Thursday, April 29, 2004

What was that all about?
Italy removed evolution from the national high school curriculum then restored it in a ten week period.

On February 19 Italy released a new national middle school curriculum that made no mention of evolutionary theory. On April 23, a group of Nobel laureates launched the petition through the daily La Repubblica to restore of evolution to Italy?s high schools. After three days and 44,000 signatures, the Minister of Education not only reversed he decision, but expanded the teaching of evolution to all grades of public education and appointed a committee of scientists to provide guidelines for teaching evolution.

The only concession of Education Minister Letizia Moratti that she might have had an ulterior motive in removing evolution from the national curriculum was her statement that "On my side, I will try to give space to different views about evolution."
Is this a joke?
Liberal Coalition colleague Steve over at Yellow Doggerel Democrat found this gem that really speaks for itself.
Patriot Act Suppresses News of Challenge to Patriot Act
The American Civil Liberties Union disclosed yesterday that it filed a lawsuit three weeks ago challenging the FBI's methods of obtaining many business records, but the group was barred from revealing even the existence of the case until now.

The lawsuit was filed April 6 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, but the case was kept under seal to avoid violating secrecy rules contained in the USA Patriot Act, the ACLU said. The group was allowed to release a redacted version of the lawsuit after weeks of negotiations with the government.

"It is remarkable that a gag provision in the Patriot Act kept the public in the dark about the mere fact that a constitutional challenge had been filed in court," Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director, said in a statement. "President Bush can talk about extending the life of the Patriot Act, but the ACLU is still gagged from discussing details of our challenge to it."
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Did they decline or were they not allowed to comment? If the Patriot act is repealed, will we be allowed to know? Remember when they said irony was dead in the post 9/11 world?
Contrary to the public interest
By now you have probably heard that ABC's Nightline is planning to dedicate their entire Friday program to reading the names of the American soldiers who have died in combat in Iraq while showing their pictures.
Nightline" executive producer Leroy Sievers said: "We realized that the casualties were on their way to becoming just numbers."

"'The Fallen' is our way of reminding our viewers -- whether they agree with the war or not -- that beyond the casualty numbers, these men and women are serving in Iraq in our names. and that those who have been killed have names and faces," said Sievers.

"It is purely a tribute," [A "Nightline" spokeswoman] said, adding that "Nightline" had been working closely with the Army Times Publishing Company which has a database of names and photographs of troops killed in action.

Army Times is not a liberal rag and would not participate in something like this if they felt it did anything other than honor the sacrifice of their comrades. No doubt, this will be powerful, memorable TV and as such it will also be controversial.

Many people have a very low tolerance for controversy. Among the lowest are our corporate citizens. Sinclair Broadcast Group has ordered its ABC-affiliated stations not to carry the show. Sinclair's General Counsel, Barry Faber, say only, "We find it to be contrary to the public interest." This is craven cowardice of the first rank.

The affected stations are:
  • KDNL St, Louis, MO
  • WSYX Columbus, OH
  • WLOS Greenville/Spartansburg, NC
  • WXLV Greensboro, NC
  • WCHS Charleston, WV
  • WEAR Mobile, AL
  • WGGB Springfield, MA
  • WTXL Tallahassee, FL

I'm digusted, but not surprised.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Ark, again
The expedition to find Noah’s Ark is almost a generic news story that could be run every summer. Fill in the name of the financier and his church and you’re ready to go. So far at least 150 news outlets have picked up the latest version. I’m sure there will be more.
WASHINGTON -- An expedition is being planned for this summer to the upper reaches of Turkey's Mount Ararat where organizers hope to prove an object nestled amid the snow and ice is Noah's Ark.

A joint U.S.-Turkish team of 10 explorers plans to make the arduous trek up Turkey's tallest mountain, at 17,820 feet, from July 15 to August 15, subject to the approval of the Turkish government, said Daniel P. McGivern, president of Shamrock-The Trinity Corporation of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Ark hunting is easy to dismiss as a fairly harmless belief. At least it has the benefit of employing a few people in a very poor region. Of course, I’m not going to let it go at that. I’ll limit myself to commenting on one aspect of the whole business that I find interesting.

It’s probably the wrong mountain. Genesis does not say the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat; it says, depending on your translation that it came to rest on “a mountain in Ararat.” Ararat, or Urartu, was their name for the mountainous region in northern Iraq, western Iran, and eastern Turkey reaching as far as the Caucasus. To the desert and river valley dwellers that wrote Genesis, these mountains were the tallest things they could conceive. Ararat was the top of the world. It was the same reasoning that led the Greeks, who were familiar with the region from sailing the shores of the Black Sea, to place the location of Prometheus’ captivity and torment on those same mountains (Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus). When they named a specific mountain, they usually named one further south and visible from Mesopotamia. Mt. Ararat didn’t become the mountain until around the time of the crusades (I suspect, but can’t prove, that it was the Ararat chamber of commerce trying to get a piece of the lucrative pilgrimage trade that sold this particular mountain).

There are some fairly interesting things to say about what the persistence of belief in the ark reveals about modern fundamentalism and the American imagination in general, but I’ll save those for another day.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Not keeping up
The blessing and curse of the blogosphere is that it is very large and diverse and we have limited time and attention. I started regularly reading blogs a little over a year ago when a friend of mine started a blog of his own (it was David Neiwert at Orcinus). At first I only regularly read a few blogs that he dialoged with in order to keep up with the conversation. Soon I was actively exploring to find new blogs of new types. Within two months I had to start my own blog and participate. That meant creating my own blogroll. Like most blogrolls, my list only gets longer; it never gets shorter. As someone who has rather eclectic interests, my attention wanders from week to week. Some weeks I read mostly science blogs, some weeks mostly humor blogs, other weeks mostly fringe conspiracists, and so on.

My other bad habit as an inhabitant of the blogosphere is that I don't pay very close attention to comments. There are exceptions, some of the best material at Panda's Thumb happens in the intelligent discussions in the comments. But at some of the most popular sites, the comments go on and on, repeat themselves, wander off topic, and fill up with trolls. At the first sign of a flame war, I'm gone.

