A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Whispering Of The Darkness Gets Louder.

Writing the post immediately below was like trying to pull a rusty razorblade out of a tall, narrow olive jar. The whispering Darkness drowns out much else in my ears just now. Maybe it will leave me if I get enough sleep. Maybe. Maybe the medications will dull it by tomorrow, by next year, by 2006.


I have to hang on. The true story of Mrs. Claus' future is yet to be told. It will be a devastating story belonging not just to Mrs. Claus, but to thousands more. The facts must be placed here like a message in a bottle. Or a name and year marks on a prison wall. When the facts are in, I have to be able to write it, so I must continue to put words in a row until then, no matter how much fatigue and weariness it causes me. There must be some record of the crime and the names of the criminals.

The mental nausea is overwhelming, so I must write about the nausea. I must write therefore I am...aren't I? The coffee, the claustrophobia, the absolute ringing dreadfulness of the least sound made by all the families with children in Half Price Books, and the sweating nervousness of driving in freshly fallen sleet....these are the last, or nearly the last, events of 2005. Someday they, or their like, will be the last events of all.

Ring out the old, ring in the new. Meet the new Boss. Same as the old Boss. Guide your ferryboat into the darkening water where no lighthouse is left and pray you do not flounder on the shoals. Fare forward. Don't look back.

There is no forward. There is no back. There is no yesterday--it is gone. There is no tomorrow--it does not yet exist. There is no now because, as soon as you try to grab it, it fades away to nothing.

There is only the burdensome New Moon tonight, hanging around my neck like a millstone. There is only the coming weather front line, squeezing the acid ache, drop by drop, into my knuckles, my hips, and my knees. In eighteen years the New Moon will finally be at this place, this night, once again. On the last day of 2023.

When computer generated astrology charts first became available around 1980, I systematically did progressions and transits for myself for every year to 2030. The year 2023 was the year I calculated that my health would deteriorate abruptly, badly, and permanently until my fading away from renal failure sometime in 2026.

Twenty years, if this be true. Twenty years to watch the foolishness and hope it is salted occasionally with some wisdom. Twenty years to be the foolishness myself.

Twenty years ago I was happy. No matter why, the fact is sufficient.

Twenty years hence I might be happy again to watch the last fading, in the few hours that I might be awake. Renal failure is like that. I've seen it from the outside and it's not too bad. You simply sleep longer and longer until, finally, you die.

The Moon died into the fire of the sun, somewhere, wanly, above the clouds today. The year will die in two hours like a black, whimpering cur. It was that kind of year.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

No Crystal Ball

In surfing around I noticed the Anchoress and Alexandra have posted 2006 predictions. A long while back, I mentioned that my own attempts to analyze trends, by letting the images of the present morph into the future in my mind's eye, led to nothing but a bright, white wall around the year 2007, through which my mind's eye could see nothing. Things before my mind's eye are a little less indefinite now, but not much.

Upon reflection, it seems to me that this phenomenon [which I had never encountered before] has a great deal to do with losing the wish for anything in particular to happen. We are all characters in each other's autobiographies, each one of us has an individual narrative about the events we all share, and this narrative is what shapes our expectations for the future.

To put my own narrative shortly: all the possible choices now lead to bad ends, so wishing for anything to happen is pointless.

Wishing for anything to happen is pointless.

Is this really so? I honestly don't know. But it is how I feel. My narrative is built up by me, but not in the sense that I might write a novel. I create the half of it which is the slow articulation of my deepest values, which then has to be fitted to the facts of the world.

The problem is that these are never integral, like a key and its lock. And the gaps between our values and the facts are what are filled by our wishes, by a desire for certainty and closure in our beliefs about the world which would make the contact of our values with the facts so continuous that what we believe and what things are would be identical and the key would finally turn in the lock.

In my narrative, the opposite seems to have happened. My values have become ever more disassociated from the facts. The world is out there, just as it is. In fact, it is more vivid to me than ever. But what I still want [which is surprisingly little] simply has nothing to do with it.

The things that I actually think good in the world have been systematically obliterated or confiscated by someone else. I lost another one with the NSA spying scandal. I lost a Presidency which was responsible to law, which is the essential difference between government and arbitrary authoritarian rule.

I lost it not because the law was broken. I lost it because the President brazenly asserted that he would continue the lawbreaking as long as he was President. And I lost it because there is a very good chance that all Presidents from this day forth will pick and choose among our laws as they like, without any serious opposition whatever.

The number of people who believe that George W. Bush is guided by the light of God to fight Islam and can do no wrong [or who are willing to pretend so for other advantageous reasons] will simply make it impossible to bring this brazen, self-proclaimed American Emperor to book. There are no good alternatives after that.

I still have sufficient anger in me to conceive of the best poetic justice to salve my feelings: a successful Presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton, whose hard and brittle ambition would then be granted the power that George W. Bush has abrogated, and who would very likely use it lavishly and to her immense personal and partisan advantage. I am under no illusion that power hungriness, without principle, is solely confined to the Republican Party. I would merely point out that the sovereignty of the rule of law is meant to act as a curb on such power hungriness, even when we happen to elect it to office, which we inevitably will now and then.

The actions of George W. Bush, and his cheerleaders, have made that very poetically just possibility far more likely to become a reality than the cheerleaders themselves have the wit to comprehend.

But there is no way at all that I can convince myself that an Empress Hillary would be any real improvement on an Emperor George. So why wish for it? The Anchoress is my friend and, incidentally, one of the best conservative writers on the Net, and I know that this alternative for the future would be something close to her worst nightmare.

I am clearly disillusioned. But I see no good reason why anyone else should be, merely to satisfy the leftovers of my private anger.

I have endeavored to make my values clear on this blog rather frequently, so I will not examine them again in great detail, but I will assert that they now have no real point of contact with the facts. In my narrative each of these have become completely separate worlds, and to harbor any serious wish that they reconnect, or any belief that they can do so, would simply be delusional. Thus the only sensible project for me, personally, is sinking directly into and working with my very anger about this fact.

I already do this regularly, of course. It is an integral and important part of being actively Buddhist. And, if I may give a hint to one of the secrets, it is why your own anger is so very valuable at the same time, and to the same degree, as it is so very deplorable.

So I no longer have a crystal ball. But it's always fun to listen to those that do. And when you listen, it is of great profit to ask yourself, "What narrative is really behind these choices?"

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Whisper Of The Darkness

I have written elsewhere of the deadness and dryness that my bipolar condition can induce, the nausea with writing, with politics, with everything, the illness casts around you like a tangled net.

I had a hint of it yesterday morning while lying in bed dozing and drifting in the hour before the alarm was due. Old habits die hard. For many years my brain was used to waking up on command from the night before. If I had to be up at 6:00 am, I simply told my brain so and it woke up then. With age and illness this capacity ceased to be reliable, so I went back to alarm clocks, but sometimes merely knowing that I must go to work will still wake me earlier than my alarm. So I drift and doze and usually end up getting up 15-30 minutes before the alarm would ring as I slowly get awake enough to realize how hungry I am.

But in the dozing back and forth yesterday was a whisper of the darkness. It started with a flash of the my growing disgust with the Presidential cheerleaders who excuse all erosion of our freedom in the name of the "war on terror". Who are too blockheaded to understand that the "war on terror" is also a domestic war on American life. And who are too hyperventilated to understand that there must be balance and intelligence about how we approach our enemies, a weighing of real possibilities, and an understanding of them beyond the mere repetition of the mantra "Islamofascist! Islamofascist! Islamofascist!".

In that balanced understanding is the firm conviction that we can lose this war forever, no matter what enemies we defeat, if we abandon our own values as a country and a people. The racist, homophobic, and Islamophobic remarks which poison our radio talk turn my stomach. You can read them three posts below, if you haven't already.

The shrill, "Save my poor children from the terrorists!" of the women for whom 9/11 was a religious conversion experience into true believers in the military pugnacity of the Republican party; the testosterone poisoned young men of the blogosphere who are too rabid for the obliteration of enemies to even examine their contemptable misuse of raw language in their posts in ways that are merely squalid and not strong; and my good friends on the right side of the house, cowering at the shadows of Osama Bin Laden, but refusing to confront the substance of how badly we have fought him up to now, all repel me. And yesterday morning they repelled me absolutely, making me feel like turning my back on dialog forever.

Alexandra's little challenge of the Ten Worst Americans brought me out of it and into the light again.

