Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Weird Future Coming True

My prediction that redneck conservatives would slowly come to embrace and support the Shiite majority in Iraq, perhaps even sporting "Go Shiites" bumper stickers on their pickup trucks, may be coming true. The other day President Bush had this to say on the topic of cultural diversity:

"One thing America must never do is lose our capacity to take people from all walks of life and help them become an American first and foremost. That's what distinguishes us from other cultures and other nations. You can come from wherever you are and I can come from Texas, and we both share the same deal: We're Americans first and foremost. I happen to be a Methodist, you're a Sunni."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Million Dollar Baby, Two Cent Ethics

Warning: If you haven't seen the film, I am about to give away the ending.

Clint Eastwood's Academy Award-winning film Million Dollar Baby is in many ways everything a movie should be. Its period aesthetics, inspiring story, and wonderful screenplay are the stuff film-makers dream of. It would be hard to think of a movie in recent years with better performances. For its first ninety minutes or so, this film is perfect. And then comes an ending so cruel, so manipulative, so morally bankrupt, that it left me not just disliking this film but seriously questioning Eastwood's judgment as a film-maker. This film is gorgeous from an aesthetic perspective but it is an ethical disaster.
The viewer is clearly supposed to believe that the decision made by Frankie Dunn in the end to assist Maggie with her own suicide is heroic, because Maggie's desire to commit suicide is also heroic. I find this repellent but it gets worse. Why is Maggie such a hero for wanting to commit suicide? Because she has become disabled. This amounts to something like the following argument:

It is heroic to commit suicide if you can't live life on your own terms.
The disabled cannot live life on their own terms.
It would be heroic if the disabled were to commit suicide.

Let me clarify one aspect of the movie's ending which is deliberately obscured. Many viewers watching the movie the first time through get the impression that Maggie is terminally ill. After all, she is never shown outside of her hospital bed, and she breathes with the assistance of a ventilator. She is deliberately made to look like she is terminally ill, even though she isn't. The tactic is a bait and switch. If the film showed Maggie in her wheelchair, enjoying the outdoors or returning to her old gym, the viewers' emotions surrounding her suicide would be completely different. This is why the movie subtlely feeds the impression that Maggie's disability is the equivalent of a terminal diagnosis. The business about the ventilator only confuses the issue further, especially because Frankie Dunn kills Maggie by removing it at the end, which reminds viewers of end-of-life type situations. Yet Maggie's condition is no different than that of many paralyzed persons who must breathe through ventilators. Christopher Reeve lived that way for over a decade, and no one considered him to be terminally ill or receiving life support. Thus the film builds its case on the premise that becoming disabled is a death sentence.
The rest of the argument follows from there. Maggie is a hero because she recognizes that the life of a disabled person is not worth living. Dunn is a hero for accepting her insight and acting on it. This is morally repugnant. Maggie's suicidal ideation would be seen by any compassionate person as a cry for help. She feels her life is not worth living because she has suffered a great loss, the loss of her freedom, physical wholeness, and independence. What she needs at this point is intervention by the medical team and by her friends and community. She needs to feel their support and know that they will not reject her because she has become disabled. She needs to see that there are many things she can still do with her life which would be of great value to herself and others. She needs to feel that she is not a failure and not to blame for her condition. What she doesn't need is someone who ostensibly loves her to actually assist her with her own demise. What kind of human being, when confronted with a loved one's expressed intention to commit suicide, would actually help them go through with it? To cite the principle of autonomy here is to show the clear limitations of that principle. There are some decisions no one has a right to make for themselves, and suicide is one of them. It is my belief that suicide is never a rational choice, and that a society which permits it is a society which encourages it. To phrase the issue of assisted suicide as pertaining particularly to the disabled, as if the lives of the disabled are truly not worth living, is really an awful thing to say. In fact what Million Dollar Baby amounts to is an able-bodied fantasy. It is a fantasy about getting rid of the disabled, rationalized by the premise that to do so would in fact be heroic: we would be doing them a favor. How convenient.
What is really heroic, what really deserves to be celebrated on film and everywhere, are the lives that many disabled persons live every day in the face of insurmountable difficulties. There are hundreds if not thousands of people just like Maggie who instead of turning their faces to the wall get up every morning and meet life's challenges with dignity, perseverance, and courage. The value of their lives is not an illusion. It is not on loan from the able-bodied. It is strictly a fact. For his slick piece of propaganda, Eastwood received an Academy Award. He should have been ostracized.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let's Settle the Civil War in Iraq

There's a lot that's wrong with the Iraq war, but I still don't feel as if we've quite gotten to the bottom of it. Put aside for a second the phony weapons of mass destruction, the civilian casualties, everything that on the surface makes this war so wrong. Now focus only on the political element as it has developed since the war began: the minority Sunnis battling U.S. backed Shiites and Kurds. Recall that at the start of the war, coalition forces were fighting against the Iraqi army, Saddam's Elite Guard, and other assorted rag-tag militias. The Iraqi army ran away and then was disbanded after the fall of Baghdad, the Elite Guard never did much damage, and after initially getting bogged down by the militias, the U.S. forces moved on to Baghdad and left the British to mop up. Yet, after the fall of Baghdad, coalition forces continued to face an enemy and still do. The logical assumption then, is that it is the same enemy - the one we came to fight, and therefore, an enemy we must continue to fight until it is defeated. Yet, is this really true? It may be true in one sense that many of Saddam's loyalists were Sunnis and they comprise the core of the insurgency. The reasons that they are fighting, however, have changed completely. They are now fighting not to resist a foreign invasion but to oust the foreign backers of the ruling government, to reclaim control of territory that once belonged to them. Notice how the cards have changed. Setting a great deal aside, one could plausibly claim that the coalition forces fought the Iraqi army because Saddam was bad and deserved to be ousted, but why should we now be fighting the Sunni insurgency because it wishes to reclaim territory from its Shiite rivals? In other words, the U.S. never set out to intervene in a local dispute between Sunnis and Shiites, nor can I even imagine any politician suggesting that we do so. But that is what the Iraq war has become. Strangely, no one questions this. Democrats such as Hilary Clinton and John Kerry have stated repeatedly that the primary "exit strategy" for the U.S. must be the successful training of a new Iraqi army - i.e., a Shiite army capable of repelling the Sunni insurgency. This is the new mission of the coalition. Everything is predicated on the success of equipping and training this force. But why should we? One might argue that the tactics of the insurgents are evil and this is certainly true, but from the perspective of U.S. interests the dispute between the parties is purely political, and their current alignment is aribitrary. The Shiites have welcomed the American backed political process, knowing it would benefit them, the Sunnis have rejected it for the same reason. There is no difference between this rather mundane local affair and any number of conflicts around the world, most of which the U.S. takes no side in. Rather than waste our time and resources equipping one side against the other, the results of which will surely be a bloodbath, we ought to be trying to settle the conflict. If we could convince the Sunnis that a reasonable political settlement awaits them, the culmination of which would be the withdrawal of coalition forces, why wouldn't they agree to it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Remind Me Again Which Side We're On

I've never heard a good explanation as to why the United States is fighting for the Shiite majority against the Sunni insurgency in Iraq rather than the other way around. Would anyone really mind or even notice if tomorrow we just switched sides? I personally don't care whether Shiites or Sunnis rule Iraq. I can never even remember what the difference is between them, and I've taken a few world religion classes in my day. Which side claims to be the successors of Mohammed's brother-in-law again? I can't remember, but why should I care? Much less sacrifice the future of my country on behalf of this inane conflict? Just divide the bloody thing in half, declare victory, and come home, no? I have these thoughts every time I hear the politicians and analysts talking about how progress in Iraq is measured in terms of Iraqi security, i.e., our efforts to train and equip the Shiite majority to effectively fight the insurgency on its own. There is no good reason I can think of for us to want to do this. Getting involved in other countries' civil wars is never a good idea. What we should be doing is negotiating a cease fire and a peace agreement between the two sides. What we need to be is an honest broker in the region, a force for peace and justice rather than division and conflict. If we could actually settle the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites and bring peace to Iraq, that act alone would probably do more than anything towards repairing our damaged reputation and our long term goals vis a vis the Muslim world.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rewriting History -- the Devil's Game

One of the games the neo-conservatives like to play is to accuse their opponents of doing exactly what their opponents are trying to stop them (the neo-conservatives) from trying to do. For instance, if the White House urges Congress to pass an anti-regulation bill that would weaken environmental protection, and Democrats oppose that, then the White House will accuse Democrats of being anti-environmental. Note that they don't accuse Democrats of being unfairly biased against industry, or something logical like that - no, they make it out to look like they are the ones protecting the environment and the Democrats are against them. This strategy doesn't have to be 100% effective - it just has to fool a minority into believing that it's true and not offend the majority that knows it's not. If I recall correctly, in 2004 John Kerry barely won a majority of voters who said that the environment was their most important issue, which shows the effectiveness of the strategy. All this is to say that when Dick Cheney accuses Democrats of trying to rewrite the history of the Iraq war, he is really saying that its history has already been rewritten, that the war began as a rewriting of history, and that this history can't be unwritten. Cheney is playing the old sophist card of saying that a well-told lie is better than the truth, so much better that the truth can never dislodge it. He is trying to give his lies ontological permanence. The real history of the Iraq war, as Cheney knows, starts with his decision back in 2000 to select himself as Bush's running mate. The Iraq war is Cheney's personal legacy. It is his gift to us. So it makes sense that when the history of that war is criticized, Cheney takes it personally. It is this history, the truth about the war, which has yet to be fully written, and it is Cheney's task right now to ensure that it is never written. Cheney wants us to believe that it's too late to tell the truth now, that the fledgling lies he started telling back in 2000 have turned into such healthy, full-grown critters that we dare not oppose them now. But why should we believe him? That's the problem with the sophist's argument. It falters on the liar's paradox. Cheney is a proven liar, so I take his musings about the "truth beyond the truth" or however he thinks about it when he's falling asleep at night to be just that - more lies. A really skillful liar like Dick Cheney, someone who can lie openly to the entire world and remain almost entirely unnoticed, only comes along once in a generation. That's Dick Cheney's secret, that's the game he's playing with all of us. This whole time Cheney has been rewriting our history, rewriting us. His last trick before he disappears is to make sure we never rewrite him.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What a Journalist Should Be

