Liveblogging the PBS Dover trial special

I’ve never tried something like this before. Martin asked me if I would post a review of the Nova Special, “Judgment Day,” since he wouldn’t get to watch it. So I thought I’d take some live notes during the show, either as an aid to or in place of this review. I’ll update this post periodically throughout the two hour show. Paul Wilson is here, we’re having a couple of beers and kibitzing. Feel free to join the comments, whether you’re watching or not.

7:09 – Still on background material. They showed shots of the town, had clips from various people (Kenneth Miller, Phillip Johnson) on the conflict. Had some people talking about how they should teach that God did the creation. As usual, these people are blissfully aware that ID isn’t really religion. (Wink wink.)

7:12 – clips of the Spencer Tracy classic “Inherit the Wind”. Great movie, good artistic choice. Mentions that teaching creationism is today considered a violation of church /state separation.

7:14 – Dover school board member is whining that the textbook they were initially going to approve was “laced with Darwinism.” OMG! It’s like complaining that a physics book is laced with Newtonism.

7:15 – they talk about Darwin’s finches, with background provided by Ken Miller.

7:18 – nice 3d animated rendering of a “tree of life.” Well, actually kind of cheesy. :) Also, there’s that awkward mixed metaphor of going UP the tree while talking about “descent.”

7:20 – They show the mural drawn by a Dover HS student depicting evolution. It was thrown out and burned without asking anyone.

7:22 – Tammy Kitzmiller (bringer of the suit) makes an appearance, talking about the heated school board meetings.

7:24 – So it was the lawyer from the “Thomas More Law Center” who had the bright idea to bring “Intelligent Design” to Dover. Buckingham, the school board lackey, just wanted a book that had evolution AND creation. This lawyer advised him to try Pandas and People, and the rest is history.

7:27 – Buckingham is still trying to talk about Genesis, and is in fact frustrated by the failure of P&P to mention God. Oh goody, here’s that blowhard, Phillip Johnson.

7:28 – Buckingham sees ID as “A good compromise” even though it’s not religious-y enough. Science teachers come on one by one to say that the book is crap and they see right through it as creationism. Ultimately, the board rejects Pandas and approves the Miller textbook. But “an anonymous donor” generously supplies a crate full of P&P, and the same school board slips through a 6-3 mandate to use the “free” books. WTF? The three resign in protest.

7:31 – The lawsuit is introduced. The science teachers collectively agree as a unit that “we have standards, we’re not reading this stupid disclaimer about alternative theories.” This is clearly not a case of big bad government oppressing poor innocent teachers who want to teach the controversy; it’s a bunch of school board creeps with an agenda trying to order teachers to read this disclaimer.

7:34 – Re-enactment of the Dover trial starts. This is a minimalist set with dim lighting I can’t tell if this the real Rothschild talking to the real Judge Jones. They look like the real people, but I don’t know them that well. Now the real Jones is being interviewed. Hey, did you know he was not only approved by Bush, but recommended by Rick Santorum? I guess they’re establishing his “true conservative” cred before he tears ID to shreds.

7:39 – Fundamental questions of the trial: 1. Prove that the one minute statement is a promotion of religion. 2. Show that ID is not science.

7:41 – Here’s that cheesy tree animation again. Paul makes the excellent point that for all the work they did on panning the camera, it’s still a STATIC TREE. To be a really good analogy, they should show a tree that’s actively sprouting in the animation, while elsewhere it would show branches falling off where species go extinct. Paul’s right, I think that would be way cool.

7:49 – Alan Bosnell and other Dover school board members predictably make a horrible botch of the word “theory.” The courtroom re-enactors correct the public understanding of the word. I think this is the real Judge Jones in the fake courtroom, but this guy playing Ken Miller is definitely not him. Not-Miller agrees with the ID lawyer that “evolution is tentative,” but correctly adds that ALL science is tentative. Pretty well played.

7:52 – An excellent point made by the show: genetics provided a genuine test for evolution. It’s not just an ad hoc theory. There were major missing pieces from Darwin’s theory, and genetics filled them in. As Paul points out, it’s an important counter to the idea that evolution makes no predictions: evolution predicted genetics.

