Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Like bubbles through the current, so are the days of our lives...

Orange Band Tufted Puffin (Bo)We learned the most juicy tidbit today, dear readers. Evidently there has been quite the shenanigans going on at the Seattle Aquarium, and quite for some time. Read all the titillating details below.

The seabird exhibit includes a number of species, including the Tufted Puffin and the Rhinoceras Auklet. Birds at the Seattle Aquarium are not named, but identified only by the bands on their legs. Tufted Puffins are so called because of the tufts of feathers behind their heads; Rhinoceras Auklets received their nom de guerre from the bill plate near the base of the beak that looks like a small horn.

For a long time there were three pairs of Tufted Puffins, with one Tufted Puffin the odd one out, having no mate. Because of his desperate evolutionary drive, Orange-Band Tufted Puffin (hereafter referred to as Bo) turned traitor on his species, and got it on with Orange-Band Orange Band Rhinoceras Auklet (Mary Beth)Rhinoceras Auklet! (Rhinoceras Auklet shall be called Mary Beth). Not only this, but because their two species are closely related, they actually produced chicks, and viable ones at that. It is unknown if their offspring can interbreed. But fear not, dear readers. The two remain separate species, as they do not interbreed in the wild. (Or at least, that is usually the case, so we understand, so far to date.)

Everyone was happy with this interspecies arrangement, although certain more prudish birds had some ruffled feathers. But then Blue-Band Tufted Puffin (Linda Lee) had a sorrowful turn of affairs- her mate died, and she was left a widow. While all were sad for her, her grief was greatly short-lived. For Bo realized the new state of affairs, and expressed, given the choice, that he prefers his own species. Leaving his jilted lover Mary Beth to mourn by herself, he went to join Linda Lee, and Mary Beth watched her former companion cavort in full view of all.

But then, the most tragic event occurred. While Bo and Mary Beth had previously had offspring, suddenly, most strangely, Bo and Linda Lee could not produce any viable offspring, at all. They tried for two years. Although he took his own sweet time, eventually Bo realized the state of affairs, and again following his evolutionary dictates, returned to Mary Beth, leaving Linda Lee now the lone hen, doubly in mourning, and Bo and Mary Beth in their questionable propriety. (But you know what they say. Once you go Rhinoceras Auklet, you can't go back.)

This remains the state of affairs to this day, but such was not the end of tragedy for poor Linda Lee. She was observed to have trouble getting out of the water, and it was discovered that she had cataracts, and was legally blind. TBlue Band Tufted Puffin (Linda Lee)o provide more comfort for her, she was removed from the exhibit and put where there was more space for her to walk around without bumping into things. She can now be observed slumming with the shorebirds in their exhibit.

And while Bo's fickle nature seems to have had no repercussions for him (but isn't that just like a man?), there seems to be some glimmer of hope for Linda Lee. A local doctor (vet) with experience in these matters may be able to cure her cataracts, allowing her to return to her Linda Leeexhibit with the rest of her species and family (Alcidae), able to observe the doings of Bo and Mary Beth.

And perhaps hatch her plans of revenge.

Like bubbles through the current, so are the days of our lives...

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Imagine...Israel of Palestine

Recently it's come to light that the citizens of Nagaland, a majority Baptist state, have achieved their power only by oppressing the large minority of Hindu citizens of their state in Northeast India. Though at one time Hindus were the majority of the country, due to a high rate of immigration in the past century, Baptist Indians took over the country, systematically removing citizenship rights of Hindus, and clustering them into a number of camps. Due to a higher birth rate, Hindus now number 48% of the population, but they still don't have basic civil rights, including the right to vote, and they live on a small portion of the land, with limited access to power, food, and drinking water. The civil government of Nagaland has vowed that, even when the Hindus outnumber the Baptists, which is due to happen in the next few years, they still will not be given equal rights. Rather the Baptist Nagaland government has magnanimously decided to give the Hindus a small portion of the worst land in Nagaland, to form their own Hindu state.

Now, of course, that paragraph is completely and utterly false- with the exception that Baptists are the majority of the NE Indian state of Nagaland (by some 90%). But perhaps the analogy gives us some taste of the real situation that the Palestinians now face in Israel- for if you replace every Hindu/Baptist reference with Palestinian/Israeli reference above, the paragraph accurately states the current state of affairs in Israel of Palestine.

It's always a pleasure to meet an author you've read. Tonight I got to hear Ali Abunimah speak on his book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Shortly before he spoke I realized I was sitting two rows behind the author, so I took the opportunity to share with him that I'd been one of the Amazon reviewers of his book. It is always gratifying for an author to hear that they are read, no matter how small the author, so it was nice to hear that not only did Ali actually remember me, but he also appreciated my review.

Ali's book changed my mind on this issue. I had in the past supported an independent Palestinian state, but his arguments were simply too cogent and overwhelming, showing quite clearly how Israel is an apartheid state, with Palestinian Bhantustans, and the only answer to the situation there is a fully democratic country, with equal rights for all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Ali doesn't think this will be easy, but only that it is the only way out for all sides.

He began his talk by discussing the pro-Israeli contingent distributing anti-Semitic-Arab flyers just outside the auditorium. He thanked them, for they had put a number of links to his website on their flyers, even if his quotes were taken out of context. Ali then spent most of his talk laying the groundwork for his case, reserving more detailed arguments for the Q&A afterward.

He knew what he was doing. I thought there wouldn't be any one in the audience who would forcefully present arguments from the other side, but there were quite a number. Ali respectfully heard their cases, allowing them to share at length, and then responded.

I asked a question during the Q&A that I thought might give him an opportunity to talk about the great hurtles we face, and how to effectively achieve the one state solution. I asked him, "What is the one thing keeping a Ghandi-style broad nonviolent resistance movement from rising in Palestine?" I specifically inserted the word "broad" in there, as I know there have been occasional attempts at non-violent action in Palestine, but they have always come to nought, usually through Israeli oppression of pacifists.

