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saturday, january 15, 2005

Michael Newdow, Stooge
Via The Sideshow ... Deborah of Heart, Soul & Humor speculates that Michael Newdow, the atheist who took "under God" to court, is actually working for the Karl Rove propaganda machine. 
I'd had the same idea flitting around in the back of my head, but Deborah wrote about it first. Frankly, if Newdow isn't being paid by somebody on the right, he should look into it. He's doing the righties a valuable service.  
Update: I've said before that Newdow makes liberals look bad. Well, whoever created this page makes Christians .... nay, humans .... look bad.
I've read most of the books in his Buddhism list (he is outraged that Amazon sells this stuff! They aren't about Jesus!!!) and recommend them, especially:
  • The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, & Liberation: The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and Other Basic Buddhist Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hahn
  • What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
  • Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, David Steindl-Rast
  • The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama
  • The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
  • When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
  • Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai by Shunryu Suzuki

In fact, if you wanted to put together a basic book list on Buddhism and how it works, these would do. That last one by Suzuki-Roshi might be a little advanced, so read it last. I'd also probably want to add Thich Nhat Hahn's book The Miracle of Mindfulness, which is excellent in spite of the sappy title.

9:39 am | link

friday, january 14, 2005

Planning Your Next Incarnation
I've been ranting about infant mortality rates lately, especially here and here. Infant mortality rates say a lot about a nation, and they're also an important consideration when planning your next incarnation.
E.J. Dionne's column in today's Washington Post inspired me to rant a little more about infant mortality and other vital factors to consider when planning your next incarnation. Dionne asks, "Don't those who care about the right to life have a special obligation to make universal prenatal care -- and health care generally -- a priority?"
You'd think, huh? But as I wrote last week, in the U.S. states with the most restrictive abortion laws also tend to have higher infant mortality rates than more liberal states. I used Mississippi as my best bad example, but if you look at this CDC publication, especially the map on page 5, you see the highest infant mortality rates in the Really Red south, and the lowest in the True Blue northeast and west coast. There are anomalies, such as Texas (why do I suspect there are cooked numbers involved?), and of course there are many factors that impact infant mortality rates, so the correlation isn't perfect. Yet there does seem to be a pattern.
Worldwide, abortion laws tend to be more liberal in developed than in nondeveloped nations (see this Alan Guttmacher publication, chart B).  And infant mortality rates are lower in developed nations. The important factor is the "developed" part, of course.
But the social researchers figured out several years ago that there is a very strong correlation between the status of women and sustainable development. Nations that keep women uneducated, barefoot, and pregnant are nations holding back their own economic development. Nations that give women access to education, careers, and birth control roar ahead in economic development. So if you step away and look at the bigger picture, it appears that developed nations were able to become developed nations because of a higher status enjoyed by women. In other words, there is a correlation between economic development and liberal attitudes about women.
But we're talking about planning your next incarnation, so let's not wander off into the social history of humankind. Let's just look at some numbers.
As you plan your next incarnation, you should consider where you might pop up in your next life. You probably want to incarnate in a place with lots of opportunities and fun stuff to do, of course. You might be looking at places with balmy climates and pretty beaches. But as a practical matter, you should consider a place with a low abortion rate, a low infant mortality rate, and a high life expectancy.
According to this Alan Guttmacher report, the lowest abortion rates in the world are to be found in western Europe. The nations of western Europe also popped up on my roll call of Nations With Lower Infant Mortality Rates Than the U.S., here. So as you plan your next incarnation, you might want to restrict your geographical search to western Europe.
The nation with the lowest abortion rate on the planet is The Netherlands (see Chart D). I understand that The Netherlands is also one of the most liberal nations on the planet, and that it has comparatively liberal abortion laws (see Table 1).
(This is not an anomaly. Going back to this report, we see that women are just about as likely to get abortions in places where they are illegal as they are in places where they are legal. But that's another rant.)
So if you're interested in manifesting in an embryo with the highest chance of being born, The Netherlands is a good choice. The Netherlands also has a favorable infant mortality rate (4.8 per 1000, according to the Population Reference Bureau). That means you'd also have a good shot at surviving to your first birthday. And the life expectancy at birth is pretty good, too -- 79. By comparision, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. is 77, and the infant mortality rate has risen to 7.0.
If life expectancy at birth is important to you, the best numbers on the planet (80 and above) are in Australia, Hong Kong (the rest of China is less favorable), Japan, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, and San Marino. Those nations are all also on my low infant mortality rate list. In fact, Iceland has the lowest infant mortality rate of any nation in the world (2.4), so Iceland deserves serious consideration. Well, OK, it's Iceland. But think about it.
These same high-life-expectancy nations also tend to have lower abortion rates than the U.S. (I don't have data for all of them, but see Chart D). To the best of my knowledge women can obtain legal abortions in all of these countries, although some restrictions may apply.
So as you sit in the celestial Green Room waiting for your next gig, so to speak, keep these numbers in mind. I don't know how the system works -- if there's a sign-up sheet, or if you have to take a number for the next opening, or what -- but if you are allowed to choose, I advise that you aim for northern or some parts of western Europe, maybe Italy (food's good), or Australia (great beaches). 
In other words, look for a nation where us lefties are allowed a voice in public policy. You'll live longer. 
Update: Nice report from the University of Maine (PDF) comparing U.S. health care system with that of other developed nations. 
Update update: I realize I did not put Hong Kong on the list of Nations With Lower Infant Mortality Rates Than the United States. This was an oversight, because it qualifies. The infant mortality rate in Hong Kong is as low as Iceland's in fact -- 2.4 -- according to the Population Resource Bureau. Hong Kong doesn't qualify as a nation, exactly, but it should be on the list anyway. 
8:44 am | link

