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These articles were prepared for the May 12, 2004 issue of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Bush’s ‘Good & Evil’

Peter Singer, the renowned ethicist who attracts both adulation and

scorn, took a leave from his teaching at Princeton University to come

up with a scorcher, just in time for the Presidential election. Singer

reads and signs "The President of Good & Evil: The Ethics of George W.

Bush" on Thursday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Marketfair

(609-897-9250). Singer is a provocative, though low key speaker, and

both his fans and his detractors generally show up in large numbers,

so arrive early to get a seat.

For this book Singer studies the work of all those who have focused on

the Bush presidency, from authors David Frum and Bob Woodward to

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman and the Times’s Paul Krugman (also a

professor at Princeton). Singer also invokes such authorities as

Lawrence Kohlberg, who studies the development of moral judgment, and

jurisprudence expert Ronald Dworkin and subjects what President Bush

has said and done to the dissecting methods that ethicists use, and

his scalpel is sharp.

Fair is fair, says Singer, noting that Bush asks schools to teach the

difference between right and wrong. He credits Bush with not asking

teachers to indoctrinate their students without giving reasons for

their "good versus evil" opinions. Bush would agree, Singer concludes,

"that we can usefully discuss different possible ethical views, and

judge which of them are more defensible. In the course of this book I

argue that Bush’s own moral positions are often not defensible. If I

succeed in persuading you of this, I will have established that Bush

is at least correct when he asserts that is possible to educate people

in right and wrong."

Singer does hit all the hot button topics: abortion, cloning, stem

cell research, global warming, unfair taxes, faith, terrorist

confinement at Guantanamo, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, and so on.

But this an ethicist talking, and it is just this sort of

dispassionate dissection of words and sentences that sets Singer’s

book several levels above a diatribe. Here’s an example:

"Suppose someone says, `We should clone human beings because aliens

have told us to do so.’ We would, if we were to take this ridiculous

claim seriously, ask for evidence that these aliens really exist, that

they have told us to clone humans, and that there is some reason why

we should do what they tell us to do.’ Suppose that the response to

our questions is, ‘I have encountered these aliens in moments of deep

despair, and they have entered into my head and my heart, and I love

them and know I can trust them. Open your hearts to them, and you too

will come to love them and see that they are right.’"

Singer goes on to compare the fictional message from aliens, offered

without proof, to the assertion that human embryos should not be

destroyed because "human life is a sacred gift from the Creator,"

which Singer says is also unproven, and he concludes that this line of

thought does not work as a "justification for public policy within the

sphere of public reason."

An atheist himself, Singer does not shy away from going deep into the

study of Christian theology, particularly Bush’s assertions that he

has a clear sense of good and evil. Singer points out that seeing the

world as a conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil

does not fall into the realm of orthodox Christian views but is

associated instead with the heresy of the Manicheans, an early

Christian sect.

For Singer, the ethicist, the most unsettling conclusion is that Bush

has no solid ethical code at all, that his views "do not fit within a

coherent ethical framework, because he reacts instinctively to

specific situations. He feels that he knows what to do on any given

occasion, but because he is not a reflective person, he makes no

attempt to put his judgments on specific issues together and see how

coherently they fit with each other . . . For an unreflective person,

having a sense of ‘moral clarity’ that disregards the shadings in

human motivation and conduct can be a vice, not a virtue. When it is

coupled with a firm belief that the nation you lead is on the right

side of history, pursuing ‘God’s justice,’ and even that there is some

divine plan that has put you in the position of leader of that nation,

what you see as moral clarity, others will see as self righteousness."

"When that self-proclaimed moral clarity is coupled with actions that

fail to live up to the rhetoric, others will see it as hypocrisy. In

the president of the most powerful nation on earth, self-righteousness

and hypocrisy are dangerous vices."

Peter Singer, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, Route 1 South, 609-897-9250.

Booksigning by the professor of bioethics at Princeton University’s

Center for Human Values. Free. Thursday, May 13, 7 p.m.

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Step II Productions has open auditions for the musical comedy, ‘My

Favorite Year," on Saturday and Sunday, May 22 and 23 at 2 p.m. at the

Dance Conservatory, Vermillion Square, 8919 New Falls Road, Levittown,

PA. Call 215-946-0100.

The Ritz Theater Company has auditions for "The Foreigner" on Monday,

June 14, 6 p.m. 915 White Horse Pike, Oaklyn. Call 856-858-5230. Fresh

Air Fund seeks volunteer families to share their homes with New York

City children from underprivileged communities this summer. Call Betsy

Bloemeke at 609-448-1027.

Phoenix Productions has auditions for "Grease" on Tuesday, Wednesday,

and Thursday, May 18 to 20, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Production opens July 9

at Count Basie Theater in Red Bank. Call 732-747-0014.

Voices Chorale seeks talented singers in all voice parts to join the

next concert season. Auditions are in May and June. Call 609-637-9383

for information.

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Call for Entries

South Brunswick Arts Commission seeks design proposals for a permanent

centerpiece in the 9/11 Memorial Garden in front of the municipal

building. New Jersey artists, sculptors, architects, landscape

designers, and others 18 and older to submit proposals for design to

recognize its impact on the town, which lost three residents.

Proposals must be received by June 30. Call 732-329-4000 ext. 635.

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Participate Please

Middlesex County Cultural & Heritage Commission offers history grants

to support programs relating to the history of New Jersey. Grants from

$750 to $2,000 are available. For information call 732-745-4489.

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Donate Please

The Waldorf School of Princeton’s seventh grade French class is

collecting unused bicycles to send to Haiti, where they will be used

for transportation. Call 609-466-1970 ext. 45.

Community Options seeks items for their 13th annual auction on May 14.

To donate, call Phyllis Grodnicki at 609-452-1887.

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Volunteers Needed

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen seeks volunteers June to September for

evening meals 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Minimum age is 13. They

also need volunteers to facilitate activities for the Kids Room during

summer vacation beginning on June 21. Call Cathy Ann at 609-695-5456.

Wings of Dove seeks families interested in hosting Russian orphans

during a two-week summer program between July 23 and August 7. Call

Amy Martingsen at 732-229-0452.

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Just for Kids

Young Artist and Young Musician programs at Westminster Conservatory

has auditions for the 2004-05 school year on Monday May 17, and

Friday, May 21.

Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey seeks musicians for 2004-05.

Audition is Tuesday, June 8. Application is at

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