Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Justice, No Healing - More on Obama's Betrayal of Honduras and Democracy

In the same week that Obama accepts the Nobel Prize, his administration has told the people of Honduras that they have no rights. No right to live without terror, to participate in public life, to decide on the society they want to live in. People they elect can be thrown out at the will of oligarchs who will not accept democracy; they themselves can be threatened, arrested, beaten, raped, and killed with impunity; their organizations can be harassed and their media shuttered. All is well - even under a brutal coup regime - if the usurpers enact the ritual of elections.

Here are two recent analyses:

Brendan Cooney, "The Man Who Wasn't There: What Leaving Honduras Says about Obama"

William Finnegan, "Gone South"

And here's a recent report on the "elections":

I fear for Zelaya's safety.

People in Honduras, Latin America, and the world will not stop fighting. I have a question for anyone reading who might know: What are the various possible means by which a referendum on a constitutional assembly, or the constituyente itself, can come about in Honduras?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

This is wrong, Obama.

Your administration is taking the wrong side, doing the wrong thing. You have not acted in good faith toward the people struggling for justice and democracy in Honduras. This is a test of your principles, and you are failing. No one - including the Honduran oligarchs you're supporting - has been fooled. You are not promoting democracy. You are standing with terror. You should be ashamed.

It's not too late to do the right thing. A different sort of relationship with the rest of the hemisphere means respecting them. Respecting them - not mocking them with hollow and condescending rhetoric about "national reconciliation" and "resolving the crisis."

I hope that those who sang your praises when others cautioned skepticism and vigilance will, instead of reflexively rushing to your defense, investigate the issue and pressure you to defend the principles you claim to uphold.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Democracy Now! Reports on Honduras Deal


Here's the link (embedding doesn't yet seem to be working for this one).


Possible Agreement for Zelaya to Return to Presidency in Honduras

There are reports that an agreement has been reached, following pressure from US envoys, between Zelaya and the koupists in Honduras for him to return to the presidency. It appears this has to be approved by the coup-philic congress and court and some of the details remain unclear, but it looks promising. The deal also seems to include the establishment of a truth commission to investigate the actions of the past few months.

(Here's a recent video to remind us of what the oligarchs have been up to:)

More at The Real News

This is, of course, no reason for the growing movement for a new constitution to cease. On the contrary, people are more organized and mobilized than ever to fight for justice.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

HONDURAS UPDATE 10-18-09: THANK YOU, Al Jazeera!

It's been a frustrating week - talks on, talks off, old and new deadlines (here's another worthwhile interview with Zelaya, this one by PBS), more smug stalling by the thugs,... Meanwhile, for the people of Honduras, the terror continues.

One light has been this report by Al Jazeera. Please, please watch both parts.

I come down on the side of this piece: "La amnistía a los golpistas, un punto que debemos rechazar categóricamente."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Somewhere in my pantry

or my mother's cellar lies this...

tape. :/ From many years ago, when it was being sold to raise funds.

Admirable, and catchy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I thought this was what we WANTED!

I just posted this over at Pharyngula's neverending thread, but I'm so bewildered by Dawkins' attitude and that of some of his commenters that I feel compelled to post it here as well (leaving aside, for the moment, the misogynistic-language issue):
Richard Dawkins:
If any teachers are reading this, who are in the habit of giving credit for attendance at visitor talks, I am asking you to please NOT give credit for attending any talk of mine. I have a number of venues to come on my current US tour. I shall make a point of asking, at the beginning of each talk, whether any students are there because they have been told to be there, or because they have been offered extra credit for attending. If the answer is yes, I shall ask them publicly to leave. I cannot compel them to leave but if, as has happened at most of my talks on this tour, there is an overflow crowd outside, I shall draw it to their attention and invite them, as a matter of personal conscience, to give up their seats.
This is incredibly stupid, quite frankly. Teachers, as Dawkins should know, give assignments for credit to encourage students to expand their horizons - to be challenged by ideas that go against what they've long accepted unquestioningly. This is at the heart of a university education. It can be a painful, emotional process, and people understandably are often hostile to new ideas, but few aspects of education could be more important. And he wants to impede these efforts? At any talk, there are going to be a number of people there who are obliged to be by a professor, friend, spouse, whatever. For every one who enters and leaves unchanged or more hostile, I would speculate that there's at least one who comes away thinking about things in a new way (especially when we're talking about a speaker of Dawkins' caliber). I can't tell you how many stories I've heard of people who later became activists having transformative moments when they were dragged to a public talk by a friend or spouse. Why on earth would anyone want to stop this? I would love to attend a talk by Dawkins, but I would be happy to relinquish my seat to someone who doesn't want to be there, especially a young person.

As for asking the students at the beginning of the talk to leave, this sounds insane to me. How the hell is it a "matter of conscience" to deny oneself a learning opportunity? And thinking back to my university years, when I was even more shy than I am now, I would have been utterly and enduringly traumatized by being singled out in front of thousands of people and asked to leave in a situation in which I was trying to do what my teacher had asked and had fairly obtained my seat. I would also have thought that atheists were assholes. The whole idea of it is horrifying, and I hope Dawkins changes his mind about this plan.
We want people who don't know about us to be exposed to our ideas. I'm astounded by Dawkins' stance here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Interlude - Beauty

One more try:

Friday, October 9, 2009

HONDURAS UPDATE 10-9-09: Continuing repression, an opinion poll, a cacerolazo, paramilitaries, anti-Semitism and the media

It’s been another week in which reports from Honduras have focused on a handful of politicians within and without and largely ignored what’s happening on the ground. I did find this video from Al Jazeera a few days ago:

Also, Al Giordano recently reported on a survey of the Honduran populace: "Poll: Wide Majority of Hondurans Oppose Coup d’Etat, Want Zelaya Back."

Honduras en lucha! has posted a call for a cacerolazo across Latin America, this Monday, the 12th, at 7 PM Honduras time.

Today, as talks continue between representatives of the elected president of the country and the violators of international law, there are more infuriating if not entirely surprising reports. The koup regime, faced with domestic and international pressure, was forced to cut short what was initially set to be a 45-day suspension of constitutional guarantees. Of course, they had already raided and confiscated the equipment of media outlets, which hasn’t been returned, and arrested people in the resistance movement, who haven’t been released, and continued to repress protests and commit human rights violations...

Now, there are reports from the UN that landusurpers have brought in Colombian paramilitaries and that the regime has hired an international gang. Another violation, and another clear indication of what this coup was about. It should be abundantly clear that these people care about nothing but maintaining their illegitimate grip on power. They should realize that it’s over. They may have derailed democracy temporarily, but they can’t stop the movements for democratic participation and social justice in the country.

I feel the need to comment, belatedly, on the matter of David Romero at Radio Globo and his revolting remarks. I have only a few things to say. First, few seem to be noting one of the most bizarre aspects of this story:

Romero later apologized for the remarks in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that they were "stupid" statements made in the heat of the moment and that don't reflect his real views. He said his grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Czechoslovakia who came to Honduras to escape persecution in Europe.
Does this jackass not realize that he would have been considered a “mixed-breed” under the Nuremberg laws? If that genocidal vision had been fulfilled, his family would have been killed and he would likely never have been born. Some people are too stupid to be on the radio. He has apologized; as I understand it, though, he hasn't been dismissed and no action will be taken against him by the station, which, as noted above, is still off the air. That bothers me immensely. When they start broadcasting again, I’ll remove their link from the side of the page.

Annoyingly, attempts have been made by some to portray Zelaya as an unbalanced anti-Semite, apparently twisting his words about reports of Israeli mercenaries having been brought to the country. I was going to write about this a few days ago, but the reports coming out today (on top of the evidence concerning the use of LRAD and other techniques at the Brazilian embassy) - in addition to the shameless, relentless mendacity of this regime - should give pause to anyone who would reject out of hand reports of Israeli mercenaries. Nor is the simple suggestion of the involvement of Israeli mercenaries or "security" implements anti-Semitic. Is the contention that there are no such people? Tell it to black South Africans who lived under Apartheid. Anti-Semites will, of course, try to use this for their purposes. This is encouraged by sensationalistic and inaccurate reporting and needs to be smacked down, especially in times of turmoil in which scapegoating is an even greater danger.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ophelia Benson and the Atheist Alliance International*

She coulda been a contender. Instead, a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

Don't count us out.

