Archive for January, 2006

Intelligent Design and Carl Sagan’s “Contact”

January 30, 2006

So I’m thoroughly enjoying our book club’s most recent selection, Contact.  Check out Chapter 10’s conversation between Eleanor Arroway and the religious folks, Palmer Joss and Rev. Rankin.  Although they’re talking about extraterrestrial (not divine) intelligence, a lot of the language of their conversation about science vs. religion and empirical evidence vs. faith is entirely relevant to our national conversation on teaching intelligent design in the classroom.  During their debate on the importance of scientific skepticism, Eleanor says the following, basically breaking down why science is science and religion is religion:

So the way you avoid the mistakes, or at least reduce the chance that you’ll make one, is to be skeptical.  You test the ideas.  You check them out by rigorous standards of evidence.  I don’t think there is such a thing as a received truth.  But when you let the different opinions debate, when any skeptic can perform his or her own experiment to check some contention out, then the truth tends to emerge.  That’s the experience of the whole history of science…

And conceding that curiosity about our beginnings and our place in the universe is natural, she says:

Look, we all have a thirst for wonder.  It’s a deeply human quality.  Science and religion are both bound up with it.  What I’m saying is, you don’t have to make stories up, you don’t have to exaggerate.  There’s wonder and awe enough in the real world.  Nature’s a lot better at inventing wonders than we are.

Nightlight draws the connection too and has lots of other great stuff to say about the Intelligent Design morass, including the recent controversy in Frasier High School right here in California. 


Hamas Victory and the BJP

January 28, 2006
Yesterday’s election of Hamas reminds me (and a lot of other bloggers) of the BJP’s 1998 electoral victory in India.  The BJP’s big ’98 win was profoundly disturbing for us secularist Hindus because it promoted Hindutva, the Hindu fundamentalist ideology that endangers India’s success as a secular democracy.  At that time, I had just returned from India and seven months of studying the Hindu nationalist movement.  It was frightening to think that a majority of Indians accepted Hindutva’s history of anti-Muslim violence and very conservative cultural worldview.
However, it wasn’t as bad as we thought… the election of the BJP seems to have been a signal to the long-time Congress party, whose 50 years of power had left the population wanting.  The BJP’s election led to major mainstreaming of the Hindu fundamentalist movement – the BJP itself had to disavow violent parts of its history and cut off many of its extremist partners in a move to the center.  It also had to contend with actual governance instead of mere protest and pandering from the sidelines. 
Check out State of Flux for more on the pro-democracy side of the debate (a bit too much like President Bush’s rhetoric on Iraq for my tastes, but makes some good points…)
And Pakora Corner and Patrix… 

Also check out Interfaith Paths to Peace for some valuable arguments about how elections like the recent Palestinian one will affect us in the U.S. in the short-run:

“For democracy to continue, the BJP had to moderate itself. The BJP came in trying to use Indian democracy to take total power, but it was Indian democracy that in the end conquered the BJP.  And the lesson for us is that if democracy is strong, if we commit to the process and to the arena, we have to trust in the fact that democracy ultimately will win. But the challenge for the U.S. is that the short run is likely to be ugly.”

Although it may be ugly for us in the short-term, we’ve unleashed the power of democracy in the Middle East.  We can’t just take it back when it’s inconvenient for us.  The people of Palestine have sent a message that they want good governance and peace.  Let’s not label them all terrorists.  Let’s listen and watch carefully as they form a government and define a platform.  All Americans can look to the BJP example and hope that the same moderating effect happens with Hamas… 

Pork Soup is Racist?

January 28, 2006

This is interesting. In France right-wing groups have begun serving pork soup to homeless people in an effort to help white European people while excluding Jews and Muslims. It’s definitely a clever idea as a publicity stunt. As a Jew, this sorta bothers me in that it is directly excluding Jews and Muslims, but frankly I am just glad that any homeless people are getting enough to eat. It’s a hard life. I bet the non-Semitic homeless are pretty thankful of the Jews and Muslims for causing the righties to feed them a warm meal. Of course, the French government is trying to ban the pork soup, which as Bureaucrash points out, might cause plenty of turmoil.

