Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Home Again

I’m back home, very tired and trying to catch up on sleep. A few thoughts and observations on the YearlyKos conference.

1. Yes, there were conservative groups there talking to people hoping to get them to say something outrageous so they could post it on Youtube, much like Max Blumenthal and others routinely do at conservative conferences. I know at least one person who got interviewed by someone from Pajamas Media, but I doubt she gave them anything juicy. This is now par for the course at such conferences on both sides and everyone is warned in advance to be careful what they say. Nonetheless, there will always be something said or overheard that can be turned into blogfodder ammunition against one’s political enemies.

It doesn’t look like they came up with too much at this conference, though. The worst I’ve come across so far is this story with video where apparently someone in a military uniform stood up at a session with Wesley Clark to defend the “surge” in Iraq and was told by the moderator that, because he was in uniform, he could not make a political statement.

Technically, the moderator is right. This is similar to what happened with Gordon Klingenschmitt, who was ordered by the military not to appear in uniform at a partisan political event. Naturally, the conservative blogosphere is turning this into “liberals censor our brave men in uniform.” In fact, they did let him speak. The moderator said he was going to report the guy for making political statements in uniform, but they did let him say what he wanted to say.

Wesley Clark then jumped in and explained the rule against speaking at a political event while in uniform. The moderator of the panel handled it badly after the session got over. If he really believes that the soldier was out of line for showing up in uniform, he should have continued to say that in public rather than worrying about whether cameras were rolling at the time. As I said, he may well be right. It’s also obvious that the soldier was there to get attention and was trying to disrupt things.

Interestingly, the soldier seems to admit that he’s breaking the rules at the end of the video. When the interviewer asked him if they were right to say that he was breaking the rules by appearing in his uniform, he says that he would rather be known as someone who broke the rules to stand up for what is right. So he may well find himself in trouble as it appears that he knew he was violating military rules.

2. In one sense, Bill O’Reilly is right; DailyKos does contain lots of ridiculous, simple-minded and sometimes downright idiotic things said on that blog. With tens of thousands of people writing their own blogs and no one approving what they post, that is inevitable. And yes, there are as many nutball liberals out there as there are nutball conservatives. Just like you’ll find loonies at Free Republic ranting about gays destroying the world, you’ll find loonies at DailyKos and other large liberal sites claiming that Bush was behind 9/11. The only thing worse than that are those partisans on both sides who scream holy hell when they see the crazy statements made by the other side but make excuses for the crazy statements on their side (yes, I’m looking at you, O’Reilly, you hypocritical demagogue).

3. It was odd for me to appear at an event full of Democrats, since I’m not a Democrat. I intentionally avoided those sessions that were more reflective of electoral politics, like Howard Dean’s speech or the appearances by the various presidential candidates. I can’t listen to liberal politicians spew meaningless cliches and platitudes any more than I can listen to conservative politicians do it; my bullshit meter is just way too sensitive. Still, I would probably have been considerably more uncomfortable at a conference of Republicans.

4. I didn’t get to meet some of the people I wanted to meet, like Pam Spaulding. I did get to meet Fred Clarkson and Chip Berlet, though we got our wires crossed on having dinner. As I said earlier, I got to meet a few readers, including Rich Hughes and Xebecs, but I missed out on missing Kristine and a couple others because I just didn’t want to fight my way back downtown on Saturday. And I got to meet several of my fellow ScienceBloggers in person for the first time.

I really couldn’t have asked for a better group to do it with though. Sean Carroll, Chris Mooney and Tara Smith are all brilliant and funny and wonderful to hang out with. The same is true of Jennifer (Unstable Isotope on DailyKos) and the whole gang of ScienceBlogs folks. Thanks for a memorable few days.

Update: RickD asked for a summary of what happened during the Science and Politics section. Here’s a quick rundown. Tara Smith acted as master of ceremonies and introduced the three of us. Chris Mooney spoke first and his talk was about the battles in the scientific community over whether global warming is making hurricanes more common and/or more powerful. It was a very entertaining presentation, based on his new book Storm World. Chris is a very engaging speaker, deftly weaving amusing anecdotes into his material.

Sean Carroll was up next and his talk was more of a pure science talk about recent advances in cosmology that have led to a clear understanding of what the universe is actually made of. He touched on dark matter and dark energy and the experiments that told us how much of the “stuff” in the universe is made up of those things. Despite the dry subject, Sean really did a great job of keeping the audience engaged and entertained with lines like:

The good news is that for the first time we have a really solid understanding of what the universe is made of; the bad news is that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

That was actually part of the point of his talk, that what may seem immediately intuitive, what appeals to “common sense”, often turns out to be wrong.

Lastly, I spoke on the subject of the need for scientifically literate people to run for school boards to counter the influence of the religious right. I tried to throw a few jokes into the presentation, and even a sight gag or two. A picture of Alan Keyes in a cowboy hat got an immediate laugh even before I delivered the joke (“Alan Keyes was born in Long Island and was Ivy League educated; the closest he’s come to being a cowboy was once using the bathroom at a Sizzler”).

Likewise, the picture of “noted historian and Biblical scholar Chuck Norris” with machine guns in each hand had the audience laughing even before I captioned it by noting that he was merely demonstrating Christ’s admonition to turn the other cheek. And the audience didn’t have to laugh quite so loudly as they did when I said, “If J.O. Kinnaman is a respected scholar, then I’m an award-winning aerobics instructor.” They also got a laugh out of the picture of Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter at the end, but after moment they demanded, en masse, that the projector be turned off so they didn’t have to keep staring at it.

After that, we took a few questions from the audience, but didn’t have a whole lot of time. The feedback has been universally positive, but that’s to be expected; if someone didn’t like it, they would be unlikely to voice that opinion to those involved. But while I may not be entirely objective about it, I think it went as well as one could have imagined. The audience was informed and entertained throughout. And I know that DarkSyde has said that he got several emails from those in attendance saying that it was the best session they had seen at the conference.

So all in all it went great. Now I just hope C-Span actually shows it. Seems rather odd that they would fly all those people and all that equipment to Chicago to film it and not show it, but stranger things have happened. I also hope we can get a DVD copy of it so we can post it online for all to see. I’ll keep everyone posted on those things as I find out more.