IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Saturday, April 30, 2005 FUNDAMENTALISM WATCH I: A disturbing report on how some evangelical Christians are beginning to make the military a formally sectarian place. Of course evangelicals have an absolute right to practise their faith in a military context. But not at the expense of marginalizing others - or of unit cohesion. I cannot think of a shift more likely to strengthen the notion that we are in a war between Christianity and Islam, rather than a war to protect us all from religious fanaticism allied with violence.
FUNDAMENTALISM WATCH II: A closer look at the implications of the Alabama law that would ban books by gay authors in public schools shows its scope is much, much wider.
FUNDAMENTALISM WATCH III: Another outrageous calumny from the religious right is debunked by the Wall Street Journal. Too bad the debunking won't stop Texas from passing yet another law to attack gay people.
FUNDAMENTALISM WATCH IV: Here's a cheerful piece of religious propaganda ... from a mayor in a town called Lebanon, Tennessee. Money quote from his letter to the citizens of that town:
Man has achieved highs and suffered lows during our history of struggling with the wiles of Satan in Satan’s quest for our souls. We have only and can only reach the heights of victory when we surrender ourselves completely to God and only when He intervenes on our behalf---and such has been our history. When the burden of man and our desires became such that the intervention of God would require the ultimate sacrifice to be paid, God paid it all. When our only recourse was to have a savior, God sent us Jesus.
And if you're Jewish or an atheist? You don't really belong in Lebanon, Tennessee, do you? (Hat tip: Nashville Scene.) Readers are invited to send in equally sectarian messages from public officials allegedly elected to serve all citizens equally, regardless of their faith. - 12:18:00 PM
Friday, April 29, 2005 MORE DEBATE: I respond to a couple of Jonah Goldberg's points on my "Crisis of Faith" essay on the debate page here. Readers also offer criticism, and support. Check it out. I'll also be on the Chris Matthews Show again this Sunday with MoDo. - 4:13:00 PM BRIT ELECTION ADS: They're really, really good. Take a look. (And, yes, they're spoofs.) - 2:53:00 PM GAY TORIES: Just look at how Britain's Conservative party has embraced gay unions, openly gay soldiers, and included gay candidates and moved past prejudice. My friend Nick Boles is running for parliament in the county I grew up in. Money quote from a column about his race:
I got to a front door in Elm Drive just as Mr Boles had finished a sympathetic chat with the single mum within. “Is he married?” she whispered as he strode off.
“He’s gay,” I said.
Her face fell. “Tell him: ‘No problem’,” she said — then giggled, “but tell him I’m disappointed.”
“It makes no difference,” was the almost universal response.
“What’s that got to do with it?” voters would remark reproachfully. Little Britain may feature the only gay man in Llanddewi Brefi but here on the Sussex coast we sought an even more elusive character: the only homophobe in Hove.
Why cannot the Republicans be as grown up? - 11:34:00 AM A CONSERVATIVE OF DOUBT? After the frogs, the locusts:
I'm an old Tory. I don't want anyone telling me how to live, and I think society will keep its shape well enough if we all cleave to some common, traditional understandings, support a strong executive leadership on the rare occasions it's called for, give over our minds to communal religious observances for an hour or two per month, and mind our own businesses the rest of the time. I don't want anything to do with the law, unless I get mugged and need to stand witness, or my neighbor starts dumping his garbage in my yard. I think Congress should sit no more than ten days a year, 15 max. Leave us alone, for Pete's sake. The purpose of law is (a) to suppress private feuds, and (b) to identify and punish criminals. It's not to tell me how or where to live, or when to die. Let me figure that stuff out for myself. Otherwise, leave me alone. This used to be bedrock Americanism. Nowadays it's come to sound eccentric.
Yep, that's John Derbyshire, the constant object of my ire. Yes, what he means by "common, traditional understandings" is not what I mean. And I'm not going to take back my criticisms of some of his more prejudiced harrumphs. But at some deep level, we agree about politics' role, and disdain for religious zeal in politics. He was as horrified as I was by the Schiavo hysteria. Maybe it's our common English roots (although I have a very hefty dose of Irish genes). But I'm glad to see that not everyone at NRO has been drinking the big moral government Kool-Aid. - 11:25:00 AM INSTAPUNDIT: The president's press conference last night was, I think, perhaps his best ever. He was confident, in command of the facts, moderate in his views, engaging and appealing. It was much better than anything we've seen in a very long time; and it makes me wonder why his handlers keep him in such hermetically-sealed partisan settings. He's better than that; and it seems to me he keeps getting better in these contexts. I tend to agree with him on social security reform, although I'm unconvinced that we can actually afford the transition costs, given how profligate his administration has been for the past four years. It was also gratifying to hear him distance himself from the abuse of religion for political purposes that much of his base and Congressional allies have been indulging in lately. Presumably he understands the need to pull back from the fundamentalist temptation. He described his notion of religious faith as essentially "personal" and one in which people lead by example, not by legislating their own religious views. Sounds more like my position than, say, Ramesh Ponnuru's. He was also strong on Bolton. The weaknesses, however, were also evident. He really doesn't have a coherent strategy toward North Korea, which is getting more dangerous by the day. His defense of rendition struck me as weak. He referred to states to whom we send alleged terrorists as those "who say they don't practise torture." Not exactly reassuring, especially as he's referring, among other countries, to Syria and Egypt. He knows they practise torture; just as he knows that his own administration has refused to disclose the techniques that the CIA still uses. The evidence of escalating terror attacks was also a weak spot. He could say that the increase in terror is a function of our going on the offensive, but he meandered around the point. Still, it was an impressive performance over all: at ease, in command, and effective. I doubt it will shift the public mood, which is souring on the Republican hegemony. But it certainly reassured me that he is trying to tack away from the extreme right. Whether he can keep riding the tiger of religious zeal, while not falling off, remains to be seen. But in this press conference he struck me as a conservative of doubt more than one of fundamentalist faith.
A DEBATE ON TORTURE: Marty Lederman reports on a fascinating Columbia Law School debate between Professor Jeremy Waldron, of Columbia, and John Yoo, of the Boalt Law School. Yoo was in the Bush administration and was an architect of the decision to allow torture of detainees captured by U.S. soldiers. Well worth reading and pondering. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal continues its attempt to excuse the widespread abuse and torture as a function of a handful of unsupervised rogues. This sentence stands out:
The media and Congressional Democrats flogged the Abu Ghraib story for months throughout the 2004 election year, with a goal of stripping the Iraq War of moral authority and turning President Bush into another LBJ.
Really? Has it occurred to them that many people objected to what happened because they were morally outraged, because they thought this hindered the war effort, because White House memos seemed to give a green or amber light to these abuses, and because official reports cited those memos as adding to the circumstances that made Abu Ghraib and the murder-by-torture of over 30 detainees possible. The WSJ claims that none of the abuses were related to interrogation. It's worth repeating: there were no instances of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo that were discovered in any military facilities that were not geared toward interrogation. - 12:09:00 AM
Thursday, April 28, 2005 DOES GLENN KNOW ABOUT THIS? Banning new books in public libraries that feature any gay characters or are written by gay authors? There are no theocratic tendencies among the Republicans, are there? My favorite quote from the bigot behind this: "I don't look at it as censorship," says Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children." The guy wanted to ban some Shakespeare. But Capote, Wilde, Auden, Proust and who knows who else will be barred. Government as the protector of souls. What are these "hysterics" worrying about "theocratic impulses" going on about? - 12:19:00 PM EURO-ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH: Alan Dershowitz calls it like it is. - 12:07:00 PM CRISIS OF FAITH - A DEBATE: I was hoping to generate something of a debate with my recent piece on conservatism's growing incoherence. I'm grateful for the many emails, and I'll be posting more with my responses in the coming days. But Ramesh Ponnuru has also engaged the essay with his usual scalpel. Rather than clog up the Dish, I've created a debate page on the blog here. I'll link to or reproduce all the most salient criticisms and do my best to engage, rebut or concede them. My responses to Ramesh and Jonah are now posted.
