Harvard Square Commentary

 

A political, social, literary journal,

 

Ernest Cassara, Editor, with Contributing Editors

 John R. Turner & Larry Hamby

 

9 January 2006

 

This is an archive of the main features of 9 January 2006 issue.

For the current issue: www.harvardsquarecommentary.org





In this issue

 

From Liberty Street: “Trilogy of Evil.” By John R. Turner

The Harvard Square Observer: “Whittling Away at Our Liberty.” / Potpourri

The Fifth Humor: “ID is Really Funny.” By Larry Hamby

The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, from Project Gutenberg

Letters to the Editor

Websites of Our Contributors

The Harvard Square Commentary Archives

Dedication to Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Hero of a Free Press

 

 

 

From Liberty Street

 

 

By John R. Turner

 

 

Trilogy of Evil

 

Since the Bush administration has reintroduced the concept of evil actively into public debate I suppose the rest of us have the right to speculate about it. I confess that I don’t believe in evil, at least not in the classic sense of the term. There’s almost no one who is deliberately malevolent. The powers of human rationalization are practically limitless so that people can do almost anything and tell themselves they’re doing it for the right reasons.

 

Still, bad things do happen in the world, and whether we call them evil or not we’re obliged to ask ourselves about their origin. The vast naiveté of the American people allows them to believe that evil is primarily a foreign activity. We may make mistakes here but we pride ourselves that they don’t arise from bad motives. It’s precisely the notion that all American motives are good which blinds us to much of what is happening within the confines of the country.

 

Mark Green and Eric Alterman in their 2004 publication, The Book on Bush, say that the current administration is concerned with the opinion of only three groups in the nation: the religious right, big business, and the neo-conservatives. There are various ways of viewing these groups and their motives, but it seems to me the simplest, and also most accurate, is to associate them, respectively, with fanaticism, greed, and a geopolitical philosophy which is, at best, strongly imperialistic and, at worst, leaning towards fascism. I don’t know whether it’s fair to call these three clumps of belief evil or not. But I do know that each of them is pushing towards a social world that I don’t want to inhabit. And maybe that’s the only useful personal definition of evil: a force which seeks to create an environment you would find nauseous.

 

We are well past the time in this country when the fantastic assertions of so-called fundamentalist Christians should be screened from criticism because they are said to be religious. They are not religious, at least not if we define the term in a reasonable way. We can take the latest fulmination from Pat Robertson as an example. He suggests that God caused Ariel Sharon to have a stroke because God doesn’t want the land of Israel to be divided and Sharon was moving on a plan that would do just that. I don’t know what to say about a mind that brings forth such a notion. It would be easy simply to call it insane and let it go at that. And that would be sufficient were it not that there are legions who think that such silly blather is a manifestation of religious faith. That concept equates religious faith with psychic pathology. We need to be clear about that so that we can move towards clarity with respect to the consequences of affording respect to speech of this kind.

 

The death of twelve men in a coal mine in West Virginia last week is perhaps the millionth demonstration that corporate culture in America values profits over life. I take that as pretty good definition of greed. The Knight-Ridder press association has just issued a report which shows conclusively that since the Bush administration came into power the enforcement of mine safety regulations has fallen off precipitously. The fines for serious safety violations are minimal, and half of them in recent years have not been collected. In 2005, the Mine Safety and Health Administration fined a coal company $440 for a “significant and substantial” violation that caused the death of a man in Kentucky. That fine has not been paid. In that single incident we see the essence of corporate morality and the Bush administration’s attitude towards it.

 

Perhaps a majority of Americans have now heard the name of Scooter Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. But I doubt that anything approaching a majority know who took his place. Last week's Washington Post, published a profile by David Ignatius of the new chief of staff, David Addington, who, according to Mr. Ignatius, is a man who believes there should be no restraints on presidential power and who is prepared to cut down anyone who says there should be. If you’ll read James Mann’s book, The Rise of the Vulcans, about Mr. Bush’s war cabinet, you’ll see that though there are not many figures who will express themselves quite as explicitly as Mr. Addington does, you’ll also see that the entire Bush administration is driven by people who agree with him in essence. They want the United States to dominate the world. They want to use military force to do it. And they have no concern, whatsoever, about the abuse of power by the president. It wouldn’t be right to call these people Fascists because they still work within a political environment in which full-scale fascism is forbidden. But their lust for power is so unrestricted that to say they are possessed by significant elements of the fascist temperament is not out of line.

 

Whether the fanaticism, greed, and maniacal power-grabbing which mark so much of our public life can be called evil has to be left to each individual conscience. From my point of view, collectively, they’re a pretty good substitute for it. And when we have a presidential administration which bases itself in support of those motives, it’s pretty clear that the principal political duty of people who want to support Constitutional government and who believe in civil rights is to oppose it.

