Friday, July 29

Australia's E.S. 'Nigger' Brown Stand and "Judicial Restraint"

Taking a Stand
An Aboriginal Australian researcher battles to strip a stadium of a derogatory word


Stephen Hagan, an associate lecturer in the Kumbari/Ngurpai Lag Higher Education Center at the University of Southern Queensland, is a trailblazer in Australia's Aboriginal community.

Inspired by his father, who was a member of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, the first elected Aboriginal advisory body to the Australian government, Mr. Hagan was the first Aboriginal Australian to be posted overseas in the country's diplomatic corps, to Sri Lanka in the early 1980s. He has also worked with Aboriginal educational, arts, and business groups.

Yet his activism did not take a crusading turn until he moved in 1997 to the city of Toowoomba, to begin graduate work in social theory of education at the University of Southern Queensland. The critical moment came when Mr. Hagan, an accomplished rugby player in his schoolboy days, took his family to a match at the Toowoomba Sports Ground, the town's rugby-league headquarters.

He was shocked to see that the section of the stadium in which he and his family were sitting was blazoned with large letters reading "E.S. 'Nigger' Brown Stand."

The stand was named in 1960 to honor a local player from the early 1920s, the first from the region to represent Australia, who went on to become a well-respected businessman and alderman on the Toowoomba City Council.

Mr. Hagan decided that the word "nigger" was something that his children, and the community at large, should not see in such a public context.

"I'm 45 years of age now, and all my life I've only heard it used in the derogatory sense," he says. "In primary school, in secondary school, people called Aboriginal people niggers if they wanted to make fun of them or belittle them, or try to put them off their game, be it on the football field or in life. Later, socially, as young teenagers, at discos, if they wanted to pick a fight with you, they'd call you a boong or a coon or an abo or a nigger. Those were just demeaning terms that were used throughout my life. I certainly haven't heard nigger used as a term of endearment."

Mr. Hagan's battle to change the name of the "Nigger" Brown stand has taken him to the Australian High Court, which refused to reverse a lower-court ruling against him, and then to the United Nations, where he won a recommendation that Australian authorities press Queensland's state government, which owns the stadium, to remove the word.

It has also led the scholar to publish a book, The N Word: One Man's Stand (Magabala Books, 2005), about his struggle to effect the name change, and to pursue Australia's vexed relationship with an epithet that has caused strife in many other corners of the world. In claiming that terms of racial vilification cause actual harm and cannot be allowed to enjoy the blithe protection of free speech, Mr. Hagan echoes the arguments of critical race theorists in the United States, such as Derrick A. Bell Jr., a visiting professor of law at New York University, and Kimberle W. Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia University. He also engages the arguments Randall L. Kennedy, a professor of law at Harvard University, makes in his 2003 book, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.

Emigrating Etymology

Long associated primarily with American racism, the epithet "nigger" has its roots in the 17th century and has ranged widely throughout the English-speaking world.

In the pioneering days of European settlement in Australia in the early 19th century, writers of newspaper reports, diaries, and letters leveled the epithet at Aboriginal people encountered along the way.

But how did the word end up as the name of a section of a stadium in Toowoomba? One of the ironies of the tale is that E.S. Brown was a white Australian who was so blond and blue-eyed that when he was just a few years old, his older brothers gave him the nickname as a joke. One version of the tale says that Mr. Brown came by the name because he was a dapper dresser who favored a brand of shoe polish called "Nigger Brown."

Whatever its origin, the vilifying term "remains a principal symbol of white racism regardless of who is using it," in Australia as elsewhere, says Mr. Hagan.

But after six years of trying, he has not convinced Australian courts, or the Australian population, that the word's connotations present a good reason for removing the word from the stadium.

Mr. Hagan appealed to the United Nations because Australia is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. And Susan Booth, Queensland's anti-discrimination commissioner, has also called on officials to act on the U.N. recommendation, arguing that Mr. Brown could be honored in a way that "does not offend those many, many people who find the stand name offensive" -- by, for example, renaming it simply the E.S. Brown Stand.

Stadium officials and state-government leaders have already signaled that they will not abide by the U.N. recommendation. The president of the Toowoomba Sports Ground Trust, John McDonald, told reporters after the U.N. finding: "It is obvious to most that the name does not have any suggestion of racial discrimination. The stand has been named in honor of a legendary member of our community. It's nothing more than that."

In public statements, the premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, has said of the term: "It would be inappropriate today, but it is not inappropriate in terms of history."

Mr. Hagan questions that interpretation, especially after uncovering records of the term's use in Australia. That excavation is the subject of the doctoral dissertation that he is writing, titled "The Origin, Maintenance, and Legitimization of the Word 'Nigger' in the Australian Vernacular."

The word was "firmly entrenched in Australia as a degenerative nickname in the early 1800s," says Mr. Hagan. And in the context of pervasive disparagement of Aboriginal Australians by the country's immigrant majority, it came to be used with little self-consciousness. For example, says Mr. Hagan, historians cite such instances as a high-ranking Queensland state official in the early 20th century saying, in the state parliament, "Those who know the nigger best feel most the impossibility of doing much to ameliorate his condition or protract the existence of his race. This callousness as a rule arises from no lack of sympathy with the blacks, but from a firm conviction that their stage of civilization is too many hundred perhaps thousand years behind our own to allow their race to thrive side by side with ours."

Mr. Hagan points out that the word is being revived today by the growing popularity of American hip-hop in Australia, such that a white teenager might say to his Aboriginal friend, "What's up, my nigga," with no intention to disparage -- although only a very few "street kids" among Aborigines would ever use it themselves. But he argues that the claim that such usage is in fact positive is hardly convincing at a time when surveys continue to show high levels of racism in the Australian population, and government studies reveal an increasing incidence of racist violence against black Australians.

Against that historical and contemporary background, Mr. Hagan argues, keeping the word "nigger" on the stadium section perpetuates racial discrimination and defamation. What the term signified in 1960, when the stand was named, is outweighed by the fact that the contemporary display of the term is "extremely offensive, especially to the Aboriginal people," he says.

Legal Definitions

When Mr. Hagan brought a complaint about the Toowoomba stadium in a federal court in Queensland, under the federal Racial Discrimination Act, his arguments were dismissed. The court found that the term had "long ceased to have any racial or racist connotation (if it ever did have that)." Mr. Hagan had not demonstrated, the court said, that the decision to name the stand as it was named was an act that "was reasonably likely in all the circumstances to offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate an indigenous Australian or indigenous Australians generally." (In 2002, the High Court of Australia refused Mr. Hagan's application to appeal the lower federal-court ruling.)

If Aboriginal people were offended, the federal court further opined, then why did none complain during the 40 years that the name was blazoned on the stand before Mr. Hagan pressed the issue?

Because, Mr. Hagan responds in his book, the nickname was given, and later included on the sign, at a time when Aboriginal Australians were thoroughly disenfranchised -- not even allowed to vote or be counted in censuses.

He says that he was astonished by some of the reasoning applied by the court. One justice cited the term "niggerhead reef" as an example of a term at which the public did not take offense.

"Niggerhead reef -- I didn't know what that meant," says Mr. Hagan. "I looked it up, and discovered it referred to a blackened, dead outcrop of coral jutting up out of the water. Well, that itself is a very disparaging, demeaning term for black, dead reef."

Popular opinion also seemed to play a role in the court's decision. In rejecting Mr. Hagan's arguments, the court also took note that a group of 35 local Aboriginal community members had supported the stadium management's stance. It was not until later in the legal proceedings that Mr. Hagan gathered strong shows of support from other Aboriginal people and groups.

"A lot of people assumed that this would be a straightforward case of in and out of the courtroom, and the judicial figures being eminently qualified and educated, that they would see the word for what it is and ask for its removal," he says. "But what happened at the courts surprised everybody. It was only then after the decision that I gained a lot of support."

Nonetheless, he admits, one poll by a television news program showed that as many as 85 percent of Australians believe the name should not be removed. That position has been championed by conservative talk-show hosts and columnists.

Deeper Currents

Sen. Aden Ridgway, a member of the Australian Democrats party from New South Wales who is the only Aboriginal senator in the Australian Parliament, wrote in a review of Mr. Hagan's book last month in On Line Opinion, an Australian journal of social and political comment: "In The N Word, you can read more than you want to know about state politics, national politics, Indigenous community politics, local government, dealing with our glorious mainstream media, the police, prisons, bureaucracies, and just generally being Indigenous."

The book demonstrates, says Senator Ridgway, "how deeply ingrained [racism] is in our national psyche." He calls on the federal and Queensland state governments to heed the U.N. recommendation: "In Indigenous affairs, we regularly need to look to international human-rights standards. If not, all we have left is the 'Australian tradition' and we know that tradition is an unfair one; a racist one; and a politically expedient one."

Contrary to Mr. Kennedy's argument that some uses of the N word amount to an act of solidarity among African-American users, Mr. Hagan says he cannot find a value-neutral way of construing the term that he has fought so hard to remove. Like many of Randall L. Kennedy's critics, he says the word is simply too emotionally and historically charged.

