Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flu the coup

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that what leads people to leave their faith is that, somehow for some reason, it isn't meeting their needs, according to this WaPo article.

The study characterizes its findings with the claim more Americans have given up their faith or changed religions because of a gradual spiritual drift.

While it may be easy in the US to drift into or away from religions, in the olden days and in other parts of the world, that falls under the category of apostasy, and can be quite a serious offense.

But, where the Pew study seems to say its survey suggests people were not particularly driven away from religion, the drift does seem to Guambat to be more of a push if not a drive.

Here's some examples of things that might aid the push from tonight's google news aggregator.

The author of this piece (Benjamin L. Hartman, "Making swine flu kosher: A symptom of the disease of Israeli politics") says,
The de facto head of the Israeli Health Ministry, MK Yakov Litzman, stated Monday that swine flu would be from here on in referred to as "Mexico Flu," as pork is non-kosher and considered unclean under Jewish law....

It's just one more in a series of state-sanctioned declarations by a government official that serves only to further humiliate Israel in the eyes of the world.

Such is the system that produces a government where a party representing a community whose media cannot print the word sex, airbrushes women out of photos, and binds them into a strict second-class status, can be put in charge of the Health Ministry, a ministry legally bound to protect the well-being of all Israelis, regardless of gender, race or religion.

It also brings up the issue putting a man who can't say the word "vagina" in charge of a ministry that supervises gynecological issues. How can a man whose usage of the Hebrew language is governed by his own interpretation of Jewish law deal with issues like teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, or post-natal care for women?

This attempted rebranding of swine flu raises another issue about the dangers of Israel's lack of separation of synagogue and state, albeit one less important or divisive than the monopoly held by the religious over marriage, death, circumcision, public transport, and dietary laws.

This danger is the constant ability of the religious, when put in charge of government ministries, to make a mockery of a modern, would-be sophisticated western country that sees itself as a beacon of pluralism and modernity in a region darkened by religious fundamentalism and political extremism.

It lessens our ability to see ourselves beholden to a political culture superior to that of our neighbors in the region, giving us more and more in common with those further to the east who banned kite flying, the playing of music, and whistling.

Perhaps that is why this editorial by Norman H. Olsen, a former senior United States Foreign Service officer who served at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1991 to 1995, and from 2002 to 2007, including four years as chief of the political section, in the Christian Science Monitor called for No more make-believe in the Middle East
Settlement construction, including the massive developments encircling Jerusalem, has continued for four decades. All of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's predecessors – even the "doves" – never once slowed settlement construction, despite their repeated assurances. Throughout, despite intensive US monitoring and reporting on growth, the US has always pretended to believe them.

Once he became prime minister in the 1990s, even firebrand Netanyahu played the "we pretend, you pretend" game, signing on to the 1998 Wye River Memorandum, which, among other things, provided billions in US funding for Israel's redeployment out of the West Bank and Gaza.

Now, though, Netanyahu appears to have ended the charade, although perhaps only until political expediency warrants another metamorphosis. His policies may be misguided, but his intellectual honesty may prove salutary.

The Israeli right and its American supporters have a hard time claiming Israeli moderation and reasonableness when Netanyahu and his ministers openly oppose a two-state arrangement; affirm the blockade of Gaza, preventing reconstruction there; tout settlement expansion; brag of undermining US efforts to talk with Iran; and threaten an attack on Iran – across US-controlled Iraqi airspace – that could jeopardize US troops and interests throughout the region.

In lifting the veil on Israeli policy and the criticism-stifling fiction of US-Israeli mutual interest, Netanyahu leaves the US open, finally, to voice and pursue its own positions and interests.

Is it any wonder, then, that Abbas won’t recognize Israel as Jewish state?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it will be impossible for the two sides to arrive at a peace agreement if the Palestinians do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

"A Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean?" the Palestinian Authority president asked in a speech Monday in Ramallah. "You can call yourselves as you like, but I don't accept it and I say so publicly."

And then there's Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the dame who said no to Notre Dame, who wanted to award her the prestigious Laetare Medal. Glendon was the Bush Administration's final ambassador to the Holy See.


