek mythology and Chinese philosophy are tedious.  But, the Greek and Chinese examples have value if you are like me, less than well-versed in these areas.  Examples from a wider range of cultures and civilizations would have made the reading less tedious and given greater weight to the points the author makes.

This book was recommended to me by an old friend who lives in Oregon.  I read it hoping to find answers to the following questions:  What exactly is “reverence?”  What happened to “reverence” that has left it in need of renewal?  Why is it important to renew "reverence?"  What will happen if/when we do or do not renew it?  How do we renew it?  Here are some of the author's answers....

Reverence Defined
  • “Reverence begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control – God, truth, justice, nature, even death.” (pg. 3)

Two Physicists Examine the Basis for Belief

"The Physics of Atheism", A review of Victor Stenger's book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning:  Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us by Andrew Zak Williams, eSkeptic, June 15, 2011

“There is nothing in the realm of human knowledge that requires anything supernatural, anything beyond matter, to describe our observations. I am almost one hundred percent certain that the God of Abraham worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims doesn’t exist. This God supposedly plays such an important role in the universe that there should be evidence that he exists.  ...   I won’t live to see it but someday religion will disappear from the face of the Earth. It has to. It is too evil and too absurd." - Victor Stenger


NOTE:  Source of above artwork unknown.  Copied from eSkeptic November 3, 2010.  Art theme see: The Blind Men And The Elephant, a poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

"Realism and Religion - A Physicist Examines the Basis for Belief", an article in eSkeptic, November 3, 2010, by Milton Rothman

"(W)hen events are governed by idealistic (as opposed to realistic) theories, they invariably turn out to be mental constructs involving unreal entities and forces such as psychic energy, spiritual energy, an incorporeal “mind,” “vibrations,” antigravity, the ether, supernatural beings, and the like. Whoever claims the reality of imaginary and nonexistent things is operating in an idealistic framework. His idea or belief takes precedence over the existence (or non-existence) of physical evidence.

"In view of these observations it appears to me that those innately skeptical toward claims of the paranormal operate from a realistic philosophy, while those who tend to believe in the paranormal use a reference frame that is idealistic in nature. This dichotomy generally characterizes the distinction between normal and paranormal, skeptic and believer."

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