Thursday, May 31, 2007

Today's zombie racist: Bill O'Reilly

I think Bill O'Reilly is... confused.
OK, I think it's a small part, but I think it's there. On the other side, you have people who hate America, and they hate it because it's run primarily by white, Christian men. Let me repeat that. America is run primarily by white, Christian men, and there is a segment of our population who hates that, despises that power structure. So they, under the guise of being compassionate, want to flood the country with foreign nationals, unlimited, unlimited, to change the complexion -- pardon the pun -- of America. Now, that's hatred, too.


40 million new citizens -- and that's, you know, probably the estimate that if you let all the illegal immigrants and all their extended families come here, which is what The New York Times want, would wipe out the two-party system. You'd only have a Democratic party, because new immigrants are probably gonna break 3-to-1 Democrat, and that's what The New York Times wants. But more than that, they want to change the white, Christian male power structure. That's what they want.

Now, these are hidden agendas. The New York Times would never cop to that, ever, but if you read consistently their editorials, they have no solution to border security. They don't want any sanctions on illegal aliens who come here and even commit crimes. They want criminal aliens to stay, and they don't want any sanctions on businesses who continue to hire illegal aliens even after the Z visa is issued. It's an open border, "Let them all in, anybody who wants to come here."

That's insane. We don't have America then. America disappears. That's where Pat Buchanan is right. You let that happen, there's no more United States of America. It's gone. You have United States of the World, because everybody comes here with no restrictions. So you've got racism on the anti-Latino front, and you have racism on the anti-Christian, white male front. Aha! Isn't that interesting?

So letting people into the country is racism against white, male Christians because then they might no longer enjoy a position of unmerited power and authority. Poor babies.

And let's not forget what Buchanan has said about immigration, what O'Reilly is agreeing with here.

Conservatives working to destroy marriage!

Ed Brayton has a link to an interesting column by Dale Carpenter, entitled "The Un-Conservative Effects of Opposing Gay Marriage". The basic premise of the article is summed up in the first paragraph:
By opposing gay marriage, conservatives are forcing gay families to seek refuge through untraditional means that could undermine marriage or destabilize family concepts in ways that gay marriage itself would not.

He lists four examples of this:
  • Second-parent adoption Married couples can jointly adopt a child, but since gays can't get married, they can't do this. So a work-around was developed for them: "'second-parent' adoptions by which two unmarried people could both be a child's legal parents."
    Here's the kicker. Second-parent adoptions have also become available to unmarried heterosexual couples. Thus, a legal reform intended to compensate for the unavailability of same-sex marriage has been seized by those who can marry but choose not to. It reduces the incentive to marry and means more children will be raised out-of-wedlock.

  • Triple parenting This is when the courts award custody to the biological father or mother (a sperm donor or surrogate mother) as well as the two gay parents, in effect giving the child three parents, rather than the "two" that people opposed to gay marriage seem to believe is a magic number.
    Another unconservative consequence of the ban on gay marriage is illustrated by a recent case in Pennsylvania. The case involved a lesbian couple who enlisted a male friend to act as a sperm donor, resulting in the births of two children to one of the women. When the lesbian couple split, the state courts decided that the women should share custody and that the sperm donor should be allowed monthly visits and be ordered to pay child support. Thus, the children would in effect have three parents shuttling them back and forth among three different homes.

    Marriage exists in part to clarify legal responsibility for children. If gay couples could marry, as straight couples using sperm donors or surrogate mothers can, they would be more likely to seek exclusive parental rights at the outset (as married straight couples do) because they could adopt as a couple and because of the additional security marriage would give their relationship and their children. Sperm donors and surrogate mothers, for their part, would be more likely to surrender any parental rights since they would be reassured the child would live in a two-parent family fully protected in the law.

    I'm not sure what his evidence for this is... I think he's just assuming that it would work out that way because that's what happens with opposite-sex couples that use sperm donors or surrogate mothers.

  • Parental visitation He cites a Minnesota case in which two women split up; only one of them was the legal parent of the children, and tried to prevent her ex-partner from seeing the kids. The non-parent sued for parental visitation rights, and won:
    The court ordered that the non-parent be given the right to visit the children on a schedule exactly like what a divorced parent would get (weekends, alternate holidays, long summer vacations) — all without having to pay child support.

    The Minnesota decision was correct under state law and was perfectly justified given that the lesbian couple could not marry and that both women raised the children. But it does set a precedent by which an unmarried heterosexual partner could likewise claim full parental visitation rights without accompanying support obligations. Another incentive to marry is eroded.

  • Adult-adult adoptions Since adoption laws generally don't have an age limit, same-sex couples who can't marry may adopt each other to get some forms of legal protection.

Mr. Carpenter concludes,
Think of it this way: Gay families are a rising river stretching across the country. Conservative opposition to gay marriage is a dam blocking the way. Impeded in its natural course, the river does not dry up; its flow is simply deflected into a hundred rivulets and low pastures.

Many conservatives may conclude in the end that the collateral damage being done to stability and tradition is worth it to keep gay couples from marrying. But before family policy is further inundated, they should at least weigh the unconservative consequences.

I have long since thought that the catchphrase "Marriage is one man and one woman!" does a lot to devaluate marriage. Strictly speaking, it says that any two people of the opposite sex constitute a "marriage", no matter their actual relationship. It completely strips away the fact that marriage is supposed to be first and foremost a union. But the "one man, one woman" mentality puts the sex of the participants before that, and before everything else that might be considered in a marriage. And that truly devalues marriage.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Next she'll try to ban schools from teaching Latin

Via Michael Ralston in the comments over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, we get this story about a mother in Georgia trying to get the Harry Potter books banned from the county schools. Nothing unusual there--as the article notes, "They have been challenged numerous times since 2000, making them the most challenged texts of the 21st century, according to the American Library Association." But her legal approach is one I hadn't seen before:
At Tuesday's hearing, Mallory argued in part that witchcraft is a religion practiced by some people and, therefore, the books should be banned because reading them in school violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Well, that's not at all how the separation of church and state works, but okay. Almost semi-reasonable.

Until she continues to speak:
"I have a dream that God will be welcomed back in our schools again," Mallory said. "I think we need him."

Wait, what? You want to get rid of the separation of church and state, but you want to use it to get Harry Potter books out of the schools? I have to wonder whether these people even consider that if they let religion in the schools, it won't be theirs. That's how my step-father got a bill to allow prayer in schools defeated: he called up his state legislator one night, pretending to be a supporter. After a while of talking, he brought up "But I've been wondering, what should I do if my kid's teacher is Catholic? I've also heard there are some teachers that are Jews, and -- God forbid -- Muslims." The bill was withdrawn the next day.

Anyways. This next part was what really got me:
Mallory said she has testimony from children who have read the Harry Potter books and have thought about acting out spells described in the books.

"They don't want the Easter Bunny's power," Mallory said. "The children in our generation want Harry's power, and they're getting it."

"And they're getting it?" Damn. School must be a lot more interesting these days.

Tell us something we didn't know

It's official: Plame was a covert employee of the CIA when Novak blabbed that she worked there.
An unclassified summary of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame's employment history at the spy agency, disclosed for the first time today in a court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, indicates that Plame was "covert" when her name became public in July 2003.

The summary is part of an attachment to Fitzgerald's memorandum to the court supporting his recommendation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former top aide, spend 2-1/2 to 3 years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation.

The nature of Plame's CIA employment never came up in Libby's perjury and obstruction of justice trial.

Undercover travel
The unclassified summary of Plame's employment with the CIA at the time that syndicated columnist Robert Novak published her name on July 14, 2003 says, "Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA employee for who the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States."

Plame worked as an operations officer in the Directorate of Operations and was assigned to the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) in January 2002 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The employment history indicates that while she was assigned to CPD, Plame, "engaged in temporary duty travel overseas on official business." The report says, "she traveled at least seven times to more than ten times." When overseas Plame traveled undercover, "sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias -- but always using cover -- whether official or non-official (NOC) -- with no ostensible relationship to the CIA."

You can read the summary in PDF here.

[Edit] And Glenn Greenwald has compiled a lengthy sample of right-wing propagandists brazenly claiming just the opposite--that Plame was not covert--obviously with no basis in reality at all.