Americans must bear in mind that, when it comes to questions of race and color, Aboriginal Australians can be better compared to African-Americans than to American Indians, says Rebecca Kavanaugh, an Australian lawyer who has recently completed "Reconstructing Reconciliation: The Lynching of Black Australia," a doctoral dissertation, under the direction of NYU's critical-race theorist, Mr. Bell. Like black Americans during Reconstruction, Aborigines have been victimized by the "N word" and lynching, she notes. From the beginning of European settlement, Aborigines "were labeled, and identified, as black and I think that probably explains how the words and practices which developed here were similarly used in Australia," she says.

So, says Mr. Hagan, "here we are, the only sports stadium in the world with the word 'nigger' on it and they don't want to discuss it, air it, or debate it. The way they handled it -- the politicians, the media, and the ground trust who had control of the athletic oval -- was to marginalize me, and characterize me as a bad, troublesome black who had only just moved into Toowoomba."

For his part, Mr. Brown has not been available to weigh in on the dispute. He died in 1974, and now lies under a headstone that, like the stand named after him, is engraved with the word "nigger."

A Medium in the Making: Slicing Familiar Films Into Something New

July 29, 2005


MILWAUKEE - Movie-loving artists divide roughly into two groups, fans and users. The fans flock to films, or the nearest video rental store, for both respite and inspiration; they discuss and sometimes write about what they see with distinctive intelligence. Their numbers are legion; their apotheosis is probably Manny Farber, the artist who had a distinguished career as a film critic before turning to painting full time.

The users are such impassioned, if not addicted, cinephiles that movies become the central component of their art. Films are not just inspiration for these artists; they are raw material that can be appropriated, manipulated and reshaped into another work of art, with their names on the credit line.

The user population, while hardly legion, is growing. Spurs to their expanding ranks include Pop Art and Andy Warhol's films; the widespread photo-appropriation of 1980's art (it is a short step from still to moving images); and the advent of digital video and computer editing. The last greatly increased the reach of video, although artists like Jack Goldstein and Dara Birnbaum were appropriating from film and television in the early 80's. Over the last 10 or 15 years, the recycling of existing films into art has been taken for granted.

Which makes it interesting that "CUT/Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video" at the Milwaukee Art Museum is the first exhibition in an American museum to focus on film appropriation in contemporary art, or more precisely, contemporary video. The show, which was first seen in December at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Fla., has been organized by Stefano Basilico, a former adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Milwaukee museum who once ran an art gallery in SoHo and now works as an art adviser in New York.

With 14 works by eight artists that mostly date from 2000 or later, "CUT" is in many ways a small show of recent art. But with a spacious, well-choreographed installation that moves from lighter to darker galleries, it covers quite a bit of ground in terms of the ways, means and end results of film appropriation. It also includes some recent standouts of the genre, including Douglas Gordon's 1993 "24-Hour Psycho" (which is just that) and Christian Marclay's 2002 "Video Quartet," a rousing homage to the silver screen.

In addition, the exhibition gains in scale because movies and moving images in general are so much with us. They take up a lot of the cultural landscape, both reflecting and conditioning society, forming a kind of collective dream life. Needless to say, this gives artists a lot to work with psychologically, formally, narratively and in terms of spectacle, stereotypes, stars and the culture and protocols of moviemaking.

Of course borrowing from and, in essence, privatizing something as public and elaborately collaborative as a movie can be a particularly aggressive, even Oedipal, form of artmaking. But it can also be pure laziness. It gives an artist's work an instant worldly aura, and the viewer the reflexive thrill of finding a bit of Hollywood in a gallery or a museum. But then what happens?

Do artists exploit our susceptibility to the movies? Do they reshape their borrowings enough for their work to achieve a degree of autonomy? Or do you come away feeling that, when all is said and done, you would just as soon look at the original? All these reactions can be had in the darkened galleries of "CUT/Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video."

As the title indicates, Mr. Basilico has concentrated on artists who literally manipulate existing films, for the most part subjecting them to extreme editing or screening them in unusual ways. The galleries almost echo with Jasper Johns's famous working principle: "Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it."

Works by Mr. Marclay, an artist-musician and splicing genius, bracket the show. It opens with his 1995 "Telephones," which samples scenes from scores of Hollywood movies in which actors answer, talk on or hang up telephones and melds these moments, almost always turning points in the plot, into a single conversation.

It ends with "Video Quartet," a four-screen extravaganza that lifts musical sequences and various dramatically noisy scenes (war, people screaming from all sorts of movies, Oscar Levant playing the piano and Meryl Streep portraying a violinist) and arranges them in a delirious crescendo of song and emotion that gives the phrase "visual music" a whole new life.

Such adept slicing and dicing is a recurring technique here. It is least interesting in Michael Joaquin Grey's admittedly jewel-like "Blink," which miniaturizes bits of Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia" to the tune of Bjork's version of "Leaving on a Jet Plane." In "CNN Concatenated," Omer Fast edits scores of one-word snippets spoken by various television newscasters into a monologue that no talking head would ever give.

In a major feat of cross-referencing called "Learning From Las Vegas," Kevin and Jennifer McCoy have taken 21 films set in that desert city and rearranged their scenes according to 120 categories, each on a separate DVD. (The piece has an elaborate carrying case/display station that includes a monitor.)

The "Learning From Upholstery" DVD was playing the day I visited; you can also learn from lingerie, fake monuments, stealing, cowboys, gold and even art. The piece applies Mr. Marclay's telephone principle with a somewhat monotonous anthropological precision, declining the conventions and set-pieces with which most movies are filled. Each DVD functions as a kind of chart, tracing the way these conventions change with time and according to the quality of the movie.

The weapon of choice of Candice Breitz, a South African artist, is shrinkage, achieved by much slicing but without any disruption of continuity. Her "Soliloquy Trilogy" trims "Basic Instinct," "Dirty Harry" and "The Witches of Eastwick" of everything but those minutes when the leads of those films - Sharon Stone, Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson - are on screen (or speaking just off camera). This brutal crunching creates a loose allegory about a fallen woman who finds her soul, a good man who sins, and the Devil, who never changes.

It also extracts the high voltage of the movie star and the function of a lead character; while never on screen for more than eight or nine minutes in total, each actor conveys the gist of the movie's narrative.

Paul Pfeiffer goes beyond eliminating or rearranging sequences to changing the images themselves. In his haunting "Long Count," three short loops on tiny monitors show films of Muhammad Ali's boxing matches with Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. In all the figures of the boxers have been digitally erased. Their ghostly residue and the rapt audience exemplify Mr. Pfeiffer's disturbing yet magical meditations on the role of race and black athletes in American society.

Subtraction is not always the path taken. Mr. Gordon's "24-Hour Psycho" stretches Hitchcock's classic suspense movie into an excruciating yet oddly riveting nonsuspense experience. Mired in slowness, and projected on a double-sided screen in the middle of a gallery, "Psycho" acquires a monumentality that seems commensurate with its place in the popular imagination.

The most emotionally powerful work in the show is Pierre Huyghe's 1998 "L'Ellipse," a triple projection that is also the only one to add to an existing film. Mr. Huyghe has created a scene that was never actually part of Wim Wenders's 1977 movie "The American Friend," but was merely implied by that directorial staple of pacing and economy, a jump cut. The omitted scene is a 10-minute walk that would have been taken by Jonathan, played by Bruno Ganz, from his room in a Paris hotel, across the Seine, to a friend's apartment, where he learns that he has a fatal disease.

In the original film, the action jumps from the hotel scene, played on the first screen, to the elevator of the apartment building and Jonathan's subsequent reading of his doctor's report (which is false), a sequence that plays on the third screen. However, Mr. Huyghe's work pauses in between, on the middle screen, to show us in a single tracking shot, Mr. Ganz, now 20 years older, taking the anxious walk Jonathan never took in the film. One result is an emotionally rich conflation; the 1977 fiction is extended in real 1998 time, when Mr. Ganz's own life is two decades further along, and undoubtedly more shadowed by the prospect of death.

Despite the literalness of its title, this show is not entirely faithful to its premises. Mr. Fast's CNN images are taken from television, while "Horror Chase," another work by the McCoys, is appropriation-free. Made from scratch but relying heavily on movie convention, it shows a terrified man, pursued by an unseen monster, hurtling endlessly through the rooms of a movie-set house, because the film repeatedly changes direction, running backward and forward.

Such fissures highlight the absence of works using found video like "Dial History," Johan Grimonprez's harrowing television news collage about airplane hijackings, or Seth Price's recent, rather brilliant usurpation of some raw video shot by Joan Jonas in the early 1970's. Also missing are those looser forms of appropriation that restate or refilm an existing film, as in Cheryl Donegan's remake of Godard's "Contempt"; Brice Dellsperger's cross-dressed versions of "Dressed to Kill"; Jon Routson's movie-house bootlegs.

