30 December 2007

Quotation of the Day

Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

27 December 2007

I'm Mad as Hell and I've Lost My Paxil

I spent a bit of this morning reading about a fellow in Lima--this is Lima, Ohio, by the way, here in the good old USA--whose life savings was stolen. Four hundred grand and change. And what are the authorities doing about it? Well, nothing. No, actually it's worse than nothing. The authorities--specifically the FBI--are the ones that stole the money.

Now I want to stress that this guy--Luther Hicks--has not been convicted of any crime. He has not even been charged with any crime. It is the mere fact of his possession of a large sum of money that appears to have excited the interest--might I say the greed?--of the FBI. They have presumed, without any evidence that I know of, and certainly without actually going to the bother of presenting any evidence to a court, that Hicks must have obtained it illegally, and are demanding that he present some sort of evidence to prove that he didn't. That is, they're demanding that he prove a negative, a difficult task at best, to get his money back. This is more anecdotal evidence, anyway, for a sort of crime that has become all-too-common under the bizarre forfeiture laws here in this once-great nation--laws that appear to be unconstitutional on the face of it several times over--violations of due process, excessive fines, unreasonable seizures at the very least.

Now there may well be more to the story; I haven't been able to find out and to be honest I'm not interested. Not unless it involves the presentation of hard evidence to a judge or at least some sort of legal cover. If Luther Hicks has not been convicted of a crime, then agents of the government have no business seizing his assets. Unless he owes back taxes or something of that sort, in which case the IRS should be doing the job. Not that I have any vast sympathy for the IRS approach to ripping people off first, and then asking questions about whether they owed the money, but at least owing money is some kind of excuse. A government lives on taxes; it's not surprising that it reacts to nonpayment like a dog deprived of a bone.

And as if that wasn't bad enough reading the inane comments here pissed me off even more. A certain Thomas writes, apparently seriously, "You are not supposed to have more than $10,000 in cash. Any amount over that and the government has the right to take it unless you fill out the proper currency transfer requests. You break the rules, you lose the money, period, end of discussion." Uh, no, Thomas; it is not illegal to have large amounts of cash on hand in this country. How do you think banks function? Stores? Other businesses? If it represents unreported income or something of that sort--or a payoff for a kidnapping, or the result of extortion, or whatever--then yeah, it can be illegal, though it would be just as illegal if it were in a bank or invested in stocks. An even more idiotic comment comes from a certain Cesar McKinley. In response to somebody who suggested that the NAACP should get involved (Luther Hicks is black), he wrote "They're too busy trying to get a pardon for six thugs who happened to be at a school where a noose was hung before they beat up a random kid." Apparently facts are of no concern to Cesar. What actually happened in the case he's referring to was that a racist kid picked a fight with a black jock and ended up with a black eye and other superficial bruises. (Had this kid actually been set upon by six jocks intent on doing him serious damage--attempted murder as the prosecutor claimed--he would have received some actual injuries, which didn't happen.) This minor schoolyard scuffle got blown up out of proportion by an overzealous prosecutor who appears to have been intent on making political capital from the case, though I don't pretend to know his actual motives. Maybe he was just the racist jerk he appeared to be. Who knows? But if Cesar and Thomas want to sound off, they might do at least a little research on the topics in question before waxing indignant.

And still another fellow pissed me off with this comment: "The '90s called...they want their paradigm back." Whenever I read an alleged joke in this form I hear David Spade's voice. Were these things ever funny? For me these are right up there with "I've heard of [fill in blank] before, but this is ridiculous." For some reason I hear those in Alan Alda's Groucho Marx voice. That's neither here nor there, I suppose, but the formula is tiresome. I'm reminded of an old movie parody, maybe from Humbug, in which a character asks "What language do you speak on this island?" "Here we speak fluent cliché," the native girl replies. If formula follows dysfunction, can misinformation be far behind?

But I digress. That's generous, maybe, in presupposing that I ever had a line of thought to digress from. Another thing--what is this fixation that readers of reason.com seem to have with Ron Paul? I was going to say that I don't get it, but on second thought, maybe I do. With all the unprincipled thugs wandering about, it could be refreshing to see a principled thug. Of course I mistakenly thought Robert Bork had principles, based on inaccurate media accounts, until I took a look at the guy's own words. And actions. If he has principles, they must be made of rubber. At least you know where you stand with Ron Paul. He's done right things for the wrong reasons, and wrong things for the right reasons, but at least most of the time you know where you are with him. Which is a lot more than I can say for some politicians I'm more likely to vote for.

But let me get back to the craziest of the comments at reason.com. A certain Joe at Joe.com (right...) claims to "work for an agency that seizes property under these exact circumstances." (I have my doubts.) "[N]o the us attorney's office," he writes, "nor my agency [whatever that is], would support a ridiculously unjust seizure like that. i don't know all of the facts of this particular case, but there is ALWAYS more than what is published in a simple news blurb." Now I'm not sure what "Joe" means by a "simple news blurb"--there's no such thing--but I'm sure there's more to the case than we've heard. However, as I said above, unless it involves due process or something strongly resembling it I'm just flat not interested. "[F]or all you conspiracy theorists and government haters," he goes on, irrelevantly as far as I can tell, "there has to be a substantial reason to seize that money; the punishment has to fit the crime. it's not as simple as this article makes it seem." But that's the problem with these seizure laws--the punishment does not have to fit the crime, nor does there have to be a substantial reason--or indeed any reason--to seize money. As I've seen in cases that have come to my attention the mere fact of possession of cash is often deemed proof of criminal activity, and it's up the the accused to prove that he is not up to something. If "Joe" has any evidence to support his claims, he ought to have presented it. As it stands his unsupported assertion backed by all the clout of an anonymous "agency" is singularly unconvincing. I'd love to know what his "agency" thinks would justify seizing substantial assets without criminal charges being filed. Still, "Joe" assures us "there is no possible way this seizure would be supported in the manner it is presented in this article." I don't believe it; I've seen too many instances in the real world of houses being seized from elderly grandmothers because a grandchild was growing a pot plant in the basement, and stolen cars seized because the thief used it to pick up a police officer posing as a prostitute to have any conviction that justice, or anything remotely resembling justice, is being served. Oh yeah, there's always supposed recourse--the grandmother can sue her grandchild for the value of the house seized by greedy government officials, or the car-owner can sue the thief for the value of his vehicle. That's justice for you, in some bizarre Humpty-Dumpty sense of the word. Ha. Put up or shut up Mr. "Joe" of the secret police.

Oh yeah, and another one--"Hit & Run-euphemism for moron infestation" writes in response to "Big Nanny"'s comment "If the founding fathers came back to life today...they would get sent straight to Gitmo", "Indeed, because as we all know, the Founding Fathers were notorious for slaughtering innocent civilians and harboring those that did the same." No shit. Has "moron infestation" ever looked into what the Founding Fathers did to win their revolution? Slaughtering civilians and harboring terrorists was indeed part of it. Not pretty, maybe, but history often isn't. I do agree with "moron infestation"'s shot, "The more I read this site, the more I realize it is chock-full of assholes so stupid, they can't tell their ass from a hole in the ground." As asshole-in-chief, he should know.

23 December 2007

That Holiday Spirit Revisited

Hey there, bunky.

You say that you tuned in to your favorite morning radio show and found that it had just been replaced by Don Imus?

And when you went to watch the Dr. Who Christmas special, it was being picketed by a rabid Christian who had apparently confused the Doctor with Jesus?

And then you held open a door for a lady and wished her "Happy Holidays", and she jabbed you in the chest and snapped "This is Christmas and people like you just don't know what that's supposed to mean anymore!"

And you say you got all dressed up as Santa and went to deliver some presents to a children's party and some drug-dealers took a shot at you?

Is that what's on your mind, bunky?

Well put your head down low and take a run at a brick wall, with that dignity and fortitude that says you'll never give up, never give up, never give up that old holiday spirit, no matter who just stole your routine. So this is the old Rational Ranter saying Merry Christmas, and God bless you Eddie Lawrence, wherever you are.

What Propheteth a Man

Alan Jacobs is a professor of English at Wheaton College, and the author of a book on C. S. Lewis (not surprisingly I guess, considering the Wheaton College connection) that I haven't read. He is also the author of a translation of some of the Gnostic gospels that I have at least tasted. Speaking as one who has made his way through many of them in the "original" Coptic, sometimes at excruciating length while sitting in on the Nag Hammadi seminar Tuesday nights at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity (how well I remember those golden evenings so long ago), Jacobs' poetic translations are a considerable improvement not only on the more scholarly translations available, but on the Coptic versions themselves. Of course for the most part we can only guess what the Greek looked like, and maybe they did resemble what Alan Jacobs has made of them in English.

