There's an anti-evolutionist brushfire sweeping the United States, and at its heart lies a paradox. These days, it seems, the less the creationists say about what they actually believe, the better they're likely to fare. In an attempt to avoid triggering the First Amendment's ban on commingling church and state, the more canny of today's fundamentalists have become clever minimalists.
Rather than discussing anything immediately recognizable as the Christian God -- much less the Bible -- they invoke "science" itself to undermine one of the most robust scientific theories in history.
Recently my mother, a refugee from Hurricane Katrina now holed up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pointed out something that had never occurred to me before: Despite having grown up in New Orleans, played football there, and gotten drunk for the first time there at a ridiculously young age, I had never had the quintessential experience of fleeing the city in fear of a hurricane.
Editor's note: This article was published on May 23, 2005, exactly 100 days before New Orleans' levees were overpowered on Tuesday.
Standing atop the levee that protects Metairie, Louisiana, a satellite of New Orleans, from Lake Pontchartrain to the north, everything seems normal at first. But scanning your eyes across the horizon -- as I did last November, when I visited my hometown for Thanksgiving -- you suddenly glimpse the city's startling vulnerability. It's simply a question of elevation: On one side of the levee, the lake's water level comes up much higher than the foundations and baseboards of the nearby homes on the other side. Only the most expensive houses, those sporting third-story crow's nests, have rooftops that clear the levee's height.
Newspaper op-ed pages are supposed to be a forum for insightful commentary, diversity of opinion, and expert analyses of the issues of the day. Especially at major papers, they play an extremely powerful role in guiding and shaping the national discourse. All of this is as it should be. But unfortunately, precisely because op-ed slots are so coveted, these pages are carefully targeted by special interests, which sometimes succeed in using them to advance their own points of view. On the op-ed pages, then, not all is necessarily as it seems.
Circa 1996, many of the nation's intellectuals could be found chattering about the famous "Sokal hoax." Remember that? It all began when New York University physicist Alan Sokal submitted an article to the left-wing academic journal Social Text that basically amounted to gibberish. It essentially argued that physical reality does not exist: