Saturday, February 24, 2007

‘They Think They’ve Been Cursed by God’

The New York Times
February 25, 2007


President Bush’s budget request this month proposes that the U.S. cut spending on global maternal and child health programs to $346 million, or just $1.15 per person in the U.S.

To understand what the cuts mean, meet Simeesh Segaye.

Ms. Simeesh, a warm 21-year-old Ethiopian peasant with a radiant smile, married at 19 and quickly became pregnant. After she had endured two days of obstructed labor, her neighbors carried her to a road and packed her into a bus, but it took another two days to get to the nearest hospital.

By then the baby was dead. And Ms. Simeesh awakened to another horror: She began leaking urine and feces from her vagina, a result of a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula.

Ms. Simeesh’s family paid $10 for a public bus to take her to a hospital that could repair her fistula. But the other passengers took one whiff of her and complained vociferously that they shouldn’t have to share the vehicle with someone who stinks. The bus driver ordered her off.

Mortified, Ms. Simeesh was crushed again when her husband left her. Her parents built a separate hut for her because of her smell, but they nursed her and brought her food and water.

In that hut, she stayed — alone, ashamed, helpless, bewildered. She barely ate, because the more she ate or drank, the more wastes trickled down her legs.

“I just curled up,” she said. “For two years.”

Ms. Simeesh was, in a sense, lucky. She wasn’t one of the 530,000 women who die each year in pregnancy and childbirth — a number that hasn’t declined in 30 years. Here in Ethiopia, a woman has one chance in 14 of dying in childbirth at some point in her life.

For every woman who dies in childbirth worldwide, another 20 are injured. But because the victims are born with three strikes against them — they are poor, rural and female — they are invisible and voiceless, receiving almost no help either from poor countries or from the developed world.

So Ms. Simeesh huddled in a fetal position on the floor of her hut for two years, thinking about killing herself. Finally, last month, Ms. Simeesh’s parents sold all their farm animals and paid a driver to take her to the hospital in a vehicle with no other passengers present to complain.

So now Ms. Simeesh is lying in a bed here in the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital ( The hospital is run by an Australian gynecologist, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, whom I’ve written about before. Dr. Hamlin is the Mother Teresa of our age.

The doctors here will try to repair the fistula, but first they must strengthen Ms. Simeesh, who is skeletal. Her legs have withered and are permanently bent into a fetal position, so that she can’t straighten them or move them.

In the U.S., neither Democrats nor Republicans have ever shown great interest in maternal health. But it’s an issue that deserves far more support, partly because we know exactly what to do to bring down maternal mortality and morbidity: Sri Lanka and Honduras have both shown how poor countries can drastically cut rates of death and injury.

And in the breakaway Somaliland region of Somalia, an extraordinary woman named Edna Adan Ismail runs her own obstetric hospital and trains midwives, underscoring how women’s lives can be saved even in the most difficult environments. Ms. Edna struggles one moment to deliver a breech baby, and the next to round up surgical masks. She is helped by a group of Americans, Friends of Edna Hospital (, who raise funds and scavenge supplies. (To see Ms. Edna, Ms. Simeesh and others in this column, please visit the video I have posted on my blog at

Dr. Hamlin and Ms. Edna deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for showing the world how to turn the tide of maternal mortality and morbidity, and for offering comfort to some of the most forlorn people in the world. At a time when we’re proposing further cuts in our negligible budget for maternal and child health, I was deeply moved by the sight of Ruth Kennedy, a British midwife at the fistula hospital, comforting Ms. Simeesh and bringing a lovely smile to her lips.

“They think they’ve been cursed by God,” Ms. Kennedy explained. “And we tell them that they haven’t been cursed by God and that they’re beautiful and that the only reason that they got a fistula is because we failed them as health professionals.”

Where Were You That Summer of 2001?

The New York Times
February 25, 2007

“UNITED 93,” Hollywood’s highly praised but indifferently attended 9/11 docudrama, will be only a blip on tonight’s Oscar telecast. The ratings rise of “24” has stalled as audiences defect from the downer of terrorists to the supernatural uplift of “Heroes.” Cable surfers have tuned out Iraq for a war with laughs: the battle over Anna Nicole’s decomposing corpse. Set this cultural backdrop against last week’s terrifying but little-heeded front-page Times account of American “intelligence and counterterrorism officials” leaking urgent warnings about Al Qaeda’s comeback, and ask yourself: Haven’t we been here before?

If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks. The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week’s Times, culminating in the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The system “was blinking red,” as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.

The White House doesn’t want to hear it now, either. That’s why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”). Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

This is why the entire debate about the Iraq “surge” is as much a sideshow as Britney’s scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what’s going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war’s critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?

The record so far suggests that this White House has done so twice. The first defeat, of course, began in early December 2001, when we lost Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora. The public would not learn about that failure until April 2002 (when it was uncovered by The Washington Post), but it’s revealing that the administration started its bait-and-switch trick to relocate the enemy in Iraq just as bin Laden slipped away. It was on Dec. 9, 2001, that Dick Cheney first floated the idea on “Meet the Press” that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It was “pretty well confirmed,” he said (though it was not), that bin Laden’s operative Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague months before Atta flew a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.

In the Scooter Libby trial, Mr. Cheney’s former communications aide, Catherine Martin, said that delivering a message on “Meet the Press” was “a tactic we often used.” No kidding. That mention of the nonexistent Prague meeting was the first of five times that the vice president would imply an Iraq-Qaeda collaboration on that NBC show before the war began in March 2003. This bogus innuendo was an essential tool for selling the war precisely because we had lost bin Laden in Afghanistan. If we could fight Al Qaeda by going to war in Iraq instead, the administration could claim it didn’t matter where bin Laden was. (Mr. Bush pointedly stopped mentioning him altogether in public.)

The president now says his government never hyped any 9/11-Iraq links. “Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq,” he said last August after finally conceding that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact everyone in the administration insinuated it constantly, including him. Mr. Bush told of “high-level” Iraq-Qaeda contacts “that go back a decade” in the same notorious October 2002 speech that gave us Saddam’s imminent mushroom clouds. So effective was this propaganda that by 2003 some 44 percent of Americans believed (incorrectly) that the 9/11 hijackers had been Iraqis; only 3 percent had seen an Iraq link right after 9/11.

Though the nonexistent connection was even more specious than the nonexistent nuclear W.M.D., Mr. Bush still leans on it today even while denying that he does so. He has to. His litanies that we are “on the offense” by pursuing the war in Iraq and “fighting terrorists over there, so that we don’t have to fight them here” depend on the premise that we went into that country in the first place to vanquish Al Qaeda and that it is still the “central front” in the war on terror. In January’s State of the Union address hawking the so-called surge, Mr. Bush did it again, warning that to leave Iraq “would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy.”

But now more than ever, the opposite is true. It is precisely by pouring still more of our finite military and intelligence resources down the drain in Iraq that we are tragically ignoring the lessons of 9/11. Instead of showing resolve, as Mr. Bush supposes, his botch of the Iraq war has revealed American weakness. Our catastrophic occupation spawned terrorists in a country where they didn’t used to be, and to pretend that Iraq is now their central front only adds to the disaster. As Mr. Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official, reiterated last week: “Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that’s where it is.” It’s typical of Mr. Bush’s self-righteousness, however, that he would rather punt on that threat than own up to a mistake.