THE VICAR OF ORTHODOXY: My brief take on Benedict XVI's theological circles is now posted. I am deeply indebted to Michael Novak's fair and penetrating critique here. Once I get past a couple of deadlines, I will try and respond. - 11:25:00 AM IN THE GRIP OF A "THEOCRACY"? PaceGlenn Reynolds, I don't think and have never said that we're in the grips of a "theocracy." We live in a constitutional democracy. Iranians live in a theocracy, and I am aware of the difference. But one element of our politics - one that happens to have a veto on Republican social policy - does hold that religion should dictate politics, and that opposition to a certain politics is tantamount to anti-religious bigotry. They're very candid about that, as we saw last Sunday. As Bill Donahue put it: "The people on the secularist left say we think you're a threat. You know what? They are right." Very senior Republicans echo the line that there is a filibuster against "people of faith." This isn't just about gays, although we've felt the sting of the movement more acutely than most. It's about science, stem cell research, the teaching of evolution, free access to medical prescriptions, the legality of living wills, abortion rights, censorship of cable and network television, and so on. The Schiavo case woke a lot of people up. I was already an insomniac on these issues. Maybe I'd be more effective a blogger if I pretended that none of this was troubling, or avoided the gay issue and focused on others. But I'm genuinely troubled by all of it, and by what is happening to the conservative tradition. I'd like to think that a qualified doctor like Bill Frist could say on television that tears cannot transmit HIV. But he could not - because the sectarian base he needs to run for president would not allow it. I'm sorry but that's nuts. I'm glad Glenn is now calling attention to all of it.
THE BRITISH ELECTION: Only a quarter of British voters now trust Tony Blair. He's responding by all but ditching the idea of joining the euro - once one of his key objectives. A brutal campaign impugning his integrity by the Tories appears to be gaining traction, and the prime minister looks rattled. To make matters worse, someone in the government leaked confidential legal advice from 2003 telling the prime minister that the war in Iraq might not be legal. Blair had declared in public that the advice had said otherwise. If these polls are accurate, he'll still win. But low turnout could create some surprises. I wish the Tories were presenting a real alternative. But they have failed, like the Republicans, to persuade people that less government actually means more freedom and better essential services. I also fear that the battering of Blair means a future Brown government will keep increasing spending and so hamper Britain's post-Thatcher renaissance. I'd happily vote Tory this time on those grounds alone. Of course, no one on the Labour left in Britain is proposing the kind of government spending that Bush Republicans are engaged in. In that sense, Bush is far to the fiscal left of anyone in current British politics. What an irony. We used to think that even British Tories were more liberal than America's Democrats. But Bush's and DeLay's massive spending and borrowing makes Blair look like a born-again Thatcherite. - 10:23:00 AM
Wednesday, April 27, 2005 CLARIFICATION: A reader asks:
Do you mean to say that the war is being used as political cover to push a theocratic agenda (sounds about right), or that the reason we undertook the war was as cover for a theocratic agenda (sounds cynical and hysterical)?
I mean the former. I'm sorry if I confused anyone. Or more simply: many people voted for Bush on national security grounds, a position with which I have much sympathy, and decided that fretting about the religious right was overblown. My position was that the national security differences between Bush and Kerry were not so great as to risk the domestic Kulturkampf that the religious right would unleash if Bush were to win. Others believed I was "hysterical" and concentrating too much on the gay issue. I think events since the election have buttressed my case. Gays could see this more clearly because we were so often the convenient target for the far right in the first term (although they have even more ambitious plans to curtail gay freedom in the second). But the religious right's agenda is far more ambitious than merely stripping gays of civil rights or even minimal privacy. It's about controlling the bodies and behaviors of all Americans to more faithfully conform to Biblical absolutes. Hence Schiavo; hence the need to purge the judiciary of any opposition; hence the abolition of a threatened judicial filibuster; hence the political alliance with the new papacy; hence "Justice Sunday." These people are no longer merely one Republican faction. They control the GOP. We are now seeing that more clearly, while the war - understandably - obscured that a little. With Iraq less in the headlines, the domestic agenda of the new big government sectarian GOP is far clearer. My "hysteria" may eventually be seen as clarity - even to anti-anti-religious right contortionists like Mickey Kaus. - 4:05:00 PM GLENN WORRIES: Instapundit has just discovered that the Republican party may actually be controlled by the religious right. Alleluia. Then he says:
The Republicans' weakness is that people worry that they're the party of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They tried, successfully, to convince people otherwise in the last election, but they're now acting in ways that are giving those fears new life.
Well, let's say they successfully convinced some people in the last election that they weren't the party of James Dobson and Rick Santorum, i.e. the ones with wool pulled firmly over their eyes, the ones who preferred to peddle (without fully endorsing) smears about John Kerry's war service than look at the radical attack on liberty that the new Republicans were determined to advance. I'd like to think that bringing the evangelical right along was part of building a coalition to fight the war. I'm certainly not impugning Glenn's good reasons for voting for Bush on those grounds. But in my darker moments, I wonder whether the war wasn't a cover to persuade good, open-minded folk like Glenn to enable the theocratic impulses of the Republican base. Of course, Glenn can wait and see. Gay couples who have had basic rights taken away from them since November, might feel more aggrieved. My take on the fundamentalist threat to the conservative coalition can be read here.
THE LEFT SINKS LOWER I: Norm Geras, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week when he was in D.C., has a suitably jaundiced view of the Euro and british left's hatred of Blair, of the U.S. and indeed of all Western-led liberations from Islamist or Baathist tyranny. Here's his post on the latest anti-Blair tirade in the Guardian.
THE LEFT SINKS LOWER II: The air-brushing of Rachel Corrie has now become near sanctification. A new play in London perpetuates the myth. Tom Gross explains.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "If I did everything the Pope said, I wouldn't have my two beautiful daughters: one brought into this world via IVF, and the other via IUI (think turkey baster). I sincerely doubt God is going to hold it against my wife or I that we had to do it this way, irrespective of pronouncements of the Panzer Pope. Keep up the fight."
DEEPER DATING: The trend toward coupling among gay men continues - and of better ways of meeting compatible potential mates. Bears now join the trend. Some of this is doubtless spurred by the possibility of marriage. And no doubt social conservatives are appalled. Gay men settling down? Or seeking intimacy and commitment? I'm sure Stanley Kurtz and Maggie Gallagher are horrified. Don't gays realize that our role is to be forever marginalized, in bath-houses or alone? How else will straights keep their social structures healthy if they cannot point to "sick" gay people as psychological reinforcement? I'm also struck by a new wave of clubs and events for gay men, events that do not seem to me to be driven by harder and harder techno that sounds like car alarms but by great music enjoyed by a variety of more masculine-oriented gay men, old and young, fat and thin, hairy and smooth. D.C.'s "Blow-Off" is taking off. There are similar versions in New York City and London. Gay men, ever flexible and creative, are remaking their world.
NEUHAUS AND SHARPTON: An interesting observation from a reader:
More evidence of the alarming trend towards post-modernist epistemology in the wrong-headed right. Neuhaus disclaims any ability to tell what actually occurred decades ago (i.e., what ordinary people used to call "the facts"). But he can tell that the accusers are malicious, so they must be bearing false witness, so he can be "morally certain" that what they say is false. And so his "moral certainty" trumps the small question of what actually occurred. It's "true for him", you see, and that's what matters--if it's true for the abusers that their lives were ruined, well, everyone has their own perspective, and surely there's no truth beyond that. Every question reduced to "he said she said". No interest in the truth, just in perceptions of the truth and how they can be spun. Yes, Clinton and his enablers bear some of the blame for it. But Rove and his gang have elevated it to the standard epistemological stance of the radical right. And then they say that liberals are to blame for relativism?
