Sunday, December 23, 2007

A little more on anti-science conservatives

Tyler DiPietro over at Power Up has critique of my post on science and conservatism that is worth checking out. Since my post was just a short observation, I left a few things out that might have clarified or elaborated on my intended points. Tyler caught the most important of these. That is, the place of anti-science thought in post modern theory--a field which is regretably undeniably a product of the left. The other anti-science strain in liberal thought, the ludditism of romantic environmentalism, he correctly understood me to have included in New Age Spiritualism.

However, when he disagrees with my point that "[s]cience, as an intellectual project is profoundly un-conservative," I'll need to defend myself (or at least clarify my sloppy writing). I had two points in mind in the short passage he takes objection to.

The first is my definition of conservative. The rough outline of this will be familiar to many readers of Bora/Coturnix, though I'm sure he will disagree on some of the details. I view conservative and liberal as primarily emotional ways of viewing the world. Political conservatism and liberalism are each a mixed bag of policy positions, pet issues, and philosophical positions. They are also alliances of groups and interests united by the practical needs of the moment. The bottom line is that not all of the agenda points put forth by the conservative alliance (or the liberal one) are philosophically consistent. Psychological conservatism does not exactly align with political conservatism. Ditto liberalism.

Most people do not associate themselves with a political group as a result of a careful philosophical evaluation of the two sides. Most people choose a group based on family history, cultural ties, or social asperations and then justify their adherance to the position of their team. Occasionally, people who are emotionally of one side, find themselves associated with the other political side. Again, this is something that I need to go into in much more detail some day. For now, the point I want to make is that scientists and technicians can approach science with a conservative or a liberal worldview but that doesn't make science itself conservative or liberal.

When I say science is un-conservative I am primarily speaking of its relationship to authority. The state of emotional conservatism that I have in mind is a state that is profoundly respectful of the established order and its authorities. Authority in this world view is an inherited quality. Fathers, bosses, priests, teachers, and other leaders deserve because of their position. To a conservative, those in authority deserve respect. In the liberal worldview, authority it is a fleeting thing. Liberals demand their leaders prove their right to lead. To a liberal, those who are respected earn authority.

Science, as I meant the word, is the abstract concept and not the actual practice or the people engaged in it. Science is a method of finding truth. Science is based on emperical fact gathering and testing. Truth, to science, is a highly mutable state. Truth is that interpretation which best fits the available information and state of the testing art. Because it does not respect the inherited position of an old truth, science is un-conservative. In theory, a scientific truth can change over night. In practice, a new scientific truth runs into barriers of the personal conservatism of many scientists.

I should also point out that I draw a clear distinction between science and technology that doesn't always exist in the real world. Technology is the practical application of scientific principals. While science is un-conservative, technology is very conservative. This is the main reason why engineers so often come down on the conservative side in the cultural wars (or the reason why so many conservatives are drawn to engineering).

That's enough for today. I'm glad this has engendered some discussion. I'll need to work on some of the supporting points in the near future.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

We always knew they were anti-science

Conservatism has always been anti-intellectual, but for years the modern conservative movement has tried to claim the prestige of science. Lately, conservative policies and rhetoric have tarnished the credibility of this claim. Today, we have a unambiguous statement from one of the official organs of conservatism that being anti-science is now one of their articles of faith. The conservative claim to be pro-science should never have passed the laugh test, but sadly for decades was taken seriously even by the scientists who should have known better. Why scientists were fooled is the subject for another, longer, post. For the present, let's look at the claim itself.

This twist of logic was achieved by painting liberalism as an anti-science ideology and themselves, by virtue of being anti-liberal, as the defenders of science. The core of their claim about the nature of liberalism was based on the facts that New Age spiritualism is often anti-science; that New Agers, when they are political at all, tend to be liberal; and that liberals, by way of their belief in tolerance and diversity, do not condemn New Age spiritualism on an ideological basis (though many individual liberals reject and criticize it on a rational basis).

Conservatives do not value or even understand tolerance or diversity. They strive to be a homogeneous mass who all think in the one approved manner. If liberals tolerate the beliefs of New Age spiritualism, it must be because they all share those beliefs, or so the argument ran. New Age spiritualism must be the official religion of liberalism and all liberals must be anti-science woo-woos. It was a caricature, by an effective one for propaganda purposes. It told scientists, technicians, and others who valued science that the conservatives were their team. The trouble is, conservatives do not value science. At most, they value some science and they value the products of science, especially the economic products.

