Yellow Rain, Richard Dawkins, and Other Otherness

The other day, while I was wiping down my countertops, I heard an astonishing podcast by the hitherto acclaimed Radiolab. Maybe you’ve heard of them? Molly Ringwald called them the “This American Life of Science!” in another podcast.

I wipe down countertops a great deal.

The Radiolab team so infuriated an interviewee that she yelled at them and ended the interview. Then they all talked about it, without getting a whit of follow-up from her. More below.

I also ran across a startling item in Slate. Green-haired skeptic! Rape threats! Richard Dawkins is truly a “Dick”!

The moral of today’s post: Free speech isn’t all that free if spoken by an Estrogenned-American.

Kao Kalia Yang stands up for multiple truths

First, a brief history lesson.

In the 1960s, most Hmong had sided with America in a secret war against the Pathet Lao and its allies. More than 100,000 Hmong died in this conflict, and when American troops pulled out, the rest were left to face brutal repercussions. Those who survived the perilous journey to Thailand carried horrific stories of an ongoing genocide, among them accounts of chemical warfare. Their stories provoked a scientific controversy that still hasn’t been resolved.

Radiolab recently broadcast an hour on “The Fact of the Matter”: an exploration of whether or not we actually can, despite what us survivors of the Science Wars may think, use science and technology to deduce “Truth.” After provocatively asserting the scientific pseudo-consensus (but, really?) that the Yellow rRin was post-hibernated bee defecation, they included an interview with actual Hmong people, one of whom survived that era. No one else writing about Yellow Rain has done that! Yippeedoodah!

But wait: They did not present of the existing any scientific analysis concluding that the Yellow Rain was, in fact, a chemical agent. They did not include the extensive discussion about Hmong knowledge of bees, beekeeping, Laotian geography, or communal knowledge of local history. They dismissed Eng Yang’s first-hand observations of the immediate aftermath. And, unbelievably, they did not include either Yangs’ names or official accredidations–in Eng Yang’s case, as an official historian of the Hmong community for the Thai government.

From Kao Kalia Yang’s description of the interview:

The interview became an interrogation. A Harvard scientist said the Yellow Rain Hmong people experienced was nothing more than bee defecation. 

My uncle explained Hmong knowledge of the bees in the mountains of Laos, said we had harvested honey for centuries, and explained that the chemical attacks were strategic; they happened far away from established bee colonies, they happened where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong.  Robert grew increasingly harsh, “Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder fall from the airplanes?” My uncle said that there were planes flying all the time and bombs being dropped, day and night. Hmong people did not wait around to look up as bombs fell. We came out in the aftermath to survey the damage. He said what he saw, “Animals dying, yellow that could eat through leaves, grass, yellow that could kill people — the likes of which bee poop has never done.”

My uncle explained that he was serving as documenter of the Hmong experience for the Thai government, a country that helped us during the genocide. With his radio and notebooks, he journeyed to the sites where the attacks had happened, watched with his eyes what had happened to the Hmong, knew that what was happening to the Hmong were not the result of dysentery, lack of food, the environment we had been living in or its natural conditions. Robert crossed the line. He said that what my uncle was saying was “hearsay.” 

Shameful. There’s more. Read the whole thing, please.


Meanwhile, the Richard Dawkins ridiculousness. Short version: Prominent skeptic bravely educates skeptic/atheist community about mysteries like “male privilege,” “sexual harrassment” and “feminism.” Incurs a barrage of comments threatening rape and the like.

After which conference co-presenter and all-around atheist hero Richard Dawkins mocks and belittles her, and apparently willfully refused to understand any single thing she was saying.

So much for a rational embrace of self-evident truth.


In other, related news, I tried to read this Salon-typical memoir piece about a guy who fakes gay to learn a hard lesson about his own privilege.

But I had to stop. I stopped around when he was trying to express how difficult it was for him to come out.

Because, really?

Can’t we read an actually queer person’s memoir of coming out to her or his queer-hating family? I actually have legions of critiques of this piece, but I’ll swallow them for the sake of Internet Harmony.

Fortunately, there were robot costumes to save me from total despair.

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2 thoughts on “Yellow Rain, Richard Dawkins, and Other Otherness

  1. Richard "Dick" God-free says:

    Atheism is a religion an Atheists are human. So they can fall into the same trap of tribal righteousness that other religions can. But Dawkins is even more smug about it. I don’t mind Sam Harris, though. At least he’s evuncular…

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Hah! You called atheism a religion!

    I’d like to hold this group, that privileges rational discussion of facts over belief, to a higher standard. Even the people who self-identify as reasonable above all, whose careers are based on rationality, demonstrate my long-held opinion that reason is highly emotional.

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