Friday, October 8, 2010

Americans United Urges Appeals Court to Strike Down the National Day of Prayer

October 8, 2010
2:15 PM

CONTACT: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

(202) 466-3234
Joe Conn
Rob Boston
Sandhya Bathija
Americans United Urges Appeals Court to Strike Down the National Day of Prayer
Congress Has No Authority to Tell Americans When and How They Should Pray, Watchdog Group Says

WASHINGTON - October 8 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked a federal appeals court to find the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Americans United urged the panel of judges to affirm a lower court decision that held the National Day of Prayer statute unconstitutional.

In April, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the federal law violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The Obama administration has appealed Crabb's decision to the 7th Circuit.

"Congress needs to get out of the prayer business," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Prayer is an inherently religious practice, and our Constitution makes it clear that promoting it is not part of the government's job.

"Americans are free to pray whenever they want," Lynn continued. "It's obvious this ‘holiday' is not really about the freedom to worship, but rather another opportunity for certain religious groups to use government to push their narrow viewpoint on the rest of us.

"It's time to end this misguided tradition," Lynn added. "The district court got this right, and I'm hopeful the appeals court will, too."

Congress created the National Day of Prayer in 1952. In 1988, after pressure from the Religious Right, it was codified as the first Thursday in May. The law directs the president to proclaim on that day that Americans "May turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

AU's brief argues that the NDP statute is a "plain endorsement of religion over nonreligion and of certain types of religious beliefs and practices over others."

The brief also asserts that the statute has no secular purpose and "by its very terms it is not a commemoration or accommodation of our religious heritage but an active encouragement to engage in religious practice."

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Americans Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation joined Americans United in filing the brief in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama.

The brief was drafted by Evan M. Tager and Carl J. Summers of the law firm Mayer Brown with assistance from AU's Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and two attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Losing My Religion - William Lobdell

Losing My Religion

The struggles of a religion reporter whose work begins to erode his faith.

By Jane Lampman Christian Science Monitor
posted February 24, 2009 at 5:02 am EST

While writing a column on religion for an Orange County, Calif., paper, William Lobdell loved to inspire readers with stories about people of faith, such as the elderly church organist who was brutally beaten by a man high on drugs, yet focused on seeing that her assailant got a Bible and necessary support after getting out of jail.

A freshly born-again Christian, Lobdell was a husband, father, and journalist who saw evidence of answered prayer in his own life as well, a life that he felt had been transformed by faith. Covering the religion beat was the perfect job for Lobdell – until the day that his work began to destroy his faith.

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America – and Found Unexpected Peace is a compelling personal story of faith found, cherished, and then lost. Lobdell’s courageous memoir doesn’t set out to score points in the debate between atheism and religion, but simply to recount a spiritual journey, one he desperately hoped would end differently from the way it did.

Lobdell is a gifted writer. Avoiding the disparaging polemics that often characterize the debate between nonbelievers and people of faith, he turns his own story into a fast-paced, engrossing tale, one that is sure to be popular with nonbelievers, but deserves to be read by Christians as well.

The story begins with Lobdell’s initial journey toward religion. Feeling he had messed up his life by his late 20s, Lobdell came to faith after a good friend told him, “You need God.” He began a gradual but sincere spiritual search at an evangelical megachurch, moved eventually to a more intellectual Presbyterian community, and finally took catechism classes to join the Catholic church (in which his wife had grown up). He read voraciously on matters religious.

Lobdell was happy when he was able to begin writing the column on religion for the Orange County paper. And when his dream job finally came his way – work as a religion reporter at the Los Angeles Times – it seemed an answer to prayer. The L.A. Times job led to award-winning investigative work – but also to disillusionment.

Six months before the clergy sexual abuse crisis broke wide open in Boston in 2002, the Catholic dioceses in Orange County and Los Angeles agreed to pay a $5.2 million settlement to a single individual, Ryan DiMaria. The young man had charged a highly popular priest and high school principal with abuse. Msgr. Michael Harris, whose nickname was “Father Hollywood,” turned out to have other victims as well.

