Friday, November 23, 2007
The Tragedy of the Commons
...When the Pilgrims first settled the Plymouth Colony, they organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share everything equally, work and produce.
They nearly all starved. ...
..."So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented," wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, [I] (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."
The people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.
"This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. "...
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Property right wrongly taken
...Despite owning the land, despite living only 200 yards from the property, despite hiking past it every week with their three dogs, despite spraying for weeds and fixing fences, despite paying homeowner association dues and property taxes each year, someone else had taken a shine to it. Someone powerful.
Former Boulder District Judge, Boulder Mayor, RTD board member - among other elected positions - Richard McLean and his wife, attorney Edith Stevens, used an arcane common law called "adverse possession" to claim the land for their own.
All McLean needed was to develop an "attachment" to it.
Undoubtedly, his city connections couldn't have hurt, either.
In the court papers, McLean and his family admit to regularly trespassing on the Kirlins' property.
They created paths. They said they put on a political fundraiser and parties on it (though not a single photograph of these events surfaced in court documents).
This habit of trespassing developed into an affection.
If we take McLean at his word, he should have been treated appropriately: like a common criminal. Instead, the former judge demanded a chunk of the land for himself - and implausibly he got it.
How did the Kirlins learn this travesty was afoot? Susie Kirlin was warned about it at a Boulder High School football game. Be cautious, her neighbor warned, someone has designs on your property.
"I laughed when I first heard it. I really didn't know that anyone had an emotional attachment to our land," Kirlin tells me. "I was quite surprised. I was even more surprised that someone could claim our land. But my neighbor told me this was a well- connected person and I should take it seriously."
When the couple began building a fence on the land - which is within Boulder city limits, not out in the wilderness - McLean was able, according to the Kirlins, to obtain a restraining order in an exceptionally speedy 2 1/2 hours. ...
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?
What are we to think about the fact that Nature (and for believers, Nature's God) profligately creates and destroys human embryos? John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President's Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women's normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we're talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows. In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.
So millions of viable human embryos each year produced via normal conception fail to implant and never develop further. Does this mean America is suffering a veritable holocaust of innocent human life annihilated? Consider the claim made by right-to-life apologists like Robert George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, that every embryo is "already a human being." Does that mean that if we could detect such unimplanted embryos as they leave the womb, we would have a duty to rescue them and try to implant them anyway?
"If the embryo loss that accompanies natural procreation were the moral equivalent of infant death, then pregnancy would have to be regarded as a public health crisis of epidemic proportions: Alleviating natural embryo loss would be a more urgent moral cause than abortion, in vitro fertilization, and stem-cell research combined," declared Michael Sandel, a Harvard University government professor, also a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.
As far as I know, bioconservatives like Robert George do not advocate the rescue of naturally conceived unimplanted embryos. But why not? In right-to-life terms, normal unimplanted embryos are the moral equivalents of a 30-year-old mother of three children.
Of course, culturally we do not mourn the deaths of these millions of embryos as we would the death of a child—and reasonably so, because we do in fact know that these embryos are not people. Try this thought experiment. A fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have a choice: You can save a three-year-old child or a Petri dish containing 10 seven-day old embryos. Which do you choose to rescue?
Stepping onto dangerous theological ground, it seems that if human embryos consisting of one hundred cells or less are the moral equivalents of a normal adult, then religious believers must accept that such embryos share all of the attributes of a human being, including the possession of an immortal soul. So even if we generously exclude all of the naturally conceived abnormal embryos—presuming, for the sake of theological argument, that imperfections in their gene expression have somehow blocked the installation of a soul—that would still mean that perhaps 40 percent of all the residents of Heaven were never born, never developed brains, and never had thoughts, emotions, experiences, hopes, dreams, or desires. ...
Monday, November 19, 2007
IPCC: separating fact from fright
...However, behind the more alarmist statements made in press conferences, the actual IPCC working group reports – certainly as regards the physical basis for climate change – have at least engaged to some extent with alternative explanations and forecasts for warming, and have couched their assessments more carefully and cautiously than either the public pronouncements of IPCC officials or popular discussion of climate change would suggest.