I've just watched George Clooney's marvelous new film, "Good Night and Good Luck" and I cannot commend his courage and skill highly enough. The movie tells the story of newsman Edward R. Murrow's expose of McCarthyism at its peak in the early 50's. It is a wonderful piece of drama - beautifully photographed, note-perfect performances, and of course so deliberately relevant to our own times. It is not often that a movie is this educational and yet entertaining at the same time. The film offers a trenchant critique of the declining state of journalism which was already evident to Murrow in 1958. Trivializing, superficial, insulating, cosmetically obsessed with balance but lacking all substance, these are a few of the not so subtle characterizations of the field. In its place the movie hopefully lifts up another, entirely different philosophy of journalism: moralistic, truth-seeking and truth-telling, a friend of justice, holding itself to the highest ethical standards, educating, courageous, principled, full of conviction. Murrow says, in effect, that journalism is and ought to be a public service which serves the common good, which preserves democracy by guaranteeing the free and accurate flow of information, which ceaselessly exposes corruption and lies, which facilitates the democratic union of the government and the governed by protecting both from each other. My favorite line in the movie is when Murrow says, "We are not descended from fearful men." I felt like standing up and cheering when I heard that line. Murrow is right. This country wasn't founded on timidity. It was founded by complex individuals who made difficult decisions based on the best knowledge that they had, who made the most out of the humanity they had to offer, who willingly made sacrifices, took risks, and accepted challenges. That's what Murrow represented in this film. It's what Murrow believed a journalist should be.

Bush to Base: Pipe Down Already

President Bush's right-wing base is blowing his cover. The deal forged between Bush and his base, going back to 2000, is that Bush would bring conservatives to the table like no President had ever done before, but they had to keep quiet about it. No open communication in the mainstream media, period. To facilitate this, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes invented a code for Bush to use in the media and in his major speeches, consisting of quotes and allusions beloved by the right, including evangelical hymns, doctrines, and imagery. For those not in the know, this has sometimes resulted in some puzzling responses - recall the debate last fall in which Bush was asked about a recent Supreme Court ruling that he disagreed with and he answered, "The Dred Scott decision." But all that is changing now. The religious right is tired of being the other woman. It wants a public committment from the President. For Bush this could not be any more unwelcome than if his mistress had suddenly started calling him every night at dinner. By forcing Bush to withdraw the nomination of Harriet Miers - whom Bush desperately pleaded and hinted with the right to accept - the religious right is demanding that Bush choose between it and the rest of the country. The contradiction of "compassionate conservatism," the cornerstone of Bush's political genius, is unravelling, and Bush has nowhere to turn, and nowhere to hide.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Squeezing Harriet Miers Till She Talks

Charles Krauthammer’s comments in today’s Washington Post give some insight into the real reason why conservatives are now gathering in force against the Harriet Miers nomination. The nomination must be withdrawn, Krauthammer argues, not because Miers is unqualified, though he admits that she is, but because of what she knows about the Bush administration and about the President personally – information which she could conceivably be compelled to testify about under oath during the confirmation hearings. This would hand Democrats a golden opportunity to ask questions that President Bush in his ten years in politics has never answered. Imagine the possibilities. For starters, why did Bush’s 1998 re-election campaign for governor pay Miers' law firmthe unheard of sum of $140,000 for routine legal work, in addition to the $23,000 paid by Bush to Miers in 1994? At the time of the 1998 payment Bush was leading his opponent by 35 percentage points in the polls. What projects was Miers working on for Bush? Just to speculate, could it have had something to do with recurrent issues from Bush’s past – his avoidance of the draft during Vietnam, or his history as an addict? What does she know about Bush’s relationship with Ken Lay and the other Enron insiders who secretly helped Vice-President Cheney rewrite the nation’s energy laws? Does Miers know anything about the phony case for war in Iraq and the subsequent cover-up still under investigation? What about 9/11? Could Miers clear up any lingering doubts about the President’s response to warnings of an imminent terror attack in the summer of 2001? The list could go on and on. As Bush’s most trusted lawyer, Miers is a potential gold-mine for anyone interesting in unraveling the vast, intricately-linked criminal conspiracy which in essence is the Bush administration. (With an hour’s testimony, Miers could accomplish what it will take historians a generation to achieve.) As Krauthammer indicates in his column, that possibility has just occurred to him as well, and the image of a stage-struck Miers fumbling around under oath while trying to protect the President’s decades of secrets doesn’t sit well with him. Already, Krauthammer says, there’s the expected petty lies and malfeasance around the nomination process itself:

John Fund reports that in a conference call of conservative leaders, two Miers confidants explicitly said that she would overturn Roe v. Wade . The subsequent denial by one of these judges that he ever said that, and the subsequent affirmation by two of the people who had heard the call that he did say so, create the nightmare scenario of subpoenaed witnesses contradicting each other under oath. We need an exit strategy from this debacle. I have it…

Just imagine what Democrats could do with this kind of power, Krauthammer seems to be saying. He’s had enough of Harriet Miers. He’s telling the President to pull the plug on this one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My...What?

Like the GOP base, I'm all in a dither over Edith Miers. On the one hand, I like the name Edith. On the other hand, she kind of disgraces it. And she reminds me of my third grade teacher, but in a bad way (in case she is reading - I will always love you, Mrs. Fea.) Bush might as well have nominated his third grade teacher. There is barely any difference. Granted, who among us wouldn't have done the same thing? If I ever become President, I too want to be able to place all of my friends and family in positions of power, just like Vito Corleone did. Now, I just don't know whose side to take in this internecine fight. On the one hand, I know that the religious right (just like Ayn Rand) are always wrong. It's almost an axiological certainty. And they oppose this nomination. So, taking my cue from them as always, I support it, right? This seems to be the thinking of many Democrats, who would probably put Satan on the bench if they thought it might bug the Republican majority. And if Miers nomination is defeated, who's next? After all, these conservatives have been saying they oppose Miers for not being conservative enough! I don't relish the prospect of seeing the arch-torturer Alberto Gonsales on deck, or the rightist lunatic Janice Rogers Brown. Maybe having our family realtor interpreting Constitutional law for the next generation isn't such a bad idea. On the other hand, what an absolute toilet of a judge. Does Miers even, like, have any idea what she's doing? Does she even know which way the robe goes on? This is going to be like sitting through Legally Blonde III for the next twenty years. And the thought of seeing Bush out there in the courtroom passing her winks about how to rule turns my stomach as well. It's kind of like we're seeing the very worst and the not so bad of Bush cronyism at the same time. On the one hand, it's so blatant, it makes you want to cry. On the other hand, it's so inept and stupid it makes you want to laugh. I mean, is there anybody left from Crawford that Bush hasn't given a federal job to yet? Couldn't Bush find some work for the former grounds-keeper of Ameriquest Stadium, or maybe his old plumber? We'll know we're at the end of the Bush administration when the President runs out of nicknames for his relatives and old college buddies. Or maybe, as Dr. Strangelove would have it, the end of the world. ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." "Yeeeee-haw!")

