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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 7 May 2005

Topic: God and US

Institutionalizing Magic Thinking: Late Comment on the New and Improved Scopes Trial

Early in the week, in Not the Only News, it seemed the hearings opening Thursday in Kansas were being reported rather spottily. The six days of courtroom-style hearings were to begin on Thursday in the capitol Topeka and more than two dozen witnesses were to give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution. No much in the news on that. Then, late in the week, after the hearings got underway, this was all over the news.

On the web there was endless commentary.

Some pointed to Stephen Jay Gould in Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes, Further Reflections in Natural History -
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.
That aside, what did happen in Topeka?

Friday, the New York Times points out this -
Beaming from a laptop to a wide screen, the scientists showed textbook pictures of chicken, turtle and human embryos to try to undermine the notion that all species had a common ancestry. Diagrams of complex RNA molecules were offered as evidence of a designed universe. Dr. Harris displayed a brochure for his Intelligent Design Network, which is based in Kansas, depicting a legal scale with "design" and "evolution" on each side and the words "religion" and "naturalism" crossed out in favor of "Scientific Method."

"You can infer design just by examining something, without knowing anything about where it came from," Dr. Harris said, offering as an example "The Gods Must be Crazy," a film in which Africans marvel at a Coke bottle that turns up in the desert. "I don't know who did it, I don't know how it was done, I don't know why it was done, I don't have to know any of that to know that it was designed."
Ah, lots of things he doesn’t know – but he knows something. God did it. You can infer that, just as that Coke bottle in Africa presupposes that multinational company in Atlanta and a bottling plant somewhere or other.

Of course.

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly is not impressed -
Can any of you folks out there tell me how looking at pictures of chicken and turtle embryos proves anything at all? "You can infer design by just examining something"? What is that supposed to prove? Meantime, the real scientists and their allies are across the street trying to get a fair hearing from the media by plying them with food, and the whole thing gets weirder by the minute. MAYBE THE WORLD REALLY IS FLAT.... I've been ignoring the recent outbreak of idiocy over evolution in Kansas because it's just too depressing to think about?.
And then he cites this snippet from the Los Angeles Times -
The hearings in Topeka, scheduled to last several days, are focusing on two proposals. The first recommends that students continue to be taught the theory of evolution because it is key to understanding biology. The other proposes that Kansas alter the definition of science, not limiting it to theories based on natural explanations.
Oh yeah, that will fix everything.

Drum then adds this -
Why yes, that would alter the definition of science, wouldn't it? Perhaps while we're at it we should also alter the definitions of history, literature, and religion. Seems like those fields have been stuck in a rut for a while too and could use a swift kick from the Kansas state board of education.

By the way, I'm glad to see that the Kansas folks aren't wasting time pretending that Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion or creationism. Newly elected board member Kathy Martin is open about where she stands: "There are alternatives. Children need to hear them....We can't ignore that our nation is based on Christianity ? not science."

Quite right. And what do the "scientists" have to say for themselves? Check out this guy from the University of Kansas: "If you want to know about science, ask a scientist. If you want to know about faith, ask a minister."

That is so lame. Why would I want to ask a scientist about anything?
Yeah, ask them and you get stuff like this -
To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like 'God was always there', and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say 'DNA was always there', or "Life was always there', and be done with it. - Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design p. 141

Intelligent Design isn't a scientific theory and it isn't an alternative to natural selection or any other scientific theory. The universe would appear the same to us whether it was designed by God or not. Empirical theories are about how the world appears to us and have no business positing why the world appears this way, or that it is probably designed because of how unlikely it is that this or that happened by chance. That is the business of metaphysics. Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory, but a metaphysical theory. The fact that it has empirical content doesn't make it any more scientific than, say, Spinoza's metaphysics or so-called creation science.

Intelligent Design is a pseudoscience because it claims to be scientific but is in fact metaphysical. It is based on several philosophical confusions, not the least of which is the notion that the empirical is necessarily scientific. This is false, if by 'empirical' one means originating in or based on observation or experience. Empirical theories can be scientific or non-scientific. Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex is empirical but it is not scientific. Jung's theory of the collective unconscious is empirical but it is not scientific. Biblical creationism is empirical but it is not scientific. Poetry can be empirical but not scientific.

