Flags without our brothers

Show: Leonard Lopate Show
Air Date:   2006.10.20
Issue: Flags of our fathers
Guest(s): James Bradley
Show Info click here to visit official page for episode

While interviewing James Bradley, co-author of the book Flags of Our Fathers Lopate missed multiple opportunities to discuss the issue of the absence of black soldiers in the film version of the book, directed by conservative/libertarian actor Clint Eastwood. During the second half of his interview, Lopate spent a considerable amount of time on the movie, the discussion often including issues of relevance, where the missing black soldiers could have been address, for example: Bradley’s description of the diversity of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

Note: Roger Friedman pointed out this issue back on 12, Oct 2006, on Fox News (of all places!):

There are some caveats about “Flags of our Fathers” that can’t be overlooked, and again I think they have more to do with Broyles’ script than anything else.

First, there don’t seem to be any black soldiers at Iwo Jima. Outside of Beach’s character, it’s an all-white American army. This is historically inaccurate.

Writer Christopher Paul Moore talks about the Army’s 471st, 473rd and 476th amphibious truck companies in his excellent book, “Fighting for America: Black Soldiers — The Unsung Heroes of World War II,” and includes many pictures of black Marines and soldiers from the month-long battle of Iwo Jima. Certainly, at least one of them could have been represented (to be fair, black soldiers were also omitted from Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” as Moore notes).

No black characters, but more than 30 actors from Iceland, where a big chunk of the movie was filmed, are credited as soldiers.

To slur is human?

Show: Leonard Lopate Show
Air Date:   2006.09.15
Topic: Earth-Shaking Subjects
Guest(s): E.O.Wilson
Show Info click here to visit official page for episode

Towards the end of his interview with a meandering E.O.Wilson, Leonard Lopate brought up the issue of the controversial nature of Wilson’s [early] work, giving Wilson an opportunity to take some potshots (including implicitly at critics who are dead and gone). Rough transcript:

Wilson: What was thirty years ago a controversy about whether there is any biological basis for human social behaviour, whether there is any such thing as human nature, those things now seem very archaic…

Lopate: Have any of your critics from that time apologised to you?

Wilson: There were surprisingly few of them … concentrated at Harvard … They found other things to talk about.

This is utter rot and no apology is due to Wilson, for he is deceitful in his characterisation of his critics as denying the existence of a biological basis for behaviour, or even such a thing as human nature. Gould, Lewontin et al do not deny the influence of selection pressure on the evolution of behavioural traits. What they disagreed with was the idea of biological determinism i.e., you are what you are because of what is encoded in you (and these critics are indeed continuing to demonstrate how Wilson’s theory is fundamentally incomplete — especially in the light of recent findings of the Genome project regarding the number and function of human genes). Here for example is Lewontin writing in Monthly Review about Gould:

He was one of the authors of the original manifesto challenging the claim of sociobiology that there is an evolutionarily derived and hard-wired human nature that guarantees the perpetuation of war, racism, the inequality of the sexes, and entrepreneurial capitalism.

Other academics like Cosmides, et al, miss the point with their reference to “universal human nature”. Such a nature can be universal and still susceptible to change and environmental pressures. Hence the title of Lewontin’s book The Triple Helix. Also Ehrlich’s Human Natures.

Speaking of Ehrlich, it is worth noting that he is at Stanford, not Harvard. Nor is Leon Kamin, or Steven Rose, and most important of all Philip Kitcher or David Sloan Wilson. The last two are important because the former offered a complete, analytical and thorough-going criticism (Vaulting Ambition) of the sociobiology and evolutionary psychology claims and programme(s), and the latter is a working biologist with a broader viewpoint that E.O.Wilson and his followers have to offer. What the EP/SB/reductionists have to offer, as cautioned by their critics, can now be enjoyed in such works as the claims on the adaptive advantages of rape.

This method of constructing a strawman is not new to this crowd. Steven Pinker performs the same with his melodramatic book titled “Blank Slate” bemoaning the denial of human nature. Little does it matter that behavioural psychologists do not deny human nature but have, on the other hand, consistently (and technically) demonstrated the [scientific] emptiness of such concepts as “instinct” as used by Pinker and Co.

Papal smear Part 2

Show: Brian Lehrer Show
Air Date:   2006.09.22
Issue: Pope remarks
Guest(s): Multiple
Show Info click here to visit official page for episode

On the 22nd, Brian Lehrer revisited the controversial remarks of Pope Benedict, in the format of a roundtable discussion. The guests:

  • John L Allen Jr (Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter)
  • Irshad Manji (author of The Trouble with Islam)
  • Fawaz Gerges (author of Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy)
  • Reza Aslan (author of No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam)

Notice anything strange about the guest list? Well two things really: not only do you see few who have written critically(*) about Christianity and the Pope in particular (this is a discussion about his mutterings, after all, isn’t it?), but the table is packed with authors hostile or critical of Islam. If you used this glaring detail to guess the obvious about how the conversation went, you would have got it quite right. Here are some opening remarks:

Allen: I think in his own mind it was quite accidental [that Benedict used a quote about Islam rather than Zoroastrianism or even Christianity] …

Aslan: I think there is no question that the Pope’s comment has been taken out of context …

Manji: I think he has been making the point that I have been trying to make but making it in a much more sensitive way … much more nuanced and much more sophisticated … I am going to put that feather in his cap now…

All three went on in their introductory statements to lavish praise further on Benedict (e.g: a fine theologian). The bottom line is that this was not a roundtable on the Papal Controversy but yet another rehash of “What is particularly wrong with Islam?”.

