Monday, March 30, 2009

the beatroot in Rome - part II

Back in Rome to see the ruins of the old Roman Empire, and a troubled press secretary of the gaff-prone, current one.

Italy has been trading on its past for quite a while now - centuries, even. And it’s all here in Rome: the emperors, the popes, the Renaissance, the food…the Fiat 500. I was so busy the first time I was in Rome - in October last year - I didn’t have much of a chance to see it in all it’s crumbling, fading, graffiti covered glory.

First stop was down to see the Coliseum, the Forum, the sites of glorious and/or dodgy Caesars and Senators.

The old ruins are magnificent, of course, though Italians have a talent for turning the profound into tacky tourist traps, complete with ‘gladiators’ arguing about whatever Italians are constantly arguing about; those annoying ‘living statues’ you see everywhere these days at these sorts of places, who stand still for a living for hours on end and expect people to drop money into little plates at their motionless feet; and, of course, the ubiquitous Peruvian pan-pipe players.

Moving swiftly on, down the Spanish Steps, which overlook Via dei Gucci Victims, where women with more euros than brain cells try to buy themselves an outrageously over-priced personality, with brand name attached. Tutti belli!

The centre of town is a little disappointing, but delights can be found, over the river where the old, medieval Rome can still be glimpsed - the perfect place to indulge in pasta and lamb, washed down with the Frescati from the hills of nearby Lazio. Balissimo!

We wanted to see the Vatican art museum - I had heard it was rather good - but didn’t want to queue for a couple of hours for the privilege. So time for a little favour. And a chance to see a couple of very nice people who work in the Holy See press office and let them know how Cardinal Dziwisz‘s film, Testimony - which they worked tirelessly on when we were there last October - did in Poland. Maybe they could get us in quickly? They did. Bless them!

It was a Saturday but the Vatican’s chief press officer was at his desk, with a copy of the Lancet opened in front of him. Pope Benedict was in Africa and had made an “unguarded remark”, said press officer, about how condoms were worse than useless as protection against HIV/AIDS - in fact they made things worse - and abstinence was the only real protection from getting sick. The esteemed medical journal is not pleased:

“When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

Oh, dear!

It’s the Vatican line, as we know, but apparently this was not on the list of things that Pope Benny was on the continent to preach about. This was meant to be a happy, controversy free trip to solidify the presence of Rome in one of the only parts of the globe where church congregations are growing - and not shrinking, like back home in Italy.

Signor Press Officer said the whole situation was rather “worrying.” And I got the impression - and it is only my impression - that the current pontiff is not seen as the safe pair of hands in front of the media that his predecessor, Pope John II, was. Pope Benny has a habit of putting his foot in it, unlike Karol Wojtyla, who played the media events like a church organ.

After the AIDS remark cue the outrage. Pope encourages ‘skin-skin’ in Africa! The Roman Catholic church is responsible for the spread of HIV!

I have argued here, as others have elsewhere, that the link between Catholic teaching and HIV rates is spurious - mainly because the nations with the highest HIV rates are not particularly Catholic. The spread of AIDS there is, at root, to do with poverty and underdevelopment. But you feel for the current Pope’s communicators. He doesn’t make their jobs any easier.


The Vatican art museum - no queue, in through the exit door - is better than I expected, by the way. Seemingly kilometers of corridors, lined with fantastic paintings, tell the story of Christian art, from the very old to the modern. It’s all there: Matejko’s rather gruesome depiction of Polish King Sobieski’s smashing of the Turks in Vienna - and they were worried about Danish cartoons! - right up to Munch, Chagall, Francis Bacon, even a Dali.

But it all just softens you up for the finale - the Sistine Chapel! It’s awesome. And while staring at one of Michelangelo’s many paintings that cover the ceiling I had a flash of inspiration - a revelation - about the origin of the term “mooning” - of showing one’s botty cheeks in public as a leisure activity. I had always assumed it was named after Wildman Drummer of the Who, Keith Moon, who liked to display his buttocks regularly. But, well, maybe not. See Michelangelo’s The Creation of Sun and Moon.


ge'ez said...

You're not going to use Uganda as a success story are you?

Consider that there are a lot more Catholics in Uganda than other sub-Saharan countries.

Consider that claims made about reductions in AIDs were extrapolated from the cities (where most Catholics live and people are more literate and modern) to encompass rural areas (much less Catholics, literate or modern folk).

Let's face it, not everybody, including Catholics are going to follow Church teaching on abstinence and marital fidelity.

Most disgusting of all is Church propaganda claiming that condoms are virtually ineffective.

There is now a campaign going on to send the Pope rubbers (not the ones that protect feet against puddles).

This Pope is indeed sticking his foot in his mouth at every turn.

ge'ez said...

45% of the Ugandan population is Catholic (vast majority in urban areas) and 90% of the population is rural. So, according to the Lancet, the folks making the study extrapolated findings from selected small urban clinics and made it look like the whole country dramatically reduced its HIV rate from 15% in 1991 to 5% in 2001.

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beatroot said...