But the darkness remains, whispering, whispering, whispering.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Ten Worst Americans [UPDATED]

The ever-fertile mind of Alexandra at All Things Beautiful, has solicited opinions of the Ten Worst Americans. She has written me that her hope is an interesting collective excursion into the real meaning and nature of wickedness. I'm not sure she actually accomplished this, but you can go check out the comments and links for yourself and form your own opinons. Here's what I had to say:

Ok, Alexandra, here are my picks. This was rather difficult because most of the evils in American history and American life are collective, rather than individual evils. Some of the most heinous things in American history have no outstanding single perpetrators. And while Americans have committed private outrages galore, very few of these have had a significant long-term impact on the country as a whole.

One of the classic cases of collective American evil is the slaughter of Northern California Indians after 1848. This was the work of nameless and faceless men in a loosely organized “California Volunteer Militia” championed by the California press, which openly referred to their activities as “extermination”. This is perhaps the single incident in our history that was explicitly, unequivocally, and inescapably genocide.

Another classic case was the explosive expansion of Black slavery in the South which resulted from the invention of the Cotton Gin. The rise of the “peculiar institution” was a collective evil, perhaps the evil that will stain our name longest.

The people I have chosen are those who committed heinous actions of national scope which they, as individuals could have avoided or refused. In many cases they are the immediate perpetrators of broader evils whose actual source cannot be explicitly traced to one man. Consequently, few of them were evil in the sense that, say, Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin were evil. We simply don’t seem to grow monsters on that scale.

General Winfield Scott—the man who took over the job of forcing the Cherokee Nation from Georgia into Oklahoma—the Trail of Tears. His predecessor, General John Wool, resigned his commission rather than be a party to it. Some of the most famous names in American Congressional history, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Davy Crocket opposed the policy that mandated it. About 4000 Cherokee died as a result of the removal.

Kit Carson—the principle architect of the Long Walk of the Navajo Nation to Bosque Redondo in southern New Mexico. Carson himself estimated the total Navajo population to be 15,000; perhaps 11,600 of these were force marched south in 1863-64, 9000 were officially counted at Bosque Redondo in 1865; of these 7,500 were left by the time the Navajo were allowed to go back to their traditional lands in 1868. In the interval about 4000 died of various causes—or around 20-25% of the total population in a mere five years.

[Deleted: See Comments Below]--ed.

John C. Calhoun—South Carolina senator and author of the political theory which nearly tore this country apart, Disquisition on Government, which is the anti-Declaration of Independence, the anti-United States Constitution, and the anti-Federalist Papers that formed the basis for the South’s secession.

General William T. Sherman—Who invented the modern war made deliberately against the civilian population supporting the armies in the field. The March Through Georgia is the prototype for every deliberate military assault on civilian infrastructure from the bombing of Guernica, through Hiroshima & Nagasaki, to our own day.

Alan Pinkerton—The man who turned American industrial companies into a law unto themselves, by providing them with entire private police forces, from his Pinkerton Agency, during the blackjack and brass knuckle phase of American labor relations. All a mill or mine owner had to do was slip the country sheriff a little extra cash and Alan’s fine boys suddenly became “deputies”. Because of Alan, not only could they buy the law, they could outsource the muscle. Now was that a deal, or what?

Tom Horn—The most remorseless and cold-blooded killer in the American West, a man who specialized in “bushwhacking” or shooting people in the head with a rifle from hiding. He himself described it this way, “Killing men is my specialty. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.” Unlike almost all other Western badmen, lawmen, and both together, there was absolutely nothing in his circumstances or by chance that ever forced him to kill men. He charged Montana cattle ranchers $500 a hit. And he once offered a volume discount to the Governor of Montana [also a large rancher] of a mere $5000 to kill all the cattle rustlers in the entire county where the Governor had his ranch. The Governor backed out on the deal at the last minute.

Arnold Rothstein—The man who took advantage of Prohibition and single-handedly created American organized crime. His role was that of investment banker. He capitalized the up and coming young hoodlums in the alcohol trade such as Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Ben “Bugsy” Segal, and Frank Costello. By borrowing Rothstein’s cash as venture capital, and learning his business acumen, they turned liquor, gambling, narcotics, and prostitution into a country-wide multi-million dollar industry.

Senator Joseph McCarthy—the single most dangerous American political demagogue ever. No reputation was safe from his quest for power and influence through exploiting America’s paranoid “anti-communist” hysteria. He also invented the modern form of the Senate Hearing as a trial-by-media, where guilt is presumed, rather than innocence.

Jim Jones—The modern self-immolating religious cultmeister personified. Need I say more?

My post garnered a nice citation from Alas: A Blog, and a fine complement from LeftBehinds:

Joseph Marshall: excellent list! You are either a history buff or an actual historian.

The only rationalization I have for my less evil list is that Alexandra didn't say the most evil or the most criminal Americans, she just said the worst, which is more ambiguous. Hence Leo Strauss, Ayn Rand, and Paris Hilton, who truly do represent some of our worst traits as a nation.

So I continued:

Thanks for the complement LeftBehinds. Actually, I'm merely old Joe Claus, poorer than a churchmouse, indifferently mentally ill, precariously medicated, and highly skeptical of the general slackness of mind among his fellow citizens. I once had a professor who spoke of his "reading around". It's what I've been doing since age 5.

After five decades of it, you accumulate a lot of perfectly useless information. It also encourages you to develop mature and balanced judgement, even about the people you dislike and disagree with. I recommend it highly, particularly to opinionated political bloggers.

So far, I am most impressed with the list of The New Victorian. He knows Treason like the back of his hand.

The one I am most looking forward to is Captain's Quarters. Ed is one of the least slack minds in the blogosphere, and I know he won't just pop off names of his pet peeves at random, or merely list every Democratic President of the 20th Century.

Most who have answered here and elsewhere remind me of nothing so much as the tenants of identical basinets in the maternity ward, in terms of their inability to reliably discriminate either genuine moral good and personal courage [which may or may not lead to good results], or genuine and consciously chosen moral evil, courageous or not.

A classic answer here, such as, "Martin Luther King, for the number of well-named streets whose names have been changed to his." has all the depth of a tea-saucer.

T.S.Eliot once remarked that the worst thing about most people who do evil things is that they are not "man enough to be dammed", that they are simply indifferently conscious of the moral nature of their choices.

This is by far the most destructive thing about slackness of mind. If you are not lucky enough to be good by instinct, you are very likely to be bad by default.

Thanks, again, Alexandra.

UPDATE: As I expected, Ed Morrisey's list is superb: consistent, coherant, and thoroughly reasoned--by far the best I've seen. The most interesting thing to me is how little the good Captain is interested in the American evils that I find most prominent: the evils that were largely successful. The people on Ed's list made far less difference to the actual shape and destiny of America than mine.

My own critique of the more intelligent forms of Conservatism lies just here: their willingness to pretend that the largely succesful evils: slavery, flagrant and repeated trechery toward the Indian nations, and industrial or large landowner oppression of small freeholders or unorganzed labor, either weren't evil, didn't exist, or weren't important.

They were. And they still make up the fabric of who we are. For better or worse they stain the name and shape the prospects of every American.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Intelligent Design Redux

I have added a new blog to the roll--The Evangelical Outpost--run by a genial and intelligent fellow from Texas, Joe Carter, and winner of the Weblog 2005 award for best religious blog. When I went over there recently, there was a lot of fast action on the comment pages about a critique by Joe of mainstream science in the context of its refusal to admit the possibility of Intelligent Design.

Now I have had some hard things to say about Intelligent Design, but the critique is stimulating and well worth reading:

For now I want to take a closer at methodological naturalism (hereafter abbreviated as MN). In a Scientific American article titled “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” , editor-in-chief John Rennie claims:

"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms..."

If Rennie is correct then MN should lead to correct conclusions regardless of the observer. By simply examining the evidence at hand and, when necessary, expanding “scientific inquiry” we should find that MN can consistently lead to true conclusions and do so without resorting to question begging and special pleading. Needless to say, I’m skeptical that this is possible.

To show why let me present the following thought experiment:

Imagine that an alien race, one that has never had contact with the human race, discovers the following items:

(1) 12 foot of nylon rope (2) A Tungsten Palm Pilot (full of addresses and other information) (3) A genetically modified tomato(4) Two CD’s - P. Diddy and Mozart (but not CD player) (5) A book written in Braille(6) A black and white photograph of a Salvador Dali painting(7) The synthetic element Fermium (8) A freshly groomed poodle with a red bow in its hair

Assuming that the aliens are able to use any test or posit any theory that is consistent with methodological naturalism, how would they explain how each of these items developed in the way that they did?

So, of course, I took him on:

You are confusing the method with the evidence. MN can only lead to relatively correct conclusions, not absolutely true conclusions, because having all the existant evidence is impossible. Not all observers [either in location or in time] are operating with the same set of evidence.