That mistake — dropping the ball on Al Qaeda — was compounded last fall when Mr. Bush committed his second major blunder in the war on terror. The occasion was the September revelation that our supposed ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, had negotiated a “truce” with the Taliban in North Waziristan, a tribal region in his country at the Afghanistan border. This truce was actually a retreat by Pakistan, which even released Qaeda prisoners in its custody. Yet the Bush White House denied any of this was happening. “This deal is not at all with the Taliban,” the president said, claiming that “this is against the Taliban, actually.” When Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson of The Washington Post reported that same month that the bin Laden trail was “stone cold” and had been since Mr. Bush diverted special operations troops from that hunt to Iraq in 2003, the White House branded the story flat wrong. “We’re on the hunt,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ll get him.”

Far from getting him or any of his top operatives dead or alive, the president has sat idly by, showering praise on General Musharraf while Taliban attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan have increased threefold. As The Times reported last week, now both bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be “steadily building an operations hub” in North Waziristan. We know that last year’s London plot to bomb airliners, like the bus-and-subway bombings of 2005, was not just the work of home-grown jihadists in Britain, but also of Qaeda operatives. Some of the would-be bombers were trained in Qaeda’s Pakistan camps much as their 9/11 predecessors had been trained in Afghanistan.

All of this was already going on when Mr. Bush said just before the election that “absolutely, we’re winning” and that “Al Qaeda is on the run.” What’s changed in the few months since his lie is that even more American troops are tied down in Iraq, that even more lethal weapons are being used against them, that even more of the coalition of the unwilling are fleeing, and that even more Americans are tuning out both the administration and the war they voted down in November to savor a referendum that at least offers tangible results, “American Idol.”

Yet Mr. Bush still denies reality. Ten days ago he told the American Enterprise Institute that “the Taliban have been driven from power” and proposed that America help stabilize the Pakistan border by setting up “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” (remember that “Gulf Opportunity Zone” he promised after Katrina?) to “give residents the chance to export locally made products to the United States, duty-free.” In other words, let’s fight terrorism not by shifting America’s focus from Iraq to the central front, but by shopping for Taliban souvenirs!

Five years after 9/11, the terrorists would seem to have us just where they want us — asleep — even as the system is blinking red once again.

A Cat Without Whiskers

The New York Times
February 24, 2007


So some guy stands up after John McCain’s luncheon speech here yesterday to a group of business types and asks him a question.

“I’ve seen in the press where in your run for the presidency, you’ve been sucking up to the religious right,” the man said, adding: “I was just wondering how soon do you predict a Republican candidate for president will start sucking up to the old Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party?”

Mr. McCain listened with his eyes downcast, then looked the man in the eye, smiled and replied: “I’m probably going to get in trouble, but what’s wrong with sucking up to everybody?” It was a flash of the old McCain, and the audience laughed.

Certainly, the senator has tried to worm his way into the affections of W. and the religious right: the Discovery Institute, a group that tries to derail Darwinism and promote the teaching of Intelligent Design, helped present the lunch, dismaying liberal bloggers who have tracked Mr. McCain’s devolution on evolution.

A reporter asked the senator if his pandering on Roe v. Wade had made him “the darling and candidate of the ultra right wing?” ( In South Carolina earlier this week, he tried to get more evangelical street cred by advocating upending Roe v. Wade.) “I dispute that assertion,” he replied. “I believe that it was Dr. Dobson recently who said that he prayed that I would not receive the Republican nomination. I was just over at Starbucks this morning. … I talk everywhere, and I try to reach out to everyone.”

But there’s one huge group that he’s not pandering to: Americans.

Most Americans are sick and tired of watching things go hideously backward in Iraq and Afghanistan, and want someone to show them the way out. Mr. McCain is stuck on the bridge of a sinking policy with W. and Dick Cheney, who showed again this week that there is no bottom to his lunacy. The senator supported a war that didn’t need to be fought and is a cheerleader for a surge that won’t work.

It has left Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, once the most spontaneous of campaigners, off balance. He’s like a cat without its whiskers. When the moderator broached the subject of Iraq after lunch, Mr. McCain grimaced, stuck out his tongue a little and said sarcastically, “Thanks.”

Defending his stance, he sounds like a Bill Gates robot prototype, repeating in a monotone: “I believe we’ve got a new strategy. … It can succeed. I can’t guarantee success. But I do believe firmly that if we get out now we risk chaos and genocide in the region.”

He was asked about Britain’s decision to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq. “Tony Blair, the prime minister, has shown great political courage,” Mr. McCain said. “He has literally sacrificed his political career because of Iraq, my friends,” because he thought “it was the right thing to do.”

He said he worried that Iranian-backed Shiites were taking more and more control of southern Iraq. (That was probably because the Brits kept peace in southern Iraq all along by giving Iranian-backed Shiites more and more control.) And he noted that the British are sending more troops to Afghanistan, “which is very necessary because we’re going to have a very hot spring in Afghanistan.”

But then he got back to Tony Blair sacrificing his political career, and it was clear that he was also talking about himself. When a reporter later asked him if Iraq might consume his candidacy, he replied evenly: “Sure.”

I asked him if he got discouraged when he reads stories like the one in The Wall Street Journal yesterday about Ahmad Chalabi, the man who helped goad and trick the U.S. into war, who got “a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration’s new push to secure Baghdad succeeds.”

Or the New York Times article yesterday about a couple of Iraqi policemen who joined American forces on searches in Baghdad, but then turned quisling, running ahead to warn residents to hide their weapons and other incriminating evidence.

He nodded. “I think one of the big question marks is how the Maliki government will step up to the plate,” he said.

And how, I asked him, can Dick Cheney tell ABC News that British troops getting out is “an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” while he says that Democrats who push to get America out would “validate the Al Qaeda strategy.” Isn’t that a nutty?

But Senator McCain was back on his robo-loop: “I can only express my gratitude for the enormous help that the British have given us.”

Sometimes I miss John McCain, even when I’m with him.

Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion

The New York Times
February 24, 2007

We’re seeing some awfully complicated positions on abortion from some of the presidential candidates. It’s easy to hoot with derision.

Rudy Giuliani did an elaborate dance the other day. Speaking in South Carolina, he said that “as a lawyer,” he liked having “strict constructionists” on the federal courts. But he didn’t specify what he wanted those “strict constructionist” judges to do with Roe v. Wade. Instead, he shifted to talking about how it’s “part of our freedom” for the legislatures in the various states to make their own decisions about law.

More recently, on Larry King’s show, Giuliani said he was pro-choice, though he hates abortion, and retreated again into ideas about the sort of judges he would appoint. King dogged him for blunter answers, and Giuliani must have sounded evasive to most people.

When King assumed that “strict constructionist” judges would overrule Roe v. Wade, Giuliani said, “We don’t know that.” When King asked, “Would it hurt you if they overturned it?” Giuliani turned the focus away from himself: we need good judges, and then there are always the states.

Meanwhile, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post is pointing at a contorted pose that Mitt Romney struck, explaining something he said when he ran for governor of Massachusetts: “What I said to people was that I personally did not favor abortion, that I am personally pro-life. However, as governor I would not change the laws of the commonwealth relating to abortion.

