Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Shall We Play a Game?

From Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado):

"Well, what if you said something like, If this happens in the United States and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites."

This he said as one possible way to dissuade al-Quaeda from effecting its 10-year plan to use suitcase nuclear bombs to destroy several cities in the US. WorldNet Daily had the details on the al-Quaeda nuclear threat.

Here's the transcript of the exchange:

Campbell: Worst-case scenario - if they do have these nukes inside the borders and they were to use something like that, what would our response be?

Tancredo: What would be the response? (pause) Um, you know, there are things you could threaten to do before something like that happens and you may have to do afterwards (unintelligible) draconian.

Campbell: Such as?

Tancredo: Well, what if you said something like, "If this happens in the United States and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims." You could take out their holy sites.

Campbell: You're talking about bombing Mecca?

Tancredo: Yeah. What if you said, "We recognize this is the ultimate threat to the United States, so this is the ultimate response." I'm just throwing out some ideas because you would be talking about taking the most draconian measures you could possibly imagine. Because other than that, all you could do is, once again, tighten up internally.

I don't know about you, but I rather seriously doubt that - if al-Quaeda actually has the means and the intent to effect this "American Hiroshima" - that threatening to bomb Mecca is going to stop them. And I have to wonder if there are any countries (who don't now support al-Quaeda) out there with nuclear capability that would find the bombing of Mecca to be intolerable.

And hey, we didn't really need that Saudi Arabian oil anyway. At least we won't after the worldwide nuclear conflagration.

How about a nice game of chess?

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Secret Decoder Rings and "Mainstream"

George Bush has stated in his radio address that his Supreme Court nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Conner will be "mainstream"; specifically, he said, "My nominee will be a fair-minded individual who represents the mainstream of American law and American values".

Texas Republicans can have a peculiar personal definitions of words. For example, Bush stated that he would be bipartisan when he ran for his first term, that he would be a "uniter, not a divider": his first term was anything but.

More recently, Texas Republicans have argued that checks aren't cash so they didn't really engage in money-laundering.

So it's worthwhile to get out the super secret decoder ring to figure out what "mainstream" means to some Texas Republicans.

How about Montgomery County's self-professed mainstream group, the Republican Leadership Council, which attempted to get Robie Harris' books _It's Perfectly Normal_ and _It's So Amazing_ banned from the the Montgomery County Library System by pressuring the commissioners court to ban them by fiat? (At the end of the day, a community panel decided that the books did indeed NOT violate community standards, and restored the books to the shelf.)

The Republican Leadership Council is also, incidentally, an extremely vocal opponent of presenting evolutionary biology in high school science curricula.

The Republican Party in Montgomery County officially dissociated themselves from the "mainstream" RLC.

Or take the Harris County arm of the battle against evolution, the Texans for Better Science Education. They put out voters guides criticizing groups of moderate republicans as "NOT MAINSTREAM CONSERVATIVE!"

So what's the point? Anyone can call himself mainstream. Where the rubber meets the road is what they actually do. George Bush thinks judges like Janice Brown and Pricilla Owens are acceptable ... perhaps ... mainstream?

RNC consultant and Texas Republican Party vice-chair David Barton states in his audio seminar, Thinking Biblically, Speaking Secularly that it's important to use liberals' terms against us. The example he gives is "censorship". The upshot of the discussion is that when we say, don't incorporate intelligent design in the biology curriculum because the ideas don't have currency with the scientific community, call us unfair and call that censorship.

I would submit that "mainstream" is used to the same effect. The label signifies positions held by most people; in this case by most practicing jurists. But just as in anything, pay careful attention to what's actually inside the package.

Crossposted to Come and Take It.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Hubert Vo at the West Houston Democratic Club

Hubert Vo was the guest speaker at today's West Houston Democratic Club. He discussed his experiences in this, his first session in the legislature. I should mention I worked on Hubert's campaign.

He began by thanking everyone for their support in his campaign.