It seems, however, that Jacobs is also no mean parodist. His review of Khalil Gibran's Collected Works in last month's First Things takes the form of a Gibran parody, and is really quite good. An excerpt:

And it is the voice of Sir Laurence
Reading the King James Bible
That I hear within me as I write these words,
Which echo resonates within and bequeaths to me
The Prophetic Strain,
At least as far as you know.
Once that voice enters the mind,
As it does when one has read hundreds and hundreds of pages of Kahlil Gibran,
Its abode is fixed within,
It refuses all notices of eviction,
It continues to loop within the sphere of one’s skull,
An earworm, dread and implacable.

This is sharp, accurate, and funny, and I hope some future Dwight MacDonald will include it in the next definitive parody anthology. The complete review appears here, and is well worth reading. And revisiting, for that matter. I conclude with one further excerpt:

The words I give you now are words of Life, and not Death,
Though I suppose the Prophet would proclaim that Death and Life are the same,
And that only the foolish would divide the two,
The Two which are One.
But He’d be wrong about that, I’m pretty sure.

[Oh, and thanks to Edward Cook at Ralph the Sacred River for turning me on to this.]

22 December 2007

Something Indefensible?

From Bill O'Reilly at Fox News comes a strange report about a teacher presenting his religious views in a public classroom. Preaching, as it were, rather than teaching. Usually O'Reilly seems to have no problem with teachers evangelizing their classes, but in this case he is opposed to it. What is the difference? In this case the teacher in question, James Corbett of Capistrano Valley High, instead of promoting some variety of fundamentalist Christianity in his classroom, is accused of promoting anti-Christianity.

A student in James Corbett's Advanced Placement European History class, Chad Farnan, complains that he "demonstrates a sense of hostility toward religion," which makes his Christian students "feel ostracized and treated as second-class citizens". [source] The student's parents are suing over the issue, demanding that the teacher be fired.


The LATimes reports:

Capistrano Valley High School Principal Tom Ressler described Corbett as a "solid" teacher who has been with the Capistrano Unified School District for more than 15 years. Ressler said Corbett's class was popular among Advanced Placement students and has a high pass rate.
...Teresa Farnan said her suspicions were aroused on the first day of school when her son -- a sophomore honors student required to take Corbett's class for college admission -- asked her whether America was founded on Christian values, which he said his teacher had denied.
"He had learned in the eighth grade that our country was founded by persecuted Christians," said the mother, who describes her family as nondenominational Christian, "so I sent him to school with a tape recorder."
During the next two months, Chad Farnan said, he taped Corbett's lectures with the recorder in plain sight on his backpack.
...Eventually the Farnans contacted Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit organization based in Murrieta dedicated to "protecting religious liberty," a spokeswoman said.
The group filed the lawsuit on the family's behalf, attorney Jennifer Monk said, because it believed Corbett's behavior violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
"The teacher is a representative of the state and the Constitution requires government neutrality toward religion," she said. "This teacher's conduct and words clearly show he is hostile toward religion and is indoctrinating these kids, who are a captive audience."
The lawsuit -- based entirely on Corbett's comments during one Oct. 19 class that the Farnans describe as typical -- asks that the teacher be removed from the classroom. "We will not seek damages if the teacher is removed," Monk said.

Chad Farnan is quoted as saying "He's against Christianity and bashes it all the time. He's been indoctrinating us and not teaching the class; we don't need to be hearing his political views during school time when we should be learning."

The Recording

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any posting of the actual recording. Bill O'Reilly transcribes a couple of excerpts:

How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach. When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth.
Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies. That's interfering with God's work. You've got to stay pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses.

The news stories also say that he:

said that religion is not "connected with morality";
compared Christians to "Muslim fundamentalists"
suggested that churchgoers are more likely to commit rape and murder.


At first glance this story seems to be the mirror image of the Coach Packy story (see here and here). The thing is, though, the available excerpts simply don't support the claims being made. Putting on my historian glasses for the moment, I would note that it is a commonplace that irrational factors (religion, patriotism, and the like) are used to move people to take actions against their own best interest. Now no doubt the teacher could have phrased this in less colorful and more politically correct words, and maybe the idea sounds shocking to a naive 16-year-old raised on the modern myth that "America was founded on Christian values", but there's nothing in it constituting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

As for the comment about conservatives not wanting women to avoid pregnancies, what of it? One news story suggests that this was part of the comparison of Christian to Muslim fundamentalists, in which case it is entirely accurate. (Conservatives in both groups have been opposed to the prevention of pregnancies; this is a matter of fact, not opinion.) It may well be an example of the teacher inserting comments on modern issues rather than sticking to European history, but it doesn't infringe on anybody's religious rights. (There is no right to ignorance, though many fundamentalists seem to think there is.) If the issue is the negative tone the teacher takes, it seems to me to be warranted--just as one might take a negative tone on the subject of slavery, female genital mutilation, and other practices sanctioned by one religion or another in the past. Christian and Muslim fundamentalists may be legitimately compared; the similarities and differences among the groups are instructive; lacking the context I really can't say whether there was something unjustified in the comparison.

As for the others, well, religion and morality are separate, though often confused, and I say bravo to the teacher for reminding his class of the fact. I don't understand why that should even be in there. Also that last comment about rape and murder needs a context--churchgoers are more likely to commit rape and murder than whom? Non-churchgoers? The population as a whole? Or what? As it stands, it appears to be a mere statistic. If the student and his parents can show that it was a bogus statistic that was part of an anti-Christian tirade not connected to the subject of European history, then they may have a point, but if so they should have presented the relevant parts of the tirade, rather than this irrelevant point.

As it stands, this looks to me like another example of a frivolous lawsuit emanating from conservative Christians attempting to impose their values on others. Of course I'm assuming that they put their strongest stuff out in front; if they have evidence to support their claims of anti-Christian discrimination, they really ought to present it first, rather than this irrelevant fluff. Perhaps James Corbett could use some sensitivity training in dealing with religiously confused and factually challenged students, or something like that, but there is nothing whatsoever in the material cited to "show he is hostile toward religion and is indoctrinating these kids, who are a captive audience", in something or other, as charged by Jennifer Monk, who speaks for the organization representing the family. If new material surfaces, that actually supports this claim, then I will revisit this issue, but for the moment I have to file this under frivolous lawsuits.

[Oh, yes, and before I forget, a special thanks to Archaeoporn, whose blog turned me on to this story.]

21 December 2007

Quotation of the Day

Science, as an intellectual project is profoundly un-conservative. Science does not value tradition. Science requires authority to continually reprove itself. Science must follow the truth wherever it goes, regardless of the political and economic implications. Science is apolitical. However, while science may not be any friendlier to liberalism than it is to conservatism, liberalism, by virtue of that tolerance thing, is friendlier to science than conservatism is.

Here Comes the Sun

Happy Solstice to all, and to all a good night.

20 December 2007

In Justice to Huckabee

It has been widely reported that Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister now running for president as a Republican, proclaimed a bold program for the US to become "free of energy consumption ... within a decade." This seems like a rather draconian back-to-the-stone-age sort of goal--interesting for a Republican. I seem to recall that not so long ago President Stay-the-Course was proclaiming massive energy consumption to be an integral part of being American. Turns out, however, that Huckabee has been misquoted. What he really said is that the US should become "oil free of energy consumption ... within a decade." Well, I'm glad that's cleared up. Of course it's still meaningless gibberish, as nutty as an Almond Joy, but at least it's different.

19 December 2007


This one comes from South Carolinians for Science Education, courtesy of Pharyngula. Apparently, for some unfathomable reason, the people responsible for approving textbooks for South Carolina got a pair of ignorant fools to review two reputable biology textbooks and actually held them up for approval based on their uninformed ramblings. The characterization of them as ignorant fools is mine, but is justified by their own words. Examples follow:

Authors incorrectly refer to the Theory of Gravity when it is the Law of Gravity. Just as there is a big jump from hypothesis to theory, there is another big jump from theory to law and proper citation should be noted. [p.3, RJL and S critique]

Now I'm not a scientist, nor do I play one on the internet. I'm perfectly willing to concede that things may have changed a great deal since I learned the basics. I was taught Newton's Theory of Gravitation along with Einstein's Theory of Relativity and so on. But I've never heard of this progression from hypothesis to theory to law. Theories contain laws, and put them into a larger context that presumably explains them, but I've never heard of a theory becoming a law. If Newton's theory of gravitation has become a law of some kind, I apparently missed it. And if I'm confused on this point, so are the authors of the Wikipedia articles on gravitation, since they still refer to Newton's theory. To me, this criticism sounds just plain ignorant. If in other respects these reviewers showed they knew what they were talking about, I'd be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. That, however, is far from the case.