If Catholic teaching had a significant effect on HIV rates then one would expect the highest numbers of people with HIV in Africa in countries with the highest Catholic population. This is not so.

The highest rates of HIV in the world, not just Africa, are in the southern states of Swaziland, where the rate is 38.8 per cent, and Botswana, where it is 37.3 per cent.

In Swaziland, only between 10 and 20 per cent of the population is Catholic. In Botswana LESS THAN FIVE PERCENT are Catholic,

So there is no correlation between Catholic congregation and HIV.The link does not exist.

And anyway - why do western whiteys expect Africans to take any more notice of the teachings of the church than they do in the US, or Poland? You know as well as anyone how selective people are in taking notice of the teachings of the Church, or not...

So in this argument about HUV and Catholicism in Africa we have two western prejudices: that there is a link between Catholicism and HIV, and that Africans are uniquely suspetable to catholic teaching.

I think that says more about the west than it does about Africa.

ge'ez said...

Again, who determines the rates for each country and how how these rates determined in each case?

Why on earth would you expect the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the countries with the highest Catholic populations? That is nonsense. Catholic teaching first and foremost is not to fuck outside of marriage and even then only for loving and procreative purposes (if that is a possibility). It's not ONLY a matter of saying no to rubbers. Or saying yes to them for that matter. And a lot of it has to do with preferences for dry sex among more traditional societal elements. Rubbers also tend to break more in the practice of dry sex. More modern folks in urban areas seem to think dry sex is a problematic practice as indeed it is. So I'll argue that the best rates are in the countries with the most modernity and those that promote and apply the ABC plan -- Abstinence, Be faithful to your partner, and Condoms. And abide by slurpy sex.

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beatroot said...

I think we what is called in the trade "a bit of a wanker" in our number...


Why on earth would you expect the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the countries with the highest Catholic populations?

I do not expect that Geez, but that is the argument put forward by those that say that the Pope is causing AIDS by saying that condoms must not be warn.

So, I am critiquing that argument. Which is nonsense.

ge'ez said...

I don't know if that's what all the Pope's critics are saying although that is indeed what some put out there. But I would say that to a certain extent, at least in terms of practicing Catholics, he is indeed making it easier to transmit and contract HIV/AIDs. And when the Church lobbies to stop funding for rubbers for non-Catholics, and claims that rubbers are largely ineffective in preventing the transmission of the disease, he is partly responsible at least for those folks who cntracted the disease because rubbers were not readily available -- which admitedly these days even in the remotest villages of sub-Saharan Africa is prolly few and far in between. There are lots and lots and lots of rubbers in the world. Big business.

jannowak57 said...

There is a long history amongst Catholics to ignore the church when it makes stupid pronouncements, particularly harmful ones. In the situation of Catholics with education and economic circumstances there is a habit of pick and choose the good stuff and disregard the crazy stuff. Notice how in Poland the idea of pre-marital sex and living together happily coexist with the status quo and otherwise adhering to Catholic teachings. Now if your prospective were the view from the cardinal’s desk you may choose to strike the word happily. I should also point out that the rate of teenage pregnancy in Poland is wildly lower than in the US, the UK or Africa………..could somebody be using birth control, heaven forbid?

The problem with the Pope’s advice on condoms is its effect on those in the lowest educational and economic circumstances who are likely through ignorance to take harmful advice.

Common sense would dictate that sound medical advice should not be overridden by religious dogma yet many an African leaders will stand beside the Pope in silence when there is a duty to speak out.

On another topic:

Greatly enjoyed Rome when I was there a few years ago, but the graffiti and general level of cleanliness were disappointing, is this still the case?

beatroot said...

Rome is the same and it is a scandal. I think that if they can;t look after those riches better then NATO should invade Italy - with or without UN resolution - and do it properly for them.

The problem with the Pope’s advice on condoms is its effect on those in the lowest educational and economic circumstances who are likely through ignorance to take harmful advice.

But if those groups went along blindly with Church teaching then they would not be having casual sex, or any other sex...Benny says NO! So, if we are prepared to believe that stoopid poor Africans take blindly the order that they should not wear condoms then we also have to believe that they won't be having sex at all.

jannowak57 said...

Sadly Rome is the median, in a north to south issue. If you look at Naples then Rome starts to look good but northern Italy is closer at what would be an ideal for conditions in an Italian city. Nonetheless its history and culture overkill, I don’t think you find so much stuff of interest packed so closely together anywhere else and they do look after the historic and cultural sites. Its just the rest of the urban landscape could use a facelift if not the occasional visit of a street cleaner.

There already exists an aversion to using condoms in many areas of Africa without the church getting involved but to have reinforced the practice by Papal pronouncement was just irresponsible. Clearly he contributed to making a bad situation worse. The Africans aren’t stupid but they have very different social behaviours and social dynamics, where women are not empowered. The Catholic Church has just been socially irresponsible when it comes to African on both the HIV Aids and birth control issues.

beatroot said...

There already exists an aversion to using condoms in many areas of Africa without the church getting involved...

