Hey, is this another Circus of the Spineless?

Remember these names when Alito screws us over. These are the ones who didn’t even try to stop him.

Akaka, Daniel K. (Coward-HI)

Baucus, Max (Doormat-MT)

Bingaman, Jeff (Toady-NM)

Byrd, Robert C. (Ditherer-WV)

Cantwell, Maria (One-termer-WA)

Carper, Thomas R. (Lickspittle-DE)

Conrad, Kent (Stooge-ND)

Dorgan, Byron L. (Loser-ND)

Inouye, Daniel K. (Pawn-HI)

Johnson, Tim (Milksop-SD)

Kohl, Herb (Flunky-WI)

Landrieu, Mary L. (Parasite-LA)

Lieberman, Joseph I. (Sycophant-CT)

Lincoln, Blanche L. (Puppet-AR)

Nelson, Bill (Candy-ass-FL)

Nelson, E. Benjamin (Lowlife-NE)

Pryor, Mark L. (Chicken-AR)

Rockefeller, John D., IV (Weasel-WV)

Salazar, Ken (Dissembler-CO)

(Actually, it’s very unkind of me to compare these wimps to invertebrates. I like invertebrates.)

Miscellaneous Dawkinsiana

I sat down and watched both episodes of Dawkins’ series, The Root of All Evil? this weekend (because I can!), and I have to say…I liked it very much. I’ve already commented on the first episode, and if you want to know what’s in the second, Dawkins himself has an editorial that summarizes the main points: the pattern of indoctrination of children, the kneejerk rejection of honest criticism, the spreading corruption of education by dogma. It was marvelous to see it all laid out lucidly, in a tidy 50 minute spot. (Hmmm, just the right length that if I wanted to “infuse religion in student learning”, it would fit perfectly in a lecture hour…)

I’ve heard a few complaints about the show. Some point out that Ted Haggard and that Muslim bucket o’ hate on the first episode aren’t really representative of the religious; I have to disagree. They are common enough that they represent many millions of assertive, politically active religious people, and Haggard is regarded as a leader by a large community—Dawkins did not seek out outré Theodore Kaczynski types and prop them up to stand for a majority that detests them. In the second episode, we also meet some other religious types who aren’t as pathologically vile as the fellows in the first, but are more foolishly ignorant—and that’s appropriate to the message that the religious are not evil, but are victims of a pernicious cultural atmosphere that perpetuates ignorance.

I’ve also heard the show dismissed as “preaching to the converted”…which I think is roughly 180° misdirected. If I have any complaints, it is that I am not the audience for the show—what he said was nothing I haven’t thought myself for years. The target audience is actually that great mass of people out there who have never heard a peep of that great body of secular criticism of religion. Seriously, most Americans can go through their lives hearing nothing but repetitive paeans of praise for the virtues of religious life; The Root of All Evil? is one of those too-rare attempts to reach out to the uninformed and explain the freethinker’s argument against religion (unfortunately, the devout seem to be too enraptured with this ‘faith’ nonsense to understand—we just need to repeat our message loudly and with more variations, I hope, and it will sink in). I think it is also prompting some interesting discussion among infamous atheists, so the show is doing its job…don’t judge it by the thickheadedness of the blinkered god-botherers.

I hope the show picks up a sponsor willing to show it here in the states. The hue and cry it would elicit would be extremely entertaining, and I’m sure it would get tremendous amounts of publicity, denunciations, shouts of “Heresy!”, etc., etc., etc. But it would also expose a great many people to a point of view that has been closed off to them.

Oh, and by the way, Dawkins has a diary online. It’s not clear whether this is a one-shot deal or not, and it has a rather stream-of-consciousness feel to it. I was thinking that if it were broken up into a couple of entries, it would look just like a weblog. Somebody get Dawkins a blog, quick! Hey, Seed Media, have you considered approaching Richard Dawkins to see if he’d like some space here?

That’s some law, that Patriot Act

It’s got everything a fascist dictator might want in a law.

A new provision tucked into the Patriot Act bill now before Congress would allow authorities to haul demonstrators at any “special event of national significance” away to jail on felony charges if they are caught breaching a security perimeter.

[The] measure…would extend the authority of the Secret Service to allow agents to arrest people who willingly or knowingly enter a restricted area at an event, even if the president or other official normally protected by the Secret Service isn’t in attendance at the time.

(via Nathan Newman)

Required reading

I am an addict

I gave up on caffeine this past summer—I actually cut it off cold turkey for a good long while. I’m backsliding a bit now, though, just because my early morning teaching schedule has me feeling mostly exhausted all the time (I hope I adjust soon).

This new blog, Smelling the Coffee, is not helping. Even the title is driving me nuts. I’ll probably pop in to the coffee shop in town this afternoon, but I’ll settle for mere decaf.

Pablum for the masses

An Angry professor led me to an article on Inside Higher Ed, which discusses a document by the Wingspread Conference by the Society for Values in Higher Education (pdf). I knew when I saw the word “Values” up there that I was in for some platitudinous academe-speak slathered around a set of bland pieties, and I was. Poking around on their website, I see that the Society for Values in Higher Education seems to consist of a lot of well-meaning and rather wordy types who see religion as an important “value” to inculcate in higher education—a nest of those liberal Christians everyone tells me I’m supposed to appreciate more, I think.

