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Consider:

"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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Thursday, 25 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Flypaper: Some Conceptual and Practical and Moral Issues

Gregory Djerejian in London is the vice-president and general counsel of a financial services company that specializes in commercial real estate projects, alternative investments, and company acquisitions. So? He also helps manage a philanthropic organization that has supported a number of projects in the Republic of Armenia including a loan program for small and medium sized enterprises undertaken in conjunction with the Washington-based Eurasia Foundation. Before that he was a corporate lawyer in New York. He also worked with our State Department in Bosnia, and had worked at the US Mission to the United Nations and with the congress. His full bio is here, and he publishes The Belgravia Dispatch. He brings an interesting perspective to things, and doesn't rant, and doesn't wear the conspiracy tin-foil hat you find so often on the web. And by the way, Belgravia is the neighborhood in London where you find all the embassies - as you recall from the Sherlock Holmes stories. That's where this fellow lives.

Thursday, August 25, you will find on the site an item that considers the "flypaper theory" of why we have to fight on in Iraq at the same level, if not at some increased level. The theory has its problems - call them logic problems - and they interest me because I have heard this justification for what we're doing in Iraq from any number of those I know now posted there, and from their friends and relatives.

The theory, in the president's words -
Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.
We all have heard that repeated by those who want to explain how things really are to those "others" - who think the Iraq operations were and are a diversion from the main task at hand, and make us no safer, and squandered our resources. The idea posited is that this Iraq business is a clever way of creating a new front in the larger war, a contained area where we lure the bad guys and take care of them - Iraq as flypaper to trap them, if you will.

Put aside the problem that this explanation appeared late in the justifications for the war, after the WMD business fell apart and nothing could be established connecting the regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks of September 11, 2001 - it came much later, along with the idea we were there to establish an Jeffersonian democracy with full rights for all, including women, and with a deregulated free-market capitalistic-entrepreneurial economy. That too is now in question as we see a budding Islamic theocracy is quite possible, with its implicit repressions, and the arguments over the new constitution drag on.

Why we have to fight on in Iraq at the same level - why we have to "stay the course" - has now devolved into two contentions - all we have left for justification.

One is the flypaper concept, and the other - ''the way to honor American troops killed in Iraq is to complete their mission and bring freedom to the region.'' If we change course now we dishonor those who have died.

As mention previously, this second idea is why so many are now angry. The idea is now floating around that someone betrayed those almost two thousand good people - and they are dead. And they are dead for no good reason. That is, in some minds, criminal - unless there is a clear explanation of why their deaths were necessary. More and more Americans just don't get it. Allowing more to die makes no sense to them. It doesn't address the issue of what the first two thousand died for.

Putting aside the we-sacrificed-so-many-so-we-have-to-continue-simply-to-make-those-initial-deaths-meaningful argument, there's this flypaper business.

That is what is examined in The Flypaper Fallacy: 10 Reasons Not To Believe the Hype in The Belgravia Dispatch.

Here, Gregory Djerejian explains "the main reason I supported Bush's re-election was because I felt he wouldn't precipitously draw-down from Iraq like Kerry all but declared he would" - but he is troubled. Partly it's that he senses Americans "are smelling out something rather simple" - we are not successfully achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq, which he identifies as the "creation of a viable unitary and democratic state." He cites "dismally poor post-war planning run out of the Pentagon."

But there is this:
That is not to say we are condemned to fail. Far from it. Let's recall some basics. George Bush unseated perhaps the cruelest, most odious leader on the world stage in ridding Iraq of Saddam. Some 8 million Iraqis braved fascistic violence to come out and vote last January. Zal Khalizad is making a yeoman's effort in cobbling together a workable compromise on a constitution that could, just perhaps, help breathe new life into forging a unitary, democratic Iraq -ideally striking a deft balance between central authority (which is critical so as to avoid the specter of ethnic cleansing and the concomitant imperiling of minority rights) and some degree of federalism (Shia, especially in the south, and the Kurds, of course, will demand it). And, to Bush's credit, despite the increasingly loud calls from various quarters, he appears (I say appears as we hear too much of troop draw-downs from points Pentagon) to be continuing to stand up with the Iraqi people during this hugely arduous process.
But there are problems.

What problems? Try this - after more than two years after "the end of major combat operations" you have the daily attacks right in the middle of Baghdad, in broad daylight.

And this list -
- "Towns abutting the Euphrates in Anbar Province are once again becoming insurgent sanctuaries."

- "Largely unregulated Kurdish militias more or less rule the north with impunity, and they are said to be detaining extra-judicially myriad Arabs in detention centers."

- "Strategically critical towns like Kirkuk remain potential tinder-boxes."

- "There is a possible intra-Shi'a schism brewing, and Moktada al-Sadr looks set to start causing trouble again, though he continues to step back from the precipice as is his wont."

- "And while the constitution might yet be agreed, it is unclear what, if any, real impact its passage would have on both on the insurgency and your typical Iraqi on the street, worried more about security and, also, bread and butter related issues like jobs and the state of reconstruction efforts (unemployment is sky-high and reconstruction continues to seriously lag)."
Other than that? Things are fine.

Of course we are getting tired of "the easy, stump lines, especially when they've been repeated over and over and over for several years now" - "I understand freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is an Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world." -
You know, I don't really care anymore, if I ever did, whether freedom is God's gift or the US's gift or France's gift or God knows whose gift "to the world." But I do know 'freedom' is not exactly flowering in Iraq, and so hasn't quite arrived as yet, which while eminently understandable given how massive an enterprise securing freedom there entails, nevertheless leaves us with the nagging problem of whether we have a persuasive 'success strategy' to achieve said freedom there - whether via the work of some benevolent omnipotent deity or, more realistically, the brass-tacks, hard work achieved via the expenditure of the blood and treasure of a great nation.
It was the gift of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by the way. But putting aside the great gifts of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, what about this flypaper business?