That's true. That's from a devaluation of life itself, maybe. many men just don;t give a shit. Again, I think that stems from utter pverty and lack of hope.

beatroot said...

Oh, and even some of the old ruins had dumb scrawly writing on them, too...

ge'ez said...

I don't know. It might be cultural. Why is dry sex preferred by so many guys? I've read it is partly because aside from the consequent tighter fit, it is also because the noise of wet set goes against their sensibilities. The whole idea of women getting dry by using herbs and whatnot to satisfy the male seems a bit masochistic, too, especially when there is a reason for vaginal lubrication. I really don't get it. Is my thinking that dry sex is kinda fucked up a matter of my western cultural imperialism? Seems to me that a loving guy would not want to subject his wife or girlfriend to possible harm because of that lack of lubrication and that this should be a common idea of decency across cultures, no?

Mark said...

A trip to the Eternal City and the conversation is, of course, about sex and religion. Ge'ez, will you ease up on this "dry" stuff? It may give some of us the willies.

At any rate, one of the premier Catholic blogs on our side of the pond (wdtprs) took note of Lancet's editorial. Link is below:

ge'ez said...

The Lancet scientific article to which I was referring was not the more recent editorial posted on the Father Z website. I gotta tell you, I find the folks discussing stuff at his website (I look at it from time to time) fascinating. Usually wrong imho but I enjoy reading their arguments. Didn't the affiliated Wanderer even have problems with JP2?

Do rubbers really make guys feel like they can have lotsa sex w/o having to worry about diseases or critter outcomes, thus actually increasing both? Maybe but that's not the main problem. The problem is in getting these guys to use the rubbers in the first place in sub-Saharan Africa and getting away from dry sex which increases the probablity that the rubber will break. If they ain't Catholic, my guess is it will be easier to at least get them to use rubbers rather than forego sex -- even if they are Catholic, too. That will at least put a dent in the epidemic which is largely spreading from non-monogamous husband to wife. No rubbers won't always work but they aren't ineffective either if used properly. Again, I think the ABC approach that balances all three components is best. And I am opposed to the folks who exclusively push rubbers galore to the detriment of the other two approaches - Abstinence and Be faithful. People, especially hoot owl horny young people make mistakes even if their intentions are good. I am sick and tired of the Church's position on a piece of latex. And I've read and reread the teachings, especially the HV encyclical.

Anonymous said...


So you managed to get a sneak preview of those Peruvian pan-pipe players, so early in the year?? It will probably be a few months before they get back over to this side of Europe...

This debate about HIV/condoms reminds me a bit of an article which I read a few years back, by (now retired) Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. I believe it was entitled "The Immorality of the Religious Right" (or, "On the Immorality of the Religious Right.") You guys might want might to check it out, it's very interesting and touches on this subject quite well. I may not agree with every single thing that Puhalo has ever written, but much of it seems quite sound, especially this above-mentioned article.

ge'ez said...

Hmmm. AB Puhalo's website (Eastern Orthodox, not in communion with Rome unless I am mistaken) looks very interesting at first glance. And I found the cited article at:

ge'ez said...

Anon, I didn't have the patience to read the articles surrounding the "Aerial Toll-Houses" controversy. Looks like Lev Puhalo argued that the soul couldn't really function in much of anyway after death until the resurrection of the body (except for saints who could respond with some kind of earthly good to the prayers of the living) which earned him a certain amount of animous from other Orthodox faithful. But I couldn't figure out what his critics -- obviously those in the mainstream of Orthodox thought) were saying about the soul upon death. Hey and who said our discussion here just gravitated from the Eternal Holy City to rubbers and dry sex? See, we're back to the eternal again, full circle.

Mark said...


If you admit to visiting Father Z's blog, why don't you post there sometimes? And if the Trads come after you, being one, I'll cover for you as much as possible. But if Father Z singles you out with his red pen, then you're on your own.

Yes, some of the, shall we say, sedevacantists, do have problems with JPII and practically all post Vatican Two popes. However, wdtprs blog is very much opposed to such religious pathologies.

By the way, been to the Catholic Caveman blog yet?

ge'ez said...

Thanks for the invite but I'm far too intemperate by nature to feel comfortable in such situations. And I consider myself traditional and even orthodox in certain respects, not in all obviously. I'd rather just read those blogs and sometimes learn something. I prefer barroom blogs. I'll checkout the caveman blog.

ge'ez said...

Hee-hee: "Slightly over 2% of our *achem* "leadership" has publically denounced the decision by the University of Notre Shame."

Not too good a percentage for the only true and bonafide Catholics, heh?

I'd like to see a Remnant vs Wanderer street fight, though. It'd prolly compare to hooligans goings on between Cracovia and Wisla partisans.

Interesting video (parts one and two) on the subject of orthodox Catholics/TV evangelicals from that Russian Orthodox retired bishop noted above (you gotta get through a couple minutes before he gets into his analysis:

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Anonymous said...

I realise now that Simon Mol was not the anti-white racist who infected several polish girls deliberately with HIV.

He was only following the Vatican's advice.

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