Now, all of this is just preliminary to confessing that I haven't been keeping up with some of my favorite blogs, like Allen Brill's The Village Gate (formerly The Right Christians) the American Street. I've never met Allen, but I imagine him to be almost the perfect exemplar of the ethically consistent, rational, tolerant, and open minded religious person that I alluded to in the previous post.

The reason I bring this up today, is that in checking out Village Gate this morning I found out that a great deal of Atrios' religion ranting this weekend was aimed at Brill and a number of other liberal Christians. I suppose I might have known that if I read Atrios' comments. Brill's coverage of part of the other side is here. Quite a few other people have weighed in as well. Chuck Currie fired a rather hash response at Atrios on the pages of American Street. In the comments to Currie’s post Street emcee, Kevin Hayden tried to make peace between the sides and Pharangula blogger, PZ Meyer, came to Atrios’ defense. I’m still tracking down all of the relevant posts at their home sites.

This is turning rather ugly and it's giving me that Mom-and-Dad-are-fighting feeling in the pit of my stomach. These are all very good people and they are usually on the same side (my side). Both sides are feeling unappreciated by their allies and lashing out in frustration.

To me this looks like the full flower of the success of a conservative strategy of divide and conquer. For years, the religious right has refused to qualify themselves, calling themselves "Christians" in a manner that said, "only our sect has true Christians." Moreover, some on the religious right force that distinction to an absurd Manichean extreme: in their world there are only Christians (them) and godless atheists (everyone else). This line of argument is very common in creationism/evolution rhetoric.

Besides trying to own God, Christ, and religion in general, as they have patriotism and the flag for forty years, the far right’s behavior has put liberal and moderate Christians on the defensive ("I am too a Christian!") and begun separate secular and religious progressives.

The secular and religious portions of the left coalition have reasons enough to feel friction without help from the right. Both are heirs to nineteenth century progressive intellectual traditions. Many on the secular left feel they are the continuation of Enlightenment humanism and still pine for the day when religious superstition was supposed to fade away under the bright light of rationalism. That day has been indefinitely postponed. The religious progressives are the survivors of the nineteenth century social gospel movement that gave us some of the most important fighters for abolition, workers rights, child labor laws, and temperance. They, at one time, seemed destined to become the mainstream of American religion. They found their primary frustration in the same movement that frustrated the secularists. In the first couple years of the twentieth century a conservative counter-revolution took place in American religion. Many churches gave up the social gospel and embraced a form of politically conservative, reactionary anti-modernity. The movement took its name from a series of pamphlets called “the Fundamentals.”

These fundamentalists have been trying to overturn both secular and religious progressivism for eighty years. As long as we fight each other, we are doing their work for them. If the far right manages to separate the secular and religious lefts, they will rule uncontested for another generation and irrevocably remodel our society in their image.
Asking the right question
Fron the Washington Post (requires registration) via Atrios:
A question has been gnawing at Frank A. McNeirney since he read that some Roman Catholic bishops want to deny Communion to Catholic politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, whose public positions are at odds with church doctrine.

"Does this only apply to abortion?" asked McNeirney, 67, of Bethesda. "What about the death penalty?"

Mr. McNeirney has managed to nail two of my favorite hypocrisies with one shot: selective enforcement of religious law and selective indignation over the sanctity of human life.

The former are those Christians, Jews, and Muslims who quote their sacred to law at the drop of a hat if it supports their favorite biases. Usually this means sacred law is less a guide to life to them than it is a cudgel with which to beat their opponents. If the law is eternal, something that must be unwaveringly obeyed, then that must mean all of the law. On the other hand, if religious law is subject to history in the same way human law is, then it is fair to interpret all laws in the context of the age. They can't treat sacred law like an ala carte smorgasbord, picking and choosing those parts that demand unquestioning obedience and those parts that are open to interpretation. A person who travels on the Sabbath and eats shellfish can't demand stoning for homosexuals.

The latter hypocrites are those who only get excited about protecting the sanctity of human life when it is in the womb. They become indifferent to that life when it is in the world looking for food, shelter, and medicine, and the demand the ending of that life when it transgresses.

Mr. McNeirney reassures me that there are still religious people who are ethically consistent and rational and that they exist on both sides of the political divide. Not that I really doubted; I have known plenty of deeply religious people who were decent and honest. But it's nice to be reminded that they exist beyond my excentric circle. The WaPo article makes the same point.
But McNeirney is not alone in questioning whether the church's political vision has become myopic, focusing too narrowly on abortion.

Some Catholic publications, educators and elected officials are also warning that church leaders may appear hypocritical or partisan if they condemn Kerry because he favors abortion rights while they say nothing about Catholic governors who allow executions, Catholic members of Congress who support the Iraq war or Catholic officials at all levels who ignore the church's teachings on social justice.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Can’t be too careful
NASA is forbidding its employees and contractors to make any public statements regarding a forthcoming science fiction blockbuster in which a new ice age happens in less than a week.
In "The Day After Tomorrow," a $125 million disaster film set to open on May 28, global warming from accumulating smokestack and tailpipe gases disrupts warm ocean currents and sets off an instant ice age.

Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely, especially in the near future. But the prospect that moviegoers will be alarmed enough to blame the Bush administration for inattention to climate change has stirred alarm at the space agency, scientists there say.

"No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with" the film, said the April 1 message, which was sent by Goddard's top press officer. "Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA."


The new movie's script contains a host of politically uncomfortable situations: the president's motorcade is flash frozen; the vice president, who scoffs at warnings even as chaos erupts, resembles Dick Cheney; the humbled United States has to plead with Mexico to allow masses of American refugees fleeing the ice to cross the border.

I love the evenhandedness of the Times: “Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely….” I wish they had interviewed those few who do think an ice age can happen in five days.