We learn there was just no mention of it before the war - it's a post-war explanation of why we did this - "a convenient theory first cooked up by a David Warren many moons ago." You cannot find any "unambiguous administration statement before the war in Iraq specifically stating that the precise policy goal, strategic objective, and principal rationale for war in Iraq was to fight terrorists 'over there' so they wouldn't come 'over here.'" Djerejian did his homework. Nothing.

The Warren statement is here:
The US occupation of Iraq has done more to destabilize Iran than the ayatollahs could hope to do in Iraq; and then something. This "something" has befuddled the various "experts" on regional security, trapped within their Pavlovian assumptions. They notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.

It more likely demonstrates the opposite. While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq - the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs - President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the "growing threat to U.S. forces" on the ground in Iraq. It should have been obvious that no US President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties. What the media, and US Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenseless civilians, both in Iraq and at large. The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation - and it is a sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response - is not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper.
Ah, so THAT'S why he said "bring 'em on" - all part of the plan!

The problems with that, as Djerejian sees it?
1) It's assumes a finite number of jihadis willing to die.

2) Indeed, and related to 1, it ignores that Iraq may be creating more jihadists - not all of whom are rushing to Damascus en route to parts Anbar.

3) It further ignores the fact that some jihadists, terrorists and fundamentalist radicals are gaining valuable experience in terror tactics in Iraq, as CIA reports have indicated, and then heading back out of country to theaters like Europe to pursue attacks there.

4) Flypaper, of course, also ignores dozens of terror attacks outside of Iraq since the advent of hostilities there in early 2003, witness (and this is not a comprehensive tally): [click on the link for items (a) through (mm)] - Bottom line, people: The "carefully hung" flypaper is K-mart quality, I guess, cuz it's not working too well...

5) As serious observers of international terrorist organizations well realize, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, PFLP-GC, DFLP, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen separatists (and quite a few other groups besides) are not rushing their forces into Iraq to fight the American Satan near the Green Zone or in Anbar Province - as they've got their own battles to wage.

6) It follows, of course, that Warren's argument that flypaper acts to protect Israel is risible (leaving aside, of course, why American policymakers should be hugely pre-occupied with creating "a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted" (Warren's words) as the very center of a war strategy ostensibly, one would think, primarily concerned with the U.S. national interest, rather than any other countries--yes even including close and important allies).

7) UBL and his henchmen know full well that a mega-terror attack on the scale of 9/11 in a London, New York or Los Angeles would have a hugely larger impact than dozens felled in the latest car bombing of a Shi's shrine near Karbala. You can hang the flytrap from Casablanca to Jakarta and al-Qaeda operatives will still be trying to hit major Western metropolises. Bank on it, as they well see how the intense media coverage of a half-assed 7/7 operation compares to that of terror attacks that kill two or three times as many in Iraq with some routineness. They are still coming after us, and they are not all in Iraq. Not by a long shot. This is because they realize hitting us in our towns and cities smarts much, much more, and also because people trained for operations in Western cities might not be the best kind of jihadis to send to the banks of the Euphrates.

8) Dare I even raise it, as so few seem to give a shit, the moral angle - [see below]

9) [What if] Flypaper is really happening. It's true! Iraq is jihadi central, big time, and they are pouring in in massive numbers. And what if, just, we lose Iraq, with more and more Iraqis radicalized (or cowed by insurgents and/or militias) because we have failed to provide security there because of said influx? Then what?

10) A final problem with flypaper. It's a lie, and it will fly back and smack the President hard in the face when the inevitable next terror attack occurs in the U.S. Those listening and relying and believing his stump speech, credulous people in the heartland, who really think 'we are fighting them there so we don't need to here' - well, they will feel profoundly deceived. That's not good when you are already languishing at 40% in the polls.
That'll do.

So what's the moral issue? A self-identified arch-conservative explains, just after the July 7 London bombings, here:
... has anyone thought about why we're justified in using another nation as flypaper in the first place, even if it was a viable, effective strategy? What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here? Instead of flypaper, this should be called the "Night of the Living Dead Nation" strategy - using the undead, zombie-like carcass of a failed state for our own benefit. Beyond the sheer selfish immorality of it, has anyone thought about the potential for blowback? How would you feel if we were invaded by the Chinese on a false pretense, and they stated openly that their strategy was to attract and fight the scum of the earth in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago so they did not have to fight in Beijing?
Good question! And curiously, are we seeing the blowback right now on the streets of Baghdad?

This is the first time I've seen this argument, and can you imagine a reporter asking the president, at one of those infrequent press conferences, "Sir, what gives us the right to use what remains of Iraq as our catch basin for the scum of the earth, so we don't have to be bothered with them here? Is that fair to them?"

That won't be asked. But it would be cool.