Unfortunately, the response left something to be desired. The audience shouted out that it was because of Israeli violence, as if that wasn't obvious, and as if I were asking the audience and not the speaker who we had all come to hear. Ali shared that there is a long history of non-violent resistance, but this is well known. What I'd hoped to hear is what he thought might be keeping a broad movement from occurring, something along the lines of what Ghandi did, something using imaginative nonviolence effectively to stop the Israeli oppression. Ali stated that there was much violence used against those engaging in nonviolent resistance, which sadly is true. But unfortunately, I do not think anything else will now work against the Israeli oppression.

Sadly, what has been tried in terms of nonviolent resistance is only a small drop in comparison to what must be done. What is needed is a movement on the level of what occurred in India. Complaints that it's been tried and Israel has responded violently are not enough. Water is powerful wet stuff, but stating the obvious never changed reality. Bold and noble efforts have been attempted, here and there. But we still await a massive fully nonviolent movement. Sadly, much Palestinian blood will be shed in this effective nonviolent resistance movement- if it is to be effective. But I believe only then will the world, the Israeli public, and yes, even the Knesset, finally see the oppression and apartheid they themselves live under because of their oppression of Palestinians. Only then will they realize the needs of the huddled masses, yearning to breath free. I fear it will take only the voluntary shedding of innocent blood on a massive scale - a true sacrifice - to wake the Israeli government up to the myth of redemptive violence that they live under, having become that which they hate, stripping others of land and rights for the benefit of a privileged few. Only then will the oppressor realize that his oppression also puts him under a yoke too heavy to bear.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Eldorado, TX: The Racism of the American Government

I was at my dad's wife's memorial, and so missed on how this developed: the raid on the Eldorado YFZ Fundamentalist Mormon Ranch. And I must say I'm horrified.

I'm horrified to hear about the sexual abuse. I would wish that they didn't practice polygamy, while recognizing it is their moral (if not legal) right to do so. Practicing a faith that came out of Abraham, I can't really say otherwise, although for Christians it is certainly not God's best for us, nor it is all that empowering to women. I disagree with many fundamentals of this church, or for that matter, the Mormon church itself. Marrying teenage girls is certainly not desirable, which is why we have laws for minimum ages of marriage, though I recognize that this is common in other cultures around the world, as much as I recognize that this is an element that retards the rights of women around the world.

I'm horrified at something else as well- the response by the government. It is right and proper to remove children from homes where they are abused. But instead, in a dramatic overkill, the government has removed all 416 children from the ranch, whether there's evidence of abuse or not. In the news reports on the matter, I hear discussion of how hard this is to figure out, as it is unclear who some children belong to, and so many children have similar names, first and last, due to inbreeding and beliefs. This is a group who is odd, for they have a common purse, and have removed themselves from society to practice their faith communally, acting as one large family. And my stomach churns in repulsion.

There is much here that is the result of two cultures colliding. In America, it is a bad thing to take your faith too seriously. Polygamy is bad. Ever since Jonestown, communal living is bad. Not pursuing individual wealth, or individualism, is bad. (Our President tells us this when he commands us to shop to stop terrorism.)

I refer to racism by the government.
Probably I should say "culturalism", but that's not a real word, or one that anyone would understand. And often we use the word "racism" to refer not only to how we mistreat someone for the colour of their skin, but also because of how we treat them because of their culture. (Witness the recent condemnation of Jeremiah Wright, preaching straight out of the black cultural experience.) And so I use it here. Because the American government doesn't understand the experience of a different culture, they respond with overkill to rescue these children from this strange paradigm. Of course, especially in the West, we have a history of doing this. We did it to the Native Americans, removing their children from their homes, and reeducating them to be white Americans.

Some might argue that this isn't actually a different culture. I speak with authority here. For
I grew up in a Christian commune, with a common purse, where we all viewed each other as one family. Sure, we were more orthodox in theology than YFZ is, and we had only monogamy, and we knew who our birth family was. But all that is beside the point. It is not enough to say such a lifestyle is a different culture. It is a different culture type. That's what you call a culture that believes poverty is a positive thing, where there is complete openness and honesty, with a common purse and shares all things in common, and which has no conception of the individual but only of the group, much as exists in kinship societies of Papua New Guinea. Make no mistake- I am not speaking of different subcultures here. I am speaking of different supercultures, to the extent that now, two decades after leaving the commune, I still do not get certain basic aspects of American and Western thought.

And there is a long history of Americans looking down on both the Mormon faith, and the communal culture. My dad's name was Jim, and he headed our commune. After Jonestown, members of our community were coming up to him to say their parents had told them to leave, just because his name was Jim. Before that fateful day, Christianity Today hailed communal living as the next great step in American Christianity. There were 100s of Christian communes, if not 1000s, all over the US, and the world. After that day, we never grew in numbers. The communal era ended. And now we have a society where the worst enemy the writers of a popular show like Star Trek can imagine are the Borg and the Changelings- communal entities without individualism.

Now let us look back at the situation at YFZ. Yes, yes, yes- the government should step in to stop abuse, and remove those kids who are being abused. Probably they have to enforce that polygamy law, honored only occasionally in America. But here, the government has stepped into a foreign culture, albeit within America's borders, to remove all children from the commune. This violation is only barely mitigated that this is (hopefully) a temporary situation. The government decided that these people were living a lifestyle that didn't make sense to American culture, and so, to sort it all out, the judge ordered all the children to be removed.