I hope this silliness draws some attention to the administration's attempts to muzzle scientists and misrepresent research for political ends. If you're interested, the go-to blog for information on Bush versus Science is Chris Mooney. Everytime I think I'm going to write an angry expose about some ugly misuse of science by the administration, I find that Mooney has already written it.
Religion weekend in Left Blogistan
I think by now most of you should have noticed that the intersection of religious and political institutions is one of my personal hot button issues. I think it’s best for both of them if they stay as far apart as possible. That’s not to say that I think religious people should stay out of politics (though I can name a few individuals whose absence would make me very happy). It’s also not to say that I think people’s religious beliefs should or can be kept out of politics. On the average, America is the most religious of all the industrial or Western countries. Demanding rigorous secularity of all who enter the political marketplace would be a formula for disenfranchising a solid majority of our population. And I think that would be a bad thing. So I’m resigned to religion and religious people being an inescapable fact of American politics, but I’m determined to keep them from forcing their religious beliefs on me or anyone else. Theocracy is the worst form of government possible.

That is as far as John’s manifesto on religion and politics goes this blurry Sunday morning. I’m thinking about this because there seems to be an unusually large number of good posts and discussions on religion and politics in Left Blogistan this weekend.

Atrios started it last week with a series of posts taking Republican Catholics to task for their hypocrisy in trying to make a religious issue of Kerry’s pro-choice positions while giving pro-choice ( and I might add pro-death-penalty) Republicans a free ride.

Atrios continued on Friday with a post provoked by a sloppy Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times that morning. This led to a great deal of commenting to which Atrios has so far answered twice (once, twice). Atrios provides lots of links of further discussions.

Farmer over at Corrente has two interesting posts, one on Bishop Spong and one on the Taliban on the Palouse, that nicely bookend my interests.

And I always spend a lot of time reading the defenders of science education against legislated Creationism (start here and read their blogroll).

I’ve gotta go work in the yard. Read those links and I’ll be back to discuss things later.

Friday, April 23, 2004

PT Barnum was right
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cloning foes spent yesterday getting in a lather over the activities of a fictional fertility institute. The marketing folks for the movie Godsend must be in heaven today.
The folks who spent Tuesday angrily signing an online petition against a Massachusetts fertility clinic could be the grandchildren of those Grover's Mill, N.J., residents who fled their homes on All Hallow's Eve 1938.

Like Orson Welles' creepy radio drama broadcast of "War of the Worlds," the Godsend Institute is an ingenious hoax, timed to hype the upcoming Lions Gate thriller "Godsend," starring Robert De Niro. The Web site,, boasts pictures and glowing testimonials from families who have successfully cloned their deceased children. Raves one family unit with 2.5 kids: "We didn't think it could be true, but we're a family again!"

The site seems so real that people have been signing an online petition against the institute.

In the sci-fi thriller, due out April 30, Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos play parents of a dead and eventually re-born 8-year-old boy.

Cloning foes, suckered by the scam, have been signing the anti-Godsend Institute petition at www.petitionspot .com. Raged one poster named Robin: "We have no right to be creating lives in this manner."

Another poster, who identified herself as Snowflake, succinctly responded: "It's a movie, you morons!"

I'm sure this will start showing up in a few days as anecdotal proof of the failure of the American public education system, but I'd rather be a liberal elitist and blame it on home schooling and vouchers.

PS - Yeah. I know PT Barnum never said "there's a sucker born every minute," but a careful examination of the origin of the phrase goes against the principle of succinctness in headline writing.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

This is just evil
Rook’s Rant, one of my Liberal Coalition colleagues got this e-mail today:
Hey, Just got this from CNN, Osama Bin Laden has been captured! Goto the link below to view the pics and to download the video if you so wish: http://**********/ "Murderous coward he is". God bless America!

Tjough the sender says she got the news from CNN, her link is not to CNN. And when I go to CNN the top story is "Official: Iraq government won't include legislature." Maybe the OBL story is on a sidebar deeper in...?

No. The inimitable Farmer got the right poop and warned us all:
A new e-mail attack bearing the subject "Osama Bin Laden Captured" downloads a trojan onto the computers of recipients who click on a link promising additional details, according to antivirus vendor Panda Software. The scam spam provides a prime example of social engineering, masquerading as a news bulletin that, if legitimate, would generate click-throughs from a significant number of users.

This kind of crap sucks. I hope the perp gets caught and is duct-taped to the wall in an internet café for a week. Some things are beyond the pale.
Busy, busy, busy
The last couple weeks have been kind of busy for me leading to short blog posts, mostly of the smart-ass comment sort. I think I’m heading toward at least two more weeks of this kind of schedule. I have been trying to put together a few longer and more thoughtful pieces, but when real life intervenes I usually postpone these and default to making fun of creationists. In any case I hope you stick around, I have some good things on the way and I think you’ll like them.
A cheap shot at creationists
Intelligent design creationists have a couple of favorite arguments. One is that science is based on a logically unsound fundament that they call philosophical naturalism. Another is that intelligent design creationism is just as valid as evolution and should be taught in the schools as a legitimate science. In the name of fairness I’m going to grant them both of their arguments, which, of course, leads me to the inescapable conclusion that intelligent design creationism is based on a logically unsound fundament. Although, I'm not exactly sure why that means we should be teaching it in our schools.
Who is this idiot?
For the most I try to maintain a modicum of courtesy and dignity on this blog and reserve vulgar invective for people named Limbaugh. I’m making an exception for Dennis Prager who is an idiot.
I love learning and revere the title of "professor," but with few exceptions, universities, too, merit contempt. The vast majority of professors who take positions on social issues are moral fools. They teach millions of students that America and Israel are villains and that the enemies of those decent societies are merely misunderstood victims who are often justified in their hatred. And they loathe the American Judeo-Christian value system that has made the United States the world's land of opportunity and beacon of liberty.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree, and an ABD (All But Dissertation) in History, from the very heart of the evil Social Sciences/Humanities. In all of the years I spent in colleges and universities not quite getting my doctorate, I never, never met Prager’s Dr. Strawman. I met a lot of professors who were liberals or Democrats, a few who were conservatives or Republicans, about the same number who were Libertarians, and a few who hid their beliefs so well I never was sure what they believed. I never met a single professor who taught “that America and Israel are villains and that the enemies of those decent societies.” Not one. I never met one who “loathe[d] the American Judeo-Christian value system.”

