Word and Image of Vermont
The New York Times editorial this morning about Saddam's trial is a dose of far too common liberal claptrap which amounts to little more than having your cake and wanting to eat it too. Predictably, the Times insists that Saddam be given a fair trial. Yet it also expects him to be convicted. But convicted of what? Of being a bad man? The trouble is that fair trials are not about being good or bad. They are about breaking the law. And the Times says nothing about the laws Saddam is assumed to have violated. That's doubtless because talking about laws invariably leads on to talking about jurisdiction. We are in for a vast wave of circumlocution designed to wash away doubts about the legitimacy of the court trying Saddam. We can also expect that he and his lawyers will vigorously deny the court's jurisdiction and argue that it is simply a kangaroo operation set up by brute force to exact revenge. And with respect to rationality Saddam will have the better argument. If the Times were genuinely concerned with a fair trial it would point out that there is no fair trial to be had in the court where Saddam is appearing. Then it could press on to say that he should have been turned over to an international tribunal which could actually cite non-ex post facto laws he appears to have transgressed. But the Times cares only for the semblance of a fair trial, not the real thing. And on this issue it doesn't want to incur the wrath of the Bush administration. So it opts for semblance above all, thus supporting the general charge from the right wing that play-acting is really all the liberalism of the Times is about.  (Posted, 11/30/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

I found out that Bill O'Reilly has posted on his web site a list of "Media Operations that Traffic in Defamation." But when I consulted the list I found only three miscreants: the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times, and MSNBC. Is Bill losing his nerve? What about the New York Times, The Nation, The New Republic, Mother Jones, The Rolling Stone, The New York Review, the New Yorker, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Monthly, PBS? Surely all of them must be defamatory from O'Reilly's point of view. He had better call in Ann Coulter to strengthen his backbone. What's the country coming to when a bulwark of tradition like O'Reilly can find only three far-left defamatory sources for his list -- and two of them newspapers none of the real folks have heard of? No wonder Maureen Dowd says the vice-president is hunkered down in his bunker, throwing papers against the wall, talking only to himself, and telling all in Washington to do to themselves what he has already told Patrick Leahy to do to himself. If the mighty have fallen, or gone soft, who's going to look out for us?  (Posted, 11/30/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post this morning is the most interesting opinion piece I've seen in several months. The main point of the article is to argue that those who are now saying they made a "mistake" during the buildup to war with Iraq should not be allowed to get away with that explanation alone. The serious question is, what was the nature of their mistake? Where did it come from? As those who were paying attention to the Bush administration's arguments in late 2002 and early 2003 know, there was plenty of evidence to show that those arguments were suspect. All one had to do to know that was to read current journalistic reports. Were the Democrats who now find they were mistaken simply guilty of not paying attention to the most momentous decision taken by the U.S. government over the past three decades? And, can that actually be called a mistake? Cohen suggests that lack of courage was more to blame than lack of knowledge. In that, he's right. But, then, Cohen says something  even more fascinating. He admits that he, as well as the rest of the country, got caught up in an emotional frenzy after September 11, 2005. That's the most ominous confession requiring explanation. Why an emotional frenzy? Most of us did not know anyone who was killed in the attacks. The number of deaths, though terrible, was not greater than we ourselves kill every month by accidents, murder, and illegal drugs. Surely what was called for was not frenzy but cool analysis. If every time something bad happens, the country descends into emotional frenzy, our future as a nation is less than promising. Cohen wants us to examine our use of the word "mistake." I do too. But I would rather have us examine our propensity for frenzy. That's where our greatest danger lies.  (Posted, 11/29/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

