My friend and fellow book lover Jan, sent me this children's fable. The sentiment is apt for everything else we cherish in life.
"He who dislikes the cat, was in his former life, a rat."
If you thought that the ubiquitous and versatile bacterium, E-coli only causes violent stomach upsets, read about its artistic side.
"As part of a contest to demonstrate innovative uses for genetically engineered organisms, graduate students in Texas and California have produced "living photographs" from sheets of bacteria growing in a petri dish.
The team engineered the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli with two key mutations: one that causes it to produce a black pigment and the second that shuts down production of the pigment when the bacteria are exposed to light.
When an image from a 35 mm slide or other source is focused on the surface of the dish for a couple of hours, the bacteria respond to produce a permanent high-resolution copy, according to a report on the technique published in the current issue of the journal Nature..."
Right now President Bush is delivering his speech on "Plan for Victory" in Iraq. What victory? Shouldn't it be "Plan for Peace" now? I don't have time to listen - will catch up with it later on the news. Members of this failed administration are stuck on semantics over substance. They believe that a bad situation will magically become better by introducing new phrases and expressions. They ought to pay heed to what Gary Hart (who understands global terrorism far better than the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld trio) had to say about Iraq: "The public trust must be earned, and speaking clearly, candidly and forcefully now about the mess in Iraq is the place to begin."
Here is an example of Rummy Speak (or Turkey Talk) over the weekend:
He (Rumsfeld) declared that the insurgents would, henceforth, no longer be called insurgents.
"Over the weekend, I thought to myself, 'You know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,' " Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, said. "It was an epiphany," he added, throwing his hand in the air.
Encouraging reporters to consult their dictionaries, Rumsfeld said: "These people aren't trying to promote something other than disorder, and to take over that country and turn it into a caliphate and then spread it around the world. This is a group of people who don't merit the word 'insurgency,' I think."
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, standing at Rumsfeld's side, evidently didn't get the memo about the wording change. Describing combat in Iraq, he paused and said, "I have to use the word 'insurgent' because I can't think of a better word right now."....... "Sorry, sir," Pace said. "I'm not trainable today."
And now find out what another turkey, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," - is doing for his own rehabilitation:
The former bureaucrat, nicknamed by President George Bush in a memorable but misplaced compliment, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," has picked up the pieces and launched a new career as a disaster preparedness consultant, with offices in Colorado and Washington. In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, the unchastened Brown explained why clients should hire a failed disaster manager to provide advice on handling future emergencies.
"Hurricane Katrina showed how bad disasters can be, and there's an incredible need for individuals and businesses to understand how important preparedness is," Brown said, apparently with a straight face. Without mentioning names, Brown claimed he's doing good work with a number of clients. "If people want to take shots at me, fine, but let's figure out a way to make this thing work better next time." .....
Supporters of the Iraq war continue to impute to those of us (the liberal left or just the plain old left) opposed to this appalling misadventure, several unsavory qualities and motives. They imply that we are not sufficiently disturbed by tyranny and oppression. That we find fault with the US government (especially a Republican one) engaged in a noble endeavor to punish fascist regimes. The right has even asserted that opponents of the Iraq war wouldn't mind if the terrorists defeat George Bush (cut off one's nose to spite one's face). Also, we cannot bring ourselves to celebrate the liberation of Iraqi and Afghan citizens. In other words, we are not patriotic Americans and we are crestfallen that democracy might be breaking out all over the mideast ! All straw man arguments of course - a mindset spawned by the one dimensional thinking of the right's current champion who famously said, "You are either with us or you are with the terrorists."
What the right willfully ignores is that the opponents of the Iraq war may have paid heed to history and learnt that a reckless, unilateral aggression exacts a high price in human lives and national morale. We find the notion of pre-emptive invasion of a country (however detestable its leadership) which did not attack us and was unlikely to do so, a morally reprehensible and unacceptable political precedent. We vehemently disagreed with the suggestion that the death and mutilation of US soldiers, wanton killing of Iraqis and the destruction of Iraq's historic and modern infrastructures was only a necessary "collateral damage". We nervously predicted the futility and danger of abandoning the pursuit of the Taliban and Al Qaida to focus on an aging and attenuated despot (whose follies we had ignored for years because of his oil wealth) with whom, it appeared that Bush-Cheney had a personal score to settle. Why is it so difficult for the right to appreciate that to be alarmed and repulsed by terrorism and to disapprove of a cynically wrong headed war are not mutually exclusive moral choices ?
What really bothers the pro-war crowd is that the opponents of Bush's war have been proven mostly accurate and prescient in their prediction of what could and would go wrong in Iraq. The alarm bells that went off in our heads when the Bush-Cheney brigade tried to scare the hell out of us by the deliberate and dishonest juxtaposition 9/11 with Iraq and Saddam with Osama, were sounding the right warning. All reasons and justification presented for the flawed war have turned out to be morally and factually hollow. Almost everything they told us has fallen apart systematically for the whole world to see, without any participation by the left. That is why the right is angry - they are blaming us for being correct.
President Bush has been asked by some US senators (a couple of GOP senators among them) to give an accurate status report of the war in Iraq to the American people. If and when George Bush undertakes the task, I hope we will hear the unvarnished truth. We are no longer interested in the tired old litany of "let freedom reign", democratic Iraqi elections and constitution and "the world is better off without Saddam". I hope he will have the courage to acknowledge the following and admit that we are not just breaking some eggs to make the omelette, we are also killing a whole lot of chickens:
Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein if not worse, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said.
"People are doing the same as (in) Saddam's time and worse," Allawi said in an interview published in Britain on Sunday.
