Recently in letters to the editor Category

Check out this denier's letter to the editor:

Much fiction is behind rising sea levels alarm
It's time to put some facts into one of the global warming fictions. Rising sea levels associated with sea-ice melting seems to one of the obsessions of Al Gore and other alarmists. [...] I ask each of you, whether a Ph.D or an elementary school student, to conduct this simple experiment.

Fill a glass tumbler to about an inch below the top. Add a few ice cubes until the water level is very near the top. After the ice has melted, observe the new water level. It will the same as , or lower than the top of the glass.

Some such laws of nature cannot be dismissed by sensational rhetoric.

[name and address redacted]

Those who call man-made climate change 'fictitious' and its popularizers 'alarmists' should take more care to construct an adequate argument rather than parroting old talk-radio misinformation. This commenter repeated a reworded version of this 1992 claim from infamous infotainer Rush Limbaugh:

"Even if polar ice caps melted, there would be no rise in ocean levels... After all, if you have a glass of water with ice cubes in it, as the ice melts, it simply turns to liquid and the water level in the glass remains the same."
(The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, p. 17)

While this example appears sound at first glance, it fails spectacularly as an analogy. This is because the melting ice which concerns climatologists is on land--not floating in the oceans. The two largest and most obvious examples, the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet, contain tens of millions of cubic kilometers of ice that lies above sea level. As the ice sheets calve and melt, sea levels will rise dramatically--just as the water level in a glass rises when one adds ice cubes to it.

Such laws of physics can be ignored by climate-change deniers, but cannot be dismissed as rhetorical.

I've been sparring (a little bit, as the mood strikes) with some of the responses to my two recent comments on Gore (here and here). Here is the back-and-forth of the two threads (identifying information removed to protect the inane), in all its ungrammatical and nonsensical glory.


:: thread #1 ::

TROLLS:

Here's another blow to Gore and his ilk, a just released Senate report:

"Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007: Senate Report Debunks 'Consensus'"

The names of these scientists from around the globe are listed, with quotes, at: http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.SenateReport
[...]

Maybe the problem is that Gore lives in a massive house to begin with. Perhaps it is relatively efficient compared to other massive homes, but if he wants to preach to us, perhaps he should consider a more modest personal lifestyle.

[...]

The IPCC has been known to falsify the "science" in the past and the UN has its own agenda. They have no true "factual argument." I wouldn't trust their findings and results at all.

[...]

Come back in twenty years and let us know how warm it is then.

Until then the only fact about Gore is that he travels on private jets and lives in a 10,000 square foot home. That home no matter how efficient it is still uses more energy than a traditional 2,000 square foot home built with raw materials.

Sorry Gore is no savior and America is not the enemy. If Gore really cared he would be in China right now trying to stop the hundreds of coal plants opening every year.

Now get on that jet and go to China and make a difference !

Remember that not only is the report you mention the product of the minority of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, it also represents a minority within the scientific community. While truth isn't determined by the number of adherents, the scientific consensus on this issue appears to be rather lopsided.

Do you have an example of falsified science from the IPCC? I'm not being sarcastic when I say that I would like to see it.

Gore's "massive" home seems much less so when one considers that it not only houses his family, but also contains offices for business and nonprofit use and space for his Secret Service detail. If the rest of us worked from home and had to provide additional space for other people, our homes would also be significantly larger than they are.

TROLL:

Stop making excuses for Gore. If I had his money I would practice what I preach. Gore does not have to have a SS detail. He can deny protection.

And the truth about Gore is he travels around the world constantly making Global Warming a POLITICAL statement. If he truly cared he would stay at home and broadcast a radio program or send the "truth" through a website.

By the way buying a tree after flying a jet can never remove the permanent "carbon footprint" of a flight. So is it a safe bet to conclude that Gore is promoting a whole new industry for personal gain? At the expense of the enviroment?

I cant stand Hollywood but here is ONE actor you have to admire.
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1689569,00.htm

At least we've moved on from blatant lies about Gore to a discussion of some substance; given our starting point, I consider that to be progress.

As for your example: Ed Begley has made what he feels are necessary changes in his own lifestyle, as has Gore...as have many of the rest of us who are not celebrities. Suggesting that someone else should or should not do make a particular lifestyle change is not an argument for doing nothing, which is what many denialists would seem to prefer. Is everyone who is concerned about the environmental results of our actions to be branded a hypocrite because we don't live off the grid in a mud hut?

You suggested previously that Gore should "be in China right now trying to stop the hundreds of coal plants opening every year," surely a political effort, but today you're deriding him for making political statements. These stances strike me as contradictory.

TROLL:

"You suggested previously that Gore should "be in China right now trying to stop the hundreds of coal plants opening every year," surely a political effort, but today you're deriding him for making political statements. These stances strike me as contradictory".

Not at all. Being in China would simply be an "enviromental" statement.

The sarcasm passes you easily. Gore has no right to speak on BEHALF of America or at the BEHEST of America when he travels abroad. Yet each of his appearances is a pure tyrannical political mud slinging.

When he was in the White House America had very little to say about Global Warming. This political issue has been front page ever since Gore lost his Presidential bid.

Take a guess why.

As you said nobody should tell you or I how we should make changes in our lifestyle. But it is Gore who does exactly that. Carbon "offests" are scientific rubbish. If one believes in purchasing carbon offets one must truly believe in living in a mud hut !! Simply put a carbon footprint is permanent therfore a carbon offset does nothing.

Do you have any examples of Gore claiming to speak on behalf of or at the behest of the United States...or any examples of "tyrannical political mud-slinging?" If he does so at "each of his appearances," such evidence should be both plentiful and easy for you to find. (That's OK, I'll wait...)

Gore's inaction on climate change during his years as VP remains a primary criticism of him among environmentalists, myself included. The publicity he has received since then is due to his Oscar and his Nobel Peace Prize, certainly not because the corporate media are giving him a free pass to make up for their abysmal treatment of him in 2000.

Recognizing our common interest in not damaging the planet (on which our lives all depend) and proposing courses of action is far from making tyrannical demands. I haven't seen Gore suggest any lifestyle changes for others that he hasn't been willing to make in his own life. (Besides, finding hypocrisy in the messenger would not disprove the message.)

Calling the concept of carbon offsets "rubbish" is not a convincing statement, for the very reason that a carbon footprint is not permanent. By way of analogy, imagine someone who discards a piece of trash while walking in the woods but later picks up and disposes of a piece of someone else's trash. On balance, the forest is in the same state because the second action has offset the first. In the same way, trees planted to remove carbon from the atmosphere do indeed offset waste from (for example) jet fuel combustion.

TROLL:

"Do you have any examples of Gore claiming to speak on behalf of or at the behest of the United States...or any examples of "tyrannical political mud-slinging?" If he does so at "each of his appearances," such evidence should be both plentiful and easy for you to find. (That's OK, I'll wait...)
WAIT NO MORE !!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HeTA1S7TXM&feature=related

He cleverly suggests he is not speaking on behalf of the US as a disclaimer. But are we really that stupid? Is this not the ex-VP?

I love how he hates his country.

When Gore began his address in Bali (there's a decent transcript here) with the words "I am not an official of the United States," he disproved your claim that he claims to "speak on BEHALF of America or at the BEHEST of America when he travels abroad."

You first insulted Gore for (allegedly) making improper claims. You then linked to a speech where he said the exact opposite, and you used that to backpedal into an assertion that it's impossible for him to avoid it. Even without Gore's actual statement, you have destroyed your initial accusation with your new assertion that--by virtue of Gore being a former VP--he must necessarily be speaking on behalf of the US. The only way for him to avoid being guilty (in your eyes) is to avoid speaking, which is apparently your real wish. (If not, at least you've absolved yourself of the need to find an actual example of the rhetoric you claimed; you can now point to anything Gore says and claim that it's proof that he's really saying the exact opposite.) If your latest ploy fails to convince anyone, you can always claim that talking yourself in circles is some form of sarcasm.

I'm still waiting for the (alleged) "tyrannical political mud-slinging," but I suspect that it will never appear.


:: thread #2 ::

The same troll claimed that "The science is flawed in so many ways it is ridiculous," so I asked him to put up or shut up:

If the research that was linked to above can be rebutted, let's see some rebuttals. If there are flaws, please list some. Which arguments against man-made climate change do you consider the most compelling?

TROLL:

http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/13830

That's an interesting piece on the ubiquitous "hockey stick" graph, and I'm always glad to see statistical and analytical errors corrected...although the author doesn't address the (inevitable) flaws inherent in the set of allegedly "random" numbers used in testing.

While indeed a flaw, this is a disagreement about the amount of change, not in any way a debunking of it. The article's author is "concerned about global warming," "think[s] that human-created carbon dioxide may contribute," and calls climate change denialism a "mistaken conclusion."

That's a recognition of anthropogenic climate change, not a compelling argument against it.

TROLL:

"That's a recognition of anthropogenic climate change, not a compelling argument against it".

Also translated- a recognition of anthropogenic climate change that may have nothing to do with man. Millions of years ago climate changed. Vikings once farmed land on what is now frozen land.

http://www.populartechnology.net/2007/10/no-consensus-on-global-warming.html

You want to debunk each and every of the Phd's on this list.

Be my guest.

The phrase "anthropogenic climate change that may have nothing to do with man" is contradictory, because anthropogenic means "caused or produced by humans" (check the definition here).

Climate does indeed change, usually slowly and over long periods of time. Thus, the relatively large effects we are beginning to see (from burning millions of years of fossil fuels in a few centuries) should be cause for investigation and action, not complacency.

I didn't debunk the scientist you mentioned, and I didn't have to. I just pointed out that he recognized the existence of global warming and called denialism "mistaken." Besides, I hardly need to debunk every skeptic that you can point to, as the majority of the scientific community has already done so. By the way, has anyone else noticed that the lists of skeptics are often padded with non-climatologists (e.g., economists and MDs)?

TROLL:

Yes I know what anthropogenic means. It was sarcasm again. Whew !

