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Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Coup For Junk Journalism

(Updated below)

Al Gore was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As expected, the smear attacks and indignant cries of right-wingers, global warming denialists and all assorted anti-Gore maniacs have been flooding the blogosphere.

Incidentally, the same thing is going on in numerous MSM outlets.


Just this day, I found four columns from so-called news columnists/editors - each one repeating the same barbs, same lies and same global warming denialism.

Four different columns, each one equally displaying utter junk journalism.

Let us begin with Terence Corcoran's piece in the National Post, titled "A coup for junk science". Here is the opening line of Mr. Corcoran's opus:
Global warming theory has been in political and scientific trouble for some time.
Yawn. The same type of blatant lie as the one pushed by creationists/IDists with regards to evolution. Same quack tactics - not surprisingly, because what else can deniers do in the face of an established scientific consensus among an overwhelming majority of scientists?

In any case, this opening line from Mr. Corcoran's column is quite telling of the kind of incompetent news columnist that he is.

But it gets better. Then comes the (expected) parroted barbs and sneers against the actual value of the Nobel Peace Prize:
Rescuing and rewarding the obscure and the absurd has been a Nobel sideline for some years. The award has gone to half a dozen fringe movements and futile causes (the Gameen bank, Mother Teresa, nuclear disarmament, land mine activists, peace negotiators), ineffectual United Nations agencies and personalities (including KofiAnnan and the UN itself ), occasional warmongers (Yasser Arafat), plus an international assortment of minor and woolly-headed players on the world stage (Wangari Masthai, Jimmy Carter).
From there, Mr. Corcoran goes for the jugular:
Onto this heap of forgotten causes and marginalia the Nobel has just tossed Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN's official climate science group. What a blow the award must be to the IPCC, self-proclaimed home of scientific rigour, to now be lumped in with Reverend Al and his Travelling Snake Oil Road Show and Climate Terror Machine.

If history is any guide here, the IPCC is now doomed to slide into obscurity, joining the list of similarly feted UN agencies that beaver away in relative obscurity and ineffectiveness, their Nobels rotting on shelves: The International Atomic Energy Agency (2005), United Nations peacekeeping forces (1988), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (1981), the International Labour Organization (1969) and the UN Children's Fund (1965).

The first task of the IPCC now, one would think, is to craft a statement disavowing any link with Gore, whose film and book, both titled An Inconvenient Truth, deserved a Nobel for science fiction rather than peace. Not that the IPCC is squeaky clean on the science of climate accuracy. Even the Nobel committee's statement on the IPCC captured the agency's primary role as political shaper of opinion and builder of consensus. IPCC scientific reports have "created an ever-broader informed consensus" about man-made global warming. The Nobel committee said it wanted to "contribute to a sharper focus" on climate change around the world.
This illustrates well the intellectual vapidity and dishonesty of Mr. Corcoran.

First, he casts aspertions on the IPCC for its scientific rigor because, well you know, that is all ignoramuses like Mr. Corcoran can do in order to reassure themselves that their intellectual sloth-driven "beliefs" are sound - nevermind if you have no idea what science and the scientific method are all about. Hence, in Mr. Corcoran's primitive mind, the scientists affiliated with the IPCC must be suspect in their scientific rigor and, consequently, wrong about global warming. Yeah - that's the ticket!

Second, Mr. Corcoran can't help himself but spit literally on Mr. Gore by seeking to ridicule him.

Hence, what we have here are two classic tactics of right-wing nutterers, denialists, fundamentalists and other assorted madhaters: refuse to recognize competence in, and heap ridicule upon, those who "threaten" your ignorance-based beliefs and ideologies.

Typical incompetent human behavior.

Then, of course, Mr. Corcoran perpetuates junk journalism by parroting junk journalism from elsewhere, with regards to that recent ruling by a U.K. judge concerning Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth:

Just hours before the Nobel announcement, Gore was busy spinning his way out of a devastating United Kingdom court case that found nine substantial science errors in the film version of An Inconvenient Truth.

The nine errors, listed on Page A19 of this newspaper, are truly major. But Gore's office, in true political form, tried to turn the science disaster into victory, claiming he was "gratified" that the U.K. court had not totally banned distribution of his film in British schools. Instead, it would have to circulate like a package of cigarettes, with a warning label: Children watch this movie at peril of being politically manipulated by Al Gore into thinking what they are watching is true.
Mr. Corcoran is referring to another article in the same journal where he contributes, which in turn draws exclusively from the same misinterpretations of other (mostly) conservative-leaning newspapers from the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.

As I am fond of saying: garbage in, garbage out.

To this effect, do take the time to read the actual ruling of this U.K. judge here. You will notice this very telling passage:
In the event I was persuaded that only some of them were sufficiently persuasive to be relevant for the purposes of his argument, and it was those matters - 9 in all - upon which I invited Mr Chamberlain to concentrate. It was essential to appreciate that the hearing before me did not relate to an analysis of the scientific questions, but to an assessment of whether the 'errors' in question, set out in the context of a political film, informed the argument on ss406 and 407. All these 9 'errors' that I now address are not put in the context of the evidence of Professor Carter and the Claimant's case, but by reference to the IPCC report and the evidence of Dr Stott.
As someone else puts it: "if you noticed the quotation marks around 'error' (...) Burton is not saying that there are errors, he is just referring to the things that Downes alleged were errors".

