Monday, January 31, 2005

The most influential brands

According to a recent survey of "branding professionals" (whatever they are), Apple is considered the world's most influential brand.

In the survey of almost 2,000 ad executives, brand managers and academics by online magazine Brandchannel, Apple ousted search engine Google from last year's top spot . . .

The annual survey asks respondents to rate the impact of a particular brand on people's lives, and does not attempt to quantify its financial value.

Coca-Cola, the U.S. soft drinks behemoth that regularly tops polls of brand equity value, is nowhere to be found in this year's global or regional top five lists.

Coca-Cola actually came in at #7. Google was right behind Apple at #2. Ikea was ranked third, and Starbucks ranked fourth.

But take a look at #5!

"With all the news from Iraq and Afghanistan and the 'war on terror', a lot of people are really tuned into the news, and the major news sources have a western bias," Brandchannel Editor Robin Rusch said. "I think people are tuning in to Al Jazeera and looking at its Web site because it does offer another viewpoint. For the global community, it's one of the few points of access we have to news from the region with a different perspective."

Different from what?

Here's the Brandchannel website with the report.

I'm not sure exactly how Brandchannel defines "influential," but there are some hints to be found in what they say about Apple:

The perpetual underdog, with less than two percent of the world market, Apple has what John Schwartz in the New York Times aptly described as the “attitude of an artist and the eye of an anthropologist” (16 January 2005). The company’s ability to delight the user in a bland land of equipment and software makes it easy to see why it impacts those of us who spend our days in the 21st century.

However, less savvy consumers contribute to the actual sales dominance of mainstream competitors, particularly in the computer division. Apple Computer ranks sixth in the US with just 3.33 percent of the market (Dell leads at 33%, followed by HP at 20% and Gateway at 5.23%).

Undaunted by the competition, Apple’s dizzying pace of inventing new toys looks set to continue in 2005.

As for Al-Jazeera, Brandchannel says:

Though suffering difficulties such as banned reporters, advertising boycotts, and charges of bias (arguably stemming from those who are themselves biased toward European and American interests), Al Jazeera is viewed as relatively independent within its region and is increasingly gaining mainstream credibility beyond its borders. The company itself claims to “cover all viewpoints with objectivity integrity and balance."

So, how are they different?

A modern parable

(Roughly based on Matthew 22:1-14.)

A certain President prepared a free election for the people of Iraq, and he sent out word to some of those who serve in Congress to bear witness to the event. "It's illegitimate," they said, and they refused to come.

So he sent word to more of those in Congress and in the mainstream news media. "Tell those who have been invited to bear witness to this event that the tyrant is overthrown, the people of Iraq are going to vote, and Democracy is at hand. Come and see the will of the people be done.

But they paid no attention and went off -- one to argue that abandoning the Iraqi people would be for the best, and another to remark that it was all about oil anyway.

So the President said to himself, "The members of Congress and the MSM will not bear witness to this historical event, but the Iraqi people understand how wonderful it is that they have free elections for the first time." And the Iraqi people, men and women alike, and even the lame and the crippled, traveled many miles and stood in line for hours, and cast their votes in numbers that put other Democracies to shame.

Then the President said, "These people understand the cost of freedom and the sacrifice that was done on their behalf to bring them Democracy. But as for these in Congress who call themselves "Democrats," they do not even understand the meaning of the word. They are blind with their hatred for the free and take for granted their own liberty. For although many enjoy the benefits of Democracy, few appreciate how rare such a thing is on the earth.

Old Memes Never Die

You'd have to be pretty hardhearted not to be moved by the courage of the millions of Iraqis who insisted on turning out to vote yesterday despite the very real threat that they would be walking into mayhem and violent death at the polls.

So begins Bob Herbert's latest Op-Ed in the New York Times. For a moment I thought he'd actually come away from the Dark Side, but it soon became clear that Herbert's doing his best to throw cold water on yesterday's achievement in democracy.

In much of Iraq the people exist in a kind of hell on earth, at the mercy of American forces on the one hand and a variety of enraged insurgents on the other. Despite the pretty words coming out of the Bush administration, the goals of the U.S. and the goals of most ordinary Iraqis are not, by a long stretch, the same.

The desire of the U.S., as embodied by the Bush administration, is to exercise as much control as possible over the Middle East and its crucial oil reserves. There is very little concern here about the plight of ordinary Iraqis, which is why the horrendous casualties being suffered by Iraqi civilians, including women and children, get so little attention.

"It's all about oil!" Wow. I thought we'd heard the last of that one.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

O Blessed Sleep!

We reached two major milestones here at Stately Darn Floor Manor this weekend.

First, this morning were very late for church because we failed to set the alarm. We haven't needed to set an alarm around here since Lid was born. We still do, out of habit, but Lid is generally up before the alarm can go off anyway. She rarely sleeps past 6:30 am, and is usually standing in her crib shrieking before 5:30. On rare occasions she has slept until 7:00 am.

This morning she slept until 8:00 am!

That figure is a little deceptive, because she was awake at 4:45 am, but I managed to coax her back to sleep. Even so, when this happens (and it does . . . often) she still wakes up around 6 am anyway -- and stays up. Not so this morning. As a result, we got up late and missed the first 15 minutes of the service. But we were all well-rested!

In the evenings, Lid will usually need to have some milk and a book while sitting on my wife's lap before sleep kicks in. When it's clear that she's on her way to the land of nod, too tired to protest much, I take her to her crib. This evening she was sitting on the floor playing with her books, and showing the signs of sleepiness. She toddled over and grabbed my wife's hand and urged her toward her bedroom. She made it clear that she wanted to be taken to her crib. She initiated it.

So we complied, and she fell asleep very quickly.

Two sleep-related milestones in one day.

No, I don't expect these incidents to repeat themselves regularly, but I now have some hope that this may develop into a habit someday.

Kerry claims Iraq vote is illegitimate

In spite of all the predictions of doom regarding free elections in Iraq, the elections were not cancelled, and the elections were not postponed. Instead, more than 70 percent of the 13 million registered voters had already cast their vote by the time this news story was filed.

Here in the U.S. last November, just over 60% of eligible voters cast votes -- the highest voter turnout since 1968.

I wondered if the sour-faced anhedonics on the left would claim that the Iraqi elections were illegitimate. But with a greater voter turnout than we have here in the U.S., I didn't see how it would be possible.

I was wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe this election will be seen by the world community as legitimate?

SEN. KERRY: A kind of legitimacy--I mean, it's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote.

Let's just ignore that sad, sad man and all the rest of his ilk.

Instead, let's look at some pictures of democracy taking flight!

The People Have Won.

Geek moment

When I heard that a new Battlestar Galactica series was in the works, I was a bit ambivalent. It wasn't because I thought the original show was the greatest thing since Star Trek and shouldn't be messed with. The original show was a product of 70s television, and therein lay many of its flaws. Even so, the original had much to recommend it for Sci Fi fans during the drought of the 70s. Star Wars marked the beginning of a change, but not until Star Trek: The Next Generation proved that there was a large segment of the television audience hungry for Sci Fi did things really begin to change on the small screen. But that's a discussion for another entry.

I was ambivalent because I'd read enough behind-the-scenes buzz about the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries to give me pause. More than just a redo of the original series, the new series changed the genders of certain characters, altered relationships, depicted a military that lacked discipline after four decades of peace, and seemed to have a preoccupation with sex. In fact, in the first hour of the the mini, there's an awful lot of sex.

But then comes the attack by the Cylons, and everything changes. Who's got leisure time for sex and insubordination when the most important drive is survival?

If you don't get the Sci Fi Channel, you're missing out on a great new series. And it's not just a series for Sci Fi fans. It's a series that anyone interested in good drama will appreciate. It's a military drama and a political drama -- it just happens to be set in space. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are both fine actors who anchor the rest of the cast. (Mary McDonnell's performance in the miniseries almost sold me on the show by herself.)

Lke the best of current television series, there are continuing plotlines within the self-contained episodes, so it rewards viewers who tune in regularly without alienating newbies.