On this list find me the Mds and economists. These people are skeptics of man made global warming.

http://www.populartechnology.net/2007/10/no-consensus-on-global-warming.html

You want me to "find the MDs and economists" on your list? That's easy: there are three MDs, including science fiction author Michael Crichton, under the first section of the list. Is he to be considered a scientific expert? (By the way, you missed the heading "Skeptical Scientists" when you copied-and-pasted this list.) The economists are all listed (along with some political scientists and an anthropologist) in the "Social Scientists" section.

This list (175 "skeptical scientists," 52 meteorologists, 22 social scientists, and 17 deceased, by my count) is less padded than some others I've seen, but it's still just a list of names. Are you going to show that these people are actually denying man-made climate change, and not--as with the previous example you gave--merely quibbling over the details?

By way of an example from your list, check out the work of William Nordhaus, who has written extensively on the economic aspects of global warming. Read "The Challenge of Global Warming: Economic Models and Environmental Policy" to see how much of a skeptic he is:

"The underlying scientific basis of global warming is well established ...there can be little scientific doubt that the world has embarked on a major series of geophysical changes that are unprecedented for the last few thousand years." (pp. 10-11)

When the definition of "skepticism" is stretched so far as to include its opposite, it becomes both meaningless and useless...much like your replies. Unless you can do better, I have more productive uses to which I can put my time.


:: epilogue ::

The only way to make trolls disappear is by no longer feeding them, so I have stopped replying to these threads. I simply don't have time for those who have such poor rhetorical skills (e.g., can't argue well, contradict themselves, provide "evidence" that doesn't support their claims, and refuse to listen to counter-arguments). There was one final rejoinder in each thread from the same troll, determined to get the last word, but I deemed any further participation to be worthless. The signal-to-noise ratios in these threads had dropped so close to zero that I finally gave up, although I confess to having second thoughts.


update (2/11 @ 9:18am)
Hank Fox posted this definition of "fractal wrongness" at UTI (which appears to be from this lexicon of computing):

Fractal Wrongness:

The state of being wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution. That is, from a distance, a fractally wrong person's worldview is incorrect; and furthermore, if you zoom in on any small part of that person's worldview, that part is just as wrong as the whole worldview.

Debating with a person who is fractally wrong leads to infinite regress, as every refutation you make of that person's opinions will lead to a rejoinder, full of half-truths, leaps of logic, and outright lies, that requires just as much refutation to debunk as the first one. It is as impossible to convince a fractally wrong person of anything as it is to walk around the edge of the Mandelbrot set in finite time.

If you ever get embroiled in a discussion with a fractally wrong person on the Internet -- in mailing lists, newsgroups, or website forums -- your best bet is to say your piece once and ignore any replies, thus saving yourself time.

That is why I avoid arguing with trolls: they are fractally wrong, and can potentially consume an infinite amount of time. The next time I'm tempted to feed the trolls online, I'll append that link to my final statement and call it a day.


update 2 (2/19 @ 9:16am):
Yet another example of the troll's errors was the claim that China is opening "hundreds of coal plants...every year." According to MIT's "The Future of Coal," "China is currently constructing the equivalent of two, 500 megawatt, coal-fired power plants per week," (p. ix, Executive Summary) or approximately one hundred per year.

(In wingnut world, being inaccurate by a factor of two is an improvement over their usual margins of error.)


update 3 (2/28 @ 12:17pm):
Joseph Romm's "The Cold Truth about Climate Change" makes a similar point about the skeptics listed on Inhofe's report:

As it turned out, the list is both padded and laughable, containing the opinions of TV weathermen, economists, a bunch of non-prominent scientists who aren't climate experts, and, perhaps surprisingly, even a number of people who actually believe in the consensus.

defending Gore

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

Not surprisingly, my most recent letter drew some fire; also not surprisingly, no one disputed the facts.

One respondent wrote:

It shows great weakness that Gore never debates the issue, despite many invitations to do so. He will never go head-to-head with a climatologist who disagrees with his stance because Gore knows how porous his argument is.

I routinely attack his arguments and his hypocrisy here on this forum, but I am not an expert and base my arguments on common sense. I would love to see Gore debate with [four deniers] or any of the other climatologists who believe global warming is NOT caused by man. But, of course, Gore avoids any real debate at all costs.

I tend to disagree with decisions to avoid debate, whether they are Al Gore and climate change deniers, Richard Dawkins and creationists, or others. There are two dangers inherent to debating, however: 1) doing so can provide undeserved intellectual respectability to one's adversary, and 2) an uninformed audience may believe that the better arguer--as opposed to the more accurate argument--is correct. I am willing to take my chances, although I understand Gore's reluctance after years of being slimed by the corporate media. As far as "real debate" is concerned, there is little or none within the scientific community.

Another reader asks:

Did he renovate before or after the comments about his high electric bills surfaced? Did his strong support of the internet have anything to do with the rapid growth of internet companies with stock prices soaring with no indication of any profitability? Didn't that pretty much collapse into a near recession in 2000? Let's face it, he has no factual arguement [sic] for man's causing global warming. Has he ever explained what happened to the global cooling scare in the 1970's?

I'll answer those passive-aggressive questions, after having done the research that the questioner neglected to do:

Gore's home renovations were already underway (along with renewable energy, carbon offsets, CF bulbs, etc.) before the inaccurate critique of his electricity bills was propagated by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. For example, Gore tried since at least the previous summer to get solar panels installed on his roof, but was stymied by neighborhood rules until April of this year. (Interestingly, the TCPR waited to issue their press release criticizing Gore's home until the day after he won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth). As ThinkProgress noted,

There is no meaningful debate within the scientific community, so the right-wing busies itself with talk about how much electricity Al Gore's house uses -- and even then they distort the truth.

Upon completion of the renovations earlier this month, Gore's house earned a Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. TreeHugger noted that "the 10,000-square-foot home is one of only 14 in the U.S. to achieve this rating, and the only home in Tennessee that's gotten any certification at all."

Gore's visionary support for the Internet predated the NASDAQ boom by years if not decades, long before stock prices soared. Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf wrote in a 2000 open letter titled "Al Gore and the Internet" (reprinted as part of this excellent primer on the whole brouhaha) that "No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time:"

As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship. [...] When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication

The stock-market bubble started to deflate in March 2000, and the overall economy slowed throughout late 2000 and 2001. (However, the recession is dated by the National Bureau of Economic Research's Business Cycle Dating Committee as March through November 2001.)

For a factual argument concerning global warming, I'll quote (yet again) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers:"

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level. [...] Most of the observed increase in globally-averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations."

With respect to any "global cooling" conjectures from the 1970s, popularized mostly by today's climate-change deniers, I was unable to find any mention of it by Mr Gore. If he didn't buy into the scare--having already begun informing himself about global warming--he has no explanations to make.


[follow-up here]


update (2/22 @ 12:00pm):
USA Today demolishes the myth of a "global cooling scare" in the 1970s (h/t: Climate Progress):

Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center surveyed dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles from 1965 to 1979 and found that only seven supported global cooling, while 44 predicted warming. Peterson says 20 others were neutral in their assessments of climate trends.

The study reports, "There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age." [emphases added]

What will the deniers come up with next to excuse their ostrich-like behavior?


update 2 (11/11 @ 11:21am):
The NCDC study is here (4MB PDF); h/t once again to Climate Progress.

Here's another great letter to the editor:

Global warming is really about power and money

It is with morbid fascination that I watch politicians and uninformed people attempt to influence decisions about power generation, especially when most of them have no experience in this business other than appeasing a misguided agenda. [...]

Most agendas are driven by power or money. Governments, foundations and opportunists [...] are pushing the global warming agenda.

A little research will show that 99 percent of the greenhouse gases in the world are not created by man. The 1930s was the warmest decade in recorded history. The Earth has warmed only .7 degrees Celsius in the past 100 years. The ice mass of Antarctica is larger than any time in its history.

More harmful greenhouse gases are emitted by all the cows in the world than by all the automobiles.

The top of Mount Kilimanjaro is cooler than it was 10 years ago. The lack of snow is caused by cultivation of the arid land around its base.

If everyone in the world drove a hybrid car, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced less than .2 percent. [...]

[name and address redacted]

Here is my response:

Power and money? How about accuracy and honesty?

A major problem with the public square is that--as on talk radio or cable TV--standards are appallingly low. There is precious little fact-checking, and media personalities more commonly resemble stenographers than journalists. Spouting opinions is easy; determining their veracity--and thereby differentiating fact from opinion--can be quite difficult. Here is some information that was, to put it charitably, misrepresented by a previous commenter:

ASSERTION: A little research will show that 99 percent of the greenhouse gases in the world are not created by man.
CORRECTION: A little more research will show that greenhouse gases have increased drastically since the pre-industrial era (before 1750). The Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center found the following: nitrous oxide increased by 18%, carbon dioxide by 35%, and methane by 153%. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers" explains the increases:

"Global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. It is very likely that the observed increase in CH4 concentration is predominantly due to agriculture and fossil fuel use. [...] The increase in N2O concentration is primarily due to agriculture."

ASSERTION: The Earth has warmed only .7 degrees Celsius in the past 100 years.
CORRECTION: Although this number is roughly accurate, it is intended to mislead, if not by implication then by hoped-for inference. The relatively small temperature change to date indicates a trend that could have devastating consequences. For one example, check out the EPA's Global Warming FAQ, which observes:

"Global temperatures during the last ice age (about 20,000 years ago) were 'only' 9°F cooler than today, but that was enough to allow massive ice sheets to reach as far south as the Great Lakes and New York City."

ASSERTION: The 1930s was the warmest decade in recorded history.
CORRECTION: That decade may have been the warmest in the United States, but the US only represents 2% of the world's surface. Temperatures continue to rise both in the US and around the world. According to a study by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, "The U.S. mean temperature has now reached a level comparable to that of the 1930s, while the global temperature is now far above the levels earlier in the century."