Monday, October 10, 2005

Science, Truth, and the Politics of Deception

Andrew Hehir, writing in Salon, makes some very important points about the current conflict between science and politics ("The Know Nothings," September 14, 2005.) What does it mean that the current administration rejects science not just in practice but in theory? And what vulnerability has the administration exploited in its surprisingly successful attempt to block scientific information from the public? Hehir is right to call this an "epistemological crisis," so right, in fact, that I would take it even further and name this the great philosophical problem of our time. (Of course as something of an idealist I tend to view social problems as symptoms of philosophical errors - please forgive me that bias.)
First, it is clear to me that the discipline of science as a public service, one whose purpose is to establish the public as an authority competent to govern itself, has stalled and even reversed. In May 2004 a report of the National Science Board, An Emerging and Critical Problem of the Science and Engineering Labor Force, sparked alarm among educators by predicting shortfalls of scientists and engineers based on current trends in education. (For the debate over this issue, see the following articles.) Even if it is unclear, however, as to whether science as a specialized profession is in decline, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence as to the decline of scientific knowledge among the general public. It is this state of affairs which the neo-conservative movement has actively exploited in pursuit of its anti-regulatory agenda, as Hehir chronicles. On matters of vital public interest, including global warming, public health, stem-cell research, sexual education, and the teaching of evolution, the Bush administration has repeatedly obscured the findings of science through a particularly effective and vicious new form of propaganda: the fake scientific debate. To use Al Gore’s phrase, the Bush administration uses an echo chamber which bounces manufactured debate between the walls of industry-sponsored think tanks and the conservative media, then baits the supposedly mainstream press into covering the "controversy." Once this false notion of a scientific controversy has been generally established in the public mind, the administration can then use the public’s confusion as itself further evidence of the existence of an actual debate. For instance, if only half of Americans "believe" in evolution, then this can be taken as evidence that the legitimacy of the theory of evolution may still be plausibly regarded as an open question. If the goal of science is to establish a public consensus of verifiable facts, then the goal of the Bush administration is to break that consensus through constant suggestion of uncertainty.
This suggests that the current epistemological crisis and the much discussed crisis in journalism are one and the same. The media appears to be functionally incapable any longer of distinguishing between good and bad arguments, information and propaganda, truth and fiction. So-called "balance," which is understood as being neutral to matters of truth, is the self-proclaimed goal of today’s media ("fair and balanced.") Once again this is a turn of events which has been ruthlessly exploited by the ruling conservative party. For instance, consider the recent political acts against public television, ginned up as an effort to provide "conservative balance" to PBS. Even more chilling is the conservative campaign against objectivity in higher education. The libertarian commentator Cathy Young has written about the need for "intellectual diversity," meaning a balance of conservative and liberal faculty appointments, at colleges and universities. Apparently there is nothing contradictory to Young about this kind of merging of the scientific and the political – as if research should be judged not simply on its empirical merits but on its political affiliation as well.
But we are not yet to the bottom of the current epistemological crisis. It’s no surprise that a powerful authoritarian regime would attempt to manipulate science for its own purposes, but what weakness has it exploited in doing so? The Bush administration could not have succeeded in its misinformation campaign unless the public had in some sense willingly assisted in its own deception. I would like to make the case that the prevailing conditions exploited by the Bush administration are the result of a set of epistemological errors resulting from a popular (and populist) misunderstanding of post-modernism, first introduced into politics by the left in the second half of the 20th century and now adapted and perfected by the new right.
Hehir hints at this when he says that the work of philosophers of science such as Wittgenstein, Foucault, and Feyerabend (I would add Thomas Kuhn) has contributed to a general sense of epistemological uncertainty which has arisen in the public mind in the past half century. A generous philosophy of relativism has become common property; science has become popularly regarded as an arena of dispute rather than of clarification and consensus. It’s beyond my intention here to mount a thorough defense of the work of these philosophers, but I will say that all of them would have been appalled at the appropriation of their work by a radical, authoritarian regime. Far from intending to undermine science, the purpose of their work was to bring about its advancement by liberating the western tradition from its foundationalist and idealist impulses and re-grounding it in the organic processes of language and culture. I’ll concede however that the failure of post-modernism to clearly articulate its liberal intentions has been one of the chief sources of the sloppy and nihlistic relativism which now pervades the popular understanding, and further, that skeptics such as Foucault either failed to realize or didn’t care that an unbridled skepticism is easily converted by the skilled sophist into the precise metaphysical authority it claims to be resisting.
The Bush administration’s mastery of post-modern sophistry deserves a closer study than I can provide here. At its most effective, it flattens discourse into a an exercise in futility, marked by absurdist non-sequiturs, flights of cynical fancy, and passive-aggressive posturing, all scored with a numbing fatalism. It is impossible to get a straight answer from the Bush administration and yet, until very recently, its reputation was always just the opposite. This is the mark of the truly exceptional sophist: when the weakness of one’s argument is so artfully presented as to be universally accepted as its greatest strength. In the case of the Bush administration, a record of stunning dishonesty and manipulation masquerades, successfully, as unvarnished candor. Which brings me to the greatest triumph of the Bush administration, and that is its masterful subversion of American values. The character played by the President is a composite of 19th and 20th century American archetypes: the evangelical preacher, the self-made man, the recovered addict, the lone ranger, and the WWII soldier. Each of these figures is meant to evoke an American value: selflessness, humility, earnestness, folk-wisdom, independence, piety, determination. Bush is adept at turning arguments on their head by retreating to one of these values and then accusing his critic of betraying it, forcing his critics to defend their patriotism rather than focus on objective arguments.
This brings the conflict between science and politics into sharper focus: if the goal of science is to clarify discourse so as to establish the public as its own authority, then the goal of the Bush administration is just the opposite. Its power derives from general confusion and ignorance, from a deliberate heightening of the general sense of indeterminacy (from an epistemological perspective) and anxiety (from a psychological perspective) which are the defining characteristics of capitalist societies.
Finally, let us delve once more into the history of philosophy to try and make some sense out of what brought the western tradition to this point. Why has the progress of science been so drastically halted? What factors have contributed to the philosophical and social impasse at which we now find ourselves? If post-modernism is a kind of black hole at the bottom of western metaphysics, then it is one whose existence has long been suspected and feared. From Plato’s dialogues the need for a foundationalist super-structure with which to buttress scientific inquiry is already apparent. This is the beginning of the essentialist strategy which becomes omnipresent in western philosophy. The reasoning goes that only a self-validating (or self-transcending) foundation would be capable of withstanding the skeptical assault; without it, science collapses into meaningless parody and self-reference. The long-noted problem with this strategy is that like any makeshift barrier, essentialism only provides a temporary fix. If essences themselves are proposed as part of a visibly material discourse, with all of the telltale signs of human construction, then what permits them to operate so exceptionally? The result is an infinitely repeated recourse to allegedly purer and purer regions untainted by the fallibility and temporality of human institutions. This problem was not solved by the Enlightenment, which only converted essentialism into a cult of personalized metaphysics – the individualist values of autonomy and self-determination. The Enlightenment project already foretold the failed state of post-modernism.
Yet if both essentialism of the classical variety and anti-essentialism of the post-modern variety lead to the same impasse, is there a future for science as a public discipline? Might we ever hope to live in a world in which the findings of science are cherished as the consensus beliefs of an informed public, and George W. Bush is known only as his father’s miserable son?
The answer, I submit, lies in the other great western philosophical tradition most articulately represented by Aristotle: naturalist in method, constructivist in its anthropology, pragmatic, adaptable, process-oriented, transcendental. If science is regarded not as the procurement of a fixed state of knowledge with reference to some theoretical essence, nor as a continual contest between equally arbitrary perspectives, but rather as a natural process unfolding through the fallible but nevertheless self-transcending institutions of language and culture, then science is as imperfect as the human life which temporarily possesses and proclaims it. What post-modernism should have taught us, but didn't, is that science doesn't take place in some theoretical, abstract realm but rather in the here and now. Consensus is gained through compromise, persuasion, and cooperation, not rationalist fiat. Progress is unpredictable, depending on the imaginative breaking and rebuilding of paradigms. Science is a creative process, a truly human activity. As anyone who has ever pursued science knows, truth and wisdom are rare gems indeed, gained only through struggle. Perhaps then science is a kind of revelation of a fragile and fleeting beauty which arises only briefly, like a flower, in the midst of great difficulty.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Good News For Everyone?

"We're breaking out the champagne," Dr. Eliav Barr, Merck's head of clinical development for the new cervical cancer vaccine told the Associated Press today. He's not the only one. The vaccine, which works by blocking infection from the human papilloma virus, proved 100% successful in its initial trial phase. Merck hopes to bring it to market next year. One would think that such news would be welcomed from every quarter. After all, who would want to deny a life-saving cure to today's and tomorrow's women? Try Bridget Maher of the so-called Family Research Council. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," she said. "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex." It turns out the Family Research Council is annoyed at potentially losing one of its pet arguments for abstinence - that the human papilloma virus can be transmitted even when condoms are used properly. This, weirdly, makes the disease an ally of the Council, much like a biological weapon. The Family Research Council claims to be a Christian organization but it's hard to see how this stance is at all consistent with the gospel. Jesus came to heal the sick, not to with-hold needed care or use illness as a weapon. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus instructs his followers to offer healing without judgment. In Jesus' ministry, healing is a sign of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. From Genesis 1, we learn that God has given nature and all of its gifts to human beings to be used for the good of everyone. God commands human beings to be stewards over creation, to cultivate and transform and bring to fulfillment the potential of things. The scientists who worked on the human papilloma vaccine were obedient to that purpose. Their success ought to be good news for everyone.

