Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brownback explains his disbelief

During the first Republican presidential debate the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. Three of the nine men on stage raised their hands. Apparently at least one of the three is now feeling a need to explain in what way he does not “believe” in evolution. In an op ed in today’s New York Times Sam Brownback explains:
If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

This seems to be saying that when he hears the word “evolution” his first thought is of an “exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence.” If that is what he means then he is in very good company. Many, if not most, scientists would also reject such a vision of the world But why does the word “evolution” carry such baggage for him? Who has created this straw man idea?

When polls show that a majority of American do not believe in evolution is it only an “exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence” that they are rejecting? Is so, then what we have here is more of a “failure to communicate” than a disagreement between people of science and people of faith.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A beautiful day on Sylvan Island in Moline

On a walk through the woods, originally uploaded by dvdbarrett.

Memorial Day 2007 was a beautiful day in Moline. Here is a picture I took while walking my dog, Bear, on a path through the woods on Sylvan Island in Moline.

Quaker Wisdom

The Rockford Rascal blog noted the recent 100 year anniversary of the birth of actor John Wayne by pointing out the strange dichotomy between the public image of John Wayne as the epitome of patriotism and masculinity with his much less heroic personal life. He avoided military service in World War II to stay in Hollywood and make movies while other movie stars like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable served in the military and were real-life war heroes.

In the same way that John Wayne is thought of by many as a war hero without actually being one many Americans who want to vote for national security, safety from terrorism and family values have been voting for Republican candidates even though the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress have pursued policies and priorities which undermine our strength, make us more likely to be attacked by terrorists and weaken American families.

Progressive bloggers trying to point out that we have been choosing the symbol rather than the reality reminds my brother Dan, who attended a Quaker boarding high school, as did I, of the Quaker desire to replace the symbols and rituals of the mainline Christian churches with the reality of the experience of God, which they believe can be found within each of us. Four hundred years ago in England, George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers), would spread his ideas by going to services at the Anglican church wherever he was and after the priest’s sermon when the congregation was given a chance to ask questions would stand up and ask: "You say Jesus said this and Paul said that. But what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light and hast thou walked in the light?" George Fox called the Anglican priests "professors" because they "professed what they did not possess." They had symbols and rituals and when asked about God they replied by quoting the words of others. Rather than listening to these "professors" George Fox advocated directly experiencing God in an unprogrammed meeting for worship of the Society of Friends.

The belief that there is that of God within everyone led to a strong conviction among Quakers that slavery was evil and must be abolished. Among Quakers women were treated as the equals of men and were allowed and encouraged to attend school and participate fully in the life of the meeting including as leaders at a time when that was a radical idea and position. Quakers also advocated for prison reform and were among the earliest advocates for the idea of reforming rather than just punishing criminals.

Over the last 400 year these Quakers positions on slavery, gender equality and prison reform have gradually been adopted by Western society and have become the majority position, but only after a great struggle in which the mainline Christian churches were mostly fighting on the other side.

My brother Dan just emailed me to comment that perhaps the Quaker idea that rather than following leaders who symbolize some desirable quality we should seek out those who actually possess that quality will be one more Quaker idea that eventually will be adopted by the rest of society.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore

I just received my copy of Al Gore’s new book "The Assault on Reason" in the mail from I have just read a few pages so far but it is clear that Al Gore has a better handle on what has gone wrong lately in America than all the supposed "experts" trotted out to pontificate on television.

The truth is that American democracy is now in danger – not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

From the Introduction of “The Assault on Reason” by Al Gore

As I discussed in my last post even among people who believe the earth is only 6,000 years old there is less concern today that their beliefs be logical, self-consistent and reasonable than there was in the past. In 1925 William Jennings Bryan argued in the Scopes Monkey trial that because he believed in the literal truth of the Genesis account of creation he believed that fossils told us nothing about the past. "I am more concerned with the Rock of Ages than the age of rocks," he famously said. Today the Biblical Literalists who designed the exhibits in the Creation Museum illogically believe both that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs existed. This would have to mean that the dinosaurs lived, died and the fossils from which we know about them were created from their remains all within a few thousand years – a much less logical and reasonable position than William Jennings Bryan’s.