Lobdell dug into the first of several cases that would lead to years of investigation, hundreds of hours of conversation with abuse victims, and repeated discoveries of church hypocrisy and hard-ball tactics in the treatment of victims and their families.

At the time the DiMaria case was settled, Lobdell and his wife were attending Catholic conversion classes twice a week. As he tells it, “the Father Hollywood story was a spiritual body blow, but I didn’t sense it at the time.”

Instead, the eager reporter felt God had given him a special responsibility: to uncover corruption in religion in order to spur reform and healing. With equal fervor, he undertook in-depth reports on televangelists who were milking people of millions and using funds for themselves; one involved an exposé of the homosexual tryst and lavish living of the head of Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Yet the results were disheartening: Catholic parishioners repeatedly took the side of abusive priests and railed against the victims; and the televangelists raked in millions more the year after the stories appeared. “In fact, my stories were used as fund-raising tools – evidence that TBN was doing God’s work and the devil (that is, yours truly) was trying to stop it,” Lobdell writes.

It wasn’t reaction to his stories, per se, that most distressed him, he says, but the fact that Christians who were in a position to stand for principle and clean things up, regularly chose to turn a blind eye to dishonesty, corruption, and hypocrisy.

At first Lobdell felt that corruption in religious institutions had nothing to do with God. But then he began looking for evidence of how Christians lived, and whether it differed at all from nonbelievers.

“If the Gospels were true, shouldn’t I be able to find plenty of data that showed Christians acted differently – superior in morals and ethics – from the rest of society? I wanted to see that people were changed in fundamental ways by their belief in Christ.” The data from many studies, whether on divorce, racism, charity, materialism, etc., showed otherwise.

He began experiencing “a dark night of the soul.” Two other assignments became crowning blows: a reporting trip to St. Michael’s Island in Alaska, where “a single Catholic missionary raped an entire generation of Alaska Native boys”; and a court case in Portland, Ore., in which a priest and his order were refusing to give sufficient support to the son the priest had fathered and his destitute mother.

Lobdell and his wife never joined the Catholic church. The author struggled mightily to hold onto his faith, but, he says, it just left him – it wasn’t a choice. Today he’s not a different person – he still lives according to the standards outlined in the Bible. But he says his faith is gone for good. One wonders about those prayerful years and why their impact in his own life failed
to sustain him. Lobdell finds ways to explain them away.

In this soul-searching autobiography, Lobdell raises deeply significant issues about what constitutes a genuine Christian life.

While others might find different answers to some of the challenges Lobdell recounts, it would be difficult to bring more integrity, modesty, and honesty to the struggle.

Jane Lampman is the Monitor’s religion reporter.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Glenn Greenwald's Critique of Obama's Deficit Commission - Salon.Com

From Salon.Com
Saturday, Sep 4, 2010 09:05 ET
In defense of Alan Simpson
By Glenn Greenwald


The President's Deficit Commission is designed to be as anti-democratic and un-transparent as possible. Its work is done in total secrecy. It is filled with behind-the-scenes political and corporate operatives who steadfastly refuse to talk to the public about what they're doing. Its recommendations will be released in December, right after the election, to ensure that its proposals are shielded from public anger. And the House has passed a non-binding resolution calling for an up-or-down/no-amendments vote on the Commission's recommendations, long considered the key tactic to ensuring its enactment. The whole point of the Commission is that the steps which Washington wants to take -- particularly cuts in popular social programs, such as Social Security -- can occur only if they are removed as far as possible from democratic accountability. As the economist James Galbraith put it when testifying before the Commission in July:

Your proceedings are clouded by illegitimacy. . . . First, most of your meetings are secret, apart from two open sessions before this one, which were plainly for show. There is no justification for secret meetings on deficit reduction. No secrets of any kind are involved. . . .

Second, that some members of the commission are proceeding from fixed, predetermined agendas. Third, that the purpose of the secrecy is to defer public discussion of cuts in Social Security and Medicare until after the 2010 elections. You could easily dispel these suspicions by publishing video transcripts of all of your meetings on the Internet, and by holding all future meetings in public . . .