Statement that earth was formed about 4.5 BYA is speculation. [p. 2 RJL and S critique]

It’s speculation in the same sense that the claim the Washington Monument is 555 feet high is speculation. The age of the earth is a matter of measurement, not speculation.

Reference to 3 billions years old is not on solid grounds since dating methods are unreliable. [p. 4, M&L critique]

For this, I'll let Kenneth Miller, one of the authors under attack, take it:

The reviewer claims that there are scientific data that do not support evolution. However, he does not say what that data might be. Instead, he claims (without any supporting data or reference) that information showing that living organisms appeared on the planet nearly 3 billion years ago is unreliable. Why is that information unreliable? Has the reviewer discovered patterns of radioactive decay that violate the laws of physics? He does not say, and therefore it is impossible to evaluate these critical comments.

I admire the author's politeness, considering the boorishness of the critique. But since I don't have any horse in this race, I'll say outright anybody this foolish, ignorant, or mendacious has no business reviewing a serious textbook. Period.

Eruption Mt. St. Helen in 1980 proved long ages are not needed for geological formations. Canyons in GA and WA states were formed in days or months, respectively, and not millions or billions of year. [p. 1, M&L critique]

Again, it's hard to say whether the reviewers are being deliberately obtuse, or are genuinely stupid. Volcanic eruptions don't form multiple layers of different kinds of rocks containing distinctive fossils, just to point out one of the most obvious flaws with this "argument". As Kenneth Miller pointed out with commendable restraint in his reply:

The fact that some geological features can be formed rapidly does not mean that all are formed that way. There is abundant evidence, taught as a required part of the earth science curriculum in South Carolina, that the well-defined geological ages of the earth extend over hundreds of millions of years. [p. 1, reply]

Again, I don't know where to begin with what appears to me to be rank idiocy, either real or assumed. Do these guys have a point, or think they do? Or is this just some kind of snow-job? Oh, and by the way, speaking as one of the many who shoveled ash from my yard in 1980, it's Mount St. Helens, not Mt. St. Helen. I'm just saying.

Now this next "point" is interesting, in that it occurs in critiques of both volumes:

Statements on vestigal organs are grossly misleading. In recent reports, it was shown that the appendix, often cited as a vestigal organ, provides beneficial bacteria to intestines. This whole section should be deleted or updated to accurately reflect the state of knowledge. [p. 3, RJL and S critique]
Statements on vestigal organs are grossly misleading. In recent reports, it was shown that the appendix, often cited as a vestigal organ, provides beneficial bacteria to intestines. This whole section should be deleted or updated to accurately reflect the state of knowledge. [p. 2-3, M&L critique]

This is extremely odd. It almost looks as though the authors pulled out a piece of boilerplate and stuffed it into their critiques without any regard for whether it had anything to do with the books they were supposedly reviewing. Of course a reputable reviewer would never do anything like that, and we can be certain that this comment was somehow relevant to both textbooks. Or can we? Miller wrote:

Curiously, the reviewer complains that the appendix has been mistakenly cited as a vestigial organ when it actually performs a useful, if non-essential function. This comment suggests that the review does not understand the meaning of the word “vestigial,” which does not imply that an organ is without function. Rather, it means that the organ is reduced in size and importance, a “vestige” of its appearance in other organisms, as our text correctly notes. The comment also suggests that the reviewer has not read our book carefully, since we do not cite the appendix as such an organ.

Gee, I wonder what we're supposed to make of that, then. An incompetent criticism that doesn't apply to the book supposedly being reviewed. Again, this appears to be rank idiocy--even I know that a vestigial organ may perform a function. This next example of blithering incompetence is beneath contempt:

Since Archaeopteryx was a bird, it should not be used to show “evolution of a dinosaur to bird”. [p.3, RJL and S critique]

A bird with reptilian teeth and a bony tail? Oh, come off it. This is just creationist-gibber, the same as I've been hearing since I was a kid. You know, people, it doesn't matter how many times or how loudly you proclaim the archaeopteryx was only a bird, it remains as much a transitional form as ever. Though of course in a sense, given a long-enough perspective, we're all transitional forms. Except for those of us who turned out to be dead ends. More silliness accompanies an illustration of a scorpion in amber:

Since scorpions are still scorpions after 25 millions of years (if date is accurate), what does this prove? [p. 4, M&L critique]

Miller replies:

This ancient scorpion, trapped in amber, is used to indicate that fossils provide reliable and detailed records of past life. The text makes no other claim about the scorpion shown within the amber, and therefore there is no reason for the reviewer to object to it.

Any questions?

Robins were and are still robins. No evidence is presented of one kind of animal changing to another kind of animal! Charles Darwin shifted his thinking on origins after he became anti-God. [p. 1, M&L critique]

Now it's getting creepy. What do the reviewers mean by "kind"? This sounds like more creationist-gibber to me--you know, how every animal is supposed to reproduce after its "kind" in Genesis. If they have some scientific definition in mind, they should use the appropriate word--say, "species" or "genus" or whatever. Otherwise it just seems like some sort of weasel word-trick--you know, if I show you one species of elephant changing to another in the fossil record, you come back with, yes, but they're still elephants! That's not what I meant by "kind"! (Yes, I've had this argument before.) If I show a larger series of fossils documenting a transition from say a shrew-like animal to an early primate, then you come back with, oh sure, but they're all still monkeys. That's not what I meant by "kind" at all! And if I ask you flat out what you do mean by "kind", it turns out that you don't have a definition at all. "It's up to you to define 'kind'," you reply virtuously. "All I'm doing is pointing out flaws in your argument." As a fellow named Burns once observed in our high-school English class, he would never believe in evolution until I could show him an example of a cow giving birth to a goat. My reply at the time was that I'd believe in creationism (or whatever they were calling it back in the Palaeolithic) when I saw a cow giving birth to a bicycle.

The comment about Darwin is inexplicable. Miller's observation that "The claim that Darwin “shifted” his views for theological reasons are not supported by any Darwin scholar I know of" doesn't go far enough. It is a matter of indifference how or when or on what occasion that Darwin came to his beliefs as far as the subject of biology is concerned. Further, this looks to me like creationist projection, an all-too-common failing among the biblical-literalist crowd. Creationists reach their conclusions for theological reasons; it makes them feel better to suppose that others do likewise. It puts them on the same footing, so to speak.

But these guys sink even lower than this in the next bit:

The Nebraska man used previously to show descent of man was fabricated from one tooth in 1922. And this tooth was proven to be an extinct pig’s tooth and in 1972 the extinct pig was found to demonstrate a fraud used to promote the evolutionary worldview point in textbooks for 50 years. [Pp.1-2 RJL and S critique]

This one is really unbelievable and shows a most profound ignorance of the simplest facts of the history of science. Only an uneducated boob would claim that the so-called Nebraska Man was “a fraud used to promote the evolutionary worldview point in textbooks for 50 years.” In the first place “Nebraska Man” was a mistaken identification, not a fraud, and in the second, the tooth (mis-)identified as a hominid tooth was correctly identified in 1927 as the tooth from a peccary. “Nebraska Man” had no influence whatsoever on evolutionary theory and as far as I can tell has never been used in textbooks of any kind, unless you count creationist “textbooks”. Finding a hominid specimen in North America would have been extremely surprising under any circumstances, which is one reason this identification was always under suspicion for the brief time that “Nebraska Man” was considered a possibility.

Can they go lower yet? Just how many sub-basements are there beneath contempt, anyway? Turns out the answer is, yes, they can. Although this next one looks like a parody, I am not making it up. They reviewers actually wrote:

Hitler, Stalin, Planned Parenthood, racists, and others have cited Charles Darwin in their genocide programs that have killed an estimated 300 million people. Social Darwinism is a dark side of Charles Darwin’s publications that is often overlooked or excused. High school students should be aware that thoughts and thought process and actions have serious consequences. [p. 2, M&L critique]

I particularly like the inclusion of Planned Parenthood among those with "genocide programs"; I guess they threw that one in just in case somebody started thinking they were actually sane people. That's a dead giveaway that the reviewers have a couple of chips missing in their motherboards. Social Darwinism, by the way, owes a great deal more to Calvin than to Darwin, and has no connection to biology at all. I would also note that the reviewers provide no evidence whatsoever linking Hitler or Stalin with Darwin, and I personally doubt that they can. Hitler came by his anti-Semitism strictly through Christian notions, leading back through Martin Luther to the Gospel of Matthew. Inane (and downright ignorant) remarks like this go far to discredit anything these reviewers have to say, if they hadn't already revealed themselves to be uneducated boobs with their remarks about archaeopteryx and Nebraska Man.

With advisers like these, it is no wonder that the US is falling behind in science education.

