Thursday, December 29, 2005

From The First to The Fourth Amendments; The Constitution Rules

I thought I would continue The Christmas Wars.  No, if I never hear about any holiday, secular or not, again I will be very happy.  And I have banned certain words from my vocabula

I want to briefly talk about Judge Jones and the Intelligent Design decison.  No, I don't.  I want to gloat over it.  Why?  Several months back I wrote a post that used very similiar reasoning to Judge Jones's.

Why when we at Bring it on! have been saying this since we began am I bringing this up now?  Because many radical Christian Rightists still don't get it.  It's simple; it's the Amendment that guarantees the most basic of rights, the right to practice or not practice a religion, and never have to worry that a state religion will be formed, and also and equal, guarantees freedom of speech.

That's the first time I have ever quoted myself.  I explained how faith is untestable.  No matter how much you want to believe that something bigger than us created the universe, nobody is able to test faith.

It's easy to test one type of faith: Faith in ones ability to do something.  I have faith that I will cross the street without being killed.  If I'm not, I have prove my hypothesis.  But the type of faith that proponents of Intelligent Design believe in is simply not testable.

Here's Judge Jones;

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

If you haven't read Judge Jones decision; I have linked it.  Okay I have gloated enough.


I found an article in that blew me away.  Yes, really. Fox or as we like to call it here Faux News.   It's by Martin Frost, former Democratic Congressman from Dallas/Fort Worth  He was in Congress for 26 years, and isn't faux anything.

Recently I have been trying to figure out who President Bush reminded me of.

Was it Richard Nixon with his willingness to break the law to hold onto the presidency? Was it FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who bugged Martin Luther King Jr. and anyone he considered to be a political enemy?

And then it struck me. President Bush most closely resembles King George III of England. You remember him -- he’s the guy whose high-handed rule led to the American Revolution.

Frost reread The Constitution; he's a lawyer, was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and was a Congressman for a long time.  When he talks about the Fourth Amendment I will listen:

Now the "new King George" would have us believe one of three things: (1) the president’s powers as commander-in-chief supersede the fourth amendment during the war on terror (2) the resolution adopted by Congress shortly after the 9/11 attack can be read to give the president the authority to conduct domestic wiretaps against American citizens without going to court to seek a warrant and (3) modern technology is such that the founding fathers could never have anticipated the need to conduct wiretaps without a warrant.

Let's see Frost debase these arguments:

First, it takes a very broad reading of the commander-in-chief clause to justify any conduct as superseding the constitution. President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the U.S. Civil War, an action that was very controversial at the time; it is hard to equate the ongoing war on terror with the American Civil War, which threatened the very existence of the Republic.

Second, I was a member of Congress when we passed the resolution giving the president the authority to use all force necessary against the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. Congress clearly meant this as authorization to go into Afghanistan and find Usama bin Laden. No one ever thought this authorized our government to wiretap American citizens in our own country without court approval.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wrote an op-ed piece in the Dec. 23rd Washington Post detailing how the Bush administration proposed last minute language to the 9/11 resolution which would have given the president the power to engage in domestic spying without a search warrant, and that this language was specifically rejected by the bills’ authors.

And third, the modern technology argument is an interesting one but is not very persuasive. Congress in 1978 passed legislation permitting spying inside the United States under certain circumstances. That law created a special court that can respond within hours to a request for search warrants. And the law also contained an exception, permitting the Attorney General to authorize wiretaps in an emergency situation and then seek a warrant within 72 hours.

Frost then asks if Bush...  Oh, he says it so well, and I never want to be accused of mangling words.

Does he simply want dictatorial powers? Does he so mistrust the court system (even a secret one specifically set up to make it easier to wiretap people inside the United States) that he doesn’t want any of the traditional checks on the power of the executive to violate basic civil liberties? Does he just want a political issue that makes him look tough and opponents (Democrats and some Republicans) look weak?

This is our country and this is our Constitution. Even if for some reason you like Bush, he has seriously abused the powers of the presidency.  Don't tell me that I'm convicting him without a trial.  What has Bush been doing?  Here's the one question that you should ask yourself:

"The Bush administration simply cannot answer this one question - if time was of the essence, why didn't they conduct the searches and get the warrants after the fact, something that is allowed under the FISA law? They conducted the searches alright, but they never once sought the retroactive warrants."

Then join us, Bulldog, and the entire Impeach Bush Blog Coalition in taking these steps:

2. Send an email to all of these media folks and ask them "The Question."

3. Sign Senator Boxer's petition .

4. Contact your senator.

5. Contact your congressman.

6. Contact Congressman Pete Hoekstra too.

7. File a Freedom of Information Act request HERE.

8. Sign John Conyers' petition to censure and investigate impeachment.

9. Join the guerilla marketing campaign .

10. Make a donation to ImpeachPAC.

11. Join the Impeach Bush Coalition.

(Thanks to Redneck Mother for inspiring the list.)