Consider those few children who were abused. They have so much difficulty ahead of them. They are probably confused and shocked, and also somewhat relieved, on some level. Now consider those children who were not abused. It is hard to be removed from your family if you've been abused (though it is the right thing to do). It is harder still if you are removed and you were not abused. But now imagine if you were removed from your very culture. Everything you know, everything you understand, suddenly gone. Now pretend you are still a child. These children have been transported overnight into a land with values and practices they don't understand. Speaking the same language helps, but only to an extent. They have been forcibly removed from their parents and larger family- the commune- with little or no warning.

What the government has done is wrong not only because the culture is different, but because they have removed the children forcibly from their own culture.

I know how hard it was for me to adjust, to an extent, when we left our commune, though it was not through force, and was over an extended time. How awful it would have been if I had been suddenly yanked from my natal culture, without my permission, because of crimes committed against others. Sure, it's hypothetical, for nothing like this could have happened when I was growing up.

Except it did. Two decades after the fact we learned that there had been a man who had abused a few of the children in our commune. And it was also horrible to realize that in a place of such joy, where we had all trusted each other so deeply, there had been a predator among us. I was thousands of miles away when I learned of this, and felt at a loss to know how to deal with something so tragic. We were one, and so it felt as if a part of me had been spoiled. How I wish that we had caught this man earlier, before he had done damage, before he would have caused so much turmoil in the lives of those he abused.

And if we had caught him, evidently, the result would have been that I would have been pulled forcibly away from my parents, my family, and my culture, though I had not been abused (nor the majority of the other children). And that's the kind of Choice only Sophie was forced to make.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Bearding the Designed Lions in Their Den

Well, I saw the movie today- Expelled. I can say I wasn't disappointed. I was expecting to be disappointed, and my expectations were met. Panda's Thumb has had a wealth of information on the fraud perpetrated by this movie, on the lies they told, and how bad the science is. Here I want only to share my impressions.

It was long. I'm not saying it was exactly boring, but I fell asleep briefly in the middle of it. Ben Stein seemed to want to repeat the same allegations ad nausea. People in academia who supported Intelligent Design had faced troubles with their jobs, though no proof was offered for them losing their jobs. (Stein had the same Gotcha Moments and interviews of Michael Moore movies, but without the statistics to indicate how common these one-on-one interviews might be.)

No interviews were done with Christian evolutionists, for it was important to maintain the fable that all evolutionists (who Stein pejoratively refers to as "Darwinists") were atheists, and all the religious folks were on the ID side. Interviews with prominent evolutionists were very obviously taken out of context throughout the movie, as were quotes by Darwin himself. (Darwin discusses how eugenics is workable, but Stein leaves out the next sentence of the quote, where Darwin states we should never do it.) Numerous fellows of the Discovery Institute were interviewed, but strangely in various places away from the DI, even as far as Berlinski in France. The film doesn't even mention that Berlinski is a DI fellow. It's as if the film wanted to give the impression of a vast coalition of ID activists from all over the globe, rather than a small narrow group primarily based in Seattle.

The best part was the cell interior video that the was ripped off from Harvard. I've heard that music also somewhere before, though with slightly different notes. Where was it? Oh yes. Also on the Harvard video.

The last third of the film focused on how evolution lead to the Nazis. No mention was made of how Christianity was also a foundation, or how obviously Hitler misused evolution (or for that matter Christianity). Some rather graphic footage of the Holocaust was shown, and I closed my eyes. (This was about the time I nodded off for a bit.)

True to the speculation on box office receipts, there were about 35 people in the theatre, for the 2:00 Sunday matinee at the Uptown Theater in Seattle. 12 were with our group, a mixed bag of ID supporters and detractors. It should be noted, this is the crowd in the theatre that is the closest proximity to the Discovery Institute. Judging from audience reaction, most had a limited understanding of biology. I tried to assist by handing out slips of paper outside the theatre afterward, stating
Read the Controversy. Visit
Though there were a small number of patrons exiting the theatre, they appeared to be appreciative of the suggestion.

Afterwards our party gathered at a local restaurant to discuss the movie.
I found myself seated across from a guy named Casey who worked as a lawyer for the Discovery Institute. It was only after leaving the party that I realized that he was the infamous Casey Luskin, of whom I've read so much at Panda's Thumb. I was surprised to learn that the DI had actually moved from it's long-term location noted in the movie, over to 2nd and Columbia- just across the street from where I used to work for United Way! (Indeed, they moved in November, the same month I left UW.)

Casey shared that the DI had had little to do with the making of the movie, and even its inception, though naturally he agreed with the movie (if feeling that some areas were over the top.) I shared with him some of my story. When he heard about the experiences of my professor, he shared from his own experience, knowing Philip Johnson fairly well. As soon as the Washington Post article had come out, he had asked Johnson about it, and Johnson had stated he had only been asked for input by a Fuller trustee after the fact, who had spearheaded the attack on Dr. Murphey. (Needless to say, Johnson's statement disagrees with Dr. Murphy's rendition of events.)

To tell the truth, though Casey and I strongly disagreed on almost every issue, I found him a delightful guy with a warm personality. It made me realize how much the web is like the freeway- we see only the cars, or the words on the screen, and forget that there are real people in the image of God behind the wheel, and behind the screen. Its so easy to fall into fear, anger, and name-calling online, going to lengths of mean-spiritedness we would never go to in real life, for we don't interact directly with people on a blog or a discussion board. And I preach to myself most of all.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

How you know your child is watching too much TV.

When he comes up to the giant pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium, looks through the glass at the 30 pound animal, and says, "It looks like its in 3-D!"

"It is in 3-D," I dryly say.

"Wow! Cool!"

