Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Six-Grand Canyon?

I've posted about my religious beliefs before, so my reaction to this story should surprise absolutely nobody:

Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”


In August 2003, Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale at park bookstores of Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, a book claiming the Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters and members of Congress that there would be a high-level policy review of the issue.

According to a recent NPS response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by PEER, no such review was ever requested, let alone conducted or completed.


“As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan,” Ruch added, pointing to the fact that previous NPS leadership ignored strong protests from both its own scientists and leading geological societies against the agency approval of the creationist book. “We sincerely hope that the new Director of the Park Service now has the autonomy to do her job.”

Any emphasis up there is my own.

I don't want this to be some kind of divisive religion vs. science post, but I don't see how it can't be. It seems that in our modern world, in order to get mainstream recognition, all you have to do is disagree with somebody and then point to the disagreement that you just expressed as evidence for why you should be taken as seriously as the people with whom you disagree. Example:
Scientist: Species developed over the course of millions of years, through the process of natural selection.

Creationist: I disagree. I think God did it all.

Scientist: The scientific community overwhelmingly backs my position.

Creationist: Why not just teach the controversy? There's definitely controversy. Please refer back to 10 seconds ago when I disagreed with you. See? Controversy. Are you just afraid of views that differ from your own?
That's, like, the template for how to get the media scared of denigrating your position, and how to ratchet your idiotic minority to the top of the media heap, all without having to exhibit one shred of evidence. Here's a site that goes more in-depth on the logical fallacies used by these people, and how to spot them.

This all puts me in mind of this very, very funny Mad Magazine spoof:

If only its humor weren't rooted so deeply in reality.


Saddam's Death

Last night Darren and I walked over to the diner to meet Oliver and Eli, who had been drinking. Oliver called me up and told me that we should be loud and make a scene as we walked in. You know, just be in an argument over something. And given the news that we'd just received, and the images playing incessantly on the TV in the diner, it was easy to decide that that scene would be about.

Our "scene" didn't last long, and nobody really paid us any attention. It was already loud in the diner in the first place, and everybody was either drunk or weary of drunks. Not the best atmosphere in which to be noticed. But the argument that Darren and I were staging is one that, in retrospect, would be worth having for real. I was arguing the anti-death-penalty side, Darren was arguing that Saddam should have been tortured for a few months before being executed. The extreme positions, obviously, for maximum effect.

But really, in the grand scheme of things, what good does Saddam's death do? Does it prove the strength of the Iraqi government? Not at all. The U.S. had to hold onto Saddam until the end of the whole thing, giving him up to the Iraqis only on the eve of his execution. Does it prove that the Iraqi government is civilized and now has a justice system based on the rule of law and not on revenge? Consider this:

The first picture, obviously, is of Saddam being fitted with his noose (you can watch video at consumptionjunction already, which I'd figured). The second is of the unfortunate American contractor Nick Berg awaiting his beheading. It's certainly not just me who noted the similarity between the "executioners" in these two cases. Add to that the fact that one of the executioners reportedly exclaimed, "Long live Muqtada al-Sadr!" (incidentally prompting Saddam's last words, a derisive, mocking "Muqtada al-Sadr") and this whole thing is nothing but one more death in the steady stream of carnage that's been issuing from Iraq for years now. This one's more high profile and more televised, but the fact that it bears such similarity to the criminal militia groups' executions, the fact that it was carried out under Saddam's execution rules, the fact that sectarian epithets were hurled about on the gallows, and the fact that the execution was evidently held on a date that maximized Sunni/Shiite strife, all of these things make it a sham at best, and a travesty at worst.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sam/Eagle '08

When I read Republicans seriously entertaining the notion of the nomination of Rudy Giuliani for President in '08, much less the notion of his standing a snowball's chance in hell of winning, this is all I can think of:

Because that's all Rudy Giuliani is. He's a symbol. A symbol of 9/11, which God's Own Party would love to continue exploiting. And a symbol of...well, come to think of it, that's it. Republicans would not only have to ignore his notoriously liberal stances on such issues as gun control, abortion or gay marriage (not to mention marital fidelity, though it's arguable whether or not those sorts of personal indiscretions should enter into things); they'd also have to convince themselves (as many seem to have already done) that Giuliani's leadership of New York City after 9/11 gives him enough national security credibility to be taken seriously as a candidate.

Honestly, it's laughable. It's laughable to imagine the man getting past the social conservatives, but it's also laughable to imagine his getting passed through as the authority on national security simply because of his (admittedly good) leadership of a city after a terrorist attack.