Conflicts of interest constitute the fourth major problem. The fact that the Commission has accepted support from Peter G. Peterson, a man who has for decades conducted a relentless campaign to cut Social Security and Medicare, raises the most serious questions.

That's why Commission co-chair Alan Simpson -- with his blunt contempt for Social Security and and other benefit programs (such as aid to disabled veterans) and his acknowledged eagerness to slash them -- has done the country a serious favor. His recent outbursts have unmasked this Commission and shed light on its true character. Unlike his fellow Commission members, who imperiously dismiss public inquiries into what they're doing as though they're annoying and inappropriate, Simpson -- to his genuine credit -- has been aggressively engaging critics, making it impossible to ignore what the Commission is really up to.

In June, he walked out of a Commission meeting and proceeded to engage in an amazingly informative, 8-minute colloquy streaming in real time on the front page of FDL, making unambiguously clear that the Commission is working to cut Social Security benefits. And over the last several weeks, he has used increasingly flamboyant rhetoric to attack both defenders of Social Security and the program itself, as well as even attacking wounded veterans for failing to sacrifice enough by giving up some of their benefits. Whatever one thinks of Simpson's remarks, I prefer his public, engaged candor to the extreme, arrogant secrecy of his fellow Members.

Throughout last year, a few lone, progressive voices were sounding the alarm that the core goal of the President's Commission was to enable cuts in Social Security, but the Commission was operating in such stealth, and the idea was so inconceivable that Obama would lead cuts in Social Security, that few believed it. The Democrats' plan was clearly to try to win the midterm election by telling people that the GOP wanted to attack Social Security and the Democrats would protect it, only to turn around once the election was over and then enact the Commission's Social Security reductions. Simpson's comments have changed all that. Now, even the hardest-core Democratic loyalists are objecting to the Party's plan; here is lifelong Party operative Bob Shrum, of all people, blowing the whistle on what the Democrats are trying to do with this Commission:

So why not campaign all-out, in [Tip] O'Neill’s plainspoken way, against a GOP that is disloyal to the most successful -- and most popular -- social program in American history?

Because Democrats have been disarmed by the president's deficit reduction commission, which plainly intends to propose Social Security cuts.

Rather than allow such cuts to be greased through the lame duck session of a decimated Democratic Congress, or passed under cover of "bipartisanship" in a decidedly more Republican one next year, shouldn't the case be stated and debated before the election? (Right now, Social Security is treated as the issue that dare not speak its name.) There is also the question of Democratic identity: What does the party stand for if not Social Security? And then there is the question of Democratic stupidity: Qualified and muted comments by Democrats in effect suggesting that Democrats won't endanger Social Security as much as the other guys will can only further pave the road to defeat.

The president's deficit reduction commission was a response to a series of popular myths -- that the federal deficit is a root cause of our economic distress and that Social Security is a root cause of the deficit. . . . So the deficit commission has targeted Social Security, which has nothing to do with the deficit.

Simpson's comments have triggered a parade of similar evidence. Key Democratic House member Chris Van Hollen pointedly refused to vow that Democrats would vote against Social Security cuts when pressed by MSNBC's Cenk Uygur, and several progressive pundits -- including TPM's Brian Beutler and Ezra Klein -- this week documented what has been clear for some time: that the Commission is stacked with ideologically conservative and corporatist appointments from both parties likely to recommend cuts in Social Security.

But perhaps the most significant result of Simpson's candor is that Obama loyalists and Beltway media voices are now forced to publicly defend Social Security cuts, because Simpson's comments have prematurely dragged out into the open what has been an open secret in Washington but was supposed to be a secret plot for everyone else until the election was over. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait recently decreed, in response to the Simpson controversy, that "liberals should be open to Social Security cuts as part of a balanced package of deficit reduction." And in The Washington Post today, both the Editorial Page and Dana Milbank defend Simpson and call for cuts in Social Security (Milbank even defends cuts in aid to wounded veterans). That Social Security must be cut is not only a bipartisan consensus among the GOP and "centrist" Democratic wing, but at least as much, among the Beltway media establishment.

