Monday, August 31, 2009

Evolution? In a school?

Here's another great story I learned of from PZ.

There's a school in Missouri that had t-shirts printed for the band. Kind of a clever variant on the old "ascent of man" motif, only the evolving figures have band instruments. Inoffensive, if a little busy, and it provides a distinctive look for the members of the band, right?

That's what you think. How dare the school associate itself with the idea of evolution? In fact, the shirt is so offensive that they've decided the kids can't wear the shirts, and even if they like them they have to give them back.

I particularly like this quote from a parent who is also a teacher at the school:

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

How can we be losing to these guys?

I would have had a hard time believing this if I hadn't heard it. Mike Steele is an obvious dope, and he proves it here.

It's a story from NPR this morning, and I listened to it on my way to work. Steve Inskeep is interviewing Michael Steele about health care, and it's obvious that Steele doesn't understand the leading health care reform proposal, but he knows he doesn't like it.

Among other things, Inskeep pins him down on the clear contradiction between his steadfast opposition to a public option and his demagogic "Old People's Bill of Rights" and its fervent demand that we keep our hands off Medicare.

Probably my favorite part of it, though, was when Steele gets totally irate at having his position described as "nuanced".

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, I respect that you feel that I'm doing a dance here. I just want you to know that as a citizen, I'm a little confused by the positions you take because you're giving me a very nice nuanced position here.

Mr. STEELE: It's not nice and nuanced. I'm being very clear.

INSKEEP: You're giving me, nevertheless, a nuanced position, a careful...

Mr. STEELE: What's nuanced? What don't you understand?

INSKEEP: What nuance means is you're not doing it absolutely black and white. You're saying you recognize the government has a role to play here, but when you...

Mr. STEELE: Wait a minute. But that is the - is that a...

INSKEEP: ...and your party...

Mr. STEELE: ...not reality?

Finally, Steve has to tell him that "nuanced" isn't a bad thing.

INSKEEP: I'm not saying nuanced is a bad thing, sir.

Mr. STEELE: I'm being very clear. I want to have an open debate. I want to put ideas out there. I want the people to understand what this is going to look like when it's all said and done. And I'm not - you know, seriously, I'm not trying to be nuanced. I'm not trying to be cute. I'm trying to be very clear. I'm not saying the government doesn't have a role to play here. It does. It's managing a Medicare program, so it has a role to play.

INSKEEP: Maybe we're getting hung up on the word nuance. Maybe I should say complicated. Do you find it challenging to get into this complicated debate and explain things to people in a way that it's honest to the facts and still very clear and doesn't just kind of scare people with soundbites?

This was great work. You really should listen to the whole thing.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

We have lost a great American.

Perhaps more later, but for now, here was a man born into wealth who devoted his life to public service. A man whose family suffered great losses, but persevered in the struggle for justice. When liberalism was attacked as weak, unpatriotic, even treasonous, he continued to be a strong, indomitable voice for liberalism.

In recent weeks it has often been remarked that the Obama administration and Senate Democrats are adrift in the health care debate because Kennedy was not there to guide the effort and the legislative strategy. What better tribute than to actually adopt true health care reform this year?

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Cowardice in New Haven

Or: Allah and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom

UPDATED: Hitch also weighs on in this here.
We've been over this before, right? So what does it say when one of our greatest universities lacks the courage of a small newspaper in Denmark?

Yes, once again it's the Danish Muhammad cartoons. This time the concrete application of the topic is a forthcoming book from Yale University Press examining the cartoon controversy. Yale has determined that the book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.

You read that right: a book examining freedom of speech, and free expression in the face of opposition and controversy, is not allowed to publish the very illustrations at the heart of the controversy. Not only that, the university refused to let the author read the report of the panel of experts who made the recommendations unless she agreed to a gag order in which she would agree not to reveal the contents of the report.

Fortunately, this is not going without protest. Reza Aslan has demanded that the university remove his blurb from the book, noting that "the book is “a definitive account of the entire controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.” The decision has also been criticized in other blog posts, here, here (yes, we independently hit on the same title, for obvious reasons), and here.

So what's the moral here? I guess that if you make enough noise, and you scare enough people, you can make a mockery of academic freedom, even in one of the greatest universities in the western world.

Cokie Roberts Repeats the Republican Lie

NPR is required listening for liberals, right? In fact, it's nothing but a liberal sounding board, right?

Maybe it's time to rethink that. Here's an example. Every Monday morning on Morning Edition they call Cokie Roberts and she gets to blather on about her view of what's happening in the news. She actually does it from her house, and she can pretty much say anything she wants.

Today one of her key topics was health care, and Cokie's disquisition included the following statement:

ROBERTS: . . . The Democrats will shift, think they have something the Republicans will go for, and then the Republicans shift further. And they make a big deal about something that distracts and frightens the voters like those so-called death panels, then the Democrats drop that and Republicans find something else to object to.

Let me just repeat that:

And they make a big deal about something that distracts and frightens the voters like those so-called death panels, then the Democrats drop that . . .
I'm sure she thinks she's being fair and balanced because she said "so-called", thus imparting a note of skepticism. But this is inadequate. What she said was that the death panels were in the bill until the Republicans made a big deal about them, and then the Democrats dropped them. In other words, the Democrats' plan was to kill your grandmother and Sarah Palin's baby.

How about telling the truth: the Republicans made it all up. There are no death panels, so-called or not. It's all a big lie by the Republicans.

I don't know about you, but I think the job of journalists goes beyond parroting what the various sides say, and extends to actually reporting the facts. Of course, Roberts didn't even do that. She didn't resort to the old reliable, "he said, she said" formulation. If you listened to her commentary, not only would you get no idea of what the truth is you would get no idea of what the Democrats say about the Republican claim about death panels.

And this is what passes for a respected journalist in this country?

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

"There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!"

Wondering why you can't get state offices to answer their phones on that one odd day in the middle of August?

The Battle of Bennington was a battle of the American Revolutionary War that took place on August 16, 1777, in Walloomsac, New York, about 10 miles (16 km) from its namesake Bennington, Vermont. An American force of 2,000 men, primarily composed of New Hampshire and Massachusetts militiamen, led by General John Stark, and reinforced by men led by Colonel Seth Warner and members of the Green Mountain Boys, decisively defeated a detachment of General John Burgoyne's army led by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum, and supported by additional men under Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann.

After a day of rain, Stark decided on August 16 to send two columns of his troops against Baum's flanks and rear while the remainder assaulted the front. The attack began at 3:00 pm. Many Indians, Canadians and Tories fled or surrendered after the first musket volleys, but the unmounted cavalrymen held position, fighting off the attackers with sabres. Baum himself died in the battle, which Stark would later describe as "one continuous clap of thunder," which lasted two hours before the hill was finally taken.

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Hugo Chavez is almost 100% right

Friday, August 14, 2009

Where would we be without the electric guitar?

Les Paul, 1915-2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who's blocking peace in the Middle East? More evidence.

Here's a story that hasn't been in the Times yet, probably because it's a New England centered story. It could be read as just one more petty story of intra-diplomatic intrigue, but it seems to be revealing of one of the main barriers to peace in the Middle East.

Leaders of Boston’s Jewish community yesterday rallied strongly behind Israel’s consul general for New England, Nadav Tamir, who was summoned to Jerusalem this week to explain his controversial memo saying Israel’s handling of its relations with the United States was “causing strategic damage’’ to American public support for Israel.

Here's a quote from the memo:

Throughout the years, opinion polls have shown that the two most significant factors in US public support are the perception of a partnership in values and interests, and the perception that Israel seeks to end the conflict with its neighbors (hence the consistent public support of our right to self defense). These two parameters have suffered greatly recently. In many American circles, there is a feeling these days, that while the Obama administration tries to resolve global conflicts, it must deal with the refusal to cooperate by governments in Iran, North Korea, and Israel. Aaron Miller's words, spoken after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, clearly show this feeling. He said it was a meeting between Obama yes we can and Netanyahu no you won't.

So what's he talking about? How about the fact that after years of international recognition that Israel's settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, and years of politely requesting that Israel stop, the Obama administration is showing signs that it might be serious about it? How about the fact that Netanyahu is continuing to insist on expanding Israel's illegal settlements? How about the fact that Americans are finally starting to catch on that Israel is pursuing a maximalist policy?

Of course, this kind of thing never gets leaked by accident. Whenever you see one of these diplomatic kerfuffles, whether it be the U-2 spy plane case back in the 1960's, the confrontations with Iran in the Persian Gulf a few years ago, or this, you need to think about who's doing the leaking and why.

In this case, it appears to be the hardliners, leaking the memo in order to publicly recall the consul general and undermine his position.

In other words, the opponents of peace with the Palestinians are demonstrating that they have the upper hand. Not surprising considering Netanyahu is on top, is it?

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Can we be as supportive of a free press as Kim Jong-Il?

Great news from yesterday in the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Like many Americans, I watched live as their plane landed in L.A. and they got off the plane to be reunited with their families. It was pretty hard not to be moved by the sight.

So whose turn is it now? For a country that counts freedom of the press as one of the cornerstones of our valued, the United States has shown a remarkable hostility to those who actually dare to practice journalism. Glenn Greenwald has catalogued journalists who have been captured and held prisoner by U.S. forces, with no effective review, until we felt like releasing them.

One of these journalists, Ibrahim Jassam, has been held in U.S. custody in Iraq since September 3, 2008. An Iraqi court says there is no evidence against Reuters photojournalist Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed and has ordered him released from U.S. military custody. The United States, however, continues to hold him, claiming that he is some kind of security risk.

Americans love to talk about our devotion to freedom of the press, and our commitment to the rule of law. The facts, however, appear to be somewhat different.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Boy, doesn't this make you wish we'd sent in the Marines?