Sunday, July 31, 2005

Just plain stupid
I call this shooting off your mouth without checking first to see if it's loaded. This is Sen. Brownback on Face the Nation talking about the possibility of the government allowing funding for some embryonic stem cell research.
This is a big step. This will be one of, I believe, the first time we've ever used taxpayer money to pay for the intentional destruction of human life and that's what this does.

Because every war we've ever waged, every law enforcement agency, and the death penalty have been provided free of cost by the private sector. In the entire history of the republic, no taxpayer money has ever been used to intentionally take a human life.

This has nothing to do with how you feel about embryonic stem cell research or the justifiability of any death ever caused by the three applications I just mentioned. The simple fact is that taxes have been used to pay for lots of human deaths over the years. Any debator beyond about the eighth grade should know better than to make a undefendable, blanket statement this stupid.

Florida must be happy that Kansas' politicians are giving them a run for most embarassing in the nation.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Sliming the victim
Atrios points us to Crooks and Liars who points us to Fox News Live for this thoroughly disgusting analysis of the tragic shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes by the London Metropolitan Police last week.
It wouldn't be out of the question for [al Qaida] to pick on someone who may not be Middle Eastern but who may look Middle Eastern. Say, someone who is from South America, someone who is from Central America, and, say, you know, we know they're racial profiling us, so we're going to try to get some public opinion on our side. Let's dress this guy up, tell him to act suspicious, and if the police approach him, tell him to run away, and when the police catch him, then he appears to be innocent, so, you know, in essence, they start sending out decoys. They can do all kind of things when they know that your net -- that you have cast a net that's that narrow.

C&L asks "Is this the sickest analysis you ever heard?" Unfortunately, it's not. At least, I've heard this analysis lots of times in the past. Back before he was Saint Rudy, America's mayor, sliming the victim was Giuliani's standard response to any questionable police shooting. It didn't matter what the facts were, or if Giuliani even knew the facts, in no time at all he would have his face in front of the cameras telling us that the victim acted suspiciously and was probably up to something.

The Michelle Malkin crowd started chanting the "he acted suspiciously" line within moments of the shooting. John Gibson trotted out his execrable celebration of the "tackle and kill teams" soon after that. The "it is better to kill a thousand innocents than to let on guilty person go free" message and the "he acted suspiciously" message naturally combine to produce the "besides, he was probably guilty of something" message of the Fox News caller.

The Fox News caller's statement is reprehensible in that the caller blames Mendes for his own tragic death. He wasn't merely acting suspiciously; he was on their side. He was part of an insidious plan to embarrass us and hamstring our efforts to make the world safer.

The Fox News caller's statement is actually an almost textbook example of the similarity between demonizing the enemy and conspiratorial thought. As any struggle escalates toward life and death terms, all nuance in rhetoric disappears. This is the obvious part; they are all bad and we are, therefore, all good. To deny our goodness is to take the side of their badness. We've all lived through this for the last four years.

Then some strange transformations take place. As shades of grey disappear from language, they also disappear from thought. The rhetoreticians begin to believe their message and so do the consumers of the message. How many of us have seen that creepy transformation of previously rational friends and relatives who, on this one topic, have become completely unhinged over the last four years.

How much experience do we have with pure evil in our lives (outside of junior high gym classes, that is)? Real people are a mixture of good and evil. Pure evil is an abstract. It's a cartoon. When we choose to allow ourselves to believe that the enemy is pure evil, we transform the enemy from mere people into something both inhuman and superhuman.

The paranoid, conspiratorial aspect of this should be clear. The enemy penetrates everywhere. The enemy is impossibly efficient. The enemy has astounding sources of intelligence. No one can be trusted, because the enemy has the power to co-opt anyone. The enemy is everywhere, always one step ahead of us, and responsible for every setback and every inconvenience in our lives.

And still it gets worse. The enemy's evil knows no bounds. The enemy does not love it's children. The enemy would gladly massacre it's own children, parents and neighbors just to put the blame on us and make us look bad.

Because that enemy is so unscrupulous and dangerous, any action to defeat the enemy is justified. Any evil we commit pales before their evil. Because they are such an unimaginable threat, any crime we commit is justified as self-defense. Unprovoked military aggression is preemption. Torture is necessary to stop the ticking bomb. Collective retribution is necessary to show them that we are serious. Genocide can be made to seem rational and necessary.

In Bosnia, people who had lived together for decades, played as children, gone to school, worked and loved together, one day went out and killed each other. The editorial stance in the West was a clucking "well, that's just what those people do. The Balkans are crazy, you know." Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim Bosnians were told by their leaders that the neighbors were planning to kill them. Killing them first was no more than self-defense. Surely the world would see that and understand.

Any people can be primed for genocide with the right words. Germans, Turks, Ukrainians, Poles, Azerbaijanis, Rwandans, Cambodians, and Irish have all had their moment of destroying the enemy within during the last century. The internment of the West Coast Japanese during WWII was an, only slightly less murderous, manifestation of the same fear.

When C&L asks "Is this the sickest analysis you ever heard?" I have to say, sadly, it's not. Unfortunately, I've heard this line and worse far too many times.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Important questions
By now, you all know that the global war on terror (GWOT) has been rebranded as the global struggle against violent extremism (GSAVE). This raises a number of important questions:
  • Is GWOT over? Who won?
  • What about campaign ribbons for the troops? I believe the Penatgon issued two ribbons for GWOT (Afghan front and Iraqi front). Do the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq get a second ribbon for participating in GSAVE too?
  • Now that it's not a war, does that mean law enforcement is no longer a dirty word? Will the administration be apologising to police and other law enforcement professionals for sneering at their profession these last four years?
  • Does this mean the administration will really oppose all violent extremists and their sponsors? Can we look forward to the Florida Air National Guard bombing Randall Terry into the stone age the next time a Planned Parenthood clinic is attacked?
  • What about parades? Do we get to hold GWOT victory parades? If Vietnam taught us anything, it's that parades are important.
Open source beer
A group of students taking a workshop on intellectual property and copyright at the Information Technology University in Copenhagen decided to apply their new knowledge to improving the lot of mankind. They have developed the world's first open source beer.
Mr Nielsen asked his students to think about applying open source ideas to the non-digital world.

"Why not take those ideas back to the old world, and try to apply them to other things as well?" asks Nielsen.

Why beer? As the Vores Oel website says, why not?

"It's a universal commodity that we like to think of as free, but unfortunately it isn't," says Mr Nielsen. "So, I thought it was an appropriate medium to confront these issues."

The university opened its cafeteria facilities to the students to brew 100 litres of a home brew containing guarana for pep. Try to imagine an American university doing this. The result was a darker, heavier brew than a typical Danish lager like Carlsberg. The students decided to call it Vores Øl (Our Beer), version 1.0.

