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March 31, 2008
Science: Premature (partial) Expelleration...
Filed in: Current Affairs, Science

So what was the hottest topic in the 'sphere middle of last week?

Nope, wasn't the long-legged Obamarathon Wright-stuff stuff.

This is what is was: It was the kerfuffle over meany IDists tossing a scientist from seeing their movie. Yep.

I recently noted that Ben Stein (he of Nixon speechwirting, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, game show, and television commercials fame) is spearheading a new movie project called Expelled which examines with Ben Steinian precision and wit the demagoguery of science - specifically as it relates to the barring of a certain point of view from the academic marketplace of ideas.

Different participants have different views on just what went down last week. There are some things that are clear:  It happened in Minnesota. This was a prescreening of the movie - it's not released yet - that is to happen around mid-April. PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame was refused attendance and asked to leave. Richard Dawkins (the world's most famous atheist evolutionist), accompanying Meyers, made it in and afterward was engaged in some discussion, seemingly cordial. (Both Myers and Dawkins appear in the film. Both say that they were deceived about the intention of the film at the time that they gave their interviews.) Myers and Dawkins subsequent to these events posted reasoned academic discussion (OK, I made that part up) about their experiences, and all hell broke loose in the science blogs - as of this writing the Myers post has something over 1600 comments and still going strong. The Expelled folks have this take.  At some point last week, the NYT and AP picked up the story as well.

What seems to be in dispute about the matter is: whether the screening was a private affair or not, whether Myers was behaving in a way that attracted security for the event, whether film producer Mark Mathis pre-determined that Myers would not be admitted to the movie, and whether Richard Dawkins flew across the Atlantic to see a pre-screening of his star role (or attend a nearby atheist conference) among a plethora of other ideas and projections among the parties.

As you can surmise from Dawkins' post, he is very unhappy about what happened to Myers and unhappy with the film, enough to appello Jesus.

For his part, PZ finds ultimate irony that people so concerned with science demagoguery to the extent that they would have Expelled as their nom de guerre would stoop to the very same treatment.

The blog noise over all of this is primarily concerned with the ironic hypocrisy at hand - and in many cases, given such hypocrisy, that the film shouldn't even be released.

I suppose that it could be pointed out that there seems to be a moral equivalence of thin design at work. Neither Meyers or Dawkins work for the film producers or the production company. Neither of them were fired for expressing their views to the producers or the production company. Neither Meyers or Dawkins have had their careers ruined by the denigration of the producers or the production company.

Myers denied attendance at a prescreening of the incomplete film morally equivalent to the experience of expelled academicians? That cur fails to track.

It is also possible that the prolonged ad hominem shouting may just serve to attract more attention to the film's content than the 'science' community would like.

Sometimes life imitates art.

UPDATE: Try some video...

H/T for the video: Uncommon Descent.

UPDATE2: Discovery Institute's Evolution News blog points to highest 'sphere traffic statistic and visits the moral equivalence issue.

Pulled by Emcee on March 31, 2008 at 05:13 AM
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March 27, 2008
Japanese Antique Photo Album (Part 6)
Filed in: Art, ok maybe that's too strong a word, Current Affairs, Japan, Photography


This is the famous sacred bridge at Nikko (about an hour and a half train ride north of Tokyo - some very famous shrines here). The bridge and the backdrop look almost identical to the present day.


What's different now? Well, there's a two lane highway that would be between this camera perspective and the bridge today - i.e. you'd see another modern bridge in front of this one. Plus the two lane highway turns and runs perpendicular to the bridge at the right and you clearly see that highway if you were at this perspective today.

On the left today, there is a little, well, I'll call it a toll booth. Some monks sit there during open hours and charge you a few hundred yen to walk out on the old bridge. Maybe a hundred and something years ago, you could walk out there unfettered.

This is one of the photos in this album that has a very painting like quality to it. As you can tell, I'm liking all of these.