Still, "CUT" brings needed curatorial clarity to an expanding genre that is challenging to survey. The catalog provides an expansive backdrop by flanking Mr. Basilico's lucid discussion of the works with essays by Rob Yeo, on the history of film appropriation in underground film (starting with Joseph Cornell), and by Lawrence Lessig, on the creative chill that recent changes in copyright law are bringing to the arts.

You come away from this show with a new sense of film as a found object; as an immense reservoir of untapped form and feeling; and as a highly charged raw material by which artists can celebrate, examine and stave off the deluge of images bearing down on us from all sides.

Monday, July 25

Toyota chooses Canada over South

Modern American politics is dominated by the doctrine that government is the problem, not the solution. In practice, this doctrine translates into policies that make low taxes on the rich the highest priority, even if lack of revenue undermines basic public services. You don't have to be a liberal to realize that this is wrong-headed. Corporate leaders understand quite well that good public services are also good for business. But the political environment is so polarized these days that top executives are often afraid to speak up against conservative dogma. Instead, they vote with their feet.

Which brings us to the story of Toyota's choice. There has been fierce competition among states hoping to attract a new Toyota assembly plant. Several Southern states reportedly offered financial incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But last month Toyota decided to put the new plant, which will produce RAV4 mini-S.U.V.'s, in Ontario. Explaining why it passed up financial incentives to choose a U.S. location, the company cited the quality of Ontario's work force.
What made Toyota so sensitive to labor quality issues? Maybe we should discount remarks from the president of the Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, who claimed that the educational level in the Southern United States was so low that trainers for Japanese plants in Alabama had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech equipment.

But there are other reports, some coming from state officials, that confirm his basic point: Japanese auto companies opening plants in the Southern U.S. have been unfavorably surprised by the work force's poor level of training.
There's some bitter irony here for Alabama's governor. Just two years ago voters overwhelmingly rejected his plea for an increase in the state's rock-bottom taxes on the affluent, so that he could afford to improve the state's low-quality education system. Opponents of the tax hike convinced voters that it would cost the state jobs.

But education is only one reason Toyota chose Ontario. Canada's other big selling point is its national health insurance system, which saves auto manufacturers large sums in benefit payments compared with their costs in the United States.
You might be tempted to say that Canadian taxpayers are, in effect, subsidizing Toyota's move by paying for health coverage. But that's not right, even aside from the fact that Canada's health care system has far lower costs per person than the American system, with its huge administrative expenses. In fact, U.S. taxpayers, not Canadians, will be hurt by the northward movement of auto jobs.

To see why, bear in mind that in the long run decisions like Toyota's probably won't affect the overall number of jobs in either the United States or Canada. But the result of international competition will be to give Canada more jobs in industries like autos, which pay health benefits to their U.S. workers, and fewer jobs in industries that don't provide those benefits. In the U.S. the effect will be just the reverse: fewer jobs with benefits, more jobs without.

So what's the impact on taxpayers? In Canada, there's no impact at all: since all Canadians get government-provided health insurance in any case, the additional auto jobs won't increase government spending. But U.S. taxpayers will suffer, because the general public ends up picking up much of the cost of health care for workers who don't get insurance through their jobs. Some uninsured workers and their families end up on Medicaid. Others end up depending on emergency rooms, which are heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

Funny, isn't it? Pundits tell us that the welfare state is doomed by globalization, that programs like national health insurance have become unsustainable. But Canada's universal health insurance system is handling international competition just fine. It's our own system, which penalizes companies that treat their workers well, that's in trouble.

I'm sure that some readers will respond to everything I've just said by asking why, if the Canadians are so smart, they aren't richer. But I'll have to leave the issue of America's comparative economic performance for another day. For now, let me just point out that treating people decently is sometimes a competitive advantage. In America, basic health insurance is a privilege; in Canada, it's a right. And in the auto industry, at least, the good jobs are heading north.

Paul Kruman is Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Mr. Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1974 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1977, and has taught at Yale, MIT and Stanford. In 1991, the American Economic Association awarded him its John Bates Clark medal, a prize given to "that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge." Mr. Krugman's current academic research is focused on economic and currency crises.

Friday, July 22

"Green" Cars that aren't Green - New Hybrids don't Save Gas

Hybrid Cars Burning Gas in the Drive for Power

By MATTHEW L. WALD, NY Times, July 16

Mark Buford is happy with the Honda Accord hybrid that he bought six months ago, and he has already driven it 13,000 miles. He was determined to buy a hybrid electric car, he said, and this one is clean, "green" and accelerates faster than the nonhybrid version. He just cannot count on it to save much gasoline.

Many people concerned with oil consumption, including President Bush and members of Congress, are pointing to hybrids - vehicles with electric motors as well as internal combustion engines - as a way to reduce fuel use and dependence on imported oil. The first ones to reach the market did that; the two-seat Honda Insight, introduced in December 1999, was rated at 70 miles per gallon, and it was followed by the five-seat Toyota Prius, also built for reduced fuel consumption. Those cars have no nonhybrid equivalents. Then came the Civic hybrid, designed to perform almost as well as the original, only using a lot less gasoline.

But the pendulum has swung. The 2005 Honda Accord hybrid gets about the same miles per gallon as the basic four-cylinder model, according to a review by Consumer Reports, a car-buyer's guide, and it saves only about two miles a gallon compared with the V-6 model on which it is based. Thanks to the hybrid technology, though, it accelerates better.

Hybrid technology, it seems, is being used in much the same way as earlier under-the-hood innovations that increased gasoline efficiency: to satisfy the American appetite for acceleration and bulk.

Despite the use of hybrids to achieve better performance with about the same fuel economy, consumers who buy the cars continue to get a tax credit that the Internal Revenue Service allows under a "clean fuels" program that does not take fuel savings into account.

And the image of hybrids as fuel-stingy workhorses persists. In a June 15 speech at an energy forum, Mr. Bush proposed a tax credit of up to $4,000 to "encourage people to make right choices in the marketplace that will make us less dependent on foreign sources of oil and to help improve our environment."

But some hybrids save hardly any fuel, energy efficiency advocates say. "The new ones are all being used for power," said Kateri Callahan, the president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit advocacy group based here.

...the car companies are "building to the high-end market. They think people want performance." The companies may have sized up their customers pretty well... Mr. Buford, a telecommunications analyst at Kraft Foods who works in the Chicago area, said he decided on a hybrid because he wanted to "go green," although he added, "I wasn't willing to make any of the trade-offs normally associated with a hybrid." He said he liked the way that the electric motor on his new car kicked in early during acceleration, at a speed range in which the V-6 gasoline engine is relatively weak. If sold at list price, the hybrid costs about $3,300 more than the V-6 with no hybrid...

Consumer Reports called the hybrid portion of the Accord a "green turbocharger." The main benefit is in getting from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.9 seconds, compared with 9.0 seconds for the basic four-cylinder model.

Mr. Boyd said the Accord split the benefit between fuel economy and performance. He did not describe its selling point as the ability to save gas, but "the appeal of a hybrid." "The closer you get to the mainstream buyer, fuel economy is still part of the equation, but a smaller part," he said. "In the Accord, people will pay all kinds of money for more performance. We can deliver that performance, but in addition, with better fuel economy."

Hybrid technology seems to be heading the way of earlier technologies, which got more work out of a gallon of gasoline, like four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, that have been used in the end to make cars accelerate faster, rather than to hold them steady in performance and to cut fuel consumption.

Daniel A. Lashof, a car expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "The horsepower wars have really gotten out of control in the last few years." Acceleration is one indication of horsepower. According to the E.P.A., the average new vehicle accelerates from zero to 60 m.p.h. in under 10 seconds, down from 14 seconds in the early 1980's. The average weight has increased by about 750 pounds in the same period. If cars in the 2004 model year had the same weight and acceleration as cars did in 1987, according to the agency, they would get 20 percent better gas mileage.

Consumer Reports, in an article published in May, found that in actual on-the-road conditions the Accord hybrid averaged 25 m.p.g., versus 24 m.p.g. for the 4-cylinder model and 23 m.p.g. for the nonhybrid V-6. The E.P.A. figures show a larger benefit for the hybrid, but the agency's fuel economy figures are considered by many to be inaccurate because they do not reflect the way cars are actually driven.Mr. Buford said he got just what he wanted from the Accord, a hybrid with no sacrifices. "I wasn't prepared to give up anything to 'go green' - not performance, amenities, or space," he said.

Giving the Hatemongers No Place to Hide


I wasn't surprised to read that British police officers in white protective suits and blue gloves were combing through the Iqra Learning Center bookstore in Leeds for clues to the 7/7 London bombings. Some of the 7/7 bombers hung out at the bookstore. And I won't be surprised if today's bombers also sampled the literature there.

Iqra not only sold hatemongering Islamist literature, but, according to The Wall Street Journal, was "the sole distributor of Islamgames, a U.S.-based company that makes video games. The video games feature apocalyptic battles between defenders of Islam and opponents. One game, Ummah Defense I, has the world 'finally united under the Banner of Islam' in 2114, until a revolt by disbelievers. The player's goal is to seek out and destroy the disbelievers."