I did meet quite a few who questioned its absolute perfection. I even met a few who suggested it that could be improved or that some other societies might have their own values that would recommend them. Indeed, some of them even hinted that people in non-American Judeo-Christian value systems might feel that those systems are just fine as they are. The only ranting, anti-American, Marxists I ever met were either grad students or, more likely, drop-outs who lurked around the university neighborhood selling Party newspapers.

Dr. Strawman does exist. There are probably a couple dozen of him or her among the tens of thousands of higher education professionals in the United States. That this couple of dozen silly extremists manage to oppress hundreds of thousands of conservative students and brainwash millions of other moderate and apolitical young people is one of the wonders of the modern world.

Lately, I’ve begun to miss the blustery masculine conservatives of yesteryear. When did the right come to dominated by this crybaby rhetoric?

PS - Jason Rosenhouse of Evolutionblog also felt the need to give Mr. Prager a good slap. I thought he needed a matching set.
Give turkee
If you're not an Atrios reader, you won’t know that by "give turkee" we mean donate to the Democratic candidate of your choice. If you can't afford cash, give time and labor. Wear a button or a tee shirt. Put up a yard sign. Slap a bumper sticker on your car. On Election Day get a sharp stick and herd all of your Democratically inclined friends and neighbors down to the polls. Vote early and vote often.

The other night, I lay awake thinking about the candidates who have bought advertisements on blogs like Atrios, Kos, and Pandagon. Naturally, there is a calculated self-interest involved. Dean taught them that the fund-raising return from a targeted web campaign is very favorable. And by going to the right (by which I mean left) political sites, they get their message to an audience that, through self-selection, is already favorably inclined to receive their message.

But the benefits flow both directions. By advertising in Left Blogistan, the candidates are, of course, handing us some desperately needed cash to keep our best sites afloat. They are also giving us a powerful vote of confidence. I have no doubt that blogs, or something like them, will continue to exist for a long time; they are useful for micro-community building, in-group communication, and for the alienated to blow off steam without the use of high-powered rifles and bell towers. The jury is still out as to our significance as journalism and larger community mobilization. A vote of confidence from highly news-worthy people (candidates in an election season) is a huge boost for blogger legitimacy. The reporters and news junkies who are checking in on us now will continue to look our way after the election. If they succeed in selling candidates through blogs, ad agencies will try out some other products.

So, give turkee. It's just good manners to support those who support us. It's good business to ensure the success of their advertising campaigns. It's good politics to support anyone who wants to stick their fingers in the collective eye of Bush, Rove, and DeLay. It's fun and good for you!

Here are some Democrats advertising this week. I know very little about most of them. Pick the ones you think have the best chances of winning or of really pissing off Tom DeLay.

Actually, I do know Tony Knowles. I used to work for him. He’s a heck of a nice guy. I’ll tell you the story someday.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Who is being unrealistic?
I hope that by this time tomorrow everyone will have read Jason Vest’s “Fables of the Reconstruction” and that Left Blogistan will be abuzz with intelligent and nuanced expositions on its meaning. For the moment I want to comment on a small point that hit me while reading the part dealing with our delays in getting dependable electricity back on line. This has been a major irritation for urban Iraqis.
[T]he steam turbines at Iraq's Najibiya power plant have been dormant since last fall. As Yaruub Jasim, the plant's manager, explained, "Normally we have power 23 hours a day. We should have done maintenance on these turbines in October, but we had no spare parts and money." And why not? According to Jasim, the necessary replacement parts were supposed to come from Bechtel, but they hadn't arrived yet—in part because Bechtel's priority was a months-long independent examination of power plants with an eye towards total reconstruction. And while parts could have been cheaply and quickly obtained from Russian, German, or French contractors—the contractors who built most of Iraq's power stations--"unfortunately," Jasim told Chatterjee and Docena, "Mr. Bush prevented the French, Russian, and German companies from [getting contracts in] Iraq." (In an interview last year with the San Francisco Chronicle, Bechtel's Iraq operations chief held that "to just walk in and start fixing Iraq" was "an unrealistic expectation.")

Think about the meaning of that last quote—we can’t just walk in and start fixing things. Why the hell not? Imagine a major natural disaster in a populous part of the United States—an earthquake in Southern California or a hurricane in the Southeast. Americans demand results right away. Northern suburbanites get hysterical if their streets aren’t plowed the same day as a snowstorm. We wait a little longer after a real disaster, but we want results. The more basic the service, the less likely we are to tolerate delays. Imagine the response if Bechtel waltzed into Atlanta after a hurricane and said “it’s unrealistic to expect us to restore dependable electricity right away. First we need to make a study to see what other expensive services we can sell you. Expect to go without air-conditioning for at least two summers. Oh, and we’ll be billing you for the study.” Is it any wonder the Bagdadis are getting a wee bit cranky?

Monday, April 19, 2004

I found this via TalkLeft. My wife says it's just plain creepy.
A pressing issue of dinner-party etiquette is vexing Washington, according to a story now making the D.C. rounds: How should you react when your guest, in this case national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, makes a poignant faux pas? At a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weisman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice was reportedly overheard saying, "As I was telling my husb--" and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, "As I was telling President Bush." Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating. Nobody thinks Bush and Rice are actually an item.

It’s not unusual for male politicians to acquire a couple of hyper-devoted female aids. Think of Rosemary Woods humiliating herself in front of the cameras to explain the 18 minute gap or Fawn Hall smuggling files out of the White House in her underwear for Ollie North. I just never really pictured Condi as the type to go breathlessly panting after her alpha male. No doubt this is deeply psychologically telling to those who can read this stuff, but I agree with my wife, it's creepy.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Celebrating the legacy of Jefferson and Kennedy
This is a couple of days old, but I haven’t seen anyone else bring it up, so I will.
DENVER (AP) A Roman Catholic priest caused a stir on the House floor Tuesday when he urged lawmakers to let religious faith guide their votes and "be the antithesis of John Kennedy."

