Masters of Deceit

JonesTown-02

What got my attention was a dribble of “suggested posts” on my Facebook time line. They are from the Church of Scientology and are something like these:

Scientology-01

Scientology-02

Scientology-04

Scientology-05

Scientology-03

I have some previous acquaintance with the Church of Scientology, so the term “Going Clear” wasn’t strange. “Going clear” is a term used in Scientology to mean going through their auditing process and clearing yourself of whatever Scientology means for you to clear yourself of. Something like twenty years ago a friend in Dallas told of his encounter with a Scientology recruiter. I contacted him to confirm my recollections. He did not recall the telling, but back then he said the recruiter told him he could go clear for only $16,000. My friend now reminds me people are paying much more.

As it is, Going Clear is a documentary that aired on HBO directed by Alex Gibney. This has been going on for several weeks, at least one post per day, and it indicates some concern on the part of the Church of Scientology. The assumption is that Facebook charges real money for these “suggested posts,” so the CoS is going to some expense to make sure I know that Gibney is a propagandist and a liar. For ample reason I am not surprised the CoS is going to this expense.

Going Clear is highly critical of the CoS, and those people react typically in this fashion when anybody seeks to shine unflattering light on their doings, such doings characteristically done in their own recesses and not very complimentary to their corporate image. For example:

Gibney, Wright, and the former Scientologists who appeared in the film told a post-screening question-and-answer session that they hoped the film would raise public awareness about the alleged abuses committed by the Church of Scientology, and would prompt the media and law enforcement agencies to investigate further. Gibney later called in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece for Scientology’s tax exemption to be revoked in the light of the allegations of abuse documented in the film.

The “Wright” mentioned in the above is Lawrence Wright, author of the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. The CoS response to the documentary has been typical. The Facebook postings are linked to pages aimed at heaping scorn on Gibney. It’s a time-worn tactic of the CoS, lacking little factual defense:

Philip Alexander Gibney, son of journalist Frank Gibney whose career was tainted by his secret ties to the CIA in writing a book on a Russian spy, is an American documentary film producer and director. Alex Gibney churns out films that have been increasingly criticized for going for the cheap buck via sensationalism. Whether the subject is Scientology in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief or the late Apple founder Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, the common criticism is that he specializes in one-sided hatchet jobs. In Going Clear, Gibney produced a film on a new religion that he never would have produced about the Jewish faith. Imagine if one produced a documentary about Jews. Instead of interviewing rabbis, Jewish leaders and scholars and everyday members of the faith, it uses as its sources and interview subjects outspoken anti-Semitic bigots who sue synagogues, operate anti-Semitic blogs and regularly express to the media hatred toward Judaism. That is effectively what Alex Gibney did. Click here to learn more and to watch the videos produced by the Church of Scientology.

This churned my interest, and my response was to obtain a Kindle edition. I completed reading it this week, finding much previously unknown to me. I will skim the contents, pulling out quotes of interest. You should see the video, read the book.

A central character is Paul Haggis:

Paul Edward Haggis (born March 10, 1953) is a Canadianscreenwriter, producer, and director. He is best known as screenwriter and producer for consecutive Best Picture Oscar winners, 2004’s Million Dollar Baby and 2005’s Crash, the latter of which he also directed.

Haggis had a chance encounter with a Scientology recruiter on a London, Ontario, street and subsequently signed on for the long stretch. He was an aspiring film maker at the time, and it’s likely his early success traces to this encounter. Haggis met Scientology in 1975, and by 2008 he had risen to the upper ranks—all the while his career soared. Came the debacle of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, and Haggis found himself on opposite sides of the issue with official statements from the CoS. A slur directed toward a waiter (likely homosexual) got the ire of Haggis and prominent Scientologist John Travolta, triggering a very public row with Tommy Davis, chief spokesperson for the CoS and also son of Scientologist and noted Hollywood actress Anne Archer.

Anne Archer in Patriot Games

Anne Archer in Patriot Games

Ultimately Haggis left the CoS, and unloaded heavily. Interestingly, despite his decades association with the CoS and his high position, he learned of the darkest side of the CoS only after his interchange with Davis.

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard is, of course, central to the story. L. Ron Hubbard parlayed an unsuccessful career in the wartime Navy into his legend as a Naval hero and his own self doubts and mental problems into a philosophy that was to morph into Dianetics and finally into Scientology. Before World War Two and afterwards Hubbard was a prolific and successful writer of pulp fiction and rose to prominence in the world of science fiction. It was with his science fiction writer friends he first hinted at his true calling:

Until now, religion had played little or no part in his life or his thought— except, perhaps, as it was reflected in the cynical remark he is reported to have made on a number of occasions, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 100). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His acquaintances of the time noted his darker nature:

Sara repeatedly refused Ron’s entreaties to marry him, but he threatened to kill himself unless she relented. She still saw him as a broken war hero whom she could mend. Finally, she said, “All right, I’ll marry you, if that’s going to save you.” They awakened a minister in Chestertown, Maryland, on August 10, 1946. The minister’s wife and housekeeper served as witnesses to the wedding. The news ricocheted among Hubbard’s science-fiction colleagues. “I suppose Polly was tiresome about not giving him his divorce so he could marry six other gals who were all hot & moist over him,” one of Hubbard’s writer friends, L. Sprague de Camp, wrote to the Heinleins. (In fact, Polly didn’t learn of the marriage till the following year, when she read about it in the newspapers.) “How many girls is a man entitled to in one lifetime, anyway?” de Camp fumed. “Maybe he should be reincarnated as a rabbit.”

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 59). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Heinlein” is science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine are notable for taking on and continuing the Conan the Barbarian character from the late Robert Howard. At a meeting in Dallas Catherine told members of the North Texas Skeptics that Hubbard was the most evil person she had ever met.