Guess what: words matter. Bookstores matter. Video games matter. But here is our challenge: If the primary terrorism problem we face today can effectively be addressed only by a war of ideas within Islam - a war between life-affirming Muslims against those who want to turn one of the world's great religions into a death cult - what can the rest of us do?

More than just put up walls. We need to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears. The State Department produces an annual human rights report. Henceforth, it should also produce a quarterly War of Ideas Report, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence against others.

I would compile it in a nondiscriminatory way. I want the names of the Jewish settler extremists who wrote "Muhammad Is a Pig" on buildings in Gaza right up there with Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, a Saudi who is imam of Islam's holy mosque in Mecca. According to the Memri translation service, the imam was barred from Canada following "a report about his sermons by Memri that included Al-Sudayyis calling Jews 'the scum of the earth' and 'monkeys and pigs' who should be 'annihilated.' Other enemies of Islam were referred to by Sheik Al-Sudayyis as 'worshipers of the cross' and 'idol-worshiping Hindus' who must be fought."

Sunlight is more important than you think. Those who spread hate do not like to be exposed, noted Yigal Carmon, the founder of Memri, which monitors the Arab-Muslim media. The hate spreaders assume that they are talking only to their own, in their own language, and can get away with murder. When their words are spotlighted, they often feel pressure to retract, defend or explain them.

"Whenever they are exposed, they react the next day," Mr. Carmon said. "No one wants to be exposed in the West as a preacher of hate."

We also need to spotlight the "excuse makers," the former State Department spokesman James Rubin said. After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed. When you live in an open society like London, where anyone with a grievance can publish an article, run for office or start a political movement, the notion that blowing up a busload of innocent civilians in response to Iraq is somehow "understandable" is outrageous. "It erases the distinction between legitimate dissent and terrorism," Mr. Rubin said, "and an open society needs to maintain a clear wall between them."

There is no political justification for 9/11, 7/7 or 7/21. As the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen put it: "These terrorists are what they do." And what they do is murder.

Finally, we also need to shine a bright light on the "truth tellers." Every week some courageous Arab or Muslim intellectual, cleric or columnist publishes an essay in his or her media calling on fellow Muslims to deal with the cancer in their midst. The truth tellers' words also need to be disseminated globally. "The rulers in these countries have no interest in amplifying the voices of moderates because the moderates often disagree with the rulers as much as they disagree with the extremists," said Husain Haqqani, author of the new book "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military." "You have to deal us moderates into the game by helping to amplify our voices and exposing the extremists and their amen corner."

Every quarter, the State Department should identify the Top 10 hatemongers, excuse makers and truth tellers in the world. It wouldn't be a cure-all. But it would be a message to the extremists: you are free to say what you want, but we are free to listen, to let the whole world know what you are saying and to protect every free society from hate spreaders like you. Words matter.

Monday, July 18

Fuel Lobby attempts to intimidate Scientists may be backfiring

Monday, July 18, 2005

Fight Breaks Out in Congress Over Climate Investigation


An unusual investigation into the work of three climate scientists by a powerful congressman has drawn public rebukes from another prominent House Republican and from scientific associations in the United States and abroad.

The critics characterize the investigation by Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, as a form of intimidation aimed at scientists whose work he disagrees with. The scientists have published studies suggesting that the earth is warmer now than at any time in the past 1,000 years.

Mr. Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, is a longstanding opponent of international efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, the pollution that scientists say is likely to have caused much of the recent warming.

Late last week, Sherwood L. Boehlert, a New York Republican and chairman of the House Science Committee, sent a letter to Mr. Barton expressing "strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation you have launched." The investigation, writes Mr. Boehlert, "breaks with precedent and raises the specter of politicians opening investigations against any scientist who reaches a conclusion that makes the political elite uncomfortable."

The investigation began on June 23, when Mr. Barton sent letters to Michael E. Mann, an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia; Raymond S. Bradley, a professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and Malcolm K. Hughes, a professor in the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. The letters demanded detailed data about all the studies on which the scientists were authors or co-authors and asked them to answer specific questions about their studies on temperature change over the past millennium.

It also demanded that the scientists turn over the computer programs they used in their analyses, in spite of statements by the National Science Foundation that such programs are the intellectual property of the investigators. The three scientists received support from the foundation for the climate studies at the focus of the investigation.

Mr. Barton singled out Mr. Mann and his two colleagues, he said, because questions about their work had been raised in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. He also said their work formed the basis for a key conclusion in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, a group convened by the United Nations to assess scientific information on global warming.

Mr. Mann sent a response to Mr. Barton on Friday, saying that all of the data for their studies are on publicly available Web sites, as are descriptions of their methods. Although Mr. Mann reaffirmed his right to not release his computer program, he wrote that he has put the code on a public Web site.

In response to the criticism of his studies, Mr. Mann wrote that several other authors have used independent data and methods and reached similar conclusions: that the earth is warmer now than at any time in the past 1,000 years.

In Mr. Bradley's response to the investigation, he disputes the idea that the IPCC based the central conclusion of its 881-page report -- that human beings have probably caused much of the recent warming -- primarily on the work he did with Mr. Mann and Mr. Hughes. "It would be absurd to think that the weight of its conclusions rests on any one figure or table," he wrote.

Mr. Hughes made similar points in his letter to Mr. Barton. The Arizona professor charged that Mr. Barton had been mistaken when he asserted that the three scientists had not made available enough information about their studies to permit other researchers to replicate the analyses.

None of the three researchers, however, responded to the detailed requests that Mr. Barton had made about the location and content of data files for all of their previous studies. Mr. Hughes noted that he had 120 published reports since 1965 and Mr. Bradley wrote that his publication list includes 140 papers and 11 books going back more than 30 years.

For the moment, though, the debate over the scientific details of the three scientists' work has been overshadowed by questions about the merits of Mr. Barton's highly unusual investigation and the public fight between Mr. Barton and Mr. Boehlert.

"My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review," wrote Mr. Boehlert. "That would be pernicious."

He questioned the jurisdiction of Mr. Barton's committee, which has never held a hearing on global climate change during his tenure as chairman. "One has to conclude there is no legitimate reason for your investigation," wrote Mr. Boehlert, who has advocated cutting emissions of greenhouse gases to combat global warming.

Larry Neal, a spokesman for Mr. Barton's committee, responded to Mr. Boehlert's letter by saying that "requests for information are a common exercise of the Energy and Commerce Committee's responsibility to gather knowledge on matters within its jurisdiction."

In his letter, Mr. Boehlert said that the appropriate way for Congress to try to understand scientific disputes would be to hold hearings and request a review from the National Academy of Sciences or other experts.

"The precedent your investigation sets is truly chilling," wrote Mr. Boehlert. "Are scientists now supposed to look over their shoulders to determine if their conclusions might prompt a Congressional inquiry no matter how legitimate their work?"

It is rare for two key committee chairman from the same party to hold such a sharply worded debate in public.

In a telephone conference with reporters on Friday, David Goldston, chief of staff to the Science Committee, said, "It's unusual for a chairman to write this kind of a letter, but we feel the situation is unusual."

Even as such fireworks were bursting in Congress, top scientists weighed in on the debate by challenging Mr. Barton and his inquiry.

Ralph J. Cicerone, the newly appointed president of the National Academy of Sciences and an atmospheric scientist, wrote a letter to Mr. Barton on Friday. A copy of the letter obtained by The Chronicle stated, "A Congressional investigation, based on the authority of the House Commerce Committee, is probably not the best way to resolve a scientific issue, and a focus on individual scientists can be intimidating." He added that the National Academy would be willing to create an independent expert panel to answer the kind of questions raised by Mr. Barton.

Mr. Cicerone, who previously was chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, is expected to discuss the investigation further this week, when he testifies at two Senate hearings on the topic of climate change.

Also on Friday, a group of 20 eminent earth scientists wrote to Mr. Barton that they were "deeply concerned about your approach." A draft of the letter said that Mr. Barton's request for "all working materials related to hundreds of publications stretching back decades can be seen as intimidation -- intentional or not -- and thereby risks compromising the independence of scientific opinion that is vital to the preeminence of American science." The authors of the letter include Mario Molina, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California in San Diego who shared a Nobel Prize in 1995, and John P. Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard who is president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of that association, sent a separate letter to the Texas congressman last week expressing deep concern about the letters to the three scientists, which "give the impression of a search for some basis on which to discredit these particular scientists and findings, rather than a search for understanding."

Mr. Leshner's letter also states that "we are concerned that establishing a practice of aggressive Congressional inquiry into the complete professional histories of scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to conduct work on policy-relevant scientific questions."

The European Geosciences Union issued a position statement in early July, saying that "we do not consider personal inquisition of individual scientists as an appropriate way of probing the validity of the general scientific statements in the IPCC" report from 2001.

Sunday, July 10

Google to create "alternate universe" for video content online

Google on Monday launched its new Web-based video search service, which allows people to use keywords to search the company's indexed database of video from Unicef, Greenpeace, CNET Networks and others that have uploaded content since April.