“Now I don’t try and put a bow around that and say what does that mean you are — does that mean you’re pro-life or pro-choice, because that whole package — meaning I’m personally pro-life but I won’t change the laws, you could describe that as — well, I don’t think you can describe it in one hyphenated word.”

If you’re already opposed to Giuliani or Romney, I’m sure the ridicule practically writes itself. Something so convoluted has got to be manipulation. Right? Compare them with straight-talking John McCain, who said: “I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned.” That’s harder to mock.

But it is the candidate who sets out to deceive us who has the most reason to keep it simple. By contrast, complexity may signal that the candidate is actually trying to tell us something about how he thinks. He may have a sophisticated grasp of the role of the executive in relation to the courts and the legislatures. We might do well to tolerate some complexity.

What should a candidate say about abortion? To represent what the country as a whole thinks, the president ought to take account of the deep beliefs Americans have about both reproductive freedom and the value of unborn life. To deserve the trust embodied in appointment power, the president should have a sound understanding of the judges as independent decision makers who follow an interpretive methodology that operates differently from political choice.

So instead of smirking, we should welcome the kind of complicated statements we’re hearing from Romney and Giuliani. Any individual who is offering to wield presidential power should resist assuring us about what his judicial appointees will do. To do otherwise is to tip us off that he means to populate the judiciary with politicos.

If we listen with a decent sympathy, the things Giuliani and Romney say about abortion make sense. When Romney ran for governor, he made a commitment to Massachusetts voters not to attack the law he knew they supported. That was politically expedient, of course, but it also took an admirably limited view of executive power and acknowledged the independence of the legal system.

Similarly, Giuliani respects the distinctive work of judges and the separate role of the state legislatures. If Roe were overruled, those legislatures would decide how to regulate abortion. And decentralized legislation really is fairly called “part of our freedom” because the Constitution’s framers saw the balance of power between the national government and the states as a safeguard against tyranny.

So I’d like to see a little more patience with what Romney and Giuliani are saying. But that doesn’t mean we should be naïve. The next president will select real individuals to be judges, and no matter how diligent they are, they will bring something of their humanity to their interpretation of the law, a version of humanity that will express something of the president’s cast of mind.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Foreign Policy Built on Do-Overs

The New York Times
February 23, 2007

Watching the Bush team wrestle with Iran, North Korea and Iraq reminds me of something that used to be said of the Reagan administration: The right hand never knew what the far right hand was doing.

In fact, my bet is that when the inside history of the Bush team is written, we will discover that, contrary to its carefully managed image of a disciplined core operating from consistent, conservative principles, it has actually been one of the most internally divided administrations — ever.

The only thing the Bush folks all agreed on was that they would never do anything Bill Clinton did. Beyond that, it’s been a food fight. The trial of Scooter Libby, with its testimony about wars between the V.P.’s office and the White House, the White House and the C.I.A., and everyone against the State Department, proves that beyond a reasonable doubt.

When the former Bush U.N. ambassador John Bolton trashed the president’s recent deal with North Korea as a “charade,” though, he highlighted the biggest internal division of all within the Bush team: how to deal with rogue regimes like Iran, North Korea and Saddam’s Iraq — whether to go for regime change or behavior change.

On Iran and North Korea, “this administration does not have clear policies, it has competing impulses,” said Robert Litwak of the Wilson Center, who just published a smart book on this theme: “Regime Change: U.S. Strategy Through the Prism of 9/11.” “The administration’s mantra is ‘all options are on the table.’ But the dilemma is that too many objectives are on the table as well.”

Because this administration was divided for so long on Iran and North Korea, over regime change or behavior change, it got neither. All it got was that Iran and North Korea both went out and bought Bush insurance: a nuclear weapons program.

President Bush obviously recognizes that and is now trying to remedy it. Bill Clinton was criticized for taking more golf mulligans — do-overs — than any other president. Mr. Bush will be remembered for taking more foreign policy mulligans than any other president.

On North Korea, the president has finally decided to focus purely on changing behavior. He struck a very sensible deal last week with Kim Jong Il to take his country off our terrorism list and normalize relations, provided Mr. Kim gives up his nukes.

But we could have had a similar deal years ago — when North Korea had only two nukes — had the Bush team not been wrangling with itself over regime change or behavior change. While it wrangled, Mr. Kim built up his nuclear arsenal, adding six to 12 more bombs. If this deal is carried out, which is still uncertain, the wasted years will not have been a disaster. If it isn’t carried out, they will have been very costly.

Why do you think that a year after Mr. Bush told us we were “addicted to oil” we still have no serious plan to end that addiction? Because the market fundamentalists in his White House — led by Dick Cheney, who opposes any government effort to impose carbon caps or taxes to promote alternative energies, à la California — keep blocking the market pragmatists who do. And Mr. Bush won’t intervene.

The irony of Iraq is that it’s the one place where Mr. Bush decisively chose regime change, but he then executed it so poorly, with insufficient troops, that Iraq never stood a chance. If Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had spent as much time plotting the toppling of Saddam Hussein as they did the toppling of Colin Powell, Iraq today would be Switzerland. Today’s Bush troop surge in Iraq is just another mulligan — the president’s trying to do in 2007 what he should have done in 2003. In between, we’ve paid a huge price.

How about we avoid a mulligan on Iran? Let’s put a clear deal on the table: full diplomatic relations, security guarantees and thousands of student visas if Iran puts its nuclear program under U.N. inspection and stops supporting terrorism. If not: more sanctions and isolation. Such an offer would at least get us some leverage, unite us more with our allies outside Iran, energize our allies inside Iran and force some excruciating choices on Iran’s leaders.

“Resolving the contradiction in Washington will sharpen the contradiction in Tehran,” Mr. Litwak argued. “Taking regime change off the table in America will put behavior change on the table in Iran.”

I guess we should be thankful that Mr. Bush is trying to fix some of his mistakes, but we have paid a huge, unnecessary price for his learning curve. Which is why it’s always best to get it right the first time. The best golfers never take mulligans, and the best presidents never need them.

216 Million Americans Are Scientifically Illiterate (Part I)

The good news: America's science literacy rate is up from a pathetic 10 percent in 1988. The bad news: it's still only 28 percent.

By David Ewing Duncan
Technology Review

“Ignorance feeds on ignorance.” – Carl Sagan

Let’s start by focusing on the positive. In just 17 years, over 50 million people have been added to the rolls of Americans who can understand a newspaper story about science or technology, according to findings presented last weekend at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Michigan State University political scientist Jon D. Miller, who conducted the study, attributed some of the increase in science literacy to colleges, many of which in recent years have required that students take at least one science course. Miller says people have also added to their understanding through informal learning: reading articles and watching science reports on television.

Okay, now let’s talk (dare I say rant?) about the 200 million Americans out there who cannot read a simple story in, say, Technology Review or the New York Times science section and understand even the basics of DNA or microchips or global warming.

This level of science illiteracy may explain why over 40 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution and about 20 percent, when asked if the earth orbits the sun or vice versa, say it’s the sun that does the orbiting--placing these people in the same camp as the Inquisition that punished Galileo almost 400 years ago. It also explains the extraordinary disconnect between scientists and much of the public over issues the scientists think were settled long ago--never mind newer discoveries and research on topics such as the use of chimeras to study cancer, or pills that may extend life span by 30 or 40 percent.