In other words: junk journalists like Mr. Corcoran and all others of his ilk have been listing without thinking (or perhaps knowingly indeed) nine instances put forth by the plaintif which the complaint deemed "scientific errors" and yet not recognized by the U.K. judge, because the judge himself ruled that it is essential to appreciate that the hearing before him did not relate to an analysis of the scientific questions!

Hence, the judge never outlined errors in Gore's movie and never ruled them as errors!

(For more on this blatant excercize of incompetence on the part of journalists with regards to the ruling of this U.K. judge, read this excellent article).

So, once again, what we have here is another display of stenographing and amplifying outright falsehoods through MSM outlets - thanks to incompetent journalism.

But this doesn't stop Mr. Corcoran from ripping away at Al Gore, his movie (and even his 1997 climate change book as well!), leading to his conclusion:
Given his science gaffes, and his political liabilities, the Nobel may be more of a liability, not just to Gore but to the entire global warming community. The prize has elevated junk science, gross exaggeration and outright misrepresentation to high international stature, the most prestigious award in the world, discrediting all who work honestly to find the facts and do the right thing.
Actually, what we have here is another blatant excercize of junk journalism - nothing more, nothing less.

And as I mentioned at the beginning of the present article, Mr. Corcoran was not alone in displaying utter incompetence today.

Indeed, we were also graced with the "serious, thoughtful and knowledgeable" David Warren, with his piece "If only there were a Nobel prize for deception" in the Ottawa Citizen. I've already discussed Mr. Warren's utter ignorance of all things related scientific. Suffice it to say that his column of today is a mere mirror image of Mr. Corcoran's column discussed above, complete with the same displays of shameless ignorance, vapidity, inanity and parroting of falsehoods (once again, especially with regards to the ruling from the aforementioned U.K. judge). And since three's company, the "serious, thoughtful and knowledgeable" David Frum likewise penned a column on the very same subject in the National Post (again), titled "Honouring a panic-monger", filled to the brim with the same falsehoods, sneers and blatant display of intellectual sloth-driven ignorance and incompetence.

A fourth column, an editorial by The Gazette and titled "Al Gore is out of his league", proved to be somewhat of an exception today. Indeed, the editorial does not dispute global warming but could not help itself in seeking to demean the value and significance of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to (gasp!) Al Gore while mentionning the now-robotic misinterpretations of the U.K. judge's ruling on his movie. But considering the sad and tragic current state of journalism, credit must nonetheless be given where credit is due - I therefore do so by outlining the ending of this editorial:
Despite all this, however, nobody could deny that Gore has done much to spread the word about climate change, a problem with the potential to create resource conflicts in many parts of the world.

Gore's co-winner of the Peace Prize, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was lauded by the Nobel committee for scientific reports that have "created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming."

Gore's crusade has helped the world understand those reports. The challenge now, for all of us, is to find sensible ways to slow down emissions and cope with those effects that are already inevitable.
Again - although this is far from constituting a call for mobilization to fight global warming, at least we do not have yet more climate change denialism on display in an MSM outlet.

All in all, and considering the offerings we were served today, I can only conclude that Mr. Gore's Nobel Peace Prize constituted an opportunity for duplicitous, mendacious, ignorance-based and/or outright sloppy journalism to rear its ugly head again.

(Where Mr. Gore and global warming are concerned - nothing new here, unfortunately)

In short: today was a veritable coup for junk journalism.

But truth be told - days like today seem increasingly like just another typical day in MSM Land.

Sadly enough.

Yet another truth laid bare - applicable anywhere.


Update: 10/14/2007 - Faux News hosts and commentators keep reacting like shrilling and sniping, utterly ignorant tweenies with regards to Mr. Gore's Nobel Peace Prize - again, not surprisingly. You can read more on the junk journalism about this subject here. On a related note, you can read another exhaustive and reality-based analysis of the U.K. judge's ruling on An Inconvenient Truth here. Enjoy.


(Cross-posted from APOV)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Coming Full Circle In Afghanistan

Alternate title: Afghanistan - What Was It For, Again?

Recent developments with regards to the Afghanistan quagmire illustrate the sheer inanity of this "mission" while at the same time exposing the so-called Global War on Terror(TM) for the duplicitous scam that it has been from the very beginning.

In essence, the core-reasons for going into Afghanistan are now being disavowed in order to embark on a political salvage operation of appearances - with the price continuing to be exacted with the lives of N.A.T.O. soldiers and Afghan civilians.



Remember the mantra "we do not negotiate with terrorists"?

We heard it again back in August when South Korea made a deal with the Taliban in order to free South Korean Christian aid workers who were held hostage by Taliban militants.

Indeed, not only did U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai chanted the mantra, but likewise did Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier - who went as far as to add the corollary "such negotiations only lead to further acts of terrorism".

What a difference a couple of months make: over the last two weeks or so, President Karzai has been calling for negotiations between his government and the Taliban, going as far as to offer Taliban positions in the government. All with the nod of approval from the U.S. and Canada.

