Evolution may favor religious diversity, but the tail does not wag the fish.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bush Simplifies as Iraqi Goals Diminish

News Analysis: For Bush, Smaller Goals in Iraq-New York Times:
"I want our folks to remember our own constitution was not unanimously received" [Mr. Bush] said, comparing the fractious debates in Iraq to those among America's founders.
Using familiar phrasing from his last two public speeches to bolster slipping support for the Iraq War and anxieties over the constitutional process, Mr. Bush continued to apply simplistic rhetoric. Commenting on Dexter Filkins's coverage last week of the progress and Mr. Bush's speeches, I wrote NYT the following letter:

"We had a little trouble with our own conventions writing a constitution," Dexter Filkins (NYT 8/24/05) quotes President Bush as commenting on the Iraqi constitutional drafting process. But surely the President must realize how inadequate his analogy is. We did not write our constitution after a foreign army invasion overthrew an incumbent tyrant and became occupiers. Additional comparisons of Iraqi progress to American democracy and freedom must similarly be diminished by such a simplistic view.

Steven R. Wiseman's current news analysis quoted above, notes the administration's lack of commentary regarding the potential diminshing of Iraqi women's rights along with issues of federalism and concludes with a similar sentiment: "What [Mr. Bush] left out of his analogy is that while the Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia was convening, there was not an insurgency in the countryside that seemed to be growing because of disaffection with the political process."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Iraqis forward, Bush steps back

Iraqi Parliament Awaits Constitution-[Guardian]:
"The Kurds demand federalism to protect their self-rule in three northern provinces. Sunni Arabs oppose that, fearing Kurds want to declare independence. Shiites are divided, with factions supporting federalism wanting to build a Shiite region in the south."
Faltering on the first deadline for adopting a consitution, the Iraqi government worked feverishly against a Monday midnight deadline to produce a consensus draft. But the document being submitted lacks the backing of the Suuni minority, begging the case of its legitimacy, threatening its ability to be ratified in October, and perhaps fueling further the disaffection of the insurgency.

Meanwhile, President Bush rehearsed and rehashed old remarks in his first major address following his summer-long vacation escape in Crawford, Texas. Nearby, anti-war protester had set up a pilgrimage camp and site for much of this same period in support of Cindy Sheehan, a bereaved mother who lost her son in the early days of the Iraq War.

As time has passed, the rationale for invading Iraq has been debunked and dismissed, leaving President Bush with nothing but repeating hackneyed maxims to vetted and supporter-friendly audiences, while the nation smolders in the last days of summer before returning to Washington business.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Herndon Day Labor Site: Response

Herndon Gets It Right - [Washington Post]:

"The proposed day-laborer center is not the problem; it is a response to a condition created by an unrealistic federal policy that offers visas to no more than 10,000 unskilled workers a year when the jobs available number many times that. Stepped-up enforcement isn't necessarily the answer: Immigration should not be under the purview of local police, and federal authorities have come to the reasonable conclusion that raiding parking lots where immigrants gather to seek gainful employment need not be a priority."
I received an unsigned, irate, handwritten, and somewhat verbally profane letter in response to my LTE. To be generous, the most interesting point the writer made was that day laborers work at menial jobs that Americans don't want to do precisely because there are day laborers cheaply available. But this system is inherently elitist and enslaving.
Unfortunately this apparent moral concern was sandwiched between profanity and anger at increases in property taxes "going to school illegals and build schools for them"[sic] and having "to pay for their health costs and keeping them in prisons." The writer concluded with the forecast that "one day soon we will be in the minority and fall like Rome did."
To be fair, the writer missed the actual point of my LTE and was speaking to the larger issue of immigration and his thoughts on the matter. And it seemed he simply wanted to make the point that I was either a "dumb ass" or "f-king ignorant."
There is much I could say, but the writer did not offer me the opportunity to respond in similar fashion. So I'll simply make two points. First, when I have something of value to say to someone, I provide my name. Second, my letter was worth publishing in the Washington Post and is amplified by the Washington Post Editorial cited above.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Border War Even In Upscale Smalltown

Herndon Approves Day Labor Center: [Washington Post]

"We want a secure site, because our lives are in danger when the contractors leave us on the road,' Eric Arauz said through an interpreter. 'We are honest workers, not criminals, like they say."