thursday, january 13, 2005

Just a Theory
A couple more stories to play connect-the-dots with ... these were both in newspapers today.
This is from today's Guardian, in a story about teaching "intelligent design" in biology classes:
The battle over attempts to introduce a version of creationism into the curriculum of American schools has become focused on a small town in Pennsylvania. ...
"Religion has nothing to do with intelligent design," said Carl Jarboe, a former chemistry professor and school board supporter. "I am alleging there is not one piece of scientific evidence that supports evolution."
(Intelligent design (ID) is the claim that empirical evidence points to the conclusion that life on earth was deliberately designed by one or more intelligent agents, or that an intelligent designer is necessary to fully account for the adaptive complexity and diversity of life, because naturalistic causes are inherently insufficient -- Wikipedia)
Also today, this article appeared in the Boston Globe:
A team led by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City discovered bones of a beaked, two-legged dinosaur in the stomach of a cat-sized animal that died about 130 million years ago in China's northeastern Liaoning region. At the same site the team also unearthed the remains of the largest primitive mammal ever found, a creature roughly as big as a beagle. ...

The announcement raises key questions about a long-held evolutionary theory that assumes mammals during the dinosaur era were small because it was the only size that allowed them to survive amid the dangerous world of predatory dinosaurs. Scientists have long reasoned mammals didn't begin a true growth spurt until after dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago.

Intelligent design? Or trial-and-error design?
According to the Guardian story linked above, biology teachers at a high school in Dover, Pennsylvania, rejected the demands of the school board that they read a statement to students that evolution is "just a theory" and not proven scientific fact. And, of course, such a statement is a lie on two levels:
1. The statement supposes that the word theory is a synonym for speculation or hypothesis, as laymen often use the word. But in science, a theory is is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers.
2. When scientists talk about the "theory of evolution," they are not talking about whether there is or is not evolution. They are talking about an explanation of how evolution works. Scientists also talk about the theory of gravity. Are they speculating there is no such thing as gravity? No, the theory of gravity is an explanation of how gravity works. And, frankly, I believe scientists understand evolution a lot better than they understand gravity.
The deeper lie underpinning the "just a theory" argument is that all science is theory. Science is process. Science is the discipline of understanding observable phenomena. If science classes were limited to teaching facts that are beyond dispute and about which there is nothing else to learn, there would be no science classes. Or, there might be classes, but they wouldn't be teaching science.
Put another way -- in math classes students learn to solve math problems, and eventually learn to apply logic to determine many types of quantities and volumes and gas mileage. If students never get past memorizing the multiplication tables, they haven't learned math. If science classes -- especially on a high school level -- are just about memorizing facts, they aren't really science classes.
All of the biological sciences require application of evolutionary theory. If you don't understand evolution, you don't get beyond memorizing the multiplication tables, so to speak.

Intelligent Design is intellectual pollution, and that the establishment chooses to tolerate it has a cost, namely, that establishment proves that it is not concerned for facts, but merely for social conformity.

Behe[*] and his ilk make money killing people: because disinformation has a cost. If they were anti-semites, the system would spit them out the otherside, but since they are killing people by spreading disinformation about biology, they are welcomed with open arms - making a rich living spreading lies. This is no exageration: the theory of natural selection is the basis on which we cure disease - for example, the discovery of a potential cure for AIDS - a base pair alteration that confers immunity.