Pulled by Emcee on March 27, 2008 at 11:02 PM
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March 26, 2008
No race but the human race?
Filed in: Current Affairs, It feels so wrong so it's gotta be Wright, Politics

One response to Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech was that of Michael Meyer, the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

This is an appealing piece, because it correctly points out that Obama:

settled on merely "explaining" so-called racial differences between blacks and whites -- and in so doing amplified deep-seated racial tensions and divisions. Instead of giving us a polarizing treatise on the "black experience," Obama should have reiterated the theme that has brought so many to his campaign: That race ain't what it used to be in America...I waited in vain for our hybrid presidential candidate to speak the simple truth that there is no such thing as "race," that we all belong to the same race -- the human race. I waited for him to mesmerize us with a singular and focused appeal to hold all candidates to the same standards no matter their race or their sex or their age. But instead Obama gave us a full measure of racial rhetoric about how some of us with an "untrained ear" -- meaning whites and Asians and Latinos -- don't understand and can't relate to the so-called black experience.

Meyer is right to point out a call to human unity as advisable. We need some of that in terms of dialog in the public square and fundamental resolution of the founding assertion that we are all created equal. It is a point. But it's not the point - not the only point.

Because we err, as well, to issue a call to absolute sameness. Down that path lies the collective and if we embrace it in the extreme we end up not being individually identifiable.

[I regularly travel to Japan. I love that country and its people. But if you want to see the closest thing to a human hive, that's one place to observe. And it isn't America or what I think we want to be.]

It's perhaps a subtle or nuanced point - as Americans we are called to celebrate both our sameness and our differences.

It's intellectually dishonest to say that we aren't in reality different in many respects or that groups of individuals are wrong to desire to celebrate some cultural - or even racial - distinction. Some aspect of each of us is tribal, and ethnic, and individual.

Color-blindness and culture-blindness in the extreme leads to a homogeneity that is not healthy and once we think through it, not something that any of us would really want. We are a country of people - all members of the human race - and many more or less identifiable with any number of groups in which we have something in common.

In this country we have a long tradition of honoring and celebrating identity. We once were Male and Female, Quakers and Puritans, Deists, and Calvinists, Virginians, Loyalists, and Rhode Islanders, Whigs, Tories, and Democrats, Irish, and Italian, Immigrant, and Indian (among many more). We have now become identities too many to measure or conceive and it is our destiny perhaps to become as many identities - and more - as there are souls.

America's traditional message to identity has always been - go and do your thing! Celebrate your identity, celebrate with those that you hold common interest, or culture with.

The error of identity politics enters when identifiable groups assert that their differences have some innate characteristic that demands especially favorable treatment by the "other" - it doesn't matter whether the rationale is because of oppression or the superiority of royal blood or anything else. It is this error that ironically belies the American conception of everyone created equal and makes exception rule.

Identity politics is the bane of our culture. It ultimately leads to a multicultural nihilism - where identities descend to infantile hubris and demand servitude from the "other" - a cacaphony that, even now, runs amok among us.

Perhaps it is the final destination of the addiction to the self.

And so we must walk that razor's edge, the edge that allows us to accept the universal equality of mankind and the identity or identities to which we - and to which others - belong. We can be Greek without demanding special treatment from Cowboys.

As well, it's certainly permissible for an identity group to be insular. I don't like many of the things that Jeremiah Wright has said - but it is his right to say them. He may be offended by my very existence and he has that right as well. His church may not welcome my presence. He and they can possess and celebrate that identity for all they care because this is our beloved country. It is when that identity demonizes the "other" and demands some reparative attention or some special provenance unwarranted by anyone else that the descent befalls. They can keep it in, but they can't let it out. 

It is my hope that we will always be able to hear the lilting Cajun patois in the southern Mississippi basin, that we can always go and buy a painted silk fan or paper lantern in the nearest Chinatown, that we can attend the Greek festival and enjoy those grilled lambchops, listen to the sorrowful blues in a favorite dive, rub shoulders with the brokers on Wall Street, watch the latest incarnations of Beethoven thrash their modern lyres, and any other of the myriad of identity celebrations that characterize our culture. Let us not be so humane that we lose who we are.

Oh, and God grant us the providence to root out the political disease that has befallen us. May we learn to come together as equals in the public square and debate the provenance of government as equals without regard to what sheaths our bodies or how articulate the noise we make with each other may sound. May we not elevate nation above identity, but hold again that we are a nation of laws and not of identity perspective.

H/T: Dan Collins for the Meyer article.

Pulled by Emcee on March 26, 2008 at 03:55 AM
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March 24, 2008
There were Peep Wars...
Filed in: Art, ok maybe that's too strong a word, Current Affairs, Good eats

So there were Peep Wars at the Easter dinner. I had no idea.