18 December 2007

And the Bleat Goes On

From Florida we hear some strange remarks from those picked to supervise its educational standards. Nancy Bostock, under the bizarre impression that "the entire theory of evolution is not scientific fact," think that "intelligent design balances it out." Her solution to getting intelligent design into the classroom: "We can call it a different name if that makes a difference to critics." (It doesn't, Ms. Bostock; crazy talk by any other name is still crazy talk.) Another member, Carol Cook, babbles incoherently, "We should expose them [schoolchildren] to it [creationism]. I wouldn’t necessarily say teach them. They need to know both things are out there–both trains of thought, both theories [sic]. To teach one as if nothing else existed, I think we’re doing our students a disservice." Still another, Jane Gallucci thinks "that students should be given the opportunity to view all theories on how man evolved," a not unreasonable position. But then it turns out that she actually thinks that "god made us" is a scientific theory, and that "both theories should be presented to children. I think especially in a scientific world both theories should be presented to children," she notes. Why childish superstition should be presented to children alongside scientific fact, especially in a scientific world, she doesn't explain. But a certain Peggy O'Shea takes the cake on this one. In a world in which biology is increasingly important, where biotech is the wave of the future and in which biological advances have applications in everything from police investigations to the safety of our food supply, she can write about the central idea of biology, "I’d probably ideally like to keep it ALL out of the classroom. If it’s going to create this much controversy, how important is it?" She seems to think that the best approach is to allow parents to "opt out" and to let their kids skip being tested on it. Ah, yes, more special privileges for the "christian" children. Just what we need. And I suppose when they want to enter college they'll demand to be allowed in under some kind of special dispensation for the willfully ignorant, as is happening now in California. Affirmative action for those too lazy to learn. Give me a break.

17 December 2007

That Holiday Spirit

Robert Bork, the "conservative" activist judge found too crazy to sit on the Supreme Court--a Court that today manages to include Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia--has endorsed Mitt Romney, the candidate who advertises his faith but refuses to talk about it. And the candidate is apparently proud of this endorsement. Go figure. The War over Christmas reached a new low when ten rabid Christians attacked a small group of Jews who wished them a Happy Hanukkah. "Oh Hanukkah--that's the day the Jews killed Jesus," one of them said. (Of course there are two things wrong with this statement--it was the Romans who executed Jesus and they did it on Passover. However) Fortunately a Muslim who apparently had not recently brushed up on his stereotypes joined in to help the Jews fend off the Christians until one of the victims could summon the authorities. What on earth was wrong with him? Doesn't he know that he was supposed to be out calling for the death of a teacher whose class named a teddy bear "Mohammad"? Jeez, people, get with the program, will you? Of course it should have been ten secular humanists who beat up a couple of Sunday-school students for wishing them a Merry Christmas, till a Creationist--no, that's right, an Intelligent Design proponent--came by and converted them all to Bill O'Riley fans. Or something like that. The no-fact zone pays off with a vengeance.

And we learn from the lawyer of one of the attackers that it was really all right after all--his client's mother was Jewish, which means, I guess, that it was okay for him to attack a Jew for wishing him a Happy Hanukkah. Or something of that sort. I'm not sure I get it, to be honest. And anyway Hanukkah is over this year. Time to move on, I guess.

It turns out that, according to a federal judge, White House visitor logs are public documents, something that you would think would go without saying, but apparently still has to be said. It looks like The Decider was trying to claim them as his own personal property or something. This is part of his brilliant "mushroom" strategy--keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit. And speaking of fertilizer what are we to make of Douglas Feith's recent claim that "A strategic alliance of the ousted Baathists and foreign jihadists was something that our intelligence community did not anticipate"? Who didn't anticipate it? Everybody anticipated it, except apparently The Decider and his neo-con advisers. If you're going to rewrite history, at least do it plausibly. This isn't 1984 and a lot of us still have access to the unrevised version of events, regardless of how much material goes down the oubliette.

Where the hell is Eddie Lawrence when we need him? Who else could put some perspective on this situation? Ring out the old, ring in the new--new what? New worries? As the old philosopher said--or maybe it was the bird Fred quoting Abraham Lincoln--"Will you shut up?"

12 December 2007

Child of Prophecy

Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. Mt 12:18 (KJV)
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. Ez 36:26-28 (KJV)

A fellow over at the Azuza Street Survivors, an ex-Pentecostal forum, has an interesting post about what it was like growing up in a Pentecostal household.

Since I was at least age 6 my mother and her church friends have always told me about how my birth was "foretold." They say that while I was still in my mother's womb a "prophet" told my mother that I was to be, quote, "a prophet to the nations" and something along the lines of the next Billy Graham/Peter Wagner.

He goes on:

They said that the following verses applied to me:
Mat. 12.18 and Ezk. 36:26-28
Basically, they believe that I am their "chosen one" for "the end times"...

The pressure was considerable.

...I was supposed to keep this "calling" completely secret from outsiders. Like even other christians were not supposed to know if they were not a part of the "church elite" at that church and with my mother.

The Prophetic Child was homeschooled. My memories of homeschooling, speaking from the vantage point of one of those doing the teaching, rather than doing the learning, are generally positive. We explored the bypaths of science and history there is never time for in the structured environment of public school, and worked forward at the pace each child set for himself. The Prophetic Child's memories are very different:

Me, I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard bull**** and then trancing out...sh**......I'm still tranced out. I remember how it was like every day was Mission Impossible trying to keep the rules or not get caught and just....survive every single f***ing day. My mother's a f***ing psycho too, her and her whole church and christian family.

The Prophetic Child left both home and church behind, but couldn't shake the memories of The Nightmare (as he called it) so easily.

ok yeah, all these crazy memories. I can't fully remember and if i try too hard the room will start spinning and I'll go crazy. but yeah.....
Sometimes the depression gets so dark, and trying to live in the "real unsheltered world" gets so hard I start to think about returning back to what is at least "familiar," into a system I at least know how to behave and live in. I know there is a way out of this nightmare
No matter how hardcore cult-like these end of days dominionist pentecostal charismatic church members want to be...I'll never give in. They can make fun of me, harass me, and even break my back...but they won't break me.
I'm working on a way out here, time is going to wash away all pain.

He suffered from depression, and people said all the things they usually say about depression.

Everyone has the same unoriginal s*** to say: "Have you seen a therapist?" "Have you tried medications?" "Have you tried thinking positive happy thoughts about the world?" "Maybe you should try counseling?" "Maybe you should try to just not be this way" "Just try taking one day at a time work towards your degree in college" "Don't worry, it will all get better"

I remember all that from my years of depression. Nobody ever has anything useful to say, because depression makes it impossible to communicate. In The Hole logic and reason and hope and keeping busy are all powerless.

The Nightmare ... just goes on and on and ... some of my church friends just cannot even fully remember what all happened, much less understand why......
This is also the downward spiral here....no one has any real answers, only lame answers and fear of what me and my friends grew up in, and fear of the depressing aftermath.

The Prophetic Child felt unable to ever fully escape:

They will always be targeting me, hoping and praying I'll come back, waiting for some weakness (financial, health, or otherwise) so they can move in and re-convert me.

You see, there was still this goddamn prophecy:

Basically, they believe that I am their "chosen one" for "the end times" and according to the Ezekial passage they believe that I am going to go back to their church/system.
In this prophecy, they also believe that it was "prophesied" that I would rebel, but then RETURN to their church and that's helping to drive me crazy.
The problem right now is the fact that it appears that they are always going to pursue me throughout life(and they have said so), as I am supposedly the "chosen one." As far as I can tell they did not treat the other youth the same way.
Sometimes I fear I'll end up going back.
Well, I don't want to be their "chosen one" at all. I just wish I could find some way to wake up from this nightmare.

Not all of it was this discouraging

On the positive side, that fact that we've survived this long means we're a LOT stronger than most people, especially these lamers who are terrified of my poetry. We're stronger than these pentecostal Youth With A Mission assholes who said "you can't be writing down your feelings, especially not about depression." We've proven that we're a lot stronger than these sick bastards in the charismatic and pentecostal movement.
I'm not getting any younger and it's time for the abuse to stop. Just because I'm not one of the "Beautiful People," just because other people don't understand or because I'm not "popular" does not mean I need to take any more s*** from anyone.

If reports are true, The Prophetic Child finally found his way out of The Nightmare. He took a gun and murdered four other people before turning the gun on himself.

But why care about a world that doesn't care about me anyways? And why go on living in a world that doesn't want me?
Caring never felt so lame inside. There's just no answers.
Cherish your life

[NOTE: the fragments given above were taken from various posts left by "nghtmrchld26" here. Most of them were found on one of these threads.

