Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Science, Evolution and The Magical Thinking of Dr. Ben Carson

by Nomad

Ben Carson's remarks on evolution may seem extraordinary for such an educated person. In fact, there's a very good explanation for his backward way of thinking.

A Relatively Modern Science Concept

This week, scientists at National Academy of Sciences in Washington have released a new version of the tree of life
The graphic shows everything science knows about the relationship of all living things on the planet. With the inclusion of 2.3 million species the graphic is the most complete of its kind.

As complete as it is, it is far from finished. With an estimated 8.7 million of species today, (that doesn't include the species that have gone extinct) there are still quite a lot of blank spaces to fill in the record.

One of the aspects of Darwin's theory of evolution was that all life -including humankind- is related and originated from the same primitive organisms. That every living thing, from microbes to fungus to giraffes, on the planet ultimately share a common ancestor
In some ways, it's a really ethereal idea which helps us find our place in the larger scheme of things. Our uniqueness as a life form comes in our knowing that place.
The history of living things is documented through multiple lines of evidence that converge to tell the story of life through time.
Researcher Douglas Soltis of the University of Florida said:
"As important as showing what we do know about relationships, this first tree of life is also important in revealing what we don't know."
It's hard to find a better statement that better represents what science is really all about. Amid and in contrast to all of this marvelous science showing us the miraculous story of how life began, there was in the same week a video of Dr. Carson and his view of evolution. 

Carson on Newton

Before nodding spectators, Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Republican Presidential hopeful, expounded on his views about creationism vs. evolution at the conference called Celebration of Creation.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Echo from the Suffrage: Twelve Reasons Why Women Should Vote

by Nomad

Here's an public ad for universal suffrage from the 1920s.

This list makes so much sense and yet, even today so many women voters stay at home.

  1. Because those who obey the laws should help to choose those who make the laws.
  2. Because laws affect women as much as men.
  3. Because laws which affect women are now passed without consulting them. 
  4. Because  laws affecting Children should include the woman's point of view as well as the man's.
  5. Because laws affecting the home are voted on in every session of the legislature.
  6. Because women have experience which would be helpful to legislation.
  7. Because to deprive women of the vote is to lower their position in the common estimation. 
  8. Because having the vote would increase the sense of responsibility among women toward questions of public importance.
  9. Because public spirited mothers make public spirited sons.
  10. Because about 8,000,000 women in the United States are wage workers, and the conditions under which they work are controlled by the law. 
  11. Because the objections against their having the vote are based on prejudice, not on reason.
  12. Because to sum up all reasons in one-- it is for the common good of all. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Question of Qualifications: A Closer Look at Carly Fiorina

by Nomad

When it comes to GOP candidates, like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, isn't it fair to ask: what kind of minimum qualifications necessary to be the Republican nominee in 2016? 

In the case of Carly Fiorina, her only qualification is her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. That's actually a liability.

When Carly Fiorina announced her decision to be a Republican candidate for 2016, many insiders questioned her thin qualifications to become president of the United States. 
For the better-informed voter or former HP employees, it was perhaps startling to hear point to her corporate business history as evidence.
It was exactly that subject - her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) from 1999 to 2005 that her Democratic opponent, Barbara Boxer, used against her in the 2010 California Senate race. It proved to be more than enough to make voters think twice about Fiorina.

Putting aside the particular details of the Fiorina business history, we need to be asking: 
Is running a corporation really the same as being president?     

Certainly any successful venture is something a candidate could legitimately point out. Indeed, management skills required overlap to some degree. 
However,  there are some crucial differences too. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jihad Reality: Why Disillusioned ISIS Defectors are Dropping Out

by Nomad

Syria ISIS Jihadist Defectors Disillusioned by what they witnessed, some former ISIS members have defected. Their testimony reveals the truth about the organization and the nature of the caliphate they have set up.

In Western society, we are pretty regularly taught not to dwell too deeply on mistakes we make in life. Move on and not look back in regret is the message.
However, in some instances, the mistakes we make can destroy our lives, the lives of people we care about and can affect in a direct and often damaging way, innocent victims. 

Shouldn't we as individuals take the time to stop and reflect on our bad decisions? And when mistakes happen on a grand scale, shouldn't society also sit back and make use of this bad example? 