Because the university has invited the President of the United States (and Harvard Law School grad) to give the commencement address to this year's graduating class. She said,
First, as a longtime Consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the President an honorary degree.

This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. Bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions "should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" and that such persons "should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

Then I learned that "talking points" issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event.
She labeled Obama, "a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice."

Back to that Pew study and WaPo article,
the large and growing number of people who report having no religious affiliation are actually surprisingly open to religion, researchers said.

Having worshiped in at least one faith already, about three in 10 said they had just not yet found the right religion.

This is just some of the stuff that happens along when push comes to drift. Perhaps people around the globe are saying, no more make-believe here, either.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dinosaurs in Texas: But Wait, There's More!

Guambat was following the thread from the Texas Board of Education decision to open the door to creationism in science classes, and discovered those damned Texicans is putting on a full Court press to replace scientific method with religious authority.

The thread came via this particularly pithy response to those calling it a "debate": How to respond to requests to debate creationists. -- PLEASE, stop reading this post and go read that one first (but ya'll come back, y'heah?) --

Anyway, Guambat decided to have a sticky-beak of Prof. Gotelli's blog, and noticed this item: Legal analysis of the ICR's recent lawsuit, which linked to this: You Don’t Trust Creationists With Your Science Education… Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Trust Their Lawyers, Either.

The upshot of that is news that The Institute for Creation Research Graduate School {ICRGS) is suing the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (THECB) to allow it to advertise, and thereby validate, its "science education programs from an institutional viewpoint of Biblical and scientific creationism."

Guambat's online legal research service doesn't yet have the suit in its database, but the suit, file-stamped April 16, 2009, can apparently be found here.

The recent background for the suit is fully detailed in this article from the National Center for Science Education.

It seems that someone in the inner-workings of THECB set up a kangaroo committee to give a cursory review of the ICRGS program, and recommend an OK.

And they nearly got away with it, as the NCSE article so carefully detailed.
But in the end, the THECB withheld its seal of approval. So, ICRGS brought that lawsuit.

The Institute for Creation Research, which sponsors the Graduate School, calls the decision "censorship" and "religious discrimination" in an article authored by its Special Counsel. He wrote,

Many Acts & Facts readers will recall a similar controversy in California 19 years ago. ICR sought due process in response to political persecution from a California education official named Bill Honig.

That legal controversy resulted in a victory for ICR's graduate school--and for academic freedom.
He referred to a case brought in California which apparently never got to judgment, so what kind of victory was achieved is dubious. The victory was, apparently, only in getting past a motion to dismiss; there was no decision on the merits rendered in the case, ICR Graduate School v. Honig, 758 F.Supp. 1350 (S.D. Calif. 1991). The NCSE article explained what happened in that case:
It was not the first time that the ICR's graduate school was embroiled in regulatory controversy. The ICR first began to offer graduate degrees in 1981, choosing not to seek accreditation for the program.... But it applied for, and received, approval for the program from the state superintendent of public education, which was necessary for it to award degrees in California. In 1988, when it attempted to have the approval renewed, it encountered difficulties when the then superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig, deemed its facilities and curriculum to be below the standard of comparable accredited schools.

Faced with a revocation of its state approval, the ICR filed suit. The case was eventually settled, and the ICR's graduate school was granted a religious exemption from the usual requirements for state approval. Meanwhile, the ICR was also moving to seek accreditation from a source presumably not "controlled by evolutionists" — the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, founded in 1979. As of 2008, TRACS requires candidate institutions to affirm a list of Biblical Foundations, including "the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God's image"; TRACS's own Biblical Foundations statement, offered as a model, affirms the "[s]pecial creation of the existing space-time universe and all its basic systems and kinds of organisms in the six literal days of the creation week."

TRACS became a federally recognized accreditation agency in 1991, when Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, overruling the recommendation of his advisors, approved it as such.
Comparing this Texas case to the California one is sort of deja vu all over again. There is deeper background to the California situation, provided in the Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet, Vol. 8, No. 3 (1989):
By law, no postsecondary school in California can award degrees
unless the school has been certified by a recognized accreditation agency or has been approved by the superintendent of public instruction (the chief of the State Department of Education). To gain his approval, the school must show academic resources and programs comparable to those at accredited schools that offer the
same degrees.