It's not just Kentucky

Oh good. Maybe this will deflect some of that mockery towards Canada:
Compared with the $27 million (13.6 million pounds) Creation Museum that just opened its doors in Kentucky, Canada's first museum dedicated to explaining geology, evolution and paleontology in biblical terms is a decidedly more modest affair.

The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which opens next week, was built for C$300,000 in the village Big Valley, Alberta, population 308, a two-hour drive northeast of Calgary.

The Canadian museum features displays on how men once walked among dinosaurs, a giant model of Noah's Ark, a set of English scrolls tracing the family of King Henry VI back to the Garden of Eden, and an interactive bacterial flagellum.


The opening of the Petersburg, Kentucky, museum has attracted the ire of scientists and moderate Christians who object to a museum that teaches that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

The Big Valley museum has been more low key, with a few stories in local newspapers discussing the facility.

The museuem "attract[s] the ire of scientists", and evolution and the age of the earth are merely "widely accepted view[s]" that this institution is going to "contest." It all sounds so genteel and civil, doesn't it? I wonder if journalists have to undergo special lobotomies to remove the parts of their brain that let them use harsh language and write articles explaining that there really is an objective reality with facts, and that some people can simply be wrong. I'd like to think that the world now would be a better place if journalists didn't simply act as stenographers for whomever they talked to and actually did something to verify or contradict their claims. If only they could do something as simple as this.

Jews in South Africa allow gay marriage -- others, not so much

Despite what they'd like you to believe, there are some liberal religions out there:
The South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) said on Monday it had decided to allow marriage between Jewish couples of the same gender.

"This decision was arrived at after long and thoughtful deliberation and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about - inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity," said SAUPJ chairperson Steve Lurie.

Well... sometimes there are, at least.

Falwell's legacy lives on!

Poland to probe if Teletubbies are gay:
Ewa Sowinska, government-appointed children rights watchdog, told a local magazine published on Monday she was concerned the popular BBC children's show promoted homosexuality.

She said she would ask psychologists to advise if this was the case.

In comments reminiscent of criticism by the late U.S. evangelist Jerry Falwell, she was quoted as saying: "I noticed (Tinky Winky) has a lady's purse, but I didn't realize he's a boy."

"At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby ... Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone."


But in a sign that the government wants to distance itself from Sowinska's comments, Parliamentary Speaker Ludwig Dorn said he had warned her against making public comments "that may turn her department into a laughing stock."

Little late for that, Dorn.

Oh, and there's another person mentioned in the article, the Polish Education Minister, Roman Giertych, who has proposed laws that would fire teachers who "promote 'homosexual lifestyle'." And guess what else he wants to teach the kids?

[Edit] Whoops. This guy is Roman Giertych, and the creationist is his father, Maciej Giertych.

I guess this makes up for it

We went to the zoo yesterday, and the scheltopusiks weren't out. Which was depressing, because usually they're quite prominent.

But hey, now there's a new species of limbless lizard.
An Indian zoologist said Monday he has found a new species of limbless lizard in a forested area in the country's east. "Preliminary scientific study reveals that the lizard belongs to the genus Sepsophis," said Sushil Kumar Dutta, who led a team of researchers from "Vasundhra," a non-governmental organization, and the North Orissa University.

The newly found 7-inch long lizard looks like a scaly, small snake, Dutta said. "It prefers to live in a cool retreat, soft soil and below stones."


While modern snakes and lizards are derived from a common evolutionary ancestor, they belong today to two entirely separate groups of animals, or orders. Snakes, over millenia, gradually lost their limbs and developed their characteristic forms of locomotion. But modern limbless lizards are not snakes, Dutta said.


Monday, May 28, 2007

I don't care enough to come up with a title for this post

I found this odd. The Sydney Morning-Herald sent me an e-mail containing a number of headlines, including this article, "How porn is wrecking relationships":
The internet has brought an explosion of pornography into the home and workplace of virtually every Australian. Just a mouse-click away are images that exceed the bounds of fantasy or imagination. In 1961 the introduction of the pill helped usher in a sexual revolution. It had a profound effect on sexual attitudes, practices and relationships. It brought worry-free sex first to married couples, then to singles. And now there are experts - psychiatrists, sociologists and relationship counsellors among them - who argue that the social and psychological impact of internet pornography is potentially as huge.

For some Australians, the rising tide of internet pornography has offered a form of sex education. It has helped extend sexual repertoires, re-invigorated flagging sex lives, and assuaged anxieties or hang-ups. It has been, some argue, a liberation.

But internet pornography is also emerging as the new marriage-wrecker. More and more clients, counsellors say, have begun to cite internet pornography as a factor in their relationship breakdowns.

The technology has created what some call an addiction. Others are more cautious, describing it as a compulsion. Whatever the label, internet pornography is becoming yet another outlet for those with pre-existing compulsive personalities while for others, it has made it easier to do the things that a former head of the American Academy for Matrimonial Lawyers, J.Lindsey Short, says "traditionally lead to divorce".

An increasing number of men appear to be hooked, and the women in their lives are flailing about in unhappiness, self-doubt and self-blame.

The entire article is about men getting addicted to pornography and how this affects women. And yet in the same e-mail there's another article, which says that one-third of porn viewers are women:
RECORD numbers of Australians are visiting pornographic websites, including sexually explicit dating sites - and one in three of them is a woman.


[W]hile some women have suffered from their partner's internet porn obsession, women in general are considered the new consumer growth market, according to Fiona Patten, chief executive of the Eros Association, the adult retail industry's peak body.

I don't mean to trivialize any actual problems discussed in the first article, but it almost seems as if they're furthering the stereotype that only men look at porn.

New atheism is old hat

I've been meaning to post about this for a little while now, and this gave me the perfect excuse. Seems the Washington Post today published an article by wherein Greg Epstein decries "new" atheism. A few people were upset with his pronouncements.

Some of you may be asking--what on earth is "new" atheism?

Well, according to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal:
What is new about the new atheists? It's not their arguments. Spend as much time as you like with a pile of the recent anti-religion books, but you won't encounter a single point you didn't hear in your freshman dormitory. It's their tone that is novel. Belief, in their eyes, is not just misguided but contemptible, the product of provincial minds, the mark of people who need to be told how to think and how to vote—both of which, the new atheists assure us, they do in lockstep with the pope and Jerry Falwell.

For them, belief in God is beyond childish, it is unsuitable for children. Today's atheists are particularly disgusted by the religious training of young people—which Dr. Dawkins calls "a form of child abuse." He even floats the idea that the state should intervene to protect children from their parents' religious beliefs.

Essentially, atheists were tolerated as long as they knew their place and kept silent so the rest of the world could pretend that they didn't exist. "New" atheists aren't so timid; Professor Myers is quite right in suggesting that a better word be "uppity". But aside from all that--there's nothing new about this, either.

I recently finished reading a book entitled Essays of an Atheist, by Woolsey Teller, who also wrote another book called The Atheism of Astronomy. It is a collection of essays that had previously been published in The Truth Seeker, a magazine founded in 1873 with the goal of "promot[ing] reason over superstition." Let's look at the tone Mr. Teller had:
It requires no courage for a man to fall on his knees and beg for supernatural aid. It requires only sufficient ignorance and stupidity. But to stand erect and rely on one's self requires the elements of manhood. The score for courage is distinctly on the side of the atheist, who does not look for help by babbling to the sky.

--"Christian Cowardice and Atheist Courage," Essays of an Atheist p. 44, ranting against the quip "There are no atheists in foxholes"
Who are the "misfits" in life? They are those who are saturated with superstition, slobber their piety, froth their fanaticism, fight evolution, and attack science with their medieval doctrines. Worse than the vocationally maladjusted are the shanty mentalities, who, from one ago to another, have gagged liberty of thought and blackjacked every man who reasons for himself. They are those who have stifled critical opinion and drooled their inanities in the face of progress. In brief, they are those who have been dog-whipped and cowed by the Church and kept in ignorance by its priests.

--"Atheim--and Jesuit Duplicity", Essays of an Atheist, p. 91
Jesus, to be sure, did not teach astrology, but its practice in Christian times and places fits well with the intellectual dearth which Christianity creates. ... Astrology flourishes in Christian countries today, not because it is embodied in Christian doctrine, but because it appeals to the same gullibility and uncritical type of mind that makes Christianity possible. The same individual who believes in divination by dreams, or in any of the other miracles of the Bible can very well believe in diviniation by the stars; it is merely a matter of transferring his credulous proclivities to another delusion. Susceptibility to one form of superstition leaves one susceptible to others.