7:58 – Yaaaaay Robert Pennock! (I am such a geeked out fan.)

8:00 – The plaintiffs rest, and the show fades to black. This seems like a good time for a page break. This commentary continues in the next post.

Some corrections to this week’s TV show

This week when I did a show on pseudoscience, I was complaining about a reality show called “Phenomenon”, featuring Uri Geller and Criss Angel as the judges. I mistakenly claimed that this show was about contestants trying to prove that they have psychic powers.

In addition to the person who called at the beginning of the show, numerous people have sent email to inform me that the show does not claim to promote the idea of real magic powers; they are judging people on their abilities as stage magicians. I regret the mistake, and it turns out that I was thinking of a different show: “America’s Psychic Challenge” on Lifetime. Please direct your mockery towards this other show, and not Phenomenon.

In addition, I said I didn’t have an opinion on Criss Angel as a magician, but I had heard him bad-mouthed by Penn Jillette. I used to listen to Penn’s radio show, but it turns out I was wrong about that too. Searching for Penn and Criss Angel together, I found this audio clip of Penn doing a friendly interview with Criss on his own show.

I heard this interview, but I must have misremembered the characters in it. It turns out that Penn really likes Angel, and together they were badmouthing David Blaine, whom they both consider an untalented hack whose whole act is basically about selling himself. So, in Penn’s opinion: Criss Angel smart smart smart, David Blaine dum dum dum.

Now I don’t agree with Penn Jillette’s opinions on everything, but I really dig him as a performer, a magician, and a loudmouthed skeptic. So if Penn likes Criss Angel as a magician then that’s good enough for me. I guess you can watch Phenomenon now.

Fundies splintering over GOP hopefuls

The Christian Right is all over the place when it comes to whom they want to support next year for the White House.

The latest news is that the anti-abortion group National Right to Life Committee has thrown their weight behind washed-up character actor Fred Thompson, despite the fact he’s been trailing so far in the polls that he’s this close to packing it in for sheer futility. None of the fundies are too fond of Rudy Giuliani, even though he’s been courting them like mad, and has won over the clinically insane Pat Robertson. It’s a tribute to Giuliani’s cluelessness regarding these people that he can’t see the pointlessness of asking them to look beyond his support for abortion rights while he tries to keep selling his image as the Savior of New York on 9/11. For one thing, even the wingnuts aren’t dumb enough to buy that last pitch, and for another, asking a bunch of religious ideologues to overlook a position that happens to run contrary to their most preciously held beliefs (however hypocritical they might be — we all know the pro-lifers don’t give a shit about unwanted children after they’re out of the holy confines of the womb) is rank idiocy. You might as well ask them to embrace the “gay agenda.”

Giuliani’s nastiest slap came from Randall Terry, head of the infamous Operation Rescue. Sayeth Terry:

“In the eyes of the Angels, we may find that Hillary’s pure evil is far less putrid and damnable than the hypocritical and seductive evil of Rudy’s caliber. After all, Rudy has seduced one of the major leaders of the Religious Right. Even Hillary couldn’t pull that off.”

Ouch. (Read Terry’s whole rant for a fascinating exercise in “Christian love.”) Of course, I think Hillary could get some mileage out of that one. To be called “pure evil” by a known domestic terrorist could win her a few points. Now if she could get Terry’s spiritual cousins Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il to badmouth her as well, she’d probably shoot to the top of the polls in a heartbeat.

(Only it wouldn’t happen that way. Bin Laden is smart enough to understand the fractured American political climate, and he’s been loving what fools the Bush administration has been making of itself squandering lives, money, our last remaining military strength, and all our worldwide goodwill flailing around in Iraq. I expect bin Laden to congratulate Hillary fulsomely if she gets the DNC nomination, thus ensuring at last four more years of neocon blundering radicalizing the Islamists.)

What these reports reveal most sadly, I think, is America’s most distressing truth: to succeed, not only in running for the presidency, but for any major political office, candidates must basically drop to their knees and fellate the most xenophobic, superstitious, dogmatic, bigoted, fearful and uneducated segment of the voting public. We may not be the theocracy that the likes of Roy Moore and James Dobson want just yet, but in a lot of ways, we might as well be.

