Baptism in the Religion of Science

This is a reprint of something I wrote for last month's Second Saturday. The topic last month was science, and the importance of a well-funded and well-supported scientific community to a nation's health and survival. I'm posting it here because I'm really proud of what I wrote and I hope maybe someone might chance to read it and contemplate my message.

Baptism in the Religion of Science

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in our philosophy. -- Shakespeare, Hamlet

When we think of politics, science isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. And really, it shouldn’t, generally speaking. After all, science is a discipline ruled by logic and systematic testing of ideas and theories, not the sometimes erratic-seeming dance of compromise and diplomacy and arcane rhetorical maneuvers. While politics could certainly benefit from the injection of science – real science – science should never be held hostage by the fickle tendencies of politics.

But in the last decade – and most especially since the election of the Bush Administration – the sciences have been under a sustained and not-so-covert assault by the world of politics. We see it in the debate over stem cell research, over the question of whether to teach creationism as a science, the insistence that abstinence from is the only education that prevents teenage pregnancy, the regulation of mercury emissions, the unavailability of emergency contraception, the argument for clearcutting in the interest of “healthy” forests, the skepticism about whether global warming is really happening, and on and on.

The damage done to science and scientific advancement by this Administration cannot be overstated. As Chris Mooney, a leading journalist on science and intersecting politics, makes clear:

The broadest way of stating the problem is that throughout his presidency, Mr .Bush has let politics rule everything and left virtually nothing to dispassionate analysis. Preconceptions, rather than critical thinking, have driven policy. Indeed, the US federal government is staffed with legions of political appointees who think in raw political terms, often with a disregard for the long-standing professionalism of the agencies they find themselves lording it over. As a consequence, the US government has become a place where loyalty and the rewarding of prior supporters wins out again and again over careful analysis and expert judgment.

– Chris Mooney, “Out of the bushes”

The fact is that alongside the many egregious crimes – both literal and figurative – committed by this Administration, the assault on science and advancement in this country is damage that will take years, decades, possibly even a generation, to undo. The scientific philosophy – that underlying principle known as the Scientific Method – poses a very real danger to the parochial, small-minded, and backwards thinking of those who currently control Republican Party. Whether conservatism plays a role is debatable, but the conservatism currently exemplified in today’s GOP reflects the very antithesis of science. And thus it is threatened by the ideals of science, which, not so coincidentally, share a foundation with progressivism.

Which isn’t to say that progressivism is somehow “right” or scientific fact. Of course it isn’t, and believers in a progressive political worldview can be as susceptible to close-mindedness and logical fallacy as our counterparts on the Right. Nonetheless, today’s Extreme Right live in an insular world that neither understands nor allows the introduction of uncertainty, the questioning of What Is, the exploration of possibility. To do so is to undermine their carefully crafted illusion of rightness, and that is a threat they will fight to the end.

…the inescapable fact of both science and reality is that that we never know everything, and never will. Yet this pervasive state of uncertainty hardly lessens the moral imperative to take whatever it is that we do know and use it to improve our lives; and if we fail to do so -- because the issues are too politicized, say -- in the end we will have only ourselves to blame.

– Chris Mooney, “The Intersection of Science and Progressive Values”

One of the many unfortunate side effects of this trumping of politics over all else is that as a nation, our fellow citizens are themselves succumbing to the rising tide of ignorance and superstitious regression. In a country of critical thinkers, whose minds are disciplined by logic, the suggestion that our planet is only 6000 years old, that we all descended from a single man and a single woman, and that dinosaur bones were embedded in layers of rock by the devil would be – and should be – soundly ridiculed and laughed into oblivion. Nonetheless, in the year 2007, we are having serious discussions about whether to teach this mythology as science.

Thus the work to be done isn’t just in repairing the damage done by this Administration and putting controls in place to ensure that such an egregious crime against human intelligence and knowledge cannot be repeated in this country, but also to undertake educating ourselves and those around us. It means engaging their superstitions – and our own – and taking the time to understand how and why the natural world and the universe works the way it does. To learn to question, to be skeptical, to never be afraid of learning, to be open to possibility, to pursue knowledge.