On the other hand, if by 'empirical' one means capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment then Intelligent Design is not empirical.

Neither the whole of Nature nor an individual eco-system can be proved or disproved by any set of observations to be intelligently or unintelligently designed. ?
Is that prose too dense?

Are the scientists picking on the poor Christians? An attack of the secular on the believers? Note that George Will, one of the intellectual lights on the conservative right, this week in the Washington Post suggested the evangelical Christians in America just get over this idea that the are victims - what he called the "persecution complex" of the new core and essence of the Republican Party. And he doesn?t like conservative politicians whining about how everyone one is out to get them because they are simple men of God with unshakable faith in the unseen. No one is picking on anyone, just raising issues about what we teach in the schools and whether judges are supposed to follow the constitution or the Bible.

Over at the Wall Street Journal you would find this week a face off on the issue of faith, government, evolution and persecution between an odd couple, Christopher Hitchens and the Journal?s own James Taranto.

From Hitchens? This -
At least two important conservative thinkers, Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss, were unbelievers or nonbelievers and in any case contemptuous of Christianity. I have my own differences with both of these savants, but is the Republican Party really prepared to disown such modern intellectuals as it can claim, in favor of a shallow, demagogic and above all sectarian religiosity?

Perhaps one could phrase the same question in two further ways. At the last election, the GOP succeeded in increasing its vote among American Jews by an estimated five percentage points. Does it propose to welcome these new adherents or sympathizers by yelling in the tones of that great Democrat bigmouth William Jennings Bryan? By insisting that evolution is "only a theory"? By demanding biblical literalism and by proclaiming that the Messiah has already shown himself? If so, it will deserve the punishment for hubris that is already coming its way. (The punishment, in other words, that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson believed had struck America on Sept. 11, 2001. How can it be that such grotesque characters, calling down divine revenge on the workers in the World Trade Center, are allowed a respectful hearing, or a hearing at all, among patriotic Republicans?)
Hitchens doesn?t ?get? the new Republican Party, of course.

And he adds -
Then again, hundreds of thousands of young Americans are now patrolling and guarding hazardous frontiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is there a single thinking person who does not hope that secular forces arise in both countries, and who does not realize that the success of our cause depends on a wall of separation, in Islamic society, between church and state? How can we maintain this cause abroad and subvert it at home? It's hardly too much to say that the servicemen and -women, of all faiths and of none, who fight so bravely against jihad, are being stabbed in the back by the sunshine soldiers of the "crusading" right. What is one to feel but rage and contempt when one reads of Arabic-language translators, and even Purple Heart-winning frontline fighters, being dismissed from the service because their homosexuality is accounted a sin?

? The need of the hour is for some senior members of the party of Lincoln to disown and condemn the creeping and creepy movement to impose orthodoxy on a free and pluralist and secular Republic.
Hitchens doesn?t ?get? the new Republican Party at all. A free and pluralist and secular Republic is not what they now want.

Taranto here -
I am not a Christian, or even a religious believer, and my opinions on social issues are decidedly middle-of-the-road. So why do I find myself rooting for the "religious right"? I suppose it is because I am put off by self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, and contempt for democracy and pluralism - all of which characterize the opposition to the religious right.

One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn't the same as the oft-heard complaint of "anti-Christian bigotry," which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land.

For the most part, the religious right has responded in good civic-minded fashion: by organizing, becoming politically active, and supporting like-minded candidates. This has required exquisite discipline and patience, since changing court-imposed policies entails first changing the courts, a process that can take decades. Even then, "conservative" judges are not about to impose conservative policies; the best the religious right can hope for is the opportunity to make its case through ordinary democratic means.
In short? George Will is wrong. These innocent folks who want their point of view recognized, and school science classes changed for everyone, and judges to do the Biblical thing for a change, are indeed being picked on. Why not recognize their view? What?s the big deal?