 

 

The Harvard Square Observer

 

 

Whittling Away at Our Liberty

 

Civics 101 - Redux

 

 

Shortly after our Harvard Square Commentary was uploaded online a week ago, I received this message from my editorial colleague Larry Hamby:

 

In the HSC, you wrote ". . . I am curious as to whether civics courses are any longer taught in the public schools."

 

I hope I haven't already told you this story. But, if I have, here it is again.

 

Recently in a supermarket, the State of Georgia set up a table staffed by two women in their fifties (I think) who were busily advising people on how to obtain state support for various things.

 

I asked them if schools still taught civics which explained the functions and procedures of government.

 

The response, from both of them was, “what's civics?"

 

I rest my case.


Larry

 

That, I fear, about sums it up. Although I would still like to hear from some active public school teachers.

 

I have been putting together a list of the infringements on our liberties by President George W. Bush’s administration. In the process, I happened to run across the following words by Dostoevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” But, as we now know, it ain’t that simple. We Americans, who have always prided ourselves on our fair play, and devotion to law, now know that our public servants have been snatching up folks after dark from the streets of other countries and spiriting them away to secret prisons. The CIA, of course, is only following the orders of our elected president and vice president.

 

But, of course, things are no better in the prisons we know about. No need to go into Abu Ghraib again. We have all seen with our own eyes what happened there. But, Guantánamo is another matter. When the prison was set up on Cuban soil, the administration thought it could get away with the illogic of claiming that American courts had no jurisdiction over the cases of inmates there, since it is not located on American soil. Illogic supreme. Our courts have no jurisdiction, they claimed, but, they did!

 

In any case, so-called enemy combatants have been incarcerated there. We American citizens do not know who they are. Their families do not know where they are. Were it not for a valiant band of lawyers, who have been struggling for several years to get their cases before American courts, the folks incarcerated in its cages might spend their remaining years of life jailed by what we like to consider the greatest democracy on earth.

 

And, now, the administration is asking federal judges in Washington to dismiss cases brought by prisoners at Guantánamo, seeking to deny them the right of habeas corpus, which, if I remember correctly, is a right that goes all the way back to Henry II in the 12th century.

 

Then there is the case of Jose Padilla, an American citizen, arrested at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and thrown into a navy brig, accused of planning to detonate a “dirty bomb.” Now, after being in the brig for three-and-a-half years, the government wants to try him in a civil court, no longer charged with wanting to detonate a dirty bomb. The Associated Press reported: “The criminal charges do not involve allegations that had been made by the administration since 2002 — that Padilla was part of an al-Qaida backed plot to blow up apartment buildings. Instead, a grand jury charged Padilla with being part of a North American terrorism cell that raised funds and recruited fighters to wage violent jihad outside the United States.”

 

It is incredible, but true, that the Supreme Court has overruled 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said this was impermissible, that the government was just trying to avoid the original case going to the Supreme Court. (The Supremes promise, however, to look into the point made by the Court of Appeals.) Isn’t this wonderful treatment of a fellow American?

 

 

Writing in the Washington Post (01/02/06), Ruth Marcus reminded us of the words of Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), as he opened the first public hearing on the super-secret NSA: “We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA, in light of its tremendous potential for abuse. . . . The interception of international communications signals sent through the air is the job of NSA; and, thanks to modern technological developments, it does its job very well. The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications."

 

As Marcus wrote, “If those words sound applicable to the controversy over warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, consider this: They were spoken 30 years ago, on Oct. 29, 1975.” Yes, they are just as applicable, if not more so, when we now learn that President Bush has taken it on himself to violate the law and order wiretapping of American citizens without court orders. Orders, it is to be noted, that could easily have been obtained from the special court set up for that purpose. Mr. Bush said sometime back that things would be much easier were he a dictator. Well, he is acting like one. No doubt, egged on by Vice President Cheney who has said that the presidency’s powers were unduly restricted after the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

 

For the moment, because of congressional maneuvering, the Patriot Act is in limbo. The Congress will have to act on its renewal within a couple of weeks. Mr. Bush is plugging hard for its renewal. Civil libertarians, however, still boggle at the idea that the government can snoop in library records — to see what we are reading! — and our medical and business records. And, of course, just as damning is the “sneak and peek” provision, which allows government agents to break into your home or business, search it, and — oh yes! — to let you know they have done so when they jolly well get around to it.

