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May 21, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
The blog

I'm quite happy with the way this is working so far, and judging from the feedback I'm getting, so are most of you. For week two, if we're lucky, our little group will be joined by Jeanne d'Orleans and Brooke Shelby Biggs. And--who knows?--possibly even the elusive Jack Hitt.


May 20, 2005

Bob Harris:
Headline of the week

Thanks to alert reader Steve for originally contributing this to my own humble blog.

Greg Saunders:
All Bark, No Bite

Dubya's been acting like a tough guy all week with promises to veto bills on highway spending...

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a transportation bill Tuesday that would plow billions into highway and transit projects through the end of the decade, but states say that isn't enough to keep pace with growing traffic congestion.

Approval of the $295 billion measure sets up a showdown with the House, which has passed a $284 billion bill. The administration is threatening to veto any bill authorizing more than that amount.

...and stem cell research.
President George W. Bush said he would veto legislation under consideration in the House of Representatives that would ease restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

``I have made very clear to the Congress that the use of taxpayer money to promote science that destroys life in order to save life, I am against that,'' Bush told reporters in at the White House before meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. ``If the bill does that, I will veto it.''

Yeah, right. I'll believe it when I see it. Bush hasn't issued a single veto during his presidency, so why should we believe him now? As you can tell from this speech he made two years ago, he's fond of patting himself on the back, but rarely follows through.
"I can assure you I will work with Congress to control excessive federal spending. One reason they give the President the veto power is to make sure the Congress doesn't over-spend. Over-spending could serve as an anchor on economic vitality and growth."
Even after bragging that he'd use his power to control spending, he's earned the wrath of conservative think tanks for out of control budgets and he's done nothing about record levels of pork-barrel spending. This can really lead us to one of two conclusions : He doesn't really care about the things he claims to or he's a spineless coward who's unwilling to stand up to special interests. Either way, Little George's veto threats are toothless and should be ignored.

Tom Tomorrow:
Something tells me...

...that the Koran-in-the-toilet story isn't going to be Topic A on the blogs today.

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
Skip to next paragraph

Dilawar was an Afghan farmer and taxi driver who died while in custody of American troops.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.


...actually a quick glance at the righties suggests that I'm wrong. It's extraordinary, really--they spend a week complaining about the Koran-in-the-toilet, yet when someone leaks a 2000 page Army report about the torture and death of detainees, the silence is thunderous.


May 19, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Take Back Jesus

It's heartening to read the letter that Tom printed below from Scott in Nashville. I've received plenty of letters and comments along these lines in response to the religious posts I've done in the past and it leads me to this question : Are you also saying those things to your fellow Christians or just smartass atheists like me1 who to like to take cheap shots at the religious wrong? I'm grateful that there are Christians who are willing to fight the stereotype that conservative fundamentalists represent all of Christianity, but correcting misconceptions is only one piece of the puzzle2. As Bruce Bawer explains in his excellent book "Stealing Jesus"3, Christians need to reclaim their religion from the radical right :

In recent years, [conservative] Christians have organized into a political movement so successful that when many Americans today hear the word Christianity, they think only of the [conservative] variety. The mainstream media, in covering the so-called culture wars, generally imply that there are only two sides to choose from : The God-of-wrath Christian Right and the godless secular Left. Many Americans scarcely realize that there is any third alternative.
. . .
[Conservative Christianity] has warped Christianity into something ugly and hateful that has little or nothing to do with love and everything to do with suspicion, superstition, and sadism. And, quite often, it denies the name of Christianity to followers of Jesus who reject its barbaric theology. In essence, then, it has stolen Jesus-yoked his name and his church to ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that would have appalled him.
And let's face it, it's not too hard to jump to the conclusion that Jesus would have been appalled by fundamentalists' devotion to "God's Official Party". This excerpt for the book of Luke is a perfect example of what I'm talking about :
A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'"

"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

I doubt there are many religious leaders who would advocate giving up everything you own and giving it to the poor, but even with a loose interpretation of this passage, it's not to difficult to infer how Jesus would react to the men and women on both sides of the aisle who accumulate great wealth while people around the world are literally starving to death. Or leaders who are more concerned with giving tax breaks to the rich while children are dying of preventable diseases due to a lack of healthcare. Or a president who ignores the plight of millions of men and women who work multiple jobs to make a decent living because his highest priority is to destroy the safety net that keeps those same people from spending the last years of their lives as paupers.