[* Michael Behe is a proponent of the so-called "intelligent design" explanation for origin and development of species.]
If the troglodytes were consistent, they'd have to disavow all science -- geology, physics, astronomy -- everything. Because they're all "just theories." It's fundamentally dishonest of them to try to eliminate parts of science they don't like and leave the rest of it. And it's fundamentally dishonest of them to pretend that religion has nothing to do with their problems with evolution.
Thus, anyone who is trying to pollute the teaching of evolution with "creationism" or "intelligent design" crap is a fool and a liar. And you can tell 'em I said so.
8:46 pm | link

What He Said
With a little more experience, Richard Cohen might make a pretty good blogger.
It took no less a sage than President Bush to put the firing of four high-level CBS News employees in perspective: "CBS said they would act. They did. And I hope their actions are such that this doesn't happen again." This from the man who fired not a single person in his entire administration for getting nearly everything wrong about Iraq and taking the nation to war for reasons that did not exist or were downright specious. Lucky for Bush he's only the president of the United States and not the head of CBS. ...
Bush's observation to the Wall Street Journal is the deepest wisdom of a man who has always been protected from his own mistakes and failures, whether it's the oil business gone bust or a wayward youth rescued by equal measures of religion and family connections. His is the privileged view of privilege itself -- that others should do what he would not. For all his pretense of aw-shucks ordinariness, Bush's inner Yale sometimes oozes out. Some people should pay for their mistakes. Some people never have to.
amnewyork.jpgUpdate: Thank you Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog -- here's the front page of today's AM New York:
Update Update: This is fascinating -- "The Madness of George W. Bush." Thank you, Mr. Bill!
4:37 pm | link

Ripped from the Headlines
I report. You connect the dots.
Let's start with this story from today's Guardian:
George Bush could not run the United States without "a relationship with the Lord", he said in an interview stressing the role of Christian faith in his presidency.

"I don't see how you can be president ... without a relationship with the Lord," he told the Washington Times in advance of his second-term inauguration. Pollsters say November's election was swung by moral values and the Republican strategy of courting religious voters.

"This is a country that is a value-based country," he said. "Whether they voted for you or not, there's a lot of values in this country, for which I'm real proud ...

This is in today's New York Times:

At the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by American intelligence officers, Congressional officials say. . . .

The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. They would have explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment, and would have required the C.I.A. as well as the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using.

But in intense closed-door negotiations, Congressional officials said, four senior members from the House and Senate deleted the restrictions from the final bill after the White House expressed opposition.

Now let's to go the Washington Post:

President Bush wants to lower barriers to building nuclear power plants, and the lobby that promotes nuclear energy could not be happier. To show its thanks, the group has given $100,000 to help pay for his inauguration. ...

The nuclear energy industry's contribution is part of a record-breaking outpouring of corporate cash for next week's inaugural festivities. At least 88 companies and trade associations, along with 39 top executives -- all with huge stakes in administration policies -- have already donated $18 million toward a $40 million goal for the country's 55th inaugural celebration.

Wall Street investment firms seeking to profit from private Social Security accounts; oil, gas and mining companies pushing the White House to revive a stalled energy-subsidy bill; and hotels and casinos seeking an influx of immigrant labor are among the 44 interests that have each given $250,000 and the 66 that have donated $100,000 to $225,000. And the money keeps pouring in.

Practically all the major donors have benefited from Bush administration policies, especially from corporate and individual tax cuts, deregulation and the new prescription drug benefit that is part of Medicare. Most also stand to boost profits further because of Bush's second-term proposals, which include limiting medical malpractice suits, creating private investment accounts as part of Social Security and making a tax-code revision that is expected to reduce taxes on investments.

Many donors are corporations and executives that are regulated by the federal government, dependent on government tax and spending policies, or both. At least 16 donors are from the finance industry, 14 are from the energy sector, six are real estate developers, and at least five are from both the health and telecommunications industries. The Washington Post Co. has pledged $100,000.

More on the inauguration, from Knight Ridder:

The Ritz-Carlton Washington offers a $150,000 package that includes formalwear from Saks Fifth Avenue and a set of luggage. The Ritz will make Texans in particular feel right at home with $20,000 worth of yellow roses, rattlesnake nachos on the bar menu, doormen wearing Stetson hats, and turn-down chocolates shaped like cowboy boots and Texas stars.

If that's not snazzy enough, for true opulence Washington's newest high-end hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, offered four nights in the 3,500-square-foot Presidential Suite, private jet service to and from Washington, a chauffeur-driven Maybach (a $400,000 sedan trimmed in exotic Indonesian wood), and formalwear from Neiman Marcus. Among the 20 presidential-themed DVDs stocked in the suite: the Watergate epic "All the President's Men," perhaps not a Republican favorite.

