Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Evolution Of Intelligent Design

This is a post I've been meaning to put up for sometime, basically since I posted this. I needed to secure the author's permission and, well, he's been a little busy in his lab. Larry's a good friend, and one of the smartest people I'll ever know:
Creationism Evolves: The Advent of the ID-zoic Era
By Lawrence S. Lerner
(This article is a slightly modified version of a talk given to Americans United of Silicon Valley in Campbell, California on October 1, 2005.)

Almost a century and a half after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, a substantial part of the American populace – perhaps a majority – remains doubtful. In particular, many Americans would like to see some form of divine creation taught in public-school science classes, either together with or in place of the evolutionary view. This in spite of the fact that evolution is accepted by all working scientists, is taught in all universities, and furnishes the basis for all progress in the life sciences.

How has this situation, unique to the United States, come to pass? How have the creationists attained such visibility?

The validity of evolution was a settled matter in the scientific community well before 1900. There had been a few distinguished holdouts, including the noted naturalist Louis Agassiz, but as has happened more than once in science, they died and left no followers. Scientists were convinced by the unique power of evolutionary theory to systematize and explain a vast range of observations and to make verifiable predictions. They found it to be an indispensable tool for further investigation.

High schools quickly followed suit. By 1900, a student who took high-school biology received a thorough grounding in the evolutionary knowledge of the time. Indeed, most high-school texts were essentially abridged and simplified versions of college texts. But what was taught in high school in 1900 was of little interest to most Americans for the simple reason that most of their children didn’t go past eighth grade.

Things changed after the First World War. For a variety of reasons, high-school enrollment exploded. By the mid-1920s most young Americans attended high school for at least two years. It was at this point that many parents – especially in the Bible Belt – were shocked at what their children were learning.

By 1925, a number of states had passed laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools – specifically, the teaching “that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals.” The movement reached a climax in the notorious Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee in 1925.

The effect of these anti-evolution laws extended far beyond the states in which they were in force. Textbook publishers, never a group noted for either courage or integrity, deemed it best simply to eliminate all discussion of evolution from their books. Prior to 1925, Moon’s Biology, a leading text, not only treated evolution well but had a portrait of Charles Darwin for a frontispiece. In the 1927 edition, evolution was gone and Darwin was replaced by a diagram of the human gut.

The Monkey Trial may have exposed the rural South to world-wide ridicule. But the fact was that the laws remained in force until 1968, when Epperson v Arkansas came before the Supreme Court. The Court found, not surprisingly, that the laws had an essentially religious purpose: namely, to maintain the literal truth of the Genesis account of the creation of the world. This religious purpose was made even clearer by the legislative history of the laws. They thus conflicted with the separation clause of the First Amendment, and were struck down.

The creationists of the day saw Epperson v Arkansas as a defeat. But a train of events triggered by the successful orbiting of Sputnik by the USSR in 1957 made matters still worse for them. Suddenly aware of the apparent scientific superiority of the Russians, Americans turned attention to science education with unprecedented intensity. They insisted on reform in teaching all the sciences. Out of that movement came, among other things, the series of excellent biology texts written by experts under the aegis of the government-funded Biological Science Curriculum Study, or BSCS.

BSCS consisted of people who knew what they were writing about. Hence, these widely adopted and widely imitated texts organized the field of biology around its central principle, evolution. Again, lots of kids were exposed to evolution.

The creationists responded to this changed environment by evolving. The courts would not let them forbid the teaching of evolution. They could not even mandate the teaching of Genesis in public school classes. Instead, they became “creation scientists” or “scientific creationists.” They admitted to being biblical creationists – persons who accepted the Genesis account literally. But they claimed that one could also argue for creation on purely scientific grounds, independent of any reference to the Bible though in ultimate agreement with the Genesis account.

The most prominent member of this new creationist species, Henry Morris, held a genuine doctorate and had had a distinguished career, though it was in hydraulic engineering and not the life sciences. With a theologian associate, John Whitcomb, he published The Genesis Flood in 1961. Expounding what had been a minority view almost entirely confined to Seventh Day Adventists, the authors set forth the view that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. They asserted that almost all of the geological and paleontological features generally attributed to millions of years of geological and biological evolution were instead the product of Noah’s Flood, and had formed in about one year. This view is called young-earth creationism, and its devotees are usually called young-earthers.

It did not take long for the scientific community to demolish this assertion. Creation science, it turned out, required doing extensive violence to vast ranges of established physics, including the stability of radioactive decay rates and the speed of light, as well as equally grotesque distortions of geological and biological interpretation. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic believers drafted model legislation under the generic title “Balanced Treatment.” Oblivious to the internal contradictions and plain bad science, they argued that “creation science” was just as valid as “evolution science.” It was only fair, then, to give it equal treatment in public-school science curricula.

Legislation requiring “balanced treatment” was widely introduced and it actually passed in two states, Arkansas and Louisiana. Legal proceedings followed inevitably and immediately. They culminated in the 1987 Supreme Court decision, Edwards v Aguillard. The Court had little difficulty in penetrating the thin mask of science – or rather, pseudoscience – and discerning the essentially religious nature of the laws.