I hope this doesn't come off as preachy or patronizing when I say that it's time for Christians to take back Jesus from the theological kidnappers of of the far-right. The conservative extremist brand of Christianity is an aberration that doesn't represent the mainstream and makes a mockery of the teachings of Jesus, who warned :

"Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
You can be proud of your religion without proselytizing. There's nothing pushy about saying "I voted against Bush because I'm a Christian" or reminding people that Jesus had more to say about compassion for the poor than he did about abortion, homosexuality, or judicial activism. Considering how much our President is fond of telling the public how much he loves Jesus, it's fair game to point out how skewed his priorities are when held up to the teachings in the gospels.

The perception that Christianity is an exclusively right-wing religion isn't going to go away until the silent majority of Christians stand up and take their religion back. Yes, you should correct people on the far left who make the mistake of assuming everyone who reads the Bible is in league with Fred Phelps, but you should be equally vigilant in regards to the mainstream press. If an AP article uses the word "Christian" to describe Pat Robertson without qualifying it with an adjective like "evangelical", write a letter to the editor. If CNN implies that someone is conservative because they're religious, flood their switchboard with complaints. Most of all, don't let anyone get away with implying that you're betraying your own faith just because you disagree with the Republican party.

1 : I'm describing myself here, not accusing anyone of labeling me as such.

2 : But it's an important piece. I often try to be sensitive to these sorts of things, which is why I make an effort to never use the word "Christianity" when referring to the extreme-right without qualifying it with terms like "conservative", "fundamentalist", or "lunatic".

3 : You can read an excerpt of the book here.

Tom Tomorrow:
It must be tough to be a right wing blogger

Every time you get your story straight, somebody comes along and screws up the narrative.

Coming up next: righties earnestly discuss why the Red Cross hates America.

Tom Tomorrow:
It's really true

A few posts below, Greg mentions the fact that Bush was the last person to know about the plane that violated White House airspace. We know now that it was a false alarm, but it really is extraordinary that at the moment the White House was being evacuated, as the First Lady was rushed to the bunker and Dick Cheney was hustled off, presumably to an undisclosed location, Bush was obliviously riding his bicycle. (One imagines him wearing a propeller beanie and riding the sort of old fashioned bike featured in Pee Wee's Big Adventure.)

My point is this: it has become fashionable, even among left-liberal types, to suggest that the President is actually very smart in his own way, and the crude, cartoonish stereotypes of him as a dolt and a dunderhead actually just play into his hands.

But you know what? In a post 9/11 world, when there is even the remotest possibility that we are looking at another terrorist attack, the fact that the President is not immediately informed of the situation--and is, in fact, the last person to learn about it--proves one thing: he really is that stupid. No one cares what he thinks.

It's really true.

Tom Tomorrow:
Onward Christian Soldiers

First, an email that came in the other day:

Hi. My name's Scott -----------, I'm a U.S. citizen from Nashville, RED, RED, RED Tennessee (I voted for Kerry). I'm a Christian. I have no reason to believe that the Earth is 5,000 years old. I do not believe that Satan planted dinosaur bones (Gimmie a break). I say this to remind everyone that not all Christians are gullible lunatics, and not all Christians are buying the war profiteers' simple-minded rhetoric. I may be crazy, and I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it's hard to screw up something as simple as "thou shalt not kill." Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King was also a Christian. People on the left need to realize that they're not at odds with scripture, though some of them have been fooled into thinking that they are.

