It bears repeating…


Sarah Palin’s War on Science
The GOP ticket’s appalling contempt for knowledge and learning.
By Christopher Hitchens

In an election that has been fought on an astoundingly low cultural and intellectual level, with both candidates pretending that tax cuts can go like peaches and cream with the staggering new levels of federal deficit, and paltry charges being traded in petty ways, and with Joe the Plumber becoming the emblematic stupidity of the campaign, it didn’t seem possible that things could go any lower or get any dumber. But they did last Friday, when, at a speech in Pittsburgh, Gov. Sarah Palin denounced wasteful expenditure on fruit-fly research, adding for good xenophobic and anti-elitist measure that some of this research took place “in Paris, France” and winding up with a folksy “I kid you not.”

It was in 1933 that Thomas Hunt Morgan won a Nobel Prize for showing that genes are passed on by way of chromosomes. The experimental creature that he employed in the making of this great discovery was the Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit fly. Scientists of various sorts continue to find it a very useful resource, since it can be easily and plentifully “cultured” in a laboratory, has a very short generation time, and displays a great variety of mutation. This makes it useful in studying disease, and since Gov. Palin was in Pittsburgh to talk about her signature “issue” of disability and special needs, she might even have had some researcher tell her that there is a Drosophila-based center for research into autism at the University of North Carolina. The fruit fly can also be a menace to American agriculture, so any financing of research into its habits and mutations is money well-spent. It’s especially ridiculous and unfortunate that the governor chose to make such a fool of herself in Pittsburgh, a great city that remade itself after the decline of coal and steel into a center of high-tech medical research.

In this case, it could be argued, Palin was not just being a fool in her own right but was following a demagogic lead set by the man who appointed her as his running mate. Sen. John McCain has made repeated use of an anti-waste and anti-pork ad (several times repeated and elaborated in his increasingly witless speeches) in which the expenditure of $3 million to study the DNA of grizzly bears in Montana was derided as “unbelievable.” As an excellent article in the Feb. 8, 2008, Scientific American pointed out, there is no way to enforce the Endangered Species Act without getting some sort of estimate of numbers, and the best way of tracking and tracing the elusive grizzly is by setting up barbed-wire hair-snagging stations that painlessly take samples from the bears as they lumber by and then running the DNA samples through a laboratory. The cost is almost trivial compared with the importance of understanding this species, and I dare say the project will yield results in the measurement of other animal populations as well, but all McCain could do was be flippant and say that he wondered whether it was a “paternity” or “criminal” issue that the Fish and Wildlife Service was investigating. (Perhaps those really are the only things that he associates in his mind with DNA.)

With Palin, however, the contempt for science may be something a little more sinister than the bluff, empty-headed plain-man’s philistinism of McCain. We never get a chance to ask her in detail about these things, but she is known to favor the teaching of creationism in schools (smuggling this crazy idea through customs in the innocent disguise of “teaching the argument,” as if there was an argument), and so it is at least probable that she believes all creatures from humans to fruit flies were created just as they are now. This would make DNA or any other kind of research pointless, whether conducted in Paris or not. Projects such as sequencing the DNA of the flu virus, the better to inoculate against it, would not need to be funded. We could all expire happily in the name of God. Gov. Palin also says that she doesn’t think humans are responsible for global warming; again, one would like to ask her whether, like some of her co-religionists, she is a “premillenial dispensationalist”—in other words, someone who believes that there is no point in protecting and preserving the natural world, since the end of days will soon be upon us.

Videos taken in the Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska, which she used to attend, show her nodding as a preacher says that Alaska will be “one of the refuge states in the Last Days.” For the uninitiated, this is a reference to a crackpot belief, widely held among those who brood on the “End Times,” that some parts of the world will end at different times from others, and Alaska will be a big draw as the heavens darken on account of its wide open spaces. An article by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times gives further gruesome details of the extreme Pentecostalism with which Palin has been associated in the past (perhaps moderating herself, at least in public, as a political career became more attractive). High points, also available on YouTube, show her being “anointed” by an African bishop who claims to cast out witches. The term used in the trade for this hysterical superstitious nonsense is “spiritual warfare,” in which true Christian soldiers are trained to fight demons. Palin has spoken at “spiritual warfare” events as recently as June. And only last week the chiller from Wasilla spoke of “prayer warriors” in a radio interview with James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said that he and his lovely wife, Shirley, had convened a prayer meeting to beseech that “God’s perfect will be done on Nov. 4.”

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

Undecided by David Sedaris

Link to his essay in the New Yorker.

My favorite part:

We drove back home, and when asked by my father whom she had voted for, my mother said that it was none of his business.
“What do you mean, ‘none of my business’?” he said. “I told you to vote Republican.”
“Well, maybe I did and maybe I didn’t.”
“You’re not telling me you voted for Humphrey.” He said this as if she had marched through the streets with a pan on her head.
“No,” she said. “I’m not telling you that. I’m not telling you anything. It’s private—all right? My political opinions are none of your concern.”
“What political opinions?” he said. “I’m the one who took you down to register. You didn’t even know there was an election until I told you.”
“Well, thanks for telling me.”

To think that even today, some women actually do that – just vote how their husbands tell them to: Daily Kos.

Via dooce.