It means reacquainting ourselves with the wonder and excitement we felt as children when we were overcome with awe at the knowledge that there once walked lizards that were hundreds of feet tall, that creatures more bizarre and fantastic than anything on a movie screen once lived on our planet and live here still, that our highest mountains were once under water, that molten rock regularly spews to the surface from our Earth’s deepest core, that there are worlds in our celestial neighborhood covered in gases that turn their alien skies yellow, that rains of hot acid fall from their turbulent clouds, that our Sun hurtles through the heavens at thousands of miles an hour, that stars can end in spectacular explosions that result in a gaping vacuum from which nothing escapes, that there are galaxies colliding and particles so small not even our most powerful microscopes can see them…in short, we must renew our faith in science, be born again in the philosophy of knowledge, and be ever vigilant of the twin temptations of apathy and ignorance.


The feeling's mutual, assholes

Yeah, yeah, it's been awhile. And there's been, like, fifty bazillion topics I could be posting about, all of them something that would have an equal probability of making my head explode. But you know, life happens sometimes and I just haven't had the time.

But for whatever reason, I have time to post a quickie. Let's file this under "I goddamn hate these fucking bastards"

excerpted from Bush's 41-Second Flip Off to America posted at Daily Kos:

...And lo and behold, the Daily Digest reports a 41-second pro forma Senate session, from 12:00:04 PM to 12:00:45 P.M., on that date. The Senate convened, immediately adjourned and thus began a "recess in the middle of the session," not meeting again until January 18, 2006.

The day following the less-than-a-minute convening, of course, Bush made his recess appointments—now officially during a session of Congress—which allowed his eminently rejectable appointees to complete the "balance of the session in progress plus the full length of the session that follows." Meaning we’re stuck with this gang of uncomfirmable, incompetent, unqualified losers for an extra year....
In light of everything else that's been going on, it's just one small drop in the bucket of evil awfulness. They pull shit like this ALL. THE. TIME. I don't know why this just happened to piss me off particularly more today than all the other crap they do. It's just a perfect example of exactly how much utter, arrogant disdain this President, this Administration, and this Party have for our country and its principles. As the poster's title says, this was nothing but a great big "fuck you" to the American people. This is what they think of me and you. This is how much respect they have for us.


"The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly."

In the summer of 2003, I was still trying to recover from the 2000 election, still trying to courageously soldier on as the reality sunk in that Al Gore, my Alternate Universe Boyfriend, had decided to step out of politics, still trying to recover from the loss of another Possible-Alternate Universe Boyfriend, Paul Wellstone. I was finally going out again, accepting invitations from John Kerry and politely rejecting Dick Gephardt's advances and sometimes flirting with that charming tease, Wes Clark. By the end of the summer, I'd begun a rebound relationship with Howard Dean but we weren't serious and I was free to see other people. Howard's real understanding like that.

In August 2003, I happened to catch John Edwards giving his "Two Americas" speech TV -- CSPAN, I think, or maybe on public access at a local event -- and my populist-loving heart went pitter patter. I was still being courted by Dean at that point, and indeed, we were getting pretty serious by October of that year, but I just couldn't commit myself to a monogamous relationship -- that John Edwards fellow, there was just something about him. And then I saw an interview with John and his delightful wife Elizabeth and they had me at "this country rewards wealth, not work". I've been an Edwards girl ever since.

Since the 2004 election, he's chosen to focus his attention, his hard work, and his considerable talents on one of the knottiest, least popular topics in American politics today: poverty. There's no special interest money to made in advocating for the poor. The poor don't have PACs that can raise millions of dollars for your Presidential campaign and the solutions to their problems require more than just throwing lots of money at them. Worse, the poor have some of the lowest voting percentages of any voter demographic.

But there are 16 million Americans living in severe poverty. Sixteen. Million. That's not a crisis, people, that's a fucking travesty. And that's not poverty, that's "severe" poverty -- less than $5,080/year for an individual, less than $9,903/year for a family of four with two children. Think about those numbers. Think about what it means that this, the richest country in the world, with wealth that surpasses our ability to imagine it, has over 13% of its total population living in poverty and 5.69% of its total population isn't just living in poverty, but is living at half the federally-defined poverty level, on an income $423 per month. Although we can hardly call that living, can we? It's barely surviving and some days, it's not even doing that much.