I reminded the proprieter that Michael Vick was arrrested and drummed from the NFL for conduct in kind.

Acknowledging this, they began taking wagers.

I did not eat any vanquished or victors.

Pulled by Emcee on March 24, 2008 at 05:28 PM
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Obamanation (Interlude)...
Filed in: Current Affairs, It feels so wrong so it's gotta be Wright, Politics

In these next few months there will be troubled waters.

There are many, many things to say. Some are very difficult to say. Perhaps it is a good time to have a national conversation.

Interest across all media regarding Barack Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright seems to continue unabated. Some number of media pundits are now of the view that it's over though there may be some typical blips - though it appears that, perhaps because of Obama's allowance by not repudiating Wright, a number of defenses of Wright are occurring . But, as I've been positing, it is comprehending Barack Obama's underlying theological point of view that should eventually become the focus - for the purpose of understanding just what is going on during this particular American season.

[Having just completed reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left (which, by the way, I think is the most important political book that I've ever read - and, please understand, by saying that, I'm not saying that I agree with everything dear Jonah says, but I am offering my opinion that it is the most important political book of our age...), I am realizing just how many political views of the American polity are not necessarily guided by critical thinking and in many cases, perhaps, those points of view have been unwittingly shaped by revisionist history and appealing calls that mask intention. I know that I've had to recalibrate many areas of my own views in light of Jonah's book.]

In the culmination of Obama's speech last week, he suggests we have two alternatives: one (which he eschews) is that we can have a politics of division that continues the discussion that we have had in the last couple of weeks preceding his speech (including the implications of the meaning of the messages of Jeremiah Wright), or two, we can reject that and:

This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools...This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room...This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills...This time we want to talk to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized...

He states this because Obama's constituency is the oppressed. His ministry is to the oppressed (which for him also includes those in military service - he projects that they are oppressed by having to participate in an unjust war). With whatever platitudes he offers about having some national conversation about race, what he says that is ultimately important is that our country is made up of the oppressed and the oppressors and what we need to talk about is the oppressed (and certainly with a sprinkling of the primacy of black experience).

People of all political positions have commented on whether Obama played the race card or commended himself well but it doesn't seem that anyone has pointed out that, after some forty years of our Great Society experiment, his call to action about what America's should be focused on is more fully realizing that experiment - and more can really only mean that we further expand entitlements somewhere above the something more than twenty percent of GNP that it is now. (Doesn't it occur to anyone that, should we contemplate Kenya, the Sudan, and Darfur (along with many other places in the world), whether we should ask "Is anyone in America really oppressed?")

Isn't it time, and really past time, to have a conversation about how the Great Society experiment has utterly failed? Isn't it time to cease the crushing weight of that part of the entitlement system that creates fatherless children and broken lives? Isn't it time to talk about the value of personal responsibility and how energy-sapping is the soul of victimhood?

It is the ultimate irony perhaps to suggest to Mr. Obama that there is perhaps a Third Way.

Pulled by Emcee on March 24, 2008 at 04:32 AM
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Political Pastor...
Filed in: Current Affairs, It feels so wrong so it's gotta be Wright, Politics

In his Philadelphia speech Barack Obama said:

...Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - ...just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Just for the record. I have sat in the pew (not every Sunday) for almost twenty years in my church and I have never once heard my pastor say anything whatsoever resembling anything akin to the trail Jeremiah Wright has left. I've never heard him - from the pulpit - every make a political comment - or make any suggestion whatsoever about American leadership - other than to pray for our leaders. Come to think of it, I've never heard any such thing in any church that I have ever attended at any time for nearly fifty years.

So please don't count me among the many, Mr. Obama.

Pulled by Emcee on March 24, 2008 at 01:16 AM
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March 23, 2008
He Is Risen...
Filed in: Current Affairs

He Is Risen indeed...

Happy Easter!

Pulled by Emcee on March 23, 2008 at 03:41 AM
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March 20, 2008
Japanese Antique Photo Album (Part 5)
Filed in: Art, ok maybe that's too strong a word, Current Affairs, Japan, Photography


Here's the next one. This is another of Ueno Park - it's apparent to me that it's the entrance from the main part of downtown Ueno. But I believe that many of the stone lanterns here are either no longer in these positions or they are obscured by the trees that are currently there.