This last point is the critical one for me, and most illustrative of why I find the effort to cut Social Security so appalling. For the moment, leave to the side abstract debates over the propriety of social programs, or even debates over specific proposals such as raising the retirement age or means-testing. Instead, let's look at what is happening more broadly:

One of the most significant developments in the U.S. is the rapidly and severely increasing rich-poor gap. A middle class standard of living is being suffocated and even slowly eliminated, as budget cuts cause an elimination of services that are hallmarks of first-world living. Because the wealthiest Americans continue to consolidate both their monopoly on wealth and, more important, their control of Congress and the government generally, we respond to all of this by enacting even more policies which exacerbate that gap and favor even more the wealthiest factions while taking more from the poorest and most powerless. And now, the very people responsible for the vulernable financial state of the U.S. want to address that problem by targeting one of the very few guarantors in American life of a humane standard of living: Social Security.

Advocates of cutting Social Security -- like Jonathan Chait and the Post's Fred Hiatt -- are the same people who cheered on the attack on Iraq and other policies of endless American War, which have drained America's budget and turned it into a debtor nation. Millions of other human beings -- but not, of course, them -- suffered and sacrificed for those policies. And now that it's time to address the economic carnage caused by all of this, to what do they turn for savings? The handful of social programs which provide at least some small guarantee of a minimally decent standard of living in old age.

Even those who are ideologically opposed to "social programs" as confiscatory or "socialist" should find this glaring disparity in treatment highly objectionable. The government policies which most benefit the wealthiest -- the owners of the Government -- continue unabated: endless war, private Surveillance State explosions, Wall Street bailouts, too-big-to-fail banks, perhaps even extending Bush tax cuts, while the programs on which the most vulnernable depend are targeted to pay for all that. There have been some gestures during the Obama presidency to work against this trend -- most notably the increase of health care subsidies for millions of poor people -- but targeting Social Security in order to pay for wars, to feed the private Surveillance State, and to extend Bush tax cuts or the suspension of the estate tax is pernicious no matter one's economic ideology. This isn't about free market capitalism; it's crony capitalism -- oligarchy -- where government policies are constructed to transfer wealth to the same small faction at the top.

In the Post today, Milbank justifies the targeting of Social Security recipients and wounded veterans on the ground that nothing should be "sacrosanct" when considering how to solve America's deficit problem. Leaving aside the fact that Social Security is not really a deficit issue, the true causes of America's debt and deficits are absolutely sacrosanct and will never be attacked by this Commission. Does anyone believe it's even remotely possible that meaningful cuts in America's war and military spending, surveillance and intelligence networks, or even corporate-plundering of America's health care system will be enacted as a result of this Commission process? Of course not. Those genuine debt-causing policies are "sacrosanct" because the people who profit from them own and control Washington (and share common socio-economic interests with the millionaire Commission members targeting social programs and the billionaires who are behind this). It's the people who don't control Washington -- ordinary Americans who need Social Security -- who are being targeted in order to feed even further the fattest, most piggish factions actually in control. That's what makes this process so ugly and odious.

UPDATE: The 8-minute Simpson video I linked above is apparently difficult to hear unless you use headphones. That's recommended, but for those who don't do that, the transcript of that colloquy is here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous? by Alix Spiegel

Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous? by Alix Spiegel An article on the National Public Radio site

My Response:

I am an atheist because there is no evidence of the existence of a god and any attempt to prove or disprove the existence of a god is a frivolous waste of time. I certainly would not confuse a wind chime with a "god detection device" and continue to call myself a scientist. Wind chimes are called wind chimes because they make sounds in response to wind not because they send messages from the spirits of dead mothers who want to inform their offspring that they have successfully "crossed over." What does that mean: 2 "dings" for heaven, 3 "dongs" for hell. The assumption that human co-operation exists because of a scheme of rewards and punishments enforced by a supernatural entity ignores the existence of altruistic behaviour in "social" animals like elephants which have been observed to protect their fellows often against apparent self-interest and at risk of their own lives.