ASSERTION: The ice mass of Antarctica is larger than any time in its history.
CORRECTION: According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "The first-ever gravity survey of the entire Antarctic ice sheet... concludes the ice sheet's mass has decreased significantly...Antarctica's ice sheet decreased by 152 (plus or minus 80) cubic kilometers of ice annually between April 2002 and August 2005."

ASSERTION: More harmful greenhouse gases are emitted by all the cows in the world than by all the automobiles.
CORRECTION: This is true, but also misleading. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (among others) estimates that "livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport," but this doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to automotive fuel efficiency; it suggests that we should examine factory farming, deforestation, and other aspects of our diet. (See this ClimateAction report for more information.)

ASSERTION: The top of Mount Kilimanjaro is cooler than it was 10 years ago. The lack of snow is caused by cultivation of the arid land around its base.
CORRECTION: This may be partially true, but it is also misleading. Four years ago, National Geographic noted that the Kilimanjaro glaciers "have lost 82 percent of their ice since 1912" and "could be gone entirely by 2020." This BBC report states that, although researchers "have a certain expectation that the slope glaciers may last longer" than earlier estimates, the ice is more sensitive to lack of rainfall than it is to temperature change: "the regular snows that would maintain the ice fields are now a rare occurrence in what has become a much drier climate in East Africa...the drying of the East African climate around Kilimanjaro may itself be a regional impact of global climate change."

ASSERTION: If everyone in the world drove a hybrid car, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced less than .2 percent.
CORRECTION: The IPCC estimates road transportation at 13.1% of total GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. A conservative estimate of 30% emissions reduction (the results achieved by FedEx hybrids over their first million miles), replacing every existing vehicle with a hybrid would reduce total emissions by nearly 4%. Hybrids are obviously no panacea, but their increased fuel efficiency can help us on many fronts (FedEx also noted a 96% reduction in particulate matter emissions, no small matter to people suffering from asthma, allergies, and other conditions aggravated by airborne pollutants).

That ends this episode of Climate Change Denialism: "a misguided agenda...driven by power or money." Thanks for playing...would you like to try again, perhaps using some numbers that are both accurate and relevant?

The following letter-to-the-editor was printed by my local newspaper:

Al Gore got to Norway aboard an airplane

How interesting it was to read [...] about former Vice President Al Gore taking public transportation while in Norway. I wonder why it was not reported that he got to Norway by charter plane. Hypocrisy is alive and well.

[name and address redacted]


Here is my response:

why can't conservatives stop lying about Al Gore?

Seven years after wresting the presidency away from Al Gore, conservatives are still lying about him. During the 2000 campaign, they misrepresented and/or flat-out lied about many things: Gore's reference to Love Canal, his joke about the "Look for the Union Label" jingle, his comments about Erich Segal's book Love Story, and--most famously--his crucial early support for the Internet. In their desperation to win the election, conservatives threw honesty aside and impugned Gore's credibility at every opportunity. Earlier this year, after Gore won an Oscar for his film An Inconvenient Truth, they even made false accusations about his home heating bills.

The latest claim, according to a local hypocrisy-monger, is that Gore flew in a charter plane to accept his Nobel Peace Prize. Actually, according to the Norwegian newspaper AftenPosten, (and this AFP article) Gore arrived in Oslo aboard "a normally scheduled commercial flight from New York."

Instead of spending a few minutes investigating the facts, conservatives would rather manufacture scandals (such as this "charter plane" myth) and then complain that the media aren't credulously reporting them. Media outlets shouldn't participate in right-wing smear campaigns by spreading their misinformation.

Gore is far from perfect, but he does a better job (by nearly any measure) than his critics will admit. He has done vital work in spreading environmental awareness, and it's not just talk. He renovated his own home to make it more efficient, uses renewable (solar and geothermal) energy, and even replaced his Christmas tree lights with LEDs. He flies commercially when possible, and purchases offsets to reduce his carbon footprint. It shows great weakness among the climate-change deniers that they are attacking Gore instead of his arguments.


[follow-up here]

This response to my latest letter about Bush is quite possibly the most asinine attempt at a rebuttal that I have ever witnessed:

It keep on getting worse and worse Sat Apr 21, 2007 10:31 am

The liberal idiots who get printed on here get worse and worse each god damn day. Mu opinions, and they are correct ones, are this.

Were you born clueless or did you just become a liberal hymie? The only thing you said that was even partly true was the foreclosures being up, and they are up but its becasue of the morons in the lending institutions kowtowing to the civil liberties commies and relaxing their loan criteria so more loser ethinics could get loans that could not pay them back. So basically its another failed left wing bleeding heart idea. Your babble about the Dow makes no sense. So its still 14 percent below 2000 levels, whats your point. The real news is that its still going UP moron, and we even had the 9/11 disaster happen along the way since 2000, and it still recovered faster than expected. As for civil liberties, I for one am sick and tired of this pathetic excuse you liberals keep using to inflict the guilt trip onto people who are trying to exercise an ounce of common sense. Something it is obvious that you lack severely. No one is messing with your god damn civil liberties so get off the scare tactics wagon. Lastly, maybe you need to also learn to read or is it where your reading to get slanted information for your tripe thats the problem. The deficit is at its lowest point in decades as is unemployment. So lets not go mistaking resolve for stubborness, it is a sign of strength, but you wouldn't know it because your a gutless liberal.

[name redacted]

Calling opinions "correct" does not make them so; acting as though it does is either lazy argumentation or a craven refusal to learn from one's mistakes. In your case, I suspect both are true. Your repetitious ad hominem attacks ("liberal idiots," "clueless," "morons," "civil liberties commies," "loser ethinics," [sic] and "gutless liberal") do nothing to prove your error-ridden rhetoric, although they do illustrate your hatred for factual dissent from conservative media disinformation.

Senator Specter recently observed that Alberto Gonzales' testimony was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts," and the same can be said of your ill-informed opinions. You allege "cluelessness" on my part, but that is purely projection on yours. The following facts will demonstrate that I'm not the one who subsists on "slanted information."

The onerous lending practices behind the interest-rate-driven foreclosure boom have generated large profits for lending institutions, but not without risk. One cannot simultaneously claim that the high rate of home ownership is an unalloyed good (as Bush does) while ignoring the unsustainable economics upon which that rate is built. To do so is disingenuous as best and deliberately deceptive at worst.

My "babble" about the Dow average merely pointed out the fact that inflation erodes the dollar's purchasing power; thus, the stock market is not now at "an all-time high." I am well aware that the market continues to improve, but the original letter writer made a much more extravagant--and false--claim.

I am ecstatic to hear your proclamation that "no one is messing with" our civil liberties...or, rather, I would be ecstatic if you were correct. The restoration of habeas corpus, the repeal of the Patriot Act's Section 215, and the end of numerous other Bush practices (restrictive "free speech zones," illegal spying on Americans in violation of FISA, military tribunals and other violations of the Geneva Conventions, and the "extraordinary rendition" and torture of detainees) would go a long way toward restoring our nation's moral standing. In addition, the elimination of the TSA's secretive "no-fly list" will someday enable untold numbers of Americans (many of whom had the temerity to exercise their freedoms of speech and association) to travel freely again. None of these corrections has happened yet, and none is likely to during this administration.

As far as the "scare tactics wagon" is concerned, the Bush/Cheney/Rove reign of fear is its most fervent proponent (today's Homeland Security fear level is yellow, for example). Have you forgotten their constant fear-mongering about Saddam's (non-existent) WMDs and the horrible specters of mushroom clouds over American cities that they conjured from nothing? The Bush administration's fever dreams did nothing to help secure Russian stocks of plutonium, instead preferring to draw specious parallels between a neutered Saddam Hussein and Hitler's burgeoning war machine. When GOP fear propaganda--paranoid fantasies about same-sex marriage, immigrants, Muslims, feminists, minorities, and the ACLU combining to destroy Western civilization--fails, as it did in the 2006 election, they have nothing left to offer.

Barely a month after taking office, Bush promised to pay down the deficit by $2 trillion over a decade; instead, his fiscal recklessness has helped to explode the deficit by several more trillion dollars...and you believe it's "at its lowest point in decades?" Even in relative--as opposed to absolute--terms, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio has risen consistently under Bush (see table B-79 on page 324 of the Economic Report of the President on the White House website). Given his disastrous business career--except for the taxpayer-financed Texas Rangers--it's no surprise that Bush's management of our economy has been so lackluster.

Unemployment is also not "at its lowest point in decades." March's seasonally-adjusted rate of 4.4% was equaled or bettered 28 times during Clinton's tenure, including each and every month from November 1998 through December 2000. (Please feel free to avail yourself of the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Unemployment reached lows of 3.9% in April, September, and October of 2000; by my reckoning, those months are considerably less than "decades" ago.

As far as calling me a "hymie," I will borrow a line from Robert Downey's portrayal of Charlie Chaplin when Nazi sympathizers accused him of being Jewish:

"I'm afraid I don't have that honor."

Another commenter suggested that I: "forgot the most imprtant [sic] issue in the Clinton administration, failing to take actions to prevent September 11, 2001, oh thats [sic] right most Liberals want to forget that date."

I find it interesting that conservatives are quick to bring up 9/11, but very slow to remember (or admit) that 9/11 HAPPENED ON BUSH'S WATCH. Considering his refusal to take any steps against bin Laden, or even hold a meeting on the subject of terrorism before it happened, the primary responsibility for it rests securely on Bush's shoulders. It is unarguable that Clinton's actions to stop bin Laden before 9/11 were insufficient; let us not forget, however, that Bush's actions were nonexistent.

is this a joke?

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The following letter-to-the-editor ran in my local newspaper:

Bush deserves praise and support for his leadership

Thank President Bush for the strongest economy we have ever had. The Dow is the highest it has been in history.

Thanks for protecting us. We have not had another 9/11. Thanks for keeping nuclear bombs from terrorists. They are trying to get them and have not succeeded.

I am not persuaded by liberal media propaganda. I am a free thinker and the facts speak for themselves. We should all sleep well knowing we have strong leadership at the helm.