The series has a definite post-9/11 vibe to it. A surprise attack makes everyone suddenly sit up and notice that humanity faces an enemy that simply wants them dead -- no negotiation possible. There are cylon sleeper agents among humanity's remant, and so there is the associated paranoia. Flawed human beings must rise to meet the challenges that faces them.

And though the show has spaceships, robots, and explosions, the best moments are the small, personal ones.

The show is certain to freak out the overly sensitive, because characters smoke! Including a doctor! But true to the show's setting, characters acknowledge that since known civilization has been destroyed, there won't be many cigarettes left after awhile. Smoke 'em if you've got 'em! There also won't be much alcohol after awhile, which is certain to affect at least one lead character who struggles with alcohol, and marks his ever-dwindling supply on the side of his bottle. Meanwhile, the President marks the population of humanity's remnant on a dry-erase board, subtracting hundreds when a ship in the fleet is destroyed, poignantly adding one when the fleet's first baby is born.

I enjoyed the miniseries that aired last year, and in just four episodes of the new weekly series, I've become hooked. Doug predicted that Battlestar Galactica would end up being the best new series of 2005. It certainly has a good start.

More: One more thing. The show's creator, Ron Moore (who I've been following since his days as one of the producers on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) has a blog where he comments on the show. Very cool.

More: I'm guessing Kathy would disagree with my assessment of the show.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Camera Frequently Lies?

Let's say that you're a news photographer, and you're of the opinion that Iraqis shouldn't vote tomorrow. And let's say that you want to do whatever you can to frighten them away from the polling places.

Wouldn't it be great to get some scary pictures of a car bomb going off outside of a polling place as a warning to the citizens about what might happen to them should they exercise their newly won freedom to vote?

But as a news photographer, how would you make sure that you're near a car bomb when it goes off so you can capture the scary explosion on film?

How, indeed?

Curiouser and curiouser.

(Hat tip: My View of the World.)

The question is not whether the camera lies. It does. The question is how frequently the camera lies.

Friday, January 28, 2005

When Sudafed is Outlawed, only Outlaws will take Sudafed

Joshua Claybourn at "In the Agora" pointed out this story today. It seems that there are a dozen senators (the story linked focuses on Evan Bayh) co-sponsoring a bill that would make certain over the counter cold and flu medicines more difficult to obtain. Under this law, any non-prescription medication that contains pseudoephedrine would be sold only at pharmacies, kept behind the counter, and would require proper ID to obtain. Customers would be required to sign for the medication, and would be limited in the amount they could purchase.

The purpose of this restrictive bill is to shut down meth labs. Pseudoephedrine is apparently a main ingredient in meth.

Bayh said the federal measure was modeled after an Oklahoma law, which authorities there say has helped drive down meth lab seizures more than 80 percent. Similar legislation is pending in the Indiana General Assembly.

. . .

Opponents, including pharmacy groups, argue such a law would create barriers for regular customers in need of cold medication and take pharmacists away from more important responsibilities.

Bayh, however, said he did not believe the extra monitoring of pseudoephedrine would be burdensome when compared the problems meth was causing in many communities.

"Your ordinary, law-abiding citizen isn't going to object," he said.

Geez, I hate that kind of reasoning.

"We're going to search all your homes. If you've got nothing to hide, you won't object."

"We're going to test you all for drug use. If you don't use drugs, why would you put up a fuss?"

And even if this bill fails at the national level, here in Wisconsin State Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) is pushing for a similar law at the state level.

The northern lawmaker said he is working with leaders in the law enforcement community and drug abuse prevention experts to create a comprehensive legislative package that will help reduce the amount of over-the-counter medicines that can be purchased at one time.

Dear Legislators: When I or someone in my household has a cold, I want to be able to run to the nearest store -- perhaps the gas station on the corner -- to obtain the necessary meds. You would rather force me to drive many miles to the nearest 24-hour pharmacy, where I must sign papers to prove that I legitimately need these meds. And then you will only allow me to purchase a small amount, ensuring that I will have to make a return trip in a day or two. Perhaps you won't even let me purchase more than a small amount each week.

Perhaps we will simply stay home and die from the flu, and our surviving family members can sue the state for making common cold and flu medication more difficult to obtain.

Here in the Chippewa Valley we've recently had two rather shocking incidents related to meth use, which woke up a lot of people to the seriousness of the issue. But this solution is wrong-headed. Jacob Sullum at Reason has a reasoned response, noting that this kind of legislation has been shown to be ineffective.

Critics who object to the burden such restrictions impose on retailers and consumers note that meth cooks can buy pseudoephedrine pills in states with looser rules. Even national restrictions on retail purchases —an idea endorsed during the presidential campaign by John Edwards, who proposed a limit of two packages a day—would not have much of an impact on the illegal methamphetamine supply. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, some 80 percent of illicit meth comes from large-scale Mexican traffickers, who tend to buy pseudoephedrine in bulk rather than a few packs at a time in pharmacies and grocery stores.

In October, just after Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski proposed retail-level restrictions on pseudoephedrine, The Oregonian ran a five-part series arguing that tracking sales by foreign manufacturers of the chemical is the only way to seriously curtail the methamphetamine trade. The newspaper cited brief declines in methamphetamine purity that followed previous attempts to block access to precursors. Such effects are short-lived, it said, because traffickers find new sources or shift to alternative production methods. After the precursor phenyl-2-propanone was restricted in 1980, traffickers switched to ephedrine; when large quantities of ephedrine became harder to come by in the late ’90s, they switched to pseudoephedrine.

The Oregonian did not explore the possibility that this pattern will continue if the U.S. government somehow manages to prevent traffickers from buying pseudoephedrine. In addition to the methods involving ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenyl-2-propanone (which itself can be synthesized in a variety of ways), methamphetamine can be made, for example, with methylamine and the amino acid phenylalanine. “There is no doubt that control of precursors will lead to new or old variant syntheses,” says City University of New York pharmacologist John P. Morgan. “If the curtailment of [pseudoephedrine] works, such success will be temporary. Another method of manufacture or other supply will be found.”

(Are we sure there isn't some pharmacists lobbying group pushing for sole control of cold and flu meds in order to boost revenue?)

MCarthyism in the Scientific Community. ("Creeping Fundamentalism" Watch III)

As noted in Opinion Journal, Richard Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, suddenly found himself kicked out of his office, denied reseach space, and shunned by all his co-workers. His crime: publishing a peer-reviewed article laying out the evidentiary case for intelligent design in the August issue of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

The offending review-essay was written by Stephen Meyer, who holds a Cambridge University doctorate in the philosophy of biology. In the article, he cites biologists and paleontologists critical of certain aspects of Darwinism--mainstream scientists at places like the University of Chicago, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. Mr. Meyer gathers the threads of their comments to make his own case. He points, for example, to the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago, when between 19 and 34 animal phyla (body plans) sprang into existence. He argues that, relying on only the Darwinian mechanism, there was not enough time for the necessary genetic "information" to be generated. ID, he believes, offers a better explanation.

Whatever the article's ultimate merits--beyond the judgment of a layman--it was indeed subject to peer review, the gold standard of academic science. Not that such review saved Mr. Sternberg from infamy. Soon after the article appeared, Hans Sues--the museum's No. 2 senior scientist--denounced it to colleagues and then sent a widely forwarded e-mail calling it "unscientific garbage."

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Mr. Sternberg's supervisor. According to Mr. Sternberg's OSC complaint: "First, he asked whether Sternberg was a religious fundamentalist. She told him no. Coddington then asked if Sternberg was affiliated with or belonged to any religious organization. . . . He then asked where Sternberg stood politically; . . . he asked, 'Is he a right-winger? What is his political affiliation?' " The supervisor (who did not return my phone messages) recounted the conversation to Mr. Sternberg, who also quotes her observing: "There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down."

The new McCarthyism. Are you now or have you ever been a religious right-winger? After what happened to Sternberg, other workers at the museum worry about being perceived as religious.

One curator, who generally confirmed the conversation when I spoke to him, told Mr. Sternberg about a gathering where he offered a Jewish prayer for a colleague about to retire. The curator fretted: "So now they're going to think that I'm a religious person, and that's not a good thing at the museum."