Thinking Through the Neo-Conservative Challenge

Sidney Blumenthal in Salon has done a fine job of chroncling the tangled web of conservative malfeasance which effectively constitutes the Republican party as we know it today. I especially admire his insight into the corrupt and exploitative relationships between lobbyists, corporations, conservative religious organizations, and political players. This is indeed, as he puts it, a "pay to play" game. I don’t entirely agree with Blumenthal’s assessment that this type of conservatism is an entirely new political and economic entity. It bears more than a passing resemblance to a crime syndicate, of the type which controls politics throughout much of the developing world. This leads to an important and often misunderstood point: organized crime is not chaotic. To the contrary, it is intensely bureaucratic. Such pseudo-political institutions always mirror the bureaucratic nature of their host systems. They are a repressed instinct of capitalist societies. To argue that the Bush administration represents an entirely new way of "doing business" in America ignores the instrumental role that organized crime has historically played in American economics and politics (for a wonderful literary example, read Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.) It was Max Weber who argued that the twin impulses of revolution and bureaucracy co-exist at the unsteady core of capitalism. What we are witnessing in the rise of neo-conservatism is the validation of that argument, the fulfillment of a capitalist impulse towards bureaucracy which, if completed, might rival the great Prussian and Stalinist regimes of the past three centuries. Liberals (of all types) are liable to be confused and frustrated if they operate under the mistaken belief that their government remains in the broad stream of the liberal tradition: deliberative, representative, transparent, responsive and accountable to the public (not to be confused with populist, which the Bush administration definitely is.) Thus to view the Bush administration in the light of its true lineage explains a great deal. Like any bureaucracy, its goal is to build the party of the future by monopolizing resources. Loyalty to the party determines access to these resources and to the lucrative schemes which advance the party’s agenda. The proprietary stance taken by the Bush administration towards information which would be considered public in a liberal society – the records of Vice-President Cheney’s energy task force, to take one obvious example – indicates that it simply does not regard itself as accountable to the public in any traditionally democratic sense. Rather, the party is fueled by populist sentiment (as for instance in the 2004 elections) which is generated through grandiose nationalistic pageants, suppression of information, strategically timed threats, official investigations of sexual impurity, and concealed propaganda distributed through the quasi-state outlets of the conservative media. Likewise, the Bush administration does not operate in the deliberative manner of a liberal government, i.e., one founded on a consensus of publicly verified facts. Instead it has waged a determined campaign to undermine and distort scientific findings whenever they come into conflict with the party ideology. Again, this infuriates the scientific community and the grass-roots democratic activists whose political credibility is staked on the premise of their research, but the Bush administration simply will not budge. It is a wholly political animal, and as such its founding principles of hierarchy, loyalty, and organization stand in sharp contrast to the objective correlate philosophy of empirical science. Finally, I would like to expand on my earlier comment that the true goal of the Bush administration, consistent with its principles, is the creation of a new social class, a "new man," as it were. I envision this man of the future as being raised and educated in strict conformity with the mandates of the party. He will show in his beliefs and his attitudes a deep loyalty to the party upon which his livelihood and reputation entirely depends, and an equally deep suspicion of potential heretics. In all likelihood he will work in a corporate office overseen by quasi-government officials and dependent on government favors for its continuing share in the market-state. He will be of the official denomination of the Christian faith, which is simply another manifestation of allegiance to the party. He will depend throughout his life on a network of patronage and graft which he will simply take for granted as the hallmark of respectable society. He will be a man made in the image of the party founder, George W. Bush.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bush Keeps on Ticking

President Bush's decision to nominate Harriet Miers as the next Supreme Court justice proves that neo-conservatism is still the great indestructible philosophy of our time. It was only last month, after all, that in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina and the FEMA disaster the President's philosophy of unabashed cronyism had been revealed, exorciated, and seemingly extinguished. Yet Bush will be Bush, and his single-minded focus is legendary. Hence, Miers, his long-time associate and confidante with no qualifications for the Supreme Court save for her close relationship with the President. Public opinion has never mattered to Bush except insofar as it can be manipulated, and neither do the views of those who oppose him. Now the President's undisguised intention of gathering together all three branches of government under the authority of a single all-powerful partisan executive is meeting with rebellion from within the ranks of his own party. That appears to be just fine with Bush. He has always been more focused on purging the Republican party of its moderate and movement-conservative heretics than in anything happening outside of the party anyway. If Republicans break ranks, that just starts a fight Bush is confident he will win. Like any good authoritarian, Bush loves to test the limits of power, to set traps that divide the loyalists from the realists. This points to one of the least recognized traits of neo-conservatism: it is a party-building movement. Yet this nascent party is not necessarily synonymous with the Republican party, and it may even be hostile to it. The Miers nomination as well as all of the other intra-Republican wars of the past five years (Colin Powell's State Department, George Tenet's CIA, etc.) demonstrate that the goal of neo-conservatism is to overthrow the Republican party from within, to free it from its traditionalisms and loyalty to Constitutional principles such as the separation of powers and its grounding in the liberal traditions of limited government and fiscal conservatism. In other words, the goal of neo-conservatism is to establish a party with the means of opposing the liberal tradition in its broadest and deepest sense - to effectively uproot the bedrock principles of constitutionalism and representative government upon which America was founded. That may seem far-fetched, but if history has anything to teach, it's that tyranny is never implausible.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Candles in the Dark

I read an article in the Boston Globe recently about a blogger who blogged nothing but good news about the war in Iraq. Apparently he found enough good news to keep him working for a year and a half, and then he quit. Now I’m aware that I’ve written at length, quite cynically, about the decline of the humanities and about the efforts of the Bush administration to kill off the arts and sciences once and for all in the name of almighty corporate capitalism. I write books in my head with titles like "The Decline of Language." I reverse engineered the joke behind "Eats Shoots and Leaves" and laughed to myself out loud (my version had a Panda.) I’ve often been accused of pedantry when I’m not being accused of being a slovenly, half-educated philistine (both are sadly close to the mark.) But enough is enough. I’m turning over a new leaf. I’d like to begin a series dedicated solely to good news in the humanities. These are the stories that bring tears to my eyes, which make me feel like, dammit, something good is happening out there, even though the news won’t report it. I would like to call this series, "Candles in the Dark." And so I offer for recognition the preservationists from the Chicago Conservation Center who risked their own lives to save priceless works of art in New Orleans and the rest of the hurricane-damaged areas of the Gulf Coast. These dedicated servants of the arts literally donned rescue gear, complete with hoods, gloves, boots, and respirators, and made their way through the floodwaters to rescue the city’s artistic treasures. Let’s also honor the steady hands at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and the workers at the New Orleans Museum of Art, who kept their post in the museum when all hell had broken loose outside. What this proves to me is that there are forces at work in the world more powerful than brutality, more formidable than cynicism, more brilliant than sophistry. There are still educators, and scientists, and poets, and painters, and musicians, and scholars, who care deeply about what is most precious, who know intimately the fragile beauty of artistic creation. It’s that spirit which has gotten humanity out of some of its toughest scrapes, which kept singing even when the guys with the guns showed up, which preserved light when darkness had fallen on all sides. And it’s their work which will emerge out of all the chaos, greed, stupidity, corruption, venality, cruelty, and petty strife which counts for news in this day and age, and it’s their work which will be preserved, and remembered, and honored by future generations.

Is This What They Call Bipartisanship?

The nomination of somebody named Harriet Miers to be the next Supreme Court justice has been greeted with disapproval by both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are upset that Bush did not nominate a "lock" for advancing their radical agenda, and Democrats would not have had cause to celebrate any of the candidates among whom President Bush was deciding. This stunning salute to mediocrity, the promotion of a career Bush operative and political crony to the one job George W. Bush hasn't yet given her - a judge - may fit the President's style like a glove but offers little for the others who feed at the same trough. No one in Congress has yet come out in strong support of the nominee. Instead we have been greeted with the delightful sound of the conservative echo chamber fallen suddenly silent. Is the impossible possible? Could Miers really fail to be confirmed? Has Bush's base finally abandoned him? The most bizarre, and unexpected outcome of the Miers nomination may be a weird bipartisanship arising out of a unanimous disregard for the President. Under the pressure of Bush's repeated failures of leadership, supporting the President has now become a career hazard. The crass hybrid philosophy of a bloated government funneling profits to ever more exotic and corrupt locales - part Warren Harding, part Lyndon Johnson - has never pleased by the book fiscal conservatives, and it's now starting to enrage them. The evolution and now spectacular downfall of the Bush presidency is taking American politics to a weird place it's never been before, a place where liberals and conservatives alike agree that their coalition of the moment is anybody but Bush.

Morgan Freeman Typecast as Black Guy

Morgan Freeman has been typecast as a black guy, movie-goers have reported. "He's always played the role of a black guy so perfectly, like in Driving Miss Daisy," stated recent film-watcher Melanie Johnson. "He seemed so natural you almost forgot he was acting. But lately I've noticed he has the same racial composition in every movie. He's definitely stuck in a rut." Freeman's dilemma is similar to that of many high profile actors in recent years. Among kung fu actors, for instance, there has been a growing complaint against being typecast as Asians. "Last year I auditioned for roles in dozens of movies," stated kung fu actor Jackie Chan. "In every single role that I was accepted for, I played the part of an Asian. I don't want to say that Hollywood is discriminating but if you asked most kung fu actors they would tell you the same thing." What to do about typecasting? Some actors, such as multimedia performer Will Smith, have managed to avoid the bug. "When I first broke into Hollywood, I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life playing the part of a black guy," Smith said. "I made sure to diversify my roles early on, even if that meant taking a lesser role - like playing the part of a friendly neighbor instead of a bad-ass crack dealer or gang-rapist. Over time, that paid off. Now when studios look at me, they don't see a black guy. They see money instead."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

