Thursday, June 30, 2005

One of the most influential men you've never heard of

Should a past involvement in facilitating the illegal sale of weapons to an enemy regime in order to finance terrorists seeking to overthrow a democratically elected government and a central belief in the use of Machiavellian politics discount someone from a position of influence in our government? I would say without reservation: yes. President Bush, on the other hand, would disagree.

Michael Ledeen is one of the top foreign policy advisors of the Bush administration, being at one point (and to my knowledge may still be) the only full-time foreign advisor that Karl Rove consulted. Ledeen is a vocal proponent of regime change in the Middle East. He was also formerly directly involved in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq can be seen as a direct application of foreign policy doctrine developed by Ledeen, as one of the leading thinkers of the neoconservative movement, well before the 9/11 attacks, and it is important to note that the influential Ledeen has advocated not only invasion of Iraq, but also invasion and military dominance of Iran, Syria and Lebanon as an extension of the war on terror.

Something else that might cause a person concern over Ledeen's influence on this administration are his ties to fascism and fundamentalists such as Pat Robertson.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The world is a strange place

I think this speaks for itself.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Question - Why does Tom Cruise hate psychiatry?

Answer - Because he is a Scientologist.

Tom Cruise recently did an interview with Matt Lauer in which Cruise chastised Lauer for defending the discipline of psychiatry and Cruise has generally been a fairly vocal critic of the use of medication to treat mental disorder. The root of Cruise's distaste for psychiatry can be traced to his Scientology beliefs, since scientology itself is a form of psychological quackery.

Martin Gardner, the father of the modern skeptical movement, explained and debunked Dianetics, the psychology of Scientology, over half a century ago in his seminal text Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Despite Scientology's sci-fi origins and dubious and potentially dangerous psuedo-therapies, there are people such as Cruise who still become believers.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Art of the day

School of Athens - by Raphael

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Defending flag-burning

Some Democrats are worried they won't get re-elected if they oppose a flag-burning amendment. I say these people have their priorities askew. What they should be worried about is the erosion of American civil liberty under the guise of patriotism. A flag-burning amendment is not patriotisim, it is instead nationalism, and it is noxious.

What this amendment does is protect the flag at the expence of what it represents: democratic freedom. It is a blasphemy law, similar to laws in Pakistan where burning a Koran is punishable by death, differing only by degrees but not in kind.

This is not the answer to 9-11. Freedom and democracy are not spread by the legislation of orthodoxy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

House passes blasphemy amendment

Today the House passed an anti-flag burning amendment.

The secular government of the United States should not be in the business of creating sacred idols or abridging free speech in the name of patriotism.

When words and actions do not seem to match

The Bush administration says that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has operated in a transparent fashion. "When there are accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way" - President Bush

But if Gitmo is being investigated in a fully transparent manner why is the White House rejecting probes by independent investigators?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A fable

The Wolf and the Lamb - Aesop (translated by George Fyler Townsend)

WOLF, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf's right to eat him. He thus addressed him: "Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me." "Indeed," bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, "I was not then born." Then said the Wolf, "You feed in my pasture." "No, good sir," replied the Lamb, "I have not yet tasted grass." Again said the Wolf, "You drink of my well." "No," exclaimed the Lamb, "I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother's milk is both food and drink to me." Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, "Well! I won't remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations." The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.

(Blogger's note - I thought of this fable while reading through Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass earlier today)

On Bullshit

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit."

Thus begins Princeton University Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Harry Frankfurt's essay, On Bullshit, an academic inquiry into the nature of what exactly constitutes "bullshit." This piece, recently released in book form, should be on the bookshelf of every person who values the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth.

The essay is important because Frankfurt brings to light an insightful observation about the nature of bullshit, that "the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony." Frankfurt moves from this premise to point out that where as a liar works to hide the truth and his intent to not tell it, what the bullshitter seeks to hide "is that the truth-value of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it."

For Frankfurt, the distinguishing feature of bullshit is not that it is true or that it is false, but that it is constructed with a complete disregard for what the facts might be; and what's worse, where the liar knows that what he is saying is not true, the bullshitter might actually sincerely believe what he is saying. It is for this reason that bullshit is so dangerous, because, as he notes, people have a tendency to allow sincerity to substitute for accuracy. Frankfurt's description of the bullshitter concisely makes this point

He is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all ... He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purposes ... He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

More distortion of environmental science by the Bush administration

Administration Excised Scientists' Warning in Grazing Report
The Bush administration altered critical portions of a scientific analysis of the environmental impact of cattle grazing on public lands before announcing relaxed grazing limits on those lands, according to scientists involved in the study.