(By the way, I can't seem to find the video of the PBS film about Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, and the blacklist online. A shame - it was one of their best.)

*Yes, I later corrected her name. No idea what happened, beyond too much time in the past 48 hours spent looking at a baby-name-mocking site. I blame Greg Laden.

Book Bits #2: There is No Novelist of History

I think I’ll make this a semi-regular feature! I recently provided a little snippet from a biography of Anne Hutchinson, and here I am again, offering not a full review of a work but just a few thoughts on a single passage within. In this case, I haven’t even read the work in question [!] (though I have read the exchange in question (this has all of the important links) and watched some interviews with the author. There are so many problems with this book in general that I wouldn’t even know where to begin; happily, Coyne and others have risen to the challenge.

I here address only Wright’s contentions regarding irony, which he refers to as “moral irony” but which, mealy mush aside, is more accurately depicted as historical irony. Here’s the quotation Jerry Coyne provides from Wright’s book:

This is the moral irony of the Koran. On the one hand, it is vengeful; people who read it after hearing only whitewashed summaries are often surprised at the recurring air of retribution. Yet most of the retributive passages don’t encourage retribution; almost always, it is God, not any Muslim, who is to punish the infidels. And if we confine ourselves to the Meccan years – most of the Koran –Muslims are encouraged to resist the impulse of vengeance.
Coyne’s response:

Here, as in much of his reply, Wright seems oblivious about the disparity between what scripture actually says, and how it bears on his main thesis. He admits that the Meccan verses are not only written earlier than the Medina ones, but are also superceded by the Medinan verses (in light of this, it’s completely irrelevant which verses make up “most of the Koran”). So what’s the point of emphasizing the sunny verses if they’re rendered obsolete by darker ones? And who cares whether it is God rather than the Muslims who is to punish the infidels? As Wright insists throughout The Evolution of God, it’s how the scripture is interpreted by humans that’s important. If Muslims, in the end, see the Qur’an as mandating vengeance, then Islamic theology has grown less moral.
Whenever I hear “irony” in reference to history, I reach for my…critical faculties. Coyne is completely correct, but I wish to raise a broader question – Is there such a thing as historical (or moral) irony? I’ll go out on a limb and say there isn’t. I think Coyne is right: the key issue is the historical reception of the relevant passages. But another question is – Can this historical reception really be ironic in any meaningful sense? I don’t think so. “[M]ost of the retributive passages don’t encourage retribution…God rather than the Muslims…is to punish infidels” is claptrap, which ignores the ways in which ideas have been interpreted. “Marxist-Leninism merely suggested that the kulaks were doomed by History. It's a historical irony that millions were deliberately killed”; “I merely said that homosexuals were engaging in sinful behavior that is repulsive to the Lord. I never told anyone to go out and beat them up.” The history of people believing themselves agents of the forces of necessarity/teleology is so evident that only the most naïve theorist would ignore it.

And that’s what we have here. Someone so enamored of his thesis that contrary evidence is not recognized as such, but viewed as irony. I’ve long considered it a rule of thumb in writing about events in the past and present that if I find myself resorting to claims of irony I should rethink my thesis. Irony only makes sense as a deviation from a narrative script – a literary device. There are no historical scripts.

I’m happy to hear arguments to the contrary or to discuss concrete examples of what people see as historical irony. I don’t see irony as having any place in the physical/natural/social sciences.

Monday, September 28, 2009



Tear gas and LRAD:

Radio Globo forced off the air (now playing music):

(I can't confirm their provenance, but these appeared within the past hour.)

HONDURAS - URGENT: Constitutional guarantees suspended for 45 days


Read it here:

"Honduras Coup Leader Micheletti Decrees 45-Day Suspension of Constitution"

Good thing Micheletti and his gang were around to protect democracy and the constitution from opinion polls. Clownish thugs.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Puritan Monster

The other day, I finished Eve LaPlante's American Jezebel, a biography of Anne Hutchinson:

I won't review it now, and may not do so here at all. Still haven't decided, though I'll recommend it generally. (I will give in to the temptation to yet again recommend Linebaugh and Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra:)

But I did want to share one story from the book that struck me. It concerns a stillbirth of Mary Dyer in Boston in 1637 and the responses to it:

Only three weeks before her trial, on a balmy October night in 1637, Hutchinson had sought and received private advice from [John] Cotton about a matter that, had the other ministers learned of it, would have caused an outcry. The matter was the birth of a deformed stillborn to a Boston couple, an event that most of their neighbors would have seen as evidence of God’s displeasure with the baby’s parents.

On October 17, Mary Dyer, the twenty-six-year-old wife of the milliner, William Dyer, went into labor two months before her due date and lost consciousness. The midwife Jane Hawkins, who was attending her at home, sent a man on horseback to summon Mistress Anne Hutchinson to assist in the birth. Later that evening, with both midwives present, Mary Dyer delivered a stillborn female with extensive deformities of the head, spinal column, and extremities.

To protect Mary and her husband from public shame, Hutchinson and Hawkins swaddled the tiny corpse, concealing its deformities. When Mary Dyer regained consciousness, the midwives told her only that her baby had died. But what to do with the body? Anne Hutchinson proposed that they bury it and not speak of it again. The risk of this, as both she and Jane Hawkins knew, was that if townspeople heard what had happened, they would suspect evil intent, which would only intensify the Dyers’ shame. English common law allowed a midwife to bury a dead baby in private, as long as ‘neither hog nor dog nor any other beast come into it’, but the Massachusetts court had forbidden this practice as a way of preventing attempts at abortion. Anne Hutchinson thought to ask Reverend Cotton for his advice.

Well past midnight, she walked from the Dyers’ house, at the corner of what is now Summer Street, to the Cottons’ gabled mansion…

…Anne tapped on the parlor window, and the minister let her in. in the candlelight, she described Mary Dyer’s birthing and requested his counsel.

Yes, conceal it, Cotton agreed, aware of the English custom and law. She thanked him and went back out into the night. Before dawn, she and Jane Hawkins buried the baby. According to one account, Cotton accompanied the midwives and dug the grave. A few other women who had been present at the difficult birth knew of the baby’s state. But no man in the colony save John Cotton, William Dyer, and probably Will Hutchinson knew that the midwives and the minister had conspired to save the Dyers additional pain (pp. 88-9).
This seemed to me so compassionate and moral. Hutchinson and the others weren't just concerned with protecting Dyer socially, but emotionally as well. There was nothing to be gained from their actions socially or - to their imaginations - with their deity, and in fact they took a great risk, motivated only, it appears, by the desire to spare others pain. Which is why I found the denouement so sickening:

[At the conclusion of her church trial, at which she was publicly excummunicated] Holding her head high, [Hutchinson] stood, turned, and walked swiftly to the meetinghouse door. Now she took the proffered hand of her friend Mary Dyer, whom she had aided after her difficult birth. A group of Anne’s supporters, shrunken by the many banishments, disenfranchisements, and voluntary exiles from the colony, clustered around the rude wooden door that led out to the late-winter light.

[John] Winthrop was unaware, as he watched Mistresses Hutchinson and Dyer in the rear of the meetinghouse, of the events in October that had followed Dyer’s stillbirth. Within a week, however, word of the ‘monster’ that Dyer had borne – and that Hutchinson and Hawkins, with Cotton’s support, had secretly buried – would reach the governor, horrifying him. He had always admired the charming and attractive young Mary Dyer, but now she seemed ‘of a very proud spirit’, ‘much addicted to revelations’, and ‘notoriously infected with Mistress Hutchinson’s errors’. Of the Dyer baby, he would report in his journal:

It was so monstrous and misshapen as the like that scarce been heard of. It had no head but a face, which stood so low upon the breast, as the ears, which were like an ape’s, grew upon the shoulders.