10 December 2007

News Roundup

Sparks from the Telegraph

Dallas—Robert Scott, education commissioner, yesterday defended the controversial decision by the Texas Education Agency to remove Chris Comer from her office. "My understanding is that the e-mail she forwarded," he explained, "let me rephrase that. She wasn't advocating for evolution. But she may have given the impression that ... we were taking a position as an agency–not as an individual but as an agency–on a matter." He elaborated, "...you can be in favor of a science without bashing people's faith, too. I don't know all the facts, but I think that may be the real issue here. I can't speak to motivation but ... we have standards of conduct and expect those standards of conduct to be followed." Asked if Chris Comer had in fact been forced to resign over forwarding an email notification of a talk by Barbara Forrest on opposing anti-science, Scott replied, "That's an absolute falsehood. It's a personnel matter. The really frustrating part about this is, if I start talking about activities and things that happened, I get sued. So all I can say is that there are other factors...." What those factors might have been he declined to say. (Dallas News)

New Delhi—Faced with traffic signals that don't allow enough time to cross the street, dangerous drivers, and inadequate crosswalks, thought to be responsible for the death of more than nine hundred pedestrians a year, the Indian government did the only logical thing. Police in New Delhi began handing out tickets for jaywalking. Pedestrians appeared puzzled and angered by this response. "We have to run, the lights don't turn green long enough for us to cross," D.K. Bhargav explained. Constable Suresh Sharma does not buy this explanation, attributing pedestrian behavior to rural migrants. "How would a villager know about these lights?" he asked rhetorically. "There are no traffic lights in their villages." Police issued violators twenty-rupee fines and lectured them on the proper way to cross the streets. "Our aim is not to prosecute people, our aim is to educate them," police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said. The message is apparently being received: "Next time I'll be watchful," observed Vasant Pant, a young courier late making deliveries. "I'll look to see if there's a traffic policeman before crossing." (Reuters India}

Des Moines—Mike Huckabee, a southern Baptist preacher now running for President as a Republican, became defensive when asked about his eccentric views on science. "That's an irrelevant question to ask me—I'm happy to answer what I believe, but what I believe is not what's going to be taught in 50 different states," he said evasively. He did admit to believing that an invisible man built the earth and the sky. "I wasn't there when he did it, so how he did it, I don't know," he snapped. When asked about the propriety of putting such notions on a par with hard science in schools, he conceded, "I don't think schools ought to indoctrinate kids to believe one thing or another." (Yahoo News)

01 December 2007

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Duwamish Prophet

[This is the second piece in a series on the ten most interesting literary hoaxes.]

#10: William Drannan's Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains
#9: Chief Seattle's Speech

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest it was impossible to evade some sort of consideration of the aboriginal peoples who had come before us. They themselves didn't put in much of an appearance--oh, there was one fellow who used to show up at assemblies and explain to us the ceremonial dances, but not much past that--but their dead surrounded us. Their names littered the landscape, their legends were featured in classroom and museum presentations, and of course there was that large hole not far from summer camp that had once held their bones, until some treasure-hunters dynamited it.

"Sometimes the Indians win, and sometimes the real people win," one of my brothers observed as a child, explaining why he liked a particular show. The Indians weren't real to us; they belonged to the realm of pirates and leprechauns. So the image of the Indian, as it were, was available for any sort of use anybody would like. Test patterns, for example, or team icons. Whatever.

The environmental movement and the American Indian seem to be a perfect match, image-wise anyway. The untrammeled wilderness, the Bald Eagle, a native American in a canoe--perfect. And what would be better than, say, a native American prophet, excoriating the Euro-American for the destruction of the natural environment?

Let us say that a native American prophet once said:
Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know - the Earth does not belong to man--man belongs to the Earth. This we know. ... Whatever befalls the Earth--befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life--he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. ... we do not understand when the buffalo are slaughtered, the wild horses tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the Eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.
Them are some words, aren't they? Personally, I wish that Chief Seattle (or Seathl or Sealth) really had said them. The Duwamish leader, after whom the city of Seattle is named, is credited with saying them at any rate. There is room for doubt on the face of it. Native American speeches in the Pacific Northwest tended to go through two levels of translation to get to English--first into Chinook Jargon, and then into English. Now the Jargon was a marvelously flexible instrument for trade and the like, but was rather limited in expressing abstract thoughts. "Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of Earth. Man did not weave the web of life--he is merely a strand in it." I'd love to see what the Jargon actually said before the English translator got hold of it. I can't help but feel that the guy is being a bit fancy with his renderings, to say the least. And then when we get down to the part about the buffalo being slaughtered and the view obstructed with wires--when exactly was Chief Seattle supposed to be talking? In 1854? Something is wrong there; he is describing events of the future, things that had not happened in his time. Further, why on earth would a Puget Sound dweller give a damn about the buffalo? The odds are--and I'm by no means the first person to think this--that the chief never so much as saw a buffalo in his life. This is salmon country, damn it. Not the great plains. No buffalo here. And the great slaughters of the buffalo herds was still in the future in 1854, along with wires blocking the views of the hills. If this speech is authentic, it is remarkable in its anticipation of future events and attitudes. If it is authentic, then Chief Seattle was indeed a prophet.

So let's take a look at the evidence, shall we? I don't mean to be sarcastic here, but when something looks like a late-twentieth-century artifact, sounds like late-twentieth-century prose, and is informed by late-twentieth-century attitudes, I tend to suppose that it is a piece from the late twentieth century. If it isn't, well then we've got something really amazing here, and it deserves some checking out.

So let's go back to 1854 for the moment. What were the historical circumstances? It was not an easy time for anybody in the Pacific Northwest, or Oregon Country, as it was then known. James K. Polk, as everybody will recall from American History in high school, had got himself elected president on the slogan "Fifty-four Forty or fight," and then proceeded to sell out the people who had voted for him by (wisely) accepting forty-nine as the dividing line between American and British Oregon (and thus avoiding a two-front war with both Britain and Mexico). The reward for this was the gain of what is today western Washington, including the present city of Seattle and the whole Puget Sound region, as the wise money had been on the Columbia River as the dividing line between the nations. It was a blow to Hudson's Bay Company, which had significant holdings north of the Columbia and south of the forty-ninth parallel. And it was serious blow to those native hunters and trappers who owed their present prosperity and entire way of life to trade with the Hudson's Bay Company.

This, however, was only the beginning. With the title (so to speak) to Oregon Country cleared, a main block to immigration was removed. Starting in 1847 settlers from the United States starting streaming over the borders and taking up land claims. Conflicts with the local peoples inevitably followed. Ben Wright's expedition against the Modocs, the Rogue River Wars, and a host of other conflicts followed. Propagandists--especially one Charles S. Drew--argued for a war of extermination against all the coastal peoples, from California (newly a state) to the forty-ninth parallel. Drew was adamant that the time to begin was now, before the native Americans acquired guns and learned how to use them.

Even without active conflict the local peoples were in turmoil. Many were frankly starving. Settlers destroyed native food supplies, and nobody did anything towards providing a substitute. The attitude of the settlers towards them was a compound of racism and class disparagement--the locals were widely considered much as the homeless are today--disgusting people who brought their problems on their own heads by being drunken and lazy.

When Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens was appointed, one of his main jobs (the position of Commissioner for Indian Affairs went along with the appointment) was to get the original inhabitants of the lands off the backs of the newcomers, primarily by getting them to agree to a greatly reduced range of lands for occupation. As he went through his new territory, planting the seeds of future conflicts with a liberal hand, making promises he had neither the ability nor the intention of keeping, he held talk after talk with various local groups. It was on one of these occasions, in 1854, that he met with Chief Seattle.

There is no contemporary transcription of the speech, and no good reason to suppose that one ever existed. There is, however, one record of Chief Seattle's spoken words from the general process: he said a few words on the occasion of the Point Elliott Council, held 21-2 January 1855. Governor Stevens was there to work out the details of a treaty, and to get something on paper to send back to Congress. He explained:
The Great Father thinks you ought to have homes, and he wants you to have a school where your children can learn to read, and can be made farmers and be taught trades. He is willing you should catch fish in the waters, and get roots and berries back in the mountains. He wishes you all to be virtuous and industrious, and to become a happy and prosperous community. Is this good, and do you want this? If not, we will talk further.
All answered "We do," according to the record, and after some further comments on the sale of their lands, and a mass celebrated by the native Americans (who were Roman Catholic), the following exchange was recorded. Governor Stevens spoke:
Does any one object to what I have said? Does my venerable friend Seattle object? I want Seattle to give his heart to me and to his people.
Seattle replied:
I look upon you as my father. All the Indians have the same good feeling toward you, and will send it on the paper to the Great Father. All of them—men, old men, women, and children—rejoice that he has sent you to take care of them. My mind is like yours; I don't want to say more. My heart is very good towards Dr. Maynard [a physician who was present] ; I want always to get medicine from him.
That's it. For a moment we hear the voice of the Duwamish chief, and then he disappears into the background again. He emerges once again in the record a day later, during a token presentation of gifts. Seattle presented a white flag to the governor, saying:
Now, by this we make friends, and put away all bad feelings, if we ever had any. We are the friends of the Americans. All the Indians are of the same mind. We look upon you as our father. We will never change our minds, but, since you have been to see us, we will always be the same. Now! now! do you send.this paper of our hearts to the Great Chief. That is all I have to say.
And that is indeed all Chief Seattle has to say, at least for decades.