In 1981, when the superintendent was Wilson Riles, the Department approved the granting of MS degrees in biology, geology, "astro/geophysics" and science education by the ICR Graduate School (ICRGS), an arm of the Institute for Creation Research. The ICR is not a scientific institution. It is a fundamentalist religious
organization and is avidly committed to creation-science, the fundamentalist effort to devise quasi-scientific "evidences" that the Bible is an accurate book of history and of science. In its literature, the ICR calls itself a complex of ministries" and lists the ICRGS as one of these.

In 1987, after the superintendency of the Department had passed to Bill Honig, the ICR sought renewed approval.

In August 1988, the Department sent a five-man committee to assess the ICR's degree programs. The committee's report, dated 5 August, was baloney. It omitted or obscured anything that might have disclosed the nature or aims of the ICR and the ICRGS, and it promoted the fiction that the ICR did scientific work. It mentioned "creation-science" only once, in a throw-away line; it never told what "creation-science" was. It never told that the ICR itself called the ICRGS a religious ministry. It attributed "academic and research capabilities" to the ICRGS's faculty, even though no academic or research achievements had been claimed in the ICRGS's application. It ended with: "The committee recommends to the superintendent by a vote of 3 to 2 that full institutional approval be granted."

The two committee members who had voted against approval -- Woodhead and Hurlbert -- decided to furnish Bill Honig with individual accounts of what they had seen.

On 16 August, Woodhead sent to Honig a two-page letter. It was on stationery of the Department of Geology at Occidental College, and its signature block identified Woodhead as the chairman of that department. The text said, in part: "One problem with the course of study at ICR is that the curriculum is quite restricted in each of the science departments, apparently as the result of the small size of the faculty. (1) A more serious problem is that course titles . . . do not actually represent course contents as indicated by the corresponding syllabi. The result is that students' transcripts must be misleading to other educators or potential employers.

"The major problem . . . is that the teaching of scientific method is entirely ignored. Laboratory equipment and computing facilities are almost entirely lacking, and hardly any classes include laboratory components. A glance through the catalogs of any of the schools the ICR considers to be comparable shows that in every instance laboratory work is an essential part of the scientific curriculum. (2) Yet students working for advanced degrees at ICR do so without laboratory segments in their classes. . . .

"On another level, though, I wondered how ICR can expect its students to successfully challenge the results of modern science if they are not taught scientific method. For that reason I spent a large part of my time during the three days of our visit perusing masters' theses. . . . I looked at seven or eight . . . and found them, as a group, to be dreadful. . . .

The other dissenting member of the committee, Hurlbert, sent his observations to Honig, on 26 August, in a 37-page document.... In his introduction, Hurlbert epudiated the report of the committee, saying that he had had little influence on its content and that he did not consider himself to be an author of it.

Hurlbert told that the materials distributed to committee members before their visit did not include curricula vitae of the ICRGS's faculty. So ". . . about ten days before our site visit, I requested that the [Department] arrange for a full set of complete curricula vitae to be sent to each VC [visiting committee] member. I was told this was not possible. . . ."

"Three sets were made available to us at ICR and we scanned them as time permitted. However, most . . . were very incomplete, many being nothing more than one-page summaries of the sort that might be given to a journalist preparing an article on ICR. . . . ICR seems not enthusiastic about having complete curricula vitae of its faculty members inspected by outsiders."

On page 5, under "Problems in the report of the Visiting Committee," Hurlbert told how the report had not disclosed the ICR's major purposes and had naively parroted the ICR's claim to having programs in science. Yet the primary purpose of both the ICR and the ICRGS were clear in documents that the committee had seen: "to teach `creation science'; to increase the number of `creation scientists' with conventional (in name) graduate degrees in science; to foster the teaching of `creation science' in private and public schools by increasing the number of teachers trained in the subject. . . ."