That winter, they moved into a lighthouse on a frozen lake in the Poconos near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. It was an unsettling time for Sara; they were isolated, and Ron had a .45 pistol that he would fire randomly. Late one night, while she was in bed and Ron was typing, he hit her across the face with the pistol. He told her that she had been smiling in her sleep, so she must have been thinking about someone else.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 60). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The history of the CoS can be viewed in three phases:

  • Sea Org
  • Hubbard’s Decline
  • Under Miscavige

Sea Org

The Sea Org phase may be the most curious. Encountering legal troubles during the CoS’s early times, Hubbard purchased and outfitted three ships and staffed them with amateur crews of Scientologists:

Neither the public nor the celebrity tiers of Scientology could exist without the third level of membership— the church’s clergy, called the Sea Organization, or Sea Org, in Scientology jargon. It is an artifact of the private navy that Hubbard commanded during a decade when he was running the church while on the high seas.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Incredibly, none of these vessels was lost at sea despite some harrowing episodes with weather and engineered malfeasance. These early argonauts became the core of Scientology when it beached at the end of this tumultuous period. These ships stayed away from American ports, keeping clear of a threatening subpoena authority. Even so they frequently met trouble, being kicked out of a number of Mediterranean and African ports and finding no legal refuge in others. Sea Org duty was no Carnival Cruise:

When Eltringham came aboard, she found dozens of crew members housed in the old cattle hold belowdecks, illuminated by a single lightbulb, sleeping on stained mattresses on the floor. They were dressed in black overalls, called boiler suits, and forbidden to speak to anyone outside their group. They ate using their hands from a bucket of table scraps, shoveling the food into their mouths as if they were starving.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 155). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hubbard’s decline

Hubbard finally beached in the mid 1960s A secret order instigated by him in 1973 was named “Snow White Program.” It was audacious to the extreme, and it involved massive attacks on government agencies, individuals and NGOs.

Under Mary Sue’s direction, the GO infiltrated government offices around the world, looking for damning files on the church. Within the next few years, as many as five thousand Scientologists were covertly placed in 136 government agencies worldwide.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 151). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It was a sword that cut both ways. The CoS pilfered files of great use against its enemies, but the disclosure of the operation nearly brought the organization down. Eleven Scientology executives were indicted, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard. She was thrown over by CoS authorities, including David Miscavige, a 21-year-old rising star in the organization. She served a year in the clink and never saw her husband again.

A tenet of Scientology is the invincibility, even the immortality, the cleansing effect gives to adherents. The truth was that Hubbard was in poor health and headed toward his inevitable conclusion.

FOR YEARS, Hubbard’s declining health was a secret known to few in the upper levels of the church. Only a handful of his closest followers were allowed to see him. He had made no clear arrangements for a successor, nor was there any open talk of it. There was an unstated belief that Operating Thetans did not grow frail or lose their mental faculties. Old age and illness were embarrassing refutations of Scientology’s core beliefs.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 224). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hubbard did not officially bequeath stewardship before his death, but the logical heirs were Pat and Annie Broeker, two close friends and next in rank. In the mean time David Miscavige had maneuvered into the position as the sole conduit to the failing leader. His move following Hubbard’s death was swift, relentless and brutal. The Broekers were caught unawares by Miscavige’s initial moves.

Miscavige told one of the other executives he didn’t want to see “any grief bullshit.” Sinar Parman, Hubbard’s former chef, arrived that morning, to help with cooking and logistics. He found Annie Broeker sitting on the floor of the cabin, with Miscavige’s wife, Shelly. Annie had obviously been crying. Meanwhile, he noticed Miscavige and Broeker in another room. “They were joking,” he recalled. “They were ecstatic. They’d never been so happy.”

That Sunday, Hubbard’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 227). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Other possible successors had been purged or had fled the organization, however, leaving only the Broekers as rivals. Neither of them was a match for Miscavige. He angrily told Prince that Pat had made a fool of himself at the Palladium. Prince was surprised. Until that night in the Liberace mansion, he had been convinced that Miscavige had no interest in leading the church; now he realized that Miscavige felt compelled to remove the Broekers in order to keep Scientology from being destroyed. Whatever reservations Miscavige had had about seizing power had fallen away.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 229-230). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Soon Miscavige began to move against the Broekers. The Broekers had Hubbard’s blessing but little else. Pat Broeker thought he held a trump card in the form of an unreleased CoS documents, documents vital to the organization’s IRS qualification as a church. Little short of thuggery sorted out the matter.

Miscavige concentrated his attention on Annie. He took her to a separate room and interrogated her as a detective barred the door, preventing her husband from seeing her. Eventually, Annie admitted that Pat kept a storage locker in nearby Paso Robles, and she coughed up the key. Rathbun’s team found more files, but not what they wanted. Rathbun eventually came to the conclusion that there were no further OT levels— no OT IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV— it was all a bluff on Broeker’s part, a lie that the church would have to live with, since the levels had been so publicly announced. 8

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 238). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

End note 8 reads, “None of the promised levels has ever been released.”

Under Miscavige

Under Miscavige Scientology regained its footing and successfully exploited its Hollywood connections. Hubbard had early seen Hollywood as key. As a writer he worked speculation scripts and obtained links to the industry. The break came with the rising career of actor John Travolta.

A more insecure crowd you will never find outside stage and screen performers. What they sell is not just their talent but their persona. If somebody does not get a role, it’s not his talent that’s been rejected. It’s him. He’s been rejected as a person. The promise of Scientology has great appeal to this hoard of talented individuals elbowing for limited exposure. Such was Travolta when he went for the role of Vinnie Barbarino in the comedy series  Welcome Back, Kotter. A host of Scientologists concentrated their minds toward willing his success, and his faith in Scientology was reinforced by the outcome. Saturday Night Fever cemented his status as a first rate talent, for which his own dedication and energy should receive the real credit.

Hubbard doubled down with the career of Tom Cruise, another convert. When Cruise clinched the upper rung in Hollywood stardom with Top Gun there was no looking back. Travolta and Cruise have carried the load for Scientology in Hollywood ever since.

From Top Gun

From Top Gun

Miscavige and Cruise became close, and it’s likely some of the leader’s assertiveness rubbed off. This supposedly migrated into the Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men.

