Saturday, December 30, 2006

The real trial we need to further democracy.

Once again U.S. President George W. Bush demonstrates his fascist disregard for human life and democracy. Bush has praised the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as "an important milestone," but the question is: on the road to where? Bush claims the execution is a milestone on the road to building an Iraqi democracy, but in fact it is only building an Iraqi fascism in the image of the USA's brand of fascism. Every true democracy in the world has abolished the death penalty because their people recognize it is an essentially barbaric act that has absolutely no utility other than debasing their humanity in the name of revenge.

The USA is in the camp with such great "democracies" as communist China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iran as the most prolific executioners in the world. Luca Signorelli's Fresco of the Apocalypse at the Orvieto Cathedral of the San Brizio Chapel in Orvieto, Italy, depicts mass executions as a sign of the time of the Anti-Christ. Perhaps that is something for the evangelical Christians who support Bush and the mass executions of the USA to meditate upon.

Bush said: "It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial.” Excuse me, but no, Hussein did not receive a fair trial. For example, his defense was limited by severe restrictions, and his sentence was announced before the verdict.

Bush’s claim that the execution "is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror." demonstrates that he has no clue what being a democracy actually means. The execution of Saddam Hussein has absolutely no connection to the phony “war on terror” and Bush’s repeated lies attempting to connect them only show his fascist disregard for the truth in his zeal to issue propaganda. There is not one statement by Bush about the purpose of the US occupation that rings true, and most of all that Iraq or Hussein had anything to do with the attacks of terrorism on the U.S. In fact the only attack on the US that Hussein threatened was to change the currency of exchange for oil from US dollars to EU euros.

If there is any trial that is absolutely necessary in order to secure a democracy for the United States of America it is the impeachment and trial of President Bush himself. Until Bush is impeached and tried we cannot say that the USA is today a true democracy. We are reminded by the recent death of President Gerald Ford how the conservatives feel that law and order apply to anyone but themselves. Bush's imperial sense of invulnerablilty to criticism can be seen as directly stemming from Ford's unpardonable pardon of President Nixon.

Dennis Kucinich, the man who should be president, asks about accountibility:

Who will be held accountable for sending 3,000 US troops to their deaths in Iraq, for a war based on lies?
Who will be held accountable for the deaths of over 655,000 innocent Iraqi civilians during the course of this illegal war?
Where is the two trillion dollars that this war is going to cost coming from?
When will Congress be held accountable for having voted to go to war?
When will Congress be held accountable for continuing to fund a war, and for abandoning our troops to a conflict that cannot be won militarily?

Sean Penn in his recent comments on receiving The 2006 Christopher Reeve First Amendment Award also asks, "And, where is the accountability on behalf of the American dead and wounded, their families, their friends, and the people of the United States who have seen their country become a world pariah?"

Where the president has violated the Constitution and International Law and lied to the people in order to prosecute an invasion that violates every principle of Nuremberg and by ordering the invasion has ordered the killing of thirty (30) to two hundred (200) times more innocent Iraqi civilians than the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks and resulting in more Iraqis being killed than Saddam Hussein ever ordered killed, and still the congress refuses to consider impeachment, one can only say that democracy is missing in action.

Sean Penn said it most colorfully in his acceptance speech, "So...look, if we attempt to impeach for lying about a blowjob, yet accept these almost certain abuses without challenge, we become a cum-stain on the flag we wave." Bush's pronouncment and glorification of death on the the execution of Saddam Hussein are yet another such stain on the red, white, and blue dress of democracy.

Reference links:
BBC News: Saddam Hussein executed in Iraq
human rights death penalty
Ten Reasons Congress Must Investigate Bush Administration Crimes
In These Times:In Praise of Impeachment
Dennis Kucinich's statement on Saddam Hussein - Accountability
Sean Penn's Acceptance Speech of the Christopher Reeve Award

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Freedom to Choose a Good Book Is the American Way of Civilization

American fascists are making Keith Ellison a household name. Who, you might wonder? Keith Ellison is the newly elected congressman from Minnesota's Fifth District and is the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress. Much to the consternation of American fascists, Congressman elect Ellison has announced that he will not take his oath of office by placing his hand on the Bible, and instead chooses to be sworn in using the Koran.

I recently learned that a national campaign has begun to oppose the use of the Koran in the swearing-in ceremonies for representatives, senators, and even the President and Vice president. The American fascists are sending emails and letters to legislators asking for a law to prevent the use of any other book than the Bible for taking the oath of office.

Why? Because to use any other book would “undermine American civilization” according to columnist Dennis Prager. The so-called “good Christians” of the American Family Association have endorsed and embraced Prager’s fascist views and assert that because Prager is a Jew that it is not just a Christian issue. Of course they don’t acknowledge that the first half of the Christian Bible is the Jewish Bible, and therefore for a Jew to advocate the exclusive use of the Christian Bible is actually advocating the exclusive use of the Jewish-Christian Bible. Of course for Prager to place his hand on the Bible to take an oath, if he were an observing Jew, he would have to accomplish the mental gymnastics of having his hand only reach down to the first part of the book and stop before including the New Testament.

Prager’s un-American ranting is really something to wonder at. First he says, Ellison “should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.” This silliness is really fascinating from someone who is supposed to be engaging in rational discourse. If one believes that placing one’s hand on the Koran is a threat to American civilization, then clearly the holder of that belief is extremely hostile to the Koran. To argue otherwise is just absurd sophism.

Then Prager says, by way of example, “What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.” Dennis Prager’s education is woefully lacking as he evidently never learned in school that America doesn’t have a “holiest” book, because the USA believes in the doctrine of the separation of Church and State. This doctrine by the way is enshrined in our US Constitution’s First Amendment, as well as evidenced by the fact that God is not mentioned anywhere in the US Constitution. What a great document it is!.

But the real irony is that the fascists like Prager overlook the very core of the symbology of the oath taking ceremony as it relates to American civilization, that is the very purpose of putting a hand on a book. The person is not swearing allegiance to the book, nor to a religion or a culture, he or she is swearing allegiance to the US Constitution. The ceremony is one in which the person is stating an oath of allegiance, based exactly on their own personal religious and spiritual faith, that they will uphold and protect the US Constitution. We accept this oath precisely because it is based on the person’s sincerity and personal integrity as evidenced by their hand on the book that they themselves uphold to be the highest expression of their spiritual and moral life. That's not to hard to understand is it?

Contrary to how Prager and similar totalitarian thinkers see damage “to the fabric of American civilization” if Ellison is allowed to choose his own book, it is squarely this choice that is the fabric of American civilization. The book chosen is intensely personal and individual by design! Other wise the oath of office would be meaningless. If would be as meaningless to a Muslim to make the oath with his hand on the Bible as it would for a Jew to make the oath with her hand on the Koran. Or for either to make the oath with their hands on the phonebook.

There are only two rational positions to have on this question. Either the person being sworn in must get to choose the book that represents to them their most personal and important evidence of their own integrity and sincerity, or the book should be the document to which they are pledging allegiance, that is the US Constitution.

If the fascists want to avoid having the Koran being used in the oath of office, then the only American alternative is to remove all religious books from the ceremony and have the hand placed on the US Constitution itself. This of course would change the central meaning of the act itself. Instead of being the indicator of the source of one’s spiritual and moral values, as the book now represents, the hand on the book would simply indicate the object to which the oath is being given. That is workable, but the consequence means that there would be no observable ritual and ceremony showing the personally meaningful traditional source of the moral integrity of the oath taker.

If a person puts his or her hand on a Bible, Koran, Buddhist Sutra, or whatever book that gives them their roots of moral strength, then I feel that is a welcome indication of the character of the person who is taking the oath. Prager’s Chicken Little “the sky is falling in on American civilization” warning, of course, only presents his own hubris even as he projects his hubris onto Ellison. For Prager to worry that some elected Nazi might use Mein Kampf, or that an elected Scientologist might use the book Dianetics,is really a baseless worry. If those are the books a newly elected Congressperson would choose, then those books are the evidence of their sincerity. I would much rather have a congressman openly show us that he considers Mein Kampf to be his greatest moral inspiration than to have him secretly embrace it while publically putting his hand on the bible.

Mr. Prager, this is America – with its separation of church and state– if you don’t like to have Muslims in office, then don’t vote for them, but you don’t get to dictate your religions views onto others and prevent them from using the book that means most to their moral character.

Mr. Ellison, thank you for putting your hand on the Koran. You make America a better place to live by showing that a Muslim can get elected and make an oath to support the US Constitution.

Now, when do we get to have a Buddhist or an atheist elected to Congress?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reality Testing Fails at PBS

Here's a BBC bit about President Bush's recent comments at the Nato summit in Riga:
He rejected the use of "civil war" as a term to describe the fighting in Iraq, preferring to say: "The battles in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a struggle between moderation and extremism that is unfolding across the broader Middle East."

One wonders why the fierce opposition to the term "civil war"? The Bush administration is doing everything it can to prevent the term "civil war" being given credibility. However, like it's "war on terror" in Iraq even in this war of propaganda the Bush administration is losing. The Los Angeles Times over a month ago began officially using the term civil war for the Iraq situation and this week NBC announced that it too would begin using the term civil war officially.

Last night on PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer there were four "journalists" talking about whether it is a "civil war" in Iraq. Though the foreign editor from the LA Times, Marjorie Miller, described her paper's adoption of the term and the Bush propagandist from Yale DONALD KAGAN, Professor of History, said "I don't see how it helps" to call it a "civil war", none of the four journalists, including the New Hour's reporter JEFFREY BROWN, ever bothered to even state the definition of "civil war." This clearly demonstrates the complete lack of reality testing that is evident today in the national media.

