You’re welcome to send your Live Wire news tips or suggestions to [email protected].
Today’s Live Wire: Quick Links
- Islamism Is Right-Wing Extremism
- Clint Eastwood’s Halftime America
- Selling Stem-Cell Hype
- Worse Than Sugar
- Art, Gaza and Politics
- 9/11 Conspiracies 10 Years Later
- 10 Best Super Bowl Ads
- World History in 10 Minutes
- Planned Parenthood Born Again
- Happy Birthday, Bill Delbrugge
From signandsight :”It is with an increasing feeling of queasiness that I have followed the incidents surrounding the Parisian weekly Charlie Hebdo and its special issue on the sharia, which was inspired by the political developments in Libya and Tunisia. Early in the morning of November 2nd a window was broken and a Molotov cocktail thrown into the premises of the magazine, which subsequently burned out. By sheer luck nobody was hurt. Disturbing voices and events have presented themselves in the wake of the expectedly strong reactions against this attack on free speech. The asylum offered to the publishers of Charlie Hebdo by the daily Libération initially constituted a encouraging event – one voice of support against threats to free speech. But the larger picture looks more alarming. Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but it would not be far-fetched to assume that it is linked to the publication of the special issue published by Charia Hebdo on the day the attack took place. The incident therefore constitutes a radical resurgence of the religious curtailment of free speech – in the midst of one of the very cradles of freedom of expression. It was in Paris that free speech was first established as a fundamental legal fact in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man – after a protracted and bitter decade-long struggle between the radical Enlightenment on the one hand and the Catholic Church and French Absolutism on the other – a history rife with burning books, which prefigured the burning piles of Charlie Hebdo copies on Tuesday night. More disquieting still is the fact that the religiously motivated arson attack on a building devoted to free speech occurred simultaneously with additional religious pressure. The Italian director Romeo Castelluci’s play “Sur le Concept du Visage du fils de Dieu” (on the concept of the face of the son of god) is currently showing on the other side of Paris at the Théatre de Ville. The production has become the target of repeated daily attacks from fundamentalist Christians, who enter the theatre and attempt to prevent the play from being performed. These protests are organised by infamous Catholic groupuscules such as “Renouveau Français” and “Civitas”, which can be clearly identified as far-right extremists. But in this case there are no centre-left commentators defending Christian “sensibilities” against “Christianophobia”. In fact, it is such a confusing situation that very few commentators have realised to what extent the continuous Islamist pressure against free speech belongs just as much to the far religious right as do these small Christian groups. Large sections of the political left fail to grasp the far-right nature of Islamist ideology, which directly and explicitly aims to roll back the standards of the Enlightenment in politics. Perhaps this intellectual failure stems from the fact that Christian and Islamic fundamentalists are archenemies, despite having so much in common. But there is no reason to assume that movements on the far right automatically like or even support one another. Instead, the particularities of far-right movements often make them natural enemies, not unlike French and German right-wing nationalism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The same goes for the terrible terrorist attack in Norway by Anders Breivik this summer, who proudly displayed a homemade far-right ideology combining the notion of a crusade, dreams of the Knights Templar, and anti-Islam sentiment with the idea of European superiority and, of course, anti-liberalism. Democratic voices and Western political parties must realise that we are now in a new situation of acute overcrowding on the far right not seen since WWII, where extreme nationalism, neo-nazism, ethnopluralism, and racism compete with many brands of Christian and Islamist fundamentalisms. The conflicts between such groups should no longer blind us to the fact that they constitute far-right movements in their deep resentment towards the Enlightenment, liberalism and human rights. So the predominant picture that has arisen out of the past weeks shows an upsurge of radical religious pressure dominating the public sphere in Paris, once the Enlightenment capital. Aggravating the nauseous feeling this engenders are the sickening voices that have risen above what ought to be a chorus of support for Charlie Hebdo. The deeds of the terrorists are being relativised, if not explained, excused, or even directly supported by commentators, which effectively constitutes an intellectual barrage of support asserting the right of the arsonists to do what they did. One example is Time Magazine, whose Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley wrote a long piece entitled “Firebombed French Paper is no Free Speech Martyr”, sympathising with “Muslims sensitive to jokes about their faith.” Crumley directly addresses the victims of the crime: “Sorry for your loss, Charlie, and there’s no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of ‘because we can’ was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring.” It is a trivial fact that not everybody agrees upon what is funny, and incredibly this is viewed as a fair reason for arson. I, for one, do not find Crumley’s charcoal joke witty in the least. Does this imply that I am entitled to throw a Molotov cocktail into Crumley’s office at Time? I suppose so, if we were to follow Crumley’s appalling argumentation: “So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the ‘illegal’ bit, Charlie Hebdo’s current edition is all of the above, too.” The two acts – publishing a joke and burning down a building – are given equal moral footing, apart from the merely conventional issue of legality.” The full essay.
