Danny Glover on New Orleans

At the “Higher Ground” benefit concert for Katrina victims, Danny Glover had this to say about the root causes of the disaster.

When the hurricane struck the Gulf and the floodwaters rose and tore through New Orleans, plunging its remaining population into a carnival of misery, it did not turn the region into a Third World country – as it has been disparagingly implied in the media – it revealed one. It revealed the disaster within the disaster: grueling poverty rose to the surface like a bruise to our skin.

Mother Nature revealed the poverty of a mindset that narrowly views security as a military issue. That is blind to the role of culture in sustaining the mental health and social wellness of people, which is also the basis for economic productivity. Blind to the role of culture in education, through which we are prepared for our responsibilities in a democracy. And hostile to the role of culture in the search for truth.

Hurricane Katrina revealed, more than anything else, a poverty of imagination.

Bush calls for conservation (momentarily)

For the first time ever, in response to the loss of refining capacity in the gulf, President Bush called for energy conservation by the federal government and ordinary citizens.

Bush … urged Americans to avoid unnecessary car trips and encouraged federal workers to use public transportation or join car pools.

This is a stunning reversal of his previous energy “strategy” (if you can call it that) of unlimited consumption and increased drilling in sensitive wilderness areas. That statement is sure to cause panic among his friends in the oil industry. But not to worry. This is only a temporary suggestion, until the oil companies can get their refineries back in operation.

Offshore production across the entire U.S. Gulf of Mexico remained closed Monday, meaning a fifth of the nation’s oil production has been shut down… The Energy Department said Monday that Katrina and Rita together had cut the nation’s refining capacity by 25 percent.

Intelligent design on trial

Many newspapers are writing stories about the upcoming trial in Dover Pennsylvania, in which parents have sued the school board for requiring that “Intelligent Design” be taught alongside evolution in science classes. The lawsuit argues that teaching creationism in schools amounts to state-sponsored religion.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creation science in public schools was unconstitutional because it was based on religion. So the plaintiffs will try to prove that intelligent design is creationism in a new package. Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United, said the “Pandas” textbook only substituted references to “creationism” with “intelligent design” in more recent editions.

Mr. Thompson said his side would prove that intelligent design was not creationism because it did not mention God or the Bible and never posited the creator’s identity.

Right. “Your honor, we never used the word ‘God’. We just refer to an all-powerful, omniscient and benevolent designer.”

“You can dress up intelligent design and make it look like science, but it just doesn’t pass muster,” said Mr. Stough [a science teacher] … “In science class, you don’t say to the students, ‘Is there gravity, or do you think we have rubber bands on our feet?'”

However, the ACLU has some hard work ahead. It may well be able to win this case, and convince a judge that “Intelligent Design” is neither. But they will not likely convince a divided public, or even President Bush, who supports ID. Nearly half of Americans believe that life-forms on earth have remained the same since the dawn of time. It’s enough to make you want to cry.

Some are comparing this latest lawsuit to the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, TN. The 1960 movie Inherit the Wind portrayed that trial as a triumph of rationalism over small-minded ignorance and superstition. In a climactic scene, Spencer Tracy’s “Clarence Darrow” character puts “William Jennings Bryan” on the stand, and exposes the inconsistencies in his beliefs. (The play and movie were also an allegorical reaction to the McCarthy hearings, just like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible).

But David Greenberg at Slate opinions that the outcome of the real trial was much more ambiguous. And although we might think that evolution carried the day in Dayton, anti-evolutionary forces never conceded defeat.

Over the past 80 years, those on the religious right have continued to build political power in the US, and to modify their tactics. These are people who have an unwavering faith in their convictions, which no dialogue or reasoning can change. And in their minds, this is not just about science education, but is a battle for America’s collective soul. You don’t give up on a mission like that just because a judge rules against you.

Silicon Valley falls to last in quality of life

A recent report by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group has rated Silicon Valley last among eight high-tech areas in the US in quality of life issues like: schools, transportation, jobs, taxes, housing, and health care.

This is not really surprising, given the dramatic loss of jobs since the dot-com implosion in 2001, followed by years of double-digit increases in housing prices. Those of us living in the valley did not need a report to tell us what we already know. In the words of Mike Cassidy:

You can’t say life is as good here as it once was. Jobs have disappeared. Average pay has declined. Benefits have shriveled. Schools have suffered. For many, life is not so much about the Next New Thing as it is about the next damn rent payment.

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy

In recent speeches, President Bush has offered a new justification for staying the course in Iraq: the nearly 2,000 American soldiers who have been killed in the conflict. “We owe them something,” the president said on Aug. 22. “We will finish the task that they gave their lives for.”

But as Barry Schwartz at Slate points out, this is a classic example of the Sunk-Cost Fallacy. That’s the tendency of people to continue in a bad course of action because they have already spent so much on the effort.

The world is an uncertain place, and good decisions do not guarantee good results […] But a reason people are seduced by the sunk-cost fallacy is that investments of time, money, or lives on ventures that do not work out feel like failures. They feel like a waste. And people seem willing to waste even more (time, money, or lives) to justify what has already been spent and avoid that sick feeling of failure.

You see this kind of behavior in everything from health club memberships to committed relationships. Do I have to go to the club to justify the money I spent? Should I stay with this person because of all the time we’ve put in to the relationship? Or if I quit now, does that mean I’m a failure?

Nonsense, says Schwartz. It doesn’t make sense for the mundane decisions of our daily lives, and certainly not for the important issues.

How do we honor the sacrifices of those who have died or suffered serious injury in an American conflict? The best way to show how much we respect and value their lives is by refraining from sacrificing other lives in their name

Hogwarts Security

In response to this summer’s hysterical Potter-mania, a security expert critiques Hogwarts Security.

Myself, I can’t be bothered. The whole idea of a parallel world of wizards and magic lying just behind a brick wall in downtown London just doesn’t work for me. And they somehow all live in an idyllic 19th century countryside hidden from view of us mere mortals? I got news for you – that land was bought out in the 1950s and converted to high-density housing. No spell in the world is powerful enough to hide good land from real estate developers.

And Harry’s friends seem to be completely ignorant of the non-magical world. That’s got to be the greatest stretch of all. If all those proto-wizards going off to their preppy private school were real kids, they’d all have cell phones, laptops and high-speed internet connections already. I mean, come on, what kid would use an owl to talk to her friends when they can just text-message instead?

And speaking of real kids, I know this generation is spending way too much time sitting in front of a screen, but at least they play some sports. Real sports where you actually have to sweat. Not this high-flying broomstick polo they play at Hogwarts. Is that really the only sport they play? That’s like telling kids instead of P.E. class, they’re all going to watch Nascar races. With an athletic program like that, every wizard to graduate from Hogwarts would weight 300 lbs. They’re gonna have to strap booster rockets on their broomsticks to get the class of 2007 up in the air.