He modeled his determined naval-officer hero in A Few Good Men on Miscavige, a fact that the church leader liked to brag about.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 258). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sailing has not been ripple-free for Scientology in the years since. Legal and verbal attacks on Scientology have been routinely met with massive retaliation. Cartoonist Prasad Golla and I parodied these attacks as fearsome even to the late Osama bin Laden:

osama

At a lower level, personal abuses, especially against members of the CoS have shattered the esteem of the organization. The death of Lisa McPherson was notorious and particularly damaging.

Then, on December 5, 1995, a Scientologist named Lisa McPherson died following a mental breakdown. She had rear-ended a boat that was being towed in downtown Clearwater, Florida, near the church’s spiritual headquarters. When paramedics arrived, she stripped off her clothes and wandered naked down the street. She said she needed help and was taken to a nearby hospital. Soon afterward, a delegation of ten Scientologists arrived at the hospital and persuaded McPherson to check out, against doctors’ advice. McPherson spent the next seventeen days under guard in room 174 of the Fort Harrison Hotel.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 291-292). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

McPherson died without ever receiving subsequent medical treatment. Malpractice was compounded by the submission of perjured statements to police.

Rathbun discovered that church officials in Clearwater had already lied in two sworn statements to the police, claiming that McPherson hadn’t been subjected to an Introspection Rundown. The church’s official response, under Rathbun’s direction, was to continue to lie, stating that McPherson had been at the church’s Fort Harrison Hotel only for “rest and relaxation” and there was nothing unusual about her stay.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 293). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rathbun is Mark Rathbun, who rose to become the chief enforcer prior to bolting the organization. The McPherson case was a devastating blow to the image of the CoS. The publicity was impossible to escape.

She had suffered a pulmonary embolism on the way to the hospital. In the eyes of the world press, Scientology had murdered Lisa McPherson. She was one of nine Scientologists who had died under mysterious circumstances at the Clearwater facility.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 293). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Not the least of the Scientology scandal can be laid at the feet of new director David Miscavige. His bizarre behavior prior to taking over was compounded as his power and megalomania grew. A few excerpts from Wright’s book elaborate:

According to both men, the screen door suddenly flew open and Miscavige came out, wearing a terry-cloth bathrobe. According to Rathbun and Rinder, Miscavige hit Rinder in the face and stomach, then grabbed him around the neck and slammed him into a tree. Rinder fell into the ivy, where Miscavige continued kicking him several times. 5

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 294-295). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

End note 5 points to the following: “The church denies that Miscavige has abused any members of the church, saying that the abuse claims have been propagated by a ‘group of vociferous anti-Scientologists.’”

Then, according to Rathbun, out of nowhere, Miscavige grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head against the steel wall. 5 Rathbun blacked out for a moment. He wasn’t hurt, but the terms had changed.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 330). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

End note 5 reads “As previously noted, the church denies all allegations of abuse by Miscavige.”

I have cited only the two instances in the book involving Miscavige and also the term “slammed.” When these limitations are lifted the search results are embarrassingly fruitful.

Paul Haggis’s break with the CoS may be the catalyst for the most recent public turmoil. Scientology was already back into notoriety with the eye-popping antics of its notable public face, Tom Cruise. His couch-jumping episode on the Oprah Winfrey Show in May 2005 gave millions a look at what may lie beneath the surface. The supposed non-position the CoS took on Proposition 8 tilted the scales.

As Lawrence Wright was preparing his profile on Paul Haggis for The New Yorker in 2010 he requested an interview with Tommy Davis. This culminated in a meeting in Manhattan. Davis, along with his wife Jessica Feshbach and four CoS attorneys came. The Scientologists brought to the table, literally, 48 binders of documentation to address the 971 questions the New Yorker fact checkers wanted to address.

The concluding issue of the day-long session was the military record of founder L. Ron Hubbard. The upshot of this was that the story propagated about Hubbard’s military career and heroism was bogus. Awards for valor claimed for Hubbard were never awarded to him, principally because the awards named have never been used by the United States military. Nonetheless, Davis presented a copy of Hubbard’s Notice of Separation from the Navy, such document apparently being a forgery. In his book Wright provides links to the forgery and the copy obtained from the Navy:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/02/l-ron-hubbard-leaves-the-navy.html

I read Going Clear with notions already formed about Scientology and the supposed church. These notions have been formed by early encounters back in the 1960s. There was something not right with the attitude of Scientologists, and Scientology’s basis was definitely out of kilter, being founded on premises that were at variance with known facts. I know from the McPherson case and other public exposure that the CoS has used and still does use unethical and even physically rough tactics. I was not aware of the depth of the rot until I read this book.

A central question is what attracts otherwise sensible people to Scientology? The supposed reinforcement of self esteem offered to people who live by their image is perhaps understandable. What of the others? Are there so many with a level of self doubt such that they would surrender their volition to strangers—avaricious strangers at that? Who would tolerate the kind of abuse heaped upon so many of the Scientology rank and file, leaders, as well, for some imagined reward? It is a thing I could never find in myself. It’s possible I’m so full of my own worth that I would never consider giving up any part of my self control and certainly not the amount of personal dignity portrayed in this book. I’m concerned I would put up with about five seconds of what these people went through before somebody died.

When attacked with claims of transgressions, the CoS typically responds by attacking the claimant. This response I have found in my experience to be characteristic of somebody with dark matter to hide. Had they a legitimate case, I would expect them to respond with the facts, clear and documented. Scientology has not gained a round in this latest episode.

A defense employed by the CoS is that Scientology is not a cult, but is a religion, just like the Catholic Church is a religion. To this I agree, unfortunately for the Catholic Church. My take has always been that the difference between the Church of Scientology and a money-grubbing cult is difficult to discern.

Readers should be cautioned that I approach this issue with a decades-long aversion to religion of all kinds. Defenders of Scientology will find no comfort in this. In a family discussion of the matter earlier this week the wife and I learned we both had the same impression. The closest thing to the Church of Scientology without actually being the Church of Scientology has been the People’s Temple, headed by the late Jim Jones. The comparison was hard to escape.