In order to fully appreciate the ludicrous enormity of it all, let us first go back to the core-reasons for the Afghanistan War:
At the time, President Bush justified the launching of the Afghanistan War as a response to 9-11 and the failure of the Taliban to meet his demands concerning terrorists, including delivering Osama bin Laden. Following the trauma and outrage brought by 9-11, an overwhelming majority of Americans supported the War in Afghanistan - and President Bush was believed at face value when he claimed that the replacement of the Taliban regime was a requirement for keeping the U.S.A. safe from another al-Qaeda attack.
However, and despite President Bush's "convictions", a lot did not sit well with his invasion of Afghanistan (emphasis added):
(...) there was a rather meek international support for such justifications initially, especially since: 1) the U.S.A. had turned a convenient blind eye when the backward, fundamentalist Taliban regime seized power in 1996 (after all, the U.S.A. had supported the Taliban); 2) although the Taliban was indeed characterized by its parochial, fundamentalist and theocratic-driven ruthless rule, it was never a terrorist organization to begin with; 3) the Taliban was certainly not involved in 9-11; 4) the Taliban had agreed to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan for trial (10/01/2001, but Pakistan refused); 5) the Taliban then offered to try bin Laden themselves (10/07/2001, but the offer was rejected by Bush); and 6) the Taliban thereafter offered to hand him over to the U.S., provided that proof was shown that bin Laden was responsible for 9-11 (10/14/2001, but this offer was likewise flatly rejected by Bush).
Hence, the Taliban regime was not a terrorist organization and had made a significant number of overtures to deliver Osama bin Laden - however, all such overtures were rejected.

Why? Because of the expedient desire to go to war - which happened on 10/07/2001, when American and British forces undertook an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan - thus marking the beginning of the Afghanistan War.

Other U.S. allies, namely Australia and Canada, also joined in this war. By the summer of 2002, the Taliban had been removed from power and its remnants, like those of al-Qaeda, had gone into hiding. By the end of spring 2003, then-still U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared major combat operations over. However, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, by then fully allied by necessity, had already regrouped along the Afghani-Pakistani border, recruiting heavily while training in guerrilla warfare tactics - thanks to consistent funding seemingly transiting through Pakistan. Then, the Taliban insurgency followed - which has been lasting to this day.

We all know how this has been turning out so far:
(...) faced with the reality of this war and seeking to salvage the most out of it humanitarian-wise, the United Nations Security Council authorized an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan on 12/20/2001, which not only included N.A.T.O. forces but was also to be lead by N.A.T.O. itself. The ISAF's original peacekeeping mandate was for a duration of six months - however, partly because of the Taliban insurgency and partly because the U.S. has been "too busy" with its Iraq War since it began in 03/2003, the ISAF's mandate was thereafter extended in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and then extended anew until 03/2008 ... with talks already in the works for a further twelve month-extension beyond this date. In between, N.A.T.O. expanded its Afghanistan mission by increasing its forces in 2005 and in 2006 (including Canadian ones) - because its peacekeeping mission had transformed into a counter-insurgency one.

(...)

Although having been successfully pushed out of power, the Taliban insurgency rages on in spite of the wishful thinking that it is weakening.

(...)

Osama bin Laden got away and is still in hiding, along with most of the al-Qaeda leadership - even if he and his organization were the prime justification for going into Afghanistan in the first place.
In other words: due to the incompetence of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz et al. (especially by their demonstrated incapacity to keep focused on the Afghan mission at hand and complete it soundly before moving on), N.A.T.O. had to change its peacekeeping/reconstruction mandate to full combat operations - because the Taliban and al-Qaeda were back in force (after being essentially allowed to flee to Pakistan in order to regroup), and enough to enact a significant insurgence at that. So in effect, N.A.T.O. ends up trying to finish the job the Bush administration should have completed to begin with, but instead botched - i.e. N.A.T.O. is trying to make up for the ludicrous mistakes of the demonstrated incompetence of Bush and Co..

How so? The Powell Doctrine was already established and demonstrated after Desert Storm. But then the resident incompetents in the White House (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al.) tossed it aside when they went into Afghanistan - especially because, as it has been revealed, they already had their sights on Iraq. So, they went in Afghanistan without massive deployments, made those stupid deals with the Afghan Warlords and their militias, contented themselves with routing the Taliban and al-Qaeda away from Khabul (and for the life of me, I never understood why no one figured out that the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban would run into Pakistan and, consequently, take strategic steps to block off the border in order to prevent this - then again, they never had enough boots on the grounds to enact such a basic strategy to begin with - but I digress), and then they asked for U.N./N.A.T.O. help because they had begun occupying themselves with Iraq.

In short: their shoddy pre-war and post-war planning, as well as their desire to rush into war with Iraq, constitute the root-cause as to why Afghanistan is a quagmire - granted, not a big one like Iraq or Vietnam, but one nonetheless.

And through it all, of course, the commanders, generals and leaders keep seeing only progress in Afghanistan.

Yes - there is progress in Afghanistan, or so we keep on hearing again and again and again. It is apparently a big success.

I want to believe this - I really do, if only because it would mean that all those U.S., Canadian and British soldiers who have died there so far, as well as all those innocent Afghan civilians, did not die for nothing.

But it is very hard for me to believe there is significant progress in Afghanistan when violence there keeps increasing significantly, when we have difficulties in winning the hearts and minds of Afghanis, when the Karzai government is mired in corruption, when Warlords keep using brute force to gain power, when not much has changed for most Afghani women with regards to equality and all that jazz, when opium/heroin Khans easily buy free passes from arrest and prosecution, when Afghan forces are unable to hold villages that have been secured against the Taliban, and so on and so forth.