But science is collective and cumulative--constantly recomparing conclusions against new evidence and achieving correspondingly better relative fit with its MN method.

This is why your example is fundamentally flawed. Let's take it from one vantage point and assume that this is all the evidence available and our aliens have little or no a priori standpoint on what the evidence might mean.

That would place them roughly in the same position as Darwin on the Beagle. From that standpoint you have simply not provided enough evidence to apply the MN method reliably.

We forget very quickly that the better half of Darwin's work, as with most scientists until the middle 19th century, was that of observation and not explanation. Reliable explanation was simply not possible until you had sufficient evidence.

The strength of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection [or any good scientific theory] is not its abstract "correctness" in the absolute, but its power to explain an incredible amount of observed evidence in precise detail. Intelligent Design has essentially one explanation for any observed fact: the "designer" did it.

If we look at this from Darwin's vantage point of trying to make sense of all his different finches, we can see why he rejected ID [in its Biblical form] for something else. ID didn't tell him anything of substance about why the finches were different from one another. As far as I can see, it still doesn't. "The designer did it," is really not that informative about the world.

Now, actually, the mere fact that you have chosen an "alien race" as your observers means that they will bring a considerable amount of a priori science with them. They wouldn't even get here if they didn't.

So even though they have had no contact with us, they will still share much of the same science that made the manufacture of the CD's, the photograph, the Fermium, and the Palm Pilot possible. They are also likely to have some form of abstract symbolism such as language, mathematics, and music.

With this much prior evidence, they are very likely to come to quite accurate conclusions about at least some of the evidence, and to make relatively educated guesses about most of it. The Braille, the organized digital bits on the CD's and the memory of the palm pilot are very likely to be pegged as abstract symbolism, for example.

Having said this, I'll propose a counter-example. Suppose we take our ID proponents to Alpha Centauri and show them eight random objects of the Centauriods.

I would be willing to bet that they would come to far fewer relatively correct conclusions about those eight objects than any scientist starting from the approach of Methodological Naturalism.

So let's examine matters further.

Let's start with a question: What do we want from our science?

It cannot be "certain truth", as I have suggested above, because we cannot get this, the best we can achieve is "approximate correctness" ["All exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation"--Bertrand Russell].

The proponents of TENS who exaggerate the theory's capacity to "scientific certainty" justly deserve your criticism. They are championing the philosophy of "Scientism" rather than science. The more formal and better argued version of this same position is Logical Positivism.

What we can ask of our science is a consistent and coherent explanation of all of the evidence available, and not just part of it. Particularly, parts that are specific in detail ought to be explained.

We are not just interested in the question, Where did Life, the Universe, and Everything come from? We also want to know things like Why do we have Kestrels, Gerfalcons, Cooper's Hawks, and Red-Tailed Hawks, if one Generic Raptor would do?

I, at least, am perfectly willing to assume that ID is a scientific explanation.

This would turn Thomas Aquinas into a scientist, since in fact, the notion of ID actually derives from him. I have some qualms about that for other reasons [I think it badly distorts Western intellectual history]. But I can put them aside as irrelevant and make the assumption.

If ID is science, then for it to be good science it must be able to explain why we have my specific set of Raptors above. TENS does so with ease. As far as I can see, ID does not. If it does so, I would challenge any proponent of it to demonstrate this.

On those grounds ID is simply bad science attempting to replace good science, if we assume it to be science at all. It is bad science in exactly the same sense that the Ether Theory of Space is bad science. The Ether Theory does not explain the fact that the speed of light is constant, General Relativity Theory does.

Ether Theory, however, is bad science explictly replaced by good science. So ET is relevant to GRT and has a place in the scientific curriculum as part of the development of GRT. ID is both irrelevant to the formulation of TENS and simply a bad scientific replacement for it. It tells us nothing coherent about raptors, or, indeed, about any issue of biological diversity, which was Darwin's main question in the first place.

When the bad science is an irrelevant a posteriori challenge to good science, it has no business being taught in schools as science. If we assume it to be science at all, ID is exactly this.

Further, let's consider both "design" and "intelligence" for a moment.

I perhaps expose my ignorance, but I am completely bewildered by the belief that phenomena in the natural world are somehow "designed". Many people on both sides of the issue of ID seem to take this for granted, but it frankly doesn't make much sense to me.

When I design something, or when I see something designed by my fellow men and women, I am fairly clear that I know what that verb means: it embodies a nexus of localized human intention, human choices, and human fabrication [directly or by proxy] of some kind of artifact.

So when I see the Israeli flag, for example, I am perfectly aware that it is a fabricated human artifact that has been designed with a six pointed figure on it. I am aware of this because I know a great many things about cloth, heraldry, flags and banners, and the use of flags as official symbols of nation states.

With this knowledge I can make reasonable guesses about the structure of a whole host of human causal relationships which resulted in that flag. But the six pointed figure alone, detached from the context of those other causal relationships, tells me virtually nothing about where it came from.

Snowflakes are also six pointed figures. In this they bear a mild resemblence to the Israeli flag. But I see no reason because of this to believe that the causes behind the occurance of snowflakes in any way resemble the causes behind the occurance of the Israeli flag.

Quartz crystals, and honeycomb chambers, are also six pointed figures and resemble both snowflakes and the Israeli flag, but there is no a priori necessity for any of them to share any of the same causes, either. There is also no self-evident reason to assume that any of these objects but the Israeli flag embody intention, choice, or deliberate fabrication. So on what rational basis can it be claimed that snowflakes, quartz crystals, or honeycomb chambers are "designed"?

This is the first thing, I think, that proponents of Intelligent Design need to be called upon to explain and defend, and if they have done so adequately, I have not heard of it.

It seems to me that to speak of the natural world as "designed", and to take your words literally, is merely to misunderstand, and be deceived by, your own metaphors, which are drawn from the mere resemblence of snowflakes to the Star of David.

In a similar way, I'm fairly confident that I can recognize "intelligence" in human beings when I see it, but I am by no means so confident that I know exactly what intelligence consists of. I am also confident that I can recognize something similar to human intelligence in some animals, but it is not immediately clear exactly how much "intelligence" in animals is the same as "intelligence" in you or in me.

Nor can I see any a priori reason to believe that "intelligence" [whatever that may actually be] exists anywhere but in humans and perhaps in some other species--dogs and dolphins maybe, but probably not sharks and crabs.

It seems to me that, given the weight of scientific evidence methodically accumulated over centuries, none of which supports a teleological view of human origins, the burden of proof for it is with the holders of the teleological view themselves.

Negatives cannot be proven, because we cannot know all possible cases. So application of the scientific evidence to the problem cannot disprove a teleological human origin, but it can [and it does] show that there is no particular reason to believe it, based on the evidence. Presumably we are to take the existence of an Intelligent Designer on more than just faith. The controversy would be pointless otherwise, and people like Judge Jones would be perfectly correct: ID is monotheism covered in a false cloak of empiricism.

There should be some reasonable argument to be made from the biological, chemical, and physical information we already possess to support the teleological origin of the Universe, or of Life, or of Human Intelligence.

Now I am not deeply read in the ID side of this controversy, and cannot address the technical details presented by its proponents. But, broadly, I think the argument runs that the Universe or Life or Human Intelligence is too complicated to be anything but the product of an Intelligent Designer, and this is really the only argument drawn directly from the same empirical evidence as ID's opponents. As far as I can see, this argument requires logical premises that are hidden under the ID proponent's coat and not shared with the rest of us.

For example, how complicated is too complicated? Is galaxy formation too complicated? Is 92 natural elements in the universe too complicated? Are planets with large amounts of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen too complicated? Are one-celled organisms too complicated? Warm-blooded animals with mammary glands? Primates whom we are pretty sure now can communicate with us in American Sign if we teach it to them? Walking upright with opposable thumbs, vocal speech, and communal living? Living beings of this ilk who finally stop flaking flint and start casting bronze? Where do we draw the line? And, more importantly, just why do we draw it there? This is not self-evident.

It seems to me that this is a question which really ought to have a relatively simple answer, not cloaked in complicated theoretical gobbeldygook, to be convincing. If there is one out there, I have not seen it.

Why have I not seen it? Very simply because this is well-trodden ground in the discipline of Philosophy [from whence the Argument from Design came in the first place] and a simple answer would have to confront David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature and Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason which taken together refute quite thorougly the notion that we can argue for teleology from the physical world through the use of reason.