Then he discussed partisanship and the way things work in the Lege. The entire freshman class had agreed at the orientation to try to work together and keep partisanship to a minimum. This pact made the Republican leadership a bit nervous, and the Republican freshmen got their arms twisted somewhat, so things sort of dengenerated from there.

Hubert also got his arms twisted a bit. The Republican leadership wanted him to vote for school vouchers and when he did not they killed Hubert's local bill. Though such tactics should not be surprising, it's sad.

Hubert commented that he doesn't understand why Republicans call themselves "pro-life" because a concern for life should not end with the birth of the child. (Interestingly, I am listening to Gil Scott-Heron's "Save the Children" in the background while I compose this post). Hubert is steadfast in his concern for children and families. Hubert considers education, access to health care, and the tax shifting currently going on in the Legislature to be critical issues for families.

Hubert told a story about when he first came to the US. At that time, he could bring only 5 pounds of luggage. He could not bring anything from friends for their relations, souvenirs. Just the clothes on his back and a few additional items. And he hearkens back to this experience each time he enters the legislative chamber. He's not carrying anyone's luggage: not any organization's, any individual's. He comes in fresh each day, ready to represent his district and the families of Texas.

He discussed the tax shifting scheme that is currently in the Legislature. In case you live under a rock, what is basically going on is that the legislature is intent on cutting property taxes and is using boosts in the sales tax percent and an expansion of the sales tax base to fund that tax cut and a little additional money for schools. However, Hubert mentioned the funds to schools under the proposed scheme would actually reduce in 2006 from 2003 in terms of real dollars. So it's billed as school finance but it really is not addressing the school finance problem. The other point was that families making under $100,000 per year get a tax increase and families making over $140,000 per year get a tax cut. The expansion of the sales tax base will include bottled water (a member of the audience commented after the talk that this can have a serious effect on areas which don't have potable water) - but not beer (See, the Legislature has priorities!), car repair services not already covered, hair cutting, among others.

Then Hubert told another story stemming from his emigration to the US. His father has six children, and got them all together and stated "you all will go separate ways, make different choices but we are all connected to each other through our family". He went on to liken this to the situation of Democrats. He said he believed the Democratic Party is the party of compassion, a party to support communities and families, and that people should vote straight ticket Democrat.
I think that's probably fine for most folks, except to say that Democrats need to run serious candidates in more races.

Jimmy Dunne asked Hubert what he thought of the telecom bill that would permit phone companies to offer cable. Hubert supports it, and this generated a lot of discussion. Several members of the audience were concerned that the end result would be redlining and extremely high rates in rural areas. Hubert shared this concern, but felt that this deregulation and the competition would be a good start in terms of improving services and reducing rates for most Texans.

I don't recall the other questions, except that Hubert was asked if he's going to run again (he is).

I am always pleased to hear him speak, because he's so very genuine. He's an ordinary person who's had extraordinary life experiences and as such has an extraordinary store of compassion and commitment to service. We are really fortunate to have him in the legislature, and our government would be greatly improved by having more public officials like him.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Metal-oxidizing bacteria

From the NSF, a Photo-exhibit of the collection of metal-oxidizing bacteria and micro-photos of the bacteria.

Goings-on About Town

July 23 - Ron Sass, ecology and evolutionary biology prof will discuss climate change. 10 AM, Tracy Gee Community Center

July 22-24 - John Lennon artwork will be on exhibit at the Galleria (Foley-Nordstrom wing).

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Better count your ribs

You just can't make things like this up.

Ken Ham attacks Catholic views on evolution in Agape Press, as follows:

"If you're going to believe in evolution," Ham asserts, "and say that God took an ape man and made a soul to make Adam, and God took an ape woman and made a soul to make Eve, then the woman came from an ape woman. She didn't come from Adam. And if the woman didn't come from Adam's side, then you've got a major problem."

By accepting this idea that evolution accounts for the origin of man, the creation scientist says, "You've just destroyed the whole basis of marriage, the whole basis of oneness in marriage and even Christ's relationship to the Church, which is based upon the doctrine of marriage -- the church being the bride of Christ."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Forget about private accounts!

The real problem with social security is abortion.