The contentious vote in Herndon over whether to build a site for day-laborers passed 5-2 in what was considered to be the closest and toughest to decide issue for this town of 22,000, where foreign born residents now make up 38%. A similiar issue faced other Fairfax county locales in the past which also decided to build day-laborer sites.

Sterling, of Loudoun County, which borders the proposed site, also weighed in recently on the debate. Opponents argued that using tax dollars for construction amounted to supporting illegal immigration because many of the undocumented workers are in the country illegally. With an upcoming gubernatorial race, Republicans were also trying to paint supporters as "soft on crime", in an ill-conceived move they tried to distance themselves from later. Supporters chose to view local issues of public safety and human rights as their primary task and not the problem of immigration, which is a federal issue.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cardinal Schönborn not Representative of Catholic Depth of Tradition

'Intelligent' Design?: [Commonweal]
"As I told my atheist friend, it is a mistake to equate randomness with meaninglessness. Darwin himself was troubled by the apparent cruelty and heartlessness of the process, and this led him, as it has led others, to reject the idea of a beneficent God. "

Writing in this month's Commoweal, John Garvey notes where there is "voodoo economics", intelligent design is dubbed as "karaoke science." It isn't even biblical, but harps back to a deist view of God, a God of the gaps that's convenient for simple faith and of no consequence to science, but hardly the biblically close and confounding God of Hebrew scripture or the New Testament transcendent mystery encoutered in the word made flesh.

John Haught's Darwin & the Cardinal, also in this month's Commonweal, points out the all too familiar refrain that intelligent design is both bad science and bad theology. It "sets back the dialogue of religion and science" by conflating the two disciplines and does a disservice in the process to the Catholic view of reason and faith.

Has the Church changed it's position on evolution, writes Haught, "In a word, no."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Confusionism: Creation Science and Religious Redux

Design for Confusion [New York Times]

"Even when reporters do know the difference, the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying that knowledge to readers. I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, 'Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth.' The headlines on many articles about the intelligent design controversy come pretty close."
Paul Krugman's joke in his Op-Ed aside, he traces a parallel scenario where think tanks rose to dominance to challenge traditional peer reviewed scientific research with ideologically driven policy advocacy. In this process, simply creating enough public doubt enables a certain kind of validity to the opposing view. For example, global warming, which has mainstream scientific consensus, has been pushed off the public table of acceptance by "conservative think tanks, which produce and promote skeptical reports that look like peer-reviewed research, but aren't."
Creation science, Krugman claims, "was too crude" to work in its dissent of evolutionary theory. But the latest version of "intelligent design" may be enough to bring the assent of the religious right along with the financing of ideologically driven groups who want to challenge Darwin's science. But nobody seems terribly concerned that you can't MAKE your own science any more than you can make yourself be right.

Religious believers and scientist know that very well. You'd have to think like a tank (or be a think tank) to think you know better.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mixed Visions of the Divine and Inhuman

Sprinkling Holy Water on 'The Da Vinci Code' [New York Times]

'The phrase I heard used several times was 'Passion dollars'; they want to try to get 'The Passion' dollars if they can,' said Ms. Nicolosi, referring to her conversations about the film. 'They're wrong,' she added. 'It's sacrilegious, irreligious. They're thinking they can ride the 'Passion' wave with this. And I said, 'Are you kidding me?'
Barbara Nicolosi, executive director of Act One, comments on the ongoing process to bring The Da Vinci Code to the movie screen. Act One, a non-profit that helps train people of faith for professional careers in film and tv, was one such group approached by the movie's producers to help soften the edges on potential controversies arising from the novel.
Hackles have been raised, for example, from the book's central premise that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child, who was to be Jesus' legitimate heir, but this act was kept secret by the ensuing Catholic church which instituted a male-dominated hierarchy in its place. Opus Dei, a conservative Roman Catholic group, raised concerns about its largely negative depiction in the novel. And finally, there were the general concerns that people might strongly form their opinions about religion around a work of fiction.
While I cannot discern all of Ms. Nicolosi's setiments from the closing article quote above, like her, I think we are kidding ourselves. But just so we're clear: misrepresenting history in the name of personal religious passion and improperly depicting Jews in the process was basically OK for devout christian groups in a wide spectrum of fervor. It was perhaps the unfortunate history we were used to committing on each other. But now, there are worries about "What will they think of us?"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Labor of Birth

Woman kept alive in hopes of saving baby: [USA TODAY]

ARLINGTON, Va. - A 26-year-old pregnant woman with cancer whose brain function ceased last month is being kept alive with a respirator in hopes she can have a very premature baby who has a chance to survive.