--"Christianity and Astrology," Essays of an Atheist, pp. 104-05
Saving a man from superstition by sending him to the Bible, is like throwing an anvil to a drowning man. The book itself is the world's most sanctified fraud, and is more responsible for wishy-washy thinking today than any other influence. It has crippled the brains of men and contributed more to the befuddlement of our race than a million "horror-scopes".

--"Christianity and Astrology," Essays of an Atheist, p. 111
"What distinguishes Humanists from atheists," says Mr. Floyd, "is their faith in man's ability to do what God has failed to accomplish--make the world a happier abode." I fail to see wherein the Humanist can claim a greater interest in humanity than the atheist. Atheists are doing a specific job in exposing superstition. They are to be found, also, fighting an idea which Humanists still cling to, namely, that "religion" is respectable. They are fighting--openly and above deck--the vulgar notion that a God exists and are united in teaching that religion is a despicable and corroding influence.

--"Humanism--a New Religion", Essays of an Atheist, p. 221

It certainly seems as if Mr. Teller had a fairly strident tone going there, which would supposedly mark him as a "new" atheist, though Mr. Teller generally referred to himself as a "militant atheist" or "militant freethinker." This may be because he was publishing before "new" atheism existed: Essays of an Atheist was published in 1945. At that point, many of the leaders of so-called "new" atheism were toddlers or a twinkle in their parents' eyes: Richard Dawkins was only 4 years old, PZ had 12 years to be born, and Sam Harris wouldn't crawl the earth for another 22 years. It's amazing how little has changed. Some of what Mr. Teller wrote about could have been a blog post at Pharyngula, almost:
  • He viciously attacked "woo" in science, which then was called "new physics" and didn't rely so much on the word "quantum":
    The Heisenberg experiments are frequently cited as damaging to materialism, since they are supposed to show there is no stability underlying the physical universe. We cannot depend on what the electrons will do next. This is ludicrous enough. If Heisenberg has knocked "predictability" out of the realm of microcosmic phenomena, he hasn't bothered our laboratory technicians. Real physicists today smile at our sub-atomic mystics and religious ghost chasers. In spite of highly complicated movements within the atom itself, steel girders still stick together, the Empire State Building is where it was before, and you can lease an office in the structure without fearing that it will disappear when your back is turned. "Predictability" in physics and chemistry is a safe procedure for those who do not follow the rainbow chasers of "modern physics". Matter is still with us, regardless of the grasshopper antics and hopping around of tiny electrons. And it stays put. I myself own a chip of an Egyptian obelisk which is thirty-five centuries old. In spite of its "unpredictable" sub-atomic movements, I predict it will remain a piece of granite for ages to come.

    --"Mysticism in Modern Physics", Essays of an Atheist, pp. 32-33

  • He mocked fundies who sought to defend the inerrancy of the Bible:
    On the subject of natural history, Mr. Rimmer could not hold his own with a water-carrier in the zoo. He has stated that the camel "does not divide the hoof"--an error hu must continue to defend as long as he believes the Bible. Yet he is quite safe in making this statement, since it is not likely that any of his Fundamentalist readers will take the trouble to look at a camel. Why should they, when they have a Christian's word for it?

    --"Froth and Fraud in Fundamentalism", Essays of an Atheist, p. 56

  • Even back then, one had to defend against the claims that atheism is "intolerant":
    IN keeping with its unctuous character, the Catholic journal "America" features, in its end-of-the-year number, a blatherskite article denouncing atheism in the United States for its alleged intolerance. The author entitles his screed "The Cult of the Atheists Follows the Nazi Pattern" and accuses freethinkers of being interested "in neither freedom nor thought, but only in the destruction of religious worship. Intolerance, not liberty, is their goal."

    --"Atheism--and Jesuit Duplicit", Essays of an Atheist, p. 90

  • He had some words to say on people who accomodated religion and said that it was compatible with science:
    The mistake here is in thinking of Christianity as anything but obscurantism at its worst. If science is opposed to "obscurantism" (as Dr. Gregory holds it is), then science is in deadly conflict with Christianity. Nothing can nullify the fact that without the miracles of Jesus, the claim that he was the Son of God, that he died for men's sins, that he raised persons from the dead, and that only he can salvage us from damnation, the Church is meaningless. Science is in conflict with these ideas as clearly as it is with the claim that Father Divine is God or that the Pope is "infallible".

    --"Whitewashing the Infamous", Essays of an Atheist, p. 114

  • I was floored when I came to this section:
    The book, ["Religion in Science and Civilization" by Dr. Richard Gregory] for the most part, in dealing with religion, takes a conciliatory attitude. It is written more in the "appeasement" tempo of a Chamberlain than in the vigorous manner of a Churchill telling the enemy where to get off.

    --"Whitewashing the Infamous", Essays of an Atheist, p. 113. See this post, for example, to see these terms popping up on Scienceblogs even now

  • And consider how closely this post mirrors this passage:
    Works such as Draper's "History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion" and White's "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom", says Dr. Gregory, "are melancholy reading today, for they are largely concerned with problems and influences which no longer exist, though at the time they evoked bitter discussion."

    It will be time enough to talk about these books being out of date when the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England go out of business. If there is "melancholy reading today", it is furnished by that type of writer who is blissfully unaware of the mountainous mass of nonsense preached in Christian churches and of the singular devotion which thousands of our clergy display in their work of muddling science.

    Dr. Gregory clearly recognizes the fact that "crude and cruel conceptions of religion are still held by large Christian communities; and are believed to be justified by literal interpretations of Biblical texts." This being so, how can he contend that these are not Christian doctrines or that they are not in conflict with science? It is just here that ill-considered thought leads him to the conclusion that the battle is over, that the works of Draper and White, depicting the struggle, are antiquated and unworthy of consideration at this time. Quite the opposite is true; seldom has there been greater need to emphasize the fact that Christianity and science are irreconcilable enemies, that a Munich peace-pact is out of the question, and that war must go on until one side or the other is vanquished.


    "The tendency among enlightened leaders in the Church of England," writes Dr. Gregory, "is to ask for nothing more than belief in a Supreme Being. . . . These are advanced views, and professing Christians condemn them as almost blasphemous."

    There is the rub; it is precisely because "advanced views" are condemned by "professing Christians" that we have the conflict.

    --"Whitewashing the Infamous", Essays of an Atheist, pp. 114-116. The pattern is the same: atheists point out that religious doctrine makes no sense and is irreconcilable with science; religious apologists defend religion by citing "advanced views" that create a deity vague enough that these views make no scientific claims and hence are compatible with any sort of science; atheists point out that no-one actually believes that crap.

  • Dr. Gregory later responded:
    Dr. Gregory states that he wishes to be classed among the "freethinkers," even though he may not be, as he himself puts it, a "militant rationalist." In spite of all that can be said against religion, he still feels that something of "ethical" value may be salvaged from the wreck. This he would preserve by cultivating the "moral" teachings of our leading cults.

    Dr. Gregory is not concerned, he says, with what men "worship" so long as it develops in them an appreciation of the virtues and strengthens their moral fiber. But is not this "appreciation" often developed in religionists at the expense of the intellect and by the sacrifice of that which is essential to the stability of character--a regard for truth?


    To sum up, no one has more aptly put the matter, in one sentence, than Dr. Gregory himself:

    "Christian teachers claim that worship of a supernatural Being is essential to promote high ethical ideals, but I need scarcely say that I do not accept this view."

    If morality, then, as Dr. Gregory maintains, is quite independent of a belief in God and can be practiced without it, why need we bother to retain religion? If the virtues can be sustained without the incumbrances of superstition, why leave the religious structure standing as a perpetual eye-sore and disfigurement to civilization?

    --"Dr. Gregory and Religion", Essays of an Atheist, pp. 273, 275

I could go on and on, but I'm getting kinda tired of this. How do Digby and Glenn Greenwald write such long posts every day?

Anywho. Even the criticisms of "new" atheists are old:
DEAR MR. TELLER: I have read with interest your article in The Truth Seeker. Your purpose is good but I doubt whether you are using a wise method. It seems to me that you go as far in one direction as the Fundamentalists do in the other. To speak as though the Bible were a perfectly worthless book seems to me absurd. Even if you believe that it is a very human book, full of mistakes and expressing merely man's attempts to solve some of the world's great problems, it nevertheless contains numerous extremely beautiful and valuable sayings. Moreover, as an historical record, it is of extreme value. This is true no matter whether its ideas about God and the future life are true or false.