Well for those who like their reality tested by the facts, here is the definition from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

civil war
One entry found for civil war.
Main Entry: civil war
Function: noun
: a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country

So DONALD KAGAN, a professor of history at Yale University, says,
"It has been very significantly Sunni against Shia, perhaps in a more cloaked form. The majority of the government is, after all, Shiite, as the majority of the country is. The Sunnis have been insurgents because they refuse to accept the fact that their minority will no longer be allowed to lord it over the majority. The first job has always been to convince the Sunnis, however we do it, that they must accept the new realities.

And then he has the audacity to say this is not a civil war. Obviously, KAGAN'S "new reality" doesn't include using language accurately to state the self-evident truths. Whether or not his simplistic description of the fighting as being between Shia and Sunni is accurate, it clearly and unambiguously meets the plain definition of civil war. Yet this professor says it does no good to call it a civil war. How could this be? How could it do no good to use the English language properly?

The answer of course is that like all propagandists, Professor KAGAN, doesn't want the language used plainly when it can be bent to his own ends, which he very clearly stated were the continuation of the Bush agenda in Iraq. KAGEN understands that if people see the fighting in Iraq for what it is as a civil war underneath an occupation, that the reason for the occupation evaporates unless we choose sides. And as we discovered in Vietnam, if we choose the wrong side we lose anyway.

As much as this segment exposed the muddleheaded propaganda of the Yale professor, I can't help but think that the whole piece by JEFFREY BROWN would have made much more sense and benefitted the public discourse to a far greater extent if he had only begun with the simple definition of civil war and measured the words of his interviewees against that conventional reality.

If we return to Pres. Bush’s quote at the top of this piece, we see that Bush does the classic bait and switch by claiming the war in Iraq is not a civil war because it is “part of a struggle between moderation and extremism that is unfolding across the broader Middle East.” Of course whether or not there are similarities in any other country between the sides fighting in Iraq is irrelevant to answering the question of whether the fighting in Iraq is “a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country.” The vast majority of deaths in Iraq are Iraqis killed by other Iraqis. That US troops are there killing Iraqis and being killed by Iraqis is only another layer of fighting which makes the occupation a political cover for the civil war.

President Bush’s continuing denial of the civil war in Iraq is like a veterinarian who can’t tell the difference between a horse and a crocodile. He can’t have much to say about how to be of help if he can’t even diagnose the species of the animal he’s dealing with. No one should believe that Bush is that stupid as to believe the propaganda is issues. The underlying problem with our democracy is that the national news media like PBS totally fails to measure the government’s propaganda against something as simple as a dictionary definition.

On another note of failed reality testing by PBS last night was the great presence of ex-President Jimmy Carter being interviewed about his new book "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid". Here JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent, was in the full glory of inside the beltway bias. There is a funny thing the journalists do when they interview someone like President Carter who presents a politically unorthodox view not countenanced by the opinion makers in the media. They take an adversarial position and call that being "objective." You don't see this approach when they interview people who are the purveyors of political orthodoxy with whom the publishers and editors agree.

Well, I'm happy to report that Pres. Carter gracefully put Ms. WOODRUFF in her reportorial place. Here's the exchange in which Pres. Carter politely outed WOODRUFF's bias.
JUDY WOODRUFF: President Carter, people would listen to what you're saying here, and they would read your book, and they would say, "He's putting the onus here on the Israelis." And many would return that by saying, "But wait a minute. It's the Palestinians who continue to fire rockets into Israeli land. It's the Palestinians who have kidnaped Israeli soldiers. It's the Palestinians that continue to perpetuate terrorist acts against the Israelis."

JIMMY CARTER: Sure, that's what you say, and that's the general consensus in the United States. The fact is that, when the Palestinians dug under the Israeli wall from Gaza and captured the Israeli soldier, one soldier, at that time, Israel was holding 9,200 Palestinians prisoner, including 300 children, almost 300, 293 children, some of them 12 years old, and holding almost 100 women prisoner.

And immediately, the Palestinians who took that soldier said, "We want to swap this soldier for some of our women and children." And the Israelis rejected that proposal and refused to swap at all with the Palestinians in the West Bank. That was the key to the issue.

So it's right that the Palestinians took a soldier, which they should release. But for Israel to keep 9,000 Palestinians and not release any of them is something that you don't mention in the question, and it's generally not even known in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we want to give you the opportunity to give that side of the story...

JIMMY CARTER: That's why I wrote the book.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... as well, and that's why we're here talking to you about it.


WOODRUFF"S bias was again exposed in her final comments of the segment when she exited with these words:
JUDY WOODRUFF: President Jimmy Carter, with some passionately held views. We thank you very much for being with us on the NewsHour. We appreciate it.

Everyone who knows anything about reportage knows that the words "passionately held views" are code for "emotional and irrational beliefs." So, there she was getting a strong dose of reality testing from Pres. Carter, and her response was to dismiss him by saying in effect, "Well, that was nice, too bad you are irrational."

So much for the ability of PBS reporters to provide reality testing for the public. For now, we the public must gather our reality between the lines, using our own good sense to defend against the beltway propaganda presented by the government with the willing cooperation of the national media..

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Iraq Game Show is All About the Money

Whether you call it "oil profits" or "weapon's profits" or "campaign contributions", the fatal Game Show that is Iraq is all about the money.

Bruce K. Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and has written an opinion piece about the mounting debt of the Iraq avdenture. The full essay is below. This phony war on terror is costing as much as the Vietnam War and Bush is going to Congress soon to ask for more moola.

Gagnon correctly draws our attention to current events. "In our recent national election, the people voted for a change in policy in Iraq. The message seems to have reached Washington and their answer to the public appears to be 'OK, we will change our policy. We will dramatically increase the amount of money we are spending on the war and we will send even more troops.' Not quite what the 62 percent of Americans who oppose the war had in mind." No, not by a long shot.

What's it all about? As Gagnon points out, "Our nation's No. 1 industrial export product today is weapons. In 2006 the U.S. exported more than $21 billion in weapons —— up from $10.6 billion the previous year."

One has to ask why spend all this money on weapons and war when it goes without saying that the crippling debt would be better spent on infrastructure, as Gagnon suggests "building trains, solar panels or windmills."

Howard Zinn stated it bluntly in his speech
on The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism
in Madison, Wisconsin, rcently aired on Democracy Now! He said,
And if you know some history, you would understand something which is even more basic, perhaps, than the question of lying about this war or lying about this invasion, lying about this intervention, something more basic, if you knew some history: you would understand a sort of fundamental fact about society, and including our society, that the interests of the government and the interests of the people are not the same.

The interests of the Bush administration, as with the Clinton administration before it, are not the people's interests in security, family, food on the table, and a warm place to sleep. The interests of the government are only the interests of the giant corporations that pay the way for the elections. And of course the interests of those giant corporations are only to make themselves rich.

This is no where better exposed than in the fake war on terror. The money being squandered in order to kill so many people rather than to do good in the world is not even good financial sense from the point of view of social investment. It would have a greater impact and return in social growth and development if invested in education, building infrastructure, and putting people to work. However, the capital intensive investment of the weapons industry does make sense when it is seen that the point is to funnel profits into the pockets of certain corporations and the people who own and control those corporations.

The other fact exposing the fake war on terror is teh death ration of combatants to civilians. In World War I the ratio was approximately 80% combat casulties and 20% civilian deaths. In World War II it was about 50-50. Since Vietnam, the ratio is now about 20% combat deaths and 80% civilian deaths including about 30% children. For the weapons profits going into the pockets of corporation chieftans, we are killing as many children as combatants, and add on top of that the men and women civilians.

Zinn also reminded us of the Nazi Goring's quote about how these phony wars are able to get the support of the people whose interests the war is directly against.
“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war? But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. It works the same way in any country.” -Herman Goring, from the book Nuremberg Diary.

It is really very simple, there is no hope for the direction of human society until the majority of the people wake up and demand that their "leaders" be honest and kind. By lying to us and accepting those lies, we the people continue to allow the government interests to be different than our shared interests, and for the so-called "national interests" in war profits to be anything but the real national interests.

After being elected in a tidal change, the Democrats have not shown any cohesive understanding of what they were elected for. Many Democrats are even echoing Bush's call for more troops in Iraq in total disregard of the election results. Only a small minority of Democrats are daring to say that the troops must be removed without delay.

You can count on your fingers the number of Democrats who are willing to say openly that the War on Terror is a phony and a fake, and none of them are being given any space in the national media. Why? Because their camaigns are funded by the corporation culture also, and they are afraid to do anyting but lick the hand that feeds them.

Democracy is a wonderful system compared to monarchy or dictatorship. But democracy is subject to fascist currents and today we in the USA have a fascist democracy in which the democracy of the people has been usurped by the giant corporations. This is done through the great money machine that ties industry and corporations to the military and uses the national media as the propaganda machine to fool and lull the voters into going along with the politician's personal interests rather than with the people's interests.

