Wednesday, August 31, 2005

FDA official tenders resignation over Plan B

Via Yahoo
"I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled," wrote Wood, who also was assistant commissioner for women's health. "The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions, is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health."
Bravo. There is no excuse for the FDA's delay. Women's health should not be subjugated to the religious sensiblities of this administration's constituency.

News that should be news

Officials rescue living, count dead after Katrina
Overwhelmed authorities struggled to rescue the living and count the dead on Wednesday amid catastrophic destruction left in the path of powerful Hurricane Katrina.
648 Dead, 322 Hurt in Iraq Bridge Stampede
At least 648 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge Wednesday when panic engulfed a Shiite religious procession amid rumors that a suicide bomber was about to attack, officials said. It was the single biggest confirmed loss of life in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.
New Rules Could Allow Power Plants to Pollute More
The Bush administration has drafted regulations that would ease pollution controls on older, dirtier power plants and could allow those that modernize to emit more pollution, rather than less.

The language could undercut dozens of pending state and federal lawsuits aimed at forcing coal-fired plants to cut back emissions of harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, said lawyers who worked on the cases.
Back to Plan B
THOUSANDS OF unplanned pregnancies, many of which would result in abortions, could be prevented if the Food and Drug Administration would follow the advice of its own advisory panel and approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the morning-after contraceptive. Yet last Friday the FDA bowed once again to political pressures and put off a decision on the birth control method, which is already available by prescription nationally and over the counter in seven states.

Halliburton Whistleblower Demoted

Whistleblowers -- those who go public with allegations of waste, fraud and abuse -- continue to have a tough time, despite a law protecting them and repeated assurances from the White House, many government agencies and Congress that they maintain a policy of zero tolerance for retaliation.

The latest victim of apparent retaliation is Bunnatine H. "Bunny" Greenhouse, the senior contracting officer for the Army Corps of Engineers, who objected -- first, internally, then publicly -- to a multi-billion dollar, no-bid contract with the Halliburton company for work in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander of the Army Corps, told Greenhouse she was being removed from the senior executive service, the top rank of civilian government employees, because of poor performance reviews.

But Greenhouse's attorney, Michael D. Kohn, has appealed the decision in a letter to Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying the performance review cited by Strock to justify his action "was conducted by the very subjects" of Greenhouse's allegations.
U.S. Sells the Most Weapons to Others
The United States is the largest supplier of weapons to developing nations, delivering more than $9.6 billion in arms to Near East and Asian countries last year.

Poverty Rate Rises to 12.7 Percent
Even with a robust economy that was adding jobs last year, the number of Americans who fell into poverty rose to 37 million — up 1.1 million from 2003 — according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

It marks the fourth straight increase in the government's annual poverty measure.
More costly than 'the war to end all wars'
Despite the relatively small number of American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (140,000), the war effort is rapidly shaping up to be the third-most expensive war in United States history
The FCC's Cable Crackdown
In the coming weeks, observers expect Martin to act upon between 30 and 50 outstanding indecency complaints, the first step in clearing a backlog of hundreds of allegedly inappropriate broadcasts on television and radio. He has promised to remake the indecency process, speeding FCC responses and establishing a clearer precedent of what constitutes indecent programming. "The fact that we have not had any fines this year really just means we are in the eye of the hurricane," says one former FCC official, who has been following the situation. The storm first hit in 2004, when the FCC, under then-chairman Michael Powell, proposed $3.7 million in fines, more than twice as much as all the fines issued in the previous decade.
Iraq Worse Than Vietnam - in Number of Journalists Killed
More journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003 than during the 20 years of conflict in Vietnam, media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Sunday.
Journalists' Group Iraq Media Death Probe
The International Federation of Journalists on Monday urged the United Nations to investigate deaths of media staff at the hands of coalition forces in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A parable

The War Prayer
by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came—next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams—visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation—“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory—

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside—which the startled minister did—and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne—bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import—that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of—except he pause and think. “God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two—one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this—keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it. “You have heard your servant’s prayer—the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it—that part which the pastor—and also you in your hearts—fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory—must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen! “O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle—be Thou near them! With them—in spirit—we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it—for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

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

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

For the love of money

KPMG just got charged by the federal government with a felony count of conspiracy to commit tax fraud, and will be paying 456 million in fines as part of a settlement that puts the firm on probationary status while allowing KPMG to avoid prosecution for its crimes. The company had stolen several billion from the government and US taxpayers (netting a profit of $115 million for KPMG.)

The IRS said the schemes generated at least $11bn of “phoney tax losses” that individuals could offset against income and capital gains in their tax returns, and cost the US at least $2.5bn in revenues.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The West's silence on the new Tiananmen Square

From the Economist
ON MAY 13th, the authorities in Uzbekistan opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of close to 10,000 people in the eastern city of Andijan, probably killing several hundred of them and possibly as many as 1,000. According to survivors, tanks rolled through the main square, firing indiscriminately, snipers picked off their victims from convenient buildings, and, later on, soldiers shot some of the wounded dead. That was three months ago. Since then, the European Union and America have expressed their horror at the worst massacre of demonstrators since Tiananmen Square by imposing the following sanctions on Uzbekistan:

1.

2.