I think I’d like them much more if they’d just practice their religion, and stop telling me it’s so important to get their sanctity into my classrooms and politics.

We recognize and value the contributions of religious studies scholars and programs at many universities, yet they alone cannot achieve these objectives. We challenge colleges and universities to examine their courses and curricula to put into practice new ways to educate students about religion’s dimensions and influence. Students must learn the relevance of religion to all disciplines – sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences – and the professions.

Sciences? What, exactly, am I supposed to tell my students about the relevance of religion to biology? I suppose I could tell them that it has been a corrupting influence, that dogma, revealed knowledge, and obeisance to authority are the antithesis of scientific ideals, and that religion has an astonishingly bad track record on scientific issues. I could sit down with them and tell them to apply a little critical thinking to their favorite religious myths, and I could give extra credit to everyone who rejects organized religion.

But no.

I already know that that particular rational point of view is not what they are looking for, and I’m sure it’s not what the SVHE is thinking of—they want only respectful comments about religion. Different points of view are welcome, but only as long as they reinforce religious indoctrination. Take a look at what they really want:

Higher education must direct more attention to teacher education. American public schools avoid the study of religion partly because it is viewed as too controversial and also because of the scarcity of adequately trained teachers, texts, and tested curricula. Of primary importance is the need to train teachers to infuse religion in student learning without overstepping First Amendment freedoms and limitations.

That emphasis is mine. I find that a repellent suggestion.

It has a whiff of that old Indian school mentality about it—”if only we teach them White Christian values, they’ll abandon their savage, heathenish ways”—there’s that implicit assumption that their way is the only way, that religion needs to be smuggled into the classroom (carefully, carefully, though—mustn’t break the letter of the law!), that others lack values. They want to insert virtue into the university, their religious values are the path to virtue, therefore, they must teach religion. Hey, why not teach virtue without the contradictory nonsense of religion?

Higher education must foster a spirit of tolerance and actively champion an attitude of mutual respect and affirmation of the value of pluralism in a democracy without implicitly or explicitly privileging secular-rational worldviews or particular religious perspectives in the search for truth.

Here’s a translation from religious speak: “respect and affirmation” means “you aren’t allowed to poke holes in my ridiculous ideas.” Promotion of religion doesn’t mean letting students pray or practice their faith—they’re already fully allowed to do that as they will—but protecting weak ideas from the inquiry and skepticism that is supposed to be the natural environment of the university. We already mollycoddle everyone’s religious beliefs enough in this country.

And I’m sorry, but I will privilege the secular-rational worldview. It works. It provides the tools we need to work towards the truth, and is central to the role of the university. Religion already claims to have the truth—too bad it’s wrong.

And guess what? You can be a practicing Christian or Muslim or whatever, and still adopt the secular-rational worldview. Our problem, I think, is with those religious people with the strange idea that praising Jesus requires a rejection of rationality and secularism.

The study of religion and its public relevance is a crucial dimension to liberal education for all students that should be pursued in ways that affirm academic freedom, intellectual inquiry, and reason. It should never compromise rational discourse on campus nor should it subvert knowledge attained through disciplinary inquiry. Challenges to disciplinary or professional knowledge and practice should be raised through reasoned debate and academically accepted methods that enrich student learning.

This is just wrong—it’s not crucial in the sense they imply at all. Sure, it should be studied as a slice of history or sociology, like we study the Black Plague, wars, and the afflictions of drug abuse; an atheist can study religion, no problem. But that’s not what this group wants. They want religion on a pedestal, as an implicitly desirable attribute in our students, and they want to inculcate religious beliefs in our students.

I reject that. If they want faculty to “infuse religion in student learning”, they’re going to get my uncompromising views as well as the soppy views of the indoctrinated. Do they really want to open that door?

(Maybe they do. I know I’m outnumbered; maybe they’d welcome an opportunity to actively suppress freethought.)

Just say “no” to stupid surveys

I was not alone in receiving a silly survey from an ID creationist: Tara, Mike, John, and Wesley all got it, and all rejected its premise. I’m joining in the universal dismissal. If you’re curious, I’ve put the “survey” below the fold, but here’s my answer.

  1. A. Insert thumbs in ears.
  2. B. Flap hands.
  3. C. Cross eyes.
  4. D. Make loud raspberry sound.

P.S. Now the guy is whining that the “defenders of science” refuse to participate in his “scientific” survey, failing to note that our complaint is that it is not scientific in any way…and as expected, he’s turning any response into an excuse to berate his pro-science sample.

[Read more…]

Bob Woodruff: one among many

The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 61 reporters killed in Iraq, 13 killed by the US.

Iraq, the most dangerous place for journalists in 2005, also became the deadliest conflict for the media in CPJ’s 24-year history. A total of 60 journalists have been killed on duty in Iraq from the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 through the end of 2005. The toll surpasses the 58 journalists killed in the Algerian conflict from 1993 to 1996.

Reporters without borders lists 79 dead.

I wonder if this recent serious wounding of Bob Woodruff will finally make people notice?