Djerejian ends with this:
Look, we don't need to make fake arguments about why we are in Iraq. We went in because Saddam was a uniquely dangerous individual whom was commonly believed to be in possession of WMD. In a post 9/11 world, caution demanded that the burden of proof that he had disarmed be on him. He never convincingly showed the world his regime didn't possess WMD, and Bush acted pursuant to various UN resolutions to bring him to task. But we were wrong, and he didn't have WMD, yet History had marched on by then. In turn, of course, the goal was not to disarm the regime, in the main, but now to create a democratic Iraq. We are flailing, currently, in achieving this goal. And, if we fail, the ramifications will be immense. A splintering of Iraq could lead to interventions in that country by Saudi Arabia, by Iran, by Turkey. Ethnic cleansing within the country is a real possibility even if neighbors don't stir up too much trouble. Terror havens may take root in a prospective Sunni para-state.

Thus the critical need for honesty and serious thinking and fortitude. The stakes are immense. Failure is not an option. And the chances of success will be bolstered if we have a President who appears, not a broken record spouting bromides about 'staying the course', or 'fighting them there so we don't fight 'em here' or 'god's gift of freedom' - but who is instead spelling out a convincing war strategy to win this conflict. What do I want to hear? Well, it's more what I don't want to hear.

... unfortunately, the President is not explaining the stakes or the duration of this war frankly to the American people. Nor are his key surrogates. His Vice President said the insurgency was in its "last throes", and then his Secretary of Defense said insurgencies typically last 12 years. One report says troop-rotation planning is underway for 100,000 troops in theater for four more years, another says troops out by end '06. Is it little wonder the American public is confused? We need clarity and leadership Mr. President. And you are not providing it in requisite fashion at this juncture, in my view, and I say this as a prior and current supporter of this administration. Step up to bat and talk Texan plain and simple - but the real deal - not spin and empty bromides. The time is now.
Funny thing - that is, in a way, just what Cindy Sheehan has been saying.

Posted by Alan at 20:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005 20:37 PDT home


Topic: God and US

Pastafarianism: The Flying Spaghetti Monster

This has become so widespread it must be mentioned. It all started with this open letter written to the Kansas School Board regarding the six days of courtroom-style hearings held in May in the capitol, Topeka. As you recall those hearing were to discuss whether Intelligent Design should be taught along with the concept of evolution in the Kansas public schools, or taught in place of evolution. A review of who was saying what can be found here, from May 8th.

The letter from a physics graduate student, Bobby Henderson, opens this way:
I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I'm writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I'm sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.
There's much more detail of course, scientific theory, including a table showing the correlation of Global Average Temperature to the Number of Pirates from 1820 to the year 2000, along with an artistic rendering of just what the Flying Spaghetti Monster must look like.

The letter ends with this:
I am eagerly awaiting your response, and hope dearly that no legal action will need to be taken. I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
The actual responses, from three different members of the Kansas School Board are here, including this:
Thanks for your comments about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and all the supporters who have sent their support to members of the Kansas Board of Education. I am supporting the recommendations of the science committee and am currently in the minority. I think your theory is wonderful and possibly some of the majority members will be willing to support it.
The three responders got the joke. Obviously they were from the opposition forces.

Then came the wave of converts to this religion, which has become knows as Pastafarianism.

Evolution debate creates monster
Satirists preach gospel of Flying Spaghetti Monster
Scott Rothschild, The Lawrence Journal-World (Lawrence, Kansas), Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Note this:
In the past few weeks, hundreds of followers of the supreme Flying Spaghetti Monster have swamped state education officials with urgent e-mails.

They argue that since the conservative majority of the State Board of Education has blessed classroom science standards at the behest of intelligent design supporters, which criticize evolution, they want the gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster taught.

... Board member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat, whose district includes Lawrence, said he has received more than 500 e-mails from supporters of FSM.

... John Calvert, of Lake Quivira, the lawyer who was instrumental in writing the science standards that criticize evolution, said he had seen the FSM e-mails, and was not impressed.

"You can only use that misinformation so long," Calvert said. Calvert said the science standards do not promote intelligent design, but show that evolution has its critics.

Wagnon and the three other board members who support evolution have written Henderson back, saying they appreciated the comic relief but that they were saddened that the science standards were being changed to criticize evolution.
Huh? Whatever.

And the matter has grown in detail - note the recently posted painting from the Sistine Chapel of "Touched by His Noodly Appendage." The image is here and available on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

Of course, the anti-evolution pro-ID folks are ticked, and remind us all of a creationist's $25,000 challenge "to anyone who can give any empirical evidence for evolution." See this:
I'd like to know what you think should be taught in the schools.

Certainly not evolution considering there is not one single fact that proves it. No missing links, not even common sense. Lies are still being printed that were proven wrong in the late 1800's but they're still taught as fact.

If you're so positive that you came from a monkey or a rock or whatever you think it is I suggest you debate Dr. Kent Hovind.

Dr. Hovind is willing to pay any individual a quarter of a million dollars to anyone who can give any empirical evidence for evolution. He has had this offer up for a long time but even this country's top scientists have gone up against him and lost the debates.
That appeared on the site Boing Boing. There, after a series of links to various items like Scientific American - "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense: Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up." - this was offered:
We are willing to pay any individual $250,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Challenge Grant Update: Recently converted Pastafarians are adding matching reward funds to the Boing Boing Intelligent Design Challenge. Jason Kottke of kottke.org and Sean Bonner of metblogs have each offered an additional $250,000. We've been flooded with still more donations, and have decided to cap the purse at $1 million - in part because the number contains a lot of pretty, round zeroes that resemble holy meatballs. …
Oh my!

How controversial has this become? As of Thursday, August 25, the blog tracking service, Technorati shows 1,605 items devoted to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You could listen to the Sparkletone's "What if God Wanted Pasta Sauce" (here) and go the site of true believers in this pasta god - Al Dente - for links to articles in the press on this pasta god.