Now, let's fast-forward past the massacre at Sand Creek, the Modoc War, Little Big Horn, and the rest, to the year 1887. In that year--but let me digress for a moment.

As the memories of the frontier faded into the past--and for the residents of Oregon and Washington, anyway, frontier times were long gone by the 1880s--it became fashionable for newspapers to run series of articles regaling the readers with tales of these now forgotten and near legendary times. They range considerably in value, some of them adding plausible details to the bare historical record, and others seemingly made up of cobwebs and moonshine. The one I'm about to mention seems to fall in the territory somewhere between.

So in 1887 a piece by one Henry A. Smith appeared in Seattle Sunday Star. It was the tenth article in the series "Early Reminiscences." The subject: a particularly memorable speech by Chief Seattle, a speech at which the author was present and took notes. According to Smith, "Chief Seattle arose with all the dignity of a senator, who carries the responsibilities of a great nation on his shoulders. Placing one hand on the, governor's head and slowly pointing heavenward with the index finger of the other, he commenced his memorable address in solemn and impressive tones."
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion on our fathers for centuries untold, and which, to us, looks eternal, may change. Today it is fair, tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like stars that never set. What Seattle says, the great chief, Washington, can rely upon, with as much certainty as our paleface brothers can rely upon the return of the seasons.

The son of the white chief says his father sends us greetings of friendship and good will. This is kind, for we know he has little need of our friendship in return, because his people are many. They are like the grass that covers the vast prairies, while my people are few, and resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain.
In this speech Chief Seattle muses on the differences between his people and the governor's:
No, we are two distinct races and must ever remain so. There is little in common between us. The ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their final resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander away from the tombs of your fathers seemingly without regret.

Your religion was written on tables of stone by the iron finger of an angry God, lest you might forget it, The red man could never remember nor comprehend it.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dream of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.
He looks ahead to a time when his people will have vanished:
Day and night cannot dwell together. The red man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as the changing mists on the mountainside flee before the blazing morning sun. ...

It matters but little where we pass the remainder of our days. They are not many.

The Indian's night promises to be dark. No bright star hovers about the horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Some grim Nemesis of our race is on the red man's trail, and wherever he goes he will still hear the sure approaching footsteps of the fell destroyer and prepare to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter. A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of all the mighty hosts that once filled this broad land or that now roam in fragmentary bands through these vast solitudes will remain to weep over the tombs of a people once as powerful and as hopeful as your own.

But why should be repine? Why should I murmur at the fate of my people? Tribes are made up of individuals and are no better than they. Men come and go like the waves of the sea. A tear, a tamanawus, a dirge, and they are gone from our longing eyes forever. Even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him, as friend to friend, is not exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.

He refers to his people's connection with the land:

Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe.

Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events connected with the fate of my people, and the very dust under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.

And he concludes with a warning:

And when the last red man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among white men shall have become a myth, these shores shall swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children shall think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway or in the silence of the woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night, when the streets of your cities and villages shall be silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not altogether powerless.
Here, it seems, at last, we have the authentic voice of the old chief. Or do we? As Jerry L. Clark notes, "The sentiments expressed in the speech attributed to the old chieftain are consonant with those held by persons disturbed by the destruction of the Indian world by the development of the American frontier." And unlike the 1855 speeches quoted above, this one shows no signs of having passed through a Chinook Jargon stage.

Ah, but Henry Smith was fluent in the Duwamish language, we are told, and was thus able to bypass the translation into the Jargon altogether.

Okay, fair enough--though as Smith only arrived in the area at the beginning of 1853, it is natural to wonder just how fluent he could have been. Still, maybe he was a quick study. A biography describes him as a "rare scholar".

So can we establish the time and place of this speech? Jerry Clark observes that Governor Stevens visited the area three times--in January 1854, March 1854, and in January 1855. The last was the occasion of the treaty-related speeches quoted above. Internal evidence shows that this speech cannot belong to the last visit; the possible treaty is spoken of as something in the future, something still to be discussed by Seattle's people. So can we establish which of the two earlier occasions is the likely occasion for this speech?

The strongest probability is the March 1854 meeting. According to Clark this meeting occurred when "Stevens rushed to the area at the head of a detachment of troops in search of Indians who had murdered a settler. During a tense meeting with Seattle and Chief Patkanan of the Snoqualmies, Stevens introduced himself and explained the purpose of his visit. Surveyor George Gibbs later recalled that 'Seattle made a great speech declaring his good disposition toward the whites.'" Clark argues that this can't be the speech, however, "because another local citizen, Luther Collins, served as a translator into Chinook, the trade language of the Puget Sound tribes, and an Indian in turn translated into the local tongue. Obviously, Dr. Smith and his language skills could not have been available to Stevens during this important confrontation. In fact, Dr. Smith is not listed among those present at this council."

Now with all due respect to Jerry L. Clark, this doesn't actually settle the matter. Who did the translating wasn't always a function of who was best suited for the job, and not everybody who was present was necessarily listed. If Dr. Smith was simply a local resident hanging around and taking notes (which is what it sounds like--he admits he did not take notes of what the other speakers said; only of Chief Seattle's speech), his presence might well not be noted. And as a relative newcomer, his knowledge of the local languages might well be discounted.

But taken together--the difficulty in seeing how Dr. Smith could have become fluent in the language in less than a year, the lack of evidence for his being at the council, and the fact that the quoted portions of the speech do not match the description given by George Gibbs, but rather seem to reflect the concerns of people decades later--these points cast considerable doubt on it. It would be a lot more reassuring, frankly, if Dr. Smith had been there, and if there were any hard evidence for his alleged knowledge of the Duwamish language. At the very least.

The next change was relatively minor, but illustrates the sort of thing that happens in uncontrolled transmission of a text: somebody in the early twentieth century added to the end of the speech the words, "Dead--did I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds." (The editor was John M. Rich according to Jerry Clark, and A. C. Baillard according to Donald Simanek.) In any case John Rich's 1932 book, Chief Seattle's Unanswered Challenge, appears to be the source for subsequent reprints.

Again, let's zoom forward a bit. Enter William Arrowsmith, translator, scholar, film critic, political activist--in fact, what wasn't he? If you've ever spent time with Aristophanes or Euripides, or with Petronius, even, chances are that you've read one of Arrowsmith's translations. In the late 1960s he came out with what some called a new translation of Chief Seattle's speech. For example, where's Smith's version had read:

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Arrowsmith's read:

Your dead forget you and the country of their birth as soon as they go beyond the grave and walk among the stars. They are quickly forgotten and they never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth. It is their mother. They always love and remember her rivers, her great mountains, her valleys. They long for the living, who are lonely too and who long for the dead. And their spirits often return to visit and console us.

Now William Arrowsmith was an amazing guy, truly a "rare scholar"--but could even he somehow conjure up the lost Duwamish original of a century-old speech and re-translate it into English? He knew his way around ancient Greek and Latin the way a blind man knows the inside of his own house--but did he also include this relatively obscure native American dialect among his accomplishments? This is way beyond the boundaries of the possible, and in fact the Arrowsmith "translation" is simply a paraphrase of Smith's version, minus some of the over-the-top Victorianisms, and given a distinctly twentieth-century twist. It's a nice job--here for example is his version of the conclusion of the speech:

When the last red man has vanished from this earth, and his memory is only a story among the whites, these shores will still swarm with the invisible dead of my people. And when you children's children think they are alone in the fields, the forests, the shops, the highways, or the quiet of the woods, they will not be alone. There is no place in this country where a man can be alone. At night when the streets of your towns and cities are quiet, and you think they are empty, they will throng with the returning spirits that once thronged them, and that still love these places. The white man will never be alone.

So let him be just and deal kindly with my people. The dead have power too.

As I said, a nice job. But a paraphrase, not a new translation.

The next stage in this saga came fairly quickly, around 1970, when film critic Ted Perry wrote a screenplay for an environmentally-conscious film put out by the Southern Baptists. Ted Perry, who knew William Arrowsmith, was inspired by his version of the speech to write a speech for a native American chief on the sanctity of the land. Never having seen the film Home myself, I'm not clear on how this speech fit into things--and besides, apparently the film altered Perry's text further, turning it into a letter from Chief Seattle to the President of the United States. Linda Marsa wrote in Omni "The film's producer Christianized Seattle's sensibilities and dropped Perry's name--despite his protests--from the script, which left the impression that these were Seattle's words." Ted Perry has always claimed authorship of the speech. "Why are we so willing to accept a text like this if it's attributed to a Native American?" he is quoted as saying. "It's another case of placing Native Americans up on a pedestal and not taking responsibility for our own actions."