Science, as an intellectual project is profoundly un-conservative. Science does not value tradition. Science requires authority to continually reprove itself. Science must follow the truth wherever it goes, regardless of the political and economic implications. Science is apolitical. However, while science may not be any friendlier to liberalism than it is to conservatism, liberalism, by virtue of that tolerance thing, is friendlier to science than conservatism is.

The conservative narrative about science began to fall apart over two issues. The first, historically, was religion. Conservative religion will tolerate no competition as a path to the truth. As conservative Christians have gained power in the political conservative sphere, they have tried to use that power to silence science. Biology, reproductive knowledge, and environmental sciences were the first to fall afoul of the rising religious conservative power, but they also have their eyes on cosmology, the earth sciences, and dating technology. At the bottom of the culture war, religious conservative want to do away with the scientific method itself and silence unfettered inquisitiveness in the name of traditional authority.

The second conflict between science and the modern conservative movement has come where new scientific knowledge has threatened profitable economic practices. Medicine and environmentalism constantly make us aware of costs to ourselves, as individuals and as part of the entire planetary biosphere, that are being ignored. In many cases, the only way businesses can continue to function is by ignoring these costs and forcing them into the future. But the future is now and here in the form of lung cancer, childhood asthma, and climate change.

The modern conservative movement has begun to view science itself as the enemy. Science refuses to submit to proper authority and undermines business with inconvenient truths. From the conservative point of view, science has gone over to the other side. If science is liberal, then the only proper attitude for a loyal conservative is to become anti-science and celebrate assaults on science.

Confirmation that anti-science is now an article of faith among conservatives comes from no less an authority than the National Review. In an online review of the movie I Am Legend, Greg Pollowitz writes:
Shhhh. The end of I Am Legend is religious. And the beginning of the movie is anti-science. The military is a force for good, too. Shhhh. Our little secret. And what must be surprising to those on the Left, a movie that's anti-science, religious and pro-military earned close to $80 million over the weekend.

Got that? A good conservative movie is on that is religious, pro-military, and anti-science. As a pro-science liberal, I knew it all along, but it's nice to get a confirmation from their lips.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A trifling point, or not

When Bob Kerrey endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday, he offered some kind words for her chief opponent, Barack Obama:
It’s probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There’s a billion people on the planet that are Muslims and I think that experience is a big deal.

Some Obama supporters and liberal bloggers have taken offense at this, seeing it as a sneaky way to keep the Muslim Manchurian Candidate theme alive. Kerry says he meant no such thing, "I know that middle name is seen as a weakness by Republicans, but I don’t think it is. I think it enables him to speak to a billion Muslims around the world.”

Mark Kleiman is inclined to give Kerrey the benefit of the doubt, and, what's more, agrees with him.
It’s entirely possible that Kerrey meant what he said about Obama’s name doing America good in its foreign relations. I’m more inclined to believe that because I also think that what Kerrey said was true: a big advantage to electing Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency is that there are a billion people in the world with relatives named “Hussein,” and they’d be less inclined to be our enemies if our leader had “Hussein” in his name.

James Joyner is also inclined to give Kerrey the benefit of the doubt, However Joyner strongly disagrees with him.
[T]he idea that religious nuts who are willing to murder thousands of Americans would think “Hey, they elected a guy with a Muslim middle name! They must be okay!” is absurd. Hell, they kill plenty of people named Hussein who actually are Muslims; the only thing they hate more than American infidels is Arab apostates.

I agree with Joyner, but in the spirit of playing the "on the other hand" game till I have more hands than Kali, and, more importantly, in the spirit of pointless, academic pedantry that I so love, I do need to point out one flaw in Joyner's statement. Arab isn't a religion. Arab is a nationality and you cannot commit apostasy against a nationality (you cam emigrate, but that's not the same thing). Apostasy is a religious crime. Muslim is a religion. Arab and Muslim are not synonyms. Kerrey's lame point was that having the middle name "Hussein" would give Obama instant credibility with the world's Muslim population, over half of whom are not Arab.