An article by Adam Liptak in today's New York Times, if read carefully, shows the degree to which the American people have surrendered the right to liberty and have acquiesced in turning the federal government into a tyranny. In the story, titled "In Terror Cases Administration Sets Its Own Rules," Mr. Liptak notes, "Indeed, citing the need to combat terrorism, the administration has argued, with varying degrees of success, that judges should have essentially no role in reviewing its decisions." Then, buried deep in the article, Liptak reports on a series of hypothetical questions which Judge Joyce Hens Green of the Federal District Court in Washington put to Justice Department official Brian D. Boyle about who the military has the right to detain indefinitely without ever giving him access to defense lawyers or to the courts. And the answer, essentially, was anybody the president chooses. I realize that up till now, the government hasn't seized anyone as an "enemy combatant" unless there appears to be some connection between that person and a foreign organization who has expressed hostility to the government of the United States. But the key issue in all such cases is that the government denies that it has any responsibility, whatsoever, to establish the facts of the connection. And if that power is allowed to stand, it means that the government can seize anyone -- no matter who he or she may be -- and by pasting a label on that person, take away his or her liberty forever. If this is not a definition of tyranny, I can't imagine one. The president is saying that the judicial system of the United States should function only in cases where he wants it to function, and if he doesn't want it to function, he simply brushes it aside. There appears to be only minor protest by the people against this claim of overweening power. I know, people think that if the government started seizing people willy-nilly, simply to silence anyone who opposed the president's policies, then somebody would rise up to stop it. But who? We have to remember that in all such cases, there would be trumped up charges which would be skillfully advanced by government spokesmen. Would the Congress have the courage to counter them? Would the courts? We've seen little evidence lately that either would step forward bravely to defend liberty. Only if a desire for liberty resides in the hearts of most citizens will it continue to flourish. We can't expect established institutions to do for the people that which they have neither the mind nor the heart to do for themselves.  (Posted, 11/27/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Republicans are eager to say that their having won over the South by appealing to racist sentiments is a thing of the past. No one should be charging them with that sort of thing now. I've never believed the Republican Party has given up its appeals to bigoted voters. Just because the party has become more subtle in its rhetoric doesn't mean that the substance of the message has been altered.  Consequently, I was glad to see Cynthia Tucker's comment, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about the Bush administration's response to the new voter registration law which was pushed through the Georgia legislature by Republicans. Ms. Tucker admits that Bush himself is not a personal racist yet goes on to say,  "But the president has never been willing to rein in the racists in his ranks. That's because he needs them: Their dirty work helps to ensure GOP victories. Sure, the president may not be a bigot, but if you stand on bigots' shoulders, what does that make you?" She's exactly right about that. There may well be Republican leaders who aren't bigots in their personal relations, but they have depended on those who are to maintain their power for the past forty years. I have a hard time seeing how that's any less reprehensible than harboring vicious sentiments themselves.  (Posted, 11/26/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Some years ago when I was a member of a Montpelier High School parents' committee one of my fellow committee members announced repeatedly, "Hey, I've been out there. I've been out there myself." This was said -- as near as I could determine -- in support of the school's providing sympathetic counseling for students who used drugs. I was reminded of the experience this morning reading an article in the Tampa Tribune by Noel Epstein about how schools have evolved into hybrid institutions for which education of a traditional sort is low on their list of priorities. Certainly, the parents who joined me on the committee in Montpelier had scant interest in the quality of their offsprings' learning. Or I guess I should say, to be fair to them, that they assumed the teachers would take care of education and that parents needed to concentrate on other subjects. Education was viewed as an arcane specialty into which they had no right to project their interest. This has become a prevailing American attitude which goes a good way towards defining the nation. Learning in America is a specialized subject and not a topic that's expected to engage all adult minds. It would be interesting to trace how this happened. In the 19th Century, Americans seem to have believed that general curiosity was a good thing and wide knowledge a desired quality. But I guess the pace of modern life has convinced people that we're now too busy to learn anything unless it can be applied directly to moneymaking.  (Posted, 11/26/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