The English language FAQs at their website explain how this relates to intellectual property law:
The recipe and the whole brand of Our Beer is published under a Creative Commons license, which basically means that anyone can use our recipe to brew the beer or to create a derivative of our recipe. You are free to earn money from Our Beer, but you have to publish the recipe under the same license (e.g. on your website or on our forum) and credit our work. You can use all our design and branding elements, and are free to change them at will provided you publish your changes under the same license ("Attribution & Share Alike").

The idea has garnered some attention, "We got loads of questions from small beer brewers in Mexico, Brazil, and even Afghanistan... Afghanistan, that was weird."

Here is the recipe, presented in the interest of science and with full recognition of the terms of the creative commons license.
Our recipe

Recipe for approx. 85 ltr. Vores Øl (Our Beer) (approx. 6% alcohol by volume).

Malt extract
For Vores Øl we use four types malted barley:

6 kg pilsner malt
4 kg münsner malt
1 kg caramel malt
1 kg lager malt
The malt is crushed and put in 55-60°C hot water for 1-2 hours.

The mixture is filtered and the liquid now contains about 10 kg malt extract.

Taste and sugar
Besides malt we use:

60 g Tetnang bitter hops
50 g Hallertaver aroma hops
300 g Guarana beans
4 kg sugar
(Guarana beans can typically be bought at health food stores).

The malt extract is brought to a boil in a large pot with the hops and approx. 70 ltr. of water.

After half an hour, the Guarana beans and sugar is added.

The mixture simmers for about an hour, and is then filtered and cooled in a sealed container.

Yeast is added and the beer is fermented at room temperature for approx. 2 weeks.

When the beer is fully fermented it is transferred to bottles. First 4 g sugar is added per liter and some yeast from the bottom of the fermentation tanks for priming.

Vores Øl is then left in the bottles at room temperature for 8-10 days for carbonation. Then the beer is ready to enjoy; cold and refreshing.

It's nice to know that in these days of Rove and Roberts, war in Iraq and bombs in London, that someone, somewhere is doing something to make the world a better place. Let's all raise a glass to the Danes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Here's something that has bothered me for a while. Elected politicians are often shortsighted; their perspectives rarely extend beyond the next election. Activists should have their eyes firmly focused on their long-term goals and be immune to this problem. But many are not.

It's not uncommon for elected officials to promote policies that turn out to have mind-bogglingly bad consequences. Sometimes these are genuinely unforeseen consequences, but usually they are perfectly foreseeable consequences, ignored in the heat of pursuing a few extra moments in front of the camera. Undermining due process in the name of the War on Terror and eliminating the filibuster are good examples of this. No one who thought things through would ever pass laws or change rules in a way that could be used against them at a later date.*

Lately, many factions within the Republican coalition have completely lost their perspective. Look at how the religious extreme jumped on the bandwagon for eliminating the filibuster. One would expect a group that constantly whines about its imagined status as a persecuted minority to have an interest in minority protections. Okay, that would be philosophically consistent and I'm probably asking too much to expect that. However, one would expect them to want to be able to filibuster the next court nominee by a Democratic president.**

The most glaring example is the right's recent attack on "privacy." Last night on CNN's Newsnight, Rick Santorum--who's always good for an ill thought out quote--gave an example of this line of thought.
BROWN: Do you think there's a right to privacy in the Constitution?

SANTORUM: No -- well, not the right to privacy as created under Roe v. Wade and all...

BROWN: Do you think there's a right to privacy in the Constitution?

SANTORUM: I think there's a right to unreasonable -- to unreasonable search and seizure...***

BROWN: For example, if you'd been a Supreme Court judge in Griswold versus Connecticut, the famous birth control case came up, which centered around whether there was a right to privacy. Do you believe that was correctly decided?

SANTORUM: No, I don't. I write about it in the book. I don't.

BROWN: The state of Connecticut had the right to ban birth control for a married couple.

SANTORUM: I think they were wrong. It was a bad law.

BROWN: But they had the right.

SANTORUM: They had the right. They had the right...

BROWN: Why would a conservative argue that government should interfere with that most personal decision?

SANTORUM: I didn't. I said it was a bad law. And...

BROWN: But they had the right to make.

SANTORUM: They had the right to make it. Look, legislatures have the right to make mistakes and do really stupid things...


SANTORUM: ... but we don't have to create constitutional rights because we have a stupid legislature. And that's the problem here, is the court feels like they have a responsibility to right every wrong. When they do that, unlike a Congress, that if we make a really stupid mistake and we do something wrong, we go back next year or next month and change it, and we've done that. Courts don't do that. They only get cases that come before them and they have to make broad, sweeping decisions that have huge impact down the road.

That's what happened in Griswold. It was a bad law. The court felt, we can't let this bad law stand in place. It's wrong. It was. But they made a -- they created out of whole cloth a right that now has gone far, far from Griswold versus Connecticut.

A few years ago, only very scary conservatives, like Robert Bork, took the position that we do not have a right to privacy. That an idiot like Santorum would mimic that talking point isn't surprising. But in the last few years, others on the right have started to take this position, even though a few minutes of thought should convince them that this is not a good idea.

The propaganda position, as stated by the religious right, makes opposing the right to privacy part of the culture war. The talking point goes that when the Left or Democrats talk about rights, it is really code language that means sexual perversity, the destruction of Western Civilization, and making the baby Jesus cry.

This was the line of logic behind James Dobson's weird attack on SpongeBob SquarePants last winter. Dobson attacked a cartoon video promoting tolerance as an attempt to indoctrinate children into homosexuality. Dobson's Focus on the Family website explained his logic, "While words like 'diversity' and 'unity' sound harmless — even noble — enough, the reality is they are often used by gay activists as cover for teaching children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality." While his position might be arguable, his tactics--opposing the teaching of the concepts tolerance, diversity, and unity--are just plain destructive.

The right has attached that same culture war logic to the right of privacy. Because the courts have sited a right to privacy in decisions the right hates--Roe vs. Wade on abortion, Griswold vs. Connecticut on birth control, and Lawrence vs. Texas on consensual gay sex--they have decided that the very idea of a right to privacy must be opposed. Just as "tolerance" is seen as a liberal conspiracy to promote homosexuality, "privacy" is seen as a liberal conspiracy to promote fornication, baby killing, and sodomy.

To them, it's all about regulating sexual morality. But a propaganda point is not all that is at stake in this. "The right to privacy" means more than a code phrase used by insidious liberals to corrupt the youth of America. "The right to privacy" also means the right to privacy. Does the religious right really want to say that we (and they) have no right to privacy? Privacy involves a lot of things that have nothing to do with sex. The same government that regulates other people's sexual activities could one day take an interest in their child-rearing practices, their dietary practices, or their form of worship.

Only fools give up rights once acquired. Why are so many on the right being such fools?

* Unless they are confident that they will never again be out of power. But that's the subject of a whole bunch of other posts.