Viewed over centuries, political progress is incremental and is in the right direction. But if the setbacks are to be mitigated and the progess to be steady, the people must vote against the interests of the politicians in government and even vote against their individual interests on occasion, to vote for the shared national interests defined as progress for the greater betterment of the human condition.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel


The Times Record
Of Mid-coast Maine: Brunswick and Bath


Funding Iraq war, killing our country

11/21/2006 By Bruce Gagnon

The Bush administration is preparing to submit a request to Congress for up to $160 billion to fund the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal year 2007. This will be on top of $70 billion that Congress has already approved for 2007.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $502 billion for the war on "terror," roughly two-thirds for Iraq. The cost of the entire Vietnam War, in today's dollars, was $536 billion.

The UK's Guardian recently reported that Bush told senior advisers that the U.S. must make "a last big push" to win in Iraq and might increase U.S. military forces by as many as 20,000 soldiers.
In our recent national election, the people voted for a change in policy in Iraq. The message seems to have reached Washington and their answer to the public appears to be "OK, we will change our policy. We will dramatically increase the amount of money we are spending on the war and we will send even more troops."

Not quite what the 62 percent of Americans who oppose the war had in mind.

The net result of this new policy will likely be more violence in Iraq, more hostility toward U.S. troops, more casualties on all sides and a deepening quagmire.

Another important result will be that the Democrats, who so far have been most willing to support all Bush's funding requests for the occupation of Iraq, get locked in to the "new policy."

Bush has long said that in his remaining time in office he will not bring the troops home. Thus the only way to end the costly and outrageous Iraq fiasco is to cut the funding for the occupation. This is ultimately how the Congress had to end the war in Vietnam.

Soldiers are now coming home from Iraq and not getting adequate treatment from the Veterans Administration because of lack of funding. Cutbacks in social programs are now becoming the norm in the U.S. as we spend 50 percent of every tax dollar on the Pentagon budget.

Our nation's No. 1 industrial export product today is weapons. In 2006 the U.S. exported more than $21 billion in weapons —— up from $10.6 billion the previous year.

Studies have long shown that military spending is capital intensive. In other words, each million dollars spent on military production creates far fewer jobs than if the money were invested in any other kind of job creation effort, including building trains, solar panels or windmills.

America is now hemorrhaging jobs and our debt is more than $8.6 trillion and growing by $2 billion a day. We'd better wake up quick and tell the Democrats that they must stop funding this war. It's killing our country.

Bruce K. Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.
On the Net:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bush's New Bipartisanship is a Joke

Bush still doesn’t know the meaning of “bipartianship.”

In his first post-election speech President George W. Bush made a joke. It fell flat, as flat as John Kerry’s botched joke a week earlier. Here’s Bush’s joke:

“And in my first act of bipartisanship outreach, I shared with her [Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi] the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new offices.” The loudest chuckle in the room was Bush’s own.

The problem here goes much deeper than a flat joke. What Bush’s lame joke demonstrates is that he really doesn’t know the meaning of bipartisanship. By characterizing his vision of bipartisanship as Speaker-to-be Pelosi using Republican interior decorators, Bush shows his approach for bipartisanship has not changed one bit. In his world, bipartisanship still means that Democrats adopt what Republicans design.

This will be an interesting two years watching Bush’s world view collapse as his spoiled child mentality will face the reality of having to talk to the people of the other party, something he has refused to do in the last six years.

For example, when Bush was asked in this first news conference if he heard the call of the voters to bring the troops home, he said he hadn't heard that. He said he still wants the trrops "to come home with victory" and he's committed to keeping the troops in Iraq until victory. So bipartisanship in review of the Iraq situation is a non-starter. He still believes that "what the American people want" is victory in Iraq ss he defines it.

Outing Republicans in Democrat's Clothing

The Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives and have an equal number of seats as the Republicans in the Senate with 49 each. Though tied with the Republicans in seats, the Democrats will control the Senate with the help of two independents, the progressive independent Barry Sanders of Vermont and the conservative independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, joining in a coalition government. Of course there is no question of Sanders' continued affiliation with the Dems since he is far more progressive than the Democrats and so they are the only game in town for him. However, the Democratic control of the Senate will be provisional only as it rests on the tenuous alliance that incumbent Joseph Lieberman will continue with his ties to the Democrats because Lieberman's values and politics are really closer to the Republicans than to the Democrats and his election proves that he no longer needs the Democrats.

In fact, since Lieberman will now be a swing vote for control of the Senate, watch out for Lieberman having far greater influence than he deserves. In order to get Lieberman to help the Democrats secure the majority control the Democrats will have to concede much to Lieberman that they would not have to concede if his alliance was not necessary. Bernie Sanders, the other "independent" in the Senate who is night and day different from Lieberman, would hold significant swing power but as a true progressive he is not the kind of person who would use his position in that way.

There should be at least two additional parties, one for the Sanders style Progressives-in-Democrat-clothing and one for the Lieberman style Republicans-in-Democrat-clothing. Then the regular Democrats and regular Republicans would make much more sense as parties.

Even though Ned Lamont lost to Lieberman in the general election, the great challenge of Ned Lamont resulted in unseating Lieberman in the Democratic primary and was a tremendous success in outing Lieberman for who he was, a Republican in Democrat clothing. Lieberman is now simply a Republican in "independent" clothing. But if truth were told there would be many more flushed out of the same closet Lieberman lived in.

Lieberman won the general election with 50% to Lamont's 40% because the vast majority of Republicans voted against their own party and for him instead: the Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, only got 10% of the total vote. Even though Lieberman lost their primary, a large 33% minority of Democrats stayed loyal to Lieberman and voted against their own party. Sixty-five percent of the Democrats voted for Lamont. Registered independents split 54% for Lieberman, 35% for Lamont, and 10% for the Republican. Only the Republican vote made it possible for Lieberman to win with 70% of Republicans voting for Lieberman and a mere 21% of Republicans voting for their own candidate. That clearly shows what is wrong with the Lieberman picture.

In other words "Democratic" politicians like Lieberman are as much "real" Republicans as any Republican, but in today's political alignments there is no party for them since they come out of regions where Democrats typically win. Thus, people who want to win an election must call themselves Democrats even if they are truly Republicans. Lamont successfully outed Lieberman as a Republican, and now the irony is that the Democrats will be under the threat of Lieberman who was voted in by Republicans.

Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., the Senate winner in Pennsylvania is another Republican-in-Democratic-clothing who, if he were honest, would join with Lieberman and others to found a new party that reflects their values.

The problem with the two-party dictatorship that we have today goes in two directions. First, it forces the voters into a false choice in which the two parties play a shell game and voters don't get to have a real choice among candidates. Each party wins control with a call that voters "can vote for a change", yet no real change in way the politics are played ever occurs. The only changes are minor and cosmetic. The two parties simply cater to two different constituencies of corporate business, but they both cater to those big business profiteering interests. No alternative party can break through the barrier of credibility because they are not allowed to participate with equal footing.

The voters who buy into the rhetoric of the parties again and again are simply sold a pig in a poke. Republicans find their representatives no more practicing the values they espouse than Democrats find their representatives doing. But because the two parties have made themselves the only game in town, voters live in fear that if they vote their real values by voting for an alternative party that their votes will be “wasted.” Of course this is group folly, because if enough voters stopped playing their vote between the two parties then real change would happen overnight.

Second, the candidates themselves are presented falsely to the public, as Lieberman was for so long, and only when he lost his own party's primary was he forced out of the political closet and is now seen for what he is, neither Democrat nor Republican. That is actually great because it makes for reality testing and sanity. But the Democrats and Republicans prefer to both endorse the system of false party differences in order to confuse the voters and maintain their control of the partisan power games. Candidates are presented as Democrat or Republican, yet the individual differences are more often rhetorical than substantive. While Lieberman was voting Republican he was being praised by Democrats as a good Democrat. This makes illusion and cognitive dissonance the norm in Washington. D.C.

So, thank you to Ned Lamont, who successfully exposed the charade of the two-party dictatorship and the political phoniness of Lieberman's pro-Bush politics. Even though you didn't win your state's election, you did the nation a great service for one brief moment by removing the veil from the bogus political shell game that allows the parties to pass off candidates as their own merely for political expediency rather than real values. If real values controlled who was in the parties, there would be natural alignments of voters into four or five parties, not just two, and voters would be able to face reality rather than be prisoner to the pretense that the two parties speak for all Americans.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Opium Bush

There is no better place than Afghanistan to see that the “War on Terror” is completely bogus, and this is easily observed through its marriage to the total fakery of the “War on Drugs.” The dictum “know them by their fruits” is useful in evaluating the works of George “Opium” Bush and the effectiveness of Bush’s “War on Terror.” Under the Afghan regime change instituted at the barrels of guns and the canisters of cluster bombs by George W. Bush, the opium production and trade in Afghanistan has never been better. On September 2, 2006, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said in Kabul that Afghanistan's opium harvest this year has reached the highest levels ever recorded, showing an increase of almost 50 percent from last year.
Afghanistan Notes September 2006

Really, if Bush had any pretention of actually fighting a “War on Terror” he would have sent his 200,000 troops to Afghanistan -- not Iraq. Knocking out the Taliban from the capital was not the victory he thought it was, not any more than knocking over the statue of Sadaam Hussein in Baghdad was “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. If Bush had any real intent to establish democracy in the region, he would have not moved against Iraq until Afghanistan was secured.

What would a secured Afghanistan have looked like? Well, first of all there would not be regions controlled by war criminals as de facto governors. Afghanistan would not be a narco-state where opium farming is the number one cash crop that is supported by both the war criminals Bush supports and Taliban alike. Financial assistance for real development would have been provided in a manner that supports local economies to make them inter-dependent with one another rather than dependent upon the gangster enterprises of the war criminals masquerading as regional leaders.