So, for example, while the headlines would suggest that the Greenland ice sheet is about to melt, catastrophically resulting in sea level rises of seven metres, the report makes clear that this process would take millennia. The report actually suggests that sea level will rise over the next century by 18-59 centimetres. Meanwhile, the report says: ‘Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and gain mass due to increased snowfall.’ In other words, unless great chunks fall off the edge of the South Pole’s ice sheet, the mass of ice is likely to get bigger. While the overall rise in sea levels could still be damaging to very low-lying coastal areas, there will be no need to build an ark any time soon. ...
...In truth, when global leaders suggest that we must make swingeing emissions cuts, they almost certainly do so in bad faith. Such cuts are not desirable or achievable at present. However, the current concern about the environment provides leaders with a moral mission through which they can prop up political life. In an era when There is No Alternative to the free market, and the future is usually envisaged as a bleaker version of the present, politics – perhaps even society itself – appears to have no purpose. Trying to avoid global catastrophe seems the nearest thing to a big idea that can bring us all together, even if the underlying message – ‘humans are screwing up the planet’ – is a misanthropic one.
Hence the heat and bitterness with which IPCC reports are dissected and discussed. Because if the problem seems anything less than urgent, then there’s the possibility that it will be ignored by the mass of the population, or, more likely, carefully compared to other problems to see which are the most pressing. Thus, the IPCC process is a thoroughly politicised one, and it has been been since day one, as Tony Gilland has before noted on spiked (see Digging up the roots of the IPCC). The widely publicised policy documents are the result of scientific reviews being scrutinised by a rag-tag of political appointees and campaigners to produce a statement that suits a variety of agendas. Ironically, after years in which the IPCC reports have been accused of being hijacked by greens, green campaigners are now arguing that the reports are being watered down for political ends.
The reason the IPCC matters so much in public debate is not because it provides us with a summary of current climate science (which the workgroup reports do attempt to do, for better or worse), but because it provides leaders, commentators and activists with something else entirely: ‘The Science.’ This product may look like a set of scientific statements, but is in many ways the exact opposite of science. ‘The Science’ is ‘unequivocal’ rather than sceptical and cautious in its conclusions; ‘The Science’ is built on an artificial consensus rather than on a real battle of competing ideas that admits the possibility that current thinking could be completely wrong; ‘The Science’ very strongly implies a particular direction for policy (greenhouse gas emission reductions) which is apparently above politics, rather than merely informing a political debate about how we take society forward on the basis of human need and desire.
Armed with ‘The Science’, campaigners and politicians demand all sorts of sacrifices based on one of the few remaining sources of authority that still cuts any ice with the majority of the population. Perversely, the very success of science in improving our lives is being latched on to as a means of potentially making our lives worse in the future. ...
FBI's Forensic Test Full of Holes
Hundreds of defendants sitting in prisons nationwide have been convicted with the help of an FBI forensic tool that was discarded more than two years ago. But the FBI lab has yet to take steps to alert the affected defendants or courts, even as the window for appealing convictions is closing, a joint investigation by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" has found.
The science, known as comparative bullet-lead analysis, was first used after President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The technique used chemistry to link crime-scene bullets to ones possessed by suspects on the theory that each batch of lead had a unique elemental makeup.
In 2004, however, the nation's most prestigious scientific body concluded that variations in the manufacturing process rendered the FBI's testimony about the science "unreliable and potentially misleading." Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences said that decades of FBI statements to jurors linking a particular bullet to those found in a suspect's gun or cartridge box were so overstated that such testimony should be considered "misleading under federal rules of evidence."
A year later, the bureau abandoned the analysis.
But the FBI lab has never gone back to determine how many times its scientists misled jurors. Internal memos show that the bureau's managers were aware by 2004 that testimony had been overstated in a large number of trials. In a smaller number of cases, the experts had made false matches based on a faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples, documents show....
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Lives of Others
...As Sartwell notes, one of the central ironies--or, let's be charitable, paradoxes--of theories of the state as either an arbiter of justice or a guarantor of rights is that the state inevitably becomes the largest violator of its espoused principles of justice and subverter of rights. The state that claims it exists to protect the right to life arrogates itself of the right to take life, and so on. There are common good arguments here--that in order to protect the greatest number of lives, for instance, it's necessary to take a few; that agents of the state, conceived as essentially external to humanity and therefore immunized against the required protection of this or that right, must act in such capacity for the greater good. I find these arguments almost transparently silly, but I'm not going to address that here. The germane point is this: that violating human rights even up to the point of death, and that approving of or acceding to such violations are conditions authorized by states.
