You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Science’ category.
I really ought to check my e-mail more frequently. Blogger Blue Gal has been hosting a blogswarm against theocracy for the past few days, and I almost missed it. If you are a blogger, you can find out how to participate here.
What to say? Recent years have seen a powerful effort by members of the Religious Right to erase the line between church and state at all levels of government. We have also seen certain politicians use religion as a tool to manipulate voters. Both of these movements are very troubling.
While I will defend until death the right of all Americans to hold those religious beliefs that they may choose, I would remind them that the right to hold those religious beliefs is rather related to the right to swing your fist — it ends at my nose. Believe whatever you want, believe in God, or Jesus, or Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster if you prefer (I’m actually rather fond of the Pastafarians), but don’t try to force your beliefs down my throat.
And I know there are those who try to assert that science is a form of religion, and that if you are going to teach scientific theories like evolution in schools, you ought to teach other theories, like creationism — sorry, intelligent design — alongside it. I reject that argument. Scientists talk about theories and the scientific evidence supporting those theories as such because they recognize that further evidence may be discovered at a future date that forces a revision of those theories. What is taught as science is always our current understanding based on the best evidence currently available. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Thus calling evolution a theory is not an admission that there is no evidence to support it (there is, in fact, a wealth of such evidence, and we know for a fact that evolution and natural selection take place in modern times because we have documented evidence of the process occurring — that is what Darwin was writing about, after all, when he was in the Galapagos studying finches), but merely a recognition that at some point there may be a scientific discovery that forces us to reconsider and revise the theory of evolution in some respects. In other words, scientists (unlike many religious leaders) try to remain open to the possibility that they may be wrong about things.
Creationism or intelligent design, in contrast, is merely looking at everything and saying, gee, it’s all really detailed and complicated, therefore there must be some designer or intelligence behind it, which is god — and is thus a way of introducing religion into classrooms.
Now, there may very well be some intelligence at work in the universe, in the way that physics and genetics and evolution and other similar forces work. That intelligence could even be the god that various religions speak of. There is certainly plenty of room at the edges of what we know about science and astrophysics for such a god. Or it could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The point is, that whatever it is that is out there beyond the edge of scientific knowledge is, by definition, not science, and it should thus not be taught as science in our public schools. It is something more properly belonging in the realm of faith, until such time as proof becomes available, and thus best left for individuals to seek in houses of worship, not in public schools.
But enough of my intelligent design rant. On this, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I would call on all Americans to remember that many of our founding fathers came to this country to escape religious oppression in their countries of origin. In the years since our country’s founding, many others have come here for the same reason — my own family tree is riddled with such individuals. But the only way to ensure that America remains a land where people can escape the horrors of religious intolerance as our forefathers intended is by ensuring that we maintain some separation between church and state.
That is what the framers intended by the First Amendment to our Constitution: that America would remain a place where the government neither interfered with the free practice of religion (including the right to practice no religion), nor became the instrument of any religion or religious organization.
And although it has nothing to do with the rest of this post, and despite the fact that I have already said it twice today in this blog, I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.
Okay, here, in more or less chronological order, are my thoughts as I listen to the SOTU speech:
Goddam smirking chimp…
Madam Speaker — about f’ing time we got a woman in that position.
And who are the morons whistling, anyway?
Teddy Kennedy looks about to cry. Not entirely sure why. I mean, besides the obvious, of course: that we have to put up with this bastard for two more years.
Don’t get me started on his bit about No Child Left Behind. Increasing funds for children who need help — sure, that’s great. Not sure that NCLB currently does that — it’s never been fully funded, after all. NCLB is a statute with its heart in the right place, but the execution has been abysmal.
And how does he plan to do all the things he claims he is going to do without raising taxes? That is not entirely clear, but if you read between the lines, his approaches aren’t going to really change things.
For instance, talking about helping Americans afford health insurance through tax incentives doesn’t really help the people who are living at the lowest income levels — not coincidentally, the group most likely not to get health insurance through their jobs. After all, their incomes are often so low that their tax bill is low to non-existent, so tax incentives really don’t affect their bottom line enough to allow them to go out and purchase individual insurance coverage (which is generally more expensive than purchasing as part of a group due to the tendency of people to self-select — that is, to forego insurance if they believe they are not likely to need it, and purchase it if they view themselves as more likely to incur significant health care costs).