The core problem of course is that the bulk of the aid that has been set aside has not even gone to the people of Afghanistan but instead to security firms and US “reconstruction” business. In other words, Bush’s US business friends are getting rich off US “aid” to Afghanistan and Bush’s war criminal proxies in Afghanistan are getting rich off the opium that Bush has allowed to continue to be produced at ever increasing rates of production since the US invasion.

Most of the USA media, and virtually all the quotable Sunday Morning Talking Heads of the two-party dictatorship, have avoided the real dope on the Afghanistan phenomenon in preference to the drama of the Iraq theater. However, the consummate shame of Afghanistan stands out more clearly than Iraq if for no other reason than the fact that Bush actually had a real chance to achieve his stated goals in Afghanistan while he never could have achieved them in Iraq no matter how much he tried. Unfortunately, the fruit of Bush’s actions in Afghanistan speak louder than his stated desires as well as exposing their falseness, and that fruit is clearly the fruit of the Opium Bush.

POST SCRIPT: Just to be clear, I am not "anti-opium" or taking a position in favor of the "war on drugs." I'm against the phony "war on drugs" largely for the same reason I'm against the bogus "war on terror", because both are simply means of exploiting the ignorance of the public into supporting the neo-fascist dictators of the USA two-party dictatorship run by the plutocratic corporate class. While misuse of opium and its derivatives can be devastating, like the prohibition of alcohol in the USA, the prohibition of opium causes far more problems for society and turns a relatively contained problem into a conflagration of problems. What I am pointing out is that Opium Bush has been capitalizing on the illegal opium trade every bit as much as the illegal drug traffickers are doing.
Also, by pointing out that Opium Bush had the opportunity to actually accomplish his stated goals for Afghanistan but blew it, doesn't mean I agreed with those goals or the methods used - I didn't and don't. For the real story and nformation on Afghanistan see John Pilger's book FREEDOM NEXT TIME.
Here's a great review of the Afghanistan section from fellow blogger Steve Lendman, a kindred spirit: AFGHANISTAN - THE OTHER LOST WAR

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pontiff or Politician? The Pope’s Dilemma with Duality and Subjective Conscience

If one takes Pope Benedict XVI’s word at face value that he merely wanted his talk delivered at the University of Regensburg, Germany, on Tuesday September 12, 2006, to be taken as “an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect” then the inescapable conclusion one must draw is that the Pope has not a clue how to engage in such dialogue, because his original statements and the attempts to defend them have not shown mutual respect, nor have they invited sincere dialogue. Unfortunately, the street response by Muslims to the Pope’s remarks is hypocritical and out of proportion, and the responses of too many of the leaders of Islam also have not shown mutual respect nor the required criticism of Muslim violent overreaction to invite any kind of sincere dialogue. The great irony of the affair is that the Pope’s view of European culture is much more in line with the orthodox view of Islam than with modern European views.

With this state of religious leadership, it will be a long time before sincere dialogue with mutual respect will actually take place. This inability to dialogue stems directly from the inability to deal with dualities in any other way than to literalize them as opposites, and from viewing the human dilemma of subject and object as being resolvable only by the objectification of God through the written word of objective revelation that removes the possibility of subjective revelation from the modern spiritual quest. This objectification of God and its literal belief in the written word of revelation leads the Church, the Temple, and the Mosque to the literalization of evil and the self-image of themselves as institutions of literal good. How the Pope’s Regensburg talk leads to this conclusion it the subject of this essay.

While I was mulling over whether or not even to write about Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg insult to Islam the Vatican spin doctors via the Vatican Secretary of State issued a so-called “apology” in the Pope’s name that settled the matter for me and gave me the title to this piece. Then yesterday, Sunday, 9/17/06, the Pope made a personal statement of sorrow that added nothing substantive to the prior press release. His “apology” (I can’t bring myself to write it without quotes) was the stereotypical politician’s apology saying nothing more than, ‘I’m sorry that you’re wrong about me.’ It is not a true apology that admits error.

The word pontiff means “bridge maker” and the Pope is supposed to be a maker of bridges between humans and God. One presumes that this can’t be done in a vacuum and without the goal of also making bridges between peoples, especially peoples in conflict. However, the Pope has acted like the quintessential politician, first sending his spokesman out to make his “apology” for him, then following it up with a brief statement that continues the spin and refers one to the previous press statement.

In his statement on 9/17/06 the Pope said, “At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.” The prior statement of the Vatican Secretary of State said, “The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions.” He is only sorry about how others took and reacted to his words, not about his words. In neither of these statements does the Pope accept or admit that in fact his words not only did sound offensive, they were offensive. He says if anyone was insulted it is because they did not “understand the correct meaning of his words.” He is only sorry for other’s reactions not for what he said; he only regrets that his words “could” have sounded offensive. In other words, anyone who was offended was wrong about what he really meant. EXCUSE ME, that’s not an apology! No one interpreted those words in a manner that did not correspond to the meaning of the words. His words precisely meant that Islam is a religion that condones violence, that Muhammad preached conversion by the sword. There was no other purpose than that meaning for the inclusion of his gratuitous remarks. To call this an “apology” is merely putting salt into the wound of insult.

Well, maybe I’m going too far with the word apology. What the Pope has done is to go back to the old meaning of the word apology. Today we use apology to mean “an admission of error”, but that is certainly not what the Pope has done. He has not admitted any iota of error at all. What he has done is go back to the earlier meaning of the word apology as “justification” and “defense” for what he said. He has only defended his words, he has not admitted any error in them.

What did the Pope say? Here’s the main passage of insult presented at length from the Regensburg talk so the reader may have the full context:

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry. (Italics added.)

The Pope has drawn the battle lines very clearly: (1) "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached"; (2) spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable; (3) violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul; (4) God is not pleased by blood, and (5) therefore the unstated conclusion is inescapable: Islam is violent, unreasonable, bloody, and incompatible with the nature of God. There could not be a much more direct attack on Islam.

Now the Pope and his Vatican defenders would have us believe that this is just an inadvertent misunderstanding of the Pope’s words. Only a fool, or the Washington Press Corps, would buy that sort of spin when the words speak plainly for themselves. The Pope clearly connects the “Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent,” with being an unreasonable view that, because it is not “in accordance with reason,” is thus “contrary to God's nature.”

The Pope claims his intent was to foster inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. If that is the case then the Pope is totally inept at communication and dialogue. One doesn’t encourage dialogue with another religion by insulting another’s religion, calling is an unreasonable violent religion incompatible with the nature of God. (Of course it should go without saying that the same applies to Muslims and the religious leaders of Islam who are guilty of the same ineptness.) The way to encourage dialogue at this level of discourse is for one to admit one’s own wrongs and to show to the other that one is able to grow morally and change one’s conduct.

At the Bavarian university the Pope said, “To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...", if he wanted to dialogue with Islam he would not have left the distinct impression he was talking directly about Islam’s use of “strong arms and weapons.” Instead he would have said immediately that he was not singling out Islam or any other religion, even his own. Or he would have said at that point, “And one can only feel sorrow for the many victims of the many Holy Fathers of this holy office who did not heed the Emperor’s admonition and instead sought to spread the Roman Catholic faith by blood and violence throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas with blood and violence.”

His Vatican defender says he “simply used [the Emperor’s quote] as a means to undertake - in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text - certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come.” But unfortunately the Pope did not reject the history of violence of the Catholic Church and only pointed his finger at the history of violence in Islam.

Only by fully admitting first and foremost his own Church’s sins carried on in the bloody spread of Catholicism can he hope to engage in discussion with Islam and broach the question of violence within Islam. One wonders at the complete failure of the Pope and his handlers to not understand this elementary principle of human interaction. Only politicians can equal this degree of failure of understanding on an ongoing daily basis. This is not the dialogue of a bridge maker but of a cold warrior. During the Cold War the leaders of the camps were experts at pointing out the other’s errors and weaknesses but totally failed to admit a single error or weakness in their own sides. This is the Pope’s failure too. If the Pope wants to engage in dialogue he must first admit the bloody and violent history of Roman Catholicism in “converting souls,” such as the Crusades, the burnings of witches, the enslavement of indigenous peoples throughout the world, and not least of which was the fate of Italy’s own scientists at the hands of the Vatican.

The Pope claims his remarks about Islam “were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.” That is contrary to the clear purport of his speech. The Pope quoted the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and then did not in anyway distance himself form those quoted words in his Regensburg talk. The Pope’s use of the words of others appears to be his common rhetorical tactic when he criticizes other religions, as well as how he maintains a plausible deniability at the same time. This recalls his 1997 remarks criticizing Buddhism where he used the same tactic.

The Pope was asked in an interview in L'Express magazine of April 1997, reprinted in April 2005. if he feared that Catholics would lose their soul’s while dialoguing with other religions, like Buddhism. He answered:

Dialogue between the religions is necessary in a world tending to unify. But the danger is that a superficial dialogue is established. Because the relativism which has seized spirits today develops a sort of moral and intellectual anarchism leading people to no more accept a single truth. To affirm the truth from now on passes for a mark of intolerance. However a true dialogue is not a movement in a vacuum. It has a goal: the common search of the truth. A Christian cannot renounce his knowledge of the truth, revealed to him as Jesus-Christ, the only son of God. If seduced by Buddhism, it is because it appears to have a possibility of touching infinity, in happiness without having concrete religious obligations. A spiritual autoeroticism, to some extent. Somebody had precisely predicted, in the 1950s, that the challenge of the Church in the 20th Century would not be Marxism, but Buddhism.