The Republican candidates for president, many of them with multiple divorces, are considered by many Americans more “family-oriented” and concerned about the “sanctity of marriage” than all the Democratic candidates for president, with nary a divorce among them. Gay people wanting to get married somehow constitutes a threat to the institution of marriage.

Al Gore is right. Reason itself is under assault in America today.

Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark

Have you heard about the Creation Museum which is just about to open in Petersburg, Kentuck? According to their website
The Creation Museum will proclaim to the world that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice and in every area it touches on. This ‘walk through history’ museum will be a wonderful alternative to the evolutionary natural history museums that are turning countless minds against the gospel of Christ and the authority of the Scripture.

This point of view is not new or rare. What is new, at least to me, is their contention that dinosaurs coexisted with man, human children played with baby dinosaurs and dinosaurs were taken onto Noah’s Ark during the flood.

The only information we have about dinosaurs come from fossils. These fossils appear to be much more than 6,000 years old because all the biological material has long since disappeared, leaving voids in the rock with the exact shape of the bones (or in rare cases softer body parts) which had become encased in the mud or clay which has now become rock. The voids in the rock where the biological material had been were gradually filled in with minerals from seep water until it is now all solid rock, but because the filled-in portion of the rock was formed later and by a different process than the surrounding rock the filled-in rock looks different from the surrounding rock and is the size and shape of the original animal remains – as if the originally entombed biological material had turned into rock. Obviously this whole process, the entombing of the bones in mud or clay, the mud or clay becoming rock, the biological material breaking down, the filling in of the void with minerals gradually leaching out of seep water, takes a long time -- much longer than 6,000 years.

Traditionally people who believed that the Genesis story was literally true and the earth was created 6,000 years ago contended that fossils which appear to be more than 6,000 years old were not the remains of creatures who once lived but were created as rocks by God when all the other rocks were created 6,000 years ago. From this point of view a belief that dinosaurs had ever existed would be just as false as the idea that the world is millions or billions of years old. (When asked why God would create fossils which appeared to be the remains of animals and plants, the existence of which would be a refutation of the Biblical account, the usual explanation was that fossils were created by God as a “test of faith.”)

So how can these people believe that the world is only 6,000 years old and also believe that dinosaurs once existed? Apparently when people go to museums they like to look at dinosaurs. A natural history museum without dinosaurs would be at a disadvantage. I have to suspect that the people behind this museum do not really believe the nonsense they are pretending to advocate.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The “I’m OK” Democrats

Most people around the country who consider themselves Democrats are angry and appalled by everything about the Iraq War: the needless waste of life, the damage done to our military readiness, the waste and theft of federal tax dollars, the damage done to our international reputation and moral authority. Obviously, anyone who empathizes to any meaningful degree with those suffering as a result of this war would feel compelled to do anything and everything in their power to immediately stop this evil.

I can only conclude that many Democrats in Congress and the Washington insiders who advise them do not feel the pain of the war’s victims. They must be "I’m OK" Democrats. With apparent equanimity, they have decided that it would be better to allow the war to continue for another two years rather than take the blame for any downside involved in ending it. I wonder if the blood on their hands will interfere with their golf swings.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How to decide for whom to vote

In America when people are being encouraged to take part in our democracy and to vote they are invariably told to listen to what the candidates say, make their decision and then go to the polling place and vote. High school students are led through school elections in which they are explicitly told to listen to the speeches and vote for the candidate giving the speech they liked best. They are told that this is training for how to be a good citizen and vote when they turn 18. This advice to vote for the speech and campaign you like best is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it probably has not occurred to most Americans that any other approach could be advocated. This is amazing to me because not only is that the worst approach to voting that I can imagine, but it is also not the way a majority of Americans decide for whom to vote.

In a general election (rather than a primary) roughly one third of Americans almost always vote for the Republican candidate (no matter who is running or what the supposed issues are), one third vote for the Democratic candidate (irregardless of the personalities and issues) and the remaining third are swing voters. Even in what is described as a landslide election rarely does a major party candidate get less than 33% or more than 67% of the vote. That means that two thirds of American voters are NOT following the standard advice for how to vote. They are NOT listening to the individual candidates and then deciding for whom to vote in each race based on what they have just heard the candidates say or how the individual campaigns present themselves.