Your attitude drives people like myself in the opposite direction from what you intend. Sincerely yours, ELLSWORTH HUNTINGTON

"You 'new' atheists are fundamentalists in your own right!" and "Your stridency just pushes people away." It's all been done before; there's nothing new about the "new" atheists, except perhaps that they're getting more publicity than before.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

New Aztec artifacts

Keen! Archaeologists diving in a lake found what appear to be some Aztec artifacts that the conquistadors wrote about 500 years ago:
[Wooden scepters shaped like] lightning bolts — along with cones of copal incense and obsidian knives — were found during scuba-diving expeditions in one of the twin lakes of the extinct Nevado de Toluca volcano, at more than 13,800 feet above sea level.

Scientists must still conduct tests to determine the age of the findings, but the writings after the Spanish conquest in 1521 have led them to believe the offerings were left in the frigid lake west of Mexico City more than 500 years ago.

Lightning bolt scepters "were used by Aztec priests when they were doing rites associated with the god Tlaloc," said Johan Reinhard, an anthropologist and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic Society who took part in more dives Thursday at the Lake of the Moon. "We think it is pretty clear that the Aztecs considered this one of the more important places of Tlaloc."

See, Christians, that's how to find religious artifacts.

No-one could have predicted that!

Yesterday the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report saying that intelligence agencies had predicted sectarian violence in Iraq.
Democrats on a deeply divided Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday accused the Bush administration of ignoring preinvasion warnings from the nation's spy agencies that a war in Iraq could be followed by violence and division and that it could strengthen the hands of Al Qaeda and of Iran.

"Sadly, the administration's refusal to heed these dire warnings, and worse, to plan for them, has led to tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price," said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman. His was one of many dueling statements accompanying a long-awaited 226-page committee report on the intelligence agencies' prewar predictions of the effects of toppling Saddam Hussein.

Republicans said the report exaggerated the prescience of the intelligence agencies. They noted that the assessments, made in early 2003, barely mentioned the possibility of a Sunni Arab insurgency — a point the committee's Democratic majority voted not to include in the text — and were "certainly not a crystal ball."

However, these same Republicans -- who bemoan the "politics and partisanship" that plagued this report -- decided to insert a favorite Republican talking point: Valerie Plame was responsible for her husband getting the job to go to Niger.
But Mr. Bond, along with two Republican colleagues, still added to the report a 17-page addendum rehashing a favorite issue of their own: the role of Valerie Wilson, the former Central Intelligence Agency officer, in arranging a prewar trip to Africa by Joseph C. Wilson IV, her husband and a former ambassador, to investigate possible Iraqi uranium purchases.

Except she didn't send Wilson. She didn't have the authority, and the CIA said she didn't:
[T]he CIA has maintained that Wilson was chosen for the trip by senior officials in the Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division (CPD) -- not by his wife -- largely because he had handled a similar agency inquiry in Niger in 1999. On that trip, Plame, who worked in that division, had suggested him because he was planning to go there, according to Wilson and the Senate committee report.

The Republicans also had some other complaints about this report:
Republicans disputed the documents' value and said their release "exaggerates the significance" of prewar intelligence assessments because they were based more on expert analysis than on hard intelligence.

Stupid experts! What do they know?
President Bush said at a news conference Thursday that his administration was "warned about a lot of things, some of which happened, some of which didn't happen."

"And none of which we listened to."
But, he added, "the world's better off without Saddam Hussein in power. I know the Iraqis are better off without Saddam Hussein in power. I think America is safer without Saddam Hussein in power. As to al-Qaida in Iraq, al-Qaida's going to fight us wherever we are."

al-Qaida may fight us wherever we are, but we don't have to make it easier for them!

Ugh. The report is available in PDF format here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Separate but equal, still isn't

A sequel of sorts to this post.
There is even a big catch to the much-vaunted "equal" health insurance benefits for domestic partners: when it was finally possible for me to become insured as Lia's domestic partner on her company's health plan, she would have been taxed so heavily for the value of the insurance that it wasn't worth it for me to sign up--this, in contrast to the tax-free treatment that heterosexual married couples and their children enjoy. So much for the political fiction that domestic partnership and civil union offer the same legal benefits as marriage.

--Helen Zia, "Where the Queer Zone Meets the Asian Zone", 32 Amerasia 1, p. 6, 2006.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Iowa to protect queers

Of gays, Iowa Governor Chet Culver said,
"These individuals are not currently covered by Iowa's civil rights code," Culver said. They often live in fear. They may even be fired or denied housing because of who they are."

And today he put an end to that.
Senate File 427 adds "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the civil rights code, which now prohibits discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, ancestry or disability in housing, employment, lending, education, public accommodations and other areas.


Culver said the law's enactment sends a message that Iowa is a welcoming place for all individuals and that state government is empowered to protect rights and freedom for every citizen.

"It's unacceptable that these individuals are denied the same protections every other Iowan enjoys," the governor said. "We are here to celebrate one more victory in our nation's constant struggle to live up to the ideal of our founding fathers – liberty and justice for all."

Now let's hear from the people opposed to liberty and justice for all:
"We believe this is legislative and cultural malpractice," said Chuck Hurley, a former state legislator who guides the Iowa Family Policy Center. "We still have a great number of people in this society who don't believe in that behavior. This is a political force that has brought this law to bear. It is not a reaction to wrongdoing."

Um, Mr. Hurley, you're not helping your side any. Ranting about how many people "don't believe in that behavior", despite the fact that neither sexual orientation nor gender identity have anything to do with behaviors, just shows exactly why laws like this are necessary.
"What you do when you put this in the law, you put every person who adheres to any of those major religions a bigot or a lawbreaker," said Hurley during a taping of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" show devoted to the subject. "That's repugnant to business owners."

Well, some of you are bigots, sir. See above paragraph. But it's not "every person who adheres to any of those major religions" (and how nice of you to recognize that there are religions other than yours). Reformed Jews have no problem with this; nor does Bruce Lowe, formerly a Baptist minister and author of the letter God Made Me Gay; nor, for that matter, does the leader of the Episcopal Church. There are plenty of ways to belong to a major religion and not be bigoted against gay people.

Besides that, you're only a lawbreaker if you, well, break the law. You'd think a former legislator would understand that the first amendment protects everyone's right to speak their mind--including bigots'. You're only a lawbreaker if you discriminate against people for no reason other than you don't approve of them.
Hurley also contended that Iowa was positioning itself on the wrong side of cultural history.

"All the historians are in agreement that when a culture finally adopts acceptance of this behavior, it's one step away from the end of that culture," he said. "I am shocked that we are not more concerned that this experiment really is going down the wrong historic path."

At this point I'm imagining the more lucid people on his side gesturing wildly for him to stop talking, because he's really not making them come across well.

Isn't it funny that cultures are always ended whenever they begin to accept something that the speaker finds distasteful? I have a book right next to me that goes to great length explaining how every culture in the world came to an end not because of acceptance of homosexuality, but because of miscegenation.

Nebraska, meanwhile, killed a similar bill for much the same reasons.

New word for us mean old "evilutionists"

My local paper had a wonderful editorial a few days ago about Ken Ham's creationist museum in Kentucky.

Predictably, it got the rabble roused.
The fuss over the new Creation Museum reminds one of Barney Fife rushing out to "nip crime in the bud."

Surely, a small museum in a small state couldn't destroy the evoluters' 100-year-old futile effort to find missing links, because there are none.

It is also reminiscent of Gamaliel's response to the Sanhedrin's effort to stop the early Christian movement: "If this be the work of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it" (Acts 5:38-39).

All I can think is... "evoluters"? I was just getting used to "evolutionist" as the meaningless label used to taunt people who accept science and reality (and of course "evilutionist", its charming, in-bred cousin), and now they're throwing a new one at us!

But really, what on earth is an "evoluter"? Somebody who "evolutes"? I think it's clear that this particular letter-writer never did.

Roll call!

Gah; finally been able to find the roll-call for the Iraq supplemental.

Here's the Senate vote, and grouped by vote position.
And here's the House vote.

Of the Democratic presidential candidates, Biden voted for it and Clinton, Dodd, Kucinich, and Obama voted against. And on the Republican side, Brownback didn't vote; Hunter, McCain, Tancredo voted for it; and Paul voted against it.