On page 7, in the same section, Hurlbert noted how the report said that the ICRGS's courses "attempt to present a two-model evaluation addressed to the origin of life." He commented: "This is the most misleading statement in the VC report. It suggests there is a balanced and fair presentation of the evidence and the differing interpretations of it. Virtually all of the documentation and testimony support exactly the opposite conclusion. . . ."

On page 17, under "Conventional scientific interpretations are NOT `fairly presented in ICR courses,'" Hurlbert told this: "One of the students interviewed misinterpreted a QUESTION from the VC about WHETHER a fair balance of viewpoints on origins, etc. was presented. . . . He thought we were SUGGESTING such balanced presentations should be the norm. He objected strongly to the supposed suggestion, and seemed unaware that -- according to the claim in ICRGS's Application (p. 3) -- he had been the recipient of balanced presentations."

On page 21, under "Purposes of ICRGS are religious, not scientific," Hurlbert said: "ICRGS's claim that its purpose is `to discover the truth about the universe by scientific research. . .' is inaccurate. By ICR's own testimony, all the major truths relating to `origins' are already known and are given in the Bible and in the ICR tenets. . . . The Absolute Truth is already known to them and ICR's primary purpose is to disseminate it."

On page 24, under "Misrepresentations of weaknesses in ICRGS program": "Most of the faculty members have doctoral degrees, though often not in the fields in which they are teaching and advising students. The archetype in this regard is Dr. Henry
Morris. His doctorate is in civil engineering. Yet he teaches a course (Advanced Studies in Creationism) that treats the `origin and history of the universe, of the solar system, of life, of the various forms of life, and of man and his cultures . . . using data from paleontology, astronomy, biochemistry, genetics, . . .' Dr. Morris has no formal training or practical experience in any of these fields."

On page 25, in the same part: "According to [the dummy catalog submitted with the ICR's application], `The Master's program in Biology trains students in the nature and origin of the living state through a broad background in all areas of vertebrate biology.' The statement is quite odd. One would not expect the study of vertebrates to shed much light on the origin of life. But of course from ICR's point of view, each `kind' of vertebrate originated fully formed from the hand of God. That is the only opinion that ICRGS staff and students are allowed to hold."

"It is complete misrepresentation, however, to claim that the program provides `a broad background in all areas of vertebrate biology.' Aside from the course in Human Biology, ICRGS does not offer a single course in vertebrate biology. Not one!"

After explaining more misrepresentations mounted by the ICR, Hurlbert said: "The ICRGS program severely violates the trust placed in it by the students. The students are misled into thinking that with the skeletal curriculum and facilities provided by ICRGS they can put a small stone in a sling and upend some nasty,
humanistic, evolutionistic Goliath, some large body of conventional scientific evidence and theory.

"[Henry Morris] was quite frank in stating to the VC that he likes the students to take on these big topics because the resultant theses can then be used to produce creationistic publications. . . ."

"The students are deceived in many ways. They are encouraged to think that the selective quoting of `authorities', selective neglect of evidence, setting up and demolishing of straw men, and adhering to prescribed opinions regardless of the evidence all are valid modes of scientific analysis."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Replacing a long war with small wars

Guambat was advised that Wallace C. Gregson is to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

Since Guambat tends to burrow in Asia Pacific, he was curious as to what this man might bring to the job. Guambat's own security if not his affairs might hang in the balance.

Guambat googled around and found that Mr. Gregson gave a lecture back in 2005 entitled, The Marine Corps Planning Process Applied to Business Planning. The brochure for the program gave Mr. Gregson's cv:
Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson, Jr. USMC currently serves as the Commander, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific; Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific; and Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Bases, Pacific, headquartered at Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii. General Gregson’s command encompasses over 90,000 Marines and sailors deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at seven major bases worldwide. General Gregson is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. After Basic School, he served with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division in the Republic of ietnam from February 1969 to August 1970. Operational assignments included infantry battalion executive officer, division staff duty, headquarters battalion executive officer, operations officer (G-3) of I Marine Expeditionary Force, and assistant operations officer (J-3A) of Unified Task Force Somalia during Operation Restore Hope. He has commanded an infantry company; Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division; 1st Battalion, 5th Marines; 7th Marine Regiment; and 3rd Marine Division. He most recently served as the Commanding General, III Marine xpeditionary Force, and Commander, Marine Corps Bases, Japan and Commander, Marine Forces, Japan. His awards include the Legion of Merit (3rd award), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V", the Purple Heart, and the "Order of the rising sun - gold and silver star" issued by the Emperor of Japan.