Time to put down the Wii.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

David's Delusions: An Agnostic's Pretensions of Science

Last night I went to see David Berlinski at the Benaroya Hall's small hall, on the beginning of his book tour for The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. Berlinski is an odd duck. He's an avowed agnostic, yet is supported by the Discovery Institute, the world's preeminent promoter of the religious belief of Intelligent Design. At the talk I learned that Berlinski is also on the board of the Discovery Institute. Honestly, I don't quite get that. He comes across as on the atheist side of agnosticism. The DI is a very religious organization- be it Christian or Jewish or Unification Church. I'm not sure how he fits in there. I later learned he also has a prominent role in the Expelled movie- and he is as every bit pretentious in person as he appears in the movie.

I was looking forward to a discussion by the author on how religious thought was being attacked and how science was the new religion of our age. I wasn't sure if I'd agree with him, especially considering his supporters, but what he had to say should nonetheless be interesting. How disappointed I was.

A prelude to the evening was when the head of the Discovery Institute, Bruce Chapman, stepped up to introduce David Berlinski. Except he talked for a long time, and mostly not about Berlinski. He talked a lot about how wrong evolution was, and about the upcoming Expelled movie. When he got to Berlinksi, who was pacing stage right waiting to go on, Chapman talked him up by stating all the negative things others said about Berlinski. Indeed, that seemed to be how Chapman supported any institution or person. He supported the movie and the institute in the same way. David mocked those who support evolution and are against Intelligent Design (whom he calls "Darwinists", as if we are still back in the 1930s), and appeared shocked that people would find the Expelled movie anti-Semitic. (Expelled advocates that evolution lead directly to the holocaust, and so a number of people have pointed out this is rather blatant manipulation of the victims of that tragedy, for a narrow political agenda.) It was as if simply mentioning negative comments by others automatically meant the the one accused was a positive force for good. If there are attacks, its a conspiracy, and if its a conspiracy, the one accused is a victim, and therefore right. I didn't catch anything in Bruce's intro that talked about what Berlinski had done- it was all about the bad things others say about him.

Finally Berlinski got up to speak.
I didn't have enough space on my videocam to catch the entire speech, but here are some snippets.

He began his talk by sharing about how there are only a few truly great scientific theories. I kept on waiting for him to obviously include evolution. I hadn't at this point realized how deep he was in the IDist camp, and how much his talk would focus on evolution. How does one list the truly great theories of our time, that encompass broad stretches of reality, without including evolution, a theory that transformed all of biology, and therefore everything we know about life? A theory that has such a huge weight of evidence behind it, that it is well nigh incontrovertible, ever- no mean feat in science.

One of his earliest points made no sense. He stated that there was really no definition of science, and science has no process or coherent method. I am confused. Has he never heard of the Scientific Method? When he studied molecular biology at Columbia, did they not go over this basic principle covered in every high-school science course? Sure, I know there are a few different scientific methods out there, but they are all clustered around a primary course of action. How could one ignore this, unless one truly intended to blind oneself by sticking large heated knitting needles into their eyes?

As you can see, one of the most disturbing aspects of David's speech was not only his vicious ad hominem attacks, but extreme sexism. Making a joke about the pleasure of having multiple wives who are all satisfied with the arrangement, in this day and age, is truly a representation that not all of us have an equal rate of evolution in our ancestral line. If you're going to make fun of evolution, at least have the decency not to sound Cro-Magnon as you do it. Is this truly representative of the ID crowd, that they enjoy and laugh with the description of multiple wives as "miraculous and enviable"?

One of the most glaring inadequacies to the ears is the repeated use of the word "Darwinist" and "Darwinian". I know they are trying to surreptitiously plant the meme that evolutionists are actually part of a religious cult, following a man just like Christians follow Jesus. But don't they understand at all that Darwinian Evolution ended in the 1930s? That the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis developed after the rediscovery of genetics and DNA in the 50s? That many advocate that the Cladistic Revolution and Punk Eek have changed evolution yet again, so that we are now in a new chapter, beyond the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis? It's like Fundamentalists responding to the issues of the 1880s, not realizing that the rest of the culture transformed itself in an Awakening at that point, and then responded to that transformation with the 60's with another cultural synthesis. Can the IDists truly be that far behind? Yes, evidently, Yes they can.

Berlinski showed an incredible lack of understanding of the basics of evolution in his talk. He actually advocated that it could be taught in a week! A week? (My emotional reaction was a mouth open in shock, and my thought ran something along the lines of questioning the species of David's mother. I however did not voice this.) I had four weeks to share with my high-school students the basics of the theory, and I could only barely brush the surface! Its an incredibly complex theory, and our primary difficulty is translating it to the public in a way they can understand it. For instance, the Discovery Institute still thinks that evolution advocates that everything arose by chance, despite our protests over the last 150 years. Berlinski states that it's evolution is easy- it's not "active brainwork". I'd submit that he's right- for him, it's not.
Berlinski also seems to misunderstand science. He has a long list of areas where science is in the same place in its study as it was 800 years ago. Half of the items on the list are philosophical and therefore under NOMA outside of science; the other two-thirds have actually had significant research done on them, of which Berlinski seems to be blithely unaware. It would appear that he only believes science that has all the answers, and when science states, as it so often does, that it does not yet know the answer, that's just not good enough for him. He wants us to say that we don't know, and will never know, or else prove that we know everything. The former gives up on the premise of scientific inquiry; the latter is a very lackluster world indeed.

He was impressed that we can understand a black hole mathematically better than we understand a rabbit, and therefore this shows we know little of biology. And so he makes the classic error of size being important, which C.S. Lewis years earlier showed the fault of. Sure, I can mathematically define the black hole that I've never seen. But you can't see it because it's the absence of light. And you can define it easier because a rabbit is so much more complex, with its internal and external ecology of a multitude of other organisms. But I suspect that if we ever reach the day when we are close enough to a black hole to observe it as close as we do a rabbit, we will also find it equally complex- if not infinitely so.