Sternberg was given the bum's rush, and now there seems to be a fear of being tainted by association with him.

In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs. Mr. Sternberg was also assigned to the close oversight of a curator with whom he had professional disagreements unrelated to evolution. "I'm going to be straightforward with you," said Mr. Coddington, according to the complaint. "Yes, you are being singled out." Neither Mr. Coddington nor Mr. Sues returned repeated phone messages asking for their version of events.

Mr. Sternberg begged a friendly curator for alternative research space, and he still works at the museum. But many colleagues now ignore him when he greets them in the hall, and his office sits empty as "unclaimed space." Old colleagues at other institutions now refuse to work with him on publication projects, citing the Meyer episode.

Sternberg did file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that he was being discriminated against for perceived religious beliefs. Sternberg readily admits that he's Catholic and attends mass regularly, but calls himself "a believer with a lot of questions, about everything."

Unfortunately for Sternberg, he questioned the one thing that "thou shalt not question," and that's a firm belief in Darwinism. Or rather, he didn't, but the publication he edited did.

Opinion Journal notes ironically:

Critics of ID have long argued that the theory was unscientific because it had not been put forward in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Now that it has, they argue that it shouldn't have been because it's unscientific. They banish certain ideas from certain venues as if by holy writ, and brand heretics too. In any case, the heretic here is Mr. Meyer, a fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, not Mr. Sternberg, who isn't himself an advocate of Intelligent Design.

As I've said here before, what is science if it will not ask questions? A scientific theory that can never be challenged makes for "faith-based science."

But incidents like this will certainly have a chilling effect. Scientists will learn that they risk their careers if they dare depart from the groupthink that paralyzes the scientific community.

Meanwhile, a man's career is ruined simply because he allowed a proponent of I.D. to have his views heard. The new McCarthyism? Absolutely.

Why am I always the last to find out?

Bill Clinton has a blog?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What would it take . . .

What would it take to get people to believe that Democrats are no friends to minorities?

Will this do?

Heads at CBS refusing to roll

Last week I noted that certain heads at CBS hadn't rolled very far. Today the New York Post notes that they're still there . . . and they show no signs of rolling anyplace.

The three CBS News execs asked to resign earlier this month over the embarrassing Memogate scandal still haven't quit. Instead, they've hired lawyers. Unlike veteran producer Mary Mapes — who was fired outright for using bogus documents in a George Bush-bashing Dan Rather report on "60 Minutes" — the three were asked for their resignations. CBS is still waiting. Sources say Josh Howard, Betsy West and Mary Murphy are no longer coming into the office and could be threatening wrongful dismissal lawsuits as they negotiate severance packages.

Coming Soon to a Remaindered Shelf Near You

Guess who's getting a novel published? (No, not me. I wish!) It's Barbara Boxer!

The novel will tell a tale of personal friendships and betrayal, political in-fighting and pragmatism. The novel follows Ellen from her days as an idealistic college student, through romantic entanglements, to a difficult marriage to a rising political star. When her husband is killed, she steps into his campaign for the Senate and is elected. On the eve of a crucial senate vote, her personal and political worlds collide when her right-wing adversaries recruit her former lover to sabotage her credibility and career.

I leave it up to the photoshop artists in the blogosphere to create an appropriately lurid book cover. (Hint, hint.)

John Kerry remembers that he's got a job

John Kerry's back in Congress, and out to prove he's not just a do-nothing Senator who's been freeloading off the taxpayers for 20 years. As a reminder to his left-wing base that he really is one of them, he nixed Condi and Alberto. And now he's actually going to sponsor a bill! 20 years in the Senate, and how many bills does this make? Six? Seven?

Also, note that it's one of those bills that's "for the children," so whoever dares oppose it will be immediately painted as being "against the children."

The trap is being set.

Evangelical Blog Awards

Eric over at the Evangelical Underground is hosting the First Annual Evangelical Blog Awards and is taking nominations in a variety of categories until February 14th.

The Anchoress may be surprised to learn that as a Catholic, she's been nominated in the "Best Evangelical Blog - Politics" category. (Yep, she noticed!) I like her response:

I'm tickled about it because it says something that a blog with a strong Catholic vibe is included in the mix. I'm really happy to see the growing respect and acceptance between Catholics and Evangelicals in America. There is still a ways to go, of course, but if President Bush and his brother Jeb (who is Catholic) can get it together, there is no reason why Catholics and Evangelicals cannot continue to grow in mutual regard and purpose!


(By the way, feel free to nominate "Darn Floor" for . . . hmm . . . not sure I fit into any of those categories very well.)

Feingold speaks, the Cap Times swoons

The Capital Times says that if Senator Feingold opposes Alberto Gonzales, why then, Democrats and Republicans alike should pay attention! Because Feingold, The Capital Times says, has a longstanding record of non-partisanship.

When it comes to the confirmation of Cabinet members, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., casts the most critical vote.

That is why the fact that he joined fellow Judiciary Committee members to oppose the nomination of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general should be seen by the rest of the Senate, and the nation, as an indication that Gonzales cannot be allowed to take charge of the Department of Justice.

Why is Feingold's vote so significant? For the simple reason that no other senator brings to Cabinet confirmation debates Feingold's record of nonpartisanship.

Feingold nonpartisan? Says who? Says Feingold!

"My votes may not have always pleased my political supporters, or my party's leadership," he explains. "But in carrying out my part in the constitutional scheme, as one who is asked to advise on and consent to a president's nominations, I am guided by my conscience and by the history and practices of the United States Senate. Rejecting a Cabinet nominee is a very rare event. The decision to do so must never be taken lightly." Thus, when Feingold voted Wednesday against the Gonzales nomination, it could not be read as a partisan gesture.

I like that "thus" in there. Feingold's assertion that he's non-partisan is absolute proof to the Cap Times. He says he's not partisan, thus, he's not. QED.

Before the Gonzales nomination is considered by the full Senate, wavering Democrats and Republicans who are generally inclined to back President Bush should reflect on Feingold's concerns. If Alberto Gonzales failed to pass the Feingold test, then, surely, he should not be confirmed as attorney general.

So if Feingold says he's against Gonzales, why, everyone should pay attention! As for the Capital Times, pay no attention at all. The Cap Times editorial board can't even be bothered to analyze the matter. They simply reprint Senator Feingold's press releases and call them "editorials."

(Cross posted to Badger Blog Alliance)

Jurygate - The Trap is Sprung!

A co-worker alerted me to this news item today after hearing a reference to it on NPR. If you thought it was scandalous that George Bush avoided Vietnam by getting his daddy's rich and powerful friends to get him into the Texas Air National Guard, this will set the propellor on your tinfoil hat spinning like crazy.

It seems Alberto Gonzales helped George W. out of (gasp!) jury duty, which has prompted a group called the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to file a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas and call for an investigation.

The complaint alleges that Gonzales inaccurately portrayed his role in appearing before a Texas court when President Bush, then Governor of Texas, was summoned for jury duty. Gonzales has claimed that although he appeared in court with the Governor, he merely observed the defense counsel make a motion to strike the Governor from the jury panel and then when asked by the Judge whether the Governor had any views on this, replied that he did not.

In marked contrast, Michael Isikoff, reporting for Newseek, has written that the defense lawyer, prosecutor and judge involved in the case all recall the incident differently. In their version, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge’s chambers where Gonzales then asked the judge, David Crain, to strike Mr. Bush from the jury, arguing that the Governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant. Isikoff writes that Judge Crain found Gonzales’s argument “extremely unlikely” but out of deference, agreed to allow the motion to strike, which the defense lawyer then made.

According to Isikoff, by avoiding jury duty for a drunken driving case, then-Governor Bush avoided having to reveal his own arrest for drunken driving -- the revelation being the "October Surprise" by Vice President Al Gore's campaign in 2000. Here's Isikoff's article:

Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy to describe "in detail" the only court appearance he ever made on behalf of Bush, Gonzales—who was then chief counsel to the Texas governor—wrote that he had accompanied Bush the day he went to court "prepared to serve on a jury." While there, Gonzales wrote, he "observed" the defense lawyer make a motion to strike Bush from the jury panel "to which the prosecutor did not object." Asked by the judge whether he had "any views on this," Gonzales recalled, he said he did not.