Guambat wanted to go straight home and go to sleep. He will be sleeping soundly.

But he needed something to read before he fell asleep, so looked and came across this piece from said General Gregson: Ideological Support: Attacking the Critical Linkage.

Since Guambat has long believed that terrorism is also spread by word of mouth, and many of those mouths tend to be in the corridors of nations' capitals, Guambat was hooked on the opening paragraph:
This global war on terror has a popular label, a political label, but it is not accurate. Terrorism is a means of power projection, a weapon, a tool of war. This is no more a war on terrorism than World War II was a war on submarines. This is not merely semantics. Words have meaning, and these words are leading us to the wrong concept.
Some excerpts, but you should read the whole short paper:
The “war on terrorism” label also sets a very high standard for success, and an infinite duration. [Rumsfeld's "Long War"] Any successful terrorist attack means that we failed. The odds are pretty high against 100 percent success for the indefinite future.

Terrorism is only one of the tools the insurgents are using, just as submarines and airplanes were tools of World War II. United States (U.S.) strategists attempting to defeat the terrorist threat to the U.S. must first understand its nature.

This war started well before we noticed it. Through the last 21 years of the twentieth century, the United States was attacked repeatedly and failed to react, or at least react effectively. I am speaking of the Iranian hostage crisis, the Beirut Marine Barracks attack, repeated aircraft hijackings, the destruction of U.S. embassies in east Africa, and the World Trade Center attack in 1993, an effort that was partially successful.

The current threat is an insurgency, a popular movement that seeks to change the status quo through violence, subversion, propaganda, terrorism or other military action. But it is different from the nationalist insurgencies the United States has fought in the past. This one is global, and thoroughly networked, as a result of modern technology. It is ideologically driven, fundamentalist and extremist. The key insurgent leaders are Muslim, but they do not speak for Islam. They hreaten to hijack Islam for their purposes.

All insurgencies have local or national aims and grievances. But a new class of regional and global actors has emerged and linked these movements in a global network. It’s a network of ideology, financiers, document forgers, transportation experts, propagandists, family relationships, cultural groups, operations experts, logisticians, and others. It does include Al-Qa’eda, Jemaah Islamiah, and other affiliated “theater” movements. Their jihad is a confederation of movements exploited and linked by regional and global fundamentalist extremist insurgents. They “think globally and act locally.”

So who are these insurgents? The leadership comes from alienated, educated, moneyed elites, but their foot soldiers are drawn from the most troubled areas of the world. How do the dedicated leaders of this global insurgency generate recruits and resources? They have been preparing the battlefield for years.

They have been operating in troubled areas of the world where the writ of liberal, representative government, or even effective autocratic or authoritative government, does not function. In failed or failing states, or failed parts of states, they have been the providers of education, medical care, and jobs.

Through their education efforts, and their care for the population, they have been able to psychologically condition the people. By providing what local governments have not, these insurgents have gained legitimacy, psychologically conditioned these populations, and created an area from which they can safely operate.

The last time we fought so many people willing to die for their beliefs, who were thoroughly indoctrinated, it was called the Great Pacific War. Remember how tough that was. The habits of western military thought that value defeat over destruction, artful maneuver over slaughter, have a difficult time with an enemy that actively seeks death if it means killing us.

How does the United States fight this network of global insurgency? How do we ensure that our success in the field is matched at the strategic level? We can begin by realizing some hard facts, and making a cleareyed examination of our past successes and failures with insurgencies, and rigorously understanding what remains the same, and what has changed.