3.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Abominable quote of the day

"Such people should be taken from the society as rapidly as possible and uniformly institutionalized; for here is the level of the contagion of immorality, and the destruction of ethics; here is the fodder which secret police organizations use for their filthy operations. One of the most effective measures of security that a nation threatened by war could take would be rounding up and placing in a cantonment, away from society, any [such] individual who might be connected with government, the military, or essential industry; since here are people who, regardless of any record of their family's loyalty, are potential traitors, the very mode of operation of their insanity being betrayal. In this level is the slime of society, the sex criminals, the political subversives, the people whose apparently rational activities are yet but the devious writhings of secret hate." - L. Ron Hubbard on people who haven't undergone Dianetic treatment

Notice how similar Hubbard's out-group hate-mongering sounds to other demagogic speech such at Nazi anti-semitism or Coulter liberal bashing. What these have in common is the creation of an insular in-group (Us) which is good and ethical and an evil out-group (Them) which is not to be trusted. Once the out-group has been sufficiently demonized their illtreatment can be rationalized and considered acceptable. It should also be noted that this will often go hand-in-hand with the propaganda technique of scapegoating, the process by which some group (such as the Jews) is blamed for the woes of the in-group.

In the case of Scientology, you end up with the Fair Game policy in which persons who are critical of the Church can be dealt with by any means necessary to silence them. That's what out-group politics do: they make the other guy "fair game."

For a comprehensive site on about nearly everything on Scientology, visit Operation Clambake.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

New American newspeak dictionary

Academic freedom: ideological affirmative action
Accountable: not accountable
*Active denial system: crowd control heat ray gun
Balanced: 1) not balanced, biased 2) to present two unequal positions as if they were equal
Biased: information that refutes the beliefs of the person making the claim of bias
Bipartisan: agreeing to do what conservatives want done; not to be confused with two sides of a political dispute compromising to come to a mutually beneficial position
Capital account surplus: trade deficit
Clear: not clear
Collateral damage: civilian casualty
Communist: bogeyman
Conservative: liberal, patriotic, pro-American, Good, Us
Crop protection products: pesticides
Death tax: estate tax
**Demonizing: sharply criticizing something that I approve of
Department of Defense: War Department
Detainee: prisoner
Disposition matrix: a secret process of deliberation to sort who the president wants to secretly kill, secretly rendition, or secretly put in prison indefinitely without charges.Education: indoctrination
**Elitist: someone who knows more than I do
Embassy: imperial palace
Energy independence: ownership or control of resource rich regions; not to be mistaken for independence from non-renewable and/or foreign energy sources
Enhanced interrogation technique: torture
Extraordinary rendition: kidnap
Faith-based initiative: tax payer funded religion
Free market: a market that is free of legal restriction that is able to use any means necessary to generate a profit, preferably by establishing a monopoly and eliminating the market
Freedom fighter: terrorist
Free speech area: chained off enclosure where protesters are kept out of sight and ear shot
Global democracy: global hegemony
*Hazardous fuels: trees (according to the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act)
Healthy: not healthy
Homicide: suicide
Indoctrination: education
International Peace Operations Association: mercenary trade association
Junk science: sound science
Lawfully coerce: illegally torture
Left-wing hater: Any individual, regardless of where their views fall across the political spectrum, who (in many cases) accurately criticizes the policies of a Republican president.
Liberal: Communist/Socialist, Fascist, anti-American, Evil, Them
Luntzspeak: environmental Newspeak crafted by pollster Frank Luntz
Maximum flexibility: Exemption from the rule of law
Misleading: not misleading; pointing out that the person making the charge is obfuscating, which is to say, misleading
News: propaganda
Office of Special Plans: the relaunched Office of Strategic Influence after it was "closed"
Office of Strategic Influence: Pentagon propaganda dept. with the specific goal of spreading disinformation regarding Iraq favorable to an invasion
Partisan: a person who disagrees with someone or something for legitimate non-partisan reasons, and/or a person who is not partisan like the person making the accusation
***People of faith: churchgoers who vote our way
Politically correct: used to describe terms that are in fact, not politically corrrect, while using a politically correct euphemism
Pre-emptive attack: unprovoked invasion
Presidential post-acquittal detention power: Un-Constitutional "power" of imprisoning someone indefinitely after that person has been aquitted of the charges that are supposed to justify their being held indefinitely
****Preventing voter fraud: disenfranchising poor and minority potential voters
Propaganda: true, but politically damaging information
Prudent post-primary adjustment: To abandon your stated principles and values, and even previous votes, in order to appear centrist, even if the "centrist" position taken constitutes an assault on core American values.
Public diplomacy: propaganda
Tendentious: not tendentious, pointing out that the person making the charge is being tendentious; the cry of the relativist, indignant at reality being described as reality
Traitor: whistle-blower
*Radiation enhancement device: neutron bomb
Reform: to eliminate or roll-back existing legislation
Rejectionist: insurgent
Reporter compensation: payoff
Sound science: junk science
Strategic redeployment: troop withdrawal
Terrorist surveillance program: warrantless domestic spying
Transparency: secrecy
Treason: dissent
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Operations: Terrorist training camp
White House Iraq Group: White House propaganda group charged with manufacturing consent for a war with Iraq

Blogger's Note - This is a work in progress for me. I'm going to be adding words to the list as I come across them. Suggestions are welcome.