I'm posting this for a couple of reasons. First, Scott is absolutely correct--it's obviously a mistake to assume that all Christians are crazy fundamentalists. (Jack Hitt has been too busy with real deadlines to post anything here yet, but this is a topic about which he has much to say, so maybe when he gets some time he'll toss in his two cents.) But like all coins, this one has two sides-- it's equally a mistake to therefore assume that the rise of the militant evangelicals is not something to be concerned about, or to let conservative pundits of the "No One Understands Real Americans Like I Do" school convince you that such concern is simply the byproduct of your elitist liberal bigotry. The current Harper's Magazine has two good pieces on the topic--a look inside the nation's most powerful megachurch by Jeff Sharlet, and a report from the National Religious Broadcaster's convention by Chris Hedges (the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning). They're not online, that I can tell--you'll have to go buy the magazine. But there's a passage at the end of the latter article that I've scanned in order to post here, because it's an important counterweight to the aforementioned N.O.U.R.A.L.I.D.O. pundits.

...a few other thoughts about playing by the "old polite rules of democracy" while those in power dismantle our democratic state. That's exactly what was happening in the runup to war, every time a Sensible Liberal said, gosh, you know, maybe Saddam really is a menace, maybe we have to give the President a fair hearing, maybe we have no choice but to invade, yadda yadda yadda. (There are some fairly well respected liberal bloggers that I can barely stand to read today as a result of this sort of nonsense.)

And it's what was happening when I went to a speech Joe Liberman gave a month or so ago. When asked how he was going to vote on one or another of Bush's more egregious nominees--I think it was Bolton, but I can't find my notes, so I'm not 100% certain--anyway, he said he genuinely did not know, because he felt that he always had to give the President the benefit of the doubt.

All I can say is, we don't have the luxury of such equivocation these days. The moderates and Sensible Liberals may be content to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, but our time would be much better spent trying to figure out how to steer course away from the iceberg, if such is still possible.


May 18, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Why It's Considered A "Nuclear" Option

Josh Marshall does a great job of explaining the severity of the Republican "constitutional" option :

Just to be crystal clear, what the senate is about to do is not changing their rules. They are about to find that their existing rules are unconstitutional, thus getting around the established procedures by which senate rules can be changed.
. . .
For that to be true stands not only the simple logic of the constitution, but two hundred years of our constitutional history, on its head. You don't even need to go into the fact that other judicial nominations have been filibustered, or that many others have been prevented from coming to a vote by invocation of various other senate rules, both formal and informal, or that almost countless numbers of presidential nominees of all kinds have simply never made it out of committee. Indeed, the whole senate committee system probably cannot withstand this novel and outlandish interpretation of the constitution, since one of its main functions is to review presidential appointees before passing them on to the full senate.

Quite simply, the senate is empowered by the constitution to enact its own rules.

You can think the filibuster is a terrible idea. And you may think that it should be abolished, as indeed it can be through the rules of the senate. And there are decent arguments to made on that count. But to assert that it is unconstitutional because each judge does not get an up or down vote by the entire senate you have to hold that the United States senate has been in more or less constant violation of the constitution for more than two centuries.

I'm not usually one for slippery slope arguments, but this certainly looks like it would pour a can of oil on our proverbial slope. Would this abrupt decision to declare the Senate rules unconstitutional undermine the entire committee system? That would pretty much grind the Senate to a halt. What would this mean in regards to everything else the Senate has accomplished over the last 200 years? What would this mean for the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been killed in committee over the last two centuries? Is there anything in this precedent that would compell the Senate to reconsider bills that had previously been discarded under the "unconstitutional" rules? Are these few judges really worth opening up this can of worms for?

Tom Tomorrow:
Riddle me this, Batman

Rest in peace, Frank.

Bob Harris:
It begins

When I was a kid, I remember reading about how democracies ended.  What surprised me was how often it was a peaceful takeover.  Fascists took power in many places not through force, but through rigged elections, broken rules, and consolidation of power, all hidden behind flags and God and promises of glory.

Today, the fanatics who have seized the GOP are beginning their attempt to flagrantly defy a half-dozen Senate rules which have existed for generations in order to install federal judges more interested in ideology than legal precedent.

If this "nuclear option" works, they will very likely soon also begin stacking the Supreme Court as they wish (each justice's age and health is thumbnailed here; only Clarence Thomas, at 56, is below the age of 65).  The character of the very laws of our nation itself could soon be under the fundamentalists' control.