"It is an appropriate comparison," Allawi told The Observer newspaper. "People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.".......
This report is more than a year old but was grossly ignored by the US media perhaps because of the impending 2004 presidential election.
When more than 200,000 people died in a tsunami caused by an Asian earthquake in December, the immediate reaction in the United States was an outpouring of grief and philanthropy, prompted by extensive coverage in the news media.
Two months earlier, the reaction in the United States to news of another large-scale human tragedy was much quieter. In late October, a study was published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, concluding that about 100,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. On the eve of a contentious presidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines......
Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny After Shootings
Recent shootings of Iraqi civilians, allegedly involving the legion of U.S., British and other foreign security contractors operating in the country, are drawing increasing concern from Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders who say they undermine relations between foreign military forces and Iraqi civilians.
(Their) activities have drawn scrutiny both here and in Washington after allegations of indiscriminate shootings and other recklessness have given rise to charges of inadequate oversight.
"These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for security in and around Baghdad. "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."
And in another part of the mideast : In Egypt, election tests U.S. push for democracy Analysis
For months, the Bush administration has said that it is serious about pushing for democracy in the Middle East. It's about to get a serious test of that resolve.
Egypt, the world's most populous Arab country, is suddenly roiling with a wide-open, combative election that seems certain to end with the country's main Islamic group, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, as a big winner....
And here is an apt cartoon by Mike Luckovich . Please click on image to see.
India, Pakistan, Israel, England, New Zealand, Indonesia, Latvia and Finland have all done it once. The Phillippines, Sri Lanka, Ireland and Bangladesh have each done it twice. Germany and Liberia just did it. Chile is poised to become the first to do it in the Americas. Will the US elect the first woman national leader in 2008?
Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice have each been touted by their respective parties as the next president of the United States. There is speculation that after Bush - Cheney - Rumsfeld, the country will be so tired of war and an over-abundance of testosterone in its politics, that we will be ready for the gentler regime of a woman leader. I would like to see a woman president - but not for those flawed reasons and unrealistic expectations. We should judge a woman by the same criteria we apply to male candidates and elect her for the same reasons - whether her policies are likely to be good of the country and the world. All other Mars - Venus hypotheses are wrong and bound to disappoint, unless the assessment of potential leaders is firmly grounded on Earth. It is naive to think that a female politician brings the mythical "woman's touch" to leadership, something that is inherently different from what a man brings to the table. Successful women in business and in public life, as of now, compete on the same playing field as men and operate by the same rules, although they do help in revising gender based preconceptions of competence and capability - mostly in the minds of men. The women leaders named above gained their political power because of hard work, shrewdness, personal ambition and even ruthlessness (in the case of some of the Asian women leaders, their family backgrounds helped). Many fought their share of bloody wars.
An intelligent, honest and competent leader - man or woman, brings those qualities to his/her policies and vision, irrespective of gender. A corrupt and stupid woman leader is capable of wreaking the same havoc as a similarly unqualified or unsuitable male. It is not realistic therefore to expect women to change politics and governance for the better just by virtue of their womanhood - an astute mind, the right moral philosophy and courage of conviction will accomplish that. The election of a woman to the highest office has one unique beneficial fallout. It frees up a nation's mindset from the historical inaccuracy of equating maleness with competent leadership and femaleness with a lack of bold and innovative ideas. For this reason alone, it will be refreshing to have the 2008 roster of US presidential candidates populated with feminine names.
It is a bit unnerving that we are even having this debate in the 21st century. In the last one hundred years or so, women have burst through several previously closed doors with impressive aplomb. They have emphatically proven wrong thousands of years of inequitable, discriminatory practices and prejudicial notions. That we would need a TV show (Madam President), or a disastrous male president to prep us for a female presidency in 2008 is silly and condescending - and if true, disappointing.
Even Japan's traditional imperial household has seen the light.
A panel on Japan's imperial succession formally recommended Thursday that women be allowed to ascend the ancient Chrysanthemum Throne, a change that could spare the royal family a looming succession crisis.
Japan's imperial family hasn't produced a male heir for 40 years and Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako's only child is a girl, 3-year-old Aiko.
If approved by parliament, the revision is expected to make Aiko second in line to the throne, behind her father.
"This would be a new experience for the Japanese," said Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, the head of the 10-member panel.
He said that the proposal was intended to allow Aiko to ascend the throne even if Naruhito and Masako had a boy.
Strict male succession has been possible only through the use of concubines, a practice that ended during the reign of Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989 and is father of the current emperor, Akihito.
Opinion polls have indicated wide support for a ruling empress, but some conservative academics and lawmakers have voiced opposition.
But elevating a few women to positions of power would not amount to much of anything if the following report by the WHO about violence against women is accurate and if the plight of women and girls in poorer societies does not improve dramatically.
Last year, we watched with fascination and a sense of solidarity, a tide of orange take to the streets of Kiev, in support of the popular but battered, Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner of the presidential election in Ukraine. The process was widely viewed by the world as a triumph of ordinary citizens' voice and democratic will. Nearly a year later, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution has lost some of its glow. The new administration is beleaguered by corruption and chaos. Ukrainians are crestfallen. But on the one year anniversary of the revolution, Ukrainians will don orange, celebrate and hope that the promise of democracy will bear fruit in the near future.