As Carl Sagan eloquently wrote in The Demon-Haunted World, ignorance reigns in our society at a moment when science is on the cusp of doing amazing and wonderful things, but also dangerous things. Ignorance, said Sagan, is not an option.

Indeed, given that we live in a culture based on science and technology, this situation is dangerous. It conjures the specter of a society in which a cadre of elites knows and understands the essentials of the science that underpins our civilization, while everyone else uses and depends on that science without having a clue. This scenario is troubling in a democracy that assumes a baseline of citizen knowledge. The outcome could be that the illiterates become so fearful of science and technology, so resentful of the exalted position of the elites, that they try to slow down the progress of science, or stop it altogether. Or the opposite could happen: the scientifically elite may grow frustrated with the illiterates and try to co-opt or even control them.

The forces of ignorance have squelched science across history, from the mob in ancient Alexandria, which chased the astronomer Aristarchus out of town for suggesting that the earth moved around the sun, to the present restrictions on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.

Elites’ exploiting their scientific knowledge for power is also not new. Mayan elites, for instance, used their extraordinary knowledge of mathematics, engineering, and astronomy to build great cities and temples--and sumptuous palaces for themselves--and to awe and control the masses through a religion that included ripping the hearts out of sacrificial victims. Europeans during the colonial era leveraged their advanced guns and ships into global empires at the expense of so-called “ignorant savages.”

One of Miller’s findings that may surprise many Americans is that Europeans and Japanese actually rate slightly lower in science literacy. To be sure, these same populations also have a much higher percentage of people who accept evolution and other basic scientific theories. America’s large population of conservative religious believers may be one reason for this discrepancy, although clearly there are hundreds of millions of people in the developed world who need education.

Perhaps we should launch a scientific literacy campaign like the mid-20th-century drive that nearly tripled the rate of basic literacy worldwide. The question is, does the public really want to know how gadgets run and how organisms work? And are scientists and those who control scientific knowledge willing to share--that is, to take the time, and perhaps give up some of their influence and access to knowledge?

In other words, is this seemingly global dilemma of science illiteracy fixable or not?


In the next few days look for:
Part II: What is the media’s role in science illiteracy?
Part III: Are scientists helping or hindering science literacy?



Larry Seidlin is my kind of judge. He's definitely the one I want on the bench if I'm ever up for capital murder.

"I just can't condemn this guy to death. Send him some champagne & flowers…& let him go home…"
It all comes down to…

[Click on pic for a big surprise…]

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Colorless Green Ideas

The New York Times
February 23, 2007

The factual debate about whether global warming is real is, or at least should be, over. The question now is what to do about it.

Aside from a few dead-enders on the political right, climate change skeptics seem to be making a seamless transition from denial to fatalism. In the past, they rejected the science. Now, with the scientific evidence pretty much irrefutable, they insist that it doesn’t matter because any serious attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions is politically and economically impossible.

Behind this claim lies the assumption, explicit or implicit, that any substantial cut in energy use would require a drastic change in the way we live. To be fair, some people in the conservation movement seem to share that assumption.

But the assumption is false. Let me tell you about a real-world counterexample: an advanced economy that has managed to combine rising living standards with a substantial decline in per capita energy consumption, and managed to keep total carbon dioxide emissions more or less flat for two decades, even as both its economy and its population grew rapidly. And it achieved all this without fundamentally changing a lifestyle centered on automobiles and single-family houses.

The name of the economy? California.

There’s nothing heroic about California’s energy policy — but that’s precisely the point. Over the years the state has adopted a series of conservation measures that are anything but splashy. They’re the kind of drab, colorless stuff that excites only real policy wonks. Yet the cumulative effect has been impressive, if still well short of what we really need to do.

The energy divergence between California and the rest of the United States dates from the 1970s. Both the nation and the state initially engaged in significant energy conservation after that decade’s energy crisis. But conservation in most of America soon stalled: after a decade of rapid progress, improvements in auto mileage came to an end, while electricity consumption continued to rise rapidly, driven by the growing size of houses, the increasing use of air-conditioning and the proliferation of appliances.

In California, by contrast, the state continued to push policies designed to encourage conservation, especially of electricity. And these policies worked.

People in California have always used a bit less energy than other Americans because of the mild climate. But the difference has grown much larger since the 1970s. Today, the average Californian uses about a third less total energy than the average American, uses less than 60 percent as much electricity, and is responsible for emitting only about 55 percent as much carbon dioxide.

How did the state do it? In some cases conservation was mandated directly, through energy efficiency standards for appliances and rules governing new construction. Also, regulated power companies were given new incentives to promote conservation, via rule changes that “decoupled” their profits from the amount of electricity they sold.

And yes, a variety of state actions had the effect of raising energy prices. In the early 1970s, the price of electricity in California was close to the national average. Today, it’s about 50 percent higher.

Incidentally, since someone is bound to mention it: the California energy crisis of 2000-2001 has nothing to do with this story. That crisis was caused by market manipulation — we’ve got it on tape — made possible by ill-conceived deregulation, not conservation.

Back to California’s success. As the higher price of power indicates, conservation didn’t come free. Still, it’s striking how invisible California’s energy policy remains. It’s easy to see why New York has much lower per capita energy consumption than, say, Georgia: it’s a matter of high-rises versus sprawl, mass transit versus driving alone. It’s less obvious that Los Angeles is a much greener city than Atlanta. But it is.

So is California a role model for climate policy? No and yes. Even if America as a whole had matched California’s conservation efforts, we’d still be emitting about as much carbon dioxide now as we were in 1990. That’s too much.

But California’s experience shows that serious conservation is a lot less disruptive, imposes much less of a burden, than the skeptics would have it. And the fact that a state government, with far more limited powers than those at Washington’s disposal, has been able to achieve so much is a good omen for our ability to do a lot to limit climate change, if and when we find the political will.


WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD BALD (like Sidney Fields in Abbott & Costello) FUNNY (not funny ha-ha, funny peculiar…ok…maybe a little ha-ha too…) CRAZY JUDGE…?

This guy makes Judge Ito look like Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Let’s face it…Larry Seidlin is a nut.

Eccentric Florida Judge or Bronx, New York cabdriver escaped from the loony bin?

For some reason I get the feeling that any minute now the men in the white suits with the giant butterfly net are going to show up in the Broward Co. Courthouse & cart this character back to Cloud Cuckoo Land.

“The body’s mine! The body’s mine…Hoohoo…!”

Hoo is right. As in who gets cast in the role? Larry David is my first choice…Woody Allen directs…

Theatre of the Absurd lives!!!

[to be continued]

Affidavit: McVeigh had high-level help

According to Oklahoma bombing conspirator, ranking officials were involved in the attack

By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 02/21/2007 01:03:43 AM MST

Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols says a high-ranking FBI official "apparently" was directing Timothy McVeigh in the plot to blow up a government building and might have changed the original target of the attack, according to a new affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Utah.

The official and other conspirators are being protected by the federal government "in a cover-up to escape its responsibility for the loss of life in Oklahoma," Nichols claims in a Feb. 9 affidavit.

Documents that supposedly help back up his allegations have been sealed to protect information in them, such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah had no comment on the allegations. The FBI and Justice Department in Washington, D.C., also declined comment.