** Ibid.

*** Remember that the next time you get strip-searched for driving with a Kerry sticker; those police or fake Secret Service agents are just trying to protect your right to unreasonable search and seizure.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Euphemism watch
Apparently the term of preference for the Pentagon when referring to plagiarism or fabricating news is "administrative error."
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military on Sunday said it was looking into how virtually identical quotations ended up in two of its news releases about different insurgent attacks.

Following a car bombing in Baghdad on Sunday, the U.S. military issued a statement with a quotation attributed to an unidentified Iraqi that was virtually identical to a quote reacting to an attack on July 13.

After questioning by news media, the military released the statement without the quotation.

Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, spokesman for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said use of the quote was an "administrative error." He said the military was looking into the matter.


Following are the two quotes as provided by the U.S. military in news releases:

Sunday's news release said: "'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the ISF and all of Iraq. They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified."

The July 13 news release said: "'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the children and all of Iraq,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified. 'They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists.'"

I advise all of my teacher friends to be on the lookout for administrative errors in their students' work.
Meanwhile, at the carnivals
I'm almost caught up on news and such, but it appears I have neglected my duty to the carnival scene.

I was pleased to have a post accepted for the thirteenth meeting of the Skeptics' Circle. The Sceptic's Circle is not only a home for defenders of science and clear thought, it has developed an in house tradition of clever story telling in the presentation of the carnival. Orac over at Respectful Insolence is the host this week and he maintains the high production standards that we have grown to expect from the Circle. Sadly, this was the last issue for the Circle's founder, St. Nate. Nate is retiring from the blogosphere. Orac is taking over and the Circle will remain unbroken.

Closer to home, I've been collecting submissions for the next Carnival of Bad History due the first of September. We will have plenty of content, but I'm still looking for a host. If you want to break into the big world of carnivals, this is your chance. Drop me a line.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

This is the face of the enemy
As I said below, I've been out of the loop for the last three days. I missed the incompetent follow-up or copy-cat bombings in London as well as the frighteningly competent bombings in Sharm el-Sheik as well as three days of Roberts and Rove maneuverings. I'm still catching up on the biggest news of the day and the buzz of the blogosphere. So, please excuse me if everyone and their blogging dog has already commented on this John Gibson editorial. It was one of the first things I ran into after getting home and it so offended me that I can't go any further.

Let me see if I can reconstruct the story as I heard it. While I was driving down to Portland for Mom's surgery, another set of bombs were discovered in London. Just like the first, these were on three subways and a bus. I recall that the British authorities speculated after the first attack that the bus was a target of opportunity chosen by a bomber who was prevented from boarding the train of his first choice.

Sitting in the hospital, my attention was on Mom and not the news. All I saw were the headlines of more bombs in London. It wasn't till after noon on Friday that I discovered that the bombs were all failures. At that point, the news was all about how the London police were excited to have unexploded bombs to examine, that they had good pictures of all the bombers, that they knew where they lived, and that one had already been killed in a "shootout."

Tonight, it appears that the "shootout" between the London Metropolitan Police and the Muslim terrorist consisted of some police officers holding a legal Brazilian (Catholic) immigrant down, while other police officers pumped bullets into his head and torso. The Metropolitan Police have specifically stated that 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes was not connected with this week's attempted bombings on the London transit system.

My purpose here is not to criticize the London Metropolitan Police. I do not know what information they had, and I can only imagine the stress they were under. Until I know more, I will assume they operated under good faith according to their available information. That is, the unfortunate victim to them was a mad bomber on the run. At this point, the story should be a tragedy and another body to chalk up to the terrorists.

Unfortunately, the right wing in the United States can't accept the narrative of mere tragedy. To them any action in the Global War on Terror must be applauded. This brings us to the embarrassing Mr. Gibson.
No way to talk about anything but the terror bombing investigation in Great Britain. My faith has been renewed in the Brits. Even though they talk a good politically correct game out in public, evidently, behind the scenes they are as ruthless as I would expect from a civilized country under attack by bloodthirsty barbarians who have been brainwashed.

His theme throughout the entire editorial is the faux macho "in order to defeat the enemy, we must become the enemy." This theme is explicit in the third sentence. He expresses contempt for "talk[ing] a good politically correct game," by which we must assume he means rights, due process, and all that sissy liberal democracy stuff. Conservatives love a good battle of civilizations because it allows them to hide their contempt for democracy by pretending to be realistic, to be willing to do what need to be done. The people who cheered Rep. Tancredo's suggestion that we nuke Mecca and Medina justify their bloodthirstiness with that same call to "toughness."
I love the way the Brits have 10 million cameras sticking up the nose of every citizen no matter where they are, except in the loo.

He applauds the erosion of the personal right to privacy in the name of security.
I love the way they popped the pictures of those four bombers so quick. Those four bombers are now identified in public and they will be run down sometime very soon.

He applauds action in the name of action, even if it is stupid and counter-productive action.
I love the way they know where these guys live, and I love the fact that they seem to have been spying on these guys for a while already. All that is good.

Ditto the previous two comments.
What is also good is the Brit police tactics that we saw at work in the subway Friday morning. The tackle and kill team is incredible, if for no other reason than their bravery. Can you imagine the job of those cops? Tackle the guy wearing a vest bomb and hope your colleague is right behind with the gun to put five bullets in the noggin before he sets off the bomb.

He imagines that the London Metropolitan Police have something called a "tackle and kill team." He gets all goose bumpy over the idea of state sanctioned urban assassination squads unrestrained by such politically correct details as warrants, trials, and verdicts. "Kill on suspicion" is his motto.
Turns out he didn't have a bomb, and turns out he wasn't one of the four bombers Thursday. And if it turns out ultimately that he had nothing to do with anything, no doubt there will be hell to pay. But the police say he was linked to the terror probe, so let's wait and see.

I have to say, I read Gibson's editorial to Clever Wife and at this point she interrupted to ask if it was a satire. Gibson shows no concern that an innocent man might have been run down and killed in the name of--what? expedience? panic? getting tough on terrorism? His only concern is that people might come down on the Metropolitan Police and make it difficult for those nifty tackle and kill teams to work in the future. In an especially low comment, Gibson's last sentence implies that de Menezes might have been guilty of something, so let's withhold judgment till he's proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Meantime, got to admire the cojones of those Brit cops to go after him like that. All of this trumps any of my other complaints that the Brits weren't making the right noises about fighting terror. They like to go about things a bit more quietly than us. Not my style, but okay, fine - as long as they get the five in the noggin of the right bomber boy. They do that and I'm fine.

So for the moment, alls [sic] well. Just catch the four bombers. Five in the noggin is fine. Don't complain that sounds barbaric. We're fighting barbaric.

In the past, Gibson has been tough on the British for not being macho enough to throw out all those sissy rights and stuff. Fortunately, he's man enough to admit he was wrong about that as long as the entire British nation admits he was right. And he'll be the first to point that out. Meanwhile, let's recapitulate the theme of the editorial: the ends justify the means, it is better that a thousand innocent brown people suffer than that one guilty one escape justice, and we must become the enemy to defeat the enemy.