18 November 2007

Dubious Documents: The Unlikely Life of William Drannan

While wandering about online looking for Dubious Document material I might have overlooked, I stumbled onto two different lists of the greatest literary hoaxes of all time (here and here). Neither broke any new ground, exactly, and both had some rather questionable entries. Secret Mark and a supposedly forged tragedy of Sophocles really don’t belong here, for example, and others—Clifford Irving's autobiography of Howard Hughes and Hitler's supposed diaries—were frauds so transparent that they really are more examples of publishers' impositions than literary hoaxes. Anyway, after thinking about it, I thought I'd put together my own list of, well, not necessarily the greatest literary hoaxes of all time, but, shall we say, the most interesting literary hoaxes of all time. I intend to start with the tenth item on my list and work my way up over the course of time to number one.

So first comes #10: William Drannan's Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains (1899).

When I was looking through my grandmother's friendship book—that's a book people used to keep their collection of people in—there was a space for each person to enter his or her favorite book. There was an interesting range of books there. The Bible put in an appearance several times, and Riders of the Purple Sage, and so did another, perhaps less familiar volume. It was nothing less than the true-life adventures of a frontier scout—the boon companion of Kit Carson, and the chief of scouts during the Modoc War. William Drannan may not have made much of an impression in the history books, but he definitely made an impression on the minds of boys growing up in the days before World War I changed everything. Little Robert E. Howard—later to be the creator of Conan the Barbarian and King Kull—read his account avidly, and years later recalled seeing the author "wandering about the streets of Mineral Wells … trying to sell the pitiful, illiterate book of his life of magnificent adventure and high courage; a little, worn old man in the stained and faded buckskins of a vanished age, friendless and penniless." Howard—a contemporary of my grandmother and her friends, by the way—would have been about five or six at the time. "God," he wrote H. P. Lovecraft, "what a lousy end for a man whose faded blue eyes had once looked on the awesome panorama of untracked prairie and sky-etched mountain, who had ridden at the side of Kit Carson, guided the waggon-trains across the deserts to California, drunk and revelled in the camps of the buffalo-hunters, and fought hand to hand with painted Sioux and wild Comanche. … Always the simple, strong men go into the naked lands and fight heroical battles to win and open those lands to civilization. Then comes civilization, mainly characterized by the smooth, the dapper, the bland, the shrewd men who play with business and laws and politics and they gain the profits; they enjoy the fruit of other men’s toil, while the real pioneers starve."

The thing is, it wasn't really like that at all. Thirty-One Years on the Plains is actually a work of fiction, with precious little in the way of facts to back it up. No biographer of Kit Carson has ever taken it seriously. Actual participants in the Modoc war—Major Frazier Boutelle, whose cool courage saved the troops in the Lost River Fight; "Colonel" William Thompson, a leader of the Oregon Volunteers and a legend in his own mind; Jeff Riddle, the son of the interpreters Frank and Toby Riddle—all of whom were unquestionably present—denounced the work as a pack of lies. And so it is. William Drannan told of his conversations with the Modoc leader, Captain Jack—who spoke no English. (He apparently understood it well enough, but always spoke through interpreters.) Drannan described two failed attempts to take the Modoc stronghold—one under Frank Wheaton and one under General Canby—when only one (the former) took place. He wrote of a "Mr. Berry" who came in to negotiate with the Modocs (when he, Drannan, could have done a better job)—a man unknown to the history of the war. And he cast himself as the Chief of Scouts—a rôle actually taken by a fellow named McKay—Daring Donald McKay, as he billed himself in a dime novel version of his life.

The real William Drannan continues to elude researchers. He apparently was involved in the hotel and restaurant businesses in Seattle and Portland during the 1890s, and he and his wife hawked his books—according to some his wife actually wrote them—around the country during the early years of the twentieth century. Not much else seems to have turned up on him.

Is there any truth in the book? As a student of the Modoc War, I was fascinated by the oddity that while Drannan was wrong on major events, his details were often correct. He had the right people at the right places—the obscure people, that is. Not the major players. I got the feeling that he must have at least lived in the area at some time. Even his mistakes could be interesting. The "Mr. Berry" he referred to, for instance. The real person who took the rôle assigned to "Mr. Berry" was a lawyer named Elijah Steele. He had two partners in his law practice: Rosborough (who also played a part in the Modoc War) and Berry (who didn't). Now, naming the wrong partner in a local law firm is the kind of mistake that only a local would make.

And another thing—he remembered a footnote to the war that made a local stir but barely attracted any attention outside the area. When the Modoc leaders were hanged afterward, the reporters present had a kind of race going to see who could first get the news to the telegraph station. Relays of horses and riders were set up by rival papers to see who could get to the Yreka telegraph first—some sixty or seventy miles away. The San Francisco Chronicle man even tried carrier pigeons. One reporter tried to get ahead of the others by sending his report to a telegraph station further off, in Ashland, Oregon. There was quite a bit of local excitement over these preparations, but little outside interest. Drannan, however, cast himself as one of the messengers carrying the news of the execution.

According to his story, he was the one who came up with the idea of trying the Ashland telegraph rather than the closer Yreka station. In his version of events his trusty horse—I forget his name—came through for him and Drannan carried the day, getting the news out first from Ashland. Needless to say, this is not how events actually worked themselves out. In point of fact the Ashland rider got drunk on the way, fell off his horse, and came in last in the race. Was Drannan that rider? Probably not, but the significant thing is that he remembered the event at all, when it was so quickly forgotten by everybody else. (His is the only version of the Modoc War to mention it until Oliver Knight's Following the Indian Wars came out in 1960.)

Some slight confirmation for his presence at the time comes from a note buried among the Applegate papers; according to this Drannan was a civilian contractor bringing supplies to the army during the Modoc War. So perhaps he was there, somewhere, at the edges of significant events. What about the Kit Carson stuff? Again, there is a slight confirmation in a relatively recently discovered inscription in Arizona. Kit Carson was there in 1849, and if this inscription is to be believed, so was William Drannan. The rock inscription reads "Killed Indians here 1849 Willie Drannan." So maybe, just perhaps, there was a grain of truth here as well. "What do you make of this?" an Elder of an Arizona tribe asked, on being presented with the evidence. He was told that it was a part of history. "Well, I call it murder," he responded. A far cry from the "life of magnificent adventure and high courage" Howard saw it as.

Next: #9--Chief Seattle's Speech.

15 November 2007

Quotation of the Day

The difference between "borrow and spend" republicans and "tax and spend" democrats is that at least the democrats try to have the money to pay for their spending. Call me crazy, but growing up I always thought that "don't buy what you can't afford to pay for" was one of those, "fiscal responsibility" issues that conservatives like to sing about. Maxing out the credit card bill is about the furthest thing from "fiscal responsibility" than one can get.--Pablo

05 November 2007

The Rules of the Game

I saw the following comic strip over at Denialism.

I personally find it trying--I meant to write tiring, but trying works too--to deal with arguments from people who don't seem to understand the basics of the rules of the game. If one person is playing bridge and his opponent is playing Monopoly™ little of substance is likely to result, though a good time may be had by all. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bemildred--the three bats in the Walt Kelly cartoon--used to have that problem all the time. At least they seemed to enjoy the confusion.

03 November 2007

With All Due Respect

Simulated drowning is a long-recognized form of torture. It has been used for centuries. To put it as simply as possible, yes, water-boarding is torture. With this in mind, it is interesting to read the following testimony given by our next Attorney-General to Congress.

DURBIN: We had questions yesterday about the issue of torture under the Geneva Conventions. The techniques which have been attributed to this administration involve painful stress positions, threatening detainees with dogs, forced nudity, water-boarding—that is, simulated drowning—and mock execution.

When we had the judge advocates general testify, I asked, point blank, whether they believed that these techniques violated the Geneva Conventions. They said yes.

And I asked if they felt if those techniques were used against an American detainee, they would be violative of the Geneva Convention. And they answered in the affirmative.

What is your opinion?

MUKASEY: They—I mean, I'm certainly not in a position here to argue to argue with a judge advocate general's view that they violated the Geneva Conventions and that, whether used against us or against anybody else, that they would.

That said, I think we have to also recognize that when we're talking about coercive methods of interrogation, this is not a matter of choosing pleasant alternatives over unpleasant alternatives or good alternatives over bad alternatives.

It's a choice among bad alternatives.