The truth is what Neuhaus or Ratzinger say it is. Period. Our job is not to question but to accept. - 12:02:00 PM
Tuesday, April 26, 2005 GALLOWAY'S GALLOWS: Fun and fear in the British election. My favorite quote: "They are intelligent and furious young conservatives, driven by hatred of Western liberalism in all its forms, and absolutely convinced they are being viciously persecuted by the 'infidel' state. It is very hard to engage them in a political dialogue that makes sense." Just to clarify: The guy is talking about some fanatical British Muslims, not the fine fellows at the Family Research Council.
MACIEL'S DEFENDERS: In fairness, I should point to Richard John Neuhaus' defense of Father Maciel, the prelate credibly charged with condoning and practising the sexual abuse of boys and teens in his care:
Forty and fifty years after the alleged misdeeds, there is no question of criminal action. Even were there any merit to the charges, which I am convinced there is not, the statute of limitations has long since run out. And what can you do to an eighty–two–year–old priest who has been so successful in building a movement of renewal and is strongly supported and repeatedly praised by, among many others, Pope John Paul II? What you can try to do is to filch from him his good name. And by destroying the reputation of the order's founder you can try to discredit what Catholics call the founding 'charism' of the movement, thus undermining support for the Legionaries of Christ... A cardinal in whom I have unbounded confidence and who has been involved in the case tells me that the charges are 'pure invention, without the slightest foundation.'"
Hmmm. And what cardinal may that have been? Neuhaus dismisses the National Catholic Reporter as a "left-wing tabloid," and says he has thoroughly investigated the charges himself:
I can only say why, after a scrupulous examination of the claims and counterclaims, I have arrived at moral certainty that the charges are false and malicious. I cannot know with cognitive certainty what did or did not happen forty, fifty, or sixty years ago. No means are available to reach legal certainty (beyond a reasonable doubt). Moral certainty, on the other hand, is achieved by considering the evidence in light of the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." On that basis, I believe the charges against Fr. Maciel and the Legion are false and malicious and should be given no credence whatsoever.
If that sounds tortured, you should read the entire defense. It is somewhat undermined, I'd say, by the fact that Pope Benedict XVI recently re-opened the investigation. The Legion of Christ has its own defense of Maciel as well. It can be read here. This may be a defining early issue of Benedict's papacy. Except by reopening the investigation, he imposes complete silence on everyone involved. Expect the same kind of process that the White House and military have deployed on prisoner abuse and torture. Other bloggers comment here. It seems to me that this is a story that the blogosphere should keep on stressing.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I think Goldwater would be doing quite well with the Republicans right now, as are many who would agree with the statement of his that you posted. I'm a religious person, probably more than you could really imagine (that doesn't mean I'm perfect, but I am trying), but I agree very much with Barry's comments, and I know many others who feel the same way. In fact, I think most of the so-called Religious Right would agree with him, despite the portrayal in the media. I don't want a religion running the government, here or anywhere else. We've seen that happen too many times, and with too many dire results - some of them quite recent - to want to do that again. On the other hand, I do think it is fair for people to allow their religions to guide their lives. I might prefer that my governmental officials vote or act in certain ways, and sometimes those ways are because of my religious beliefs, but that's something that everyone does. Separating our religious beliefs from our moral beliefs from our ethical beliefs from whatever other sort of beliefs we have is just not generally possible. Examples of this are too numerous to completely enumerate, but I'll mention two: The desire, often attributed to liberals, to care for the poor and the disadvantaged is based upon the belief that it is the right thing to do. Is that a religious belief? A moral one? An ethical one? Well, whatever it is, it is someone's value and that person is entitled to it. If the majority of the people share those values - for whatever reason - then it is fair that those values be reflected in the law. Some people feel strongly that the death penalty is wrong, while others believe it is right. To hold either position is to have some sort of belief about it, and many people on both sides attribute it to their religious beliefs. I don't believe it is improper for them to hold their views or to attempt, through legislation, to have their views enacted into law, even if the reason for their beliefs is because of religion. This, by the way, is why I have a problem with too much judicial activism. It is the imposition of the morals of the judge (or judges) on the rest of society. Such matters should be decided by a majority of the people or their representatives, else we are again looking at something of a theocracy. It is rarely called such because the judges don't usually phrase their arguments in religious terms. (Former California Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird is a good example of this: she opposed the application of the death penalty in every case. She tried to hide it behind legalisms but eventually she was too outspoken and it became known that she was personally opposed to the death penalty. The public came to believe that she was not following the law but imposing her own moral values, so she was removed. She might have denied that her values were religious, but whatever she might have called them the effect was the same.) And that, finally, is why Goldwater wouldn't have much trouble in the Party today. He would not want people to use their religions to impose controls upon him, but he would also recognize that people on the other side were just doing the same thing (and not calling it religion). He was an independent man and would maintain his independence against both sides, but he was also a conservative man and that wouldn't change, either. He would be right, I believe, to fight a religious takeover of the Rebublican Party, but this is a constant battle in both parties and he knows that." - 11:19:00 AM
Monday, April 25, 2005 THE BBC UNLEASHED: They've been giving microphones to hecklers at rallies with the Tory leader, Michael Howard. Of course, they're unbiased.
OOPS: Another Britney cover- this time by Max Rabbe, in the style of Weimar Berlin.
LOVED IT: I take it all back. The Nationals-Phillies game was great fun at RFK last night. Vile but irresistible hot dogs; a new foodstuff known as dippin' dots; occasional flashes of excitement interrupted by really hot guys with guts spitting into the grass; and, the piece de resistance, Karl Rove down front, chatting on his cell-phone. We had a blast.
QUOTE OF THE DAY I: "However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"- Barry Goldwater, September 16, 1981. I wonder if Goldwater could even exist within today's Republican establishment.
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: "I remember the joie de vivre of the local lads, firing their gun salutes - which was their way of welcoming Christ as a head of state, the Head of State, the Lord of the world, present on their streets and in their village." - Pope Benedict XVI, reminiscing about his bavarian Catholic childhood, in "The Feast of Faith," 1986. Christ as the Head of State. It doesn't get more explicit than that. - 11:58:00 PM OFF TO THE BALLGAME: I promise I won't pull one of those butcher-than-thou pundit commentaries about baseball and DC. I feel about baseball the way many neocons feel about religion: good for the masses but not quite my cup of tea. Still, with an open mind ... off to RFK. - 5:21:00 PM THE WRIST-SLAPPING: ABC News has the footage of then-Cardinal Ratzinger slapping the wrist of ABC News reporter Brian Ross when he inquired about the suppressed investigation of alleged sex abuser, father Maciel. The video is revealing. - 4:09:00 PM CRISIS IN FAITH: My extended take on the current conflicts within conservatism can be read here.
THE MACIEL TIME BOMB: Now, this is interesting. Why on earth would then-Cardinal Ratzinger re-open an investigation of Father Marcial Maciel's alleged child-sex racket last December, having suppressed any kind of inquiry for many years? A critical piece of television footage - which I was surprised wasn't aired over the last week - shows then-Cardinal Ratzinger prissily slapping the wrists of an ABC News reporter who dared to confront him over the issue in public. Maciel founded a crucial ultra-conservative order, the Legion of Christ, which was given special recognition by John Paul II. Maciel was also a very close friend of John Paul II. The evidence for a pattern of wide-scale sex abuse under Maciel is voluminous. The Vatican was sent a frank and angry dossier of accusations in 1997. John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger did nothing. There are a few possible explanations for last December's volte-face: that it took seven years for Ratzinger to appreciate the scale of the scandal and that he gets it now (the new Vatican spin); that Ratzinger knew all along that Maciel was guilty but also knew that John Paul II would never allow his friend to be brought to justice; or that, last December, Ratzinger knew that the Maciel case could explode on the Vatican, and that if he didn't initiate the investigation, he would be implicated in the cover-up as well. But, of course, Benedict XVI had already been deeply involved in the cover-up; and even re-opening the investigation cannot expunge that record. London's Independent newspaper reports that Ratzinger once said that "one can't put on trial such a close friend of the Pope's as Marcial Maciel." I've never read that before and don't know the source. But if true, it's a pretty damning statement.