September-01-10 1:01:29 AM

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Poem: Watching My Lover by Lorna Crozier


I watch him hold his mother
as she vomits in a bowl.
After, he washes her face
with a wet cloth and we try
to remove her soiled gown
tied in the back with strings.

Unable to lift her
I pull the green cotton
from under the blankets, afraid
I’ll tear her skin.
He removes the paper diaper,
No one has taught us
how to do this, what to say.
Everything’s so fragile here
a breath could break you.

She covers her breasts with hands
bruised from tubes and needles,
turns her face away.
It’s okay, Mom, he says.
Don’t feel shy. I’ve undressed
dozens of women in my time.
In this room where lover
bares his mother, we three laugh.

Later, I curl naked beside him
in our bed, listen to his sleeping,
breath by breath. So worn out
he burns with fever — the fires
his flesh light to keep him
from the cold.

Though he has washed
I smell her on his skin
as if she has licked him
from head to toe
with old woman’s tongue
so everyone who lies with him
will know he’s still
his mother’s son.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Edwin Fitzgerald's Rubyiat of Omar Khayam

"So I be written in the Book of Love;
I do not care about that Book above.
Erase my name, or write it as you will,
So I be written in the Book of Love."

According to Keith Olberman on MSNBC, this verse of Edwin Fitzgerald's Rubyiat of Omar Khayam was quoted by Clarence Darrow in one of his trial summations

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Salon's Attack on Wiener Unfair and Unwarranted


Isn't this just like the "liberal" media. If a Democrat delivers a stirring attack on Republicans for their gutless refusal to aid first responders who sacrificed their health saving those injured on 9-11, he should obviously be taken down a few pegs by the arm-chair commentators at Salon. As far as the Muslim community center is concerned, I have no objection to its location near the 9-11 site but I can understand why some people have difficulty warming to the level of support demanded by the monday-morning quarterbacks at Salon. As an atheist, I'm condemned to eternal torture by all three of the major religions - even by their most peace-loving clerics - so frankly Salon, I hope you'll excuse me for not giving a damn. Kudos to Wiener. Shame on Salon

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Federal Judge overturns California Proposition 8

Congratulations and thanks to Federal District Court Judge Walker whose decision - published yesterday - voided California's ban on gay marriage which was passed by referendum at the last State elections.

According to media reports, Judge Walker's 138 - page decision carefully analyzed the qualifications and testimony of "expert" witnesses who appeared in support of the gay marriage ban and essentially dismissed them as frauds and bigots.  He found their evidence that homosexual marriage is a threat to hetero-sexual marriage or that children of homosexual marriages suffer psychological damage is insupportable in fact.

The Judge's decision found that proposition 8 offended the provision of the United States Constitution that barred government from making laws which restrict the inalienable rights of its citizens. To deny homosexuals access to marriage was to deny them a fundamental right to which all other citizens have access, on that basis he struck down the gay-marriage ban imposed by California Proposition 8.

This is a landmark decision in U. S. constitutional law. It will inspire similar challenges in other states where the christian extreme right has used anti-gay marriage legislation to stampede their congregations out to vote. Fortunately, Judge Walker's decision was so carefully analyzed and so effectively written that the politicians on the supreme court will have a difficult time overturning it without bringing themselves even further into disrepute.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why Can't I Own A Canadian?

Why Can't I Own A Canadian?
on April 21, 2010 12:59 PM ET
this was posted yesterday and i just loved it:\

October 2002

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 - Kevin Bales: How to combat modern slavery

The public library is a great equaliser.

When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equaliser.

- Rolling Stones lead guitarist Keith Richards, in his upcoming autobiography

Dave Kaiser, Senior Investment Advisor
Canaccord Wealth Management

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunset, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada
Sunset - Swift Current, SK

conservatism is another name for disaster.