[name and address redacted]

Here is my response:

Bush deserves condemnation and scorn for his failures

Praising the Bush administration for offering “strong leadership at the helm” of our nation, as a recent reader did, is nothing short of delusional. He is correct that “the facts speak for themselves,” but instead of facts he spouted the pro-Bush spin common in the corporate media. Bush’s ill-informed stubbornness is not strength, and his penchant for photo-ops is not leadership.

The Dow Jones Average’s recent high is about 14% below its peak in 2000 after adjusting for inflation, and the stock market wasn’t the only thing that did better during the Clinton boom. Unemployment was lower, home foreclosures were less frequent, our civil liberties were more secure, our balance of trade was healthier, the economy was stronger, and the federal government hadn’t yet been driven into deep deficits by Bush’s budget-busting tax cuts and poorly planned wars.

Instead of ending the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, the culprit behind 9/11, Bush foolishly chose to sap our military might by invading and occupying Iraq. Far from protecting us, this compound failure has caused thousands of additional American deaths (a greater death toll than on 9/11) and fostered the growth of another generation of Islamist terrorists. The endemic corruption of the Bush administration and its GOP cohorts in Congress and the courts has weakened us domestically as well.

We should all sleep well knowing that Bush’s “strong leadership”—reflected in the miserable failures of his presidency—has only a limited time remaining in which to further damage our great nation. In only 21 more months, our long national nightmare will be over.


update: I received a response to this letter; the exchange is here.

Yesterday, there was another response (of sorts) to my most recent published letter:

Liberals talk of tolerance but still disregard religion

A recent letter writer who was an American Civil Liberties Union member, a liberal and atheist, implied that religion was perfectly fine on public property as long as Christians went into a closet and shut the door before praying.

No God-fearing person of any religion should be placed out of sight just because a non-believer or those of other faiths may be offended by their exercising their religious rights.

Liberals talk of acceptance, equality, tolerance and protection of civil liberties. Their actions and words tell the true intent and mind-set of persons with obvious low regard for true civil liberties.

[name and address redacted]

This illustrates the problems engendered by the heavy editing that goes into the op-ed pages of many publications: in many cases, he was upset by things I did not say, did not mean, or had clarified in the follow-up posts on the newspaper’s website. Accordingly, I went easy on his potentially unintentional misinterpretations:

I made no implications about secret and closeted prayer except by quoting the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:5, which commanded such a practice. I would not wish to restrict individual or group worship, in either private or public; I wholeheartedly support our secular nation’s religiously pluralistic character, and its Constitutional protections. People are free—as they should be—to evangelize on streetcorners, gather around flagpoles, and even pray without ceasing if they wish. I would just like to know how Christians square such public prayer with Jesus’ straightforward injunction against it.

Public piety can often turn into a particularly ugly form of coercive indoctrination when the power of the state is co-opted to support religious opinion, as the practice of mandated prayer in public schools illustrated. Is the faith of some really so insecure that it requires constant affirmation by others, even when such affirmation must be coerced?

The caricature of liberalism that the writer puts forth is an inaccurate as the “War on Xmas” perennially hyped by Faux News. Liberals not only “talk of acceptance, equality, tolerance and protection of civil liberties,” we actually work for it through the lives we live and the organizations—such as the ACLU—that we support. “True civil liberties” may sometimes require state protection, but they should never lead to activities mandated and coerced by the state.

insults and apologies

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My previous post—which I had expected to be the last one in the thread—now has a reply of sorts. This was posted earlier today:

I don't recall insulting you...but if you say I did...my apologies. I hereby withdraw from any further discussion...on this particular letter to the editor. My point was that you lecture us. You talk down to us. You patronize and you condescend. You truly must step back and look at yourself. Every time I see your name on the Op-Ed page, my first reaction is to cringe, because you seem so angry and impatient with those of us who don't "deserve" your approval.

I tried to let “goldenrule” have the last word, but I just couldn't resist:

I find it interesting that you don’t consider “arrogant,” “self-important,” and “proselytizing” to be insults. (Or, apparently, “lecture,” “patronize,”, and “condescend.”) I suppose stating that you know of better uses for my time was meant constructively? Were the “learned credentials,” “cretins,” and “deserving approval” cracks not meant to impute a sense of superiority to me? If you say that none of these remarks was meant to be insulting, however, then I will apologize to you.

Perhaps you should step back and take a look at the emotional overreaction you have to my letters. I am at a loss about this, and about the emotions you project onto me and my motivation. I simply endeavor to make a contribution to the public discussion that exists on the letters page; an impatient person would surely have already given up both on that discussion and on this one.

In the spirit of discussion, I take issue with your opinions that I "talk down" and "condescend" in my writing. If anything, the opposite is true. I assume that others are literate, cognitively capable, and possessed of an appropriate vocabulary and an adequate sense of history. I am surprised to see that, throughout all your verbiage, you have studiously avoided addressing the content of my letter.

Were you so busy cringing at the sight of my name that you neglected to read what I wrote? (Since names are published at the end of letters, I'm curious about the timing of your cringes. Do you read the letter first and then cringe after seeing my name, or do you read my name first and cringe before reading what I have written? Neither scenario paints a very flattering portrait.)


update: A follow-up post is here.

I had thought this thread would be old news, but “goldenrule” responded:

"...but remember that it’s far easier to complain about a writer’s tone than to address his argument..."

"We’re far too individualistic for that, as the word “freethinkers” implies."

Again, your arrogance and self-importance rear their ugly heads. You could easily make your point in half the time and 25% of the verbiage you seem to love to share with all of us. We are not impressed. You would better use your time helping others instead of proselytizing. It must be so difficult for someone of your learned credentials to be surrounded by such cretins. How DO you manage?

I believe everyone has the right to pray in silence. Who cares?

As for the pledge of allegiance, your hard-earned money and their linking with "God"...can you really waste your valuable time on this earth worrying about such minutiae? History tells us that this nation was founded by people who came here to escape religious persecution. Have a blessed day.

My response:

You’re right: I could use significantly fewer words, particularly if I didn’t “waste my valuable time” responding to baseless attacks. Eliminating minutiae such as supporting evidence for my arguments would also help achieve the brevity you claim to value so highly. If I simply spit out ad hominem insults rather than contributing to the discussion, my comments could be even more succinct.

Thank you for the advice.


update: A follow-up is here.

My letter on the ACLU’s defense of civil liberties was published today, and drew some interesting responses on the newspaper’s online chat page. One respondent wrote this:

[name redacted] is entitled to his opinion. I would suggest, however, that he temper his letters…with a touch of humility. His arrogance is palpable.

to which I responded:

I would respectfully ask for guidance, then, on how I should have reacted to the original writer’s demonstrably false charges of hypocrisy against two groups to which I belong. I did not deem it appropriate to defend myself against his attacks with meekness and modesty. The respondent is entitled to his own—humble, of course—opinion about the “palpable arrogance” of my letter, but should recognize that it’s far easier to complain about a writer’s tone than to address his argument.

Another respondent had this to say:

[name redacted], a proud ACLU member is to be complimented for his munificence. He readily admits that he has no qualms when it comes to religion, as long as it is done in secret. It would be of interest to know what he considers ostentious when it comes to religious matters. Does he believe that one should only pray in a closet? He brags about protecting the liberties of those with whom he disagrees--while he would most vigorously deny the "FREE" exercise of religion to those who try to practice it.

[name redacted], in case you overlooked it, the 1st Amendment clearly states that, CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION. One would search in vain to find where the Constitution grants to the judiciary the right to restrict or limit the free exercise of religion. Alexander Hamilton wisely said: "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." One could rightly speculate that this Founding Father anticipated the likes of the ACLU and its atheistic myrmidons. [name redacted] thanks for your advice--I will now go into the nearest closet to pray.

[name and affiliation redacted]

to which I replied:

Let me state once again that I have no qualms about religious expression either in private or in public. It is Jesus himself who commanded his followers to pray in secret; I have neither the power nor the inclination to make such a demand. As a (non)religious minority in this country, I have long resigned myself to other people’s public expressions of faith. I would deny none of them—vigorously or otherwise—although I wish they would not be inserted into my Pledge of Allegiance, printed on my money, and forcibly subsidized with my tax revenue. I consider each of those instances to be ostentatious violations of the first amendment.

My qualms revolve around the entanglement of church and state, delineated in the clause “respecting an establishment of religion” that the respondent conveniently overlooked while typing the first amendment’s free exercise phrase IN ALL CAPS into his response. One could rightly speculate that Jefferson and Madison anticipated the likes of tinpot theocrats who would eagerly attempt to use state power to advance their own religious agenda, and therefore took steps to codify church/state separation into the Virginia Statue on Religious Freedom, the Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, and the Bill of Rights. Thankfully, the first amendment—and its frequent defenders, the judiciary and the ACLU—wisely protects freedom of conscience for both the Christian majority and the myriad religious minorities in America.

I don’t mind the sarcastic comments about “munificence” and “bragging,” but the “myrmidon” reference is pure projection on his part [see note below]. If any group can be said to unquestioningly accept commands—and commandments—it is fundamentalists and other Biblical literalists. Expecting blind obedience from atheists would be less fruitful than herding cats. We’re far too individualistic a group for that, as the word “freethinkers” implies.

He has also not addressed my central point: that many Christians are ignoring the words of their own sacred text and contradicting Jesus’ own command that they not pray in public “that they may be seen of men.” I (humbly) await a justification, if anyone would care to attempt one.


update: A follow-up post is here.


update 2 (4/24 @ 2:02pm):
A series of studies, published as Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers (by Bruce E. Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer), states that “atheists may be one of the least authoritarian groups you can find.” (p. 109) Atheists scored much lower on the following RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) attitudes than did religious believers:

…authoritarian submission (to established authorities), authoritarian aggression (against anyone the authorities target), and conventionalism (adhering to the social conventions thought to be endorsed by society and the established authorities). (p. 97)

As I suspected, the “myrmidons” comment was indeed a baseless slur on atheists.

This letter appeared in my local newspaper this morning:

Why only outrage when Christians pray in public?

I've waited patiently now for a few days for the "outrage" to show up in the opinion pages regarding the recent front-page article showing a Muslim student exercising his right to pray on school property during Ramadan. The silence is deafening.