It is difficult to predict whether a country breaking out from under the oppressive yoke of totalitarianism, colonialism or plain corruption, will succeed as a democracy. What are the parameters that determine the trajectory a newly formed sovereign nation will launch itself into? No economic, political or military model has accurately foreseen the outcome of a peoples' revolt - peaceful or violent. In 1947, Britain packed up and left India after two hundred years of the Raj, leaving in its wake a divided subcontinent. The two new independent nations of India and Pakistan were products of almost identical history, culture and ethnicity. India went the way of a secular democracy and Pakistan became an Islamic military dictatorship. Corruption, nepotism, social and economic inequities are commonplace in the region. But India manages to muddle through it all with a free press, regular multi-party elections and an expanding educated middle class. Pakistan, which is the godfather of the Taliban and Al Qaida, on the other hand, has slipped further and further into the chasm of religious fundamentalism, terrorism and narrowing of modern educational opportunities for its citizens. Yet, the USA until recently, allied with Pakistan, not India - even when the Pakistani government unleashed a genocidal mayhem on its own people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971.
Is easing into democracy, rather than the overnight liberalization of the political process, a better option for societies unaccustomed to self determination? Does the euphoria of sudden freedom foster the re-emergence of dormant, ancient hostilities and factionalism kept in check by oppressive regimes? Are newly acquired democratic rights often interpreted as opportunities for corruption, nepotism and lawlessness by both the citizenry and the leadership? Most of Africa and the new "democracies" which sprouted after the fragmentation of the erstwhile Soviet empire, indicate that this may indeed be the case. Are China and Vietnam, with their totalitarian governments imposing discipline and political order, along with a single minded focus on the education and economic betterment of their citizens, likely to emerge as more stable grounds for democracy in the long run than Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria or Kenya? Case in point, South Korea today and a decade or two ago. Or is democracy hastened by a society's collective catharsis which unites the leadership and the populace in their determination to go in a new direction and never again revert to the old ways of a disastrous past? Examples, the shame and humiliation of post WWII Germany and Japan or the tragic trauma of European Jews and the formation of Israel. Or, perhaps the process just takes time - like the two hundred plus years of American democracy.
We are currently engaged in the business of imposing democracy in two faraway lands whose history and culture we do not understand very well or don't care to. The ancient society of Iraq, consisting of Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Jews and Christians, was transformed into its modern incarnation by Britain during World War I (when Britain was butting heads with the Ottoman empire for the control of middle east). The British plan was almost identical to our own government's in 2003 - regime change and territorial reorganization of the middle east. What began in 1914 as a strategic and political calculation, became the petro-politics of later years. The west's need and greed for cheap oil has necessitated a succession of "friendly", corrupt and oppressive rulers to govern the middle east. That in turn, has made the region hostile to democratic changes and created a breeding ground of Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, until the Iranian Ayatollas and Arab Islamic terrorists reared their ugly heads, it was not in the "interest" of the west to have a democratic middle east! The US is in Iraq now for the same reason as Britain was - hoping to control the region by installing a supplicant (??) government and ensuring the free flow of oil. The establishment of a free and fair democratic system, if it happens in the foreseeable future, will be a very fortunate accident. If only an exuberant show of purple fingers and a hastily cobbled constitution were guarantees of an easy and peaceful transition to democracy in an area that has for years been manipulated and exploited by its own leaders as well as foreigners.
Afghanistan, which through the centuries, has been a poor, battle hardy land of proud people, is our other experiment in democracy. In the best of times, Afghanistan has been a loose confederation of tribal strongholds, run by fiercely independent warlords who paid taxes but not homage to the ruling powers. During the British colonial rule in India, Afghanistan was coveted by both Russia and Britain. Neither succeeded in colonizing or conquering it. (See my book review The Man Who Would Be King ) In 1979 the USSR invaded Afghanistan and managed for the first time, to install its puppet government there. We armed the "democratic" anti-communist insurgents to their teeth, fanned their religious and nationalistic fervor, only to see them later transmogrify into the dreaded Taliban and Al Qaida after the Soviets were forced out. We are there now to try and "civilize" the country, run free and fair elections and put another "friendly" regime in place. But we did not do a thorough and serious job of ridding Afghanistan (and Pakistan) of Islamic fundamentalists - the perpetrators of 9/11 and the real obstacles to democracy. Now the Talibs are training in Iraq and streaming back into Afghanistan, Osama is hiding in a nearby city or cave and the warlords with their American armed militia, are doing a booming business of growing poppy in the countryside.
If the US does indeed successfully unload the modern day "white man's burden" in the middle and near east and democratizes the region, it will be a miracle. We can then boast of a new and successful formula for creating democracies in the world - by foreign fiat and military force. But I am not so optimistic. After all, one definition of insanity is "repeatedly performing the same action and expecting a different outcome."
Speaking of democracy, last Sunday I saw George Clooney's excellent movie "Good Night and Good Luck", about the efforts by Edward R. Murrow and a handful of courageous CBS newsmen in exposing the dangerous tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy. I was not around in the McCarthy era but I watched Indira Gandhi in 1975, when in a naked grab for power, she suspended the freedom of the Indian press, curtailed civil liberties of citizens, threw dissenting intellectuals in jail and held nearly a billion cowering people in a state of utter nervousness. (India later extracted its revenge in the voting booth). I have no doubt in my mind that the greatest danger to the democratic character of a nation is not a hostile foreign power or terrorism abroad or any other external real or imagined threat. Democracy is in danger when we become fearful of our own government. A government which is secretive, stifles debate, uses national security as an excuse to trample on domestic rights and liberties, demands that science play a secondary role to corporate interests and theology in national policy debates and is antagonistic to its intellectuals, runs counter to democratic principles. Such a government can hold on to power only by creating a continuous state of unease in the public mind. In Clooney's film the newsmen at CBS are played by actors. Joe McCarthy's words are his own - from the archival footage of his speeches on the senate floor and on TV. Substitute the word "communism" in them with "terrorism" and you have fast forwarded fifty years to the Bush - Cheney era.