Is Gibson a lone idiot, drooling in the wilderness? Sadly, no. He is joined by thousands--if the past election is any indication, millions--of others who would gladly sell out all of the ideal of western democracy for a few moments illusion of security.

The goal of a terrorist is not to kill or to militarily defeat the enemy state. The goal of a terrorist is to provoke a government and a people into irrational reactions that advance the terrorist cause. So far, the terrorists are winning and it is people like John Gibson who are winning the war for them.
I just returned from Portland. My arms are not tired; we drove. I spent the last three days with my Mom who was having cancer surgery again.

Two years ago at about this time, my mother's doctors discovered that she had ovarian cancer. They operated. The nature of that kind of cancer is that is fills the peritoneal cavity with hundreds of spoor-like tiny tumors. The surgeon said it looked like someone had sprinkled a hand-full of rice or coarse salt among her organs. They removed all of her reproductive parts (leading me to say good-bye to prospect of ever getting a little brother to help balance out my surplus of sisters). They vacuumed up as many tumors as possible and removed her appendix. They then put her on chemo-therapy to finish off the rest of the tumors.

Because the chemo wiped her out, Mom spent the next six months with my sisters in Alaska. Mom loves my sisters and their families. She loves Alaska. But six months was enough to convince her she's not ready to give up her house, her cat, her stuff, and the freedom to decide when, what, and whether to eat dinner. Having firmly decided to be an independent widow woman, she was diagnosed with a new tumor last winter.

The doctors decided to try chemo first. I decided to try irritability and sulking. By May, it was clear that the chemo was not working. Number three sister came down from Alaska and we went in to talk to the surgeon. She showed us Mom's CAT scans which showed a russet potato sized tumor nuzzled up next to Mom's spleen. Why are tumors always described in terms of food products? No one ever says they removed a tumor the size of a 400 cc piston or two votary candles and a bar of Lifebouy soap. Okay, I'm off subject. Let's see-- potatoes--surgeons-- number three--we're up to summer.

The surgeons wanted Mom to detox from the chemo. That gave her time to go up to Alaska for her only grand-daughter's wedding, and return with sister number one for the surgery. Clever Wife and I went down to Portland for the surgery. The surgery went better than expected. Though large, the tumor wasn't attached to very much. They saved her spleen. There were no other visible tumors. Mom is a tough old babe in good spirits, so she heals well.

As grown ups, we try to treat things like sick parents maturely, or so we think. When my Dad died, one of his friends said, "We shouldn't be surprised when someone dies. We know everyone dies. We should only be surprised when they don't. But even though we're not surprised at the fact of it, we're always shocked at the timing of it. We're always shocked that they died 'right now.'"

The first time they operated, we had no time to digest the shock. "You're Mom has cancer. We're operating next week." We were all still saying, "uh, cancer? Is it bad?" when she was in recovery, sipping morphine and reading the latest Harry Potter. This time we had too much time to think about it.

I've been getting crankier and crankier for the last five months knowing my mother was sick. "How can you ask me to fill out my time card when Mom is sick?" "How can you raise the price of gas when Mom is sick?" "How can you nominate UN ambassadors when Mom is sick?" Doesn't the world have any decency? Don't they know they need to shut down when I'm distracted by the stuff that matters most? When they told us things went better than exoected, Clever Wife and I went back to the hotel for a nap and slept for fourteen hours. I think we were a wee bit wound up.

At least this time, the world had the decency to time the new Harry Potter to go along with Mom's surgery. I took a copy down for sister number one to read to Mom while she heals. She tells me that morphine and Harry Potter are a combination that can't be beat.

Did I miss anything while I was gone?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

They don't even try to hide it
The Bush administration has asked television outlets for a half hour of prime time tonight to announce Bush's Supreme Court nomination. The nominee is expected to be Judge Edith Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans. I don't know anything about and neither, it appears, does anyone else.

Meanwhile, I never fail to be amazed at the level of contempt that this administration has for the American public. When they set out to manipulate opinion, they announce it in advance. They did it during the election, by announcing the negative themes they had planned to use against Kerry, before a single ad had been produced. During the Social Security campaign, they were open about their goal of pitting the old and young against the middle-aged. Now they are open about this.
Sources said the timing of an announcement had been moved up in part to deflect attention away from a CIA leak controversy that has engulfed Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove.

A Republican strategist with close to the White House described Clement as the leading candidate. "She's pretty untouchable," he said. "Plus, it helps take Rove off the front pages for a week."

And the worst part is, they get away with it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

How to make a bad situation worse
Unbelivable. Do they even know how stupid they are?
A Colorado congressman told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons.


Talk show host Pat Campbell asked [Rep. Tom Tancredo] the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded.

The congressman later said he was "just throwing out some ideas" and that an "ultimate threat" might have to be met with an "ultimate response."

Spokesman Will Adams said Sunday the four-term congressman doesn't support threatening holy Islamic sites...

Even though that's exactly what he was doing.
...but that Tancredo was grappling with the hypothetical situation of a terrorist strike deadlier than the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The next time extremist, fundamentalist Christians bomb an abortion clinic, gay bar, or the Olympics, we should "take out" their holy cities Rome and Lynchburg, Virginia. Right?

When Sen. Dick Durbin suggested that the Guantanamo Bay prison camp was a blot on American honor, Tancredo issued a splenetic press release that said "It is no wonder that the global 'hate-America' crowd continues to gain momentum around the world when people like Dick Durbin are shouting their half-baked hyperbole through megaphones on the floor of the U.S. Senate right here in Washington, DC." His message was that making unpleasant comparisons when Americans are engaged in truly repellant behavior inflames the passions of the "global 'hate-America' crowd" and therefore endangers our troops. What does suggesting bringing down a nuclear holocaust on the Muslim sacred cities do for the security of our troops? Will that same "global 'hate-America' crowd" that was driven to homicide by similes be satisfied to say, "ah, but he was only speaking hypothetically" or will they say, "the Americans have just threatened Mecca"?

I'm sure the troops will be thanking you over the next few days, Tom.
The gift that keeps on giving
I'm a charter member of the camp that wants to make a major national issue out the corruption and hubris and power grabbing nature of the current Republican Party. Many Democrats don't want to pursue that line of debate claiming to prefer Positive themes like "we have values, too" and We like defense, too" and "if we become more like you, will you like us then?" I say, poop on that, let's go for their throats. That's why I'm enjoying the whole Karl Rove / Plame leak business.

The biggest danger of making scandal a strategic theme is that it can become distracting. It's easy to get tied up in the excitement of the chase and miss the big picture, which is that the Republican Party has changed and is now bad for America. The goal of the corruption theme should not be to defeat Tom DeLay or to get Karl Rove fired; those should be nothing more than mileposts on the way to achieving the real goal, which is to create a new public perception of the nature of the GOP.

