Setting the Record Straight

June 10, 2008

Too-Little, Too-Late Foreign Policy?

Talking Instead of War-Mongering

          As the count-down to George W. Bush’s last days in office neared the 200-day mark, he set off on another probably embarrassing foreign trip. But this one may actually have some value to it. At the very least, one of its alleged purposes may signal a too-little, too-late change in policy.
          It was not that long ago that Vice President Strangelove was rattling sabers, aiming all sorts of angry threats at Iran. Dick Cheney’s apocalyptic bogeyman turned out not to be Saddam Hussein after all, so he turned his fear-mongering towards Mah-moud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran.

          The Bush farewell trip to Europe included a summit meeting with Euro-pean Union leaders in which he urged the Western World to adopt a strong-er stance vis a vis Iran, complete with expanded United Nations sanctions.

         Whereas Cheney’s blustering made it appear the United States was about to bomb Iran, the policy now appears to include diplomacy largely absent for the past seven-plus years. The new policy would combine stiffer sanctions with incentives for Iran to pull back on its efforts to enrich uranium, whose main purpose is use in weapons.

         This message was to be carried by an EU envoy to Tehran and the latest Ayatollah Khomeini who really rules the country. Notice, it is not a U.S. leader attempting to talk to Iran’s leaders.
          Bush and John McCain, the Republican candidate to be his successor, pooh-pooh talk with anyone who appears to be a U.S. enemy. Barack Obama’s suggestion he would meet with any other national leader, terrorist or not, without pre-conditions was a bit naïve and off the mark for the way international diplomacy is practiced, but it was not as far off the mark as Bush and McCain would have you believe.
          At the same time the EU is talking with Iranian leaders Israel, a charter member of the eye-for-an-eye crowd, nonetheless is willing to sit down with one of its arch enemies, Syria. If highly vulnerable Israel can talk to its enemies, why cannot a highly invulnerable United States do so?
          It is probably too late for this administration, but it is about time a U.S. leader also learned something about this part of the world and find out how to get along with its residents. Obama’s youthful exposure to Islam and his own distant Muslim heritage puts him in a position no U.S. president has had. Let us hope he uses it well if he is elected president.
          Obama could put us on the road to a real understanding of the differences in that part of the world. We cannot change the dynamics there, but we can adjust our own accommodations to them, beginning with a basic understanding of what we are up against.
          Admittedly this is overly simplistic, but the three major religions of the world–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–derive from the same source, in that order, and not so surprisingly, with the same basic set of beliefs.
–The oldest of the three, Judaism, believes there is only one god (a fairly novel thought at the time it was formulated thousands of years ago) who will come to Earth before an ill-defined “Judgment Day.”
–Then Christians came along and said the son of the one god already came to Earth, about 2,000 years ago now, and his name was Jesus. But he is supposed to come again before that same wispy “Judgment Day.”
–Then along came Islam, which said the other two were wrong, that the son of its version of the one god will be the one returning to Earth. The Shiite branch of Islam believes that son will be the 12th one of Muhammad and that his pre-“Judgment Day” plans include a well-defined reign of terror.
That’s it. Three divergent beliefs that draw on the same account in the same book, the Bible. Basically, the divisions in the Middle East constitute no more than another clash of mythology, perhaps a later version of the clashes of Greek or Roman gods, or name your region of the world and local myth.
Ahmadinejad is as whacky a representative of Iran as our current leadership is of the United States, with Dick Cheney pulling increasingly entangled strings.
Cheney failed to point out in his apocalyptic message that Ahmadinejad is mostly a loopy figurehead president of Iran and that the power there still lies in the hands of religious leaders we hope are more rational, but whose thoughts we cannot discern as long as we are focused on the Bush administration’s latest bogeyman.

June 7, 2008

What Do You Really Mean?

Myths Are Not Benign,

They Maim The Message

          Repeated myths such as those that often appear in blogs and in widely circulated e-mails by people with an axe to grind do harm to the causes they espouse and provide fodder to their opponents. Misstatements embedded in arguments also do harm to the intended message. And in our efforts to dumb down the language to try to communicate with the most ignorant among us, we also harm the record.

          As an example of the first, many assertions we’ve already seen in the political campaign are so ridiculous, one gets the idea the person behind it must be an absolute fool, and thus his opinion is the opinion of a fool even though it might well be legitimate.

          An example of misstatements that harm an argument is outlined elsewhere on this site—that globally, water can be wasted. As for dumbing down the language, for decades have required trucks to carry signs warning that what they are carrying is “flammable” because we fear the ignorant would misunderstand the correct term, “inflammable.”

          Probably the most egregious error of these types comes from those who accept Darwinism. They have long hurt their cause and given sustenance to “creationists” by misstating the process of evolution.
Science books, science shows and other media that attempt to explain evolution almost universally explain evolution as a selective process, i.e., we adopt features so we can be more suitable for survival under changing conditions. Supposedly, presenting evolution as a selective process makes it easier to understand.
Those misrepresentations are illustrated by claims such as over generations an animal developed features to help it adjust to changes. But evolution is a deselective process, not a selective one, a reality that is much clearer today as we learn more about the genetics of life.
Simply put, our genes mutate as they are passed from one generation to another. If conditions change, the living thing such as a person whose genes have changed to the extent that the living thing is more suitable to its changed environment just happens to be the one who is more suited to the new conditions, survives longer, is healthier and more likely to pass on the more suitable genes to the next generation.
The living thing that has not mutated in the more suitable direction is less suited to the changes, is not as healthy and what offspring it does produce is likely to be less suitable to the new conditions. Thus, its line of generations is likely to die off or move to more suitable conditions when it is able, leaving its home to those best suited to survive in it.
It is the deselective process that constitutes evolution.

          Similarly, the evolution theory is constantly harmed by believers who misstate “survival of the fittest” as the person in the best condition or shape being the one who survives. As stated above, survival in evolutionary terms depends on who is best adapted to the new conditions that confront us.

          None of us will be around to prove or disprove whether global warming (and global cooling, which is occurring at the same time) is real. But if the globe becomes too hot, those closest to the polar ice caps will survive to evolve better than those in the torrid zones. The survivors will be the fittest because the deselection of evolution has omitted the others.



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