Is it a minor matter? Read Der Spiegel or the Baltimore Sun or the Chicago Sun-Times or The Guardian or Die Welt or the Hartford Courant or the New Scientist. The links are all there. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is now known to the whole world.

If you know anyone from Kansas, be nice to them. They might be feeling a little defensive right now.

--

Note: This item was inspired by the blog review that Bidisha Banerjee posted at SLATE.COM – Banerjee was far too brief!

Posted by Alan at 01:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Topic: Dissent

Midweek Heat: Some thoughts on 'Disagreeing Sensibly'

Personal Note: I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (yes, the whole Jeep product line is underpowered, expect for the new Hemi Grand Cherokee). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Indeed. And he admits he sometimes has a problem with being tied emotionally to many of his arguments. Of course. It's a war, he's lost good friends, and he's in the middle of it right now. On this end, this child of the sixties, this idealist with a decade of teaching and trying to save the world, plugged in to the news, has a similar problem.

Our sort loves this country in our own way - we love the concept of it. We old farts long ago bought into all the stuff about liberty, equality, justice, tolerance and basic rights. As kids we watched the whole Civil Rights thing explode and heard King's 1963 Washington speech in real time, or on the evening news that August night, a month before we started tenth grade. Then John Kennedy was taken out, then King, then Bobby. In 1968 we followed what the people in the streets were doing from Chicago to Paris - and watched the news as the Russian tanks moved into Prague and stopped whatever pleasant freedom was growing there. We watched the Vietnam War go sour and end badly (and a good friend, a Frenchwoman I know, was on the last Air France flight out that day) - we all faced the draft in the late sixties, and then some of us won the draft lottery and didn't face the hard choice. Lots of things - Johnson walking away from a second term - Kent State - Nixon resigning. And you want things to be better. Things can be better. You get tied up emotionally, or some do.

The Major in Baghdad and I have been trading notes on Muslim fundamentalism, and he tells me his crew had a great briefing this week on Jihadism from someone from Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). It may have been Katrine Petkova - he didn't say. But he did say this: "She enlightened many of the totalitarians in the crowd. I will see if I can get a copy of the brief to send to you." Cool. Perhaps more on that later.

The Major and I can talk. And we should. He knows lots of things not just from the war, but from his year in Istanbul at their General Staff College, from commanding a platoon of tanks in the first Gulf War, from his deep education at West Point, from his time at Fort Irwin leading parts of the opposition forces in the war games there, being one of the bad guys.

Why wouldn't I listen to him? He listens to me. Fair is fair.

This is why this from Editor and Publisher is so disheartening.

The non-personal part? From August 24, 2005 4:20 PM ET -
The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group's national commander called for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the war, even though they are protected by the Bill of Rights.

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."
Whatever means necessary? The media is next?

Wait. That's not what the Major is fighting for. But in the American Legion speech you get this:
"It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction."

"No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies."
As the folks at Editor and Publisher point out, this is saying that our freedoms "are worth dying for but not exercising." So much for "disagreeing sensibly."

On Cindy Sheehan, but not mentioning her name:
"For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again....

"We had hoped that the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would be clear to our fellow citizens. Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies."
Jane Fonda was, and still is, a second-rate actress with a tin ear, politically. She's an embarrassment to the left and to the right - and an embarrassment on screen too. (Barbarella? Give me a break.)

Why do folks listen to celebrities? But they believe what that high school dropout Tom Cruise has to say about psychiatry. Some on the left listen to Barbara Streisand and her political statements. Heck, her singing is irritating enough. Sean Penn is now reporting from Iran for the San Francisco Chronicle. Say what?

What do these people bring to the table? Cindy Sheehan lost her son in this war. You make think her a fool and unhinged - but she brings something to the table. Disagree with her if you will, but she's been there and done that, so to speak. She's not Jane Fonda. In fact, "disagreeing sensibly" might be in order. On the issues.

"Oh, her husband is divorcing her!" Heck, Ronald Reagan - somehow now the father of the conservative right - was a divorced man, the first president who ever was. So what?

What about the issues? The American Legion says they shouldn't be discussed. The Major and I should stop - or at least I shouldn't post here what he says I can post?

Wednesday, August 24, Cindy Sheehan returned to Crawford, Texas with this statement:
I'm coming back to Crawford for my son. As long as the president, who sent him to die in a senseless war, is in Crawford, that is where I belong. I came here two and a half weeks ago for one reason, to try and see the president and get an answer to a very simple question: What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?

The answer to that question will not bring my son back. But it may stop more meaningless deaths. Because every death is now a meaningless one. And the vast majority of our country knows this. So why do more young men and women have to die? And why do more parents have to lose their children and live the rest of their lives with this unbearable grief?

The presidency is not bigger than the people's will.

And when the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around.

This isn't about politics. It's about what is good for America and what's best for our security and how far this president has taken us away from both.

I'm coming back to Crawford because - now and forever - this is my duty for my son, for my other children, for other parents, and for my country.
The issues?

What is the "noble cause?" Please define more clearly.

Questions. Has it been defined clearly enough? Polls show the answer is no, it hasn't, and more than half the country thinks we were lied to. So, clarify.

Secondary question. "When the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around." True or false, and then explain your answer.

The Major in Baghdad would be glad to deal with the questions. He has, to some extent, done just that in these pages. These are the kind of things we write back and forth. And when his leave comes up we may discuss them again, over cognac with ice water back, which is our little tradition.

What about "disagreeing sensibly" on the big question of the day at the national level?