Uncle Sam has been unwavering in his support of the military since 1812, and the Bald Eagle has endowed the country with its quiet dignity ever since it was co-opted to do so. I think they, together, make just as solid a ticket as Rudy and anyone else.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Congressional Response

I haven't posted in a long time, and I'm sorry for that. Just thought I'd toss this up there. Here's an e-mail I sent to both of my senators, Lautenberg and Menendez, about 2 months ago:

Senator Lautenberg,

I would like to know how you justify, in good conscience, voting in favor of a bill that grants the President the sole power to "interpret" the Geneva Conventions, denies the Courts the rights to consider the Conventions in civil proceedings, and strips prisoners of the rights of habeas corpus so long enshrined as part of our nation's foundation.

This bill is repugnant not just to me, but to the ideals which we profess, as a nation, to hold. I am deeply disappointed that both of the senators that reprsent my state would have voted for this atrocious legislation.

Tim Fargus...

For Senator Menendez, I simply changed the name. Anyway, I recently received an e-mail response from Senator Lautenberg, and I'll reproduce it here in full:

Dear Mr. Fargus :

Thank you for contacting me about the Military Commissions Act (S. 3930). I appreciate hearing your views on this important issue.

The United States has apprehended hundreds of terror suspects, and President Bush has kept them at secret CIA prisons and at a military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay , Cuba . In November of 2001, President Bush unilaterally issued an order setting up a flawed system of military trials for these suspects.

Not surprisingly, in June 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the trial system set up by President Bush in 2001 violated military justice law and the Geneva Conventions, and that any future attempts to authorize these trials will need an Act of Congress. Unless and until that occurred, detainees at Guantanamo Bay would remain without charge and without trial.

In September 2006, President Bush sent Congress another flawed proposal to establish military tribunals. Many Senators, including John McCain (R-AZ), John Warner (R-VA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), opposed the Administration's proposal, as did I. After weeks of negotiations, a new measure was drafted. While far from perfect, this new version provided a framework that could move these cases to trial and avoid a continuation of the current state of limbo that has kept detainees at
Guantanamo without a trial.

The primary objective of the Military Commissions Act is to set up the framework under which detainees can be charged and brought to trial. The military commissions will include elements of the law and rules of evidence used in general courts-martial by the military, in addition to specific requirements laid out in the legislation. I supported several amendments to the bill on the Senate floor. For example, I sought to restore the right of habeus corpus to allow detainees to challenge the factual and legal reasons for their detention. I was disappointed that this amendment failed by a vote of 48-51; however, I anticipate the Supreme Court will review this provision in the bill expeditiously.

The Military Commissions Act also clarifies what interrogation methods can and cannot be used against detainees. In 2005, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act (the "McCain Amendment"), which applies to all detainees under the control of the United States. It prohibits cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, as those terms are defined by our U.S. Constitution.

The Military Commissions Act specifically clarifies what our obligations are under international law. These obligations are governed by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which set out minimum standards for the treatment of detainees. The Act explicitly bans nine offenses, including torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. These are considered "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions and are punishable in the United States by death or imprisonment for life or a term of years. The President must also publicly declare what the Administration deems to be "non-grave" or lesser offenses under the Geneva Conventions. This mandate will require the President to spell out what interrogation standards are being used at Guantanamo, which will be a major step toward accountability for this Administration.

This legislation is not perfect, and I regret that efforts to amend it on the Senate floor were unsuccessful. But it has been more than five years since 9/11, and hundreds of detainees are being kept at Guantanamo Bay without charge and without trial. It is time to set the rules and move these trials forward. I will vigorously monitor how this and future Administrations apply this legislation and the requirements it sets forth, and I will not hesitate to speak out when the executive branch strays from the requirements of the law. In addition, I intend to work with my colleagues in the 110th Congress, which begins in January, to conduct strong oversight of this program and consider changes to this law to address any deficiencies.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me, and I hope you will continue to do so in the future.

Sincerely, Senator Frank Lautenberg

My thoughts? Well, first off, I appreciate the response. I know it took a while, but I'm sure the volume of requests coming into Congressional offices must be huge, especially since the advent of electronic media.

Now, I can understand the Senator's reasoning here. He's talking about the act being better than nothing, and that taking baby steps is better than doing nothing. I can understand that and could even almost get behind it, if it weren't for the provisions in the bill that give the President the authority to redefine the Geneva Conventions.

I'm a little more hopeful that the Senator's choice will be vindicated in the coming months with the Democratic majority in Congress, but all the same, I would like to have seen this act scuttled, and Senators Warner, Graham and McCain exposed for the political opportunists and showmen that they are.