Bad Movie of the Week

This is bad, to be sure. Before you see it, you need to see the prequel. King Kong was released by RKO in 1933. This is almost a remake. It’s Mighty Joe Young from 1949, also from RKO. When the film opened in the local theater two blocks from my house I was unable to see it. It’s possible my parents considered it too scary for my young mind. I’m just now watching it for the first time from a DVD I recorded off Turner Classic Movies. I think I know now why my parents wouldn’t let me see it before. They wanted to spend the ticket price on something else.

The movie opens in “darkest Africa.” Two hunters are bringing something in a basket from out of the woods. They pass by the farm of John Young (Regis Toomey). Mr. Young is not home, but his little daughter Jill (Lora Lee Michelis. She is fascinated by what the men have in the basket, and she scrounges up cash and collectibles, including her father’s honking big flashlight, and exchanges all for the contents of the basket. It’s a baby gorilla. She names him Joe.

MightyJoe-01

Twelve years later an American showman and his crew arrive on the scene. Max O’Harra (Robert Armstrong) is collecting animals and made-up adventure stories for his night club act back in America. These days that activity would be known as poaching. He has brought along a cowboy named Gregg (Ben Johnson) and his merry band of rough riders. They have amassed a collection of ferocious lions and are preparing to call it a done deal, when a horrifying creature emerges from the brush and attacks the lion cages. It’s Joe Young, now grown up. In fact, grown up more than any gorilla would expect to grow. This is never explained in the movie.

MightyJoe-02

Gregg launches his rough riders to rope and hog tie the mighty ape, but to no avail. He is too big and powerful for the lot of them.

MightyJoe-03

Just when Joe is about to wreak total annihilation, another apparition emerges from the bush. It’s Jill (Terry Moore), almost grown up and looking pretty good.

MightyJoe-04

Only she can squelch Joe’s rampage, as she shows remarkable control over the huge beast.

MightyJoe-05

O’Hara is quick to send handsome and viral Gregg to work his charms on Jill, now orphaned and in total charge of the Young farm holdings, and Joe. O’Hara is quick with a contract, and he shortly has Jill and Joe live on stage at his African Safari nightclub.

MightyJoe-06

Before a nightclub audience Joe impresses the masses with marvelous feats of strength.

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Wait! There’s a plot. Something has got to happen. See the prequel. Joe goes berserk. Some rowdy customers ply him with booze, and he breaks out of his cage in the basement. He then proceeds to invoke mayhem and destroys the nightclub and possibly some of the patrons. In a totally symbolic scene we see Mighty Joe Young pulling down the columns supporting the Philistine temple, straight out of the Bible.

MightyJoe-08

Too bad for Joe. He is condemned to die. But O’Hara shows humanity (for once). He hatches a plan to spring Joe and ship him back to Africa. Police guards are decoyed and Jill works the lock to Joe’s new and improved cage.

MightyJoe-09

Much is made of the escape sequence. It’s a story unto itself. It climaxes when the party ferreting Joe away in the night in a stolen truck encounters a children’s home on fire. Joe rescues a baby from the disintegrating structure and becomes a hero, forevermore exempt from execution.

MightyJoe-10

Gregg and Jill send home movies from Africa back to O’Hara. Joe waves at the camera.

MightyJoe-11

If this looks a lot like King Kong, there’s a reason. Both were produced by the same creators. Ruth Rose participated in writing both. Ernest B. Schoedsack was co-director of King Kong, and he also directed Mighty Joe Young. You get the idea the creators of King Kong got together 16 years later and said, “That was a lot of fun. Let’s do it again and make some more money.” There is one critical difference. Legendary animation artist  Ray Harryhausen was available to energize the phony Joe Young. More recently readers of this blog have seen other of his works, including the lizard creature from 20 Million Miles to Earth. You have not seen the last of him.

Keep reading.

What Went Wrong

Duggars-01

“So I told you, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let Justice Kennedy watch the Duggars on TV.’ So what did you do? Hey! What did you do? I was in the office, and Justice Kennedy came in, and he told me, ‘I was getting ready to decide on this marriage equality case, and I was just flipping through the channels and came across this weird TV show. And it was about this wacko family, and you won’t believe what they do.’ See? See what you did?”

All You Need Is Love

beatles-all-you-need-is-love-650-430

It’s a song:

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

No, love is not all you need. If this were all about love we would not be having this discussion. Regrettably that’s not how it’s being sold. Full disclosure—I’ve been giving money to the Democratic Party. I know. I’ll go to Hell, but I can’t help myself. Unfortunately, when you give money to a political party, which the Democrats resemble, you will never again be lonely. I get emails. Did I mention I get emails? Here is a sample:

Love won.

To

John Blanton

Followed by a link to a page that asks me to donate more money.

OK, love won.

No, it did not. What won was equal treatment under the law. Fortunately for all of us, the United States Constitution does not recognize love. You think otherwise, then consider the consequences. The Constitution would also be energized to recognize hate. Let’s leave that stuff where it belongs.

Not having reviewed the arguments in this case, my take is the 14th Amendment applies, specifically the first section:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Somewhere in there is the idea that all persons need to be treated equally under the law. This now includes laws, state laws, regarding marriage. States from the get-go decided they needed to get involved in people’s marriages. There were issues of who is financially responsible for children issuing from sexual unions, who gets what when somebody dies, and finally some quirks of the 20th century.

Came Social Security, and people earning money taxable with a W-2 form needed to pay into the system. They received the benefits. Then it was decided the women married to the men earning this money should share in the benefits. This was a time when men worked, and women did not. A little chuckle here. And it was decided that men who did not work should share in the benefits earned by the woman. You can see this was getting complicated.

Anyhow, none of these benefits accrued unless there was a marriage. Get it. It now becomes important to be married. Couples living together, even producing babies, do not accrue these Social Security benefits.