I bring this point up after reading an article about former ISIS members who are now defecting from the organization and returning back to their homes. They are now testifying to the painful disillusionment they experienced and how their fantasy of jihad and a new world order were destroyed by the harsh barbarous reality on the ground.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Re-Greening of Suburbia: How an Old Shopping Mall May Soon be Home to World's Largest Green Roof

by Nomad

The Hills Green RoofOne development proposal in California would see the world's largest green roof. It will provide an example of how green thinking will change the urban and suburban landscape.

The story of the shopping mall in some ways represents the story of mid-century America. A product of the automobile loving suburban culture of the 1960s, the mall as a cultural icon, critics say, is an idea that has passed its prime.
Many large-scale malls today have become less and less economically sustainable. In some areas of the country, malls are experiencing higher vacancies, being repurposed and are even being demolished.

The question is what is going to come next? 
In California, one developer is offering a possible answer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ben Carson vs John Kennedy: A Religious Test for the Executive Office?

by Nomad

John Kennedy vs. Ben CarsonRemarks from the Republican candidate, Dr. Ben Carson have called into question whether the White House is reserved for a limited category of Americans based on their faith.

On Sunday's Meet the Press,  GOP candidate Ben Carson 
was asked whether a candidate’s religious faith should be considered when Americans elect a president. He said:
“I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”
Within "the realm of America" is a strange turn of phrase. Moreover, the Constitution has nothing to say about the faith of a prospective leader of the nation.  
Then when probed a little more, Carson stated:
"I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."
It was a shocking thing to hear for so many reasons. Especially a nation which professes to believe that America that can be home to all faiths and that everybody- in theory- has a right to rise as far as they are capable of, even to the presidency. 
Has Carson really thought this through? Are atheists also excluded from holding the executive office? What about Mormons?
If Muslims should be forbidden then which religions make the cut? 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reflections on the Quiet American Hero, Jimmy Carter

by Nomad

Jimmy Carter It's time to give credit where credit is long due. A look back at the remarkable retirement of Jimmy Carter, the humanitarian.

Few Presidents have had a more successful post-presidency than Jimmy Carter. Some have said he has re-invented the definition of what it means to be a former US president. 
In a world of politics, driven mad with ego and ambition, Carter has stood as a model of sacrifice and dedication to the service of his fellow human being. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Blame Game: The Truth Behind Syrian President Assad's Accusation of Western Hypocrisy

by Nomad

Syrian President Bashar Assad

In an attempt to deflect his role in the death of his nation and the subsequent exodus of its people, President Assad said it was all the West's fault and it was hypocritical to cry over dead children.

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal reported on an interview with the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. During the carefully arranged interview, Assad pointed the finger of blame and hypocrisy at Western countries. These countries, he implied, have backed rebels aiming at toppling the Assad regime. 
This, he claims, is turn what has led to the flood of refugees. 

The Interview and the Numbers

Seated before a panel of very sympathetic Russian reporters, President Assad explained that the reason for the mass desertion of the population is because of terrorism.
"Actually those refugees left Syria because of the terrorism, mainly because of the terrorists and because of the killing, and second because of the results of terrorism. When you have terrorism, and you have the destruction of the infrastructure, you won’t have the basic needs of living, so many people leave because of the terrorism and because they want to earn their living somewhere in this world.
“The West is supporting terrorists since the beginning of the crisis when it said that this was a peaceful uprising. The West is crying for them."
“How can you be sad for a child that dies at sea and you are not sad for the thousands of children, elderly, men and women who died at the hands of terrorists in Syria.”
If you are worried about them, stop supporting terrorists. That’s what we think regarding the crisis. This is the core of the whole issue of refugees.
(For the full interview click here.)
While there is no shortage of hypocrisy in this crisis, Assad's remarks certainly hit a new low in attempts to manipulate world opinion. 
The facts, however, speak for themselves.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"He Kept Us Safe": The Rovian Lie that JEB! Must Forever Cling To

by Nomad

During the Republican debate, JEB! unintentionally revealed his own seemingly insurmountable dilemma of trying to scrub his brother's dismal record.