It may well be that if a state of war or conflict didn't exist between Iraq (or elements in Iraq) and the United States, then people would react with relative indifference to news of a crew of Americans massacring a lot of innocent Iraqis, but I think it's wrong to believe that there would be no outrage. In the absence of state sanction, such actions would rightly be seen as murder and condemned. In fact, we can see the operations of this very dynamic in the developing case of the Blackwater mercenaries. As the impression that their actions were sanctioned in war diminishes and the idea that they were acting outside of the violence permitted by our state grows, the domestic American reaction has increasingly been one of shock, horror, dismay, and disapproval--as if they had, indeed, committed murder. We might pause to note the sad supporting evidence that every day American troops, American pilots, American actions do kill dozens of innocents and otherwise violate their basic rights, and these actions are met with indifference or approval because they are state-sanctioned. And of course, it's worth noting that the very conditions which allowed the Blackwater guards to conduct themselves as they did--right or wrong--were 100% dependent on American state actions....
Monday, November 12, 2007
What happens when the boys in blue get too close to their keyboards.
"I crushed a dude's eye socket from repeatedly punching him in it and then I charged him with menacing and harassment (of me)."
"Seeing someone get Tasered is second only to pulling the trigger. That is money-puts a smile on your face."
Those are two of the statements posted by corrections deputy David B. Thompson of Multnomah County, Oregon to an Internet chat room. The inflammatory rhetoric sparked an ongoing investigation by the county sheriff's office, as well as reporting by the Portland Tribune and other local news outlets....
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Power, Privacy, and Government
I'm with you when you want to hold the telecos' feet to the fire for playing along with the Bush administration's nefarious eavesdropping ambitions. Really, I am.
But here's the thing: At last count, there were more than 3 million people working full time for the federal government. Every one of them has a telephone sitting on his desk. And an Internet connection. Many also have work-issued cell phones. I'm no math whiz, but by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, that amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
You can inveigh all you like against corporate power. But corporations by themselves can't force us to do anything we don't want to do. Only the government has the power to do that--or corporations with power on loan from the government.
The federal government is enormous. It has a massive and growing influence over what happens in the private sector. Witness (as I've pointed out many times before) the fact that the richest counties in America today aren't near the country's entrepreneurial epicenters, but in the D.C. suburbs, home to most of the country's federal employees and government contractors. Now as lefties, you may find all of this to be sweet potato pie. But know that a federal government of today's size and scope also gives whoever is controlling it enormous leverage to bend the private sector to his liking. That's great when your party is holding the reins. Not so good when it isn't....
...Shouldn't that tell you something about just how frighteningly large and influential the federal government has become? The telecos concluded it's better for their collective bottom lines to risk pissing off all of their other customers than to risk pissing off this one.
If you want to blame "corporate greed" for the telecos selling out their customers, go right ahead. But recognize the cause behind that greed for what it is: massive market distortion wrought by an enormous and growing federal government. Don't blame it on the "free market," or "privatization." The free market had nothing to do with it....
In Japan, policework not exactly like CSI
...But Saito's death has given credence to complaints by a group of frustrated doctors, former pathologists and ex-cops who argue that Japan's police culture is the main obstacle. Police discourage autopsies that might reveal a higher murder rate in their jurisdiction and pressure doctors to attribute unnatural deaths to health reasons, usually heart failure, they allege.
Odds are, they say, that people are getting away with murder in Japan, a country that officially claims one of the world's lowest per capita murder rates.
"You can commit a perfect murder in Japan because the body is not likely to be examined," says Hiromasa Saikawa, a former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police security and intelligence division.
He says senior police officers are "obsessed with statistics because that's how you get promotions" and strive to reduce the number of criminal cases as much as possible to keep their almost perfect solution rate.
Japan's annual police report says its officers made arrests in 96.6 percent of the country's 1,392 murders in 2005.
But Saikawa, who says he became disillusioned by "fishy" police practices, left the force in 1997 after 30 years. He claims that police try to avoid adding murders to their caseload unless the identity of the killer is obvious....