Where is the ACLU now? Where is the outrage by Christian-bashing families and atheists? If that were a Christian student reading the Bible on their own time at lunch hour in the cafeteria, the ACLU would have been filing lawsuits faster than we could say what happened. We'd also be hearing from atheists and anti-Christians about the indoctrination of their children, and how they are outraged that this unconstitutional act was allowed to take place on school property.

The silence is deafening, and their hypocrisy knows no bounds. The student shown was perfectly within his right to pray, just as any other child, including Christians, would be within their right to do the same. The Constitution protects all people of all faiths, all of the time, and in all places, no exceptions.

[name and address redacted]

My response follows:

ACLU: defending everyone’s civil rights

For the past several decades, it has been obvious that many Christian conservatives are far more comfortable denouncing false caricatures of liberalism and atheism than they are critically engaging actual liberals and real-life atheists. A recent letter writer serves as a case in point, complaining about the lack of reaction to a Muslim praying in school while setting up a series of straw men to distort his opponents’ principles.

I am proud to be a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union: not because the organization shares my atheism, but because it protects freedom of conscience for everyone. The ACLU, often viciously maligned by the Right, has filed and joined numerous suits to defend religions that few people practice and political positions that even fewer espouse. Like other liberals, I recognize the moral necessity of protecting the liberty of others to believe and practice as they choose; would that more conservatives felt the same.

Despite conservatives’ grotesque misrepresentation of the ACLU as anti-religious, the actual history of the ACLU shows their consistent defense of religious liberty. With help from the ACLU, public school students are free to: give religious performances at school talent shows, wear religious clothing, write religious yearbook entries, hand out candy canes with religious messages, and distribute religious literature at school. The ACLU, of course, defends religious expression outside the schoolhouse doors as well as the other freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Although I cannot speak for either all atheists or all members of the ACLU, I know of no objections to anyone’s individual and uncompelled prayer. The problem with school prayer as practiced decades ago is that it involved coercion of minors. The state’s imprimatur belongs on no one’s prayer or religious practice; the First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state in order to prevent the commingling of politics and piety.

Regarding public prayer, many Christians seem to be as poorly versed in their own Bible as they are in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I would like to hear a defense of the Pharisaical practice of ostentatious public prayer—the crux of the school prayer controversy—from a Christian who is familiar with this passage from Matthew:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Atheists and the ACLU have been silent about the referenced Muslim praying in school because there is neither a violation of civil rights nor a restriction of religious freedom. There is also no hypocrisy, except on the part of those who expect special privileges for their own beliefs while disparaging those of others.


update
This letter was published on 10 November. The follow-up piece is here.

A letter writer to my local newspaper recently penned this gigantic pool of effluence in defense of Dubya:

Previous presidents far worse than Bush

I continually hear people of this state whine and complain about how President Bush is the worst president ever. That is a shock to me.

I think Bush has done much better than many presidents. If Bush worse than Franklin Roosevelt, the man who rounded up Japanese Americans, citizens of this country and threw them in internment camps? There was Abe Lincoln, who many regard as a fabulous president. This would be true as long as you don’t mind the raping of the United States Constitution. States’ rights were a dying animal since his presidency, especially because his Emancipation Proclamation didn’t even apply to the entire U.S., just to states he didn’t like.

President John Kennedy wasn’t much of one either. He wiretapped and kept tabs on civil activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., cheated on his wife, and escalated the Cold War to the highest tension it has ever been, almost inciting all out nuclear war.

Let us not forget President Jimmy Carter, who let Iranian terrorists keep dozens of Americans hostage for 444 days. When he finally decided to take a small amount of military action, he couldn’t even do it right, and it cost eight Americans their lives because he didn’t plan well.

Don’t forget about the part where he gave $8 billion dollars [sic] back to the terrorists and one of them eventually became president of a terror state that constantly mocks and threatens the U.S. and states that it should annihilate Israel.

If you think President Bush is as bad as it ever was, I guess ignorance really is bliss.

[name redacted]

It required a response, so I wrote one:

Bush is far worse than previous presidents

A recent letters page featured comments from someone who was “shocked” to hear criticism of President Bush; more knowledge of history might help him to be less surprised by reality. Bush is a very unpopular president—with an approval rating hovering below 40%—and there are many valid reasons for this negative assessment.

Evaluators of the previous presidents mentioned are well aware of their flaws. Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus is widely acknowledged to be a constitutional violation; FDR’s partisans freely admit that internment was a mistake of similar magnitude; and even people nostalgic for JFK’s mythical Camelot realize the errors inherent in allowing J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to run amok. (I would add that Kennedy’s resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a masterful response to Soviet missile deployment, not an optional or preemptive measure, and that his marital infidelity was—like Clinton’s—irrelevant to his presidential standing.)

The difference between these clear-eyed assessments of past presidents and the sycophants currently worshipping at the altar of Bush is startling. Neither Bush nor his supporters seem able to admit that a single mistake has been made since January 2001, although the list of failures seemingly grows longer by the week.

Bush’s failures are both egregious and legion: ignoring the threat of terrorism until 9/11; wrecking our long-term economic prospects with fiscal profligacy and top-heavy tax cuts; engaging in a reckless and lawless invasion of Iraq while letting bin Laden escape; ignoring science in favor of politics; bulldozing the church/state wall with funding for “faith-based” programs; blundering the response to Hurricane Katrina; violating international treaties; demanding a “unitary executive” right to disappear or torture detainees at will; fostering an unprecedented attitude of secrecy and unaccountability; and continuing to ignore or excuse the steady drumbeat of domestic spying scandals and other constitutional violations.

While history may not rate Bush the worst president ever, he is certainly in contention for that dubious distinction. How can the GOP dead-enders continue to defend the indefensible and blindly support an administration that has been such a travesty? They must be wearing Republican-tinged glasses that transform Bush’s ignorant bravado into political principle and his bluster into statesmanship in order to rate his failed tenure in office anywhere above the bottom tier of presidencies. The GOP faithful may be enjoying a blissful ignorance of W-worship, but the rest of us will be laboring for decades to repair Dubya’s disastrous legacy.

There are two other points that would not fit into my letter, so I append them here:

The writer’s attack on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is nonsensical. The Proclamation was not a pre-emptive strike against the Confederacy, but an action taken nearly two years into the Civil War. Lincoln did not write it to penalize “states he didn’t like,” but to take action against those states that had seceded from the Union in favor of maintaining slavery. Whatever one’s opinion on the “states’ rights” doctrine, there is no doubt that the individual rights of an enslaved people righteously took precedence in this instance.

Also, the failure of Operation Eagle Claw—the attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages—can hardly be blamed on Carter. The unexpected sandstorm, mechanical failure, and helicopter crash that doomed the rescue mission were not his fault. In addition, Carter’s agreement to return $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets was contingent upon release of the hostages. The Algiers Accords which contained this condition were signed the day before the hostages were released, yet many commentators give Reagan the credit for Carter’s diplomacy. (Speaking of Reagan, he deserves far more criticism than Carter for making deals with terrorists; see his unconstitutional Iran-Contra scheme for details.)

I expected some kind of response to this letter about science and religion; someone obligingly penned—and the newspaper printed—this disastrously pathetic attempt at rebuttal:

To date earth, it's best to research both sides of debate

The author of a recent letter purports to debunk the Christian view of the world as a fable.

The writer bases his views on supposed scientific fact. Perhaps he should actually research his subject matter rather than simply repeating someone else's either biased or uninformed opinion.

For instance, if one asks a scientist how he determines the age of a fossil the answer is by the layer of rock in which it is found. Then if you ask how he determines the age of the rock, the reply is by the type of fossils found in it.

Um, what is wrong with this picture? How about a fossilized tree extending through many layers of rock? This must be the Methuselah of all trees!

If each rock layer were formed over eons of time the tree would have had to live thousands and thousands of years to have accomplished this feat!

[name redacted out of pity]

The fundamental issue here is that THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC DEBATE! Against the expert consensus of the scientific community, there is only a collection of fables written by goat herders and fishermen. If any side in this debate is “biased or uninformed opinion,” it is that of biblical literalism.

To begin with the writer’s points, such as they are: the circularity alleged in the rock-and-fossil example is simply inaccurate. There are several dating methods (including morphological evidence and radiometric dating) that are mutually confirmatory. None of the results of any scientific analysis leads to the conclusion that the earth is only 6,000 years old, as a literal interpretation of biblical chronology. Some may consider the “fossils were planted by Satan to deceive us” belief to be a competing “side of the debate,” but it is a side unsupported by anything except conjecture.

I will spend a few sentences on the “Methuselah tree”—as much a fantasy as the 969-year-old biblical Methuselah—because it illustrates the vacuity of the attempts to create a controversy where none exists. (Explaining the basics in elementary language is important, because that is apparently where the writer’s education ended.) As a tree grows, it puts down roots in the soil below; it cannot be older than the soil, or it would have grown while miraculously suspended in mid-air as the soil was deposited around its roots. The process of fossilization, if it occurs, takes places after the tree has died and its growth has ceased. Any soil layers found above such a tree were, by logical extension, laid down post-mortem. The strata and their contents remain in chronological order, as common sense will show.

With examples like this, I no longer wonder at our nation’s poor educational standing compared to the rest of the world. Far too many people are obviously unacquainted with any books other than the bible.

My local paper printer this letter yesterday:

Cartoon showed ignorance of science and Christianity

I am appalled at your political cartoon on March 7. It shows your complete ignorance of mainstream Christian views. If you would open your eyes and ears, you would find that science and Christianity are coming more into agreement the more science understands what happened in the long history of this planet.

If I were one of those radical Muslims, I presume I’d be up there throwing stones and fireballs at your facilities. Since I am obviously not, I will try to help you understand Christianity better and pray that God’s Holy Spirit will work in you in that regard also.