America's Bipartisan Failure of Leadership

The thin gruel which passes for public morality these days isn’t the fault of mammon-worshiping Republicans alone (though you might get that impression from this blog.)  Liberals and democrats have contributed amply to this decline (witness the shameful collaboration of so-called liberals such as Thomas Friedman on the Iraq war.)  The Democratic party has shrunk to its current sorry state in part because of its unwillingness to stand up for its convictions, or to even have any worth standing up for.  Where has the Democratic party been for all these years while government has steadily turned its back on the poor, abandoned the environment, and cheer-led one war after another?  The disappearance of leftist and socialist populism has fueled the rise of radical right-wing populism, which has poisoned contemporary discourse with its recognizable strains of paranoia, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, and unabashed militarism.  While Democrats were busy triangulating, Republicans first seized and then consolidated their grip on the nation’s institutions of power.  In the meantime, there has been no one guarding the shop.  With neither party apparently responsive to the needs of ordinary individuals, most Americans have fulfilled Timothy Leary’s prophecy and simply turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.  Hence the “culture wars,” which are really artificial distractions from the work of dismantling and looting the country which is taking place behind the scenes.  The question for Democrats at this point is whether they will respond like a late-arriving burglar, looking to grab the last chandelier before the lights go out, or whether they will at long last offer Americans a reason to withhold our cynicism and favor democracy with at least the respect we lend the Oscars.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Ruse of Privatization

I've read a number of articles in recent days about how a philosophy of "small government" - allegedly the property of either the federal government or that of the Gulf Coast states - is to blame for the disastrous aftermath of the hurricane. Although there may be some truth to this response, overall I believe that it distorts the facts and the real reasons for the tragedy. First, there is no way to reconcile the philosophy of small government with that of the Bush administration. Under President Bush, federal spending has increased to record levels; Bush has never in his Presidency vetoed a single bill, signing some of the most egregious pork barrel bills to ever pass through Congress; Bush has aggressively promoted expansions of federal programs, most notably the Medicare prescription drug benefit; in January of 2004, in the middle of the Iraq war, Bush threw his support behind a multi-billion dollar plan to launch a manned mission to Mars. Whatever else government has been under George W. Bush, it hasn't been small. From what little I know of the government of Louisiana, it isn't particularly small either, and it wasn't smallness alone which led to the failure to adequately secure the city. Rather, it was a complete lack of efficiency, transparency, and accountability. Money was spent in the wrong places, at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons. Priorities were out of order. Special interests were served first. Calling this debacle small government is a misnomer. It is bad government.
The entire phenomenon of so-called "privatization" which has become the familiar hallmark of the Bush era needs to be re-examined. It's been commonly assumed that privatization means what fiscal conservatives say it means: a reduction in the size of federal budgets, overall decreases in federal spending, the populist empowering of the private sector ("it's your money.") As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that this is actually the case. Under conservative rule, government has continued to grow at a more than healthy rate. What's changed is how government operates and who it serves. Under the Bush administration, government has become steadily less transparent, less accountable, and alarmingly inefficient. Cronyism and loyalty has replaced competence as the guiding principle of job appointments; the burden of social welfare has been drastically shifted onto the middle and lower classes; the refusal of the federal government to pay its share has placed an unprecedented burden on state and local governments. The overall result is the precise opposite of what the traditional conservatives claimed would happen under privatization: the federal government is hemorraging cash at an unsustainable rate. How is this possible? The answer is that privatization is something completely different than what it has claimed to be. Far from a reduction in the power and scope of government, privatization is actually a radical expansion of it. Imagine, for a moment, what a future might look like under the successful prosecution of Bush's conservative revolution. The liberal-democratic model of government would be entirely subsumed by the rise of the new capitalist super-state. This state would write and enforce its own laws, dictate public policy, control the flow of information, and allocate natural resources on a global scale. Its authority would be practically synonymous with the global economy itself. Survival outside of its orbit would be practically impossible. This exercise in science-fiction reveals that George W. Bush is presiding over not a reduction in the size or capacity of a traditional democratic government but rather the renovation and expansion of a vast politico-corporate bureaucracy, a new social class. While the outward form of the liberal state may remain intact, the public functions it has traditionally served are being actively transferred to these new authorities. Again, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the power of government in this country is not on the wane. Rather, the power of democratic government is on the wane. Its usurper threatens to establish a hegemony not seen in North America since the forces of King George III were evicted - indeed, of much the same bearing and disposition.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: 9/11's Delayed Reaction

The catastrophe of 9/11 was recognized immediately as a wake-up call to America: an opportunity to repent of a national frivolousness which had been steadily eroding democratic values for a very long time (I remember reading woeful mea culpas about how the summer of 2001 had been dominated by the media obsession with Gary Condit and Chandra Levy.) Unfortunately, George W. Bush was the President on September 11th, 2001, and he masterfully subverted this mood into a militant nostalgia reminiscent of fascism, declared himself the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, and identified liberalism (and its supposed corollary, homosexuality) as the enemy in our midst which needed to be expunged. In fact the real culprit was the malignant capitalist state of which he was the hierarch (and liberal America's passive accommodation of it - the combination of which might be labeled "post-modernism,") but that was soon lost in debates over fictionalized weapons of mass destruction and imaginary Saddamist plots against America. (My favorite of these will always be the killer robots Saddam was said to be preparing to attack us. A perfect touch!) Now, four years later, the democratic revolution staved off by the Bush administration four years ago may actually take place, courtesy of the latest disaster to befall these United States. It appears that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Americans are waking up. Reality, the declared enemy of the Bush administration, is setting in. Worried about fraying race relations? The rising cost of energy? Unmanageable health care costs? Frightening budget deficits? Caring for an aging population? The disintegrating state of government services for the poor, elderly, and infirm? Manufacturing and service jobs heading overseas? Global warming, ocean and river pollution, shrinking wetlands, toxic waste dumps? The endangered American town? Terrorism? American GI's getting blown to smithereens by an invisible enemy in Iraq? More unfunded wars and natural disasters on the horizon? Where $200 billion is going to come from to rebuild three states from scratch? Pick your poison. The feeling is that of waking up and realizing that there is nobody behind the wheel, and that soothing voice you've been hearing from the front seat is a recording. I started off this post a little more optimistically than what I ended up writing - the hope that in the wake of the hurricane, the lessons of 9/11 might finally be learned - and there is hope, but it's hope shrouded in darkness. Most Americans long ago accepted the Reaganesque notion that government should be left to manage its own affairs, but that's the truth that's now crashing down around us. The long-awaited revival of democracy is no longer a luxury, but an imperative. It's the only way forward to forgiveness and renewal on the other side.

Good News From the Culture Wars

Some great news today courtesy of the Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Virginia, which has spent the past five years developing an Interfaith, non-partisan, well-researched textbook for teaching biblical literacy to high school students. The project was the result of cooperation from across denominational and religious boundaries, including "prominent evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and secular experts" (AP.) I for one can't praise such an achievement highly enough. The lack of a standarized curriculum for religious education in high schools has seriously contributed to the decline of civic values. Please do not mistake me and think that for a moment I'm arguing in favor of right-wing populist shibboleths such as the Pledge of Allegiance or prayer in schools. Such rites are merely codes for discrimination. They do nothing to enlarge student's cultural or intellectual or spiritual horizons, they communicate nothing but partisanship and jingoism. I despise the modern conservative goal of replacing public education with religiously-inspired superstition. What I'm arguing for is simply the civic corollary to my conviction that religion and science must ultimately inspire each other. It is a fact that the twin tasks of civic (cultural, practical) and religious education have historically belonged together, and with good reason. To receive from respected authorities the most precious wisdom which any civilization has to offer is, without remainder, to experience the broadening of one's spiritual horizons, which is to say that education is a deeply spiritual process, and its outcome is strikingly similar to what St. Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Without this foundation, education can only justify itself through the contradictory logic of instrumentalism, an argument which renders the liberal arts and especially the spiritual arts a backwater. If education exists only as a subsidiary of the market-state, then literacy itself is dispensable, an archaism in the greater cosmos of the profit motive. Thus, while it may seem counter-intuitive, instrumentalization is eroding the very notion of a public space which is the essence of democracy. The willingness to act for purposes greater than oneself can only result from a knowledge of what I might call "sacred truth," and many of those truths are vested in religious traditions.
It's in this context that the achievement of the Bible Literacy Project deserves to be celebrated. In an era in which popular culture has nearly prevailed over cultural literacy; in which demagoguery has outflanked democracy; and in which political horizons have shrunk to such an alarming degree that violent radicalism seems like a rational choice to many, this is a triumph of moderation, respect, and mutual collaboration. This is the hard work of cultural renewal which will yield fruit for future generations. When education truly models the values that it professes, then we can all breathe the air of a better world: less jaded, less cynical, less crude; more open, more hopeful, more just. As American Jewish Congress attorney Marc Stern, an adviser on the effort, said "this book is proof that the despair is premature, that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious differences and yet still find common ground." That's good news for us all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Even an Act of God Isn't Going to Change George W. Bush

A humble, devout man might interpret certain events - such as 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina - as warnings from God to get his act together. Since time immemorial, that's how religious people have interpreted disasters, with mixed results. President Bush, on the other hand, is a classic narcissist who always interprets disaster as confirming all of his prejudices. It is always disaster for someone else, because they deserved it, and vindication for him - further affirmation of the infallibility of his calling. (This is why the logic of Dr. Strangelove fits Bush so perfectly: if the nukes were to start falling, he would be on the phone with Karl Rove working damage control and trying to find a way to give the rich a tax break.) So it should come as no surprise that Bush is trying to use the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to push his kooky agenda - the same agenda which landed the Gulf Coast in its current predicament, only worse. I believe the definition of insanity is when no argument and no evidence could possibly convince a person otherwise. After three of the worst disasters in this nation's history (9/11, Iraq, Katrina) I think it's safe to say that nothing in heaven or on earth could get Bush to change his mind about anything.

