Friday, August 19, 2005

Off With His Head

Arthur Scopenhauer observed that, "All truth passes through three stages; First, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; and third, it is accepted as self-evident." Intelligent Design has moved from stage one to deep into stage two. An illustration can be found in the strange tale of the scientific establishment's reaction to Richard Sternberg. First a little background.

One of the criticisms levelled at ID theorists is that they don't publish in peer-reviewed journals. ID theorists respond to the charge by pointing out how hard it is to get journals to accept anything critical of Darwinian orthodoxy. Darwinians typically scoff at the implausibility of this reply.

Well, about a year ago Cambridge-educated philosopher of science Stephen Meyer managed to get a paper published in an obscure little journal that called into question the ability of purely Darwinian processes to account for the Cambrian explosion of phyla 530 million years ago. The roof then quickly caved in on the publisher for having the temerity to carry a paper skeptical of the received wisdom of the Darwinians. It was as if one of the Vatican's minions had permitted an article on Satan worship into an official publication of the Church.

The Inquisition of the scientific establishment was thrown into high gear and the editor, a man named Richard Sternberg who possesses not just one, but two PH.Ds in evolutionary biology, was all but burned at the stake for the crime of open-mindedness. His critics argued at the time that he was not in any way mistreated, evidently thinking that professional persecution is appropriate punishment for facilitating free and open debate, but a subsequent investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel has shown that, as ID advocates and Creationists have been saying for years, there are no people less tolerant of contrary opinion than the talibanic members of the church of Darwin. The OSC's findings are reprised in a letter to Sternberg which can be read here. It's a disillusioning eye-opener for anyone who thinks scientists are fair-minded and tolerant folk willing to allow a diversity of hypotheses to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

The Washington Post has a summary of the most recent developments. Here are some excerpts:

Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution -- which has helped fund and run the journal -- lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper. "They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper cell operative for the creationists," said Steinberg, 42 , who is a Smithsonian research associate. "I was basically run out of there." An independent agency has come to the same conclusion, accusing top scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History of retaliating against Sternberg by investigating his religion and smearing him as a "creationist."

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which was established to protect federal employees from reprisals, examined e-mail traffic from these scientists and noted that "retaliation came in many forms . . . misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian Institution and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false."

"The rumor mill became so infected," James McVay, the principal legal adviser in the Office of Special Counsel, wrote to Sternberg, "that one of your colleagues had to circulate [your resume] simply to dispel the rumor that you were not a scientist."

Sternberg's case has sent ripples far beyond the Beltway. The special counsel accused the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank that defends the teaching of evolution, of orchestrating attacks on Sternberg. "The NCSE worked closely with" the Smithsonian "in outlining a strategy to have you investigated and discredited," McVay wrote to Sternberg.

A senior Smithsonian scientist wrote in an e-mail: "We are evolutionary biologists and I am sorry to see us made into the laughing stock of the world, even if this kind of rubbish sells well in backwoods USA." An e-mail stated, falsely, that Sternberg had "training as an orthodox priest." Another labeled him a "Young Earth Creationist," meaning a person who believes God created the world in the past 10,000 years.

Eugenie Scott, of the NCSE, insisted that Smithsonian scientists had no choice but to explore Sternberg's religious beliefs. "They don't care if you are religious, but they do care a lot if you are a creationist," Scott said. "Sternberg denies it, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it argues for zealotry."

Sternberg has seen stress piled upon stress in the past year. His marriage has dissolved, and he no longer comes into the Smithsonian. When the biological society issued a statement disavowing Meyer's article, Sternberg was advised not to attend. "I was told that feelings were running so high, they could not guarantee me that they could keep order," Sternberg said.

We particularly like Eugenie Scott's claim. In her world if you're sympathetic to the notion that other points of view deserve a hearing then you're a "zealot." That pretty much says everything that needs to be said about the modern scientific mindset.

Why Did They Shoot?