[name redacted, emphasis added]


Since I refuse to cede discussions in the public square those who represent the lowest common educational denominator, I was compelled to correct the writer's primary error. Here is my response:

Christianity and science do not agree

One of Sunday’s letters to the editor stated that “science and Christianity are coming more into agreement,” but the evidence does not support that opinion.

For example, a majority of Americans believe that the creation fables from the book of Genesis are literally true. This belief requires such inanities as a universe and an earth only six thousand years (miscalculations of 12 billion and 5 billion years, respectively), humans who co-existed with dinosaurs (an error of a mere 65 million years), and our descent from a single pair of humans (also incorrect, according to genetics). The rest of the Bible, from Noah’s Ark onward, contains many more tales that vary from highly implausible to outright impossible.

A literal interpretation of biblical mythology is irreconcilable with current scientific understanding of our world and ourselves, from biology and geology to cosmology and elementary physics. “Coming more into agreement” with science would require that religion discard its unsupportable ideologies of literalism and inerrancy as being both erroneous and harmful. The fact that many Christians recognize the validity of science does not mean that science and religion agree; it means that Christians recognize the necessity of living in the real world and are forced by reality to eschew some aspects of their religion’s dogma.

Lest my comments seem too negative, I would like to commend the vast majority of Christians—even most fundamentalists—for leaving their bloody fanaticism in the past. Without the civilizing influence of secular ideas such as representative democracy and the separation of church and state, though, our political discourse would be as fraught with violence as that of the Middle East.

This letter appeared yesterday in my local newspaper:

Democrats remain fixated on perceived mistakes

A recent letter attacked the electoral college for putting President Bush in office in 2000, his tax breaks, high deficits, going into Iraq, staying in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina relief, torturing prisoners, violating the Geneva Conventions and our rights under the USA Patriot Act.

That the electoral college is as old as the Constitution, that Bush's tax breaks have grown the economy, that the unemployment rate is the lowest in decades, that every intelligence service in the world agreed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that we have not been attacked since 9/11, that Democrats mismanaged New Orleans for decades prior to Katrina, that U.S. policy is not to torture, that al-Qaida regularly violates the Geneva Conventions by killing women and children and refusing to wear uniforms, and that no one's rights are being abused under the Patriot Act that both Republicans and Democrats passed in 2001, is irrelevant to a liberal mind-set fixated on perceived wrongs.

What Democratic congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi haven't yet learned is that people vote for leaders who will protect them, rather than clueless whiners who tell them the sky is falling.

[name redacted]


Here is my response:

Republicans ignore Bush’s failures

A recent letter writer described Democrats as “clueless whiners,” but he needs to get a clue for himself. He was correct about the age of the Electoral College, and wrong about everything else.

• Bush’s repeated tax breaks for the wealthy have siphoned amounts of money upward into the pockets of those who need it the least. This caused the recovery from the 2001 recession to be far weaker than it could have been if the tax cuts had gone to the poor and the middle class. In addition, Bush’s massive deficit spending spree is doing long-term structural damage to our economy.

The current unemployment rate is not “the lowest in decades.” December’s seasonally-adjusted rate of 4.9% was equaled by 1997’s rate. 1998 through 2000, each less than a single decade ago, had lower unemployment rates of 4.4%, 4.1%, and 3.9% respectively.

• The world’s intelligence services agreed that Iraq did have WMDs, but that was in the 1980s when Reagan and Bush’s father were Saddam’s suppliers. The inspection program was successful in neutering Saddam, and the administration's repeated assertions that WMD were found in Iraq are as false as their attempts to link Iraq to 9/11.

• The Army Corps of Engineers’ assessment of the New Orleans levees and FEMA’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina were both failures at the federal level, and the latter was mismanaged by Bush’s buddy, Mike “heck of a job” Brown.

• Bush talks out of both sides of his mouth on torture. After being publicly shamed by former tortured POW John McCain into signing a ban on torture, Bush then declared that he would violate the ban whenever he wishes.

• Al Qaeda’s violations of the Geneva Conventions do not excuse Bush’s violations of them, such as “enemy combatants,” secret prisons, and the “extraordinary rendition” program. As with torture, Bush wants to claim the moral high ground while not actually living up to his lofty rhetoric.

• The so-called USA-PATRIOT Act does indeed sanction civil rights violations. Section 215 conflicts with the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to our Constitution, as the ACLU has noted.

These issues are not “perceived wrongs,” they are actual wrongs. It appears that the soothing inaccuracies of talk radio and other right-wing media can lull some people into complacency about our nation’s future, and blind them to every miserable failure of the Bush administration.

[editor's note: fixed a typo]

The following letter was published yesterday in my local newspaper:

Atheists are contemptuous of others' religious beliefs

I am aghast at people who force their religious beliefs upon others. I don't have a problem with people who practice their own belief systems, nor with people who tell others about what they believe in the hope that others will freely embrace or reject these beliefs.

However, a group of people with galling arrogance and intolerance impose their religion on the public square, driving out all other faiths. These people demand that everyone live by their moral standards, and they call those who do not acquiesce to their narrow viewpoints hateful and hurtful names that more aptly apply to themselves.

The people I write about are atheists who hold their humanistic beliefs and moral relativism to be superior to others. Other beliefs are contemptuously treated as unworthy of free speech rights. The Constitution prohibited Congress from establishing a federal religion. The founders knew all about this because 12 of the original 13 states had an established state religion (only Delaware did not).

A creche in the town square, or whatever symbol they strike down, is no more establishment of a state religion that eating a bagel is conversion to Judaism.

[name and address redacted]

My response follows:

Much confusion about atheism

Contrary to what has recently been printed in these pages, atheism is neither a religion nor a faith, but rather the absence of supernatural beliefs. Atheism is not a narrow viewpoint, although it does rigorously examine all claims to truth. While many atheists are humanists, neither humanism nor atheism is synonymous with moral relativism. Dissent from the religious status quo is not arrogance, and an unbiased public square is not intolerance. Such misinformation is common, but it should not go unanswered.

Atheists do not demand - as many religious people do - that government power be used to enforce their opinions; instead, we would rather government stay out of the religion business altogether. The secular position is one of simple neutrality by government: not providing financial or material support for any particular position. For example, I know of no atheist who advocates changing our national motto to "in no gods we trust." Rather, we think that the original motto of "e pluribus unum" (approved by Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson) should not have been altered. Contrast this with many believers' demands that government endorse their monotheistic beliefs in our national motto, on our currency, and in our Pledge of Allegiance.

If some people want to display a creche, a crucifix, or the Ten Commandments on a block of granite, there is no reason why they can't use their own money and erect it on their own property; our Constitution protects their right to do so. Such displays in the public square (paid for by public taxes) may not represent an establishment of religion, but they are an unnecessary and unwise entanglement between the religion of some and the government of all.

Forcing atheists to subsidize believers' religious expression shows blatant contempt for the First Amendment, as this is little more than demanding a special subsidy while calling it "free speech." Salman Rushdie, a writer who knows something about dealing with theocrats, notes that believers often demand a double standard: "Religions play bare-knuckle rough all the time, while demanding kid-glove treatment in return."

Religious opinions deserve no special privilege, and should not be funded from the public coffers.

The following letter was published in my local newspaper earlier this week:

The will of the majority should always prevail

In her article "Religious are leery of right too" (May 18), Ann Woolner was confused and illogical. She says in effect that those who opposed the obstructionist tactics of Senate Democrats in preventing a vote in the full Senate on President Bush's judicial nominees by means of the filibuster are trying to turn the United States into a theocracy. That is rubbish.

Democratic senators are acting in stark opposition to the belief expressed by Thomas Jefferson when he said, "It is my principle that the will of the majority should always prevail."

To equate voluntary prayer in a public school or at graduation with the establishment of religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment, is such nonsense it can hardly be treated seriously.

[name and address redacted]

My response follows:

Minority rights must be protected

A previous writer misused a quotation from Thomas Jefferson to support his position that the majority's will "should always prevail." Although Jefferson did write those words in a 1787 letter to James Madison, and used similar phrases at other times, Jefferson's seemingly absolutist stance was tempered by the need to prevent misuse of majority power. This passage from his 1801 inaugural speech illustrates his concern:

"[T]hough the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

Many other examples prove that Jefferson was far from being a proponent of unrestricted governmental power, such as that promulgated today in Washington. Instead, he was adamant that strict limitations (such as the First Amendment's separation of church and state) were needed to safeguard the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority.

Democratic senators, in trying to prevent a handful of ideologues from twisting the judiciary further to the right, are performing exactly that kind of necessary duty. Some may call them "obstructionists," but those Senators are properly fulfilling their Constitutional duty of "advice and consent" with respect to the President's most questionable nominees, and are following long-standing Senate rules in doing so.

Thank you for your continuing coverage of the Appoquinimink student's t-shirt tribulations. It appears that the Everett Meredith Middle School administration and Appoquinimink District staff deserve failing grades in the subject of students' rights. Delaware's ACLU executive director correctly paraphrased the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines ruling, where the Supreme Court stated the following: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The students in the Tinker case wore black armbands to protest the U.S. invasion of Vietnam; Stephen Truszkowski's t-shirt protesting Bush's invasion of Iraq is quite similar.

Later court rulings established restrictions on "vulgar and offensive" student language, but that is not at issue here: the only relevant principle is the First Amendment's protection of civil discourse. Whether or not one agrees with either the sentiment or the language of Mr. Truszkowski's t-shirt, his right to dissent from the status quo is protected by law. Why has the school administration singled out this particular criticism of the White House's current occupant? The unmentioned irony is that the current dress code (prohibiting clothing that "glorifies violence or criminal behavior") would actually be violated by pro-Bush t-shirts. Mr. Truszkowski's denunciation of violence and criminality should be celebrated instead of being condemned.

At the very least, Mr. Truszkowski is owed sincere apologies by the Everett Meredith Middle School and Appoquinimink District staff for teaching them a valuable civics lesson. If they continue to demonstrate an incapacity for respecting the rights of students, perhaps they should consider employment in a different field.

[note: In case it is not obvious, this was a letter-of-comment to a media outlet. An article about the events is here.]