Here let me present it as a handy list that you can print out and give to your friends and kin.
Arab - A nationality, not a religion
Muslim - A religion, not a nationality
Arab and Muslim - Not the same thing
Muslim and Islam - The same thing
Islamofacism - Not a real thing

Sigh. Actually, this is more than a pedantic point. These confusions about Arab and Muslim and about religion and nationality are epidemic among even the best educated Americans. The Bush administration is made up of arrogant, bullying idiots, but another administration made up of people with the best of intentions will still be a disaster in foreign policy if we don't care enough about the rest of the world's people and cultures to learn even the most basic facts about them.

Giant rat of Sumatra found!

And it was hiding in New Guinea. Rats are devious and sneaky creatures. Never play cards with them.
Researchers in a remote jungle in Indonesia have discovered a giant rat and a tiny possum that are apparently new to science, underscoring the stunning biodiversity of the Southeast Asian nation, scientists announced Monday.


Researchers in a remote jungle in Indonesia have discovered a giant rat and a tiny possum that are apparently new to science, underscoring the stunning biodiversity of the Southeast Asian nation, scientists announced Monday.

I find it incredibly cool that there are still species as big medium-sized land mammals out there waiting to be discovered. The seas have even more secrets that the land. The sad side of it is that we are finding many of these species just in time to watch them go extinct. These surveys are incredibly important.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas sets a trap

Having solved all of the problems facing the country, the House of Representatives today will debate whether or not they like Christmas. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has introduced a resolution in the House saying Christmas and Christians are important. This just pandering to the Bill O'Reilly war-on-Christmas crowd and a transparent attempt to get some Democrats on record as opposing Christmas, something no one will do. Unfortunately, while most of it is just silly, the resolution has some land mines in it that make it more dangerous than the run of the mill feel-good measure.

Let's look at the full text.
Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

First, looking through the whereas':

In the fourth whereas (Christians identify themselves...), King apparently hopes to get a statement of faith into the congressional record. It actually makes no grammatic sense in the contest of the resolution. The whereas' are the reasons for the resolution. The first three make logical sense (whereas there are lots of Christians in the country, we support one of their holidays). The fourth does only makes sense as an effort to deny other religions the same support (whereas Christians believe in salvation through Christ, we support their holidays. If they didn't believe that, we wouldn't support them).

The next two whereas' are an effort to get congressional support for a watered down version of the Christian republic form of historical revisionism that is popular among the far Christian right and home-schooling crowd.

The eighth whereas (Christmas is celebrated as a recognition...) returns to trying to get Congress on record actually supporting articles of Christian dogma, not merely the observation of a holiday.

Now, on to the resolution itself:
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

If by "great" King means large, then the point is as meaningless as a resolution recognising the wetness of water. If by "great" he means a value judgment, then who are the not great religions in his opinion?
(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

Congress expresses continued support for three quarters of the voters in the United States. That's nice, though pointless. Shouldn't they be more concerned about that support flowing the other direction?
(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

This should be the meat of a feel-good resolution, but it goes on.
(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

Of course, Christians played a role in the founding of the United States, but this is a more explicit attempt to get the Christian republic historical revisionism on record. The actual wording is harmless enough to allow King deniability, but once passed, this resolution will be mentioned by the revisionists for years to come.
(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

Why say Congress is opposed to bigotry and persecution directed against Christians and not mention other groups? On one hand, it plays to the persecution narrative that is epidemic among conservative Christians. On the other hand, it denies support to non-Christians.
(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

How nice. Not only does Congress express support for three quarters of the voters in the United States, but it respects them too.

A mere feel-good resolution should be limited to points one, three, and six.
The others all give veiled support to the religious right's world view and political agenda. Unfortunately, the language is veiled enough that most members of congress will miss the point and, in any case, will be afraid to go on record opposing Christmas. The bill is a trap for Democrats and should not be allowed to make it to the floor. Someone was asleep at the wheel to let this happen.

Update: Rep. King won't be there for the vote. He is stranded at the Des Moines airport because of heavy snow and ice storms. Could the will of God (or Santa or Jack Frost or whoever controls winter weather) be any more clear?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cold weather food

It's winter and time for warm, wholesome comfort foods. A few years ago Clever Wife had some dental work done and we ended up eating soft food for about a month. Clever Wife isn't a huge fan of pasta (she'll eat some but she couldn't eat it every day), so I worked on my stews and casseroles. Chicken and fennel stew turned out to be her favorite--enough so that she still occasionally requests it even after eating almost nothing else for a month. I posted this recipe about two years ago, but it's worth repeating.