Gonzales's answer tracks with the official court record, by the way.

Gonzales last week refused to waver. "Judge Gonzales has no recollection of requesting a meeting in chambers," a senior White House official said, adding that while Gonzales did recall that Bush's potential conflict was "discussed," he never "requested" that Bush be excused. "His answer to the Senate's question is accurate," the official said.

Hey, maybe it's "fake, but accurate" like those memos. One wonders if the Governor would have been dismissed through the normal vetting process anyway just by virtue of being Governor.

The main complaint about Gonzales by Democrats (aside from his personally ordering Lynndie England to use a dog leash) seems to be that he answered his inquisitors with "oblique, lawyerly reponses."

Imagine that.

But let's apply some logic here. Gonzales's inquisitors are not going to ask questions to which they don't already know the answers. It's the standard method. So why would Senatory Leahy ask Gonzales to describe "in detail" a piddly little drunk driving case in Texas? Or to put it another way, what did Leahy already know about this incident? Was the question a trap? What other purpose would such a question serve? Because if Gonzales did suggest that Governor Bush be dismissed from jury duty, this is not illegal.

What CREW is focusing on -- and what they are hoping to get Gonzales disbarred for -- is his reponse to the question asked by Leahy. The moment Leahy asked the question, the trap was sprung. No matter how Gonzales responded, he would lose.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hop Aboard the Ballot Bus!

Iowahawk comments on the Wisconsin Voter Fraud flap in typically hilarious Iowahawk fashion.

As a member of Chicago Local 186 of AFSCME, you do the hard work that keeps the Windy City humming -- manning the tollbooths, filling the potholes, making sure the right envelopes get to the right ward Alderman. That's why we at Local 186 think you deserve a little time off for fun, and why we are pleased to announce an exciting free travel gift designed especially for you. Get ready, because on Tuesday, November 2, 2004, AFSCME will be holding a fabulous one day whirlwind bus tour of scenic southern Wisconsin, featuring stops at five exotic ports of call -- Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Madison, and Beloit!

There's lots more at the link.

(We should give this guy some sort of award. Case of Leinie's, Jib? Wedge o' Cheese hat?)

"Creeping Fundamentalism" Watch II

Jimmie at The Sundries Shack has a great response to William Raspberry's editorial last Sunday, and I wish I'd written something like this instead of just giving Raspberry a mild raspberry.

Raspberry, going off the study mentioned in this news item, is certain that Christians will divide the nation because of an unwillingness to compromise that stems from their belief that compromise is a sin. Yes, it's ridiculous. Jimmie explains it to you.

Believers haven’t changed what they believe, nor have they measurably changed how they express that belief. The idea that, in the last four years, Christians of every stripe have suddenly come to think that compromise on their beliefs in the public arena is sin is certainly one theory, but not one that’s very plausible.

Here’s a better theory. People of faith have seen their own beliefs discounted, eroded by legislation, and shoved to the backwaters of public discourse and public policy. They’ve been increasingly treated as ignorant hicks for their faith and told that their personal beliefs have no place in public while watching others’ personal beliefs becoming the law of the land. The problem, in their minds, has been that they have been too willing to compromise. They’ve been willing to give ground on all sorts of issues because they believed that the entire point of compromise was fair play. Except they didn’t get compromise in return. They got derision. They got condescention. They got insults. And they’re tired of it.

These folks can read a Constitution as well as anyone else and they don’t see a single thing in there that prevents their moral beliefs being less valuable, or less legal, than the moral beliefs of others. And they’re sick and tired of compromising on their beliefs and getting nothing in return but a public society that’s openly hostile to them and their beliefs.

Go read the whole thing.

Feingold tortures the torture memos

Following up on this post, Peripatetic Russ Feingold weighed in with his thoughts about Alberto Gonzales as AG. Briefly, he's against it. And like other Senate Democrats, he attempts to pin the blame for Abu Ghraib directly on Gonzales.

Time after time, Judge Gonzales has been a key participant in developing secret legal theories to justify policies that, as they have become public, have tarnished our nation's international reputation and made it harder, not easier, for us to prevail in this struggle. He requested and then disseminated the infamous Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") memo that for almost two years, until it was revealed and discredited, made it the position of the government of the United States of America that the International Convention Against Torture, and statutes implementing that treaty, prohibit only causing physical pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Under that standard, the images from Abu Ghraib that revolted the entire world would not be considered torture, nor, according to some, would the shocking interrogation technique called "waterboarding."

Russ Feingold is a smart man, so he certainly knows that Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with interrogation. So why does he connect the two? And what's with the crack about "secret legal theories"? (Gotta have a secret something in order to make a conspiracy, I guess.)

He must also know that the "torture memo" was a document of legal advisement, not one of policy advisement, and in no way constituted the position of the U.S. or gave interrogators carte blanche to commit acts of torture. He must know that, therefore, there was nothing to be "revealed and discredited."

And of course he must know that interrogation specialists in the field in Afghanistan and Guantanamo were unaware of the "torture memo" and could not possibly have adopted it "as the position of the government," as he suggests. The abuse at Abu Ghraib was a violation of our policies, not a compliance with them. Surely Senator Feingold understands this.

And therefore, we understand that this is simply raw, partisan politics. I will be happy to remind Wisconsin's voters of this in six years.

On an unrelated note, if Mr. Feingold wants images that revolt the entire world, he should take a look at the images of real torture from Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime.

(Cross posted to the Badger Blog Alliance in a slightly different form.)

Twisting the "Torture Memos"

You can be forgiven if you have come to believe that Alberto Gonzales personally approved the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, because as false as that notion is, it is also the folk belief perpetuated either purposefully or unwittingly by mainstream news outlets.

The most recent example comes in today's New York Times in an editorial calling for Democrats to reject the President's nomination of Gonzales to Attorney General.

The biggest strike against Mr. Gonzales is the now repudiated memo that gave a disturbingly narrow definition of torture, limiting it to physical abuse that produced pain of the kind associated with organ failure or death. Mr. Gonzales's attempts to distance himself from the memo have been unconvincing, especially since it turns out he was the one who requested that it be written. Earlier the same year, Mr. Gonzales himself sent President Bush a letter telling him that the war on terror made the Geneva Conventions' strict limitations on the questioning of enemy prisoners "obsolete."

The "now repudiated memo" is the Bybee Memo (aka, the "torture memo") written by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee in response to a request by the CIA for legal advice in how they might handle the interrogation of one of Osama bin Laden's chief recruiters, Abu Zubaydah.

In this excellent (and must-read) article in City Journal, Heather MacDonald provides a bit of background.

Bybee argued that a U.S. law ratifying the 1984 Convention Against Torture—covering all persons, whether lawful combatants or not—forbade only physical pain equivalent to that “accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” or mental pain that resulted in “significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.” More troubling still, Bybee concluded that the torture statute and international humanitarian treaties did not bind the executive branch in wartime.

This infamous August “torture memo” represents the high (or low) point of the Bush administration’s theory of untrammeled presidential war-making power. But note: it had nothing to do with the interrogation debates and experiments unfolding among Pentagon interrogators in Afghanistan and Cuba. These soldiers struggling with al-Qaida resistance were perfectly ignorant about executive-branch deliberations on the outer boundaries of pain and executive power (which, in any case, were prepared for and seen only by the CIA). “We had no idea what went on in Washington,” said Chris Mackey in an interview. A GuantΩnamo lawyer involved in the Kahtani interrogation echoes Mackey: “We were not aware of the [Justice Department and White House] debates.” Interrogators in Iraq were equally unaware of the Bybee memo.

The memo was a document of legal advice, and was understandably devoid of value judgments on the morality of extreme interrogation techniques. If you've ever read legal documents, you know immediately the sort of dry, unemotional language present. But most importantly, it was not a "how to torture" memo that interrogators immediately adopted.

The letter from Alberto Gonzales, dated January of the same year, weighed the positives and negatives of Sec. of State Colin Powell's advice that Al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners should be given POW status under the Geneva Convention rules. This letter is in similarly straightforward language. Gonzales did counsel against following Powell's advice for various legal reasons. But the context is one of international law and diplomacy. Gonzales most certainly did not write a memo calling for torture.