The president gave a speech on Monday the 22nd to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the former White House speechwriter, David Frum, that expatriate Canadian who thought up the term "Axis of Evil," called it another lost opportunity - "By now it should be clear that President Bush's words on the subject of Iraq have ceased connecting with the American public." His contention is that that you can't announce a big speech and then say the same old thing over and over again.

No kidding.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum posts a small item called Taking War Seriously -
I suppose it's only natural that a speechwriter would focus more on what Bush says than what he does, but even so it's telling that Frum seems to have no substantive advice for his former boss. Do conservatives really buy their own propaganda that things are going swimmingly in Iraq and it's only the liberal media that's making it look bad? Or do they genuinely not have any ideas?

Well, I've got some ideas to run up the flagpole:

- Make the Pentagon's goals for training Iraqi security forces public. "My fellow citizens, we're going to provide monthly reports on how we're doing against these goals. You can hold us to them."

- Encourage enlistment in the Army and Marines. "To today's youth I say, 'You can become our country's greatest generation.' Join up now and help us in our greatest struggle: ridding the world of terrorist killers and the people who support them."

- Get rid of the military's ban on gay soldiers. "We're at war, and that means we need everyone who's willing and able to fight. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female, if you're willing to enlist, our military opens its arms to you."

- Propose a genuine energy independence plan. "We need more efficient cars. We need new sources of energy to power them. We need a tax on oil use. We need better mass transit. I'll be submitting a bill to Congress next week."
Well, they're ideas, but Drum admits they pose problems, like "a tacit admission that things in Iraq aren't progressing as well as Bush has been claiming" - and they all offend some interest group or other.

Yes, "being held accountable might make the Pentagon look bad. Asking for enlistments might embarrass hawks who prefer not to interrupt their rise up the corporate ladder. Welcoming gays into the military would enrage the Christian right. And energy independence would piss off a whole array of corporate interests that Bush depends on."

So? As least they're ideas.

I kind of wish the Major in Baghdad were president. He'd address the issues.

Posted by Alan at 19:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Topic: Science

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

A bit of environmental news:

Government Proposes New SUV Fuel Standards
Ken Thomas, Associated Press Writer - Tuesday, August 23, 2005 - (08-23) 16:59 PDT WASHINGTON (AP)

That goes like this:
With gas prices continuing to rise, the Bush administration on Tuesday proposed new rules to compel auto manufacturers to make pickup trucks, minivans and some sport utility vehicles more fuel-efficient. Environmentalists said the plan would do little to wean the nation from its dependence on foreign oil.

The proposal would require the auto industry to raise standards for most vehicles other than cars beginning in 2008. All automakers would have to comply with the new system by 2011.

"This is a plan that will save gas and result in less pain at the pump for motorists without sacrificing safety," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.

Mineta, speaking at news conferences in Atlanta and Los Angeles, said the program was expected to save about 10 billion gallons of gasoline over the life of vehicles built from 2008 through 2011. The U.S. currently consumes about 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year, according to Energy Department statistics.

But the plan would not apply to the largest SUVs, such as the Hummer H2. Passenger cars, already required to maintain an average of 27.5 miles per gallon, also would not be covered by the changes. ...
So what good does this do?

AP quotes Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program - "At a time when Americans are paying record prices for gas, the Bush administration has sided with its cronies in the auto industry and rejected real solutions." John Kerry (yes, he's still alive and somewhere or other) calls this big news "backward looking" and "another lost opportunity to help our security, economy and environment."

The government claims the new plan will save more fuel than any previous rulemaking in the history of the light-truck CAFE program – the average mileage of manufacturers' entire fleet of light trucks - but that's a low standard. The new things here is we now would divide light trucks into six categories based on size. Smaller vehicles would have to get better gas mileage than larger trucks and so on, except for the Hummer, which is exempt from all that for some reason. But the manufacturers could earn credits for exceeding the minimum in certain categories and apply them to a category where they don't meet the standard. Whatever.

Still, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing nine automakers, said the "higher fuel economy standards will be a challenge, even with all of the new fuel-efficient technologies that are offered for sale today."

Why bother? Consider this:

How to Escape the Oil Trap
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are now awash in oil money, and no matter what the controls, some is surely getting to unsavory groups.
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, Aug. 29 - Sept. 5, 2005 issue

The idea? The way to fix our foreign policy problems is to do something about our need for so much oil.
If I could change one thing about American foreign policy, what would it be? The answer is easy, but it's not something most of us think of as foreign policy. I would adopt a serious national program geared toward energy efficiency and independence. Reducing our dependence on oil would be the single greatest multiplier of American power in the world. I leave it to economists to sort out what expensive oil does to America's growth and inflation prospects. What is less often noticed is how crippling this situation is for American foreign policy. "Everything we're trying to do in the world is made much more difficult in the current environment of rising oil prices," says Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World."
And he goes on to make a convincing argument that our energy efficiency may be the key to getting out of any number of problems with terrorism, with the difficulties with any number of pesky governments and all the rest - rising oil prices are helping to finance the terror masters in Tehran, Saudi Arabia and so on. It's our demand for oil that gets us all messed up.

But what catches one's attention is this:
Rising oil prices are the result of many different forces coming together. We have little control over some of them, like China's growth rate. But America remains the 800-pound gorilla of petroleum demand. In 2004, China consumed 6.5 million barrels of oil per day. The United States consumed 20.4 million barrels, and demand is rising. That is because of strong growth, but also because American cars - which guzzle the bulk of oil imports - are much less efficient than they used to be. This is the only area of the American economy in which we have become less energy-efficient than we were 20 years ago, and we are the only industrialized country to have slid backward in this way. There's one reason: SUVs. They made up 5 percent of the American fleet in 1990. They make up almost 54 percent today.
The man said fifty-four percent. What? Well, a drive down any street in America will bear that out.