During the Q&A I got a turn at a question, much influenced from my having just finishing reading The Evolving World by David Mindell. In his talk Berlinski claimed that evolution is unique because never before in history has an important scientific theory something been held in such contempt by those paying for its research. He then asked us to imagine what it would be like for this to be true for any other theory. Well, it is questionable if the vast majority don't support evolution, and there are historical issues in that we live in a democracy now so funding comes from the people rather than from wealthy individuals, as occurred during the Renaissance. But it is just completely ahistorical to advocate that never before have there been scientific advances that the vast majority of the public rejected- the real point behind what Berlinski was saying. I knew that, in a very pro-ID crowd, if I were to make any headway with the speaker and the audience, I had to frame my question in a non-argumentative manner. So I asked him,
Earlier you stated, in a more eloquent manner, that you found it strange that this seemed to be the first time in history that a scientific belief has been financially supported by those who disagree with it. But I know that you are aware of Galileo, and Copernicus, and the rejection by many of the public of germ theory for centuries- even to the point where some were killed for advocating standards of hygiene in care for the sick. How is the situation of early astronomy and germ theory different from the situation of evolution, where a scientific theory is advocated and advanced, but rejected by a majority of the public?
He asked me to clarify the question, which I did, and then seemed to equivocate, stating that he hadn't seen a case like this in modern times- implying that Galileo and Germ Theory weren't modern times. He never really got around to answering the core of my question. His implication had clearly been that it is unfair that evolution be supported when the majority of the public reject it (rather ignoring the truth or falsehood of the idea). Yet this vulgar rejection has been a common case in scientific history; evolution is hardly unique- which is what David had been originally arguing.

Shortly after me a bold woman pointed out that David and Bruce Chapman had both been using ad hominem arguments and creating strawmen of the other side, after making a big point throughout their speeches of how wrong it was to create strawmen and attack character. The questioner pointed out that for her, as a Christian, this wasn't the way of Jesus. To David's credit, he apologized, and admitted the truth of her words. To Bruce's discredit, a few minutes earlier when an ID-supporter's question was taking too long, Bruce mocked him by asking how long this question would be- if Bruce needed to go to the bathroom while he continued. (Because of the way the question was phrased, Bruce may have thought the questioner was against Intelligent Design.)

Strangely, in this opening of the book tour, there was no book read. I think it's the first book tour I've ever been to where that happened. And while filled with amazement (and not the good kind), I am also left with a great deal of puzzlement. Why would an agnostic, be so filled with fervor for the cause of science and evolution being wrong? Sure, many times he stated he was just arguing that there could be a possibility either way. Yet, in truth, the underlying feeling throughout was that he was really invested in this ID idea. And for all the mysteries of the Heavens, this is one of the greatest: What is David Berlinski really on about?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Remembering Susan Mattson: A Video Montage

We had the memorial at Susan's daughter's - Sherry. These videos can speak better than I ever could of the experience, so I will leave you to view. Her son Paul spoke first.

Some of Susan's coworkers shared.

Sherry spoke from her heart.

Sadly, some archival footage has been lost - of my dad telling of how he and Susan met, as well as a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace by my sister Sophia. My dad shared more before our final toast to Susan.

I was impressed to hear how powerfully God had used this woman to draw others to Him, and how she had been the agent for truth and change in others' lives. I had no idea how much she had been That of God for others.

Monday, 14 April 2008

To the Southland

For someone who loves to travel, I've rarely done it over the past year. In fact, I haven't traveled further than Oregon and BC in the last two years. I took my first plane flight in two years to attend my father's wife's memorial in SoCal.

I prepared myself this time. In case Homeland illegally searched my computer again, I reset the background to a suitable prophetic reminder.

Sadly, Homeland didn't even bother opening my computer. At least the plastic bags for my feet came in handy, as we're evidently back to taking off our shoes and walking across an extremely filthy floor again. Good thing terrorism is a greater threat than a possible pandemic...

The trip through Reno was uneventful. I think we crossed over the Great Salt Lake.

My Dad and June Dalton picked me up from the airport, and I then found out that there was some glitches in the car I was planning to inherit. My dad was wanting to give me his wife Susan's old car, but there are problems with the title between Tennessee and California, that will take a month to work out.

The next day was the memorial at Susan's stepdaughter's house, which I'll post about later in it's own column. After the memorial me, Kent, and Trina visited the beach, and discovered a mermaid (my little sister) frolicking in the waves.
That evening was one of the best times we've ever had as a family. For the first time in many years nearly all of my dad's children were together with him- Kent, Sophia, myself, Cody, and Kent's wife, Trina. Only Sonja was missing. Rather than watching TV or playing video games, we decided instead to sit and talk, till rather late at night (and until Cody's obligatory daily date at midnight). It was relaxed, informative, and punctuated by laughter.
Since the car wasn't available, I arranged with my dad for me to take his car, and he would keep Susan's old car for the next month and a half. Which gives him some incentive to get the registration issues worked out.

So I began the long ride North, sustained only by many hours of listening to the old radio dramas of the Six Shooter with James Stewart, that I'd first grown to love listening to late night KNX 1070 in Los Angeles. (They're now available for free download from iTunes.) The I-5 isn't actually that exciting. A couple dust devils, a fancy Mormon Temple outside Portland, going by too fast to shoot- that's about it. I stayed with my mom in Ashland, Oregon, to break up the trip, and have some good crepes for breakfast. 21 driving hours and 230 gas dollars later I arrived back in Seattle, sufficiently exhausted.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Tragedy of Intelligent Design: Coming Out (To a Theatre Near You)

The Intelligent Design movement, lead by the Discovery Institute, has long claimed that professors and teachers lose their positions and are not published because of discrimination, because some don't accept evolution or because they support the Intelligent Design hypothesis. At times this is claimed to be religious discrimination, and at other times it is claimed that ID has nothing to do with religion. In other places it has been repeatedly shown that these accusations are baseless. Now the DI has a new movie out, Expelled, in which they repeat these claims, but add in that evolution lead to the Holocaust, and anyone who supports evolution is following in the path of the Nazis. (I'm not making this up. Or exaggerating.)