What the experience is of people in the Judge Advocate General's Corps who are enormously well-disciplined and very skilled, what that experience has been with captured soldiers, captured military people from enemies we fought in the past may very well be far different from the experience that we're having with unlawful combatants who we face now. It's a very different kind of person.

[DURBIN:] Well, I want to make sure I understand that response, because I think you may have created a division here in treatment, arguing that if these techniques were used in the past, before the current threat of terrorism, it would be a different circumstance under the Geneva Convention than it might be today.

I want to make sure I don't draw the wrong conclusion from that previous answer. So if you'd clarify it for me, please.

MUKASEY: I'm not sure how I can—I mean, I'm sorry. I'm not sure how I can clarify it.

DURBIN: Well, let me go back. I understood you to say that the judge advocates general, speaking about the Geneva Conventions and these specific methods of torture, may have been referring to previous times, previous conflicts, and that this conflict and this challenge of terrorism may present a different set of challenges that might be viewed or interpreted differently under Geneva Conventions.

If that is not what you said, please clarify it.

[MUKASEY:] I'm not sufficiently familiar with interpretations of the Geneva Conventions to be offering views on what would or would not come within it or outside it.

What I thought I was talking about is procedures that are acceptable to the military, that are authorized in the field manual and that represent the limit of what it is that the armed forces can do.

There are other techniques that are, as I understand it, that may be used by—with proper authorization—people outside the military. And those are not covered in the field manual.

DURBIN: But I'm speaking to the Geneva Conventions and the judge advocates general said the techniques that I described to you violated Common Article 3, and this is the baseline test that applies to everyone, not just soldiers. And I believe that the Supreme Court agreed with that conclusion in Hamdan.

Do you see that differently?

MUKASEY: What part of Common Article 3 the Supreme Court found in Hamdan was applicable through, I believe through the Universal Code of Military Justice, unless I'm confusing my cases.

I can't, as I sit here, recall precisely what part of Article 3 the Supreme Court found applicable. I thought they were talking about the need for a trial and for an opportunity for a detainee to get a hearing. I did not think that that concerned interrogation techniques.

DURBIN: Let me try to bring it to the bottom line, because I want to make sure if there is common ground we find it, if not, that it's clear on the record.

I want to understand as to these interrogation techniques whether you believe that they would constitute torture and therefore could not be used against any detainee, military or otherwise, by the United States government.

MUKASEY: I don't think that I can responsibly talk about any technique here, because of the very—I'm not going to discuss, and I should not—I'm sorry, I can't discuss, and I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar, when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques, and for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial, I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that.

DURBIN: This is not a congeniality contest, and I'm sorry that I've gone over, Mr. Chairman.

But, for instance, I just want to—if I can make one last point, on the issue of water-boarding, simulated drowning.

The United States has long taken the position that this is a war crime. In 1901, the U.S. Army Major Edwin Glenn sentenced to 10 years hard labor for water-boarding a captured insurgent in the Philippines.

U.S. military commissions after World War II prosecuted Japanese troops for engaging in water-boarding. The torture statute makes it a crime to threaten someone with imminent death. Water-boarding is a threat of imminent death.

I'm hoping that you can at least look at this one technique and say that clearly constitutes torture, it should not be the policy of the United States to engage in water-boarding, whether the detainee is military or otherwise.

MUKASEY: It is not constitutional for the United States to engage in torture in any form, be it water-boarding or anything else.

DURBIN: Take that as your answer.


LEAHY: I want to make sure I fully understand. But I wrote down about three different times you said: Unless it is authorized. Are you saying that techniques can be authorized that are not constitutional?

MUKASEY: No. That is emphatically not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that techniques can be authorized that are beyond the Army field manual, and I should not get into a discussion of what they might be or in what combination they might be authorized.

SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY, D-VT. CHAIRMAN: But if they—simply because something is authorized, if you have a law that says that it is torture and it is not allowed, is there any way it could be still authorized?

MUKASEY: If it is torture as defined in the Constitution, or as defined by constitutional standards, it can't be authorized. We don't have the Nuremberg defense here.

LEAHY: Is the current statute outlawing torture constitutional?

MUKASEY: I believe it is.

LEAHY: So that if something was authorized outside that statute, or that violates that statute, that authorization is illegal.

MUKASEY: Correct.

DURBIN: Thank you. Thank you, Judge, Mr. Chairman.

LEAHY: Senator—which one's next? I've lost track.

Senator Whitehouse? Sorry.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, D-R.I.: Just to finish that thought: So is water-boarding constitutional?

MUKASEY: I don't know what's involved in the technique. If water-boarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.

WHITEHOUSE: If water-boarding is constitutional is a massive hedge.

MUKASEY: No, I said, if it's torture. I'm sorry. I said, if it's torture.

WHITEHOUSE: If it's torture? That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't.

Do you have an opinion on whether water-boarding, which is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning—is that constitutional?

MUKASEY: If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.

WHITEHOUSE: I'm very disappointed in that answer. I think it is purely semantic.

As you consider this, I'd like to offer you at least a thought that I'd ask you to consider. This comes from testimony that was brought before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that is declassified.

It comes from a military officer who's conducted interrogations, who was team chief during the Gulf War, who had all the services under his command, interrogating literally thousands of prisoners.

He was an adviser to special operations task forces during Iraqi Freedom. He says, I have had a chance to really look at the academic, theoretical side of interrogation, but I am steeped in the operational side.

I asked him, From a point of view of intelligence-gathering effectiveness, would you, could you, or should you go beyond the Army Field Manual and the techniques that are authorized in the Army Field Manual, in order to obtain intelligence?

His answer: Senator, I thank you so much for that question, because I've been waiting 20 years to answer it. That is, absolutely not. I am not at all limited by the Army Field Manual, in terms of what I need to do to generate useful information.

That's the key—accurate useful information. Not leading to questions to force somebody to say what they think I want to hear. And the full spectrum of their knowledgeability, not answering only the questions I ask, but developing what I call operational accord, a relationship that they see it's in their best interests under non-pressure, non-coercive circumstances, that it would be in their best interest to answer these questions fully.

It gives an example of critical intelligence gathered in a search for Scud sites in the Iraq war and explains that he received it because the individual said, I'm so amazed at my treatment. I wanted, if I was going to be captured, to be captured by one of your allies. Not by the Americans, because I was told you were animals. You've treated me like a gentleman. You've treated me with respect. You are clearly knowledgeable of my customs and my culture. I'm more than happy to answer any questions that you have.

So, I asked him to confirm this. What you mean to say was you don't see the constraints of the army field manual—the moral constraints, the legal constraints—as in any way inhibiting the effectiveness of your examination techniques? That you could do everything you wanted to, that you missed for nothing because of those restrictions—is that what you intended to say?

The answer: That's precisely what I meant to say. I don't see those as limiting my ability to work, the spirit or the letter of that guidance. My approach was what we call a relationship-based approach. I've never felt any necessity or operational requirement to bring physical, psychological or emotional pressure on a source to win their cooperation.

So, following the guidance in the field manual, I feel unconstrained in my ability to work in the paradigm I've taught for so many years—22 years of 100 percent interrogation experience.

So then I asked him, Why do other countries do this? And he said, That gets to the very heart of the matter, and it is this. There are two objectives that one can pursue in interrogation: either winning cooperation, or compliance. They seem very similar, but there are profound differences.

Compliance means to take action that is against your interest, that you don't support—it has nothing to do with intelligence. Cooperation is winning a source's willingness to provide useful information. What the Chinese were interested, the Koreans, the North Vietnamese was maybe five percent intelligence, 95 percent compliance, meaning creating propaganda.

That's a while different paradigm. And the approaches that they use, like sleep deprivation and torture, ultimately will get any one of us in this room to do things that we couldn't imagine today, but it doesn't necessarily mean our ability to provide useful information.

And he concluded later by saying, So, I think the key points there is—are we trying to produce compliance, which is propaganda, or cooperation, which leads to intelligence? I hope, as you're evaluating these techniques, you will also consider the, I believe, widely held view of career professionals in the FBI, in the military, in the interrogation field who think that these techniques are not only wrong, but ineffective.

The part that fascinates me here is Mukasey's touching concern for torturers—criminals who may be operating within the US government in violation of both US and international law. He thinks it would be "irresponsible" to say something about them "that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk". He doesn't want to call a torturer a criminal just to be "congenial." Congenial! Could there be a word more ill-chosen than that one? This is a moral issue that should be made crystal clear. Torture is a crime. If there are torturers operating under the control of the US government—or people who knowingly connive at torture, say by sending detainees to places where they will be tortured—these people should be punished. Their careers and freedom should be at risk. In point of fact their careers and freedom should be ended. If Mukasey can't come out and say as much in plain English, his career as attorney-general should be ended now—before it has a chance to start.
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