Nichols does not say what motive the government would have to be involved in the bombing.

The affidavit was filed in a lawsuit brought by Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue, who believes his brother's death in a federal prison was linked to the Oklahoma City bombing. The suit, which seeks documents from the FBI under the federal Freedom of Information Act, alleges that authorities mistook Kenneth Trentadue for a bombing conspirator and that guards killed him in an interrogation that got out of hand.

Trentadue's death a few months after the April 19, 1995, bombing was ruled a suicide after several investigations. The government has adamantly denied any wrongdoing in the death.

In his affidavit, Nichols says he wants to bring closure to the survivors and families of the attack on the Alfred B. Murrah Federal Building, which took 168 lives. He alleges he wrote then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004, offering to help identify all parties who played a role in the bombing but never got a reply.

Nichols is serving a life sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo. McVeigh, who carried out the bombing, was executed in 2001.

McVeigh and Nichols were the only defendants indicted in the bombing. However, Nichols alleges others were involved.

McVeigh told him he was recruited for undercover missions while serving in the military, according to Nichols. He says he learned sometime in 1995 that there had been a change in bombing target and that McVeigh was upset by that.

"There, in what I believe was an accidental slip of the tongue, McVeigh revealed the identity of a high-ranking FBI official who was apparently directing McVeigh in the bomb plot," Nichols says in the affidavit.

Nichols also says that McVeigh threatened him and his family to force him to rob Roger Moore, an Arkansas gun dealer, of weapons and explosives. He later learned the robbery was staged so Moore, who was in on the phony heist, could deny any knowledge of the bombing plot if the stolen items were traced back to him, Nichols claims.

He adds that Moore allegedly told his attorney that he would not be prosecuted in connection with the bombing because he was a "protected witness."

Moore could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In addition, Nichols says McVeigh must have had help building the bomb. The device he and McVeigh built the day before the bombing did not resemble the one that ultimately was used, Nichols says, and "displayed a level of expertise and sophistication" that neither man had.


COMMENT: Is Jose Padilla John Doe No. 2 ? (Just a little food for speculation…)


From Anna to Britney to Zawahri

The New York Times
February 22, 2007

Have they buried Anna Nicole Smith yet?

Are you kidding? Ms. Smith may be dead and rapidly decomposing, but there’s too much fun still to be reaped from her story to let it die just yet. This is world-class entertainment: Larry King, “Today,” CNN, The New York Times.

Even the judge in the televised hearing over what to do with Ms. Smith’s remains is milking his 15 minutes, like Judge Ito of O. J. Simpson fame. In a burst of wisdom from the bench, the judge, Larry Seidlin, said, “Like a Muhammad Ali fight, sometimes you have to wait the whole 10 rounds.”

When we were kids we were taught not to laugh at people who were obviously mentally or emotionally disturbed. With Ms. Smith, who was deeply and unmistakably disturbed, we put her on television and laughed and laughed. Would she say something stupid, or spill out of her dress, or pass out in public from booze or drugs? How hysterically funny!

Then her son died. Then she died, leaving an orphaned infant daughter. Instead of turning away chastened, shamed, we homed in like happy vultures. Whatever entertainment value Ms. Smith had when she was alive increased exponentially when she was kind enough to die for us. Now she’s on the tube around the clock.

The story, as they say, has legs.

There are other stories out there, but they aren’t nearly as much fun. The Times reported on Monday, for example, that Al Qaeda is getting its act together in Pakistan and is setting up training camps in an area that, apparently, we don’t dare trespass in.

According to the article, “American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.”

The article went on to say, ominously, “The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.”

I imagine that there are a fair number of television viewers and newspaper readers who have trouble distinguishing the relative importance of celebrity stories, like the death of Anna Nicole Smith, from other matters in the news, like the reconstitution of forces responsible for the devastating Sept. 11 attacks.

If air time is any guide, there’s no contest. It’s been obvious for the longest time that the line between news and entertainment has vanished. News is entertainment. And the death of Anna Nicole Smith is more entertaining — for the time being, at least — than the war in Iraq or the plodding machinations of bin Laden and Zawahri.

Paris Hilton and Britney Spears were on the cover of Newsweek last week with the headline “The Girls Gone Wild Effect.” When you turned to the story, there was a full-page picture of the former best friends, with a glassy-eyed Britney looking for all the world like a younger version of Anna Nicole Smith.

The lead-in to the article said in large type: “Paris, Britney, Lindsay and Nicole — They seem to be everywhere and they may not be wearing underwear.”

The nation may be at war, and Al Qaeda may be gearing up for a rematch. But that’s no fun, not when Britney is shaving off her hair and Jennifer Aniston is reported to have a new nose and the thrill-a-minute watch over Anna Nicole’s remains is still the hottest thing on TV.

It was Neil Postman who warned in 1985 that we were amusing ourselves to death. I’m not sure anyone knew how literally to take him.

More than 20 years later, the masses have nearly succeeded in drawing the curtains on anything that’s not entertaining. No one can figure out what do about Iraq or Al Qaeda. A great American cultural center like New Orleans was all but washed away, and no one knows how to put it back together. The ice caps are melting and Al Gore is traveling the land like the town crier, raising the alarm about global warming.

But none of that has really gotten the public’s attention. None of it is amusing enough. As a nation of spectators, we seem content to sit with a pizza and a brew in front of the high-def flat-screen TV, obsessing over Anna Nicole et al., and giving no thought to the possibility that the calamitous events unfolding in the world may someday reach our doorsteps.



We’re the Roman Empire now…The Late Roman Empire…To the 10th power…Look at history. The masses must be entertained unto vegetative lethargy. The Masterclass knows how dangerous they can be otherwise…I mean, just séance-up & ask Charles I, Louis XVI & Nicholas II…


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Backlash Blues

Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just who do you think I am
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages
And send my son to Vietnam

You give me second class houses
And second class schools
Do you think that alla colored folks
Are just second class fools
Mr. Backlash, I'm gonna leave you
With the backlash blues

When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash
All you got to offer
Is your mean old white backlash
But the world is big
Big and bright and round
And it's full of folks like me
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown
Mr. Backlash, I'm gonna leave you
With the backlash blues

Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just what do you think I got to lose
I'm gonna leave you
With the backlash blues
You're the one will have the blues
Not me, just wait and see

-- Langston Hughes & Nina Simone

September 1, 1939

by W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Obama’s Big Screen Test

The New York Times
February 21, 2007


Hillary is not David Geffen’s dreamgirl.

“Whoever is the nominee is going to win, so the stakes are very high,” says Mr. Geffen, the Hollywood mogul and sultan of “Dreamgirls,” as he sits by a crackling fire beneath a Jasper Johns flag and a matched pair of de Koonings in the house that Jack Warner built (which old-time Hollywood stars joked was the house that God would have built). “Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.

“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”

Barack Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O’Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Instead of the Tarleton twins, the Illinois senator is flirting with the Dreamworks trio: Mr. Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave him a party last night that raised $1.3 million and Hillary’s hackles.

She didn’t stand outside the gates to the Geffen mansion, where glitterati wolfed down Wolfgang Puck savories, singing the Jennifer Hudson protest anthem “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” But she’s not exactly Little Miss Sunshine, either. Hillary loyalists have hissed at defecting donors to remember the good old days of jumping on the Lincoln Bedroom bed.

