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Taking the Blinders Off - "Censoring Science"

Censoring Science.jpg"Once those blinders are off, it's pretty near impossible to put them back on", my friend Sally Giovine-Kerr used to say when someone of her many, many friends or acquaintances had one of those "aha" moments about the role of women, or the Vietnam War, or race issues.  Sally of course was one of those people who helped pull those blinders away, sometimes gently, other times rather painfully.  She asked questions and then she listened to the answers and often commented and took what she heard back to what we call politics.  She brought up issues others wouldn't.  If she'd been of the right age now, she might well have been a rather outrageous blogger.

Sally asked very personal questions of people and they would more often than not reach into themselves to give her an answer that carried a truth that surprised that person as well.  She connected dots for people, in the language we use today, dots between the personal and the political.  The thing was, Sally really cared about the answers she got from people.  She wanted to know how a couple resolved differences or how it was to be the first woman working as an able bodied seaman in the Washington State Ferry System or to be an 11-year old whose parents were fighting.  Sally wanted to hear their answers.  She also had astounding stories.  She talked too about things I was not accustomed to hearing out of the mouths of any adults I knew - like about how it had been to be a thinking, political person in the fifties during the McCarthy Era.  She and her first husband, who hung out with the cool Democratic couples in Olympia, were able only to talk with one couple in Oregon, of the many dozens of people they counted as friends, about national politics, about the HUAC Committee and the many people who were losing their jobs for the wrong reasons.  For me it sounded awful but that time was ancient history and was not going to be repeated.  I came of age in the sixties when it looked for some period of time like we'd really changed the world.  We'd learned from the McCarthy era.  We had a stronger press and wouldn't allow anything like that to happen again.
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Ha! I've thought about those remembered conversations and my dismissals many times in the last few years, forty years after a time here in America when people were so scared that many could not talk honestly to even their friends about the craziness that was going on in our capital.  And far more people simply didn't pay attention to it.

I just finished reading a deeply distressing book, "Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the TRUTH of Global Warming" a new book by Mark Bowen that ripped off my blinders a couple different ways.  The story covered two different issues - rather awkwardly actually - but each topic was covered so well that I forgave the author for that lack of smoothness.  The first story is about the spreading censorship of scientists in the Bush/Cheney years, brilliant researchers and professors who worked on any aspect of climate change, whether it be oceanographers at NOAA or regulators at the EPA or the researchers at NASA who were now being prevented from talking directly about their research to the public or drawing the obvious implications about policy going forward.  Dr. James Hansen, NASA's leading climate expert, the primary example, was being harassed about providing a standard set of facts about the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere that had been provided to the press for thirty years.   This was 2005, the year that broke all previous records and threatened to make people take climate change seriously.  All of a sudden in the Bush/Cheney years it was "too policy-oriented" and there were public affairs "minders" at each agency that made it difficult for scientists, some very well-known, to get the message about global warming and climate change out clearly to the public and the policy-makers. 

James Hansen.jpgThe second is the actual set of observations and recommendations that the well-known Dr. James Hansen was writing and talking about anyway.  Hansen is the man who has been accurately talking about the big picture of climate change for over 30 years and whose predictions have been chillingly accurate.  It was Hansen's difficulties in getting his message out that inspired this book, which then widened to include scientists from other related agencies that might also be stepping the on the toes of the old energy corporations.  It was a widespread phenomena during the Bush years, that only got worse and worse until huge amounts of the budgets for basic Earth Sciences programs, data acquiring programs that obtain the raw temperature data from satellites around the earth were begin systematically shut down for lack of funds.  Of course there were few fingerprints on the censorship activities that led back to a common administration source or policy.  Reagan and Bush Sr. had done some of the same but the Bush/Cheney administration made it frighteningly systematic.

The book is well worth reading.  The future of the planet may well depend on understanding how to prevent this censoring of science from ever occurring again.  

Infidel - A Fascinating Look at Women and Islam




Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a remarkable woman.  She first came to the attention of most people when it was clear that a political killing in the Netherlands in 2004 was a direct attack on her as an outspoken female emigrant Muslim who had recently been elected to Parliament.  The filmmaker Theo van Gogh was violently killed on the street, almost unheard of in that country, by a Moroccan man who left a note addressed to Hirsi Ali on van Gogh's chest, pinned there by one of the knives used to kill him.  He and Hirsi Ali had just made a film together about the horrors that Islamic women face simply by being women in a culture that often treats women like chattel still.


Hirsi Ali had observed and been at the butt end of the miseries common to the majority of east African women from her childhood to the time when she fled an unwanted marriage and took refuge in Amsterdam.  The book "Infidel" is a book about her remarkable life, the slow and tortuous reevaluation of her religion, her fierce fighting for refugee women's rights and her openness to a foreign history and culture that continually amazed her.


From Somalia to the Netherlands


She had been born in Somalia to a well-known father who was an early rebel leader living outside the country most of the time and a mother increasingly embittered at having to raise her three children by herself with no education or skills.  The family lived in Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Ethiopia as well, giving the young Ayaan a view of Islamic societies from several angles as she and her brother and sister struggled to adapt to each new school.  It is an astounding and troublesome look in to a society we rarely get to observe first-hand.


At age 24, Hirsi Ali arrived in the Netherlands as a refugee from Germany where she was supposed to be waiting to go to Canada to join her new husband.  He was a very conventional, proper Muslim man whom her father had arranged for her to marry after knowing him for only two hours.  He was of the proper lineage though and had a good job in Canada.  Why not?  After spending a limited amount of time with him in Kenya before he left for Canada, Hirsi Ali knew she did not want to spend her life trapped like almost all the women she knew. 


When she arrived in Germany, she sought information about Europe from family members there and then took a train to Amsterdam alone with only a small satchel of clothes and papers to "visit" another family member.  She sought and gained refugee status and slowly made use of the generous welfare and education benefits to go back to school, ultimately going for a PhD to study political science.  She was most interested in understanding why Europe had done so well while much of the rest of world was struggling.

More after the fold.



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