BENEDICT = LAW? The critical queston, then, is: what is the difference between Cardinal Law and Pope Benedict XVI? Benedict never had the kind of administrative authority over parish priests that Law had. But he did have authority over the Maciel matter; it was reported to him; he ignored it and suppressed investigations. The personal connection to Maciel is crucial - and Maciel is also integral to the new ultra-conservative establishment. His running a gay teen sex abuse ring was not encouraged by liberal theological deviation (as it might have been elsewhere). It was old-style Catholic sex abuse: highly conservative closeted gay priests, psychologically crippled by decades of self-loathing and struggle against their homosexual orientation, acting out their stunted sexual development by abusing their clerical power over younger men and boys. And this pattern has long been known - and accepted - by much of the Church hierarchy. While they excoriated openly gay lay couples struggling honestly and openly with how to live moral lives as Catholics, they protected closeted, psychologically damaged gay priests who engaged in sex abuse. Benedict is therefore caught between two very difficult places - blaming John Paul II for protecting Maciel for too long; or admitting that he too turned a blind eye to investigating credible claims of sexual abuse. Last December's decision suggests to me that Benedict knows what's coming. And he's doing what he can simply to control and stay ahead of the damage.
BENEDICT AND THE SEX ABUSE CRISIS: More damaging revelations. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger asserted in a 2001 letter that the Church had the right to investigate all sex abuse cases in complete secrecy and that its jurisidiction "begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age" and lasts for a decade. Those who believe and hope that Benedict will be the man to cope with the problem of the Church's cover-up of sex abuse will soon have to concede that Benedict himself has been a central part of the problem. Will Church conservatives give Benedict a pass? - 11:38:00 AM
Friday, April 22, 2005 OOPS: Louis Armstrong channels Britney Spears. Hey, it's Friday afternoon. - 2:23:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY I: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials." - president John F. Kennedy. At the time, the speech was regarded as an attempt to refute anti-Catholic prejudice. Today, wouldn't the theocons regard it as an expression of anti-Catholic prejudice? Wouldn't Bill Frist see president Kennedy as an enemy of "people of faith"? Just asking.
QUOTE FOR THE DAY II: "I worry that Pope Benedict sees liberal Catholics primarily as products of the worst excesses of the '60s and not as people who are genuinely grateful for the Catholic tradition and the Church's efforts since Pope John to interpret it anew for our times. Many of us know that modernity urgently needs criticism and agree with the new Pope on the importance of asserting that truth exists. We remain Catholic precisely because we think that the Church's emphasis on the sacramental and the communal provides a corrective to a culture that overemphasizes the material and lifts up the narrowest forms of individualism. But we also think that not all that is new is bad. Our Church was soft on slavery. It was terribly slow to embrace democracy. It still does not seem to understand that the desire of women for power in the Church reflects legitimate--and, yes, Christian--claims to justice, not weird ideological enthusiasms. Those who say that change in the Church is simply capitulation to a flawed culture must explain whether they really think the Church would be better off if it had not come to oppose slavery, endorse democracy, and resist anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance." - E. J. Dionne. Amen to that. I am tired of being told that we have two options: complete submission to everything Pope Benedict believes or moral nihilism. That's a false choice. Modern Catholics are not relativists or nihilists. But we have seen in our own evolving lives some moral truths: that women deserve equal dignity in work and society, that gay people can construct moral relationships, that contraception can support marriage and the family, that respectful discussion is not the same as doctrinal nihilism. We have a Catholic duty to bear witness to these truths. And we will.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I am a 67 year old gay man (born in the reign of Pius XI and have suffered under 5 popes - John XXIII being a breath of clean air - and Benedict XVI promises to continue the tradition of the others). I read and sympathize with your agony; may I offer some advice? 1) If you want to be a Catholic, be one. Let no one define your Catholicity for you. Conservative Catholics, alternating between crowing and fulminating, do not speak for the whole church as it has marched down through the ages. (Think Dorothy Day, Bernadette Soubirous, Francis of Assisi, the fathers Berrigan, GK Chesterton, to name but a few.) Although I don't have precise figures, my guess is that, in the Western hemisphere, they are in the minority. In America, they make "majority" noises because they have united with evangelical Protestants to vote for the Bush Imperium. It is a dangerous liaison; to the fundamentalists, the Church of Rome has always been the Whore of Babylon. 2) Decide why you want to remain a Catholic and pay attention to that."
ONE MORE PLUG: For my 1988 essay on Ratzinger's theology.
Thursday, April 21, 2005 SORRY: A bad link and a misplaced half-sentence. Fixed now. - 2:35:00 PM DEFICITS DON'T MATTER: Yeah, right.
MARRIAGE AND DEMOCRACY: I live in a city which has the highest proportion of gay people and gay couples in the country, after San Francisco. The issue of marriage rights is obviously pertinent; and our elected officials tend to be for it. The social right has always argued that the people and their elected representatives should be able to decide these questions. So I look forward to their condemning a Kansas senator who is threatening to impose a ban on all our legal benefits and protections, if we dare to seek equality through the democratic process. The scandal of D.C. - a place with less democracy than Kirkuk - continues. But to have our lives and the internal workings of our own families dictated by a Kansan who would never win more than a handful of votes in this city is just maddening.
MORAL EQUIVALENCE WATCH: If you want to see how some of the most extreme theocons regard liberal democracy, read this paragraph:
In this regard, the consumerism and relativism of the West can be just as dangerous as the totalitarianism of the East: It's just as easy to forget about God while dancing to an iPod as while marching in a Hitler Youth rally. There's a difference, to be sure, but hardly anyone would contest the observation that in elite Western society, as in totalitarian Germany, the moral vocabulary has been purged of the idea of sin. And if there's no sense of sin, then there's no need for a Redeemer, or for the Church.
A free society where people can listen to iPods and freely debate their own ideas of truth and the good life is all but indistinguishable from a Nuremberg rally? And we have no notion of sin? None? That's just bizarre. We simply have a somehwat different idea of sin and immorality than the theocons. But from the theocon point of view, the glorious achievement of the secular West is as nihilistic and as dangerous as the Nazis. That is Benedict XVI's view. I don't think people have a clue how radical this man is. And how ferocious a culture war he is about to unleash. - 10:50:00 AM
Wednesday, April 20, 2005 HOPE SPRINGS: A Ratzingerian senator is now fourteen points behind his rival. You know who I mean. - 12:43:00 PM THE CHURCH NEVER CHANGES? The response of some non-Catholics to those of us who are appalled by the selection of the new Pope goes something like this: What did you expect? The Church never changes. Having a new Pope who adheres to doctrine is not a big deal. Expecting big changes in a church whose main selling point is eternal verities is stupid. All these non-Catholics like their Catholic church authoritarian, unchanging, eternal. All I can say is: what would they have said about, say, John XXIII or even John Paul II? In the last forty years or so, the Church has officially revoked its previous anti-Semitism, it has changed the very structure and vernacular of the mass, it has doubled the number of saints in heaven, it has shifted its position on religious and political liberty, it has apologized for the Inquisition, it has declared that homosexuality is innate and without sin as a condition, it has ordained married priests, it has innovated a new policy against all forms of artificial birth control, and dramatically strengthened its teachings against the death penalty. If you were to believe James Lileks, none of this would have been even faintly possible.
THE ISSUE IS OXYGEN: The issue is not change itself. The Church has changed dramatically - and will continue to change dramatically. The issue now is whether the Church can even debate its own issues and future. Some caricatures of my position, for example, say that I oppose this Pope because I want the Church to endorse gay marriage. Puhlease. I cannot see any basis within Catholic theology for granting the sacrament of marriage to gay couples. Such a simple inclusion strikes me as completely out of bounds. What many of us are asking for is simply the ability for lay Catholics and indeed priests and theologians to be able to debate respectfully such pressing issues as mandatory celibacy for the priesthood, a less rigid biological understanding of the rights and dignity of women, and a real dialogue with gay Catholics about how we can practically live lives that reflect our human dignity and our profound human need for intimacy and sexual expression. We'd also like to see greater autonomy for national churches, a respect for political secularism, and a more open hierarchy that cannot get away with a criminal conspiracy to hide the widespread sexual abuse of children and teens. None of this is that radical in the context of change in the last fifty years. None of it is subject to infallibility. And what we object to is the arrogant notion that lay people - let alone theologians or priests - do not even have the right to raise these questions within a formal church context. But our opponents want to construct a straw man in which Ratzinger presents orthodoxy and critics represent revolution. The truth is almost the direct opposite. Ratzinger's views on freedom of thought within the church are deeply authoritarian; his views on what conscience is are totalitarian; his conflation of his own views with the Holy Spirit are offensive. But he is Pope now. And fairness suggests we should wait and see. I can only say that I do so with dread and fear.