How did THAT happen?

The last time that issue came up in these pages was January 11, 2004 in Automotive Psychology: If someone's going to die, let it be someone else. Is it possible to limit the damage an obsession does to others?

Malcolm Gladwell with his long piece in the New Yorker on those SUV things - these luxury, top-heavy, truck-based transport vehicles just about everyone drives - prompted the item. And at the that time my nephew's wife out in Barstow was urging her husband to trade their nearly new Ford Excursion - the largest and heaviest passenger vehicle manufactured in American - for a Hummer - a bit more brutal and it looks bigger and safer, or maybe more "invincible and impenetrable."

Gladwell explained how we got into this SUV obsession in an interview about his New Yorker piece - Road Killers.

Why the obsession?
One school of thought says that SUV buyers harbor a kind of outdoorsy fantasy. But I suspect that it's more basic than that: this is a vehicle that can flourish in the most extreme environment imaginable. If it can ford streams and climb over boulders, just think how safe and protected you'll be on the trip to Wal-Mart! Of course, the logic behind that argument is backward: the trip to Wal-Mart is a good deal more hazardous than fording a stream in the wilderness, and we ought to be buying cars optimized for the conditions we actually drive in.
Maybe so, but you don't tell people what they "ought" to buy. That just makes them angry.

There's a bit on how market research shows that SUVs tend to be purchased by people who are "insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills." No kidding.

Then there's the marketing:
There's a television commercial for an SUV in which a woman is driving the SUV and a rock rolls onto the road in front of her, and she swerves around it at the last minute. That ad claims that SUVs are nimble, and suggests that the key variable in avoiding the rock was the vehicle. That is an attempt, it seems to me, to play to the driver who lacks confidence in his or her skills. The most dominant image in SUV commercials and ads is still the SUV mastering some off-road obstacle: fording streams, cutting through snowbanks, racing across virgin wilderness. Obviously, almost no SUV driver is ever going to use his or her car in those environments (in large part, of course, because racing across virgin wilderness in an SUV is, for the most part, illegal). Another interesting thing about SUV advertisements, along these lines, is how rarely children appear in them. Keith Bradsher makes this point in his book, High and Mighty. Minivans are advertised in family-centric ways. The SUV, on the other hand, is supposed to allow the buyer to pretend that he or she doesn't have a family, that he or she is still a kind of rugged loner without suburban entrapments.
Of course Gladwell adds that "the most important other issue" is the question of fashion: certain kinds of SUVs (like the Cadillac Escalade) are simply considered cool, in the way that Corvettes were cool twenty-five years ago.

Them there's safety and its costs:
If every car on the road was a Mini, then the cost of an accident would be quite small: if you are in a Mini and you hit a Mini, you aren't going to be that bad off. So, in the old days, the premium on active safety wasn't so large. On the other hand, if every car on the road is an SUV, the cost of an accident grows substantially. When a Ford Explorer hits a Chevy TrailBlazer, both parties suffer enormously. And, if a Ford Explorer hits a Mini, the Mini driver is a dead man. ... As a non-SUV owner, I simply cannot afford to get into any accident at all these days.
The irony here is that my nephew's wife did get her Hummer, and I got a new Mini Cooper. Here they are side by side:
























She feels safe. And oddly enough, I do too - the Mini is nimble enough to get out of the way of most trouble.

Of course, I am delusional and she is in the careful mainstream. They want these things, and that's not going to change. It's a bit of an obsession:
I don't think we can easily cure people of their desire to feel safe - even if that desire does not correlate with actual safety. But what we can do - and ought to do - is limit the damage that that obsession does to others.
But Gladwell was only talking about engineering changes. When Fareed Zakaria limiting the damage caused by our obsession with big SUV's he's talking about something else entirely.

Slightly off topic is this from June 13, 2004 - Hollywood and Paris, Back and Forth. From Paris, Reuters has just reported this:
Bulky four-by-fours could be banned from clogging up the chic streets of Paris after a top official in the capital's left-wing government described them as a polluting "caricature of a car" unsuited to city life.

An anti-sports utility vehicle (SUV) resolution passed by the city council could lead to a ban on the popular vehicles in about 18 months if it is included in an overall project to improve traffic flow in the city, Deputy Mayor Denis Baupin said Wednesday.

"You have to wonder why people want to drive around in SUVs," Baupin, a Greens party member, said on Europe 1 radio.

"We have no interest in having SUVs in the city. They're dangerous to others and take up too much space."
Click on the link and see what Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, had to say about that!

Back on topic - the topic of limiting the damage SUV's do - there's this from Andrew Sullivan, who lives in Provincetown, out at far end of Cape Cod. Reading this got me stared on this whole business:
Some kind of move toward greater energy efficiency is essential in the war on terror. But what I didn't realize is how the curse of the SUV is so damaging. Fareed writes that 54 percent of today's U.S. fleet of cars are made up by these ugly, behemoth tanks that guzzle gas, and make life miserable for everyone not in them.

