seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Politics & Religion

Thoughts on the two - frequently both.

Dover Trial on Creationism

If you have any doubts or confusion or interest about the so-called debate between evolution and "intelligent design," you should check out Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Michelle and I just watched it - got it from Netflix.

It was done by PBS's Nova. I'm not very familiar with Nova, but this was a stunning documentary. Very well done - presenting a complex, technical discussion in very accessible terms.

It does not just explain what happened in Dover (where the school board tried to promote Intelligent Design and was sued by citizens which led to a federal court deciding whether "Intelligent Design" was a promotion of religion or not). It explains evolution in an elegant and impressive way.

This case will serve us well as citizens because the scientists rebuffed all the claims of "gaps" in evolution and explained (patiently) why the claims made by the "Intelligent Designers" were inaccurate.

In the end, this comes down to people who are anti-science and do not want their children learning science because it may cause them to question their faith in the Bible. The problem is that the Bible is filled with stories - some we take to be parables and some are taken to be literal truth. Over time, which is which gets changed. Many who believe in the Bible have no problem believing in evolution - it is time for the other believers to figure it out.

The best part? The Judge, with the evidence before him, had no choice but to rule against Intelligent Design. And he was a Bush appointee.

I am just stunned at how well this documentary was put together and how impressive a case the scientific folks built. I learned a lot about evolution.

But this debate comes down to whether science belongs in the science classroom or not. Some do not like science - they distrust it even as they use modern medicines and technologies that would never be possible without science. Teach God in school all you want - but equal time for voodoo, shamans, pagans, Islam, Greek mythology, Christianity, etc.

Hillary Does What She Can

Regardless of my feelings for Hillary, I am not so small that I won't note publicly that she gave a stunning speech last night that was rather inspiring. The bit about the Underground Railroad was the part that really got me.

What Bush Got Right (Eventually)

Newsweek recently ran a cover story by Fareed Zakaria examining what Bush has done right. It isn't long, but it is worth reading. Why?

There was a U.S. president who came into office convinced that everything his predecessor had done was feckless, stupid, ill-informed and venal. He rejected and tried to reverse everything that he could, almost as an article of faith. Before he had even examined the policies carefully, he knew that they had to be changed. The base of his party was delighted by his clarity and fighting spirit.

That president, of course, was George W. Bush. His decision to blindly repudiate anything associated with Bill Clinton is what got us into this mess in the first place. Let's hope that the next president, no matter how much he despises Bush, will take a careful look at his administration's policies, America's interests, and the world beyond and do the right thing for the
country and its future.

I've read a lot about 9/11 and it is clear to me that the Bush Administration did nothing to combat terror in the first 9 months of coming to power because it believed the Clinton Administration was totally wrong to have ignored the greatest threat to the U.S. - China. So they stopped everything Clinton had set up. Maybe a mere continuation of those plans and efforts would have stopped 9/11. Probably not.

But the country was clearly damaged greatly by the arrogance of the new Administration believing it would do well to simply reverse nearly everything the Clinton Admin did. I would not expect the Obama Administration act so cavalierly or thoughtlessly, but one never knows.

I would like to emphasize that, from what I can tell, nearly everything that Bush has done "right" has come about by exhausting as many of the "wrong" options as those incompetent fools could find. Judgment indeed.

Read Other Stuff

Quick roundup - saw Tropic Thunder last night and laughed my fool ass off. Incredibly funny.

daddYman passed a great NY Times article about Jon Stewart to me. Well worth reading.

TO the former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, Mr. Stewart serves as “the citizens’ surrogate,” penetrating “the insiders’ cult of American presidential politics.” He’s the Jersey Boy and ardent Mets fan as Mr. Common Sense, pointing to the disconnect between reality and what politicians and the news media describe as reality, channeling the audience’s id and articulating its bewilderment and indignation. He’s the guy willing to say the emperor has no clothes, to wonder why in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “It’s 3 a.m.” ad no one picks up the phone in the White House before six rings, to ask why a preinvasion meeting in March 2003 between President Bush and his allies took all of an hour — the “time it takes LensCrafters to make you a pair of bifocals” to discuss “a war that could destroy the global order.”

And James tipped me off to this excellent opinion piece on why McCain's similarities to Bush in terms of intellectual rigor are insanely frightening.

One after another, McCain's answers were shallow, simplistic, and trite. He showed the same intellectual curiosity that George Bush has -- virtually none.

Where are John McCain's writings exploring the vexing moral issues of our time? Where are his position papers setting forth his careful consideration of foreign policy, the welfare state, education, America's moral responsibility in the world, etc., etc., etc.?

I'm so sick and tired of hearing that Obama has no substance. The man wrote 2 books himself - as opposed to McCain who had a few more books ghost written for him. He has an entire web site full of policy positions and statements (as does McCain - though McCain has been skimping out on areas I worry about, like tech) and generally offers more substantive responses to questions than his opponent.

He has plenty of substance. And I like a lot of it. Let's put McCain and Obama in a room and shower them with questions about the Constitution and see what happens.