Scalzi’s Creation “Museum” field report

Popular blogger and science fiction writer John Scalzi has returned from his trip to Ken Scam’s Creation “Museum” in Kentucky (the trip that he promised his readers in return for the $5000 they Paypalled in, which he donated to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State), and boy, does he have a report for you. Go read. Hilarious stuff. Here’s the intro for the warm, nougat-y flavor of the thing:

First, imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit. And we’re not talking just your average load of horseshit; no, we’re talking colossal load of horsehit. An epic load of horseshit. The kind of load of horseshit that has accreted over decades and has developed its own sort of ecosystem, from the flyblown chunks at the perimeter, down into the heated and decomposing center, generating explosive levels of methane as bacteria feast merrily on vintage, liquified crap. This is a Herculean load of horseshit, friends, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Augeas.

And you look at it and you say, “Wow, what a load of horseshit.”

It gets better.

“Those who know what’s best for us….”

“…must rise and save us from ourselves.” So sang Canadian prog-rockers Rush in their 1981 track “Witch Hunt”. A quarter century later, the modern-day torch-bearing hysterics haven’t gone away.

I’m a little behind-hand on this, as I took a week’s blog break and don’t regularly read the local Austin paper. So it wasn’t until today that I saw the full-page ad that ran on page A14 of the November 9 issue of the Austin American-Statesman. In screamingly huge type it grabbed your attention with the button-mashing headline “The Most Despicable Crime Ever Committed Against America’s Children”!

The Catholic pedophilia scandal, you might ask? No, it’s all them evil liberals pushing violence and smut in our entertainment, poisoning, in the paranoiac words of Dr. Strangelove‘s General Jack D. Ripper, our precious bodily fluids. The ad is exactly the same kind of reactionary drivel I thought was a relic of the Reagan years. (And as you read on, you’ll find that’s exactly its provenance.) To take its claims at face value, you’d think America was a real life version of a Halo 3 deathmatch, with maddened gun-packin’ teenagers running around wantonly blasting away at everyone and everything in sight (that is, when they aren’t gang-raping each other silly). It’s a lunatic Heironymous Bosch view of reality that, more than anything, reflects the utter, paralyzing fear under which religious conservatives live their lives. Or…is it just cynical manipulation run by dishonest, sleazy, exploitive hucksters to raise cash from those among the public susceptible to such easy manipulation?

The ad is a veritable smorgasbord of fallacies and irrationalism. It purports to offer evidence of the alleged brainwashing effects of violent and explicit media in sidebars with the header “The Truth”. Whenever wingnuts use the word “truth,” and especially when they capitalize it, just remember that immortal line from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The “Truth” presented here takes the form of sensationalist headlines. “Police say 13-year-old molested girl after seeing sex on TV.” Egad. Well, what police? Where? Which 13-year-old? When? Oh, you want these claims backed up? Sorry. They don’t do that here. None of these headlines is sourced, which one would think would be a bottom-rung criterion for credibility. It’d sure help persuade me to the cause if, say, “Judge says film influenced boy to kill 2-year-old” was followed by “Such-and-Such Gazette, Month, Day, Year.” Otherwise, how do I know this is the truth? Oh, I see. It says so in the header.

The ad was placed by some outfit calling itself the Parents and Grandparents Alliance. There is no website URL printed in the ad, which immediately struck me as curious, especially in a day and age when everybody and his hamster and his hamster’s mice has, at the very least, a fucking MySpace if not blog or full-on website. Quick Googlage revealed a webpage at, which is little more than an anemic version of the kind of hysteria featured in the newspaper ad. I say anemic because the ad actually featured denser content. But the format, particularly the use of unsourced alleged headlines as “evidence,” is no different. The web page, however, does feature a photo of has-been fundie crooner Pat Boone. You know, for street cred.

To find out what the Parents and Grandparents Alliance actually is, I had to check out this page at Sourcewatch, which reveals it’s an offshoot of Accuracy in Media, the right-wing media watchdog group run by Reed Irvine until his death in 2004. AIM began running these ads as far back as 2001 in the New York Times. Apparently it’s taken them six years to climb down the newspaper food chain to the Austin American-Statesman. Accuracy in Media has been doing its thing since 1969.