The cost: $200,500.

No one bid, but the suite has booked at $8,000 a night.

Knight Ridder also tells us that the toll of missing and dead in Indonesia is estimated to be near 210,000. The Herald Sun of Australia says that, as a result of the tsunami, almost two million people could fall into poverty. just posted this:

The world's attention was grabbed by the calamity of the Asian tsunami at the end of the year, but millions of people in Southern Africa have entered 2005 unsure of whether they will find enough food to eat.

The regional humanitarian crisis that began in 2002, and threatened 15 million people at its peak, has persisted in four countries: Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

In Lesotho and Swaziland another drought year has left half the population at risk until the next harvest in March 2005. In Malawi some 1.7 million people, mainly in the south, need assistance. Forecasts for Zimbabwe earlier in the year estimated that 2.3 million rural people were food insecure, along with 2.2 million urban poor - but that was before a sharp increase in food prices deepened the pool of vulnerable households.

The Associated Press:

The White House acknowledged Wednesday that its hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — a two-year search costing over $900 million dollars — has closed down without finding the stockpiles that President Bush cited as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Bush's spokesman said the president had no regrets about invading Iraq.

"Based on what we know today, the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people," said Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Today's Los Angeles Times:

Consider the case of the Department of Homeland Security's former inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin. When Ervin, a Republican and a Harvard Law School graduate, reported that only 6% of oceangoing cargo was being inspected, that known felons were operating airport checkpoints, that no consolidated terrorist watch list had been compiled and that the managers responsible for these failures had been feted at a lavish awards ceremony that cost half a million dollars, the White House allowed his appointment to lapse, costing him his job, according to Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Senate Government Affairs Committee chairwoman.

Yep, there's a lot of values in this country. Avarice, pride, cruelty, gluttony, lies ... we value 'em all.

9:25 am | link

wednesday, january 12, 2005

Painful Truths
To anyone paying attention to such things (e.g., mothers), most of the information on infant mortality rates in Nick Kristof's column today is old news.
For many years, America's infant mortality rate (the annual number of deaths of infants under age 1 per 1,000 live births) has been high compared to other first-world, industrialized nations. I remember learning this when I was having babies nearly a quarter of a century ago, and it's still true. According to the Population Reference Bureau, nations with lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. include (in no particular order) Australia, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Cypres, Israel, Singapore, Japan, the Netherland Antilles, Taiwan, Andorra, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the Channel Islands, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, Austria, Belguim, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Canada, and New Zealand.  And I'm sure I missed a few.
But Kristof says the U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate than Cuba. "According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S."
Data buried buried in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that America's infant mortality rate is getting worse, Kristof says. But this isn't news, either. This Washington Post story from over a year ago -- February 2004 -- spelled it out:
The United States has long had one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed countries, but the rate had either declined or remained steady every year since 1958. So government scientists were caught off guard when a preliminary analysis of the most recent data showed that the infant mortality rate had inched up -- climbing from 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 7.0 deaths in 2002 -- a 3 percent increase.
But Kristof's column touched off sparks on the Right Blogosphere, where America's superior health care system is a matter of faith. A higher rate than Cuba? No way
So, righties do what righties do -- make excuses.
At the Corner at NRO, John Miller managed to make several. First:
Nick Kristoff of the NYT touts Cuba's health-care paradise in his column today--he says that infant-mortality rates are lower there than they are in the United States, and says what a shame it is that a great country like America can't post better numbers. He even suggests the problem is that we spend too much money on warplanes. What he doesn't explain is that, 1) the United States handles high-risk pregnancies very well (i.e., American doctors and nurses save preemies that wouldn't have a prayer in Havana), and 2) American women are delaying childbirth into their 30s and 40s and thereby putting themselves in the position of having larger numbers of high-risk pregnancies -- a state of affairs that may or may not be regrettable, but which certainly is more the result of personal decisions rather than the quality of American health care (except to the extent that our medical system is good enough to make such choices possible).
I suspect Mr. Miller is correct when he says U.S. hospitals are better prepared to save preemies than Cuban hospitals, although he provides no data proving it. But I'll concede the point. And I'll also concede there are a great many factors driving the change in mortality rate, including older mothers. (Although were that a big factor I would think we would have seen the increase several years ago, because that trend has been going on for a while.)
But to argue that America has a high infant mortality rate because the U.S. provides better health care to high-risk newborns and preemies -- meaning more children at risk are born in the U.S. than in Cuba -- is something of a chicken-egg argument. In other words, which comes first -- good postnatal health care saving high-risk babies, or bad prenatal health care resulting in more high-risk babies? 
Here's a clue. According to this 2004 fact sheet, infant mortality of children born to white mothers (5.7) is significantly lower than children born to black mothers (13.6). The numbers are from 2000, but I suspect this disparity still holds true.
In 2000, the 5.7 rate, while still higher than many other countries, would have been (I think) below average for industrialized nations. The 13.6 rate is about the same as the rate for Serbia, Azerbaijan, and Barbados, and is a lot higher than Cuba.
And one difference, according to the fact sheet, is that a higher percentage of white women get obstetric care beginning in the first trimester. Better early obstetric care means healthier pregnancies means fewer low-weight and premature babies.
But John Miller isn't done. His next excuse is to question Kristof's patriotism --  
Maybe Kristoff was wearing a Che shirt. I suppose the real question is whether he would let his own wife deliver a child in Havana.
Better Havana than Mississippi, but let's continue ... Then Miller finds a sloppily written article ("In any given year in the United States anywhere from 30-40 percent of infants die before they are even a day old." Huh?) which seems to argue that a very high-risk baby born in Cuba might die immediately after birth and not be recorded as a live birth, whereas in the U.S. that baby would live for a few hours and be recorded as a live birth. And maybe that's true. But maybe it isn't.
But what about those other 40 countries with lower infant mortality rates? And why is the U.S. rate increasing? And why is the rate so much higher for black children? Should we not be concerned about these matters? Or is it sufficient to thump our chests and boast that we're better than Cuba?
Over on Captain's Quarters, the Captain is outraged that Kristof dared suggest that the U.S. infant mortality rate is higher than China's, although Kristof didn't say that. After arguing that the U.S. infant mortality rate is not increasing ("In fact, the perinatal death rate was 9.1 in 1990, and 10.7 in 1985, showing tremendous progress over the past generation," which I'm sure is true, but we're talking about a more recent increase)  and ignoring all those other 40-something countries, the Captain says,