RATZINGER ON SEXUAL ABUSE: "I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offences among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower... One comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church," - Pope Benedict XVI, 2002. He has also written about the need to rid the Church of "filth." By "filth," I suspect he means gay people, regardless of their conduct or holiness. My prediction: the pedophiles and their protectors will remain. (I have a pretty good idea whom Cardinal Law voted for.) The gay men will be scapegoated and purged. - 12:04:00 PM
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 THE POLITICAL ANALOGY: I was trying to explain last night to a non-Catholic just how dumb-struck many reformist Catholics are by the elevation of Ratzinger. And then I found a way to explain. This is the religious equivalent of having had four terms of George W. Bush only to find that his successor as president is Karl Rove. Get it now?
ME ON RATZINGER: From back in 1988, when I became interested in the man's theology. It's a PDF and can be found here. I just re-read it after many years. It's closely focused on Ratzinger's Augustinian theology and how his exercise of power came to corrupt the idealism of his earlier thought. And it benefits from not being clouded by the inevitable emotions of the present. Money quote:
The most telling difference between the pope [Wojtila] and the prefect [Ratzinger] is John Paul II's more successful blend of Augustinian otherworldliness and Thomist trust. His admonitions, while increasingly firm, have never lacked the compassion and optimism that ally themselves with a countervailing confidence in God's will working its way through nature. Ratzinger is an altogether more jaundiced figure ... His bleakness, while theologically a way in which the extremity of grace can be radically described, is - once in power - a recipe for authoritarianism... What Ratzinger's elevation [to chief enforcer of orthodoxy in the Church] unleashed - the wild card in Ratzinger's development - was the factor of power. His theology did not change. But its new context was to tansform the purity of its intent. The Dostoyevskian ironies are acute, and they are getting sharper. The theologian who stressed the apolitical as Christians' first resort has become an official who has sacrificed theological argument for political coercion and control. The otherworldly cleric has become the first prefect to give an extended, published interview to the international press. The thinker who wrote above all about the central conceptions of the faith, of the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Last Things, of the core truths of Christianity, has begun to show signs of a creeping obsession with sex and concern with the passing phenomena of a secular agenda.
Since I wrote those words, Ratzinger's immersion in political culture wars has become even deeper. I also cover his radical innovations on the role of women, gays and conscience. A woman should follow the "roles inscribed in her biology"; gays are inherently disposed to "intrinsic moral evil"; conscience as the modern world understands it is illusory. Yes, we have a new Pope. Just like the old one, but without any of his redeeming features.
A POLITICAL THEORY: I have no idea how this insular and regressive choice was made. But I would not be surprised if John Paul II's electoral rule change had an effect. The change was to ensure that a pope need not get the two-thirds of cardinals' support if such a super-majority hadn't emerged after a long series of votes. At that time, a mere majority would be all that was needed. My hunch is that Ratzinger carefully lined up a narrow majority of cardinals who pledged they would never vote for someone else. He had enough power in the waning years of John Paul II to ensure that kind of loyalty. So the conclave knew after the first couple of votes that at some point, therefore, Ratzinger would prevail. And that he was so intent on maintaining control of the Church that he would sit through as many votes as necessary to get it. Under the old rules, after too many votes in which Ratzinger had failed to make the two-thirds, his name would have been withdrawn. Under the new rules, time was on his side. So the cardinals caved early. Why prolong the agony? Just a theory.
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "The Church must make claims and demands on public law and cannot simply retreat into the private sphere." - pope Benedict XVI, in "Church, Ecumenism and Politics," 1988. This was as much a political decision as a pastoral one.
JUST LEAVE: An arresting email:
I can understand your sense that you cannot leave the church. But I know from experience that it is just that--a sense. You have felt the presence of God at Mass? I have too. You can feel it elsewhere but you cannot know that until you look. The gospels speak to you? I know you don't seriously think they speak only though the Catholic Church. As for the family/mother analogy, it simply isn't a good one. There is no biology here no matter how like that it may feel. Still, it can be valid in this way: If the church is your mother you have been, still are, and if the events of today are any indication, will increasingly be abused by her. Mentally, spiritually, and perhaps even physically abused. I feel for the pain I see in your writing. I have felt it too. But you have to take the advice you would give to anyone in an abusive relationship: get out. It may be difficult, seem almost impossible, but that is the bottom line. I got out myself. I can assure you there is a rich and rewarding spiritual life to be had elsewhere. Religion is a choice. Please, for your own sake, choose a non-abusive one.
- 11:32:00 PM THE DIALOGUE WE CANNOT HAVE: Just a link to an interview I had with America, the Jesuit magazine, a while back. I've changed over the last decade. In the interview, I said I felt no anger toward the church. Obviously, I do now. What pushed me over the edge was the sex abuse crisis and the hierarchy's response to it. But I stand by my questions and by my faith. You know I wish in many ways I could simply leave this church, and say to hell with it. But I cannot. For one, I keep believing. This is not experienced as a choice. It is just my reality. When I read the Gospels, they speak the truth to me. When in the past, I have been at Mass, I have felt as a reality the presence of God. As I sometimes tell people, I can say the creed at mass with very few reservations. But believing in the basic creed is not enough any more. We are required to assent in every way to every papal pronouncement, even if it belies what one can see with one's own eyes and see in one's own experience. Ratzinger's elevation means that will be even more stringently enforced. Even then, according to the new Pope, my conscience is not valid. To ratchet the rack still further, we are forbidden from even discussing changes that we sincerely believe may be essential for keeping the Church alive. This is my family. I can no more divorce myself from it than I can my biological mother. And today, many parts of that family are reeling with grief and anger and despair. If the insular cardinals believe that they have helped save the faith in the West, I fear they are mistaken. They may have ensured its final death rattle. - 5:11:00 PM THE EPISCOPAL RESPONSE: "Along with many others, both within and beyond the Roman Catholic Church, I offer my prayers for Pope Benedict XVI as he takes up the august responsibility of his office. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide him in his words and his actions and that he may become a focus of unity and a minister of reconciliation in a church and a world in which faithfulness and truth wear many faces." - Bishop Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Ouch. The choice of Ratzinger will undoubtedly set back attempts at ecumenical cooperation. Remember that Ratzinger has publicly opposed the entry of Turkey into the European Union. Heathens are to be kept out. - 4:43:00 PM TWO MORE EMAILS: One more hopeful:
As one who is on a similar wavelength with you regarding the direction our Church should take and the reforms that are needed to prevent its extinction in the West, I find myself far less pessimistic than you on the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Pontiff. Perhaps it's simply because I was looking at the election as a realist. To put a twist on the infamous Rumsfeld quote, you elect a pope with the Conclave you have, not the Conclave you'd like to have. In regards to this election, the Conclave that Western Catholics like me and thee had was an older, more conservative group appointed almost entirely by JPII to reflect his conservative views on doctrine and his populist-conservative views on political and social world issues. The result was about what I expected: an older, doctrinaire Cardinal from John Paul's inner circle ascending to the papacy. The political rationale for Ratzinger was predictable, at least from my end. To repeat a phrase that's been uttered ad nauseum for the last few weeks, after a fat pope, a thin pope. JPII's successor, based on the way the Church has long operated, would have to be someone who would have a short reign and who was serious and pensive as opposed to personable and charismatic. But, like John Paul, the new pope would also have to be a non-Italian as to recognize the global nature of the modern Church. Further, the last thing the College of Cardinals would want is to elect a transitional pope who ends up being another John XXIII and surprises them all with the Third Vatican Council. Hence, the new pope would also have to be someone they could trust, someone within John Paul's inner circle whose views were so well known that there would be no surprises while the College deliberated the future of the Church over the next decade. Once you examine the political parameters that were before the Conclave we had, you can see how few choices fit the bill. I personally thought the new pope would end up being Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, the Archbishop Emeritus of Paris and sort of a kinder, gentler version of Ratzinger with an intense personal story (converted Jew, escaped the Nazis, etc). But, once again, Ratzinger proved a safer, more conservative choice for a Conclave that wanted to continue to debate the major doctrinal and administrative issues facing the Church for just a few more years without commiting to a new direction in any regard just yet. In sum, Pope Benedict XVI (and I do call him that because, as of now, he is my Pope) has a tough job ahead of him and time will only tell just how he will govern and what he will accomplish. But, based on the current realities of the Church and the composition and disposition of its hierarchy, to expect a liberal reformer from the heart of the developing world who would begin cleaning house and make doctrinal changes on a dozen social issues is but an exercise in idealism. Perhaps someday, but not today. Yet this heterodox Catholic remains eternally optimistic for the future of the Church. Maybe I'm being a bit idealistic too.