Evolutionary pressures again operated on the creationist world. In due time there emerged a new species, the intelligent-design creationists, or IDCs for short. The IDCs reached back in time for their central idea, which has its roots in antiquity. Its immediate source, however, is the 1802 book by the English divine William Paley, entitled Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. This book, which Darwin admired greatly in his youth, sets forth a simple and appealing idea. Suppose that, while walking on the heath, you find a stone. Clearly its shape, though unique, is contingent on the natural actions of water and wind. But if you look down and find a watch, you immediately recognize that it could not have been formed by the unpredictable actions of such natural forces. It had to be crafted by a skilled designer.

Paley then pointed to the human eye as a parallel. With its exquisitely formed and matched parts, it performs a task for which it could not have come into being by random steps.

Darwin’s contribution was to recognize that evolution is not a random process but a combination of chance and necessity. Myriad variations that do emerge at random are rigorously culled by the environment. This is the process we call natural selection. Only the variations that improve the likelihood of survival and reproduction survive in the long run. Over vast time spans, such improvements build, and lead to the vast complexity and diversity in the living world.

What bothers the IDCs most in this insight is that it does not require repeated, direct divine intervention. This raises no problem for the many religious persons who believe that evolution is God’s dynamic mechanism for participating continually, though at some remove, from his living world. But that view is not congenial to the religiously conservative mind, which requires that God act with a constant, personal, and anthropomorphic hand. People who, for instance, talk to Jesus every day (and perhaps claim to hear his detailed responses as well) cannot be satisfied with a God who intervenes in the natural world in a less paterfamilial manner.

Knowing that explicitly religious views would not pass judicial muster, the IDCs opted to stress the idea of intelligent design while soft-pedaling the nature of the designer. The living world, they asserted, is far too complex to be accounted for by evolutionary processes – at least unaided evolutionary processes. It requires the intervention from time to time of a designer who, though he operates very much like a design engineer, has intelligence and technical skills surpassing those of us humans. As the comedian Jon Stewart put it, he has the skills set required to create a universe. That designer, they argued, might perhaps be a supernatural God, but could possibly be a material space alien – a little green man from Antares. In talking to sympathetic groups, IDCs will generally admit that they think the designer is the Christian God. Indeed, they insist, in contradiction to their assumed ignorance as to whether the designer is material or supernatural, that supernatural intervention is a necessary and observable part of the real world.

In centering on this argument, the IDCs carefully avoid any discussion of the age of the earth and the universe as a whole. Some IDCs are young-earthers and some are not, but as a group they prefer not to talk about the subject. This is a source of friction between them and the young-earthers. But both sides seem to have agreed to skirt the issue, in favor of presenting a united front to the common enemy, the scientific community they see as godless Darwinists.

The first comprehensive airing of IDC was the work not of a person with scientific credentials but a law professor, Philip Johnson. His 1991 book, Darwin On Trial, presented in great detail the argument I have just sketched. But Johnson also made much of the social evils that IDCs and other creationists believe stem from adherence to evolution – or as they call it, Darwinism. [1] If, creationists argue, humans are “only animals,” they will “act like animals” (whatever that means.) [2] Teaching evolution thus leads to such broadly diverse social phenomena as atheism, communism, socialism, naziism, inflation, homosexuality, women’s liberation, sex education, teenage sex, abortion, pornography, family breakdown, school shootings, crime, alcoholism, and drug addiction, to name but a few. [3] (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. One of several versions of "The Evil Tree of Evolution" which can be found in the creationist literature.

With the aim of combating this complex of trends, Johnson and his allies introduced what they called the Wedge Strategy about 1998. [4] It was supposed to be confidential, but soon leaked and is widely available on the Internet. The aim of the Wedge is nothing less than to revolutionize all of the sciences by introducing the supernatural – the directly acting, directly observable hand of God – as a legitimate and frequently encountered component of scientific discovery. But this is not the end of their ambitions, as you will see.

What is the Wedge? Phase I is “Research, Writing, and Publication. … Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.”

Reasonable enough. However, the voluminous output of the ID creationists contains not a single contribution to science. That has not dissuaded them from extensive “attempts to indoctrinate instead of persuade” in Phases II and III:

Phase II: Publicity and opinion-making. … The primary purpose of Phase II is to prepare the popular reception of our ideas. For this reason we seek to cultivate and convince influential individuals in print and broadcast media, as well as think-tank leaders, scientists and academics, congressional staff, talk show hosts, college and seminary presidents and faculty and potential academic allies. … We also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Christians. [5]

"Phase III: …We will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula. … With an added emphasis to the social sciences and humanities, we will begin to address the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences."

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Wedge strategy set three broad goals they hoped to achieve in twenty years:

- to see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science;

- to see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology within the natural sciences, and also in psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities;

- and to see its influence in the fine arts; and to see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

To these ends, the IDC movement has set up a cluster of organizations, the chief of which is the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, and specifically its subsidiary the Center for Science and Culture (CSC). Funding currently totals between $1 million and $2 million a year. It is provided largely by organizations with strong ties to the Religious Right and particularly to the Christian Reconstruction movement, whose ultimate purpose is to supplant the U.S. Constitution with the legal code of the Old Testament. [6]

Aside from Philip Johnson, the most prominent intelligent-design creationists are Michael Behe and William Dembski. Both claim to be research scientists but neither has ever published an IDC-based paper in a standard peer-reviewed scientific journal. Both in fact spend most of their time in polemic.