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga over at The Daily Kos suggests this is a big deal -
My problem with this debate is that this isn't about being pro-religion or anti-religion or faith-neutral; it's about institutionalizing stupidity as a valid lifestyle choice.

? this debate continues to exist among the more fundamentalist flocks precisely for the same reason that race-based bigotries find root primarily among the less educated, and why the simple charms of gun-toting cowboy diplomacy find their adherents primarily among those who have, themselves, a deep mistrust of any foreign culture that has not personally sat down at their dinner table en masse to try the potato salad. Fear, and a deep seated, self-assured, prideful ignorance, a stubborn pettiness that David Brooks finds deeply American and the rest of us simply find vaguely embarrassing. Some people freely admit what they don't know; others hang on like a pitbull on a slab of meat, for fear that if that one instance of confident, willful belief be allowed to slip away, no other would ever appear.

We all are exposed to concepts which, though they may be true, we cannot possibly expect to fully grasp; I cannot fully comprehend the true size of a galaxy, or imagine in my head the cumulative effects of a million years history of a particular genus. Anyone who says they can is simply a liar; the human brain doesn't have references by which to judge such things. But it would be a profound conceit to proclaim that because I cannot understand it, it cannot be true. I understand that; there are those who do not.
So it comes down to fear in the end.

Kos adds -
.. there is no underlying religious requirement for claiming that man and dinosaurs walked the earth together, or that matter is bound together by "God's love" rather than quantum realm effects. There is no part of the Bible that says "woe unto him that owns a protractor", or "thou shalt not believe in surface tension". If you are a Bible literalist, and accept God's first task to Adam as the naming of the animals, than truly Darwin was doing God's work in the most literal possible fashion.

But if you are a creationist, or a believer in the identical but more pompously named intelligent design, your views on acceptable and unacceptable science will not coincidentally be delineated precisely along rather personal lines:

- If I understand it, it's science.
- If I don't understand it, God did it.

(In Kansas, then, we can imagine that those will be the only two boxes on each multiple-choice test question. And woe to the teacher that questions a ninth-grader's notions of God.)

Of course, there are grey areas:

- If I understand it from my own experience (e.g. gravity, electricity), it's true.
- If I don't understand it (dinosaurs, molecules), God did that part separately.
- If I really don't understand it (evolution, quantum effects), you're wrong, AND God made your test results look like that just to screw with you.
- If I really don't understand it, but you have evidence for it that I do understand, you're wrong, and God did the evidence, and shut up.

So for a creationist, God and magic are roughly indistinguishable.
Hey, Kos, some people LIKE magic! Are you telling them they cannot teach it in the science classes in all public schools?

Well, here is his problem with magic and fear as the basis for classroom science and public policy -
There are a great many people in the world who are frightened by that which they do not understand. And, among those, there are a great many who, when confronted with something they do not understand, would rather walk on hot coals (sometimes literally) than simply admit it and move on. But that doesn't mean that the rest of society needs to cater expressly to them, as some sort of least-common-denominator agreement that science can only move forward by the unanimous consent of the most absolutely, positively least interested among us.

It's a fiction. The whole "creationism" debate is, at heart, a fiction. It's not about religion, it's about education, and institutionalizing mental laziness and anti-intellectual prejudices as valid counterarguments to intellectual knowledge, so that the most conceited, uninterested and shallow among us don't have to think too hard or feel too challenged by intricacies of either their theology or their science.

If you have a hard time understanding the vertigo-inducing span of millennia between the time of the first primitive, microscopic life and now, don't blame me for it, and don't blame God for it. Blame yourself if you must, but don't react by attempting to institutionalize your own personal boundaries of knowledge as being equally valid to the entire history of mankind's accumulated knowledge. Bluntly, get over yourself.
Really? Why does the secular left make everything such hard work? Most Americans like things simple, and now, more than ever, seem willing to pay the price for that.

Think of it this way. America used to lead the world in pure science, and in applied science (technology). Is that what God really wanted?