*Taken from Wayne Grytting's Z Mag column. Grytting is the author of American Newspeak: The Mangling of Meaning for Power and Profit
**Taken from the Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense
***Taken from Talking Right by Geoffrey Nunberg
****Taken from Aristotle and an Aardvark go to Washington by Cathcart and Klein

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Quote of the day: the paradox of liberalism

"Tolerance is, however, not only the centrepiece but the paradox of liberalism. For liberalism enjoins tolerance of opposing viewpoints, and allows them to have their say, leaving it to the democracy of ideas to decide which shall prevail. The result is too often the death of toleration itself, because those who live by hard principles and uncompromising views in political, moral, and religious respects always, if given half a chance, silence liberals because liberalism, by its nature, threatens the hegemony they wish to impose." - A.C. Grayling, 'Tolerance' from Meditations for the Humanist

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Federal funding for Silver Ring Thing suspended

Remember Silver Ring Thing? They were the abstinence only program being sued by the ACLU for using the program to promote their religion. Well, they just had their funding suspended until they can submit a revised program for review.
The Bush administration yesterday suspended a federal grant to the Silver Ring Thing abstinence program, saying it appears to use tax money for religious activities.
But really, the program should not be funded regardless of whether or not it promotes religion,since the program is not all that effective and may actually leave participants worse off in the long run (the program discourages the use of condoms.)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Where is the 2000 election post?

I was going to put up something about the 2000 election, but I've decided to hold off until I have a chance to read Steal this Vote by Andrew Gumbel. I skimmed the introductory section of it today and realized that I am grossly uninformed about the election process and its history. Gumbel points out that anyone who is familiar with the subject would know that rather than being a deviation from the norm, the voting fraud and irregularities of the 2000 election were just more of the same.

Gumbel also notes that both Democrats and Republicans are more than willing to cheat elections, its just that being that Republicans have been in power for the last 15 years they tend to do more of the cheating. This might explain why Democrats (with few notable exceptions like John Conyers) have not been more forthright in speaking out against election fraud; they're afraid that if they tell on Republicans, Republicans will tell on them.

But in the meantime, I will leave the reader with this tidbit from exiled* investigative journalist Greg Palast on vote purging in the 2000 Florida election.
Thomas Alvin Cooper (2), twenty-eight, was flagged because of a crime for which he will be convicted in the year 2007. According to Florida's elections division, this intrepid time-traveler will cover his tracks by moving to Ohio, adding a middle name, and changing his race. Harper's found 325 names on the list with conviction dates in the future, a fact that did not escape Department of Elections workers, who, in June 2000 emails headed, "Future Conviction Dates," termed the discovery, "bad news." Rather than release this whacky data to skeptical counties, Janet Mudrow, state liaison to DBT, suggested that "blanks would be preferable in these cases." (Harper's counted 4,917 blank conviction dates.) The one county that checked each of the 694 names on its local list could verify only 34 as actual felony convicts. Some counties defied Harris' directives; Madison County's elections supervisor Linda Howell refused the purge list after she found her own name on it.
*Greg is an American journalist who moved to England since he found it difficult to get his investigative pieces published here in America. You can read more from Greg at his website.

The "generosity" of Coca-Cola

In the small village of Kerala in India, Coke has been distributing toxic sludge to the aboriginal villagers while telling them it's free fertilizer, reports the IPS. The sludge is laden with cadmium and lead.

Cadmium is a known carcinogen which causes kidney damage while exposure to lead can lead to mental derangement and death and is particularly dangerous for children causing them severe anemia and mental retardation.
What I want to know is - how do the Coke executives who own and operate this plant sleep at night? Oh, wait, I forgot ... sharks don't sleep*.

* I was using this saying figuratively and rhetorically. For a scientific perspective on whether or not sharks sleep, click here.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Et tu, Blogger?

So I log on today and see that we've got a new feature, the 'Flag blog' button, which is inconveniently located between the 'Get Your Own Blog' and 'Next Blog' buttons so that we would presumably be getting some flags on error alone (although if one happens to notice it, you can unflag a blog)

But that's a trivial matter. What concerns me is this:
When a person visiting a blog clicks the "Flag?" button in the Blogger Navbar, it means they believe the content of the blog may be potentially offensive or illegal. We track the number of times a blog has been flagged as objectionable and use this information to determine what action is needed. This feature allows the blogging community as a whole to identify content they deem objectionable.
Ok, see the problem with this? What's "objectionable." I'm guessing there are a good deal Rush Limbaugh fans out there who would likely deem my blog to be objectionable; and there lies the problem: what is objectionable is subjective.

But that's not the worst part, I found this part to be of particular concern:
When the community has voted and hate speech is identified on Blog*Spot, Google may exercise its right to place a Content Warning page in front of the blog and set it to "unlisted."
Now we're delving into an area where "the community" is exerting its influence as a social entity to determine what is socially acceptable thought ... something that J.S. Mill wrote eloquently against in On Liberty, a tract in which Mill argued that society is never justified in the supression of an opinion. Remember, Mill says, even Socrates was put to death for "objectionable" speech:
Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, “i maĆ«stri di color che sanno,” the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived — whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious — was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognized by the State; indeed his accuser asserted (see the “Apologia”) that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a “corruptor of youth.” Of these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal.
By acting to suppress unpopular speech based on people's impression of a blog's content Blogger is introducing a potential (and subtle) means of enforcing orthodox beliefs, which is a shame since blogs have been such a bright spot in the transmission of minority views and dissent.