Since Google is fun, I thought I’d do a little more digging. But first, it’s interesting to note the difference in presentation between the website and AIM’s own. The latter looks stately, journalistic and professional, while the former employs bright primary colors and blazing, 48-point headlines full of emotionally overwrought language. (Content-wise, they’re equally full of shit.) And while says it’s not a fund-raising ad, the newspaper ad itself most definitely is, with a clip-out donations coupon at the bottom extolling all the parents and grandparents they hope they’ve terrified to “send in the ‘Outraged Citizens Petition’… You don’t need to send in any money to have your Petition added to the number we report. But we beg you to help. These ads cost up to $20,000 and more each. This is a grass roots campaign.”

Horseshit. It’s an establishment campaign. AIM’s corporate donors include Mobil Oil and Union Carbide, which no doubt reflects the organization’s global warming denialism. Neocon gazillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife gave AIM $2 million over a 20 year period, until he was embarrassed by the right’s failed attempt to concoct a bogus murder allegation against Bill Clinton in the case of Vince Foster’s suicide (a situation in which Irvine and AIM were major players). AIM has been responsible for a number of other vicious and wholly false wingnut smears, such as vilifying Walter Cronkite as a “Soviet dupe,” falsely accusing a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter of fabricating a story on a massacre in Kosovo (another source here), and getting another NYT reporter fired for reporting on the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador in 1981.

So far from being a “grass roots” anything, AIM and its bogus sockpuppets like the “Parents and Grandparents Alliance” are really tools of the entrenched neocon plutocracy. (Hey, how’s that for agitprop language!?) Since violent and sexy entertainment continues to be released and continues to meet with public approval (this ad hit the Statesman the same week that American Gangster was the #1 movie, with $80 million in ticket sales so far), it seems to me that Irvine’s successors at his “watchdog” group aren’t really lying awake nights over the thousands upon thousands of imaginary children who are running rampant, raping and pillaging after an all-night World of Warcraft marathon. It’s only when they need to get those donations rolling in, the ones they claim amount to 75% of their operating budget, that they sprinkle these fearmongering ads out among Bible Belt newspapers.

Thus it’s on the meager, hard-earned paychecks of the great unwashed — cowering in terror over the thought of a meth-hopped, FPS-addicted sk8er off his ritalin crashing through their front doors to chainsaw them into hamburger in an orgy of liberal-media-feuled lust and carnage — that AIM can pay to libel and defame their ideological and political opponents in their own neocon-friendly press.

Now who are the outraged citizens?

(For another detailed AIM critique, go here.)

This Tuesday: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Yes, I know things have been quiet around here for several days, but rest assured I’m about to be doing a lot of catch-up blogging this week. But for starters, I wanted to alert everyone to this week’s upcoming episode of PBS’s venerable Nova, a two-hour special about the Dover trial entitled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Barbara Forrest, who was in town at the beginning of the month, is among the experts prominently featured in it, and at least one review I’ve read assures us it will be a solid pro-science piece dealing in the facts and nothing but the facts, without the lame style of “he said, she said” reportage that masquerades as “fair and balanced” “journalism” in the post-Fox world. So check your listings.

And I have a favor to ask of our readers. I won’t be in a position to watch it Tuesday night. So if anyone can TiVO it/tape it/burn it to DVD/post it to Google or YouTube, please let me know. I really can’t wait to see it and I’m bummed I’ll be nowhere near a television Tuesday night. Thanks in advance!

Barbara Forrest: the evolution of creationism

Barbara Forrest’s talk last night was nothing short of brilliant, a wonderfully concise and entertaining summation not only of the Dover trial, but of the shenanigans and institutionalized dishonesty and sleaze of the whole creationist movement since it began to get really politically active in the 1980’s. What stood out most to me was how she described the way the ID movement, having been dealt a decisive body blow in Dover, has, in quintessential Darwinian fashion, adapted to its circumstances and is now presenting a new face to the public. Now even a number of ID proponents and old fashioned creos are disdaining the term “Intelligent Design.” Dan McLeroy, the creationist who was just appointed to head the Texas State Board of Education, has actually said in newspaper interviews that ID should not be taught in classrooms because it is not supported by a scientific consensus.