President Bush could not avoid questions about Iraq during his recent trip to Asia. Here he is trying to walk out from a press conference where he didn't care for the questions. But the door was locked. He tried the right side, then the left and then both doors. They wouldn't open. Sheepishly, he walked out of another exit that was pointed out to him by an attending official. See the entire photo montage - and catch the video clip on the news if you can. It is funny and somewhat symbolic.
The Houston Chronicle plans to re-examine Texas death penalty cases where suspects have been convicted and executed using evidence that may have been shaky at best, and downright "dirty" at worst. Ruben Cantu of San Antonio was executed in 1993 for a crime he allegedly committed when he was 17. Twenty years later, the sole eye witness, jury members and even the prosecutor have doubts about Cantu's guilt.
George Bush, ran his Texas gubernatorial campaign and his 2000 presidential campaign on an unapologetic, "no qualms about it", pro death penalty platform. He has repeatedly asserted that all prisoners executed during his tenure as Texas governor (and there were many), have been ''guilty of the crime charged''. Please read the story in Houston Chronicle to find out how in the absence of physical evidence and based solely on the testimony of a coerced witness, a man was executed. How many more such cases are out there? In such murky circumstances, how can anyone, including George Bush, be sure that only the "guilty" were executed?
See a discussion on this story at Prawfs Blawg .
Whether or not one agrees with Rep John Murtha (D -PA) about immediate withdrawal of US troops in Iraq, it is indisputable that his proposal to do so has ignited a firestorm. The Republicans who are used to lobbing their pseudo patriotic grenades at liberal and dovish soft targets, are finding it a bit more difficult to paint the hawkish, decorated (a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts) veteran of the US Marines Corps, with the same "yellow belly" brush. But it has not stopped them from trying .
All hell broke loose on the US House floor when Rep Jean Schmidt, R - Ohio, the most junior member of the House, who narrowly defeated anti-war Iraq vet Paul Hackett, told of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel. "He asked me to send Congress a message — stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message — that cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt said. Democrats booed and shouted, causing an uproar. "I won't stand for the swift-boating of Jack Murtha," said Sen. John Kerry later of Schmidt's comments.
I doubt that Rep Murtha will need anyone's help in defending himself. Here is an example of his response to Dick Cheney, who likes to fight his wars by remote control, tele-kinetics and other peoples' sacrifices.
On Wednesday, Vice President Cheney said that the suggestion by some senators that the administration purposely misled the public about the reasons for invading Iraq "is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."
"What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war," Cheney said. "The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone — but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history."
Murtha sarcastically dismissed such attacks by alluding to the fact that Cheney never served in the military because he received deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War era.
This is what Rep Murtha had to say about Cheney's remarks:
"I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that," said Murtha. "I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."
Two icons of the right wing punditocracy have weighed in heavily on the foolishness of Intelligent Design. George Will and Charles Krauthammer are alarmed by the social conservatives' efforts to degrade and demean the teaching of science. Unlike the silly statement by George Bush about teaching "both sides", Will and Krauthammer do not equivocate on this matter.
Phony Theory, False Conflict : Charles Krauthammer
..."Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God.
In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.
How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too."
The GOP Adrift : George Will
"THE storm-tossed and rudderless Republican Party should particularly ponder the vote last week in Dover, Pa., where all eight members of the school board seeking re-election were defeated. This expressed the community's wholesome exasperation with the board's campaign to insinuate religion, in the guise of "intelligent design" theory, into high school biology classes, beginning with a required proclamation that evolution "is not a fact."
"It does me no injury," said Thomas Jefferson, "for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education. The conservative coalition, which is coming unglued for many reasons, will rapidly disintegrate if limited-government conservatives become convinced that social conservatives are unwilling to concentrate their character-building and soul-saving energies on the private institutions that mediate between individuals and government, and instead try to conscript government into sectarian crusades."
That blinking 00:00 on the VCR that you don't know how to program, is doing more than just being a nuisance. That, the TV, computer, modem, microwave, coffee maker and other appliances which you leave plugged in when not in use, are sucking up electricity round the clock. So are your cell phone charger, cordless phone, answering machine, iPod and PDA, which require adapters to turn AC to DC. These are the "household vampires and wall warts" around your home - "with two sharp teeth that dig into a wall socket and suck juice all night long. All day long, too, and all year long."
Modern appliances do not go "off", they remain on standby - "silently sipping energy to the tune of 1,000 kilowatt hours a year per household, awaiting the signal to roar into action." In fact a better word on switches would be "idling." That is why on most newer appliances we see the word, "power" rather than "off/on". The culprit for the vampire like nature of appliances is the microchip, "whose presence is revealed by a "soft button" instead of a switch. Microchips are generally an improvement over mechanical controls because they are more durable and sophisticated. They also help reduce the size and weight of consumer products. But they require a continuous trickle of electricity. Energy experts say it would be simple to cut that trickle in half - not by running around the house unplugging everything in sight, which would require much resetting of clocks, but by engineering products differently."
Some late nights when all lights are out, I have walked into our study where the desktop, modem, printer etc. are located. That corner of the room looks like the dashboard of a UFO in the dark, with little green and orange lights staring or blinking at me. A bit less eerie is the kitchen, where the microwave, oven, coffee machine and their digital displays testify to their continuous, silent energy use. What I did not know, is that even the washing machine consumes energy when not in use. "My washing machine draws five watts even when there's no sign of intelligent life," noted Alan K. Meier, a senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency, a consortium based in Paris.