Back in the early ninties when New Gingrich was the strategic master of the Republican Party, he famously instructed House Republicans to never say the name Clinton with out positioning the word "crime" or "criminal" in the same sentence. In this way the two nouns would become Our strategy should be to permanently linked in the public subconsciousness. At that time this was a proven strategy that had been used throughout the Reagan years to link "liberal" to "media," "liberal" to "Democrat," and to make "liberal" a dirty word.

Democrats need to adopt the same strategy to rebrand the Republican Party with "corrupt," "arrogant," and "power hungry." We don't want Tom DeLay, Duke Cunninham, or Karl Rove to go away too soon. We want them to stay and become symbols for the party. We want every Republican in the country to be requred to run on the record of DeLay's fund-raising ethics, Cunninham's home sale, The Ohio coingate scandal, and Rove's endangering national security.

This kind of strategy could be called a wedge strategy. There are two types of wedge strategy. The first, also called the slippery slope, is the type being pursued by creationists to push religion into public education. By getting a little religion into the science curriculum through Intelligent Design, they can create a precedent for bringing more religion into other subjects, eventually replacing the whole reason-based structure of enlightenment learning with a faith-based medieval structure of knowledge.

The other wedge strategy, and the one relevant to this discussion, is the reason the Republicans push values issues so hard in red states. The idea of this wedge is to force independents and moderates to take sides with the radicals. The presence of referenda on ballots concerning issues that don't really affect most people--issues like gay marriage--only serve to inflame passions and make people take sides. If people will take the radicals' side on such issues, they can usually be persuaded to vote for the radicals' preferred candidates as well. It is actually to their advantage the values referenda are illegal or unconstitutional. If the courts throw out the "will of the people" it frustrates and mobilizes the voters and allows the radicals to reuse the same issues year after year.

A wedge strategy of rebranding the Republican party as the party of corrupt bullies should force voters (and moderate candidates) to come down against corruption and arrogance. In the short term, such a strategy should allow Democrats to gain seats in congress and perhaps gain control of one house or the other. I think that would be a good thing. In the longer term, it should empower the moderate wing of the Republican Party to retake control of the party. In some ways, I think that's even more important.

Two years ago, when the White House dirty tricks squad went after Wilson and Plame, most people didn't get the seriousness of the issue and it vanished beneath a tide of Iraq current events. As dirty tricks go, it was something of a flop. However, because it involved a crime against national security, it didn't go away. As the story has been shaping up, it might be the perfect scandal to push the rebranding strategy. Personally, I'm surprised, I really expected DeLay and the congressional Republicans to become the poster children for the arrogance of power.

Like the best scandals, this one is expanding its scope at a dramatic rate. The original question of "who leaked?" seemed to have been answered last week with Karl Rove. Inquiring minds recall that Novak originally claimed to have received the information of Plame's identity from two White House sources. So who was the other? This weekend, Matt Cooper of Time revealed that he got the story from Rove, and Cheney's chief-of-staff Scooter Libby.

Bush and Cheney's top advisors! What could be better than that? Well, the White House, in the person of Scottie McClellen has specifically denied that Rove or Libby were the leakers. Their latest position is "no comment."

The White House is on record with an out and out lie. What could be better than that? One question that has bothered me is how Rove knew Plame's identity. Nothing in his job would have automatically given him access to that information. There must be an ur-leaker who provider the information to Rove and Libby. One tantalizing possibility, though I'm not aware of any specific evidence to support it, is John Bolton. When Plame worked on counter-proliferation at the CIA, Bolton was the chief officer for counter-proliferation at the State Department. Bolton very well could have known her identity and Bolton is well known to be ethically challenged.

Rove, Libby, and Bolton would be hitting the Trifecta (to use Bush’s phrase). But better than that, it looks to be a continuing scandal that all Republicans will have to weigh in on sooner or later. Democrats should not let this pass; they need to play hard with this one and push it for all it’s worth.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The liberal CIA
Jesse over at Pandagon points out that Hugh Hewitt thinks the CIA is a lefitist organization. I wish I had known that when I as a teenager. It would have saved me 35 years of paranoia believing the CIA didn't like leftist organizations.

Hewitt makes this point by ascribing some strawman beliefs to "the left" and then boldly demolishing them.
THERE IS A STRANGE PAIRING of positions on the left.

The first is that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were not connected.


Exactly the opposite approach to facts and evidence is emerging on the left's claim that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists.

As is usual with strawman arguments, his whole idea making a certain line of thought characteristic of one group is simplistic and inaccurate. In this case, the ideas he singles out for scorn are held by a far wider sector the populace than just "the left." For example, the CIA throws its weight behind both of these ideas.

Hewitt declares victory over the first "leftist" belief with this:
The work of Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, which is supported by other serious investigative reporters such as Claudia Rosett has already established beyond any reasonable doubt that there was a web of connections, but the combination of the left's indifference to inconvenient facts and the international version of the soft bigotry of low expectations--an Arab dictator couldn't have had a sophisticated intelligence service capable of hiding such matters--make it an article of faith among Bush haters that there was no connection.

This flies in the face of the long established CIA position:
Before the U.S. invasion, the CIA said Saddam Hussein had only circumstantial ties with several al Qaeda members. Osama bin Laden rejected the idea of forming an alliance with Hussein and viewed him as an enemy of the jihadist movement because the Iraqi leader rejected radical Islamic ideals and ran a secular government.

It's all in the nuance. Over the years, some of bin Laden's people had contacts with some of Saddam's people. They regularly checked each other out for possible alliances, just as all countries, corporations, co-workers, and school kids do constantly. None of the alliances ever materialized. They were just too different to trust each other. The "web of connections" that Hewitt and his Weekly Standard friends see as proof positive were no more than "circumstantial ties" according the CIA (who must not be serious, according to Hewitt). Through a rousing game of "six degrees of seperation" anyone on the planet can be tied to anyone else on the planet. Most of those links go into the so-what file. Finding too many paterns in the links is generally considered a sign of mental illness.

As a quick digression, can we call a language moratorium on conservative pundits using the word "serious?" This constantly annointing people who agree with them as the only serious people really has gotten old. I forget who made this observation, but can't you picture a bunch of them at lunch piously announcing to each other that "serious people order the cobb salad" and "serious people would never drink pinot gris with salmon." Just a suggestion.

Hewitt doesn't spend a lot of time on his first point, it's the second "leftist" idea that really has his panties in a bunch.
"Breeding ground" means something quite different from "killing ground." The term conveys the belief that had the United States and its allies not invaded Iraq, there would be fewer jihadists in the world today--that the transition of Iraq from brutal dictatorship to struggling democracy has somehow unleashed a terrorist-breeding virus.

The fact that foreign fighters are streaming across Syria into Iraq in the hopes of killing America is not evidence supporting the "breeding ground" theory. "Opportunity" to act is not the same thing as "motive" for acting. There is zero evidence for the proposition that Iraq is motive rather than opportunity, but the "motive" theory is nevertheless put forward again and again.


