• Juan Cole:

    An election in which the names of the candidates in the various lists are still not known 18 days before the polls open is a sick joke, not an election. What could it possibly mean, to vote for anonymous politicians? And note that they are anonymous because otherwise the guerrillas would kill them. Again, I think the election has to go forward, but I just don’t expect much from it. The resulting government will be of questionable legitimacy, and the guerrilla war will if anything intensify. The elections are like all the other Wizard of Oz spectacles put on by the Bush administration in Iraq since April 9, 2003 — the appointment of Garner, the appointment of Bremer, the appointment of an Interim Governing Council, the capture of Saddam, the “transition to sovereignty,” etc., etc. Each of these was supposed to be some magical turning point and the beginning of sunshine and rainbows, and instead the situation has deteriorated every single month for the past nearly two years.

    He goes on to summarize the results of a State Department survey:

    Only 32 percent of Sunni Muslims are “very likely” to vote.

    Among Shiites, 87 percent said they are “very likely” to vote.

    Only 12 percent of Sunni Arabs consider the elections “legitimate.”

    Only 12 percent of Sunni Arabs think the elections will be completely fair.

    52 percent of Shiites think the elections will be completely fair.

    61% of Sunni Arabs are very concerned about their family’s safety.

    24% of Shiites are very concerned about their family’s safety.

    Among Shiites, 76% would boycott if a figure such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani told them to.

    Only 32 percent of Sunni Arabs said they would boycott simply because a religious figure asked them to.

    88% of Sunnis would stay home if they felt voting would put them in danger.

    38% of Shiites say they would stay home if their are threats of violence against polling stations.

  • I wonder if a quarter of a million dollars would change my mind about something I initially opposed? Let’s see… I opposed the war in Iraq, Faith-Based extortions, both PATRIOT acts, the tax “cuts,” the cuts in subsidized housing, opening more “roadless” areas in national forests, the ridiculous “marriage amendment” — OK, pretty much the entire platform on which this administration props itself. So, could I change my mind for a quarter of a million? Hmm, that would pay quite a few years of rent, pay off my old student loans, and then the ones I’m adding now. Oh, wait, I’m in the ethics program…
  • On an amusingly related note, via Buzzflash:

    (from Financial Times) The electoral group headed by Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, on Monday handed out cash to journalists to ensure coverage of its press conferences in a throwback to Ba’athist-era patronage ahead of parliamentary elections on January 30.

    After a meeting held by Mr Allawi’s campaign alliance in west Baghdad, reporters, most of whom were from the Arabic-language press, were invited upstairs where each was offered a “gift” of a $100 bill contained in an envelope.

    Many of the journalists accepted the cash – about equivalent to half the starting monthly salary for a reporter at an Iraqi newspaper – and one jokingly recalled how Saddam Hussein’s regime had also lavished perks on favoured reporters.

  • The hunt for WMD is officially over. No “Mission Accomplished” banner or anything? Nancy Pelosi has a few words about it.
  • Molly Ivins:

    …Not that I’m accusing anyone of lying, of course, but these people are slicker than bus station chili. Count your change when dealing with Bushies.

  • I’ve been storing up some science/evolution items for a more organized posting, hopefully soon. But this came through this morning* in my “SojoMail” and it must be read (*update: mangled syntax corrected):

    A UC Berkeley professor was recently denied tenure because his work – showing that Monsanto’s genetically modified corn had contaminated many of Mexico’s indigenous corn species – went against the interests of the corporation that had provided $25 million for his school’s research. His findings had been published in the prestigious journal Nature and his colleagues had supported his tenure bid 32-1.

    I clicked on “read more,” which leads to this Berkeley Daily Planet story:

    (excerpt)…For Ignacio Chapela, a member of the Cal’s department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management faculty since 1995, the day marked the end of the latest chapter of his battles for academic freedom and his challenges to an increasingly corporatized academic culture.

    An overflowing crowd of students, faculty, and supporters crammed into his last class. As the 8:30 a.m. class drew to a close, Chapella thanked the crowd and vowed to “keep raising hell.” After a standing ovation, the group led a march to the chancellor’s office in California Hall. There they protested Chapella’s dismissal and called on the university to grant him tenure.