I have started replacing regular bulbs around the house after they burn out, with low wattage, long-life bulbs of comparable brightness. It hasn't made a dent in my electric bill yet. But every bit helps, I hope. "As a country we pay $1 billion a year to power our TV's and VCR's while they're turned off," said Maria T. Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, which sets voluntary standards for energy use, and grants its ratings to the most efficient products.
The loudest supporters of war are often those who need to sacrifice the least and gain the most. Forget Halliburton and the military industrial complex. Individual chicken hawks in the media have found ways to cash in on the war effort by flogging their own dubious patriotic products and schemes. The following was reported on MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann.
Olbermann :".....time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of “Worst Person in the World.” ....
........But the winner, Rush Limbaugh. He is offering the gullible a special patriotic deal. They can adopt a soldier, give any U.S. serviceman a free subscription to the(Limbaugh's) Web site. All they have to do is pay Rush Limbaugh $49.95. The soldier gets free access to the Web site and Rush Limbaugh gets nothing out of the deal, unless you count the fact that he gets to keep the $49.95 ! Rush, I see you‘ve found a new doctor. You want to donate something to the troops, man, just give them the free subscriptions. You know, it's called charity? You don't make anything off of it ! Rush Limbaugh, today's “Worst Person in the World” !"
Limbaugh also sells "Club Gitmo" t-shirts and other products emblazoned with tasteless slogans. "Support our troops?" - indeed! Blood money is more like it.
The real conflict between science and religious orthodoxy through the ages has never been about truth. The ancient scientists understood their role as disseminators of rational empirical knowledge as a liberating force against the dangerous superstitions and politics of religion. Galileo, facing the humiliation and torture of an inquisition, famously asked the Pope to direct his energies towards getting his flock to spiritual heaven and leave it to the scientists to figure out the "nature of the heavens". The explosion in scientific knowledge in the last century and a half and its ready acceptance by society, have led modern scientists to believe that they no longer need to engage the fanatics in the public square because "the facts will speak for themselves". They are sadly mistaken in their complacency, of course. Every new disaster or disease opens another door for propaganda, false promises and religious mind control. Given the right political climate, religious obscurantism exerts its visible, long lasting, harmful influence in turning back the tide of progress. We are fighting a couple of costly wars to counter the effects of bigotry, we are told. Yet we take our own homegrown bigots in stride until their persistent meddling ends in spectacular harm or stupidity . Perhaps the recent circus about Intelligent Design will be a wake up call for the scientific community. Religious bigotry, as I said, has never been about knowledge, freedom of enquiry or truth, although its proponents always couch their challenges to science in that lofty language. Instead, it is about wielding power and control over the psyches and wallets of the credulous among us. When promises of eternal life, kingdom of heaven and other lures don't adequately capture the imagination of the audience, religious bullies use the sharpest arrow in their quiver - fear of death, destruction and damnation. And for bigots through centuries, the most fertile grounds for sowing the poisonous seeds of fear and revulsion have been women's bodies and their sexuality.
Ellen Goodman writes with her usual good sense about cynical grumblings and discontent on the religious right about a medical break-through that could save thousands of women's lives. Recently, scientists have developed a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted and causes cervical cancer - the second leading cancer killer for women. The vaccine has tested 100% effective and if administered to pre-teen girls before they become sexually active, will virtually eliminate the occurrence of this common and deadly cancer. Conservative groups who promote "abstinence only" sex education, are alarmed that the vaccine and the resultant elimination of the threat of cervical cancer will promote sexual promiscuity in young women. What they are not saying is that the vaccine will remove a powerful tool of fear mongering from their arsenal.
I for one, do not doubt that science is winning and will win the culture war against fundamentalist religion's backward pull, but it won't be without a struggle. Scientists need to once again enter the public debate and methodically dismantle the bulwark of bigotry built on bullying, blackmail and brainwashing.
Update: A related story here. Thanks to Menesh Patel for the pointer.
President Bush has insisted before and as recently as last Friday in a Veterans Day day speech, that Democrats saw the same intelligence on pre war Iraq as he and his administration did. Many of us have wondered if the intelligence shared with the US senate told the whole story or if the Bush adminstration chose to present only those data which would strengthen its argument for going to war. It appears (as some suspected) that it was the latter case. The 2004 Democratic candidate for vice president, John Edwards says this in an article in Washington Post.
" I was wrong... The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda.
It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those who didn't make a mistake -- the men and women of our armed forces and their families -- have performed heroically and paid a dear price."
Update: Read E. J. Dionne's article here about renewed efforts to muffle enquiry.
In a Veterans Day address today in Pennsylvania, President Bush lashed out at those (which is now a majority of Americans) who are questioning the origins of the Iraq war. Among other things, he said, "It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." With his poll numbers and his credibility in the dumps, Bush has gone back into a bellicose campaign mode. He insisted that the Democrats who supported the war, saw the same intelligence reports and came to the same conclusion about Iraq as he. (Did the Dems see raw intelligence data or what the administration showed them? Let's ask this question before 2008). He even brought up Senator Kerry's vote on the war. Somebody forgot to tell the President that this is not 2004 and he already won that election. The entire tone of the speech had a familiar ring - that of questioning the patriotism of his critics. We should remind Mr. Bush in the same folksy language that he favors, "Mr. President, this dog won't hunt any more." I don't know about his audience in Pennsylvania but I found this outburst unseemly. Veterans Day is for honoring those who fight our wars (just and unjust), not for reckless armchair warriors to beat their own discordant drums.