I just came on a hideously fascistic children's story by Roger Hargreaves titled Mr. Messy. The main character appears to be living happily in a messy house among his messy belongings when one day he happens to walk through the woods and comes out at the house of Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy. They kidnap him, drive through the forest back to his house, straighten up both the inside and outside, toss him into a bath tub, and eventually take away his very name. And they are presented as the heroes of the tale. They remind me of the gated communities I drive by most days here in Florida, with their rules about what can and cannot be parked in the driveways of the houses. I wonder if these rule-worshipping psychotics were set on their course by reading Mr. Messy when they were kids. Tremendous consequences sometimes rise from little artifacts and if we ever devolve into a complete tyranny here in America, Roger Hargreaves can be celebrated as one of our founding saints.  (Posted, 11/25/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The New Republic has begun to beat the drums against a return to isolationism, which the magazine sees around every corner. In recent articles by John Judis and Lawrence Kaplan a return to Ross Perot's old style America first attitude and Henry Kissinger's amoral stance towards the rest of the world is denounced as a kind of retreat to the 1920s. In Judis's piece, findings of the Pew Research Center  are featured prominently to indicate that increasing numbers of Americans are growing weary of the rest of the world and want to retreat to their own affairs, which in the view of The New Republic would be disastrous. Judis doesn't bother to note that the Pew results tend to show what the pollsters want them to. The questions are shaped to elicit a certain response. I don't suppose there is any such thing as a genuinely curious poll which seeks only to discover the truth about what people think. The result of over-reliance on polls is a series of abstract assertions which never dig to an analysis of specific policies. In such arguments, concepts like isolationism loom large even though they tell us little about what Americans would actually like their government to do. The truth is, Americans probably don't know and need precise questioning to help them discover their own desires. But we can't expect pollsters or most magazine writers to help much in that regard.  (Posted, 11/25/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The Knight-Ridder newspapers have been complimented by Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post for pushing back against mischaracterizations in White House speeches rather than merely repeating them. He cites as an example William Douglas who recently pointed to Dick Cheney's continuing conflation of the invasion of Iraq with action against people who carried out the attacks in September 2001. I'm glad Mr. Douglas is calling Cheney to account but that's a fairly weak instance of challenging the Bush administration. The truth is that Mr. Cheney has spoken so foolishly for so long that sensible people now put him in the same category as Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, and Bill O'Reilly. Nobody except jingoist loons take these people seriously. They are good only for laughs. It's true that Mr. Cheney has direct governmental power whereas other right-wing extremists don't. And that's troublesome. But his position should cause reporters to concentrate his on actions and be content with chuckling when he talks.  (Posted, 11/23/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

There are numerous indications that the human race generally is unbalanced. But with respect to one of its notable activities, there's no doubt. When it comes to sex, humans are thoroughly crackbrained. I doubt there has ever been a society in history that has thought sensibly about sexual urges. Clearly, modern Western society is no exception. The new, leaked, document from the Vatican about homosexuality and candidates for the priesthood is strong evidence of the traditional irrationality. There can be little doubt that the sexual scandal which has afflicted the Catholic Church over the past decade rises directly from the Church's settled policy about sex, which seeks to take men, turn them into non-sexual creatures and then declare them superior to other humans precisely because of their non-sexuality. Despite labyrinthine explanations for this policy, it comes from the notion that sex is dirty and low and, therefore, not fit for persons pure enough to represent God on earth. For a long time, when homosexuality was a form of desire not spoken of in open society, men who had no passion for women were consequently obvious candidates for the priesthood because it was easy for them to abjure "normal" desires. Then when it became too obvious to deny that "normal" desires are not the only kind there are, people appeared to be shocked that lots of priests were drawn to boys. What else could any rational person have expected? But, as I say, we aren't rational in these matters. Now, the Church has decided to get tough on homosexuality, banning all candidates who have "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies. Yet replacing one form of self-induced blindness with another will scarcely improve anything. You might say, if you are deeply cynical, that it will lead to priests seeking sex with mature women rather than with immature men, and that this will be better. Perhaps. But, the underlying psychosis remains. Before those of us who are not Catholics begin to feel superior, we should reflect that our own attitudes about sex are just as confused as the Catholic stance is. In this matter we are all fellow humans and, therefore, all equally balmy.  (Posted, 11/23/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