And a final word from Mill, whom I believe is worth quoting at length:
Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take some notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent. But this, though an important consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure. But the principal offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion. But all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good faith, by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely possible on adequate grounds conscientiously to stamp the misrepresentation as morally culpable; and still less could law presume to interfere with this kind of controversial misconduct. With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely, invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions. The worst offence of this kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to stigmatize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men. To calumny of this sort, those who hold any unpopular opinion are peculiarly exposed, because they are in general few and uninfluential, and nobody but themselves feels much interest in seeing justice done them; but this weapon is, from the nature of the case, denied to those who attack a prevailing opinion: they can neither use it with safety to themselves, nor, if they could, would it do anything but recoil on their own cause. In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and justice, it is far more important to restrain this employment of vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity, than on religion. It is, however, obvious that law and authority have no business with restraining either, while opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemning every one, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor, or malignity, bigotry, or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves; but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own: and giving merited honor to every one, whatever opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor. This is the real morality of public discussion; and if often violated, I am happy to think that there are many controversialists who to a great extent observe it, and a still greater number who conscientiously strive towards it.

Blogger's Note - I had included this piece as an example of what I was "getting at," but actually, although it does provide an example of the supression of opinion, it isn't really what I'm talking about in this post. Hence, I removed it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Paul Krugman on the elections of 2000, 2004, and the future

In an editorial for the New York Times today, Paul Krugman reminds us that the irregular voting activity of the 2000 and 2004 elections will likely continue if something is not done to reform our voting procedures. With an election coming up in '06, this is an important reminder.
By running for the U.S. Senate, Katherine Harris, Florida's former secretary of state, has stirred up some ugly memories. And that's a good thing, because those memories remain relevant. There was at least as much electoral malfeasance in 2004 as there was in 2000, even if it didn't change the outcome. And the next election may be worse.
Later this weekend I am going to put up an entry about 2000 election similar to the one I did on 2004.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

More on the internet and the FCC

Following up on my previous polemic about the corporatization of the internet, this article explains further:
Competition in the market for broadband Internet access remains alive, despite what can look like a concerted campaign by big business and government to abolish it. The latest such steps were a Supreme Court ruling and a Federal Communications Commission vote that allowed cable and phone companies to block competitors from their networks.
Be glad that competitors are still around: The phone and cable incumbents still fall short of many customers' needs, and it's up to other companies to meet them.
But as long as telephone and cable TV lines are the only affordable ways to pipe data to and from a house, any challenger to Comcast, Verizon and their ilk must first go into business with them. The competitor has to rent a phone or cable company's wires -- lines installed under a government-sanctioned monopoly -- to reach any customer's home.
And it provides a suggestion:
The government needs to do its job as well. As a start, the FCC should turn its recent broadband policy statement -- a declaration that customers should be able to access any legal Internet site and run any legal Internet application -- into an enforceable regulation. The commission also needs to ease the progress of other forms of broadband, such as wireless data services. And it has to watch for abuses of the remaining rules.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Democracy for sale

Plutocracy and the revolving door between business and government at its finest:

The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My nightmare

"Wouldn't it be great if anybody who speaks out against this country, to kick them out of the country?" - Rush Limbaugh

Sure it'd be great, if you're the one doing the kicking. Let's bring back the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Sedition Act of 1918 while we're at it.

Here are some "bad" ideas Limbaugh's suggestion would do away with:
1st Amendment
Bill of Rights
Constitution
Democracy

"It is always to be taken for granted, that those who oppose an equality of rights never mean the exclusion should take place on themselves." - Thomas Paine, Dissertation On the First Principle of Government

Michael Shermer on George Bush, Intelligent Design, and evolution

Michael Shermer, always a voice of reason, has responded, in the latest eSkeptic, to the controversy surrounding George Bush's seeming endorsement of intelligent design "theory" last week. Shermer addresses the question of whether it is possible to believe in God and evolution from an interesting perspective: he looks at the question both quantitatively and qualitatively. Empirically speaking, yes, it is possible to believe in evolution and God, given that 40% of scientists do such, but it is not logically consistent to do so. Shermer is here elucidating the principle of (methodological) naturalism, which is the foundation of the scientific method.
You can believe in God and evolution as long as you keep the two in separate logic-tight compartments. Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. If you attempt to reconcile religion and science on questions about nature and the universe, and if you push the science to its logical conclusion, you will end up naturalizing the deity because for any question about nature — the origins of the universe, life, humans, whatever — if your answer is “God did it,” a scientist will ask, “How did God do it?, What forces did God use? What forms of matter and energy were employed in the creation process?” and so forth. The end result of this inquiry can only be natural explanations for all natural phenomena. What place, then, for God?
Shermer's last question is most famously answered by Pierre Laplace's response when asked by Napoleon why he made no mention of God in his discourses on the planets: "Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis."

A quote from this blogger's namesake

"When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." - David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

On fascism

From You Have No Idea How Much I Hate Bush
Umberto Eco's essay on Eternal Fascism was a swift classic in the study of Fascism. It's not a taxonomy of qualities of Fascism as much as an attempt to sketch the subjective experience of Fascism. So, Fascists may protect corporate power and have disdain for human rights, but details like that are outside Eco's area of study. Instead he writes about the frustration of Fascists, their appeals to tradition, their hate of "rotten" quantitative democracy -- that is, their hate of the only actual form of democracy there is.
I had not seen the Eco essay before, so I'm glad to have come across it. I'd put it up there with Orwell in concisely depicting the nature of fascism. I found the following point particularly relevant to today
7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson's The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

Sound familiar?