One less so:
I share your dismay and bewilderment at the election as Pope of the one man who makes John Paul II look moderate. As a gay Catholic deeply committed emotionally to the Church I love but all but separated from it in thought and practice, I had had great hope that a miracle would occur. That perhaps the Holy Spirit would in fact guide the hands of the Cardinal Electors and that the new Pope would be a man of both deep faith and profound reason but, as well, of modesty and humility in understanding our shared human quest to enlighten the path to goodness and truest, deepest humanity. Surely this headstrong, self-assured, anti-democratic and egotistical little man who thinks he has a personal line on the God-ordained right answer to all our deepest questions - surely he will not be that kind of pope. The Lord works in mysterious ways indeed.
In this case, I don't expect surprises from Ratzinger. And I think that's why he was selected. And, please, no one is asking or expecting the Church to revise or reverse over night its peripheral docrines on human sexuality or even how to run the church (celibacy, women priests, etc.). What some of us were hoping for was more openness to discussion of the real problems facing the church, some attempt to square teachings with the actual experience of lay Catholics (the sensus fidelium, as the Second Council put it), and a spirit able to reach out to the poor, the marginalized and the faithless. I hope I'm wrong, but in Ratzinger, the cardinals have chosen someone who will make all these things much harder. This was a statement as much as a selection. And the statement is that the church is circling the wagons. They simply could not have picked a more extreme candidate. And that tells us something important. - 2:44:00 PM YOUR TURN: Some of your emails on the astonishing selection of the new Pope:
As a fellow Catholic with a questioning brain and a personal conscience, your blog was my only comfort this morning as I absorbed the impact of Ratzinger's election. This was a "circle the wagons" decision. The sex abuse crisis was a wake-up call that the church urgently needs to grow and change- the selection of Ratzinger is a signal that the Vatican still believes they can solve all problems with raw power (theirs) and blind obedience (ours). I never, never thought I would say this, but I really wonder if I can be a Catholic three years from now.
I certainly sympathize with the deep disappointment you and all Catholics with a remotely modern or progressive outlook on life must have felt to see the Vatican's enforcer of arch-conservative dogma elected Pope. There are some reasons not to lose all hope, however, if we see this election in its broader context. 1. The guy's 78 years old. I give this papacy 3-5 years tops, given that guys like him don't exactly jog 3 miles a day and stick to a low cholesterol diet. His election was for a classic "stay the course" place-holder to give the church a few years to take stock of where it wants to go in the long term. 2. He did take the name Benedict rather than Pius, suggesting he wants to see himself as a force of moderation and reconciliation in the church. Benedict XV, who was Pope during World War I, succeeded the infamously conservative papacy of Pius X and attempted to smooth over a lot of the contentiousness sown by his predecessor. It was an interesting choice of name. This may be wishful thinking, but cardinals generally give great consideration to what name they take and the message it sends about their agenda as pope. 3. Ratzinger/Benedict represents the apogee of anti-modern conservative dogma in the Vatican. If you look at the next generation of cardinals who will be in line for the next papacy, guys like Schonborn of Austria, or Maradiaga of Honduras, they're orthodox to be sure, but also much more liberal and forward-looking than someone like Ratzinger or John Paul II. It's the /next/ Pope who will matter. My guess is that Ratzinger will have a brief and rather unremarkable papacy that, at the most, will maintain the status quo in terms of doctrine and social teachings. That, of course, means several more years of heartache and disillusionment for people like you, Andrew. On the other hand, I don't think he can seriously do more damage in these areas than John Paul did and, indeed, will reinforce the notion over the next couple of years that, ok, the old boys have had their heyday and now it's time for a new generation to take the reins of the church leadership.
Ratzinger as pope scares me, too--the worst aspects of John Paul II, without the warmth. Maybe we need this to bring about intense demand for change. But oh how this will help perpetuate the crisis of AIDS in Africa, the shortage of priests, the waste of resources talented laypersons could bring to managing church affairs, conflicts with other faiths. The love of Jesus feels so far away.
I should shut up now. And pray. - 2:18:00 PM STILL IN SHOCK: Thanks for your emails both sympathizing and telling me to leave the Church entirely. But I am still in shock. This was not an act of continuity. There is simply no other figure more extreme than the new Pope on the issues that divide the Church. No one. He raised the stakes even further by his extraordinarily bold homily at the beginning of the conclave, where he all but declared a war on modernity, liberalism (meaning modern liberal democracy of all stripes) and freedom of thought and conscience. And the speed of the decision must be interpreted as an enthusiastic endoprsement of his views. What this says to American Catholics is quite striking: it's not just a disagreement, it's a full-scale assault. This new Pope has no pastoral experience as such. He is a creature of theological discourse, a man of books and treatises and arguments. He proclaims his version of the truth as God-given and therefore unalterable and undebatable. His theology is indeed distinguished, if somewhat esoteric and at times a little odd. But his response to dialogue within the church is to silence those who disagree with him. He has no experience dealing with people en masse, no hands-on experience of the challenges of the church in the developing world, and complete contempt for dissent in the West. His views on the subordinate role of women in the Church and society, the marginalization of homosexuals (he once argued that violence against them was predictable if they kept pushing for rights), the impermissibility of any sexual act that does not involve the depositing of semen in a fertile uterus, and the inadmissability of any open discourse with other faiths reveal him as even more hardline than the previous pope. I expected continuity. I didn't expect intensification of the fundamentalism and insularity of the current hierarchy. I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise. And I expect the Church's immersion in the culture wars in the West - on every imaginable issue. For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over. They will, in that sense, be successful. - 1:55:00 PM IN HIS WORDS: "How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching', looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." - Pope Benedict XVI, yesterday. And what is the creed of the Church? That is for the Grand Inquisitor to decide. Everything else - especially faithful attempts to question and understand the faith itself - is "human trickery." It would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision. It's not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning. - 1:10:00 PM THE FUNDAMENTALIST TRIUMPH: And so the Catholic church accelerates its turn toward authoritarianism, hostility to modernity, assertion of papal supremacy and quashing of internal debate and dissent. We are back to the nineteenth century. Maybe this is a necessary moment. Maybe pressing this movement to its logical conclusion will clarify things. But those of us who are struggling against what our Church is becoming, and the repressive priorities it is embracing, can only contemplate a form of despair. The Grand Inquisitor, who has essentially run the Church for the last few years, is now the public face. John Paul II will soon be seen as a liberal. The hard right has now cemented its complete control of the Catholic church. And so ... to prayer. What else do we now have? - 12:54:00 PM HABEMUS PAPAM: So quick? So soon? What can that mean? Ratzinger?? The dread rises. - 12:20:00 PM NOVAK ON COMMUNISM: Michael Novak's attempt to buttress the notion that one either has to agree with Joseph Ratzinger or endorse complete moral relativism is less than persuasive. I won't address all its flaws. But here's an interesting digression. Novak wants to posit communism as a triumph of the post-Nietzschean relativism that Ratzinger is horrified by. Money quote:
Ratzinger experienced another set of loud shouters in the 1968 student revolution at Tubingen University, this time in the name of Marxist rather than Nazi will. Marxism as much as Nazism (though in a different way) depended on the relativization of all previous notions of ethics and morality and truth — “bourgeois” ideas, these were called. People who were called upon by the party to kill in the party’s name had to develop a relativist’s conscience.