Please read the articles in The Impeach Bush Coalition.  More people and newspapers than you would imagine are joining us.  Join with everybody at BIO, in calling for an impeachment hearing.  It's the only way that we're going to ever learn anything unless Bush muzzles the prosecuter, and that's a possiblity that our Congress, and judical system won't allow.  Why?  We have an incredible Constitution and Bill of Rights. Nobody will allow that to be mocked.

We already know that Fitzgerald is incredible; he's the perfect antitode to Ken Starr and that mockery of an impeachment hearing..  Maybe lying about sex is a minor crime; but everything Bush has been doing is a high crime and misdemenor.

Let me end by saying that the only way 2006 can be a great year is by getting rid of Bush and all the Bushettes.

Personally I would like to thank everybody at BIO! for being so great; and Bulldog for beginning the Impeach Bush Coalition.

Let the lost children of New Orleans be found; New Orleans to be rebuilt quickly, and bring the troops home now, please.  We don't belong in Iraq; it's the only way we can ensure their safety.

Peace in 2006.

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:01 AM in Current Affairs, Education, Politics, Religion, Science | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 17, 2005

NJ Will Be the First State to Fund Stem-Cell Research

New Jersey ROCKS! It's always nice to see MY tax dollars go toward something useful instead of something useless like a frickin' wall to keep brown people out of this country:

The state commission believes that once the grant money is sent, New Jersey will become the first state to fund human embryonic stem cell research, said commission spokeswoman Michelle Ruess, who cited the National Conference of State Legislatures and the International Society of Stem Cell Research.

The article goes on to explain that California voters actually voted for the same thing but lawsuits have blocked any money from being sent. I hope that does not happen here. The article also states that the research institutes getting the money will use existing lines of stem cells approved by the federal government. That sucks but at least it's a step in the right direction. Too many lives are at stake here to have this research held hostage by a few radical right fundiefucks who think a cell is a living breathing human being.

"This funding will hopefully set the stage for a new era in medical treatments that will ease the suffering of millions and ultimately save lives," said acting Gov. Richard J. Codey

Way to go Codey! Pssst, just a little hint, there's an open seat in the U.S. Senate that has your name written all over it. It would be great to see some of your ideas influence the direction of this country at the federal level.

And in other medical news, couldn't this be used a little recklessly? I mean, I have a little deviant streak in me and the first thing I imagined was someone firing these STD warnings to everyone and their mother (well, maybe not their mother) so what did I do? You betcha, I fired off a couple of STD e-cards to some of my closest friends. I let them sweat it for an hour or so and then gave them a call. They are good-humored friends so they took the news that it was a gag with a sigh of relief. But my point being is that it is that easy to fuck with someone if you wanted to. Any who, anybody got an ex-lover they would like to get back at? Or better yet, do you know any Republitards you really hate? I can think of a few.

Posted by The Bastard at 05:58 AM in Science | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Symptoms of the Bird Flu

The Center for Disease Control has released a list of symptoms of bird flu. If you experience any of the following, please seek medical treatment immediately:

  1. High fever
  2. Congestion
  3. Nausea
  4. Fatigue
  5. Aching in the joints
  6. An irresistible urge to shit on someone's windshield.

Hat tip to oldwhitelady.

Posted by The Bastard at 04:30 PM in Science | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Belle of the Brawl*

This is a totally political post.  While it began in the Clinton years, it was Newt who had power.  The current admin leaves society issues to the family unless it's to keep some people alive.  Well it takes a village.  And our society is aging but we have no social policies in place.  So most families do the best they can do. 

I got a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in clinical geriatrics while this was happening in the naive belief that the problems of the middle class, non Medicaid eligible would be addressed.  You have to be very rich or poor to get decent help in this country.  And if you have any assets and you're older with family you love, get a trust.  I took the link from the government.  They recommend it.

While I would love to take credit for the title; it's the name of Moxie and my friend, Sar's new blog.

This is the most personal post I have ever written. It's also the saddest; it's about things that I have been trying to talk about for fourteen years.

Yes Bring it on! is a political blog. But politics should primarily be about issues. Here it is aging, single adult daughters, taxes, health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid in one post.

My dad died suddenly when I had been working at Social Security for two months. I took three days off and on the fourth day the managers asked which of two offices I would want to work in. Frankly they both were in horrible neighborhoods, in places I wasn't too familiar with.

I was in the first External, not promoted from within SSI Claims Rep training class in eight years. Have always found it ironic that Bush 1 tried to put back together what Reagen tried to dismantle. I had applied for positions in San Diego and Miami, and the transfers came through. I had been in a semi-relationship with a character actor who had moved to LA; he had many male straight friends; it was perfect.

But my mom had macular degeneration. She was of the first generation of people to outlive their body parts through diet, good health care, and all the rest.