So says Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention in today's . Agape Press.

From the horse's mouth:

"part of the judgment of God on America is abortion. We have a Social Security crisis because of abortion. If it weren't for abortion, we'd have 41 or 42 million more Americans working. They wouldn't have been aborted [if abortion were not legal], and they would be contributing to Social Security."

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Fact Check: Answers in Genesis

Here's an oldie but a goodie.

Q: What’s wrong with the word “races”?

A: At the time of Thomas Jefferson, 200 years ago, when people used the term “races,” they’d think of the Irish race or English race and so on. But Charles Darwin changed all that when he published his book The Origin of the Species. The title actually included the words “the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”

Darwin was a racist. He believed that different groups of people evolved at different times, and so some societies were more like apes than others. Sadly, this fueled racist attitudes toward different people groups.

Because of this, the word “races” today still conjures up evolutionary ideas. Many people think of Darwinian evolution when they hear that word.

Hard to know where to start.

First, the title of the book is On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

You may read the book at the URL referenced above.

Second, the book is about natural selection, not human evolution. So AIG is misrepresenting the content of the book. This is a common misrepresentation. Darwin later wrote Descent of Man, which discussed human evolution. As to the evolution of different groups of people at different times, and some groups of people being closer to apes, read the book. I don't find this concept, implied or otherwise.

You will also find that Darwin's attitudes toward the Irish and the Scots are more negative than his attitude towards people of color -- this does not exactly track to modern standards of racism, in which Irish and Scots are considered "white". The accusation that Darwin was a racist involves a projection of our own societal standards on a past culture. I should mention that Darwin was an abolitionist, he came from a stauchly abolitionist family at a time when many people still defended slavery. He had remarkably open attitudes toward people of color for the time. He was much more concerned with urbanization and poverty than with race. Read Descent and his other writings and form your own opinion. Don't take Ken Ham's word on it.

That said, whether or not he was a racist is completely irrelevant to whether or not he was correct, just as Konrad Lorenz's association with the Nazi party did not make his research on imprinting wrong.

No discussion of evolution and racism is complete without discussion of pre-Darwinian
racial ideas, and take particular notice of the succession of slave laws that established racial hereditary slavery. Additionally, here's a nice discussion of polygenesis. There were some rabidly racist promoters of creationist theories of polygenesis, one the most notable of whom was Louis Agassiz. Ron Numbers' book The Creationists also details racist attitudes on the part of anti-evolutionists. And, I should not have to mention, but some people are unaware of the Curse of Ham. (This is passing out of use, I think, but I have had a personal exposure to it: a few years back I had a gentleman in his seventies comment that this Biblical story might explain why Africans can't govern themselves.)

Here's the short story.

Racist attitudes are complex. They derive from a myriad of factors and life experiences, and there is nothing to stop a creationist from being a racist or anti-racist, nor an evolutionist from being a racist or anti-racist. That is an opinion that is formed in childhood, long before a person even begins to get exposure to science. It is therefore an illegitimate critique of evolution, or any other scientific theory for that matter. It is furthermore manipulative, misleading, unethical, and immoral to critique evolution in this manner.

If anything, a knowledge of evolution and the genetic background of humans provides a scientific basis that enhances the moral critique of racism: There is more genetic diversity within a given "race" than between them, and we are all decended from common ancestors in Africa. Given that information it is foolish and wrong to maintain that there are immutable distinguishing differences between the "races". Once we can begin to understand race as a cultural and historical phenomenum, rather than a biological one, we can begin to talk about how to change these cultural views and move toward an anti-racist community.

Ian White Miner is doing excellent work in this regard with the Race Museum. Ian spoke at the UUA General Assembly and also brought a moving exhibit that provides an opportunity to re-think racial ideas. Right now, there is just a page on the website, however, if you get a chance to hear him speak: do so. If you have a chance to see the exhibit: do so. At some point, there should be more content, so bookmark the page and check back from time to time. Another resource, the
White Privilege Conference.

Let's take racism seriously. Let's not use it as a stick to beat others with.

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