It's happening right now.

If you haven't already... if you live in RI, ME, OH, SC, NE, AZ, AK, OR, PA, or VA, some of your Senators might be the last best hope to hold the line against this "nuclear option" and unprecedented seizure of Senate power.

I apologize for repeating myself, but these are the numbers to call (with thanks again to this Kos diary):

Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island
(202) 224-2921

Susan Collins, Maine
(202) 224-2523

Mike Dewine, Ohio
(202) 224-2315

Lindsey Graham, South Carolina
(202) 224-5972

Chuck Hagel, Nebraska
(202) 224-4224

John McCain, Arizona
(202) 224-2235

Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
(202) 224-6665

Gordon Smith, Oregon
(202) 224-3753

Olympia Snowe, Maine
(202) 224-5344

Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania
(202) 224-4254

John Sununu, New Hampshire
(202) 224-2841

John Warner, Virginia
(202) 224-2023

Man.  I never thought things would get so bad I'd be thinking of Arlen Specter and John Sununu as possible lights in the darkness. I mean, yeesh. 

I guess you go to a slow coup with the allies you have.

Greg Saunders:
As Competent As The Man They're Protecting

It hasn't been a great couple of weeks for the people who are supposed to keep the President safe. First there was the potential terrorist attack that wasn't as important as Bush's bicycle ride :

The White House launched an investigation Thursday into the 47- minute delay in notifying President Bush about the intrusion of a single- engine aircraft into restricted airspace over the nation's capital that provoked emergency evacuations.

The violation of the no-fly zone Wednesday led more than 30,000 people to quickly leave the White House complex, the Capitol and the Supreme Court and triggered an eight-minute-long "red alert" at the White House.

At the time, Bush was riding a bicycle at a wildlife center in suburban Maryland and wasn't told of the alert until after he had completed his ride at 12:50 p.m. -- 47 minutes after the "red alert" was issued and 36 minutes after an all-clear.
. . .
McClellan said Secret Service agents accompanying Bush to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, Md., and the uniformed military aide who accompanies the president with the nuclear warfare launch codes had been in touch with authorities at the White House during the scare.

And now we find out that the "dud" grenade in Georgia was an assassination attempt :
The FBI said on Wednesday a grenade thrown at President George W. Bush during a visit to Georgia last week had been a threat to the American leader and had only failed to explode because of a malfunction.

In a statement, a Federal Bureau of Investigation official at the U.S. embassy said the grenade, thrown while Bush made a keynote speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square on May 10, had been live and landed within 30 metres (100 feet) of the president.
. . .
The FBI's statement contradicted an account by Georgian police at the time who said the grenade was a dud, left at the spot to sow panic among the tens of thousands who turned out to greet Bush.

A White House spokesman also said then that Bush, who had visited the ex-Soviet republic to show support for its pro-Western government, had never been in danger.

These security guys had better watch their backs. If they continue screwing up this bad they might end up getting nominated for an ambassadorship or something.

Tom Tomorrow:
Reality check

The New York Times has announced that starting next fall, its op-ed pages will be only be available online to people who pay a $50 subscription. The response from the blogs has been predictably negative, in the way that wood ticks might complain if they found that their ability to suck blood from deer in the forest was about to be curtailed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not any happier about this than any other blogger--sometimes I feel like half my posts are devoted to Mister McBobo--but we do need to have a little reality check here. Those of us who partake in this little game of online commentary, either as writers or readers, tend to have a skewed view of, well, our own importance. I genuinely hate to take issue with Markos, for whom I have the greatest respect, but the notion that the Times will become irrelevant as a result of this move borders on delusional. Look, the Times is--well, it's the Times. It's the house organ for the New York/DC power axis, it's the hometown paper for the residents of the largest and arguably most important city in this country, and it looks to be one of the few newspapers currently whose circulation is actually rising.