Posted by Alan at 12:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 7 May 2005 12:24 PDT home

Friday, 6 May 2005

Topic: Photos

A Sense of Place: California Dreamin'

Political commentary will resume here in a few hours. Today was a day off, with a drive down to where your editor once lived, Manhattan Beach, and then on to Hermosa Beach, and, on the way home, an encounter with a cherry 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, and a stop at the Western Museum of Flight, across the runway from Northrop Aircraft, where your editor worked when he first moved to California…

The result of today’s expedition? A new photo album - A Day at the Beach – 6 May 2005 - with fifty-one of the more than one hundred images of the beaches at the edge of the city here at the end of the continent. Should you be in a cold, rainy place, these will give you a sense of life out here. Hum a few bars of "California Dreamin'" and click through these. Just another day in paradise….

Samples below… (The resolution in the photo album is not quite this good – but not bad. Some of these photos will appear in this weekend's Just Above Sunset where the resolution is best.)

Posted by Alan at 19:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 May 2005 19:33 PDT home

Thursday, 5 May 2005

Topic: God and US

An Anniversary: Has nothing changed?

Tuesday in Media Notes you would find a discussion of the Kansas Board of Education’s six days of courtroom-style hearings that began today, Thursday, in the capitol, Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses have begun testimony and will be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution. The item also mentioned the old movie about the Scopes Trial, Inherit the Wind (Stanley Kramer, 1960) – and provided a shot of the promotional poster for the film.

Lorraine Berry over at "Culture Kitchen" points out the obvious irony – that today is the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the Scopes Trail.


And presumably violating all sorts of copyright law, she posts in full an article from 1925 by Joseph Wood Krutch about the Scopes Trial - Tennessee's Dilemma. I also have appended that.

Over at "Balloon Juice" you can find today’s commentary under the heading EVOLUTION VS. INTELLIGENT DESIGN -
Bob Novak, on [CNN] Crossfire:

Why don't we teach evolution and intelligent design and let students figure it out on their own?

The response from an unknown God-hating scientist:

Fine. Why don't we teach students the South won the civil war and let them figure it out on their own? Why don't we teach students that the moon is made of green cheese and let the students figure it out on their own.

Meanwhile, in bizarro land, Terry Jeffrey is advocating that belief in objective truth requires that you believe in intelligent design. This would make a great SNL skit, except you can't parody these guys.

From the new evolution trials in Kansas [Associated Press report]:

Charles Thaxton, who lives near Atlanta but is a visiting assistant professor of chemistry at the Charles University in the Czech Republic, also presented another key criticism of evolution. He testified that there's no evidence that life formed from a primordial soup.

Irigonegaray asked Thaxton whether he accepted the theory that humans and apes had a common ancestor.

"Personally, I do not," he said. "I'm not an expert on this. I don't study this."

… At some point, people are going to recognize that faith is not a very useful building block for a logical syllogism or a good foundation for scientific inquiry. A belief in evolution does not preclude faith in God. On the other hand, teaching creationism does do damage to science.
There is a whole lot else out there too.

But Krutch (1893–1970) is still good. And he was from Knoxville, Tennessee himself.

Who was he? Why he was a damned pantheist!
Joseph Wood Krutch wore many literary hats. As one of the 20th century’s leading men of letters, the drama critic, university teacher, biographer, and magazine columnist authored several thousand essays and wrote or edited thirty-five books. An early work entitled The Modern Temper (1929) propelled him to fame. The book exuded disillusionment and despair. Krutch described how science replaced religious certainties with rational skepticism, leaving man in a meaningless world. But Krutch later discovered profound meaning in Nature. He became a celebrated nature writer and perhaps the first contemporary conservationists to explicitly embrace Pantheism. …
Ah ha! Well, he also wrote biographies – Poe, and Samuel Johnson. He taught at Columbia.