The eyes stood far out, so did the mouth. The nose was hooking upward. The breast and back was full of sharp prickles, like a thornback [an ocean dweller with thornlike spines]. The navel and all the belly with the distinction of the sex were where lower part of the back and hips should have been, and those back parts were on the side the face stood.

The arms and hands, with the thighs and legs, were as other children’s, but instead of toes it had upon each foot three claws, with talons like a young fowl. Upon the back above the belly it had two great holes, like mouths, and in each of them stuck out a piece of flesh.

It had no forehead, but in the place thereof, above the eyes, four horns, whereof two were above an inch long, hard, and sharp.

The infant’s condition is consistent with a severe birth anomaly, anencephaly, the partial or total absence of the brain, according to modern medical experts. The horns, talons, and prickles are, however, embellishment.

‘Many things were observable in the birth and discovery of this monster’, the governor would note. The Dyers were ‘Familists, and very active in maintaining their party. The midwife, one Hawkin’s wife, of St. Ives, was notorious for familiarity with the Devil, and is now a prime Familist. This monster was concealed by three persons about five months’. Intimating a communal revulsion like that later associated with the witches of Salem Village, Winthrop reported that most women present at the birth ‘were suddenly taken with such a violent vomiting, as they were forced to go home, others had their children taken with convulsions, and so were sent home, so as none were left at the time of the birth but the midwife and two others, whereof one fell asleep. At such time as the child died, the bed where in the mother lay shook so violently as all in the room perceived it’.

Learning of the birth, Winthrop would order that Mistress Hawkins be questioned and the corpse exhumed. ‘The child was taken up’ from its grave, he reported, ‘and though it was much corrupted, yet the horns and claws and holes in the back and some scales were found and seen of above a hundred persons’ (pp. 205-6).
Monster, indeed.


  • The Keystone Koupists have demanded that the Brazilian government define the status of Manuel Zelaya - still resident in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa - within 10 days. The Brazilian government has rejected this ultimatum and noted that their embassy is protected by international law.

  • There are allegations that the Koupists have also denied entry to and/or detained a contingent of four representatives from the OAS seeking to promote negotiation.

  • There are reports (well, I've only seen one - in AFP, which I don't particularly trust and won't link to*) that Zelaya has issued a nationwide call for people to amass in Tegucigalpa tomorrow, which will be the three-month anniversary of the criminal coup.

  • Here's a link to an interview with Honduran activist Bertha Caceres.
If a showdown is looming, I hope it is peaceful. The oligarchs should realize that they have failed, and step aside.

*Their wording implies that he was urging a violent offensive; even without knowing more details, I'm sure that isn't the case.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Geoffrey Megargee on Nazi camps and ghettos

I watched an interview yesterday on Book TV with Geoffrey Megargee - author of Inside Hitler's High Command (2002) - about the set of reference volumes he and others have been working on for about a decade for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, from which Volume I has recently been released. Here's the link to the brief (18-minute) interview.

Pittsburgh LRAD video removed from WooTube

Thanks, Lab Boy.

I see that the Pittsburgh video I posted - and checked shortly thereafter - has since been "removed by the user." Lab Boy's suggested video is also "not available."

Let's try the one from WIRED

and *eyeroll* MSNBC (morons)

and see how long those last.

Greta Christina on race and gender in the atheist movement

[Catching up on my feeds. Still at G. :)]

Greta Christina is fabulous. Once again she brings together several key ideas and concrete suggestions in a concise, articulate set of posts:

"Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race"

"Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do -- And Why"


While some in the media try to present conditions in Honduras as having "normalized,"* Amnesty announces "Several reported dead in Honduras turmoil":
..."The de facto authorities must put an immediate halt to these repressive tactics and commit to respecting fundamental human rights," said Susan Lee, Amnesty International's Americas Director.

There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders since the return to Honduras on Monday of deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled from the country in a coup in June....
Things continue to be precarious in the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya has taken refuge. Those in the embassy, the people in the surrounding area, and anyone trying to approach the building are subject to constant harassment. While some have tried to (misre)present Zelaya's claims about attacks on the building as paranoid, more and more evidence comes forward to support these allegations (the comments there contain more information), and the UN Security Council has demanded that the coup regime cease its harassment immediately.

One of the same devices, LRAD, is being used here in the US as well. Here it is rolling through the streets of Pittsburgh (*WARNING: You should turn down/off the sound before playing*):

This is the world we live in. Anyone who sees it as global democracy is deluded. Chris Hedges is hit or miss (especially on religion and atheism), but his recent "With Global Capitalism Exposed as a Sham, All the Global Elite Have Left Is Pure Force" is worth a read.

*I should note another recent piece by FAIR - "USA Today, AP Mislead on Honduran Coup." It provides email addresses for those to contact to demand more accurate reporting from these two sources.


From the Rights Action Network:

THERE IS NOTHING TO “NEGOTIATE” WITH THE HONDURAN REGIME: Its Calls for November Elections Is A Further Subversion of Honduran Democracy

By Grahame Russell, September 25, 2009- Rights Action
Day 90 of resistance to the coup and military regime

On September 23rd, following the return to Honduras of the legitimate President, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, the illegal oligarchic-military regime again used lethal repression against the pro-democracy, anti-coup movement.

Different voices in the international community – notably the governments of the USA and Canada – again called for “both sides” to refrain from provoking violence and to “negotiate” a solution to the crisis.

These ostensibly neutral and reasonable-sounding calls to “both sides” for non-violence and negotiations serve to legitimize and prolong the regime which will again, sooner or later, carry out repression against the Honduran people. There is only one side using violence; there is only one side refusing to discuss, in any way at all, the restoration of the democratic, legal-constitutional order


When the foxes are in the hen house, one doesn’t call on both sides to step back from violence and work “their” problems out peacefully. If armed criminals break into your home and announce they are there to stay, one does not call on both sides to step back from violence and work “their” problems out peacefully.

There is one major problem in Honduras that needs to be resolved. 90 days ago, an oligarchic-military regime overthrew the democratic and legal-constitutional order. Since then, the regime has used repression against Hondurans protesting in favor of democracy, against the coup.

Despite what the regime claims, and what some international supporters repeat, there exists neither a democratic nor a legal-constitutional order in Honduras. It is an illegal, military State.

Until President Zelaya and his entire government have been returned to power - full power, including complete control over the Armed Forces - and until they have worked through a period of political transition, repairing the extensive harms and damages done by the regime, and are towards the re-establishment of the democratic and legal-constitutional order, nothing positive can happen, the situation can only deteriorate.


This includes, notably, the presidential elections slated for November 29, 2009. To pretend to carry out a fair electoral process in a country with a broken democratic and legal-constitutional order, controlled by an illegal repressive regime, is a contradiction in terms. Yet, this is what the regime is aiming for.

On June 28, 2009, the Honduran oligarchy conspired with the high command of the Armed Forces, and with the participation or acquiescence and support of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and a majority of the Congress, and with the participation or acquiescence and support of wealthy and conservative ideological sectors across the Americas, to militarily oust the government of Honduran President Zelaya.

Those directly and indirectly supporting the conspiracy obviously thought the Honduran people would protest for a few weeks, and then fade away. No doubt they assumed that the international community - governments and institutions such as the Organization of American States, United Nations, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, etc. – would (sooner or later) accept that a while some sort of ‘coup-lite’ had taken place, in the end what came about was a constitutional move to a transitional, civilian government headed by Roberto Micheletti.

All along, the regime has seen the elections as their end-game to legitimize the coup and fully “restore” the democratic order, thus ending the ‘constitutional transition period’.