As the bloody toll of the Islamist movement grows and its record of horrors lengthens from Bali to Beslan to Madrid to London, the incredible cost that can only be attributed to the Afghanistan metastasis that went unchecked from the time of bin Laden's return there in 1996 until the American-led invasion of 2001 becomes ever more clear. That was the true "breeding ground" of the world's menace, not the Sunni triangle, where jihadists are continually under pressure and increasingly desperate. The long years ahead in the global war on terrorism will be spent trying to undo the damage done by allowing the Islamist radicals a safe haven from which to export their ideology and to train and deploy their converts.

The CIA gave it's support to the "leftist" breeding ground idea last January.
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats.


Bush described the war in Iraq as a means to promote democracy in the Middle East. "A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East," he said one month before the invasion. "Instead of threatening its neighbors and harboring terrorists, Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity in a region that needs both."

But as instability in Iraq grew after the toppling of Hussein, and resentment toward the United States intensified in the Muslim world, hundreds of foreign terrorists flooded into Iraq across its unguarded borders. They found tons of unprotected weapons caches that, military officials say, they are now using against U.S. troops. Foreign terrorists are believed to make up a large portion of today's suicide bombers, and U.S. intelligence officials say these foreigners are forming tactical, ever-changing alliances with former Baathist fighters and other insurgents.

Hewitt seems to be saying that all of the available terrorist positions had been filled before 9-11 and that no new terrorists have been created since then. The CIA responds, "not so." Why is it so important to Hewitt that most of the terrorists be in place before 2001? The significance of that year is not September; it's January. That's right, Clinton made the terrorists.

Having made his predictable, but logical argument, Hewitt reverses himself and finishes by saying the terrorists are no one's fault.
The killers are killers because they want to kill, not because the coalition invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, or because there are bases in Saudi Arabia, or because Israel will not retreat to the 1967 borders.

It's a classic conservative stance (in the Lakoffian sense). The Lakoffian conservative believes that morality is inate and usually unchangable. Bad people are just born bad (this used to be called the bad seed theory). Environmental factors, such as society or parents are not to blame for their badness, except in that they may have missed the opportunity to beat the badness out of their wicked children.

The bad seed argument absolves both Clinton and Bush, both liberals and conservatives of blame. Hewitt just can't bring himself to choose between two conservative impulses, the bad seed and Clinton is the source of all evil. His inability to choose undermines his own arguments even before the CIA arrives to contradict him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Things that make you go "huh?"
This one brought my brain to a complete halt.
Kensington, a one-time specialist in gay and lesbian titles (not to mention books for all those Wiccans who follow a "neo-pagan, Earth-centered religion" better known as witchcraft), is about to change gear and publish three romantic novellas by the king of apocalyptic Christian fiction, [Tim] LaHaye.
What kind of security clearance does Rove Have?
This has bothered me for some time. When the Clinton team arrived in Washington in 1993, a bunch of former campaign staffers decided it would be fun to find out all the dirt on their political opponents, so they ordered up FBI files on everyone they could think of. Scandal ensued. We called it Filegate and the staffers were all disciplined or fired. When the Committee to Re-Elect the President got caught breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters in 1972, some White House staffers thought it would be effective to use the CIA to scare off FBI investigators. Scandal ensued. We called it Watergate, the staffers went to jail, and President Nixon resigned in disgrace.

The intelligence and law enforcement arms of the United States government are not toys that White House staffers can appropriate at will and incorporate into their campaign machinery. This is one of the most important differences between a functioning democracy and a cheesy dictatorship.

How did Rove find out about Valerie Plame's job? Rove is one of the most powerful presidential aids in White House history, but does his job description include the authority and clearance to root through CIA personnel files looking potentially useful information to use against critics? Is that what he did, or did someone provide that information to him as part of some opposition research he had done on Joseph Wilson? Who was that person? What was their clearance? Is it possible that the first crime was someone leaking TO Rove? And, if that's the case, does it make a whit of difference regarding Rove's guilt?

Update and correction - In the comments, Leah tells the real story of Filegate and how it was a tempest in a much smaller teapot than I described. I cover my embarassment by declaring victory over something else and heading for home.
Doesn't hold water
One variation of the "no crime was committed" argument going around is that Rove didn't really out Valerie Plame because he never mentioned her name to Cooper. Here is the text of the law in question:
50 USC 421(b)
Whoever, as a result of having authorized access to classified information, learns the identity of a covert agent and intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The key phrase for this argument is "discloses any information identifying such covert agent." It does not say "gives away the name of the covert agent."

Imagine I'm sitting in a cafe in Istanbul, sipping thick, sweet coffee with an al Qaida agent (he's under cover, of course. I never knowingly break coffee with such people). Valerie Plame walks in and I say, "See that lady in the blue dress? That's Ambassador Wilson's wife. She's a covert counter-proliferation specialist for the CIA." Do you honestly think I would have a chance trying to argue in court that I didn't blow here cover because I never mentioned her name? Do you think I would have an ethical leg to stand on if I claimed I bore no responsibility for the damage done to her program by her exposure?
Stupid spin
Although the spin seems to change hourly, there is one underlying theme in most of the efforts by the White House and it's allies to save Karl Rove. It usually boils down to "no crime was committed, because..." The entertaining part comes after the "because." The because points have gotten sillier and less relevant and probably reached bedrock yesterday with National Review editor John Podheretz writing:
But Plame's undercover status at the time was and is a little questionable in any case. How undercover could she have been when her name was published at the time as part of Joseph Wilson's own biography online?

The biography that Podheretz refers to says, "He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters."

Meanwhile on Fox News, John Gibson tried to make the same point:
Were you ever in any of those receiving lines where Joe Wilson brought his CIA operative wife out into public view in front of cameras to meet the president and such? If he brings her out in public to be photographed by TV, hasn't he outed her?

I think you can all see where the problem lies. The existence of Valerie Plame was not a secret. The fact that her name is Valerie Plame was not a secret. The fact that Valerie Plame was married to Joseph Wilson was not a secret. It is the fact that Valerie Plame was a covert operative for the CIA that was secret.

The backup point to the "no crime" argument is the "Wilson is the real criminal here" argument. Wilson, they tell us, was only able to get the highly desirable unpaid trip to the Sahara Desert through nepotism. Hundreds of more deserving Republicans wanted a trip to a dusty, malarial, third-world hell-hole, but Plame pulled strings and got her husband the job. This was, in fact, the point Novak was attempting to make back in his original article.

Two years ago, the right-wing talking heads and bloggers tried to deny that a crime had been committed by pretending that Valerie Plame wasn't really a covert operative. The problem with that strategy was that no amount of arguing on their part would change her job classification at the CIA. It wasn't theirs to decide. Today, they have picked up that strategy and run with it again. And again, it's not theirs to decide. Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald and the grand jury will decide whether they think Rove committed a crime. The Wall Street Journal tried this argument out today in an editorial. Mustang Bobby points out that the editorial is probably Rove's defense team testing arguments. After all, no one in their right mind would seriously make such a stupid argument.