My mom's macular had begun when my parents were in a photo safari in Kenya; she thought it was her new eyeglasses. Maybe something could have been done then. We'll never know. Ultimately she lost all her eyesight except for a shadow here; a shadow there. She wasn't demented and yet many people treated her as if she were.

New York was falling apart in 1991; we were still feeling the effects of the 10/17/87 stock market fall and ensuing recession. I lived in the richest zip code in America, 10021, and would count the Old English Ale bottles I passed on the way to the subway. In the morning I would wake up bag people sleeping in both the vestibule and the first floor hall. There were three apartments on the first floor; the first was unoccupied; the second was mine; the third was occupied by girls my super thought were prostitutes; and I thought were drug dealers because people would come and go every five minutes at night. When I had overnight guests they would stay up and count; I had become impervious to it.

Oh I was so ready for a change. I made it all the way to Riverdale, The Bronx. If there is one place that I will never write nicely about it's Riverdale; my time there was hell.

I don't drive; the world's safer that way. It would take me about three hours to get to her house on Long Island. Keeping my mother independent took two daughters, a major part of my sanity, and almost my sister's and my relationship.

Estate planners often use a lifetime trust in place of a will. Like a will, a lifetime trust can be used to provide for the disposition of assets and has the advantage of avoiding probate. An advantage that a lifetime trust has over a will is that it also can be used to manage assets during a person's lifetime. For example a lifetime trust can be a useful planning tool for incapacity because it can be established and controlled by a competent person and later continue in operation under a successor trustee if the person establishing the trust becomes unable to manage his or her affairs.

My sister paid her bills and managed her portfolio; I took care of her doctor's appointments and what I later would learn were "psycho social" needs. My mom didn't want to have a trust though my dad was a CPA and my mom knew very well that she could control it. Since she couldn't do her own paperwork the only control left to her was not having a trust. I knew I should have urged her to do it, but she was my mom. My sister and I jointly consulted our mother on all financial decisions.

I had the brilliant idea to leave Social Security and get a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in clinical geriatrics. I took a year off to try out school and be even more available for my mother. I had left home at eighteen; 20 years later, there I was again. I didn't go out every day or even every week, but I spoke to my mom, five times a day. And whenever she would need me I would be there. I became expert at speaking to doctors and forcing them to speak to my mother. I became expert in old age, but I wasn't.

My parents had raised my sister and I to be independent. It was easier for my sister; she married, and several years later bought my mother's house when my mom moved to a large apartment complex that was a NORC; Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. It has an eighteen hole golf course, a country club, an arcade which looks like a movie set of a beautiful city, and activity rooms. My mom loved book clubs, discussions, museums, anything cultural really.

She wasn't very good at being dependent. She wasn't very good at becoming blind in her 70's and 80's

She was good at meeting people; but my always sociable mother became shy and insecure. She thought that most people treated her as if she were demented and as her own sisters refused to visit, I would have to agree with her. I no longer really speak to most of my mom's family. We had once been very close.

Newt Gingrich was elected shortly after I began school. For all of you who think it was a good thing; I'm not going to get into "changing welfare as we knew it." It affected my life incredibly.

I expected to be able to discuss these things at school but my top rated grad school of social work, didn't have one Masters Degree level course on aging from 94-96; they had before and after. I could have taken a PHD level course but was advised against the courses as I already knew the content from my field placement and research classes. The larger school had a center on aging but it was distinct from the social work school which made no sense at all. I did an Independent Study on Abuse because I had become good at recognizing it. And sometimes I wasn't sure if I was becoming an abusive daughter or not. Elder abuse can be hard to recognize; it's not only physical but neglect, fraud and other things. It's not mandated reporting.

My mom couldn't go to activities by herself as she couldn't navigate the hallway to the elevator and the arcade. She wanted me to fix this problem and I couldn't unless I moved in with her, brought her down and back up. Many other daughters might have done this. I couldn't.

I couldn't fix any of my mother's problems. Though I passed the state licensing exam while still in school, had been given my own hall in the nursing home I did my field placement in at the beginning of my second year, had a 3.84 cum, and an outstanding field placement evaluation, I felt like a failure.

My mom had been my best friend since I was a kid. I know that sounds strange, but we had a closeness and a friendship that's more typical in this generation of parents and children. I was slowly losing both my mom and my best friend. Oh yeah, I was adopted, for the record. I forget.

I stayed at the nursing home, though I had been offered some great field placements because it was familiar and I couldn't handle change that year. It was exciting the second year; I worked with two psychiatrists, both female, who had started geriatric mental health clinics. By the time I graduated the clinics had disbanded; victims of the Newt cuts.

Social work salaries were the only salaries to go down in 1996. When I found myself almost fighting for a $28,000 year a job I knew it was time to get real. It was a damn insult. If I didn't find a coop in Manhattan by the summer of 1997, I was going to be priced out of the market. I'm good at trends; it was kind of obvious to me. If I didn't find a coop in Manhattan I was going to lose my mind. Worked at the nursing home; went home to another or a building that felt like one.

