The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why the Administration's war on science is bad for us

Where to begin today? There's a smorgasbord of religious extremism on display today, with Bush administration incompetence on the dessert table, so much so that you might start to think there might be almost a symbiotic relationship between the two.

First, in a not-entirely-unpredictable display of intolerance for Western tolerance, Lebanese terr--sorry, protestors burned the Danish Embassy in Beirut this morning:

The violence in Lebanon came a day after thousands of protesters in neighboring Syria set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the most violent of furious demonstrations by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Twelve caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues.

Der Spiegel has the Danish view:

"We expected these kinds of threats," said Jyllands-Posten spokesman Tage Clausen, looking calm, composed and almost peaceful given the commotion surrounding his newspaper. The bomb threat, he said, just served to show how relevant the debate that the newspaper unleashed four months ago is in contemporary society. In September, Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's highest-circulation newspaper, published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad—one showed him wearing a bomb as a turban with the fuse already burning.
Clausen said the paper did not intend to provoke Muslims by running the political cartoons. "Instead we wanted to show how deeply entrenched self-censorship has already become," he said. After the explosive reaction to the drawings, however, you would be hard pressed to find a Danish cartoonist willing to risk drawing any caricatures relating to Islam.

The newspaper has published an open letter to Muslims, in part apologising, and in part explaining to the 15th Century why the 21st Century is different:

In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.
Maybe because of culturally based misunderstandings, the initiative to publish the 12 drawings has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world.
I must categorically dismiss such an interpretation. Because of the very fact that we are strong proponents of the freedom of religion and because we respect the right of any human being to practise his or her religion, offending anybody on the grounds of their religious beliefs is unthinkable to us.
It is the wish of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten that various ethnic groups should live in peace and harmony with each other and that the debates and disagreements which will always exist in a dynamic society should do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

An article from the Los Angeles Times' media critic about our tolerance of fundamentalist intolerance suggests we need a little less tolerance dealing with these thugs:

In Iraq on Friday, the country's dwindling community of Chaldean Catholics prepared for more of the terrorist attacks that have become routine; there were no reported attacks on Muslims in any of the countries where the Danish caricatures were republished. Muslims in those places may have been affronted, but they are not in fear for their lives. No Western leader claims that Ferdinand and Isabella did not expel the Moors from Spain or that there were no massacres during the Crusades. If they did, they'd be howled off the podium and ridiculed into obscurity. The president of theocratic Iran claims that there was no Holocaust and people across the Islamic world applaud.

This dovetails nicely with Talk of the Town in this week's New Yorker, about the Hamas victory:

Among the fundamentalists, the idea that Islam is superior to other religions has become predominant. Long before it took over the Palestinian parliament, Hamas managed to turn what we thought to be a national conflict into a religious war.

Next, on the same topic (i.e., religious fundamentalism's jihad against reason), the New York Times reports NASA Administrator Michael Griffin called for more openness in the agency in response to widespread and growing political interference from Administration appointees. For example, as part of their war against science, the Administration wants the word "theory" appended to the phrase "Big Bang:"

The Big Bang memo came from George Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.
In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

The story about NASA and the stories about the Muslim world's reaction to the Danish cartoons are connected. Religion and politics need to be separate, as our founders understood, and the Bush administration does not.

This last story kind of brings it all together. MSNBC is reporting this hour that a major Al Queda prisoner has escaped:

A man considered a mastermind of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 soldiers in a Yemeni port in 2000 was among 23 people who escaped from a Yemen prison last week, Interpol said Sunday.

So do you feel safer than six years ago?

State of Delusion

From Paul Krugman's column (sub.req.) this morning:

This administration is all politics and no policy. It knows how to attain power, but has no idea how to govern. That's why the administration was caught unaware when Katrina hit, and why it was totally unprepared for the predictable problems with its drug plan. It's why Mr. Bush announced an energy plan with no substance behind it. And it's why the state of the union—the thing itself, not the speech—is so grim.

And this little tidbit from Poynter Online correspondent Alan D Abbey:

I ran across this brief couplet upon perusing "The Norton Book of Light Verse" with my son, who needed a short poem for something he is doing in school. It's a nice comment on the current media environment, and the explosion in volume, at least, of content and brands. It's by 17th-century physician and poet Samuel Garth, and it goes like this:
"What frenzy has of late posssess'd the brain
"Though few can write, yet fewer can refrain."

Heh.

My sides hurt from laughing too hard

From the Washington newspaper Roll Call earlier today:

House Republicans are taking a mulligan on the first ballot for Majority Leader. The first count showed more votes cast than Republicans present at the Conference meeting.

I wonder if Diebold counted the ballots?