It is indeed very hard for me to "believe" there is progress when Canada's Harper government will go as far as to do everything it can to discourage, belay, hamper (or even ridicule) members of the opposition from going to Afghanistan and see for themselves what progress there is. Why such blatant politicking of the Afghan War on the part of the Harper government if there is indeed significant progress there? What is there to fear from independent verification of facts, other than the potential full exposure of the harsh, not-so-rosy reality, perhaps?

A year ago, senior British military officers estimated that it would require 15 to 20 years to fully achieve success in Afghanistan. Now they are speaking of a 30-year "marathon mission" against the Taliban. Meanwhile Canada is still struggling with the question of leaving in 2009 once its "tour of duty" is done or continue on, at the same time seeking more involvement from actual U.N. peacekeeping troops.

I doubt there will be much "success" there, however poignantly convincing the arguments may be, especially when considering that Afghanistan is indeed a quagmire. One further case in point: Japan will be pulling out of the mission soon.

(Who knows? Perhaps if "blue helmets" were seen instead of U.S., Canadian or British flags, the "mission" might become more palatable to the Afghanis in general? But I digress ...)

Through it all, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been conflated together as terrorists, especially since Taliban militants are using the same road-side bombing and suicide bombing tactics as their allies of necessity.

Consequently, six years after the beginning of the Afghan War, we have come full circle with those calls for negotiating with the "terrorist" Taliban.

Something that was rejected by the Bush administration initially. Something that has been decried over and over again: we do not negotiate with terrorists.

And yet, here we are today.

As someone else puts it:
I applaud Karzai for his attempts to end Afghanistan's nightmare through negotiation. Ultimately, a political solution is the only way out.

But at the same time, I wonder how the parents and husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends of (...) soldiers killed in Afghanistan will feel if he succeeds – if (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar becomes Karzai's prime minister; if, as part of a coalition deal, more severe forms of sharia law are imposed on women; if the very few gains Afghanistan has made in the field of human rights are reversed.

Won't they wonder if the whole thing was a waste of time? Won't they suspect their lovers and sons and daughters died for nothing?
And this is not considering the fact that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are still at large (no thanks in good part to Pakistan).

In essence, the core-reasons for going into Afghanistan are now being disavowed in order to embark on a political salvage operation of appearances - with the price continuing to be exacted with the lives of N.A.T.O. soldiers and Afghan civilians in the meantime.

There is indeed only one conclusion that can be drawn here: people and soldiers have been dying over the last six year for nothing more than what in the end has amounted to a needless political exercize on the part of incompetent "deciders".

Thus, to the question "Afghanistan - what was it for, again?", the blunt answer is "A big fat nothing, all across the board".

Global War on Terror(TM) my ass ...


(Cross-posted from APOV)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Welcome To Our Semi-Dark Ages

Near the end of the 1990s, many spoke of the "bridge to the 21st century" - the expression evoking images of greater enlightenment, of enhanced rationality, of increased wisdom, of greater maturity and responsibility, of widespread peace, prosperity and democracy ... of a brave, new and better world awaiting all of us just around the corner, if we would but take the first, resolute step to make its promises a reality.

Instead, we decided that it was too uncertain, too much effort or not quick enough in coming - consequently, we chose instead to retreat within our self-centered selves, rejecting knowledge and reason in favor of fear, ignorance, truthiness and superstition.

Welcome to our Semi-Dark Ages.



As much as we are fortunate to live in this modern era of ours, which is defined by the continuous technological and scientific advances that are meant to increase the chasm between us and our primitive, superstitious outlook of the world and the universe, the overwhelming prevalence of ignorance and irrationality in our supposedly civilized societies leaves us mired in tribalism, intellectual sloth and the constant search for instant gratification.

Indeed, and more than ever, too many among us prefer to wallow in superstition and the super-natural in order to sustain a so-called spiritual need for guidance in life – the sustained prevalence of seers, astrologers, mediums, and other quacks, illustrates well this tragic state of affairs. The same goes with regards to the belief in ghosts, haunts and spirits. Ditto for pseudo-sciences (e.g. homeopathy, crystals, pyramids, chelation, etc.) and the quacks who keep making a fortune in selling their placebo-remedies which are supposed to be miraculous. And let us not forget about everything related to "new age" religions and religious fundamentalism (whether Christian, Muslim, or any other).

More than ever, we would rather be serviced an opinion, like being served fast-food, instead of making the effort to forge an informed one for ourselves. We prefer to wallow body and mind into reality-tv shows, infotainments, games and leisure, instead of putting the effort in exercizing our duties as citizens in our democratically-based societies.

We must have our instant gratification with minimal effort.

This in turn is the root cause for our current tabloid news and politics - a society-wide dumbing down.

That is why the overwhelming majority of politicos are often either timid, "dumb and dumber", or "uber triangulators", all the while seeking to appear as the most toughest and decisive leader-like leader-to-be - no substance, but all appearance ... which is what matters in election years, because that is what we want.

Indeed - the politicos are only responding (or trying to respond) to We The People.

We have become so superficial ourselves that we make our democratic choices based largely on appearances, not on substance.

Why else would haircuts, voice qualities, laughter-sounding acceptability, cleavages, cod-pieces, earthy tones, sighs, and other such vapid and superfluous attibutes constitute important matters in elections?

And don't you dare blame the Media Corporations - considering that they have no qualms at yanking shows that have poor ratings, why do you think they keep serving tabloid infortainment, news, reality shows, game shows and other such tripe? Because. These. Have. High. Ratings.

And who provides such profit-making ratings? We The People.