Friday, November 09, 2007
The Cancer From Within
...My son and I then made our way to the modernist aluminum chapel, where I expected to hear a welcome from one or two Air Force chaplains offering counsel, support and an open-door policy for any spiritual or pastoral needs of these future cadets. In 1966, the academy had six gray-haired chaplains: three mainline Protestants, two priests and one rabbi. Any cadet, regardless of religious affiliation, was welcome to see any one of these chaplains, who were reminiscent of Father Francis Mulcahy of “MASH” fame.
Instead, my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets. Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder. He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks. This “invitation” was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy. I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.
I no longer recognize the Air Force Academy as the institution I attended almost four decades earlier. At that point, I had no idea how invasive this extreme evangelical “cancer” had become throughout the entire military, that what I had witnessed was far from an isolated case of a few religious zealots. ...
...The academy chaplain staff had grown 300 percent while the cadet population had decreased by 25 percent: from six mainline chaplains to 18 chaplains, the additional 12 all evangelical. The academy even gained 25 reserve chaplains, also nonexistent in earlier times, for a total of 43 chaplains for about 4,000 cadets, or one chaplain for every 100 cadets.
In the following weeks, a uniformed Army Maj. Gen. William Boykin began sharing his Christian supremacist views from church pulpits around the country, declaring that he was “God’s Warrior” and that “America is a Christian nation.” He demeaned the entire Muslim world by stating that his God was bigger than a Muslim warlord’s god and that the Muslim’s god “was an idol.” He received little more than a token slap on the wrist. At the time, Joseph Schmitz, then the Department of Defense inspector general (Schmitz is currently the chief operating officer of Blackwater International), found that Boykin had committed no ethics violations....
...In what would have been my son’s academy summer encampment, chaplain Watties “suggested” that cadets return to their tents and tell their tent mates they would “burn in hell” if they did not receive Jesus as their savior. At the same time, the academy commandant, Weida, made a habit of including biblical passages in official e-mails and correspondence to subordinates and cadets. He had developed a secret “chant and response” with the cadets: When he yelled “Airpower,” the evangelical cadets in the know would respond “Rock, sir” in reference to the Bible story that Jesus built his house upon a rock.
Coincidentally, at this time and at the invitation of the academy, the Yale Divinity School was observing the pastoral care program for sexual assault victims at the academy. Under the leadership of professor Kristen Leslie, the Yale team issued a stunning report on the divisive and strident evangelical pressures by leadership and staff at the academy.
The response from academy leaders was telling. They at first denied the reports of Watties’ “hell-fire” threats. Under media pressure, they later claimed the violations were committed by a visiting reserve chaplain, when in fact they were by the recent Air Force Chaplain of the Year himself: Watties. In an interview after receiving his Chaplain of the Year award, Watties boasted of baptizing young soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s swimming pool. It is difficult to think of more inflammatory and Crusader-like behavior in an Arab nation. ...
...Then-DoD Inspector General Schmitz, noted for his Christian supremacist rhetoric in the book “Blackwater,” sent a team led by evangelical “born again” Lt. Gen. Roger Brady to investigate the academy. Schmitz had recently found no ethics violations in the actions of Gen. Boykin and allowed Boykin’s promotion to senior military officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and “extraordinary rendition.” The “Brady Report” found the academy only to have an “insensitivity” problem. Air Force Academy graduate Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, “silenced” and removed from the major general promotion list, was secretly promoted with back pay the following year at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. ...
...Here are just a few violations of that principle over the last three years: Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry hung a banner in the team locker room reading: “Competitor’s Creed: I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.” Baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, recruited from evangelical Christian Bethel College, forced players to lead team prayer during practice. When asked about locker room prayer in March 2007, Lt. Gen. John Regni, the academy superintendent, responded “we have chaplains that are attached to each of the teams and they are very important in that area.” In a July 12, 2005 interview with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, stated, “...we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.” For over a decade, the official academy newspaper ran ads stating: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us! There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” The ads were signed by 16 department heads, nine permanent professors, both the incoming and outgoing deans of faculty, the athletic director and more than 200 academy senior officers and their spouses....