I have no problem with exclusionary means of charity. If you want to help black people go to college or Christians fight alcoholism then go for it. Food Not Bombs has been providing vegetarian (and even vegan, I’m not sure) meals to the homeless for years without attracting controversy. Of course, I’m not aware of any religions that expressly prohibit vegetarian food.

It’s pretty low to be exploiting the homeless for publicity. This group, who I prefer not to name lest I boost their Google rankings, is doing this as a publicity stunt. It worked, I’m talking about them.

But I think that they can serve homeless people whatever they want as long as they disclose that their dishes include pork. Non-Semitic homeless people get fed, Jews and Muslims probably have something to bond over in a country where Jewish-Muslim violence is disturbingly high, and everyone wins. So chalk this up as an extraordinarily rare un-condemnation of the anti-Semitic right. They have certainly done worse things with their time.

Book of Daniel Cancelled

January 28, 2006

Yes, sadly it’s true… 

Bam! Mazel Tov Cocktail To Your Face!

January 27, 2006

The blog world is funny. I wanted to see what the reactions were from Palestinian and Israeli bloggers (only two of many different viewpoints) about the Palestinian election. Somehow or another I ended up at Radical Torah, before this take-no-prisoners post came up. I don’t really know how I got there, as they didn’t have anything real to say except a plea for submissions about:

“Radical Torah is a weblog which features multiple takes on parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah portion), as seen through the lens of progressive religious and political viewpoints. The project seeks to create a resource of authentically Jewish responses to pertinent social justice issues, timed in accordance with their relevancy to the Jewish calendar.

Browsable by parsha, topic, holiday, and Hebrew calendar month, the goal is to put “radical Torah” at the fingertips of the Jewish social action community for which there are limited resources accessible on- and offline.

Many secular Jews who identify strongly with the Jewish social action tradition often feel alienated and repressed by our religious tradition. One of the primary aims of Radical Torah is to provide this group with Torah that is empowering and which confirms their deepest convictions towards issues of social justice. Thus, for the secular Jewish activist, Radical Torah can be a catalyst for Jewish engagement.”

Then, I ended up at Mazel Tov Cocktail. They haven’t said much of anything yet, but they have the coolest name I have ever heard, and their logo with a Manischevitz bottle is badass. Really cool design, makes me feel kinda bad about our boring ole’ theme.

So check these two out as they develop, they look like they will be valuable resources for social activists of all religions, as well as giving a Jewish framework for social justice.

I Heart President Bush?

January 27, 2006
So sue me, I love it when President Bush takes questions at a press conference.  It was so delightful to curl up with this morning with my chai and see those lovely words, “Breaking News,” come across the screen. 

I’ve tuned in for almost every single one of the President’s press conferences, and I am not embarrassed to say that I love every minute of them.  I think that we liberals too easily dismiss him as an idiot.  He’s not.  He’s charming and folksy and good ol’ fashioned fun!  Remember those polls about Americans who voted for the guy they could “grab a beer with”? 

Apart from the few moments where President Bush is looking truly clueless (usually when he’s reading outloud), he actually appears engaged at press conferences when journalists are asking the questions.  He has a tendency to go into robot mode when mindlessly repeating Karl Rove message points, but he magically manages to recapture our attention with a self-effacing joke or – even better – a jab at one of the White House Press Corps (I loved him poking fun at David Gregory this morning about “hoarding questions,” or asking if the Press Corps remembered their helmets when the NBC camera came loose).  Check out the White House’s transcripts for all the laughter.