The shooting of an innocent Brazilian by British police was tragic enough. Now it seems that nothing about their story is true. He didn't run from the police, he wasn't wearing a bulky coat, he didn't jump the turnstile to board the tube train, and he may not even have left the house which was under surveillance as a terrorist hide-out.

The Brazilian electrician shot dead by police on the London Underground last month was being restrained when he was killed by officers from Scotland Yard's firearms unit, according to documents leaked last night.

Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head by two plainclothes policemen who had followed him on to the train at Stockwell station in the mistaken belief that he was a potential suicide bomber. Documents and photographs leaked to ITV News also confirmed that Mr de Menezes did not run from the police, as had been reported, had used his Tube pass to enter the station, rather than vault the barrier, and had taken a seat on the train before being grabbed by an officer. He was wearing a light denim jacket and not as previously reported a padded coat which could have concealed explosives.

The documents, which contain witness statements made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, also suggest that the intelligence operation may have been botched because an officer watching a flat believed to be the hideout of one of the suspects in the abortive July 21 attack was "relieving himself".

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has apologised for the death of Mr de Menezes and a senior officer has visited Brazil to talk to his family. However, the latest disclosures will cast fresh light on Sir Ian's insistence that the death was the tragic consequence of a legitimate operation.

Shortly after the shooting, Sir Ian said: "Whatever else they were doing, they clearly thought they were faced with a suicide bomber and they were running towards him. Had that person been a suicide bomber and had the officers not fired and 25 yards up the track the bomb had exploded, the officers would be in a worse situation than they are now."

He insisted that lethal force was the only option available to his officers once they had satisfied themselves Mr de Menezes was a suicide bomber. Yet a few days later, West Midlands police used a Taser stun weapon to arrest Yasin Hassan Omar, one of the July 21 suspects. Mr de Menezes was killed the day after the failed attacks on Tube trains and a bus.

Guidelines issued since the September 11 attacks emphasise that police must not challenge suicide bombers or identify themselves for fear of prompting the bomber to detonate his device. Instead, they may fire a "critical head shot ... prior to challenge".

The complaints commission has taken statements from officers in the operation. Among the questions being asked is why the intelligence on the occupants of the flats suspected of harbouring the terror suspects failed to identify Mr de Menezes as an innocent party. It will also seek to establish why he was allowed to board a bus when buses had been targets in the two previous attacks. His family cannot reconcile the police assertion that he had to be stopped once he had boarded a Tube train with the fact that he got on to a bus.

Questions will also be asked over why the impression that he was wearing a padded fleece was given continued credence when the photographs broadcast last night show him dressed differently. Wearing bulky clothing not in keeping with the weather is considered a sign of a potential suicide bomber. Scotland Yard said last night that it was unable to comment on any reports about the incident while it was being investigated.

If all of this is true then the British police have hindered anti-terror efforts everywhere human and civil rights are observed. In the wake of their overly hasty reaction more restraints will inevitably be placed on police to ensure that such a terrible thing doesn't happen again. Those restraints may save an innocent life, like that of de Menezes, or they may, because of a moment's indecision, cost more lives. The mystery is why they shot at all.

Risky Business

Being a big cheese in al Qaida is risky business anywhere but especially in Saudi Arabia. The third jihadi to head up the Saudi chapter of al Qaida in the last year or so has bitten the bullet, so to speak.

RIYADH (Reuters) - Security forces killed the leader of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia in a gun battle in the holy city of Medina just hours before a visit by newly crowned King Abdullah. An Interior Ministry statement said security forces had also killed three other militants and arrested at least 10 in a series of raids in the capital Riyadh and in Medina.

Saleh al-Awfi, believed to have taken over leadership of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia last year, was one of a few fugitives remaining on a list of most wanted militants in the world's top oil producer. His death would deal a further blow to militants loyal to Saudi-born al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who analysts say have been weakened by a two-year government campaign against the al Qaeda network in Saudi Arabia.

