A political, social, literary journal,
Ernest Cassara, Editor, with Contributing Editors
John R. Turner & Larry Hamby
This is an archive of the main features of 9 January 2006 issue.
For the current issue: www.harvardsquarecommentary.org
In this issue
■ 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
■ Dedication to Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Hero of a Free Press
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
The death of twelve men in a coal mine in
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
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.
Whittling Away at Our
Civics 101 - Redux
Shortly after our
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
So, friends, if Mr. Bush gets his way, we will soon be a dictatorship, and a stupid one at that!
and other Palestinian leaders, were campaigning in
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
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
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
Some “friends” of
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:
Is the super-intelligent, super-popular god known as the Flying Spaghetti Monster any match for the prophets of intelligent design?
This month, the
Long before that, Bobby Henderson, a 25-year-old with a physics
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
“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
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
For more information, go to:
And next, a new understanding of “ID”
The Other I.D.
An interview with Don Wise, creator of “incompetent design” by
MAGGIE WITTLIN • Posted
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
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
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 “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
These are the kind of things you NEVER really answer, but I couldn’t resist. So I used the H.L. Menken approach:
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
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
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.
Design is but a mere illusion
Science SHALL prevail!
I.D. was written by Maggie Wittlin, posted on
© 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!
By W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1963
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.
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
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
To read the entire text of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), one of 17,000 etexts on line, visit:
This is an archive of the main features of 9 January 2006 issue.
For the current issue: www.harvardsquarecommentary.org