Behe has genuine scientific credentials. With a doctorate in biochemistry and a tenured position at Lehigh University [7], he has published some workmanlike research in the area, mostly quite a while ago and all on subjects having nothing to do with IDC. But his public prominence depends mainly on his 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box. [8] In it, he essentially dolls up William Paley’s 1802 arguments in modern dress. Because the evolution of the eye is now quite thoroughly understood it no longer makes a good example of something that is too complex to have evolved. Behe acknowledges that evolution probably accounts for the macroscopic structures of living things. Rather, he looks for supernatural intervention in microscopic structures and systems, to some of which he attributes what he calls irreducible complexity. His two favorites are the mammalian blood-clotting mechanism and the tiny motor that drives bacterial flagella. Both are indeed complex, but the details of the evolutionary pathways to both are coming rapidly into view under the scrutiny of modern biological techniques – a scrutiny in which Behe has taken no part.

Behe’s position not only flies in the face of good scientific practice; it is bad theology as well. A scientist who declares that a system is irreducibly complex has said “God did it,” a statement that closes all further inquiry. The problem is that scientists continually come to understand things that no one understood before. This denigrates God, making him the God of the Gaps – the custodian of all we do not understand and thus a God whose domain continually shrinks. Not a very respectful way to treat God!

Dembski, too, holds respectable credentials. He has a doctorate in mathematics and another doctorate in the philosophy of science to boot. To fill out his résumé, he also has a master’s degree in theology. Dembski’s argument is more esoteric than Behe’s. He claims to have developed a mathematical algorithm, based on information theory, which he calls the Explanatory Filter. With this filter, he claims to be able to distinguish between complexity arising from a series of random events and complexity that can only be the result of intelligent design. And of course he claims that his filter singles out living beings as the latter.

But saturated with complicated mathematical notation as it may be, his argument fails on several grounds. Most seriously, the random process he envisions has nothing to do with evolution. As I noted earlier, evolution is based on a combination of random processes and a very nonrandom selection mechanism. Moreover, it has been pointed out that Dembski’s position and Behe’s are mutually contradictory. Specifically, Behe grants that once an irreducibly complex microscopic system – say a cell – has been created, evolutionary processes can account for most everything else. Dembski, on the other hand, claims to have proven mathematically that evolutionary processes cannot lead to anything interesting at all.

As is true of all creationist efforts, a great deal of IDC effort goes into attempts to trash bits and pieces of evolution. The most notable IDC mudslinger is Jonathan Wells, who admits that he got his PhD in biology at the behest of Sun Myung Moon, just so that he could destroy Darwinism. His best-known book, Icons of Evolution, has been discredited at length and it is too dishonest to warrant further attention.

What are the practical consequences of all this nonsense? On the scientific front, nothing much. Two efforts to insinuate IDC into the sphere of the Smithsonian Institution have ended in farce. [9] Dembski’s efforts to achieve a faculty position at a respectable university crashed after an embarrassing war between the then-president and the faculty of Baylor University. [10] He consoles himself with a professorship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where he is the only faculty member with any scientific or mathematical background at all. Altogether, it’s fair to say that Phase I of the Wedge Strategy has been a complete bust.

Although Phases II and III were supposed to depend upon the scientific results of Phase I, and follow it, they have in fact been the forefront of the IDC movement. The National Center for Science Education reports that the number of attempts to insinuate creationism into public-school science curricula has doubled over the last year. We have seen the support of such notables as Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania, Senator Brownback of Kansas, President Bush, and Senator Frist of Tennessee. Of these four dignitaries, we can perhaps forgive the gross ignorance of the first three. But it’s a fair guess that Senator Frist, with his medical degree from Harvard, knows better. [11] Of course, his integrity has now been called into question on matters entirely unconnected with science.

Creationists have been active in at least fifteen states of late. The most visible creationist drives just now are those in Kansas, where the Board of Education has adopted science standards friendly to IDC, and in the small town of Dover, Pennsylvania. In Dover, the creationist-majority school board was the losing defendant in a lawsuit in the Federal Court in Harrisburg. The judge, conservative Republican and Bush appointee John Jones III, issued a long, scathing opinion that highlighted not only the religious motives of the board majority but the dishonesty of two of them who disclaimed such motivation. More important, the intelligently designed opinion clearly set forth the indissoluble links between IDC and the more explicit creationism that the Supreme Court had identified as sectarian religion, disguised as pseudoscience, in Edwards v Aguillard. [12]

And, to everyone’s surprise, all eight creationist board members who were up for reelection lost to a slate of candidates pledged to the teaching of real science, resulting in an 8-1 majority for the latter.