President at 39%; State of the Union "Unwatchable"

The latest NBC/WSJ poll finds only 39% of Americans think the President is doing a good job. I can't remember a President with lower approval ratings, ever. And still this one believes he has a mandate. Incredible.

A related item: Journalist Josh Marshall finds the State of the Union address "unwatchable" in general. I think if it weren't on a Tuesday and one could make a serious drinking game out of it, perhaps it could be more fun, but alas. I'll probably watch it anyway, though Anne might want to leave the house for all the cursing it's sure to evoke.

Round-up of sad news stories

Not that anyone is surprised, but Samuel Alito got confirmed an Associate Justice of the U.S. today.

Civil-rights activist Corretta Scott King died this morning.

Exxon reported a $36 billion profit in 2005, the largest corporate profit ever, making Exxon shareholders the largest beneficiaries in history of the ongoing environmental degradation of our planet.

And today is Alan Greenspan's last day as Federal Reserve Chairman, which actually may be good news for our children, since it's unlikely that incoming chariman Ben Bernanke will allow the structural imbalances in the U.S. economy that Greenspan encouraged to continue. More on that later.

Finally, the Oscar nominees were announced this morning, prompting me to send a very long, pun-filled email to Anne, which I will spare my loyal readers.

That is all.

An analogy about climate change

Imagine you're a fisherman in an English village sometime in the 10th century. You notice, on the horizon, some longboats. You get worried, because you know the Norse have raped and pillaged from Dover to York for many years, which always ends badly for those raped and pillaged.

You mention it to the lord of the manor, who asks, "how many boats?" You say you don't know; it could be two, it could be four, they're still a ways away. "Come back when you know for sure," he tells you.

Another villager runs in to tell the manor lord essentially the same thing: He has seen Norsemen coming, they're heading right for us, hadn't we better get the men at arms ready?

No, says the manor lord, and further if you challenge my authority again, I shall shackle you to the wall.

A third villager runs in, shouting that the Norsemen are coming, at least two boats with 160 men, they'll arrive within the hour.

The manor lord shackles the third man to the wall, and shortly thereafter gets a Norse battle axe through the skull.

This is, of course, an (admittedly bad) analogy to the Bush Administration's handling of the ongoing global warming crisis, which has just gotten worse. Scientists now have stronger evidence that we're heading to a "tipping point" where climate change will accelerate beyond our ability to adapt, never mind our ability to prevent it.

Notice I said "stronger evidence." Climatologists have, in fact, predicted this scenario for at least 20 years, and until Dubya our government was listening—sometimes with only half an ear, true, but that's better than now.

Our current administration just doesn't want to hear about climate change. Their prinicpal argument has been that since the actual degree of change is uncertain, we don't know what actions to take yet, so we should do nothing lest we do the wrong thing. This, of course, makes no sense, as the principal actions to take are quite obvious to anyone remotely paying attention.

As they have done with other bits of evidence they didn't like, they've exerted political pressure to squelch it:

"There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change," said [President Bush's chief science adviser, John H.] Marburger, adding that the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on researching this and other climate change questions. "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."
This tipping point debate has stirred controversy within the administration; [NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies director James E.] Hansen said senior political appointees are trying to block him from sharing his views publicly. When Hansen posted data on the Internet in the fall suggesting that 2005 could be the warmest year on record, NASA officials ordered Hansen to withdraw the information because he had not had it screened by the administration in advance, according to a Goddard scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. More recently, NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for this article and later insisted he could speak on the record only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.

(Personal aside: the Washington Post article quoted above ends with this bit:

The small island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 small atolls, none of which is more than 2 m (6.5 ft) above the South Pacific, and it is only a matter of time before the entire country is submerged by the rising sea. "For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred," Schneider said. "As far as they're concerned, it's tipped, but they have no economic clout in the world."

...which is interesting to me because my friend Danielle just got back from Peace Corps duty there.)

I chose the analogy to Norsemen because I'm just finishing up Jared Diamond's book Collapse, whose central thesis is that societies collapse primarily because of ecological changes combined with the societies' responses to them. Witness the Norse in Greenland dying out after 450 years, while the Inuit happily lived on to the present day.

Someday, when we spend half a trillion dollars to build seawalls around New York and Miami, we're going to look back on this Administration the way the French look back on Louis XVI.

Stuff we already knew about Abramoff

Not that anyone who reads a newspaper will be surprised, but Abramoff didn't give money to Democrats, only Republicans:

A new and extensive analysis of campaign donations from all of Jack Abramoff’s tribal clients, done by a nonpartisan research firm, shows that a great majority of contributions made by those clients went to Republicans. The analysis undercuts the claim that Abramoff directed sums to Democrats at anywhere near the same rate.

It's the corruption, stupid.