It would be a good thing if we could get one fact about the invasion of Iraq straight in America. I don't suppose, though, that's possible. In late 2002 and early 2003, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, and Mr. Powell did not say they thought Saddam had weapons which threatened the United States. They did not say the weight of intelligence  indicated the weapons were present. They did not say that given all the information they had been able to collect their best estimate was that Saddam posed a danger to the people of this country. No, they said they knew beyond any doubt that massive stores of weapons were in Saddam's possession and that he was ready to use them. Does no national reporter remember  the atmosphere of fear and hysteria  the major figures of the Bush administration sought to drum up in their campaign to launch their war against Iraq? Mr. Cheney can give all the speeches he wants at the American Enterprise Institute charging others with revisionism on the war and calling them corrupt and shameless. He won't change the truth that he and his associates  are the people engaged in revisionism. If someone says he knows something is the case beyond any doubt when in fact he doesn't know it, then he's lying. It's as simple as that.  (Posted, 11/22/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Of all the nonsense blathered about the situation in Iraq, the contention I find most wearisome -- in fact, outright stupid -- is the incessant statement that American forces must remain in the country until Iraqi forces are "trained." The Tampa Tribune repeated the assertion just this morning. Can there be anyone so clueless as actually to think that training is the issue? Why is it impermissible to note that there is no government in Iraq which commands sufficient loyalty to maintain stable and determined military forces? What sane person would risk his life and the lives of his family to fight resolutely for a government that is seen throughout the region as a puppet of the United States? And there can be no government that will win the loyalty of its people so long as it allows itself to be occupied by a foreign power. You can "train" till you're blue in the face, but unless the soldiers believe they are commanded by a legitimate authority worth fighting for they are not going to be steady in battle. Why should they, particularly when they are up against a foe who's the epitome of perseverance? The same issue of the Tribune which pontificated about training  carried a news story about a family of five Iraqis slaughtered by U.S. troops because somebody  thought their car was too close to a U.S. convoy. Survivors said all the Iraqis were trying to do was get off the road so the convoy could go by. The truth in such cases is probably impossible to get at. But you can be pretty sure what most Iraqis believe about it. And no amount of training is going to cause them to shift their belief.  (Posted, 11/22/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Catherine Lynch is a Tampa physician who recently delivered by C-section a gorilla baby at the Busch Gardens amusement park. Asked by a reporter how the operation differed from a human birth, she said it was surprisingly similar. Once the patient was prepared, the process went forward so regularly she almost forgot exactly what she was doing and when the baby was secured she said to her assistant something like, "Gosh, this is a funny looking kid." The incident reminds us that within a few decades many animal species will be able to survive only in environments specially constructed for them by humans. And that will raise a host of questions about how many individuals will be maintained and how they will be cared for, medically and otherwise. We either have passed already or will shortly pass a watershed in which human intelligence will replace nature as the most important decision-maker about the environment. We can only hope we're up to the task. For the moment, though, we can take comfort in knowing that both mother and new baby are doing well at the Busch Gardens zoo.  (Posted, 11/21/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

On August 24, 1993, the state of Texas killed Ruben Cantu, for a crime committed nine years earlier when he was seventeen years old. Now, the only witness to the crime has said Cantu wasn't there, and this has been confirmed by his co-defendant. It has been fairly obvious to anyone who pays attention that numbers of people have been killed by state governments for crimes they didn't commit and that they were, in fact, framed by the police. Mr. Bush has said that such things don't happen in Texas. Now we have pretty strong evidence that they do. I wonder if the president will come forward and make a statement about Mr. Cantu. And if he does, what will he say? So sorry? Too bad? After all, mistakes happen? I think we can be pretty sure Mr. Bush won't lose any sleep over Mr. Cantu's slaughter. That's not in the president's nature. After all, Cantu was just a kid with a ninth grade education. His life won't count for much in our national discussions.  (Posted, 11/21/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

For anyone who knew Orlando before Disney World, the city is a showcase for the horrors of development. A small, pleasant eminently livable city has been transformed into a hideous sprawl where down any street you're likely to be swallowed by a traffic jam that will last not minutes but hours. Moving around the outskirts of Orlando is now worse than navigating through Los Angeles or southwest Chicago. For me the intriguing thing about Orlando, where I went yesterday to gather up relatives at the airport, is that this clotted unplanned mess is what U.S. political leaders mean when they speak of American success. It's a strange definition of the term. It seems that no matter how dollars are generated, and no matter what conditions their production cranks out, burgeoning numbers of them are the only measure Americans can imagine as quality of life. This, I suspect, is the reason the United States has such a weirdly divided reputation in the world. People think they want the dollars but the vision of the whole planet being turned into Orlando is the chief global nightmare.  (Posted, 11/20/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

I was glad to see a letter writer to the Tampa Tribune state one of the obvious truths that are usually forbidden in public discourse. Jim Brett, a retired veteran, noted that thanking recent soldiers for our freedom is nonsense. American military forces haven't gone into action for at least fifty years to protect American freedom, Brett says. The only wars we have fought recently "have been ones of our own choosing and generally where no vital U.S. interest has been at stake." Paeans to militarily-preserved freedom have been routinely employed to mask the genuine purposes for which force has been deployed. A crippling feature of American political debate over the past decades has been a ban on openly  discussing why we use U.S. power as we do. Bathetic sentiments about greeting-card values are regularly substituted for serious debate over when to use violence and destroy life outside our borders. We need more candid voices voices like Jim Brett's in positions of political responsibility in this country.  (Posted, 11/19/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

