Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Spintelligent Design

The spin by creationists and fundamentalists in response to the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in Dover, PA is simply amazing. Aren't Christians instructed not to lie???

Initially, a couple of key things to read. Here is Judge Jones's court decision. The decision by itself should more than adequately reveal the misrepresentations occurring in the articles I cite below.

Next, in the interest of fairness, Stephen C. Meyer's much-cited definitive essay on Intelligent Design. The essay validly points out alleged flaws in the theory of evolution, but engages in speculative thinking (albeit lucidly written) about form and function in order to do little more than establish the feasibility, the possibility, of design as an alternative to random chance. There is a world of difference between this article and what the Dover school board tried to do. The Dover board explicitly and unapologetically mandated the introduction of Intelligent Design in biology classes for religious reasons. One board member said, after the meeting in which the decision was made: "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such." At another point, he said "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" And, of course, the book the board mandated science teachers suggest to their students, Of Pandas and People, is an openly religious book that, according to its critics, misrepresents everything from its own orientation to the fossil record and extinction evidence.

So now for the spin:

Lee J. Strang writes in the National Review Online that the ruling is an example of the broad, oppressive reach of the Establishment Clause, and that it's yet another case of attempting to "purge religion from the public square." Hogwash. The ruling purges religion from a science class. Strang admits (he has to in order to retain any intellectual integrity) that the Dover school board (most of whom were booted out of office over this fiasco) overreached, and made the mistake of wearing their religious purposes on their sleeves. But Strang insists that an Originalist perspective would allow religious explanations to be taught alongside scientific ones. Of course, what Strang doesn't say is that this needn't be done in science classes, and in fact creationism and all religious accounts of the universe can be, and are, taught in elective comparative religion and philosophy classes in public schools all over the country. Strang really has to stretch the arguments and implications of Kitzmiller to prove some kind of overall, categorical hostility toward religion. In this particular case, such hostility is only to religion in a science class. Strang also insists that Intelligent Design theorists have good arguments, but that's beside the point. Intelligent Design is indistinguishable from ancient and classical teleological arguments for the existence of God. Those arguments, once again, belong in philosophy and religion classes, not science classes. By its very nature, a Design thesis is an argument about the philosophy of science, the metaphysics of science; an argument ABOUT science, not an expression of the scientific method. Read Meyer's essay and judge for yourself.

Family News in Focus, the website of Focus on the Family, reveals an even greater degree of buffoonary in its editorial by Steve Jordahl. Jordahl simply lies in this piece, saying that Judge Jones ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach ANY alternatives to evolution. ANY. That's a flat-out untruth, of course (Jones only ruled that ID was unconstitutional, because it was religious in both intent and content), but it gets better. "Under the school board’s plan," Jordahl writes, "religion would not have been brought into the classroom." Not true. The school board's plan required teachers to alert students to the existence of a creationist book in the school's library, and encourage students to read that book. You really should read Jordahl's editorial for yourself. It's laughable, poorly edited and full of errors, reactionary, and looks to have been written by a 5 year-old child. Oh, and it quotes an ID advocate as saying there's plenty of empirical support for ID, but of course, no such support is specifically identified.

A house editorial in the Wheeling News-Register contends, without a shred of warrant, that ID possesses "at least as much validity as ... evolution." Wow. You'd think they'd mention some of that validity. Nope.

Ah, Chuck Colson chimes in as well. If you're too young to remember him, he helped to organize the illegal wiretapping of Democrats by the Nixon people. Subsequently he founded a Christian prison ministry outfit. Anyway, as we know from observing the careers of Ollie North and Mark Fuhrman, corrupt public officials can always schlep for conservative news organizations, and Colson is no exception. His Townhall.com editorial doesn't really make any arguments at all. He just says he "strongly disagrees" with the ruling. He reluctantly admits that the school board overplayed its hand. But the real purpose of the editorial is to push the reader towards "informative" links at the bottom of the page--from a book available through Amazon making the case for intelligent design (although the book in question does so from an evangelical perspective, doesn't present both sides of the issue, and doesn't use the scientific method at all), to links to a "research and information page" that is full of editorials against evolution rather than any actual research and information.

I am much more sympathetic to the viewpoint of William Grassie of the Metanexus Institute, which advocates meaningful, critical dialogue between religion, philosophy, and science. Grassie says the real problem here is that students don't sufficiently understand the underlying philosophy of science, and that such an understanding is a prerequisite to understanding how to discuss the shortcomings of evolutionary theory, the politics of the scientific and religious communities, and why evolution still has the preponderance of evidence on its side even if it's not "perfect."