The Dover case actually turned into something of an embarrassment for the Discovery Institute. The IDC leaders realized even before the trial had begun that their original tack, involving direct insinuation of the supernatural into science curricula, was too transparently religious to pass muster in the courts. Consequently, they have softened their demands in the near term. Instead of pressing for the inclusion of IDC in school curricula right away, they press for “teaching the controversy” and expounding on the “evidence against evolution,” both of which sound quite secular and fair-minded, though they are little more than code words for teaching creationism. This will likely be the tack pursued in Kansas.

The controversy, of course, is political and religious, and not at all scientific. As for evidence against evolution, there isn’t any, other than the fraudulent stuff that Wells and others have fabricated. But like all creationists, the Discovery Institute hopes that by instilling doubts in the minds of K-12 students, they can get them to accept creationism and its religious accouterments as a unique alternative.

Unfortunately for their cause, the Dover school district is typical of many others in that the history of the creationist effort is full of clearly religious intent. But with the full-court press on the national level, it is hard to say what will happen.

On a broader front, biology teachers find evolution a hot issue in many communities. They are under pressure not to teach it at all. And, sad to say, about 30% of biology teachers have some level of belief in creationism. In addition, many of the fifty state science standards – the documents on which statewide achievement tests and textbooks are based – are often very skimpy on evolution, not by accident. But that is a subject for another article.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE): PO Box 9477, Berkeley, CA 94709-0477 Among other things, NCSE serves as a clearinghouse for information on attempts to insinuate creationism into public-school science curricula.

Reports on state science standards:

- Finn, Chester E. & Michael J. Petrilli, eds., The State of State Standards 2000, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Washington, D.C., and available on the net at; free hard copies at 888-823-7474

- Lerner, Lawrence S., Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution In the States, ibid.

- Gross, Paul R., Ursula Goodenough, Susan Haack, Lawrence S. Lerner, Martha Schwartz, and Richard Schwartz, The State of State Standards 2005, ibid.

- Lerner, Lawrence S., Good and bad science in US schools, Nature 407, 287 (2000)

General introduction to creationism:

Scott, Eugenie C., Evolution vs. Creationism, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT & London, 2004

Thorough history of creationism:

Numbers, Ronald L., The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992
Detailed analysis of various types of creationism by a distinguished biologist:

Miller, Kenneth, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, Cliff Street Books, New York, 1999.

Detailed analysis of intelligent design creationism:

Pennock, Robert T., Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999.

Analysis of the history and aims of the intelligent design creationism movement:

Forrest, Barbara and Paul R. Gross, Creationism’s Trojan Horse, Oxford U. Press, Oxford & New York, 2004

Brief treatments of creationism vis-à-vis science by the National Academy of Sciences:

General: Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1999

For teachers: Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, ibid., 1998

1) The use of the term “Darwinism” is a propaganda ploy. Firstly, it implies that modern evolutionary theory consists of nothing beyond the pioneering work of Darwin; it is as though someone dissatisfied with present-day physics dubbed it “Newtonism.” Secondly, it implies a demotion of evolution from its position as the unique central organizing principle of the life sciences to the status of one of a number of conflicting social theories such as Marxism, Maoism, or Objectivism.

2) Curiously, most holders of this interpretation are also strongly committed to the doctrine of original sin, according to which humans have a propensity for evil-doing that is unique in the animal kingdom, and believe that the ills that beset all living things – including death itself – are a direct consequence of that human transgression.

3) See, for instance, Johnson, Philip, Reason In the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1995, passim. Referenced in Pennock, Robert T., Tower of Babel, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999, p. 315, where Johnson is cited as associating evolution with abortion, homosexuality, pornography, divorce, genocide, and bestiality.

4)See, e.g.,, accessed on 10/16/05.

5) It is common practice among evangelicals and fundamentalists to use the term Christian in a narrow sense, excluding the much broader spectrum of Christians who do not subscribe to their belief system.

6) Forrest, Barbara and Paul R. Gross, Creationism’s Trojan Horse, Oxford U. Press, Oxford and New York, 2004, pp. 148-150.

7) The Department of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University has found it necessary to post a disclaimer of Behe’s views on the university’s official website, “The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others. The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of “intelligent design.” While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.”

8) Behe, Michael, Darwin’s Black Box, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996.

9) See Intelligent Design At NMHN?

More on Meyer

10) See

11) “Now that Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, has come out in favor of the teaching of intelligent design, medical students may soon be learning that only a hidden hand could be responsible for the complexities of oxidative metabolism in mitochondria. What would it mean to take intelligent design seriously at the medical school level? Its proponents tell us that gaps in our knowledge of how living organisms evolved vitiate the theory of evolution. Might we conclude, then, that the cancer cell and its evolution are so complex that a creative designer must be the cause of cancer? But if the designer created cancer, is it against the hidden hand’s will to find a cure for cancer? Is it in accord with the plan of the intelligent designer to receive a treatment for cancer?” Schwartz, Robert S., “Faith Healers and Physicians — Teaching Pseudoscience by Mandate,” New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14), 1437-1439, October 6, 2005.

12) Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover, Case 4:04-cv-02688-JEJ Document 342 Filed 12/20/2005, available inter alia at

About the Author
Lawrence S. Lerner is Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. He has contributed extensively to writing and evaluation of state K-12 science standards and to the evolution / creationism issue.