It is very peculiar that the right wing repeatedly assures us that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not just fights against terrorism but also a magnanimous effort by America to free up "freedom loving" people who wish to shape their own destinies. Yet at home, President Bush refuses to engage in an honest debate about the war with his own skeptical fellow citizens. Pat Robertson wants to bring about prayer driven destruction upon the citizens of Dover, PA, who don't want religious fundamentalists meddling with science education. And now we learn that Bill "Blowhard" O'Reilly threatened the city of San Francisco on his radio show if they supported a ballot measure opposing the presence of military recruiters in city schools. Here is what O'Reilly had to say:
"Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead," O'Reilly said, according to a transcript and audio posted by liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, and by the San Francisco Chronicle.
"And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead,"
How free and how democratic !
Ahmed Chalabi, the ruthless political mercenary is in Washington to meet with Bush administration officials. Chalabi has at different times, been accused of lying to the US about pre- Iraq war intelligence, post-war situation in Iraq, defrauding the Jordanian government (who has an arrest warrant against him) and even forgery. He was the main source for the now discredited Judy Miller of the NYT, whose lurid reports on Saddam's chemical weapons may have hastened the rush to war in Iraq. Chalabi is a world class opportunist who plays all sides of the field with the single minded goal of personal enrichment and empowerment. Very recently, when his relations with the US showed some cracks, he was suspected of spying for Iran against the United States. But this corrupt and dangerous man with more lives than a cat, rehabilitates himself time and again with the Bush administration. Makes you wonder what hold he might have over Bush & Co. Not all our politicians are taken in by Chalabi's charms. Some Democrats, representatives John Conyers, Jim McDermott and Robert Wexler among them, wrote the following open letter to Chalabi, questioning his motives, methods and chutzpah.
Yesterday Leiter Reports had a telling post, Bush vs Chavez, round 23 on the treatment meted out to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela by the Bush administration. Chavez has been called a fly in the ointment and a demagogue and his departure or demise will be welcomed by the Bush administration. Chavez is doing well by his own people, the poor and the dispossessed of Venezuela and he is popular with the common citizens of Latin America. But he is an unabashed socialist, which in our government's eyes is a crime worse than lying, murder and cold hearted manipulation of the world.
All governments choose friends and enemies for political expediency. But the contrast in the nature and deeds of the above two men and our treatment of each, go beyond garden variety Realpolitik or the choice between free market capitalism and socialism. It reflects on the character of this administration - its own unsavory instincts and predilections. It is important to ask the leaders who have given Chalabi a place at their table, if all vestiges of decency, honesty and sense of fair play in their minds have been obliterated by selfishness, stupidity and utter hypocrisy.
Pat Robertson, a proponent of retributive capitalist Christianity, who recently issued (and then retracted) his "fatwa" against Hugo Chavez, is taking aim now at the city of Dover, Pennsylvania, whose citizens voted out all their school board members willing to take up the baton from the Kansas school board and introduce Intelligent Design in Dover schools. Robertson has not quite threatened mass assassination in Dover. But he did say the following:
"If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just voted God out of your city."
Since 9/11, terrorists have attacked civilians in Indonesia, India, the U.K, Spain, Russia, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and yes, in Iraq. China, Thailand, much of western Europe and Australia have experienced threats of terrorism. And the most savage and unrelenting terrorist atrocity that continues unabated but is not mentioned in the same breath as others - the carnage in Darfur, Somalia. Today, a massive explosion rocked Amman, Jordan. Is a global war on terror at all possible? Or must affected nations devise local solutions? And is there a universal "root cause" of terrorism? Such as poverty, oppression or a particular religion?
Following is an excerpt from an editorial by Manoj Joshi, of the Hindustan Times, an Indian national newspaper. It was published after the recent lethal explosions in New Delhi earlier this month. The perspective here is mostly from the point of view of India's long and bloody struggle with terrorism within and across its borders. But the writer addresses several global issues involved in the fight against terrorism.
...... A major cause of conceptual confusion in the war against terrorism is the idea that there are ‘root causes’ of terrorism. Terrorism is not about root causes, but perversion of beliefs — nationalism in the case of the LTTE, religion in the case of al-Qaeda, ideology in the case of Maoists or in the case of Pakistan a mix of nationalism and religion. Pakistani officials who back and organise terrorist acts believe that it is a weapon to keep a more powerful Hindu India at bay.
Given the present situation, it is clear that a lot more needs to be done, in comprehending the nature of the threat as well as in the conducting the war. Michael Walzer has laid out the problem pithily: “First oppression is made into an excuse for terrorism, and then terrorism is made into an excuse for oppression. The first is the excuse of the far Left; the second is the excuse of the neo-conservative Right.” One of the sadder aspects of the GWOT is how it has undermined the very institutions it seeks to preserve in the West — liberal democracy with its strong emphasis on judicial due process. Excesses in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as within America, have put a question mark before its ideological leadership. Even the British government seems to be acting out of short-sighted panic. ....
The rest of the article here (War Without an End) at Dr. Joshi's archival blog.
"Gut Reaction" is much more than just a colorful and imprecise expression. It is a very real and measurable physiological phenomenon connected to our brain ... and now it appears, also to our conscience. Researchers at the American College of Gastroenterology conference recently presented a paper showing that compared to the standard polygraph which measures the heart rate, an "electrogastrogram", which monitors changes in the gastrointestinal tract, is a more accurate indicator of one's truthfulness. But the wrinkle here is that just as with the polygraph, a very accomplished liar (or a sociopath) could conceivably bluff the "gut check" machine.
"When a person is lying, distinctive changes occur in the digestive tract, researchers have determined. The standard polygraph test, often criticized as inaccurate, may be improved if it is combined with a test for the stomach changes, they say.
One author of the study, Dr. Pankaj J. Pasricha of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said the test for changes in the gastrointestinal tract, an electrogastrogram, was painless and simple to perform. It measures activity in the digestive tract.