While the oligarchic-military regime received public support from powerful political sectors linked to the Democratic and Republican parties in the USA, and indirect but crucial support due to the equivocating positions of the governments of the USA and Canada, they utterly miscalculated the strength, dignity and creativity of the peaceful and still growing pro-democracy, anti-coup movement in Honduras.

The people’s movement in Honduras, guided by the National Front Against the Coup, is deserving of the Nobel Peace prize. This movement exemplifies ‘another-world-is-possible-and-necessary’.

For 90 days, Hondurans have suffered waves of brutal repression. Dozens have been killed, hundreds illegally detained and tortured (including rape), many more have suffered injuries due to tear-gas, rubber and live bullets and beatings on the streets, and more.

Despite this, the movement – guided and encouraged, but not directed by the National Front Against the Coup - continues to protest peacefully, creatively and forcefully, day after day, in the poor barrios all around Tegucigalpa, in the centers of major cities, and spreading throughout Honduras to villages and remote mountainous regions.


The regime also miscalculated the reaction of the “other” international community. Across the Americas, and inside Honduras, solidarity activists, NGOs, alternative media journalists, religious communities, human rights accompaniers and more are working directly with and/or supporting the National Front Against the Coup and community based organizations across Honduras in the pro-democracy, anti-coup movement.

The regime and its supporters inside the country and internationally got it all wrong. Yes, they are carrying out widespread repression. Yes, the Honduran people are suffering a great deal, for their dignity and heroic struggle. But, the regime and its supporters are wrong; they will not prevail.


All of this has come to a point of maximum tension when the regime unleashed another wave of massive repression on Wednesday, September 23rd. They did so because President Zelaya came back to Honduras. Enthralled that their President was back, thousands of Hondurans gathered around the Brazilian embassy.

Enraged that Zelaya was back, after almost 3 months of keeping him out, and enraged that Hondurans were in the street, defying yet another military curfew (many staying over-night outside the embassy), the regime did the only thing it knows how to do: repression. The result: more tear-gas, more rubber and live bullets, more wounded, more illegal detentions, more torture, more deaths.

The regime showed, again, it has no interest in democracy, the rule of law, international law and human rights. The regime showed, again, there is only one way it can remain in power – repression, repression and more repression.


Only concrete political, economic and military pressures from the OAS, the UN and the international community, particularly countries of the Americas, particularly the United States (that for generations has trained, funded and armed the Honduran army and police), can put an end to this regime.

The “San Jose Accords” – mediated by President Oscar Arias - failed and have been by-passed by events. They no longer offer even a framework for discussion, which President Zelaya had accepted in July.

President Zelaya and regime leader Micheletti have said they will talk and try to find a way out of the brutal impasse faced between the military regime and the Honduran people, but any talks must be based on acceptance of the re-establishment of the democratic and legal-constitutional order.

This fundamental basic point cannot be “negotiated” with the illegal regime; they must relinquish power.

Once they have done so, there will plenty for President Zelaya and his government to discuss and negotiate amongst themselves, with the National Front Against the Coup, with the Honduran people, and even with some people and sectors that supported the coup:

  • A comprehensive transition plan to re-establish the legal-constitutional and democratic order

  • Criminal legal processes against the coup plotters and perpetrators

  • Reparations for the victims of repression committed by the regime

  • Perhaps the establishment of a “Truth Commission”

  • The re-setting of an election timetable

  • And, most importantly, the establishment of a framework for the National Constituent Assembly

There is a lot to do … but there is nothing to “negotiate” with the regime. Until it has completely relinquished power and the democratic and legal-constitutional order is fully restored, the amazing pro-democracy, anti-coup movement will continue to lead the struggle for their democracy and for the remaking of their Honduras … and they very much need the support of the international community.

* * *

(Grahame Russell is Rights Action co-director: info AT rightsaction DOT org, Feel free to re-publish and re-distribute this article)


MAKE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS to directly support Honduran organizations and people working with the National Front Against the Coup. Make check to “rights action” and mail to:

UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
CANADA: 552-351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8

For foundations and institutional donors, Rights Action can (upon request) provide a full proposal of which organizations and people we are channeling funds to and supporting.

AMERICANS & CANADIANS should contact our members of congress, senators & members of parliament every day, day after day, send copies of this information, and demand:

  • unconditional and public support for the return of the entire constitutional government of President Zelaya

  • unequivocal denunciation of the military coup and no recognition of the illegal oligarchic-military regime of Roberto Micheletti and General Romeo Vasquez

  • unequivocal demand and pressures from international community for regime to relinquish power

  • no recognition of the November 2009 elections, that candidates from the traditional Nationalist and Liberal parties are campaigning for, even as the country is militarized and repression is widespread

  • immediate suspension of all international funds and loans to the regime, and targeted economic, military and diplomatic sanctions against the coup plotters and perpetrators

  • application of international and national justice against the coup plotters and perpetrators

  • reparations to the victims of harms and damages (including loss of life, torture, rape) committed by regime


In October, activists with Rights Action will be on speaking tours in Ontario, Quebec and eastern Canada, and north-east USA, showing slides and short documentaries and speaking about the on-going pro-democracy, anti coup movement in Honduras and about indigenous and community resistance to Goldcorp Inc.’s open-pit, cyanide leach mines in Guatemala and Honduras.

Karen Spring (spring DOT kj AT gmail DOT com) in Ontario
Francois Guindon (francois DOT guindon AT gmail DOT com) in Quebec and eastern Canada
Grahame Russell (info AT rightsaction DOT org) in north-east USA

Thank-you for your on-going support for our work and for this amazing struggle.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


There's been a request in the comments for more on Honduras. The problem is that, even though I'm home today and able to check a number of sources frequently, there are frustratingly few updates from on the ground. Telesur's still talking about other stuff, Radio Globo seems to be down (which is worrying...), and the blogs haven't had much during the past day. Zelaya's still in the Brazilian embassy, which is surrounded. Lula da Silva and others continue to call for Zelaya's reinstatement, and it appears the UN Security Council is going to meet tomorrow to discuss the situation.

Most distressingly, it looks like (at least) two people have been killed since Zelaya's return. Although the full curfew seems to have been lifted, Amnesty International issued the report "Beatings and Detentions Follow Honduras Demonstrations" - earlier today. They say:

Amnesty International has received continuing reports of numerous demonstrators being beaten by police and some several hundred detained across Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. The reports follow the break up by police of a mass demonstration outside the Brazilian Embassy on Tuesday.

Reports also indicate similar human rights violations across the country. There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders since the return to Honduras on Monday of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The President was expelled from the country in a coup d’etat in June.

Amnesty International has warned that fundamental rights and the rule of law in the Central American nation are in grave jeopardy.

"The situation in Honduras can only be described as alarming," said Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International. "The attacks against human rights defenders, suspension of news outlets, beating of demonstrators by the police and ever increasing reports of mass arrests indicate that human rights and the rule of law in Honduras are at grave risk...."

I'll post on any other significant developments.

I heart PZ Myers and Greg Laden

Thank you both.

PZ brought thousands of people here. It may well have called some people's attention to what's happening in Honduras. This is hugely important. (And yes, I'm utterly thrilled that more people are now aware of my blog.) PZ rocks.

And Greg Laden, well...

I'm so glad to have discovered the Salty Current blog, BTW.

...and I must say, that Salty Current has exhibited an admirable degree of professionalism, grace, and aplomb throughout this whole incident.

Oh, and Jadehawk's

see? this is what happens when you take a Pharyngulite out if its natural environment and allow it to invade other blogs.

Invasive species are such a pain, aren't they?

was perfect. It's funny, because it's true.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hurts like brand new shoes

Hurts like brand new shoes.

Pie hole? Are you kidding me?

Well, Isis, I'd like to know what you'd like me to do. I started this blog primarily because of what was happening in Honduras, but it's been dedicated to movements from below around the world. Any suggestions? Any you or your readers have are most welcome.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zelaya's back, and so am I!