Tabloid Politics

The agonizingly- immature GOP debates predictably boiled down into an oily smelly sludge, with candidates making ignorant claims about Planned Parenthood and "baby parts", about Kim Davis' right to ignore her oath of office, and about the long-disproved link between autism and vaccinations.
In every respect, it was tabloid politics. 

CNN, which hosted the debates, over-packaged the event in the most surreal way too. The eye-roller opening sounded like a trailer for a World Wrestling Smackdown event or a cheesy film trailer from the 1980s. 
And of course, there was something for Left to enjoy too. The personal attacks.

If I had a favorite moment then it must have come when Donald Trump backed away from earlier remarks about the only female candidate, Carly Fiorina.. and her face.

After his Rolling Stone interview, Trump had attempted to make the totally insincere claim that he had not meant to insult Florina's appearance. During the debate, he pushed that unbelievable defense past the breaking point and said that she had "a beautiful face and that she was "a beautiful woman." 

Let's be a little more honest than Trump, here. She is not a beauty and there's no reason- except for sexism- that this should even be a part of the political debate. None of the male candidates are being critiqued on their beauty. 

All in all, it is great news for Democrats looking to pick up the women's vote. In the end, both candidates are unqualified to be president.
One other particular back-and-forth caught my attention.

JEB! in The Shadow of Karl Rove

 Under attack from Trump, JEB! evoked the record of his brother, President George W. Bush.
“You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe. I don’t know if you remember, Donald. You remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around it? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism and he did keep us safe.”
While it might sound like a debate ploy cooked up by Bush's team, the "he kept us safe" meme has been a talking point for some time. It's one of those things that Republicans say over and over and hope voters will assume it must be true. It was really picked up after the Boston bombing in order to slam President Obama.

Keeping Americans Safe?
But when you think of what JEB! is claiming, it's really quite absurd.
Is JEB! now attempting to reference the September 11 attacks as an example of how safe George W. Bush kept the American public?
Failing to anticipate the bloodiest terrorist attack in American history is not keeping America safe

This is the one thing JEB! knows for sure? 

Only the most naive die-hard Republican could support JEB!'s bombastic statement without a shudder. By now most of us have realized- if we didn't know it while it was happening- that, in a variety of ways, the Bush administration fumbled the ball both before and after September 2001. 

The Safe Lie

Conor Frıedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, dissected this assertion in detail back in 2013. He cited not only the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon but also the still-unsolved anthrax attacks which killed five people and that injured between 22 and 68 people.

One of the candidates in 2015, New York Governor George E. Pataki, was actually one of the targets of an anthrax attack. He and his staff were forced to abandon their offices when tests found anthrax spores in an area within his office. 

And there were many more successful acts of terrorism against Americans during the Bush presidency. 
Bush was president when Hesham Mohamed Hadayet killed two and wounded four at an LAX ticket counter; when the Beltway snipers killed 10 people; when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar injured six driving his SUV into a crowd; and when Naveed Afzal Haq killed one woman and shot five others in Seattle.
Wikipedia offers a more or less complete list of the attacks. Admittedly those are only the "successful' incidents, we will probably never have a truly complete picture of the ones that were thwarted. Nevertheless, it takes a very active imagination to believe that Bush or Cheney kept anybody safe. 

Frıedersdorf also points out that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, all "based on mistaken intelligence," cost more American lives than the September attacks. 
Almost 5,000 American troops were killed in Iraq. Tens of thousands more were wounded, many seriously. Bush did not keep them safe, by virtue of sending them to fight an unnecessary war. Even if you think that the war was necessary, he didn't keep them as safe as he could have, due to his administration's shocking negligence preparing for the conflict.
While it is true that soldiers in a war zone take extreme risks and absolute safety is an impossibility, there are precautions any conscientious leader should consider to minimize the risks. The Bush administration considered this a low priority. 

At one point, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, came under fire (so to speak) from disgruntled U.S. soldiers who complained about being sent into a war zone without the proper equipment or protection. In 2006, Rumsfeld resigned- or was pushed out- after becoming such a liability to the Bush administration.