I will spare you the rest. I bought a coop; my mom consented to get an aide five days a week, four hours a day. She wasn't Medicaid eligible; something I could have made her in a day, and I heard a lot about how stupid I was for not making her go on Medicaid as earlier I had heard about how I shouldn't have let her eat by herself. These were PHD's in Social Work who provided such incredible solace. They were experts in capability; they knew that the reasonable man standard no longer applied. A person could be capable in one area but not another, yet judged well enough to live alone.

My mom remembered every phone number; she could take five medications a day by herself. She was bright but blind and scared. Something happened to her after 9/11. It took the life out of her; she sounded different; at times I thought she had suddenly become demented. But two weeks after it, she said that there was a question she could only ask me:

"Do you think it's repercussion for everything we have done?"

I was shocked as I was in full patriotic mode. Fortunately I could speak in my normal voice and say:

"Some people think so. I don't."

She told me that sometimes she couldn't find her way around her apartment. I was the only person who knew this and I did nothing. May G-d or whoever forgive me. I knew that my mom wanted to die in her apartment and I knew that something wasn't right.

She fell in her bathroom and died fifteen minutes later. It is only this year that I have begun to lose the guilt and the extreme mourning. I'm me again for the first time in a decade.

But her death was only the beginning. Though we wouldn't have had to pay estate taxes this year, we had to pay full taxes for 2001. We live in New York City and thus had to pay city and state taxes. The highest.

This isn't going to make me real popular. My sister and I had never asked our mother for a cent. She would give me a hundred dollars many times when I saw her, but I would put out money for things for her and never asked for it back. My sister did the equivalent of a full time bookkeeper/accountant; I was my mom's private fully trained and accredited social worker. Even when I was working or in school. Both my sister and I stopped going far away. Neither of us would be more than three hours or so away from home.

I spent so much time at doctors offices with my mom, I neglected my own visits; I neglected many things because my entire psychic energy was tied up with my mom's. I don't know how else to explain it. I'm paying for all that now.

I am glad that my mom never went on Medicaid. I met so many people who were so much richer on Medicaid. I can understand it, but I don't think it's ethical or good. Yet damn, the Medigap was so complicated. Now sometimes I'm glad my mom's dead just so we don't have to look at the new insurance policies.

If my mom had a trust we wouldn't have given the government a huge chunk of money. Yes there would have still been the costs of probate, but...our mother didn't pay us. I didn't get any social security credits for the time I wasn't officially working or in school though I ran a hall and took the place of a part time social worker. My sister didn't get any during the ten year period. We deserved the money that went to the government.

No CPA, broker or lawyer could believe that she didn't have a trust. She was our mother; it was her wish to retain control if only in name. I feel badly about the money; I really believe that we earned it. But first we were daughters.

I can't believe that it took The New York Times until last Friday to discover this growing problem. I hope that people begin discussing it now.

I read in a blog today that The Times article could stop girls from becoming brain surgeons. Not at all; no 22 year old is going to stop a career because of something that could possibly happen when she's 50--I was adopted so my parents were older and my sister and I were younger. No, I was going through a mid career change, and my sister had just begun to work for my dad as she had an MBA.

I had a friend who finally moved out of her parents home when she was 38, a Senior VP at a Fortune 100 company, bought her own home, and her mother became severely demented and had to move in with her.

My mom and I would joke about my living with her. We figured that we would last two days before we began to want to kill each other. We wanted to anyway. Yet my mom remained my idol. It's so hard to explain, and at each aging symposium I would go to, I would expect to discuss similar situations to mine. But everybody either had pat solutions or no solution at all.

For fourteen years I have been trying to get a dialogue going on the problems of aging in America, very specifically the aging parent issue. Next very selfishly I want a dialogue on "who is going to be there for me", because while I was immersed in my mom's life I stopped my life. I looked like I had a life, but I was going through the motions.

I had never known what it was like to be depressed before. I know now. I knew how to be an independent adult; I didn't know how to be whatever this was.

The Times calls it "The daughter track," I call it the train to nowhere

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:01 AM in Current Affairs, Economics, Politics, Science, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Friday, November 25, 2005

Damn Science - Destroyer of Skeptics

A new study was able to measure greenhouse gases as far back as 650,000 years ago and guess what?

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years,

This kinda puts a damper on skeptics,

Skeptics sometimes dismiss the rise in greenhouse gases as part of a naturally fluctuating cycle. The new study provides ever-more definitive evidence countering that view.

Methinks that the hurricane seasons are just going to get stronger.

"And these studies tell us that there's a strong relationship between temperature and greenhouse gases,"

We have shattered  the records for all previous hurricane seasons, I wonder what Intelligent Design can tell us about these random acts of nature?

Posted by The Bastard at 04:11 PM in Science | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Picture This...