While delivering the chamber's morning prayer, the Rev. Bill Carmody said too many politicians have followed the example of the nation's first Catholic president by pledging to separate their faith from politics.

Carmody called on lawmakers of all faiths to vote their convictions even if it costs them elections.

"Almighty God, please change and convert the hearts of all the representatives in this House. May they be the antithesis of John Kennedy, may they be women and men of God and may their faith influence and guide every vote they make. May God bless this chamber and our state," he said.

I suppose attacking the separation of church and state was just Father Carmody’s way of celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s birthday (old Tom turned 261 the day before). Aside from the issue of Carmody breaching the wall of separation (does there seem to be more of this kind of right wing scolding invocations happening lately, or am I just noticing it?), Carmody is showing a phenomenal ignorance the history of anti-Catholic bias in this country. Prior to Kennedy, Catholics were among the strongest defenders of the wall of separation, because, as a minority religion, any injection of religion into politics was usually to their detriment. In many parts of the country a Black woman had a better chance of getting elected to office than did a Catholic. Just by acting secular for his thousand days in office, Kennedy almost single handedly ended that disability. The Black woman needed a lot longer to get anything like a fair hearing in this country (if she even is yet).

Carmody denied his historical ignorance.
[Carmody] acknowledged that Kennedy faced opposition because he was Catholic but said he should have stood up for his beliefs. "This bigotry would have died eventually and we wouldn't have politicians who abdicate their faith to be politicians."

I suppose I should take him at his word and accept that he isn’t ignorant. I’ll just assume he’s a hypocrite. I’ll also give Americans United the final word:
Kennedy's viewpoint was in keeping with the bedrock principle of church-state separation that is fundamental to American democracy. Kennedy believed "in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." To JFK, America is a place "where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference." His is a legacy that should be emulated, not condemned.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

She gets paid for it
Wars are similar in some ways and different in some ways. All wars are.

This is the kind of insight that allowed Ann Coulter to become a professional pundit, to get paid for her columns and make the big bucks on the lecture circuit. It’s only when we bloggers produce this kind of brilliantosity that we too can hope to go pro. Sigh. It’s things like this that make me sure I don’t drink nearly enough.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Sorority update
Christie Key, the sorority secretary who ordered her sisters to lie about their health if necessary to give blood and win a contest, has apologised. Her letter to the University of Missouri and the American Red Cross says she "failed to consider the consequences of [her] actions in suggesting that members lie about important health issues in order to earn points for our chapter." The University and Red Cross have no comments on Key's apology.

This must be a nightmare for the Red Cross. Ever since the advent of AIDS they have struggled (not always successfully) to secure the safety of our blood supply. The PR problems of maintaining the public's confidence has at times been harder than the physical problems involved. Even though they are quick to assure us that they test all of the blood and keep careful records of every unit, something like this is a major setback for them.

The University and the national office of the sorority are still deliberating what to do about Christie Key. The AP story says everything from a letter of reprimand to expulsion is on the table from the university disciplinary committee. I'm sure criminal charges are possible, if the authorities are so inclined. If Key really wants to do penance, she should offer to volunteer with the Red Cross, of her own free will, before she is forced to as punishment. Who knows, this whole mess might make her a better person.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Back to Darby
When last we left the scenic hamlet of Darby, Montana, two thirds of the high school students had walked out over the plans of the school board to introduce intelligent design creationism into their science curriculum. Both sides were bracing themselves for the expected parental lawsuits. If their problems had stopped there, the school board would probably be very happy. Last week a group of disgusted parents marched on the school board meeting to protest “recent board actions and non-actions.” The local newspaper, The Ravalli Republic, is suing the board over violating the state’s open meeting law during the hiring of a new superintendent.

Last December Darby’s thirteen year veteran school superintendent, Jack Eggensperger, turned in his resignation after months of tension between himself and the school board. The intelligent design science curriculum was one of the issues of contention. Chairperson Gina Schallenberger and two allies, who together held a majority on the five-person board, voted for the new curriculum soon after that. The school board’s procedures mandate that a resolution be voted on twice on two different dates, so this first vote was not enough to adopt the curriculum. Meanwhile the school board needed to hire a new superintendent.

The Montana School Boards Association helped them find candidates and they were ready to hold interviews by mid-March. By then the student walkout had occurred and newsteams from across the state were watching the Darby school system. I wonder how desirable this $60K job was looking to the candidates. The board liked the looks of Gerald Pease and voted 4–1 to offer him the job. He accepted.

But Chairperson Schallenberger and her two allies (not named in any of the reporting I could find) changed their minds. After seeing the resume of Clair Garrick, whose spirituality impressed them, they voted in a closed meeting to rescind the offer to Pease. This appears to violate several Montana and possibly federal laws. Open meetings are required in the Montana constitution and withdrawing the job offer to Pease because they liked Garrick’s religion better looks like an open and shut discrimination case.

While Americans United and other pro and anti separation of church and state groups prepare for the curriculum fight, the Ravalli Republic is suing the board over lack of access to the hiring meetings. Parents are picketing school board meetings. They still haven’t hired a superintendent because the “spiritual” Garrick didn’t have the degrees he claimed on his resume. And Schallenberger is up for reelection in three weeks.
Archive problem
I just noticed that my archives had vanished. I'm not sure how long they've been MIA, but I republished them and they appear to be back and complete.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

It's true
At last, I finally have the recognition I so richly deserve for being an anally retentive pedant.
Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Geezer moment
This morning I ran across two news stories that caused me to have a serious geezer moment. You know what a geezer moment is; that's when you find yourself shaking your head at the behavior or taste of the next generation and mutter something about "kids today" and "the decline of civilization." My first geezer moments came when I was in college and disco appeared. Now that I'm an embittered old greybeard, I have them fairly frequently. Usually my wife, who knew me in college, shut me up by pointing out some analogous stupidity of our peers (or mine) back then.