State television said Awfi and another militant had been hiding in a residential area near the venerated Mosque of the Prophet, site of the tomb of Mohammad which King Abdullah visited for prayers. Earlier, security forces killed two wanted gunmen and captured another during a raid on a house in a northern district of Riyadh.

Saudi analyst Fares Houzam said militants in the kingdom had been dealt a big blow. "Awfi was al Qaeda's main leader in the west of the country," he told Reuters. "The speed at which the militants have been captured and killed of late shows how poorly trained they are."

As crown prince, King Abdullah had spearheaded the battle against al Qaeda which since May 2003 has staged suicide bombings and attacks against foreigners with the aim of toppling the pro-U.S. monarchy and expelling Westerners from the birthplace of Islam. Analysts said the accession of Abdullah, a pious figure popular with his conservative Muslim subjects, could increase public support for the battle against al Qaeda which depends on the sympathy of ordinary Saudis as much as weapons.

Militants have so far killed 91 foreign nationals and Saudi civilians. Security forces have in turn killed 112 militants and analysts say they have eroded al Qaeda's network in the kingdom. Saudi authorities believe Awfi took over the leadership of al Qaeda in the kingdom after security forces killed Abdulaziz al-Muqrin in June last year.

Kudos to the Saudi security forces. Let's hope they soon run out of targets.

Journalistic Twister

We have to wonder whether AP reporters Tom Coyne and Ashley Heher actually got paid for this sophomoric piece of guilt by very distant association:

LONG BEACH, Ind. - Like many towns across America, the exclusive lakefront community where Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. grew up during the racially turbulent 1960s and '70s once banned the sale of homes to nonwhites and Jews.

Just three miles from the nearly all-white community of Long Beach, two days of looting and vandalism erupted when Roberts was 15, barely intruding on the Mayberry-like community that was largely insulated from the racial strife of that era.

It was here that the 50-year-old Roberts lived from elementary school until he went away to Harvard in 1973, and that decade - as well as the rest of his life - is receiving intense scrutiny as the Senate gears up for its Sept. 6 confirmation hearings on President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee.

Some of the attention focuses on Roberts' civil rights record as Bush replaces retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the key swing voter on affirmative action issues.

Roberts' criticism of racial "quotas" in some documents from his work as a White House lawyer has alarmed civil rights groups and some Democrats, who say he may be a partisan for conservative causes. Other memos from his time in the Reagan Justice Department portray an attorney who urged his bosses to restrict affirmative action and Title IX sex discrimination lawsuits.

It is hard to know how much Roberts' upbringing in this northern Indiana community on the shores of Lake Michigan influenced his views. Some say the fact that there were riots and restrictions on home ownership is not relevant at all. "I don't think that would have had any bearing on John Roberts' life," said Micky Gallas, a local real estate agent who attended grade school with Roberts, referring to the racial covenants.

Roberts' father, a manager at a Bethlehem Steel mill in nearby Burns Harbor, moved the family to Long Beach in the early 1960s. The family purchased land a few blocks from the beach in 1966 and built an unassuming tri-level house. The Roberts property did not include a racially restrictive covenant, according to LaPorte County deed records, and the restrictions had begun fading away by then.

Other homes built decades earlier in the town had covenants. Deeds on file from the 1940s in Long Beach ban the sale or lease of houses to "any person who is not a Caucasian gentile." The covenants date to the community's early days in the 1920s as a summer getaway for Chicagoans.

"Every time you would go to an area you would find there were restrictions against a certain type," said Phyllis Waters, who moved to Long Beach in 1958 and bought Century 21 Long Beach Real Estate in 1967. "What they didn't like, they'd restrict."

Fern Eddy Schultz, the county historian, said the covenants were common for property near Lake Michigan. "They didn't want particular people to have homes around the lake areas," Schultz said. Covenants have gotten attention in the past. President Bush purchased a house in 1988 in Dallas with a covenant restricting blacks from buying the property. His staff said Bush was unaware of the deed restriction, which was void under Texas law, when he purchased the home.

In Long Beach, nearly all residents were white when Roberts was growing up, a makeup that has changed little in four decades. Today, nearly 98 percent of the town's 1,500 residents are white. The median income in 1970 topped $18,000, nearly twice that of neighboring communities; today it is more than $71,000, nearly double the state median.

That environment may have sheltered residents from the events of July 1970, when the arrests of three black men over a parking violation outside a bar in Michigan City set off two days of looting, vandalism and fires.

The Associated Press reported in a July 13, 1970, story that a police officer addressed one of those arrested as "boy" and that the man vowed to get some of his friends and "take this town apart." The mayor declared a state of emergency, and Indiana National Guard troops were called in to restore order.

The News-Dispatch of Michigan City reported more than a dozen people were arrested for violating a curfew imposed to quell the violence. Those detained included several who worked in a job-training program for Bethlehem Steel's Burns Harbor plant, where the younger Roberts worked summers to help pay for Harvard.

David Myers, a University of Notre Dame sociology professor who studies race riots, said the uprising was typical of an industrial area that had seen an influx of blacks from the South. "There were a lot of labor market tension and lots of unemployment issues that were driving unrest," he said.

Waters said many Long Beach residents were unaware of the disturbances until they picked up the Michigan City newspaper. "We didn't even know it happened," she said.

That insulation extended to the all-boys Catholic boarding school Roberts attended in nearby LaPorte. Bob MacLaverty, a longtime friend and Roberts' roommate at La Lumiere School, said students rarely discussed race and the civil rights movement. The school admitted its first black students in 1970. By Roberts' graduation in 1973, about 7 percent of its roughly 100 students were minorities, he said.

Richard Freer, a professor of law at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied the Senate confirmation process, says Roberts' life experiences are relevant if they speak to his character and ability to be impartial. But he said there should be limits.

"I think it's legitimate to look at the past if it tells you anything about the person. But so what if there were race riots? Did he cause them? No. He was a 15-year-old kid. We don't shape the events that take place in our hometown."

This has to be one of the most stupidly silly pieces of reporting in the national media in the last twenty years. How is anything that Coyne and Heher write here relevant to John Roberts' fitness to serve on the Supreme Court? Why is any of it even newsworthy? The only plausible reason is that the writers are trying to show that John Roberts may have been tangentially exposed to racist influences in his youth, but even if he had been, so what? Who hasn't? What does that have to do with his qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court?

As our two cerebrally-challenged correspondents play a desperate game of journalistic Twister, stretching and contorting to come up with something, anything with which to diminish Mr. Roberts' reputation, the rest of us can only shake our heads in astonishment at how low the AP's standards have sunk.

Why Morale is High

Matt Lauer probably wasn't expecting this:

...Lauer interviewed a group of soldiers at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, and at one point asked about the state of morale. After getting two responses to the effect that morale was good, Lauer had this to say:

"Don't get me wrong, I think you're probably telling the truth, but there might be a lot of people at home wondering how that could be possible with the conditions you're facing and with the insurgent attacks you're facing. What would you say to people who are doubtful that morale could be that high?"

To which Capt. Sherman Powell replied: "Well sir, I'd tell you, if I got my news from the newspapers also I'd be pretty depressed as well!"

Powell went on to say, no doubt to Lauer's discomfiture, that "For those of us who have actually had the chance to get out and meet the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and go on patrols with them, we are very satisfied with the way things are going here, and we are confident that if we are allowed to finish the job we started we'll be very proud of it and our country will be proud of us for doing it."

I hope Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy and the rest of the lefty anti-war protestors who think our G.I.s must surely be on the verge of mutiny read this soldier's statement. Unfortunately, it'll probably be unable to penetrate the ideological haze that obscures their ability to think clearly.