A government biologist and a hydrologist, who both retired this year from the Bureau of Land Management, said their conclusions that the proposed rules might adversely affect water quality and wildlife, including endangered species, were excised and replaced with language justifying less-stringent regulations favored by cattle ranchers.

I'm having a hard time telling the difference between this and lying.

The original draft of the environmental analysis warned that the new rules would have a "significant adverse impact" on wildlife, but that phrase was removed. The BLM now concludes that the grazing regulations are "beneficial to animals."
Ah, I see. There is no difference.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

AP picks up Downing Street Memo(s) story

It seems that public pressure and alternative press criticism (such this article from Salon) has finally driven the AP to report on the leaked British intelligence memos from Downing Street, as today the AP released several reports related to the memos. A month late, but better late than never.

Excerpts From the Downing Street Memos
Memos Show British Fretting Over Iraq War
2002 Undercut British WMD Claims
U.S. War Plans Much-Discussed In Memos
Memos: Postwar Iraq a Concern In Britain

I've also seen the memos start to gain some coverage in the papers, as well. Much of the coverage seems to center around two premises: 1. that the memos do not constitute any "new" news and that 2. the memos are just hearsay.

Both of these points are shallow excuses for the news media having dropped the ball on this story.
1. The memos are secret internal documents that detail high level British administration policy discussion regarding the invasion of Iraq with implications that the British felt that America had determined to go to war well before that decision was supposed to have been made. Unless we already were privy to top secret British documents that cast the invasion of Iraq in a questionable light then this most certainly is new and newsworthy.
2. The memos contain briefings from high level British officials of their meetings with high level American officials, and the memos contain direct assesment of the situation in Iraq by British intelligence. This is not hearsay, its insider information.

Editor and Publisher also responded to these points here.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Salon article - gov't may have hid data to protect drug companies at the expense of children's health

Deadly Immunity by Robert Kennedy Jr.
When a study revealed that mercury in childhood vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids, the government rushed to conceal the data -- and to prevent parents from suing drug companies for their role in the epidemic.
And the sad reality is that this sort of behavior goes on more often than not.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto

Although it passed quietly, June 9th marked the fiftieth anniversay of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto which urged the world's governments to avoid, for the sake of humanity, the use of nuclear weapons and which was "signed by 11 preeminent intellectuals and scientists."1 The manifesto was born out of a letter exchange between Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in which they discussed the potential threat that the use of nuclear weapons poised to the planet and the need for men of science to do more to make the world aware of this danger.2

As the world now faces the issue of the militarization of space the words of Einstein and Russell still speak to us as a warning and a call to seek peaceful resolutions to international dispute.

We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.

1. Wikipedia, Russell-Einstein Manifesto
2. Krieger, David "After Fifty Years, Do We Remember Our Humanity," The Humanist, July/August 2005

Quote of the day

"The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt." - Bertrand Russell, "Christian Ethics" from Marriage and Morals

Congress still trying to pass blasphemy law

In Pakistan it is punishable by death to burn a Koran. Most Americans would agree that this law is wrong and a violation of free speech.

Some members of the US Congress (and nearly every state legislature), on the other hand, apparently disagree only with the punishment, but not the prohibition, since the House will soon be voting for a seventh time on passing an anti-flag burning amendement.

The revolving door between business and government

From the NYT
Philip A. Cooney, the former White House staff member who repeatedly revised government scientific reports on global warming, will go to work for Exxon Mobil this fall, the oil company said yesterday.
For those not in the know, Exxon Mobil funds nearly every organization and lobby group that is skeptical of global warming climate science. Check out Chris Mooney's Mother Jones article Some Like it Hot for more info on this.

Iraq War timeline

John had mentioned the Raw Story timeline of the Iraq war in the comments of a previous post. Well, here is the link to the timeline. It's long, but has a lot of information and links that help to provide context for the conditions that led to the invasion of Iraq.

Raw Story also has links to six of the seven recently leaked British intelligence documents (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,) in which British officials discuss the imminent invasion of Iraq and its implications. The seventh document is the one that I had written about here.

Update - Raw Story put up a link page to the six leaked documents today that is more convenient to navigate than the individual links above.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Those who forget the past ...

Then -
In the early 80's through the early 90's up to the first Gulf War America had an ally for whom the United States was willing to overlook his crimes against humanity for the sake of stategic diplomacy. His name is Saddam Hussein.