In short, they own the ball, the bat, the field and the bleachers, and if they decide to start charging us to enter, then we either pay or find a way to peek in through the fence (Times op-ed columns are usually syndicated out pretty quickly). But they don't become irrelevant because the slim minority of their readership which reaches them via the snarky commentary of bloggers such as your host can no longer do so. (I'm not even sure the benefits of being online outweigh the negatives, from their perspective. You think Thomas Friedman thinks he's losing out here?)

One more thing: the suggestion that "in a world of endless punditry," Paul Krugman is "easily replaceable" is equally misguided. Personally, I'd like to believe that Brooks and Tierney are easily replaceable, but even those two have influence far disproportionate to their insight, simply by virtue of the real estate they occupy. And Krugman--well, he actually is pretty irreplacable. He's very, very smart--on the verge of winning the Nobel Prize smart--and not only does he enjoy similarly prestigious placement, he uses his power for good and not evil. He's one of our best and most prominent advocates, and it's just silly to suggest that he will no longer matter, as a result of the Times' new policy. The blogs just aren't that important, not yet, and maybe not ever.


May 17, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Who are they? I mean the people obsessed with control, using the government to threaten and intimidate. I mean the people who are hollowing out middle-class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class in a war to make sure Ahmed Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq’s oil. I mean the people who turn faith-based initiatives into a slush fund and who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets. I mean the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy.

That’s who I mean. And if that’s editorializing, so be it. A free press is one where it’s OK to state the conclusion you’re led to by the evidence.

* * *
In Orwell’s 1984, the character Syme, one of the writers of that totalitarian society’s dictionary, explains to the protagonist Winston, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions and be skeptical. That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy — or worse.

Much more.

Greg Saunders:
"The Mother of all smokescreens"

In case you missed it, British MP George Galloway gave an incendiary speech before the U.S. Senate's committee investigating the oil-for-food scandal.

Now, senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq, which killed a million Iraqis, most of them children. Most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis, With the misfortune to be born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq.

And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies. I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives, 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we're in today.

Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth. Have a look at the real oil- for-food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months, when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and the other American corporations that stole Iraq's money, but the money of the American taxpayer. Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where. Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it. Have a look at the real scandal, breaking in the newspapers today. Revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee, that the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians; the real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own government.

The always great Crooks and Liars has the video and an MP3 of this portion of the speech. Earlier in his address, Galloway also threw a couple more pointed barbs at the Bush Administration :
As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his.
. . .
You quote Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Well, you have something on me, I've never met Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Your sub-committee apparently has. But I do know that he's your prisoner, I believe he's in Abu Ghraib prison. I believe he is facing war crimes charges, punishable by death. In these circumstances, knowing what the world knows about how you treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, in Bagram Airbase, in Guantanamo Bay, including I may say, British citizens being held in those places.

I'm not sure how much credibility anyone would put on anything you manage to get from a prisoner in those circumstances.

I long for a day when our lawmakers are equally blunt.

Greg Saunders:
The Verdict Is In

Not that you should be too surprised by the rigged outcome :

The mock trial of Darwin's theory by Kansas' Board of Education, which concluded on May 12, included testimonies and cross-examination of and by pro-evolution and pro-creationism experts.

The board's trial voted 6 to 4 in favour of bringing the concept of "intelligent design" within the methods of teaching science in schools. Over two dozen scientists, teachers and lawyers said the state's science standards be amended to incorporate alternative thinking.
. . .
At the centre of the trials is Steve Abrams, a veterinarian and Republican, who among other things believes that earth is only 5,000 years old, a view propagated by Christian conservatives, as opposed to 4.5 billion years as argued by scientists.

Abrams as the board chairman has challenged the validity of evolution as the only valid explanation of life. He has said evolutionary biology is inadequate in terms of evidence and there ought to be an intelligent designer at the helm.

Now let's put aside the obvious fact that the folks pushing intelligent design are the same ones who think the Bible code is real, are looking for Noah's ark, and think dinosaur bones were hidden underground by the devil. On its own merits, intelligent design is complete horseshit.

First of all, if you're an ID advocate, stop using the word "theory". You don't get to use that word. What you're trying to push is a hypothesis, which is always trumped by a theory. Just ask one of the kids whose science classes you're trying to screw up. When scientists have an idea about how the world works, they come up with a hypothesis that they can test. If it stands up to repeated scrutiny, it eventually gets labeled a scientific "theory". There's a few decades of research and peer review to do before you earn the right to use that word.