If I Was Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Ghaddafi....

I think I'd raise at least an eyebrow at this:
Rumsfeld Seeks Military Ties With N.Africa

AP Military Writer

February 11, 2006, 4:43 AM EST

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Opening a three-day tour of North Africa, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday the United States wants to build closer military ties to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco to help combat Islamic extremism and terrorism.

Speaking aboard an Air Force plane en route to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, Rumsfeld called Tunisia and Morocco "long-standing friends and constructive partners in these efforts against terrorism."

"Each country has been, in its way, providing moderate leadership and been constructive in ... the struggle against violent extremism," he said. "It's something we value and want to strengthen."

Rumsfeld said that while some parts of North Africa are vulnerable to infiltration by terrorist networks, he does not think the danger is as great in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

"There are certainly places in the world that are attractive for terrorists and terrorist networks," he said. "They tend not to be countries like these three. They tend to be areas that have large ungoverned spaces" where governments are more tolerant toward extremism, "and that would not be the case in any one of these three nations."
OK, so let's go take a look at a map, shall we?

Hm, Algeria is that moderate-sized nation just across the Gibraltar straits from Spain. Morocco is that little bump just in the upper left corner of Algeria, and Tunisia is the speck between Algeria.....and....Libya. And next to Libya is Egypt. And under Egypt is the Sudan and Nigeria. And Somalia isn't too far away.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....No, Mr. Rumsfeld, the danger isn't in Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia.

Until we get our troops deployed there.

I'd be more than a little worried, if I'm either Hosni Mubarak or our new best African friend, Muammar Ghaddafi. See, it turns out there's a price to be paid when you deal with the know the whole "that day may never come, but you'll pay back the favor I did you," bit.

Egypt is already struggling with an Islamist movement that is being deflected with secret police raids, rigged elections and whatever little appeasement Mubarak can throw at them. Libya has been under the radar lately, but Ghaddafi's surrender to the US could not have been viewed favorably in the Islamist world, except as a sign of weakness.

It would be a neat little coup to tie up and "clean up" a large package of Al Qaeda training camps and operatives, and to do so, the US would have to go through either Libya or Egypt, and likely both.

It sounds to me like they've already picked the next next place to pick a fight.

Friday, February 10, 2006

First, It Was Cat Stevens. Next, It Will Be Asians, But For Now...

Expulsez les Françaises!

this is an audio post - click to play

Border protection criticized for detaining French farmer


February 9, 2006, 9:05 PM EST

Labor and anti-globalization activists Thursday criticized U.S. Border Protection officials who detained French farmer Jose Bove this week at Kennedy Airport, then sent him back to France and prevented him from attending an international labor conference in Manhattan.

Bove, who shot to international prominence after he and other sheep farmers dismantled a McDonald's under construction in southern France in 1999, now travels the world as an advocate of local food production. In addition to a 6- month jail term for destroying the McDonald's, he also has been jailed for ripping up genetically modified crops.
I guess the United States doesn't want us to have it your way...

Genetically modified crops are a topic that has slipped under the radar for most people, except my good friend, Ed Bremson at The Tao Of Politics (and its sister blog, The Tao of Biotechnology. Both are required reading, and there will be a quiz).

I'm on the fence on this issue: GMCs have the potential to wipe out hunger in our time. They also have the potential to wipe out whole populations, and whole economies and environments. A dangerous technology, to be sure, and one more insidious and pervasive than nuclear technology, to which its danger has been likened.

It was one thing to bar Cat Stevens from entering the country (altho it could have been handled better). He had actively supported madrassahs that taught hatred for infidels, including America. While I do not believe he personally would have committed a terrorist act, I do not think it sends the right signal to give him entreé into this country, at least on a "business as usual" basis.

But to bar a farmer who, altho one might classify them as terrorist acts, committed what amounts to a statement of revolt against forces he felt were imposing on the sovereignty of not just his country, but his profession, is silly. It tells me that McDonald's and Monsanto have influence on foreign policy and trade far beyond what should be deemed appropriate.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Simply Left Behind, Children's Division

Anyone who knows me knows how much respect, admiration, and love I have for teachers. Part of why I chose the title of this blog, "Simply Left Behind," was to tweak the moronity of the Bush edumacayshun "program". If No Child is to be Left Behind, and that entails a thorough "teaching to the test in math and English" curriculum, then obviously I, who took art, music, science, and even civics, must have been--all together now-- simply left behind...check out the AFT response to this insanity. Gather your kids around you while you watch:

Want To Know How Bush Will Reduce Troops In Iraq?

By using sailors!
U.S. expands Navy role in Iraq

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chief of Naval Operations revealed on Wednesday U.S. plans to deploy more Navy personnel in IRAQ as medical corpsmen and in special operations roles to ease the burden on Army troops.

The move is aimed at lifting the burden on the stressed and stretched U.S. Army in IRAQ, with soldiers doing everything from combat, medical and security duties to countless support operations, the CNN reported.

The U.S. currently has 138,000 troops in IRAQ, of which about 99,000 are Army personnel.
According to CNN, the additional sailors to be deployed in country is 22,000.