My anti-SUV ire always goes up in the summer, when I see these vast, bloated symbols of excess bulldozing down the narrow streets of Provincetown, pushing every bicyclist, pedestrian or small child out of their way. My only solace is thinking of how many of these SUV owners are pouring money away to keep their mobile homes on the road. Pity that same money goes to finance Islamist terror. And please don't give me all this guff about how I don't have a car (hey, I'm not indirectly donating to al Qaeda), having to take kids here, there and everywhere, with all their stuff and the dogs and suburbs and soccer practices and on and on. All of this took place before SUVs; kids were just packed into back seats and trunks were stuffed full if necessary. Parents coped. Kids thrived.

If all else failed, people could even have less stuff. Imagine that: less stuff.

As readers know, I'd gladly put a dollar of extra tax on gas, insist on higher fuel standards for cars, make SUVs comply with the fuel standards of other cars and put a tax on SUVs on top of all that. We are in a war. As far as I'm concerned, those people driving SUVs are aiding and abetting the enemy, and helping to finance the terrorists that want to kill us all. I'm well aware that the notion that the Bush administration has any interest in energy independence or taxing gas or deterring SUVs is about as likely as their demanding subsidies for sex-changes, but I might as well vent. We can always stigmatize these SUV-terror-enablers. How about bumper-stickers for non-SUVs that simply say: MY CAR DOESN'T SUBSIDIZE SAUDI TERROR. Would that help?
Probably not. Somehow driving the largest possible SUV or truck has come to be seen as patriotic. "No Arabs are going change this guy's lifestyle." That sort of thing. Makes no sense - the bad guys with the oil just get richer and richer, and less likely to do anything we suggest - but that's the way it is. And shaming people about their latest hyper-expensive purchase? That never works. They will just assume that you're a powerless loser, with a tiny penis, who envies them.

Still Sullivan proposes a bumper sticker contest:
How's this for an idea: send me your best ideas for anti-SUV bumper stickers. One reader already suggested: "How Many Soldiers-Per-Gallon Does Your SUV Get?" Another offering: "Osama Loves Your SUV."

Got a better one?
No. And the irony here? The Hummer, below, proudly driven all over my nephew's wife, is what she drives while her husband, a Major in the Army, spends his days in Baghdad, in the Green Zone, doing what he does, which I ought not mention here. Is she making it harder for him, or keeping the kids safe on the road, or making a "no one changes my lifestyle" statement? Who knows?

























Something Sullivan and Fareed Zakaria don't mention is another little problem with more than half the drivers here in the SUV things.

Arctic melt likely to worsen, scientists warn
No natural process seen to curb trend towards ice-free waters
The Associated Press - Updated: 3:50 p.m. ET Aug. 23, 2005
WASHINGTON - The rate of ice melting in the Arctic is increasing and a panel of researchers says it sees no natural process that is likely to change that trend.

Within a century the melting could lead to summertime ice-free ocean conditions not seen in the area in a million years, the group said Tuesday.

Melting of land-based glaciers could take much longer but could raise the sea levels, potentially affecting coastal regions worldwide. ...
The link has satellite photos - before and after.

Just another SUV thing - conditions not seen in a million years.

Posted by Alan at 19:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005 20:13 PDT home


Topic: God and US

Avenging, Angry Christians, and the End of the Enlightenment Confirmed

Iraq wasn't the only thing in the news Monday the 22nd - although the abortive constitution business did suck up a lot of commentary, so much that you might have missed Power cut halts Iraqi oil exports: Oil exports from southern Iraq have stopped after a power cut left much of the country without electricity - which isn't good. AP later reported pumping resumed - "on a limited basis at Iraq's only functioning oil terminals Monday afternoon following a shut down for much of the day because of a power cut that darkened parts of central and southern Iraq, an official of the South Oil Company said." The pipelines to Turkey, to the west, have been offline for many months, as they get blown up too easily. Basra is the only way to export oil these days. One more detail.

Outside Iraq? You might have missed this: "JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Hundreds of looters battled police all weekend at the site of a beer train wreck in violence that left one woman dead, South African police said on Monday as they kept a heavy guard on the remaining alcohol. …" Curious.

The most curious off-topic items, oddly enough, seem to center on religion.

The Reverend Pat Robertson - the evangelical Christian leader who may be the de facto leader of the Republican Party's core believers in all things Bush - called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. It's not often a Christian leader, who accepts Jesus Christ as his savior, calls for a team to be assembled to assassinate the pesky.

But that's what he said. Jesus would want that.

We all know Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is a pain.

Rod reminds us of why:
- Chávez hangs around with Fidel Castro

- Chávez wants to take over the world, or at least Ecuador

- Chávez mocks and ridicules George Bush

- Chávez survived the recall election we promoted, and had the temerity to win by a margin of nearly sixty percent.
You might also recall that a few years ago the Bush administration hailed the coup that removed Chávez from power and recognized the new government - the generals who took over – then Chávez shows up still in power, and we… well, it was embarrassing. (That was in 2002 and mention in these pages here two years ago.)

He is a problem. And he has all that oil - thirteen percent of what we import.

Pat Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club and founder of the Christian Coalition of America, has the answer, in this from the August 22 broadcast of The 700 Club:
ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
The emphases, in bold, are from the source, Media Matters - watching The 700 Club so you don't have to. By Tuesday, August 23, the majors had picked up the story, CNN and MSNBC and all the papers. MSNBC ran a viewer's poll - "Has Pat Robertson gone too far?" There's reaction all over.

A bit of chiding from the quite conservative American Daily in Phoenix - Pat, You Have Strayed -
Pat, when you say things like the President of Venezuela should be assassinated, you are not following in the footsteps of Jesus. You have strayed.

As a Christian you have failed. Your focus on the Old Testament has skewed you away from Jesus' message of peace and love in the New Testament. Your message of hate and revenge borders on something that the Antichrist might say and do.

