Monday, April 14, 2008

And now, a consequential post

As a short counter to the recent exercise in triviality, how about I encourage us all to do something of consequence? Namely, help free Sami Al-Arian, an actual political prisoner in America, currently held in Howard County, Maryland.

I first heard of Al-Arian because I briefly encountered his son Abdullah, who was a student at Duke when I taught there. Back in 2002, Abdullah Al-Arian was smeared in the Duke Chronicle as "the son of a widely suspected terrorist," and I was among those who wrote outraged letters in response.

Sami Al-Arian's story is complicated, but the recent history is this: he was arrested in 2003 along with three other men but the government's case against him was poor; according to Wikipedia, "Of fifty-one charges against the four men, not one resulted in a conviction." He pled guilty to a single charge but is still in prison in violation of the government's agreement. He's been on hunger strike since March 3, 2008, and has recently been moved to a "special holding cell." Here are a few things you can do that might help.

The unfocused windbags of kairos

Added: Wow, this post got long. It's like kairosfocus gives everything he touches a proximate case of his own logorrhea.

Warning: do not read this post.
It is by definition without consequence, as it's about a character what goes by the name kairosfocus, whose blog, though astonishingly voluminous, is even less important than mine.

Although his own blog is but a filibuster in an empty room, kairosfocus also spends a lot of time posting on other (mainly Christian) blogs. As Jon Rowe puts it, he's in the habit of writing "book-length ponderous posts" in strident defense of his strange views. kairosfocus typically doesn't really win an argument. He simply wears his opponent out. In the process, he inevitably accuses them of some combination of the following:
  • "selective hyperskepticism"
  • ad hominem
  • red herrings
  • strawmen
These accusations are often couched as painful observations and noted with a characteristic "sadly." But there's nothing sad about it: kairosfocus positively delights in this kind of (nearly always groundless) accusation. He lives for it. Attaching "sadly" is just a way of excusing that frisson.

Sometimes several accusations combine in a glorious metaphorical trainwreck. For example, kairosfocus rings a lot of variations on this one:
As to wagers, no money needs be on the table, just demonstrated ability to think clearly and address issues cogently on the merits across comparative difficulties; instead of on personalities rooted in red herrings leading out to oil-soaked strawmen burned to cloud and poison the atmosphere with noxious smoke. (second emphasis added)
Isn't that delicious? I can't tell if kairosfocus repeats this kind of thing because it's so over-the-top bad or because he likes it. Maybe both, but that would require his possessing a sense of camp.

Back (sadly, sadly) to the reason for this post. I first encountered kairosfocus on Uncommon Descent, vanity blog of Dr. Dr. William A. Dembski (ID head mathemagician) and Denyse O'Leary (Canadian hack "writer"/grandma). Now, last summer I was banned from UD. And yet, despite my exile, inexplicably, I keep reading. (Which leads me to wonder: What's the matter with me? I can't look away: with Denyse O'Leary's appallingly bad writing, Bill Dembski's periodic tantrums, and David Springer's autodidactic pomposity, it's a horn of plenty for lovers of the "give 'em enough rope" school of debate.)

A description of kairosfocus on another blog, Evangelical Outpost, points to what prompts this post:
I am fairly certain that [kairosfocus] is sincere in his beliefs, but his tactic of saying so much, making so many tenuous and often balantly [sic] false claims, his tendency to draw sweeping conclusions from a single remark made by someone long ago, often gives me the feeling that he's willing to grasp at any straw to support beliefs he has decided to take on faith. (Emphasis added)
kairosfocus has spent a lot of time recently "draw[ing] sweeping conclusions from a single remark made by someone long ago." Recently he's been reposting, in distorted form, a three-year old message from a discussion board of the Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS). The original message is this:

I admire your attitude. I feel the same way. However, the BOE answers to no one. They have no reason to resign. They are in the cat-bird seat, they have all the power, and they will do what they want to do.

My strategy at this point is the same as it was in 1999: notify the national and local media about what's going on and portray them in the harshest light possible, as political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc.

There may no way to head off another science standards debacle, but we can sure make them look like asses as they do what they do.

Our target is the moderates who are not that well educated about the issues, most of whom probably are theistic evolutionists. There is no way to convert the creationists.

The solution is really political. And unfortunately, the creationists on the BOE are making their power grab so early in the game, it's far away from the 2006 elections. Think they didn't plan it that way?

In the meantime, let's shine a light on them and their motives, and let the press and public know what's really going on.
Intelligent Design people are obsessed with this message. I got it from an archive kept by an anti-evolution group -- but hey, at least it's apparently accurate. Since it was posted, it was mentioned in the testimony on the Kansas Science Standards and has been crowed about on various blogs by the Discovery Institute and their fellow travelers.

All the pro-ID sites view it as KCFS policy. Now, when I read the message, I don't see policy. I see an exchange of views. I think, -- who's Pat? What's this person responding to? And yet, in the hands of the ID crowd, it's converted into policy. It's as though they never read a discussion board before.

kairosfocus does worse, in two ways. Here's his latest:

Jack — per the upshot of the recent Complex Speciation thread here, from 117 on — is an educator and state-level curriculum developer in Kansas.

He has in that context been a major leader of the attempt to redefine science as taught to students there, as in effect applied materialism; cf the 2007 standards, especially the “natural explanations” clause. (I call that, for excellent reason, substitution of ideologically loaded indoctrination for education, through abuse of the state education powers; a la Plato’s Cave.]

He is also associated with the group KCFS as a principal leader, and has thus also been associated with the declared PR policy stated on the KCFS forum he then moderated, by its PR person [cf FtK’s remarks on that, at 533], namely:

[KCFS’ PR] strategy [as declared in their online forum by their PR person, circa 2005] . . . is the same as it was in 1999: notify the national and local media about what’s going on and portray them [i.e. those who advocate for objectivity, fairness and balance in science definitions and in teaching about the science of origins] in the harshest light possible, as political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc . . . . Our target [i.e. this is not just a loose cannon speaking] is the moderates who are not that well educated about the issues, most of whom probably are theistic evolutionists . . . . The solution is really political . . .

Strategy sounds familiar?

Sadly, it should.

I see a familiar strategy all right: kairosfocus pulling and twisting a passage like taffy, here with the aid of ellipses and brackets. That's one way kairosfocus is worse than the hacks at "Evolution News & Views." The second way is this: kairosfocus claims that Jack Krebs, one of the most patient people ever to post on UD, should somehow take responsibility for the statement, or apologize (for what, I don't know.) This pattern started, as far as I can tell, on an earlier discussion that kairosfocus hijacked, and has continued repeatedly to the present. He never quoted the passage accurately. (Later in the thread, kairosfocus inserts an ellipsis in another argument with Jack Krebs, and then, when Jack repeats by quoting kairosfocus's quote, kairosfocus accuses Jack of inserting the ellipsis. Of course, it's all Jack's fault.)

Fed up with this bullshit, Jack responds with righteous indignation, as he should.
KF lies when he says that the quote he has taken to posting every time my name comes up is or was KCFS’s policy, and I defy him to find an example of something that KCFS has done that has been anything more than acting to express our views in a democratic manner - which we have every right to do.
Thing is, even if a message on a board did represent policy, and even if kairosfocus had responsibly quoted (I laugh, I laugh), and even if the interlocutor were the speaker and not someone else, there would be nothing to apologize for. The creationists on the board were "political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies." Pointing that out is just speaking the truth.