Here is what he wrote in 1925. The emphases are mine.
Tennessee's Dilemma
Joseph Wood Krutch, The Nation, from the July 22, 1925 issue

Dayton, July 12 –

Those who say that nothing of importance can be decided at Dayton have, at first glance, reason on their side. Even in Rhea County tadpoles will still lose their tails whatever may happen to Mr. Scopes, and, it is to be hoped, the human organism will continue in a similarly unperturbed fashion its evolution toward whatever state Nature has in mind for it. It is now perfectly evident that the question of the constitutionality of the Tennessee law, the only tangible legal issue involved, will not be the chief one discussed, and it might thus appear that the whole discussion threatens to become diffusely inconclusive.

No sooner had Clarence Darrow begun his cross-examination of prospective jurors than it became clear that he proposed to prove that the teaching of the defendant was not irreconcilable with a sufficiently liberal interpretation of the Bible, and hence was not a violation of the law, which specifically forbids only those theories which deny the account in Genesis. The theoretical position of the Bible as final authority upon scientific questions will thus not be questioned, and the right of the State legislature to control the teaching of professors will be left similarly unchallenged.

But the real problem raised is not legal but sociological. No verdict of the jury and no injunction of the Supreme Court can change the fact that the trial is a symptom of the vast gulf which lies between two halves of our population, and that the real question to be settled is the question of how this gulf may be bridged. In the centers of population men have gone on assuming certain bodies of knowledge and certain points of view without realizing that they were living in a different world from that inhabited by a considerable portion of their fellow-citizens, and they have been unconscious of the danger which threatened them at the inevitable moment when the two worlds should come in conflict. In Tennessee the moment has arrived and a single battle will no more settle it than the World War settled the questions from which it arose.

Of the reality of the danger there can be no question. The zeal of the fundamentalists has been enormously quickened by an anticipatory taste of triumph, and they will push any victory they may gain to the fullest possible extent. Already one State legislator has announced his intention of "putting teeth" in the present law by making the penalty for its violation a prison sentence instead of a fine, and various extensions of the principle of State interference with teaching may be confidently predicted. Members of the D. A. R. will, sooner or later, seek to forbid in the schools any historical facts which tend to reflect upon the character or motives of Revolutionary heroes; conservative economists and sociologists will certainly follow their lead; and, unless the movement is definitely checked, the next twenty-five years will see the State schools and universities so shackled with legislation as to make them utterly worthless as institutions for education. The control of learning will pass into the hands of the uneducated, and youth will leave the schools more ignorant than when it entered them.

Doubtless Tennessee is in a condition not much worse than that of the majority of the States in the Union. Her folly consists chiefly in the fact that she has allowed the situation to get out of hand by her cowardly refusal to deal with it as it arose. Neither she nor any other State has been able adequately to educate her citizens - and for that fact she is not to blame, since the task is beyond her financial or other strength. But when people cannot be educated they must be led, and it is in leadership that Tennessee has failed.

Left undisturbed, the rural population would have bothered itself very little over the teachings of the school or the college, since it has that respect for learning natural to all uneducated communities. A few years ago, however, it became evident that it would not be thus undisturbed, for various propagandists of the Bryan school came among it to declaim against what one of the agitators now in Dayton picturesquely calls "Hell in the high schools." Dayton was made aware of a question at issue, it looked for leaders, and it found them on one side alone. Fundamentalists were eager and zealous; educators were at best timid and non-committal, at worst hypocritically evasive. Under the circumstances, Dayton cannot be blamed if she chose to follow those who knew what they stood for.

Even at that very late moment when the anti-evolution bill was introduced into the legislature a little courage might have saved the day. Had the president of the State University gone with his faculty to Nashville, had the editors of the daily papers said what they thought, and had, in general, the enlightened members of the community shown one-half the decision manifest by the other side they might very well have won. Instead they lay low. They declined the challenge; they refused to make any effort to lead; they left their opponents in undisputed possession of the field. Dayton was reasonable to conclude, as undoubtedly it has concluded, that nine-tenths of Tennessee, the only world it knows, is with it and Bryan. It does not even know that the university which it respects is against it, and it is following a sound instinct. It is right to have no great confidence in scientists and educators who ask for nothing except its money. If the time ever comes when they show a disposition to tell what they believe it may possibly listen to them.