In the meantime, we - meaning those of us who actually bother to get off their tv couch and go out to vote - keep electing demagogues that "make us feel good, make us feel secure, make us feel at ease, tell us what we want to hear" while rejecting with disdain and mistrust genuine candidates that are actually knowledgeable and better qualified as leaders.

Yes indeed - we can easily blame the politicians, the media, the corporations, the lobbying groups, or anyone else, all we want ... but the painful and ever so tragic truth remains this: we have only ourselves to blame.

We have embraced fear and loathing in the face of terrorists, instead of resolutely standing our ground. We have surrendered our rights and freedoms, instead of clinging to them fiercely.

Why? Because authoritarianism-like security is the quick-fix solution as demanded by our need for instant gratification.

The same goes with the economy, health care and the environment, among others. We act like ostriches in the face of complex issues because "it is too complicated", "too discouraging", or "too unsettling".

We would rather believe the lies because these lies not only reassure us, but they also whisper along the certainty that our need for instant gratification will not be hampered - in short: we want assurances and those quick-fix (non)solutions, which only serve to postpone inevitable consequences to unsolved problems, as opposed to those sobering realistic assessments and those difficult, uneasy, actual solutions which would solve the problems at hand.

Hence, we have embraced ignorance and fear, all the while rejecting reason and rationality.

This is what I previously described as the metastizing cancer on the body democratic.

The so-called Dark Ages are often seen as a period of history characterized by ignorance, superstition and irrational thought, and therefore inhospitable to any logical reasoning or rational activity. Although such a perception of these times constitutes a somewhat popular misconception, let us take a look at what we have accepted (at least via silence) so far, since we crossed that bridge leading us from the 20th century to the 21st one:

We've witnessed attempts to censor science, to control it, to falsify it or rewrite it, to quietly hide it, to brazenly deny funding for it, to change its mission/purpose, to actually lie about it, to use spin games to deny it, to go to great lenghts to confuse people about it, to dismiss it as a matter of differing beliefs or philosophies, or to go as far as to demonize it. This is still going on with regards to global warming - better to fib about it or still seek to deny it, instead of actually accepting the factual science once and for all, along with the real solutions that are needed to solve this dire problem. And what about evolution? Seems like we are back in the 19th century - along with Creation museums and the non-stopping trend to promote the "principle" that creationism and/or ID should be taught in science classes, while firing teachers who suggest that the Bible should not be taken literally.

We've witnessed the resurgence of the politics of fear, ignorance and lies, of the use of barbarous torture (sorry - "enhanced interrogation techniques"), of the waging of wars of choice, of the commission of utter injustices, of the view of the world in a simplistic "Good Vs. Evil" proposition.

We've witnessed (and still do) the repudiation of rational voices, preferring instead to listen to (and reward) the voices of fear-mongering and war-waging, who keep promising us victory, glory, security and peace.

And like those vassals of old, we accept to be fleeced time and again for the betterment of those who already have more than plenty - piously accepting the lie that if the rich get richer, everybody else will benefit somehow in such prosperity.

Al Gore rightly calls all of these things the "assault on reason". Others, yours truly included, call this our Semi-Dark Ages.

For instead of dealing with facts and reality, of using reason and rationality, we prefer to buy the fear-mongering, the spin and the truthiness - after all, the latter require less effort on our part, especially as long as we still get to have our little instant gratifications in the process.

I've said it before, and I say it again: living in a democratic society is a right and a responsibility.

And yes, this responsibility requires effort. But which is better: having your back bent by the effort required to keep on living in a democratic society, or letting leave for complacency and find yourself one day with a back bent under a totalitarian regime - however benevolent it may be?

Therefore, we must ever remain vigilant if we are to preserve our democratic values and institutions ... just like we will have to bear the shame of having forsaken them because of intellectual sloth, ignorance, fear, selfishness and the search for instant gratification.

Granted - distilled to its pure essence, the purpose of the non-partisan and progressive blogospheres is to maintain a continual conversation and exchange of ideas based on facts and reality, not on right-wing spin, religious fundamentalist regressive dogma or fantasy-based viewing of the world. Participation in the blogosphere thus represents a redemption of sort, acting as an environment which fuels a renewed and maintained participation in our democracy-based societies.

But out of the whole population eligible to vote, what fraction does the blogosphere represents?

Not enough by far, I'm afraid.

Consequently, and to paraphrase someone else, we must strive further for the acceptance of a reality that is based on the scientific method and the primacy of rational thought.

So, let us leave these Semi-Dark Ages that we have foolishly trusted upon ourselves and instead enter at last a New Age of Enlightenment - as promised by that "bridge to the 21st century".

It is, in the end, up to us.

It has always been up to us.


(Cross-posted from APOV)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Limits Of Ignorance

Science - and the scientific method - constitute a process of fact-based and experimental demonstration-supported inquiry which allows Humanity to gain further understanding of the inner workings of the Universe, of Life and, ultimately, of ourselves - from all their complexities to the minutest of details. Such an inquiry has been taking place since the dawn of Humanity, who wondered about the growth and death of living things and of themselves, about weather phenomena (thunder, lightning, etc.), about those lights in the night skies, about sickness and health, about who they are and where they came from.

After centuries upon centuries of patient and dedicated refinement of the scientific method, allowing us to gain greater knowledge and understanding of Nature in so doing, science keeps finding itself increasingly under attack of late.