But this is worlds away from what creationists want. Implicit in their arguments, further illustrated by the dishonest and warrant-free spin of the articles cited above, is a desire to eliminate critical thinking altogether, in favor of appeals to authority, tradition, and doctrine. A citizenry that is taught to believe that all things exist merely because of the will of a divine creator will easily take the next step: That a few authorities are appointed to speak for that creator. The next step: Those authorities have a monopoly not only on theological and scientific truth, but also on moral and, of course, political truth. There is a free, open and short road running from creationism to religious authoritarianism. Judge Jones has closed that road--for now. Thank God!!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Same Intelligence," My Arse

Thanks to Joshua Micah Marshall at Talkingpointsmemo.com for bringing this to our attention. Diane Feinstein (even hacks are right every once in a while) doubted Bush's claim that Congress received the same pre-war intelligence as Bush did. So she asked the Congressional Research Service. Their response? Bush's claim is not true. In fact, the scope and depth of the CRS's refutation of Bush's lie is overwhelming.

In the current right wing orgy over Bush's stellar jump in approval ratings (possibly up to 50% now), Bush's "shocking" admission that pre-war intelligence was flawed, and the tentative success of elections in Iraq, an evaluation of the legitimacy of the decisionmaking process itself has taken a back seat. Part of the reason it has been allowed to do so is that people are buying into the notion that everyone had the same flawed pre-war intelligence. Well, they didn't.

More important than the deficit in pre-war intelligence was the obviously deliberate spin the Administration placed on the most dubious portions of that intelligence. Regardless of the culpability of other sections of the ruling class, the Administration is responsible for the poor intelligence that fed into public myths about ties between Iraq and Al Qaida . And despite the best efforts of a particularly ridiculous Heritage Foundation argument that all the pre-war intelligence was legit (give us a break!), it's still indisputable that Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and all their dogs continued to repeat claims to the media with utter confidence after it was revealed to them that those claims were at least doubtful and probably completely dubious--claims like "nuclear materials," "45 minutes," "mushroom cloud" and the like. Moreover, Bush and Cheney continued, and continue, to invoke 9/11 in defense of the invasion of Iraq.

The subsidiary claim that Clinton and others made the same arguments really proves nothing. Clinton was as much of a warmongering hack as his successor, and in fact bombed Iraq to distract the public from a sex scandal, which may even be more small-minded than the Bush Administration.

Now a couple of pre-empts for the stubborn:

1. Even if it could be proven that Congress had each and every piece of information that the Administration had (and the CRS letter confidently refutes that), this would only make Congress complicit in the non-deliberative process leading up to the invasion of Iraq. I am perfectly comfortable blaming the Democrats. I just want to know what to blame them for, and thanks to the CRS letter, I know I can blame them for spinelessness and impotency rather than unmitigated dishonesty--at least some of them, and at least on the issue of Iraq.

2. "But the invasion and occupation have been a great success! We got rid of Saddam and he was a bad guy! The elections are working out great! The world is a safer place." Yeah, well listen: I have long warned the anti-war movement not to base their criticism on disputable empirical facts. I will say the same for the pro-invasion/occupation folks. Your defense of the war, your eagerness to minimize the impact of torture, your brushing off of international law and global cooperation, your defense of planting and paying for lies in the media, and your deliberate historical ignorance of the way the U.S. and its allies empowered Saddam in the first place (to say nothing of your complete silence on the corporatization of the occupation and the unprecedented corruption sanctioned by the Administration), cannot be papered over with human interest stories about liberated Iraqis. Morality, even political morality, is capable of the complex, simultaneous acknowledgment of good and bad, despite the best efforts of Straussian neocons to eliminate complexity, to ban it, really, from the masses.

Both sides, I will acknowledge are spinning, both sides are converting innocent lives into political capital. I don't trust a Murtha any more than I trust a Rumsfeld. Why should I? But that "pox on both your houses" doesn't excuse the pro-war side from its defense of all sorts of anti-democratic actions, including lying to both Americans and Iraqis through engineered media reports. It doesn't excuse the right from using both 9/11 and Iraq to justify pushing through an agenda they wanted all along.

The ends do not justify the means. Not merely because of some kind of Kantian categorical imperative, but because there is always an intimate, ontological relationship between process and outcome. That is the truth behind the Habermasian test: Decisions made when information is deliberately withheld and distorted, and when those "little people" affected by such decisions are denied the ability to be agents in the decisionmaking process, are always bad decisions. Sometimes the "badness" of such decisions isn't apparent until much, much later. But bad decisions they are, because democratic deliberation cannot just be something we adhere to when it's convenient or politically expedient, and honesty is not something we can choose to deploy only when the outcome suits us. Even if the pro-war folks can spin their way out of each and every objection, even if they seize control of every history book and editorial page for the next hundred years, the lies, distortions, and omissions will show themselves in the end. The CRS report is a good first step in demonstrating that even Bush's clumsy apologetics are based on lies and spin. And if the best answer anyone can give is that all sides of the ruling class are equally culpable in the lies and spin, I will readily accept that indictment.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Remembering John Lennon

Today is the 25th anniversary of the shooting death of John Lennon.

I'm not a fan of "classic" rock, but the Beatles were a band that transcended every genre, pushed boundaries, and above all, made beautiful, thoughtful, powerful music. I always have Abby Road, Revolver, or the White Album on rotation between sets of Bad Religion, Dead Prez, The Flatlanders, Built to Spill, Immortal Technique, etc.