Nevertheless, the New York Times connects Gonzales directly to Abu Ghraib.

These actions [the creation of the memos] created the legal climate that made possible the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib prison.

The word I want to use is not one for polite discourse, so instead I will simply say: Great heaping mounds of steaming bovine excrement!

What happened at Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with interrogation practices that are the subject of the memos in question. What happened at Abu Ghraib was prisoner abuse. Learn the difference.

In the same article quoted earlier, Heather MacDonald writes:

Nevertheless, when the Bybee analysis was released in June 2004, it became the capstone on the torture narrative, the most damning link between the president’s decision that the Geneva conventions didn’t apply to terrorists and the sadistic behavior of the military guards at Abu Ghraib. Seymour Hersh, the left-wing journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib story, claims that the Bybee torture memo was the “most suggestive document, in terms of what was really going on inside military prisons and detention centers.”

But not only is the Bybee memo irrelevant to what happened in Abu Ghraib; so, too, are the previous interrogation debates in Afghanistan and Cuba. The abuse at Abu Ghraib resulted from the Pentagon’s failure to plan for any outcome of the Iraq invasion except the most rosy scenario, its failure to respond to the insurgency once it broke out, and its failure to keep military discipline from collapsing in the understaffed Abu Ghraib facility. Interrogation rules were beside the point.

The New York Times doesn't want to learn the difference. To them it's all one great tapestry, from the abhorrent prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib to legitimate questioning of the well-feed, well-cared-for prisoners at Guantanamo.

Pay attention to what Senate Democrats are saying. When they connect Gonzales to the abuse at Abu Ghraib, you can bet they've probably never read the "torture memos" they keep talking about.

But they certainly know how to play political football.

More: In this more recent article, Heather MacDonald takes Andrew Sullivan to task for the way he confuses the issue in this past weekend's New York Times Book Review.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Can Hillary Win? (I'm afraid so.)

There's been a lot of talk about the signals Hillary's been sending that she's almost certainly planning to run for president in 2008. But can she win? Susan Estrich has convinced me that she can. (And I can't believe I'm saying that.)

Today in this column, Estrich makes a compelling case that Hillary could actually win the White House.

The conventional answer to the Hillary argument is that she's too polarizing ever to get elected. But Hillary is not a polarizing figure among Democratic primary and caucus participants. She is the most popular figure in the country in that group, and particularly in a multi-candidate field when you're the only serious woman running, that's a substantial advantage. There will almost certainly be an "Anybody But Hillary" contingent, and it won't be short, and it won't be pretty, but if you're looking for a winner, look to New York.

As for the general election, the fact that John Kerry, who is certainly no more appealing than Hillary, almost won, proves that it can be done. Under the direction of the best campaign manager in American history, the Hillary Clinton campaign will make none of these mistakes. Strategically, it will be brilliant. Tactically, it will be flawless.

I know, . . . I know . . . It's a scary thought. At one time I would have welcomed Hillary's candidacy if only because I didn't think she'd have a chance, and because it would be amusing to watch. But now I'm not so sure.

But there's still another candidate the Democrats might choose. (Pleasepleasepleaseplease.)

Addendum: Of course, the question of whether Hillary can win depends mainly on who the Republicans put forth in 2008. But Hillary will get that 15 percentage points from the media alone.

Newspapers in the Age of Blog

Doug at Bogus Gold has a good post today regarding the challenges presented to newspapers in the internet age. Doug lists five areas where newspapers are slow to adapt to the changes brought about by the advancement of online media.

This, in particular, is one area where newspapers can still thrive:

Specialization versus generalization. Newspapers traditionally attempted to offer content about a little bit of everything, assuming a subscriber used them as their main daily news-source. This is neither characteristic, nor necessarily desirable in an online reader. Online readers are likely to get news from many different sources in a given day. The value of reading the same national AP article published at the Pioneer Press site, versus half a dozen other newspaper sites is questionable. Rather than featuring stories available in greater depth elsewhere, newspapers should be trying to identify areas where they can be the expert source to which people turn. The most obvious place this should be for a local newspaper is to focus on original local reporting. But surely, innovative newspapers will not stop there. They need to find what they're particularly good at delivering and focus effort there.

I've been formulating a post on exactly this topic for weeks. And now Doug's beat me to it.

The rest of Doug's post is equally enlightening.

Regarding blogs, I'll add this. If I were running a newspaper, I would immediately start up a related blog, and have all my reporters as contributors. I would instruct them to use the blog as a way to discuss stories that they're working on, connect with readers, take criticism, (even dish out criticism) post portions of print articles, gather information, and use it all to promote the heck out of the newspaper in an authentic, interactive manner.

Think any newspaper will actually try it?

"Creeping Fundamentalism" Watch

From a Reuters story titled: "Survey Finds Church-Going Americans Less Tolerant."

Church-going Americans have grown increasingly intolerant in the past four years of politicians making compromises on such hot issues as abortion and gay rights, according to a survey released on Saturday.

At the same time, those polled said they were growing bolder about pushing their beliefs on others -- even at the risk of offending someone.

Opinion Journal notes that Reuters won't use the word "terrorist" -- opting instead for "value-free" words like "gunman" or "bomber" -- because they want to avoid "emotional language designed to label."

Opinion Journal points out that the Washington Times version of the same story from Reuters was altered slightly:

Churchgoing Americans grew less patient in the past four years with politicians making compromises on such issues as abortion and homosexual rights, according to a survey released yesterday.

At the same time, those polled said they were growing bolder about sharing their beliefs with others--even at the risk of offending someone.

So, which version has "emotional language designed to label"?

"They will have to kill me to keep me from voting"

It's less than a week until free elections in Iraq, and the world will be watching this fledgling Democracy take flight in spite of having the deck stacked against it.

Via Donald Sensing I found this inspiring story from Ronald Wassom, a retired AF Colonel working with the U.S. Army Corps Engineers in Iraq.

An excerpt:

Many of the Iraqis I speak with every day bring voting up during our talks that are supposed to be about public works projects. Mustafa Ahmed is one such contractor who caught me off-guard when he asked me, "Mr. Ron, how did you vote in your last election when you were in Iraq and the voting booths are in America?" I told him that I went to my township and got an absentee ballot and voted before I left home. "How you know they count your vote, Mr. Ron?" I told Mustafa that I didn't know for absolute sure that my vote was counted, but that I trust the system in my hometown and that I feel certain that my voted counted.

"I'm not so sure about voting in Iraq, Mr. Ron. Maybe, how you say 'absentee' voting would be the way to do it here. Many people may die trying to vote here, Mr. Ron. Maybe it would be better for me to go to Paris or Rome and vote from there, it would be safer for me,"
he said chuckling.

I agreed it might be safer and then asked Mustafa if he planned to vote any way. "Mr. Ron, I have lived many years in Iraq. I can remember before there was a Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I have never been free to vote here, Mr. Ron. Iraqis don't know about voting. If I don't get killed going to vote or at the voting place, my vote may not even count anyway. So what have we gained? But I will tell you something, Mr. Ron; they will have to kill me to keep me from voting. And many of my tribesmen feel the same. We have suffered too much and been denied too long to not go this last step. Mr. Ron, it may be just a trickle at first, but when Iraqis see the results of their votes it will be like a flood over all Iraq. Iraqi people, Mr. Ron, want to be free more than anything else."

If you're not moved by that, take your pulse.

"Support our Troops" against U of Ore. policy.

On his blog at Crosswalk, Kevin McCullough alerts readers to this story out of Oregon. It seems the University of Oregon has decided to ban those yellow "Support our Troops" stickers from university vehicles because they are "political statements."

"I don't know how they think these are political. I think they're patriotic," said Pete Baker, U of O delivery driver. Pete Baker has had the stickers on his work truck for months. Friday, a university employee complained. Now the stickers are gone.

"I'm not democratic or republican, and I was really surprised the university deemed them to be political," said Baker. Others who work with Baker try to understand.