My Friend Katrina Evacuates Her Name

My friend Katrina has reluctantly decided to abandon her name, she told me the other day. "For a long time I held out hope that my name was salvageable," she said. "After all, no name has ever been completely destroyed by a storm before. I thought I could wait it out, but eventually it just got to be too much." Since the storm struck, my friend Katrina has been pounded by relentless media references to her name and a torrent of disapproval from strangers. "Everything I've put into my name has simply been washed away," Katrina stated. "There's nothing left to come back to." Katrina isn't looking forward to the post-Katrina era. "I never liked any of the nicknames for my name: Kat, Kit, Kitty," she reported. "I guess I'm going to have to pick one of them. Eventually I'll rebuild somewhere, but Katrina as I knew her is gone forever."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Operation "Able Danger"

I've just read the disturbing news that a Pentagon employee is claiming to have destroyed key documents pertaining to the identification of Mohammed Atta as a terrorist back in 1999 at the orders of his supervisor. Apparently the documents were the result of a secret Clinton-era intelligence operation known as "Able Danger" - whose existence was so secret that 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gordon has stated "It just didn't happen." Does anyone know anything more about this operation or the circumstances under which the employee was ordered to destroy the documents? I won't prejudge the facts, but on the surface this seems like fuel for the fire for those who have claimed that the federal government had detailed knowledge of the movements of the hijackers. Recall, for instance, 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser's account of the exchange between herself and senior FBI agents, in which she questioned how the FBI managed to identify the very flight school in Florida at which some of the hijackers had trained within hours of the attack, and received the sarcastic retort, "We got lucky." I will keep a close eye on this story as it develops and welcome any new information anyone can provide.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Negotiating with al-Qaeda?

In an Op-Ed in today's Boston Globe, Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, associate director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard, puts forth the notion that the United States should supplement its military campaign against al-Qaeda with a complementary strategy of direct negotiations and if necessary, concessions. I believe that there's a lot of merit to this idea, especially the paradigm shift that the U.S. should treat al-Qaeda as an organized militia with a specific political and military agenda rather than as a gang of blood-thirsty apocalyptic fanatics. Certainly this would help most Americans to come to a better understanding of the otherwise baffling war on terror (perhaps one of the main reasons why the Bush administration hasn't tried it.) However, I'm not as optimistic as Mohamedou that such negotiations would actually lead to a cease-fire with al-Qaeda, at least not in any initial phase. I take from Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan (and one of the best informed and most insightful commentators on the war on terror) that al-Qaeda's goal is to overthrow all of what it considers the pro-Western puppet regimes in the Middle East. What bin Laden hopes will emerge, according to Cole, is some kind of Islamist super-state, preferably nuclear armed, with the capability of launching direct strikes against Israel and western targets, radically reducing the regional accommodation of the state of Israel and forcing western governments to withdraw their forces. Al-Qaeda thus envisions a reversal of what it perceives as a century of Muslim accommodation and humiliation at the hands of the imperialist west, and a renaissance of Islamic power.

Clearly, these goals cannot be reconciled with those of the United States. There is no possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from Muslim lands, nor will the U.S. withdraw its support for Israel. If negotations ever become possible, it will be as a result of U.S. victories in the war on terror forcing al-Qaeda to scale back its plans. The way things stand now, however, it doesn't seem as if al-Qaeda has any reason to negotiate. Bin Laden's grand vision of an Islamist neo-caliphate is halfway to realization, thanks to the folly of U.S. policy in Iraq, which could very well result in a new regional politics dominated by Iran.

In the long run Mohamedou may prove to be right. But real negotiations between al-Qaeda and the United States are at the moment so implausible, it's almost not worth talking about.

Joker Escapes Again

The Joker has escaped again, CIA director Porter Goss announced at a press conference on Tuesday. "We had him totally cornered on a catwalk in the Axis Chemical Factory, when all of a sudden he disappeared in a cloud of laughing gas," Goss reported. "By the time we came to our senses, he was long gone." Goss denied that any lapses in judgment had led to the failed operation. "You guys in the media don't know what we're going through up here. I've been on the phone 24/7 with Police Commissioner Gordon trying to solve this case. Rest assured, the government is doing everything it can to capture this killer," he stated. Earlier, President Bush defended his administration's actions. "No one in my government will rest until the Joker has been safely returned to Arkham Asylum where he belongs," he promised. "Then we will all sleep safely knowing that a sworn enemy of America has been brought to justice." The Joker is the prime suspect in a string of slayings, robberies, and public mayhem which has terrorized Gotham City for more than fifty years.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Question of Evil

One of the questions people inevitably ask in the wake of a horrendous natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is how a good God could allow such things to happen. The genre of theological reasoning which attempts to answer such questions is called theodicy. In recent years theologians have had great success in attacking the classical form of the "argument from evil," which states that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, good God. Theologians have successfully demonstrated that much of the evil in the world is the result of free will, and established the possibility that free will may ultimately be a greater good than all of the evil it causes. As the debate stands today, the question is not so much whether a good God might permit some evil, but rather why does God permit so much of it? And why does it always seem to happen to the wrong people? Further, what about natural disasters, which are beyond the control of human beings? Why doesn't God, for instance, whisk everyone out of the way when a hurricane is about to strike? Or why don't angels sound audible alarms from heaven? The argument from anti-theists is that the amounts and kinds of evil we actually find in the world make the existence of an all-powerful, good God seem implausible.
I believe that a successful response to this argument must hinge on a defense of the kind of world God created. We might start with G.K. Chesterton's rejoinder, what about the problem of pleasure? Why, the corpulent man of letters wondered, is life so enjoyable? If the non-theist can imagine a world which is far better than this one, the theist can easily imagine one which is much worse! If we begin to examine the world to learn what about it is so enjoyable, we will find there is a paradox to pleasure: it is often dangerous. If we take God to have "made" waterfalls, then God is also responsible for the possibility of being crushed by them. The same goes for the beauty of mountains, which are beautiful in part because they are high enough to fall to your death from. Lions and tigers would not be as glorious if they lacked the spirit and capability of devouring their prey (a lion fed manna by angels would be a disappointment.) What is this sense of intrigue and delight which is both thrilling and dangerous? I believe that it is close to the spirit of science itself. Adventure, discovery, and transformation, require a universe with enough heft, enough density and complexity, to make the journey worthwhile. Not only that but in that process there is always a sense of risk - a self-giving, self-sacrificing willingness to take chances in order to take that next step. For every "something more," there's a "something less," or at least the possibility of it, a natural ebb and flow which is close to the flesh and bone of science itself.
Would we give up the awesome power of hurricanes if we could know for sure that no one would ever be killed or injured by one? What else would we be prepared to give up - how child-proofed would we want God to make the universe - if it meant guaranteeing everyone's safety and security? Or isn't it the case that there's something to love in this creation, some gut response to the sheer power and beauty and even love we find in nature, even when it kills us?

More Responses to the Worst of the Worst

ts said...
extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
don't you think jacoby has a point about neutral organizations such as the red cross?
2:41 PM

weazoe said...
Did you actually read the articles? The Herald's investigation was based on an internal Unicef report, from which it quotes at length. In addition, the investigation cites first-hand reports from German and Iraqi journalists, and quotes human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Red Cross as saying that they are aware of and extremely concerned about the problem of child detainees. This is what the report says about the Red Cross:
Between January and May this year the Red Cross registered a total of 107 juveniles in detention during 19 visits to six coalition prisons. The aid organisation’s Rana Sidani said they had no complete information about the ages of those detained, or how they had been treated. The deteriorating security situation has prevented the Red Cross visiting all detention centres.
By the way at least one fact in this story has been widely reported on in the blogosphere and the mainstream media: the rape of a sixteen year old boy. You can read about it at cbsnews here and the washington post here.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Show About Black President Marketed Like Science Fiction

The new television drama, "He's the Chief," is a wild-eyed, fantastical journey through a dream-like, futuristic landscape, according to press releases. The premise of the show? A black man becomes President. "This show will boggle your mind," said studio executive Walt Evans. "It's going to be like the X-Files, only even more unbelievable. When you first get a glimpse of the President sitting in the Oval Office - and he's black! - you're going to know you're in an alternative universe." Some critics have questioned whether the show's premise is just too fantastical for audiences to accept. "It reminds me of that Max Headroom show back in the '80's," said Variety reviewer Bernie Wallace. "Critics loved it because it was so challenging and innovative, but audiences couldn't get their heads around the concept. Science fiction doesn't usually reach a wide audience." Some viewers were already looking forward to the premier, however. "I think it's going to be one of those cult things, like Twin Peaks," said Melodie Fairchild of Seattle. "I mean, it might be a little weird, but you have to hand it to these guys. A black President? Sometimes the craziest ideas make the best shows."