Here we see his use of the quotation tactic where he says “somebody” predicted Buddhism would be a greater challenge to Catholicism than Marxism. Not saying whether he agreed or disagreed with that somebody conveys the clear indication that he agreed. To call Buddhism "the challenge" in that context is clearly calling it the greater enemy of the Church because as a Godless religion it is more dangerous than a Godless politics like communism. Yet he doesn’t say it himself and lets another’s voice say it for him, so he doesn’t have to own it. Whether “somebody” said it or a “Byzantine Emperor” said it, it is the Pope making it clear he is saying it if he doesn’t immediately say why he disagrees.

The Pope’s attack on Buddhism is based on his view of Buddhism as Godless. He calls it “autoerotic spirituality” because he sees Buddhism as a self-stimulating spirituality in contrast to Catholicism which a God-stimulated spirituality. The Pope’s attack on Islam is based on his view of Islam as unreasonable and thus spiritually opposed to God’s reason, and he used his Regensburg talk to spell it out.

The Pope’s avowed aim of the Regensburg talk, was to assert the that Christian faith and Greek reason are conjoined in a Hellenized Christianity, that on the one hand the reason of science without faith is mere subjective relativism and on the other hand not to act with logos is contrary to God’s nature. He criticized Islam for asserting a God whose nature is transcendent and not bound by categories of reason and is thus capricious rather then reasoned. He also stated that the Jewish Bible was correctly revised and rewritten in the Greek version to create the Hellenized Christianity which is the full flowering of Christianity as God intended. However, his premise fails totally due to his inability to present his arguments in a manner that demonstrates reasonableness.

The Pope expresses a nationalistic Christianity. He says that Christianity as the convergence of Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry “with the subsequent addition of Roman Heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.” Exactly which Europe the Pope speaks of is a mystery. The real Europe of today was created in direct opposition to the Biblical faith which, let us remember, was the faith that tortured scientists using “a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death” to coerce compliance with the Church dogmas of Biblical faith. The truth is that the creation of Europe as we know it was forged in the divorce from Biblical faith, not in the conjunction with it.

What single Pope in the history of Roman Catholicism prior to the creation of Europe practiced the admonition of the Byzantine Emperor that “spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable” and “not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature”? It appears from history that the Popes ware to a man acting contrary to God’s nature when they supported the use of violence in spreading the Church.

Today, Pope Benedict XVI would have us believe he is an advocate of reason because he says the Church is founded on the Hellenistic belief that “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God.” However, his definition of reason is one that is intrinsically unreasonable, because it defines as truth a revelation that Jesus Christ is the only son of God. He defines his truth as reason and any conclusion contrary to this revealed truth as unreasonable. A revealed truth such as that is merely a presumption of the conclusion and is thus not reasonable by definition.

The Pope alleges that “disturbing pathologies of religion and reason” necessarily erupt “when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.” First, one wonders which religions he means because he does not name any but Islam as being unreasonable. Second, one wonders what he could possible have in mind when the historical truth is that the pathologies of the Catholic Church have erupted precisely when it has reduced and drowned out reason by swelling the questions of religion and morality with a hyper concern, not when they on longer concern it. The history of Europe coming out of its dark pathology of religious persecutions is the history of the enlightened conjunction in society of reason and ethics without religion, one that reduced the concern for questions of religion to the personal sphere not the social realm.

This should be the starting point for discussion between Catholicism and Islam. If the Pope could testify to the benefits to Europe and Catholicism both as a result of the Church having been separated from the State and from direct involvement in politics, then perhaps the Pope might have something to say to the leaders of Islam about the problems of violence arising in Islam from the lack of separation between Mosque and State. But the Pope’s failure to engage in this kind of frank and sincere dialogue stems from his Church’s, and presumably his own, inability to deal with the dualities of consciousness that have locked philosophy into the very conundrum that the Pope would have us appreciate.

The core of the Pope’s Regensburg talk was a continuing chapter in his argument against scientific reason without faith in God. Here the Pope is on good footing with his warnings about the limitations of scientific reasoning if it limits itself too severely to the single view of materialism. The Pope warns against a narrowly conceived science that says certainty only results “from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements.” This is a good warning, but it may be misunderstood to imply scientific certainty where none is proposed even in science. Science is often misrepresented as asserting certainty when in fact science more often asserts what is better described as probable hypotheses of varying degrees. What makes science interesting is the continued exploration of its hypotheses to determine their degrees of certainty. So the Pope’s criticism of science is actually a criticism of misunderstood science, not of science itself, though this misunderstood science is too often portrayed in the media and entertainment as the real science.

The Pope’s second point is that science when limited to math and empiricism “excludes the question of God” making the question of God “appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question.” Again, the Pope’s criticism is only a half-truth. The Pope would have it both ways so that the question of God is seen not excluded as scientific yet the question would never be put to the questioning process of the scientific method. If the Pope wants the question of God to be included in scientific inquiry, the Pope can not predetermine the answer to that question. But the Biblical faith that the Pope espouses does exactly that, and the Pope is blinded by that faith to see it. The Pope says that science may not challenge the Biblical revelations, so to that extent it is the Church that excludes the question of God from scientific inquiry, NOT science.

Fundamentally, this problem arises because the Church that the Pope represents has no way of dealing with duality other than to assert the primacy of belief in the Biblical word as revelation that has settled all such doubts. Actually, this dilemma is the core dilemma of Catholicism and its historical attempt to control the terms of Christian belief. This dilemma is in fact shared by both Islam and Judaism, the two other religions of the Levant tracing their lineages back to Abraham and Moses. The Pope’s dilemma. Let me be clear, the dilemma of human duality is shared by every human being and every religion. What is historically unique to the religions of the Levant is the particular relationship that they have to the revealed texts of their religions, making them the answers to the question of subject and object by objectifying God as objectively separate from the subjective human.

In Regensburg the Pope stated this by referring to his view of a narrow-minded science as consisting of only mathematical and empirical elements:

[I]f science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.

Here we see the Pope’s true enemy, “the subjective conscience.” Indeed, this, not the Devil, has been the true enemy of the Church since its birth. This is the enemy that led to the bloody persecutions of Christians by the Church in its formation as it used the “strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death” in establishing itself and its hegemony over every other form of Christian belief and practice. Every institution of this kind holding state power, whether it is religious or political like the communists in the Soviet Union, sees its true enemy as the individual who asserts “subjective conscience” against the institutional prerogatives of a totalitarian faith.

As a practical matter of psychology, this means that as long as the Pope holds subjective conscience to be the enemy of the Church he must view subjective conscience as an evil and seek some objective source as the arbiter of good. Since he can find no ethical system in mathematics the only appearance of objectivity is to be found in written words which stand by their very nature of having been written down as objective reality. As an historical event, the Church has taken the available writings and decided which are authoritative and which are not. Those determined to be authoritative become the objective truth of the Church. Obviously, the inherent and insurmountable flaw in this view of objective ethics is that the subjective revelation does not become objective merely by being written down on the page. It is simply a circular argument that the subjective origin of revelation is transcended merely because of the historical fact that Church officials used their subjective consciences to determine what was objective truth.

The same dynamic holds for Islam’s reliance on Muhammad’s Quran as objective revelation. In fact Islam does Catholicism one better by asserting that the mathematical aspects of the written Quran, such as the number of suras, verses, and words and their arrangements, are evidence of both its miraculous origin and its objectivity as revelation.

It is one thing for a religion to say this or that written book is their orthodox teaching as determined by the consensus of their teachers, but another thing altogether to say that such orthodoxy is an objective fact transcending the subjective conscience of the writer and of the religion’s teachers who acknowledged the writing. Though the Pope would have it otherwise, the individual is the primary element making up the fabric and energy of society, and it is the respect for the subjective conscience of the individual that is the grounding force that distinguishes a balanced functioning society from a super-charged mob or polarized totalitarian state.

The Pope states unequivocally that reliance on subjective conscience “is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.” His analysis fails because it depends on his false assumption that a social system of ethics based on subjective conscience is merely a personal ethics that cannot create a community if it is not based on the written revelation of the Bible. In other words, the Pope refutes the very foundations of Western democracy as articulated by the European-American Enlightenment of the 18th Century in which it is asserted that the highest ethics of a community are those that are established by each member of the community using his or her subjective conscience to determined the shared ethics of the community. In this the Pope is much more in line with Islam than with post-Enlightenment European sensibilities.

The Pope assets that “disturbing pathologies of religion and reason” erupt necessarily “when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.” The historical evidence is against the Pope. He is wrong because he fails to distinguish between religion and ethics, assuming from his preconceived assumptions that they are identical. The correct statement is that both reason and religion may become pathological when the ethics of subjective conscience no longer concern them. The history of Catholicism unequivocally demonstrates that the combination of religion and reason are pathologically deadly when they are combined under the claim of objective reason derived from Biblical faith. When Catholics were in charge of European society and claimed that their ethics were based on reason and the Bible they subjected Europe to a bloody Inquisition and the rest of the world to bloody conquest.

The Pope has some valid criticisms of modern science, but he doesn’t have a valid explanation for the causes nor does he have valid solutions. All of the Pope’s valid criticisms of modern science when looked at with an unbiased view, that is a view that does not equate religion and ethics, show that his valid concerns about science arise when science does not include ethics, not when science does not include religion. For example, while Popes have argued for disarmament, which Pope has condemned the manufacture of nuclear weapons and stated that an individual’s work on nuclear weapons is un-Christian and that the nation that builds and stockpiles such weapons of mass destruction is an un-Christian nation and not acting ethically? Only subjective conscience touches this directly.