While unpacking my bag lunch, I saw these two headlines on CNN: "Illinois district faces new hazing scandal" and "Sorority women told to lie to give blood." The first story is pretty simple:
GLENVIEW, Illinois (AP) -- Eleven lacrosse players at a suburban Chicago high school should be expelled for allegedly paddling 13 new team members at an off-campus hazing incident that involved underage drinking, administrators said.

The school is in the same district as the high school involved in a notorious, widely televised hazing incident last year.

Last year about this time, Glenbrook North High gained international notariety when a video of a "powderpuff" event was discovered that showed girls being beaten and covered with garbage, mud and poop as drunken jocks looked on and cheered. Thirty-three seniors were expelled, 20 juniors disciplined, 16 of the students were convicted of battery or alcohol charges, and two of their mothers were convicted of providing alcohol to minors. So naturally the reaction of the Glenbrook South lacrosse team was "cool, we gotta do that."

Meanwhile in Missouri, college students were conspiring to contaminate our nation's blood supply in order to win a contest.
The American Red Cross tells those who are sick or have recently received tattoos or piercings not to donate blood, both to protect the health of donors and to lessen the risk of transmitting diseases to recipients.

But sorority members at the University of Missouri-Columbia -- a school that once set a world record for blood collection -- were urged by a fellow member to lie about their health.

In an e-mail sent last Tuesday to about 170 members of Gamma Phi Beta, sophomore Christie Key, the chapter's blood donation coordinator, wrote: "I dont (sic) care if you got a tattoo last week LIE. I dont (sic) care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. LIE. Recent peircings (sic)? LIE."

She added: "Even if youre (sic) going to use the Do Not Use My Blood sticker, GIVE ANYWAY." Donors who have second thoughts at the donation site can discreetly attach a sticker to a health questionnaire indicating their blood shouldn't be used.

In her e-mail, Key wrote: "We're not messing around. Punishment for not giving blood is going to be quite severe."

Of course, my characterizing it as conspiracy is a bit over the top (though technically correct if anyone actually followed her orders). While the behavior of the Glenbrook South lacrosse team--stupid youthful violence in the name of tradition or something--is beyond disgusting, Key's letter is creepy. For the sake of a contest, she wants her sisters to endanger the health and possibly lives of total strangers. She has no idea where the blood is going to go. Will it go to premature babies, wounded vets, someone's grandmother? Her only defense against depraved indifference is her acknowledgement that they might use the "Do Not Use My Blood" sticker. That, however, is not given to the sisters in the same tone, as an order.

I think my wife would have no trouble convincing me that our peers were just as bad as the Glenbrook South lacrosse team. I can think of plenty of highschool jock and college frat hazing stories just as bad and a few worse. That crap has gone on for centuries and shows no sign of fading. The Gamma Phi Beta letter, on the other hand, is once in a generation bad. That's the kind of behavior that sets a generational benchmark for irresponsibility.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

I blame it on the vast right-wing conspiracy
Ever since writing about Kaye Grogan’s bad idea the other day I have had the old campfire song “Bill Grogan’s Goat” running through my mind. Even working with Bee Gees albums for another project has not been enough to drive it out. Worse, I’m starting to run it all together into one ugly medley.
Kaye Grogan’s goat
Was feeling fine
Ate three red shirts
Right off the line
You can tell by the way
I soak my teeth
I’m an older man
So, what’s your beef

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Our friend the Piltdown Man
P. Z. Myers over at Pharangula today introduces us to Joe Carter, a creationist who has begun debating on comment boards at The Panda’s Thumb. Joe makes the typical Intelligent Design complaint that methodological naturalism (that is “science” to you and me) is incapable of recognizing the consequences of intelligent action or "design." That’s not true. Take the example of the Piltdown Man, a favorite bit of evidence for creationists who seem to think that because the evolutionists were wrong once early in the last century, they must be wrong in all things at all times, or some thing like that. Actually, the Piltdown is a great example of the self-correcting nature of science. It is also a fine example of how methodological naturalism, and even its evil sub-branch evolution, is perfectly capable of recognizing intelligent design. Piltdown was a fraud, manufactured by persons unknown. Science, in recognizing the intelligently designed nature of Piltdown, was also able to determine how it was manufactured and present some credible hypotheses as to their identity (adult, educated humans, probably of Northern European origin, most likely English males).
When did Protestants discover Dada?
Jesse and Ezra have both posted on this. I don't have anything to add, I just think this is wierd enough to deserve running the whole article.
GLASSPORT, Pa. - A church trying to teach about the crucifixion of Jesus performed an Easter show with actors whipping the Easter bunny and breaking eggs, upsetting several parents and young children.

People who attended Saturday's performance at Glassport's memorial stadium quoted performers as saying, "There is no Easter bunny," and described the show as being a demonstration of how Jesus was crucified.

Melissa Salzmann, who brought her 4-year-old son J.T., said the program was inappropriate for young children. "He was crying and asking me why the bunny was being whipped," Salzmann said.

Patty Bickerton, the youth minister at Glassport Assembly of God, said the performance wasn't meant to be offensive. Bickerton portrayed the Easter rabbit and said she tried to act with a tone of irreverence.

"The program was for all ages, not just the kids. We wanted to convey that Easter is not just about the Easter bunny, it is about Jesus Christ," Bickerton said.

Performers broke eggs meant for an Easter egg hunt and also portrayed a drunken man and a self-mutilating woman, said Jennifer Norelli-Burke, another parent who saw the show in Glassport, a community about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

"It was very disturbing," Norelli-Burke said. "I could not believe what I saw. It wasn't anything I was expecting."