Of course, it could just be faulty memory on my part.


This is one that, for me, is really impacted by the post-photograph painting effort by the artist. The multiple shades of green and other tree foliage colors are rendered masterfully - and the color shadow work is very detailed and realistic.

Thanks for looking and please tell me what you think.

Pulled by Emcee on March 20, 2008 at 01:51 AM
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March 17, 2008
It's the theology... Mr. Obama, you do prevaricate...
Filed in: Current Affairs, It feels so wrong so it's gotta be Wright, Politics

I've begun making a case that to understand Barack Obama, it is important to understand that he is informed by Jeremiah Wright (it's amazing how fast some entries in the Wikipedia are updated isn't it?) and further, that he is informed by James Cone (and other more significantly Marxist black intelligentsia like Cornel West and Anthony Pinn).

For Obama to pretend that Wright is like a sometimes bumbling uncle, and that familial disagreement is really all there is in reference to the controversial videos that most of us have seen in the last few weeks, is disingenuous. Jeremiah Wright is not a singular voice, he voices the sentiments of those who founded Black Theology, and those who follow it, and his praxis explicates what he has been taught and what he believes.

Obama may disavow certain inflammatory remarks that Wright makes, but that is really a matter of adroit packaging because Obama believes in the same underlying theology that Wright does and has consistently repeated the same message - just purposefully packaged to make it more palatable to a broader base of potential voters.

In the NYT article (requires login) A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith, by Jodi Kantor that introduced Obama's faith in the mainstream media - this in April of 2007:

When Mr. Obama arrived at Harvard Law School later that year, where he fortified himself with recordings of Mr. Wright’s sermons, he was delivering stirring speeches as a student leader in the classic oratorical style of the black church.

Clearly, Obama has been informed by Jeremiah Wright. Further into the article:

Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy...Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, who by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less.

If you haven't already done so, please read my post referenced above to underscore that the 'gospel' of Black Theology is the primacy of the experience of the oppressed black identity group. This is the central thesis of the systematized theology expounded by James Cone.

In Seattle's underground paper The Stranger, Jonathan Raban pens in The Church of Obama, How He Recast the Language of Black Liberation Theology into a Winning Creed for Middle-of-the-Road White Voters:

The title of Obama's book The Audacity of Hope is an explicit salute to a sermon by Wright called "The Audacity to Hope," and his speeches are peppered with Wrightisms, like his repeated claim that "There are more young black men in prison than there are in college," but his debt to the preacher goes much deeper. While Wright works his magic on enormous congregations, with the basic message of liberation theology, that we are everywhere in chains, but assured of deliverance by the living Christ, Obama, when on form, can entrance largely white audiences with the same essential story, told in secular terms and stripped of its references to specifically black experience. When Wright says "white racists," Obama says "corporate lobbyists"; when Wright speaks of blacks, Obama says "hard-working Americans," or "Americans without health care"; when Wright talks in folksy Ebonics, of "hos" and "mojo," Obama talks in refined Ivy League. But the essential design of the piece follows the same pattern as a Wright sermon, in its nicely timed transition from present injustice and oppression to the great joy coming in the morning.

Obama's political strategy is to bring nationalist black theology into a broad constituency. In our culture of identity politics it's not a stretch to broaden the social gospel for one identity group to all of the oppressed identity groups that have identified themselves. To the extent that these groups are receptive to the statist progressive promises of government coddling will determine Obama's strategic success.

All of this raises a rich plethora of issues for discussion, but, for the purpose of this post, we can certainly say that Barack Obama's characterization of his relationship with Wright is devoid of transparency.

In further posts we'll examine this and other issues in more detail.

H/T for the Cornel West reference: Cobb.

Pulled by Emcee on March 17, 2008 at 03:57 AM
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March 14, 2008
Japanese Antique Photo Album (Part 4)
Filed in: Art, ok maybe that's too strong a word, Current Affairs, Japan, Photography


This is one of my favorites in the entire album. This much wysteria in one place probably has to be illegal.


The bridge is also exceptional I think because it is a perfect semi-circle. Of course the crew standing there on top of it is somewhat of a mystery. The reflections are fantastic. Yep, I like it.

What a grand staging.

Pulled by Emcee on March 14, 2008 at 01:18 AM
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