This is a very solid wall which even so emminent a theologian as Pope Benedict [writing as Cardinal Ratzinger] has not found easy to penetrate or climb over. Hence the gobbeldygook. The controversy really cannot be settled while the premises behind the ID view remain hidden and their application to the vast accumulation of empirical evidence remains occult.

Now, of course, there are post-Kantian philosophies, such as Logical Positivism, which assert that only empirical experience supplies evidence about reality, and that teleological and metaphyical notions are empty of real content. These are open to the reasonable critique that this notion itself is a metaphysical view. But if anyone has any alternative sources of evidence about reality, it is incumbent upon them to bring these to the table for examination. ID, as far as I can see, does not do this.

Empirical experience does supply evidence, and it is evidence about which we can all come to some agreement concerning what it means. It may be incorrect to assert [as Logical Positivism does] that no other source is possible, but in the absence of some positive alternative to empirical experience, to be examined to see if we can agree on it, there is simply no reason to take the mere possibility of other sources seriously.

Monotheistic religions [Christianity, Islam, Judaism] assert God's existence and His involvement in our world dogmaticly. They also each assert slightly different dogmas about His nature and His attitude toward the world.

Any of these may be true. And science cannot demonstrate that they are false. In that sense science has very little to say about any "reality" beyond empirical experience and science does not lead to "certainty" about anything. What it does do, however, is organize empirical experience into a system which allows us an approximately correct view of that experience as a whole without reference to anybody's dogma.

It still does not give us absolute certainty even about this. The most we can expect is more precise approximations in the future than we have had in the past. Thus the constant picking at so-called flaws of TENS, or its neo-Darwinian modifications, by the proponents of ID has little point. No scientific theory promises certainty, all can be improved, and the goal of them is an organization of our experience which we can use, not one about which we can be absolutely certain of every detail for all time. For some 500 years or so, science has fulfilled that expectation and that goal with spectacular success and without having to bother with teleology to achieve it.

Do we really need absolute certainty? I think it perfectly plain that approximate correctness about our empirical world is something that most of us can live with and agree upon, independently of our religious attitudes toward it. Moreover, we can easily sustain our religious attitudes with science or without it because it is also perfectly plain that science has totally transformed the world inhabited by all these various dogmas, without in the least having to address whether any of them may or may not be true.

The problem with ID is that it is an attempt to shoehorn the a priori conclusions of dogma into an empirical system that was perfectly fine without it.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

This Freebee Is For A Good Cause

Amnesty International is a favorite organization of mine. The picture to the left is from the ad that they have placed on several blogs concerning "extraordinary rendition" or sending people abroad for interrogation where our distaste for torture is not shared. It will have no appeal to those who have convinced themselves that the people who might be our enemies are less than real human beings. But then these people are quite probably looking at a future life sometime when they will actually be less than human beings. This is sad, but only so much can be done, even by a Buddhist with a commitment to work for the benefit of all. A link to the Dharma in some future life can be established merely by sincere prayers that it occur. But how many lives it will take before that link matures is not forseeable, at least not by me.

The greatest scholar of my own Buddhist tradition, Gampopa, describes the process of karmic results as follows: every significant action that we commit will occur to us not just once, but many times in our future lives. He also points out that thought is the seed of overt action, and approving of someone else's action mentally has the same ultimate effect as doing the action yourself. So be careful what you think, you may be digging quite a deep hole for yourself in the future.

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Bigotry: Our Most Important Product

Daily Kos posted the following list from one of its diaries as a pre-Christmas Open Thread. It derives from Media Matters and is a list of the most outrageous, bigoted, and deliberately hurtful statements of 2005 in the Conservative Parallel Media Universe.

In bringing this forward when he did, I'm afraid Markos showed an unfortunate lapse of taste. These things do not mix well with whatever Holiday Cheer any of us can muster, and they do not allow even the option of a day of gracious contact between political adversaries in the common space of sentiments we really all share. Not that some of our good Conservative friends haven't been trying to use even Christmas as a stick to beat us with, but even the possibility that the actual Holiday itself might call a temporary truce, as between the trenches on the Western Front, is worth giving a fighting chance.

But Christmas is over and these disgusting tidbits need publication far and wide as representative of the sheer pointless hatefulness and bile that our adversaries spew all the time, regardless of situation, context, or even the fact their own political advantage in the government at the moment.

Former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett: "[Y]ou could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." [Salem Radio Network's Bill Bennett's Morning in America, 9/28/05]

Bill O'Reilly, agreeing with a caller that illegal immigrants are "biological weapon[s]": "I think you could probably make an absolutely airtight case that more than 3,000 Americans have been either killed or injured, based upon the 11 million illegals who are here." [Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 4/15/05]

Ann Coulter: "Isn't it great to see Muslims celebrating something other than the slaughter of Americans?" [Syndicated column, 2/3/05] "I'm getting a little fed up with hearing about, oh, civilian casualties"; "I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now just to give the rest of the world a warning." [New York Observer, 1/10/05]; "[T]he government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo".

Rush Limbaugh: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/12/05], on the kidnapping of peace activists in Iraq: "I'm telling you, folks, there's a part of me that likes this." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/29/05]

Radio host Glenn Beck: "[Y]ou know it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families? Took me about a year." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, 9/9/05]

American Family Association president Tim Wildmon: Liberals "don't have the kind of family responsibilities most people have, and certainly not church responsibilities." [American Family Radio's Today's Issues, 5/11/05]

Radio host Neal Boortz on the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams: "[T]here will be riots in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. ... The rioting, of course, will lead to wide scale looting. There are a lot of aspiring rappers and NBA superstars who could really use a nice flat-screen television right now." [Boortz.com, 12/12/05] , and suggesting that a victim of Hurricane Katrina housed in an Atlanta hotel consider prostitution: "I dare say she could walk out of that hotel and walk 100 yards in either direction on Fulton Industrial Boulevard here in Atlanta and have a job. What's that? Well, no, no, no. ... Well, you know what? [laughing] Now that you mention it ... [i]f that's the only way she can take care of herself, it sure beats the hell out of sucking off the taxpayers." [Cox Radio Syndication's The Neal Boortz Show, 10/24/05]

Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid: "Have you noticed that many news organizations, in honor of former ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings, have embarked on a quit smoking campaign? So why don't our media launch a campaign advising people to quit engaging in the dangerous and addictive homosexual lifestyle? ... It appears that the homosexual lifestyle is as addictive as smoking." [Accuracy in Media column, 12/14/05]

We no longer make much steel here. We no longer make many garments here. We are well on our way to ceasing to make cars here, except for the automakers who are owned abroad. Or any of the parts for them. But, at least in some quarters, we still make more bigotry than we can consume locally. And since all of the above Conservative writers and broadcast commentators are still well paid, sought after for copy, and on the air, it is perfectly clear that we can consume quite a lot of it.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Buddhist Christmas

So what does a middle-aged Buddhist with no family, few friends, indifferent health, ridiculous income, and a fire-eating political blog do for Christmas? Buddhist things, of course. The holiday fell on a Sunday and a certain number of our Sangha had family obligations. But our Lama, Kathy Wesley, who is commited to the Dharma 24/7 [that's part of what being a lama is all about], made the offer to teach if there were enough people to do the subsidiary chores for our normal 10 o'clock sitting meditation, 11:30 teaching, and 12:30 chanting practice.

Of course I volunteered. What did I have better to do than to practice my own religion as well as I could? What do I ever have better to do? And with no family to share the holiday, what will I ever have better to do?

So we opened up the Dharma Center, as usual, with ever the prospect, of course, that we the volunteers would be the entire crew for the day. That's not quite true. Whenever we practice we cultivate the aspiration to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of everybody, and, in a sense, this very act includes everybody imaginable even in the most solitary of personal retreats, as well as the most crowded Sundays at the Center.

When we do these things on a volunteer basis, rather than as regularly assigned chores, it's catch-as-catch-can what job you end up doing. Since I got there earliest, opening up the building and turning off the burglar alarm, I became the default chopon or shrine keeper. The shrine itself is actually three separate shrines, as you can see in the photo, each with its own offering water bowls and votive candle lamps.

In addition, there are also large numbers of personal lamps dedicated to the good health of others, if alive, or their fortunate rebirth, if dead. These are usually on a large bench on the red carpeted area in front of the main shrine.

It takes about three gallons of water to carefully fill all of the bowls up and being chopon involves a great deal of running up and down stairs in our building. For the rules are that you never leave empty water bottles for the next chopon. The shrine prep is the most complicated thing we do and a chopon needs every second prior to the practice or the teaching to get everything in order. This is not my favorite duty. Too much stair climbing is now difficult for me, and the chopon needs both hands free, so I cannot use my cane.