"We expected to see an effect because we know that stress does affect GI function," Dr. Pasricha said.
But when 16 volunteers were hooked up to heart and digestive tract monitors, the researchers were surprised to find that lying had a closer correlation with stomach changes than with heart changes.
When the subjects lied, their heart rates increased, but it also did so at other times. On the other hand, lying was consistently associated with a decrease in the slow waves of the digestive tract."
The report does not indicate if gut reaction to lying could be either masked or enhanced by the kind of food one ate before testing - say a bland "soup & salad", as opposed to a fiery Mexican or Indian meal. If research can establish a correlation between the choice of food and accuracy of lie detection, it might give rise to a whole new practice in crime investigation - "The First Meal". Only, in this case, the prosecutor and the detectives, not the suspect, would pick the menu.
Every day a new poll is published about the plummeting approval ratings of President Bush. An article in Houston Chronicle asserts that the reasons for this steep decline go beyond Iraq, Katrina, the CIA leak probe or gas prices. According to pollsters and experts, these negatives can at least in part, be ascribed "to a visceral, second-term voter fatigue about Bush's personality" - his smirk, swagger, inattentive and abrupt body language when confronted with uncomfortable issues etc. Some people have started yelling at their TV's when Bush is on. (For some of us, it isn't a second term woe - we've been gnashing our teeth for five long years). The article goes on to say that Bush's support among Republicans remains strong - some polls suggest that it may be as high as 75 - 80%.
That brings me to a recent post by Brian Leiter, "42 % of American Population Still...." at Leiter Reports, where he questions the "cognitive condition" of the 42 % of Americans who continue to believe in Bush's honesty and integrity. I think that Professor Leiter is too generous in questioning just their brain and not also their hearts.
Certainly some of these folks are uninformed and perhaps even foolish - but not all. I know several people who make up the 39 - 42 % of Americans who continue to support Bush through his disastrous and dishonest tenure. Some of them are my neighbors. They are educated, well informed and not at all stupid. They realize that things have gone awry on the Iraq front. They have seen the gross incompetence during Katrina. They have watched White House operatives get caught in dangerours and deliberate lies. But they continue to make tired excuses for the failures - the world is better off without Saddam, we are fighting the terrorists "there" so we won't have to fight them "here", Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco let New Orleans down, Karl Rove has not been indicted, Libby's lies to the grand jury had nothing to do with lies about the war in Iraq ... and so on. But these are just mindless mantras that they don't themselves believe anymore. The real reason they still support Bush, is that inspite of his total loss of credibility, they believe he can deliver on some other crucial fronts. They tenaciously cling to the fond hope that in the remaining three years of his lame chickenhawk presidency, he will make enough judicial appointments to overturn (or at least hinder at every step) Roe, relax gun control and environmental protection laws further, make life miserable for gays, cut "wasteful" spending (read benefits to the poor) and most important of all, cut their own taxes further.
I suspect that among the improbably high numbers vouching for Bush's honesty and integrity, not all are telling the pollsters the truth. Most likely, the poll result reflects the willful lies of many respondents who must find a way to justify their political support for Bush. Acknowledging Bush's lack of integrity would mean admitting their own. Unlike the jolly millionaire in Brian Leiter's post, who can laughingly confess that he just backs the pony which wins him the race, most middle class, church going Bush supporters would never admit such blatantly selfish motives. So they must go on pretending that their favored leader is moral, upstanding, hardworking and honest - exactly what they believe they themselves are.
But who knows? May be I am too suspicious. Perhaps the 42 % indeed are true believers. As for the 42 % (or more) support that Hitler would have chalked up in his dying moments, it is a perfectly plausible scenario. Those who uncritically worship a flawed hero, especially one who tantalizes them with a glimpse of the promised land, are not easily persuaded about his shortcomings - even when all pillars crumble and Berlin (or Baghdad) burns . During the two years I lived in Germany (1981-1983), nearly forty years after Hitler, I met lovely older Germans who confided in me that Hitler had not been "all bad". And they were not talking about the shiny Autobahns or the trains running on time.
Apparently, in Washington D.C. there is no building named after Lyndon B. Johnson, the first US president from Texas. Texas legislators are now hard at work, looking for a "solid edifice" to name/rename after President Johnson.
It is common practice to name public thoroughfares, buildings, airports, parks etc. in honor of national and local dignitaries. In most countries the overwhelming majority of such figures tend to be politicians - presidents, prime ministers, mayors and the occasional revolutionary. Military heroes, local tycoons and business entrepreneurs too fare quite well in the system of street nomenclature. It is no different in the US. But other nations also honor their poets, scientists, playwrights and thinkers in prominent and public ways. Germany shows off Goethe and Max Planck all over its landscape, France does the same with Pasteur and the Curies. Russia's Tolstoy and Gorky are memorialized in its public squares. India has Tagore emblazoned on its streets and buildings. In the US however, the group that is conspicuously under represented in proportion to its contribution to society are its intellectuals. I mused along the same lines in one of my earlier posts (Heroines, Heroes & Humility) about the lack of scholars among our elected officials. Our reluctance to name major streets, airports or parks after non-political figures, reflects the same bias. ( Two famous exceptions that I am aware of: Louis Armstrong Intl. Airport in New Orleans and Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City). We like powerful individuals to represent our public face but not always the wise, the astute or the creative. Is that because we fear that it would somehow detract from our image of a mighty nation, if more of our streets or parks were named (not just in their city or state of birth) after Walt Whitman, Linus Pauling or Georgia O'Keeffe?
