Thursday, June 29, 2006


The America haters who understand what America is all about

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
-Benjamin Franklin

Amazing, isn't it, how some Americans would virtually take a match to the Bill of Rights if they could live free from terror. And of course the terrorists would applaud these patriots for the utter scorn they show for the American values they pretend to hold dear. We see this in the outrage over the New York Times' decision to publish a story last Sunday describing how authorities are monitoring financial transactions among suspected terrorists. As a Times subscriber, I read the story myself on Sunday and concluded that Uncle Sam's scrutiny of these transactions is reasonable and any intrusion into civil rights was minimal.

Nonetheless, I was glad for the opportunity to decide for myself. You see, these days the Bush administration should be granted little quarter when they argue wartime, national security, and so forth. Yes, I know we're at war, and we don't want to tip off terrorists. But Bush's abuse of this argument and his clear unyielding desire to always keep Americans in the dark leave me with little sympathies to his and other war supporters' arguments that informing the public equals aiding and comforting terrorists.

I'm sure Bush didn't want us to know what was going on at Abu Graib and Guantanamo. But I'm glad the liberal media allowed us Americans to decide for ourselves.

I'm sure Bush didn't want us to know about the archipelago of secret prisons the CIA is operating. But I'm glad the America-haters in the press decided that Americans should judge for themselves whether this was important.

I'm sure Bush didn't want us to know that our country has systematically used torture in its efforts to gather intelligence. But I'm glad the terrorist sympathizers who cover the news chose not to let our leader make that call for the rest of us.

I'm sure Bush didn't want us to know that the terrorist fighters routinely eavesdrop on telephone conversations with no outside oversight and that they wish to collect data on every last phone call every last one us has made since 9/11. But I'm glad the commie pinko faggots in the Fourth Estate were undeterred.

So perhaps you can see why I have a lot of trouble sympathizing when I hear once again that keeping Americans informed on what their government is up to constitutes sedition. Needless to say, Dick Cheney is outraged and said as much in a speech yesterday. A Republican congressman from New York has publicly urged the attorny general to investigate for possible espionage charges. And in one of the more laughable attempts at censure, the head librarian at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio took it upon himself to cancel the tiny liberal arts school's subscription. After all, since the librarian is unhappy with the Times no one else should be allowed to read it, yet more evidence that the loudest of our self-proclaimed patriots seem to understand least why America is so great.

Perhaps in response, I should extend my own Times subscription to seven days.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Global warming and the illusion of debate

Stop the presses! Secondhand smoke is bad. So proclaims Surgeon General Richard Carmona in this morning's paper.

"The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard," Carmona said.

I well remember when the secondhand smoke theory first made headlines in the 1980s. For years thereafter, the mere idea that breathing someone else's cigarette smoke was dangerous provided grist for the right-wing punditry, which wallowed in outrage at the very idea that one might have the right to not inhale. Pseudoscience, they raged, all in the name of perpetuating a liberal social agenda.

Secondhand smoke? Hell, firsthand smoke remained a controversy until quite recently. Or at least one would think. Really, any doctor would have told you that smoking kills and the vast majority of us believed it. But the tobacco industry spent years and millions of dollars to masterfully throw up a cloud of doubt that didn't really exist and reams of junk science to point out that they've never really PROVEN that cigarettes kill. And they were always able to put a few voices out there to back them up that sounded very scientific. It worked, too. Millions of smokers continued to puff away, willfully rejecting the prevailing science, glad for the illusion that there was still debate over the matter. It wasn't until the tobacco industry, facing hundreds of billions of dollars in potential damages, came clean and admitted they knew darn well that smoking kills.

I rehash the smoking "debate" as an analogy to the reputed debate going on right now over global warming. The vast majority of climatologists for years have expressed belief that global warming is transpiring and that we humans are causing it. Finally last week the National Academy of Sciences weighed in that yes indeed we are causing global climate change and courting catastrophe. In the morning's paper, buried behind the front-page revelation that smoking is bad, is brief in which the Associated Press polled 100 top climate researchers about Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Our those 100 polled, 19 had actually seen the movie, and all 19 said Gore and the moviemakers got it right. For the record, I have not seen the movie myself, and I may or may not see it.