Back when same-sex marriages were new in the US, conservative commentator Cal Thomas wrote a column titled "Marriage Massachusetts-Style") laying out his anti-marriage stance. I've had some fun deconstructing his opinions before, so I wrote a letter to my local newspaper's editorial staff entitled "New England Wedding Bells." I was disappointed to see the 50th anniversary of Brown recede into the past with no mention of the issues I had raised, either from my pen or anyone else's.

Then Ronald Reagan died.

I knew that many people idolize Reagan and treasure memories of his presidency; I expected that the outpourings of emotion would be torrential. Despite the rosy-glassed hindsight that often accompanies loss and grief, however, I wasn't prepared for the near-complete absence of any critical voices. I could only wonder: when Clinton dies someday, will the media only mention Monica, Whitewater, and the Lincoln Bedroom in passing, or will the infamous "Arkansas Project" lurch back to life, and - forgetting any now-inconvenient sensitivities - recount every dark and fevered tale of the 1990s? (Time will tell, but I have my suspicions...)

It was during this silent time that I wrote to my local newspaper (they published an edited version). My spouse wants me to stop writing letters-to-the-editor if I get death threats, but if their aim is as poor as their rhetorical skills [see the "Quote of the Day" below from Ted Rall's website] I needn't worry.

Toward the end of last week, a blog entry from liberal cartoonist/columnist Ted Rall attracted some attention for suggesting a fiery destination for Reagan. Rall's later, more considered (but no less inflammatory), piece titled "Reagan's Shameful Legacy" received almost no mention in the major media. The Nation ran a few articles on Reagan this week, most notably David Corn's "Reagan and the Media: A Love Story," but most people still seem wary of being shouted down as politically incorrect and insensitive. In a 24x7 news cycle, though, only this moment exists. As Rall mentioned in his blog, "...the only time America will talk about Reagan's legacy is now. In two weeks, no one'll care. That's why we're talking about this now. On the other hand, if editors opened their pages to old topics, that would change."

Reagan's fans seem to want all negative comments to wait until after their mourning is complete. I can sympathize with their position, but mourning doesn't seem to stop his acolytes from pushing their plans to memorialize him. Bearing in mind that Reagan already has an aircraft carrier, a huge federal office building, and Washington National Airport (re)named after him, it is fair to wonder when the media silence can be broken. After Reagan's visage is carved into Mount Rushmore? Once he has a monument on the Mall in Washington DC? When he displaces Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill, or FDR from the dime? (Or, as the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project wants, when he has a monument in every state and a memorial in every single county?)

As Charlie Sheen asked Michael Douglas in Wall Street, "How much is enough?"

Thanks for reading.


Quote of the Day:

"Fuck you! you cocksucker!... You piss ant twerp... I would shove those gay glasses up your ass... You Cocksucker FUCK YOU"

(One of the many well-reasoned and articulate emails Ted Rall received after his appearance on "Hannity & Colmes" last week)

Ronald Reagan, RIP

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I've known for years that conservatives would go all-out in their attempts to canonize Reagan upon his death. Their efforts were so inaccurate - and my local newspaper printed so many blindly idolatrous letters - that I had to speak my piece:

The current media effort to canonize Ronald Reagan, including Sunday's multi-page encomium, requires a re-balancing of the scales. Reagan's Teflon shell - combined with an unprecedented degree of media sycophancy - perpetuates the mythologies of his presidency even after his passing. "Morning in America" jingles and Panglossian rhetoric may have made us feel better about our country, but fondly remembering Reagan's destructive policies is as nonsensical as today's students having high self-esteem and low test scores.

Most historians, less swayed by simplistic slogans, consider Reagan a below-average president. Often mistakenly credited with winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union, which had been collapsing for decades, Reagan's greatest real accomplishment was demonizing government in general - and social programs in particular - while overlooking the massive corruption both inside and outside his administration.

Rush Limbaugh, always prone to a highly exaggerated opinion of Ronald Reagan's tenure in office, once stated that this nation owes Reagan "a debt that it can never repay." That is true, but not in the way Rush intended. Reagan - that alleged paragon of fiscal discipline - never submitted a balanced budget to Congress, and we will be paying for his supply-side budget deficits far into the future. This coming Friday should not be a one-time national holiday in memory of Reagan, but every April 15th should be. We should remember Ronald Reagan for generations to come, as we continue to pay for the unrestrained borrow-and-waste orgy of the 1980s.

While I have nothing but sincere condolences for Reagan's family and friends, who have experienced the loss of a loved one as none of us should, we should not whitewash his disastrous presidency: turning America from the world's biggest creditor nation to its biggest debtor, lying about arms-for-hostages deals with so-called "moderate" terrorists, supporting murderous thugs in Central America while calling them "freedom fighters," ignoring the AIDS epidemic, denigrating social programs with fictitious "welfare queens," and deregulating S&Ls to the tune of a $500 billion taxpayer-funded bailout.

Ronald Reagan may have been a charming man, but - even by GOP standards - he was an abysmal president.


update (6/14): An edited version of my letter was published as "Reagan wasn't saint he's made out to be."


update 2 (6/21): A response to my letter was published under the title "Reagan inherited troubled country," to which I replied:

(mis)remembering Reagan

The emotionalism of many Reagan mourners--those who are inclined to excuse rather than examine his legacy--never ceases to amaze me. That Carter, an honorable president who bravely told unpalatable truths to our nation, is considered worse than one who vacillated between cluelessness and mendacity illustrates much about the GOP's true believers.

The other source of my continual amazement is the inability of Reagan's would-be defenders to address any of the facts regarding his disastrous presidency; instead, they perform a simple misdirection and attack Carter instead. This response to my letter is a typical example: he could not refute any of the facts, preferring instead the plaintive wail that Reagan made him feel better.

Unfortunately, those warm fuzzies don't erase the damage done during the 1980s.

Cal Thomas is a writer who I frequently disagree with, because he is so frequently wrong. His jeremiad against same-sex marriage, "Marriage Massachusetts Style," is a case in point.

I know what to expect when reading Cal Thomas' opinions, but he has outdone himself this time! His recent column, "Marriage Massachusetts Style," trots out all the usual anti-marriage viewpoints, but - like his tsunami analogies - none of them holds any water. Thomas and other conservative pundits have spent the past several months finding myriad ways to mischaracterize Massachusetts' pro-marriage and pro-family stance toward gays and lesbians as an egregious error made by so-called "activist judges." In the process, they have completely ignored the irony of the first same-sex marriages first being performed on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Separate-but-equal is never truly equal; this is one reason why half-measures such as civil unions satisfy virtually no one.

Appeals to "states' rights" vanished from sight as soon as a single state took a step forward and trumped conservatives' slavish defense of tradition, proving that "smaller government" is merely a political tactic and not a principle. A newly intrusive federalism, in the form of a proposed anti-marriage amendment to the Constitution, now seems to be their preferred strategy. Of course, this is all done under the guise of "defending" or "protecting" marriage, as if what's happening in Massachusetts isn't a celebration of love and commitment just as it is elsewhere.

The anti-marriage "arguments" - and I've read many of them, from Andrew Sullivan's book Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con to articles in several conservative magazines and websites - rely heavily on false analogies. Cal Thomas - like Rick Santorum before him - does this by conflating homosexuality with polygamy, incest, and adultery. Irrelevant rhetoric predating our understanding of sexual orientation is another common tactic, as Blackmun's dissent in 1986's notorious Hardwick case noted: "[i]t is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past."

We've known for decades that homosexuality is not a disease, a moral failure, or a chosen "lifestyle." The broken-window and slippery-slope canards (like Thomas' references to destructive tsunamis and earthquakes) don't support the anti-marriage case either, because they're only appropriate when describing negative events in a deteriorating situation. One small state taking one small step toward justice and equality is hardly the precursor to disaster that their sky-is-falling screeds imply.

Let's look at what won't happen as a result of Massachusetts' same-sex marriages: The earth won't stop spinning on its axis, civilization won't disintegrate, our culture won't self-destruct, and Provincetown won't be destroyed in a biblical rain of fire and brimstone - much to the reactionaries' chagrin. What will happen is an improvement in the legal status of gay and lesbian families - and a good example for other states to follow.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my local newspaper to the op-ed page yesterday morning to find an entire editorial (from the Washington Post) by photographer Ken Light discussing the tale of the falsified image of John Kerry and Jane Fonda that had been cut from my letter the day before. (An explanatory article - with before and after images - is online at snopes.com, a website that specializes in debunking urban myths.)

Thanks for reading.


Quote of the Day:

“So what do I do now about the conspiratorial Web site that's trying to convince its readers that my original picture was the hoax -- that Fonda really was at that podium with Kerry, and somebody edited "Hanoi Jane" out? All I can do is pull Roll 68 out of the file cabinet again. It's my visual record, my unretouched truth.”

Ken Light

My local newspaper has published another of my letters to the editor. I was compelled to respond to a previous letter that read as follows:

John Kerry reminds me of the big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and couldn't blow the house down.

Democrats want a day-by-day report on President Bush's time in the National Guard and imply he avoided the Vietnam war. To balance things, we should have the same report on John Kerry, plus a report on the total of two days he spent in the hospital for his three Purple Hearts.

Kerry's slander of GIs he left behind in Vietnam is not yet well-known. He told a Senate committee in 1971 that soldiers raped, cut off ears and heads, shot at civilians and poisoned food stock. He is also shown in pictures taken by the FBI demonstrating with Jane Fonda, our No. 1 traitor.

We need fair and balanced reporting.

[name and address redacted]

The edited version of my response is also online, and my original version is below:

Because the current administration’s two top members didn’t serve overseas during Vietnam, they are desperate to attack Democratic front-runner John Kerry, who did serve and who did so honorably. Cheney’s “other priorities” and the Bush family’s machinations that snagged a coveted stateside National Guard position are facts, not mere implications. Bush’s fair-weather patriotism, with its suspicious months-long gaps, pales in comparison to Kerry’s Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. There is a substantial difference between Kerry – as demonstrated by servicemembers who thank him for saving their lives – and Bush, who can’t find anyone from Alabama who even remembers him showing up for duty.