As previously reported, the search engine complements Google's existing site, which lets people search, but not yet play back, the closed-caption text of television shows from PBS, CNN and others that Google has hosted.

Now the video index includes the new content, which is marked by a triangle icon. Users need to download Google Video Viewer from the site. Once they have, they can watch an entire video piece or start viewing at the section that includes their search keywords.

The content ranges from lighthearted video of break dancing or monkeys doing karate to such historical video as the Saddam Hussein statue being yanked down by American soldiers in Iraq. Google representatives declined to provide a more complete list of content providers.

Google is locked in a heated race with Yahoo to provide search for every type of content. Yahoo launched a finalized version of its video search in May.

Google Video is only available in English, and the video viewer works only with Internet Explorer versions 5 and higher and Firefox for Windows. There are no advertisements on the site yet.

The service is another step in the search giant's expansion into more comprehensive media services. Google has confirmed it is working on a payment system but says it will not be a direct competitor to eBay's PayPal online payment system.

However, there is ample speculation that the payment system will enable more broad-based video viewing.

Google is the only search provider that has all the pieces to bring movies on demand via Internet to the masses, said Allen Weiner, an analyst at Gartner. Google will be able to charge per-view or subscription fees, as well as insert ads into the video stream, he said.

"They are actually the first ones in this video search business to basically show us an end-to-end ecosystem," Weiner said.

"I think one of their strategic goals was to create a technology and business model to attract videos higher up in the food chain," such as from movie studios, he said. "It won't be a (lucrative) business until the next level of video comes. This is big stuff."
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Peter Chane, senior business product manager for Google Video, declined to comment on the payment program. "We are not making any announcements about that," he said. "However, we are committed to building a system that allows any type of video content to be distributed and monetized through Google."

Yahoo won't be the only company worried about Google's video moves, one blogger said.

"Now, before we start discussing how this represents the Death of Comcast/The Networks/Windows Media Player et al, this is not quite that, but it is the start of something big," John Battelle wrote in his Searchblog. "For one, it's clear this will be integrated with the Google payment program which was revealed to be in process last week."

Battelle also remarked on how Google's video search service will provide free infrastructure for video producers who aren't able to host and stream their own content and help spread an "alternative universe" for video distribution and playback--"one independent of the walled garden business model in which video is currently locked."

The frequently asked questions portion of Google's video site says Google Video will only make content available to users for free now.

However, the option to charge will eventually be available and Google will take a "small revenue share to cover some of our costs" and Google may charge users a fee or take a larger percentage of revenue for popular video that takes up higher bandwidth, which anticipates a payment system.

Saturday, July 9

Even the Conversative OpEd writer at NYT dimisses the "War on Terror" rhetoric

When Fear Stalks, Tune Out


Tony Blair was as eloquent as ever when he faced the press at the G-8 summit meeting yesterday, but what was most impressive was what he didn't say. After uttering three sentences of gratitude to the other leaders for their support after the London attacks, he dropped the subject of terror.

Instead of giving murderers publicity on worldwide television, he talked about poverty in Africa and global warming. When a reporter tried to distract him by asking what "went wrong" in London, he said it was the terrorists' fault and went right back to the business of the G-8.

The prime minister was a blessed relief after the talking heads in America the past two days. As politicians vowed to win the war on terror and get more money for their districts in the process, security officials sent SWAT teams to protect commuters and divined that the terrorist threat was now orange instead of yellow (whatever that means).

Television and print editors rushed to assign what is known in the business as the "Fear Stalks" story, as in, "We need a 'Fear Stalks Suburban Bus Riders.' " The commuters' alarm was shared by local experts. South Dakota's homeland security officials were reported to be "monitoring the situation closely."

I don't mean to minimize the bloodshed in London. I lived in New York in 2001 and later in Baghdad during months of car bombings. But I got the most useful lessons about terrorism when I moved to suburban Maryland just in time for the snipers to begin their famous spree near my home in 2002.

I could have written a "Fear Stalks" story about myself as I walked home from the subway the evening after the spree began. I was more tense than I had ever been in New York or Baghdad.

The assurances that the police were on the case meant nothing because there was obviously no way to stop one guy with a rifle from shooting me that evening.

That's the same situation we're in after the London attacks: it's clear that no one can stop terrorists from killing. Spending billions on airport security has simply diverted them to transit systems, and spending billions on transit systems could at best divert them somewhere else: stores, restaurants, sidewalks. Terrorists don't even need bombs. They could simply adopt the snipers' technique for spreading fear.

President Bush briefly admitted last summer to Matt Lauer that the war on terror couldn't ever be won, but he got so much criticism that he promptly backtracked. It was a textbook Washington gaffe: perfectly true but terribly inconvenient.

It was inconvenient because politicians like to promise a cure for any problem in the news, especially if the cure means dispensing money to constituents and campaign contributors.

Promises to halt terror have turned homeland security spending into the biggest porkfest in Washington, and the London attacks have inspired calls for still more spending.

Washington obviously has a role in hunting terrorists and protecting the borders, but it can't stop small-scale attacks like the ones in London, no matter how much money it gives to each Congressional district.

If subway riders like me in Washington and New York want to pay for better security in the hope that terrorists will attack someone else instead, we should pay for it ourselves.

But I think that we'd be better off reconsidering our definition of victory in the war on terror. Calling it a war makes it sound like a national fight against a mighty enemy threatening our society.

But right now the terrorists look more like a small group of loosely organized killers who are less like an army than like lightning bolts - scary but rarely fatal. Except that the risk of being struck by lightning is much higher than the risk of being killed by a terrorist.

It may seem coldblooded to think in probabilities after a tragedy, but contemplating those odds made my walks home a lot easier during the snipers' spree. The other strategy that helped was turning off the television whenever the police and the politicians held press conferences detailing everything they were doing to protect the public.

Occasionally one of those officials urged people to keep their perspective and go on with life, but there was no one quite like Tony Blair. Instead of promising security at home, he discussed problems overseas that he could do something about. Instead of talking about the need for Britons to move on, he moved on.

Free to Choose Obesity

July 8, 2005
Free to Choose Obesity?

The obvious model for those hoping to reverse the fattening of America is the campaign against smoking. Before the surgeon general officially condemned smoking in 1964, rising cigarette consumption seemed an unstoppable trend; since then, consumption per capita has fallen more than 50 percent.

But it may be hard to match that success when it comes to obesity. I'm not talking about the inherent difficulty of the task - getting people to consume fewer calories and/or exercise more may be harder than getting people to stop smoking, but we won't know until we try. I'm talking, instead, about how the political winds have shifted.

Public health activists were successful in taking on smoking in part because at the time corporations didn't know how to play the public opinion game. By today's standards, the political ineptitude of Big Tobacco was awe-inspiring. In a famous 1971 interview on "Face the Nation," the chairman of the board of Philip Morris, confronted with evidence that smoking by mothers leads to low birth weight, replied, "Some women would prefer having smaller babies."

Today's food industry would never make that kind of mistake. In public, the industry's companies proclaim themselves good guys, committed to healthier eating. Meanwhile, they outsource the campaigns against medical researchers and the dissemination of crude anti-anti-obesity propaganda to industry-financed advocacy groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom.

More broadly, the ideological landscape has changed drastically since the 1960's. (That change in the landscape also has a lot to do with corporate financing of advocacy groups, but that's a tale for another article.) In today's America, proposals to do something about rising obesity rates must contend with a public predisposed to believe that the market is always right and that the government always screws things up.

You can see these predispositions at work in an article printed last month in Amber Waves, a magazine published by the Department of Agriculture. The article is titled "Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences," suggesting that government efforts to combat obesity are likely to be counterproductive. But the authors don't actually provide any examples of how that might happen.

And the authors suggest, without quite asserting it, that because people freely choose obesity in a free market, it must be a good thing.

"Americans' rapid weight gain may have nothing to do with market failure," the article says. "It may be a rational response to changing technology and prices. ... If consumers willingly trade off increased adiposity for working indoors and spending less time in the kitchen as well as for manageable weight-related health problems, then markets are not failing."

How can medical experts who see obesity as a critical problem deal with an ideological landscape tilted in the direction of doing nothing?

One answer is to focus on the financial costs of obesity, and the fact that many of these costs fall on taxpayers and on the general insurance-buying public, rather than on the obese individuals themselves. (To their credit, the authors of the Amber Waves article do mention this issue, although they play it down.)

It is more important, however, to emphasize that there are situations in which "free to choose" is all wrong - and that this is one of them.

For one thing, the most rapid rise in obesity isn't taking place among adults, who, we hope, can understand the consequences of their decisions. It's taking place among children and adolescents.

And even if children weren't a big part of the problem, only a blind ideologue or an economist could argue with a straight face that Americans were rationally deciding to become obese. In fact, even many economists know better: the most widely cited recent economic analysis of obesity, a 2003 paper by David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro of Harvard University, declares that "at least some food consumption is almost certainly not rational." It goes on to present evidence that even adults have clear problems with self-control.