"These are like their offices they work in them for eight hours a day. They're going to do something personal with them," said Ron Lattion, facilities Maintenace worker.

In an e-mailed statement, the University of Oregon says it is unclear if the decals are a political statement. But to make sure they are in compliance with state restrictions, all stickers were ordered to be removed.

. . .

Under state law, public employees can not use state resources to spread political messages. The university determined that some may view the yellow ribbons as a political statement, therefore they demanded that all those stickers be removed.

Yes, you heard that right. University employees are not allowed to use state resources -- a classroom, for example -- to make political statements. I hope someone is monitoring every professor in every class to ensure that they make no political statements.

You've seen these magnetic yellow ribbons everywhere. They carry various messages of support. Some say simply "Support our Troops." I've seen others that say "Support our Troops -- Bring them Home." So even if they are a political statement, they are certainly not a uniform one.

Kevin McCullough sees this as a first amendment issue, and not unreasonably, I think.

As Drudge would say, "developing."

We've been Instalanched!

No, not here, but over at the Badger Blog Alliance where I contribute Wisconsin-related items. That's quite an achievement for a blog that's barely a month old. Nice work, Jib!

Verification Postcards "Just a Partisan Ploy"

The Wisconsin Voter Fraud story reminds me of fractal patterns. As the grand design is revealed, very interesting things happen around the fringes.

Voter fraud in Wisconsin takes on many creative forms (everyone remember the "Bingo for Votes" incident?), but the most obvious pattern to emerge in 2004 was the failure by election officials to verify the voters who registered at the polls on election day.

Election officials are required by law to mail postcards out to verify the addresses of these voters. In Milwaukee, about 8,300 more votes were cast than the number of people who were recorded as voting. Election officials say this was due mainly to problems with the same-day registration cards that were incomplete or illegible and therefore couldn't be send out. But a review of those records by the Milwaukee Journal found more than 1,200 of the addresses on these cards were non-existent. (Hat tip: The American Mind.)

But it turns out that in some locations, election officials simply don't bother to send out the verification cards. The Journal Sentinel reported last week that the Richland Center clerk didn't send them out because everyone there knows everyone anyway. (Note to those hoping to commit voter fraud in future elections: take that busload of Chicagoans to Richland Center.)

In Racine, we've discovered that the city clerk, Carolyn Moskonas, failed to send out verification postcards to more than 3,000 people who registered on election day. Moskonas said that there is no record of the city ever sending out verification cards, and added that there's no money in her budget to do it anyway.

Let's recall that in Wisconsin the 2004 Presidential election was decided by about 11,000 votes. The 2000 Presidential election was even closer, decided by around 6,000 votes. In this context, 3,000 unverified voters can make quite a bit of difference. And that's just 3,000 voters in Racine alone. Add in the totals from just Milwaukee and you've matched the margin of victory in 2004.

Today in an editorial, The Racine Journal Times writes that address verification postcards are just a "partisan ploy" by Republicans intent on disenfranchising voters. After all, they reason, these voters had to bring proof of residency to the polling place in the form of an ID or a recent utility bill. In Wisconsin, even another registered voter can vouch for their residency. Therefore, says the Journal Times, their residency was already proven. (Because everyone knows that IDs and utility bills can't be faked. And having another voter vouch for your eligibility is proof beyond measure, right?)

But the fact is, too, that some voters, especially those on the low end of the income ladder, are more transient than others - they live in apartments or with relatives and not in a gated horse farm in Caledonia. They're more apt to move and, historically, they're more apt to vote Democratic -- and that's why they're targeted by [state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia] and other Republicans.

In Milwaukee, apparently 1,242 of them live on baseball diamonds, alleys, bridges, and billboards, causing even Lisa Artison, the executive director of Milwaukee's Election Commission to remark: “The results you obtained make it clear the new statewide voter system is very badly needed and long overdue.”

These efforts aren't about fairness, they're about harassment and disenfranchisement. What other reason to make vague threats of felony prosecutions and push to send district attorney offices on address checks?

Perhaps because failure to send out verification cards is a crime? Because to do anything else is an invitation to voter fraud? But the Journal Times isn't interested in whether there was voter fraud.

The fact is that, despite the heated presidential election last November, more than a quarter of eligible voters didn't cast ballots - now that's really a crime.

In some countries, failure to vote is a crime. We like to think of it as a civic duty. We also naively assume that people will refrain from cheating. We're just too nice around here. But never mind that, . . . that last line in the editorial is meant to be a distraction from the real issue.

Racine Mayor Gary Becker agreed last week to comply with the law and send out the verification postcards, but added "there are certain people that seem to want to make voting difficult for most people in some areas. My goal is to make sure that every individual who is eligible to vote and wants to vote is able to with as little inconvenience as possible."

But the "inconvenience" in question doesn’t belong to the voters, it belongs to the election officials, for whom verifying the residency of election-day registrants is apparently too much trouble. Voting has never been inconvenient in Wisconsin. The only way we could possibly make it easier is if we went door to door with already completed absentee ballots, and just asked residents for their signatures. (And don't think someone hasn't already considered that.)

But at least then we'd know that these voters actually had doors.

Wisconsin has obviously made voting far too easy for far too long. Wisconsin will soon be known as the voter-fraud state, as synonymous with election fraud as Chicago is. If we're serious about election reform in Wisconsin, the first thing that has to go is same-day voter registration. But you can bet that an attempt to clean up the election process in Wisconsin is going to be a hard-fought battle.

(Cross posted to Badger Blog Alliance)

More: "Stranded on Blue Islands" passes along this personal story from a poll worker in Racine.

Tyler Domer [Community Center] was perhaps the single worst polling location in a city full of election problems. It was completely taken over by the "Election Protection" people, who had a greeter at the door warning people of "Republicans trying to stop you from voting." They also had a table setup next to the registration table, complete with a sign, where they intercepted voters who did not have the minimal standard of ID necessary to register, and served as matchmakers with people who were done voting, so that they could "vouch" for the ID of the voter, and thus facilitate the registration.

The democrat GOTV [get out the vote] people were also active at this polling location with another scam that we caught them at red-handed: They had van loads of people show up and swarm the registration table, and one or two of them would register. Then they would all move, en masse, to the voting tables, and those who had not registered pulled out registration forms, and acted like they had just registered with the others.

There's more at the link.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Barbara Boxer: "I'm the victim here!"

After spending two days last week harassing Condoleeza Rice, Senator Barbara Boxer claims that she was the true victim of Dr. Rice's confirmation hearing.

"She turned and attacked me," the California Democrat told CNN's "Late Edition" in describing the confrontation during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

"I gave Dr. Rice many opportunities to address specific issues. Instead, she said I was impugning her integrity," Mrs. Boxer said. . . .

"When you really don't know what to say about a specific, you just attack the person who is asking the questions," Mrs. Boxer told CNN.

I really don't know what to say either.

Further Thoughts on the Previous Post

Kathy the Cake Eater had a response to my previous post, which gave me the opportunity to expand a bit on my thinking. What follows is a variant on my comment at her blog.

I'm pretty neutral on the whole Creation v. Evolution debate. I promised myself long ago to never bring it up in an internet discussion. I'm a veteran of many and various message boards, and I know that evolution is one topic that causes otherwise normal people to lose all ability to engage in reasonable debate.

My objections to the articles I linked to in Time, The New York Times, and the Washington Post are not an objection to the theory of evolution being presented in the classroom. Rather, I object to the little freak-out they're having about those darned fundies and their backward beliefs.

You can see it clearly in the articles linked. They fall all over themselves to insist that "no one could possibly object to discussing the gaps in Darwin's theory" and then they proceed to object to them because (gasp!) those darned fundies are behind this stealth campaign to . . . what? To remind people that the theory of evolution is a theory? Well it is.

The Cobb County sticker had nothing to do with religion. It was an attempt at compromise. And yet to Judge Cooper the sticker is proof of creeping fundamentalism. In fact, any challenge to the Holy Writ of Evolution -- even a secular one -- suddenly becomes an argument for creationism, even in situations where creationism never enters the picture.