The culprits of such attacks? Primitive minds who fear to even catch a glimpse of reality which defines us, the world and the rest of the universe, and who's mysteries continue being revealed year after year of dedicated and patient scientific investigating, one tiny step at a time - all because such new and ever increasing understanding threatens their cozy, comfortable and intellectual sloth-driven ignorance and blind faith in a Creator God.

Case in point:

Today's column from one conservative Christian columnist David Warren, titled "The limits of science".

In said column, Mr. Warren endeavors to prove his conclusion that: "(...) none of the methods of empirical science are of any value at all, except by way of analogy and illustration, when we turn from the empirical realm to questions of "first causes," and the underlying conditions of human knowledge, faith and belief, that are dealt with in philosophy and, ultimately, theology."

You see, since the dawn of Humanity, the human imagination has constructed ideas to explain those mysteries which presented themselves every day and throughout every single human being's life experience. Hence, for quite a long time, paranormal "forces" explained all of what occured in the world and in the universe - spirits (mineral, vegetal, animal or human ones), phantoms (good or evil) and, of course, Gods, were behind it all. Because human beings reasoned, they automatically assumed that all things reasoned as well - but because they could not communicate with such forces or natural phenomena, it was the results and effects of the latter which defined said phenomena and their "attributed" spirits, phantoms or Gods.

We've had Wind Spirits, Sun Gods, Death Gods, Bad Luck Imps, Disease Demons, Guilty Conscience-Tormenting Ghosts, River Fairies, Sea Mermaids, Angry Thunder Gods, Good Humor (health) and Bad Humor (sickness) Sprites, Moon Goddesses, Bear Spirits, Wolf Spirits, Owl Spirits, Tree of Life, and so on and so forth.

Gradually, Gods became increasingly defined as paragons of human values, attibutes and/or dispositions, thus becoming more prevalent than spirits, ghosts and the like within the myths which were constructed to explain things like the birth of the World, the birth of Man, and other phenomena of Nature.

And when human beings began living in towns and cities, their Gods came to live with them - and thus Gods were viewed increasingly a Godly Humans who dwelled in specific, physical places.

Thus Humanity built houses (temples) to their Gods, thinking that those they worshiped as means to explain Life and the Universe would reside there - just like mortals lived in their own houses.

This was a significant evolutionary step for Gods.

Nevertheless - all those "explanations" of Life and the Universe through the actions of spirits or Gods were so far based on analogy and illustration.

Then came the "Greek Awakening", bringing us rational thinking, logic and philosophy.

This historic landmark of Humanity's road to increasing maturity was indeed most significant, because then the human imagination was not deemed enough anymore. Fantasy stories may be entertaining, especially told or written by talented and imaginative storytellers, but in the end they failed at fully explaining what was really going on all about Humanity, as well as within itself.

Hence, this was a significant step in creating the scientific method - a cornerstone event, yes ... but still not sufficient enough.

You see, logical thinking and reasoning does rely on knowledge - but when the knowledge used to base one's reasoning is wrong to begin with, then what we'll all too often get as a result is what we call today "garbage in, garbage out".

The classic example of this is the geocentric model of the Earth being at the center of the universe, whereas the Moon, the Sun and the stars revolve around our planet. This explanation was derived logically from simple visual observations and, consequently, became accepted as dogma. It was from this false knowledge that too many astronomers endeavored to logically construct models which would show how all heavenly bodies in the universe revolved around the Earth.

In other words, they would ask the question "How do the heavenly bodies move around the world?", thus assuming that they did to begin with ... because their own eyes would show this.

No one ever thought about the illusion of movement granted to one who stands on a bridge and looks down on the running waters below.

Furthermore, philosophy had similar - if not worse - inherent problems. That is why it has always been characterized by various "warring" schools of thinking who espoused specific views and concepts, all derived through reasoning and logical (but experimentally unproven) assertions, thus arguing without end and with nothing but hot air. And even when one such school would gain primacy, it did not mean at all that it held the "truth" - because of the simple reality of "garbage in, garbage out".

Hence, philosophy remained - and still does - as much a prisoner of analogy and illustration, just like theology (whether in its previous, simplistic myth-making incarnation or its current one).

That is when two other major historical landmarks occured.

One was the increasing need not just to observe and derive explanations (theories) for said observations, but for experimental demonstrations of said explanations. In other words, this gave the birth to the scientific theory, which must not only be based on observations but, if it is "right", it will predict experimental results and/or additional observations. If experimental results/observations differ from what the theory predicts, then the theory is either flawed (and needs to be reworked) or is plainly wrong (and another will take its place - only to be likewise relentlessly "tested" in turn).

The other was the subtle but quite significant change in the way questions in scientific investigations were asked: instead of asking "How", which assumes potentially false knowledge to be "true" (or as dogma - see above), investigators began asking "Why", which turns out not to assume anything to begin with. Furthermore, asking "Why" gave birth to the scientific hypothesis, which must be verified by observation and experimental results. Once a hypothesis is thus verified, it becomes an established observation or fact of reality.

Hence, a solid scientific theory will be comprised of one or numerous verified hypotheses, all backed by repeated experimental and verifiable demonstrations, in addition to offer an overall explanation of all these results underlying a phenomenon, as well as predicting the outcome of other experiments. Eventually, a scientific theory who has been proven time and time and time again to be right becomes accepted as a Law of Nature.

Therein you have the essence and purpose of the scientific method.