Open Letter to John McCain

As great a job as Julie did, Cecily’s letter to McCain is likely the clearest example and explanation of how disrespectful McCain’s position on partial-birth abortions is to any woman that has ever or ever plans to be pregnant:

Dear John McCain:

I’ve thought long and hard about what to say to you after watching your discussion about abortion on last night’s debate. I’ll be honest; I have never considered voting for you. I am beyond a doubt a tax-and-spend and let-the-gays-get-married liberal. But you know what? I’ve always liked you. I’ve found your appearances on The Daily Show to be amusing, and even though we don’t agree on much, I always thought of you as a smart, compassionate, and friendly person. I’ve managed through this election to even hold on to a shred of respect for you, even while I am personally inundated with negative ads from your campaign because I live in a swing state. This is partially because you are I were much more politically in line back when you ran for President in 2000, and throughout this campaign I’ve always imagined that in some way you were playing a role as a far right-wing conservative, and that in fact, you were personally much more moderate.

But when you discussed your feelings about partial birth abortion during the debate last night, your true opinions became clear to me. You really are a social conservative; it was in 2000 that you were playing a role. When you discussed partial birth abortion and used quotes around the “health” of a mother, claiming that the idea of preserving a woman’s health has been “stretched” so that woman can just go ahead and abort babies willy-nilly whenever they want showed your true colors. You really ARE a small-minded anti-choice hater of women.

You’ve bought the propaganda. Even if I tell you that late term abortions make up only one fifth of 1% of ALL abortions that happen in this country, and that they are performed universally only in cases of extreme risk to the mother or lack of viability for the child, you won’t believe me. In your mind, women like me are sluts that got what we deserve, and changed our minds at the last minute when the reality of a baby became clear. If I tell you that the day my doctor performed my life-saving medical termination of my pregnancy was the worst day of his professional career, in your mind he’s a callous murderer willing to kill children.

Watching you speak last night felt like getting punched in the face. I’ve become used to the rare individual being so callous and ill-informed; but to think a man so close to becoming the leader of this nation thinks so little of women like me–was just…God. Awful. Heartbreaking. Horrifying.

You clearly believe women like me–women who were horribly, horribly sick from their pregnancies but not yet dying–don’t deserve the medical care we need to help us heal. You may think this issue is about saving the lives of babies, but it’s not. It’s about preventing women from receiving necessary medical care.

In my case, Senator, where would you have drawn the line? At what point were my doctors and I not stretching the definition of my “health”? When we terminated the pregnancy, or should we have waited until I was sicker? Say, when I lost my kidney function permanently? Or perhaps when I had a seizure so severe that it caused a stroke and brain damage? Or maybe when my heart was damaged by my out-of-control blood pressure?

By your standards, when could my doctors have intervened?

But most of all, Senator, you do not even care about how much I loved my sons, or that the day you chose to be so cruel to women like me was National Pregnancy And Infant Loss Awareness Day. That only an hour before you spoke I was writing, once again, about the loss of my sons and how much it has changed my life. Because I’m not important. I don’t matter. And in your mind, I quite possibly don’t even exist.

I’ll have you know that I have worked very, very hard to not swear in this letter to you. Maybe if I leave out the nasty language, you’ll actually be able to hear what I’m saying. But I doubt it. I don’t matter to you. Women don’t matter to you.

So you know what? Forget about not swearing. I’ll end this with how I really feel.

Fuck you, Senator McCain. Fuck you.

Not a friend to women

I could not possibly say it any better, so I will simply link and give credit to Julie at‘s entry:

Why no one with a uterus should vote for John McCain

Senator John McCain, Republican candidate for president, on late-term abortions, and whether they should remain legal when the health of the mother is at stake:
“Health for the mother.” You know, that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That’s the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, “health.”

For purposes of my argument, it doesn’t matter how you feel about abortion. Forget your own feelings about abortion. My own are rather liberal, offputtingly so to many people, so forget those, too. Forget your disappointment, if you feel it as I do, in hearing Senator Obama use the pro-life movement’s buzzwords, “
partial-birth abortion,” without busting out an angry McCainish sneer.
Focus instead on the air quotes McCain used, the belittling wiggle of his fingers as he summarily dismissed women facing what’s possibly the ultimate lose-lose situation: your baby or your life.
Talking Points Memo]

Your baby. Your life. If you’re reading this blog, chances are good that you’re a mother, a pregnant woman, a woman who plans to become pregnant, or a woman who’s trying. He means you. He means us when he holds up his hands and says with that single scornful gesture that we don’t matter. That we are a figment of the “pro-abortion movement’s” imagination. That — what, we’re making this whole “staying pregnant might kill me” thing up? (That he did this on
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is, of course, coincidental, but the irony, it is not lost.)

This is important to all of us, but to infertile women it has a particular significance. Everyone in the infertility blogosphere knows women who delivered babies prematurely because of life-threatening complications. Most of us know women whose illness set in too early for their babies to survive. And many of us know that simply by virtue of needing IVF to get pregnant, we’re
more than twice as likely to develop preeclampsia, which causes, by conservative estimates, 76,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infant deaths worldwide each year. [Source: Preeclampsia Foundation]

Not only is John McCain saying we shouldn’t have the right to terminate a pregnancy in the event that our lives are at stake, he’s telling us he’s skeptical that that happens at all.

We know better.

Look, I wasn’t going to vote for him anyway. That’s true for more reasons than I can list. But this is why I think no one should — no one of childbearing capacity. No women. In fact, no one who cares about women. No one who cares about even just one specific woman. In fact! In fact, no one with a brain. Because even if you’re implacably, unconditionally opposed to abortion, a matter on which reasonable people disagree, I don’t see any way a thinking person can look at those air quotes and see anything but pandering, contempt, and a dangerous willful ignorance.