Above all, we need to put aside our anti-government prejudices and realize that the history of government interventions on behalf of public health, from the construction of sewer systems to the campaign against smoking, is one of consistent, life-enhancing success. Obesity is America's fastest-growing health problem; let's do something about it.

Catholic Church Appears to Step Backward on Evolution

Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution

New York Times, July 9, 2005

An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

The cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, a theologian who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, staked out his position in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday, writing, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not."

In a telephone interview from a monastery in Austria, where he was on retreat, the cardinal said that his essay had not been approved by the Vatican, but that two or three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI's election in April, he spoke with the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, about the church's position on evolution. "I said I would like to have a more explicit statement about that, and he encouraged me to go on," said Cardinal Schönborn.

He said that he had been "angry" for years about writers and theologians, many Catholics, who he said had "misrepresented" the church's position as endorsing the idea of evolution as a random process.

Opponents of Darwinian evolution said they were gratified by Cardinal Schönborn's essay. But scientists and science teachers reacted with confusion, dismay and even anger. Some said they feared the cardinal's sentiments would cause religious scientists to question their faiths.

Cardinal Schönborn, who is on the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, said the office had no plans to issue new guidance to teachers in Catholic schools on evolution. But he said he believed students in Catholic schools, and all schools, should be taught that evolution is just one of many theories. Many Catholic schools teach Darwinian evolution, in which accidental mutation and natural selection of the fittest organisms drive the history of life, as part of their science curriculum.

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.

American Catholics and conservative evangelical Christians have been a potent united front in opposing abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, but had parted company on the death penalty and the teaching of evolution. Cardinal Schönborn's essay and comments are an indication that the church may now enter the debate over evolution more forcefully on the side of those who oppose the teaching of evolution alone.

One of the strongest advocates of teaching alternatives to evolution is the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which promotes the idea, termed intelligent design, that the variety and complexity of life on earth cannot be explained except through the intervention of a designer of some sort.

Mark Ryland, a vice president of the institute, said in an interview that he had urged the cardinal to write the essay. Both Mr. Ryland and Cardinal Schönborn said that an essay in May in The Times about the compatibility of religion and evolutionary theory by Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, suggested to them that it was time to clarify the church's position on evolution.

The cardinal's essay was submitted to The Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute.

Mr. Ryland, who said he knew the cardinal through the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, where he is chancellor and Mr. Ryland is on the board, said supporters of intelligent design were "very excited" that a church leader had taken a position opposing Darwinian evolution. "It clarified that in some sense the Catholics aren't fine with it," he said.

Bruce Chapman, the institute's president, said the cardinal's essay "helps blunt the claims" that the church "has spoken on Darwinian evolution in a way that's supportive."

But some biologists and others said they read the essay as abandoning longstanding church support for evolutionary biology.

"How did the Discovery Institute talking points wind up in Vienna?" wondered Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which advocates the teaching of evolution. "It really did look quite a bit as if Cardinal Schönborn had been reading their Web pages."

Mr. Ryland said the cardinal was well versed on these issues and had written the essay on his own.

Dr. Francis Collins, who headed the official American effort to decipher the human genome, and who describes himself as a Christian, though not a Catholic, said Cardinal Schönborn's essay looked like "a step in the wrong direction" and said he feared that it "may represent some backpedaling from what scientifically is a very compelling conclusion, especially now that we have the ability to study DNA."

"There is a deep and growing chasm between the scientific and the spiritual world views," he went on. "To the extent that the cardinal's essay makes believing scientists less and less comfortable inhabiting the middle ground, it is unfortunate. It makes me uneasy."

"Unguided," "unplanned," "random" and "natural" are all adjectives that biologists might apply to the process of evolution, said Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown and a Catholic. But even so, he said, evolution "can fall within God's providential plan." He added: "Science cannot rule it out. Science cannot speak on this."

Dr. Miller, whose book "Finding Darwin's God" describes his reconciliation of evolutionary theory with Christian faith, said the essay seemed to equate belief in evolution with disbelief in God. That is alarming, he said. "It may have the effect of convincing Catholics that evolution is something they should reject."

Dr. Collins and other scientists said they could understand why a cleric might want to make the case that, as Dr. Collins put it, "evolution is the mechanism by which human beings came into existence, but God had something to do with that, too." Dr. Collins said that view, theistic evolution, "is shared with a very large number of biologists who also believe in God, including me."

But it does not encompass the idea that the workings of evolution required the direct intervention of a supernatural agent, as intelligent design would have it.

In his essay, Cardinal Schönborn asserted that he was not trying to break new ground but to correct the idea, "often invoked," that the church accepts or at least acquiesces to the theory of evolution.

He referred to widely cited remarks by Pope John Paul II, who, in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, noted that the scientific case for evolution was growing stronger and that the theory was "more than a hypothesis."

In December, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, chairman of the Committee on Science and Human Values of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, cited those remarks in writing to the nation's bishops that "the Church does not need to fear the teaching of evolution as long as it is understood as a scientific account of the physical origins and development of the universe." But in his essay, Cardinal Schönborn dismissed John Paul's statement as "rather vague and unimportant."

Francisco Ayala, a professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest, called this assessment "an insult" to the late pope and said the cardinal seemed to be drawing a line between the theory of evolution and religious faith, and "seeing a conflict that does not exist."

Dr. Miller said he was already hearing from people worried about the cardinal's essay. "People are saying, does the church really believe this?" He said he would not speculate. "John Paul II made it very clear that he regarded scientific rationality as a gift from God," Dr. Miller said, adding, "There are more than 100 cardinals and they often have conflicting opinions."

Friday, July 8

Bloggering a big negative in the interview process

What is it with job seekers who also write blogs? Our recent faculty search at Quaint Old College resulted in a number of bloggers among our semifinalists. Those candidates looked good enough on paper to merit a phone interview, after which they were still being seriously considered for an on-campus interview.

That's when the committee took a look at their online activity.

In some cases, a Google search of the candidate's name turned up his or her blog. Other candidates told us about their Web site, even making sure we had the URL so we wouldn't fail to find it. In one case, a candidate had mentioned it in the cover letter. We felt compelled to follow up in each of those instances, and it turned out to be every bit as eye-opening as a train wreck.

Don't get me wrong: Our initial thoughts about blogs were, if anything, positive. It was easy to imagine creative academics carrying their scholarly activity outside the classroom and the narrow audience of print publications into a new venue, one more widely available to the public and a tech-savvy student audience.

We wanted to hire somebody in our stack of finalists, so we gave the same -- or more -- benefit of the doubt to the bloggers as to the others in the pool.

A candidate's blog is more accessible to the search committee than most forms of scholarly output. It can be hard to lay your hands on an obscure journal or book chapter, but the applicant's blog comes up on any computer. Several members of our search committee found the sheer volume of blog entries daunting enough to quit after reading a few. Others persisted into what turned out, in some cases, to be the dank, dark depths of the blogger's tormented soul; in other cases, the far limits of techno-geekdom; and in one case, a cat better off left in the bag.

The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It's not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it's also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.

A blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet, a place to vent petty gripes and frustrations stemming from congested traffic, rude sales clerks, or unpleasant national news. It becomes an open diary or confessional booth, where inward thoughts are publicly aired.

Worst of all, for professional academics, it's a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution. After wrapping up a juicy rant at 3 a.m., it only takes a few clicks to put it into global circulation.

We've all done it -- expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we're giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend. There is a slight risk that the opinion might find its way to the wrong person's attention and embarrass us. Words said and e-mail messages sent cannot be retracted, but usually have a limited range. When placed on prominent display in a blog, however, all bets are off.

So, to the job seekers.

Professor Turbo Geek's blog had a presumptuous title that was easy to overlook, as we see plenty of cyberbravado these days in the online aliases and e-mail addresses of students and colleagues.

But the site quickly revealed that the true passion of said blogger's life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica. It's one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can't afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

Professor Shrill ran a strictly personal blog, which, to the author's credit, scrupulously avoided comment about the writer's current job, coworkers, or place of employment. But it's best for job seekers to leave their personal lives mostly out of the interview process.

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

Finally we come to Professor Bagged Cat. He was among the finalists we brought to campus for an interview, which he royally bombed, so we were leaning against him anyway. But we were irritated to find out, late in the process, that he had misrepresented his research, ostensibly to make it seem more relevant to a hot issue in the news lately. For privacy reasons, I'm not going to go into the details, but we were dismayed to find a blog that made clear that the candidate's research was not as independent or relevant as he had made it seem.

We felt deceived by his overstatement of his academic expertise. In this case, it was not the candidate's own blog, but that of a boasting friend, that revealed the truth. The lesson? Be careful what you let a close associate's blog say about you. What that associate sees as complimentary may cast you in an unflattering light in the eyes of a search committee.

Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.