This is a big stretch. The philosophical appeal of Marxism was and is, for the handful of fools who still cling to it, its claim to absolute, scientific truth. Similarly, Nazism asserted as a scientific fact the superiority or inferiority of certain races. These totalitarian ideologies allowed for no dissent because the truth had been proven. You see precious little relativism in Communist or fascist regimes. They created absolute leaders to embody and enforce the maintenance of their truths. And they believed in the conflation of such truths with all political life, the abolition of autonomy and conscience. In structure, they were and are very close to the structure of a decayed version of Catholicism that asserts one version of the truth, suppresses any and all open discussion of such truths within its power, and elevates a cult-like leader and mass demonstrations to reinforce its propaganda. Querulous, brave and ornery dissent - dissent designed not to obscure the truth but to understand it better - is quashed.
FAITH VERSUS REASON? Now who in the current religious debate reminds you of that? Of course, the Church is not a state; it's a private, voluntary organization. So the analogy is not literal. The Pope does not have a police power. Ratzinger does not order his opponents murdered or imprisoned; he simply silences them or forces them out of the Church (and record numbers of theologians were silenced by the late Pope and record numbers of Catholics left the pews). But the structure of a blind, authoritarian and rigid Ratzingerian faith is very close to the blind, authoritarian and rigid secular totalitarianisms of the recent past. Which is why some former communists have now become the firmest supporters of a Ratzingerian-style faith. They have swapped public political totalitarianism for a private religious one. And like their totalist fellows, their inability to persuade others merely convinces them further of their own truth. Their references are never outside their own thought-system, and all fall conveniently back on the pronouncements of the supreme leader, who alone controls truth and thought. When pressed, they assert that history and nature will prove them right. "We will out-breed you!" they proclaim, in a horrifying echo of a eugenic mandate. Novak, I think, therefore gets things exactly the wrong way round. The alternative to relativism is the difficult process of reason, informed by faith. But that process cannot take place in Ratzinger's Catholic church, because free thought is forbidden. When the conclusions are already dictated, how can you inquire freely? And if you cannot inquire freely, how can Catholics actually believe their own faith with the aid of their own reason? We are, after all, told to understand our faith, not merely swallow it unthinkingly. But how can we understand if we cannot question? And how can we fully believe if even asking the questions is forbidden?
FIGHTING BACK AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM: Conservatives who believe in a strict separation of religion and politics and Christians who are saddened by the ascent of extremism and fundamentalism within their faith communities have options other than passivity. They have the blogosphere. Cardinal Ratzinger cannot silence us and the capitulation of the conservative media to fundamentalism also opens a space in the blogosphere for dissent. Here's a great response to Eric Cohen's attack on living wills in the Weekly Standard; and here's a liberal Catholic's responses to challenges from the Ratzingerian magazine Crisis. I should also recommend Bruce Bawer's classic case against the fundamentalist attack on the core priorities of the Gospel message. The book is called "Stealing Jesus." And how they have.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I think you are off ther mark on the attitude of social conservatives towards gays. The last thing they want is for gays to disappear; they desparately need them. As long as these folks can point to 'those others' they are safe from confronting what they, themselves, have done to marriage and other social institutions. With gays available, they don't have to look at their own divorce rates. With gays available they don't have to look at the mess they make of their kids. And those who are Catholic don't even have to look at the corrupt and incompetent bishops at the heart off the abuse scandal. Gays fill the scapegoat role for these people, and that is even more of a danger than a policy of wishing they would disappear. the Nazis didn't just wake up one day, decide they needed some scapegoats, and randomly choose Jews. The way was paved for them by hundreds of years of social conditioning. Anyone who doubts the social conditioning regarding gays need only look at the record of state constitutional amendments. We should analyze these folks, not by what they say, but by what they do and what they avoid." - 11:54:00 AM
Monday, April 18, 2005 EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I think that you're incorrect in your take on Cass Sunstein's stance in legal circles. Sunstein's politics may very well be liberal, but his constitutional politics are far from your typical leftist with a socialist slant. In fact, Sunstein has long been an advocate of judicial minimalism, arguing that courts ought to provide "narrow and unambitious" rulings leaving the brunt of the politics, law, policy and work to elected assemblies and represented. Not convinced? Then read his book. Its called "One Case at a Time: Judicial Minimalism on the Supreme Court". This judicial philosophy has led Sunstein to take positions unheard of in left wing legal circles, such as criticizing the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade as harmful and overly broad (a critique that, ironically, Sullivan would likely support) or praising the Rehnquist Court as mainly minimalist. But don't just take my word on it, read for yourself in his article, Judicial Minimalism: Constitution and Court at Century's End." Now, compare this judicial philosophy with what I would consider a grand liberal judicial theorist - Ronald Dworkin, who has urged judges to "get real" and provide expansive constitutional findings for the sake of "integrity" and "fidelity" to the broad language of the constitution. Get the picture? Sunstein is no conservative of the originalist variety, but he certainly no raging liberal either. I have always taken his constitutional politics as being quite centrist and thus consistent with the self description Rosen cites." I stand corrected on Sunstein's judicial philosophy. His politics, however, remain partisan Democrat.
YOUNG ON THE RIGHT AND FEMINISM: Cathy Young wrote this interesting review a few years back. It's on the same theme: how the social right and the far left have come to agree on the need to repress male sexuality and keep women in their rightful and subordinate place - under men, literally and figuratively. - 4:03:00 PM THE FAR-LEFT-THEOCON ALLIANCE: I'm not surprised that so many on the social right liked Andrea Dworkin. Like Dworkin, their essential impulse when they see human beings living freely is to try and control or stop them - for their own good. Like Dworkin, they are horrified by male sexuality, and see men as such as a problem to be tamed. Like Dowkin, they believe in the power of the state to censor and coerce sexual feedom. Like Dworkin, they view the enormous new freedom that women and gay people have acquired since the 1960s as a terrible development for human culture. Cathy Young has a great blog item exploring these connections here. Dworkin, of course, was somewhat too frank in her hatred of sexual freedom to achieve any real political power. But the theocons ... well, they're helping frame big government conservatism as we speak. - 12:20:00 PM IT'S WORKING: More evidence that the Bush policy of encouraging democracy in the Middle East is beginning to bear fruit. My own take on the slow, but real, progress in Iraq can be read here. Yes, Bush deserves as much credit for his steadfastness as he deserves criticism for his mistakes.
THE EVANGELICAL TEMPTATION: No, I'm not referring to evangelical Christianity as a religious force. I'm referring to the conflation of such religion with conservative politics. Money quote from Jeffrey Hart, no sane person's idea of a liberal:
The Bush presidency often is called conservative. That is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative... If we recall Leo Strauss's formulation that "Athens and Jerusalem" -- science and spiritual aspiration -- are the core of Western civilization, American Evangelicalism is a threat to both, through ignorance of both.
Sooner or later, real conservatives will actually fight back against the damage this administration has done to conservatism.