Before that happens, you should also deal with the fact that intelligent design is a crappy hypothesis. It would be one thing if your "alternative thinking" was based on an observation of some sort, but it's just a half-assed inferrence based on a lack of evidence. Looking at nature's complexity and jumping to the conclusion that it must have been to the work of a "designer" holds about as much scientific merit and assuming that thunder is the sound god makes when she's angry.

So if you're serious about the "Gosh, the world sure is complicated. It must be god's work." hypothesis, go back to the drawing board. Stop concentrating on what you percieve to be evolution's weaknesses and try working on ID's strengths. Find a way to incorporate your beliefs with every bit of evidence that the scientific world has previously discovered and figure out how to test the damn thing. Submit your new hypothesis to some scientific journals and pray that the free marketplace of ideas favors your side.

It bears repeating that ID advocates already tried to get some respect for their hypotheis in the scientific community back when it was called "creationism". They failed. This route isn't about getting respect for intelligent design, it's about trying to take a short cut (and in the process cripple the next generation of scientists) by appealing to the beliefs and exploiting the ignorance of school board members. As much as I want to religion out of public schools, my big concern here is protecting the integrity of our educational system from being slowly eroded by a flood of pseudoscience.

UPDATE : Reader Tony writes in to point out a mistake in the article I quoted above :

The "trial" was held before a subcommittee of three of the board's most conservative members. They will supposedly take their findings to the rest of the board, which will vote sometime in the summer about which science standards to accept. The "minority" standards that they are likely to report won't, as your post claimed, require Kansas teachers to instruct their students in intelligent design. The ID supporters are more subtle than that. Instead, they change the definition of science itself so that it will be open to "objective" approaches (i.e., allowing the role of miracles in the development of life).


May 16, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
More on Newsweek


So now there's a bunch of right-wingers who are pitching the desecrated Koran riot story with the line "Newsweek Lied, People Died."

Get it? It's funny, because it's making fun of what all the anti-war people said when 1,700 Americans were killed based on lies they were warned about but didn't listen to. What, don't you have a fucking sense of humor?

This isn't even not caring. It's beyond not caring. It's taking pride in not caring.

This probably won't be the subject of my next cartoon, mainly because I already wrote the cartoon more than a month ago. How's that for prescience?

Greg Saunders:
Stop Hurting America

Man, this Newsweek story is really setting people off. It's bad enough that it's adding fuel to the fire of the right-wing's hatred for the so-called liberal media, but the magazine's quickly becoming an Administration scapegoat as well. Here's what Scotty says :

"This report has had serious consequences," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said today in West Point, Virginia, where the president was giving a speech. "It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad and people have lost their lives."
The Pentagon's spokesman was even more blunt :
"What we know is that the Newsweek story about a Koran desecration is demonstrably false, and thus far there have not been any credible allegations of willful Koran desecration, and Newsweek hasn't produced any such evidence either," said a Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
. . .
"The unfortunate part about it is you can't go back and undo or retract the damage that they've done not only to this nation, but those who have been hacked, injured and some even killed as a result of these false allegations," he said.
Am I the only person who thinks the Bushies are the last people who should be giving lectures on damaging our nation's image or handing out blame for the resulting violence? If I remember correctly, our reputation in the international community wasn't exactly stellar prior to the Newsweek piece.

Bob Harris:
GOP sells out your health to a Saudi chemical company

First, thanks to Tom for the invite. Nice to be back. Now, on with my usual parade of dark news and wan smiles...

This delightful news from the Boston Globe, pointed out by the folks at ThinkProgress.org:

A leading Saudi manufacturer of the gas additive and possible carcinogen MTBE greased our Congress with over $1.5 million in contributions before getting a bill through the House shielding them from legal liability

The cost of cleaning MTBE out of our water is already estimated at about $29 billion.