    Chapela’s once-promising career at Berkeley foundered on two critical issues.

    When Swiss biotech giant Novartis (now renamed Syngenta) struck a five-year $25 million deal with the College of Natural Resources’ Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, Chapela was quick to criticize, citing the obvious potential of conflicts of interest and corporate control of research.

    His frankness did nothing to endear him to college Dean Gordon Rausser, one of the architects of the agreement.

    But the crowning blow followed from a discovery made by Chapela and one of his graduate students, David Quist, one of the founders of Students for Responsible Research.

    A native of Mexico, Chapela has remained deeply involved with his homeland, conducting research and helping indigenous people work toward economic self-sufficiency.

    Quist and Chapela discovered strands of genetically modified DNA in the genome of native strands of corn cultivated in the heart of the region where maize was first domesticated.

    Chapela and Quist submitted their findings to Nature, the British scientific journal which remains the world’s preeminent scientific publication. Their publication in November 2001 ignited a firestorm.

    Their discovery wasn’t the first instance of artificial genetic intrusion. Reports have surfaced of strands of DNA conferring resistance to the pesticide Roundup finding their way into the weeds the herbicide was designed to kill.

    But the Chapela/Quist discovery was especially troubling to the agribusiness giants whose patented strains of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are being spread throughout the world and generating huge profits.

    The implicit threat their research raised was of homogenized crops, of a reduction of genetic diversity that could render crops far more vulnerable because diverse varieties with a wide range of resistances would vanish into a giant genomic blender.

    The attack was instant and fierce. A British web site posted scathing critiques from non-existent scientists who turned out to be creations of a corporate advertising and Nature received letters, one from a UC Berkeley colleague of Chapela, who questioned the scientists’ methodology.

    In the end, Nature published a partial retraction—the first in the publication’s history—that advised readers to make their own interpretations of the findings.

    Other research has since verified their findings, but the damage was already done.

    Chapela was already up for tenure when the Nature furor erupted, but the flap didn’t prevent department members from voting 32 to 1 in favor of tenure, followed by tenure recommendations from both his department chair and the dean of the College of Natural Resources.

    On Oct. 3, a five-member Campus Ad Hoc Committee voted unanimously in favor of tenure.

    The first blow came on June 5, 2003, when the university’s budget committee made a preliminary vote against tenure.

    Then, on Nov. 12, the vice provost asked the ad hoc panel chair to reevaluate tenure in light of new critical letter, prompting the resignation of the chair.

    After another negative vote from the budget committee, Chancellor Robert Berdahl denied tenure on Nov. 20, 2003, despite repeated tenure recommendations from the chair and dean.

    I thought the story was ringing a distant memory bell, but later in the story I saw why: Tyrone Hayes, from Berkeley’s Department of Integrative Biology, had also run into trouble with the same corporation when his research found that the herbicide Atrazine was causing severe deformities in frogs (see here for a related story):

    Siegel pointed to another colleague of Chapela’s who had run afoul of corporate power, “Professor Tyrone Hayes of the Department of Integrative Biology, whose research discovered the unintended consequences of corporate intervention into biology.”

    Hayes discovered the effects of the pesticide Atrazine on frogs, which developed severe malformations when exposed to the toxins.

    Hayes then stepped forward. “If we lose Ignacio, diversity in the biological sciences will decrease by 50 percent. Isn’t it a coincidence that Ignacio and I have wound up on the wrong side of the same corporation that was funding research here at the university?”

    Hayes said he had consulted for Novartis and his work had been published in Nature and by the National Academy of Sciences. “I was lucky I had tenure; the vice chancellor wrote a letter saying I shouldn’t be doing any work here on campus.

    “This is bigger than frogs or corn.”

    Much bigger. And if this interests/frightens you like it does me, check in on Chris Mooney’s blog regularly (he writes about “the intersection of science and politics”), and also on Rep. Henry Waxman’s web site, Politics and Science.

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