In an age when corporate profits and CEO pay is skyrocketing and the nation's fraction of a fraction of the wealthiest are getting obscene tax cuts, the fact that the number of people falling into severe poverty increased 26% from 2000 to 2005 is buried somewhere on page 17 of the paper, if it gets mentioned at all. This is not the kind of headline-grabbing issue that's sure to make you a darling of the punditry and beltway media in the race for the presidency.

And yet, John Edwards has made this his signature issue. Not only that, he's embraced a related issue that doesn't make you popular with those big companies signing checks: labor. Since my own strong feelings about labor go without saying, I'll instead quote Edwards' campaign manager, David Bonior:

"I haven't seen someone as a national figure do as much on workers' rights and poverty in my lifetime. That includes Bobby Kennedy and people in politics in the ‘60s. He helped organize people in probably 85 different actions, from hotel workers to university janitors to people who work in buildings and factories. He was out there demonstrating, marching, picketing, writing letters to CEOs, demanding that [workers] have the right to organize and represent themselves. He started a center on poverty and became the director at the University of North Carolina. He traveled the country and was a leader in getting a minimum-wage bill passed in eight states."
His championing of the unionizing efforts of hotel workers' in Nevada and tireless work on their behalf has practically guaranteed that state's electoral votes are his, and he's the front runner in the crucial state of Iowa, where working class families have been particularly hard hit. And lest we forget, he made his announcement that he was running in 2008 during a week of working in the Ninth Ward.

Elizabeth has been right there with him every step of the way. She's brilliant, incisive, quick, funny, and one hell of a campaigner. In fact, it's an open secret that people would be as thrilled if she were running instead of her husband. And how can you not completely fall in love with her for this:

Do you find it hard to play the role of the submissive wife?

I didn't know I was.

and this:

What do you think of the title Second Lady of the United States, which sounds so matronly?

It's better than the acronym, which is SLOTUS. That sounds like something that lives under a rock.

So you know where this is leading. Today's news...I cried all the way to work this morning, wondering what they were going to announce at the press conference. It seemed pretty certain that her cancer was back, and the rumors were flying fast and furious that they were going to announce the campaign was over. I don't know which upset me more: that John Edwards might be stepping out of the race or that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer had come back.

Well, the miracle I was hoping for -- that her cancer hadn't returned -- didn't come. But the John and Elizabeth I know and love made an appearance and they're going to fight this thing even as they continue their fight for this country, for you and me. I suspect, as Jane does, that the decision to continue was entirely Elizabeth's. Or as Ezra said:
"There's a sort of subtle insinuation that sick people should crawl back into their caves and stay there till they either die or get better. But when you hear the Edwards's discuss the idea that her cancer is now incurable, that it's not something she will get better from and so not something where they can hit pause, wait for it to pass, and then resume their lives, you have to think that the question they're asking themselves is not how can Elizabeth best get well, but how would they like to spend the rest of their years. And knowing her even casually, I'm not surprised to learn the answer is 'fighting'."
In light of that, how can we not do the same?

So in that spirit, I'm redoubling my own efforts, beginning with two donations: one to the campaign, one to the search for a cure. Because 16 million people in this country are barely surviving. Because more than twice that number are barely getting by. Because Elizabeth Edwards isn't going to let a piddly thing like chemotherapy stop her from campaigning. Because she's talking about living many years. Because she and her husband have committed this precious time, whether they're her last or only a few of many to come, to fighting for you and for me.


meta me

Apparently, because I have many other things I should be doing, it was time to change the template header to one that I made.

I liked the general design of the header that came with this template, but none of the individual elements applied to me. So I basically copied the header they supplied but substituted elements that are more meaningful to me. Because this is a political blog, and it's my political blog, and I'm all about the symbolism and shit so that's why. And here's where I get all meta, so if you're all, "whatever, I have a life, buh-bye"...yeah, the regularly-scheduled political blogging will commence shortly sometime so skip this if it's not your bag.