If you're curious, the EPA has published a nice little .pdf map showing MTBE clean-up necessary around the country.  And, bonus for me and everyone else in California, the state has published this neat little page with data links that let me see that drinking water might well be contaminated in my very own neighborhood.

From now on, I'm drinking and bathing in nothing but hard liquor.

Greg Saunders:
The Dark Side

Dan Froomkin sees through the bad dialogue and flashy special effects1 to see the real story in the new Star Wars films :

"Revenge of the Sith," it turns out, can also be seen as a cautionary tale for our time -- a blistering critique of the war in Iraq, a reminder of how democracies can give up their freedoms too easily, and an admonition about the seduction of good people by absolute power.

Some film critics suggest it could be the biggest anti-Bush blockbuster since "Fahrenheit 9/11."

New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott gives "Sith" a rave, and notes that Lucas "grounds it in a cogent and (for the first time) comprehensible political context.

" 'Revenge of the Sith' is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, 'If you're not with me, you're my enemy.' Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: 'Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.' "

AFP reports that the movie delivers "a galactic jab to US President George W. Bush."

I'm shocked it's taken people this long to pick up on the political stuff. As I wrote on my site a couple of weeks ago, the first two movies are basically parables on how democratic superpowers eventually become controlled by despots. Lucas put it well himself in an interview with Time magazine three years ago :
So where does Lucas stand in this political polemic? "I'm more on the liberal side of things," he says. "I grew up in San Francisco in the '60s, and my positions are sort of shaped by that ... If you look back 30 years ago, there were certain issues with the Kennedys, with Richard Nixon, that focused my interest." Lucas' own geopolitics can sound pretty bleak: "All democracies turn into dictatorships—but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it's Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea ... What kinds of things push people and institutions into this direction?"

In Clones, Lucas goes a way toward answering that question. "That's the issue that I've been exploring: How did the Republic turn into the Empire? That's paralleled with: How did Anakin turn into Darth Vader? How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship? It isn't that the Empire conquered the Republic, it's that the Empire is the Republic." Lucas' comments clarify the connection between the Anakin trilogy and the Luke trilogy: that the Empire was created out of the corruption of the Republic, and that somebody had to fight it. "One day Princess Leia and her friends woke up and said, 'This isn't the Republic anymore, it's the Empire. We are the bad guys. Well, we don't agree with this. This democracy is a sham, it's all wrong.'"

The amusing thing here2 is that the plots of these movies were written before Iraq, 9/11, and the ascension of our lovable cokehead preznit. The question shouldn't be why Lucas is a America-hating liberal who's making sci-fi movies that slam our glorious leader, but why Bush et. al. are dutifully following in the footsteps of power-hungry lunatics like Julius Caesar or Emperor Palpatine.

(BTW, if there are any editors out there looking for a 2000 word article about this stuff, I've got one I've been shopping around for about a week.)

1 : Which is, admittedly, a very very difficult thing to do.

2 : By "amusing" I mean "scary as hell".

Since this is my first post here, lemme take this opportunity to thank Tom for including me on this group blogging experiment of his. Now there's a good chance that Bob, Jack, or I will post things that our host doesn't necessarily agree with, so please do us all a favor of directing your comments to the author in question. I can be reached at TheTalentShow [at] gmail [dot] com. Tom's busy enough without having to defend something I write.

Tom Tomorrow:
Before the righties claim another scalp...

...it's important to note something about this Newsweek brouhaha: as SusanHu points out at Kos, the allegations they printed were most likely true--and had been previously reported elsewhere.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 20, 2005:

Lawyers allege abuse of 12 at Guantanamo
By Frank Davies
Inquirer Washington Bureau

...Some detainees complained of religious humiliation, saying guards had defaced their copies of the Koran and, in one case, had thrown it in a toilet, said Kristine Huskey [an attorney in Philadelphia], who interviewed clients late last month. Others said that pills were hidden in their food and that people came to their cells claiming to be their attorneys, to gain information.

"All have been physically abused, and, however you define the term, the treatment of these men crossed the line," [attorney Tom] Wilner said. "There was torture, make no mistake about it." ...