Frıedersdorf concludes:
George W. Bush failed to keep us safe, partly because he happened to be president when al-Qaeda succeeded in perpetrating a major attack, partly because various other attacks happened during his tenure, and most unforgivably because of his reductionism and hubris, pursuing a needless war of choice on false pretenses and executing that war poorly for years on end, in part because he elevated loyalty to his immediate underlings above having competent help.

A World Turned Upside Down

With something so demonstrably false, why would JEB! even dare to apply this defense? What does it show us about JEB! and his character?

If nothing else, he use of this talking point shows us how little he cares for the truth. It should have been considered an insult to intelligence the viewer. It should have been enough to raise whistles and boos. And yet, the audience and the moderators simply let it slip by. (Even Trump's reply was uncharacteristically low-key.)

Back in 2007, The UK Guardian wrote up a piece about the manipulation of the American public by its politicians. 
Effective techniques tend to work their magic at a subconscious level. They bypass our rational mind by arousing emotional imagery or phrasing hence Bush's use of firefighters and rubble. 
The more shocking or wild the rhetoric, the more likely it has been purposely designed to make you not think.
Anne Coulter has pushed this technique to its limits.

Another technique which Karl Rove and spin doctors have used successfully has been the reversal of meanings. 
Thus, Fox News calls itself "fair and balanced," and Karl Rove and his acolytes turn their opponents' strongest traits into their achilles' heels, using insinuations and lies to portray opponents' achievements as phoney.
But, as Bush at the debate proved, this technique works in the opposite direction too. It can take the politician's weakest traits and make them into positives. It can take a president's abject failure to combat terrorism, and poorly-planned and poorly executed war plan and make it into a national security success. Simply by saying a short but memorable phrase over and over. Damn the evidence.

Eventually, the warping of reality is complete. Suddenly, like last night, we find ourselves in a world turned upside down where everything said is the reverse of what happened and what is true. 

Republican Voter Susceptibility to Lies

But how could an audience- whom we may assume are not complete zombies- sit and accept this lie? Is there not one person in that crowd who had the strength of character to say "Hold on there.."
Apparently not. 
"The American public," the article points out, "has proven remarkably susceptible to the manipulation of truth, which increasingly dominates the country's political discourse.

That fact that nobody rejected the JEB! premise reveals why the Republican penchant for dishonesty is so damaging to the public discussion. 

In that very short exchange of remarks between two third-rate politicians we saw the serious problem the Republican party has. 
In short, its failure to appreciate reality. 
The establishment Republicans like JEB! might be slugging it out, in slow motion, with loud mouths and upstarts like Donald Trump but in the end, both of them are living in an imaginary world. A world in which failure is success and history can be written by repeating the same lies over and over.

Like a contagion, this willingness to accept what is so clearly untrue has infected all who support the GOP. Part of it is denial and another part is that news organizations operate on 24/7 schedule to reinforce that narrative. 
As the Guardian article notes:
Politicians will respect, rather than manipulate, reality only if the public cares about the truth and punishes politicians when it catches them in deliberate deception. And the public should care about the truth because deception misleads people in choosing their representatives, distorts policy choices, undermines accountability, and destroys trust in democracy.
Looking over the Republican line-up, and listening to the nonsense in the debates, the American voter  has every right to feel despair. The shame is that there is not an intelligent (or sane) opposition party left in American politics. And in a two-party system, that is really something we should worry instead of cheering for "our team."

The Republicans, lost in their false history and exhaustively manipulated reality, have destroyed whatever remained of the public trust.

Related articles

Monday, September 14, 2015

Planned Parenthood Files Lawsuit Against Arkansas for Blocking Healthcare for Poor Women

by Nomad

In an attempt to abolish abortion on a state by state basis, governors of a few states have cut Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization which provides reproductive health and maternal and child health services.. The problem is the action is, say lawyers for organization, illegal and they plan to sue.

Check out this reprinted article from Medical Daily.

Planned Parenthood Is Suing The State Of   Arkansas

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union that alleges Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark) “acted illegally” when he moved to terminate Medicaid contracts with the organization last month, The Hill reported. “Governor Hutchinson has no business telling women in Arkansas where they can and cannot go for cancer screenings, birth control, HIV tests…

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

No Ideas, No Options: Why the GOP Alternative to a Iran Nuclear Deal is All-out War

by Nomad

An opposition party is supposed to offer alternatives to the ruling parties initiatives. In the case of the Republican party, the alternative to the Iran Nuclear deal is military conflict.