But the false impression given by Kristof on infant mortality in the US only partly accounted for the bruise on my chin at breakfast. The rest of the injury comes from Kristof's assertion that China protects infants better than the US:

As readers know, I complain regularly about the Chinese government's brutality in imprisoning dissidents, Christians and, lately, Zhao Yan, a New York Times colleague in Beijing. Yet for all their ruthlessness, China's dictators have managed to drive down the infant mortality rate in Beijing to 4.6 per thousand; in contrast, New York City's rate is 6.5.

Kristof misleads his readers with that comparison. Using the CIA Factbook entry for China -- a source that Kristof uses for Cuba -- we find out that China has an astronomical infant-mortality rate of 25.28, a rate that has not been seen in the US since the 1960s. Perhaps the rate is better in Beijing, but it hardly matters if the rest of the country has that rate. It qualifies as cherry-picking of the worst order on Kristof's part.

Cherry-picking? How about Australia, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Cypres, Israel, Singapore, Japan, the Netherland Antilles, Taiwan, Andorra, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the Channel Islands, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, Austria, Belguim, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Canada, and New Zealand? Why is our infant mortality rate higher -- sometimes considerably higher -- than the rates in these countries? Or why is the rate of infant mortality so much higher in Mississippi (10.5, way higher than Cuba) than Massachusetts (4.8, which is a lot higher than Sweden, at 2.8, according to the PRB)?
The Captain called Kristof's column "morally bankrupt." I say that what's morally bankrupt is shrugging at a disgraceful infant mortality rate for years, and only getting worked up about it when one's national pride is insulted.
12:17 pm | link

Hoots and Hooters
I've done a bit of sniping at the inauguration plans -- the expense, the extravagence, the ostentatiousness, and whatever other words I can find to signify a tasteless pig wallow -- but now let's talk about important stuff. Like what the Bush ladies will be wearing.
According to the Washington Post, the First Lady's wardrobe looks like the same clothes the last several first ladies wore to the last several inaugurals. After la Jacqueline, First Lady wardrobes have all been a big yawn. However ...
Jenna Bush's Badgley Mischka dress was designed for the official inaugural balls and is a Granny Smith apple green silk crepe slink with metallic leather and gemstone insets. Their dress for Barbara Bush is intended for the Black Tie and Boots Ball and is cut from aquamarine silk chiffon. It is held up by jeweled spaghetti straps and has an open back and a V-cut neckline that dips so low -- to the base of the sternum -- that Mischka felt compelled to offer reassurance to the American people that "there will be no wardrobe malfunction for the first family." Each dress has a small train. And both young women, say the designers, are well aware of the perils of walking backward.
The drawing in the Post suggests not-Jenna's gown has less than three square inches of fabric above the waist. If Chelsea Clinton .... never mind. Iokiyar
8:35 am | link