Expect to see this pig to get lipstick (sorry, Torie Clarke, it's called "The Spin Era") from the Bush administration: "Oh, no, we're reducing TROOPS by 22,000!"

Followed quickly by other gaudieized porcine such as Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh fulminating on how, "Well, sailors aren't troops! They're sailors! Who cares where they're deployed! They're just sailors and they won't be doing combat jobs! So the 'troops,' the fighting men and women, are being reduced!"...

...conveniently neglecting the fact that sailors can get blown up just as easily as soldiers.

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Addicted to Oil, Part 3

Y'know, you wait for the other shoe to drop, and with this administration, it always does. Under the cover of the NSA hearings and the riots in the Middle East, comes this little gem (HT Miss Cellania):
Energy gaps seen in Bush's budget
Plan would cut funding aimed at conservation
By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | February 8, 2006

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's latest spending plan is unlikely to substantially reduce US oil consumption in the short term because it slashes $100 million from federal programs promoting conservation and falls short of the commitment in last year's energy bill to make vast new investments in renewable and emerging technologies, like hydrogen fuel and solar power.

Despite Bush's ambitious goal of cutting Middle East oil imports by 75 percent within 20 years -- outlined in his State of the Union address a week ago -- the president's budget calls for an 18 percent cut in programs aimed at reducing energy consumption, like financial aid to help needy families better insulate their homes and research to make cars use fuel more efficiently.

Critics say the budget sends a mixed message on energy policy: The president wants to invest in renewable energy but would spend less on it than he promised in the energy bill he signed and would scale down efficiency programs that would more quickly reduce the nation's demand for oil.
Small steps, to be sure, but immediate ones. And small steps may be what we're forced to take right now, since there are enough barbarians at the gate to warrant a full-scale assault on this idiotic idea floated by Bush of cutting overseas oil dependence by 75%.

Noble in its aim, so please don't mistake me for someone who WANTS us to import more oil. I fully support alternative energy research, and I want it now. But what's idiotic is the idea that this failed oil man, whose entire life has been serving the Saudis, and picking up the crumbs they drop in his food dish to gain access to power, is the instrument of this effort. That's utter nonsense, and anyone with a lick of intelligence ought to see that (so basically, that's maybe the 60% of the country that doesn't lead with its right wing).

There are so many things we could do right now to cut oil imports by 25%. These programs, targeted to assist the poor, are one. Another idea I've had is to re-classify both SUVs and pick up trucks, as, well, trucks, not just for CAFE standards, but also for insurance purposes.

Want to see people abandoning their SUVs by the side of the road and running into buy hybrids and electric cars? That's how you do it! Ban them from anything but the interstate highways & streets designed for commercial traffic. Take them off parkways and side streets. Make our lives cleaner, healthier and less dependent on oil.

And Bush could do this with the wave of a pen. And it's not like he'd be hurting Ford or GM...

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sometimes, Humour Just Writes Itself

Alaska Seeks to Remake State's Image
Associated Press Writer

JUNEAU, Alaska - It's known as The Last Frontier. But lately, Alaska is worried the rest of America sees it as the Freeloading Frontier.

Gov. Frank Murkowski says it is time for an image makeover. He wants the state to hire a public relations firm to change the perception of Alaska and its people as greedy for federal dollars and all too willing to plunder the environment for profit.
You might try getting rid of this guy...
Mr. Stevens's Tirade

Sunday, October 23, 2005; Page B06

ALASKA SEN. Ted Stevens threw the senatorial version of a hissy fit on the floor the other day. The issue was a proposal by his Republican colleague, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, to block $453 million earmarked for two Alaska bridges in the recent highway bill and instead use some of the money to rebuild the Interstate 10 bridge across Lake Ponchartrain wiped out by the recent hurricane. Mr. Stevens is one of the masters of the Senate at steering federal money in the direction of his state, but he was not going to stand for this reverse flow.

"I will put the Senate on notice -- and I don't kid people -- if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state and take money only from our state, I will resign from this body," Mr. Stevens vowed. Sounds awfully tempting to us -- but not, apparently, to Mr. Stevens's colleagues; the amendment failed 82 to 15.

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Man-Animal Hybrids

I was perusing the Internets today, when I came across a super-secret government site with a frightening gallery of man-animal cloning experiments gone horribly wrong!

Take a look at these!:

Alienus Coultergeistus:
identifiably by her unusually long hands and ability to spit venom across country.

Falafellatio Dicklus:
Easily identified by the splotches on its face, the so-called "Loofah Monster" has been known to stalk its prey via telephone and showers in the Caribbean. You can hear it's distinctive call "Shut up! Shut up! Shut UP!" between noon and 2PM, and again at 8PM daily, eastern time. Seen here with a rare female. Of any species.

Moronus Cementheadis:
Known for its ability to parrot anything on its right wing, the "HandItTies"er has very disturbing substances matting its hairy palms, and anal orifice, probably secretions of the Shrubus Chimpus or perhaps even Cheneyus Heartless (sic).

Assrocketus Foureyes:
The less said about this vile disgusting creature, the better. I wouldn't let my daughter date it. Possibly the love child of Roseanne Barr and her trash disposal.