One fact is that insurgencies have existed in many parts of the world for a long
time. Indeed, many insurgencies that are now linked in some fashion to Al Qa’eda or Jemaah Islamiah existed long before, due to valid, long-standing grievances. The various separatist movements in the southern Philippines are an example as are the Chechen and Uighur separatist movements.

The linkages and mutual support among insurgencies from Algeria, to the Middle East, to Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia, and into Southeast Asia, are new. Ending all insurgencies is not a practical goal, however, a focused effort that addresses the underpinnings of terrorism can significantly reduce the threat. The requirements for a successful counter-insurgency, tightly integrated plans and actions across the wide range of governmental and societal functions, remains the same.

The center of gravity, the decisive terrain of this war, is the vast majority of people not directly involved, but whose support, willing or coerced, is necessary to insurgent operations around the world.

Complexity theory argues that the dangerous aspect of this global insurgency is its enabling linkages.4 If so, complexity theory offers a path to a new line of strategy and attack. Attacking the linkages offers a way to gain support from many nations and international organizations that are reluctant to join our current campaign. Under this model, it is not necessary to kill every insurgent and separatist from Algeria to Papua New Guinea to the Philippines to Chechnya to Central Asia and western China.

We cannot hope to defeat all the local insurgencies, but we must break the links that allow them to network. We must make local insurgencies a local issue again.

We need to provide people with a better vision, with better hopes and chances than the insurgents do. We need to give people a way to earn a living so they are not vulnerable to ideologists. Winning the hearts and minds of local populations is far more important than killing or capturing people.

We must develop ways to track the movement of financial instruments, people, and materiel in a way that breaks the links, yet provides an appropriate degree of privacy and national sovereignty. All the links should be analyzed and interdicted
in similar ways.

Our military heritage prizes overwhelming force over subtlety, Jomini over Sun Tzu. We feel that operations, strategy, logistics and technology are war’s dimensions. Our military history since the Civil War and our concentration on global conventional war shape our attitudes. We must continue and even accelerate our adaptation to the tactics of these fundamentalist extremist insurgents.

We must also look at the experience of our friends and partner nations. In recent years, Australia completed one very successful counterinsurgency in the Solomon Islands, and is now embarked on a similar, but different, effort in Papua New Guinea. Their use of a federalized police force alone is worth serious national study.

Threats to the United States will be unpredictable and situation-dependent. There is no precise model to optimize force structure, so our forces will have to be multi-mission, mobile, flexible and capable of precise and discriminate use of military force. We must place a premium on the training and maturity of the young men and women who wear our nation’s military uniform.

A permanent, large U.S. armed forces presence in these troubled areas is obsolete.

Third party nationals based ashore, particularly wealthy Americans, provide a convenient target, both physically and as symbols for enemy strategic communication. More importantly, the American forces based ashore invariably have an adverse cultural impact that is self defeating. Our presence skews the local economy and provides flashpoints for violence. The local government, its forces and
economy lose viability and credibility. The natural resentment of the local population defeats us. Joint sea-basing, national capability afloat combined with expeditionary presence ashore, is one way to effective influence and worldwide mobility, without extensive infrastructure.

The local, duly constituted government must do more for the people than the opposition or the United States. The minute the U.S. takes the lead, it begins to lose. Through flexible sea-basing and tailoring of our forces, we can enhance the local government’s successes and at the same time avoid making ourselves attractive, vulnerable targets. Further, we can instantaneously control our level of intervention based on the local government’s degree of acceptable behavior. By doing so, we help the local government fight its own corrupted elements and set the stage for defeat of the insurgency.

The end aim is the social, economic and political development of people subsequent to the defeat of the enemy insurgent. Ultimately, the goal is to gain decisive results with the least application of force and the consequent minimum loss of life.

In these “small wars,” respect, tolerance, sympathy and kindness should be the keynotes of our relationship with the mass of the population. We must provide military force, not as a broadsword, but as a scalpel. The solution lies in redefining the problem and our reaction to it.

Guambat will keep an eye on this General.