There are other benefits obtained by marriage, including the ability to adopt children, insurance coverage, visitation rights in a medical facility, the right to refuse to testify in court. Some couples did not receive these rights. Some couples were denied the legal advantages offered by marriage. These were couples of the same sex.

I had fun with this seven years ago when it began to bubble up, particularly with respect to the famous Proposition 8 in California. I challenged some of the obviously silly arguments. One was “Homosexuals are not allowed to get married.” Not true, of course. Homosexuals were allowed to marry, provided they married somebody of the opposite sex. And love had nothing to do with it.

We come back to whether love is all you need. It isn’t. People have always been able to obtain the legal benefits of marriage in the absence of love. People who didn’t like each other have been getting married for thousands of years:

Charlemagne wished one of his sons to marry one of Offa’s daughters. Here we have an important proof of the esteem in which the Englishman was held. Offa stipulated that his son must simultaneously marry a daughter of Charlemagne. The founder of the Holy Roman Empire appeared at first incensed at this assumption of equality, but after a while he found it expedient to renew his friendship with Offa.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 1290-1293). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Yes, tell me again that love is all you need.

No, what you need is financial security, plus equal treatment under the law. And that is what a segment of the population has obtained this week. That said, this is not the limit of my joy. Happy as I am for these newly-entitled couples, my greatest joy is the look on Ted Cruz’s face. That is priceless.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

As promised, here is my French Foreign Legion joke.

So this man joins the French Foreign Legion, and of course he gets posted to this fort out in the desert. And everything is OK. For a while.

The problem is, there are no women here. He begins to get a bit of an edge. Finally he can stand it no longer, and he corners a buddy of his. “What’s the deal here, Mate?” he asks. What does a guy do for a little pookie around here.

His buddy starts to explain. “Well, out back of the fort we keep this donkey, and …”

The guy doesn’t want to hear any more. He says forget it and walks off. No good. But the itch won’t go away. One evening he approaches his buddy again and tells him he can’t stand it any longer. Is the donkey available tonight?

The buddy tells him the donkey is available right now, and the guy says thanks and heads off behind the fort.

There’s stands the donkey tied up, and they guy gets right too it and starts humping the donkey. But he hears some sniggering behind him, and he looks back to see the other Legionnaires standing there looking at him and trying to suppress some awful grins.

“What’s the matter?” the guy asks. “I was told I could use the donkey tonight.”

One of the Legionnaires finally stops giggling and steps forward. “You’re suppose to ride the donkey into town and get some pookie.

Governor Haw Haw

AbbottCostelloHollywood-07

This has been an unusual day. Stuff was popping on the news before I even had my orange juice. Then something came along that caught my attention. The Governor of Texas released the following:

Governor Abbott Statement On Supreme Court Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage

Friday, June 26, 2015  •  Austin, Texas  •  Press Release

Governor Greg Abbott today released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling:

“The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature. Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire country their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.

“The Texas Constitution guarantees that ‘[n]o human authority ought, in any case whatsoever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion.’ The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion; and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, combined with the newly enacted Pastor Protection Act, provide robust legal protections to Texans whose faith commands them to adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage.

“As I have done in the past, I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans—including those whose conscience dictates that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. Later today, I will be issuing a directive to state agencies instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.”

Now, that’s right cheesy. Even for Texas. Let me break it down.

The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature.

The Supreme Court has done what it is constitutionally required to do.

Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire country their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States.

The justices of the Supreme Court took a vote. The split was five to four. The Governor’s side lost.

Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected.

Always has been, always will be. That’s the law of the land.

No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.

I’m guessing this means that if you are a Texan, and you are a Catholic priest, and your religion requires you to remain single, you don’t have to get married. That’s going to come as a great relief to a slew of people in this state.

Let’s skip on down to something with some meat:

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion; and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, combined with the newly enacted Pastor Protection Act, provide robust legal protections to Texans whose faith commands them to adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage.

Yes, let’s take a look at that “Pastor Protection Act:”

Republicans, who control the Legislature and haven’t lost a statewide office since 1994, say the bill will keep church elders from being sued for refusing to perform weddings that clash with “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

This was passed during the most recently concluded Texas legislative session. And what a gem of vacuous polemic it is. It says the State of Texas will protect pastors (church elders) in the event they don’t feel up to performing a wedding—a protection that’s been in the Constitution of the United States for over 200 years. What took so long for the echo to reach all the way down to Austin?

Finally:

Later today, I will be issuing a directive to state agencies instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.

That does not say everything the Governor means. What the Governor means but does not say is that it’s OK if a county clerk does not feel up to issuing a marriage license. If somebody makes trouble over this, the Governor has their back. He has their back, that is, right up to the time an applicant gets turned down because the clerk’s religious convictions object to the sexual orientation of the applicants.

The fact is that from this day forward if a couple of guys walk up to the window in the county clerk’s office and apply for a marriage license, and the clerk says something like “We don’t serve fags here,” then the next thing that’s going to happen is the clerk is going to get a notice from an ACLU lawyer ordering him to appear before a federal judge and explain why he feels compelled to violate the law. The clerk will wave the paper he received from the Governor, and the ACLU lawyer is going to say, “Thanks, but I already have several copies back at my office.”

What I like best about the Governor’s proclamation is the following snippet: “I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans…” Yes, the Governor of Texas will defend the religious liberty of any Texan whose religious convictions are offended by having to issue a vehicle registration license plate number ending in the numeral 1.

That’s silly. Yes it is. What kind of religious conviction is offended by the numeral 1? Any number I can name. Give me five minutes, and I can conjure five religious faiths that object to numbers ending in 1. Why do I say I can do this? I can do this because that’s the way all religions are created. Somebody makes them up out of thin air. At the base that’s all religion is. It’s some stuff that people made up.