Here's the irony of it all. A few cases have recently come to light where people have lost positions, or been threatened with losing their positions, for their support for evolution. In truth, in many areas of America, high school teachers self-censor and restrict evolution in their instruction so as not to offend or risk their positions. But one of the most interesting cases related to one of my former professors.

Dr. Nancey Murphy is a professor of religion and science at Fuller Seminary, who also co-taught a course in the Theory and Practice of Non-Violence that I greatly enjoyed. At one point she published a scathing review of Phillip Johnson's book supporting Intelligent Design and attacking evolution. Phillip Johnson is a lawyer who has become the most prominent defender of Intelligent Design. In that capacity he spoke with a Fuller trustee to try to get Dr. Murphy fired, for he didn't like her theological defense of evolution.

In a letter to me Dr. Murphy stated

That I came close to being fired is an exaggeration. Philip Johnson phoned a powerful trustee and complained about me. The trustees discussed my “case” and there was so much support from the administration that the issue dropped there. So it’s not Fuller, but rather the ID people who wanted me out.

and later

Fuller has always been very supportive, even though the events caused them to lose major donations!

(Dr. Murphy gave permission to share this information.)

Now this whole controversy begins to hit home. Here is a great professor, from whom I learned a lot, who is being attacked, not for her studies of evolution, but for her theology! She advocates that God and evolution are compatible (and next year is looking forward to teaching a class on science and theology). Though the Intelligent Design advocates talk about wanting freedom of religion, when someone publishes from a purely religious perspective something against Intelligent Design, the IDists get up in arms and try to restrict the ability of their detractors to speak or share their views.

I am so glad that my alma mater didn't join in with Phillip Johnson, that they stood up for truth and solid theology and the freedom of their professors to speak and to publish. I am so sad that supporters of bad theology and bad science would have caused a significant loss of funding to such a great school. I understand that, if someone feels strongly about this issue, they have every right to direct their money as they desire. It is their money. But I am sorrowful that some would still be in such great darkness, and try to pull others into the darkness with them.

Of course, if I'm to be completely honest, this issue is even more intimate. I had a wonderful time teaching biology for three years at a great school. But it was a constant struggle, with members of the administration, fellow teachers, and numerous parents and students objecting to my teaching of evolution, even as I bent over backwards to accommodate their viewpoints. I spent a couple class periods discussing the many different philosophical approaches to evolution, while stressing that this is the core of biology and the students needed to learn and understand it- and hopefully even enjoy it. (Because it is a lot of fun!) I once was a firm believer in Literal Creationism, before God showed me the Light, and so I can relate to those who still believe in a literal creation as described in Genesis. I wanted them to not do dishonor to their integrity, but come to believe in biology honestly, while not denying the religious beliefs they might hold.

The administration supported me at times against parents, but there was constant pressure from some administration members, particularly the director, to change the way I taught, to "teach both sides" of the issue. Since I was trained in both theology and biology, I saw too much emptiness in Intelligent Design, to say nothing of it's lack of imagination, to be able to teach it with integrity. And I must stress that I was not fired, nor even encouraged to leave my position. Yet ultimately I did leave my position over this issue.

It all came to a head when the director of the school maneuvered his way into teaching classes in Intelligent Design. Unbeknownst to me, towards the end of the school year, he met with the board to set up these classes for the following year. Though at the time I was the most knowledgeable person in biology at the school, he did not consult me, and indeed, I didn't hear about these meetings till months later, as the new school year began.

Even when the director would ask my opinion on these matters, it was only lip service. I vividly remember one conversation where he asked me if there was one thing I might want taught in his ID classes. (This was after the new year had begun.) I said at the very least, he should make it clear that there is no such thing as "just a theory" in science. That a theory is as good as it gets. That the word "theory" doesn't mean "guess" in science but is rather an extensively tested formulation of our understanding of the world, like germ theory, atomic theory, and cell theory.

The director vehemently disagreed. This definition of theory in science is not admired by ID advocates, for they like to be able to say evolution is "just a theory", and therefore we are only guessing. So the director stated that my thoughts on what a theory is was not what he had learned in school, and that ended the discussion.

In Fall of that year four mandatory half-day classes in Intelligent Design began. All high-school students were required to attend these Saturday morning classes, to learn the other side, since they were learning about evolution in biology class. If the student didn't attend, they had to show up separately to learn the information in one-on-one sessions with the director.

I refused to attend these sessions, for my presence as the biology teacher would indicate that the ideas presented were worthy of consideration, that they were a "viable alternative". I attended only the first session, which focused on a recapitulation of evolution. The director wanted the students to read the Origin of a Species. Since most of these students are ESL, and this is a very well-written book but in old-fashioned language, I suggested they read instead the more updated Darwin's Ghost, with modern language and evidence. The director turned down this request as well, perhaps because if the students read the work in a language they could understand it would be far more convincing.

The students were therefore understandably confused. But additionally, as many of the students had not yet taken biology, they had no understanding of evolution to begin with. Their first introduction to evolution was thus a complicated text in a old version of a second language. This was probably not accidental- the introduction to evolution is negative, implanting in them the idea that the entire field is unenjoyable.

Though I didn't attend the last three sessions, I heard from the other high school teachers who did. (We were all theoretically acquired to attend. I disobeyed for ethical reasons.) The teaching was simply atrocious. I could take encouragement that the director’s teaching style was all lecture-based, with little interaction, and therefore perhaps the students would see this Intelligent Design bit as just boring.