Rendition

I am just finishing watching the film Rendition, which is one of those movies that are not allowed to be made in countries like China and Iran - where the point of the movie is to say that the government is pursuing an unjust and reprehensible policy. It was definitely a downer, but very well done.

You should put it in your Netflix Queue or rent it or whatever. This is one of those movies that needs to be widely seen.

It is a reminder of why citizens must always demand their government be accountable. Sadly, I suspect the only people who have watched it are those who already understand why an accountable government is so important and why it is so important to start reversing the last eight years before we start fixing the anti-democratic measures Clinton stuck us with.

Media Obama Crush?

Does the media have a massive Obama crush? At times it seems like they do. Then all of a sudden, the media meme is that Obama has no substance or is a flip-flopper. I think the truth is that the media is mostly flying by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go along.

Because when you think about it, the media mostly seems to have no idea what is happening. Check out the Daily Show's deconstruction of their latest anti-Obama meme:

Perhaps the appropriate way to think about the media is as a squirrel. Quickly distracted by shiny stuff with little sense of history.

It was the Worst of Times, it was the Worster of Times

After yet another conversation about whether the world is going to hell in a handbasket - the predominate opinion of most people, throughout time, seems to be yes and faster than ever before. For more than a year now, I have been fighting some of these sentiments by suggesting that things are actually looking up.

For instance, pollution has decreased dramatically (exempting greenhouse gases, which is hugely worrisome) even under the Bush Administration, which I believe has slowed the rate of improvement rather than actually move us backward.

So I finally looked up some data to see if my hunches were correct. Let's start nationally, the EPA has some data (but they have about a million miles to go before being as helpful as the Energy Information Administration). But it is fairly clear that we have made progress on reducing pollution targeted by the Clean Air Act.

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So we are seeing some dramatic national improvements and I feel vindicated for claiming that the air is much cleaner now than at any other point in my life.

You can play around with local monitoring stations that report to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to check out pollution levels throughout Minnesota.

I found a monitoring station near my apartment and found that carbon monoxide levels have dramatically decreased over the years.

So if you are convinced that everything is messed up and getting worse, you may have to look to other areas than air pollution.

Fucking Gitmo

Akhtiar was among the more than 770 terrorism suspects imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are the men the Bush administration described as "the worst of the worst."

But Akhtiar was no terrorist. American troops had dragged him out of his Afghanistan home in 2003 and held him in Guantanamo for three years in the belief that he was an insurgent involved in rocket attacks on U.S. forces. The Islamic radicals in Guantanamo's Camp Four who hissed "infidel" and spat at Akhtiar, however, knew something his captors didn't: The U.S. government had the wrong guy.

"He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government," a senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. Akhtiar was imprisoned at Guantanamo on the basis of false information that local anti-government insurgents fed to U.S. troops, he said.

...

While he was held at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, Akhtiar said, "When I had a dispute with the interrogator, when I asked, 'What is my crime?' the soldiers who took me back to my cell would throw me down the stairs."

He is hardly an isolated instance. Looks like we will only be attempting to prosecute less than 10% of those we held at Guantanamo. Not because we have too many liberals whining about how we treated them, but because we sent a bunch of farmers and goat herders to be tortured while the Bush Administration claimed they were the worst of the worst.

As for the torture policies - who came up with that? Was it anyone who had any experience in gaining intelligence? No. From what is emerging, it sounds like the green light for torture came from a bunch of idiot lawyers led by idiot-extraordinaire Gonzalez who have never been on a battlefield, much less dealt with interrogations. But they may have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once or twice and they have seen 24, so they were pretty sure it was the smart thing to do. Those who led the interrogations of the Iraqis following the Gulf War were horrified but mostly have had to protest from outside the Administration cuz no one likes a party pooper in Washington - some details here.

I know, I know. You are tired of reading about the Bush Administration and what our government is doing. You are just waiting until he gets out of office. And probably, if you run into someone who thinks the Bush Admin is doing a good job mostly, you just ignore them rather than challenging them too much.

Well fuck that. I'm sick and tired of hearing how soldiers protect our freedoms. They have. But mostly it has been citizens and groups like the ACLU and even NRA, no matter how much you hate either one. And citizens who are too busy to know what their government is up to should move to China where you do not have the burden of living in a free society.

McClatchy newspapers have done an incredible story on Guantanamo Bay and what really happened there. That is what the above quote comes from. Diane Rehm recently did two incredible shows on Gitmo - one on Prosecuting detainees and one on detaining terrorism suspects.

Finally, the March/April issue of Mother Jones has a great series of articles on how the U.S. came to be a country that officially embraced torture (while actually torturing the definition of torture).

What a sad day for America. And it has not come because our troops failed. We have failed. The citizens of the United States have refused to improve upon the country we inherited. How have we progressed in the last 20 years?

For the last hundred years, the U.S. has made impressive gains. Women's suffrage, civil rights, social freedoms, and a modest improvement toward achieving equal status for gays. We have a long way to go on all of those issues, and our foreign policy over the entire history of this country has never been as enlightened as we pretend.