At a US. Air Force base in South Korea, President Bush made a curious announcement. ''So long as I am the commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground.'' So much for civilian control of the military. The president's statement is also false, but I guess by now falsehood is no longer a matter for comment. None of the military commanders on the ground in Iraq were chosen by voters. None of them has submitted his policies to public debate. So far as I know, none of them has said his own opinion is determining U.S. strategy in Iraq. It has become a tradition for presidents, when they have put American soldiers in untenable positions, to proclaim that it is the soldiers themselves who are setting the policies that get them killed. Just because the president's publicity people can whip up an enthusiastic crowd at a military base does not mean there's any truth in the claim that the president is merely following the advice of the military. If he is, he's failing his Constitutional duties. Trying to put the blame on the military for a foolish foreign policy is a craven political tactic and ought to disgust all members of the U.S. armed forces.  (Posted, 11/19/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Now we have howling on the floor of the House of Representatives. This according to Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. I'm glad to hear it. I think we should have more howling rather than less. Representative Jean Schmidt, a Republican, told the House that one of her constituents, a Marine colonel, had called her up and delivered an astoundingly original message: "Stay the course!" He also suggested that House members who viewed the world differently from himself were cowards. Democrats responded to Ms. Schmidt's message somewhat angrily. I confess I've grown weary of the demands for amity and decorum in Congress. When a majority of members continue to support a presidential administration which has tried to fit the nation with a nose ring, I don't think amity is precisely what's needed. Instead, we could do with members of Congress who can tell the difference between ordinary political maneuvering and attempts to transform the government into something the Constitution never envisioned. And when the latter is what they see going on, a little passion is not out of order. If the people of Congress started punching one another in the nose then, at least, we could believe they were taking their jobs seriously.  (Posted, 11/19/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Here in the region covered by the Tampa Tribune the big news almost every day is Ronda Storms. In case you haven't heard, she is a Hillsborough County Commissioner who has taken on the important duty of protecting the morals of the children of central Florida. Her latest campaign is to make sure that Joe Redner not be allowed to contribute funds to a effort that supports a camp for underprivileged children. Her reason is that Mr. Redner made his money from night clubs where ladies entertain the customers by dancing in various states of undress. Money got that way, she says, is tainted.  Were this Ms. Storms only crusade, I don't guess she would have gotten the attention she has received. But she has been active on a number of fronts. She wants to protect the patrons of the Tampa library against books written about or by gay people. She insisted that a display highlighting the literary activities of the homosexual community be taken down and that all books featuring gay people be kept in a special section of the collection. I guess we should be grateful to Ms. Storms. Some of us are so lax we might not even know about tainted contributions and degenerate books were she not on guard.  (Posted, 11/17/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Guess what? It turns out that some of our flunkeys in Iraq haven't been behaving with perfect decorum. Mr. Naqib, the Interior Minister of the so-called sovereign Iraqi government, says that some mistakes have been made. The mistakes involve "unofficial" prisons run by "Special Interrogation Units" -- a name to warm the cockles of your heart. There seem to be about ten of these in Baghdad to go alongside the five "official" prisons run by the Iraqi government in the capital city. The U.S. Army says it's going to look into all of them, once it finds out where they are. This would be hilarious were it not that such hideous things go on in these prisons. The prison flap points out, yet one more time, the farce of claiming that a functioning, responsible government has been established in Iraq. When a U.S. Division commander can announce that he's going to investigate the activities of the Interior Ministry, it signals where the power actually lies. It lies, of course, with us, and as long as our military is in command, we will be responsible for all the horrors that take place in Iraq. And for this privilege U. S. citizens are paying -- or borrowing -- seven billion dollars every month. And we don't have a Congress with the fortitude to do anything about it.  (Posted, 11/1705)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