A colleague from a different university provides this cautionary tale: After graduation, a student goes to the far side of the world to teach English. Student sends delightful travelogue home via e-mail messages, and recipients encourage student to record rare experiences in a blog. A year passes and the blog turns into a detailed personal gripe session about the job, students, coworkers, and place of employment. It is discovered and devoured by students, coworkers, and place of employment. Shamed student turns for support to alma-mater faculty members, who read the blog and chastise student for lack of professionalism and for tainting alma mater's reputation. Student now seeks other job -- without letters of recommendation from current employer or alma mater.

Not every case is so consequential. And in truth, we did not disqualify any applicants based purely on their blogs. If the blog was a negative factor, it was one of many that killed a candidate's chances.

More often that not, however, the blog was a negative, and job seekers need to eliminate as many negatives as possible.

We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction. The search committee is composed of humans, who know that the applicants are humans, too, who have those things to hide. It's in your interest, as an applicant, for them to stay hidden, not laid out in exquisite detail for all the world to read. If you stick your foot in your mouth during an interview, no one will interrupt to prevent you from doing further damage. So why risk doing it many times over by blabbing away in a blog?

We've seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they've got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can't wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more.

Ivan Tribble is the pseudonym of a humanities professor at a small liberal-arts college in the Midwest.

A Liberal Dose of Religious Fervor


To listen in on debates about the current American political landscape is to be overwhelmed by a tide of print and talk about the importance of religion. But by the odd alchemy of American politics, "religion" has come to mean "politically conservative religion," often used interchangeably with theologically conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Protestantism.

In the wake of the Terri Schiavo battle, the touring Ten Commandments, and a national television broadcast featuring the Senate majority leader arguing that filibusters (particularly the Democratic kind) are anti-religious, one could conclude that the religious scene has been divvied up between godless secularists and Bible-thumping descendants of William Jennings Bryan.

Only Jim Wallis, longtime editor of Sojourners -- a magazine whose "mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice" -- seems to be standing against this tsunami of red-state religion. A self-described "progressive evangelical," he is author of the hot new God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), and he is everywhere.

But the truth is that Wallis, who has been laboring in these vineyards without attracting much news-media attention for many years, represents neither the majority of his own evangelical tradition, which is for the most part much more politically conservative than he is, nor much of the tradition of politically liberal Protestantism, which has not identified itself as evangelical for the past half-century. The dramatic growth and increased political power of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism in the past quarter-century have obscured the history of that liberal religion from public view.

Not so very long ago, liberal Protestantism -- liberal both theologically and politically -- represented the mainstream. At the risk of simplification, Protestant theological liberalism has sought, over roughly the past century and a quarter, to reconcile biblical "truth" with the worldview of modern science. Theological liberals consider the Bible a divinely inspired, historically shaped group of texts open to vigorous interpretation, rather than the inerrant, literal word of God. In this view, God is less a Big Daddy in the sky than a presence immanent in natural and human history. Because Christian liberals have generally trained their gaze more on the world -- God's visible creation -- than on the heavens (or on the experience of personal conversion), they have tended to focus on the Bible's, and Jesus', moral and social teachings. As a result, theological liberalism has often found expression in political liberalism.

Nowadays commentators focus on the decline in membership in the largest mainline Protestant denominations -- Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, American Baptists, the United Church of Christ -- as proof of their modern irrelevance, while wringing their hands -- or exulting -- over the growth of conservative megachurches. No matter their political persuasion, most observers are missing the enduring importance and political influence of liberal Protestantism. In fact, that tradition has been all but "disappeared" by a combination of historical circumstances, academic condescension, and, perhaps most damningly, religious liberals themselves.

A few months ago, a UCC church near where I live was sponsoring a Lenten lecture on liberal Protestantism. My wife, a UCC minister who could not attend, thought it would be good for me to get out of the house and find out what someone else thought for a change. The lecturer, a bright young historian, also married to a minister, professorially explained the origins of the movement in German biblical criticism, continued with a description of the pre-World War I Social Gospel, followed up with the postwar disillusionment and decline, and then simply stopped, observing that liberal Protestantism had been on a downward slope ever since. No Reinhold Niebuhr, no Martin Luther King Jr., no civil-rights or antiwar movement, nothing on the fight for women's rights or gay rights. Far more telling, no members of the audience -- including many senior citizens who had lived through the turmoil of the latter 20th century -- objected to their entire religious lives' being considered unworthy of academic notice. I hope they were being polite, but I suspect that their apathy was a symptom.

Indeed, the liberalism of mainline Protestantism appears to be suffering a fate similar to that of liberalism in today's world of politics. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the leaders of the Democratic Party, once the home of a proud and unapologetic liberalism, have successfully hidden their liberal light under a bushel of apologies and strategies for impersonating Republicans. Now, beaten twice in narrow national elections, apparently by religious conservatives, some Democrats are beginning to remember that moral values have power on the left side of the aisle, too. But instead of relying on their own traditions, they are trying to open a dialogue with evangelicals -- witness Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton urging abortion-rights activists to seek common ground with those who oppose abortion.

Since I'm no political strategist, I have no idea if that will work. I am, though, a historian who has written on William Sloane Coffin Jr. and the liberal tradition he brought to the chaplaincy at Yale University in the 1960s and 1970s, which fired the faith and activism of a generation still very much alive. And so I wonder whether the folks formerly known as liberal Protestants and their colleagues and counterparts among liberal politicians might gain some inspiration from the accomplishments of their own histories before giving up on what they might bring to the future.

Much 20th-century American political history was the history of liberalism. From Progressivism in the early years of the century to the almost 50 years stretching from the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt through that of Ronald Reagan, political and economic liberalism set the terms of public debate and public policy. It had blind spots and nasty habits, of course, most notably racism and an unfortunate faith in imperial ventures abroad. But when white people did finally begin taking race seriously, and mainstream Americans turned against the war in Vietnam, liberals and progressives led those charges.

What tends to be forgotten is that they did so not just through political parties or movements. The Social Gospel's commitment to improving conditions in society according to Christian principles supported much of early-20th-century Progressive reform; Harry Emerson Fosdick, America's most eminent preacher of the 1930s, began his career as a Social Gospeler who attacked fundamentalism and embraced pacifism. Over the space of five decades, Niebuhr, the most influential American theologian of the 20th century, first defended the working class on religious grounds, then criticized capitalism and what he saw as the timidity of the New Deal, and later inspired a generation of liberal cold warriors. The explosion of theological liberalism and the ecumenical movement after Vatican II (1962-65) provided religious fuel, language, and fervor for the civil-rights and antiwar movements.

Take the Social Gospel, later to be maligned by Niebuhr as naïvely progressive, too trusting in the perfectibility of human beings, too eager to locate the source of sin in social structures rather than the individual. In fact, most of those traits it shared with secular Progressivism, along with a casual belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority, imperial paternalism, Prohibition, and support for the crusade of World War I. But as preached and put into practice by the Congregational minister Washington Gladden, the Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch, and many others, the Social Gospel was no minor movement. A prolific author and champion of the "historical critical" approach to the Bible, Gladden served a parish in Columbus, Ohio, for 30 years, where he spoke out on behalf of workers' rights during a Cleveland streetcar strike in 1886 and actively supported a whole range of Progressive causes, including compulsory arbitration and women's suffrage.

Jane Addams, founder of the settlement-house movement to help slum dwellers, and perhaps the most searching of Progressive thinkers, identified "a certain renaissance of Christianity, a movement toward its early humanitarian aspects" as a key to what she called the "subjective pressure toward Social Settlements." Rauschenbusch, the theological star of the Social Gospel movement, learned city problems from the poverty of his congregation near New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. In Christianity and the Social Crisis(1907), he insisted, "The essential purpose of Christianity is to transform human society into the Kingdom of God by regenerating all human relations and reconstituting them in accordance with the will of God." For Rauschenbusch, such a task increasingly called for a version of democratic socialism to counter the overwhelming power of the "possessing classes."

Even though the Social Gospelers could be blandly optimistic and politically naïve at times, they gave a Christian, moral voice to many Progressive reforms. Unlike their Gilded Age predecessors, many of whom preached a religious version of Social Darwinism that blessed the riches of the elect, the Social Gospelers demonstrated a sincere, often sophisticated concern for the lives of immigrant slum residents and abysmally treated industrial workers.

And they had influence, contributing mightily to the culture and widespread success of political Progressivism, which passed an enormous body of legislation, elected three presidents, and doubled the size of the American electorate. No less a person than Woodrow Wilson, son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers, echoed their beliefs: According to the president, "Christianity was just as much intended to save society as to save the individual, and there is a sense in which it is more important that it should save society."

Even during the 1920s, the decade that saw the growth of politically conservative Protestant fundamentalism and the Scopes trial, the Social Gospel held sway in the denominational seminaries and continued to produce ministers committed to liberal theology and liberal politics alike. When Fosdick preached his eloquent sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" in 1922, he threw down a theological gauntlet; three years later William Jennings Bryan and other fundamentalists used it to force his resignation from New York's First Presbyterian Church. But Bryan, who died in 1925, days after the end of the Scopes trial, did not live to see Fosdick's revenge: the establishment of Riverside Church, financed by the Baptist John D. Rockefeller Jr., which became the flagship cathedral of liberal Protestantism.