You will need:
  • A chicken's worth of chicken meat.
  • Broth. If you use a whole chicken, you will, of course make your own broth. If you get lazy, like me and buy packaged, skinless, boneless chicken parts, you will want to get a can or two of plain broth.
  • Dry white wine. Two bottles or more, depending on how much of a Julia Child at heart you are. If you don't drink, you just need one bottle to cook into the stew.
  • A large fennel bulb.
  • A large yellow onion.
  • A half pound of mushrooms.
  • Herbs. Spices. Other stuff.
  • Cheese and crackers.

If you're using a whole chicken, chop it into parts, put it in a Dutch oven and add just enough water to cover the chicken. Add a little salt. Bring the water to boil, then turn it down to a low simmer. Pour yourself a small glass of wine and go read blogs for about fifteen minutes. When you return, the chicken will be cooked and you'll have a couple cups of broth. Remove the pot from the heat. Take the chicken parts out of the broth and let them cool enough that you can handle them. When you can handle the chicken, remove the skin and bones and discard them. Leave about one and a half cups of broth in the Dutch oven and add a half bottle of wine and a bay leaf or two. Refrigerate the rest of the broth. I don't need to tell you how many uses there are for homemade chicken broth, do I?

If you start with skinless, boneless chicken parts, place them in the Dutch oven and cover with equal amounts of broth and wine, a little salt, and a bay leaf. Bring the liquid to boil, then turn it down to a low simmer. Pour yourself a small glass of wine and go read blogs for about fifteen minutes. When you return, take the chicken parts out of the liquid and let them cool enough to handle. Remove the pot from the heat.

The lazy bastards and the whole chicken purists should be at the same place now.

Dice or shred the meat and throw it back in the pot.

Dice the onion and sauté it in a little olive oil until the onion bits start to turn translucent. Add the cooked onion to the pot.

Sautéing is hot work, so have another small glass of wine or maybe some not-too-sweet fruit juice.

Dice the fennel bulb and sauté just as you did the onion. If you have never cooked with fennel, a fennel bulb will look to you like the mutant spawn of a white onion, celery, and dill. For the stew, we are just using the onion looking part. The little dill-like fronds are a nice garnish for fruit salads. The celery parts, when chopped, can go in the stew or in a salad. Add the cooked fennel to the pot.

Dice the mushrooms and sauté in a little olive oil with diced or smashed garlic until soft. Add the cooked mushrooms to the pot.

This is a stew; you can add a lot of other ingredients at this point, if you have them laying around. Potatoes and carrots are the most obvious candidates. A little cooked and crumbled sweet Italian sausage brings out the fennel flavor (the liquorish flavor in Italian sausage comes from fennel seed).

Add more wine to cover all of the ingredients but don't over do it, this is stew, not soup. Add a large sprig of fresh rosemary. Stir it all together, bring it to a boil, salt and pepper to taste, and cook at a low simmer for at least two hours.

Have another glass of wine and some cheese and crackers while you wait for the stew to cook. Don't spoil your appetite.

As it nears completion add about two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. This adds a nice dark element in the background, but don't overdo it.

Fish out the bay leaf and rosemary stem.

Depending how thick or juicy you like your stew, you might add more wine or add a roux. I like it thick. I use a Yukon gold potato as thickener. I cut the potato into large pieces and cook it in the stew. Just before serving, I fish out the potato pieces, throw then into the blender with some of the liquid from the stew, blast it into a good thick mush, and return it to the stew.

Garnish with the fennel fronds and fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a light salad, whole grain rolls, and another bottle of wine. Like any stew, it gets better every time you rewarm it.

This is good winter food.

Tell us of your beginnings, old bear

Polar bears' white hair doesn't come from age; they are the youngest of all bear species. However, they are older than we previously thought.
What may be the oldest known remains of a polar bear have been uncovered on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic.

The jawbone was pulled from sediments that suggest the specimen is perhaps 110,000 or 130,000 years old.

Professor Olafur Ingolfsson from the University of Iceland says tests show it was an adult, possibly a female.

The find is a surprise because polar bears are a relatively new species, with one study claiming they evolved less than 100,000 years ago.

The difference is bigger than mere years indicate. One hundred thousand years means the polar bear evolved during an early pulse in the last ice age. That a snow and ice adapted creature might have evolved during a period when much of the Northern Hemisphere was covered in snow and ice make sense but isn't necessarily true. The part of the North covered by snow and ice for the last ten thousand years has been plenty large for polar bears to thrive.