One senses that the dam is about to break. The great wall of untruths and deception built up by the Bush administration over the past five years which bottled up thousands of reports of manipulative activity is developing cracks, and people who should have been brave before are suddenly developing backbone. On Sunday morning talk shows, the questions are sharper. Members of Congress begin to say things that couldn't be said three years ago. Issues the Bush people thought had been laid to rest are rising like the ghosts of torture victims. In fact. some of them actually are torture victims. An example is this morning's Washington Post report about meetings between oil company executives and Vice-President Cheney's office. There's nothing illegal about such meetings, nor should there be. But when great efforts are made to keep them secret, there is ample reason to believe that things said there would anger the general population. And when, at a Congressional hearing recently, the oil men denied that the meetings even took place,  then legal issues were brought into play. Any one with half a mind has known from the beginning of the Bush administration that the desires of oil companies were getting more favor from the government than would be the case if the president genuinely wanted to serve all the people. We knew it and, yet, official people couldn't acknowledge it. It was behind the wall. But now we start to perceive that the wall isn't as solid as Mr. Cheney believed it would always be. (Posted, 11/16/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The Atlantic for December has an interesting article by Paul Bloom titled "Is God An Accident?" Mr Bloom is a professor of psychology and linguistics at Yale and so he keeps up with research that indicates the evolution of perception which has nothing directly to do with religion nonetheless predisposes people to believe in spiritual beings. Non-material intelligences just seem logical to people, given the way their brains are constructed. So, unless they analyze their own thought processes very carefully they'll go along with what comes naturally and assume that some sort of non-physical force designed the world to be as it is. And that force we usually call God. People believe in God for the same reason they intuitively disbelieve in the facts revealed by quantum mechanics. His argument strikes me as sensible, but beyond accepting its logic I don't know quite what to make of it. It has been a commonplace of philosophy, certainly ever since Kant, that what we know is only what our brains allow us to know. There may be "realities" our brains can't perceive, but if there are they can't mean anything to us. This is no more than to say that we're limited creatures and that we exist within the bounds of human limitation. There may be some things we don't know. There are some people distressed by that thought. But, as for me, it makes me happy.  (Posted, 11/14/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

George Will said a sensible thing on this morning's This Week.  He was on the Roundtable with his old associates Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson when the subject of teaching intelligent design as science in the schools came up. Look, he said, both national parties are huge conglomerates which are intellectually incoherent. The Republicans have been able to hold together an alliance of financial marketeers and religious fundamentalists up till recently. But it was based on the assumption that the religious people simply wanted to be free to practice their own beliefs.  If, instead, they start pushing to get governmental institutions to advance their agenda, the alliance is going to fly apart. And the recent vote in Pennsylvania, where  intelligent design proponents were dismissed from a school board, is a sign that the fracture is beginning.  Cokie and Sam agreed with him. Such a rare concordance may mean that the unholy alliance at the core of the Republican Party actually is starting to come apart, and, therefore, that it's not unreasonable for the rest of us to hope.  (Posted, 11/13/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Last night I was watching Tim Russert interview Doris Kearns Goodwin about her new book on Abraham Lincoln when I heard Russert say, with a look of incredulity, "I never knew that Lincoln had a sense of humor." It's worth staying up late to hear something like that. We tend to believe the press is inept because of cowardice and the influence of powerful forces determined to hold it in check. And we seldom stop to ask if the media's fatuity rises from abysmal ignorance. And then, there come moments of revelation. Think of it: one of America's most noted journalists has not heard of the most famous characteristic of the nation's most famous president. One is left wondering, what has he heard of? If you peek inside the world of high-powered and high stakes journalism, you find much angst, and much ambition, and much trying to get scoops but I don't think you find much effort to grasp the history of politics. If would be fascinating to know what Tim Russert -- and others of his ilk -- have actually read. I suspect, if you ever did find out, you would be astounded. And if you pushed on to discover what leading politicians have read, your brain might explode. Have we created a power structure in the United States in which the price of entrance is know-nothingness? I sometimes think so. (11/13/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

