Thursday, April 24, 2003

Romero and Banfield Kansas State University, where I am based, has come through with two excellent speakers in two days. First, there was Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. He discussed the Union's work on behalf of victims of the USA Patriot Act.

He pointed out, for example, that since the attacks more than 1,200 people have been detained without being charged with any crime, and without given any indication of how long their detainment will last. In many cases the detainees were prevented from speaking with a lawyer. There have been cases of immigrant families with children born in this country being deported to foreign countries, again, frequently with no opportunities to have proper legal representation. Romero then went on to discuss new provision being backed by Attorney General Ashcroft and George Bush that would grant to the government almost unlimited power to wiretap whomever they chose, without the requirement of obtaining a warrant.

It seems to me that many people are willing to turn a blind eye to these abuses because they feel confident that no one they know will be affected. They have also swallowed the line that we are engaged in an apocalyptic struggle against evil, and giving up civil liberties is just something hard-headed realists do in such situations.

The ACLU has been fighting these abuses in court since 9/11, with mixed results. Find out more about the Union's activities at their website.

Also appearing at the college was MSNBC journalist Ashleigh Banfield, who talked about some of her experiences covering the war in Iraq. She pointed out that while the cbale news channels provided a great deal of coverage of the war, they provided very little in the way of actual journalism. Sho also forthrightly addressed the right-wing tilt of cable news, which she attributed to the success of Fox News. She did not spare her own network, specifically singling out the recent hire of Michael Savage for criticism. On one of his braodcasts, Savage described Banfield as a "slut" and "porn star" and "complicit in the murder of Israeli children". This because Banfield had the audacity to interview members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade during a segment on the goings-on in Israel.

During the Q&A after the talk I had the opportunity to ask Banfield if MSNBC's lurch to the right has helpe dit in the ratings, She replied that it had not. One piece of good news at least. She closed her remarks by lamenting the increasingly vapid programming the cable news channels have been airing, and wondered if she would have a future as a journalist in cable news.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Nonsense from the WSJ From former Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Robert Bartley comes this amusing thought:

"On net, religious impulses are probably growing. September 11 persuaded others besides George Bush that evil is an active force in the world. The science of the Big Bang and DNA looks much more like the work of a creator than the cold world of Newtonian Laws and Darwinian evolution. And at least indirectly the horrors of the 20th century showed that the latter provides no moral compass."

You can find the whole column here. Except for the opening sentence, very little of what Bartley says is true.

The most recent developments in biology and physics look like the work of a creator only to those determined to misunderstand them (or deliberately misrepresent them, as is more often the case). That Darwinian evolution provides no moral compass is not surprising given that it is a scientific theory, and as such has nothing to say about morality whatsoever. The claim that in some way the "horrors" of the 20th century are in some way the responsibility of Darwinism does not become true simply because it is repeated so frequently. A more plausible argument is that the horrors of the Inquisition and the Crusades, not to mention the more mundane, recent horrors of violence against abortion providers or homosexuals, show that Christianity does not offer a sound moral compass.

The Plight of the Leatherback The giant, leatherback turtle is disappearing from the Pacific Ocean, the victim primarily of irresponsible fishing practices. This is tragic not just for the fact that these turtles have existed for more than one hundred million years, but also for what it tells us about the consequences of overfishing generally. The Pacific used to sport such large populations of these turtles that scientists found it inconceivable that their numbers could be threatened. But as fewer females show up at traditional nesting sites every year, the conclusion becomes inescapable.

To keep up with the enormous demand for fish, fishermen the world over have turned to "long-line fishing", in which long lines of hooks are spread out across miles of ocean. Turtles are not the primary targets of this practice, but frequently get caught up in the lines and drown as a result. There are strict controls on this practice in the United States, but international fishing crews do not labor under such rules and account for 94% of all such fishing. Unless these rules can be enforced internationally, it is not clear what can be done.

Populations of many fish species have dwiindled in recent years. If that's possible in the Pacific, the world's largest ocean, it does not bode well for other fish populations.

More information can be found in the Los Angeles Times here. The article also notes that these turtles are hunted by poachers partly for their supposed properties as aphrodisiacs. A fine example of the harmful effects of believing pseudoscience.