Ptolemy Told Me


Before TiVo, folks used to sit around and stare at the sky. And they discovered something that may come as news to habitues of American Idol and the O’Reilly Factor: there are stars and stuff up there.

The ancients not only observed the stuff in the sky, they were intrigued by the fact it moved around. Since they thought that the Earth was flat and stationary, the notion that it was round and hurtling through space was unthinkable. Therefore, they reasoned, those heavenly bodies were doing the boogaloo up there for their entertainment.

To prevent some genius from coming along and suggesting that the stars and stuff appeared in different parts of the sky at different times because both the Earth and the celestial objects were in motion, a theory was needed. Enter Claudius Ptolemy.

Circa 140 A.D., to explain how it was that stars and stuff moved irregularly up there, Ptolemy cooked up the idea of “epicycles.” He opined that the bodies would simply tap the breaks and–whoop–fly around in circles. These gravitationally irrational pirouettes came to be known as “retrograde motion.” It was Ptolemy’s story and he stuck to it to his grave. And this brings us to George W. Bush.

As thinkers go, Dubya will never be confused with Copernicus. But when it comes to offering up a story that diverges entirely from that which can be observed and reasoned, Ptolemy has met his match.

Today’s White House explication of how it was the President told America that he’d seek and destroy any leakers in his Administration when it was Bush himself who authorized leaking classified info is a case in point. “Declassifying information and providing it to the public, when it is in the public interest, is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious,” said Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Now if that ain’t retrograde, the sun don’t shine in Egypt.

It’s worth noting that the classified information Bush leaked about the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was carefully picked through to redact the part where it said the CIA didn’t believe it. So, in the public interest, what Bush leaked was only the part that supported the false claim he’d made about Saddam’s nuclear intentions in his State of the Union Address a few months earlier.

Getting dizzy? It’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with your brain, epicycles are known to cause vertigo.

Of course this is not the first time Bush has employed retrograde logic to explain the gulf between assertion and fact about Iraq. If you look at it through a microscope, you might notice that there were no weapons or 9-11 connections and it wasn’t for free and 2,348 Americans died for a cause that evolves every time the previous falsehood is discredited. But if you look at it on a TV screen you’ll just see George in a jumpsuit, grinning like an imbecile while he struts past a “mission accomplished” banner that McClellan later said they didn’t put there.

Bush may have been a scholastic underachiever, but he apparently paid attention in history class. Ptolemy’s theory of retrograde motion was accepted for 13 centuries, Bush has only to hoodwink us till 2008. Then it’ll be back to Crawford, where the Earth looks mighty flat.

Made-up breaking news on a not so heavenly body: In Her Dreams: Coulter Converses with God

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