In the courtroom at Dayton and in the newspaper reports of the proceedings there Tennessee will be reminded of the situation into which she has drifted, and the ultimate result of the trial will depend upon whether or not she heeds the reminder. Neither John R. Neal, the only native prominently represented upon the defense, nor Messrs. Darrow, Hays, and Malone, his associates, can do much for her if she will do nothing for herself. They may win their case or they may lose it, but an ignorant population, almost wholly without leaders, will remain.
Ah hell – reprint this today and byline it Topeka.

Posted by Alan at 20:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Media

Celebrity trials are the opiate of the masses?

There has not been much of anything in these pages regarding the Michael Jackson trial in these pages. The last real entry was this in Just Above Sunset long ago – November 23, 2003: Michael Jackson, Gay Marriage? - and has this business been going on that long?

As I said then -
I find the fellow repulsive and never much liked his music. When I saw his mug shot on a news show all I could think of was that he had been trying too hard, for too many years, to look like Nicole Kidman. Why? And how will this all come out?

… As for me, I'd rather not know how this comes out. Yes, there are issues here. Can wealth, fame and celebrity free him in spite of what he has become and what he may have done? Yeah, yeah. Perhaps so. They usually do, don't they?

But the whole business is not so much fascinating to some of us as it is... well... distasteful. Something you turn away from, or at least politely ignore. Like a guest at a formal party mistakenly making a really off-color remark, or your host inadvertently breaking wind - best to be polite and ignore it.

The law will run its course. Polite, well-mannered people won't bother much with this business. And some sort of justice will probably be done. Decent people will trust that this will matter will be settled in court.
But this week things seem to be coming to a head – and you can add your own bad jokes here regarding that metaphor.

Bob Patterson, our Just Above Sunset columnist, speculates anyway -
The prosecution has rested in the Jackson trial.

It would be a wild, bold, and dangerous move for the defense to rest without calling one single witness, but it would indicate that they thought the prosecution didn't make their case at all.

I doubt they will really do that but I keep getting a feeling that it might happen that way.
Who cares?

Andrew Sullivan puts it well here -
I'd say it's pretty obvious that Michael Jackson will be found 'not guilty' at this point, which is not, of course, the same as innocent. Making a jury decision on this horrendously prosecuted case doesn't strike me as that hard. But when I ask myself what I think he may actually have done, I just don't know. I'm horrified by any sexual exploitation - even of a minimal kind - of a child. But every time I try and think of the minutiae of the Jackson case, I just feel nauseated and mentally change the subject. One thing is obvious: Jackson is psychologically damaged in ways I cannot even begin to understand.
Is there anything more to say?

Our high-powered Wall Street attorney adds this from his offices high over lower Manhattan -
Perhaps Mr. Jackson's attorneys could call Mr. Jackson to the stand where he could morph into some creature more scary than Mr. Jackson himself, moon dance, grab his crotch and then sit back down.

Other than that, there isn't much more to be said by either side.

Meanwhile, the war rages on in Iraq, the economy is not in good shape and social security may soon become a thing of the past, but nobody is listening. Seems that news coverage is not what it out to be, but at least it sells add space.
So why is the country concerned with Michael Jackson at all?

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, explains -
In my never-ending role as resident "media apologist" (aka "media whore"), let me first refer you to Karen Hughes' line, recently alluded to here, suggesting that the Republicans don't getting punished by voters for whatever the hell they do. [Editor’s Note – See The Limits of Spin from last week’s issue of Just Above Sunset for a discussion of that.]

The truth is, voters would have to hide themselves in sound-proof closets for months on end not to have heard anything in the media about Tom Delay's adventures (including his fussing with the Ethics Committee), the Senate Republicans trying to slam-dunk Bush's judge choices, the economy not looking too great, the war in Iraq not being a bed of posies, not to mention rising CO2 levels and failure to secure nucular [sic – ha, ha] material in the former USSR, nor that Bush is still pushing hard with his whacky Social Security ideas (which, I theorize, is a bigger distraction for those who do care about what's really going on the world than if we were to hear that the runaway bride was actually running off in hopes of being the mother of Michael Jackson's children.)