Also, I think someone needs to challenge the “out of context” excuse. I would like to know what context justifies a quote that whatever Muhammad has contributed that is new is evil.

Later in the show Lehrer refers to the incident as one that enraged Muslims. I hope it is just an oversight that he forgot that it is not only Muslims who are outraged by this sort of rhetoric.

(*) Allen has written a book on Pope Benedict.

Anti-war anaesthesia

Show: Brian Lehrer Show
Air Date:   2006.09.27
Issue: NIE report
Guest(s): Multiple

Brian Lehrer did an excellent segment this morning, reading out sections of the NIE report that Bush had attempted to suppress. In particular, he highlighted the finding that Muslim discontent had little or nothing to do with “our freedom” or their religious agenda, contrary to BushCo claims, but was based on concerns about Western domination, unfair treatment, support of oppressive regimes, etc. Lehrer also pointed out that the truth (according to the report) was anything but the Bush claim: Muslims overwhelmingly rejected the fundamentalism (Sharia law, etc) of the Al Qaeda and other Jihadist organisations.

In response to a caller’s gripe about anti-war protesters (whom the caller outrageously conflated with the views of Jihadists — an error he committed in the case of the general Muslim population also), in particular those again the Afghan War, Lehrer differed on their motivation, suggesting rather that these protesters predicted that the Afghan war would lead to widespread anger among Muslims around the world, which prediction proved to be false.

While it is possible some anti-war protester can be found who uttered such a prediction, this claim by Lehrer is wrong and misleading: anti-war protesters, in general, are not opposed to these wars for tactical or strategic reasons based on partisan preferable outcomes, but for principled reasons based on universal notions of just action and general outcome (outcome here being the impact on the Afghani population, which took the brunt of this assault).

Presumed Guilty

Air date: 2006.09.18
Guests: Romesh Ratnesar, Jim Pinkerton
[ Link ]

Discussing the recent Bush “I got you so scared I could get away with murder” policy, in particular his “What I did this summer: reworking the Geneva Convention”, Lehrer and guests entertained callers who proclaimed (rough):

The American public understands that these people are not members of the family of man. We have to do what we have to do in order to get the information we need to keep the country safe.

There was a lot of talk about “great republic” and “moral beacon” but little attention paid to the simple question of the humans being tortured and their innocence or guilt.

Interestingly enough, a later part of the show talks about “moral relativism”.

Papal Smear

Air date: 2006.09.18
Guests: Romesh Ratnesar, Jim Pinkerton
[ Link ]

Last week Ratzinger a.k.a Pope Benedict, the head honcho of organized Christianity, contributed to the Global War on Islam with the following gem:

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read… of part of the dialogue carried on – perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara – by the erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

In the seventh conversation…the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

For some reason, the Muslims had an adverse reaction to this bit of wisdom, for which (the Muslims’ reaction that is, not his words) the father has now apologised:

At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.

Chew on that for a bit. This morning Brian Lehrer brought on Romesh Ratnesar and Jim Pinkerton to discuss the news (Monday Morning Politics). Romesh works for Time, so perhaps he should be excused for anything he might say, but we are getting a bit ahead of things here. We were talking about the Holy Father’s take on Muhammad and Lehrer and friends had some thoughts to offer. Quite in keeping to script, these thoughts were not so much about Ratzinger’s rhetoric, but about … wait for it … the Muslim reaction to it! Which gave room for Romesh to hold forth (rough transcript):

It’s a sign that throughout the Islamic world there is a fever pitch […] of the kinds of reaction we are going to see over and over again … to anything that … in the slightest … offense to Islam … and its a sign that in lots of places there is a very real streak of … violent radicalism that isn’t being contained.

Romesh goes on and peddles the “right context” meme. If only, he bemoans, people would read in the right context the stuff about Muhammad bringing about evil and inhuman things. Unfortunately for us, Romesh leaves the right context as an exercise to the reader, giving us rather this: its a “complex, arcane speech” about “moral relativism”, the anecdote being used to “highlight the tension” (between faith and reason) — the gem of this context being that the Emperor (offering the nonsense about Muhammad) is a “man of reason”. One is forced to conclude that that explains the level of reasoning at the Times more than anything else.

Ratnesar suggests that the Pope refrain from such “hypotheticals”, since the current context is one of “deep seething public opinion”. In a context such as the Inquisition, perhaps he may suggest, this thing would have been met with little such misunderstanding and radical interpretation.

Lehrer was honest enough to point out the weasel apology from the Pope, but quickly moved on to question the hypocrisy of Muslim protesters (I guess just so its clear he is “objective”).