I'm busy with work at the moment, but events in Honduras have made it impossible to stay away.

Manuel Zelaya is back in Honduras, in the Brazilian embassy! The coupists, after initially denying his presence in the country, imposed a curfew that appears to continue through today and broke up the concentrations of people outside the building. They also tried to shut off power to the neighborhood of the embassy and to close down Radio Globo, which had reported on Zelaya's return (to no avail, in the end - you can listen here). Telesur for some reason is broadcasting about sports at the moment, but Narco News has continuing coverage - see the links on the left. The coup-plotters are desperately grasping at repressive straws, but they face organized democratic resistance and international condemnation. They will soon be out.

While I'm on the subject, I read an outstanding piece by Mark Cook - "Rerun in Honduras" - at FAIR, discussing the media coverage of Honduras. It sums up everything I and others have been saying, and adds more historical context. (The other article linked to there - "Women Need Rights, Not Rescue," by MADRE's Yifat Susskind and Diana Duarte - is also excellent and well worth a read.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

90+ Scholars call on Human Rights Watch to publicize violations in Honduras

Recently, I posted about Amnesty International's report on the dire and deteriorating human rights situation in Honduras. In contrast to Amnesty, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has been silent about Honduras for the past six weeks. The other day, in an open letter to HRW Excutive Director Kenneth Roth, a large group of experts on Latin America publicly pressured the organization to document and report on conditions there:

...We call on your organization to fulfill your important role as a guardian of universal human rights and condemn, strongly and forcefully, the ongoing abuses being committed by the illegal regime in Honduras. We also ask that you conduct your own investigation of these crimes.

While Human Rights Watch was quick to condemn the illegal coup d'etat of June 28 and the human rights violations that occurred over the following week, which helped shine the spotlight of international media on these abuses, the absence of statements from your organization since the week following the coup has contributed to the failure of international media to report on subsequent abuses.

...If Human Rights Watch would raise its voice, it would be much more difficult for the Obama administration to ignore Honduras' human rights situation and maintain financial and other support for its illegal regime.

We know that there are, sadly, innumerable urgent human rights crises around the world, all of which require your attention. Addressing the deteriorating situation in Honduras, however, is of paramount importance given its potential to serve as a precedent for other coups and the rise of other dictatorships, not just in Honduras, but throughout the region. History has shown that such coups leave deep scars on societies, and that far too often they have led to the rise of some of history's most notorious rights abusers, such as in Pinochet's Chile, Videla's Argentina, and Cedras' Haiti, to name but a few. As human rights defenders with extensive experience in dealing with the appalling human consequences of these regimes, Human Rights Watch is clearly well placed to understand the urgency of condemning the Honduran regime's abuses and to helping ensure the coup is overturned, that democracy is restored, and that political repression and other human rights abuses are stopped. Your colleagues in the Honduran human rights community are counting on you, as are the Honduran people. We hope you will raise your voice on Honduras.

Will you speak out, HRW?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Amnesty International issues report on human rights violations in Honduras

As several members of the police force beat 19 year old “D” and “A” one of them shouted “Leave all this crap, you’ve got to know the consequences of demonstrating”. When “A” pleaded with the policemen to stop and reached out to touch the hand of her younger friend to see if she was alright, the policeman shouted ”Shut up, shut up, bitch!”

Amnesty International today issued the report "Honduras: human rights crisis threatens as repression increases." The report, which can be read in full at the links at the bottom of this page, documents the violations of human rights by the coup regime - peaceful protesters beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and shot; oppressive and uncommunicated curfews imposed; media outlets closed and journalists harassed and attacked; human rights defenders detained. The report, featuring testimony from victims and photos of injuries inflicted by police, suggests that women continue to be at risk of gender-based violence.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

From Honduras: "People of the world, don't leave us alone!"

From Adrienne Pine, via Narco News, comes an urgent appeal from Radio Progreso (link to the left) in Honduras:

Help! Our Voice, Radio Progreso and ERIC SJ

Our Voice in the political crisis:

Radio Progreso and the Team for Reflection, Investigation and Communication ERIC of the Jesuit community in Honduras

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Radio Progreso was placed under siege by an army contingent the very day of the coup d'etat. At gunpoint and without a warrant, the military penetrated our facilities and forced us to silence our equipment.

On August 14th, our radio sent two of its reporters to cover the protest that the resistance front had organized in the city of Choloma, between San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortés, in the north zone of the Honduran Atlantic. Radio Progreso would cover the events when the protesters were savagely attacked by the police contingent.

At noon, our reporter Gustavo Cardoza transmitted the news about the teargassing, the arrests, the physical attacks that the police were carrying out right and left on the protesters. All of the sudden, Gustavo Cardoza said that a policeman was pointing his weapon at him and immediately reported that other police were coming after him. Our reporter tried to run, and told them that he was a reporter for Radio Progreso. It was then that we heard his cries, and the blows that our reporter was receiving.

The transmission from our reporter was abruptly suspended. The police kicked him, hit him in the back, in the stomach, they threw him in a vehicle and laid him face down, and in the trajectory they kicked him, hit him with rifle butts, and attacked him with the worst possible insults.

Luckily, the Association of Lawyers in Resistance to the Coup and the Association of Judges for Democracy acted with speed and diligence, and although some of them were shoved and insulted, at the end of the day they managed to get the police to free our reporter and some of the other protesters who had been captured and tortured.

Before the world, we give testimony of our defenselessness. We raise our voice, our clamor before the community of international human rights organizations, because here, all those of us who oppose the de facto regime are exposed to barbarities, while the organisms of the state that are responsible for overseeing justice and human rights, instead of protecting us, point their accusing finger so that they can exterminate us. People of the world, don't leave us alone!

(Note the existence of local organizations of anti-coup, pro-democracy lawyers and judges! I wonder if there's any way lawyers or legal organizations outside Honduras could help these associations...)

Justice campaigns in Bhopal and South Africa; commentary to follow

Two campaigns, at once local and transnational, that I think deserve more attention:

The first is the B’eau Pal Water campaign. This was organized by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, the Bhopal Medical Appeal, and the Yes Men, whose new film I talked about a little while ago, followed by some more videos featuring the pair. As you can see from the videos, the stunt that received the most attention was an appearance on the BBC posing as a representative of Dow (which now owns Union Carbide) stating that the company had decided at long last to clean up the Bhopal site. Of course, this was not Dow’s intention, and people there continue to be poisoned.

The B’Eau Pal Water campaign is the most recent effort to raise awareness about Bhopal and the organizations involved in working for social justice there. They scared off the Dow people:

For those interested, here’s a short glance into the process involved in designing the “product”:

I think it illustrates well how people with a variety of skills can contribute to movements (including radical movements) for democracy, justice, and human rights.

The second is a campaign in the form of a tour. Abahlali baseMjondolo, the “Shack Dwellers Movement” in South Africa, has representatives in New York this week talking about the movement and their film in production, Dear Mandela:

Here’s their schedule in New York (note that there are events tomorrow and Thursday).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Butterflies and Wheels, Sokal, and National Rum Day

I see that Butterflies and Wheels has linked to my recent post, "Alan Sokal, science, and politics." Many thanks to Ophelia Benson, whose persistent challenging of Mooney and Kirshenbaum I noted admiringly in another recent post. And welcome, B&W readers!

As I said at the end of the Sokal post, I plan to develop several of those ideas in more depth in the upcoming weeks. I'll be traveling today, but hope to respond to comments and put up a few more posts this evening.

In the meantime...

As some people may be aware, I am a devotee of Gosling's Black Seal Rum from Bermuda.

I learned from their mailing list [!] recently that today is National Rum Day! (I assume that means in Bermuda, but today we are all Bermudians.) Here are some recipes for rum cocktails. They also recently teamed up with Polar Beverages here in Massachusetts to make their own ginger beer, as used in Bermuda's national drink, the Dark 'n Stormy.