Nonetheless, I cannot think of a worse Presidential Administration, where the country gave up so much and lost so much. We have not gained riches while allowing the government to do what it pleases without oversight. In fact, our economy is falling apart.

True, we have had no terrorist attacks in the past 5 years. But Bush's policies have bankrupted the country financially and morally. Killing more troops in a bullshit war than died in 9/11. And maiming enough others to account for 100 9/11s. We have no moral high ground as Bush brags about being the world's top polluter (which isn't even true for fuck's sake). What a day for America.

I'm sure some would respond to this by saying we have to do everything we can because this terrorist threat is the worst threat we have ever faced. Even if you accept this judgment (which is utter bullshit and demonstrates the wretched knowledge of history most Americans exhibit), consider what Bush has done. From the McClatchy investigation:

A McClatchy investigation found that instead of confining terrorists, Guantanamo often produced more of them by rounding up common criminals, conscripts, low-level foot soldiers and men with no allegiance to radical Islam — thus inspiring a deep hatred of the United States in them — and then housing them in cells next to radical Islamists.

The radicals were quick to exploit the flaws in the U.S. detention system.

Soldiers, guards or interrogators at the U.S. bases at Bagram or Kandahar in Afghanistan had abused many of the detainees, and they arrived at Guantanamo enraged at America.

The Taliban and al Qaida leaders in the cells around them were ready to preach their firebrand interpretation of Islam and the need to wage jihad, Islamic holy war, against the West. Guantanamo became a school for jihad, complete with a council of elders who issued fatwas, binding religious instructions, to the other detainees.

In a funny movie called Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore is in a bar when they hear on the news that Canada has taken some Americans hostage. He says: "Gentlemen, there is time to think, and there is a time to act. And this, is no time to think." Nailed it.

Media Ownership

Wow. Who owns your favorite channel? Great graphic.

Arrival and TNR

Michelle and I arrived in Seattle last night at 11:00pm local time. I dozed off and on through the flight whereas Michelle mostly flopped around, unsuccessfully seeking some comfortable position. Nary an empty seat on the plane (which they switched at the last second to add more capacity which left Michelle and I in a 3-person row rather than the 2 person row we hoped for).

We got to the airport super early, fearing that July 3 would be a day with long lines. Nope. At least not at night. So we had lots of time at the gate and I got some reading done.

Staying at Orf's place north of Seattle - he picked us up at the airport last night. Always great to spend the car ride laughing and catching up. He has a great townhouse but the wireless network doesn't like either of my laptops (yeah, I had to bring two cuz I'm working while on vacation - Michelle says I'm a giant dork, but there are people I should see while I am out here).

Now for some magazine followup...

The 9 July, 2008, issue of The New Republic had some stories worth mentioning this week (they always have stories worth reading). Got a kick out of "Terror Firma" by Jonathan Chait, in part because of its nods to Stephen Colbert.

It doesn't matter that Obama never said, or even implied, that legal prosecution should be the sole method of preventing terrorism. The fact that he even mentioned prosecution apparently proves that he has what McCain's campaign called a "September 10th mindset."

Yet some logical flaws with this analysis present themselves. (And yes, I realize that the mere fact that I would intellectualize this issue, rather than understanding it in my gut, proves that I too have a September 10th mindset.) First, terrorists often operate in our country, or in friendly countries, which makes military action against them tricky. McCain (through his campaign blog) assailed Obama for favoring "prosecutors rather than predators." But, when the terrorists are holed up in New York City, as was the case with the 1993 bombers Obama referred to, simply arresting them strikes me as more efficient than leveling their apartment with a drone-fired missile.

From there, I turn next to "Deconstructing Barry" by Andrew Delbanco for a reminder of why I like Obama so much. Despite my frustration with his recent TOTAL SELLOUT to the Telecom companies by supporting retroactive immunity for their subservience to the Bush Administration and its Constitution-what-Constitution? approach to a few chickenfuckers from the Middle East (I suspect i have started to digress) ...

At any rate. Lately I have needed to be reminded why I still think this Obama guy is worth caring about and supporting. Delbanco reminds me that Obama understands the nuances of modern America.

[quoting Obama's Dreams from My Father] - "Most evangelicals are more tolerant than the media would have us believe, most secularists more spiritual" ... "most rich people want the poor to succeed, and most of the poor are more self-critical and hold higher aspirations than the popular culture allows." When he scans the human landscape, Obama tends to notice contradictory individuals more than coherent interest groups. His sentences are alive because they are in tension with themselves:

I imagine the white Southerner who growing up heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that but who has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different, who thinks discrimination is wrong but doesn't see why the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own. Or the former Black Panther who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won't give a loan to expand his business. There's the middle- aged feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager's abortion ...

And finally, an article that I will not quote from but which I wanted to point out to my fellow sports lovers. Jason Zengerle writes about a man campaigning against the NCAA for profiting on athletes while doing too little to make sure they get educated. Interesting piece.

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