Don’t believe me? Think religion is serious business? Guess again. I’m in the process of reading Going Clear. It’s a book by Lawrence Wright, and it’s about the founding and the workings of the Church of Scientology. Want to see a made up religion? Here it is, brother, here it is:

Until now, religion had played little or no part in his life or his thought— except, perhaps, as it was reflected in the cynical remark he is reported to have made on a number of occasions, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 100). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And he did, and that was where the money was. Friends of mine knew L. Ron Hubbard and watched the process as he created a religion out of thin air. Just as some people did in the Eastern Mediterranean three thousand years ago.

Scientologists no longer have L. Ron Hubbard. Texas still has Governor Haw Haw.

Soft Underbelly

Yes, there is. America does have a soft underbelly. And it’s here:

BALTIMORE — The city of Baltimore has seen a sharp spike in violence since the protests and looting after Freddie Gray died last month of injuries suffered in police custody.

Murders are up. But arrests are down.

Many wonder when this cycle will end.

Last night, more street violence in Baltimore. This shooting happened right in front of Dajanai Myers’ home.

“It’s not surprising anymore,” to see police tape. Or to see a body in the street. “It’s not surprising, because it happens all the time,” she said.

Even before Freddy Gray was killed in police custody Baltimore was not a pretty place to live. This was especially true in certain districts:

Another area to avoid is also the most dangerous area in Baltimore – in fact the 5th most dangerous neighborhood in the nation according to WalletPop. The North Avenue/Belair Road area is so dangerous that you stand a 1 in 7 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime. There are about 367 violent crime incidents each year in this neighborhood. I’ve walked these streets on a number of occasions, and I can personally tell you that this area is packed with drug dealers and drug addicts who do not hesitate to assault a stranger.

Freddy Gray’s arrest did not occur near that intersection, but over three miles away. Following his death there were protests, and the protests were accompanied by rioting from the worst of the community. America surely saw the soft underbelly of our society.

There is another side of America’s soft underbelly. Here it is:

ConfederateBattleFlat-01

 

This is not in Baltimore. This is in Summerville, South Carolina. The man is not black, like Freddy Gray. He is white, like George Lincoln Rockwell:

George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell

It would appear this person, who refused to be identified, sells a product similar to what the late Mr. Rockwell peddled 50 years ago. It would appear this is a cottage industry in Summerville:

ConfederateBattleFlat-02

CNN’s Ed Lavandera met a very hostile reception when he attempted to photograph this man in Summerville selling symbols of white power. The man told Ed to get out of Summerville. The man told Ed that it was outsiders like him causing the trouble. The man followed Ed after the news crew went to another location to film the above scene, and he attempted to prevent the cameras from showing the proliferation of Confederate merchandise. He was attempting to keep the world from seeing the other side of America’s soft underbelly.

What Lies Beneath

DylannRoofConfederateFlag

I posted an item last year, an item driven by what transpired at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) that was held in National Harbor, Maryland in March the previous year. What I had to say was this:

I am impressed. Did I say “impressed?” I am really impressed. In this jaded era, blown free of purity and naivety by the relentless winds of instant communication and instant gratification, on a planet that shrinks daily to the width of a smart phone screen and with hard reality just a click away on the TV remote, I am impressed that even an ounce of mental innocence remains, let alone the buckets full that spilled at a recent gathering.

What so impressed me at the time was the cozy relationship between a major political party in this country and a sordid undercurrent in our society. I had more to say:

So, you’re a conservative guy, and you believe in racial equality to a degree, but you are concerned that white guys are being moved to the back of the bus while black people are living off welfare at your expense. Where are you going to go? If you guessed the Democratic Party you are dead wrong. The Democrats are the party of entitlement and government give-aways, and discrimination against whites, like you. You may not feel completely at home in the Republican Party either, because those guys integrated public schools over 50 years ago, and they have continually sidled up to the Democrats as they handed privilege and power to the blacks. George Lincoln Rockwell is long dead, and the American Nazi Party no longer gets much political traction in this time of renewed national pride. Also there is an awful stench attached to the Ku Klux Klan, and besides you have to wear those silly-looking hoods. But wait, there is still the Tea Party movement.

While the movement is not all about white pride and racial discrimination, it seems to be the closest safe harbor for many of the radical right element who seek the sheen of respectability. So it happened that a number of the disaffected white pride showed up at CPAC 2013 in March. This was apparent at the “Trump The Race Card” session.

What I was alluding to, perhaps too broadly, was the way the Republican Party has in recent decades come to rely on an unsavory element for its base support. Within the past week that bubble may have collapsed. Last week a member of this basest of bases acted out what has been there all along. A young man, admiring of the long-discredited Confederate battle flag, with an intense hatred of black people, entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine prominent members of the community to death. Then he fled. The nine killed were black. The killer stated at the time of the incident his intent was to kill black people.

Reaction from liberal sources was immediate. Reaction from conservative sources was immediate:

When news broke that a young white man had gunned down nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday night, most people quickly seemed to infer that racial animus was a likely motivation for the attack, especially once authorities began referring to it as a hate crime.

Not the cast of Fox & Friends. This morning the show brought on E.W. Jackson, a black pastor and former lieutenant governor candidate in Virginia known for referring to the gay rights movement as “a cancer” and President Obama as a “radical anti-American” and “anti-Christian.” Without mentioning the possibility that the killings were racially motivated, Jackson explained that he was worried about the fact that the attack happened at a church.

“We’re urging people wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions,” Jackson said. “But I’m telling you, I’m deeply concerned that this gunman chose to go into a church, because there does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our biblical views. I just think it’s something that we have to be aware of and not create an atmosphere in which people take out their violent intentions against Christians.”

That was last week. This is this week:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday threw his hat into the growing debate surrounding the Confederate battle flag.

McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Monday that the flag means “different things to different people” but it’s painful reminders mean it’s time to move on.

“There should be no confusion in anyone’s mind that as a people we’re united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us,” he said.

Debate over the flag has risen across the country recently. The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Texas can reject Confederate flag license plates. This came after a lawsuit claiming it was a violation of First Amendment rights to deny the Confederate plate. The vote came out 5 to 4.