Gosling's outlets tend to follow the sailing/sea-trade circuit, so a lot of places in the Boston area carry it (also the great Bar 89 in New York, where cool bartenders fix nice, strong drinks). Here's help finding a supplier near you (possibly).

Happy Rum Day!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grandin replies to Lanny Davis' lies

Yesterday I posted a reply to Lanny Davis' lies in Friday's debate with Greg Grandin.

Later, Grandin published his own reply - "Fact Checking Lanny Davis on Honduras" - at the Huffington Post. It covers much the same ground, but a lot more as well. Definitely worth a read.

Honduras solidarity campaign on Twitter and Facebook today!

As I mentioned in a recent post, today is the Global Day of Action for Honduras. Now you can help to support the democratic resistance in Honduras on Facebook and Twitter! Grassroots International explains how:

On the Global Day of Action for Honduras, Donate your Facebook and Twitter Status

By Lindsay Shade

August 10th, 2009

Want to do something simple to help support Honduran democracy and keep the crisis in the public eye? Donate your status! It’s free, easy, and can make a huge impact. Right now, the corporate news media is mostly silent about what’s happening on the ground in Honduras and the role of US policy – both past and present. Even worse, some media outlets are spreading misinformation based on the junta’s campaign to justify their illegal coup.

Help people learn the truth behind the crisis and remember the plight of Honduran citizens by donating your Facebook and/or Twitter statuses on Tuesday, August 11th – the Global Day of Action for Honduras. Set your Facebook and Twitter status to:

“I stand in solidarity with social justice activists in Honduras. Get the facts and take action now by visiting”

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have backed down from their initial condemnation of the coup, and are now advocating for a return to the ‘status quo.’ The status quo of US relations with Latin America has thus far had disastrous consequences for social justice aims. Please join us at this pivotal moment: Donate your status and take action on behalf of the human rights of Hondurans.

Please consider this small gesture to make your voice heard and to join others in helping restore democracy to Honduras. (A good way to get the word out about a great Boston-area organization, to boot.)

I also noted earlier that a Honduran speaking tour was coming to the US. Here's a nice summary of what was discussed at the local appearance in Open Media Boston.

For anyone in the area who can attend, they provide more details about today's solidarity picket on Park St.:

Local immigrant, labor, religious and human rights organizations have called a Informational Picket in Solidarity with the Honduran Resistance for Tuesday 8/11 from 4:30- 6 p.m. at the Park Street T entrance on the corner of Tremont and Park Sts. in downtown Boston. Check out for more information.

[Please note that I've added a list of links to news and commmentary about Honduras on the left.]

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Without Sanctuary" online exhibit and talk on lynching and capital punishment in the US

It’s been a long time since I first learned of this exhibit and wanted to share it with people. Now I can.

It’s called Without Sanctuary, and it’s an exhibit of souvenir photographs and postcards from lynchings in the US. Some of the powerful images can be viewed as a short flash movie at the site. You can also look through the 81 photos individually; clicking on “more on this photo” provides important information about the specific cases and the practice of lynching in general. They are sickening.

Sociologist of law David Garland has written about the sociopolitical history of lynchings and their importance in the development of capital punishment in the country. This is an interesting talk on the subject given by Garland at Eastern Kentucky University.

Lanny Davis, Liar for Hire

As they say.

I finally had a chance to watch Friday’s debate between Greg Grandin and Lanny Davis on Democracy Now!.

While a debate between a scholar and a mercenary mouthpiece would seem rather lopsided, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the lobbyist. The golpistas themselves lie like so many rugs, but at least they’re relatively inept. Their attempts at dissimulation would be comical were the situation not so serious. But Davis, now he’s something to see – one of the most practiced professional liars I’ve ever had the occasion to witness in action.

His performance in this debate was a thing to behold. So brazenly mendacious, so slyly diversionary, so shamelessly willing to twist words and deny the truth was he that I think Grandin at moments was at a loss for words.

To counter at least some of the substantive mistruths:


Davis lied about Zelaya being the one to reject the Arias 7-point proposal. This was the second boldest lie of all, since the news reports are easy enough to find: Zelaya accepted the first Arias proposal; it was Micheletti’s coup regime that rejected it. For Davis to act as though Grandin was conceding that he had been untruthful when he said that Micheletti had later backpedaled, publicly avowing that they would accept some of the seven points, was masterful. The coupists rejected the proposal. Rejecting some points (after Zelaya had accepted all) meant rejecting the proposal. It wasn’t really even backpedaling at all – it was theater.

The coupmongers, as has long been apparent, have never had any intention of honestly negotiating, but have simply wanted to buy more time to try to entrench themselves. (Yesterday, they announced that they wouldn’t accept any OAS delegation that included OAS head Miguel Insulza, who insists, like Arias, on Zelaya’s reinstatement; this morning, they said they would admit the delegation if Insulza only participated as an “observer”; and around and around they go.) They genuinely seem to believe that they can hold out until elections in November, as if free and fair elections could really be celebrated in the repressive conditions that hold in Honduras, with a highly mobilized resistance under a coup regime that isn’t recognized by a single government on the planet.


Here’s the US State Department report on the Honduran judiciary from February of this year. Anyone can do a search on the word “corrupt.”


The point on which Davis was most obnoxious in his feigned indignance was the terms in which the plotters have attempted to justify the coup. He repeatedly shouted at a horrified Grandin “Take it back!”, trying to twist Grandin’s words to suggest that he had said the Supreme Court hadn’t “found” that Zelaya was acting illegally in distributing the survey. Grandin’s actual assertion, as he noted, had been that the claim that Zelaya had violated Article 239 of the Honduran constitution (barring politicians from seeking to change term limits) was a post hoc rationalization – that the Supreme Court decision made no mention of Article 239.

The page with the ruling appeared yesterday to have been removed from the Judiciary’s website, but I found it today. Search in vain for “239.” Jules Siegel at the Huffington Post, who read the documents, found no mention of Article 239. I found what appear to be all of the documents from the days before the coup. A search turned up no reference to Article 239. Two analyses of the so-called legal basis for the coup in Spanish can be found here and here. Perhaps Davis can show where in the documents Article 239 is mentioned, or provide some evidence of any basis for the allegation that Zelaya had violated it.

It is clear that the oligarchs feared the increase in power of the poor majority (and threat to their own rule) to come not only from a potentially new, more democratic constitution but from the process of public involvement itself, and exploited the megalomania, red-baiting allegations to put a stop to democratization. (The corporate media have of course been all too happy to assist.) The documents show that at in the period leading up to the coup they were well aware they had no evidence of Zelaya’s seeking to extend term limits (as Micheletti had done); else they would surely have included it in their decision, and the Congress wouldn’t have slapped together a law barring plebiscites and referendums during the months before an election (which didn’t, in any event, cover public-opinion surveys). I won’t even bother to again go into the fact that the charge is nonsensical.


Most risible were Davis’ attempts to challenge the assertion that the coup was the backlash of elites fearful of losing their grip over the country. At one point, he actually asks about the members of Congress who supported the coup “Are they elites?”, as though the idea were patently ridiculous. The question is so transparently disingenuous and absurd as to leave Grandin – a professional scholar of Latin American history – nearly speechless. And the context is so deliciously significant: Davis attempting to mock the claim that this was a coup inspired by business elites… in an appearance paid for by his client, the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL). (Grandin liked the recent New York Times article, “Honduran Coup Shows Business Elite Still in Charge.” I didn’t, though of course the headline is true. I thought it largely provided yet another opportunity for the business elites to have their say while ignoring the mass mobilizations of the population and to present them as representative of a large part of the population, setting up one-sided violence as “civil war.”)


Speaking of which, Davis was most disgusting when asked about the well-documented repression, censorship, human rights violations under the coup regime. Does he really think the DN! audience is that stupid?

By the way, in addition to the sources I’ve mentioned in recent posts, you can also listen - for the moment, at least - live to Radio Globo and Radio Progreso (I’m having trouble getting this one to play).

submit to reddit

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Via Campesina has called for a Global Day of Action in solidarity with the Honduran resistance this Tuesday, August 11.