...In December 2006, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought media focus to the Christian Embassy Evangelical Organization and its now famous video, which clearly showed the egregious ethics and constitutional violations of several flag officers and the breadth of the problem. Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who suggested in the film that his religious beliefs trump country and his oath to the Constitution, was cited last year for sending e-mails to military subordinates and contractors advocating they vote for a particular candidate for Congress, arguing that there are “not enough Christians in Congress.” West Point graduate and Army Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen, who was filmed stating “We are the aroma of Jesus Christ here in the Pentagon,” is now commandant of cadets at West Point. West Point graduate Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, another Christian Embassy star, was the “voice” and “face” of the press conferences at Qatar. His office is famous for the creation of the “Rambo” Jessica Lynch fabrications and the manipulation of the killing of Pat Tillman into a recruiting and media event. West Point graduate and evangelical Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, involved in the investigation of Tillman’s death, stated publicly that Pat Tillman’s family was not at peace with his death because they are atheists who believe their son is now “worm dirt.” Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, assigned as the senior U.S. military officer in Turkey at the time the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought the Christian Embassy into media focus, was questioned by Turkish officials about his membership in a radical evangelical cult.
Many are aware of the mercenary army, Blackwater USA, led by Eric Prince, former Ambassador Cofer Black and Joseph Schmitz, the same Joseph Schmitz mentioned above. It is here where the ties become complex and suggestive of an even grander “crusade.”
As described by Jeremy Scahill in his book “Blackwater,” Prince, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy, comes from a wealthy theo-con family, is a “neo-crusader,” and a Christian supremacist. He has been given billions of dollars in federal contracts to create a private army. COO Schmitz, another Naval Academy graduate, is a member of the Order of Malta, a Christian supremacist organization dating back to the Crusades, and happens to be married to the sister of Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba. And Cofer Black, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department and former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, who was quoted by the BBC as saying “Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice,” brings his own skill set to the Blackwater team as vice chairman. ...
Sunday, November 04, 2007
America's Armageddonites Push for More War
Utopian fantasies have long transfixed the human race. Yet today a much rarer fantasy has become popular in the United States. Millions of Americans, the richest people in history, have a death wish. They are the new "Armageddonites," fundamentalist evangelicals who have moved from forecasting Armageddon to actually trying to bring it about.
Most journalists find it difficult to take seriously that tens of millions of Americans, filled with fantasies of revenge and empowerment, long to leave a world they despise. These Armageddonites believe that they alone will get a quick, free pass when they are "raptured" to paradise, no good deeds necessary, not even a day of judgment. Ironically, they share this utopian fantasy with a group that they often castigate, namely fundamentalist Muslims who believe that dying in battle also means direct access to Heaven. For the Armageddonites, however, there are no waiting virgins, but they do agree with Muslims that there will be "no booze, no bars," in the words of a popular Gaither Singers song.
These end-timers have great influence over the U.S. government's foreign policy. They are thick with the Republican leadership. At a recent conference in Washington, congressional leader Roy Blunt, for example, has said that their work is "part of God's plan." At the same meeting, where speakers promoted attacking Iran, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay glorified "end times." Indeed the Bush administration often consults with them on Mideast policies. The organizer of the conference, Rev. John Hagee, is often welcomed at the White House, although his ratings are among the lowest on integrity and transparency by Ministry Watch, which rates religious broadcasters. He raises millions of dollars from his campaign supporting Israeli settlements on the West Bank, including much for himself. Erstwhile presidential candidate Gary Bauer is on his Board of Directors. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also both expressed strong end-times beliefs.
American fundamentalists strongly supported the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. They consistently support Israel's hard-line policies. And they are beating the drums for war against Iran. Thanks to these end-timers, American foreign policy has turned much of the world against us, including most Muslims, nearly a quarter of the human race....
...Author and former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges argues that worldview and reasoning of the Armageddonites tend toward fascism. In his book American Fascists, Hedges focuses on their obedience to leadership, their feelings of humiliation and victimhood, alienation, their support for authoritarian government, and their disinterestedness in constitutional limits on government power. Theirs was originally a defensive movement against the liberal democratic society, particularly abortion, school desegregation, and now globalization, which they saw as undermining their communities and families, their values, and livelihood. Their fundamentalism is very fulfilling and, Hedges writes, "they are terrified of losing this new, mystical world of signs, wonders and moral certitude, of returning to the old world of despair."...