I picture this as looking like some early twentieth century avante garde theater, maybe something by Alfred Jarry--"Ubu Bunny" perhaps.
Our daily dose of Bush hypocrisy
Today Scout nicely brings two bits of news together. The first is a story about POWs from the first Gulf War who sued to get compensation out of the frozen Iraqi government assets. When a judge awarded tham almost a billion dollars last fall, the Bush Justice Department (now that's an oxymoron) blocked payment. Now the administration is pursuing it's own suit to reverse the award. Now, wherther the POWs deserve a billion or some other amount and whether that money should instead go to the people of Iraq are both fair questions. What's galling is the fact that this is another case of this administration screwing military people while claiming to own patriotism. They can behave this way even after Ashcroft had an operation specifically to reduce his amount of gall. Amazing.

Scout ties this together with a classic Scott McClellan performance from last fall, when the DoJ first blocked the payments. In an exchnage that couldn't have been more than two minutes long, McClellan managed to say the following sentence six times: "There's simply no amount of money that could truly compensate these brave men and women for what they went through and for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein." "No amount of money" is exactly how much the administration wants them to have.

McClellan isn't as good at this as Ari Fleisher was. Fleisher was brilliant; McClellan is a little pathetic. Where Fleisher could lie and lie again without the slightest trace of awareness, McClellan just repeats the day's talking point like a skipping record. My wife suggests he may still have some trace of conscience that interferes with his job. Don't most people in his occupation have a consciencectomy? Maybe it didn't take.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Sedition is stupid
I'm sure most of you have seen this column by now. Kaye Grogan, a very scary looking woman on the Alan Keyes very scary site, thinks insulting Bush should be a crime.
There needs to be a law passed where any person who disrespects the "Office of the Presidency" by making false accusations and spreading deliberate rumors about the president, should be charged with a felony or at the very least a high misdemeanor.

Personally, I think there needs to be a law passed where any person who uses "disrespect" as a verb should be charged with a felony or at the very least a high misdemeanor. But that's just me. Ms. Grogan is clearly not one of those old-fashioned conservatives who believe in actually conserving things (like grammar; the rest of her column would have caused me to be held in the fifth grade for the rest of my life if I'd given it to Mrs. Morgan). After wandering around for a while, mostly off topic, she concludes her column by warning that "administering... ambidextrous motivational charges against the president" will turn or "pliant teens" into assassins. I'm not kidding.

Jesse over at Pandagon gives her writing the fisking that it deserves--much more than it deserves--so I'll go on to attacking the proposal itself. Obviously, what comes next is a nuanced and historically literate discussion of free speech, the First Amendment, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, John Adams, and all that. It's so obvious that I'm not even going to make that argument. This is an unconstitutional and immature suggestion. Let's accept that as a given. I want to talk about why it's also a mind-bogglingly stupid idea.

We always tell ourselves that power corrupts, but we don’t as often point out that makes people forgetful and stupid. Speaking as someone who has never made it very far up the ladder of power, I’m always surprised that certain principles that seem obvious from down here are often forgotten or unknown by people at the top. The principle I have in mind is that in any business as volatile as politics, where power frequently changes hands, it is a very bad idea to advocate any laws or rules that could be used against you next time you are out of power.

In the last three years Republicans in congress and conservatives in general have decided changing parties is bad and should not be allowed (referring to Jeffords), filibusters are bad and should not be allowed, not approving judges is bad and should not be allowed (see Helms, Jesse), and now spreading rumors about the president is bad and should not be allowed. Add to this list frivolous recall elections and mid-decade redistricting and a big pattern emerges. When we look at this, most of us get incensed over the bad sportsmanship, the naked grab for power, the intolerance for democratic norms, and the vulgar hypocrisy. Forget the hypocrisy issue; ideas like these are just stupid tactics. Do the Republicans really want these rules and behaviors to define the political landscape next time the Democrats are on top?

There are only two ways to make sense of it all. One is to don our tinfoil hats and assume these folks don’t ever expect to be out of power again. Actually, this theory has a lot going for it. Many in the apocalyptic religious right who have become one of the leading voices in the Republican Party do view politics as a zero-sum game with a clear end date. They plan to be on top when the final whistle blows. They want complete annihilating victory over those they perceive as the enemy. Fair play and sharing have no place in their black and white, us and them world.

The other, more optimistic, way to make sense of it is to believe power makes people stupid. This theory has some good historical support. Think of the pathological way some corrupt politicians, venal business leaders, and plagiarists take bigger and bigger risks even as they come under greater scrutiny. Stupidity in power is not a monopoly of the right; Roosevelt’s court packing scheme was plainly the most stupid thing he ever tried.

For now, I’m going to stay in denial and believe they are stupid.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Under construction
I'm on the home stretch of my redesign. I expect to tweak and tinker a little more this week, but what you see is about ninety percent finished. Since my testing facilities are limited, I'd appeciate you telling me (via e-mail or my new commenting functionality) if you find anything not working or that looks wrong (besides my habit of starting sentences with conjunctions). If you find a problem and can give me a workable solution, I'll be glad to give you a link and a hat tip. Imagine, your name in virtual print; your mother will be so proud. And unlike those other hat-tipping bloggers, I actually wear a hat.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Moral courage
Our quote of the day comes courtesy of Ed Brayton; if you’re not reading his site, you should be.
First they came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.... Then they came for me, and I said, "Wait! You forgot about the gays! And I know where they're hiding!...

Angus Johnston
Return of the yard
Last year, about this time of year, I wrote one of my favorite posts. I was especially proud of it because it was one of my very first posts to get linked. In honor of mowing my lawn today, I’m reposting my greatest hit in its entirety:

My yard – 3/29/03, 2:26 pm
This week the yard season began at my house with the traditional harvesting of the crabgrass. My yard is about fifty percent crabgrass, with the rest being made up of a mixture of moss, dandelions, California poppies, little tiny white flowers, clover, and a small amount of actual lawn grass. Because I live in the Pacific Northwest, with warm rainy winters, the crabgrass begins growing each year sometime around the winter solstice. By March I'm the bad neighbor whose yard is so overgrown that the house looks abandoned. Late February is the beginning of the race between the lawn and the weather to see if I can get a few consecutive clear days that will dry the lawn out enough for me to give it its first cutting.