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Bearded Edition

Look at that Grizzly Adams, huh? Look at how confident he is, how majestic. Lois, I'm gonna grow a beard.


It's time I joined the ranks of great men with beards. Why do you think Jesus Christ was so popular? 'Cause a' all them magic tricks?

--Peter Griffin, Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows
Chuck Norris was the fourth wise man, who gave baby Jesus the gift of beard, which he carried with him until he died. The other three wise men were enraged by the preference that Jesus showed to Chuck's gift, and arranged to have him written out of the bible. All three died soon after of mysterious roundhouse-kick related injuries.

--Chuck Norris facts
The Caucasian can be confounded with no other Species, for though in some localities climate and other causes darken the skin sometimes with a dark olive tint, extending, as with the Bedouins, and the Jews of the Malabar coast, to almost black, yet the flowing beard, more constant than even color, projecting forehead, oval features, erect position, and lordly presence, stamp him as the master race, wherever found.


Another peculiarity of the negro is absence of beard. The Caucasian is really the only bearded race, and this is the most striking mark of its supremacy over all others. All other races approximate to it in this respect, but the typical, woolly-headed negro, except a little tuft on the chin, and sometimes on the upper lip, has nothing that can be confounded with a beard. Negroes are sometimes seen with considerable beard on their faces, but it should be remembered that it is common to call all who are not pure Caucasians, negroes. Bearded negroes have a large infusion of white blood. A negro with the flowing, dignified, and majestic beard of the Caucasian, would indeed be a curiosity, and about as amusing a specimen of humanity as it is possible to conceive of. If Sumner & Co. expect to make anything of Sambo, they must strike for "equal beard" for him as well as for "equal education," or "equal voting." When they have endowed the negro with the full and flowing beard of the Caucasian, there will be some prospect of the success of their efforts in "reconstructing" the races.


All the European nations are Caucasian, Pelasquin, Hellenic, Teuton, like the more modern Celt, Germanic, and Sclavonian, as the nations of our own time. French, English, Russian, Spanish, &c, are simply Varieties of the great bearded and master Species of human kind. These Varieties are simply the result of chance, of time, climate, religion, and political institutions; in a word, of external circumstances, in contradiction to Species, as Mongols, Malays, Negroes, &c.--the work of God.

--John H. Van Evrie, Anti-Abolition Tracts No. 5: The Six Species of Men, 1868. Reprinted in John David Smith, Anti-Black Thought, 1863-1925 vol. I, 1993.

"Those people all look the same"

Or so says our fearless leader:
President Bush today: "These people attacked us before we were even in Iraq!"

Can we have a little frankness, please?

The President of the United States is a racist. Or at the very least, an anti-Muslim bigot.

In Iraq, Shi'ites and Sunni are fighting each other to the death. Under what possible logic can they be joined by a common identity?

There is no "these people" except in their common Middle East-ness.

Iran and Iraq fought a decade-long war - Shia against Sunni. They are, to our president, "these people." "They" attacked us. "They" continue to attack us. Iran, Iraq: all the same.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Five, six Democrats have an actual spine

Russ Feingold, Chris Dodd, John Kerry, Bernie Sanders, and Patrick Leahy are saying they'll vote against the complete capitulation to Bush being billed as a "compromise" and even a "victory". John Edwards is one of two Democrats running for president that's also repudiated the bill, Dodd being the other.

The others are too afraid that Bush will criticize them. Maybe if they surrender totally, Bush will love them.

[Edit] Possibly add Patrick Murphy to the list.

More of the Bush administration reinterpreting the law into whatever they want

This is a fairly disgusting story:
In 2004, [Special Counsel Scott] Bloch was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—the guys who protect federal employees from retaliations against whistle-blowing and other forms of discrimination. At that time, Title 5 was still interpreted to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However, one month after taking office, Bloch ordered that all references to his office having jurisdiction over complaints by federal workers alleging sexual orientation discrimination be scrubbed from the special counsel's website and its official publications.

And scrubbed they were. After nearly 30 years of protecting federal workers from sexual orientation discrimination, it was suddenly not in the office's interest to do so.


People took notice, and the OPM felt the heat. In response, Bloch issued a legal review of the discrimination statute and found that the Title 5 provision only protected against discrimination on sexual conduct, not sexual orientation. He said sexual orientation would only be protected in another section of Title 5, which protects employees from discrimination against race, gender, religion or marital status. The problem is, that section doesn't mention sexual orientation. Clever.

Without saying that he was against protecting the rights of employees regardless of sexual orientation, Bloch threw his critics a curveball, suggesting an interpretation of the law that didn't recognize sexual orientation.

Bloch, you may recall, is under investigation for retaliating against employees who disagreed with him.

Anyways. There's an effort underway to change Title 5 so they don't have that loophole:
Sen. Daniel Akaka, who chairs the federal employees committee, is looking to hit that curveball out of the ballpark.

Last week, Akaka introduced the Clarification of Federal Employment Protections Act to counter any possible misinterpretations of the statute that protects federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill seeks to clean up the language of the law and ensure that sexual orientation discrimination is something federal employees are protected against without question.

This would, though, only protect federal employees. Another bill, the Employment and Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), goes much further:
ENDA goes further, prohibiting public and private employers from using sexual orientation as the basis for employment decisions. In its current form, the bill also provides protection against gender identification discrimination, something the federal employee protection statute fails to mention. ENDA is cosponsored by 104 representatives including Hawai'i Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono.

Of course, there are people who are upset at any attempts to protect gay people from discrimination....

Conspiracy theory run amok

Oh dear lord.
I cannot believe Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction before we invaded in 2003. It makes much more sense that President Bush found it easier to deny their existence than to admit what happened to them. And it is harming our direction and focus as a nation to not admit what really happened.

So the meme is spreading. How the hell do these people rationalize such blatant conspiracy theories? "My previously-formed conclusions can't be wrong, so all of reality must be in on a huge hoax to hide the evidence to make me look foolish." To hell with what the experts have known for years!
During the great U.S. military motorcade to capture Baghdad, I remember reports of traces of poisonous material found in the river just north of Baghdad. A military unit, with a Fox News reporter embedded, took the canvas off a trailer and found missiles. Several miles south of Baghdad, troops found a double-barbed wire perimeter that appeared to be a previous bunker for WMDs.

Really? Poisonous material--in a river? I'm sure you'd never find something like that in any rivers of ours.

And even if we are to trust this second-hand Fox news story, what of it? Iraq had missiles; big deal. Were they operational? Were there any traces of WMDs on them? Were they even equipped to carry WMDs? What sort of range did they have? I'd be willing to bet they were nothing we didn't realize he had, and no real sort of threat to us.
I've heard from credible personal contacts that our military operated commando-style operations in several Mideastern countries, destroying chemical weapons being produced in remote labs.

I spent several years in the news business, enough to know that truth doesn't always come out immediately, although it ultimately tends to. I also believe that truth resonates. And mistruths, even told for good reason, cause confusion.

Uh-huh. Of course you've "heard from credible personal contacts" things that U.N. investigators couldn't find--you are the sole buoy of truth in a sea of propaganda, lies, and cover-ups! But hey, aside from Fox news reporters, look who else this man finds "credible":
Recently, Rush Limbaugh mentioned that it was easier for the Bush administration to not admit the existence of WMDs because it might harm our relations with Russia. David Limbaugh has said basically the same thing to me personally. They don't seem to realize how much this white lie is blunting our national will on fighting terrorism. Please demand that the truth be told.

"Harm our relations with Russia"? Since when did Bush give a damn about other our relationships with other countries?

You want the truth, Mr. Keller? It's obvious you can't handle the truth, but here it is anyways: if we had found WMD, Bush and company would be shouting it from the damned rooftops because it would prove they were "right". Rick Santorum and Peter Hoekstra were just last year triumphantly crowing that we had indeed found chemical weapons in Iraq--500 of them, and more to come! And we're expected to believe that if actual evidence existed, those who would have everything to gain from this knowledge would keep silent about it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

After your wimmin -- er, chillun

Via GrrlScientist, there's this story about a same-sex pair of Greater Flamingos who were so good at caring for eggs that when a nest was abandoned, the two of them were the first choice to become the chick's foster parents:
A PAIR of gay flamingos have finally become proud foster parents after taking an abandoned chick under their wings.