I'm not a big fan of the "hippie-left," but Lennon pushed political boundaries as well. His words and ideas made him dangerous enough to be put on an FBI watch list. His anger and militancy, his insistence on asking thought-provoking and challenging questions concerning the relationship of the personal, political and artistic, separated him from his softer "peace and love" comrades.

There's always been a lot of shit-talk about the Beatles and John Lennon, but I'm really not interested. Some people get off on minimizing the impact of Shakespeare too. People make careers or just get their weekend jollies out of cutting down giants. They think it makes them sound intelligent to say meaningless things about how artists were (gasp) influenced by other artists, or how the Stones were better than the Beatles, blah blah blah. Those silly attempts at establishing objective artistic authority don't even speak the same language as the aesthetic and emotional experience of listening to the Beatles, or much of the later work of Lennon.

Recently files were released confirming what most everyone had long suspected: that the U.S. government manipulated intelligence about the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to justify intervention in Vietnam. If John Lennon were alive today I have little doubt what he'd be saying and doing, what he'd be singing about, and whom he would be ridiculing with his acid wit and absurdist artistic form.

Tonight I'll be listening to some Beatles music.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Dems Blow it Again

Bush just gave a speech outlining the stunning successes of U.S. occupiers in Iraq. This is what the public wants to hear.

In recent days, Howard Dean and others have said outlandish things like "The U.S. can't win in Iraq." This is NOT what the public wants to hear.

[Most amusing: Some of the Republicans' leading pundits have been calling --in all seriousness-- for Dean to be tried for treason and executed. I'll write more about this later.]

The Democrats don't have a prayer in this fight, and here's why:

First, most of them were pansies when given the real chance to oppose the Bush war agenda a few years ago. They hemmed and hawed and danced around the issue.

Second, the Republicans will ALWAYS appear to be the stronger party in terms of military power. That's why Kerry blew it in '04 with his "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty" droolery.

Third, the Democrats' hands aren't clean on corporate and military-industrial complex influence, so they can't effectively criticize the Republicans on the way in which this war, and the entire "War on Terror" enterprise is being spun and manufactured by corporate interests. So the best the Dems can do is level this kind of half-assed panty-waste criticism that goes nowhere and doesn't really say anything.

Fourth, empirical appeals to the failure of the U.S. occupation will always be ineffective because the situation in Iraq, as complex and multi-layered as it is, can always be spun one way or the other, and there's more public support, more media money, and more grand narrative capital to be gained from the conclusion that things are going well there than from the conclusion that things are not. Moreover, by focusing on contingent failures (not enough troops, ooh look an explosion here, a few dead troops there), the Democrats merely give Bush the opportunity to fix those problems, to incrementally improve things. Of course it would be better if the Dems could criticize Bush on the PROCESS he used to make his decisions, but since the Dems are at least patsies and at most collaborators in that process, they lack the credibility to do so.

As much as all you Democrats hate Bush, he and his ilk will ultimately triumph on this issue--up to and including enduring next year's mid-term elections and probably placing another Republican in the White House in '08.

Don't blame this on the "stupidity" or complacency of the American public either. People are doing the best they can. They've been miseducated and thrown into economic and moral uncertainty. Both parties, beholden as they are to hierarchical economic interests, have a stake in an uninformed public.

The Republicans may be evil, but the Democrats are evil AND stupid. Which is worse?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nguyen Tuong Van Executed in Corporate Fiefdom Known as Singapore

As disturbing as another U.S. execution is (and it's bemusing that we live in such a sound-bite society that the "1000th" execution is all over the media like there's something unique about it besides its arbitrary numerical designation), it pales in comparison to Singapore's execution yesterday of Nguyen Tuong Van, a 25-year-old Australian, for drug running. Some particularly disgusting details about this case:

1. Nguyen was a small time runner. The big timers never get caught or killed because they are usually in collusion with cops, corporations, and local little tin-horn government officials.

2. It's death by hanging, the procedure of which is based on the “Official Table of Drops”, first published by the British Home Office in 1913. Like many former British colonies, Singapore retains many traditions introduced by British colonialism.

3. The Howard government, and the Labor opposition, have behaved spinelessly and hypocritically over it. They've turned it into an anti-drug message and have vilified Nguyen, which they can get away with because he's an Asian immigrant. Even though they could have applied actual pressure which probably would have worked (it's worked before) in this case they chose not to because of APEC and tourism and other business considerations.

The facts and the social context of this tragedy override any gut temptation any of us might have to say "well, he shouldn't have been running drugs." The government of Singapore is a barbaric, cynical, glorified den of gangsters and the elaborate system of torture and repression they practice proves how easily a "market economy" can become a corporate slave camp (there are plenty of other examples of course). Of course, the government of Australia behaved quite predictably themselves--using their failure to apply pressure which probably would have worked to instead spew sanctimonious anti-drug messages. Prime Minister Howard himself even said: "I hope the anti-drugs message is stronger, or as least as strong as the anti-capital punishment" message. What a tool.

Thanks to Rick Kelly's good article on this at the World Socialist Web Site.

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