As another example, consider this translation: when he says he is going to ask the states to “use existing funds” to pay for something, that means he’s not going to allocate any additional money, just ask the states to do more with the money that they’ve already got — money which most states will tell you already is insufficient for their needs.
“For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil.” Hasn’t he said this every single year? And yet we are even more dependent on foreign oil than we used to be. Ooh, but he’s final admitted that “global climate change” is a real issue — still didn’t say “global warming”, but I’ll accept climate change if he actually agrees to do anything. Some nice talk about energy, too — let’s see if he follows through with meaningful changes in the coming months.
And here comes the talk about Iran. (shudder, wordless cry of horror)
Condi Rice was just on camera — she looks like she’s on Thorazine.
Okay he just mentioned the word victory in connection with Iraq, which got a standing ovation from parts of the chamber in spite of being laughable in light of current events, though the camera angles are making it hard to see exactly who was applauding and who wasn’t. Plus, your humble correspondent was typing when he was saying this, and missed some of the details on camera.
Blah blah blah…rehash of his Iraq speech from two weeks ago…Biden looks like he’s trying to work on a sudoku puzzle…Ooh, when the camera pulls back, you can sure tell where the Republicans are sitting, can’t you? They’re the ones standing up for Bush’s Iraq plan. Once he switches to supporting the troops, of course, everyone stands up.
Okay, he’s asking for Congress to authorize an increase in the size of the armed forces — but how that’s going to happen when the military currently can’t meet its recruiting targets is a mystery to me.
And what is this whole thing about a civilian force that can be sent into other parts of the world during times of conflict? WTF? You mean, like Halliburton and Blackwater? I have to go back and listen to that over again, because that didn’t make any sense at all.
Dick Cheney looks like he is glaring at someone off over to the left of the alleged president. At least Pelosi looks like she is listening to Duhbya.
Damn, Dikembe Mutombo is tall.
Okay, that’s about it for initial comments on the speech. Webb’s speech is in a couple of minutes.
So the Supreme Court is looking at the issue of global warming for the first time, in an interesting case in which California and about a dozen other states, plus some cities and environmental groups, are asking the court to force the federal Environmental Protection Agency to do something about regulating carbon dioxide levels in automobile emissions. The New York Times has a good article on the case today, which I am summarizing parts of in this post.
The case raises some questions that are interesting to lawyer-types, and perhaps mind-numbing to the rest of the population. First, is carbon dioxide an air pollutant within the meaning of the federal Clean Air Act? An interesting question, because if it is, that means that you, me, and every other person on the planet are regular polluters, simply by the act of breathing.
Second, do the states, cities, and environmental groups even have standing to bring a suit against the government in this matter at all? One rule in litigation is that the party bringing the suit must have what is known as legal standing, that is, “sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged.” (Quote is from linked Wikipedia entry.) That is, are they truly the appropriate party to be bringing the action? One wonders who would be, if not the states as representatives of their citizens — you know, the people who will ultimately be harmed by global warming? Still, according to the NYT, this issue seemed to be the focus of many of the justices’ questions, with Scalia, Roberts, and Alito in particular troubled by the standing question.
Of course, the right-wing trifecta of Scalia, Roberts, and Alito would like nothing better than to rule on this case as a standing issue, rather than on the interpretation of the Clean Air Act and EPA regulations. Why? Because then they wouldn’t have to evaluate the scientific arguments, which could well put them in a position of disagreeing with their buddy Dubya as a matter of law. That would certainly be embarrassing.
All of this relates to the question of whether states should have to sue the federal government to enforce its own statutes to begin with? This is not really one of the questions posed by the NYT article, but I want to raise it because I think it goes to something that is a recurring theme with the present administration. Our alleged president has been (justly) criticized recently for issuing a large number of “signing statements” when he signs bills into law that would purportedly allow him to ignore the laws if he felt like it. I know of no legal or constitutional authority for such signing statements, nor am I aware of any reputable legal scholar endorsing such signing statements. (Perhaps not surprisingly, I do not consider Alberto Gonzales a reputable legal scholar).
At the heart of the Executive Branch’s constitutional authority is the responsibility for executing the laws enacted by Congress. Our alleged president seems to believe he can enforce (or obey) the laws he likes, and ignore the rest. Congress and the Supreme Court should not be allowing this. Our governmental system was conceived as a system of checks and balances for a reason, and it is high time that the other branches of government started asserting their authority in response to this administration’s more questionable activities.
Perhaps in 2007 we will finally see some movement in this area. Or is that just wishful thinking?