Yet the illusion of debate rages on. I'm sure some contrarian scientist are sincere and can make lucid points to support their disbelief in global warming. I also know that there's a concerted effort to throw up a fog of misinformation and give the notion that there are still credible questions over whether global warming exists or if it's just a "hoax," as U.S. James Inhofe, R-Okla., characterizes it. We know that ExxonMobil provides over $1 million per year to organizations who can muddy the waters. Many of these are not science related concerns, but merely right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom (for) average citizens (and) the media," states a 1998 Exxon internal memo that the tree-huggers managed to get their hands on.

And just as the tobacco industry's tricks stalled meaningful action for decades, so do the corporate nay-sayers' tactics. A young classmate of mine declared the other day that all this global-warming talk might just be some sort of Marxist plot. Perhaps some folks really honestly believe that this is an unsettled matter. Others I believe stubbornly refuse to acknowledge what is indeed an inconvenient truth. To admit that there is such a thing as global warming and to understand that it necessitates personal and national sacrifice, well, that's too much to ask. We don't believe in sacrifice anymore. That's what our ancestors did 65 years ago. As for us latter-day folks, it's all about consuming as much as we like, never sacrificing and never denying ourselves.

To those who still don't believe, I ask you, could the weight of all the evidence in the entire universe ever change your mind? Where is the bar of proof for you? In the stratosphere? The troposphere? If 9 out of 10 scientists say X, is it wise to cast your lot with the scientist who says Y? Looking back, when would it have been personally wisest to believe that smoking kills, in 1964 when the first surgeon general's report came out or in 1998 when the tobacco industry finally admitted it? Likewise, if you ever decide that maybe the vast majority of scientists are correct on global warming, will it be too late to do anything about it?

If you still insist that substantive debate remains over whether we are warming our Earth, you may be interested in knowing that debate apparently rages on in other questions of science that you may have thought were settled a long time ago. Click here to learn more.

A backward glance in The Onion

Do you ever read The Onion? For those of you who aren't in on the joke, The Onion is a satirical newspaper that plays on current events and social phenomena. It reads like a regular newspaper, and is very serious in newspaper style, yet is outrageously funny. I have an Onion page-a-day calendar, and here's this morning's selection, obviously dating back to 2003:


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Maintaining his hardline stance against Saddam Hussein, President Bush ordered Iraq to fully dismantle his military before the U.S. begins its invasion next week.

"U.S. intelligence confirms that, even as we speak, Saddam is preparing tanks and guns and other weapons of deadly force for use in our upcoming war against him," Bush said Sunday during his weekly radio address. "This madman has every intention of firing back at our troops when we attack his country."

Bush warned the Iraqi dictator to "lay down (his) weapons and enter battle unarmed or face the consequences."

By the way, readers who live here in the Gateway City will enjoy today's story online. Click here.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Yes, but...

Underneath all their whining and carrying on about their alleged persecution, right-wingers sometimes do present an element of salient truth. In this case I speak of liberal orthodoxy on the college campus. Too bad the hyperbole and hystrionics that so often characterize conservative discourse often make any truth easily dismissable. Truth should never be dismissed out of hand, no matter how badly it's portrayed. Yet, conservatives often make it so easy to do just that.

I reflect on this as I've returned to college this summer to pursue a master's degree in educational administration. Essentially, I'm going to principal's school, and after two days in class, I'm wondering if buried way down beneath all the foolish ideological rhetoric about liberal political correctness, lies more than a kernal of truth.

Certainly we've all heard the right-wing horror stories about tenured radicals on college campuses and how universities are hotbeds of leftist subversion. These allegations go back at least 100 years, and perhaps they really have their roots in the Middle Ages when practicing mathematics was equated with witchcraft.