We'll Meet Again Someday

The news that the Pentagon is revising the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations to openly declare the possibility of launching a first strike against terrorists or states suspected of harboring them doesn't exactly come as a surprise, since the Bush Administration has been seeking funding for bunker busting nuclear warheads for three years now and had already hinted that it has a pre-emptive nuclear policy in place. And also since the character played by Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, who rides a warhead bareback to its destination, is a perfectly eerie prophecy of George W. himself. So, the Bush administration has one last gift it wants to give to the world before 2008: a nuclear holocaust. We sort of knew that already. Nevertheless, it's not good news for those of us who plan to be inhabiting the planet for any of the next several decades. How exactly does one launch a pinpoint strike against a terrorist hideout? We can't capture bin Laden because supposedly we don't know where he is. Then what good are nuclear weapons against them? And does it really make sense to think that this policy would actually deter al-Qaeda from launching a WMD attack? I would think, if anything, it would encourage them to do so. The Bush administration has the worst record of any Presidency since the end of World War II on containing nuclear weapons in part because it has repudiated the successful containment strategies of its predecessors, including international non-proliferation and test ban agreements. What the Bush administration doesn't understand is that by rejecting the non-proliferation framework of the Cold War it has effectively promoted nuclear lawlessness, leaving states such as North Korea and Iran with no reasonable choice but to pursue nuclear weapons. These states, whose interests inevitably conflict with ours, have no other deterrent in light of the Bush administration's stated intention to topple their governments through any available means, including nuclear weapons. The Bush administration's nuclear policy is as unwise as it is immoral. It's a foolish government that gives its enemies no choice but to prepare to meet force with force.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Statisticians Inversely Correlate Lindsay Lohan, Houston

Statisticians have discovered a remarkable inverse correlation between the collective weight of the city of Houston and that of Lindsay Lohan, researchers announced yesterday. "It's amazing," stated population analyst and celebrity guru Richard Sanchez. "Over the past two years, the ratio has never varied. As Houston has gotten fatter, Lohan has gotten skinnier. According to our latest calculations, Lohan now weighs about as much as an average Houstonian's butt-cheek." Concerned mathematicians were quick to draw the obvious conclusion. "If the city of Houston can't get its weight down, Lindsay is doomed," announced demographer Barbara Ellsworth. "She's already on the brink. A few more pounds on the part of the average Houstonian and Lindsay is just going to disappear." As of Friday researchers were desperately trying to get the word out on the street. "Please, Houstonians," Ellsworth pleaded. "The next time you go to grab that double-cheeseburger, think twice. Do you really want to be the fat-ass who killed Lindsay Lohan?"

Friday, September 09, 2005

What Happens Now? The End of an Ideology

After 9/11, I woke up in a Bizarro-world where George W. Bush was the most powerful man on earth and whatever he happened to think on that day passed for absolute truth. Ever since, I've had the nagging feeling of having stumbled into the wrong reality - that somewhere in another dimension, Al Gore is President and everything is just the way it used to be. Well, history carries with it its own ironies, reversals, and concealed symmetries. It appears now that as the winds of Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans, we may have been blown back into the "regular" world, the very one we departed from when the planes struck the World Trade Center.

What I mean is that although the catastrophe of 9/11 impacted America in ways that we still don't fully understand, one of the most significant and unexpected consequences was a sudden shift in the national and global balance of power, a dangerous and unfortunate accident which just happened to benefit an extraordinarily fanatical and corrupt regime. In effect the hijacked airliners struck a bulls-eye in the heart of the American democratic tradition, catalyzing an authoritarianism which might otherwise have simply lain dormant. 9/11 created a different America that had always been a possibility but had never yet become actualized. That was 9/11. That was one catastrophe, and its consequences.

Now almost exactly four years later, Hurricane Katrina has struck the United States with equal force, and its repercussions may be exactly the opposite of the previous disaster. In a "post-Katrina" America, it's the Bush administration which looks and sounds hollow and out of touch, with none of its ploys and feints working anymore. The hurricane and its aftermath has galvanized the very populace which has been most complacent in the gradual erosion of freedom and rationality from the character of American public life. The obligation of citizenship, so basic to any civilization, has resurfaced as a legitimate moral concern. The dry bones of democracy are threatening resurrection.

All of this comes at an enormous cost. The suffering of the hurricane and flood victims is just the beginning of the staggering debt we have accumulated through our moral complacency. It includes the suffering of tens of thousands of Iraqis sent to their deaths by American tax-payers, environmental destruction on a global scale, cultural annihilation from Baghdad to Darfur to New Orleans, and everywhere the burden of poverty: violence, crime, neglect, discrimination. This debt is simply the price of admission to our new sobriety, which must become a genuine accounting for our myriad failures as stewards of this time and place, and a realistic assessment of what is now possible and necessary given the damage that's been done.

What I'm saying is that our work is just getting started. We all bear our part in the catastrophe which has been this American way of life, of which the Bush administration has simply been the worst excess, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina its most visible consequence. Cleaning up after that disaster - that's the task that lies ahead.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Responses to The Worst of the Worst

Isabella di Pesto wrote:

James Carroll had a wonderful column in the Globe the other day. He's my favorite writer there.
I used to write to Jacoby regularly to point out his inaccuracies and contradictions. I don't anymore.
I'm sending this post around in an email to everyone in my address book.
But I'm not sure Americans can cope with this disaster as well as the one in the Gulf Coast.
Words fail me.

I responded:

I agree with you that James Carroll is a wonderful writer. I didn't mean to impugn him in my post because out of the entire media he has probably been the most reliable, insightful, and sanest throughout the Bush years. When I spoke to him, it was after a talk he had given in Cambridge, and I told him about the Mackay article. I think that he didn't take me seriously because he thought I was some kind of conspiracy theorist, some crazy guy who had shown up at this talk, which is funny because that's what I felt like. What had happened to me was that in finally losing all faith in the media, I had turned myself into an outsider. I was by definition discredited by the circular logic so perfectly stated by Jacoby in his email to me: what I was saying must not be true because the media had not reported it, and the media would not listen to me because I was discredited. Being trapped by this argument made me feel more and more like a conspiracy theorist, but it was the feeling that society was going insane and not me. This must be what it feels like, I concluded, to try and retain one's bearings in a society which is lurching towards tyranny - almost impossible.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bush In Plain Sight

On Friday the Washington Times voiced a complaint against the President for his many failures in light of the disaster in the Gulf Coast, stating, "We expected to see, many hours ago, the President we saw standing atop the ruins of the World Trade Center, rallying a dazed country to action." The recollection of the President's visit to Ground Zero on September 14th, 2001, strikes me as a little off. Bush basically shouted some inarticulate words about revenge, and that was that. This was not exactly the Gettysburg Address. To conservatives who may finally be opening their eyes to the general lack of character and basic adequacy of this most powerful politician in recent history, I welcome you to reality the way the rest of us have been experiencing it lo these past five years. To me, the Bush whose lack of foresight, disconnectedness, excruciating insensitivity, unserious intellect, and inability to grasp the real nature of a crisis and respond to it, is the same Bush who spent 9/11 fleeing in Air Force One and taking orders from Dick Cheney, who ginned up a phony war based on conned intelligence, who has failed to lead the nation or even offer comfort during that war and the hardships it has imposed on all of us. It's the same guy. I don't know what Bush was thinking by joking to flood victims about his misspent youth in New Orleans, any more than I know what he was thinking when he said that Saddam Hussein was planning to attack America with unmanned aerial drones. For that matter, I don't know what he was thinking back in 1972 when he got drunk, urinated on a parked car, and yelled obscenities at police officers. What can I say? I've never voted for him, for just that reason. To those who did, I can only say that George W. Bush, as far as I can tell, has never changed. He's the same guy you voted for last November. The exact same guy. I promise.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The War Against, You Name It

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with my low opinion of the right-to-life movement, due especially to its disgusting habit of enforcing its anti-woman ideology rather than even attempting to reduce the number of abortions which take place annually. Apparently nothing is going to change anytime soon. Last week the FDA announced that it is indefinitely delaying the decision over whether the morning-after pill can be sold over the counter, offering up the flimsy excuse that the pill would fall into the hands of horny 16 year olds who would use it for the nefarious purpose of screwing in the restrooms [pardon the paraphrase.] This excuse makes no sense because for one thing, pharmacies can solve the problem with a simple ID check and for another, everybody knows that teenagers never use contraception anyway. (Who would have thought that getting teens to take responsibility for their sexual lives could even be possible, let alone undesirable?) The means by which the FDA arrived at its decision is even weirder: it came as a fiat from the commissioner, apparently without the consensus or approval of the rest of the agency. Now FDA Assistant Commissioner Susan Wood has resigned in protest, and with good reason. This is a piece of such rank hypocrisy that it could only be the work of the religious right. There's not space here to wonder again why the Bush administration continues to wage its war on science. I had hoped, however, that a supposedly "pro-life" administration (whatever that means) might at least show a grain of interest in a tool which could cut the estimated 3 million unintended pregnancies which occur every year in half. No such luck. Given a choice between making real progress on abortion, and controlling female bodies like chattle, well there's no choice at all.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Black People Coming Out of Woodwork

Black people are coming out of the woodwork, local and national media reported this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "What the - black people? Living in America?" stated Utah resident and white person Shane McConnell when confronted with the unexpected news. "Didn't they all leave this country - like after the Civil War or something? I had no idea there were any of them still hanging around." Other residents of all-white communities recalled seeing black people in movies and on stage, but never in real life. "I knew that Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, all of those guys were black and living somewhere in America," said life-long Kansas resident Janet Murphy. "But I was damn surprised to turn on my tv and see that all the people they kept saying were drowning and all that were black. I just thought to myself, where on earth did you people come from?" Media personalities were quick to capitalize on the new phenomena. "I need you to get me a black person for tomorrow's broadcast, pronto," Katie Couric was heard ordering to her staff. "I'll be damned if Diane Sawyer is going to be the first journalist to interview a black person live on national tv."