He may be politically naive, but Guambat thinks, by what he has written, the General's head is screwed on right.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Young love Tali-banned in Afghanistan

From (US) ABCNews
A Taliban firing squad killed a young couple in southwestern Afghanistan for trying to elope, shooting them with AK-47s in front of a crowd

The woman, 19-year-old Gul Pecha, and the man, 21-year-old Abdul Aziz, were accused by the militants of immoral acts, and a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed

Not your usual clerical error. The US forces would have their hands full in Afghanistan even if there were no fighting to be done.

How do you ever reason with conservative clerics of whatever stripe??

This is so sad.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

somebody named Barack Hussein Obama

Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed. We are reminded that we're joined together by our pursuit of a life that's productive and purposeful, and when that happens mistrust begins to fade and our smaller differences no longer overshadow the things that we share. And that's where progress begins.

So to all of you, I want you to know that the world will be what you make of it. You can choose to build new bridges instead of building new walls. You can choose to put aside longstanding divisions in pursuit of lasting peace. You can choose to advance a prosperity that is shared by all people and not just the wealthy few.

So as President, I'd like to find new ways to connect young Americans to young people all around the world, by supporting opportunities to learn new languages, and serve and study, welcoming students from other countries to our shores. That's always been a critical part of how America engages the world. That's how my father, who was from Kenya, from Africa, came to the United States and eventually met my mother. It's how Robert College was founded so long ago here in Istanbul.

We're also a country of different backgrounds and races and religions that have come together around a set of shared ideals. And we are still a place where anybody has a chance to make it if they try. If that wasn't true, then somebody named Barack Hussein Obama would not be elected President of the United States of America. That's the America I want you to know.

Somebody named Barak Hussein Obama speaking to university students in Instanbul.


Reflections on Sakura Sojourn

But Guambat didn't notice any of this:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Texas Bored of Education decision too complex to result from chance

Guambat is back from his sakura sojourn and thought he'd see what the dinosaurs had been up to in Texas. Like the Texans at the Alamo, the body count for the creationists doesn't look too good, but they are making heroes out of the good fight. And, like Santa Ana, the darwinians look to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

In short, neither side seems much too pleased.

In what might be called one corner, the New York Times editorialized,
this was a struggle to insert into the state science standards various phrases and code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could open the door to doubts about evolution. In the most ballyhooed vote, those like us who support the teaching of sound science can claim a narrow victory.

But the margins on crucial amendments were disturbingly close, typically a single vote on a 15-member board, and compromise language left ample room for the struggle to continue.

At the end of a tense, confusing three-day meeting, Darwin’s critics claimed that this and other compromise language amounted to a huge victory that would still allow their critiques into textbooks and classrooms.

In what Guambat considers a surprise, the Associated Baptist Press moderated the rattle-snake round-up:
Both literal “young-Earth” creationism and its close relative, intelligent-design theory, have lost repeated battles in federal courts in recent years, with judges ruling that they are too tied to religious teachings and too removed from scientific consensus to pass constitutional muster. In response, many proponents of religious explanations for the origins of life have shifted tactics to a “teach the controversy” approach to teaching about evolution and other controversial scientific theories in public schools.

Creationism is the approach that asserts God created the Earth in ways literally consistent with the two creation stories found in the first two chapters of Genesis. Intelligent-design theory, meanwhile, does not necessitate belief in literal six-day creationism, but posits that life is too complex to have evolved merely by mutation and natural selection without the aid of some unseen intelligent force guiding the process.

Proponents of creationism and intelligent design in several states have, in recent years, attempted to force science teachers to offer evidence for and against major parts of evolutionary theory, despite the fact that the vast majority of the mainstream scientific community supports it. In fact, most scientific professional societies contend, evolution is not a “theory” as the term is used in non-scientific parlance. Rather, they note, Darwin’s observations have repeatedly been proven accurate, and evolutionary concepts underpin much of modern biology, chemistry and other scientific disciplines.

One of the compromise amendments requires that students learn how to “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations in all fields of science.” That includes “examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

Other amendments to the standards would require students know how to think critically about “sudden appearance, stasis, and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil record,” about theories on how the “complexity of the cell” evolved and about the emergence of primordial life from organic compounds.