Monday, August 15, 2005

A response to Bill O'Reilly

Any frequent viewer of the O'Reilly Factor on Fox knows that Bill O'Reilly believes that "securlarism" is ruining the United States of America. In this recent column, God Help Us, Bill asserts that secular and liberal Americans are the reason that sexual offenders and terrorists have not been brought to justice. Being that I am a secular humanist, I feel that a response is in order.
The relentless attack on public displays of spirituality and religion by progressive secularists has been extremely effective worldwide. Churchgoing in Western Europe, for example, has collapsed in many countries.
O'Reilly fails here to notice that countries that have not separated church and state, such as England, have seen a decline in religious belief, while in the US religious belief has thrived. Secondly, he also fails to consider that other factors other than "the relentless attack on public displays of spirituality and religion" may account for the decline in church attendance. And lastly, Bill acts as if church going decline is in itself a bad thing.
Ferguson cites a Gallup Poll that shows barely 20% of Western Europeans attend church services at least once a week. The number is 47% and falling in the USA. In Britain, only 10% of those polled said they would be willing to die for their religious beliefs. And guess who loves that statistic? Can you say the Islama-fascists?
1. So what? Are we to attend church to spite Islamic fanatics? This point is asinine.
2. Only 10% of polled British citizens are willing to die for religious beliefs and that's a bad thing? I'm confused, is O'Reilly suggesting we should be more like the terrorists and be willing to die for religious beliefs? I'm reminded of Bertrand Russell's attributed answer when he was asked if he would die for his beliefs: "Of course not. Afterall, I may be wrong."
If the fundamental moral tenet of protecting the lives of innocent people superceded all other political concerns, Osama bin-Laden and the boys would be on the gallows right now. But that is not the case as we all know.
Here O'Reilly asserts that secular humanists do not believe protecting innocent lives is a fundamental moral tenet. One must wonder if Bill has ever met or spoken to a secular humanist; a quick survey of the affirmations and principles of secular humanism would reveal otherwise. Also, O'Reilly is here blaming secular humanists for failure to capture Osama bin-Laden? That is absurd. One could more appropriately claim bin-Laden has not been captured because the United States diverted two hundred billion dollars and one hundred and forty thousand troops to a war in Iraq, a war which O'Reilly supported.
In America, the anti-religious forces are led by the ACLU and activist liberal judges who are aided by an increasingly secular media.
An increasingly secular media? As opposed to what, our previously religious media? More nonsense. A study of the media in this country will show that it is extremely credulous when it comes to supernatural and superstitious beliefs. And Bill is once again equating the separation of church and state with "anti-religious forces."
The Founding Fathers knew that religion, if handled correctly, could be a powerful force for good.
Apparently Mr. O'Reilly is unaware of the Age of Reason or the Jefferson Bible. But disregarding the personal beliefs of the Founding Fathers, a general belief they held in common was that religion should be kept seperate from government, which is of course why they created a secular government.
The moral guidance provided by The Ten Commandments constrains bad behavior, that's why the Commandments appeared in Scripture.
The Ten Commandments didn't contrain bad behavior IN Scripture, note the numerous examples of genocide committed by people living by the Law.
But now, the secularists insist there is no place in the public square for the Commandments. There is no place for constraints that may offend.
Bill does here what is a common error of those who claim America is a "Christian nation," he equivocates two defintions of public square. There is room for the Commandments in public, but not in the public square of government. There is no room for constraints which violate the first amendment.*
Think it over. If every human being chose to set up his or her own moral program, there would never be a consensus of what is proper and what is not. There would never be universal outrage over terrorism or terrible crimes
There has never been a consensus on the Ten Commandments. People following them have always disagreed to their application. However, people who think the Ten Commandments are the literal word of God believe they are following moral absolutes. And as noted by Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity, "whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, and infamous things can be justified and established."
Moral outrage is the only way to defeat terrible behavior. Today, many of us don't even know what terrible behavior is. Could gangsta rap music have existed 30 years ago? How about partial birth abortion?
Interesting. And by what mechanism will our moral outrage defeat terrible behavior - magic? Moral outrage may serve as an important motivation to take action, but without a rational course of action moral outrage in itself will do nothing to combat bad behavior.

Bill is entitled to his opinion of gangsta rap, although I'm not sure O'Reilly is able to distinguish between his opinions and fact, but he demonstrates a high level of ignorance regarding partial birth abortions. Yes, they could have existed thirty years ago, that is, presumably, if we were interested in performing a procedure meant to protect the life of the mother when there was some sort of serious complication (such as the fetus already being dead or having hydrocephalus) to the pregnancy putting her life at risk.
Hitler and Tojo were defeated by men and women who were willing to die so those villains could not enslave and kill other human beings. It was moral outrage over Pearl Harbor that led to the demise of the dictators
This is something of a patriotic oversimplification, as there was afterall, a draft during WW II. But nevermind that, is O'Reilly suggesting that secularists are not willing to die to protect human rights? If so, that position is indefensible. The basic human rights contained in the Bill Of Rights were an outgrowth of centuries of secular and religious humanists giving up their lives to obtain and defend those very rights. Is O'Reilly unaware of the fate of Giordano Bruno or Sir Thomas More?
The terrorists and perverts understand that only moral outrage will beat them back.
If the terrorist were worried about moral outrage beating them back they would not be brutally decapitating people or exploding children. The terrorist do not fear being beaten back, indeed, they do not fear death even, because they believe their actions are divinely sanctioned and they will be handsomely rewarded for them in the after life.
A person or nation with no moral compass will never be able to summon up that outrage. A human being that lives in the gray area of right and wrong is likely not to make a stand against evil.
The hidden assumption here being that secularists have no moral compass. Some of the most moral exemplars in history have been secularists: Epicurus, Jeremy Bentham, followers of the Carvaka, Voltaire, Robert Green Ingersoll, Thomas Paine, Spinoza, David Hume, Socrates, John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain, Confucius, etc.