The real reason, assuming the Republicans really DON'T end up paying a price for all these things, is not that the news media hasn't covered all these things, but rather that too many Americans are so cynical, they really don't give a flying fart about all that "Washington politics" stuff. Assuming the media was inclined to beat the public over the head with "responsible" stories -- and after all their runaway coverage of the "runaway bride," I'm pretty sure they're not -- but even if they were, they would be almost totally ignored -- except, of course, by the likes of you and me. And the Republicans, whether or not you can call them "smart," are smart enough to realize this and play with it.
Celebrity trials are the opiate of the masses? Something like that.

Such stuff is far less distressing than the political news – news of those things that can actually be devastating to all of our lives, leave us in poverty, or in jail, or dead.

Our high-powered Wall Street attorney from his offices high over lower Manhattan suggested Jackson’s attorneys could call the guy to the stand where he could morph into some creature more scary than Jackson himself, moon dance, grab his crotch and then sit back down.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, adds -
After you see this [click on the link shown in the middle of the page and open, or download and open] - then try to tell me honestly there IS any creature more scary than Jackson himself. [Click here for slightly less spooky version.]
Check it out. Disturbing. Unsettling. Creepy.

So no more of Michael Jackson here. He?s not important, no matter how strange he is.

And considering that whole business is not only distasteful, voyeuristic consideration of such matters borders on being irresponsible.


On the matter of civic irresponsibility, you might want to glance at these two items from the Columbia Journalism Review.

Runaway Network Exec Kidnaps News from May 2 ? a discussion of CNN and their massive coverage of the ?runaway bride? story. And Day Four of the Story That Wasn?t, a follow-up the next day.

Why was CNN spending so much of its time on this story?

Is this the same CNN that Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, helped found many years ago?

Is this news that matters?

Oh well. CNN is not alone in this.

Posted by Alan at 14:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2005 19:07 PDT home

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Topic: World View

Iran: Nuclear Ambitions, Automotive Ambitions

From United Press International (via WHAM in Rochester, New York) this bit of bad news -
United Nations inspectors have told the BBC Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.

In a documentary to be broadcast Tuesday night, U.N. Inspector Chris Charlier said the dismantling of a nuclear facility at Natanz raised suspicions the Iranians were trying to hide their nuclear activities.

"It was really, I believe, to conceal the program and their activities," he said. "And maybe there are still other things that they are doing and we couldn't find. And that's why we are getting suspicious, after 20 years of working with them, it takes time to repair confidence."

Washington is adamant Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and wants to refer it to the U.N. Security Council. Britain, France and Germany persuaded Tehran to freeze its nuclear activity in November but senior Iranian officials have said some enrichment activities will soon resume at a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said if Iran went ahead with the threat it could lead to referral to the Security Council.
That’s as of Wednesday, May 04, 2005.

Oh, there are bad times coming.

Then we find
this from Daniel Gross in SLATE (also Wednesday, May 04, 2005) - "Britain may soon sell one of its most celebrated automakers to a charter member of the Axis of Evil. That little MG you've been coveting may soon be made in Iran, because it looks as if Iran will end up with the remnants of MG Rover, the last independent British auto manufacturer."

Say what?

Daniel Gross gives us background, via everyone’s favorite cooperative encyclopedia, Wikipedia -
MG Rover is based in Birmingham, where the Austin auto company was founded in 1905. In 1968, it merged with several other brands to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation, which was nationalized in 1975. Later redubbed the Rover Group, it was privatized and sold to BMW. In 2000, a boom year for SUVs, BMW sold the Land Rover business to Ford. Then it gave away the rest of the company—the MG division (sporty coupes) and Rover division (classy sedans)—to a group of British investors for essentially nothing. Which is precisely what they proceeded to make it worth.

MG Rover went into "administration"—a kind of bankruptcy—on April 8. A week later, with efforts to find an immediate buyer or government funding having failed, the company announced it would start laying off its 5,000 workers. This loss of jobs—plus another 15,000 lost at suppliers—came at a remarkably inopportune time for Tony Blair's Labor party.