What is the point of this strategy of embarrassingly dumb defenses? I can think of only one possible explanation. They are assuming that Rove is guilty, that he will be indicted, and convicted. The spin is entirely aimed at minimizing the importance of the crime.

Ever since Watergate, it has been the strategy of Republicans to dismiss all ethical and legal lapses as not important, everyone does it, or the liberals/Democrats/press are picking on us. To be fair, most politicians make that argument when caught with their fingers in the cookie jar. The difference in the Republican Party over the last thirty years has been their discipline in closing ranks to protect their own and the success they have had in blurring the lines between the serious and the insignificant.

If Rove does go to trial, you can bet the right wing message machine will be screaming witch-hunt, out of control judges, and Democrat conspiracy. I'm sure they will somehow make it all look like the ones wanting to protest the integrity of the intelligence service are the ones who are being treasonous in a time of war. Don't we know everything changed on 9-11?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It's mine now
After 31 years, I just made the final payment on my student loans. I own my education outright. They can't repossess it. It's mine, mine, all mine!! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. It must be time to go back to school.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Did you miss me?
I just flew in from Anchorage*. We married away my only niece on Sunday in a typical family extravaganza. I spent all day Saturday wrapping asparagus and stuffing mushrooms. At about noon, while we were still tasting the stuffing and deciding that it needed just teeny bit of lemon, Archy had its 40,00th visitor. Whoever you were, I hope you had a good time while you were here and I hope we see you again.

* And, boy, are my arms tired.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

It's a pretty unpleasant sort of deja vu to get up once again and start the day with news of another major terrorist attack in another major western metropolis. We don't know who did it or why, though I'm sure everyone has made their assumptions. My first thought was the French Olympic committee, but I could be wrong.

I'm surprised at how low the fatality count is. Right now they're still saying around thirty in the underground, but it's not clear whether that counts the bus or not. Still, since it's clear whoever-it-was was trying to imitate the Madrid train bombings, we can be thankful that they weren't as competent as the terrorists in Spain.

Just for the record, I want the perpetrators of this outrage quickly tracked down and brought to justice. Even though I'm a liberal, when I say "brought to justice" I do not mean "given milk and cookies," I do not mean "hugged," and " I do not mean "put in therapy." However, because I'm a liberal, I also do not mean "let's bomb a country we don't like," "let's assassinate someone and declare victory," or "lets disappear some people into a shadowy system with no accountability." I want the people responsible captured and tried in full daylight for all the world to see.

Because I'm a liberal, I believe in rule of law. I believe in playing according to the rules and making them work. I believe in the value of the government doing things--especially law and justice--in public. I think there is great value in putting the guilty on public so everyone can see what contemptible little monsters they are. I think there is great value in making the workings of the system public so everyone can see that it is fair and honest. I think the rules should play out the same whether terrorists are Islamic fundamentalists, American anti-abortion crusaders, animal rights activists, or the French Olympic committee.
You have been warned
For the next two and a half weeks, I'm going to be running around dealing with various crises and family obligations. Blogging will probably be erratic (as opposed to my normal pace, which is irregular). Of course, since the normal pace of crises is "hurry up and wait" I may find myself from time to time with hours on my hands just waiting for something to happen. In those cases I might feel like pouring my guts out on the blog (messy, but acceptable in this wacky blogosphere of ours) or I might sit and sulk behind my "leave me alone" sign. If you happen to drop by, I'd appreciate it if you would bring in the newspaper, water the plants, and pick on my new best friend, Banjo. I'll fill you in on the details after it's all over.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Some coverage of evolution
CNN has an AP piece up today on the controversies over teaching creationism in the schools. It's not tied to any specific piece of news; it's just a background piece. I suppose editors get a little desperate for something to fill the education page during the summer. The author, Ben Feller, the AP education writer, appears to have put the piece together by interviewing teachers at the National Education Association's annual meeting in Los Angeles.

As such pieces go, this one isn't too bad. Feller is sympathetic to the plight of educators trying to teach their subject in a heated political environment. The human side of his article is the best part, but when he tries to explain the underlying issue, the article is weaker.
The beliefs of creationist groups vary widely, but the doctrine's principle is that a supernatural being created the universe and living things. Biological evolution refers to the process of change in which species formed from preexisting species through the ages.

So far, so good. Feller cuts through one level of nonsense buy pointing out at the start that the opposition to evolution is religious, not scientific, though he could have done a better job explaining why that matters. He also gets points for defining evolution as dealing with change in existing life. Many creationists try to condemn evolution for being weak on explaining the origin of life. Though origins are a legitimate biological problem, they are not a necessary part of evolutionary theory.
Congress has weighed in with guidance to schools, saying in 2001 that students should be allowed to "understand the full range of scientific views" about biological evolution -- but also that students should be taught to distinguish between testable theories from religious or philosophical claims.

This is deceptive to the point of dishonest. What Feller refers to is something known in evolution/creationism circles as the "Santorum Amendment." During the debate over the "No Child Left Behind" education bill in 2001, Rick "man on dog" Santorum added an amendment to the senate version of the bill. This amendment was written by Phillip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor and one of the founders of Intelligent Design creationism, and David DeWolf, Gonzaga law professor and Senior Fellow at the creationist Discovery Institute. It stated:
It is the sense of the Senate that- (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

As is often the case with creationist materials, the low key wording obscures the wide-ranging effects that such an amendment could have caused. Creationists wanted this amendment in the spending bill because they planned to use it to claim that their "teach the controversy" approach was required by federal law.

Though the Santorum Amendment was in the version of NCLB passed by the Senate, it was not in the House version. It was removed in conference committee and it is not in the version that became law. So, Feller is right that the congress weighed in, in the sense that the Senate expressed an opinion, but that opinion is not part of the law of the United States. This detail has not stopped creationists (Phyllis Schlafly for example) from trying to bully school boards with the idea that a discarded amendment still holds some power.

Back to Feller's article.
Religious accounts of life's creation are not permitted in public schools under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has ruled.

He loses points again for uncritically repeating the myth that it is against the law even to mention god or religion in schools. The Supreme Court has ruled again and again over the last half-century that it is against the law to use public funds for religious indoctrination. Discussing religious beliefs in school is perfectly fine as long as it is done in the right context and the teacher is careful not to appear to endorse any one set of beliefs on behalf of the school.
Another theory fueling debate, intelligent design, asserts that some features of the natural world are so ordered and complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause. Critics call that a rehashed version of creationism, stripped of overt religious references, a claim that intelligent design researchers vigorously dispute.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that represents many scholars who support intelligent design, is not seeking to require schools to teach the theory. Nor is it out to diminish the teaching of evolution, said Bruce Chapman, the institute's president.