This year I lost. With the crabgrass nearing knee-deep I had to go rent a manly gas powered weed whacker. Normally, I consider two-stoke engines to be the devil's spawn: loud, smelly, unnecessary monsters. I passionately hate leaf blowers, snowmobiles, recreational ATVs, and jet skis. And yet I rather enjoyed it. Sometimes, loud sweaty activity is the healthiest thing there is. Within minutes, I had lost my embarrassment and was attacking each shaggy patch with a cathartic battle cry: "Arrgh! Cheney! Rumsfeld! Wolfowitz! Ash-friggen-croft!!" Singly and in groups the despoilers of American values went down before me, spraying my ankles with their green viscera. Then I cleaned the whacker, refilled its gas tank, and returned it on time.

Now comes phase two. With the top of the crabgrass bludgeoned down to a reasonable level I can get the mower out and act like the genteel suburbanite that I vaguely resemble. I have an electric mower and I love it dearly. I'm always surprised at how well it works. On the face of it, I can't think of anything that cries "bad idea" more than an electric mower. "Hmmm. Fast spinning metal blades. Wet grass. How can we make this more challenging? I know, a fifty foot electric cord!" And yet it works. In all my years using it, I have not cut the cord any more than I have with any other power tool.

I am, what a friend once generously called, tool-challenged. I'm uncoordinated, nearsighted, and absent minded. I have long hair and several rings that won't come off. Most home improvement projects end in bloodshed or back injuries. Hardware store people recognize me and speak very slowly and use short words when explaining how to do things. Sometimes, I think the tool-challenged should organize to demand greater respect. I think we could make signs and have a protest. Then I realize that that many of the tool-challenged trying to make signs would result in someone taking their eye out. I can't have that on my conscience.

Postscript 2004 - I won the race this year and got the lawn beat down with my own underpowered tools. When I described the yard as “about fifty percent crabgrass, with the rest being made up of a mixture of moss, dandelions, California poppies, little tiny white flowers, clover, and a small amount of actual lawn grass,” I failed to mention that the proportion of crabgrass has been increasing each year as the proportion of lawn grass decreases. There are now large swaths of the yard with no lawn grass at all. On the other hand I’ve begun to appreciate the botanical diversity of my lawn and have begun to identify many of the species that grow there. I particularly like the miniature yarrow and the wild creeping geraniums.

This brings to mind a meditation I had on the nature of the weed. Weeds aren’t a botanical category; they’re a value judgment. Weeds a plants growing were you don’t want them to grow. Grass in the lawn is a plant; grass in the garden is a weed. Poppies in the garden are plants; poppies in the lawn are weeds. English ivy growing scenically up college buildings is a plant; English ivy growing anywhere else in the Northwest is a noxious, tree-killing, garden-strangling weed and must die! But what do you call the opposite of a weed. What is the word for a desirable plant that will only grow in the wrong place? While my lawn is becoming mostly crabgrass, the garden sports the softest most perfect grass. The blades are tiny and narrow, the most perfect Kelly green and only get about three inches long. And the cracks in the driveway are filled with the most beautiful red clover with tiny yellow flowers. It won’t grow anywhere else.

If the word exists, someone tell me. If not, let’s make one up.
Technology is our friend
I’ve installed some nifty new bells and whistles to make archy a full-featured site.

Over on the left you’ll find the link for an RSS feed. Thanks are due Liberal Coalition colleagues Pen Elayne and the Farmer for holding my hand and walking me through the steps to make it work. If the damn Atom feed still isn't working, that's my fault.

At the bottom of the posts, you’ll see that I have finally installed comment and trackback functionality. I had resisted these till now because I didn’t want to face the cricket filled void that might be revealed if no one cared enough to comment. Thanks to years of therapy and the love of a good woman, I’m no longer scared of crickets.

Thirdly, but not leastly, I changed the archiving from weeks to months because that list of date links on the left was really getting ridiculously long.

Now if I could just make up my mind about a new color scheme, we’d have all the requirements for a new and improved archy and I could stir up hysterical public interest with a gala grand reopening.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Ralph problem
Transcript via Kos poster ckerr:
Audio Clip
President Carter: [speaking to an audience]: I have a friend named Ralph Nader. He was trusted enough by my family to have been permitted in Plains, Georgia to umpire a softball game where I pitched on one side and my brother pitched on the other side. That's a lot of confidence. When I was president he gave me a lot of advice. And tonight I want to return the favor by giving him some advice.

[Audience applauds]

President Carter: Ralph, go back to umpiring softball games or examining the rear end of automobiles, and don't risk costing the Democrats the White House this year as you did four years ago.

[Audience applauds louder]

I love Jimmy Carter. But I don't think this is the tone we need right now.

The more we liberals pitch bricks at Ralph, the more likely he is to dig in and start shooting back. The longer Ralph holds out, the uglier this gets. The primaries came close enough to turning into the usual election year circular firing squad on the left. We avoided that only because the primary voters and caucus participants had an unusual moment of clarity and focused on the goal of getting rid of Bush. Now we have the Ralph problem.

I hear some Democrats saying we should destroy Nader and be done with him. It's nice to feel the pure fire of righteous rage at Ralph for being a spoiler, but we cannot afford that emotion this year. It's a luxury. Beating Ralph isn't going to get rid of Bush. A fight on the left will only end up making voters stay home. We need Ralph's voters. We need Ralph's issues. We need Ralph.

This has to stop being a confrontation and start being a negotiation. Any deal that gets Ralph to withdraw and endorse Kerry must be embraced (providing the deal isn't so sleazy it drives voters away). I'm not sure who can broker that deal. Maybe Dean. Establishment Democrats, Deaniacs, Greens, and liberal independents need to act like grown-ups for a change. Too much is at stake this year.