I agree that outside of evolution, there just aren't many other options for life's origins. But prior to Darwin, there weren't any options other than creationism. To shut the door on the subject and say that we only have two choices -- Evolution or Creationism -- and that to question one is to automatically support the other -- that kind of thinking is anti-science. True scientists will look at the gaps in the theories and question them. That's what Michael Behe did when he developed his Intelligent Design model, and for his trouble he was labeled a creationist, which he most certainly was not.

So what causes this fear? Why do otherwise smart people suddenly get stupid when it comes to evolution? Why do they object to calling evolution a "theory"? (The New York Times' point -- that we shouldn't call it a theory because people don't know the scientific meaning of "theory" -- is one of the most ridiculous arguments I've heard.)

My problem with the articles I linked to is not because I'm a creationist. My faith is based on the person of Jesus, not on whether the Genesis account is literal. My problem goes beyond the creation/evolution debate. The mainstream media is so freaked out by people of faith, that they feel it necessary to warn everyone that "The Fundies are Coming! The Fundies are Coming!"

I think this attitude is evident in this editorial that Sal at Stand Up and Walk linked to as well. The editorial by William Raspberry carries the provocative title "Religion vs. Unity" as if the two are mutually exclusive. The jist is that those darned Christians simply cannot compromise, and as a result will divide the country. (And it's all because they elected George Bush, of course.)

Is this the new McCarthyism? Do you now or have you ever believed in Jesus?

Faith-Based Science and the Automagical Creationist Conspiracy

You may have read recently about the controversy in Cobb County, Georgia, over a sticker attached to science textbooks. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the stickers removed. The stickers read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Judge Clarence Cooper of the Federal District Court in Atlanta stated that a reasonable observer "would interpret the sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion. That is, the sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders."

Really, Judge Cooper? Read that sticker again. It states that evolution is a theory -- which it is -- and that as a theory it should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered, which is the essence of science. Now, certainly there are unreasonable observers who see the sticker as an endorsement of religion. For example, Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said "These textbook disclaimers are part of a national campaign to undercut the teaching of evolution in public schools in accordance with fundamentalist Christian beliefs." But unless you're going to start spouting off about "penumbras, formed by emanations," a reasonable observer can see that there is no violation of the establishment clause inherrent in these stickers.

I don't know what it is about challenging evolution that causes people to lose composure and start yammering about separation of church and state. Yesterday in an editorial, the New York Times called the stickers a crafty attack on evolution, and "an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum," reading intent into the statement on the stickers in ways far beyond Judge Cooper's "reasonable observers."

The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook.

To repeat, the first sentence merely says "This textbook contains material on evolution." Is the New York Times overreacting? (Is the Pope Catholic?)

The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word "theory," whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts.

Now let me get this straight. The New York Times is complaining about the use of the word "theory" on a science textbook for fear that students studying scientific theories might not understand the meaning of the word "theory." The mind boggles. But if it's true that students in a science class don't know what a theory is, then the problem lies in science education, not in a benign little sticker.

The third sentence, urging that evolution be studied carefully and critically, seems like a fine idea. The only problem is, it singles out evolution as the only subject so shaky it needs critical judgment.

Well, perhaps presenting a theory as a fact is rather unscientific, and a little critical judgment is in order.

Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically. Indeed, the interpretations taught in history, economics, sociology, political science, literature and other fields of study are far less grounded in fact and professional consensus than is evolutionary biology.

Let's take one textbook at a time here. But perhaps you're right. I think literature anthologies should carry warnings like "This textbook contains material written by Sylvia Plath. The question of whether Sylvia Plath is an accomplished writer worth studying should be approached with an open mind and critically considered."

Although the sticker makes no mention of religion and the school board as a whole was not trying to advance religion, a federal judge in Georgia ruled that the sticker amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because it was rooted in long-running religious challenges to evolution. In particular, the sticker's assertion that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" adopted the latest tactical language used by anti-evolutionists to dilute Darwinism, thereby putting the school board on the side of religious critics of evolution.

The New York Times, whether meaning to or not, correctly identifies the problem here. The problem is not the language of the stickers. The problem is that the stickers satisfy religious conservatives. And if you side with religious conservatives, you and your positions become suspect. You are tainted. Guilty by association.

An article in Time Magazine this week carries the same message.

The intellectual underpinnings of the latest assault on Darwin's theory come not from Bible-wielding Fundamentalists but from well-funded think tanks promoting a theory they call intelligent design, or I.D. for short. Their basic argument is that the origin of life, the diversity of species and even the structure of organs like the eye are so bewilderingly complex that they can only be the handiwork of a higher intelligence (name and nature unspecified).

All the think tanks want to do, they insist, is make the teaching of evolution more honest by bringing up its drawbacks. Who could argue with that? But the mainstream scientific community contends that this seemingly innocuous agenda is actually a stealthy way of promoting religion. "Teaching evidence against evolution is a back-door way of teaching creationism," says Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

Note that both the New York Times editorial and this article in Time contain the same sort of language. Who could argue with bringing up the gaps in Darwin's theory, asks Time. New approaches to life's origins "seem harmless to a casual observer" says the New York Times.

But both Time and the New York Times see any challenge to Darwinism as part of a vast fundamentalist conspiracy to force creationism on unsuspecting students, even if that challenge is a completely secular one. In the view of die-hard Darwinists, the only people who could possibly reject evolution are Bible-thumping creationists. (This would come as a surprise to biochemist Michael Behe, whose 1996 book "Darwin's Black Box" was one of the foundational texts of Intelligent Design. Behe is a Roman Catholic but did not consider himself a strict creationist. He believed evolution was simply God's way of creating.)

Time's article makes it plain that we are to take a dim view of anyone who would dare challenge the theory of evolution. The way the article's writers, Michael Lemonick, Noah Isackson, and Jeffrey Ressner, write about I.D.'s proponents is clearly intended to be disparaging.

Kansas is a key flashpoint in this struggle. Back in 1999, a conservative state school board attempted to downplay the importance of Darwinism by removing from the required statewide science curriculum references to dinosaurs, the geological time line and other central tenets of the theory. Evolution, they argued, is "just a theory" and should not be favored over other theories, such as I.D. In the next election, Kansas voters gave moderates an edge on the school board, which promptly dropped the effort to revise the curriculum. In the 2004 election, however, conservatives retook the board, and while a curriculum advisory committee kept the science standards intact, a group of conservative educators is again trying to weaken evolution's place in the classroom. When public hearings begin in February, this group hopes to push through a more critical view of Darwin's theory, highlighting evolution's perceived flaws.

Mindful of the constitutional dangers, the Kansas dissidents have not called for bringing God explicitly into the classroom. Instead, anti-evolution activists and I.D. advocates are making what appears on its face to be a perfectly reasonable request. Evolution has not been proved with 100% certainty, they say. Some legitimate scientists think I.D. is more persuasive. So, in a frequently repeated I.D. catchphrase, "teach the controversy."

Note that the critics of evolution are "trying to weaken" the teaching of evolution in the classroom. They are described as "anti-evolution" (attaching an "anti" label is a common method of injecting the writer's own opinion about that group), and the very notion of teaching the controversy surrounding evolution is "a frequently repeated catchphrase" -- in other words, it's an illegitimate position.

That's the position of John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. A nonpartisan but generally conservative think tank, the institute was founded in 1990 by George Gilder, a Nixon speechwriter turned technology evangelist (TIME in 1974 called him the U.S.'s "leading male-chauvinist-pig author"), and his Harvard roommate Bruce Chapman, director of the Census Bureau during the Reagan Administration.

Thank you Time for making sure you frighten readers into understanding that the Discovery Institute was founded by a person you consider beneath contempt, and raising the dark specter of Nixon and the not-quite-as-dark-but-still-pretty-scary specter of Reagan.

Discovery has received funding from Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., an ultraconservative savings-and-loan heir. While it does a wide variety of public-policy research (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave Discovery $9.35 million, for example, to come up with new transportation ideas for the Pacific Northwest), it is best known as a major center of research and advocacy for I.D.

Egad! Well-funded conservatives all over the place! Hide the children! Scare the masses!