I haven’t been able to find a list of events in different cities (I’ll post it if I do), but one is organized by a coalition of groups here in Boston:

Tue. 8/11 - 4:30pm - 6pm - Park Street Boston, Informational picket in solidarity with the Honduran resistance

International Day of Action Called by the Committee in Solidarity with the Honduran Resistance, Proyecto Hondureno, CISPES-Boston, Boston May Day Committee

(Please send a note to to endorse and to participate)

These events are coordinated with the culmination of large marches of Hondurans. For an interesting report on what’s happening on the ground there, see Al Giordano’s “Toppling a Coup, Part I: Dilemmas for the Honduras Regime.”

submit to reddit

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Alan Sokal, science, and politics

I recently left a comment at Jason Rosenhouse’s EvolutionBlog (still in moderation, I assume because of the links), on a post containing Part III of his review of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s wiffle book, Unscientific America. In it, he discusses their stance on Alan Sokal’s famous hoax and the so-called “science wars.” I thought the comment should be expanded to cover some issues that have been on my mind, as the discussion of Sokal raises larger questions of science, politics, and ethics.

Rosenhouse notes:

Then there is M and K's strange antipathy towards people like Paul Gross, Norman Levitt and Alan Sokal, leading players in the great Science Wars. Recall that certain left-wing academics in the humanities had taken to saying some very silly things about science. Surprisingly, as ignorant and misinformed as these people were, they rose to levels of great prominence in their fields. Dismayed, a handful of scientists fought back by writing books and, most famously, by hoaxing the leading journal promoting this nonsense.

He quotes Mooney and Kirshenbaum:

The great problem with the Science Wars wasn't that they were ineffective but that they were ultimately irrelevant. The influence of post-structuralism within the academic realm peaked in the 1990's and has been declining since -- not because of Alan Sokal or Higher Superstition but because that is the way academic trends work. ...But all the energy spent fighting the Science Wars distracted from the real enemy at the gate -- the dumbing down of American culture. (p. 48)

Rosenhouse’s criticism is that this is yet another example of M&K forcing a complex history into a simplistic narrative in which scientists bear most of the blame:

Once again M and K are trying to fit things into a narrative rather than really get their hands dirty going after the real problems. Their story is that scientists, through their general tone-deafness towards the society around them, are seriously exacerbating the problem of science illiteracy. Sure, a certain subset of the humanities was making a good living telling lies about science, but it's the scientists who engaged them who were the real problem.

I agree with this more or less, but would like to add and clarify a few things.

M&K’s criticism of Sokal (among others, to be sure) actually at first appears surprising in light of Mooney’s co-authorship of this piece with Sokal as recently as 2007. However, the explanation may lie in Sokal’s more recent public statements about religion. Touring in support of his more recent book, Beyond the Hoax,

Sokal has come down fairly clearly on the side of those who view science and religion as fundamentally epistemologically incompatible and religion as one of the major hindrances to the spread of an evidence-based, or scientific, worldview.

This is easy to see, as Sokal likes repeating the same talk in different venues. You can watch the talk (which is not long, and quite good) here:

or at this link, or read the text from last year here.

In it, Sokal argues for the importance of the scientific worldview in deciding matters of fact in all spheres of life, and lists the social forces that promote muddled thinking and unreason. “At a superficial level,” he says,

you could say that my topic is the relation between science and society; but as I hope will become clear, my deeper theme is the importance, not so much of science, but of the scientific worldview - a concept that I shall define more precisely in a moment, and which goes far beyond the specific disciplines that we usually think of as “science" - in humanity's collective decision-making. I want to argue that clear thinking, combined with a respect for evidence - especially inconvenient and unwanted evidence, evidence that challenges our preconceptions - are of the utmost importance to the survival of the human race in the twenty-first century. I aim to show that the implications of taking seriously an evidence-based worldview are rather more radical than many people realize.

In contrast to the accomodationists, and like Jerry Coyne and others, Sokal emphasizes that by “science” he means not only the group of professional scientists or the body of knowledge accumulated by professional researchers in certain fields, but a specific approach to questions of fact that, while highly refined in the sciences, characterizes (or should characterize) any and every factual investigation:

I stress that my use of the term “science" is not limited to the natural sciences, but includes investigations aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of factual matters relating to any aspect of the world by using rational empirical methods analogous to those employed in the natural sciences. (Please note the limitation to questions of fact. I intentionally exclude from my purview questions of ethics, aesthetics, ultimate purpose, and so forth.) Thus, “science" (as I use the term) is routinely practiced not only by physicists, chemists and biologists, but also by historians, detectives, plumbers and indeed all human beings in (some aspects of) our daily lives. (Of course, the fact that we all practice science from time to time does not mean that we all practice it equally well, or that we practice it equally well in all areas of our lives.)

Science – regardless of the subject of investigation or the specific methods used – is rational, empirical, skeptical, and critical. Sokal goes on to discuss four categories of people antagonistic to the progress of the scientific worldview, in order of increasing seriousness. The first is a category of academic postmodernists, the extreme social constructivists Bricmont and Sokal dealt with in their Fashionable Nonsense:

Today as then, Sokal doesn’t see them as a major threat, but still problematic in other ways, as I’ll discuss below. (He also notes the decline of the power of the more extreme variants of this intellectual movement and the contrition of some, including Bruno Latour - who published this a few years ago - unable to resist offering a quick “I told you so.”)

The second is the vast category of pseudoscience (focusing on what’s called complementary and alternative medicine). But it is the third category that likely roused M&K’s ire: religion. Unlike in the LA Times article he co-authored with Mooney, which pointed to the threat of specifically fundamentalist religion to science, Sokal is very clear here that in discussing threats to the scientific worldview he has in mind all religious truth claims:

Tonight I want to address only the most fundamental issue, namely, the intrinsic merit of the various religions' factual doctrines. And within that, I want to focus on the epistemological question - or to put it in less fancy language, the relationship between belief and evidence. After all, those who believe in their religion's factual doctrines presumably do so for what they consider to be good reasons. So it's sensible to ask: What are these alleged good reasons?

Each religion makes scores of purportedly factual assertions about everything from the creation of the universe to the afterlife. But on what grounds can believers presume to know that these assertions are true? The reasons they give are various, but they ultimately boil down to one: because our holy scriptures say so. But how, then, do we know that our holy scriptures are free from error? Because the scriptures themselves say so. Theologians specialize in weaving elaborate webs of verbiage to avoid saying anything quite so bluntly, but this gem of circular reasoning really is the epistemological bottom line on which all “faith" is grounded. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “By the authority of his absolute transcendence, God who makes himself known is also the source of the credibility of what he reveals." It goes without saying that this begs the question of whether the texts at issue really were authored or inspired by God, and on what grounds one knows this. “Faith" is not in fact a rejection of reason, but simply a lazy acceptance of bad reasons. “Faith" is the pseudo-justification that some people trot out when they want to make claims without the necessary evidence.

I believe public statements like this are at the heart of Mooney’s new-found interest in criticizing Sokal.

But the fourth category of opponents of the scientific worldview, political and corporate propagandists, also needs to be mentioned, especially as it seems Sokal’s defense of science is often either depoliticized or, worse, seen as an attack on the left. I’m not particularly familiar with Gross and Levitt, though the subtitle of their book alone suggests an agenda that differs from Sokal’s and fits with other things I’ve read about them. Sokal’s a different matter, though. He clearly sees states and corporations as the largest threat to the reality-based project:

Which brings me to the last, and in my opinion most dangerous, set of adversaries of the evidence-based worldview in the contemporary world: namely, propagandists, public-relations hacks and spin doctors, along with the politicians and corporations who employ them - in short, all those whose goal is not to analyze honestly the evidence for and against a particular policy, but is simply to manipulate the public into reaching a predetermined conclusion by whatever technique will work, however dishonest or fraudulent.