Flash Animation narrated by Leonardo DeCaprio

Posted by The Bastard at 01:34 PM in Science, Video and Animation | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Monsanto's Newest Colony: Iraq

Some of the largest multinational corporations seem to think our entire planet is one big juicy pie that they can just carve up and have all for themselves.  When you think of this you probably think:  Halliburton, the oil companies, arms manufacturers.  Monsanto isn’t exactly a household name, but when you learn more about this amoral twisted bunch of sickfucks, they make Halliburton and the oil companies look like Mother Theresa.

If Monsanto could find a way, they’d suck all the oxygen out of the air so they could sell it back to us.

Monsanto is a huge agrochemical company, specializing in genetically modified (GM) crops.     They’re one of the ringleaders in pushing genetically modified crops on the world population, replacing “organic” crops that have a natural-born resistance to pests and diseases.  They’re also determined to exempt themselves from any labeling laws, so that shoppers will have no way of knowing whether the produce they’re buying is genetically modified or not.

When Monsanto gets its foot in the door, farmers eventually end up being required to purchase Monsanto’s patented seeds.  This patent means that farmers can no longer store some seeds from their own crops for next year’s planting, or purchase seeds from a local market.  They have to purchase their seeds every year from Monsanto, or face legal action for violating Monsanto‘s patent.  For Third World farmers who are barely making it, this is a crippling expense.

And that's not all.   Monsanto often files lawsuits against non-GM farmers for “violating” their patent.  Sometimes seeds get blown over from one field to the next, and the neighbor of a farmer growing GM crops will end up with some of those GM crops growing in his own field.  And Monsanto is right there with an army of lawyers, ready to sue for patent “violation.”

Conservatives who are always blithering about “too many lawsuits,” “too much litigation,” never seem to be bothered by this kind of lawsuit.  They only get upset when an individual sues a large corporation (usually after every other avenue has been closed off).  Apparently it’s just fine when a global corporation sues an individual — sort of like Goliath hitting David with a slingshot.

And now, guess what’s in store for our newly liberated farmers in Iraq.  You got it.   (Check Story #8 at this website.)

L. Paul Bremer III, the former American administrator of the Iraqi occupation, issued a directive to the Iraqi authorities before they took over last June.  This directive sets criteria for the patenting of seeds that can only be met by multinational companies like Monsanto.  Because of naturally-occurring cross-pollination, Monsanto’s GM plants will eventually wipe out native varieties.  Monsanto’s GM seeds — which all farmers will eventually be forced to buy — will be more susceptible to diseases because of the lost biological diversity.

It’s kind of ironic.  Mesopotamia (what’s now Iraq) is where agriculture is thought to have begun about 10,000 years ago.  Now a global corporation is coming in and forcing everyone to do it their way.  Iraqi farmers will be “re-educated” to grow industrial-sized harvests, for export, using American seeds.

Jeremy Smith of  The Ecologist  said:

"It is here, in around 8500 or 8000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat, here that agriculture was born.  Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting wheat varieties that work best with their climate ... and cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths.  The U.S., however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice, Iraqis don't know what wheat works best in their own conditions.  The people whose forefathers first mastered the domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of growing it for someone else. And with that, the world's oldest farming heritage will become just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain.”

Mission Accomplished.

cross-posted at Who Hijacked Our Country

Posted by Tom Harper at 06:34 AM in Economics, Politics, Science | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Friday, September 23, 2005

Another perspective on Intelligent Design

Bonnie and I both live in New York. I spend a lot of time looking at The Hudson River; Bonnie spends a lot of time kayaaking, and crewing on other boats in The Hudson River.

I read Bonnie's blog Frogma to learn about our shared city from a totally different view point.  I'm constantly in awe of Bonnie's New York; it's much more fascinating than mine.

I'm a native New Yorker. Bonnie comes from a state far from the mainland and New York, Hawaii where the story she's going to tell really begins.

On Fridays at Bring it on!, we like to present guest authors with different perspectives, and voices. I like how Bonnie presents her arguments; with logic, reasoning, and she remembers high school science.

I have been following the debate over the teaching of Intelligent Design in our schools with great interest, concern, and not a little mystification over how this has gotten as far as it has. Recently, around the time that the article from which the above quote was taken first ran, I took a break during a late evening at work to participate in an online discussion of the topic, posing a few simple questions to those who were arguing in favor of ID.

"Much has been made of a 2004 poll showing that some 45 percent of Americans believe that the Earth - and humans with it - was created as described in the book of Genesis, and within the past 10,000 years. This isn't a triumph of faith. It's a failure of education."
-- Verlyn Klikenborg,

Their arguments seemed to be running in circles, and I was hoping that they'd break out of those circles and talk a little more about what was driving each of them. Having never had a chance to speak to anyone who was actually a supporter of that concept, I was curious to see what they'd say.

I am not an atheist; however, I do not feel that acceptance of the theory of evolution and belief in God are mutually exclusive; and in fact, as I see the issue, my personal religious convictions aren't even really relevant to whether I find the theory of evolution to be a convincing explanation of how life came to be as it is on this planet.