You need to step down from your position as spokesman for God and collector of his tithing. You cannot lead when you have lost your moral compass.

I wondered about you when you came out in support of torture. Jesus would not have done so. I mused about when you suggested that we should start the war in Iraq in the first place. Your use of God as justification seemed fantastic.

I have no more doubts. Your words have indicted you.

... I beg to differ with you Pat. It is, in fact, a whole lot more expensive. It costs you your soul.
Yeah, whatever. He thinks not.

One comment from the left: "Excuse me for a second while I peruse my Bible. Was there a part I missed where Jesus taught the parable about killing people who make trouble for you?"

Times have changed. Pat Robertson is the new face of Christianity - or the face of the new Christianity (What Would Jesus Do? Version 2.0).

To keep up with the times, you might take a look at this graphic - available on t-shirts and mugs. (It's satire.)

Not satire, Sunday the 21st the New York Times published a long article by Jodi Wilgoren - Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive - everything you ever wanted to know about the Discovery Institute, the organization that put the patina of attentive scholarship on the science-doesn't-know-everything-but-God-does crew, the folks fighting teaching evolution and, pretty much, scientific inquiry, in public schools.

That opens with this:
When President Bush plunged into the debate over the teaching of evolution this month, saying, "both sides ought to be properly taught," he seemed to be reading from the playbook of the Discovery Institute, the conservative think tank here that is at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation's culture wars.

After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.

Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design.

Together, they have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive.

Like a well-tooled electoral campaign, the Discovery Institute has a carefully crafted, poll-tested message, lively Web logs - and millions of dollars from foundations run by prominent conservatives like Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Philip F. Anschutz and Richard Mellon Scaife. The institute opened an office in Washington last fall and in January hired the same Beltway public relations firm that promoted the Contract With America in 1994.

"We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution," said the center's director, Stephen C. Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of science recruited by Discovery after he protested a professor's being punished for criticizing Darwin in class. "We want to have an effect on the dominant view of our culture."
The article implies the science folks, those stuck in the old Enlightenment values of scientific inquiry and finding facts, are now on the defensive. No one has those values anymore - and the billionaire banker from Pittsburgh, Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who almost brought down Bill Clinton by financing The Arkansas Project from his own funds, now controls the terms of all the arguments. And it's not just the right wing it's-all-still-Bill-Clinton's-fault people. The article notes other underwriters of the Discovery Institute - the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Verizon Foundation. And add Bill Bennett. Mainstream, no?

The Discovery Institute may be the institutional love child of Ayn Rand and Jerry Falwell - but they seem to rule this America now. In a few weeks you'll be able to read a new book by Chris Mooney The Republican War on Science - but don't look for it in the Current Events section at Borders. Try the shelves in the American History section.

You might want to check out the Discovery Institute's basic plan - what they refer to as their Wedge Document. It's a long discussion of the whole effort and contains this:
Five Year Goals

- To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.

- To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.

- To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals

- To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.

- To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.

- To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.
Clear enough.

Compare and contrast:

Mencken's Creed
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty.

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech.

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.

I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.
H. L. Mencken died a long time ago. Those beliefs are becoming quaint history.

Senate leader Bill Frist - a doctor, a heart surgeon (who also makes made a neurological diagnoses on the basis of home movies) - this month goes with the flow:
"I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," Frist said.

Frist, a doctor who graduated from Harvard Medical School, said exposing children to both evolution and intelligent design "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone. I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."
Well, there may be some other stuff going on here. As suggested by Gary Bauer in Reverend Moon's Washington Times, Frist ruined his chances of ever hoping for the Republican presidential nomination next time around when he broke with the president and angered the religious right, the core of the Republican Party, and came out for stem cell research - condemning all those little lumps of cell-citizens to death without any charges or a fair trial and all the rest. Gary Bauer says this statement about intelligent design is an attempt to win back the heart of the Party - but it just isn't enough. Too little too late - that man has joined the murderous sons of the Enlightenment? Something like that. Mark Kleiman of UCLA points out that the Republicans pretty much have to nominate "a bio-Luddite for President in 2008."

Of course they want to win, and that's the ticket.

A final note on religion is that this has being going around the web again:































From Urban Legends see this:
I consulted Dr. Frank E. Vandiver, professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of "Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing," to find out if there's any truth to the above, and he responded via email that in his opinion the story is apocryphal. "I never found any indication that it was true in extensive research on his Moro experiences," he wrote. "This kind of thing would have run completely against his character."

Similarly, I been unable to find any evidence corroborating the claim that Muslims believe that "eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from paradise and doomed to hell." It is true that Islamic dietary restrictions, like those of Judaism, forbid the eating or handling of pork because pigs are considered unclean. But according to Raeed Tayeh of the American Muslim Association in North America, the notion that a Muslim would be denied entrance to heaven for touching a pig is "ridiculous." A statement from the Anti-Defamation League characterized the claim as an "offensive caricature of Muslim beliefs."

Sources and further reading:

U.S. Senator's Insults Upset Muslims
Aljazeera.net, 29 June 2003

ADL Calls for Apology from MA State Senator For Distributing Anti-Muslim Flier
Anti-Defamation League press release, 27 June 2003

Gen. John J. Pershing Biography
Pershing Rifles C-12 (ABN) Web site
The item has been on the net here and there since September 2001. That it resurfaced this last weekend again is no surprise. The devote and pure Christians - not those United Church of Christ wimps - are on a roll.

Posted by Alan at 09:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005 09:58 PDT home

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