The scientific worldview, to Sokal, is subversive and liberating. It is an inherently left-wing approach, in that it rests not on acceptance of authority but on skepticism and empirical investigation. As he argues:

The affirmative side of science, consisting of its well-verified claims about the physical and biological world, may be what first springs to mind when people think about “science"; but it is the critical and skeptical side of science that is the most profound, and the most intellectually subversive. The scientific worldview inevitably comes into conflict with all non-scientific modes of thought that make purportedly factual claims about the world. And how could it be otherwise?

Science poses revolutionary challenges to entrenched power, as anarchists from Kropotkin to Chomsky have noted. In Sokal’s words:

The critical thrust of science even extends beyond the factual realm, to ethics and politics. Of course, as a logical matter one cannot derive an “ought" from an “is". But historically - starting in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and then spreading gradually to more or less the entire world - scientific skepticism has played the role of an intellectual acid, slowly dissolving the irrational beliefs that legitimated the established social order and its supposed authorities, be they the priesthood, the monarchy, the aristocracy, or allegedly superior races and social classes.

Indeed, Sokal's criticism of social constructionists in the ‘90s was not an attack on the left, but a voice from within the left challenging others whom he saw as acting in a manner contrary to their stated goals. As he wrote at the time in "Transgressing the Boundaries: An Afterword" (repeated in almost or exactly the same words in Fashionable Nonsense):

But why did I do it? I confess that I'm an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class. And I'm a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover some of them. (If science were merely a negotiation of social conventions about what is agreed to be ``true'', why would I bother devoting a large fraction of my all-too-short life to it? I don't aspire to be the Emily Post of quantum field theory.)

But my main concern isn't to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we'll survive just fine, thank you). Rather, my concern is explicitly political: to combat a currently fashionable postmodernist/poststructuralist/social-constructivist discourse -- and more generally a penchant for subjectivism -- which is, I believe, inimical to the values and future of the Left. Alan Ryan said it well:

It is, for instance, pretty suicidal for embattled minorities to embrace Michel Foucault, let alone Jacques Derrida. The minority view was always that power could be undermined by truth ... Once you read Foucault as saying that truth is simply an effect of power, you've had it*. ... But American departments of literature, history and sociology contain large numbers of self-described leftists who have confused radical doubts about objectivity with political radicalism, and are in a mess.

Likewise, Eric Hobsbawm has decried

the rise of ``postmodernist'' intellectual fashions in Western universities, particularly in departments of literature and anthropology, which imply that all ``facts'' claiming objective existence are simply intellectual constructions. In short, that there is no clear difference between fact and fiction. But there is, and for historians, even for the most militantly antipositivist ones among us, the ability to distinguish between the two is absolutely fundamental.

(Hobsbawm goes on to show how rigorous historical work can refute the fictions propounded by reactionary nationalists in India, Israel, the Balkans and elsewhere.) And finally Stanislav Andreski:

So long as authority inspires awe, confusion and absurdity enhance conservative tendencies in society. Firstly, because clear and logical thinking leads to a cumulation of knowledge (of which the progress of the natural sciences provides the best example) and the advance of knowledge sooner or later undermines the traditional order. Confused thinking, on the other hand, leads nowhere in particular and can be indulged indefinitely without producing any impact upon the world.

In the more recent work, Sokal discusses the ethical dimension of epistemology that I referred to in a recent post when I cited Allen Wood. He discusses this specifically in the political realm, but as anarchists know, and Sokal of course appreciates, his four categories have historically often colluded. Moreover, they cannot be considered individually - the promotion of muddled, mystical, authoritarian thinking in any sphere bolsters it in others. Thus, the ethical dimension of epistemology is not area-specific: promoting muddled practice in one sphere makes you complicit in others, regardless of the alleged harmlessness of your particular set of unsubstantiated beliefs or their confinement in one part of your life.

I’ll have a lot more to say about several of these points in later posts.

I still hope to see a review of UA by Sokal.

*At the risk of sounding Courtier-like, I don’t believe this fairly represents Foucault.

Friday, August 7, 2009

CreoZerg Today!

PZ and the 300* are at Ken Ham's Creation Museum today!

Follow the action on Pharyngula here or on twitter: #creozerg. (You can go to Twitterfall and search for #creozerg on the left.)

Very entertaining.

*Almost. See the Secular Student Alliance press release.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More AP lies about Honduras

I won’t be able to post here or at Pharyngula for a couple of days (and don’t really have time to be writing right now), but this had to be addressed: The Associated Press lies. They simply cannot be trusted to provide accurate information. The coupmongers in Honduras have shredded the country’s constitution while claiming to defend it. They have shut down media outlets and harassed journalists. And yet the AP persists in spreading their propaganda and manufacturing consent for the overthrow of democracy in Honduras.

A quick update before I get to the rant: The pro-democracy movements are planning a series of nationwide protests to begin tomorrow, which of course sends the gasping, grasping golpistas into paroxysms of fear. As Al Giordano of Narco News reports from Honduras:

The coup regime is frightened enough by the growing wave of peaceful protests across the country that it placed advertisements in pro-coup daily newspapers announcing new penalties against the redress of grievances nationwide:

“Anybody who calls for leads any meeting or demonstration illicitly will be punished by a sentence of two to four years in prison and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 Lempiras (about $1,500 to $3,000 US dollars)."

In other words, one doesn’t even have to present at a protest to be imprisoned for it: Simply calling on others to attend now earns any citizen or broadcaster that honor.

A good article with some historical context appeared on the History News Network last week.

Meanwhile, what does the AP produce? A piece – “A look at efforts to extend term limits worldwide” – full of bullshit that of course is being picked up by a huge number of “news” sources.

From the second sentence

Referendums on term limits have been held worldwide in recent years. While they have failed in a handful of cases — including Honduras,...

they spread misinformation. When they get to discussing Honduras specifically, the problems continue:

HONDURAS: Before his ouster in a June 28 coup, President Manuel Zelaya had been trying to organize a referendum to gauge popular support for a constitutional overhaul, defying court orders declaring the vote illegal. Opponents say he was trying to extend his presidential term and used this as the rationale for the coup. Zelaya denies such intentions and is in exile in neighboring Nicaragua.

These statements are completely misleading. What Zelaya was conducting was a public consultation, a nonbinding opinion poll (allowed by the constitution), asking whether people would like to be able to vote in the November elections on whether to convene a constitutional convention to draw up a new constitution to be put to a later vote. The poll said nothing about presidential term limits. The vote on convening a constitutional convention, were it to take place, would be during the November elections in which a new president would be voted in. What Zelaya's "opponents say" neither holds water nor even makes sense. Stop repeating it as if it had any basis in reality, AP! Be journalists and investigate whether it’s true before saying it is in your second sentence!

They’re no better on Bolivia:

BOLIVIA: Voters approved a new constitution in January that gives President Evo Morales a shot at remaining in office through 2014 if he wins elections scheduled for December.

And the US constitution gives Barack Obama a shot at remaining in office through 2016!!!!!!eleventyone11!!! Seriously. The previous constitution allowed two nonconsecutive five-year terms; the new one allows two consecutive five-year terms. When the constitution had been approved but before it was submitted to popular referendum, the AP, despite its having been pointed out to them that they were wrong (as I noted in a previous post), persisted in claiming that the new constitution would allow Morales to run indefinitely.

They spread lies, and they do so in moments when the fate of democracy hangs in the balance, in a manner that strengthens the hand of antidemocratic forces.

…In other worrisome media news, Human Rights Watch reports on measures limiting freedom of expression in Venezuela. While I don’t take everything in the report at face value, it is certainly troubling, and they've been doing a good job on Honduras. I plan to investigate further.

(Oh, and PS: Thank you to everyone who has said nice things about the blog and encouraged me in my efforts. I'm touched and flattered, and couldn't appreciate it more. I have to turn off comments for a couple of days, but will be back soon.)