I began reflecting on why so many people now have come to believe that being a person of faith and being a person who understands (and accepts) the theory of evolution are somehow irreconcilable.

I speak as one who identifies herself as a Christian. Yet I cannot identify with, or even begin to agree with, those who would have Christian precepts taught in our public schools. I am in complete agreement with statements that have been made here and elsewhere that teaching ID in public schools is in violation of the First Amendment. And I think that our Founding Fathers were very wise to institute the separation of church and state, allowing Americans individual freedom of worship (or lack thereof, as the individual sees fit). And that's coming from someone who is, at least in part, the product of an education overseen by clergymen.

I am of the school of thought that finds religion and science to be, quite simply two entirely different modes of thought. They are only contradictory when the boundaries & purposes of the two are confused -- which I feel is definitely the case in the arguments in favor of Intelligent Design.

Following my brief participation in that on-line discussion, the quote with which I began this post kept running through my mind, and I began thinking about what I myself had been taught in a freshman or sophomore biology class in high school. It was a long time ago, but I have clear recollections of Lamarck's giraffes (taught as an example of a hypothesis that was directly contradicted by observable evidence), Darwin's finches, Mendel's genetic principles, peppered moths, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, convergent evolution, and a lot of other evidence offered in support of Darwin's theory of evolution that stuck in my head because it all worked so well together.

God (either as God per se, or in the guise of an "Intelligent Designer") was never mentioned in this classroom.

This is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that the school, a very highly regarded institution in Hawaii, was a private one run by the Episcopalian Church. Religion was absolutely present there. The staff was made up of both laypeople and Episcopalian ministers. The headmaster was one of the latter. We attended chapel on a weekly basis; religion classes were part of the standard curriculum, and for those who were interested, Episcopalian confirmation classes were available. 

Science classes could easily have been run with a theological spin, had those in charge felt that was appropriate. Why did they not do so?

I don't know the answer for sure, but I suspect that it was because the primary mission of the school was to offer the children of Hawaii a quality education. Teaching science as science, religion as religion, and refraining from muddling the boundaries between the two was evidently completely in line with that commitment.

What I do know is that being taught as I was absolutely did not make me into an atheist. It just made me into a person who has an understanding of science that is separate from and does not conflict with my personal beliefs.

In fact, I remember learning about the two in very different styles -- as is, I think, appropriate to two very different types of thought.

Most of what I know about science and evolution, I learned at school. My religious beliefs were primarily formed by what I was taught and saw practiced at home, and at church, and I think that's as it should be. In fact, I have to admit that I can't remember any specifics of what the fathers taught in religion classes, just the most general recollections - like a concept that the ideas contained in the Bible were important and could lead a person to a spiritually fulfilling life. But that the Bible itself, from Genesis to Revelation, was a collection of writings by human beings - inspired and reverent human beings, yes, but still human, and therefore fallible.

The fathers at Iolani were intelligent, caring teachers with great confidence both in their faith and in the ability of our young minds to find room for our own faith to thrive alongside of the concepts we were being taught in science, math, history, literature, languages, and all the other secular subjects offered by the school. They were there to teach us, and their teaching did not include forcing any particular dogma down our throats.

By taking that approach, and teaching us in such a way that religion was not confused with other subjects, I think that the fathers allowed for a triumph of both faith and education (in a fashion of which Mr. Klickenborg would approve), in a fashion that the ID people don't seem to understand is possible. What I see in the statements I've read from ID supporters doesn't look to me like confidence in their beliefs.

Their need to have their personal spiritual beliefs validated by science, their thirst for secular acknowledgement - those don't strike me as things that people with real confidence in their beliefs would require at all.

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:01 AM in Current Affairs, Politics, Right Wing Nut, Science | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wetlands Would Have Reduced The Flooding

We’ve known for a long time now that wetlands are a crucial part of our eco-system.  In addition to sustaining plant and animal life, they serve as a protection against flooding.

When George Bush Sr. was running for president in 1988 he promised “no net loss of wetlands.”  For every wetland that got drained or flooded, a new one would be created.  Technically, he kept his word.  He simply redefined the term “wetland” so that anything smaller than Lake Superior was no longer a wetland.

If the swamps and marshes of Southern Louisiana hadn’t been lost to overdevelopment, the recent flooding would have been much less severe in New Orleans and other Gulf communities.  When torrential rains fall, wetlands absorb a lot of excess rain.  When the wetlands have been replaced with concrete and asphalt — or when marshland has eroded and been washed out to sea — there’s nothing to absorb the water, and you get a flood.

Since the 1930s,  erosion and decay have destroyed 1,900 square miles of wetlands in Southern Louisiana.  Some of the wetlands have been lost to development in general.  And the massive system of levees and canals has washed lots of sediment out to sea.  Former marshes are now submerged under the Gulf of Mexico.  These marshlands acted as a buffer to slow the force of an oncoming hurricane.  New Orleans no longer has this buffer; it’s almost completely exposed to the Gulf of Mexico.

