Teaching Both Sides of the Evolution Debate

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Christopher Hitchens, in response to the Texas case, has come out in favor of teaching both sides of the debate in an article in Newsweek. Opponents of evolution are not likely to see him as an ally here:

…last week Texas and schoolbooks meant something else altogether when the state Board of Education, in a muddled decision, rejected a state science curriculum that required teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. Instead, the board allowed “all sides” of scientific theories to be taught. The vote was watched as something more than a local or bookish curiosity. Just as the Christian Book Expo is one of the largest events on the nation’s publishing calendar, so the Lone Star State commands such a big share of the American textbook market that many publishers adapt to the standards that it sets, and sell the resulting books to non-Texans as well…

…McLeroy and his allies now say that they ask for evolution to be taught only with all its “strengths and weaknesses.” But in this, they are surely being somewhat disingenuous. When their faction was strong enough to demand an outright ban on the teaching of what they call “Darwinism,” they had such a ban written into law in several states. Since the defeat and discredit of that policy, they have passed through several stages of what I am going to have to call evolution. First, they tried to get “secular humanism” classified as a “religion,” so that it would meet the First Amendment’s disqualification for being taught with taxpayers’ money. (That bright idea was Pat Robertson’s.) Then they came up with the formulation of “creation science,” picking up on anomalies and gaps in evolution and on differences between scientific Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. Next came the ingratiating plea for “equal time”—what could be more American than that?—and now we have the rebranded new coinage of “intelligent design” and the fresh complaint that its brave advocates are, so goes the title of a recent self-pitying documentary, simply “expelled” from the discourse.

It’s not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. (“Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer” was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an “intelligent design” advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.

But that is just my opinion. And I certainly do not want it said that my side denies a hearing to the opposing one. In the spirit of compromise, then, I propose the following. First, let the school debating societies restage the wonderful set-piece real-life dramas of Oxford and Dayton, Tenn. Let time also be set aside, in our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural school system, for children to be taught the huge variety of creation stories, from the Hindu to the Muslim to the Australian Aboriginal. This is always interesting (and it can’t be, can it, that the Texas board holdouts think that only Genesis ought to be so honored?). Second, we can surely demand that the principle of “strengths and weaknesses” will be applied evenly. If any church in Texas receives a tax exemption, or if any religious institution is the beneficiary of any subvention from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we must be assured that it will devote a portion of its time to laying bare the “strengths and weaknesses” of the religious world view, and also to teaching the works of Voltaire, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. This is America. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a thousand schools of thought contend. We may one day have cause to be grateful to the Texas Board of Education for lighting a candle that cannot be put out.

SciFi Weekend: Imagining Windy; Shooting Ben; Caroline’s Past; and Battlestar Galactica Alternative Endings

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Last week Friday night dominated science fiction television with the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica. I’ll have more on that later, but this week Wednesday was the top  night. Life on Mars aired its second from the last episode, Everyone Knows It’s Windy. I wish I knew if this episode was made with knowledge that the show was ending, and was intended to lead towards the end, or if this was just another episode with clues which didn’t really go anywhere. Eariler we had the Aires Project. This episode featured the Aries Toy Company. I doubt this is a coincidence, but what about having a character named Frank Morgan playing a key role? Frank Morgan was also the name of the actor who played the Wizard of Oz. Is Sam over the rainbow?

It now looks like Windy is a figment of Sam’s imagination. That wasn’t much of a surprise. The bigger question is whether everything is a figment of Sam’s imagination, or the product of some type of mind control experiment. (If she was in Sam’s imagination, why didn’t he do more than play checkers with her?) Morgan gave Sam the impression of knowing what is going on but Annie let him know that Morgan had read Sam’s file. When we thought we knew how Morgan knew about Sam and the future he confused the issue by knowing about the fourth Raiders of the Lost Arc movie which Sam didn’t seem to think was in his file. Could this mean Morgan really does know what is happening with Sam? Of course if everything is happening in Sam’s head this wouldn’t really matter. The scene with Sam on the ledge was also similar to a scene in the British version.

The other development is that Sam and Annie are now closer. Unfortunately Sam only has one more episode with her.

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Lost is getting back to a regular pattern of having the key characters back in the 1970’s living with the Dharma Initiative before Ben killed them all off. The episodes contain flashbacks which I suspect will concentrate on the period off the island. Others such as Sun are on along journey to join the rest in the past. We learned how Sayeed wound up on the plane and the big shock of the episode was seeing him shoot young Ben. Assuming Daniel Faraday is right, it is not possible to change major events and Ben will live. However, we have seen that Desmond’s future behavior was changed as a consequence of Faraday’s acts. Perhaps this act will have an impact on Ben’s actions, or perhaps it happened all along and was a motivating factor for him.

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Back on Fridays, Dollhouse has had two solid episodes in a row which were much better than the first five. The mythology of the show was significantly advanced last week. The number of actives has increased, including the revelation that Mellie was one and seeing a new recruit. I was surprised that they had Mellie return to the Dollhouse considering that Ballard was still searching for the Dollhouse despite being taken off the case.

This week’s episode, Echoes, was the first to reveal more information about Caroline’s past. The puzzling thing is that we saw her get into trouble but hardly enough to be consistent with the desperate situation she was in when “recruited.” I suspect we will see more of this story in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Dollhouse made Caroline’s situation even worse to force her to join. The dolls regain their memories in next week’s episode and perhaps we will learn more of their back stories.

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With Battlestar Galactica over Ron Moore has talked about the show but hasn’t revealed very much. He said a little about one of the mysteries I was wondering about last week regarding Starbuck:

We made a conscious decision to say, “We’re going to leave this opaque.” You can certainly say that she’s an angel or a demon or some other form of life. We know from the show that she died a mortal death, she was brought back to life in some way, and then she fulfilled a certain destiny and guided them all to Earth. What does that mean? And who is she really? It was a conscious creative decision to say, “This is as much as we’re going to tell you, and she’s connected to some greater truth.” The more we try to answer what that greater truth is, the less interesting it becomes, and we just decided to leave it more of a mystery. I am sure that there will be a cadre of people who are angry that they never got a more definitive answer, but we just decided not to do that.

He said a little more about Starbuck in an interview with TV Guide:

TVGuide.com: What exactly is Kara at the end of the series? An angel?
Moore: I think Kara remains an ambiguous figure. Kara lived a mortal life, died and was resurrected to get them to their final destiny. Clearly she was a key player in the events that led to [the fleet’s] finding a home. And, I don’t know if there’s any more to it beyond that. I think you could call her an angel, you could call her a demon, the second coming or the first coming, I guess, chronologically speaking. You can say that she had a certain messiah-like quality, in the classic resurrection story. There’s a lot of different ways you can look at it, but the more we talked about it, the more we realized there was more in the ambiguity and mystery of it than there was in trying to give it more definition in the end.

TVGuide.com: So she is completely different than the hallucination/visions of Baltar and Six?
Moore: Yes, Kara was physically among us. Everybody saw her. She was tactile, she flew a viper, she was around. She was with us. And yet, there was a body that died on the original Earth, and Baltar did the DNA analysis and it was her body, so she was literally brought back from the dead by something — by some higher power or other power, and she came back to serve a function.

Moore also talked about the extended scenes on the upcoming DVD and there has been talk online about alternative endings which had been considered before deciding on the final ending. One alternative had Ellen join up with Cavil after learning that Tigh had inpregnated a Six. Here is another alternative endng:

Battlestar Galactica executive producer Ron Moore has been discussing last week’s series finale with fans on the BSG forum, where he dropped an interesting tidbit about an ending that might have been.

In this version of the story, the Galactica herself ends up on Earth instead of being flown into the sun, and she also manages to show up in our present-day timeline:

“There was a point in the development process where we discussed the idea of the Galactica not being destroyed, but having somehow landed on the surface more or less intact, but unable to ever get into orbit again (the particulars here were never worked out, so don’t ask how she made it down without being torn apart). We talked about them basically abandoning the ship and moving out into the world.

“Cut to the present-day in Central America where there are these enormous mysterious mounds that archeologists have not been able to understand (it may have been South America, I can’t recall the exact location, but these mounds really do exist). Someone is doing a new kind of survey of the mounds with some kind of ground-penetrating radar or something and lo and behold, we see the outlines of the Galactica still buried under the surface.”

Moore said they ultimately didn’t go with the ending because they wouldn’t have been able to reconcile it with the “reality” of the series.

“It was an intriguing idea and we bandied it about for a while, but ultimately rejected it as a little too cute and also felt that it would violate our contemporary reality, in essence ‘branching off’ the BSG story in 2009 into an parallel reality where a battlestar was discovered in Central America. I wanted the end of the show to directly relate to us, not to a world where that event had occurred.”

While this would have avoided the questionable decisions to give up technology and destroy the fleet, I agree with their reasons for not using this ending.

Spain Considering Criminal Cases Against Bush Administration Officials For Torture

If the Obama administration remains reluctant to prosecute crimes committed by the Bush administration, perhaps they will have to be handled like Augusto Pinochet. AP reports:

A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said Saturday.

Human rights lawyers brought the case before leading anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon, who agreed to send it on to prosecutors to decide whether it had merit, Gonzalo Boye, one of the lawyers who brought the charges, told The Associated Press.

The ex-Bush officials are Gonzales; former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.

Yoo declined to comment. A request for comment left with Feith through his Hudson Institute e-mail address was not immediately returned.

Spanish law allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes under a doctrine of universal justice, though the government has recently said it hopes to limit the scope of the legal process.

Garzon became famous for bringing charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and he and other Spanish judges have agreed to investigate alleged abuses everywhere from Tibet to Argentina’s “dirty war,” El Salvador and Rwanda.

Still, the country’s record in prosecuting such cases has been spotty at best, with only one suspect extradited to Spain so far.

As that last paragraph shows, it remains questionable whether this is anything beyond a symbolic gesture. The article later answers why these particular people were chosen:

The officials are charged with providing a legal cover for interrogation methods like waterboarding against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, which the Spanish human rights lawyers say amounted to torture.

Yoo, for instance, wrote a series of secret memos that claimed the president had the legal authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions.

Prosecuting those who gave legal cover makes sense, but I would still concentrate on those at the top who gave the orders.

Scott Horton has more on this story at Harper’s.

The Washington Post looked at the results of torture  and found that the harsh treatment of Abu Zubaida did not foil any terrorist plots:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.