Finally, Bill believes that if one does not believe in moral absolutes, one will be unable to recognize the difference between right and wrong. This too is false. Let me illustrate by analogy: one can acknowledge that their are shades of gray between night and day, i.e. dusk and dawn, where it is difficult to distinguish between night and day, and still be able to tell the difference between night and day, e.g. 2 pm and 2 am. Similarly, one can recognize that their are cases where there is a fine line between right and wrong and still see a difference between right and wrong.

*Note the first four Commandments directly contradict the first Amendment.

The shame of the UN

From the NYT (via Americablog):
Half of the 4,500 companies involved in the United Nations oil-for-food aid program in Iraq paid kickbacks or illegal surcharges and are being given a chance to respond to the accusations, two top investigators say
That's 2,250 companies that were willing to compromise the well-being of Iraqi civlians in order to stuff their pockets with some green.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Does acupuncture work?

Michael Shermer answers this question in his latest Skeptic column for Scientific American. A new study finds that "sham" acupuncture is as effective as authentic acupuncture, suggesting that the positive effects associated with acupuncture are largely placebo.

For more on acupuncture, see the Skeptic's Dictionary entry on it.

Friday, August 12, 2005

What happened in Ohio?

I will make a prediction: one of the top stories in the 2006 edition of Project Censored will be the failure of the mainstream media to cover alleged voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election. Personally, I myself had considered talk of vote fraud to be trivial conspiracy theories, but coming face to face with the evidence has forced me to reconsider this position.

The first I heard anyone talk of potential voting irregularity (other than as wild conspiracy) was in Christopher Hitchens' Ohio's Odd Numbers article for Vanity Fair back in March. I casually read the article, but let the implications slip out of my mind and thought no more of it. I believe that I didn't think more about it because I did not want to think it true - I did not want to have to believe that such a despicable thing could happen in America, that so many people could be disenfranchised, that the democratic voting process could be subverted. But a careful reading of Hitchens would have given me plenty to be suspicious of, only a deliberate act of willfull ignorance could allow me to not be troubled by it. (I recommend reading the the Hitchens article before continuing on with this post to get the full effect.)

With the media black-out of the story proceeding as before this matter remained out of mind for me. It was not until late May (the 27th to be precise) that the specter of vote fraud was once again raised, this time by a fellow blogger, with a post about the Conyer's report. Commissioned by John Conyer (D-Mich), the report contained the findings of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee's inquiry (Republicans were invited to participate but declined) into alleged voter fraud and misconduct in the state of Ohio. Again, this post contained enough to make one question the integrity of the election, but still not wanting to believe it, I tucked this information away somewhere in the back of my mind.

It wasn't until last week that I finally started to realize that something quite suspect had occurred in Ohio. Something that definitely merited a national discussion, and something that pointed to an immediate need for serious vote reforms to be implemented in order to preserve and protect our franchise as American citizens. What brought about this change in awareness for me was an article in the Aug. 2005 edition of Harper's magazine entitled None Dare Call It Stolen (ironically, written by Mark Crispin Miller, the same person who had brought this to the attention of the blogger who brought it to my attention.) The figure that screamed at me from the article was this: the odds against 26 state exit polls incorrectly predicting wins for John Kerry were 16.5 million to 1!!!! according to a report issued by the National Election Data Archive project. (A search there will pull up numerous articles addressing statistical anomalies related to the election.)

Once one is willing to look seriously into the election related activities in Ohio many disturbing examples of suspect behavior come to light. For example, the owner of the Triad GSI voting systems that were used in Ohio, Todd Rapp, had donated money to George Bush's election campaign. Now, this in itself does not imply any wrongdoing, but it does represent, at the least, a perceived conflict of interest, something that the public should have been made aware of, especially given the post-election related machine tampering that Triad has been accused of.

Another questionable tie was that of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who was also the co-chair of the Bush/Cheney Ohio campaign. The Conyer's report lists, through three phases, how Blackwell sought to disenfranchise Democratic voters. Here are some examples:
- registered letters were sent to new voters from the state Republican party. Blackwell then challenged 35,000 voters who failed to sign the letters
- Blackwell attempted to bar the media from the polls, this was struck down by a federal court
- reporters were barred from a post-election ballot counting site in Warren Country when a fake FBI warning was issued
- foreign observers were prevented from monitoring the election

Example after example is contained with in Conyer's report of irregular activity. Here are several:
- in Miami county 13,000 votes appeared in Bush's column after all precincts reported
- in Franklin county 4,000 extra votes appeared for Bush from one computer
- in Perry county Bush votes exceeded registered voters
- Youngstown reported negative 25 million votes

The full report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio, should be read by every American citizen, and it is another black mark for our media that this document has not been given the national attention it deserves. Regardless of where you fall in the political spectrum, I think we can all agree that vote fraud is something we do not want to see happen, and thus we should be taking steps to ensure that the questionable voting irregularities which occurred in Ohio (and elsewhere) should not happen again.

UPDATE - While I was linking to Project Censored I noticed that they now have an article up about voter fraud in the 2004 election. As odd as I already thought the election's voting irregularities were, the Project Censored article points out even more that I wasn't aware of. Something very strange seems to have happened this past election, and it is of the utmost importance that we give this matter its proper consideration. If our vote doesn't count, or if it ceases to matter, then we truely have lost our democracy.