And now it appears that they might have evolved in a climate more like the present than like an ice age. A date of 110,000 or 130,000 years ago pushes this fossil into the last full interglacial. All that it would take for a polar animal to evolve during an interglacial would be for the northern part of an species' population to become genetically isolated from the majority of the species--in this case brown and grizzly bears. Selection pressures among that northern group would favor those with traits better adapted to the cold and white world. Color and camouflage are a very important trait for a hunter. Meanwhile, their southern cousins would keep those traits better adapted to forest and tundra, like brown fur.

Aside from mere scientific interest, this story has a hopeful element. The Eemian--the last interglacial--was much warmer than the present interglacial. This means if the world doesn't warm too much, we might be moving into a period similar to the one that created polar bears.

On the other hand, we shouldn't get complacent. There is a lot more to the bears' environment than cold temperatures and ice. They are just one part of a complex and fragile ecology. Even if the bears can handle the temperature and loss of ice, they still need a food supply that survives the shifting climate along with them. Seals, salmon, walruses, and who knows what else all need to make the change and feed each other. The more we know, the better we can help them.

Let's have a debate on science policy

Is there room for one more debate this season? A group that includes Nobel Laureates, leaders of industry, university presidents, science journalists, congresspersons, and bloggers says yes. They have a topic in mind.
Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.

An informed electorate should know what the candidates think about these issues because these issues will touch us all and continue to touch us for longer than one news cycle or one election cycle. But do people care enough to sit still for another debate? And if we have a debate can we avoid having the usual idiots asking the questions? I don't think I could survive listening to Tim Russert ask his famous "tough" questions--Mr. Obama, which is your favorite element?

I have to add, even though I think this is a good idea, I would dread having my worst fears about how stupid our leaders are confirmed. We already know that two of the remaining Republican candidates don't believe in evolution. What other horrifying revelation await us?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Foreign bear faces justice

Fifty years ago, a young Peruvian bear with a fondness for marmalade was discovered among the mail bags at Paddington station in London. The raincoat clad bear was adopted by the Brown family and has had many adventures and met many wonderful people in the half-century since then. He has brought joy to millions of children in dozens of countries. But that doesn't entitle him to break the law. In his latest book, the authorities finally catch up with Paddington, arrest him and interrogate him over his questionable immigration status. I'm sure John "five in the noggin" Gibson will be disappointed to find out that the authorities use due process to deal with the undocumented South American immigrant and not one of those flying death squads he's so fond of.

Mike Gravel and Duncan Hunter are still running for president

But really, who cares?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Creationism is paganism

While in Glasgow, Scotland to give a speech, the papal astronomer unambiguously slapped down young-earth creationism as incompatible with modern Catholicism.
Believing that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.

Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a "destructive myth" had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.

He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a "kind of paganism" because it harked back to the days of "nature gods" who were responsible for natural events.

Although he doesn't mention the Intelligent Design form of creationism Consolmagno's statement is still relevant to the evolution/creationism debate in the United States. Most supporters of adding ID to science curricula in public schools are young earth creationists who are cynically using ID as a lubricant for a slippery slope aimed at more religion in all parts of education. Consolmagno can't completely come out against ID, because the official position of the church on science is one of theistic evolution and God as the prime mover. ID was specifically formulated to fudge the line between these positions and the more superstitious nature god paganism that Consolmagno is criticizing.

While Consolmagno can't come out in favor of completely secular science, he is allowed to criticize the worst types of creationism, and does. His words should be required reading for any Catholics who are inclined to support ID or other forms of creationism in the American (or Australian or Canadian or English...) culture wars.

Kevin needs our help

Kevin Hayden is one of the founding fathers of the liberal blogosphere. His early indexing and networking helped turn a bunch of lone voices into a community and a political power. Now Kevin needs our help. Kevin's job has fallen victim to the housing bubble. While he looks for new work he has bills to pay. You know what to do. Go over to his place and bang on his Pay Pal button.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Vote for Jim

Neither Joe Biden nor Mike Gravel will be on the ballot for the Oklahoma Democratic primary, having missed the filing deadline, but retired high school teacher Jim Rogers will be. "Might as well," Rogers said, "everybody else is." Not that Biden or Gravel had a chance, but it's hard to be taken seriously, even as someone just trying to have their voice heard in the debates, if you don't try to get on the ballot.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Department of superfluous redundancies department

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Complete Idiocy

I think it's serious.