In addition to our Lama, our good friend Jampa came as well. Jampa is the fine Tibetan wife and mother in a family which emigrated to Columbus several years ago. Their teachers are of the same tradition as the Dalai Lama, which is different than ours, so she does not meditate with us, but she is ever our friend, and on holidays, whether Buddhist or not, she always brings some good Tibetan cooking for us--saffron rice with rasins, meat dumplings known as mo mos and, sometimes, tea made with milk, butter, and a dash of salt.

Jampa works in a local discount store and she is the primary breadwinner for the family. But, to make ends meet, she also drives a trade in Tibetan and Nepali goods. Our downstairs room is set up for collective dining, with a kitchen and folding tables, and Jampa will take up about three of these with a display of all her wares. She sets all this up in the hour or so we are doing quiet sitting meditation in the shrine room above.

The sitting started out with a smaller group than normal, about 20. Sundays with three times that number are not uncommon for us. We are one of the oldest and largest Tibetan Dharma Centers in America, having been founded in 1977. Columbus has proved to be a very fertile ground for Buddhism and we are one of the few centers who are lucky enough to actually have a resident American lama, Kathy Wesley, who was one of our original founders and who was one of the first of us to actually train in the 39 month closed lama training retreat.

Lama Kathy has been on the road quite a lot this year. She is popular and much in demand as a down to earth and realistic teacher among the 36 Dharma Centers and Study Groups we have around the country. She also has the very high esteem of the major teachers at our main monastery and teaches there often, as well. So we don't have her nearly as much to ourselves as we would like [she is a jewel personally, also, ever the "spiritual friend" to all]. Consequently, when she announces she is teaching here, we make special efforts to attend.

So once the gong for sitting meditation had been rung and the first twenty had gotten planted and quiet, people started coming in dribs and drabs, so that by the time the sit was over and the half-hour tea break was under way, we had about 35 people in the building. Many of these brought holiday tidbits and candies, so our tea break was rather more festive than usual, as were the people.

The teaching was excellent as was the day and to all my non-Buddhist friends I wish both the complements of the season and the shortest path possible to permanent happiness and freedom from suffering.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

For Christmas Eve

As brisk as bees, if not altogether as light as fairies, did the four
Pickwickians assemble on the morning of the twenty-second day of
December, in the year of grace in which these, their faithfully-recorded adventures, were undertaken and accomplished. Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was
preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around
him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and
calmly away. Gay and merry was the time; and right gay and merry
were at least four of the numerous hearts that were gladdened by
its coming...

But we are so taken up and occupied with the good qualities of
this saint Christmas, that we are keeping Mr. Pickwick and his
friends waiting in the cold on the outside of the Muggleton
coach, which they have just attained, well wrapped up in greatcoats,
shawls, and comforters. The portmanteaus and carpetbags
have been stowed away, and Mr. Weller and the guard are
endeavouring to insinuate into the fore-boot a huge cod-fish
several sizes too large for it--which is snugly packed up, in a long
brown basket, with a layer of straw over the top, and which has
been left to the last, in order that he may repose in safety on the
half-dozen barrels of real native oysters, all the property of
Mr. Pickwick, which have been arranged in regular order at the
bottom of the receptacle. The interest displayed in Mr. Pickwick's
countenance is most intense, as Mr. Weller and the guard try to
squeeze the cod-fish into the boot, first head first, and then tail
first, and then top upward, and then bottom upward, and then
side-ways, and then long-ways, all of which artifices the implacable
cod-fish sturdily resists, until the guard accidentally hits him
in the very middle of the basket, whereupon he suddenly disappears
into the boot, and with him, the head and shoulders of
the guard himself, who, not calculating upon so sudden a
cessation of the passive resistance of the cod-fish, experiences a
very unexpected shock, to the unsmotherable delight of all the
porters and bystanders. Upon this, Mr. Pickwick smiles with
great good-humour, and drawing a shilling from his waistcoat
pocket, begs the guard, as he picks himself out of the boot, to
drink his health in a glass of hot brandy-and-water; at which the
guard smiles too, and Messrs. Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman,
all smile in company. The guard and Mr. Weller disappear for
five minutes, most probably to get the hot brandy-and-water, for
they smell very strongly of it, when they return, the coachman
mounts to the box, Mr. Weller jumps up behind, the Pickwickians
pull their coats round their legs and their shawls over their noses,
the helpers pull the horse-cloths off, the coachman shouts out a
cheery 'All right,' and away they go.

They have rumbled through the streets, and jolted over the
stones, and at length reach the wide and open country. The
wheels skim over the hard and frosty ground; and the horses,
bursting into a canter at a smart crack of the whip, step along the
road as if the load behind them--coach, passengers, cod-fish,
oyster-barrels, and all--were but a feather at their heels. They
have descended a gentle slope, and enter upon a level, as compact
and dry as a solid block of marble, two miles long. Another crack
of the whip, and on they speed, at a smart gallop, the horses
tossing their heads and rattling the harness, as if in exhilaration
at the rapidity of the motion; while the coachman, holding whip
and reins in one hand, takes off his hat with the other, and resting
it on his knees, pulls out his handkerchief, and wipes his forehead,
partly because he has a habit of doing it, and partly
because it's as well to show the passengers how cool he is, and
what an easy thing it is to drive four-in-hand, when you have had
as much practice as he has. Having done this very leisurely
(otherwise the effect would be materially impaired), he replaces
his handkerchief, pulls on his hat, adjusts his gloves, squares his
elbows, cracks the whip again, and on they speed, more merrily
than before.

A few small houses, scattered on either side of the road,
betoken the entrance to some town or village. The lively notes
of the guard's key-bugle vibrate in the clear cold air, and wake
up the old gentleman inside, who, carefully letting down the
window-sash half-way, and standing sentry over the air, takes a
short peep out, and then carefully pulling it up again, informs the
other inside that they're going to change directly; on which the
other inside wakes himself up, and determines to postpone his
next nap until after the stoppage. Again the bugle sounds lustily
forth, and rouses the cottager's wife and children, who peep out
at the house door, and watch the coach till it turns the corner,
when they once more crouch round the blazing fire, and throw on
another log of wood against father comes home; while father
himself, a full mile off, has just exchanged a friendly nod with the
coachman, and turned round to take a good long stare at the
vehicle as it whirls away.

And now the bugle plays a lively air as the coach rattles
through the ill-paved streets of a country town; and the coachman,
undoing the buckle which keeps his ribands together,
prepares to throw them off the moment he stops. Mr. Pickwick
emerges from his coat collar, and looks about him with great
curiosity; perceiving which, the coachman informs Mr. Pickwick
of the name of the town, and tells him it was market-day yesterday,
both of which pieces of information Mr. Pickwick retails to
his fellow-passengers; whereupon they emerge from their coat
collars too, and look about them also. Mr. Winkle, who sits at
the extreme edge, with one leg dangling in the air, is nearly
precipitated into the street, as the coach twists round the sharp
corner by the cheesemonger's shop, and turns into the marketplace;
and before Mr. Snodgrass, who sits next to him, has
recovered from his alarm, they pull up at the inn yard where the
fresh horses, with cloths on, are already waiting. The coachman
throws down the reins and gets down himself, and the other
outside passengers drop down also; except those who have no
great confidence in their ability to get up again; and they remain
where they are, and stamp their feet against the coach to warm
them--looking, with longing eyes and red noses, at the bright
fire in the inn bar, and the sprigs of holly with red berries which
ornament the window.

But the guard has delivered at the corn-dealer's shop, the
brown paper packet he took out of the little pouch which hangs
over his shoulder by a leathern strap; and has seen the horses
carefully put to; and has thrown on the pavement the saddle
which was brought from London on the coach roof; and has
assisted in the conference between the coachman and the hostler
about the gray mare that hurt her off fore-leg last Tuesday; and
he and Mr. Weller are all right behind, and the coachman is all
right in front, and the old gentleman inside, who has kept the
window down full two inches all this time, has pulled it up again,
and the cloths are off, and they are all ready for starting, except
the 'two stout gentlemen,' whom the coachman inquires after
with some impatience. Hereupon the coachman, and the guard,
and Sam Weller, and Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass, and all
the hostlers, and every one of the idlers, who are more in number
than all the others put together, shout for the missing gentlemen
as loud as they can bawl. A distant response is heard from the
yard, and Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Tupman come running down it,
quite out of breath, for they have been having a glass of ale
a-piece, and Mr. Pickwick's fingers are so cold that he has been
full five minutes before he could find the sixpence to pay for it.
The coachman shouts an admonitory 'Now then, gen'l'm'n,' the
guard re-echoes it; the old gentleman inside thinks it a very
extraordinary thing that people WILL get down when they know
there isn't time for it; Mr. Pickwick struggles up on one side,
Mr. Tupman on the other; Mr. Winkle cries 'All right'; and off
they start. Shawls are pulled up, coat collars are readjusted, the
pavement ceases, the houses disappear; and they are once again
dashing along the open road, with the fresh clear air blowing in
their faces, and gladdening their very hearts within them.