Asiaticus Joepescius:
Obviously fish-human amalgam, likely wide-mouth bAss, able to swallow lies whole (along with several seamen), regurgitating them as a fairly unpalatable load of tripe laced with venom and bile. Avoid at all costs unless you have a carry permit.
But what's truly scary about the State of the Union is how well a certain hybrid cleans up...

Shrubus Chimpus:
Comes off as cute and non-threatening. Flings shit. A lot.

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Photo credits to: Jesus' General,,,

Trust In The Law

I've been spending this week trying to come up with a soundbite to rebut the Bush administration regarding this whole domestic surveillance program of wiretapping Americans in order to determine who's talking to Al Qaeda and who's talking to his grandmother in Alsace.

It's not easy, and I consider myself fairly adept at condensing and coalescing information into byte-size chunks.

I mean, yes, if we could trust any administration to use this power wisely, it might be one thing. Even then, we have to put in stops to keep corrupt Republican neo-conservative fascists politicians from abusing this for, say, wire tapping Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate.

Which is what I believed FISA was meant to do.

You see, that's a huge chunk of information, that paragraph. It's not easy to spit that out when you have some right-wing moron shouting "9-11 changed everything! War on terror! Al QAEDA!!!!!!!"

So I'm watching a repeat of West Wing last night...ol' Alan Alda is playing Arnie Vinick and is shining his shoes when Josh Lyman (played ably by Bradley Whitford) walks in to offer him the post of UN Ambassador. Vinick, a moderate Republican (which is kind of like saying a 6 kiloton nuke is a moderate nuke), lectures Josh on the importance of shining shoes and how a man who shines his own shoes is a man he can trust. Somehow, this segues into a discussion of government:
"The Founding Fathers didn't set up a government based on trust. They could have designed a government based on trust in our ability to govern fairly but they knew that power corrupts so they invented checks and balances. That was genius. The Founding Fathers did not want me to trust you and they did not want you to trust me."
BAM! There's your soundbite.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hm. Halliburton. Homeland Security. Prison Camps.

From the Saturday New York Times, via BoingBoing. Props to Miss Cellania for catching this...
Halliburton Subsidiary Gets Contract to Add Temporary Immigration Detention Centers

Published: February 4, 2006
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 — The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a contract worth up to $385 million for building temporary immigration detention centers to Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that has been criticized for overcharging the Pentagon for its work in Iraq.

KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space, company executives said. KBR, which announced the contract last month, had a similar contract with immigration agencies from 2000 to last year.

The contract with the Corps of Engineers runs one year, with four optional one-year extensions. Officials of the corps said that they had solicited bids and that KBR was the lone responder.
OK, as BoingBoing, points out, this should send a shiver down anyone's spine. After all, it's Halliburton, which reported a record net profit of $2.4 billion dollars last year and Dick Cheney's old company.

There is something to be said for the fact that a) these facilities have been contracted for since the Clinton administration (at least), and b) Halliburton was the sole bidder. All that noted, however...
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, who has monitored the company, called the contract worrisome.

"With Halliburton's ever expanding track record of overcharging, it's hard to believe that the administration has decided to entrust Halliburton with even more taxpayer dollars," Mr. Waxman said. "With each new contract, the need for real oversight grows."
Me? I just have one question: Is the fact that Halliburton was the sole bidder a function of the inability of anyone else to do this work, or is there something else afoot?

You know what I'm thinking: Maybe it's time Waxman asked that question.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

A Novel Twist

Mayor: New Orleans will seek aid from other nations

By Michael Depp

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.

Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.

"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.

Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.

Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and killed more than 1,300 people in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Bush administration has pledged billions of dollars to Katrina victims but five months after the storm, New Orleans remains largely in ruins.

Nagin said his message to President George W. Bush would be that the federal government needs to refocus on the devastated area.
Well, that ought to be embarassing, but ultimately to whom?

I Got A Simpler, Cheaper Idea...

Bloomberg still pushing for West Side development


February 6, 2006

After Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed West Side stadium was nixed last spring, the spotlight swung to lower Manhattan, with the mayor urging changes in the plans for the World Trade Center site.

But even as the drama plays out downtown, Bloomberg insists he is determined to see the far West Side blossom with development.

The mayor's newest budget plan, unveiled last week, retains the unusual financing plan, previously approved by the City Council, for extending the No. 7 train line from Times Square to a new terminus at West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue and making other improvements.

An entity created in July 2004, called the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corp., would issue about $3 billion in bonds over six years for the train line and for a platform over the rail yards east of Eleventh Avenue between 34th and 35th streets.

According to the Bloomberg plan, several office towers and the structure for a cultural center would go into that space. A park and street network would go north of the rail yards. These changes would make way for 24 million square feet of office space and more than 13,000 residential units over 30 years, officials say.

Government building projects usually are funded by issuing bonds, perhaps subject to referendum, which are repaid out of tax revenue.

The city, however, has a crowded construction agenda, including plans for billions of dollars' worth of schools. And, as Bloomberg pointed out in his presentation last Tuesday, the city also faces rising debt costs and a legal ceiling on how much it can owe at once.