But…don’t get too smug and complacent, Forrest warned. The ID movement is now talking in code. They’re simply recycling old creationist buzzwords from the 80’s and redressing them to reflect what we’re all supposed to think is a more moderate, conciliatory, even pro-science stance. They talk about “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution; in the same interview, after distancing himself from ID, McLeroy criticizes current science textbooks for not presenting the “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory well enough. (Which, of course, means they don’t talk about God enough.) They’re chanting the mantra of “teach the controversy,” a phrase designed to persude the scientifically illiterate general public that there must be some raging controversy within the sciences regarding evolution. Sure, there are controversies within biology regarding evolution. But the idea that evolution doesn’t happen and has never happened in the first place ain’t one of ’em.

So one can never let one’s guard down around the creos. It behooves proponents of good science to remember that these are not people motivated by a sincere thirst for knowledge and desire to learn all they can about the world around them, all the while keeping to an “open-minded” attitude that the scientific mainstream, they say, doesn’t share. No, these are religious ideologues who see science as a threat to their cherished beliefs. They fear science because, as creo-godfather Phillip Johnson has repeatedly claimed, if there’s no invisible magic man in the sky ready to hand them eternal life and other shiny shinies as a reward for their godly virtue, then life itself can’t have any meaning. You and I know that’s rubbish. But it’s a powerful set of psychological and emotional shackles with which to chain someone. And it’s difficult to break those chains, especially when the chained individual doesn’t realize they’re chained and fears being freed.

Having read such enjoyable Dover accounts as Monkey Girl and 40 Days and 40 Nights, I’m now eagerly curling up with Forrest’s Creationism’s Trojan Horse! I think you should, too. To the creos I say, bring it! You’re no longer fooling anyone but yourselves, and we’re ready for whatever the latest set of lies you choose to trot out might be.

Friday in Austin: Barbara Forrest, Creationism’s Trojan Horse

The fine folks at CFI-Austin are sponsoring a talk tomorrow night from 7-9 p.m. by Barbara Forrest, one of the authors of Creationism’s Trojan Horse. Forrest has been active in the front lines of the ID wars, and she’ll be talking about her participation in the Dover trial as well as giving an overview of the whole ID movement. Should be excellent! It all takes place at the Monarch Event Center, Suite 3100, 6406 North IH-35 in Austin. That’s just north of 290/2222, on the west side of 35, in the shopping center where the World Gym is. Miss it not if supporting proper science education matters to you.

At the National Center for Science Education website, you can read this piece by Forrest about her role in Kitzmiller.

Letter from hell!

Over on GodTube, Pharyngula has pointed out this video of a letter by a kid in hell.

Yes, it’s a dramatic reading of a fictional young unbeliever about to get tortured forever. As Martin likes to put it: “Torture porn.”

You know, we frequently use the words “tortured forever” on the AE TV show. As in: “The central doctrine of Christianity is that you must freely worship God or else be tortured forever.” Frequently, we are criticized by kinder, gentler Christians for being melodramatic. Silly atheist, they say — nobody really believes in a god who tortures people forever. Hell is a metaphor. Read some C.S. Lewis.

No, actually I’m fairly certain that a great many mainstream Christians believe what’s in the video. That when I die, I’m going to be missing from this “book of life” and then roughed up by angelic thugs who proceed to hurl me into a quite literal lake of fire — in a world that’s “crystal clear, even more real than my life on earth.”

What I don’t get is this. Based on the sound effects and the spooky fonts, this video is clearly intended to be disturbing, and it’s targeted at Christians. But why should Christians be disturbed? Sure, maybe they should have done more to help their friend who is now in hell. But in the end, the friend was sent to hell because he deserved it. If he didn’t deserve it, then God, being merciful and all-powerful, wouldn’t have put him there. So shouldn’t a True Christian™ be celebrating the torment that his friend is now experiencing?