A classic example of these two breakthroughs in defining the scientific method begins first with Copernicus. He asked "Why do all heavenly bodies revolve around the Earth?", thus not assuming the above-mentioned geocentric model to be dogma. The result? He devised observational experiments, compiled the data and realized that only the Moon orbited around the Earth, but neither the Sun or the other heavenly bodies. And from that same data, he proposed his heliocentric hypothesis - i.e. the planets, including Earth, orbit around the Sun.

Of course, we all know the effect his discovery had on all the prevailing primitive minds of his time ... he was attacked while this newly emerging scientific method was condemned already as Godless and going against the Holy Scriptures.

Because, to paraphrase David Warren above, the only value of the scientific method is "by way of analogy and illustration" - like theology and philosophy.

Then came Galileo. Building on Copernicus' work, he not only further demonstrated the validity of the heliocentric hypothesis, he further refined it as a bona fides explanation (i.e. scientific theory), which not long after his passing became accepted as a Law of Nature - i.e. this is how our solar system is organized, and Earth is but the third planet among others which orbits around its primary star which we call the Sun.

And again, we all know what happened to Galileo, as the primitive minds reacted with renewed outrage at this "science" which dared to not only contradict the comfortable and reassuring ignorance-based Holy Dogmas, but also had the unmitigated gall to take it upon itself to demonstrate and prove its explanations - quite unlike theology and philosophy!

And therein lies the "threat" posed by science, which not only seeks to understand and explain reality, but furthermore strives to ensure the validity of its explanations.

Which means: question everything that is not supported by facts or which has not been demonstrated or proven as a fact.

Again, quite unlike theology and philosophy - who rely solely on imagination and logical argumentation or, in other words, solely on analogy and illustration.

Another shining example of the scientific method contributing in actually revealing and explaning our reality is Louis Pasteur - he not only explained the fermentation process and why we get sick - i.e. "it's the bacteria and other microorganisms, stupid!" - but he also shot down in flames once and for all, through experimental demonstration, another ignorance-based dogma called spontaneous generation - which was supported largely by the creationists of the time.

Then, of course, there is Darwin who proposed his scientific theory known as evolution.

A scientific theory which has been supported and proven and demonstrated over and over and over again - especially thanks to the modern fields of cellular biology, molecular biology and genetics.

Evolution is inching closer and closer to becoming a genuine Law of Nature - like the Law of Thermodynamics, the Law of Electricity-Magnetism, the Law of Gravity, the Law of General and Restrained Relativity, the Laws of Genetic Inheritance, etc., etc., etc..

Let us return to Mr. Warren as he demonstrates his utter ignorance and non-understanding of the crucial distinctions between science and theology/philosophy. I have picked three choice excerpts from him; first excerpt:
"(...) I have discovered that this useful word, "scientism," appears in too few English dictionaries (...) The purveyor of scientism is not necessarily an incompetent, or irresponsible, or even a mediocre scientist, in his own narrow field of specialization; always supposing he has some genuine expertise in any field at all. While he is frequently all of these things, too, they are not what define his pronouncements as "scientistic." Rather, the label "scientism" applies to all who imagine that natural science, and the methods of natural science, take precedence before, and have authority over, every other field of human reasoning and perception. To a truly "scientistic" worldview, not only philosophy and theology, but psychology, art, culture, law, and general morality, are answerable not to their own terms of reference, but to some authority in a lab coat who has bred clouds of deformed fruitflies, and killed a lot of mice."
Like the primitive mind that he is, Mr. Warren seeks to mislabel all scientists who dare to outline the fundamental differences between science and theology/philosophy, and how such difference are critical in deciding whether one accepts scientific facts as opposed to believe in religious/philosophical dogmas.

And of course, his petty intellectual sloth-driven mind makes him contemptuous and dismissive of scientists by grossly mischaracterizing and stereotyping them as "lab coats who have bred clouds of deformed fruitflies, and killed a lot of mice" and thus without any validity whatsoever. After all, how dare scientists demonstrate and prove their explanations, when theology/philosophy are incapable of even attempting the same?

Hence, science is geeky, cold, no-social-skill, lab-enclosed sillyness while religious values and myths are serious and humanly fulfilling. Science is detached from reality, unlike theology and philosophy! And those who seek to show what science is truly about and demonstrate its validity in seeking to explain the universe are guilty of "ignorance" (talk about accusing others of what one actually is!).

Nevertheless, that is essentially what those like Mr. Warren said at the time to Copernicus, Mendel, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Darwin and so many others. That is what Mr. Warren is saying to all current scientists - including yours truly.

Second excerpt:
"'Darwinists' - which is to say, those exponents of scientism who have elevated the general principles of Darwin's quaint Victorian evolutionary scheme to a form of religious orthodoxy, and defend it by traditional fanatical means, from heretic-hunting to the commission of pious frauds.

(...)

The philosophical position corresponding to scientism is called "Positivism," and was systematized by Auguste Comte (the man who coined the term "sociology") in the 19th century. He was building upon the revolutionary heritage of the French Enlightenment; but he was also expressing the God-like aspirations of parlour atheism in the Victorian age -- its "determinism," or faith that once everything is known, everything can be predicted. Lamarckianism, Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and Phrenology were, to my mind, five other expressions of this naive determinism, that belong today in a Museum of Failed Victorian Ideas.
"
Here, Mr. Warren falls into the usual trap that his ignorance-based primitive mind ilk always fall into. Since they are either incapable of understanding, or refuse to understand, how the scientific method works (as I vulgarized above), they still think of science as they do of philosophy and theology - i.e. it is all about logical reasoning and what one believes it to be sound or not. Hence, those that have accepted the reality of evolution are in fact believers, in the primitive minds of Mr. Warren and his ilk, like any other kind of philosophical school of thought or any other religion.