The dominant figure of 20th-century liberal Protestantism was Niebuhr -- who ridiculed liberals' sentimentality, faith in progress, embrace of pacifism, and rejection of political coercion -- all in the name of an allegedly hard-headed, tough-minded, "Christian realist" approach to obtaining justice in a sinful world. Laying theological waste to the reigning Social Gospel of his youth, Niebuhr and his neo-orthodox followers, who sought to recover Christianity's roots in prophetic Judaism, nevertheless expected ordinary Christians to take up the mantle of political battle. For no matter what his politics -- and they ranged all the way from quasi-Marxist socialism to cold-war liberalism in a career that began before World War I and ended in the 1960s -- Niebuhr insisted that Christians must be involved with political life.

The irony, of course, was that the man who founded the magazine Christianity and Crisis in 1941 to rally liberal Protestantism to do battle with European fascism, and helped found Americans for Democratic Action in 1947 to provide a political vehicle for anticommunist liberals, and served as an official of the New York State Liberal Party, spent as much, if not more, energy criticizing the "wrong" kind of liberalism as he did supporting the ever-changing "right" kind.

No brief summary can do justice to Niebuhr's immense theological and political oeuvre -- or to his genuine celebrity (his portrait graced the cover of Time magazine's 25th-anniversary issue, in 1948). It is worth remembering, however, that even if this theological giant's criticism could be withering, there was never any doubt -- certainly from the 1940s on -- that his thought lay within, rather than outside, both theological and political liberalism. Even though he insisted on the prophetic, Hebraic roots of Christianity, he never tried to brush away science or revive biblical literalism. His legacy to liberalism remained his critique of hubris -- his consistent warnings that prideful behavior can corrupt otherwise noble actions, that human beings can be counted on to remain sinful rather than perfectible, and that they have the unquestioned responsibility to act in the world.

The late 1950s and 1960s saw powerful examples of the mutually reinforcing experiences of liberal religion and liberal politics that simultaneously owed substantial debt to Niebuhr's theology and breathed new life into the Social Gospel. Martin Luther King Jr. had grappled hard with the thought of both Rauschenbusch and Niebuhr in seminary and graduate school. The former's Christianity and the Social Crisis, he later wrote, "left an indelible imprint on my thinking by giving me a theological basis for the social concern which had already grown up in me." From Niebuhr he learned "a persistent reminder of the reality of sin on every level of humanity's existence," as well as "the complexity of people's social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil."

When the Montgomery bus boycott began, in 1955, King later reflected, "my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount, with its sublime teachings on love, and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance." As millions of Americans watched African-Americans and their white allies relying on an updated Social Gospel to transform their lives and their society, few would or could have argued that politics and religion had little to do with one another. As Jim Wallis writes in God's Politics, "No one in American history ever linked religion and politics better (or more prophetically, democratically, and inclusively) than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

Listen to King's speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church on the first night of the boycott, December 5, 1955: "If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth."

Just as important to mainline liberal Protestant religion in the early 1960s as the civil-rights movement, and partly fueled by it, was a new ecumenical spirit both within Protestantism itself and, in the wake of Vatican II, among faiths. Interfaith cooperation among Catholics, Protestants, and Jews provided local leaders and foot soldiers for civil-rights organizations, fund-raising efforts, conferences, programs, and demonstrations throughout the country.

The most prominent university chaplain of the era, the Presbyterian Coffin first entered the national limelight as a "freedom rider" in 1961, and soon became the best-known white civil-rights advocate in the United States. Preaching a witty, quotable, down-to-earth Christianity that newspaper and television reporters found irresistible, Coffin exemplified a social gospel close to King's, and a theology of sin and pride profoundly influenced by Niebuhr. But Coffin was only the most visible among dozens of seminary presidents and professors, denominational executives, heads of religious social-action agencies, college and private-school chaplains -- Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants -- who helped bring religious liberalism to its high-water mark in the mid-1960s, the heyday, not coincidentally, of Great Society political liberalism as well. In 1965 such religious leaders joined together in what many still remember as a profound, even transformative experience, the Selma march.

That ecumenical cooperation on behalf of civil rights soon translated directly into antiwar activity. When an interfaith group of clergy members announced in New York City, in October 1965, that it would hold an ecumenical forum on U.S. foreign policy in Asia, the world-famous theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel startled his colleagues by announcing that the group would continue as an organization -- and inadvertently founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam.

Eventually renamed Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam, it became the largest and most influential religious group to oppose the Vietnam War. Treatments of the 1960s and the antiwar movement occasionally make mention of clergymen and women, particularly the radical Catholic Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip. But in fact, liberal and moderate religious professionals and laypeople played a far greater role in nurturing antiwar sentiment throughout the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Even in the 1970s, as the wind went out of political liberalism's sails, and in the 1980s, when the "Reagan revolution" made political liberalism into the "L-word" and brought the religious right to public prominence, mainline liberal Protestantism, with important Catholic and Jewish allies, continued to speak out on behalf of the poor at home and the oppressed abroad. As Ronald Reagan rewrote the tax code, slashed social programs, and began the largest peacetime military buildup in U.S. history, it was religious institutions that housed and nurtured liberal dissent. Coffin, who had gone to Riverside Church as senior minister in 1977, turned Fosdick's flagship into a key international institution of the left. Coffin himself provided articulate leadership and organizational resources for the movement opposing U.S. intervention in Central America, for the rights of gay and lesbian people, for anti-apartheid organizing, and, most of all, for the nuclear-disarmament movement. Without the Riverside Church Disarmament Program, founded by Coffin, it is unlikely that the largest demonstration in American history, on June 12, 1982, would ever have taken place.

And while demographics have not favored them in the past 30 years, liberal Protestants continue to exercise cultural influence far beyond their numbers, especially as the mainline churches battle over issues of homosexuality. The 1.3 million-member United Church of Christ has been quietly ordaining gay clergy members for more than two decades. Now it is also entering the public fray, recently starting an advertising campaign indicating its openness to, among others, gay couples. Banners proclaiming "God Is Still Speaking" hang in front of UCC churches around the country. The denomination is rediscovering what King articulated, what Coffin brought to Riverside Church, what the Social Gospelers knew before either of them: that the gospel of love and justice, preached openly and inclusively (and with media savvy) rather than doctrinally and punitively, will draw people in and help them sustain and nourish ideas that are temporarily out of political favor.

The news media gave enormous attention to the controversy surrounding the Episcopal Church U.S.A.'s consecration of a gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a year and a half ago, and to the recent trial, defrocking, and provisional reinstatement of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, a lesbian Methodist minister. But CBS and NBC rejected an ad from the United Church of Christ on the grounds that it raised "controversial issues." While that decision garnered the church a good deal of free publicity, it was typical of the news media's general tendency to play down liberal Protestantism.

Conservative commentators, in particular, are strikingly eager to write off liberal Protestantism. In The New York Times Book Review recently, Mark Lilla, a professor at the University of Chicago and former editor of the neoconservative journal The Public Interest, had fun trotting out the shopworn mockery of liberal theology by H. Richard Niebuhr (Reinhold's brother): "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Niebuhr, who taught at the Yale Divinity School, once confided to his colleague, the historian Sydney Ahlstrom, that he regretted that sentence more than any he had ever written.

And for good reason. I have read hundreds of Coffin's sermons, listened to hundreds of my wife's, and attended nearly every UCC General Synod (where there's a good bit of preaching to be heard) for the past 20 years. Niebuhr's line simply does not describe liberal-Protestant reality.

Lilla went on to trash liberal Protestantism in his own words: "The more the Bible is treated as a historical document, the more its message is interpreted in universalist terms, the more the churches sanctify the political and cultural order, the less hold liberal religion will eventually have on the hearts and minds of the believers." I read that sentence to a group of retired Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and UCC clergy members the next day. They had been reflecting on their long careers, many of them proudest of their dissenting roles in society; they were rightly offended by Lilla's rhetoric.

Religious liberalism has certainly had its weaknesses. And its occasional self-satisfaction and sometimes bland worship have ceded some territory to the more charismatic and passionate religion of evangelicals and fundamentalists. But critics like Lilla clearly don't spend enough time in the pews of liberal, American Protestant churches. There they might have heard ministers grappling with some of the most pressing social issues of our day, in self-reflective religious language far removed from the spiritually untroubled rhetoric preferred by the White House and members of the Congressional leadership.

As representatives of a mainstream religious force that leads and sustains activism on behalf of racial and gender equality and combating injustice, religious liberals ought not to forget their past or give in to the dominant narrative of their own demise. Just as it's entirely too soon to write the epitaph of political liberalism, reports of the death of liberal religion, especially liberal Protestantism, have been wildly exaggerated.

Warren Goldstein is a professor and chairman of history at the University of Hartford. He is the author of William Sloane Coffin Jr.: A Holy Impatience (Yale University Press, 2004).