“Hillary is livid that Obama’s getting the first big fund-raiser here,” one friend of hers said.

Who can pay attention to the Oscar battle between “The Queen” and “Dreamgirls” when you’ve got a political battle between a Queen and a Dreamboy?

Terry McAuliffe and First Groupie Bill have tried to hoard the best A.T.M. machine in politics for the Missus, but there’s some Clinton fatigue among fatigued Clinton donors, who fret that Bill will “pull the focus” and shelve his wife’s campaign.

“I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Mr. Geffen says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they’ll wait until Hillary’s the nominee to use it. “I think they believe she’s the easiest to defeat.”

She is overproduced and overscripted. “It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Mr. Geffen says. “She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”

The babble here is not about “Babel”; it’s about the battle of the billionaires. Not only have Ron Burkle and David Geffen been vying to buy The Los Angeles Times — they have been vying to raise money for competing candidates. Mr. Burkle, a supermarket magnate, is close to the Clintons, and is helping Hillary parry Barry Obama by arranging a fund-raiser for her in March, with a contribution from Mr. Spielberg.

Did Mr. Spielberg get in trouble with the Clintons for helping Senator Obama? “Yes,” Mr. Geffen replies, slyly. Can Obambi stand up to Clinton Inc.? “I hope so,” he says, “because that machine is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective.”

Once, David Geffen and Bill Clinton were tight as ticks. Mr. Geffen helped raise some $18 million for Bill and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom twice. Bill chilled at Chateau Geffen. Now, the Dreamworks co-chairman calls the former president “a reckless guy” who “gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country.”

They fell out in 2000, when Mr. Clinton gave a pardon to Marc Rich after rebuffing Mr. Geffen’s request for one for Leonard Peltier. “Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?” Mr. Geffen says. “Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

The mogul knows it’s easy to mock Hollywood — “people with Priuses and private planes” — and agrees with George Clooney that it’s probably not helpful for stars to campaign for candidates, given the caricatures of Hollywood.

I ask what he will say if he ever runs into Bill Clinton again. “ ‘Hi,’ ” he replies. And will he be upset if Hillary wins and he never gets to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom again?

“No,” he says with a puckish smile. “It’s not as nice as my bedroom.”

“If we don’t beat ‘em there they’ll follow me home. Sweet Jesus…pass the whiskey…!”

Monday, February 19, 2007

Let’s Start a War, One We Can Win

The New York Times
February 20, 2007

AFETA, Ethiopia

They were two old men, one arriving by motorcade with bodyguards and the other groping blindly as he shuffled on a footpath with a stick, but for a moment the orbits of Jimmy Carter and Mekonnen Leka intersected on this remote battlefield in southern Ethiopia.

Mr. Mekonnen, who thinks he may be 78, is a patient in Mr. Carter’s war on river blindness. He is so blind that he rarely leaves the house any more, but on this occasion he staggered to the village clinic to get a treatment for the worms inside him.

His skin is mottled because the worms cause ferocious itching, especially when they become more active at night. He and other victims scratch until they are bloodied and their skin is partly worn away. Ultimately the worms travel to the eye, where they often destroy the victim’s sight.

Ethiopia has the largest proportion of blind people in the world, 1.2 percent, because of the combined effects of river blindness and trachoma. As in many African countries, the wrenching emblem of poverty is a tiny child leading a blind beggar by a stick.

As Mr. Mekonnen waited on a bench by the clinic, there was a flurry of activity, and an Ethiopian announced in the Amharic language that “a great elder” had arrived. Then Mr. Mekonnen heard voices speaking a foreign language and a clicking of cameras, and finally the whirlwind around Mr. Carter moved on.

“Do you know who that was?” I asked Mr. Mekonnen.

“I couldn’t see,” he replied.

“Have you ever heard of Jimmy Carter?”


Yet in remote places like this, former President Carter, at 82, is leading a private war on disease that should inspire and shame President Bush and other world leaders into joining. It’s not just that Mr. Carter’s wars have been more successful than Mr. Bush’s; Mr. Carter is also rehabilitating the image of the U.S. abroad and transforming the lives of the world’s most wretched peoples. (For a video of Mr. Carter’s trip, please go to

On the previous night, Mr. Mekonnen had slept under a mosquito net for the first time in his life, as part of a Carter initiative to wipe out malaria and elephantiasis in this region. And Mr. Mekonnen now uses an outhouse as a result of a Carter Center initiative to build 350,000 outhouses in rural Ethiopia to defeat blindness from trachoma.

Mr. Carter has almost managed to wipe out one horrific ailment — Guinea worm — and is making great strides against others, including river blindness and elephantiasis. In this area, people are taking an annual dose of a medicine called Mectizan — donated by Merck, which deserves huge credit — that prevents itching and blindness.

Mectizan also gets rid of intestinal worms, leaving Ethiopian villagers stronger and more able to work or attend school. Among adults, the deworming revives sex drive, so some people have named their children Mectizan.

Mr. Carter’s private campaign against the diseases of poverty, put together with pennies and duct tape, is a model of what our government could do. Imagine if the U.S. resolved that it would wipe out malaria and elephantiasis (both are spread by mosquitoes, so a combined campaign makes sense). What if we celebrated science not by trying to go to Mars but by extinguishing malaria? What if we tried to burnish America’s image abroad not only with press releases and propaganda broadcasts, but also with a bold campaign against disease?

So I wish that President Bush could visit villages like this and see what Mr. Carter has accomplished as a private individual. Mr. Bush, to his great credit, has financed a major campaign against AIDS that will save nine million lives, and he is also increasing spending against malaria — but not nearly as energetically as he is increasing the number of troops in Iraq. So I asked Mr. Carter whether President Bush should be pushing not for a possible war with Iran, but for a war on malaria.

“That would certainly be my preference,” he said. “I thought the war in Iraq was one of the worst mistakes our country ever made, and we’re possibly about to make an even worse mistake by precipitating a war with Iran. But I would like to see us shift away from war being a high priority, to diplomacy and benevolent causes.”

So, President Bush, how about if we as a nation join Mr. Carter’s war on diseases that afflict the world’s poorest peoples — and are one reason they are so poor. That’s a war that would unite Americans, not divide them. Come on, Mr. Bush, sound the trumpets!

‘A Skull Full of Mush’

The New York Times
February 20, 2007

“The Paper Chase” is the book you’re supposed to read before you go to law school. “Paper Chase” or “One L.” Me, I read Scott Turow’s memoir of his first year of law school, “One L.” I’d seen the movie “The Paper Chase” when it came out in 1973, but not because I had any thought back then of going to law school. I didn’t. It was just a good movie about a young guy’s struggle with an authority figure, like so many other movies we saw back then. The authority figure just happened to be a law professor.

When I was applying to law schools in 1977, I really didn’t need an anti-authoritarian novel about a young guy who lets a love affair with the professor’s daughter eat into his study time. I was married and — it seemed then — a little old for that sort of frippery.

I was 26. What I needed was to get serious after years of underemployment inspired by books and movies about defying authority. I had to set aside that obsolescent hippie balkiness and adopt a pragmatic attitude for the task ahead. “One L” — which was new then — laid out the facts about law school and got you just scared enough to fire you up for the challenge.