But funny only goes so far.  If only the President could bring this kind of attention to the real job of governing, rather than trying to win us over with a smokescreen of funny jokes and false attempts at transparency… and if only a majority of the American people hadn’t voted for the guy who brought us the most frat guy fun…

India in the Textbooks

January 25, 2006
     Hindu activists are at work to rewrite high school textbooks in California.  The simple act of choosing what to say about a country as large, diverse, and ancient as India is in itself a political exercise.  Is history purely subjective (as one of the authorities in the article thinks)?  And, at what point do we need to balance pride in our cultural heritage against a real examination of the record on women’s rights and class conflict?     

      For a much better exposition of these issues in the context of American history textbooks, check out one of my favorite books ever, “Lies My Teacher Told Me”…  

     The activists in Sacramento do have a point – If memory serves, at Oviedo High School, we spent one day in world history on all of Asia (really just China, Japan, and India), and the rest of the year on Europe and the Americas.  The only three things I recall the textbooks mentioning about India were Mahatma Gandhi, the caste system, and sati – two out of three being very negative images of Hinduism.  Many of my South Asian friends have echoed the same memory. 

      But, we have to be careful of revisionist Hindu nationalists in America like the Vedic Foundation, who run a lot of groups with seemingly benign educational motives (Hindu summer camps, etc.), but provide large amounts of funding for nationalist groups in India like the VHP, RSS, and other state-by-state organizations.  I’m afraid that because of the small numbers of Indians in the U.S., these groups are wielding a disproportionate amount of representative power with school boards and other government agencies on South Asian topics, presenting a conservative and traditional vision of Hinduism and India, in contrast to a more critical retelling of our history. 

      Throughout the rewriting process, we all need to realize that it will be impossible to construct a high school textbook portrayal of India that is pleasing to everyone AND entirely correct factually – struggling further with those issues is what college is for…  


Network of Spiritual Progressives: Short Post, Long Link

January 24, 2006

The Network of Spiritual Progressives has a lot to say.

Mine Safety and Unions

January 24, 2006

Firedoglake writes about the Congressional hearings today on coal mine safety.  I hope the hearings touch on the decline of unions and how that is directly related to the West Virginia mining tragedy.  Unions pressure companies to enact and enforce safety precautions.  It’s that simple.  Respect for unions is falling away, even among liberals.  Democrats need to return to what is one of our strongest message points:  “WE HELP WORKING CLASS AMERICANS.” 
     Working class Americans work harder than the rest of the country to make ends meet.  Coal miners, seamstresses, auto manufacturers, janitors – they all do back-breaking work for our benefit.  The least we can do is protect our fellow citizens from being taken advantage of in terms of overtime, lack of health care, and discrimination.  Through union support, we can prevent egregious safety violations like what happened in that West Virginia coal mine.
     Wal-Mart, meatpacking companies, and so many other employers are not allowing their workers to unionize in the name of efficiency, lower prices, higher profits, and greater CEO compensation.  What’s troubling is that all Americans – working class and not – seem to have been seduced by the lower prices and therefore unconsciously degrade union support.  What we have to realize as a country is that unions are an important safeguard not only for the 14 miners we lost in West Virginia, but also for the workers in the Midwest whose jobs are disappearing overseas or to undocumented immigrants brought here by contractors for Wal-Mart and other companies. 
     One thing for all of us to think about is:  What are labor unions doing wrong in terms of their messaging?  Why are labor union memberships on the decline?  Why have we allowed protesting and strikes to get such a bad name under the Bush Administration, instead of celebrating the right to free speech and freedom of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment?  Why do we start from a baseline of “economic efficiency” instead of one that prioritizes “human rights” or “workers’ safety”?  How can Democrats reframe the issues to take advantage of our historical support for the little guys and return to a debate on REAL American values:  Working hard and working together to make a good life for ourselves and our communities?

The Vatican And I Agree on Intelligent Design? Wow.

January 20, 2006

The Vatican slammed intelligent design as being unscientific. They believe it doesn’t have any place in biology classrooms alongside evolution, and that it is better suited for religion or philosophy classes. I couldn’t agree more. Whether the public schools need to be involved in such classes is another matter, but I’ll let it slide. Go Vatican!