Why do people vote the party rather than the candidate? I probably don’t need to tell you because the chances are that you are party voter and know why. People running for office lie and say things calculated to get them elected rather than what they really believe or how they will actually govern. Campaigns are run by people skilled in manipulating public opinion using techniques perfected by the advertising industry. If all you know about a candidate is what they have said during the campaign and what their campaign has presented about the candidate then you know nothing at all about how they will conduct themselves in office.

When you choose a party rather than a candidate you can base your decision on the track record of the party. You can look at how the country, state, county, city was run when the party was in power (or how it is currently being run by the party currently in control.) Although far from perfect, this is a much better predictor for what groups and interests a candidate will favor in office and what their basic values and principles are than listening to the candidate’s speeches or reading the literature and looking at the images created by the campaign.

So why is the advice to listen to the candidates and individually choose a candidate separately for each race so pervasive? Is it a plot by the advertising industry? Does such advice serve the interests of the ruling classes and the corporate media? Leave a comment and explain it to me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Party of Guantánamo and Torture

Until I heard Mitt Romney at the second Republican presidential debate proclaim that he wants accused terrorists at Guantánamo, “where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil ... my view is, we ought to double Guantánamo” to wild applause from the audience I had assumed that the fact that approximately one third of the nation still supports the Bush Administration did not necessarily mean that this number of Americans actually opposed the rule of law, opposed giving those accused of crimes a fair trial and supported torture. I had thought that at least some people who call themselves Republicans held traditional conservative values and were either ignorant of or appalled (at least privately) at what was being done at Guantánamo. It now appears that I was wrong. If there are any remaining traditional conservatives who value the rule of law, human rights and the dignity of the individual they do not attend Republican presidential debates or talk to pollsters.

Unless the eventual Republican presidential nominee somehow manages to do some sort of U-turn on these issues between the Republican convention and the election it appears that in the November 2008 presidential election the American public will be asked to vote up or down on the rule of law, on Guantánamo and on torture. In that event we should not have anyone complaining that they cannot tell the candidates apart or that their vote does not matter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quaker Blogs

Are you getting tired of blogs filled with invective and bloggers who are quick to assume that everyone with a contrary opinion has evil motivations and intentions? If so, you might want to check out the following website:

This is a website that contains links to recent blog postings by Quakers, people belonging to the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers believe that everyone has "that of God within", i.e. no one is irredeemably evil, and consider it a religious duty to seek and awaken that "small quiet voice within" everyone they encounter -- even those who vehemently disagree with them.

Brighten your day by reading some Quaker blogs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bring them home

I came across this video on You Tube of Pete Seeger in 1969 singing a song urging the nation to bring our soldiers home from Vietnam.

Everything he says in the song applies today to bringing our soldiers home from Iraq, except that I don't think it would make our generals sad to bring them home today.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Does Illegal Immigration Hurt America?

The very low poll numbers Tom Tancredo’s campaign for president is generating shows there is not much support for his idea that the sheer number of non-English speaking immigrants, both legal and illegal, is damaging our society and changing it in undesirable ways. These ideas are apparently more racist and xenophobic than are the vast majority of Americans. This is certainly encouraging news.

There is much broader support, however, for the idea that the large number of illegal immigrants willing to work hard for low wages are depressing the wages for legal Americans, presumably most especially for unskilled and under-educated Americans, mostly minorities, who are only qualified for the most menial and lowest wage jobs. The most extreme version of this idea is the often-heard complaint that illegal immigrants are filling jobs that legal Americans would hold if the illegal immigrants were not here. This, of course, is nonsense. Illegal immigrants are at a great disadvantage in the job market compared to Americans who speak English and have valid documents and Social Security numbers. Almost every job currently held by an illegal immigrant would have been given instead to an English-speaking American with a valid Social Security number if any legal Americans willing and able to do the job had shown up to apply for it.