The mud-slingers who now accuse Kerry of “slandering Vietnam veterans” need to take off their Fox News Channel “fair and balanced” blinders and learn a few facts. First, Kerry’s remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about atrocities in Vietnam began with the words “They told the stories,” clearly indicating that he was not making accusations but rather revealing what other GIs had told him. Other contemporaneous statements clearly show that Kerry’s anger was directed toward “the men who ordered us,” and not toward his fellow veterans. Second, the “demonstrating with Jane Fonda” story is also a mirage that vanishes upon closer inspection. In the photograph from Valley Forge, Kerry is sitting three rows behind Fonda; he is so far away from her that he’s not even in focus. (There is a faked image circulating on the Internet that combines two separate photos, doctored to make it appear as if Fonda and Kerry are on the same podium. Maybe the previous letter-writer was taken in by the hoax, and is trying to use hysterical hatred of “Hanoi Jane” to slander Kerry.)

Dissent against injustice – not compliance with it – is true patriotism. Kerry’s protests against our invasion and occupation of Vietnam show far more love of country than Bush’s skipping out of National Guard duty to work on a political campaign and then “working out” an early departure to attend business school.

Not that I’m a huge Kerry fan, but I’d prefer an honest public debate to the soundbite-laden sludge that’s often served to us as “news.” Bush’s cozy relationship to the press gave him a huge edge during the 2000 (s)election season; any bets on whether or not he’ll get away with it this time, too?

Thanks for reading.


Quote of the Day:

“In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time...”

(John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)

Although I was never enthusiastic about John Kerry, seeing the GOP slander machine in action bothered me:

Because the current administration's two top members didn't serve overseas during Vietnam, they are desperate to attack Democratic front-runner John Kerry, who did serve and who did so honorably. Cheney's "other priorities" and the Bush family's machinations that snagged a coveted stateside National Guard position are facts, not mere implications. Bush's fair-weather patriotism, with its suspicious months-long gaps, pales in comparison to Kerry's Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. There is a substantial difference between Kerry - as demonstrated by servicemembers who thank him for saving their lives - and Bush, who can't find anyone from Alabama who even remembers him showing up for duty.

The mud-slingers who now accuse Kerry of "slandering Vietnam veterans" need to take off their Fox News Channel "fair and balanced" blinders and learn a few facts. First, Kerry's remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about atrocities in Vietnam began with the words "They told the stories," clearly indicating that he was not making accusations but rather revealing what other GIs had told him. Other contemporaneous statements clearly show that Kerry's anger was directed toward "the men who ordered us," and not toward his fellow veterans. Second, the "demonstrating with Jane Fonda" story is also a mirage that vanishes upon closer inspection. In the photograph from Valley Forge, Kerry is sitting three rows behind Fonda; he is so far away from her that he's not even in focus. (There is a faked image circulating on the Internet that combines two separate photos, doctored to make it appear as if Fonda and Kerry are on the same podium. Maybe the previous letter-writer has been taken in by the hoax, and is trying to use hysterical hatred of "Hanoi Jane" to slander Kerry.)

Dissent against injustice - not compliance with it - is true patriotism. Kerry's protests against our invasion and occupation of Vietnam show far more love of country than Bush's skipping out of National Guard duty to work on a political campaign and then "working out" an early departure to attend business school.


UPDATE: This letter was published on 03 March as "Kerry's Vietnam era dissent gets falsified."

Occasionally, I get fed up with the "liberal media" doing such an abysmal job:

Despite the incessant whining of various knee-jerk conservative letter writers about my local newspaper's allegedly liberal slant, this past week should put their minds at ease. Even the Faux News Channel, that paragon of "Unfair and Imbalanced" journalism, acknowledged - dismissively - Al Gore's speech last Sunday; our newspaper completely ignored his inspiring defense of civil liberties. Is there a better way for the mainstream media to support the status quo than by denying the very existence of accurate and articulate criticism of the current Orwellian nightmare of paranoia and xenophobia in Washington?

The Associated Press and all the major networks considered Gore's denunciations of the USA-PATRIOT (sic) Act and other civil-liberties abridgments newsworthy, although less so than movie grosses and sniper trials. I think many of your readers might wish to read more about substantive news subjects. If your editors feel compelled to continue slavishly reporting every outburst of verbal flatulence by the Prevaricator-in-Chief currently occupying the White House, you could at least mention the damage his neo-fascist cronies wreak as they goose-step through the halls of government.

Gore correctly noted in his speech that those in the Bush administration have "exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening, not strengthening, America" and then "used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press, and the people." How are we, as citizens, to defend ourselves against the encroachments of Bush's unconstitutional surveillance state if the media outlets refuse to give us anything other than scandal, sex, and pseudo-patriotic soundbites? In-depth analysis of dissent does exist, but one must search out the non-corporate media in order to become informed. This newspaper's nonexistent coverage of this issue doesn't help.

A previous letter to the editor, "Sodomy laws target gay people unequally," was responded to with the brush-off "There are bigger worries than sex." Tired of ignorant laughter, I responded with this:

I find it appalling that a recent letter writer complained about objections to sodomy laws, and described the objections as "humorous." Equal treatment before the law is one of the tenets of our legal system, although this principle is often overlooked when disfavored groups are being disproportionately affected or targeted outright. The original letter writers clearly explained how prejudicial sodomy laws obstruct civil rights, ranging from public accommodations and job-related discrimination to the custody of one's children and the sanctity of one's home. What, exactly, is humorous about realizing the blatant bigotry of discharging gays and lesbians from the military or refusing to recognize same-sex marriages?

Objecting to such injustices is not, as the complainer suggested, due to gays "worrying about" sex. In fact, it appears that straight people are the ones worried about - or even obsessed with - gay sex. Why else would legislators ignore larger concerns (such as shrinking state budgets, a faltering economy, and the looming threat of war) to support laws invading people's bedrooms? Small-minded elected officials somehow feel entitled to regulate the private activities of consenting adults, using the voice of government to express their own bias.

Despite the exclamations of morally myopic obstructionists in state and national government, non-discrimination statutes that protect sexual orientation (such as Delaware's H.B. 99) are long overdue for passage, and all remaining sodomy laws are equally overdue for repeal. The Supreme Court should discard these remnants of ancient prejudices, and use Lawrence v. Texas to correct the error it perpetrated in 1986 with Bowers v. Hardwick. In the interest of justice, no other action is appropriate.


UPDATE: An edited version of this letter was published on 6 March as "Treatment of gays is no laughing matter."

Worst Buy

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My family received some extremely poor customer service from one of the national electronics stores; this letter was an attempt to publicize our experience:

My family had a recent experience with poor customer service at a local retail chain store; I hope your readers will find it instructive. (I won’t mention the store’s name, but I’ll call it “Worst Buy” in order to tell the story.) My brother-in-law visited a local “Worst Buy” store to purchase a handheld PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) for college. The sales clerk retrieved a PDA box from a locked cabinet behind the counter and sealed it in a clear plastic bag. My brother-in-law paid $180 and, after driving home, found out that the box was empty.

He returned to “Worst Buy” the next morning in hopes of exchanging the empty box for one that actually contained the product he had purchased. The inventory clerk refused to help him, told him to “call the 800 number,” and then walked away from him. After hearing about this insult, my sister-in-law called the store in an attempt to resolve the situation. All she received was the same useless advice to “call the number.” When she asked for the store manager’s name, the inventory clerk hung up on her!

At this point, my wife and I became involved. We accompanied her brother back to “Worst Buy,” whereupon my wife announced that we would not leave without either a PDA or a $180 refund. The assistant manager on duty whined that he was “unable to help,” made a few phone calls, and wasted more than an hour of our time being argumentative. He eventually relented and gave my brother-in-law the PDA he had paid for.

Especially during an economic recession, retail employees should treat their paying customers more respectfully, instead of passing the buck to a corporate call center. If we hadn’t been so persistent, my brother-in-law would have been ripped off. Due to the mistreatment we received, our entire family is now unlikely to patronize the “Worst Buy” chain in the future. I’m sure their competitors will appreciate our business.

opposing globalization

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Robert Reno's "What Are Globalization Foes Really Searching For?" editorial needed a response, so I wrote one:

Robert Reno's editorial on Wednesday ("What Are Globalization Foes Really Searching For?") was filled with glib talk-radio-style disinformation about the anti-globalization movement; I had expected better. What Mr. Reno refers to as the protesters' "lemming instincts" are actually valid expressions of alarm as Reno's beloved "bulldozer of globalization" destroys human rights, labor laws, and environmental protections around the globe.

Proponents of globalization have attempted to occupy the moral high ground by calling their brand of economic exploitation "free trade," but this is a misnomer of Orwellian proportions. (Attaching the concept of freedom to an odious reality is often an exercise in subterfuge, as we learned in the 1980s when Central American paramilitary death squads were called "freedom fighters.") Anti-globalization protesters are carrying a torch of illumination through the streets (risking arrest, brutalization, and even death) in the hopes that the rest of us will become curious about what happens behind the closed doors of these meetings. If not for the protesters, the average American would likely be unaware that the WTO, IMF, and World Bank even exist.

If Mr. Reno is confused about what the protesters want, it is because media outlets are too concerned with preserving the status quo distribution of wealth and power to present the facts. Not discussing the underlying economic and political issues is an egregious oversight; treating the protest movement as an out-of-control circus sideshow is simply unforgivable. Why is the "Black Bloc" of (alleged) anarchists so well-publicized while the pacifists are ignored? Why is a broken window considered evidence of excessive violence - but not a protester's bullet-riddled corpse lying in the street? These are the sort of questions that need to be answered.

The world might become a safer, more "civilized" place if dissent were completely hidden behind barricades and civil disobedience crushed under the heel of a global police state - but as Ben Franklin said, "Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." If we, as citizens, continue to disregard these demonstrations while our country - and the world - devolves into a plutocratic oligarchy, we will get the kind of future that we deserve.


update: An edited version of this letter was published on 6 September.

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