But what I found instead was that students were coming into my class, unsure of whom to believe. In a very authoritarian culture, the words of the director of the school carried weight. Should they believe what their biology teacher said all year, or what the director now said? He had already succeeded, for now “both sides” were being taught, as if a controversy existed, and both evolution and Intelligent Design carried an equal weight of evidence. All that I had worked on all year, honing in them that a theory is the best you can get in science, that a theory is a thorough explanation of reality; that evolution is the only scientific alternative; that biology was built on this edifice- all was for nought, for now they had the idea that any old belief system would do.

Students came into my class, sharing how they had been taught that the sun might be powered by gravitational collapse. The director used the idea of “might” so that it could not be said that he’d actually argued this – his goal was simply to raise doubt. It took me a while to find out about this was on about, as I’d never heard of it before. Turns out there was a minority belief in physics at the turn of the 20th century in which the sun might be powered by gravitational collapse rather than nuclear fission. The bonus is that if it’s powered by gravity, then it needs to be only a few hundreds of thousands of years old, rather than millions.

I realized that my very presence was allowing this to be taught. The director at one point said that he wouldn’t have hired me if there weren’t others on the faculty who supported Literal Creationism. He wanted balance. And he said that he felt comfortable teaching ID because I was teaching the other part.

I realized I could not be part of this. I could not facilitate and enable lies being taught to the students. I could not be in a position where what I was taught was constantly undermined by the administration. There are other reasons why I would have otherwise have stayed only another year. But I left the position for this reason- because I could no longer teach the foundations of biology unopposed. It was not an environment which encouraged the teaching of truth.

A few months later I realized I was foolish in believing the director when he said he would give me a good recommendation. Because of this issue he was telling possible employers that I was not a good hire. A year later he was telling others I was writing negative reviews on Amazon of anti-evolution books I hadn't read.

It is sad that this issue tears apart. But sadder still are those who give up the opportunity to learn of the beauty of evolution, and the wonder that it offers us. As a theistic evolutionist I think there is much that is revealed of God within evolution. And I am tired of the ID supporters crying out that they are attacked and denied employment or released from employment, when in truth it is far more the other way around. It is time for this to end. It is time that those who claim to speak for Christianity, such as those at the Discovery Institute, to actually practice the ethics of Jesus- to do unto others, to believe in truth and light, and to love their enemies. It is time for us to embrace a God who is big enough to use evolution, rather than restrict ourselves to a small god of literalism who is incapable of acting outside two short Genesis myths.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Sometimes you feel like a Slut...

I saw something wonderous the other day as I walked back from work to the bus stop. There, just to the left, was a hanut- a miniature store just barely big enough for it's wares, of the type you find commonly in Morocco or other places in Africa.

And here's the bonus. It was the Slut Store!

Seattle's been expanding it's rail system, and that includes the South Lake Union Trolley. Laying down the rails kind of pissed off some of the local shop owners, because all the noise and commotion reduced their customers. One owner decided to make lemonade from lemons, and created new shirts, crying out "Ride the SLUT!"

The shirts became so popular that the store is now world famous, and I'm told Chinese radio announcers debate the meaning of the shirt. Some city planners lacking imagination decided to change the name of the tram to something less...evocative- the South Lake Union Streetcar.

I of course picked up my shirt today. Blue, to go with my eyes.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The IRS Redeemed

I got a most encouraging letter in the mail today. Previously I discovered I owed money to the IRS, and that it was mostly because of errors on their part, though I made an intial error in how I stated that I did not owe the IRS taxes.

The letter states:
I have requested the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) correct your 2005 tax period by allowing the $21,437.20 Foreign Earned Income Exclusion claimed on line 21 of your return. I asked for this adjustment to be completed by April 15, 2008. Once the balance on 2005 is zero, the $95.37 credit from your 2006 return will be refunded to you, plus interest.

I will contact you again by May 2, 2008. At that time, I hope to be able to provide you with a transcript of the corrected 2005 account, as well as the 2006 refund amount and mailing date.

It would therefore seem about 85% likely that this issue may soon be finally resolved, and a great load off my back.

Onesimus vs. Obama

Today was the Legislative District Caucuses, the caucuses after the Precinct Caucuses, before the Congressional District Caucuses, before the State Caucus, before the National Caucus. I was an Alternate Delegate, which means basically if any true Delegate gets sick or dies (or doesn't show up), I'm on. It's like being the backup in a duel.

Our district was one of the top two in delegate count in the city, and the 2,500 delegates and alternates filled up Ballard High School Gymnasium. We were asked to show up as early as possible, since there were so many to credential, and the line wrapped around the block like an opportunity for Dead tickets. Then we finally entered the school, and the line ran into the cafeteria, and wrapped around the cafeteria. Then we finally left the cafeteria, and the line ran up the Mayor Nicholsstairs, down the hall, a right turn, and down another hall.

Credentialing was a quick process, and after we went to sit on the hard benches designed for kids who's backs still work. We were given red stickers or green stickers. Green meant that we were an Alternate- lower caste. Red meant we were an actual Delegate, one of the cool kids that everyone liked.

At the beginning was a standing for the pledge of allegiance, and I stood out of respect, without pledging, as has been the practice throughout my life. Disbursed throughout the long Congressman McDermottproceedings were a number of speeches- including an introduction by Mayor Nichols, who I previously saw endorse Obama at the Rally of 20,000. We were also treated to a speech by Congressman McDermott, the Very Liberal congressman who is one of twenty who supports equal rights in the Middle East and justice for Arabs, and who I had the pleasure of thanking in person at the Precinct Caucuses.