In what has been characterized by some as a reverse Terri Schiavo case, Jason Torres, a devout Catholic from Arlington, VA has kept Susan, his brain dead wife, on life-support. She was 17 weeks pregnant at the time and collapsed suddenly due to cancer. Twenty-four weeks is the earliest point that doctors give a baby a reasonable chance of survival outside the womb. But every passing day in this case also risked cancer spreading to the baby.

Unlike the Schiavo case, relations between Mr. Torres and Susan's parents are amicable. They've sat bedside with Mr. Torres, including his most recent Father's Day with his first son, Pete.

The Susan M. Torres Fund was created to accept donations to help Mr. Torres cover the increased medical expenses from this ordeal. A flash interview with Mr. Torres is also available.

I have followed this story for my own reasons of interest and am happy to report from AP News, that in additon to knowing that the National Zoo has a new Panda Boy, Susan Ann Catherine Torres entered the world at 8:18 am this past Tuesday morning. Her mother gave birth to a girl measuring 13 1/2 inches and weighing one pound 13 ounces. This places the birth at roughly 27 weeks.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Roberts's Faith: Time to Speak Up

Why It's Right to Ask About Roberts's Faith: [Washington Post]
"Conservatives typically praise religious activism on abortion and homosexuality but dismiss liberal clerics who offer theological insights on economics or social spending. Liberals love preachers to speak out for civil rights and economic justice. But they see 'a church-state problem' the instant anyone in the clergy speaks out for vouchers or against abortion and stem cell research."
E.J. Dionne, Jr. writing an editorial for the Post notes that there is a contradictory squeamishness about raising one's religious beliefs in the public sphere. Typically, the duplicitousness is OK, if it helps you or if it can be used against your opponents, but not if the tables get turned.

Frankly, it makes perfect sense to me that one ought to be able to "make an account of the hope within you" without the necessary expectation that this will make you "win." Religious views ought not to be the sword we use to slay the infidel, nor the albatross that drags down, or the club that is used to beat an opponent. A truly appreciative listening and deliberation of one's beliefs ought to be tolerated and respected for the insight it offers into a human being and his or her perspective on their own human condition.

Clearly, a secular Left, a materialist capitalist nation, or triumphalistic Right is incapable of understanding that measure of insight and civil decency. And thus, under cover of religious belief or as far as we can distance ourselves from it, we make more and more obvious how inept and hypocritical we are. Issues of conscience are not simply to be protected by the silence of privacy. They are also supposed to be celebrated publicly by the measure of respect and serious consideration we give them.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Roberts Nomination: What's around the bend?

The Fight Behind the Fight: [Washington Post]
Kim Gandy, president of NOW noted that of the some 200 court appointments by Pres. Bush, none are pro-choice. She argues further that "not just abortion but a whole range of issues -- from Title IX, to affirmative action, to property rights, to birth control, to the Americans with Disabilities Act -- is at stake based on whether Bush's nominee considers himself a strict constructionist by Bush's standard. And because many key issues were decided on a 5 to 4 basis, with the departing Sandra Day O'Connor often the swing vote, much is at stake if Roberts's confirmation
changes the ideological bent of the court.
Most people, however, agree abortion won't be one of the key issues. The court is solidly 6 to 3 in favor of Roe v. Wade; at most, Roberts's confirmation could make it 5 to 4. Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, it doesn't make abortion illegal; it would merely allow each state to make its own laws regarding abortion"

With a recess appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations, Iraqis on track for drafting their constitution, Karl Rove out of the headlines, and some last minute accomplishments before the August Recess, the news from home is that nothing tremendously earth shaking has rumbled out of the Bush Agenda. But if history is any indicator, it's probably because this is just a terribly long SNAFU run.