Okay, and so. Here's the old header, for reference:

(you can see the big picture (ha!) here )

So the #17 didn't mean anything to me, and the text that you can't read probably didn't mean anything to me, either. The landscape is pretty but I don't know where it was taken and the image of the road says a lot of things that I don't agree with so that had to go, also.

I kept the map portion because I'm a HUGE map junkie and it's close enough to a MAX route map that I'm okay with it. I changed the number to 12, which is my personal number. Everyone has a personal number, right? Of course you do, we all do. Yes we do. You' don't? Okay, you're weird, I can't help that.

The little symbol thingie to the left of the number didn't mean anything, either, so I changed it to one of my own. The wheel and arrow symbolize wheels turning, and of course the arrow is pointed left because hello, liberal over here. I like the idea of wheels turning, of directions changing or reversing, of progress in a progressive direction. It seemed to fit.

I changed the unreadable text to the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence for pretty obvious reasons. As I said, this is a political blog, with the unwritten philosophy of Edwin Rolfe, who said, "Write as if you lived in an occupied country." I believe very much that we do live in a country occupied by traitors and bigots and evildoers, and none of those people are the people who regularly get accused of it by the President and his cronies and the rightwing nutjobs and the media. I started this blog to add my voice to the wind, hoping that someday that wind would be a hurricane to obliterate the encroachment of the dark-hearted machinations that currently grind and twist across our political and social and economic landscape.

The Declaration was written by men who lived in a similar time, who lived under the rule of another spoiled and childish and craven King named George, and they committed to paper the most revolutionary idea, I believe, in the history of humanity: that we, we all, are created equal, that we have rights, inherent in our being, and that no government, no king, no laws can abridge them. I memorized the Preamble as part of a U.S. History assignment when I was in junior high and I can recite still them; I carry a pocket-sized copy of this extraordinary document with me everywhere I go, along with the equally-important document it gave birth to, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We would do well to remember these rights and the words that first spelled them out:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
These words are a call to action, a manifesto, a defiant and determined cry out against tyranny and oppression. These men didn't shrug their shoulders and resign themselves to the inevitability of darkness. It boggles me that a country founded on such a radical, revolutionary platform now finds itself sliding down the disastrous slope of Fascism. We were a great and proud country once, and I believe that we can be again if we return to the founding principles that birthed our nation, if we remind ourselves of where our country began and how much it's worth fighting for.

So the flag imagery, then, is also obvious, knowing that I believe so strongly in the foundation of this country. I've shown it here as flying upside down, a signal of distress. During the sixties, my parents' generation were vilified for flying the flag in this manner, and it angered those who didn't understand, who claimed it was a sign of disrespect. On the contrary, it's a sign of an utmost love and respect, to signal that our country is in distress and call out for aid to all that would save it. When my country puts an end to the disastrous reign of the Republicans and more specifically, to this monumentally evil Administration, replaced by a Democrat, then I will right the flag proudly. Until then, we are a country in distress and the call must go out to all who would hear it to stand and fight.

And finally, the imagery of Mt. Hood. This is a picture I took a year or so ago, on a glorious July afternoon when the sky burned such a bright blue that it almost hurt to look at it, the kind of day when you know, on a primal, fundamental level, that there is something larger at work in this universe, perhaps a god or simply something much more elemental, but that there is something much bigger than each of us, and with that understanding, there is peace and there is serenity.

All the places of the earth hold this beauty, this innate connection with the infinite, each in their own way, and we have all felt it and known it. For some of us, it's the rugged and brutal beauty of the Wyoming mountains and prairie, for others, the sun-baked deserts and glorious saturated colors of Morocco. In this miraculous tapestry of our beautiful planet, there are rain forests teeming with noise and light and life, vast and tumultuous oceans that lap so quixotically at our fragile shores, austere and majestic mountains thrust like the thrones of giants into the thin air, fiery rivers of molten rock that roil with the catastrophic power of destruction and creation, great rolling sheets of ice and snow under a sun that doesn't set for half of a year. All of this, all of it, calls and speaks to us and if we but listen, can spark in us a deep and abiding yearning to save it, to preserve it, to be one with it. This Earth, this shining blue jewel on a velvet blackness of space quilted by stars like diamonds, is as much the heart of me and my fight as my fervent and fevered passion for this country I call home.