The ugliness of racism

A homeowner in Missouri put up a Halloween display on their front yard (visible even to motorists going by on interstate I-55) that consisted of a robed and hooded Ku Klux Klan figure standing next to an effigy of a black man hanging from a noose. He seemed to feel that his display showed “white pride”.

What is disturbing about this is not that some people have such attitudes. We surely know that such people exist and will always be among us. What is disturbing is that it is a throwback to an undesirable past when ugly manifestations of racism were blatant and overt. If such incidents start to become more common, it will not reflect well on the political climate that is developing in this country.

New WikiLeaks release

As anticipated, Wikileaks has released over 400,000 new secret documents, this time on the Iraq war. The Guardian report on the leaks says that it has new revelations of deaths and abuses of Iraqis.

As predicted, the anti-Wikileaks propaganda has begun, with the Pentagon saying: “This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed. Our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment.”

We should bear in mind that similar alarms raised after the previous leaks proved to be highly overblown.

More on the Juan Williams firing

As I have said before, my delight with the firing of Juan Williams was simple. I thought he was a lousy journalist and I was glad not to have to listen to him anymore. But Jason Linkins captures why the firing was so unusual and it is not because of free speech issues:

Yesterday, NPR cashiered correspondent Juan Williams for doing something that had hitherto never been considered an offense in media circles: defaming Muslims. Up until now, you could lose your job for saying intemperate things about Jews and about Christians and about Matt Drudge. You could even lose a job for failing to defame Muslims. But we seem to be in undiscovered country at the moment.

Glenn Greenwald explains that some are expressing outrage because creating anti-Muslim fear is their goal and the NPR action has threatened their drive towards it by making it seem as if bigotry towards Muslims should be treated the same way as bigotry towards any other group.

The double standard in our political discourse — which tolerates and even encourages anti-Muslim bigotry while stigmatizing other forms — has been as beneficial as it has been glaring. NPR’s firing of Juan Williams threatened to change that by rendering this bigotry as toxic and stigmatized as other types. That could not be allowed, which is why the backlash against NPR was so rapid, intense and widespread. I’m not referring here to those who object to viewpoint-based firings of journalists in general and who have applied that belief consistently: that’s a perfectly reasonable view to hold (and one I share). I’m referring to those who rail against NPR’s actions by invoking free expression principles they plainly do not support and which they eagerly violate whenever the viewpoint in question is one they dislike. For most NPR critics, the real danger from Williams’ firing is not to free expression, but to the ongoing fear-mongering campaign of defamation and bigotry against Muslims (both foreign and domestic) that is so indispensable to so many agendas.

That sounds right to me.

James Wolcott has his usual droll but accurate take on the event. He points out that Williams can now fully be the kind of person that Fox News loves, the minority who panders to white resentment by validating their stereotypes about minorities, saying “Well, clearly that day has come and such a relief it must be for Williams, able to capitulate to conservative middle-aged white men without having to fret about whatever flak he might get back home at NPR.”

Gen fight at the Baptist corral

A battle has broken out in the genteel world of Baptist theology over the proper understanding of the book of Genesis.

It began with the publication in 2009 of the book The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World by William Dembski. Dembski’s name will be a familiar to those who followed the controversy over so-called ‘intelligent design’ (ID) because he was one of their key leaders. He is a clever and well-educated man, a glutton for formal education whose bio says he has a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, a Ph.D. in philosophy, a doctorate in mathematics, and a master of divinity degree. Much of his work during the ID debates was aimed at producing mathematical and statistical arguments for god using information and complexity theories. He is also a prolific writer, churning out books and papers at a prodigious rate, which made him a moving target. By the time scientists and mathematicians had analyzed his latest book and pointed out flaws in his arguments, he would have a new book out where he would claim that he had addressed them.
[Read more…]

Physicists and climate change

In 2007, the American Physical Society issued a short but strong statement stating that the evidence for global warming is incontrovertible. It is no secret that there is a very small but vocal minority within the APS membership that disputes the idea that global warming has a significant human-based cause and who were upset with the APS’s strong stand. Because of the fuss they created, the APS issued a longer clarifying statement in 2010 providing some context and the basis of their reasoning. Both statements can be read here.

A minor kerfuffle has now broken out because a physicist named Hal Lewis has resigned from the American Physical Society in protest at its stance on climate change. (Thanks to Chaz for the link.)

I am not sure why it is significant when a retired 87-year old physicist whose work during his research career had nothing to do with climate change resigns from the APS in protest. He is not a ‘top’ physicist in that although I do not doubt that is competent in his specialized field and known within it, I would guess that most physicists have not heard of him. The claim in some global warming skeptic circles that Lewis’s resignation letter is the equivalent of Martin Luther nailing his theses to the church door that sparked the Protestant reformation is laughable. I predict that it will not cause even a ripple within the physics community.

Lewis is not like Freeman Dyson, for example, another 87-year old physicist who is also a global warming skeptic. Although he too has no background in climate science, at least Dyson is very well known among physicists and any theoretical physicist in any field around the world would likely know his name and have some awareness of his work.

I agree with Lewis that money is having a negative effect in general in that it may be distorting the direction of research, but there is no evidence to support his charge that it has influenced the APS’s stance on climate change.

The APS has issued a statement in response to the Lewis resignation.

Lynn Anderson sings I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

I always thought that the lyrics must have emerged as the result of a contest to see who could pack the most number of clichés, trite rhymes, corny ideas, and hackneyed metaphors into a single song. “Smile for a while and let’s be jolly, love shouldn’t be so melancholy”? Really?

I was astounded when it became a huge hit, even in Sri Lanka, and won all kinds of awards.

Faith healing and me

In yesterday’s post and earlier I have expressed my fury with parents who let their children suffer and die because they withheld medical care, believing that their faith will heal the child. P. Z. Myers documents some other abuses inflicted by parents on children. Such acts are nothing short of criminal because they sacrifice the health and even the life of a child on the altar of parental superstition. There is no evidence that faith healers can do what they claim to do and plenty of evidence that they are at best misguided and self-delusional or outright frauds preying on the gullible.
[Read more…]