In Charleston, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed from the state’s capitol, and state lawmakers will vote on the matter next week. Her call came after Dylan Roof allegedly killed nine people in a historic African-American church last week.

Read McConnell’s statement in full:

“The Confederate Battle Flag means different things to different people, but the fact that it continues to be a painful reminder of racial oppression to many suggests to me at least that it’s time to move beyond it, and that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed. There should be no confusion in anyone’s mind that as a people we’re united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us.”

Time to put this shameful part of our history behind us? You think? How long did it take to come to that conclusion? Where was the wisdom of this week hiding the years that conservative candidates took money, without flinching, from Earl Holt?

The head of a white supremacist group cited by accused Charleston, S.C., gunman Dylann Roof made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to prominent Republican candidates in recent years, including three seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

These candidates were not aware of Holt’s agenda and have since distanced themselves from the money, some giving it to the church that was attacked. Senator Ted Cruz was the first to announce that donations to his campaign were being returned.

This issue is not so much whether candidates knowingly accepted money from a person with Holt’s agenda. They did not. The issue is why Holt felt the Republican Party was the right horse to get his bet. The issue is why Holt felt that his money was best spent on the Republican Party. What has the Republican Party done to merit this consideration from Earl Holt? It’s an issue the Party needs to address if it ever hopes to regain the stature it had during the days of President Eisenhower.

Unfortunately there are some without political office to gain, but still with an eye toward ratings. Unfortunately in some sense. Fortunately for me. Else I would have less to comment on:

Bill O’Reilly: “You say the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, and you believe that. For some other people who see it in a historical context, it represents bravery…You know as well as I do that it represents to some bravery in the Civil War, because the Confederates fought hard—”

“That wasn’t the confederate flag!”

“I mean you’re right historically, but in their minds, that’s what it represents. And in your mind it represents hate. And everybody should know what the two sides are believing.”

Well, yeah, Bill. That was not the national flag of the Confederate States of America. It was the battle flag Confederate troops carried when they went forward to kill American soldiers. Here’s another flag that has some history:

George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell

This photo was taken on American soil, and those are American citizens there beside it. Yes, Bill, this flag represents the bravery of soldiers of the German Wehrmacht who defended an oppressive regime, killing our soldiers in the process. It may be possible that the story behind a flag is what counts. In the case of the Confederate battle flag, the story is one of evil:

In 1948, the newly-formed segregationist Dixiecrat party adopted the flag as a symbol of resistance to the federal government. In the years that followed, the battle flag became an important part of segregationist symbolism, and was featured prominently on the 1956 redesign of Georgia’s state flag, a legislative decision that was likely at least partly a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate school two years earlier. The flag has also been used by the Ku Klux Klan, though it is not the Klan’s official flag.

Yes, Bill, this flag does have some history. Are you sure you feel comfortable with that history?

Bad Movie Wednesday

This is an uneven tale, and it bears description. It has an odd start, showing the finale of a dramatic Hollywood release, and it wanders from there into the tale of the director’s travels into America’s underbelly. It’s Sullivan’s Travels from Paramount Pictures in 1941. It stars Joel McCrea as rich and famous Hollywood director John L. Sullivan and Veronica Lake as The Girl, a blond bombshell who is never identified by name.

Of course the title is a take on the novel by Jonathan Swift. Opening scenes of this movie comprise the closing scenes of Sullivan’s latest work. Two men are fighting on a moving freight train, and both plunge off the train into a river and drown. The End. It’s supposed to be symbolic. There are disagreements. Sullivan determines to produce a film with real grit, depicting life at the bottom of American society. 1941 was the concluding year of the Great Depression in America. Release date was December of that year, the time when this country entered World War Two, and war production wiped out rampant unemployment.

Sullivan resolves to travel the back roads as a tramp and to experience the thrill of living on the edge. He initially has little success. The studio that employs him sends a motor home to tag along with backup food and medical support.

SullivansTravels-01

That doesn’t work out too well, and Sullivan hitches a ride with a kid in a souped up car, leading to a wild chase, leading to Sullivan going back to the studio and starting all over again. With only ten cents in his pocket he resumes his trek.

This time he finds work chopping wood for a lonely widow, who proceeds to adopt him as a pet and to dress him up in her late husband’s clothing. It’s obvious what she’s really after.

SullivansTravels-02

Back on the road again and attempting to obtain breakfast at a diner with only ten cents—not an unlikely proposition in those days—Sullivan meets The Girl. She is down and out, as well, but better off than the hobo. She is a washed up would-be actress, spending her dwindling resources to leave Hollywood and go back home. She purchases ham and eggs for Sullivan, and they talk.

SullivansTravels-03

Sullivan offers to repay The Girl by giving her a lift in a car he borrows from “a friend.” It’s actually his car, which he takes without telling his staff he is doing so. That gets them both thrown in jail for driving a hot car, and he has to get his friends from the studio to spring him and The Girl. Back at his Hollywood mansion she comes to appreciate how the upper half lives. After they wind up fully clothed in the pool they dry out over a nice meal. Here viewers get what they paid for, some of the best looking legs in Hollywood 73 years ago.

SullivansTravels-04

Sullivan is determined, and The Girl tags along. They experience life together, scrambling aboard a moving freight train and sleeping on the floor in a homeless shelter, where somebody cops Sullivan’s shoes.

SullivansTravels-05

The experiment concluded, Sullivan resolves to pay back by handing out $1000 in fives to bums on the street. One of those is the person who previously stole Sullivan’s shoes, and he waylays Sullivan in a dark alley, scoops up the remaining cash and loads the unconscious Sullivan onto an outgoing freight. He immediately gets mangled beyond recognition by an oncoming locomotive. The shoes identify the body as Sullivan’s.

Groggy from being slugged, Sullivan exits the freight car in another part of America and gets into an altercation with a railroad detective, resulting in his being sentenced to six years on a chain gang. Pleas that he is really a rich and famous Hollywood director only get Sullivan beatings from the chain gang boss and a stint in the hotbox. Back in Hollywood The Girl mourns, Sullivan’s estranged wife remarries, and they bury the mangled bum’s corpse with honors.