tuesday, january 11, 2005

About Those Memos
I don't want to pass judgment on the CBS Independent Review Panel report until I've read it, and I don't expect to read it all right away. But I can react to some of the reactions
The Right Blogosphere is linking to a Weekly Standard piece by Jonathan Last titled "Whitewash." Although the report may be a whitewash -- as I said, I haven't read it -- Last's piece suffers from some obvious breakdowns in logic.
According to the introduction of the report, the investigation was instigated by CBS News "to examine the process by which the September 8 Segment was prepared and broadcast. The Panel was also asked to examine the circumstances surrounding the public statements and news reports by CBS News after September 8 defending the Segment, as well as to make any recommendations it deemed appropriate." (p. 3) In other words, the investigators were charged to examine CBS's news gathering and news vetting practices.
Last argues that the report ignores the heart of the controversy, which is the question of the Killian memos' authenticity. But that question is (a) outside the scope of the investigation (unless evidence comes to light that CBS itself fabricated the memos), and (b) probably unanswerable. For reasons I went into ad nauseum last fall, and which Corey Pein explains in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review, the pro-forgery arguments are far from watertight. There is no conclusive proof the memos were forged, and without the originals -- which may no longer exist -- there is no way to authenticate them.
Last writes,
You may not be able to authenticate a document from a Xerox copy, but surely you can discredit it. If, for instance, I handed you a Xerox copy of a note purporting to be an email from Saint Paul to Saint Peter, you could, after careful study, conclude that it was a forgery. If, that is, you were concerned with such matters.  
This suggests that allegations of George Bush shirking his National Guard obligations are so outrageous they can be dismissed out of hand. But at least one person in a position to know said the information in the memos conforms to what she remembers. The memos also conform to Bush's military records, or at least fill in gaps in those records. So by Last's own criterion, the memos may be authentic. 
Last also claims that, because the report refused to pass judgment on the authenticity of the memos, it amounts to a vindication of CBS producer Mary Mapes.

Well, if the documents weren't forged and Mary Mapes acted with no political bias, then her firing would have been unjust and she really would be a scapegoat. But since there is abundant evidence that the documents were forgeries and that political attitudes were important in driving the story, the better conclusion is that the CBS Report is a whitewash.

But in professional journalism world (obviously a place foreign to the Weekly Standard), basing a news story on questionable or unverified information is just about as bad as basing a news story on information one knows to be false. What I now know of the way Mapes and other CBS staffers "vetted" the documents reveals gross sloppiness, amateurism, and what can only be called reckless disregard for the truth. The same stunt would've gotten a journalism student skinned alive back at my old alma mater
Indeed, even if the investigation had found the memos authentic, which it did not, Mapes's recklessness in rushing the memos into the public with what she knew at the time would still have been disgraceful.
An analogy would be judging the competence of a physician by whether a particular patient lives or dies. Sometimes a physician performs his job brilliantly but cannot save the patient. Sometimes the patient gets well in spite of what the doctor does. If investigation shows the physician performed his job using common professional standards and current medical science, then he's vindicated. But if the doctor treated the patient by painting himself orange and dancing around a flaming box of oatmeal ... probably not. Even if the patient survives.
From what I've read about the report, Mapes was not vindicated. From what I've heard so far, the investigation shows Mary Mapes and other CBS staffers did not use professional standards to vet the Killian memos.
As for the "abundant evidence that the documents were forgeries and that political attitudes were important in driving the story," Last offers no concrete examples of this evidence. In particular, the "abundant evidence" that "political attitudes were important in driving the story" seems to exist entirely in the heads of people inclined to believe it.  
Last is in agreement with Salon's Eric Boehlert on one point. "But what still remains a puzzle is exactly why either Mapes or her CBS colleagues felt pushed to rush the story on the air," Boehlert says. "Why did CBS News run with the story?" Last asks. "Here, again, the panel declines to posit a credible answer, citing only a vague 'rush to air' and fear of 'heavy competition.'"
But Last assumes that political bias is the only possible reason for the rush, and condemns the report as a whitewash because it didn't come to this conclusion. Boehlert, on the other hand, presents alternative reasons but comes to no conclusions himself.
IMO, it was more likely the egos and ambitions of the CBS staffers that caused this rush. Or, at least, that's just as plausible as "political bias" as a reason for the rush. According to Al Thompkins at Poynter Online, "The investigation into what went wrong at CBS' '60 Minutes Wednesday' paints a portrait of an intensely competitive producer who feared being scooped."
On the other hand, Tim Rutten writes in the Los Angeles Times:
None of this shows that either Rather or Mapes is a biased journalist. What it does show is that all their best efforts and good intentions notwithstanding, CBS' investigators failed to answer the most serious and damaging question raised by this affair. They amply documented journalistic incompetence and, in their executive summary, characterized those involved with the segment as acting with "myopic zeal." That sounds a lot like a working definition of bias, though the overall level of professional failure at work in this affair may render it impossible to formulate a distinction that makes a difference.
But we don't know if the "myopic zeal" was personal or partisan. Were Mapes, Rather, et al. motivated by ambition or by a desire to impact the election? Without concrete evidence (e.g., a memo from Rather to Mapes saying "Bush stinks") any conclusions must be subjective. Anyone who says CBS must have acted out of partisan bias needs to look hard at his own bias. 
12:43 pm | link