Putting God in the classroom is clearly illegal, but Discovery Institute strategists believe that even a push for I.D. might run afoul of zealous judges--as it has in Georgia. So the institute advocates that schools should continue teaching evolution but also present what West calls "some of the scientific criticism of major parts of the theory."

And this is a bad thing . . . why? If science is science then it will not shy away from scientific criticism.

But many scientists--and science teachers--don't think there is any valid criticism. Sure, some 350 scientists have signed a declaration challenging evolution. But many tens of thousands of scientists reject I.D.'s core argument--that evolution can't produce complex structures.

Please note the slight of hand here. Time is comparing two different things. Challenging the current theory of evolution does not automatically equate to accepting I.D.

A look at where the Discovery Institute gets much of its money and at the religious beliefs of many scientists who support I.D. makes it reasonable to suspect that Scott's assertion is correct: intelligent design is just a smoke screen for those who think evolution is somehow ungodly.

There, near the end of the article, is Time's argument in a nutshell: follow the money and note whether the proponents of I.D. go to church, and you have an automagical creationist conspiracy. To Time, I.D.'s got to be a smokescreen because these people are religious conservatives. They couldn't possibly have a valid argument, of course.

To Time, The New York Times, and plenty of others, evolution is more than just a "well-grounded theory," it's an article of faith that must not be questioned (certainly not by those disgusting religious conservatives!). But an unproven scientific theory that can never be challenged is, in essence, "faith-based science."

Do you think Darwinists understand the concept of irony?

More: The Washington Post joined in the fun as well. (Tip o' th' Hat to Stand Up and Walk.)

With their slick web sites, pseudo-academic conferences and savvy public relations, the proponents of "intelligent design" -- a "theory" that challenges the validity of Darwinian evolution -- are far more sophisticated than the creationists of yore. Rather than attempt to prove that the world was created in six days, they operate simply by casting doubt on evolution, largely using the time-honored argument that intelligent life could not have come about by a random natural process and must have been the work of a single creator. They do no experiments and do not publish in recognized scientific journals. Nevertheless, this new generation of anti-evolutionists, arguing that children have a "right to question" scientific truths, has had widespread success in undermining evolutionary theory.

Hmm. Are they suggesting that children do not have a right to question scientific theory? Sounds like it.

This, too, by the way, is President Bush's fault.

Perhaps partly as a result, a startling 55 percent of Americans -- and 67 percent of those who voted for President Bush -- do not, according to a recent CBS poll, believe in evolution at all. According to a recent Gallup poll, about a third of Americans believe that the Bible is literally true. . . .

[T]he breadth and extent of the anti-evolutionary movement that has spread almost unnoticed across the country should force American politicians to think twice about how their public expressions of religious belief are beginning to affect education and science.

Sal at Stand Up and Walk sees this as yet another example of the media warning Americans that "The Fundamentalists are Coming! The Fundamentalists are Coming!"

(Scared yet?)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sunday on the Sidebar

It's the weekend, and that means I have time to mess with the template. This weekend's changes include a new blogroll section devoted to Wisconsin blogs. Many of these are bloggers that make up the new (and soon to be enormously popular) Badger Blog Alliance.

Jib actually picked a great time to kick off the Badger Blog Alliance. As fate would have it, the "Voter Fraud in Milwuakee (and beyond)" story neatly coincided with the launch. I haven't been able to follow the developing story (or stories) as closely as my fellow Wisconsin bloggers, but if you're looking for a good starting place, the Badger Blog Alliance is it. I'm glad to be a part of it, and I hope it'll spur me into paying closer attention to Wisconsin State issues. (Being up here in the hinterlands sometimes insulates me from the madness that grips Madison and other points southward.)

But there are other great Wisconsin bloggers on the list as well. Go check 'em out.

Also, I've added a new MP3 of the Week. This week it's "The Fires of Life" by Cool Hand Luke, courtesy of Floodgate Records. Curiously, if you go to the media section of the website, the song listed is "Cinematic," and that's what the file is named as well, but it's really "The Fires of Life," which is the title cut from the CD.

I've just discovered Cool Hand Luke and know next to nothing about the band, so no fun facts or trivia here. Just a song I really like.

Weeping may last for the night,
the longest night of your life.
I will promise you that
rejoicing comes in the morning.

These things write themselves

Here's yet another "Bush fiddles while Rome burns" Op/Ed from Bob Herbert at the New York Times. I suspect being an anti-Bush columnist at a major daily newspaper is the easiest job in the country. All you have to do is write about 8 column inches of rage, and hand it in. These things pretty much write themselves anyway.

Here's a little game: before reading the column -- printed on Friday, the day after the inauguration -- predict what it's going to say. Let's see if you are right.

Even as President Bush was taking the oath of office and delivering his Inaugural Address beneath the clear, cold skies of Washington, the news wires were churning out stories about the tragic mayhem in Iraq.

Well, of course they were. It was all part of the plan to counter the inauguration with news of death in Iraq.

There is no end in sight to the carnage, which was unleashed nearly two years ago by President Bush's decision to launch this wholly unnecessary war, one of the worst presidential decisions in American history.

Right. There was no carnage in Iraq prior to the war. (Pay no attention to those mass graves.)

By the way, on a related note, pay attention to how these guys refer to what's happening in Iraq. Nine times out of ten, it's called a "war." (Sometimes it's even described as a "war against Iraq.") Maybe this is quibbling about semantics, but the "war" part has been over for many months. What's going on now is an attempt to stabilize the country made difficult by terrorists. But Iraq is not our enemy. We share a common enemy with Iraq -- an enemy that has no flag. But maybe this is a distinction without a difference.

Incredibly, with more than 1,360 American troops dead and more than 10,000 wounded, and with scores of thousands of Iraqis dead and wounded, . . .

The press wants so badly to compare Iraq to Vietnam, but the casualties -- while still more than we'd like -- are a drop in the bucket compared to Vietnam.

. . . the president never once mentioned the word Iraq in his Inaugural Address. He avoided all but the most general references to the war. Lyndon Johnson used to agonize over the war that unraveled his presidency. Mr. Bush, riding the crest of his re-election wave, seems not to be similarly bothered.

I love the word "seems." It allows you to make an unverifiable statement and pass off your opinion as fact. The fact is, you don't know if he's bothered by it nor not, because you don't really care. All you care about is creating a straw man you can easily knock down.

In January 1945, with World War II still raging, Franklin Roosevelt insisted on a low-key inauguration. Already gravely ill, he began his address by saying, "Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, my friends, you will understand and, I believe, agree with my wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief."

"Already gravely ill" might pretty much explain that, mightn't it?

Times have changed.

The New York Times has not.

President Bush and his equally tone-deaf supporters spent the past few days partying hard while Americans, Iraqis and others continued to suffer and die in the Iraq conflagration. Nothing was too good for the princes and princesses of the new American plutocracy.

Do you suppose if John Kerry were being sworn in, given his incredible wealth, he would be called a plutocrat? Just askin'.

Tens of millions of dollars were spent on fireworks, cocktail receptions, gala dinners and sumptuous balls. Ten thousand people, including the president and Laura Bush, turned out Wednesday night for the Black Tie and Boots Ball. According to The Associated Press, one of the guests, Lorian Sessions of San Antonio, "donned a new pair of black kangaroo boots, decorated with a white star and embroidery, with an aqua-colored mink wrap she bought on sale at Saks."

People are spending their own money on things, and boosting the economy as a result! This is terrible! Don't they know that only the federal government should spend money?

An article in The Washington Post mentioned a peace activist who complained that the money lavished on the balls would have been better spent on body armor for under-equipped troops in Iraq.

You know the moonbats have lost their moorings when peace activists are suggesting that money be spent on the military.

With the elections just a week and a half away, American commanders, according to John F. Burns of The Times, are seeking "to prepare public opinion in Iraq and abroad for one of the bloodiest chapters in the war so far."

A photo at the end of Mr. Burns's article showed an Iraqi National Guard member carrying the remains of a suicide bomber in a garbage bag.

If you're like me, your immediate response to this news item was "That's exactly where a suicide bomber belongs."

Even though Herbert goes on, I can't.

Now . . . was your prediction correct?