Such was the progress of Mr. Pickwick and his friends by the
Muggleton Telegraph, on their way to Dingley Dell; and at
three o'clock that afternoon they all stood high and dry, safe
and sound, hale and hearty, upon the steps of the Blue Lion,
having taken on the road quite enough of ale and brandy, to
enable them to bid defiance to the frost that was binding up the
earth in its iron fetters, and weaving its beautiful network upon
the trees and hedges...

Meanwhile, Mr. Pickwick and his friends having walked their
blood into active circulation, proceeded cheerfully on. The paths
were hard; the grass was crisp and frosty; the air had a fine, dry,
bracing coldness; and the rapid approach of the gray twilight
(slate-coloured is a better term in frosty weather) made them
look forward with pleasant anticipation to the comforts which
awaited them at their hospitable entertainer's. It was the sort of
afternoon that might induce a couple of elderly gentlemen, in a
lonely field, to take off their greatcoats and play at leap-frog in
pure lightness of heart and gaiety; and we firmly believe that had
Mr. Tupman at that moment proffered 'a back,' Mr. Pickwick
would have accepted his offer with the utmost avidity.

However, Mr. Tupman did not volunteer any such accommodation,
and the friends walked on, conversing merrily. As
they turned into a lane they had to cross, the sound of many
voices burst upon their ears; and before they had even had
time to form a guess to whom they belonged, they walked
into the very centre of the party who were expecting their
arrival--a fact which was first notified to the Pickwickians, by
the loud 'Hurrah,' which burst from old Wardle's lips, when
they appeared in sight.

First, there was Wardle himself, looking, if that were possible,
more jolly than ever; then there were Bella and her faithful
Trundle; and, lastly, there were Emily and some eight or ten
young ladies, who had all come down to the wedding, which was
to take place next day, and who were in as happy and important
a state as young ladies usually are, on such momentous occasions;
and they were, one and all, startling the fields and lanes, far and
wide, with their frolic and laughter.

The ceremony of introduction, under such circumstances, was
very soon performed, or we should rather say that the introduction
was soon over, without any ceremony at all. In two minutes
thereafter, Mr. Pickwick was joking with the young ladies who
wouldn't come over the stile while he looked--or who, having
pretty feet and unexceptionable ankles, preferred standing on the
top rail for five minutes or so, declaring that they were too
frightened to move--with as much ease and absence of reserve or
constraint, as if he had known them for life. It is worthy of
remark, too, that Mr. Snodgrass offered Emily far more assistance
than the absolute terrors of the stile (although it was full three
feet high, and had only a couple of stepping-stones) would
seem to require; while one black-eyed young lady in a very
nice little pair of boots with fur round the top, was observed
to scream very loudly, when Mr. Winkle offered to help her over.

All this was very snug and pleasant. And when the difficulties
of the stile were at last surmounted, and they once more entered
on the open field, old Wardle informed Mr. Pickwick how they
had all been down in a body to inspect the furniture and fittings up
of the house, which the young couple were to tenant, after the
Christmas holidays; at which communication Bella and Trundle
both coloured up, as red as the fat boy after the taproom fire;
and the young lady with the black eyes and the fur round the
boots, whispered something in Emily's ear, and then glanced
archly at Mr. Snodgrass; to which Emily responded that she was
a foolish girl, but turned very red, notwithstanding; and Mr.
Snodgrass, who was as modest as all great geniuses usually are,
felt the crimson rising to the crown of his head, and devoutly
wished, in the inmost recesses of his own heart, that the young
lady aforesaid, with her black eyes, and her archness, and her
boots with the fur round the top, were all comfortably deposited
in the adjacent county.

But if they were social and happy outside the house, what was
the warmth and cordiality of their reception when they reached
the farm! The very servants grinned with pleasure at sight of
Mr. Pickwick; and Emma bestowed a half-demure, half-impudent,
and all-pretty look of recognition, on Mr. Tupman,
which was enough to make the statue of Bonaparte in the
passage, unfold his arms, and clasp her within them.

The old lady was seated with customary state in the front
parlour, but she was rather cross, and, by consequence, most
particularly deaf. She never went out herself, and like a great
many other old ladies of the same stamp, she was apt to consider
it an act of domestic treason, if anybody else took the liberty of
doing what she couldn't...

A happy party they were, that night. Sedate and solemn were
the score of rubbers in which Mr. Pickwick and the old lady
played together; uproarious was the mirth of the round table.
Long after the ladies had retired, did the hot elder wine, well
qualified with brandy and spice, go round, and round, and round
again; and sound was the sleep and pleasant were the dreams
that followed. It is a remarkable fact that those of Mr. Snodgrass
bore constant reference to Emily Wardle; and that the principal
figure in Mr. Winkle's visions was a young lady with black eyes,
and arch smile, and a pair of remarkably nice boots with fur
round the tops...

Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 28

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I use the diminuative advisedly. For Christmas appears to have steadily shrunken in size every year since 9/11. Now I don't believe anyone is making war on it, as I have remarked below. And I think characters like Bill O'Reilly who claim this is happening are part of the problem, not part of the solution. For they simply poison what genuine Christmas spirit is left with their partisan bile. And, frankly, I don't believe anyone can make war on it.

If America and Americans wish Christmas to be Merry and the Holidays to be Happy, nothing on earth could stop them from making it so. Do we really wish it? I doubt it. Merriment and happiness require heart's ease and heart's ease abandoned us four years ago. We remain shivering, incoherent, and paranoid--about our enemies, about our leaders, about each other.

This is a fact, wherever you may want to assign the blame.

So the symbols of joy have faded and even the non-specific festooning of the shrubbery with thick nets of little white lights is becoming more and more subdued, the lights fewer and more wan, the spaces between them bigger, the number of tree trunks and bushes decorated with them diminishing. At least this is so in my town.

There is an insurance building in my downtown district which has a huge Birth of Christ diorama, 1 1/4 life size and nearly a block long, with Magi on Camels, Angels hovering expectantly, Shepherds and Sheep peeking around Stable corners, and the Trio of the Creche locked in the required gestures of wonder, adoration, and glowing magnificence laid on the hay.

I remember the same diorama, in front of the same insurance building, as a child, barely in school. It has been lovingly preserved and the effect of it is postively eerie. Not much else of the decorations of Christmases past is left in Columbus, the diorama is probably an official antique [50 years of age is the criterion], and yet it shows almost no signs of wear--perhaps a little color fading, but nothing more. Dorian Gray facing the world, rather than his mirror, could not look better preserved.

As I remember it from childhood, the unashamed bravura of the display's great size and grandiose gestures reflected a feeling of celebration that was everywhere, and the diorama itself, in that context, was in no way outlandish.

It is outlandish now.

The America which once held that assured and wholehearted feeling of celebration of the season is utterly and completely gone. This is also a fact, assign the blame where you will. And Christmas will enter Columbus, Ohio as unspectacularly and quietly as a couple in marriage, May and December, May big with child and riding a donkey, ready to be tabulated, looking for an inn.

As a people we are exhausted. Simply exhausted. Numb. Unappeased anger, neurastesic fear, and aching bewilderment leave us no room to be merry. None. Good King Wensislaus caught the last plane to Prague years ago. And there is no room at the inn.

Our bewilderment is so deep that the decorations themselves can be overwhelmingly meaningless or absurd, as if they were put up in a fit of absence of mind. The obligatory wreathes and soliderly ranks of the red and yellow poinsettias in all the building foyers are simply pro forma. They are as conventional and meaningless as the cloyingly sweet flower arrangements under the pink lights at an open casket funeral.

In front of the downtown office of the largest bank in town stands a lone railroad crossbuck, without gate and without tracks. It stands there in all weathers every day of the year, puzzling mightily anyone who looks at it for the first time. You might guess it the work of an erzatz Claus Oldenburg clone, tenured to the eye teeth, chronically cheating on his class and his office schedule, in the fair-to-middling Art Department of some dreary University.

At Christmas they make the red lights flash and put an array of eight bullhorns on a tripod next to it. I have a vague memory from over thirty years ago of a traditional Christmas parade in the form of a fake steam engine, pulling Santa, his reindeer, and his wrapped presents on flatcars. I don't believe I ever saw it in the flesh and I can't remember any public reference to it for decades.