[Carlos and Fernando's] egg-sitting and hatching skills impressed staff so much that when one of the Greater Flamingo nests was abandoned last week, they were considered the number one choice to "adopt" the chick.


"They were rather good at sitting on eggs and hatching them so last week, when a nest was abandoned, it seemed like a good idea to make them surrogate parents."

The pair, who have been together for about six years, can feed their chick without any female help - by producing milk in their throat.

So, if we wish to commit an "appeal to nature", we could say that Carlos and Fernando are proof that same-sex couples can be devoted, loving parents.

Unfortunately, they also provide "proof" of the homophobes' worst fears: gays are out to steal your babies.
Carlos and Fernando had been so desperate to have chicks that they had resorted to stealing eggs to fulfil their unlikely dream of a starting a family at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.


WWT spokeswoman Jane Waghorn said: "Fernando and Carlos are a same sex couple who have been known to steal other Flamingos' eggs by chasing them off their nest because they wanted to rear them themselves.

Finally, the argument that gays can't be allowed to have children because gays are worse parents than straights makes sense! Normally, gays would obtain children through: (a) adoption; (b) becoming foster parents; or (c) having children themselves via one of a number of techniques. In the case of (a) and (b), even if same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex ones--and there's no evidence that this is true--it wouldn't matter, because the environments these children are currently in are worse even than that of the dreaded gay household. And in the case of (c), this is a brand-new life, and never could have the "ideal" of a male and female parent.

Arguing that gays are worse parents than straights only makes sense if gays are known to take the children of straights and steal them away in the night. And finally, we have evidence that this is the case!

Soon, men will be obsolete!

It's recently been discovered that some female sharks are capable of parthenogenesis:
Female sharks can fertilize their own eggs and give birth without sperm from males, according to a new study of the asexual reproduction of a hammerhead in a U.S. zoo.

The joint Northern Ireland-U.S. research, being published Wednesday in the Royal Society's peer-reviewed Biology Letter journal, analyzed the DNA of a shark born in 2001 in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb. The shark was born in a tank with three potential mothers, none of whom had contact with a male hammerhead for at least three years.

The baby was killed within hours of its birth by a stingray in the same tank. Analysis of its DNA found no trace of any chromosomal contribution from a male partner.

Shark experts said this was the first confirmed case in a shark of parthenogenesis, which is derived from Greek and means "virgin birth."

Asexual reproduction is common in some insect species, rarer in reptiles and fish, and has never been documented in mammals. The list of animals documented as capable of the feat has grown along with the numbers being raised in captivity — but until now, sharks were not considered a likely candidate.


Before the study, many shark experts had presumed that the Nebraska birth involved a female shark's well-documented ability to store sperm for months. This seemed the most plausible scenario even though the sharks had arrived at the Nebraska zoo as immature pups.

The lack of any paternal DNA in the baby shark ruled out this possibility.

"This phenomenon has now been demonstrated in all major vertebrate groups except for mammals. Birds do it, reptiles do it, amphibians do it, fishes do it, and now sharks are known to do it," said Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., who was not involved in the project.


How to be pro-family, pt. 2

A few days ago, my brother and step-father had a brief discussion about how authoritarian certain religious people are: they seek to control everything, including (perhaps especially) their family. In relation to this, I brought up how co-founder of Focus on the Family James Dobson beat a 12-pound dog (named Sigmund Freud) with a belt just to make sure it knew who was the man of the house. So in a book entitled The Strong Willed Child, bestowing advice on how to raise obstinate children, he writes of his dog "The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction." Well, the Bible does say that disobedient children must be stoned to death, so I guess Dobson is just supporting good old Judeo-Christian Family Values.

Anyways. Just now, I came across a 2½ year-old post at Shakespeare's Sister detailing some more of Dobson's parenting techniques, this time from the perspective of his daughter, Danae.
A father of three teenagers set a rule that the family could not watch R-rated movies. This created a problem when a certain popular movie opened in local theaters. All the teens were bent on seeing the film, despite its "R" rating.

The teens interviewed friends and even members of their church to compile a list of pros and cons about the movie. They hoped that the list would convince their dad that they should be allowed to attend.

The cons were that it contained only a few swear words that misused God's name, only one act of violence ("which you can see on TV all the time," they said), and only one sex scene (and it was mostly implied sex, off camera).

The pros were that it was a popular movie-a blockbuster. If the teens saw the movie, then they would not feel left out when their friends discussed it. The movie contained a good plot and two hours of nonstop action and suspense. There were fantastic special effects! The movie also featured some of the most talented actors in Hollywood. The teens were certain that the film would be nominated for several awards. And Christian friends at their church who had seen the movie said it wasn't "that bad." Therefore, since there were more pros than cons, the teens asked their father to reconsider his position just this once.

The father looked at the list and asked if he could have a day to think about it before making his decision. The teens were thrilled. Now we've got him! they thought. Our argument is too good! Dad can't turn us down! So they agreed to give him a day to think about their request.

The next day the father called his three teenagers, who were smiling smugly, into the living room. They were puzzled to see a plate of brownies on the coffee table. The father said he had decided that if they would eat a brownie, then he would let them go to the movie. But just like the movie, the brownies had pros and cons.

The pros were that they had been made with fresh walnuts and the finest chocolate. These moist frosted brownies had been created with an award-winning recipe. Best of all, they had been made with care by the hands of the teens' own father.

The brownies had only one con. They had a little bit of dog poop in them. But the dough had been mixed well-the teens probably would not even be able to taste it. And their father had baked the brownies at 350 degrees, so any bacteria or germs had probably been destroyed. Therefore, if any of his children could stand to eat a brownie that included "just a little bit of poop," then they also would be permitted to see the movie with "just a little bit of smut." By now the teens had lost their smug expressions. They turned down the tainted brownies, and only Dad was smiling smugly as they left the room.

Now when his teenagers ask permission to do something he is opposed to, the father just asks, "Would you like me to whip up a batch of my special brownies?"

I think I just threw up a little.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I can't even follow their rationale anymore

Today Bush declassified some previously-secret intelligence that supposedly bolsters his decision to invade Iraq:
President Bush, trying to defend his war strategy, declassified intelligence Tuesday asserting that Osama bin Laden ordered a top lieutenant in early 2005 to form a terrorist cell that would conduct attacks outside Iraq — and that the United States should be the top target.

The information mirrored a classified bulletin from the Homeland Security Department in March 2005, reporting that bin Laden had enlisted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his senior operative in Iraq, to plan potential strikes in the U.S. The warning was described at the time as credible but not specific and did not prompt the administration to raise its national terror alert level.


Bush, who is battling Democrats in Congress over spending for the unpopular war in Iraq, will argue that the terrorist threat to America is real, said Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser. She said Bush would talk about why Iraq is an important battleground in fighting terrorism abroad to prevent attacks on U.S. soil and highlight previously reported successes in foiling terrorist attacks.


Townsend, reading from notes, said the declassified intelligence showed that in January 2005, bin Laden tasked al-Zarqawi with organizing the cell. Al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaida's Iraq operations, was killed there in June 2006 by a U.S. airstrike.

"We know from the intelligence community that al-Zarqawi welcomed the tasking and claimed he already had some good proposals," Townsend said.

She said that in the spring of 2005, bin Laden instructed Hamza Rabia, a senior operative, to brief al-Zarqawi on al-Qaida planning to attack sites outside Iraq, including the United States. She did not disclose where in the United States those attacks were being plotted.

I'm guessing that the release of this information is part of "why Iraq is an important battleground in fighting terrorism abroad to prevent attacks on U.S. soil." Only this seems to show that the "we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here" 'strategy' has absolutely no basis in reality: the people we're fighting can, in fact, target the United States while they're fighting in Iraq. As former White House counterterrorism director Richard Clarke put it:
Of course, nothing about our being "over there" in any way prevents terrorists from coming here. Quite the opposite, the evidence is overwhelming that our presence provides motivation for people throughout the Arab world to become anti-American terrorists.

Or perhaps this has been declassified so Bush can tout it as one of those "previously reported successes in foiling terrorist attacks"? But given that the administration didn't consider it a serious enough attack to raise the terror alert level, it would be disingenuous to tell us how narrowly we avoided death thanks to Bush's brilliant decision to invade a country that had nothing to do with al-Qaida before we made it a breeding grounds for terrorists. Of course, that's never stopped Bush before....

Besides, Ms. Townsend, no-one has denied that "the terrorist threat to America is real." We simply feel that continuing to divert our resources to a civil war that doesn't seem to be resolvable (at least not by military forces), not to mention our decision to invade Iraq in the first place, isn't the best way to face this threat. Consider more of what Mr. Clarke had to say:
[I]nvesting time, energy and resources in Iraq takes our eye off two far more urgent tasks at hand: one, guarding the homeland against terrorism much better than the pork-dispensing Department of Homeland Security currently does the job; and two, systematically dismantling Al Qaeda all over the world, from Canada to Asia to Africa. On both these fronts, the Bush administration's focus is sorely lacking.

Yet in the fantasyland of illogic in which the President dwells, shaped by slogans devised by spin doctors, America can "win" in Iraq. Then, we are to believe, the terrorists will be so demoralized that they will recant their beliefs and cease their terrorist ways.

In the real world, by choosing unnecessarily to go into Iraq, Bush not only diverted efforts from delivering a death blow to Al Qaeda, he gave that movement both a second chance and the best recruiting tool possible.


You can just feel the Christian Love™

Via Ed Brayton, I find that a student at Liberty University created home-made bombs to use against people protesting Falwell's funeral:
Campbell County authorities arrested a Liberty University student for having several homemade bombs in his car.

The student, 19-year-old Mark D. Uhl of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting the funeral service. The devices were made of a combination of gasoline and detergent, a law enforcement official told ABC News' Pierre Thomas. They were "slow burn," according to the official, and would not have been very destructive.

"There were indications that there were others involved in the manufacturing of these devices and we are still investigating these individuals with the assistance of ATF [Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms], Virginia State Police and FBI. At this time it is not believed that these devices were going to be used to interrupt the funeral services at Liberty University," the Campbell County Sheriff's Office said in a release.

Three other suspects are being sought, one of whom is a soldier from Fort Benning, Ga., and another is a high school student. No information was available on the third suspect.

Although, given that around half a dozen of these protesters were from Fred Phelps' church, it might've been nice if the two of these groups just picked each other off.

[Edit] Via NonyNony in the comments at Pharyngula, we get this additional tidbit:
"Preliminary investigations reveal that he may have been aware of people that were protesting Dr. Falwell's funeral," [Campbell County Sheriff Terry] Gaddy said when asked about Uhl's motive.

The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which claimed Falwell was sympathetic of homosexuals, protested across the street from the funeral without incident.

Investigators determined that Uhl had issues with that group, Gaddy said.

Jesse Benson, 19, of Zanesville, Ohio, said he roomed with Uhl as freshmen this year and both shared the view that the Westboro group is a "sorry, disgraceful bunch of people," but that he was certain Uhl would never have done anything to harm them.

So maybe... just maybe....

In which I agree with Bill O'Reilly

Mr. O'Reilly opined:
These are the talk show nuts who are telling you that they're gonna nuke Tehran or, you know -- I don't know why anybody would listen to these people, but the far right, some on the far right, actually believe that this might happen.

I'm not so much worried about people who predict that the U.S. will attack Iran as much as those advocating that should do so... although generally I don't think they make much distinction between the two. So I agree--why would anybody listen to far-right talk show nuts who say things like this:
The head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog program, Mohamed ElBaradei, has told the United Nations that Iran will begin uranium enrichment work, contradicting previous statements from the mullahs who run Iran. So look, it's just a matter of time, ladies and gentlemen, before we have to bomb that country.


Gay marriage bill introduced in New York

Gov. Spitzer's bill has been officially introduced to the state Assembly, apparently "with record support":
New York State Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, one of three openly gay members of the state Assembly, officially introduced Gov. Eliot Spitzer's marriage bill in the Assembly yesterday with a record number 53 cosponsors, up from 24 the year before.


The marriage bill needs 76 votes to pass in the Assembly, where 69 members have indicated some support for the bill, 48 remain undecided and 33 have voiced their opposition, according to a legislative scorecard being kept by the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York's LGBT civil rights organization.

O'Donnell expects the bill to come up for a vote in the next few weeks, according to the editor of The New York Blade, Trenton Straube. "He said they have enough support to pass it," said Straube, noting that beyond the 53 cosponsors, about 20-some members had privately told O'Donnell that they would vote for the bill.

Unfortunately, the Senate isn't likely to pass a bill, so there's little chance this will become law regardless.

Is anyone even paying attention anymore?

The Bush administration: "We still don't know what we're going to do in Iraq."

Well, that's not entirely fair. They know exactly what they're going to do: stay until 2009, at which point the entire clusterfuck becomes the next guy's problem.

Is this a new definition of chutzpah?

Glenn Greenwald brings up an interesting point about the FISA scandal:
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration demanded a whole slew of changes to FISA which expanded the President's eavesdropping powers and which the administration claimed were necessary in order to bring FISA into the 21st Century by allowing surveillance of modern communication methods. Congress, needless to say, complied in full, and in October of 2001 -- contrary to McConnell's misleading Op-Ed -- it enacted, and the President signed, sweeping "modernizing" changes to FISA.


That FISA was substantially expanded in October of 2001 -- at the administration's request -- is one of the central (and often overlooked) facts illustrating how severe is the corruption and dishonesty which lies (still) at the heart of the NSA lawbreaking scandal.

The same President who demanded changes to FISA in light of the terrorist threat, who received all the changes he demanded, and who then assured the nation he had all the surveillance tools he needed under the law, then proceeded -- the very same month -- to eavesdrop on Americans in violation of that law. Then, once caught, he sought to excuse his lawbreaking by claiming that the law (which his own administration re-wrote and heralded as sufficient) was somehow inadequate.

...[I]t is also critical to recall that the administration had multiple opportunities since those post-9/11 changes to expand the scope of FISA, and it was the administration which refused those changes on the ground that they were unnecessary. In 2002, multiple Senators sought to make it easier to obtain FISA warrants, and the Bush administration opposed those changes, insisting that it already had sufficient eavesdropping powers. And all throughout last year, Senators such as Diane Feinstein and Arlen Specter proposed endless FISA amendments to expand the scope of government eavesdropping (in response to claims that FISA was too narrow), and the Bush administration was completely uninterested in all of them.

The administration is not, and never has been, interested in expanding the scope of FISA in order to enable them to obtain warrants more easily or accommodate "new technology." Their overriding goal has been, and plainly continues to be, the total elimination of meaningful oversight with regard to how the government eavesdrops on Americans. That goal of theirs was accomplished for many years by simply breaking the law which requires oversight, and now -- having been caught -- they seek to accomplish the same goal under the guise of wanting "updates" to the "rotary phone era" law.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday Dead Racist Blogging: Falwell Edition

Today (technically yesterday, but meh) this article about Jerry Falwell appeared in the local newspaper.
Falwell was a theological fatalist but a political activist. If this seems like a common combination today, that is largely due to Falwell himself. Before he came along, evangelical Christianity was inward looking. The Baptists, especially, had been badly burned by the failure of Prohibition and the mockery of the Scopes trial and turned away from politics during the first half of the 20th Century. As a young preacher, Falwell asserted that the church had no business getting involved in such issues.

"I meant well, but I was wrong," he wrote in his autobiography. This change of heart was one of the many unintended consequences of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which galvanized Falwell. He got into politics not out of love but out of hatred for "abortion, the drug traffic, pornography, child abuse and immorality in all its ugly, life-destroying forms."

Well... that's certainly what he would have wanted us to believe. But Max Blumenthal says that it simply isn't so:
In a recent interview broadcast on CNN the day of his death, Falwell offered his version of the Christian right's genesis: "We were simply driven into the process by Roe v. Wade and earlier than that, the expulsion of God from the public square." But his account was fuzzy revisionism at best. By 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe, the antiabortion movement was almost exclusively Catholic. While various Catholic cardinals condemned the Court's ruling, W.A. Criswell, the fundamentalist former president of America's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, casually endorsed it. (Falwell, an independent Baptist for forty years, joined the SBC in 1996.) "I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person," Criswell exclaimed, "and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed." A year before Roe, the SBC had resolved to press for legislation allowing for abortion in limited cases.

While abortion clinics sprung up across the United States during the early 1970s, evangelicals did little. No pastors invoked the Dred Scott decision to undermine the legal justification for abortion. There were no clinic blockades, no passionate cries to liberate the "pre-born." For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. Their resentment was compounded in 1971 when the Internal Revenue Service attempted to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until that year.) Falwell was furious, complaining, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."