 

As you are aware, Senator McCain and others pushed through the Congress a prohibition of torture by agents of the United States. There was a nice photo op of the senator and the president in the White House. The legislation was opposed by Bush and Cheney, the latter wanting to exempt the CIA from its provisions. With the heat on, in the nature of a bad press, the president signed it. But, we, and an irate Congress, have learned that he issued a “signing statement” that allows him to weasel out of the law, if he so desires. He can decide not to be bound by it, citing his desire to “protect national security.” As Professor of Law David Golove, who specializes in the study of executive power at New York University, was quoted as saying in the Boston Globe (1/4/06): “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so andnothing in this law is going to stop me. They don’t want to come out and say it directly because it doesn’t sound very nice, but it’s unmistakable to anyone who has been following what’s going on."

 

So much for constitutional government and the separation of powers!

 

I happened to change channels on television the other day, checking to see what was being broadcast by C-Span. On the screen was James Yee, who had served as Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo. He explained that on his return to the United States, he was arrested and jailed for 76 days — until the military discovered its mistake!

 

So, friends, if Mr. Bush gets his way, we will soon be a dictatorship, and a stupid one at that!

 

 

Potpourri

 

 

Hannan Ashrawi, and other Palestinian leaders, were campaigning in East Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago, but, were stopped by Israeli police. Israel is threatening to prevent the thousands of East Jerusalem Palestinians from voting in the upcoming Palestinian elections. Well, if they are not part of Palestine — and Israeli is doing its damndest to cut off that part of the city from neighboring Palestinian communities — those folks will become residents of Israel, and will demand to vote in Israeli elections and be treated as first class citizens. Is that what Israelis really want?

 

 

One can only conclude that the media absolutely enjoy quoting Pat Robertson, who announced to the world on 5 January that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was due to God’s “enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’”

 

“He was dividing God’s land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations, or the United States of America,” Robertson announced on “The 700 Club,” broadcast from his Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach. “God says ‘this land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.’”

 

One hates to argue with the Reverend Nutcake, but which god is he referring to? The universal God of the great Prophets, or the tribal god who instructed the wandering Hebrew tribes to march on to Canaan, slaughter the residents thereof, and establish their Israel?

 

This, of course, is not to ask him an equally difficult question. If God created humanity, does that not include the Palestinians?

 

It is equally amazing that some Israelis consider folks of Robertson’s ilk friends of Israel. But, their only interest is to see Israel survive so that their Christ can return. At which point, their Lord will give the Jews the choice between conversion to Christianity or eternal perdition!

 

Some “friends” of Israel!

 

 

 

The Fifth Humor

 

BY Larry Hamby

 

ID is really funny!

 

There are probably many (50% of the American public is one figure advanced) who find the idea of Intelligent Design appealing. I am not among them. I suggest that no thinking, educated person will be among them. ID is really is funny!

 

Now that I have antagonized some of HSC’s readers, here are some of my reasons. I wish there were space enough to include more, but there isn’t, so I have abstracted some materials and refer you to others.

 

I suspect that most of us have already learned of Pastafarianism. Here’s a bit for those who have not.


A fragment from the New York Times, by SARAH BOXER (Published: August 29, 2005):

 

Is the super-intelligent, super-popular god known as the Flying Spaghetti Monster any match for the prophets of intelligent design?

 

This month, the Kansas State Board of Education gave preliminary approval to allow teaching alternatives to evolution like intelligent design (the theory that a smart being designed the universe). And President Bush and Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee both gave the thumbs up to teaching intelligent design.

 

Long before that, Bobby Henderson, a 25-year-old with a physics degree from Oregon State University, had a divine vision. An intelligent god, a Flying Spaghetti Monster, he said, “revealed himself to me in a dream.” He posted a sketch on his Web site, showing an airborne tangle of spaghetti and meatballs with two eyes looming over a mountain, trees and a stick man labeled “midgit.”

 

Prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, his website says, end with “ramen,” not “amen.”

 

For more, go to his website:  www.venganza.org

 

And, there are competing theories of science, apparently stimulated by ID. Here’s one from the August 17, 2005 issue of The Onion:

 

TOPEKA, KS-As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

 

“Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, ‘God’ if you will, is pushing them down,” said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

 

Burdett added: “Gravity — which is taught to our children as a law — is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, ‘I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.’ Of course, he is alluding to a higher power.”

 

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world’s leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

For more information, go to:

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/39512

 

And next, a new understanding of “ID”

 

The Other I.D.

 

An interview with Don Wise, creator of “incompetent design” by MAGGIE WITTLIN • Posted November 15, 2005 06:25 PM



Wittlin: Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the nation’s foremost proponent of ID. No, Wise isn’t getting ready to testify on behalf of the school board in
Dover, PA. Rather, he advocates for a different version of the acronym: “incompetent design.”

 

Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence. Seed asked him to chat about his theory, reactions he’s received to it, and the anthem he penned to rally people to his cause.