MG Rover is still looking for buyers, and it claims to have received some 200 inquiries. But firm offers from respectable investors have been slow to materialize. In fact, the only serious noises are coming from Iran. Iran is the biggest auto producer in the Middle East. In the 1970s, it acquired the manufacturing rights to Britain's Hillman Hunter and has been producing its Paykan cars in volume. According to an article in the Guardian, "Two million of the five million cars on Iran's roads are Paykans and sales were still 150,000 a year." Ironically, the Paykans are being phased out because "a model once regarded by Iranians as the epitome of British cool and manufacturing quality has been rendered obsolete by tougher environmental standards and the demands of Iran's younger generation for greater comfort and sophistication."

History is repeating itself. On April 26, the Financial Times reported that "Iran is considering a rescue of MG Rover" and might be willing to continue production in Birmingham. Sounding more like Lee Iacocca than Ayatollah Khamanei, Iran's Minister of Industries and Mines Eshaq Jahangiri told Reuters, "We reckon our auto industry is capable of reforming a troubled European carmaker and churning out a car to world markets under the same brand."
One hardly knows what to say.

Iran's younger generation has a yen for greater comfort and sophistication, and they’re turning to these machines? Your editor, whose first automobile was a very used Triumph TR-4 (the one with solid read axle and leaf springs, not the TR-4A with the swing axle and independent rear suspension) suggests these Iranian folks keep working on the nukes. Forget the cars. As for manufacturing quality, well, all of us car nuts have one warning for them: Lucas electrical systems.

What are these people thinking?

Gross then points to this from May 2 in the Financial Times of London, the London in the UK, not the one halfway between Detroit and Toronto. It seems Dastaan Industrial Development, an actual Iranian automaker, is seeking to buy several thousand unsold MG Rovers – and they are interested in buying more finished cars and kits. The idea to assumable the kits domestically, in Iran. And if that deal fails, they say they would be quite happy to buy the company's currently mothballed assembly lines and relocate them to Iran.

Given all this, perhaps we should not worry about Iran developing nuclear weapons. They like these undependable fourth-rate British cars and want to buy the company and flood that part of the world with sputtering Rovers and often inoperable MG things? What does that tell you about their level of engineering?

Perhaps we should all relax a bit.


A note about Wikipedia, that cooperative encyclopedia. Crispin Sartwell teaches political philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (a good school!) and in the May 4 Los Angeles Times explains what that is about -
"Wiki" is the Hawaiian word for quick, and it refers to a website that can be updated easily by anyone from any Web browser. The first wiki armature was developed in 1995, and Wikipedia — the brainchild of one Jimmy Wales — was founded in 2001. Under Wales' brilliant conception, anyone can go into Wikipedia ( and create a new article or edit an old one: It is entirely accessible and entirely alterable.

This is anarchy, of course, and completely antithetical to the encyclopedic tradition, which has emphasized a kind of solemn definitiveness and authority. Britannica and Encarta, for instance, not only employ experts to write their articles but subject everything they publish to a rigorous review process. At Wikipedia, you (or any old maniac) can march right onto the "nuclear fusion" page and add your thoughts.

But as Wikipedia says about itself, the point is not that it's hard to make mistakes but that it's easy to correct them. Because thousands of people — ordinary, unpaid, outside participants — monitor and edit Wikipedia, errors and vandalism are often corrected in seconds. One feature of the site is a list of recently updated pages, so that one can keep track of changes. One can even revert to a previous version of an article if mistaken or malevolent parties have messed it up.
Cool, huh?


And a note on WHAM in Rochester, New York. They also report this along with the Iran article –
Salvia - A Legal Hallucinogenic Herb

Rochester, NY - There's a new way teenagers are getting high and so far, it's perfectly legal. People are experimenting with an herb called salvia divinorum. It’s a type of sage from Mexico that can cause hallucinations when smoked or chewed. …
Does salvia divinorum also grow in Iran? That might explain the MG Rover stuff.

Riders of the Purple Sage...

Posted by Alan at 20:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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