In June 1998, 75 U.S. Catholic bishops issued a statement on The Morality of Nuclear Disarmament in which they acknowledged the error of the Church. In fact their statement is an example of subjective conscience in action within the institutional structure of the Church. The bishops stated, “For the past fifteen years, and particularly in the context of the Cold War, we, the Catholic bishops of the United States, have reluctantly acknowledged the possibility that nuclear weapons could have some moral legitimacy, but only if the goal was nuclear disarmament. It is our present, prayerful judgment that this legitimacy is now lacking.” Thus the bishops implicitly recognized that there was no Church teaching directly from the Vatican against the very creation and existence of nuclear weapons, only against using them in war.

While the Church has the obvious problem with subjective conscience arising from the fact that subjective conscience cannot be controlled by the institution, the core of the problem goes even deeper to the objectification of God as the basis for the Church’s very existence. The dilemma of a personal ethics based on conscience is that it turns the individual inward to listen to conscience rather than turning the individual outward to institution and dogma for the answers. Ever since Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is within” the Church has had to come up with ways to convince its followers that Jesus did not mean what he said. Objectifying God and worshiping the Bible as objective revelation are the two primary weapons in the arsenal of the Church’s war on against the conscience of the Kingdom of God. The Roman Catholic Church has had a very difficult time in its history with personal Christianity. Until successful armed revolts against Catholic domination, the Catholic Church has used the most violent and bloody means possible to eradicate any personal view of Christ and God that deviates from Church dogma. Therefore, historically speaking, for over fifteen hundred years “the question of God” was not excluded by anyone but the Catholic Church itself. That is the impressive irony of the Pope’s complaints now about the question of God being excluded by science.

By the objectification of God the Pope closes the door on the empirical verification of God by so-called subjective conscience. For it is the path through personal conscience that verifies God not any objective writings found in a written text. By calling personal experience of conscience merely subjective, the Pope denies that the Kingdom of God is within. Thus, the objectification of God is the greatest sin of any religion, because it closes the door to the personal contact with the living God.

And by reliance on Biblical authority as the objective revelation of truth, he denies the real possibility of the dialogue between cultures and religions that he claims to desire. When two religions base their beliefs on written text, there is no common ground upon which to meet except on demonstration of common passages in those written texts. And even then, because the common text must be interpreted in the context of the other uncommon passages and the different circumstances and doctrines of the books creation, there is very little ability for even common text to establish common ground. Personal conscience can play no role in such an objectified encounter.

The objectification of God is also why the religious institutions have such difficulty distinguishing between belief and faith. When religion has the need to objectify its religious basis it must establish objective truths for its beliefs. But religious faith is inherently personal and cannot be established by objective truth in the conventional sense of rational discrimination of reality into subjective and objective distinctions. Religious inquiry takes one outside of the usual subject-object divisions of reality and consciousness. This is the common root of all religions that has such labels as the perennial philosophy or the mystical experience of the source of life. The “I am” of God is not an objective experience of belief, but a deeply personal experience of faith. To confuse the two, that is objective belief and personal faith, is a fundamental error of religion and a misunderstanding of the psychological source of religion that the inquiry of reason has provided in the Western world.

The Pope would have us believe that theology is the “inquiry into the rationality of faith”, but in fact his theology is the avoidance of that inquiry, because as he said in his 1997 interview: “A Christian cannot renounce his knowledge of the truth, revealed to him as Jesus-Christ, the only son of God.” If the revelation is by definition a non-renouncible truth, then there is no room for inquiry. In other words, the Pope would only allow a reason subservient to Biblical revelation with no possible verification or falsification by experimentation.

By contrast, the Buddhist begins with the analogous revelation of truth that “Every sentient being is one with Buddha nature and it is only ignorance that obscures this truth.” But the inquiry begins with the acknowledgment of the doubt that asks why does this truth not appear to be the truth. It is the personal resolution of this apparent opposition of faith and doubt that is the Buddhist inquiry. From the Buddhist point of view, this dilemma cannot be resolved by affirming the objective and denying the subjective, but only by resolving all doubts about the apparent opposition of subjective and objective through experimental verification and falsification by meditation. It is this reliance on personal experimentation that most dramatically distinguishes Buddhism from the religions of the Levant and distinguishes Buddhism as a religion of reason. This is why Albert Einstein said:

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.

I don’t assert that Buddhism is the only religion that can cope with modern scientific needs, but for the religions of the Levant, such as Catholicism and Islam to do so, there must be a radical change at the root of their dogmas retracting the position of non-relative objectivity of their revealed texts before they can expect to cope with modern scientific needs. The Pope concluded in Regensburg:

In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

The fact is that the “divine” is not excluded from the universality of reason; it is the objectification of the divine without objective evidence that becomes the self-imposed exclusion of such religions. Conviction based on a revelation that will not submit itself to scientific scrutiny is a shallow conviction only, not a profound conviction. When religion bases itself on the depths of personal experience then there is no basis for exclusion from the universality of reason because personal experience is universal. Reason is not deaf to the divine, because it is reason that is asking directly what is meant by “the divine”? It is religious culture that is deaf to this question and refuses of offer a reasoned answer, other than the circular arguments of Biblical or Quranic revelation.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Near Death and Great Death Experiences

Near Death and Great Death Experiences
By Gregory Wonderwheel
(c) 2006

There was no limit to the outpouring as I came to the rapturous awareness of the infinite nature of God's love. There was no place that God did not exist and I was within God. I am an inseparable part of the light. The truth of who I am, indeed, who we all are, is perfect love as a creation of God. All of God's creation is one creation and I am one with creation. God and I are one, Creator and created.

I had spent a lifetime of fear of judgment and now, standing with God, I had been known completely and found faultless. I knew God regarded me as perfect. God loved me because love is the totality of God. God loves without limit. Finally it all made sense. God could only love me because God is only love, nothing other than love. The only reality is God; there cannot be another and GOD IS LOVE.

I had reached my true home. I turned to Christ and said, "This is beautiful. I am home. This is where I want to be. I want to stay." And Christ answered, "You can stay for a little while and then you must return."

I recently came across this fascinating account by Linda Stewart of her near death experience. It is wonderful reading, and I thank Linda Stewart for sharing it. Here, I want to discuss how Linda's account demonstrates why these experiences are called "near death" experiences and are not the "Great Death" experience of awakening in Buddhism.

Cross culturally, modern Western near death experiences (whether viewed in Christian terms or not) are very similar to the reports of the American Plains Indians’ vision quest, African shaman journeys, Christian desert mystics, etc. These paths of spiritual inquiry may lead to Great Death experiences, but it is not usual, just as it is not usual in Buddhist communities that every meditator experiences Great Death.

As fascinating and wonderful as these reports are, one should know that near death experiences are not Buddhist awakening experiences because even though the experience of the infinite light is reached the person does not go past the light, and instead only bathes in it. You can see from Linda's account that she still objectified "God" and kept a subtle self in subjective relationship with the infinite light. Though she says "God and I are one" she immediately adds "Creator and created" which shows the subtle self still lingering.

In Buddhist terminology she first met Avalokiteshvara (Ch. Kwan Yin, whom she called Christ) and then she met the Buddha of Infinite Light (A.K.A. Amitayus, Amitbha, or Amida, whom she called God). As Linda says, the names don't really matter as every culture and spiritual path has its own name for these experiences. Of course the problem for some folks who haven't experienced this is that the name still does mean more to them than the experience, and an account like Linda's becomes incorporated into their belief structure of "Jesus Christ" as the one and only Son of the Infinite Light God and all others are still wrong to use a different name, even though the person telling the account explicitly relates how the name is for convenience only.

I do not want to downplay the wonderful joy of a near death experience such as Linda's nor do I deny the awe inspiring sense of belonging and acceptance that it engenders, but in the Buddhist path this is one of the stages along the path of the jhana states of rapture, joy, equanimity, and abiding peace not the full awakening.

Jhāna (nt.) [Sanskrit, dhyāna. The popular etymology from meditation on objects & from burning up anything adverse] literally meditation. But it never means vaguely meditation. It is the technical term for a special religious experience, reached in a certain order of mental states. It will be seen that there is no suggestion of trance, but rather of an enhanced vitality. In the descriptions of the crises in the religious experiences of Christian saints and mystics, expressions similar to those used in the jhānas are frequent (see F. Heiler Die Buddhistische Versenkung, 1918). Laymen could pass through the four jhānas. The jhānas are only a means, not the end. To imagine that experiencing them was equivalent to Arahantship (and was therefore the end aimed at) is condemned as a deadly heresy. (Entry abridged, full Pali Text Dictionary entry on Jhana)

First Jhana

But to look at Linda's account a little more closely, it is important to note the stages that she took. First was the letting go of the idea of a physical body. That is the giving up of corporeality. "The decision to leave this world hung suspended in an extended moment of absolute quiet." That is samatha, the stopping of disturbance. This is the sometimes spontaneous immediate meditation that is brought on by extended pain or acute trauma which lets a person who has not formally practiced meditation still have the letting go experience. This feeling of having let go of corporeality is the first jhana of rapture born of withdrawal.