The effects have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis.  Some of the coastal highways flood every time the tide comes in.  This wasn’t always the case.

The levees prevent minor flooding by bringing the water of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.  But these minor floods are what the wetlands need.  The flooding brings fresh water and sediment which sustains and replenishes the wetlands.  Without periodic flooding, the wetland “compacts.”  A consultant for the America’s Wetland group said “simply put, when the land does not have any nutrients and fresh water it dies.”

Obviously the levees and canals are necessary; nobody’s arguing with that.  But their side effect — the disappearance of hundreds of square miles of wetlands — is a serious problem that needs to be solved.

This problem has been known for a long time.  Local residents have tried to help in little ways, like placing their old Christmas trees in marsh areas to help retain sediment.  Sidney Coffee, the executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, said “the entire area has to be re-plumbed.  You have to build on what you have. It’s a very complex solution.”

A massive effort to divert river water and deposit sediment will cost about $14 billion.  Coffee said “this is a very intense effort that would go on to do this.  But the costs of not doing it are far greater.”

Aye, there's the rub.  In April 2004, some of America’s top engineers, plus millions of dollars, were diverted from Louisiana to Iraq.  The marshes of Iraq became a higher priority than the marshes of Louisiana.

Bush requested $100 million for restoring the Iraqi marshlands (Congress hasn’t yet released the money).  At the same time, the amount allotted for restoring the marshes of Louisiana was $8 million.  (?!?!)

That’s right!  The wetlands of Iraq are twelve times more important than restoring the lifesaving (as we’ve learned the hard way!) wetlands of Louisiana.  How many lives could have been saved along the Gulf of Mexico if Iraq wasn’t considered a higher priority than Louisiana?

I don’t know whether this is shocking, or whether it’s just another jaded, numbed reaction of “that figures.”

In an administration already famous for its twisted, sick priorities, this takes the prize.

cross-posted at Who Hijacked Our Country

Posted by Tom Harper at 03:01 AM in Current Affairs, Politics, Science | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A year of blogging: from The First Amendment to Intelligent Design

Blogging has been great for me.  It's allowed me to meet people from parts of the country I didn't know well enough before, and realize that people throughout this incredible country are caring, compassionate, and intelligent with beliefs that are very similar but they don't exactly mirror them.

That's the problem.  We, who are called liberal, don't think exactly alike.  Earlier this summer I wrote about subway searches.  I was scared, angry, tired of answering comments from people who do usually think alike, and can't understand how people on Bring it on! can think differently from one another.

I won't explain how The First Amendment really means that America is a Christian country; because as many times as it's been explained to me I still don't understand how this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can possibly mean that as a non-Christian I have been living in a legally Christian country all these years.  Yes the majority of the population is Christian. 

The variety of religious beliefs in the United States surpasses the nation’s multitude of ethnicities, nationalities, and races, making religion another source of diversity rather than a unifying force. This is true even though the vast majority of Americans—83 percent—identify themselves as Christian. One-third of these self-identified Christians are unaffiliated with any church. Moreover, practicing Christians belong to a wide variety of churches that differ on theology, organization, programs, and policies. The largest number of Christians in the United States belong to one of the many Protestant denominations—groups that vary widely in their beliefs and practices. Roman Catholics constitute the next largest group of American Christians, followed by the Eastern Orthodox.

That in no way means that Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation.

The roots of the First Amendment can be traced to a bill written by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in 1777 and proposed to the Virginia Legislature in 1779. It guaranteed freedom of (and from) religion. After an impassioned speech by James Madison, and after some amendments, it became law on 1786-JAN-16.

Why when we at Bring it on! have been saying this since we began am I bringing this up now?  Because many radical Christian Rightists still don't get it.  It's simple; it's the Amendment that guarantees the most basic of rights, the right to practice or not practice a religion, and never have to worry that a state religion will be formed, and also and equal, guarantees freedom of speech.

Because so many people feel validated and vindicated by the people occupying The White House, Intelligent Design, and The Discovery Institute have been getting much play recently.  Here are a few quotes by William Safire who isn't exactly known as a liberal, but yikes, he's Jewish, so the Radical Christian right always knew that they couldn't trust him, really.

Then along came the phrase intelligent design, and evolution had fresh linguistic competition. Though the phrase can be found in an 1847 issue of Scientific American, it was probably coined in its present sense in "Humanism," a 1903 book by Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller: "It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design."

At about that time, the traditional creationists took up the phrase. "We are a Christian organization and use the term to refer to the Christian God," says John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, California. "The modern intelligent design movement looks at Dr. Phillip Johnson as its founder. ... His book, 'Darwin on Trial,' kind of started it all in the early '90s. We were using intelligent design as an intuitive term: a watch implies a watchmaker."