SullivansTravels-06

Coming to appreciate life on a chain gang, Sullivan hatches onto the idea of copping to his own murder. This gets his picture in all the papers. This gets the attention of The Girl, by now working as an actress at the studio.

SullivansTravels-07

This gets Sullivan sprung from the chain gang and brought back to his lush Hollywood mansion, and The Girl. Since Sullivan’s conniving wife has now remarried, she must consent to a divorce, and Sullivan is going to be able to move The Girl into his Hollywood mansion as Mrs. Sullivan. Very cozy.

Sullivan agrees to go back to making comic movies, which was supposed to be the moral of the story but which seems to have gotten lost in the telling. He scraps plans to make a movie based on the book O Brother, Where Art Thou. Of course, there was never such a book, but eventually there was the movie, starring George Clooney. I will review that eventually.

If this film does strike a moral chord it’s about uneven justice. As a bum Sullivan is slapped with six years for beating up a railroad dick. As a rich and famous Hollywood director he gets a walk.

As mentioned, America was just coming out of the depths of the Great Depression, and this was a time famous for unemployed men (also women and children) roaming the country, camping under railroad bridges and trading a few hours of labor for handouts. I barely missed that boat, but everybody older than me forever spoke of their dread for the time.

The fabulous Miss Lake is a shining gem in this movie. Wonderful to look at, and completely believable in her role. Off screen was another story. Personality disorders made her almost impossible to work with. McCrea refused to ever work with her again, turning down a subsequent role. Her career was flashy and short. She died in 1973.

Creating Information

Two summers ago I volunteered to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency. The reviews were held in a large hall in a hotel in Austin, and other teams were reviewing other books. In particular I ran into a creationist I had met twenty years previous. He is Walter Bradley, and he was reviewing biology texts for the State of Texas. What I found odd about this was:

  • Dr. Bradley has no academic standing in the subject of biology. He is former chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
  • Bradley is an acknowledge creationist, a position he has taken in opposition to basic principles of biology.

Here is Dr. Bradley and fellow creationist Ide Trotter at the text book review:

IMG_2876

Wikipedia has this to say:

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

I struck up a conversation with Dr. Bradley, and the topic naturally turned to Intelligent Design. What is pertinent to this is that Bradley posed this question to me: As new organisms develop by biological evolution, where does the new information come from?

I knew the answer to the question, but I did not press Dr. Bradley on it. I will give the answer now, and it is counter-intuitive. New information comes from completely random processes. I have highlighted that statement. Carry this forward to the discussion of observed evolution by random mutation and natural selection—Darwinian evolution.

Prior to the development of Nylon, there was no bacterium that could eat the substance. You have a fabric made of wool or cotton, and it is subject to attack by any number of bacterial agents. Not so with Nylon. Eventually a bacterium was discovered that could “eat” Nylon:

In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.

Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or, for that matter, any other bacteria), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts.

A random mutation had produced a bacterium that could eat Nylon. This was a new organism that filled a newly-created niche (Nylon) in the environment. This was Darwinian evolution in action. What do the creationist say in response?

Many supporters of evolutionary theory have claimed that nylon-eating bacteria strongly demonstrate the kind of evolution that can create new cellular structures, new cells, and new organisms.1 However, examining only the apparent, visible beneficial trait can be misleading. Recent research into the genes behind these traits indicates that no evolution has taken place.2 In fact, the genes of nylon-eating bacteria show that they have been degraded through mutation.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 This gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

The three references cited are listed below:

  1. Thwaites, W.M. 1985. New Proteins Without God’s Help. Creation/Evolution. 5 (2): 1-3.
  2. Anderson, K.L, and G. Purdom. 2008. A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh PA: Creation Science Fellowship and Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 73-86.
  3. Yasuhira, K. et al, 2007. 6-Aminohexanoate Oligomer Hydrolases from the Alkalophilic Bacteria Agromyes sp. Strain KY5R and Kocuria sp. Strain KY2. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 73 (21): 7099-7102.

The author of this is “Brian Thomas, M.S.

Brian Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 and a master’s in biotechnology in 1999 from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. He taught junior high and high school at Christian schools in Texas, as well as biology, chemistry, and anatomy as an adjunct and assistant professor at Dallas-area universities. Since 2008 Mr. Thomas has been a science writer and editor at ICR, where he contributes news and magazine articles, speaks on creation issues, and researches original tissue fossils. He is the author ofDinosaurs and the Bible and a contributor to Guide to Creation Basics,Creation Basics & Beyond, and Guide to Dinosaurs.

Interesting points of his argument are:

  1. This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene.
  2. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene.
  3. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks.
  4. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  5. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  6. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

1. Regarding the prerequisite of a specially-shaped protein, another prerequisite is the existence of the bacterium. I hate to be picky, but still another prerequisite is the existence of the planet Earth. This is not a well-based point to argue from.

2. The origin of the original gene is not explained. The origin of the original gene is not at issue here. Darwinian evolution is classically step-wise. Every novel feature is derived from or is built upon an existing one.

3. The “lock” mentioned here is an analogy. A mechanical lock is a device that is used by people, and Thomas is reminding us that a lock that is damaged, such as by putting a .357 Magnum slug through it, does not produce a useful mechanism. The problem with this argument is this is not a lock mechanism built by people. This is a gene that expresses the production of a protein (or an RNA sequence), and it has been altered, and the altered form produces a result that allows the bacterium to digest Nylon.

4. Yes, this is micro evolution. What did Thomas think this was all about? Just about all gene mutations produce micro changes in the offspring. Darwinian evolution, including the the formation of new species, is the accumulation of micro-changes.

5. I am going to let Brian Thomas have this point. I mean, if it’s God doing all of this, then who am I to dispute it?

Back to Walter Bradley’s challenge. New information does come from random processes. People who employ genetic algorithms to develop improved systems (e.g., Diesel engines) use random processes to inject variation into trial designs. It works in modern industry. It works in nature.