But last Friday, I found myself at New York Law School, at a conference on writing about the law, and the lunch-hour speaker was the author of “The Paper Chase,” John Jay Osborn Jr.

Osborn, who, like me, is a law professor, came to tell us why his protagonist, James Hart, folds his first-year transcript, unread, into a paper airplane and sails it into the ocean and why, less metaphorically, law students hate law school.

Do law students hate law school? When I went to law school, I told myself I loved law school. It was a pose, a strategy, and I knew that. I was being pragmatic.

But Osborn says they hate law school, and they hate it because the law professors don’t care about what the students think. “You come in here with a skull full of mush, and you leave thinking like a lawyer,” said Osborn’s sadistically Socratic professor, Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. This legal discipline deprives students of “their own narrative,” as Osborn put it, and they need to learn how to struggle, as Osborn’s protagonist Hart did, to “reclaim” it. They need to resist what law school tries to impose, like the domineering grading system that Hart pitched off in the form of a paper airplane.

Osborn knocked that other book: “ ‘One L’ doesn’t have a H[e]art.” He believes in the ways of fiction. There ought to be a hero to show us the way to live. And we need a villain like Kingsfield, whom, Osborn said, he concocted for dramatic purposes. I preferred the memoir, the account of an ordinary man as he encounters some interesting, fallible human beings who did the work that both Osborn and I do now.

Though none of the law professors I know are much at all like Kingsfield, Osborn chided us law professors for making our students so unhappy: stop calling on them; listen only to volunteers; don’t dictate how they should think; let them tell their own stories.

Law should connect to the real world. But that doesn’t mean we ought to devote our classes to the personal expression of law students. The cases we read for class are always based on factual disputes that arose in real life. In fact, I’ve spent the last two weeks teaching cases on standing doctrine, which prevents the courts from articulating the law in the abstract and ties the judicial power to resolving concrete controversies between genuine adversaries. If it’s not real enough, it’s not a case.

So law is not abstract unless one makes the mistake of turning it into an abstraction. We law professors tend to worry about seeming like Professor Kingsfield. But we ought to worry less about that prospect and more about preserving and respecting our own tradition of teaching from the cases.

The students who come into our law schools are adults who have decided that they are ready to spend a tremendous amount of time and money preparing to enter a profession. We show the greatest respect for their individual autonomy if we deny ourselves the comfort of trying to make them happy and teach them what they came to learn: how to think like lawyers.

Ann Althouse is a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and writes the blog Althouse. She is a guest columnist this month.

In Goddess We Trust


Via Xan at Corrente, comes the Washington Post story of the Army Chaplain who converted to Wicca and applied to become the first Wiccan chaplain. "By year's end, his superiors not only denied his request but also withdrew him from Iraq and removed him from the chaplain corps, despite an unblemished service record."

"Institutionalized bigotry and discriminatory actions . . . have crossed the line this time," says David L. Oringderff, a retired Army intelligence officer who is an elder in the Sacred Well Congregation, the Texas-based Wiccan group that Larsen joined.

Larsen, 44, blames only himself. He said he was naive to think he could switch from Pentecostalism to Wicca in the same way that chaplains routinely change from one Christian denomination to another.

Chaplain Kevin L. McGhee, Larsen's superior at Camp Anaconda, believes a "grave injustice" was done. McGhee, a Methodist, supervised 26 chaplains on the giant base near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. He says Larsen was the best.

"I could go on and on about how well he preached, the care he gave," McGhee says. "What happened to Chaplain Larsen -- to be honest, I think it's political. A lot of people think Wiccans are un-American, because they are ignorant about what Wiccans do."

...By the Pentagon's count, there are now 1,511 self-identified Wiccans in the Air Force and 354 in the Marines. No figures are available for the much larger Army and Navy. Wiccan groups estimate they have at least 4,000 followers in uniform, but they say many active-duty Wiccans hide their beliefs to avoid ridicule and discrimination. Two incidents may bear them out.

When a Texas newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, reported in 1999 that a circle of Wiccans was meeting regularly at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, then-Gov. George W. Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America": "I don't think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it."

Eight years later, the circle at Lackland is still going strong, and the military permits Wiccans to worship on U.S. bases around the world. But when Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005, the Department of Veterans' Affairs refused to allow a Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star inside a circle, to be inscribed on his memorial at the Fernley, Nev., veterans' cemetery. Ultimately, Nevada officials approved the pentacle anyway.

For Wiccans seeking public acceptance, obtaining a military chaplain is the next major goal. More than 130 religious groups have endorsed, or certified, chaplains to serve in uniform. But efforts by Wiccan organizations to join the list have repeatedly been denied by the Pentagon.

...According to Pentagon figures, however, some faiths with similarly small numbers in the ranks do have chaplains. Among the nearly 2,900 clergy on active duty are 41 Mormon chaplains for 17,513 Mormons in uniform, 22 rabbis for 4,038 Jews, 11 imams for 3,386 Muslims, six teachers for 636 Christian Scientists, and one Buddhist chaplain for 4,546 Buddhists.

You should read the whole thing. I've excerpted enough to show, I hope, that not only should the military reverse course on their decision not to allow Wiccan chaplains for fear of what the wingnut Christians will say, but they are obviously and unfairly singling out the Wiccan for that treatment based purely upon the uneducated bigotry of those wingnuts.

Full disclosure: Regular readers will know I'm a pagan myself. I'm not part of the group here in Texas that Larsen joined but I do belong to a British Wiccan group, the Red Alder, and hold the honor of being a High Priest of that group.

Far from being "Satanist", the Wiccan religion gives free expression to the soul in often poetic ways. There are no strictures on how one can worship, nor any heirachy which tells you how to worship. The Wiccan religion lets each approach the Divine in their own way.

Here's an example, one of the most beautiful passages from one of the most common Wiccan texts:

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe -

"I who am the beauty of the green Earth, and the white moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the desire of the heart of man, call unto thy soul. Arise and come unto me."

"For I am the soul of Nature, who gives life to the universe. From me all things proceed, and unto me all things must return; and before my face, beloved of Gods and of Men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite."

"Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within thee."

"And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless they knowest the mystery : that if that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee, then thou shalt never find it without thee. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire."


"A Republic.... if you can keep it." -- attributed to Benjamin Franklin, after the Constitutional Convention, 1789

Ooops! Heh-heh-heh…”


Wrong Is Right

The New York Times
February 19, 2007

Many people are perplexed by the uproar over Senator Hillary Clinton’s refusal to say, as former Senator John Edwards has, that she was wrong to vote for the Iraq war resolution. Why is it so important to admit past error? And yes, it was an error — she may not have intended to cast a vote for war, but the fact is the resolution did lead to war; she may not have believed that President Bush would abuse the power he was granted, but the fact is he did.

The answer can be summed up in two words: heckuva job. Or, if you want a longer version: Medals of Freedom to George Tenet, who said Saddam had W.M.D., Tommy Franks, who failed to secure Iraq, and Paul Bremer, who botched the occupation.

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes. And this pathology has had real, disastrous consequences. The situation in Iraq might not be quite so dire — and we might even have succeeded in stabilizing Afghanistan — if Mr. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney had been willing to admit early on that things weren’t going well or that their handpicked appointees weren’t the right people for the job.