Here is an excerpt from the Project Censored article:
In order to believe that George Bush won the November 2, 2004 presidential election, you must also believe all of the following extremely improbable or outright impossible things.
1) A big turnout and a highly energized and motivated electorate favored the GOP instead of the Democrats for the first time in history.
2) Even though first-time voters, lapsed voters (those who didn’t vote in 2000), and undecideds went for John Kerry by big margins, and Bush lost people who voted for him in the cliffhanger 2000 election, Bush still received a 3.5 million vote surplus nationally.
3) The fact that Bush far exceeded the 85% of registered Florida Republicans’ votes that he got in 2000, receiving in 2004 more than 100% of the registered Republican votes in 47 out of 67 Florida counties, 200% of registered Republicans in 15 counties, and over 300% of registered Republicans in 4 counties, merely shows Floridians’ enthusiasm for Bush. He managed to do this despite the fact that his share of the crossover votes by registered Democrats in Florida did not increase over 2000 and he lost ground among registered Independents, dropping 15 points.
4) Florida’s reporting of more presidential votes (7.59 million) than actual number of people who voted (7.35 million), a surplus of 237,522 votes, does not indicate fraud.
5) The fact that Bush got more votes than registered voters, and the fact that by stark contrast participation rates in many Democratic strongholds in Ohio and Florida fell to as low as 8%, do not indicate a rigged election.
6) Bush won re-election despite approval ratings below 50% - the first time in history this has happened. Truman has been cited as having also done this, but Truman’s polling numbers were trailing so much behind his challenger, Thomas Dewey, pollsters stopped surveying two months before the 1948 elections, thus missing the late surge of support for Truman. Unlike Truman, Bush’s support was clearly eroding on the eve of the election.
7) Harris' last-minute polling indicating a Kerry victory was wrong (even though Harris was exactly on the mark in their 2000 election final poll).
8) The “challenger rule” - an incumbent’s final results won’t be better than his final polling - was wrong;
9) On election day the early-day voters picked up by early exit polls (showing Kerry with a wide lead) were heavily Democratic instead of the traditional pattern of early voters being mainly Republican.
10) The fact that Bush “won” Ohio by 51-48%, but this was not matched by the court-supervised hand count of the 147,400 absentee and provisional ballots in which Kerry received 54.46% of the vote doesn’t cast any suspicion upon the official tally.
11) Florida computer programmer Clinton Curtis (a life-long registered Republican) must be lying when he said in a sworn affidavit that his employers at Yang Enterprises, Inc. (YEI) and Tom Feeney (general counsel and lobbyist for YEI, GOP state legislator and Jeb Bush’s 1994 running mate for Florida Lt. Governor) asked him in 2000 to create a computer program to undetectably alter vote totals. Curtis, under the initial impression that he was creating this software in order to forestall possible fraud, handed over the program to his employer Mrs. Li Woan Yang, and was told: “You don’t understand, in order to get the contract we have to hide the manipulation in the source code. This program is needed to control the vote in south Florida.” (Boldface in original).
12) Diebold CEO Walden O’Dell’s declaration in a August 14, 2003 letter to GOP fundraisers that he was "committed to helping Ohio to deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" and the fact that Diebold is one of the three major suppliers of the electronic voting machines in Ohio and nationally, didn’t result in any fraud by Diebold.
13) There was no fraud in Cuyahoga County, Ohio where the number of recorded votes was more than 93,000 larger than the number of registered voters and where they admitted counting the votes in secret before bringing them out in public to count. [See appendix – attached herein]
14) CNN reported at 9 p.m. EST on election evening that Kerry was leading by 3 points in the national exit polls based on well over 13,000 respondents. Several hours later at 1:36 a.m. CNN reported that the exit polls, now based on a few hundred more - 13,531 respondents - were showing Bush leading by 2 points, a 5-point swing. In other words, a swing of 5 percentage points from a tiny increase in the number of respondents somehow occurred despite it being mathematically impossible.
15) Exit polls in the November 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, paid for in part by the Bush administration, were right, but exit polls in the U.S., where exit polling was invented, were very wrong.
16) The National Election Pool’s exit polls were so far off that since their inception twenty years ago, they have never been this wrong, more wrong than statistical probability indicates is possible.
17) In every single instance where exit polls were wrong the discrepancy favored Bush, even though statistical probability tells us that any survey errors should show up in both directions. Half a century of polling and centuries of mathematics must be wrong.
18) It must be merely a stunning coincidence that exit polls were wrong only in precincts where there was no paper ballot to check against the electronic totals and right everywhere there was a paper trail.

Timeline of intelligence manipulation leading up to invasion of Iraq

Rawstory has compiled another timeline, with this one focusing on how how Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, helped to present a specious case for WMD's in Iraq.

Note that this is the same Pat Roberts who recently threatened to begin an investigation into special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald whom has been conducting a grand jury investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity back in 2003 shortly after her husband wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times questioning the President's claims regarding uranium in Niger.

In a related story, 21 Bush officials are now thought to be involved in the aformentioned leak of Valerie Plame's identity.

Also, in keeping with this week's theme of media inadequacy, Editor and Publisher has written a summary of a soon to be released Vanity Fair article berating the news media, specifically the New York Times and Time magazine, for failing to reveal that Karl Rove was one of the leakers.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Toledo Blade

I'm on the run so I'll keep this short.