Chocogeddon Looms

Workers in the cocoa management bodies of the Ivory Coast have gone on strike. Ivory Coast is the world's largest producer of cocoa, controlling almost forty percent of the global supply. A continued strike could lead to chocolate shortages this Valentine's Day or even sooner. I hope we have a contingency plan for military intervention to keep our nation's vital chocolate supplies flowing. Even a short interruption could be disastrous. Why is the Bush administration mucking around in the Middle East debating whether or not some country or another has or wants a bomb program while a real crisis is spinning out of control in West Africa? Where do the presidential candidates stand on this important issue? If anyone needs me I'll be driving around town buying all of the Hershey's Kisses I can find before the hoarders get them.

How the Grinch saved Christmas

Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly (and I use the word "personality" in its broadest, most ironically tinged, sense) gives himself credit for saving Christmas from "the forces of darkness." The forces of darkness could not be reached for comment.

The world is only 2000 years old

Sherri Shepherd makes Paris Hilton look like an intellectual giant.

The newest host on the The View made headlines in September by saying she wasn't sure whether the world was flat or not (this was after she said she didn't believe in evolution). What got less press was her craven defense of her flat-earthery; when she sensed that she had said something wrong she held her kids up in front of her as a shield. When Barbara Walter incredulously asked "You've never thought about whether the world was round or flat?" Shepherd replied, "I tell you what I've thought about. How I'm going to feed my child." It was a cowardly and disgusting play to change the issue and gain sympathy.

The next day, she claimed she was flustered by Whoopi Goldberg's tough questioning. That should have been taken as an admission that she wasn't ready for live television and she should have been sent back to the sit-coms. But, Barbara had pity and gave her another chance and she has used that chance to once again stand up for ignorance.

Yesterday, while the other hosts were discussing the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (!?), Shepherd announced that the Greeks couldn't have come before Jesus: "I don't think anything predated Christians." When Joy Behar attempted to explain the Greek-Roman-Christian chronology, Shephard stood firm: "Jesus came first before them."

This is not a question of Shepherd's religion any longer. Her disbelief in evolution could be explained by fundamentalism, her confusion about the shape of the earth by being suspicious that Goldberg was leading her into a trap, but this has no religious justification. Even the most extreme literalist fundamentalists believe that there was some history before Jesus. They do believe in Moses, Egypt, and Babylon. Even the most hardcore flood geologists put the flood over two thousand years before Jesus. The initials BC do mean something to them.

Shepherd is just plain ignorant. She's an embarrassment even by The View standards.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Romney to give " The Mormon Speech"

This Thursday, at the George H.W. bush presidential Library in College Station Texas, Mitt Romney will deliver a much anticipated speech on religion in an effort to calm evangelical misgivings about his Mormon faith without scaring off moderately religious and secular voters.

Critics and supporters alike have pushed him to make such a speech for months, drawing analogies to President Kennedy's 1960 speech which was widely credited with calming Protestant fears that he would be the "Catholic President." Late in the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy told a Texas gathering of evangelicals, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters--and the church does not speak for me." The key element in this speech was a promise that he respected the traditional boundaries of church-state separation and would not violate those boundaries in favor of his own church.

Romney can't make that promise to the same effect. I have no reason to believe he can't be just as independent of the hierarchy of his church as Kennedy was with his. However, unfortunately for Romney, the evangelical political crowd don't want the same thing from him that they wanted from Kennedy. This year, they very much want the boundaries of church-state separation to be violated. They want the boundaries to be obliterated. But they only want that to happen if the obliteration is to their favor, and only to their favor. They want to be assured that Romney won't make them share the benefits of wholesale meddling in the government with religions that don't share their political and social agenda. They don't want Romney to promise neutrality; they want him to swear fealty.

Ironically, Romney probably does share many of the values and goals that the religious right wants to promote. If they would let him continue on his way, looking to most people like a middle of the road Protestant, he would most likely re-enforce everything George Bush has done for them. But, by demanding a public declaration from him that he is their candidate, they are seriously damaging his chances of getting elected or even of getting the nomination.

This speech is a very dangerous moment for Romney. He needs to be all things to all people without scaring anybody. It might be a mission impossible.