Tag Archives: Sarah Palin

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None (moviesinbw.blogspot.com)

And Then There Were None (moviesinbw.blogspot.com)

Seven years my senior, my sister Judy was a role model for me. I loved just hanging around her. When she took up French, I tried to learn too. Her library books became my reading list. And when she starred in high school plays, I was her ardent fan, learning lines as she practiced them.

Most memorable of these was Agatha Cristy‘s play, And Then There Were None. (Known at the time by its politically incorrect title, Ten Little Indians.) Today, as I follow the Republican primaries, I am reminded of this marvelous mystery. For each day’s news events are every bit as suspenseful, dramatic, and unpredictable as those in Christy’s 1939 ‘who done it.’

The play’s plot centers around the mysterious deaths of 10 unrelated people who find themselves alone together on Soldier Island from which there is no escape. One by one, each is murdered, presumably at the hand of one among them, and in a sequence that mirrors the poem Ten Little Soldier Boys.

ten_little_indians_1965 (movie poster/ sharetv.org)

ten_little_indians_1965 (movie poster/ sharetv.org)

The tension mounts as each suspects the murderer to be among the others. The mystery remains unsolved as the last two visitors to the island suffer the same fate–and then there were none.

This puzzling chain of events is finally unravelled in an epilogue, thanks to the inspector who arrives on the island and pieces the clues together. It is not for me to spoil the story by recounting the elaborate explanation; as in any mystery, readers’ enjoyment comes from sorting it out for themselves. But I will take the opportunity of recalling Agatha Christy’s play to apply the Soldier Boy poem as a means of extrapolating about the totally unprecedented sequence of events and surreal atmosphere associated with the Republican Primary.

Ten Republican Candidates Seeking the Presidency.

republican debate

republican debate

Ten Republic candidates standing in a line. Palin can’t commit, and then there were nine.

Nine presidential candidates starting at the gate. Perry forgets his script, and then there were eight.

Eight presidential candidates called upon by Heaven. Pawlenty is uninspiring, and so there were seven.

Seven presidential candidates performing all their tricks, Bachman failed her civics lesson, then there were six.

Six presidential candidates trying to stay alive, Huntsman was so principled the number dropped to five.

Five presidential candidates seeking an encore, Paul couldn’t get on stage and so there were four.

Four presidential candidates making policy, Cain’s diversionary tactics puts the number at three.

Three presidential candidates set on wooing you, Santorum doesn’t stand out, oops its now just two.

Mitt and Newt battle it out, just as in the play, when they are eliminated, Obama will have his day!

He Who Forgets History. . .

Paul_Reveres Ride

Paul_Reveres Ride

There is considerable irony in the fact that Tea Party groups have sought to legitimate their cause by choosing a name that evokes the Founding Fathers and the events that culminated in the writing of the Constitution and the birth of the Republic. For it is, in fact, these politicos who have conjured up and propagated a totally slipshod account of early American history. Of course, history is open to interpretation, and reinterpretation, but not to distortion of the facts. As Cass Sustein emphasizes in his book Republic.com 2.0, what’s alarming about today’s historical expediency is that, for many undiscerning people, it fills a gap in their historical knowledge, substituting fiction for fact.

Perhaps no one has gone further to link him or herself to the trappings of American history than Sarah Palin who, while coyly avoiding questions about her potential candidacy for President, undertook a bus tour of historical places as a means of educating Americans about their origins. (Presumably, if people understood American history, they would see the merits in Palin’s political positions) What hubris! The trip backfired, to say the least. Visiting the home of Paul Revere, Palin garbled the story of his ride, contending that Revere road to warn the British rather than the militia. When challenged by Fox News, Palin denied her gaffe, insisting that she “knew her American history.” So ended her tour, if not her presidential ambitions.

Palin is not alone in crafting historical events in accordance with her own political objectives. Speaking to the group Iowans for Tax Relief, Michele Bachmann claimed, for instance, that equality was not something that was contested and fought for, even at the expense of a civil war; rather, as she said, individuals, regardless of their origins, came to the United States and were treated as equals.

Slavery in America

Slavery in America

Acknowledging that slavery existed at the time, she contended that the Founding Fathers — especially John Quincy Adams–vowed to work for its elimination. No matter that a number of Founding Fathers–including Washington and Jefferson–were slave owners; that the Constitution counted slaves as three-quarters of a man; or that John Quincy Adams, a young boy at the time, was not a Founding Father.

Even more alarming than these individual cases is the formal rewriting of history, as in the recent case in Texas. Concerned that American textbooks veered too far to the left, the Texas Board of Education (comprised of ten Republicans and five Democrats) unabashedly voted to alter the American narrative to bolster a conservative perspective. Most outlandish of all, the Board voted to discount Thomas Jefferson’s role in providing the philosophical underpinnings of the new Republic, notwithstanding his authorship of the Declaration of Independence. As Fritz Fischer, national chairman of the National Council for History Education characterized it: This should not be a matter of partisanship, but rather of good history.