According to Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown, the giant head has put its giant foot in its giant mouth. He's referring to Bill O'Reilly's latest tirade on the radio, where, in accordance with media custom, he's even more outrageous than he is on TV. Because the voters of San Francisco have done something Mr. O'Reilly doesn't like, he has invited al Qaeda to attack the city. If I were a resident of San Francisco I wouldn't be overly worried. I doubt the radical Islamic organization is eager to take O'Reilly's advice. Still, the invitation will be something of a media flap and the occasion for lots of comedy on the so-called news analysis programs. O'Reilly is a funny guy, I have to admit. I watch his program occasionally and I have never watched it even once when he didn't make me laugh. In terms of eliciting laughter, I'd put him on par with George Carlin. People tell me that some of O'Reilly's viewers don't know he's a comedian, and I suppose that's true. But I don't think that elevates O'Reilly to the status of a dangerous person in the nation. Anybody who would take O'Reilly seriously is a threat to the Republic on his own, whether or not he is being egged on by Mr. O'Reilly's fair and balanced gags.  (Posted, 11/12/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Mr. Clinton went to Hofstra University to participate in a conference on his presidency and during the course of a speech lasting more than an hour said a number of interesting things. But for me, the most telling thing he said will probably be reported as a throw-away line: "We need to be working to create a world we would like to live in when we are no longer the largest dog on the street." Could any thought be more at odds with the policy of the current administration?  At about the same time Mr. Clinton was talking, I was at Lyndon State College making a few remarks which I titled "The Psychological Impact of War and Militarism in Modern America." One of the things I said was that if Americans don't want to rip their national brain apart they're got to decide whether they want to be a dominating militaristic empire or a nation that cooperates with other nations and makes its decisions democratically. Some people may think we can do both but such thinking is deluded. Probably the signal characteristic of the Bush administration is that it cannot conceive of a non-dominating America. Its entire sense of being is tied up with the power to make other people do as we say. Whether that's possible is, for me, a less pressing question than whether it's desirable. I don't think it is and I was glad to learn this morning that Mr. Clinton appears not to think so either.  (Posted, 11/11/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Michael Kinsley, writing in the Washington Post, says that although we have a bill of rights incorporated in the Constitution and the British have no written constitution at all, freedom in Great Britain is more secure because the people there really believe in it whereas the people in the United States don't. I don't know that I would go quite that far, but it's a point worth considering. I suspect that the truth is more complex than Kinsley supposes and that the reason people in the United States seem less concerned with freedom than the British do is that Americans are severely lacking in the imagination needed to put themselves in somebody else's shoes. Americans, by and large, don't care if their government puts people in prison and keeps them there forever without bringing charges against them as long as the people treated that way are different enough from the vision most Americans have of themselves that they can't conceive of their government doing the same thing to them. In their minds, there is no danger in governmental abuse of power because they don't think it will be turned against themselves. The British, by contrast, appear to understand that an unrestrained government has the potential to turn against anybody. It may be more a question of maturity than of love of freedom. Americans appear to be having a hideous time growing up and recognizing they too are people of history and subject to all the dangers that have visited other populations.  (Posted, 11/11/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

When President Bush says something nonsensical, as he did yesterday during his "press availability" with Martin Torrijos in Panama, I would like to think he knows he's not making sense and is simply trying to squirm out of a tight spot. I guess, all in all, I'd rather have a mountebank as president than a complete dope. But, I'm beginning to wonder about Mr. Bush's understanding of his own rhetoric. Maybe he thinks what he's saying is perfectly logical. It's not an unheard of thing. I have known people who made long, totally incomprehensible pronouncements, and then sat back looking triumphant, in perfect confidence they had vanquished their intellectual opponents. When I asked them to parse what they had said, they couldn't do it, of course. But that didn't bother them. They would simply push forward with something just as fractured as their original declaration. Think of this: maybe Mr. Bush is sitting at home right now feeling pleased that he explained clearly why he is opposed to law restraining him from doing something he says he has never done and would never want to do. I know that's a scary thought. Still, it could be true.  (Posted, 11/8/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and Robin Wright have noted that Vice President Cheney is losing support within the administration in his attempt to undercut the Senate bill banning torture and cruel treatment of prisoners. Condoleezza Rice, they say, is making the argument that the U.S. position on torture is hurting us all around the world. There can be little doubt she's right about that. But Cheney doesn't care. We need better studies of the the mentality of men like Cheney. There are many of them in the upper ranks of government and business and my observation of them tells me they are so secretive about their fundamental motives that they're hiding them even from themselves. You might say their basic rule of life is: "Do not know thyself!" Exactly why Cheney wants the CIA to be able to torture people I can't say. But I'd be willing to bet it doesn't have much to do with preventing attacks on the people of the United States. Even if you tortured Cheney he wouldn't tell you. Because he doesn't know.  (Posted, 11/7/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