Now -
U.S. Opposed Calls at NATO for Probes of Uzbek Killings
Defense officials from Russia and the United States last week helped block a new demand for an international probe into the Uzbekistan government's shooting of hundreds of protesters last month, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.
Islam Karimov
Karimov's record on human rights and press freedom has met with considerable criticism in the international community. In particular, outspoken former British Ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig Murray has pointed to reports of Karimov's regime boiling people to death, and the United Nations has found torture "institutionalized, systematic, and rampant" in Uzbekistan's justice system. Karimov is still a close friend and staunch ally of George W. Bush, who has generally been silent regarding the regime's abuses due to U.S. strategic military interests in the region

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sunday Times: leaked document says British ministers were told to find a way of making war in Iraq legal

Ministers were told of need for Gulf war 'excuse'
MINISTERS were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.

The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal.
If this document is authentic there are some serious and obvious implications, namely that the invasion of Iraq was engaged under false pretenses.

The Times previously released another leaked document, the Downing Street Memo, in which Britain's head of military intelligence reported that 8 months before the US had officially commited to military action in Iraq that in Washington "military action was now seen as inevitable" and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of removing Saddam by military action with the justification of links to terrorism and WMD's.

Update - Here is a copy of the document in question

Theology and Falsification

Antony Flew, one of the 20th century's leading atheist philosophers and a recent convert to deism, is most famous for his short essay Theology and Falsification, which is considered to be one of the most widely read philosophical papers of the second half of our previous century.

In this essay Flew raises the question of whether or not religious beliefs can be disproved, and if they can not be disproved then what meaning can they be said to have.
I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?"

It is important to note that Flew was operating within the philosophical framework of logical positivism which holds that statements are rendered (by verification) either true, false, or meaningless.

Friday, June 10, 2005

House subcommittee moves to eliminate federal funding of PBS

Public Broadcasting Targeted By House:
A House subcommittee voted yesterday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial support for public broadcasting, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help underwrite such popular children's educational programs as "Sesame Street," "Reading Rainbow," "Arthur" and "Postcards From Buster."

In addition, the subcommittee acted to eliminate within two years all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which passes federal funds to public broadcasters -- starting with a 25 percent reduction in CPB's budget for next year, from $400 million to $300 million.

Mugabe arrests an estimated 30,000

Although this has not received much (actually to my knowledge, any coverage) in the mainstream American press, Robert Mugabe, continues to move Zimbabwe further into starvation and now appears to be creating a new system of apartheid.

In a recent 3 week crackdown on what Mugabe describes as illegal homes and businesses but most see as a response to opposition resulting from Mugabe's latest rigged election up to 30,000 people are believed to have been arrested. The UN Human Rights commission also estimates that this has resulted in 200,000 people being made homeless.

Scott McClellan responds to editing of climate change report

In a press briefing earlier this week White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan answered questions regarding the editing of climate reports by a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute with no scientific background. McClellan responded that this was a normal part of the review process and that the administration's 10 year plan for climate science, one of the reports cited as having been edited, was "widely praised" by the National Academey of Sciences.

While I do not doubt that having former oil industry global warming skeptics alter scientific reports in such a way as to to downplay the findings of climate science is part of this administration's "normal" review process, I must take issue with the claim that NAS "widely praised" the administration's 10 year plan for climate science. That statement is less than wholey truthful, as science/politics journalist Chris Mooney points out on his blog, the NAS found that:
Involving high-level political leaders in CCSP management helps to provide the program with resources that it requires, but also allows the possibility that the program’s priorities or scientific results could be influenced by political considerations. Either the reality or perception of such influences could discredit the program unless independent evaluations of the program and its products are conducted on a regular basis....Whatever mechanism is chosen, the committee believes that independent program oversight will be essential to maintaining the long-term credibility of the CCSP.
Further analysis of McClellan's reponse by Mooney can be found here.

Mooney also provides a summary and link to the climate science whistleblower complaint released by Rick Piltz detailing the systematic manipulation of climate science by this administration.

Here is a link to the front page of Mooney's blog (which has several more posts about the editing of science reports.) Also on the site are links to articles previously written (on various science related issues) by Mooney.

Bye bye dolphins

Fishing Nets Kill 1,000 Marine Animals Daily:
Almost 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die daily in fishing nets and urgent changes are needed in trawling methods to save nine populations under immediate threat, conservation group WWF said on Thursday.
I know there are issues that are more pressing to national interests, but I would like to see the United States take more of a leading role in calling for fishing gear reform seeing as how the US has itself implemented successful protection methods. These deaths are thus needless.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Remembering a true patriot and great doubter

On this day in 1809 Thomas Paine died.