“I think the big picture was they essentially adopted amendments ... that will allow creationists on the board to pressure publishers into putting phony challenges to evolution in their textbooks that are based on almost straight-up creationist arguments,” said Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, March 31. Quinn’s group has been leading Texas’ opposition to the slim minority of members on the board who are closely aligned with Religious Right groups.

Quinn said such doubts about the scientific consensus on evolution are “all straight out of the intelligent-design handbook,” because virtually all scientists except those advocating intelligent design say there is no serious scientific debate about evolution.

Quinn said the language therefore wasn’t compromise, but capitulation. “You’re dealing with people who want to dumb down science; you can’t compromise with that,” he said. “It’s sort of like saying, ‘I know that two plus two equals four; you believe that two plus two equals six.’ I’m not going to compromise and say, ‘Two plus two equals five; that’s just wrong.’”

Groups that support creationism and intelligent design, meanwhile, welcomed the compromise language.

“The new science standards mark a significant victory for scientists and educators in favor of teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution,” said a statement from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading proponent of intelligent design.

“Contrary to the claims of the evolution lobby, absolutely nothing the [Texas Education] Board did promotes ‘creationism’ or religion in the classroom,” said John West, senior fellow at the institute. “Groups that assert otherwise are lying, plain and simple. Like the boy who cried ‘wolf,’ the Darwin only lobby always screams ‘creationism!’ anytime educators or policymakers try to ensure a fair presentation of the scientific evidence both for and against evolution. Let’s be absolutely clear: Under the new standards, students will be expected to analyze and evaluate the scientific evidence for evolution, not religion. Period.”

The Discovery Institute was clearly in the other corner and way out in front of this story in a full court of press.

Here's John West, again, in an editorial in the Washington Post:
The vote was a loss for defenders of evolution who had pushed the Board to strip the "analyze and evaluate" language from the evolution standards and gut the overall critical thinking standard.

Fortunately, the Texas Board of Education adopted a different approach in its new science standards, one that favors an open discussion of the scientific evidence.
The Wall Street Journal quoted West in its article on the outcome of the Boreds' decision:
The Texas Board of Education approved a science curriculum that opens the door for teachers and textbooks to raise doubts about evolution.

Critics of evolution said they were thrilled with Friday's move. "Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said Dr. John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that argues an intelligent designer created life.
And West agreed to disagree with the article:
The key thing the Journal gets right is that the Board definitely opened the door to critically analyzing evolution in the classroom. Unfortunately, the article omits or mangles a lot of the details.
And lastly, for this post anyway, two other voices were heard, Charles Garner and David Klinghoffer. Charles Garner is a professor of chemistry living in Waco and was appointed by the Texas State Board of Education as an expert reviewer on state science standards. David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at Discovery Institute and a columnist for the Jewish Forward [and you simply must read this invitation from him to "debate" creationism, and the response thereto].
When the dust settled, the resulting vote left Texas with the most advanced science standards on evolution of any state in the country.

The new science standards are about science, not religion.

Texas is now one of seven states with such educational requirements. Previously, state science standards there called on students to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including the theory of Darwinian evolution through natural selection. The new standards improve on the old by their greater clarity and specificity, detailing, for the first time, the main headings under which Darwinian theory most urgently needs critical scientific attention.

It is not a revolution but a solid, sober and welcome reworking of the standards. What's even more important is the impact this development will have far beyond Texas and its broad borders. It's sometimes said by revelers and gamblers that what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. That's not true of Texas. As one of the country's major consumers of textbooks, Texas powerfully influences the way educational texts for high school and other students are written. The same critical thinking on science that is being encouraged in that state will influence not only Texas students but students elsewhere in America.

Legislators outside the state are also taking careful note. On the same day that the final vote was held by the Texas board, news came from Florida of legislation being considered there that would require "a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

Clearly, a fire has been lit, small for now, but one that as it spreads, the Darwin lobby will have difficulty smothering entirely.

Away out West they have a name
for rain and wind and fire.
The rain is Tess,
The wind is Joe,
and they call the fire Messiah.
-- with apologies to Mariah, the wind