The Toledo Blade is a small paper in Ohio that contains the type of investigative reporting that is missing from much of the mainstream media. One such story that the Blade has been covering for almost a year now has the been the election related coin scandal in the state of Ohio which has not garnered much national attention. Here is a link to their informative and important series Coins, Contributions & BWC on the scandal.

And I will have another post up about Ohio and the election either Saturday or Sunday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

How democratic are we?

Several of my recent blog entries (here, here, here, and here) have had to do with the failure of the mainstream media to keep the public informed. And if one were to look through this blog's archives one would find that a significant number of the posts here are some sort of media related criticism. These issues weigh heavily on my mind because, like Thomas Jefferson, I believe that "the press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being." A society can only be democratic to the extent that its press is free to keep the public informed and to express a diverse range of perspectives and opinions ... it is no coincidence that a free press is one of the first casualties of any totalitarian regime.

So how democratic is our press? Americans pride themselves on being "the freest nation" in the world, so it might come as a bit of a shock to find out that the freest nation in the world does not have the freest press - we rank 22nd on the Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index (and we occupy the 108th spot in Iraq.) For the rest of the week I will be blogging examples of the shortcomings of our press and the threat to democracy which the corporatization of the media represents.

With that being said, I give you Is America a Post-democratic Society? How to Preserve Our Republic by Paul Kurtz of the Council for Secular Humanism, which details the erosion of our democratic institutions (including, but not limited to, the press) and asks what can be done about it.

Kansas experiencing strange time dilation problems, some residents now living in the year 1858

Believe it or not.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The riddle of Epicurus

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cause for concern: the corporatization of the internet

Virtually all media in this country is owned by a handful of conglomerate mega-corporations. The domination of media by such a small number (little more than 6) companies who have interlocking boards of directorates poises a serious threat to American citizens' right to a free a press since these media monopolies and their conflicts of interest have led to a dramatic narrowing of exceptable discourse.*

The 21st century answer to this problem has so far been the internet, a truely democratic medium where anyone and everyone with a connection has free an open access to a wide range of information and opinion - it is a place where diverse perspectives can be given a voice. This is in part due to the fact that so long as the main means of gaining access was through dial-up connections the net was regulated by the same anti-trust and public service restrictions as the phone companies. But with the increasing use of DSL and cable connections the internet now faces the same threat of corporatization that the rest of media has seen. And not surprisingly, the mainstream media has done little to alert the public at large of this important issue.

Most people take it for granted that they will continue to have open access to the world wide web. I did. But then I read News Incorporated: Corporate Media Ownership and its Threat to Democracy and was made aware that the future of the internet is by no means secure, and that the same media monopolies which control the mainstream media are now encroaching on the net. Indeed, just this past Friday the FCC "eased rules governing high-speed Internet services offered by phone companies."

With this in mind, here is a link to a chilling essay written by Elliot D. Cohen, the editor of the aforementioned News Incorporated, warning of the problems now facing "the greatest bastion of democracy in human history." The picture Cohen paints is not pleasant:

The days are now numbered for surfing an uncensored, open-access Internet, using your favorite search engine to search a bottomless cyber-sea of information in the grandest democratic forum ever conceived by humankind. Instead you can look forward to Googling about on a walled-off, carefully selected corpus of government propaganda and sanitized information "safe" for public consumption. Indoctrinated and sealed off from the outer world, you will inhabit a matrix where every ounce of creative, independent thinking that challenges government policies and values will be squelched. Just a wild conspiracy theory, you say? No longer can this be rationally maintained

*To learn more about the corporatization of the media visit the Media Reform Information Center

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The media buzzsaw: a 60th anniversary edition

From Mother Jones

A story that the U.S. government hoped would never see the light of day has finally been published—60 years after it was spiked by military censors. The discovery of reporter George Weller's first-hand account of conditions in post-nuclear Nagasaki sheds light on one of the great journalistic betrayals of the last century: the cover-up of the effects of the atomic bombing on Japan.
UPDATE:
From Editor and Publisher

In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan almost 60 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.

Debating Guns, Germs, and Steel

It seems that the 3 part PBS series on Jared Diamond's 1997 Pulitzer winning Guns, Germs and Steel has sparked some lively debate and discussion across the spectrum of academic blogs. This piece does an excellent job of summarizing what all the fuss is about and links to the key figures in the debate:
And in the last week, a relatively new blog in anthropology — Savage Minds — has set off a huge debate over the book. Two of the eight people who lead Savage Minds posted their objections to the book, and things have taken off from there, with several prominent blogs in the social sciences picking up the debate, and adding to it. Hundreds of scholars are posting and cross-posting in an unusually intense and broad debate for a book that has been out for eight years.
Mark another reason to hail the blog. Where else and at what other point in human history would you be able to have such easy access to a spontaneously developed and near instaneous scholarly discussion?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Baleful quote of the day

"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
- Michael Ledeen, foreign policy advisor to Karl Rove, as quoted by Jonah Goldberg

I'm not sure what's more disturbing, the quote itself or the fact that Goldberg considers the quote a positive thing worthy of praise.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Nevermind, the war is back on!

President Bush has apparently overruled his advisors, who had stated last week that the 'war on terrorism' was now to be called a 'global struggle against violent extremism', and is again emphasizing that we are at war with terrorists.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Defending thimerosal

I found a computer with net access in my hotel so I have time for a quick update.

Slate has an article up today which does a good job of responding to the concerns over thimerosal's safety which have been raised by environmental activist Robert Kennedy jr.

Thought of the day: Wisdom is the knowledge of one's own ignorance - me (with a nod to Socrates)