- The Greater Threat: Christian Extremism From Timothy McVeigh to Anders Breivik
- “Burn the Koran Day” in Gainesville: When Crude Isn’t the Only Thing Mucking Up Florida
- Flouting the First: Florida’s Slouch Back To Religious Favoritism
- The Florida Family Association’s Un-Christian Jihad on TLC’s “All-American Muslim”
From Skeptical Inquirer: “Stem cells have tremendous potential, and they will likely be playing an increasing role in medical therapies over the next twenty years. But reality has yet to catch up with the hype. The situation is ripe for exploitation. Stem cell clinics have been set up, mostly in poorly regulated countries such as China, India, and several countries in South America. They exist to lure in wealthy (by international standards) Westerners desperate for a cure (such as the parents of young blind children). Fees range from the tens of thousands to even hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the costs of travel. Most victims are not wealthy people who simply write a check but instead members of middle-class families who need to raise money for the treatments. Once they have invested so much time, effort, and emotion and so many resources in the stem cell treatment—which often includes taking money from family, friends, and coworkers—these families have a huge investment in believing the treatment has worked, even when all objective evidence says otherwise. Often there is a temporary placebo effect from getting the treatment—or perhaps a temporary effect from the anesthesia or other aspects of the treatment—but no real improvement. But any fluctuation in symptoms is often interpreted as a sign the treatment has worked, which sometimes motivates the patients and their families to raise more money for more stem cell treatments. The clinics themselves are not producing useful scientific data but are instead simply publicizing anecdotes of their success. There is often little transparency in what they are doing and no way of knowing what they are even injecting into their patients. What little objective investigation we have into these stem cell clinic treatments reveals that patients are either unchanged or even harmed by the therapies. Ophthalmologist Shakesh Kaushal, of the University of Massachusetts, examined eight children treated with stem cells for blindness. “There didn’t seem to be any ostensible benefit from the stem-cell infusion,” he is quoted as saying in an NPR report, “in all of them, as far as we could tell” (Knox 2010).” The full skepticism.
