Monday, October 29, 2012

Ben Stein: Anti-Science Extremist with Mainstream Credentials

The problem with Ben Stein is that he is too likable. Too cute. He's smart, he's funny. Ben is the son of Herbert Stein, a top economic advisor to Nixon. He's undoubtedly a well connected and influential voice in American politics and popular culture. He's a prominent Republican. He's a "player." And, he's fun. Who could resist his Hollywood roll as the boring economics school teacher in Ferris Beuller's Day Off ?

Actor, game show host (Win Ben Stein's Money), movie maker, Nixon and Ford speech writer, lawyer, economist, degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law, he's politics-made-for-TV entertainment's equivalent of Ironman. He can do it all.

Ben Stein (right), in tennies. Photo by Alex Mazerov, Wikimedia Commons.
Stein writes a regular column for the American Spectator, published by the right-wing 501(c)(3) American Spectator Foundation, which apparently holds that tax-deductible status by offering internships to young journalists. He's also a frequent guest on CNBC's Kudlow Report. It seems safe to say Ben Stein is not associated with the far right likes of Quran-burning Pastor Terry Jones. Stein's a mainstream elite guy - who says scientists are murderers.

In 2008, while promoting his anti-evolution movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Stein gave an interview to Trinity Broadcasting Network, where Stein's remarks were so off-the-wall, that even the conservative journal National Review couldn't tolerate them.

From the transcript, as reported by John Derbyshire in the National Review:

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

With the general election approaching, the Republicans are busily portraying themselves as moderates. Is such an extreme view of science a "reasonable centrist" position? If given more power in Washington, would Republicans be champions of the advancement of science and technology with the goal of inventing and manufacturing products that advance the arc of civilization? It's seems pretty hard to do that if you've decided "science leads you to killing people."

Scientific American has responded to Ben Stein, particularly his movie, in the following related articles.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--Scientific American's Take

Six Things Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--Ben Stein Launches a Science-free Attack on Darwin

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why We're in Lybia: Remembering Pan Am Flight 103

Garden of Remembrance, Dryfesdale, Scotland. Photo by Chris Newman, Creative Commons.

Ambassador Chris Stevens never forgot the victims of Pan Am Flight 103. Neither should we.

Nearly twenty-four years ago, on December 21, 1988, a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103, Killing 270 people, including 35 Syracuse University Students returning from a semester abroad. Those students left the relative safety of up-state New York to learn about a less-familiar part of the world.  They, and their friends and families, paid a terrible price for broadmindedness.

Only one individual, former Libyan agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the crime in 2001. It seems absurd to think Megrahi acted alone. A former Lybian justice minister claims Gadaffi personally ordered the bombing of the flight.

Having served less than nine-years, Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in 2009, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons. Magrahi was diagnosed with prostate cancer. When Megrahi returned to Lybia he was met by Gadaffi and a "hero's welcome."

However, it's also been reported that Magrahi was released early to clear the way for a $30 billion oil deal between BP and Gadaffi's government.

Following a U.S. backed effort to support Lybian rebels fighting to topple Gadaffi , an effort accomplished with zero American casualties or American troops on the ground, the dictator was killed in October, 2011. Since then, after 42 years of dictatorship, Lybia struggles to form a stable national government.

Earlier this year Ambassador Chris Stevens invited the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 to a telephone conference. Here are excerpts reported from that meeting (emphasis added):
"Amb. Stevens noted that right now, Libya is often chaotic, but it is his belief that the Libyan people are hopeful for democracy. He explained that Libya is structured around tribal affiliations and there are also regional divisions, but if there is a homogeneous desire, it is for democracy. He expressed his optimism for the Libyan people and nation...(he indicated) there are steps we can take...the FBI to continue to pursue information about PA103 and to assist the Libyan government to find that information; and the status of Megrahi, Senussi and Moussa Koussa.
"When asked what his priorities will be when he arrives in Libya, Amb. Stevens stated that he wants to help ensure that there is a stable democracy and to find justice in the Pan Am 103 case."
Chris Stevens was a friend to the Lybian people. He believed in democracy and justice. He believed most Lybians did, too. He dedicated his life working for those goals, it turns out, at great personal risk. At the American consulate in Lybia, the heavily-armed terrorists found a soft target. They'll find others, as they've done in the past.

We remember the victims and honor the living and fallen brave ones who've risked their lives for justice and freedom.  And we keep after the bastards who would harm innocents and have us live in fear.

Let's keep the real target in focus. Let's focus on the terrorists and not those who've done a good job keeping Americans safe.

Related material: A timeline of events related to the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing.
Photo credit: Chris Newman through Creative Commons.