As Congress mulls over the fine print in the Iran Nuclear Arms agreement, it is interesting to listen to some of the reactions of Republican candidates.
It was always perfectly clear that anything that emerged from Obama administration's efforts would be condemned by the Republicans. 

Had the agreement had the   diplomats of the Iranian Republic marching the Supreme Leader in chains to the waiting American warships, Republican Congressmen would have been complaining that the chains were of the wrong weight or that that the speed of the military escort was too slow.

The criticism began long before Congress ever got a chance to look over the actual agreement. That criticism, some say, had much more to do with the bad relationship between the parties and the Right's animosity toward Obama than the particulars of the Iran deal.

Have Republican Candidates Huckabee and Cruz Just Committed Treason in the Kim Davis Case?

by Nomad

Statements made by two Republican candidates regarding the Kim Davis case may have crossed a line by encouraging rebellion against the authority of the Supreme Court. And it's called treason.

Committing treason in a nation which prizes the right of free speech has always been tricky business. Unlike many other countries in the world, in the US, people are allowed to say pretty much whatever they want. 

However, the freedom of expression has, contrary to conventional wisdom, never been absolute or unlimited. There are slander and libel laws, for example. Calling for insurrection is also proscribed as a abuse of freedom of speech. 

The  U.S. Code Chapter 115  defines treason like this:,
“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tomorrow's Headlines: Kentucky Group Petitions Town to Allow Stoning of Alleged Witch

by Nomad

I thought you might enjoy a break from the depressing news of the day with a little fun. Tomorrow's headlines is a regular spoofing of the news of the day. 
Honestly, though, parody stories like this just seem to write themselves. 

A group  of 250 townspeople in Twiddle, Kentucky, calling itself "God Sway," has petitioned the local town council for permission to stone to death a resident. 
Daniel H. Spofford, a spokesman for the 501(c) organization, claims that 65 year old widow - Lucretia Tobias- is a witch, a handmaiden to Satan. As of last weekend, more than half of the town's residents have signed the petition.

Spofford accused Tobias of performing various forms of magic and putting hexes on members of the neo-puritan group. Last week, Spofford claims, Tobias cast a spell on one local resident.
"That same week, all of his chickens died and his wife developed a nasty rash on her elbow. She was in a lot of pain too."

A leading member of the group told reporters (on condition of anonymity)
"Punishing the source of Satan's mischief has a long history in the US, going back before the nation was founded. It's part of our religious heritage."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Report From the Borderlines: Where Tourists and Refugees Share an Island

by Nomad

The Greek island of Chios lies at the far east edge of Europe. Beyond that is Turkey and the rest of Asia and the Middle East. This island is also one of the corridors through which thousands of refugees and migrants are risking their lives in a bid for a new life in Europe.

The reaction to the viral- indeed iconic- photo of a dead child on the beach in Bodrum in Western Turkey has ignited a worldwide discussion about the plight of the refugees and migrants attempting to enter into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. A collective conscience has apparently awoken from its slumber.

It's been a long time in coming. This sudden reaction to the death of one child seems a little hypocritical. Especially when refugee families and their children have been dying in the wine-dark sea for months now.

Although the struggles of refugees to cross into Europe has been going on for years now, the wave of illegal migration from Turkey really cranked up at the beginning of summer.

This tragedy didn't begin in Turkey, however. The roots go back years and a lot of children and families have suffered and have died without much notice.
Before this present crisis, it was Syrian children and entire families huddled in tents during the dead of winter on the border of Syria and Turkey. At that time, European leaders paid the minimal amount of lip service.
Before that, dead children at school being shelled by mortars in Damascus.
All of these children too were innocent casualties of a needlessly prolonged war.  

The Crossing
Last week I made a similar crossing from Turkey to Greece. Similar perhaps, but certainly not the same.  I came as a welcomed tourist with Euros in my pocket, not a desperate refugee in shabby clothes.  
Actually, every summer for the past few years, my Turkish friend, Inan and I have made the journey to the quiet relief of Chios. to escape the overcrowded, noisy and generally insufferable tourist "hotspots" back in Turkey.