"It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe." - Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

"An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." - Thomas Paine, Dissertations of First Principles of Goverment

More politicization of science

Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming
A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Bush breaks silence on Darfur

Last Wednesday President Bush, after nearly 6 months of silence regarding the crisis in Darfur, reminded South African President Thabo Mbeki, "As you know, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, with my concurrence, declared the situation [in Darfur] a genocide."

But little to no hard action is being undertaken by the US or the world. In light of the recent report by Doctors Without Borders that details the systematic rape of women in the Darfur region (which the Sudanese government responded to by arresting the author of the report) this failure to act is even more shameful. As Nicholas Kristof notes in his recent editorial A policy of Rape
Those women who spoke to me risked arrest and lifelong shame by telling their stories. Their courage should be an inspiration to us - and above all, to President Bush - to speak out. Mr. Bush finally let the word Darfur pass his lips on Wednesday, after 142 days of silence, but only during a photo op. Such silence amounts to acquiescence, for this policy of rape flourishes only because it is ignored.

Friday, June 03, 2005

An observation on civility

"The Western world is not undergoing a new immoral age. It is suffering a different phenomenon: a lack of civility, a deficit of good manners" - A.C. Grayling, "Civility" from Meditations for the Humanist

Downing Street Memo Revisited

It was May 8th when I first wrote about the Downing Street Memo, and in that post, I made mention of my puzzlement at the fact that the mainstream media had not picked up the story. Well, its now June 3rd with nearly a month having passed without hardly any discussion in the mainstream press, and my puzzlement has passed through bewilderment to disgust. I'm disgusted that something of this importance is not a part of the national dialogue. I'm disgusted with both the press for not covering the story, and with the American public for being too distracted by soft news to be bothered. We've grown intellectually fat and lazy from a steady diet of junk news. Here we have a memo, which the authenticity of has not been disputed, which indicates that this administration intended to invade Iraq a full 8 months before they officially made that decision, and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,"and what are we talking about as a nation? Michael Jackson. Run-away bride. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Paris Hilton's new hamburger commerical.

The current big story on the national scene is the revelation that 'Deep Throat,' Woodward's inside source during the Watergate scandal, was former #2 man at the FBI Mark Felt. While much discussion has centered around whether or not Felt is a hero, whether or not Nixon did anything wrong, what has not sufficiently been addressed has been issue of the role of investigative reporting as public watchdog and the issue of the decline of investigative reporting. This story itself has just become another distraction, an exercise in the irrelevant that serves to obfuscate more pertinent matters. What we should be taking from the Watergate story is to remember that an interested and informed public is vital to the proper functioning of our government and society.

So with that I issue a challenge:

To every local paper, every major paper; every local station, every major station, - I urge you, I beg you, please address this issue. Let your readers and viewers know about this memo. Covering this story does not make you "liberal" or "biased" or "anti-American" or "out to get Bush." No, it means you are doing your job, reporting the news, so that an informed public can judge the matter for themselves and decide whether or not it is something that concerns them, whether or not they wish for their government to address the issue. But do not make that decision for them by running this story into the buzzsaw of neglect.

To every citizen - get involved, get informed. Write your local press, your local tv news, and/or your representatives in government and ask them why no one is talking about this. Ask them why they've left you out of the equation, and remind the government and press that they work for you, not vice versa.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"Doubt - a corrosive poison"

The title above is an entry taken from the Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense, a witty compendium of tongue-in-cheek definitions poking fun at the language of anti-reason. Here are a few more good ones:
Something to be examined when it is our opponent's and taken for granted when it is our own

1. Something that can be tailored to the requirements of my arguments.
2. A tiresome thing that may conflict with something that I believe.

Everything. Often confused, by prepostmodern people, with entities like truth, reality, the world. "That's just your opinion," is the approved rebuke in such cases.

The insane, harmful, elitist idea that one should have some evidence before deciding something is true (see empiricism)

"If you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about" - a response

"... there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods ... These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists." - George Orwell, from The Freedom of the Press

Trivia of the Day

Question: Who was the first person to be referred to as a free-thinker?

Answer: John Toland (1670 - 1722)

The term free-thinker was coined by John Locke in reference to Toland, author of Christianity Not Mysterious.1 Toland felt that by applying Locke's epistemology to the Bible one could use reason to resolve any mystery or contradiction contained within. The book was burned in Ireland in 1696.

Toland is also notable for being credited with himself coining the term pantheist in 1705.

1. David Berman, "Disclaimers as Offence Mechanism in Charles Blount and John Toland," in Atheism, ed Hunter and Wootton, 269 - reference taken from Doubt: A history by Jennifer Michael Hectht, pg 335