To keep the West Side financing off the capital budget, the city plans as before to fund these improvements with future income from the sales and rental of all that new commercial and residential property. While work proceeds, interest on the bonds would be paid out of city revenue.
Now, this sort of makes sense to me, except for one thing: we've done this kind of commercial capitalization program before (in the sense that the city has given away enormous tax breaks to keep companies in the city), and while it's been pretty successful, it's also dumped the lion's share of city tax revenues onto the backs of individual residents.

And then I see this:
Mayor shortchanging MTA, advocates say


February 6, 2006

Transit advocates are once again accusing the mayor of shortchanging the MTA.

Mayor Bloomberg allotted $595 million for the MTA in fiscal year 2007 in his latest budget proposal. But the Straphangers Campaign said that number is far too low and will add to the MTA's long-term structural deficit. Although the MTA ended 2005 with a $1 billion surplus it still projects a $1 billion deficit in 2009.

"That's nowhere near a fair share," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney with the Straphangers Campaign. "The city should be giving more to help run a system that keeps the city running."

Transit advocates have long criticized both the city and state in recent years for curtailing subsidies to the MTA. To make up for the shortfall, the MTA has had to borrow more money and raise fares.

"In recent years, the city has only contributed about 3% of the New York City Transit budget of $6 billion," Russianoff said. New York City Transit is the MTA subsidiary the runs the subway and buses.
...and I says to myself, "Self, what would happen if we combined these two articles? What conclusion or idea can we draw from them?

Multiple personality disorder. Sometimes it can actually be a benefit.

Anyway, the answer becomes enormously clear: we can develop the West Side AND kick more money to NYCTA if we do one simple thing.

Merely extend the #7 train to the planned route.

The difficulty in the rail yards in terms of development isn't that people don't want to live and work there. Hell, it's nearly waterfront property! The problem is getting them there.

Currently the district is served by only a handful of bus lines, two of which service the Times and Herald Square areas as well (and are thus very fact, the M34 is consistently ranked the worst bus line by the Straphangers' Campaign). Imagine trying to attract workers to an area where it's easier to get your car to (the Lincoln Tunnel entrance is within blocks of the district) than commuting by public transportation.

Mr. Mayor, if you build it, they will come. Suddenly, you have reliable, efficient public transportation (the #7 train is consistently ranked among the top three by the Straphangers Campaign). Suddenly, a major obstacle for developers is removed. Suddenly, the area is attractive.

And the charm of this plan is, growth will happen organically, evolving and thus minimizing discomfort to residents who already live and work there! It's nearly a win-win all around!

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Grandpa's Dead

Al Lewis, grandpa on TV's "The Munsters," dies

By Jeanne King Sat Feb 4, 7:33 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Al Lewis, best known for his role as Grandpa in television's "The Munsters," has died after a long illness, a local radio station said on Saturday.

A movie Web site listed his age as 95, but there have been reports that he was 83.

Lewis, who died on Friday, was born in Brooklyn and was raised by his mother, an immigrant sweatshop worker in the Brownsville district of that borough.[....]

Lewis worked as salesman and waiter and once owned a successful restaurant in Greenwich Village. He also was a poolroom owner, store detective and political candidate.

He worked as a circus clown and performed stunts on the trapeze bar, taught school, wrote two children's books and by the time he was 31, received a doctorate in child psychology from Columbia University.

An avid college basketball fan, he also scouted for several basketball teams.

It wasn't until 1949 that he turned to acting and joined the Paul Mann Actor's Workshop where his classmates were Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. It was at the workshop that Lewis developed his comedic style.

His first big role was as Officer Leo Schnauser on the "Car 54, Where Are You?" series that ran from 1961 to 1963. In 1964, Lewis began playing Grandpa Munster, part of a wacky, endearing family of monsters whose fictional address was 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights.

"The Munsters" ran for two years on CBS, then continued on in syndication.
While most people remember him best for his "Grandpa", few people realize just how versatile a man this was.

But above all, he was a political activist and ran as the Green Party candidate against George Pataki (as Grandpa Al Lewis) and garnered 52,000 votes. He had a weekly radio show on the NYC Pacifica outlet, WBAI, and I remember him best, sitting outside his Village restaurant in nice weather, striking up conversations (and posing for pictures) with anyone, and I do mean anyone.

The man could bend an ear, as a number of women I've dated over the years can attest. He also had an eye out for, um, abundant talent.

But what's really surprising is his pre-acting work: he was a political activist on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti (a questionable conviction and execution for a double homicide and robbery), and did signal work in freeing the Scottsboro boys, nine black boys arrested and accused, and eight convicted (and all later cleared) of raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s.

The world is less of a place because of his death but it is a better place for him.

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My Prediction

Well, this is shaping up to be the least interesting Super Bowl of all time. I predict it will be the sloppiest game played by either team this year, and it will be a race to see who plays not to lose the best. The officiating will be horribly ambiguous and uncertain, calling into question the outcome of the game.

So, Steelers 21-10, in a horrid performance by both teams. In addition, the Stones will be censored at some point, probably if they do "Start Me Up" (you know, "You make a dead man come.")

Let's see how I do.

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