Inaugurate This
The Washington Post reports this morning that "the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects."

Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

But that grant money is earmarked for other security needs, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said ...

Williams estimated that the city's costs for the inauguration will total $17.3 million, most of it related to security. City officials said they can use an unspent $5.4 million from an annual federal fund that reimburses the District for costs incurred because of its status as the capital. But that leaves $11.9 million not covered, they said.

"We want to make this the best possible event, but not at the expense of D.C. taxpayers and other homeland security priorities," said Gregory M. McCarthy, the mayor's deputy chief of staff. "This is the first time there hasn't been a direct appropriation for the inauguration." ...

... The region has earmarked federal homeland security funds for such priorities as increasing hospital capacity, equipping firefighters with protective gear and building transit system command centers.

Providing a marvelous example of Bushspeak, an OMB spokesman said that "no additional appropriation" is needed, and "We recognize the city has a special burden to bear for many of these events. . . . That's expressly why in the post-9/11 era we are providing additional resources."
Except, of course, that they aren't providing additional resource. Security for Bush's first inauguration cost $8 million, and I infer from this story that the city was reimbursed for it.
Remember the rightie rule: It's not what we do, but what we say we do, that matters. If we say we are providing additional resources, no one is supposed to notice that we aren't providing additional resources.
And it goes without saying that the glorification of Dear Leader is more important than protecting the peasants from terrorism.
One more thing: Very far down in the story, it mentions that giving all Washington DC area federal employees the day off will cost taxpayers $66 million.
Other inauguration news. Michael Newdow, the guy who took the Pledge of Allegiance to court to get "under God" removed, is back in court trying to remove prayer from the inauguration.
I want to say that Newdow is the kind of guy who makes liberals look stupid.
I agree, on principle, about taking "under God" out of the Pledge. I stopped saying the Pledge during the Nixon administration for a variety of reasons, including the "under God" thing. But IMO "under God" is pretty far down the list of serious church-state relationship issues we face today, and it's not the first fight I would choose to pick.
But the inauguration prayer is not even an issue. I see the prayer, or whether the inauguree puts his hand on a Bible to say the oath, as something the individual being inaugurated can choose to do. Nobody is required to attend an inauguration; nobody is forced to say prayers.
If we were to elect an atheist she or he could choose to skip the religious stuff. If we were to elect a Muslim he could swear on the Q'ran. If we were to elect a Zoroastrian, he could celebrate with a fire puja. If we were to elect a Rastafarian he could play Bob Marley music and smoke ganja.  Actually, that by itself would be a good reason to elect a Rastafarian. Let's do it.
But Newdow's grandstanding trivializes real church-state issues and gets the fundies all worked up about how militant atheists have declared holy war on America. Although annoying the fundies is a perfectly righteous thing to do.
Personally, I would think an atheist would approve of the religious trappings of the Bush inaugural. If Bush takes the oath of office with his hand on a Bible and is not struck by lightning, that's proof there is no God.
8:37 am | link