From Wired: “A controversial proposal would regulate sugar as a toxic substance, and not simply because it’s a calorie-rich enabler of obesity. Some researchers say it’s intrinsically dangerous, not unlike alcohol or tobacco, with unique properties that set off a hormonal cascade ending in higher risks of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. […] But to anyone looking to artificial sweeteners as an alternative, as pastel-packaged reassurances that regulators won’t ever need to pry donuts from their cold, dead and pudgy hands, science offers only more uncertainty. Some studies even suggest that fake sugar may cause the same problems as real sugar. […] Artificial sweeteners are a fast-growing, multi-billion dollar product, present in thousands of foodstuffs and synthesized by chemists as zealously as drug researchers pursue blockbuster drugs. But as described in a massive 2008 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Review, the seemingly obvious health benefits expected of low-calorie sugar replacements have failed to materialize. Even as Americans consumed more sweeteners, waistlines continued to expand. Cause and effect was ambiguous: Sweeteners might lead to weight gain, but maybe people most prone to gaining weight consume the most sweeteners. “This association may be coincidental or causal, and either mode of directionality is plausible,” concluded that study’s authors. Other researchers, however, are more suspicious. When University of Texas Health Science Center epidemiologists conducted a 9-year-long study of 5,158 adult residents of San Antonio, Texas, they found a link between sweeteners and obesity. It persisted even after statistically accounting for gender, ethnicity, diet and beginning-of-diet body mass index. “These findings raise the question whether artificial sweetener use might be fueling — rather than fighting — our escalating obesity epidemic,” they wrote. Another study of 6,184 adult Americans linked diet soda consumption with higher rates of metabolic syndrome, the umbrella term for a physiological disruption that leads to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Once again, the link survived statistical adjustment for demographics, lifestyle and diet. That’s precisely what’s expected from eating too much sugar, which at least in rats is converted in the liver to fat. That in turn provokes, via as-yet-unidentified mechanisms, resistance to insulin, a hormone used by cells to process glucose, better known as blood sugar. When insulin’s signals are ignored, blood sugar levels rise. Metabolic syndrome follows. But why should this happen when eating fake sugar, not real?” The full story.
From Tikkun: “Back in 1969, Carol Hanisch wrote her famous essay “The Personal Is Political” in response to the criticism that feminist consciousness-raising efforts were just “therapy.” In 2011, an exhibit of art by Palestinian children was faced with the inverse criticism: accusations that the art, which came out of a therapy program, had an inherent political agenda. In the resulting controversy, many have lost sight of the deeply personal process that led to the art’s creation. A new book on the planned exhibit at Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art, A Child’s View From Gaza, chronicles the art project’s trajectory from personal to political, from healing to struggle. The Gazan students whose works make up A Child’s View From Gaza were not part of a political protest or advocacy group. Nor did they even have an intended audience for their work. Rather, they were participants in a healing-oriented project aimed at helping children in Gaza deal with the overwhelming physical and psychological stress left over from the 2008-2009 Gaza War. The vast majority of Gazan children witnessed and experienced the war’s devastation firsthand, and three out of four are still dealing with psychological trauma, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. So in the months following the conflict, the California-based Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) teamed up with Afaq Jadeeda (New Horizons) to provide art supplies and space for young victims to express themselves through dance, story-telling, and visual art. The program, called Let the Children Play and Heal, also provided training for parents to help their children cope with trauma, as well as toys and school supplies. The idea, MECA Executive Director Barbara Lubin writes in the book’s introduction, was to let them “have fun and just be children.” […] Tens of thousands of Palestinian children participated in Let the Children Play and Heal, finding news ways of dealing with unimaginable stress and trauma. And despite the Museum’s decision, the exhibit opened at an alternative venue in Oakland less than a block from MOCHA, and began traveling in December. The book that came out of this struggle—another measurable success—contains dozens of hand-drawn images from Gaza, some depicting the war with Israel, some pleading for peace, some imagining what that peace might look like.” The full story.