B. From the Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, NY and linked as a footnote in a Human Rights Watch report:

72.They were never given prayer mats and initially they didn't get a Koran. When the Korans were provided, they were kicked and thrown about by the guards and on occasion thrown in the buckets used for the toilets. This kept happening. When it happened it was always said to be an accident but it was a recurrent theme.

C. From the Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, NY and linked as a footnote in a Human Rights Watch report:

74. Asif says that `it was impossible to pray because initially we did not know the direction to pray, but also given that we couldn't move and the harassment from the guards, it was simply not feasible. The behaviour of the guards towards our religious practices as well as the Koran was also, in my view, designed to cause us as much distress as possible. They would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it. It is clear to me that the conditions in our cells and our general treatment were designed by the officers in charge of the interrogation process to "soften us up"'.

D. From the Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, NY and linked as a footnote in a Human Rights Watch report:

Statement of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, "Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay," released publicly on August 4, 2004, para. 72, 74, available online at:
http://www.ccr- ny.org/v2/reports/docs/
accessed on August 19, 2004. The disrespect of the Koran by guards at Camp X-Ray was one of the factors prompting a hunger strike. Ibid., para. 111-117.

This pretty much sums up what's going on here:

Censorship is what they’re after, and don’t let them tell you otherwise. They announced this goal unmistakably at least a year ago. (Here’s the classic, regret-filled formulation: “And here’s a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn’t exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority—or even a large and angry minority—of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?”) Of course, they “regret” that censorship might be necessary. It’s a terrible shame and all that. But damn it, if magazines like Newsweek ARE GOING TO GET PEOPLE KILLED…well, what can we do? We obviously have to shut them up. They brought it on themselves. It’s their own damned fault. Of course, we’d like to have a free press, but THEY’RE GETTING PEOPLE KILLED!

And please, please don’t say it can’t happen here. It did happen here—during World War I and World War II. They want to go back to the good old days, when people got thrown in jail for reading the Bill of Rights in public.

The more enthusiastic proponents of blogging insist that the medium can only enhance the flow of information. You know, information wants to be free, yadda yadda yadda. (If I had a nickel for every time I heard Arianna Huffington using the word "conversation" in some interview last week--well, I would have enough nickels to buy a candy bar or two from a vending machine, at the very least.) Unfortunately it cuts both ways--blogs are equally efficient at shutting down and discrediting inconvenient facts through sheer repetition of--not to put too fine a point on it--complete bullshit. The rightie blogs seem to have formed their own little volunteer Civil Information Defense, vigilantly monitoring all media for possible acts of sedition. Media outlets need to get smart about this stuff and quick, and stop caving in so easily to these morons--because they're really not going to like the storyline that develops if they don't.

Tom Tomorrow:
Change in the weather

The more astute among you will have noticed that the blog, while not entirely abandoned, has been somewhat neglected of late. And the fact of the matter is, I don't see this changing any time soon. So we're going to run a little experiment here at thismodernworld.com--for the next month or so, this is going to be a group blog. (I hear they're all the rage these days.) To start out, I've invited my friends Bob Harris, Greg Saunders and Jack Hitt to pitch in. Bob, of course, needs no introduction around these parts, having previously guest blogged here at length. Greg is the proprietor of The Talent Show, as well as the co-creator of the animated piece Brother Can You Spare a Job, which was a finalist in the Bush in 30 Seconds contest. Jack Hitt is, among other things, someone who gets paid to write for a living, so we'll see how long it takes him to see through the "blogging is its own reward" crap. Bob and Greg will probably be cross-posting entries from their own sites, though they're welcome to post original material as they see fit.

One format note: I hate it when you go to a site you visit regularly and suddenly the tone of the writing is off and you can't quite figure out why until you notice that the name of the author in that little tiny space at the end has changed and you realize that you've got a guest blogger. So I'm changing the format of the page slightly, as you can see--the name of the author of any post will be featured prominently above that post. I'm sure there will still be some confusion--I can't tell you how much mail I used to get from morons outraged about something or another that Bob had posted, back in the day--but there's only so much you can do.

Anyway, that's the scoop for awhile.


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