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards — “I was wrong” — matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn’t sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn’t suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

And there’s another reason the admission by Mr. Edwards that he was wrong is important. If we want to avoid future quagmires, we need a president who is willing to fight the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom on foreign policy, which still — in spite of all that has happened — equates hawkishness with seriousness about national security, and treats those who got Iraq right as somehow unsound. By admitting his own error, Mr. Edwards makes it more credible that he would listen to a wider range of views.

In truth, it’s the second issue, not the first, that worries me about Mrs. Clinton. Although she’s smart and sensible, she’s very much the candidate of the Beltway establishment — an establishment that has yet to come to terms with its own failure of nerve and judgment over Iraq. Still, she’s at worst a triangulator, not a megalomaniac; she’s not another Dick Cheney.

I wish we could say the same about all the major presidential aspirants.

Senator John McCain, whose reputation for straight talk is quickly getting bent out of shape, appears to share the Bush administration’s habit of rewriting history to preserve an appearance of infallibility.

Last month Senator McCain asserted that he knew full well what we were getting into by invading Iraq: “When I voted to support this war,” Mr. McCain said on MSNBC, “I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken.”

But back in September 2002, he told Larry King, “I believe that the operation will be relatively short,” and “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.”

And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it’s hard to choose.

Here’s an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for,” the then-mayor ordered the ads removed — and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait.

But back to Mrs. Clinton’s problem. For some reason she and her advisers failed to grasp just how fed up the country is with arrogant politicians who can do no wrong. I don’t think she falls in that category; but her campaign somehow thought it was still a good idea to follow Karl Rove’s playbook, which says that you should never, ever admit to a mistake. And that playbook has led them into a political trap.

The Real Patriots

The New York Times
February 19, 2007

If we could manage to get past the tedious and the odious — like the empty speculation on whether a woman can win, or whether Barack Obama is black enough — we might be able to engage the essential issue facing the U.S. at this point in our history.

And that is whether, once the Bush administration has finally and mercifully run its course, the country goes back to being a reasonably peaceful, lawful, constructive force in the world, or whether we continue down the bullying, warlike, unilateral, irresponsible, unlawful and profoundly ineffective path laid out by Bush, Cheney & Co.

The question is not so much whether a Republican or a Democrat takes the White House in the next election; it’s whether the American people can take back their country.

I don’t think most Americans are up for perennial warfare. And whatever the polls might say, it’s very hard for me to accept that the men and women who rise from their seats and cover their hearts at the start of sporting events are really in favor of dismantling the system of checks and balances, or holding people in prison for years without charging them, or torturing prisoners in U.S. custody, or giving the president the raw power and unsavory privileges of an emperor.

It was Richard Nixon who said, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, operating behind the mammoth fig leaf of national security, took this theoretical absurdity to heart and put it into widespread practice.

There are, however, many thoughtful Americans who want to stop this calamitous disregard for the rule of law, two of whom I’ll mention today — Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Senator Chris Dodd.

Mr. Schwarz is one of the most decent men I’ve known. I covered him when he was the chief lawyer for New York City during the Koch administration. He was then, and still is, the quintessential straight arrow.

In the 1970s Mr. Schwarz was chief counsel for the Church Committee (named after its chairman, Senator Frank Church), which uncovered extraordinary abuses and led to historic changes in the nation’s intelligence services. He is now the senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

To say that Mr. Schwarz is disturbed by some of the things that have occurred during the presidency of George W. Bush is an understatement. In a book to be published next month by The New Press, “Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror,” Mr. Schwarz and a colleague at the Brennan Center, Aziz Z. Huq, write:

“For the first time in American history, the executive branch claims authority under the Constitution to set aside laws permanently — including prohibitions on torture and warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. A frightening idea decisively rejected at America’s birth — that a president, like a king, can do no wrong — has reemerged to justify torture and indefinite presidential detention.”

Undermining checks and balances here at home and acting unilaterally abroad have made us less safe, said Mr. Schwarz. Some of the actions the U.S. has taken “have so hurt our reputation,” he said, “that Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay have become in many eyes more the symbol of America than the Statue of Liberty.”

Senator Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is running for president, has introduced legislation that would definitively bar the use of evidence obtained by torture or coercion, reinstate full U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions and restore rights of habeas corpus for certain terror suspects that were stripped away by the federal government last year.

(Habeas corpus is a legal proceeding that allows suspects to challenge their detention in a court of law. To get a sense of its significance, imagine that you were locked up somewhere and were not permitted to show that a mistake had been made, that you were innocent. Imagine that you, or a loved one, were held under those circumstances for a period of years, or forever.)

Senator Dodd said this corrosion of the rule of law has been tolerated primarily because “people have been frightened.” As he put it, in an atmosphere of crisis, “the temptation to succumb to the demagoguery of these things is strong.”

The senator and Mr. Schwarz, in their different ways, are among the many quiet patriots who are spreading the word that the very meaning of the United States, the whole point of this fragile experiment in representative democracy, will be lost if the nation’s ironclad commitment to the rule of law is allowed to unravel.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Evolution memo prompts call for apology

By GREG BLUESTEIN -- Associated Press Writer

Published: February 18, 2007)
ATLANTA (AP) A Jewish organization is demanding an apology from a Georgia legislator for a memo that says the teaching of evolution should be banned because it is a myth propagated by an ancient Jewish sect.

State Rep. Ben Bridges denies writing the memo, which attributes the Big Bang theory to Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.

Bridges has long opposed the teaching of evolution in Georgia classrooms and has introduced legislation requiring only that "scientific fact" be taught.

Marshall Hall, president of the Fair Education Foundation, says the Republican lawmaker gave him approval to write the memo, which has been distributed to legislators in several states, including California and Texas.

The memo asks readers to challenge the "evolution monopoly in the schools" by logging onto Hall's anti-evolution Web site, .

"Indisputable evidence - long hidden but now available to everyone - demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," says the memo, which has Bridges' name on it. "This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic 'holy book' Kabbala dating back at least two millennia."

The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to Bridges on Thursday chastising him for the memo and demanding him to apologize.

"Your memo conjures up repugnant images of Judaism used for thousands of years to smear the Jewish people as cult-like and manipulative," wrote Bill Nigut, the league's Southeast regional director.

The league sent a similar letter to a Texas lawmaker who circulated the memo to members of the Texas Legislature's budget-writing committee.

State Rep. Warren Chisum told The Dallas Morning News in Thursday editions he was trying to do a "Good Samaritan" deed for Bridges. "If that's a sin, well, shoot me," he told the newspaper.

But in a letter to Mark Brisman, director of the league's North Texas/Oklahoma chapter, he wrote, "I sincerely regret that I did not take the time to carefully review these materials and recognize that I may have hurt or offended some groups including some of my dear friends," according to The New York Times.

Hall, a 76-year-old retired high school teacher who said his wife ran Bridges' election campaign, said neither the memo nor his Web site is anti-Semitic. "I think they tar people with that brush a little too readily," he said.

COMMENT: Besides getting rid of Big Oil & transiting to Free Solar the next revolutionary step is to continue exposing Religion, Inc. for what it is: IGNORANCE SUPERSTITION & POISON!

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