All that seems to remain of it is the flashing crossbuck, one light with a droopy eyelid, the bullhorns, and a scratchy continuous tape loop of a small steam engine starting:


It repeats over and over, all the livelong day for weeks, without the sightest hint anywhere of what it now has to do with Christmas--a ghost train steaming to some unknown destination amid the city busses, the police bike patrol, the cheaper or dearer dress suits, and the power polyester blended skirtsuits.

Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come.

But Christmas still putters through the city gates, tries to find lodging, and rests in a humble stable. Those who have faith in the Incarnation can find it if they choose. The angels still sing of it. If you wish to follow them, go visit my friend the Anchoress, and read down the latest two pages of her Faith category, then afterwards read the links that you find there.

Santa Claus may not be coming to town, but it is still the Days Of Ceasar Augustus, and no one in the inn has a clue about what has just happened.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Fourth Circuit Court Is Not Amused, Mr. President

The sheer effrontry and brazenness of the Bush Administration's commitment to political expediency at all costs can be absolutely breathtaking. For three and one-half years they have been holding Jose Padilla, the supposed "dirty bomber", without trial on Presidential authority alone, claiming both that the indefinite detention was necessary for the country's safety and that the President's power in this regard was absolute.

We were inching ever nearer to the point where the Supreme Court would have to rule on the issue of Presidential power involved. Padilla's main case is under the judicial authority of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. This court had made the ruling in the President's favor that Padilla's attorneys were appealing.

Suddenly, and for no immediately apparent reason, the Government decided to formally charge Padilla on much less serious offenses, and asked the Fourth Circuit Court to recind its prior ruling. The court, to its great credit refused. Judge Michael Luttig, who has been rumored to have been under consideration for the Supreme Court, makes perfectly clear that he thinks this is all a shennanigan, and makes the Court's displeasure with it perfectly plain:

Because we believe that the transfer of Padilla and the withdrawal of our opinion at the government’s request while the Supreme Court is reviewing this court’s decision of September 9 would compound what is, in the absence of explanation, at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court, and also because we believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that court, even if only by denial of further review, we deny both the motion and suggestion...

In a plea that was notable given that the government had held Padilla militarily for three and a half years and that the Supreme Court was expected within only days either to deny certiorari or to assume jurisdiction over the case for eventual disposition on the merits, the government urged that we act as expeditiously as possible to authorize the transfer. The government styled its motion as an “emergency application,” but it provided no explanation...

Why is the Court so annoyed? Judge Luttig is very clear about why:

We are not in a position to ascertain whether behind this appearance there is the actual fact, because the government has not explained its decisions either publicly or to the court. The media has variously reported that the government’s abrupt change in course was prompted by its concern over Supreme Court review...

In one instance, immediately after we had initially declined to act on the government’s transfer motion, these concerns were detailed in the press and attributed to former and current Administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. It was even reported that the government had considered transfer and criminal prosecution of Padilla before its argument in this court that military detention of Padilla was necessary in the interest of national security. No such explanations have been provided to the court, however.

I'd be a little annoyed too, wouldn't you? The Bush Administration apparently thinks so little of the legal process as to tell the press [anonymously, of course] that the claim made to the Court of Padilla's danger to national security was simply a ruse.

This is clearly something you do not do to a court where Judge Luttig is presiding:

For four years, since the attack on America of September 11, 2001, a centerpiece of the government’s war on terror has been the President’s authority to detain militarily persons who, having engaged in acts of war against the United States abroad, have crossed our borders with the avowed purpose of attacking this country and its citizens from within -- the kind of persons who committed the atrocities of September 11...

On an issue of such surpassing importance, we believe that the rule of law is best served by maintaining on appeal the status quo in all respects and allowing Supreme Court consideration of the case...

For, as the government surely must understand, although the various facts it has asserted are not necessarily inconsistent or without basis, its actions have left not only the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake –- an impression we would have thought the government could ill afford to leave extant. They have left the impression that the government may even have come to the belief that the principle in reliance upon which it has detained Padilla for this time, that the President possesses the authority to detain enemy combatants who enter into this country for the purpose of attacking America and its citizens from within, can, in the end, yield to expediency with little or no cost to its conduct of the war against terror –- an impression we would have thought the government likewise could ill afford to leave extant. And these impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government’s credibility before the courts...

While there could be an objective that could command such a price as all of this, it is difficult to imagine what that objective would be.

It seems like everybody these days, --including even the judges who have supported to the hilt the President's claims to extraordinary executive authority--is finally getting fed up with the politically pliant actions from expedient motives that have poisoned every undertaking of this President, even the ones most serious and most dire.

I got fed up with it a long time ago.

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More Thoughts On Illegal Spying

I ran across this justification for the actions of George W. Bush on another blog:

since such laws, in those particular spheres of Constitutional power, amount to nothing more than nonbinding Congressional suggestions as to how the President might best wield the authority assigned to him, and not to Congress, by the Constitution.

The gentleman who kited this out, of course, is talking through his hat. The relevant precedents go back to British Common Law establishing that even the King is not above the law.

In America, the case law starts here:


This is not a proceeding which may be varied, if the judgment of the executive shall suggest one more eligible, but is a precise course accurately marked out by law, and is to be strictly pursued. It is the duty of the secretary of state to conform to the law, and in this he is an officer of the United States, bound to obey the laws. He acts, in this respect, as has been very properly stated at the bar, under the authority of law, and not by the instructions of the president. It is a ministerial act which the law enjoins on a particular officer for a particular purpose.

Therefore, the President cannot order his officers to disobey the law.


If, in foreign invasion or civil war, the courts are actually closed, and it is impossible to administer criminal justice according to law, then, on the theatre of active military operations, where war really prevails, there is a necessity to furnish a substitute for the civil authority, thus overthrown, to preserve the safety of the army and society; and as no power is left but the military, it is allowed to govern by martial rule until the laws can have their free course. As necessity creates the rule, so it limits its duration; for, if this government is continued after the courts are reinstated, it is a gross usurpation of power. Martial rule can never exist where the courts are open, and in the proper and unobstructed exercise of their jurisdiction. It is also confined to the locality of actual war.

Therefore, "War Powers" can only apply when corresponding civil and legal authority do not exist. The FISA court is exactly such civil and legal authority and cannot be circumvented.

YOUNGSTOWN CO. v. SAWYER--Primary Ruling [1952]

In the framework of our Constitution, the President's power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker. The Constitution limits his functions in the lawmaking process to the recommending of laws he thinks wise and the vetoing of laws he thinks bad. And the Constitution is neither silent nor equivocal about who shall make laws which the President is to execute. The [343 U.S. 579, 588] first section of the first article says that "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States . . . ." After granting many powers to the Congress, Article I goes on to provide that Congress may "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

Therefore, Congressional lawmaking power is absolute and not merely "suggestions" which the President may or may not follow. This is more explicitly delineated in Justice Douglas' concurring opinion in the same decision.

Article II which vests the "executive Power" in the President defines that power with particularity. Article II, Section 2 makes the Chief Executive the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. But our history and tradition rebel at the thought that the grant of military power carries with it authority over civilian affairs. Article II, Section 3 provides that the President shall "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The power to recommend legislation, granted to the President, serves only to emphasize that it is his function to recommend and that it is the function of the Congress to legislate. Article II, [343 U.S. 579, 633] Section 3 also provides that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." But, as MR. JUSTICE BLACK and MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER point out, the power to execute the laws starts and ends with the laws Congress has enacted.

We'll have this all out in November of 2006. Beyond the "legal powers" issue is something far more fundamental: what this country will become.

There is no particular reason why, with the cooperation of enoungh citizens, the United States cannot be transformed into a Garrison State, like Israel, with institutions that are democratic in form but authoritarian in conduct. In November of 2006 we will see if that is going to happen.

But if my good conservative friends cannot see that what has happened with this issue is part of a radical transformation of this country in that direction, they are fools.

And I would post a warning to them all. There is absolutely no reason why an Authoritarian Democracy cannot work to the great advantage of other political and social views than yours. Give careful consideration to the powers you wish to grant to George W. Bush in the hands of Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. Or even Hillary Clinton.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even a Republican political majority in government.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Victory Has Been Won For Science In Dover, PA.

The assaults are relentless, against the rule of law, against the intellectual principles of science, and against even the foundations of reason from evidence itself. I don't have to tell you who the shock troops are. You already know. They have come to considerable political power in recent years and there is an ever present possibility that they will eventually destroy the rule of law, the principles of science, and the foundations of reason from evidence. They will make things in these matters according to their will and their fancy whatever the cost to us all.