Honestly, this wasn't nearly as fun as the Precinct Caucuses. I think in large part because it was less intimate, less relaxed, less democratic. The chair of the session had a hard task in front of her, dealing with 2,500 people, but she seemed focused on playing everything by the book and getting through the events one after the other with a minimum of fuss. Yes, it was hard to hear anything in that auditorium if people had other conversations, but she was a bit militant in insisting on her way.

There were a number of times of seating of delegates. As an alternate, we were told we could vote on issues, but that turned out to be untrue. As an alternate, we could do nothing- but sit and wait and hope that delegates from our precinct didn't show up. If there weren't enough delegates or alternates from a precinct, then that candidate, Obama or Clinton, would lose delegates. That's why we were important. And so we would wait.

A few times in the session they would call out names, and I sat there on tenterhooks, hoping and hoping to hear my name, like I was back at a high school debate tournament hoping to hear I'd won the tournament. I had the same trepidation and pounding heart. If picked, we would go into the adjoining room, and change out stickers and move up the ranks.

My precinct delegates sucked. They all showed up, and I wasn't needed. It was like not being Sean Astinchosen for dodgeball. A friend from church got to move up, but I did not. I just sat there while all the cool kids made fun of us. (Not really, but the thought came to mind.)

There were three speeches each for the two primary candidates, the first by Samwise Gamgee. I'm not lying. Sean Astin was there to share about how much he supported Clinton, though he spent the beginning of his speech talking about how much he'd support Obama if Obama's the nominee.

Here's a bit of his speech. This part was interesting.
The cynic might say that Astin's use of Obama's middle name, done by other Clinton supporters, was a way of reminding people that Obama has Arabic and Muslim names like the presumed enemy of America. The way he said it, he might however have been celebrating the international nature of Obama's name. It would be easier for me to believe this if other Clinton supporters hadn't played the game of using Obama's middle name. But you be the judge.

After all those speeches and credentialing, or somewhere in between, we had the voting of the issues. Alternates could participate in the voice vote, but if a voice vote was unclear, they switched to vote by blue cards, given only to Delegates. I voted against the overall charter of beliefs, for it supported the troops, abortion, and a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. Indeed, as they read the charter, there was this odd little bit of stopping in the middle to stand up and applaud uproariously all veterans and families of soldiers present.

Mostly, I felt useless. But there was one bit where I got to participate. Anyone could give one of the three pro or anti speeches for the six different resolutions. I found the resolution against suspending the writ of habeas corpus enticing, but wasn't able to get in the line quick enough. After that I learned to stand in the line early, and so was first in line for the similar resolution against the usurpation of congressional authority by President.

I had a minute to speak, so I shared about how since his time under Nixon Cheney had been working with others on the Unitary Presidential Theory, a strange idea that the President can basically do whatever he wants. I spoke of how signing statements (in which a President does not veto but rather signs a bill, but with a statement stating how it should be interpreted, often to the point of completely denying the point of the bill) were signed by previous Presidents, but George Bush has signed more than all previous Presidents combined. I mentioned that I'd lived in Morocco, and often told people there I appreciated the king, Hassan Tainy, more than the king from my own country. For George Bush operates as a king, and I am ashamed of this country, where I now see little difference between us and the worst dictatorships, where one man makes any decision he wants. I suggested that, to return this country to what the constitution intended, we should support this resolution.

I am not comfortable with unscripted speeches, and it was stressful to speak with 2,500 people staring down at you from the bleachers. By the end of my minute I quickly completed as my heart was thumping and my leg shaking. But I did get some roars of approval.

The final resolution was the most boring one. Do we support publicly funded elections in Seattle or not? We voted, and the chairman felt it was a tie, and therefore the resolution was declined. But some objected, so we voted with the blue cards. The chairman again felt it was declined. But some objected, requesting a line vote. This meant a thirty minute process in which every blue card was individually counted. It was about this time that the final delegates were seated, and I decided to leave. We ended up with 52 delegates to 15 Clinton delegates. With movement from the one Edwards delegate and the one Kucinich delegate and the 15 undecided delegates at the precinct level, we went from 1016 to 1038 Precinct Delegates, or from 51 to 52 Legislative Delegates. Due to some no-shows in certain precincts, Clinton lost some delegates in the 36th Legislative District (going from 319 to 286 Precinct Delegates). At the Congressional District Caucuses they'll determine how the nine delegates of the 9th Congressional District will be allotted to the State and National Conventions.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Guess who's on the phone?

At the moment I'm fielding calls for a company downtown. I started only yesterday. Today I got a call from a guy I'd never heard of, John Spellman. As per my instructions, I asked what company he was from. He said, "Well, I'm trying to reach the Director of the company, and I'm the President of the Board of Directors." I immediately went downstairs to look for the director. On the way, one of my co-workers half-joked that I should definitely hurry, as "the Guv'ner" was on the line. I thought it an odd joke.

Till I looked John Spellman up. Turns out it wasn't a joke. John Spellman was governor of the State of Washington from 1981 to 1985. Now he's President of the Board of this nonprofit.

It looks like there are only six degrees of separation in politics too. Two days prior I just read up on the last time a nomination had been really close, as the Clinton-Obama nomination may be at the convention. That was in 1976, when Ford beat out Reagan by 1187 to 1070 delegates, in part because Reagan had taken the liberal Richard Schweiker as his running mate, a full three weeks before the convention. Ford took Bob Dole, rather than Daniel Evans. Evans was Governor of Washington at the time. In 1983 Governor Spellman appointed Governor Evans to be Senator for Washington State- a move the Democrats decried because Evans was replacing Democratic Senator Henry Jackson. In the special election three weeks later Senator Evans beat out his challenger Congressman Mike Lowry. But in 1992 Mike Lowry became governor, and in 1993 he appointed his previous bitter rival Governor Evans to the U Dub Board of Regents. Which I just think is a very heartwarming story of political reconciliation- exactly what Obama is calling us to as a nation.