It is a little harder to refute the variant of this idea which says that if the illegal immigrants were not here the wages offered for the jobs that illegal immigrants now hold would have to be increased until they were high enough that legal Americans would be willing to do those jobs. It is also believed by many that this would create a cascade effect that would also raise the wages for all jobs in America. Of course, in the face of labor shortages, wages can not rise without limit. For every job there is a limit to how high wages can rise before the job disappears. Above that limit either a cheaper alternative exists such as automation or moving the job off-shore or the higher wage would force the price for the produced product above the limit the market would bear and demand for the product would disappear along with the job of producing that product. For the jobs now held by illegal immigrants in America how much higher is this limit than the current wage? How much would wages rise if we created a labor shortage by removing the illegal immigrants? How many of the jobs would just disappear if there was no one willing to fill them at the currently offered wage? Would low wage workers be better or worse off? Would most Americans be better or worse off? There is no way anyone can know that with any degree of certainty.

There is a possibility that removing the illegal immigrants would create a labor shortage that would contract the economy, creating a recession and wages would go down. Is that more or less likely than wages rising? Who knows! At the very least the price of a hotel stay, the price of a meal in a restaurant, the prices of fruits and vegetables picked by migrant workers and other things Americans buy would go up if the wages for the jobs now held by illegal immigrants went up. Even if removing the illegal immigrants caused wages to rise (not a sure thing) would the rise in wages more than offset the higher prices that would result so that most Americans would be better off? Who knows!

What do we do in the face of such uncertainty? The AFL-CIO says that one thing we can know for sure is that all workers should stick together for their mutual benefit. Christianity teaches us that God requires us to offer hospitality to strangers and aid to the less fortunate. American History teaches us that we are an immigrant nation that has benefited and grown with each wave of immigration. During the great wave of Irish Immigration from 1860 – 1890 many thought the large numbers of new Irish immigrants were hurting America. Today no one (that I know of) claims that those Irish immigrants changed America for the worse or made any Americans worse off in any way.

When poor people, willing to work hard and wanting to help their families show up in our communities looking for work will we regret allowing them to stay? Being hospitable and welcoming and showing human kindness can never be the wrong thing to do.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Trying to get African Americans and Illegal Immigrants to Fight

It was not that many years ago that people with a vested interest in undermining labor solidarity and the well-being of working people fanned the flames of racial intolerance in order to pit white workers against black. Workers were suckered in by these tactics very much to their own economic detriment. Keeping black and white workers at each other’s throats rather than working together for their mutual advantage very much served the interests of management and the corporate owners.

The business interests are still doing everything they can to pit groups of workers against each other in order to keep them disorganized and weak. Now they want African Americans and illegal immigrants to fight each other.
New research by a Vanderbilt professor of law and political science found that illegal immigration is hurting African Americans and the Congressional Black Caucus is not doing enough about it. Read the entire article

Isn’t it kind of suspicious that people who have never before shown any interest in the well-being of African Americans are suddenly claiming to have more concern about them than the Democrats in Congress? The AFLCIO is not falling for this scam. And neither should you.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco De Mayo 2007 in Moline

The weather was fairly good, although a little cloudy and windy, for this year's Cinco De Mayo Celebration at Moline's Bass Street Landing.

Raul Catalan and Leila Garcia, mime clowns from Guanajuato, Mexico, perform. My wife and daughter had the chance to meet this wonderfully engaging and talented couple the other day and enjoyed their company immensely. Although the Bass Street Landing was a little too big a venue for their performace the part of the crowd that was close enough to see them well really enjoyed their comedy.

Quad Cities Ballet Folklorico perform for an enthusiastic audience that appeared to contain many friends and relations of the performers.

Chicago Ballet Folklorico perform for Moline's Cinco De Mayo Celebration

Problem on the Bike Path

On my bike ride this morning on the bike path along the Mississippi River just as I got to the Moline/Rock Island border I came across water on the path.

My first thought was that it was just overflow from watering the recently planted grass in the Sylvan Natural Area, which is still in the process of being developed.

But when I stopped and looked to see where the water was coming from I saw this.

That can't be good. Equipment failure? Overnight vandalism?