But the rule of law yet stands, it has just been used to re-affirm the intellectual principles of science, and it is a tour-de-force of reasoning from evidence. It is the decision in the federal court case of TAMMY KITZMILLER, et al. v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al. asking the Federal courts to prevent the Dover district from teaching the Theory of Intelligent Design as scientific biology.

The decision was granted in favor of the plaintiff by Federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III. Here is a condensed version of how this decision treats the main intellectual issue of whether Inteligent Design is actually a form of science:

John Haught, a theologian who testified as an expert witness for Plaintiffs and who has written extensively on the subject of evolution and religion, succinctly explained to the Court that the argument for ID is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God. He traced this argument back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer.

Dr. Haught testified that Aquinas was explicit that this intelligent designer “everyone understands to be God.” The syllogism described by Dr. Haught is essentially the same argument for ID as presented by defense expert witnesses Professors Behe and Minnich who employ the phrase “purposeful arrangement of parts.”

Dr. Haught testified that this argument for the existence of God was advanced early in the 19th century by Reverend Paley and defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich admitted that their argument for ID based on the “purposeful arrangement of parts” is the same one that Paley made for design.

The only apparent difference between the argument made by Paley and the argument for ID, as expressed by defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich, is that ID’s “official position” does not acknowledge that the designer is God. However, as Dr. Haught testified, anyone familiar with Western religious thought would immediately make the association that the tactically unnamed designer is God. Moreover, it is notable that both Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God.

A significant aspect of the IDM is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity.

Phillip Johnson, considered to be the father of the IDM, and author of the 1991 book entitled Darwin on Trial, has written that “theistic realism” or “mere creation” are defining concepts of the IDM. This means “that God is objectively real as Creator and recorded in the biological evidence . . .” [other evidence follows, but it is tedious to include it here--ed.]

Moreover, in turning to Defendants’ lead expert, Professor Behe, his testimony at trial indicated that ID is only a scientific, as opposed to a religious, project for him; however, considerable evidence was introduced to refute this claim. Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.

As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition’s validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe’s assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition.

Go read the whole thing. I have clipped away the legal reasoning from case law which is, in many ways, more elegant than even this summary of the main intellectual issue.

Law, reason, and science still stand. Let's hope they continue to do so for the duration. They are the only real barriers to the barbarism of officially established mass psychosis.

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Events Run Faster Than Joe Claus

You are probably wondering I have not been all over the President's warrentless domestic eavesdropping scandal. Well, unfortunately, Mrs. Claus is not doing as well as we first thought. She is out of the hospital, but on oxygen, and we are in for a large round of medical examinations to determine what now is wrong, since she no longer has a gallbladder.

I do have my ideas about the scandal, however, and late is better than never:

The key issue here is not fact of spying for security. It is the lack of court warrants. There is a special secret court where warrants can be obtained for any sort of spying, up to 72 hours after the fact, without compromising security one whit.

This NSA business is the action of a King with a Star Chamber and a Privy Council, not a President who takes an oath to abide by the Constitution. As was holding people without charges and without trial. As is the claim that torture should now be OK because we have justified reasons for doing it.

They are all pieces of arbitrary authoritarian rule, not democratic and law abiding government. And no threat on this earth justifies them. Every authoritarian goverment of the last century made exactly the same claims that "security" justified their actions.

I have lived through the threat of atomic annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union. There was no threat greater than that. Period. But no president of that era, not even Richard Nixon, claimed such royal perogatives that George W. Bush has consistently claimed.

There not a shred of evidence that all of this bending of the law by the President [to be generous] and the provisions of the current Patriot Act have made us one jot safer. Not one. Nor is the "after this therefore because of this" fallacy of "well we haven't had a terrorist attack since" anything that a man with mind would take seriously.

The proof the pudding is in the eating.

Not to mention the fact that this Administration has done virtually nothing but grab at more authoritarian power to spy, detain, and torture to ensure "homeland security". They aren't even willing to cooperate with their own party to stem the flow of who knows who across our borders!

I suppose that's because NSA can always listen to the phone conversations of those tens of thousands of unknown people once they get here. Or because the FBI can always seize their library records and gag their librarians.

I, at least, would be willing to examine special legal powers to fight terrorism on their merits. And there are plenty of Democrats in Congress willing to examine such special legal powers. But such willingness presupposes that the President is also willing to abide by the law. If that is not the case, if an Executive Order is equivalent to a Royal Decree, why bother for Congressional consent at all, except for window dressing?

If 'security of ongoing operations' is invoked to cover the deliberate breach of the law by the Administration then anyone in the know is confronted a fundamental conflict of duties essentially and inherently incompatible with Democracy and Liberty. I'm sure I don't have to spell this out.

The President and his Administration have already admitted that the actions are not in compliance with FISA. Condoleesa Rice said as much to Tim Russert. They are claiming unprecdented constitutional "war powers", which Rice, at least, declined to specify to Russert, to flatly ignore the Congressional statute.

This "war" is essentially endless. If you don't believe this try honestly to conceive of conditions under which we would be "completely safe from terrorism". I cannot do so, and I doubt that you can either.

So, any such claim by the President to set aside Congressional statute by fiat is a claim that the Presidency is permanently above the law. If you yourself can pick and choose which laws you follow then you are above the law.

This is exactly "Royal Perogative" as any English Monarch would have claimed it up to the time of Charles I, and as any French Monarch would have understood it. This is exactly what is incompatible with Liberty under Law.

We have no business regranting any such powers as are in the rapidly expiring Patriot Act to a regime that has so consistently attempted to bend the law, flout the law, and has created a climate where its members and its minions routinely break the law.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Oh, Yes, And Speaking Of [Ahem!] Equivocation

Let's put the evidence on the table first. The following are all from the official press releases at www.whitehouse.gov/.

State Of The Union Address, January 28, 2003

Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own. Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein.

President's Radio Address, February 8, 2003

One of the greatest dangers we face is that weapons of mass destruction might be passed to terrorists who would not hesitate to use those weapons. Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases.

We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad.

Remarks by the President at the 2003 Republican Retreat Reception, February 9, 2003

The issue facing our nation and the world is the extension of the war on terror to places like Iraq. Prior to September the 11th, there was apparently no connection between a place like Iraq and terror. Oh, sure, he had run some terrorist networks out of his country, and that was of concern to us. But it was very difficult to link a terrorist network and Saddam Hussein to the American soil. As a matter of fact, it was very difficult to link any attack on the American soil, because prior to September the 11th, we were confident that two oceans could protect us from harm...

And therefore, when we hear of stories about weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a brutal dictator, who hates America, we need to take that seriously, and we are. And when we find out there's links between Baghdad and a killer who actually ordered the killing of one of our fellow citizens, we've got to realize the -- what that means to our future.

President Bush: Monday "Moment of Truth" for World on Iraq, Azores, Portugal, March 16, 2003

But it's important for the U.N. to be able to function well if we're going to keep the peace. And I will work hard to see to it that at least from our perspective, that the U.N. is able to be -- able to be a responsibility body, and when it says something, it means it, for the sake of peace and for the sake of the security, for the capacity to win the war of -- the first war of the 21st century, which is the war against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of dictators.

President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours, March 17, 2003

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people.

The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.

The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.

Now before we look at what the President has to say today, I would have you ask one serious question.

Would any ordinary person, listening or reading the above words of George W. Bush, be led to believe that Saddam Hussein was linked, either directly or by proxy, to the terrorist attack on the United States of 9/11/01?

I think the answer to that question is Yes, and I think it perfectly plain that every last statement above was meant to imply that such a link existed. I think this based on the plain meaning of the plain words without any attempt to overanalyse matters.

This is what the President had to say to Jim Lehrer of PBS on December 16, 2005:

Bush acknowledged on Friday there was no evidence of such a link.

"There was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the attack of 9/11," Bush said. "I've never said that and never made that case prior to going into Iraq."

But he added that he believed the two issues were related even in the absence of direct ties.

Whether he believed it or not, the President clearly went out of his way to solicit the conclusion from the mind of the American public that Saddam was implicated, directly or indirectly, in the attack of 9/11.

If he could bring himself to say so, to say, "I believed that Saddam could have been involved in 9/11, even though there was no direct evidence of it, and I wanted to convince the public and the world that this was possible," the sky would not fall. In fact, his candor would be welcomed by the fair minded.

The above equivocation enhances the deepening stain of deception that the general public is now beginning to see in Bush's words and his Administration's actions. Partisans like me have seen it for much longer. By now we probably cannot be convinced otherwise.

But what is the President doing now to demonstrate to everybody else that we are wrong?

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