To be sure, much of this hysteria seems to have an anti-education, closeminded tone, such as the pervasive myth that we teachers are engaged in all sorts of social engineering (Frankly, we teachers just want the kids to put down their Game Boys for a few minutes so we can teach them to read and cypher a little math.) We see this mindset as Southern Baptists reluctantly voted yesterday not to call (at least not yet) for the complete withdrawal of Baptist children from public schools. Instead, they called for Baptists to run for school board posts so they can propogate their own social engineering agenda. I could go on about College Republican types who fly off the handle the second they disagree with their professor, religious fundamentalists who forbid their children to go to college lest they form a different worldview from their parents, or pro-business types who believe that any learning that doesn't contribute to the bottom line of a corporation is frivolous and contemptible.

Yet, amid all this conservative closemindedness, I increasingly can't help but wonder if we liberals are pretty damned closeminded, dogmatic and orthodox ourselves. One of my classes essentially addresses political issues in the educational arena. It's mostly discussion, and really it's loads of fun to discuss and sometimes argue politics with classmates and the professor. Our professor is a pretty laid-back sort, a self-described liberal who enjoys a lively debate and doesn't mind disagreement with his line (or at least I hope, for the sake of my grade). Certainly, the class is not politically monolithic. We have a guy who believes that for-profit schools and school competition will fix everything. We have another gentleman who believes that Christians are under attack in America and the world went to hell with Abington v. Schemp.

As we discussed on, a liberal consensus emerged, one that I sometimes agreed with. At the same time, a rather disturbing charicature of political correctness and liberal orthodoxy began to emerge. Let me outline two rather valid characterizations a conservative would have made about our discussion:

1) Liberals believe in tolerance only for liberal viewpoints. We all started with mostly universal agreement that we should not be leading prayers or other religious observances in the classroom, an admitted minority viewpoint in America today. But as the discussion evolved, some, including the professor, argued that we shouldn't eveb be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in our classrooms, lest someone be offended, and I found myself as the only vocal dissenter to that idea. Yet, many of my classmates felt that it's morally and ethically OK to preach their political and social agenda, whether it be against the war in Iraq or for gay marriage. In essence to me, and I argued quite vocally for this point, it appears that a conservative perspective is verboten in classroom, yet liberals should feel to vocally preach their own worldview.

2) Liberals continue supporting the same empty-headed approach to education that got us into the mess we're in. Here's what I heard: Teachers unions can do no wrong, and perhaps teachers should even be compelled to join. If a child treats you disrespectfully, blame yourself or the system because many teachers are not respectful to children. There is zero benefit to standardized testing. A Christmas tree, no matter how secular, is a true threat to any non-Christian, and must be eradicated from the public arena. Education is really not in crisis; the crisis is merely an invention of right-wing politicians. Have you heard all this before? Any wonder why nothing ever changes?

Am I oversimplifying? Of course. Yet as liberal as you know I am, I found myself in this class discussion frequently saying "Yes, but..." This isn't to say that I'm switching sides. The right's approach to education I still find anti-intellectual, intolerant and often elitist. But if the dogma that's being presented as truth in my graduate classes is all liberal America has to offer in the realm of education reform, then we might as well pack it up and go home, because our non-liberal neighbors ain't buying it, and frankly I'm not either.

Furthermore, if we're so predictable in our logic, then I suppose the reprehensible likes of Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh aren't so off-base after all when they can so predictably charicaturize us.

So how about it liberals? Are you truly the independent thinker you like to think you are? Or have you crammed your entire philosophy and beliefs into some pre-ordained box as we enjoy accusing conservatives of doing?

Something to think about

I rejoiced as everyone did last week with the news of al-Zarqawi last week, but Sylvester Brown makes a good point in his column in today's Post-Dispatch:

It's hard to draw a moral line between a civilized government that proudly displays photos of a bloody corpse and the "uncivilized" insurgents who distributed videos of beheadings. How exactly is the Pentagon behaving better than those soldires who e-mailed photos of sexually and physically brutalized Iraqi detainees?

Ever wonder if we at least sometimes show at least glimpses of the same characteristics as those we claim to be evil-doers?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?