Second Jhana

She continues, "I observed my new reality with tranquility. Slowly I looked around and below me I saw a vast, endless blackness. Like a void or black hole, I was irresistibly drawn toward the darkness. Gradually, I felt myself sinking toward it. I thought, without fear or any emotional reaction, "Isn't that strange?" " Here she is encountering the fear gate of the Bardo realm she has entered. If she had reacted with the fear of the "blackness" that she expected she would not have been able to meet the light. This is a crucial part of the transition. The fear reaction would have sent her back to the body or to another Bardo state of confusion. Having no fear born of evaluation of the "blackness" she entered the second jhana, the rapture born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation.

Third Jhana

Having no fear arise, Linda next says, "Offering no resistance, I released my hold on any remaining shred of consciousness and personal identity." This is the entrance to the third jhana state equanimous and mindful, having a pleasurable abiding. She says, "I became aware of a deep sense of peace and warmth that permeated my senses." Here she encounters the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the beingness of love and mercy known as Avalokiteshvara, Christ, etc. "I did not see the Spirit as I had seen Jesus of Nazareth depicted in paintings, but the innate knowing of my heart remembered and acknowledged Christ. The radiant Spirit was Christ, the manifestation and expression of pure love." She adds, "Safe in the gentle yet powerful embrace of his love, I rested, secure that everything was okay, exactly as it was supposed to be." This is a perfect statement of the third jhana, as a sutta says, "He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture."

Fourth Jhana

Then, she goes on, "Ascending ever farther, I lifted my eyes to see a great light in the vast distance." "The light moved over and through me, washing every hidden place of my heart, removing all hurt and fear, transforming my very being into a song of joy. I had thought the love I felt from Christ was complete, yet, the light toward which we were soaring was the fulfillment of my search, the loving Source of all that exists, the God of truth and unconditional love, the origin of creation."

Here she is in the fourth jhana, purity of equanimity and mindfulness. What a wonderful experience. A Sutta describes it thus, "He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. Just as if a man were sitting covered from head to foot with a white cloth so that there would be no part of his body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the monk sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. There's nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness."

The Attainments of the Formless Heavens

Still, that is not the ultimate in Buddhist terms, but unfortunately in Christian terms it is seen as the ultimate achievable in life until actual death takes us to heaven, and it is most difficult for Christians to proceed beyond this point. Not because of any inate difference, but because the mind-set of the teaching framework doesn't teach to go further and so one rests satisfied with a feeling and doesn't go to the cessation of perception and feeling. This was also true of Brahmins and the wandering shamans in India at the time of Buddha. It was Buddha's greatest discovery to see that jhana/dhyana/chan/zen practice must proceed past the jhanas and not be satisfied with even the purity of unconditional love and bright awareness or the sense of being one with the origin of creation – while a subtle self still maintains an objective relationship with God as an object of experience.

As Linda says, "I had spent a lifetime of fear of judgment and now, standing with God, I had been known completely and found faultless. I knew God regarded me as perfect. God loved me because love is the totality of God. God loves without limit. Finally it all made sense. God could only love me because God is only love, nothing other than love. The only reality is God; there cannot be another and GOD IS LOVE."

As wonderful as this is for Linda, as it is for anyone who experiences this state, Buddha teaches that there are more formless states to pass through before complete awakening. The four jhana states that arrive at the perception of Infinite Light and Love are the heavens of form. Beyond the Heavens of Form are the Formless Heavens and the attainment of these perceptions are the threshold of the final attainment of emptiness.

In the formless states even the notions of God and creator are let go. When the light completely burns away any lingering sense of subject and object then, going beyond the light, there is the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space. Letting go of the infinitude of space one enters Manjusri's diamond-like castle of the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness. When Manjusri's sword destroys even the sense of consciousness then one discerns the perception of the dimension of nothingness. Letting go all sense of nothingness then one comes to the singleness based on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

The Theme-less Concentration of Awareness

Finally, letting go of even the state of neither perception nor non-perception, then one attends to the singleness based on the theme-less concentration (samadhi) of awareness. This is the true Dharma rain. In this state the meditator "discerns that 'This theme-less concentration of awareness is fabricated & mentally fashioned.' And he discerns that 'Whatever is fabricated & mentally fashioned is inconstant & subject to cessation.' For him — thus knowing, thus seeing — the mind is released from the effluent of sensuality, the effluent of becoming, the effluent of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'”

"He discerns that 'Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the effluent of sensuality... the effluent of becoming... the effluent of ignorance, are not present. And there is only this modicum of disturbance: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' He discerns that 'This mode of perception is empty of the effluent of sensuality... becoming... ignorance. And there is just this non-emptiness: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: 'There is this.' And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, pure — superior & unsurpassed."
The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness

Great Death

This is the description of the Great Death as "entry into emptiness according with actuality." Many people fear Buddhism because they think emptiness means forgetting or losing the awareness of God's or Buddha's Infinite Light and Love, but this is a superficial understanding. This going beyond to full emptiness (a wonderful oxymoron) does not mean losing or forgetting infinite light and love, it means seeing their place in the whole scheme (Dharma) of things (dharmas). Here there is no forgetfulness, as one bodilessly abides as all three bodies (body of reality, bliss body of infinite light and love, and appearance body among the myriad forms) simultaneously.

The above analysis of states on the path to final attainment is what the Indian Buddhist Dhyana masters excelled in. In China, Chan developed (which of course became Zen in Japan, Soen in Korea, and Thien in Vietnam) which was not so interested in the fine-toothed analysis of dhyana states but in the direct realization of the final "stage" of the themeless concentration of awareness as the direct threshold of awakening.

The point is that after the Great Death is the Great Life. As Zen master Seung Sahn said of life after awakening, "Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way come from this attainment." That is because even though one has discerned that there is nothing further in this world, one's continued presence in this world of appearances is now informed by all the jhanas including the knowledge of Infinite Light and Love that one has passed through. Though people with near death experiences usually do not find the state of mind of theme-less concentration of awareness, they too are informed by the shared plateau of perception of Infinite Light and Love and for this they and we may all be grateful.

Enough said,
Gratitude and bows,

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Earth Is No Longer a Planet!

By Gregory Wonderwheel

Technically speaking, by definition Earth is no longer a planet!

At a meeting of star gazers in the Czech capital, Prague, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) held a 10-day General Assembly of members. The IAU is the official nomenclature body for astronomy that is responsible for naming stars, asteroids and other celestial bodies. On August 24, 2006, in a strange adjustment that demonstrated scientists can act as unreasonably, capriciously, and arbitrarily as any political body and in an act that will go down in the history of science rivaling the stupidity of denying that Galileo saw objects orbiting Jupiter through his telescope, the IAU adopted a new definition of “planet” that does not include Pluto, thus stripping Pluto of the status of planet.

But (in this case of the Emperor’s new cloths) it is an even more incredible fact that the new definition does not include Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune as planets. They are designated as planets only by the divine grace and fiat of a papal-like indulgence found in a footnote that arbitrarily designates them as planets whether or not they fit the definition! What an absolute legislative sausage that only shows these astronomers to be the space cadets of science. If scientific definitions are worth anything it is only because they are based on observation and rational classification and are not capricious outcome driven definitions.

The initial proposal was one that would have broadened the definition to include several additional bodies orbiting the sun. But there was a backlash of concern for the proposed new definition that pointed out several weaknesses yet offered a proposal with even greater weaknesses that was finally approved.

Nearing the last opportunity to vote before the meeting ended and the definition would have to wait until the next General Assembly, one of the IAU scientists addressed the relatively few astronomers remaining by stating that if they did not adopt a definition after so much debate that they would “look like idiots.” Well, upon that exhortation they adopted a definition that instead of preventing the appearance of idiocy, guaranteed it. This is how fear works. Stampeding in fear to avoid something, the mob rushes right into it.

The IAU has around 10,000 members of which about 2,700 astronomers attended parts of the 10-day General Assembly, but only 424 astronomers remained on the final day of the assembly when the vote took place.

A Definition Is Needed

The problem began when Mike Brown and colleagues at the California Institute of Technology discovered three years ago an object currently designated 2003 UB313 that was being called by some the "10th Planet". The object was measured to have a diameter of 3,000km (1,864 miles) which is a few hundred km more than Pluto. Astronomers were then faced with the question whether this new object was or wasn’t a planet. Since its creation in 1919, the IAU had never before adopted a definition of a planet. So a new definition was needed.

The initial proposal by the IAU's planet definition committee chaired by Professor Owen Gingerich would have immediately added three new planets to the Solar System - the asteroid Ceres, Pluto's “moon” Charon and the distant world known as 2003 UB313. Actually, it has been held for quite a while by not a few that Pluto and Charon are a “double planet.” Quite understandably the official recognition of Charon’s planetary status caused the fear that Earth’s moon might be recognized as a planet next! Additionally, a large minority of astronomers felt that the three new planets were simply the camel’s nose entering the proverbial tent and that there could eventually be dozens if not a hundred objects in the solar system that would become recognized as planets. Obviously this would cause great consternation among school children who have to learn the names of the planets.

While it may seem strange at first glance to lay persons that the “asteroid” Ceres was included as a planet, this is not illogical. Ceres is spherical and contains water-bearing minerals, and possibly a very weak atmosphere and frost. Infrared observations show that the surface is warm. So Ceres definitely does not fit the usual picture of an asteroid as an irregularly shaped cold rock in space.