Massive Terror Attack on New Orleans Postponed Indefinitely

Would-be suicide bombers, explosives operatives, and other terrorist foot-soldiers were disappointed this week to learn that the planned attack on New Orleans has been postponed indefinitely. "I couldn't believe it when I got the news," said a bitterly disappointed Yusuf Al-Hassad, a Yemeni radical who had been training with al-Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan. "This mission has been in the works for a year now. We had our gear ready to go and everything. I even made a suicide video," he said with obvious frustration. "Yes, now we are all out of work," his colleague and artillery expert Mohammed Al-Sadr agreed. "What am I supposed to tell my wife? Sorry, New Orleans has already been destroyed? I'm going to be hanging around the house for the next six months now." Long lines could be seen outside of Osama bin Laden's headquarters as terrorists received the news and started looking for work. "It's getting so that a suicide bomber can't even find decent work anymore," al-Hassad said as he leafed through an unemployment brochure. "George Bush has done more damage to America than we ever could."

The Worst of the Worst

I first read this story on child torture by American forces, and this one, last year when it was published in the free daily paper the Boston Metro. It was never reprinted or mentioned in any other American paper. Last summer I started to believe that I was going crazy because I could not believe that such a shocking and profoundly significant story could simply be ignored by the entire American media. I spoke in person about the story to Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, and never heard or read anything more from him. In fact, my confusion led to the following bizarre interchange between myself and Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby:

Dear Mr. Jacoby,
You have frequently written about how Saddam Hussein's infamous atrocities justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq, citing as most egregious the imprisonment and torture of children as an interrogation technique.  This is certainly the sickest thing I can think of in the modern world.  Now it appears it is being practiced by the United States, as reported in this Scottish newspaper and oddly, nowhere else.  You have consistently denounced any comparisons between the actions of the U.S. in Iraq and what Saddam did there.  Is this still a defensible position?  Surely there is no way to spin, no way to rationalize, this kind of atrocity.  If it's true, it's on par with the My Lai massacre and the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in WWII as examples of Americans acting no differently than the dictators we opposed.  Those who have sanctioned it should be removed from power as soon as possible, prosecuted, and sentenced to prison.  It is not a matter of partisanship but a matter of conscience for every American whose political will goes to support this war. wrote:

I'd like to know if the Red Cross or any other neutral organization has confirmed this
report. The media would certainly be all over it if it were deemed

Jeff Jacoby
Op-Ed columnist
The Boston Globe

Finally, in an attempt to save my sanity, I contacted the reporter Neil Mackay myself, and asked him if he would try to "prove" that he existed, a la Snuffalapagus. He told me that was well aware that the American media had frozen out anything it didn't want to hear, and that he had long since given up trying to "prove" anything. So there the story rested, until now. Recently I've read the rumors about the as yet unseen photos from Abu Ghraib, and apparently they will finally confirm the story that Neil Mackay broke over a year ago. And the media will pretend like this was the first time anyone ever heard of it.

I Liked this Movie the First Time I Saw It...

Remember that movie The Day After Tomorrow? The disaster flick about global warming? A lot of conservatives pooh-poohed its pop-environmentalist message, using the film's Hollywood effects and cheesy storyline to pour scorn on the science of global warming. Well, Jake Gyllenhaal aside, that movie looks pretty prophetic now. From frightening weather conditions, to massive flooding, to enormous refugee camps, this may be the new face of global warming. In fact, the whole post-Katrina situation has that eerie feeling of science fiction suddenly becoming reality. Isn't this exactly the scenario that global warming Cassandras have been warning about for years? Which begs the question, will New Orleans be the last American city to end up under water? Or is this a sign of things to come?

Jake Gyllenhaal: Laughing Prophet of Doom?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina Reveals The Ugly Truth About the Bush Era

If the rest of the world didn't know already that the United States in the Bush era is a land of shocking economic disparities, inflamed racial tensions, and increasing poverty for a neglected minority of its citizens, it does now. The sight of masses of black refugees, many of them children and elders, dying while the Bush administration twiddled its thumbs can now be added to the canon of heart-rending and deeply disturbing images produced during the Bush Era, including Ground Zero, the invasion of Baghdad, the assassination of Saddam Hussein's sons, and the iconic torture photos of Abu Ghraib. What Hurricane Katrina has laid bare is the soul of a nation in a deep spiritual crisis, foundering for lack of any kind of leadership. It's a feeling which has become sadly familiar and promises only to become more so as the nation's problems worsen. The looting which occurred in the wake of Katrina is only a symptom of these problems. It is the sign of a people who have become totally disenfranchised from the political process. The distance between their lives and those who ostensibly govern them is immeasurable. They have no recourse, no voice, in Bush's America. That's what Bush has been working assiduously to take away for these past five years - from the gutting of the nation's social infrastructure through war and tax cuts, to vindictive federal "reforms" such as the bankruptcy and litigation acts. Over and over, Bush has proved that he does not even begin to understand such people. His government simply does not represent them. His mindset is entirely shaped by privilege, which produces his characteristic insecurity and defensiveness. America is rotting under Bush's leadership. The voices from across the social spectrum are growing more angry, more frustrated, and more demanding. If nothing changes - if the media refuses to hold the government accountable, if Congress refuses to regulate business and represent the people, if the government refuses to begin addressing the most grievous of its abuses - then there's more where that came from. This has been Bush's summer of discontent, but the worst is yet to come.

Life in New Orleans Pretty Much Like It Always Is

This past week in New Orleans, many hundreds, mostly minorities, died or suffered due to inadequate health care, lack of shelter, malnutrition, dehydration, and gross neglect. This came amidst reports that well-off police officers and restauranteurs were waiting out the chaos in luxury hotels. "Actually, that's pretty much how things work here," said one of the cops as he relaxed in a four star hotel lobby sipping champagne. "It's good to know that even with the hurricane and all, some things about New Orleans never change."

Looting in Washington Continues Unabated

The federal government continued to be ransacked by looters Friday night as authorities were unable to restore control. "The situation is worsening," said a desperate populace over-run by the violent thugs. "Remember that nine billion dollars stolen in Iraq? That's nothing compared to what's going on now." Some of the looters could be seen exiting the Capitol building, where they had grabbed valuable public assets such as pension funds, slush funds, transportation, defense, and health care dollars, and the United States Social Security system. The filthy savages could also be seen plundering the financial district, leaving with fistfuls of money stolen from gas, oil, and electricity-buying taxpayers.

One of the violent looters

Bush Assures Public New Orleans Safe to Swim In

George W. Bush assured a public grown increasingly anxious over the recent flooding in New Orleans that the city is safe to swim in. "Now I know there's a lot of people saying that they don't feel safe swimming in New Orleans. They say they've seen sharks and alligators in that water, and they're afraid to go near it. They say there's decaying corpses floating around. I want them to know they have nothing to be afraid of. New Orleans is a safe, enjoyable place to take your family swimming." To back his words up, Bush took a brief swim down 17th Street, proclaiming the water "refreshing."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred? The Right Tackles ID

One of the reasons why I despise conservatives is that they take good ideas and mercilessly destroy them. This is the case, as I have argued, with sensible restrictions on abortion rights, and it's recently become the case with the theory of "intelligent design." It pains me that the way that most Americans have come to be acquainted with this theory is through the work of that great scientist, President Bush. Like an icepick it pains me. Before the Bush administration ruined it for everyone, Intelligent Design was a theory advanced by scientists (not Christians!) such as Paul Davies and Roger Penrose, as a deep reflection on the nature of the universe and the purpose and possibility of scientific inquiry. The science of intelligent design, which I cannot emphasize strongly enough is real science, focuses on questions such as the probability of this exact universe coming into existence among all possible universes, the origin and meaning of the laws of physics, the nature of time and eternity, and whether the universe was meant to create and sustain life. Such science is simply the rebirth of classical metaphysics, rejuvenated by the 20th century discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics and the concomitant displacement of the Newtonian universe. As Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle before him argued, the science of metaphysics is by no means the crass "God in the gaps" trick which Bush and his fellow morons have made it out to be. The created goodness of the world as Aquinas would have it, or its purposiveness according to Aristotle, is not a "first order" phenomenon, i.e., not an explanation for how rocks fall from bridges or how species adapt to fit their environments. Those phenomena can only be explained through observation which leads to an understanding of causes. Rather, metaphysics is a "big picture" science, the science of first (and last) things, which throws everything into the light in which science may discover it. It is trust in the coherence and reliability and essential goodness of things - the trust that the universe was in some sense "expecting us" and that we should feel at home here - that makes science possible, because it keeps questions open. The sense of wonder at the beauty of things is what shapes the scientists' mind, informs his or her methods, enriches that thinker's soul. So that primal awe is the fuel of scientific inquiry - it is the flame which must be kept burning. Intelligent Design theory represents the very best hope for the nascent dialogue between science and religion - which I believe must urgently take place if the western tradition is going to survive. Yet just when this olive branch between science and religion has been extended, along comes the ghoulish specter of the religious right, attempting to prove that everything bad ever said about religion is really true. Now President Bush, with his inimicable style, has probably ruined the science and religion moment for a long, long time. He has at least done incalculable damage to it with his disgusting, reactionary politics and bastard prejudices. Where science and religion are concerned, the right can only gaze on stupidly, not comprehending either one.