Without quote marks, this paragraph is unclear. Is the first sentence part of the quote of Chapman or is it Feller making a statement of undisputed fact? If the latter is his intent, he's completely wrong. According to the Wedge Strategy, the twenty year plan for the Discovery Institute that they sent to supporters as a fund-raising letter in the nineties, getting Intelligent Design creationism into the schools is one of their explicit goals.

At best, the Discovery Institute is opposed to introducing Intelligent Design creationism too soon. Their method is to first undermine evolution by spreading confusion about what it is and how it works. They then introduce their religious alternative, which has the benefit of replacing confusion with the certainty of religious faith. Their plan doesn't stop with evolution. The Discovery Institute strategy is to eventually undermine the entire scientific method and replace it with revealed religion.

The wedge strategy document aims at destroying the scientific method because the Discovery Institute founders feel that the lowered prestige of religious truth is to blame for most of the social evils of the modern world. This anti-science, anti-modern attitude is typical of fundamentalists in all religions. It is a backward-looking dream of returning to an imaginary golden age when no doubt existed. The Discovery Institute dream includes the unspoken assumption that scientific and economic progress would continue uninterrupted without scientific knowledge to guide them.

Once more, back to Feller.
National science leaders are alarmed by these renewed questions about evolution. Bruce Alberts, a cell biologist and immediate past president of the National Academy of Sciences, recently wrote all of its members to warn of the "growing threat" to the teaching of science.

Feller loses lots of points here. Scientists and educators are not alarmed by being questioned; they are alarmed by an assault on one of the main pillars of modern biology. They are alarmed at a trend in using the law to dictate how subjects will be taught and to legislate what constitutes truth (biologists should get together with historians. They've had to fight this battle for decades). To claim they fear question is an insult to all teachers and scientists.
At the college level, the American Association of University Professors has deplored any efforts to force public school teachers or higher education faculty to teach theories of the origins of life that are "unsubstantiated by the methods of science."

This brings us back to the starting point. Feller never makes clear the division between science and religion. Since this is a background piece, and this the entire nexus of the debate, he does a great disservice to his readers by not mentioning it. Science is a method of gathering knowledge based on what we can measure, test, and predict. Religion is a body of knowledge supported by divine authority. It is a core strategy of the creationists to confuse the distinction and call both "ideas about the way things work."

I don't know anything about Feller, so I can't say whether he intentionally favored the creationist side or not. Based on his initial sympathetic tone presenting the teachers' dilemma, I would say he's not against them. But by uncritically repeating some of the claims of the creationists and passing up opportunities to blow away some of their smokescreen, he has not helped the teachers in any way.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Taking tests is a drag
Here's one I don't think was ever tried on me during my short teaching career.
A Russian youth wearing a drag outfit which gave him improbably large breasts has been caught trying to sit an entrance exam for a female friend.

Moscow University security guards first thought the applicant had an oversized bust because "she" was trying to take crib sheets into the exam.

A search unmasked the false bosom, the university told the BBC News website.
The bizzaro workplace
A few others have already pointed out the excerpts from the new Santorum book over at CapitolBuzz. Santorum's opinions on the status of women are indeed creepy, but I wanted to point out how out of touch with normal working people one of the same quotes shows him to be.
In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might confess that both of them really don’t need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do… And for some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home. (It Takes a Family, p. 94)

To Santorum, modern women are selfish monsters who fling their children aside in order to have fun, fun, fun in workplace.

Santorum's job provides the best health insurance in the country for him and his entire family. He makes $162,100 per year. He also collected $70,000 from the State of Pennsylvania Penn Hills School District to home school his kids, even though they are full-time residents of The state of Virginia. He is one of the poorest people in the Senate. His brother is a CEO. Given that environment, I suppose it's easy for him to believe that a married woman's only reason to work outside the home would be for the fun and prestige of it.

Santorum probably would be shocked and amazed to discover that many people--educated, middle-class men and women--do not have gratifying careers. They have miserable, soul crushing jobs that they are afraid to leave because they are only one or two paychecks away from financial disaster. Many families need two payckecks to own a home. Many families aren't paid $70,000 to keep their kids at home.

Many workers--men and women--regard their lives as in hock to the employment world. They work forty hours a week in order to earn enough to ransom back two days a week and, if they are lucky, three weeks a year. They live this way, year after year, in the hopes that if they follow the rules in good faith they will be rewarded with a few years all their own sometime before they are completely worn out.

Tom Friedman thinks those workers have unrealistic expectations and a bad work ethic for wanting those two days a week for themselves. John Tierney thinks those workers are selfish and spoiled for not staying at work as long as their employers can still wring some work out of them. When asked to explain that crack, he added that the elderly were also out of line for not accepting lower pay as their energy declines. Such contempt for life experience seems like an odd position for a fifty-something writer to take.

Friedman and Tierney have highly respected, well rewarded, and satisfying careers. They can't imagine why some people look forward to the end of the day, to the weekend, to vacation, or to retirement. They're doing what they want to do, so a sixty hour week or a career into their late seventies doesn't seem like something to dread. If either of them ever was trapped on the "work to live, live to work" treadmill, it was so long ago that they have conveniently forgotten it.

Most of the people that I know who have jobs that they love, jobs that are a source of self-respect and satisfaction, do know that they are lucky. They have had bad jobs on their way to the good one. They remember trying to make ends meet, employment that was irrelevant to their interests and skills, and ego destroying bosses. They recognise that some of their friends and kin aren't as lucky as they are. They have a sense of perspective and live in the real world.

Santorum seems to think that all work is so satisfying that women would neglect their children to partake of it (and he clearly thinks not staying home IS neglect). Friedman and Tierney seem to think that all work is so satisfying that only great character flaws explain not wanting to do more of it for less pay. They are all living in a parallel world and working in a bizzaro workplace. Their world bears little resemblance to one the rest of us work in.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Important questions
My clever wife just asked an important question. We get New Year's Day off primarily to sleep off New Year's Eve. Even if one does not imbibe, the neighbors will party till the cows come and and then party with the cows. The Fourth of July is the same. Those bad neighbor kids--and where ever you live, there are bad neighbor kids, even if they are in their fifties--have been to reservation for illegal fireworks and tonight is going to sound like election night in Baghdad. Even if we get to sleep by one or two, we aren't going to be allowed to stay asleep till Thursday. So , why, she asks, why are we expected to go to work on the fifth of July?

Friday, July 01, 2005

History Carnival XI
The eleventh issue of the History Carnival is up over at Siris. Brandon has gathered a fascinating and diverse group of posts for your reading pleasure. They run the gamut from serious issues of historiography, to debunking, to current events, to the just plain silly and fun. My contribution fits into the last category. Brandon has done a great job of organizing the Carnival making it easy for you to find something that fits your interests. So, go, read, have fun, and maybe learn something. There are worse things you could do on a Friday.