monday, january 10, 2005

I regret that we had to let Tara O'Brien go this morning. In spite of the favorable biopsy report, and all of the meds and tube feedings, her body just could not sustain itself. I'm pretty sure the photo at left (with her brother, Sean) is the last one I took of her, in late October.
Tara was with me for seven years. She came into my life after she wandered into the back yard of some friends who fed stray alley cats. It was obvious that she was no feral cat, and that she was accustomed to indoor life and its amenities (e.g., litter boxes, can openers). Someone must have loved her, because she was well socialized and affectionate, but of course she couldn't tell us how she'd come to lose her home. Vets guesstimated she was about two years old at the time.
Tara was named for the Tibetan goddess Tara, who is the embodiment of the compassionate activity of the buddhas. She was also named for Tara, the seat of the High Kings in Irish folklore. And of course Tara is the name of Scarlett O'Hara's home in Gone With the Wind. It was a name that tied together Americana, Irish myths, and Buddhism, so it seemed to fit. Tara liked her name right away. She was a sweet-natured cat who liked to cuddle. 
I want to thank everyone for your good wishes. In light of current events I'm making a Tara memorial donation to the Humane Society tsunami relief effort. (The Humane Society won't know it's a Tara memorial donation, but Tara will know.)
May the compassion of goddess Tara liberate all beings.
9:47 am | link

sunday, january 9, 2005

Making Fools
The saga of Armstrong Williams ("...the sort of black conservative who gives other black conservatives the bad name they deserve" -- James Wolcott) is the talk of the blogosphere this weekend.
As by now you must have heard, Williams accepted $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind education-reform law on his TV and radio shows. Many fingers are being wagged at Mr. Williams, who has been dumped by the syndicate who carried his column. Naturally, the Bush administration will not be held to account for spending taxpayer money in this way, but I would like to know how many other columnists are on the take. Like, maybe, Bob the Lizard?
But the real fun is in watching the blogosphere react. Brilliant black blogger Steve Gilliard wrote a sparkling little post called "Massa, I Sure Do Likes No Child Left Behind." And of course Jonah Goldberg, proving he has a tin ear for the snarky tones of sarcasm, called Mr. Gilliard a racist.
So then the usual herd of brownshirted sheep began to snipe at Gilliard and call him names. Truly, the haloscan comments attached to the "Massa" post are required reading. Sample:
It must warm the hearts of all the old Southern Democrats to see the old racial epithets on proud display again. Way to go, Steve. Obviously your regular readers are enjoying the opportunity to release all their pent up racism, led by your ignorant hateful remarks.

Have at me. I've had enough of all the pathetic cowardly racists that provide you with an audience.
Hard to know how the writer could have "had enough" of a blog he clearly had never visited before. This one is also worthy of note:
Robert Byrd, who knows a thing or two about sucking the public teat, can probably get you on the government payroll too. That might help with the jealousy.

If not, I'm sure he can grandfather you into the Klan. Which is where you belong.

Then it begins to dawn on the brownshirts that Mr. Gilliard is black. But rather than admit a mistake or quietly retreat to their caves, some of them dig deeper and deeper holes for themselves. The author of the second post above is particularly persistent. This comment is priceless. "The language used offended me. . . . because if you can't articulate a policy difference without resorting to name calling, well, where are you? Nowhere."

The commenter just knows he is righteous and that Steve Gilliard, a liberal, is wrong. He just has to find the right rationalization to prove it. And, you know, righties never resort to name calling.

Back on The Corner, Goldberg is informed that Steve Gilliard is black and gets all huffy about it. "I'm sorry I ever linked to this Gilliard guy. Not because I take back anything I said. If anything I was probably kind. But because Gilliard's making a fool of himself."

From The Poor Man: "Whenever someone calls Jonah Goldberg 'doughy pantload', an angel gets his wings."

Atrios dug up some old articles in which Goldberg praises Charles Murray of The Bell Curve, a book that claims blacks are biologically inferior to whites. To this Goldberg takes the usual last refuge of a wingnut: Feigned boredom

As I skimmed through blogs and comments today, someone, somewhere, said that righties recognize the language of racism but don't recognize the substance of racism. Pretty much sums it up for me. 

Steve Gilliard's follow up post from yesterday makes several good points.  I really enjoyed the ending:

What stunned me with the trolls was the idea that they could call me a racist and I would care. They came from NRO and Instapundit. I assumed that at best they were projecting. Conservatives make the assumption that liberals care what they think and will react to it.

There's a tendency for liberals to try and be fair, to consider other viewpoints, so we get baited by them in debates on terms that they set.

That's the same thing I was saying here. The usual rightie procedure is to scan a post for any little aside they can lift out of context and challenge me on, in order to start an argument, and if I refuse to dance for them I'm accused of being a bad liberal.

I especially like it when they challenge me in haloscan comments to explain something I've already written thousands of words about over the past several months. Like I'm going to take the time to write more just to entertain them. If they're so interested in my opinion they can do a google search of the site and read what I've already written.

Like the man said, I'm not your monkey.

11:23 am | link

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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