The marketing genius within the phrase - and the reason it now drives many scientists and educators up the wall - is in its use of the adjective intelligent, which intrinsically refutes the longstanding accusation of anti-intellectualism. Although the intelligent agent referred to is Divine with a capital D, the word's meaning also rubs off on the proponent or believer. That's why intelligent design appeals to not only the DNA-driven Discovery Institute complexity theorists but also the traditional God's-handiwork faithful.

To counter the "sophisticated branding experts" who flummoxed establishmentarian evolutionaries with intelligent design, opponents of classroom debate over Darwin's theory have come up with a catchily derisive neologism that lumps the modern advocates of intelligent design with religious fundamentalists: neo-creo. The rhyming label was coined on Aug. 17, 1999, by Philip Kitcher, professor of the philosophy of science at Columbia University, New York, in a lively and lengthy online debate in Slate magazine with the abovementioned Phillip Johnson, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Intelligent design advocates like to point to Albert Einstein, who repeatedly rejected a statistical conception of physics with his famous aphorism, "I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world." However, his recent biographer, Dennis Overbye, a science reporter for The New York Times, says: "Einstein believed there was order in the universe but that it had not been designed for us." Overbye also notes that Einstein wrote the evenhanded "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

Can't really trust Dennis Overbye, he's a reporter for The New York Times.  Like many New Yorkers, I have spent my life in a love/hate relationship with The Times, but I'm very proud it's my hometown newspaper now.  Anybody who wishes to point out that Einstein's brain was smaller than average, and that he couldn't learn to tie his shoes until he was six etc., will be ignored.  Here's something about The Discovery Institute.

After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.

Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design

In any other political climate, these people would be known as crack pots who are pushing a pseudo-scientific answer to the theory of evolution.  But in today's climate they are scientists posing an important alternative to a theory that has been postulated over and over again.  Oh right, Intelligent Design can't be tested through regular tests; a designer acted.  How can you test faith?  Sorry,then it's not science, and can't be taught in public schools.

Here's something by Carl Zimmer that refutes Intelligent Design

It describes how the Institute has spent $3.6 million dollars to support fellowships that include scientific research in areas such as "laboratory or field research in biology, paleontology or biophysics."

So what has that investment yielded, scientifically speaking? I'm not talking about the number of appearances on cable TV news or on the op-ed page, but about scientific achievement. I'm talking about how many papers have appeared in peer-reviewed biology journals, their quality, and their usefulness to other scientists. Peer review isn't perfect--some bad papers get through, and some good papers may get rejected--but every major idea in modern biology has met the challenge.

It's pretty easy to get a sense of this by perusing two of the biggest publically available databases, PubMed (from the National Library of Medicine) and Science Direct (from the publishing giant Reed Elsevier)....Look for the topics that have won people Nobel Prizes--the structure of DNA, the genes that govern animal development, and the like--and you quickly come up with hundreds or thousands of papers.

A search for "Intelligent Design" on PubMed yields 22 results--none of which were published by anyone from the Discovery Insittute. There are a few articles about the political controversy about teaching it in public schools, and some papers about constructing databases of proteins in a smart way. But nothing that actually uses intelligent design to reveal something new about nature. ScienceDirect offers the same picture. (I'm not clever enough with html to link to my search result lists, but try them yourself if you wish.)

Here's another search: "Discovery Institute" and "Seattle" (where the institute is located). One result comes up: a paper by Jonathan Wells proposing that animal cells have turbine-like structures inside them. It describes no experiments, only a hypothesis.

Zimmer's talking about peer review and the importance of papers agreeing with or refuting a hypothesis.  Anybody who does any kind of meaningful research in any field will tell you that the first step is a lit review to see what is or isn't there.  Don't tell me that Intelligent Design is too new to have been studied; it's been discussed enough these last several months, and has been studied for a longer time period.  I have linked to an article from The Natural History Magazine that talks about it in 2002. 

They take it a little less seriously then New Yorkers take subway searches.  They're an inconvenience that can't work. .Subway searches can't work though I would have loved for them to be an easy answer.  Like any good Liberal I have flip-flopped on that one.  I will discuss why they can't work in depth next time.  But I will leave you with one last thing that I have learned this year; the ACLU is a Commie organization out to poison your water and kill your children. No, I added the part after "Commie organization."

Of everything that has happened in the past year, and of all the things that I have learned the movement to stop the ACLU scares me almost as much as or the same as the movement to re-create The First Amendment.

The 2006 elections will be here before we can blink our eyes; and then there will be 2008.  Moderates will take back this country because more and more people are waking up to the reality that the Radical Christian Right has gained power way beyond its membership.  When William Safire and I agree on an issue; it should be a wake-up call.

We Jews don't all know each other; but we do tend to get a bit crazed when The First Amendment is under attack; and Intelligent Design is just another attack on it.

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:00 AM in Current Affairs, Education, Politics, Religion, Right Wing Nut, Science, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack