Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Will American justice have the courage to do justice?

Click here for the video. From an email message by Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, ACLU.
[Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen] was forcibly abducted in Macedonia while on vacation, handed over to the CIA and flown to a secret interrogation center in Afghanistan where he was beaten, drugged and repeatedly denied legal counsel. After two months, CIA operatives informed director George Tenet that they were holding an innocent man. But it still took two more months before he was released -- flown in secret to Albania and left alone on a hillside in the middle of the night.

People need to hear his story, and the agencies and private companies responsible must face real justice for their violations of U.S. laws as well as universal human rights laws.
In a legal maneuver that is now familiar, the government is trying to use the veil of secrecy to avoid accountability for its actions. But yesterday, we argued that the government's official recognition of the program and information already available about this case show that the lawsuit does not jeopardize national security and must be allowed to continue.

Our government would rather you didn’t hear his story. The last time Mr. El-Masri tried to come to the U.S. -- to hear his own court case -- he was denied entry because he did not have a visa, even though German citizens don’t actually need visas to enter the U.S. This week, Mr. El-Masri witnessed his court proceedings and will also be meeting in person with members of Congress to share his story. As he told the Washington Post today, “I never thought badly of the United States. I do think badly of the foreign policy aspects and the sitting government.”

More Beyond Belief

Scott Atran, a particpant in the recent Beyond Belief conference (see posting immediately below), writes the following.
The main underlying current of thought at the Salk Institute's recent conference on 'Beyond Belief' was that until now science and reason have too passively surrendered or compromised to religion and unreason, which are wily and ruthless street-fighters. Think of … Socrates meekly swallowing his poison for telling the truth, Galileo abjectly renouncing his own seminal discoveries, or Pakistan's greatest scientist, physics Nobel laureate Abdus Salam, professed over and over again his undying love for the Holy Qur'an to a government that condemned him as a heretic, and which today even more than before treats Darwin's teachings as if they were criminal.

Now, according to Salam's colleague and co-Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, scientists must rise up to the challenge of liberating humanity from 'the long nightmare of religion.' Biologist Richard Dawkins tells us that we need to 'come out of the closet' and form a political lobby of committed atheists and scientists to do public battle with religion and other forms of 'rubbish' that tyrannize the mind. For neuropsychology student Sam Harris, technological advances in the ability to terrorize and wage war require an uncompromising and unrelenting intellectual struggle to destroy religion — especially, but not exclusively, Islam — and banish unreason beyond the pale of civilization.

I find it it fascinating that among the brilliant scientists and philosophers at the conference, there was no convincing evidence presented that they know how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life and society other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based. It makes me embarrassed to be a scientist and atheist. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that scientists have a keener or deeper appreciation than religious people of how to deal with personal or moral problems. Some scientists have some good and helpful insights into human beings' existential problems some of the time, but some good scientists have done more to harm others than most people are remotely capable of.
The rest of this piece along with a response by Sam Harris is at The Reality Club: BEYOND BELIEF.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Science speaks up

From the New York Times
Maybe the pivotal moment came when Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, warned that “the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief,” or when a Nobelist in chemistry, Sir Harold Kroto, called for the John Templeton Foundation to give its next $1.5 million prize for “progress in spiritual discoveries” to an atheist — Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist whose book “The God Delusion” is a national best-seller.

Or perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects — testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.

Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told. [emphasis added] …

There has been no shortage of conferences in recent years, commonly organized by the Templeton Foundation, seeking to smooth over the differences between science and religion and ending in a metaphysical draw. Sponsored instead by the Science Network, an educational organization based in California, and underwritten by a San Diego investor, Robert Zeps (who acknowledged his role as a kind of “anti-Templeton”), the La Jolla meeting, “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival,” rapidly escalated into an invigorating intellectual free-for-all. (Unedited video of the proceedings will be posted on the Web at
The videos are now available at Beyond Belief.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A political interest group for every interest

From InformationWeek
Online gamblers miffed at recent federal legislation that seeks to block Internet gambling were cheering after Representative Jim Leach, R-Iowa, the sponsor of the anti-gaming legislation, was defeated in this week's election.

'A victory for Internet gambling as Jim Leach gets voted out,' crowed Gambling911, a pro-gambling Web site, for instance.

Leach had served for 30 years as a congressman from Iowa. He was narrowly defeated by Dave Loebsack, the Democratic Party challenger. Leach was the sponsor of HR 4411, the bill that stops U.S. banks and credit card companies from accepting payments for online gambling.

'A lot of poker fans were lobbying against Leach,' said former New Jersey gaming regulator Frank Catania. 'Poker players have been organizing. They could eventually be a (lobbying) group like the Sierra Club.'

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Case Against Faith

In the current issue of Newsweek, Sam Harris makes the case that faith is dangerous. Here's his concluding paragraph.
Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of their strongly held beliefs. [Emphasis added.] And yet these beliefs regularly determine what they live for, what they will die for and—all too often—what they will kill for. Consequently, we are living in a world in which millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in a world in which millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of Christians hope to soon be raptured into the stratosphere by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy a sacred genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. In a world brimming with increasingly destructive technology, our infatuation with religious myths now poses a tremendous danger. And it is not a danger for which more religious faith is a remedy.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

CFA's "public witness" website

The California Faculty Association (CFA) recently launched an investigative web site, CSI:CSU that will provide students, parents, staff, faculty, and even those within the Administration with a forum to communicate publicly or anonymously about the problems they see with the leadership of the California State University system.

The web site is a take off on the CBS hit series “CSI,” as the CFA believes that the California State University administration is abusing taxpayer dollars and corrupting higher education in California. Numerous media reports over the last several months have exposed that the CSU administration has been handing out millions of dollars in golden parachute deals to former executives and that the Board of Trustees is making critical budget decisions based on politics instead of on what is best for the students of the CSU system.

Students and faculty are especially outraged that behind closed doors, the Board approved the hiring of Barry Munitz, the former CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust who was forced to resign from the non-profit after he misused the non-profit’s funds. He is being paid $163,776 - almost double the typical salary of $85,000 for a Cal State professor with 25 years of teaching experience.

The new web site features a “public witness blog” where bloggers can post their thoughts about the administration’s betrayal of trust and a tips hotline for users that want to submit anonymous tips via email or telephone. The investigative team, led by the faculty, staff, and students, will look into each lead as they look to hold the CSU administration accountable for their actions.