From Skeptical Inquirer: “The conspiracy theories started flying just days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Over the decade since, several technically elaborate claims have been refined by the “9/11 Truth” movement. Do these intricate arguments—including the rapid collapses of the towers, alleged evidence of thermite usage at Ground Zero, and the collapse of World Trade Center (WTC) 7 (a forty-seven-story building damaged by the fall of WTC 1) “into its own footprint at freefall acceleration”—disprove the mainstream consensus that the September 11, 2001, attacks were the work of al-Qaeda terrorists using hijacked airplanes? In a word: No. Dylan Avery and Jason Bermas, the creators of the low-budget documentary film Loose Change, did much to give the 9/11 Truth movement significant momentum in 2005 and in following years. The film, which has undergone several revisions, has been shown on many television stations but is primarily an Internet and DVD phenomenon. Its basic claims are that Flight 77 could not have accounted for the damage at the Pentagon, that the Twin Tower fires were insufficient to cause their collapse, and that cell phone calls from the hijacked airplanes would have been impossible at the time. […] In the past few years, architect Richard Gage’s group, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911 Truth), has provided “Truthers” with the ability to claim that thousands of engineering and architecture professionals demand a new investigation into the cause of the attacks. […] Hollywood stars who have publicly supported 9/11 Truth claims include Rosie O’Donnell, Charlie Sheen, and Ed Asner. […] As with any well-developed pseudoscience, literally thousands of individual arguments can be advanced in support of the proposition that the United States secretly carried out the September 11 attacks. This report will examine the most enduring and oft cited of these claims: “free fall” of the towers, reports of thermite and molten steel, and WTC 7’s curious collapse. Some of the factions that have developed (such as the “no-planers”) will also be described briefly.” So: put on your conspiracy-busting cap and go to CSI’s original site.
It never gets old, and it’s usually better than the game itself:
Jill Lepore on The New Yorker: “The campaign against Planned Parenthood has been unrelenting. Michele Bachmann, in one speech, accused the organization of “committing crimes and enabling young minor girls and covering up issues I don’t even want to talk about it because it’s so disgusting” and, in another, described clinics in swank suburban malls where wealthy women who are “picking up Starbucks” can be found “stopping off for an abortion.” Was it shabby and underhanded or upmarket and unabashed? “We would wake up and, every day, it would be about something else,” Richards said. “Some days it was about abortion. Some days it was about race. Some days it was about me. Some days it was about kids.” The fury over Planned Parenthood is two political passions—opposition to abortion and opposition to government programs for the poor—acting as one. So far, it has nearly led to the shutdown of the federal government, required Republican Presidential nominees to swear their fealty to the pro-life lobby, tied up legislatures and courts in more than half a dozen states, launched a congressional investigation, and helped cripple the Democratic Party. What’s next? Planned Parenthood’s latest round of difficulties dates back about a year. Just as the new Republican-majority House was being seated, a group called Live Action, whose mission is “to expose abuses in the abortion industry and advocate for human rights for the pre-born,” sent a man posing as a pimp and a woman posing as a prostitute to Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, equipped with a hidden camera. Live Action was started in 2003 by a homeschooled fifteen-year-old California girl named Lila Rose; she has worked with James O’Keefe, who has engineered stings on ACORN and NPR. Charmaine Yoest, who heads Americans United for Life, has called Rose “the Upton Sinclair of this generation.” […] Days later, Mike Pence, a Republican representative from Indiana, introduced to Congress a measure to eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. […] The Pence Amendment passed, 240 to 185. The Senate voted down the House budget, 56 to 44. Forty-one senators signed a letter opposing the defunding of Planned Parenthood. […] When President Obama met with John Boehner to negotiate an eleventh-hour deal, the Speaker pressed the President on whether he would give way on defunding Planned Parenthood. “Nope. Zero,” Obama said, according to an official. “John, this is it.” Boehner blinked. But that wasn’t it.” The full story.
- Komen and the Smear on Planned Parenthood: Swiftboating Tactics From Abortion Zealots
- Abortion: 14 Times Safer Than Childbirth
- Florida’s Abortion Follies: When Lawmakers Are Sexual Predators
Happy Birthday Bill Delbrugge Our former school Superintendent Bill Delbrugge is somewhere in his late 40s today. Happy birthday. We still miss you. And let’s be frank: you went to Egypt to change the world. It’s not a coincidence that you did. We know what you’re up. to. We’ve always known.
- Bill Delbrugge Live From Egypt: “This Is Just a Different Type of Hurricane”
- Bill Delbrugge in Egypt: Beyond the Camel, A Discovery of Challenges and Serenity
- Bill Delbrugge’s Letter to Flagler, Part I: America’s Place In the World–And Yours
- Bill’s Facebook Page