"The problem wasn't just that the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq) was understaffed, it was also that it was staffed by people who lacked the baseline belief in the public sphere that is required for the complex task of reconstructing a state from the ground up. As the political scientist Michael Wolfe puts it, "Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon. If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are unlikely to do it very well." He adds, "As a way of governing, conservatism is another name for disaster."

It certainly was in Iraq. Much has been made of the youth and inexperience of the U. S. political appointees in the CPA - the fact that a handful of twentysomething Republicans were given key roles in overseeing Iraq' $13 billion budget. While there is no question that the members of the so-called brat pack were alarmingly young, that was not their greatest liability. These were front-line warriors from America's counter-revolution against all relics of Keynesianism, many of them linked to the Heritage Foundation, ground zero of Friedmanism since it was launched in 1973.

- Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
ISBN 978-0-676-97891-8

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

AIDS deniers kill hundreds of thousands

Against the evidence

Richard Wilson

Published 18 September 2008 The New Statesman

Richard Wilson on the crucial difference between doubt and dogmatism

Throughout the 1960s, the tobacco industry famously spent millions promoting a small group of vociferous "sceptics" who, in the face of overwhelming evidence, continued to deny the link between smoking and cancer. The strategy paid off. Long after a clear scientific consensus had emerged, much of the public still believed that the case remained unproven.

In a sceptical age, even those disseminating wholly bogus ideas - from corporate pseudo-science to 9/11 conspiracy theories - will often seek to appropriate the language of rational inquiry. But there is a meaningful difference between being a "sceptic" and being in denial. The genuine sceptic forms his beliefs through a balanced evaluation of the evidence. The sceptic of the bogus variety cherry-picks evidence on the basis of a pre-existing belief, seizing on data, however tenuous, that supports his position, and yet declaring himself "sceptical" of any evidence, however compelling, that undermines it.

While it is easy to guess the motivations of an industry-funded scientist denying the dangers posed by his commercial sponsor, or a far-right historian expressing "scepticism" about the Holocaust, other cases are more puzzling. It is difficult to explain why, for example, a respected academic would dismiss the mountain of proof that HIV causes Aids. But several have, notably the Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg.

HIV is a type of "retrovirus". Duesberg has argued for decades that retroviruses rarely, if ever, harm their hosts. Rather than modify this theory in the light of evidence that one such virus was killing millions, Duesberg in the late 1980s announced his "scepticism" about that evidence, and has stuck to his guns ever since.

Early on, these ideas found a receptive audience among HIV sufferers, desperate for an alternative prognosis. The cause was later taken up by conspiracy theorists convinced that Aids was a money-spinning fabrication of the global pharmaceutical industry.

In South Africa, at the beginning of this decade, Aids scepticism gained currency with a political class dismayed at the prices being charged for life-saving medicines. Under the influence of Duesberg and his fellow "dissidents", Thabo Mbeki's government chose to delay for several years public provision of anti-HIV drugs. The economist Nicoli Nattrass estimates that this decision - made amid one of the world's worst Aids epidemics - may already have cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

Bogus scepticism does not centre on an impartial search for the truth, but on a no-holds-barred defence of a preconceived ideological position. The bogus sceptic is thus, in reality, a disguised dogmatist, made all the more dangerous for his success in appropriating the mantle of the unbiased and open-minded inquirer.

Richard Wilson's "Don't Get Fooled Again" is out now, published by Icon Books (£12.99)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dominion Day Dance

The night is summer
And the hour is heavy with air that moves
Like a slow mouth in the leaves of the chestnut,
The branches of the elms.
A boy dances in their shadows.
Across the street in the Legion Hall
music falls upon the dancers.
As the boy moves he imagines
a girl whose breasts
are small perfect pains on her chest
and he want to touch them.
He has sworn tonight to dance
with a girl who is beautiful.
He does not know his desire
to never be alone again
is the beginning of loneliness.
It is a new kind of fear.
It has entered him like a cage enters
an animal, this thing his body does
moving in awkward grace
with nothing in its arms.

- Patrick Lane