As George Santayana said, He who forgets history is doomed to repeat it. Might Santayana’s admonition provide a clue as to why Tea Party members, and others of their ilk, seek to distort it? I believe so. In fact, it would appear to me that today’s Conservatives would like nothing more than to return to a semi-mythical past when, according to their lights, life was much simpler, God prevailed, and Government was more circumspect. It’s time for a rereading, not a rewriting, of history.

Value Free; Value Added

Preparing for my Technology and Society class unveiled an interesting paradox. Looking back from an historical perspective, I was struck by how the term value free science has become a very value ladened word.

looking back from an historical perspective, I was struck by how the term value free science has become a very value ladened word.  

Indeed, this is a curious unintended consequence! For, as John M. Jordan documented in Machine-Age Ideology: Social Engineering & American Liberalism (1998), social scientists have, for more than a half century, diligently sought to rid their disciplines of all interpretations and ideological perspectives. As Jordan pointed out, the ultimate goal of these social scientists–which included such luminaries as Thorstein Veblen, John Dewey, Walter Lippman, Edwin Gay, and Herbert Croly, among others–was not only to generate new knowledge, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to enhance democratic politics by replacing ideologically oriented politicians with value free experts.

Backfire  (courtesy of Tohoscope)

Backfire (courtesy of Tohoscope)

Assessing the political situation today, one can only say that the efforts of these social scientists clearly backfired. For, while most academics remain standoffish, isolated in their ivory towers creating value free science, politicians–such as John McCain and Sarah Palin–have clearly gone over the top in contending that personal values and personalities trump policy analysis. Equally problematic , in terms of differentiating between facts and ideology, are the growing efforts by today’s political leaders to employ the work of scientists to cloak private interests in what is ostensibly value free analysis

politicians–such as John McCain and Sarah Palin–have clearly gone over the top in contending that personal values and personalities trump policy analysis. 

We seem to have come full circle in this regard. For, not without some irony, today’s opponents of the Administration’s performance disdainfully equate the present government’s science with political science. (Statement of Liz Godfrey, policy director for the Endangered Species Coalition. )

The Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans have been especially pernicious in characterizing scientific studies whose conclusions it opposes as junk science, while labeling those with which it agrees as good science. The Department of Interior’s analyses of scientific data calling for protection of endangered species provides one interesting case in point. For example, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which conducted a survey of Fish and Wildlife Scientists in 2005, Julie MacDonald, a political appointee in the Department of Interior, consistently demanded that the Agency’s scientists alter their findings so as to justify not listing imperiled species such as the Gunnison sage grouse, the California tiger salamander, the roundtail chub, Gunnison’s and White-tailed prairie dogs, and the Mexican garter snake. According to one survey respondent:

I have never before seen the boldness of intimidation demonstrated by a single political appointee. She has modified the behavior of the entire agency. I believe that there should be a thorough investigation of her abuse of discretionary authority and modification of science information provided in the FWS documents. (Noah Greenwald, Seattle-Post Intelligencer December 20, 2006)

Such shenanigans are not limited to one Federal Agency. EPA’s former administrator, Stephen Johnson, was also forced to resign, after the union representing the vast majority of EPA scientists accused him of chronic mendacity, information suppression, and overriding his science advisors in setting new ozone standards (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Newsletter, Spring 2008). One symptom of this behavior was the Agency’s decision to close half of its libraries, which housed a good portion of EPA’s earlier scientific studies ( PEER Review Winter 2007, p.9). Equally telling was Vice President Chaney’s role–uncovered by the Washington Post–in overriding scientists’ efforts to restore endangered Salmon in the Klamath Basin by redirecting water from the Klamath River, and the fish, to agribusiness. Only after 90,000 fish had died was this decision reversed by the courts.

When it comes to the realm of politics, value free science may not be the goal to strive for. Perhaps what is needed instead is value added science.

Where do we go from here? When it comes to the realm of politics, value free science may not be the goal to strive for. Perhaps what is needed instead is value added science. Building on Habermas’ model of the public sphere, value added science might be conceived of as the product of a dialogue among diverse actors–hard scientists, social scientists, and value based interests alike. However, instead of taking place in local coffee houses, the discussion might be organized and orchestrated within the government itself. A dialogue that links interests and scientific analyses in an open, transparent fashion, adds tremendous value to the political debate while identifying and enhancing the array of subject matter ripe for scientific investigation. This idea is hardly far-fetched. One need only consider the successes of the National Academy of Science and the former Office of Technology Assessment.