Of presidents and pigsDavid Hoppe

It's August, and the dog days are upon us. Reality shimmers in the summer heat... Last week, before heading for his ranch, President Bush said a couple of things that put his administration's sense of reality in a nutshell. Like so many of us, the president knows what he knows and he's not about to be waylaid by pesky rules. Karl Rove and Ken Lay, take heart.

The first item pertained to the 10-day suspension of Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro for steroid use. Bush and Palmeiro met in Texas when Bush was a managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Earlier this year, Palmeiro made headlines when he testified before a congressional committee that he had never, ever used steroids and that he thought Major League Baseball should enact strict penalties for players who juice themselves with performance enhancing drugs. A few weeks ago, when Palmeiro got the 3,000th hit of his career, Bush called him with congratulations and invited the Palmeiro family to the White House for dinner.

Then Raffy, as he is known to his friends, tested positive for steroids.

Palmeiro said it must have been an accident, he didn't know what he was doing. Soon he'll get the chance to repeat this in front of a congressional committee that wants to know whether or not he perjured himself when he went before them and claimed to be pure as bubble gum.

Here is what President Bush said about Palmeiro's test results: "Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him. He's the kind of person that's going to stand up in front of the kleig lights and say he didn't use steroids and I believe him. Still do."

Like so many of us, the president knows what he knows and he's not about to be waylaid by pesky rules. Karl Rove and Ken Lay, take heart.

On the same day that he stood up for Rafael Palmeiro, President Bush also said he thought schools should teach "intelligent design" along with Darwin's theory of evolution. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," said the Leader of the Free World. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Optimists might say that Bush's statement was good news. It's good to hear the president advocating exposure to "different" ideas. Let discussions on the redistribution of our nation's wealth, troop withdrawal from Iraq and the end of the fossil fuel economy begin!

But the president also seemed to be suggesting that there might be some kind of parity between Darwin's so-called theory, which has actually served as the basis for real scientific discovery (think our understanding of the human genome and stem cell research) and, well, a notion based on faith. As the National Academy of Sciences put it: "The claim that equity demands balanced treatment of evolutionary theory and special creation in science classrooms reflects a misunderstanding of what science is and how it is conducted. Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science."

We have seen, though, that distinctions like these mean less to our president than what he knows in his heart to be true. When Mr. Bush sets his mind to something, he's not about to be confused by mere facts. Remember when he told us: "The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency ... it has developed weapons of mass death." (10.2.02) Or: "This man (Saddam Hussein) poses a much graver threat than anybody could possibly have imagined." (9.26.02) Or: "There's a grave threat in Iraq. There just is." (10.2.03)

A reality check of another kind took place in the Seattle courtroom of U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour at the end of July. It did not receive the media attention it deserved. Coughenour sentenced an Algerian terrorist, Ahmed Ressam, to 22 years for plotting to bomb the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium. Ressam, who was convicted of terrorism charges in 2001, received a reduced sentence after cooperating with investigators from several countries.

The case puts the War on Terror - and how to fight it - in perspective. This is what Judge Coughenour said from the bench: "We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant or deny the defendant the right to counsel. The message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart."

Finally, a kind of preview of what a state with twice the hog farms it has today (as our Governor would have it) might be like. Up in Hobart, Indiana, a woman named Debra Fields kept two 300-pound hogs in her home as pets. The hogs apparently produced up to 35 pounds of solid waste and several gallons of liquid waste everyday. Neighbors complained about the stink. Fields said city code permitted her to keep the animals.

"The issue before the court is not whether the defendant may keep her pigs, but whether the odors generated are something her neighbor must accept," wrote City Judge William Longer, who doubtless has a nose of his own. "They are not."

The smell of a 300-pound hog ... there's nothing more real than that.

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