 

Regarding incompetent design, why is the creator not intelligent?

Wise: I didn’t say that! We don’t get into religion. The last thing we want to do is get into arguments of religion, a creator and so on. We’re just: “Is there, or is there not, intelligence in the design?”

 

Wittlin: So is there intelligence in the design?

 

Wise: Yes! No, no there isn’t. The thing that perhaps is closest to all of us is our own skeleton, and there are certainly all kinds of stupidity in our design. No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us.

 

All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging, like all the other great apes. And the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution’s way of modifying something or else it’s just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student.

 

Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn’t count accurately above 20?

 

Look at the bones in your face. They’re the same as the other mammals’ but they’re just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!

 

So is this evolution or is this plain stupid design?

 

Wittlin: You must have received some serious criticism of your somewhat jestful theory?

 

Wise: Well, I got one, which I showed at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meetings.

 

An envelope postmarked Minneapolis, with monkeys all over it and inside it, with a great big blue ribbon, a note saying I had been awarded the “Moron of the Month” award, that I was a dork, an idiot, that only someone who thought their ancestors were monkeys would be dumb enough to say what I had, asking me if I wanted to debate it. It left an email address at “darwinistsaredumb@hotmail.com.”

 

These are the kind of things you NEVER really answer, but I couldn’t resist. So I used the H.L. Menken approach:

 

 “Dear Sir,

 

You should be aware that some idiot is writing absolute nonsense and signing your e-mail address to it. You should take action on this before your reputation is further sullied!”

 

But most of the things I’ve gotten have been positive.

 

Wittlin: If you were to redesign things, how would you make design intelligent?

 

Wise: Well, for one thing I would put fewer teeth in our mouths. I would put fewer bones in our face, so that it could drain properly. I would straighten up the pelvis so we wouldn’t have to have that bend. I would certainly take out the appendix so we don’t have that problem and the tonsils, too.

 

And I did have one other. Some guy from Texas listed a number of things with this and he said, “Actually I would write more, but I have to go pee in Morse code, because some idiot designed my aging prostate.”

 

Intelligent designers and, in fact, everybody from the creationists and so on back to the beginning of the last century used to talk about the wonderful design of the eye — which somehow has all your receptor cells behind a membrane curtain!

 

I mean, evolutionarily all of these things make sense but in terms of a reasonable, intelligent design? They’re idiocy. So, the argument is there is no intelligence there in a lot of these things.

 

Wittlin: Some people argue that the system of evolution itself is some sort of intelligent design. Do you have any response to that?

 

Wise: Again, you’re dealing with the supernatural, and this is something that’s not science. Basically we operate with questions that are answerable by evidence. Once you get into the supernatural there is no evidence. Anything can go one way or the other. So, I think it is just kind of nonsense to suggest otherwise, that there is no way you can prove it one way or another.

 

Wittlin: The song you wrote is wonderful.

 

Wise: (Here are the lyrics, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”)

 

My bones proclaim a story of incompetent design.
My back still hurts, my sinus clogs, my teeth just won’t align.
If I had drawn the blueprint, I would cer-tain-ly resign.
Incompetent Design!

 

Evo-Evo-Evo-lution!
Design is but a mere illusion
Darwin sparked our revolution.
Science SHALL prevail!

 

The Other I.D. was written by Maggie Wittlin, posted on November 15, 2005 06:25 PM, is in the category Evolution & Ecology and is located at http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2005/11/the_other_id.php

 

© Copyright 2006 Seed Media Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.



I have a footnote to Wise’s comments. It seems to me that one only needs to point to the mammalian reproductive system to wonder about the intelligence (or at least the efficiency) of a designer. And in the case of human beings, it seems to me that the orgasm must have been added as an afterthought, for otherwise no one would ever reproduce!

 

Finally, have you heard about another approach: that there is a designer and his name is Murphy!

 

Cheers!

 

 

The Souls of Black Folk

 

 

By W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1963

 

I

 

Of Our Spiritual Strivings

 

O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand,

    All night long crying with a mournful cry,

As I lie and listen, and cannot understand

    The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea,

O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I?

    All night long the water is crying to me.

 

Unresting water, there shall never be rest

    Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail,

And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west;

    And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea,

All life long crying without avail,

As the water all night long is crying to me.

 

                                                                             ARTHUR SYMONS.

 

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

 

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting- cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card, —refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the words I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head, —some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

 

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, —a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

 

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

 

To read the entire text of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), one of 17,000 etexts on line, visit:

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/408

 

 

 

 

This is an archive of the main features of 9 January 2006 issue.

For the current issue: www.harvardsquarecommentary.org