Seeking to capitalize on mounting evangelical discontent, a right-wing Washington operative and anti-Vatican II Catholic named Paul Weyrich took a series of trips down South to meet with Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Weyrich hoped to produce a well-funded evangelical lobbying outfit that could lend grassroots muscle to the top-heavy Republican Party and effectively mobilize the vanquished forces of massive resistance into a new political bloc. In discussions with Falwell, Weyrich cited various social ills that necessitated evangelical involvement in politics, particularly abortion, school prayer and the rise of feminism. His implorations initially fell on deaf ears.

"I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," Weyrich recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."

In 1979, at Weyrich's behest, Falwell founded a group that he called the Moral Majority. Along with a vanguard of evangelical icons including D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye, Falwell's organization hoisted the banner of the "pro-family" movement, declaring war on abortion and homosexuality. But were it not for the federal government's attempts to enable little black boys and black girls to go to school with little white boys and white girls, the Christian right's culture war would likely never have come into being. "The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion," former Falwell ally Ed Dobson told author Randall Balmer in 1990. "I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something."

This page has an excerpt from Mr. Balmer's book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament, which repeats most of this and says further that Weyrich explicitly admitted as much:
"What caused the movement to surface," Weyrich reiterated,"was the federal government's moves against Christian schools." The IRS threat against segregated schools, he said, "enraged the Christian community." That, not abortion, according to Weyrich, was what galvanized politically conservative evangelicals into the Religious Right and goaded them into action. "It was not the other things," he said.

Ed Dobson, Falwell's erstwhile associate, corroborated Weyrich's account during the ensuing discussion. "The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion," Dobson said. "I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something."

During the following break in the conference proceedings, I cornered Weyrich to make sure I had heard him correctly. He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis of the Religious Right in the late 1970s. What about abortion? After mobilizing to defend Bob Jones University and its racially discriminatory policies, Weyrich said, these evangelical leaders held a conference call to discuss strategy. He recalled that someone suggested that they had the makings of a broader political movement—something that Weyrich had been pushing for all along—and asked what other issues they might address. Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to Weyrich, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, "How about abortion?" And that is how abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right.


Step towards equality in Ohio

The governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, recently signed an executive order banning discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It doesn't protect non-government jobs, but it's a good start.

E pur si muove

This has apparently been making the rounds over at ScienceBlogs: there seems to be a site, Blogs 4 Brownback, one of whose latest posts declares "Heliocentrism is an Atheist Doctrine". It doesn't appear to be a parody site, either, much as we might wish it were.

Here's the latest update of theirs:
UPDATE II: Look, people, even your Heliocentric hero Galileo recanted his idiotic notions about the Earth revolving around the Sun. If he's your so-called reliable source on this, I think it does wonders to shatter the idea's credibility that one of its main proponents backed away from it so abruptly.

Ah yes. Galileo Galilei: proof that torture won't get you to the truth.

Commemorative coin

Fifty years ago, nine black students faced down a mob to integrate Little Rock Central High School in the first test of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against racial discrimination in public schools. Now the students are being honored on a commemorative silver coin.


One side of the $1 (euro.74) coin depicts a group of students being escorted by a soldier. It features the phrase "Desegregation in Education" and contains nine stars. The other side depicts Central High as it looked in 1957.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to be pro-family

Oh dear god.
A former South Dakota lawmaker is accused of molesting his own foster children and legislative pages.

Ted Klaudt, 49, a Republican rancher from Walker, faces a long list of charges: eight counts of rape, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, two counts of witness tampering, sexual contact with a person under 16, and stalking.

Court documents mention five possible victims. Three were foster children between the ages of 15 and 19 who lived with Klaudt's family. One is a cousin of one of those girls, and the fifth is a friend of Klaudt's daughter.

In the most disturbing accusation, the girls say Klaudt had them convinced they could earn up to $20,000 by donating their eggs to a fertility clinic. And even though he has no medical training, the girls say Klaudt did all the supposed "exams" and "procedures" himself.


He's not telling us anything. But when investigators questioned him in February. He admitted to much of what the girls allege, including sending messages from the fake email account. Klaudt told investigators the girls asked him to help them donate the eggs. But he admits never sending off a specimen.

Inside his home, investigators found Klaudt's briefcase filled with all the tools the girls say he used in his supposed "exams."

It came as no surprise that this man was one of the co-sponsors of this bill, which would have inserted this language into the state constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in South Dakota. The uniting of two or more persons in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other quasi-marital relationship shall not be valid or recognized in South Dakota."

All in the name of creating the best environment for children, I suppose.

Freepers, Creepers

Just 24 hours ago, I was wondering what it would take to get through to die-hard Bush supporters that he is a horrible president who has nothing but contempt for the rule of law. And today I find via Atrios that some of the trolls over at Free Republic have done just that! Quoth one, "The rule of law has just been thrown out the window. I agree that impeachment is in order."

Unfortunately, it's not Bush's violation of the constitution and federal law that's got them in a frenzy. It's the notion that he might let brown people into the country.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: I Know You Are But What Am I Edition

From him we turn to another--a negro from the West Coast of Africa, tall, strong-looking, with thick-set limbs and a tendency to fat. ... When we look for a moment at an individual of this type, we are involuntarily reminded of the structure of the monkey, and are inclined to admit that the negro races of West Africa come from a stock that has nothing in common, except the human form, with the Mongolian.

--Comte Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, The Inequality of Human Races, pp. 106-07.

In early Chinese thought we occasionally discover ideas which are explicitly racist. The historians of the Han Dynasty in the third century B.C. speak of a yellow-haired and green-eyed barbarian people in a distant province "who greatly resemble monkeys from whom they are descended."

--Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America, p. 4.

"I've learned that just because something is 'impossible' doesn't mean it can't happen."

That may have to be my new motto (although I still like my previous one).

My brother and I were discussing just the other day how often my step-father runs into situations that are simply "impossible" when programming.

"In light of these new facts of which I now realize I was largely aware, I must take action!"

During my last semester at Purdue, Cindy Sheehan visited and gave a speech, during which she apparently called for the impeachment of President Bush. This was reported by the school newspaper. The next day or later I was in a store and the cashiers were discussing the article, with one of them expressing incredulity that anyone would call for the impeachment of Bush.

Him (paraphrased): Why impeach him? He hasn't broken any laws!
Me (more or less verbatim): Well, you know, except for breaking FISA.

That shut him up for a while, but as I was leaving I heard him repeat his claim that Bush hadn't done anything wrong.

Yeah, right.
[Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey] made clear that he and Ashcroft met, determined that the NSA program lacked legal authority, and agreed "on a course of action," one whereby the DOJ would refuse to certify the legality of the NSA program. Yet even once Ashcroft and Comey made clear that the program had no legal basis (i.e., was against the law), the President ordered it to continue anyway. As Comey said: "The program was reauthorized without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality."

Amazingly, the President's own political appointees -- the two top Justice Department officials, including one (Ashcroft) who was known for his "aggressive" use of law enforcement powers in the name of fighting terrorism and at the expense of civil liberties -- were so convinced of its illegality that they refused to certify it and were preparing, along with numerous other top DOJ officials, to resign en masse once they learned that the program would continue notwithstanding the President's knowledge that it was illegal.

The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law.

Recall that the only federal court to rule on this matter has concluded that the NSA program violated both federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and although that decision is being appealed by the Bush administration, they are relying largely on technical arguments to have it reversed (i.e., standing and "state secrets" arguments) and -- as has been true for the entire case -- are devoting very little efforts to arguing that the program was actually legal or constitutional.


What more glaring and clear evidence do we need that the President of the United States deliberately committed felonies, knowing that his conduct lacked any legal authority? And what justifies simply walking away from these serial acts of deliberate criminality? At this point, how can anyone justify the lack of criminal investigations or the appointment of a Special Counsel? The President engaged in extremely serious conduct that the law expressly criminalizes and which his own DOJ made clear was illegal.

I have no idea if it will ever get through to people that Bush believes that he is simply above the law. You'd think after everything he's done--including the hundreds of signing statements that amount to him saying "I will ignore the laws I signed whenever I find it convenient"--if someone hadn't already come to that conclusion, they never would. But hey, this latest incident has gotten through to some die-hard Bush supporters.