Okay, most of our presidents were quite extraordinary men and some possessed exceptional intellect. Many were also wise, astute and creative. Several are deserving of great and repeated tributes from the nation. But don't we already have a Lincoln, Madison, Washington, Jefferson Street/ Park/ Avenue or Memorial in virtually every town? Monroe, Truman, Eisenhower, and the Roosevelts are well represented too. We have even carved one whole side of a mountain in the memory of four presidents. Presidents get their own libraries and occasionally an airport ( Kennedy, Reagan, Bush Sr). In this huge country, with its miles and miles of public thoroughfares, surely we could dedicate a few more visible pieces of public property to authors, scientists or artists without diminishing the glory of our statesmen. I am not suggesting that any existing dignitary, be that a president or a long dead and forgotten mayor, be bumped off his or her current perch. But there are long stretches of roadway bearing generic names of states, cities and numbers. Some of those could be renamed in honor of deserving non-politicos.
Many university and college towns do name some of their streets after writers, scientists or artists. But that is preaching to the choir. I am hoping to see them in the middle of major cities - near downtown, airports or ballparks. And why stop at honoring just our own? History is full of names that everyone can claim. Mahatma Gandhi has streets named after him in Amsterdam, Beirut, Addis Ababa', Khartoum and Tehran. The Indian poet Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate, is to be found on the streets of Tel Aviv, Singapore, and Berlin. India, with its three thousand years of kings, queens, conquerors, poets and homegrown politicians, still has place on its streets for Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Lenin and Nelson Mandela. Street names are mundane items of our daily lives. But unusal and interesting names on our streets and public squares brighten up things quite a bit, in my opinion. I for one, believe that the US missed a great opportunity of thinking outside its parochial box when it did not exercise its collective imagination in naming the two Space Centers in Houston and Cape Canaveral after Galileo and Isaac Newton instead of the presidential duo, Johnson and Kennedy. The names of two giants of physics and astronomy associated with space exploration, would have been in my view, more appropriate, evocative and memorable. And how about traveling a John Steinbeck Highway, a Leo Tolstoy Tollway, an Andy Warhol Expressway, a Willa Cather Causeway or a Desmond Tutu Turnpike, to break the monotony of a long journey?
Two different summits took place simultaneously in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, in the last couple of days. One, the Summit of the Americas was a staid meeting of heads of states, mulling over the means and methods of promoting free market capitalism throughout the hemisphere. There was no agreement on much of anything because unlike the G-8 summit of uniformly prosperous nations, here the participants are not on an even economic playing field. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the prosperous USA is widely viewed as uncaring towards Latin America, interested only in free trade agreements to benefit US businesses and snubbing its southern neighbors if their democratically elected governments do not pliantly toe the American line, even against the interests of their own citizenry. The presence of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela at the summit was a major "fly in the ointment" as described by a US official. Chavez is eyed with suspicion by many Latin American leaders. But with his socialist policies and oil wealth benefiting poor Venezuelans, his politics and image are gaining popularity with the average citizens of Latin America.
While the Summit of the Americas was under way behind closed doors, Argentinians took to the streets and filled a stadium to hold the "People's Summit", a sometimes lively and often violent rag tag event, to protest the agenda of free trade and market capitalism at the official forum. Chavez was the guest of honor at the "counter" summit along with the aging and flamboyant soccer star, Diego Maradona. Chavez, who calls George Bush, "Mr. Danger", spoke with great gusto for nearly two hours, bashing Bush, his policies and promoting his own socialist vision for South America.
At the time of this writing, it is reported that the official summit ended in a deadlock over when and how the FTAA should go into effect.
Some notable quotes from the participants of both summits:
"I'm against everything that Bush says." Diego Maradona, Argentinian soccer star
"Latin America is pregnant with socialism. Now, let's all push together so this baby can be born." Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela
"... it's a serious investigation, and we take it seriously, and we're cooperating to the extent that the special prosecutor wants us to cooperate." President George Bush, who was asked more questions about the CIA leak probe than about his plans for the FTAA
"For 500 pesos, they will privatize the sea." Ariel Federico, street poet
Should those who are opposed to the scientific method because it clashes with their own narrow religious beliefs, be made to forgo the resultant fruits of its progress for their personal aggrandizement and well being ? Some think that they should. The high handed manner in which the Kansas Board of Education steamrollered Intelligent Design into its science curriculum, has been a blow to science education and a slap in the face of teachers. The scientific community has decided to push back by denying the state of Kansas the latest materials and methods of science education. (The editor of Houston Chronicle goes one step further to suggest that anti-evolution obscurantists should also be denied access to the flu vaccine whose development utilizes the principles of random mutation. By doing so, the devotees of Intelligent Design may indeed remain faithful to their faulty belief.) Sadly, the real losers in this "red herring" of a controversy are the students in Kansas schools who will pay a high price for the obduracy and closed minds of the adults. Read further for elucidation.
......"Last week in Kansas, meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association both officially condemned the state as poisoned ground for learning. The two respected groups forbid Kansas to use their state-of-the-art science education materials because, in a new draft of school guidelines, the state's Department of Education showed its new contempt for scientific method.
According to the science groups, Kansas "inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of science." .......
.... Stripped of resources from these two reputable associations, Kansas in the meantime has to cobble together its own, paraphrased framework for teaching science. This is more than just a nuisance. The improvised curriculum will isolate Kansas' students from their counterparts across the nation, almost all of whose states use the science groups' materials.....
.....Those who discount the value of this method (the scientific method) should be willing to forgo any bird flu vaccine that is developed on the principles of random mutation, genes and natural selection. They should also be ready for a blighted crop of Kansas high school graduates, forced to mull confusing and irrational tions of nohow nature works while their rivals were growing into scientists and doctors.
The full article from the editorial page here .