Furthermore, ignorants like Mr. Warren always go back to the "Victorian" era, seeing science as still largely about philosophical reasoning and equating it with other "isms", all the while willfully refusing to acknowledge the actual reality of what science has become, how it works and what it does.

Hence, science is the same as philosophy and theology - again, an ignorance-based view in the little minds of Mr. Warren and his ilk.

This is, of course, the convenient way to attempt to dismiss evolution and the overwhelming and undeniable scientific support it has, as I mentioned above.

So in essence, what Mr. Warren is saying is that scientists run on faith, not on demonstration - like philosophy and theology.

Therein lies the limitations of ignorance that have always been displayed by the deniers of scientifc facts, as still displayed today by Mr. Warren and his ilk.

Science is not, and can not, by virtue of the scientific method, be a matter of faith.

Science is about acceptance of demonstrated facts which explain our reality. Period.

Having said this, let us amuse ourselves further at the expense of Mr. Warren's shameful ignorance with this third and last excerpt from his feuille de chou of a column:
"The word "science" means simply "knowledge," and in grasping that we can immediately see that the methods of science vary with the particular discipline. The kind of precision that is possible in physics and chemistry is simply not available to the student of biology and natural history. The kind of condescension that is possible in studying plants and animals, is simply not tenable in studying human beings. And so on. Those who, like the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, define "science" in a way to cross all fields, do a terrible disservice to the cause of science, by designing a straitjacket for it.

About the most that can be reasonably said is that science is "knowledge" of an especially technical kind, gleaned by empirical reasoning from testable material evidence (...)
"
This is what you get from someone who has absolutely no idea what one is attempting to talk about - including a further displayed ignorance of the scientific method.

First, Mr. Warren is plainly and flatly wrong about the lack of precision in biological sciences - to this effect, I give you again cellular biology, molecular biology and genetics ... as but three examples among so many.

Then he speaks of condescension in studying animals and plants. Aside from the fact that the only condescension observed here is throughout Mr. Warren's column, he willfully refuses of course to acknowledge that human beings are but a species on this planet, an animal like all others, evolved like all others.

In essence, he is calling for the end of any scientific inquiries with regards to the human being - whether biomedical, genetic, etc.. - in other words: let us remain ignorant so that we rely only on theology and philosophy ... like we did in those ancient times.

And to say that science is "knowledge of an especially technical kind" futher illustrates Mr. Warren's severe affliction of intellectual sloth and shameful ignorance.

Knowledge has always been used by human beings to devise new technological applications, ever since the dawn of Humanity. As we further understand Life, the structure of Matter, the Universe, and Ourselves, we devise new ways from such knowledge to improve our daily living conditions, our daily activities, our health, our means of transportation, and so on and so forth.

As we undertand more, we are able to create better tools and means to improve our lives.

And in turn, we devise improved and/or new means to continue our scientific inquiries into Life, the Universe, and Ourselves.

That is how we keep maturing not only as civilizations, but also as a self-aware, abstract-thinking species.

That is what we do, it is the very essence of who and what we are.

Unless, of course, one is a primitive mind like Mr. Warren and his Christianist ilk - who keep reminding us of the infantile stage of maturation we would still be stuck into, had we chosen to remain cloistered within the cave-like confines imposed by the limits of ignorance which have ever been promulgated and espoused by primitive minds like them.

(Cross-posted from APOV)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Announcement

Another Point of View and Revolt Today are teaming up with cross-posting on each other's blog. Mentarch aka Pierre has a killer blog, but has been having trouble keeping up the postings. And me, too! I'm really honored to be joining forces in this way. Please stop by APOV and enjoy.

Another Point of View

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dems Defeated in Iraq War Vote. Again. Its Time to Turn Off the Funding Spigot. Now.

Once again, the Dems failed to get to the magic number of 60. That's how many votes are needed to invoke cloture and quash any filibuster attempt.

Lindsay Graham summed up the Reep position thusly:

The idea of winning the war in Iraq is beginning to get a second look,"


That's effin' crazy talk. Winning; did he really say winning? What is winning? Some years back it was the dominoes of democracy throughout the Middle East. These days, its staving off the Al Quaeda lunatics from destroying the rest of the free world. My the goalposts have moved, eh?

Can we afford to trust the buffoons and war pigs who led us in this mess and now are forcing us to wallow in this misery called Iraq? They have been wrong each and every time since they started beating the war drums. Now, they expect us - no, check that; they are daring us - to trust them again this time. Sorry, the kool-aid is packed away, folks.

There is a way for the Dems to finally snatch victory from the vastly unpopular BushCo cretins, and to salvage some small amount of credibility with the American people (the latest poll I saw put congressional approval at 11%).

How? Simply stop funding the damn war. Its really that simple. The threat of de-funding the surge and Blackwater mercs will have BushCo crawling and groveling to the Dems finally promising bipartisanship on the war effort, after all.

Oh sure, the war pigs will fulminate and rage at first. But they will come around - if the Dems grow a spine.

War pigs win another round