According to the Washington Post / ABC News poll, thirteen percent of the American people have changed their minds about President Bush's honesty over the past year and a half. I guess I should say better late than never. I'm not, however, in the mood to be that charitable. We know nothing about Mr. Bush now that was not perfectly clear eighteen months ago. So why has this major section of the American public changed its mind? I can't believe it's for good reasons. They have been swayed not by their own knowledge but because they have been told by the media that public sentiment seems to be flowing in a different direction than it once did. And they want to get in line with public sentiment. It may be the only god now genuinely at work among us. This is the big problem with polls in a society such as ours. Instead of telling us what the people do think they more consistently tell the people what to think. And at least thirteen percent are always obedient.  (Posted, 11/4/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Vice President Cheney should step forward and tell exactly what he knows about the Valerie Wilson affair. So says Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times.  If he remains silent it will be "painful for all of us who want to believe in the integrity of our government." I'm sorry, but I can't feel Mr. Kristoff's pain. Wanting to believe in the integrity of this government is like wanting to believe in the open-mindedness of Jerry Falwell. A wish to believe in something you know is not the case is juvenile and leads directly to abject self-delusion. What the American people should want to believe is the truth. And the truth in this instance is that Mr. Cheney and those around him have not hesitated to manipulate and distort in order to pursue a policy they know the people would never follow if the actuality of it were debated openly. This is their settled philosophy of government, to deceive the public, supposedly for their own good. But the public good and the prosperity of the Republican inner circle are distinct conditions which, nevertheless, can never be viewed separately in Mr. Cheney's mind.  (Posted, 11/4/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post has just told the president that he should let the public know what he is doing because that, too, is a part of his job. He should bring things out in the open and talk them through. Government secrecy, says Mr. Hoagland, is not an instrument of first choice but one that should be used sparingly in a democracy. I'm always amused by advice which tells a person to go against his own character. How could it possibly be taken? I've known in my lifetime many people who were hostile to open debate and always avoided it when they could. And in all instances, the reason was the same. They had no confidence in their own knowledge or in their intellectual ability. They don't take the advice of people like Hoagland for the simple reason that they can't. The notion that one can repair in a short while a lifetime of educational neglect is sophomoric. There's a lot of work involved in learning to speak, and write, and think sensibly, and if one has done almost none of it by the time he's fifty years old, it's unlikely that he can repair his deficiencies. That's not to say that one can't learn after he's fifty. I hope we can all keep learning throughout our lives. But if one doesn't start until after that time, he's going to be farther behind than a president can admit himself to be. So, secrecy is his only option. That we have a president in that condition is, to some degree, his fault, but far more ours.  (Posted, 11/3/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Is neo-conservatism a perversion of conservatism? That's the thesis of American Alone by self-proclaimed conservatives Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke. Regular readers of this page known that I regularly have fits about the way "conservatism" is thrown around by an intellectually lazy press, though I don't suppose calling Paul Wolfowitz a conservative is any worse than calling George Bush a champion of democracy. Both claims are abominations. What most Americans probably don't understand is that there has been a thirty year war within Republican ranks between advocates of Henry Kissinger's balance of power politics and the clearly imperialistic policies of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Richard Perle, and Wolfowitz. These two groups dislike each other far more vehemently than either dislikes liberals or Democrats, whom they both see -- with a good deal of validity -- as intellectually irrelevant. That two groups who call themselves "conservative" could actually be struggling against one another is an idea far two complex for the average reporter nowadays. That's why arguments like those of Halper and Clarke don't make it to the evening news. The talking heads there would have to explain that there's disagreement about what actually is conservative, and that effort would blast their minds apart. Consequently, the public goes along happily thinking that American politics is a contest between "conservatives" and "liberals" without asking themselves what either of those benighted terms actually means. (Posted, 11/2/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

I've been out of sorts with the Democratic Party lately, so I might as well get one more thing off my chest. Leaders of the party have been calling recently for Mr. Bush to apologize for this and that and, in particular, for the alleged misbehavior of Scooter Libby. Do they not understand that people who ask for apologies are generally seen as ninnies? It seems Democrats will do everything they can imagine to paint themselves as weaklings. First of all, asking a political opponent to apologize is an obvious hypocrisy. It's what politicians do when they are afraid to put forward any positions of their own. Everybody knows that. Second, an apology received as a result of being asked for is no apology at all. For an apology to have any force it has to rise out of genuine regret and not because it has been browbeaten out of somebody. In truth, apologies have no legitimate place in politics. They may, occasionally, make sense in personal relations. But in politics they are always a sham both for those who give and those who ask for them. Running around demanding apologies is the action of political crybabies.  (Posted, 11/1/05)

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~


Comment or Respond



©John R. Turner

All images and text on this page are the property of
Word and Image of Vermont

This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner

Top of Page           Word and Image of Vermont Home




On and Off Archive    -    November  2005