So the first proposal was chucked into the black hole of parliamentary procedure by being tabled. During subsequent days of debate there were four separate proposals that were also tabled. The core of debate seemed to pit two types of astronomers against each other. On the side of the original proposal were the planetary geologists who wanted to create a definition that relied on the physical description of the celestial body. On the other extreme were the dynamicists - those astronomers who study the motion and gravitational effects of space objects. Astronomers are supposed to have their heads in the heavens with their feet on the ground of scientific method, but here they have shown themselves to have no place to stand and to be no more immune that any other set of people, such as Catholics and Protestants, Sunni and Shia, when it comes to sectarian rivalry over turf wars.

IAU’s Embarrassing New Definition

The adopted definition has gone completely wrong because the scientists were voting on the basis of patently unscientific reasons. What it came down to was that the scientists voted, not for a definition with scientific integrity, but on an outcome, whether or not scientific, that made the number of planets stable at eight. The BBC World Service reported such renowned scientists as
Iwan Williams, the IAU's president of planetary systems science, as saying, "By the end of the decade, we would have had 100 planets, and I think people would have said 'my goodness, what a mess they made back in 2006'." Mike Brown the man who led the discovery of 2003 UB313 absurdly stated, "Eight is enough,"

As someone who grew up with the belief that science is an ongoing endeavor of hypothesis and re-hypothesis with the goal of developing as consistent description of reality as is humanly possible, it is very difficult to hear scientists arguing for a definition on the basis of whether the definition will make eight or 100 planets. My word! Don’t these astronomers know that a definition must have scientific integrity, so that it describes reality regardless of how many objects are found to fit that definition? What a bloody mess these so-called objective scientists have created. They have all apparently spent far too much time with their eyes glued to something other than their telescopes.

Some of the IAU scientists have kept their heads. Professor Gingerich said afterwards that the IAU General Assembly had been “hijacked.”

Dr Alan Stern, head of the US space agency's New Horizons mission to Pluto who was not in Prague for the vote called the new definition “embarrassing” and told BBC News: "It's an awful definition; it's sloppy science and it would never pass peer review.”

Some members are now describing the IAU as the "Irrelevant Astronomical Union".

The New Definition

So, according to the IAU’s newly adopted definition, a "planet" is defined as a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

Well, this definition is so looney that it has to have a footnote explaining that the only bodies that meet this definition are the eight planets minus Pluto. This led to one astronomer at the assembly to quip, “Why didn’t they just adopt the footnote as the definition?”

The third criteria of the adopted definition is just plain illogical, lacking all internal consistency. It states that a planet must have "cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit". This means that the gravitational influence of the world on nearby objects will clear the material in their paths either by pulling it into the planet or sweeping it out of the way with a gravitational tug that sends it away. There’s only one problem with this definition: it doesn’t work!

Pluto fails the neighborhood clearing test because its highly elliptical orbit overlaps with that of the much bigger Neptune. But, this is also the first obvious example of the illogical failure of the “cleared neighbourhood” measures because the planet Neptune likewise has not cleared it’s orbit of Pluto, the very planet the definition was designed to remove!

But even more serious, and causing the greatest dubiousness of the definition, is that in addition to Neptune, the new definition removes the Earth, Mars, and Jupiter from the status of planets, because they too have not cleared their neighborhood orbits. Every time there is a prediction of meteor showers or we see a shooting star, we are reminded that Earth still has space rubble in our path that has not yet been cleared. Sweep, sweep, sweep that neighborhood orbit, and eventually you too can become a planet in the eyes of the IAU.

How stupid can you get? The astronomers have adopted a definition of planet that removes five of the nine planets from planethood! As stated above, they inserted a footnote to the definition that arbitrarily designates Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune as planets whether or not they fit the definition, and they left Pluto off the list in order to exclude it from this capricious dispensation.

Pluto was relegated instead to the second-class status of “dwarf planet” with absolutely no logical boundary or observational basis for the dividing line between planet and dwarf planet. The first members of the new "dwarf planet" category are Ceres, Pluto and 2003 UB313. But the astronomers believe themselves to be clear on one point: a dwarf planet is not a planet since dwarf planets and planets are “distinct classes of objects,” which of course is clearly as absurd and as denigrating as saying that a dwarf human is not a human.

Clearly the entire fiasco of this new definition has no other purpose than to remove Pluto from the ranks of planethood. When five of the nine planets do not meet the scientific sounding standard of “cleared the neighborhood around its orbit” it becomes clear that the criterion is mere smoke and mirrors to create the magician’s distraction from the real purpose: to declare there are only eight planets no-matter what the definition says.

Well, by this colossal mistake the astronomers have proven they are human too. Hopefully they will have the human capacity to say mea culpa and fix their erring ways by adopting a definition that includes both scientific integrity and common sense.

Another New Definition Is Needed

What kind of definition is needed? First, the astronomers must be committed to a definition that describes reality regardless of the number of objects that may eventually fit that definition and does not need a footnote to include objects that don’t fit the definition.

Second, the first two of the criteria that were adopted (orbit around a star while not being a star and being spherical) are based on observation and are perfectly appropriate. In fact some astronomers believe these are the only two criteria required. Dr. Marc Buie, of the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, was one of the first to advocate this position. Before the convocation of the General Assembly, he told the BBC, "I believe the definition of planet should be as simple as possible, so I've come up with two criteria. One is that it can't be big enough to burn its own matter - that's what a star does. On the small end, I think the boundary between a planet and not a planet should be, is the gravity of the object stronger than the strength of the material of the object? That's a fancy way of saying is it round?"

The problem with this definition for many is that it would make many moons, as well as asteroids like Ceres, into planets. For example the Earth and its moon could be recognized as a paired or double planet grouping in a single orbit. For some the objection to this definition amounts to a plain emotional offense and distaste at calling Earth’s moon a planet.

So third, any additional criteria added to the basic two common sense observations must itself meet a test of common sense and observational verification and should be adopted on the basis of scientific peer review methods, such as publication, and not on the basis of emotional political voting at a meeting.

A Taxonomy of Planets

One possible scheme (which I tend toward) is to adopt a taxonomy of planets using the seven chief groups that make up a system in scientific classification of living things. The groups are: (1) kingdom, (2) phylum or division, (3) class, (4) order, (5) family, (6) genus, and (7) species. The kingdom is the largest group. The species is the smallest.

I would propose that there are two kingdoms of celestial bodies, in the first kingdom are the stars that burn their own matter (the autocombustibles) and in the second kingdom are the bodies that don’t burn themselves (the noncombustibles).

In the kingdom of the noncombustible space objects there are two obvious divisions: those that orbit stars (the stellar orbitals) and those that don’t (the interstellar isolates).

In the division of orbitals there are several possible classes: those objects with gravity stronger than the strength of the material of the object thus forming a spherical shape (planets), those irregular rocks whose gravity is not strong enough to shape the object and which orbit a star (asteroids), those irregular rocks that orbit planets (minor satellites), and those objects of ice and dust in highly elliptical orbit transecting the orbits of the planets that shed their materials in tails as they near the sun (comets).

In the class of planets there are the two obvious orders of solid planets and gas planets.

In the order of solid planets there might be division of families based on the materials that compose them. For example, those that are composed primarily of geologic substances such as the silicates and metals might be one family (the stoney planets) and those composed primarily of ice such as the double planets of Pluto and Charon and 2003 UB313 might be in another family (the icy planets).

In the family of stony planets are the logical genera differentiating between the different kinds and amounts of atmosphere (e.g., listing by the element that is greatest in the atmosphere) and the degree of protection of atmosphere by magnetic field.

In the genus of nitrogen rich atmospherics are the species of planets with or without biologic life.

Thus a taxonomy could look like this:
I. Kingdom: Autocombustibles (stars, black holes, etc.)
II. Kingdom: Noncombustibles
A. Division: Stellar Orbitals
1. Class: Planets
a. Order: Solid Planets
1) Family: Stony Planets
a) Genus: Nitrogen Primary Atmosphere (Earth)
(1) Species: Biological Life Planet
b) Genus: Carbon Dioxide Rich Atmosphere
c) Genus: Atmosphere Deprived
d) Genus: (other atmospherics)
2) Family: Icy Planets
b. Order: Gas Planets
2. Class: Asteroids
3. Class: Minor Satellites
4. Class: Comets
B. Division: Interstellar Isolates

This is an admittedly undeveloped draft classification by a layman engaged in brainstorming, and it could, of course, benefit from an intelligent debate by scientists of the IAU. And isn’t this the type of imaginative debate the astronomers of the IAU need to engage in, rather than debating whether having more planets than eight is a burden on the public imagination?

Whatever the final outcome, it is clear that the current absurd definition can not stand if astronomy is not to be held up as the laughing stock of science. So every time you see a shooting star, you may console yourself that though Earth is not yet a planet, we are still working at it.

-end essay-


BBC News stories:

“Crunch time for Planet Pluto” By Nicola Cook, BBC Horizon

“Pluto vote 'hijacked' in revolt” By Paul Rincon, Science reporter, BBC News

News from IAU XXVIth General Assembly:

The IAU therefore resolves that "planets" and other bodies in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:

(1) A "planet"[1] is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

(2) A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape[2] , (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

(3) All other objects[3] except satellites orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as "Small Solar-System Bodies".
[1]The eight planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
[2]An IAU process will be established to assign borderline objects into either dwarf planet and other categories.
[3]These currently include most of the Solar System asteroids, most Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), comets, and other small bodies.

The IAU further resolves:

Pluto is a "dwarf planet" by the above definition and is recognized as the prototype of a new category of trans-Neptunian objects.

-end appendix-