BROOKS' PARADOX: David Brooks, in another smart column, points out that from the beginning of the 1990s, we have seen a sharp decline in all sorts of anti-social behavior: crime, abortion rates, teen pregnancy, and so on. At the same time, the last fifteen years have been marked by the high watermark of gay visibility and activism. If the assumptions of many social conservatives are true - that there is a direct relationship between culture and society, and that gay visibility is a sign of moral decline - then none of this should have happened. But it did. In fact, I think the two phenomena are linked. At the same time that teen pregnancies and abortion rates were falling, the gay rights movement moved toward the goals of social responsibility, i.e. the right to serve one's country and the right to marry the person you love, with all the responsibility that entails. If any other formerly liberal minority group had embraced those goals, conservatives would have rejoiced. But gays cannot win. If we embrace counter-cultural leftism, we are a threat to society and the family. If we embrace conservative social values, like marriage and military service, we are a threat to society and the family. The bottom line social policy toward gay people embraced by social conservatives is that gay people simply shouldn't exist. And if they do exist, society has to pretend they don't. When was the last time you read an essay in, say, the Weekly Standard or National Review, making a case for how gays actually should fit in to society? Or how gay culture could be improved? David Brooks is one of those conservatives who actually asks himself what a sane conservative social policy should be toward homosexual citizens and family members. (The obvious, glaring, simple answer is: encourage stable relationships.) That's why Brooks is a real conservative. And why those who want simply no social policy toward gays - except a vague disdain and loathing - are better understood as reactionaries and soft bigots rather than as actual conservatives. - 12:07:00 PM
Sunday, April 17, 2005 AN INNOVATION: Why hadn't they thought of that one before? Here's a classic neologism in Jeff Rosen's NYT Magazine piece today: "Cass Sunstein, who describes himself as a moderate ..." Maybe this was the interpolation of a fact-checker or copy-editor. Sunstein is a big liberal (which is his right), an anyone-but-Bush partisan Democrat, and, in Tom Palmer's words, "about as radical an advocate of unlimited government as you could find in America." I wonder if the NYT will expand this practice: "George W. Bush, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative. Joseph Ratzinger, who describes himself as a centrist. Michael Moore, who calls himself objective..." Oh, and those photographs! Several friends who know the men personally say they could not recognize them from the images. So Sunstein gets to describe himself as a moderate; while Epstein gets to see himself portrayed as a mob boss in a horror movie. Next time, the NYT magazine should just doodle in a couple of horns, forked tongue and some hooves. We get the idea. Why not be honest about it? An actual critique of the substance of the piece can be read here. - 12:48:00 PM
Saturday, April 16, 2005 POSEUR ALERT: "'The truth, whatever it is, is strange.' I can still hear Saul's voice, for a few moments absent its gaiety and its wickedness, gently pronouncing those emancipating words. It was a summer afternoon in 1977. We were sunk in Adirondack chairs on the grass behind the shed of a house that he was renting in Vermont, and sunk also in a sympathetic discussion of Owen Barfield's theories of consciousness. Chopped wood was piled nearby like old folios, dry and combustible. When I met Bellow, he was in his theosophical enthusiasm. The legend of his worldliness went before him, obviously, not least in his all-observing, wised-up books, which proclaimed the profane charisma of common experience. Since I have a happy weakness for metaphysical speculation, a cellular certainty that what we see is not all there is, I thought I detected in some of his writings signs of the old hunt for a knowledge beyond knowingness, for an understanding that is more than merely brilliant. I was not altogether surprised when our first meeting moved swiftly toward an unembarrassed conversation about spirituality. (This was preceded by complaints about Hannah Arendt. We had to get comfortable.)" - Leon Wieseltier, on Saul Bellow, in The New Republic. - 1:07:00 PM
Friday, April 15, 2005 I LIKE HER ALREADY: Camilla wears the same dress three occasions in a row. Diana Not. - 11:42:00 AM BLOGGING ABOUT BLOGGING: A few of you have had the temerity, the chutzpah, the salty chocolate balls, to ask if I've given up on my decision to drastically reduce my blogging commitments. Er, well, the thing is ... Actually, I have. In deference to my relationship (and my sanity), I'm not blogging in the early hours any more. I'm spooning. I blog when I feel like it, which is mainly post-coffee in the morning (and I get up earlier too). The pressure to promise something every day first thing no longer haunts me like a recalcitrant, recurring zit. Traffic is down (though less so than I expected), so pressure is off. Maybe it's all a self-psych-out. But I'm making progress on the book and writing longer stuff. It's all about balance, no? - 10:43:00 AM THE FRENCH AND THE FUTURE: Perhaps the least appreciated potential shift in global politics is happening in ... France. The polls there are showing that it's perfectly possible - maybe even likely - that voters will reject the new, cumbersome and unnecessary E.U. constitution. The NYT today reports on Chirac's latest lame attempt to shift public opinion in his favor. A good read on why this could force a seismic change in Europe is the following piece by Anatole Kaletsky in the Times of London:
The alternatives offered to the people of France are not between the idealistic European multiculturalism of the 21st century and the xenophobic nationalism of the 19th. Rather they face a choice between two approaches: on one hand the liberal ideology of free markets and small governments that seems to be sweeping the world after its relaunch in Britain and America in the 1980s. The alternative is the 1970s belief that a centralised, protectionist and bureaucratically managed state could gradually be extended to the whole of Europe, preserving and enhancing the traditions of Gaullism in its glory days, when Chirac and Giscard were rising to power.
The EU isn't all bad. It has acted as a democratic magnet for many other countries on its periphery; its democratic values have helped goad national governments into adopting more liberal economies and more inclusive societies. But the French dream of a rival to the U.S. is both reactionary - why should Europe and America be in competition? - and doomed to economic failure. In fact, the obsession with political union has acted as a diversion from the vital reforms needed in continental Europe's economy. It would be a lovely irony if the French helped kick-start a more reasonable and diverse collection of cooperative nation states as the real future of Europe. In that country, the people are often wiser than the elites.
MUST-READ ON AFGHANISTAN: A concise, on-the-ground, revelatory report on what's really happening in that country. Apart from the Gonzales Gulag ("news reports claiming that the US has set up a network of secret and lawless prisons in Afghanistan are dreadful, if accurate"), the picture is relatively promising. Money quote:
[T]he power of the gunmen and the chaos of the war years have diminished greatly, and people believe they will continue to diminish. This bears emphasis, in contrast to the unwarranted hysteria of some of the commentary I read on Afghanistan ("an electoral-narco-gulag-permanent-base dependency," passim). Many people still don't understand just how bad things were in Afghanistan, or how hard it is to find the traction to begin rebuilding a country from such a low base. Look at the stats on where Afghanistan is now (poverty, infant mortality, kidnappings, repression of women, impunity for murderers), and of course it's appalling, of course it's a dependency -- four years ago it was a textbook failed state. Look at the trajectory of the place, and there's reason for much hope.
Patrick Belton is doing great and good work - as an aid worker and as a journalist.
CONNECTICUT'S CHALLENGE: Two days ago, Connecticut became the second state to grant marriage rights in all but name to same-sex couples without any court prompting. California was the first. The new legislation emerged from the usual political process, with no judicial intervention. A bill was also passed reserving the name "marriage" for heterosexual couples. It seems to me that this shifts the debate on marriage rights in America. Many opponents of equality between gay and straight couples have insisted that what they are primarily opposed to is the judicial imposition of equality, not necessarily equality itself. Connecticut shows that the procedural argument is insufficient. The legislators framed this reform, not the courts. Something not completely dissimilar, by the way, is happening in Massachusetts. In the Bay State, the process for a constituional amendment is under way. That process is difficult but it is democratic. Elected representatives have to take a stand; they face re-election difficulties if they fly in the face of the democratic will. After almost a year of equality, Massachusetts voters have rewarded pro-equality legislators and penalized those who backed the amendment. There's a good chance that the legislature will let the amendment die before too long. Again: this is a democratic process. Such democratic processes have led to constitutional amendments against marriage rights and civil unions in many states. In my view, federalism means those decisions, however regrettable, should be respected. But so too should Connecticut's. And that is where the anti-federalist import of the proposed federal amendment is most clearly revealed. It seems to me that such an amendment would revoke Connecticut's new civil unions, since they provide almost all the legal benefits of civil marriage. The co-author of the amendment, Robert P. George, has been quite clear in saying that the amendment is designed to invalidate civil unions that are the equivalent of civil marriage as well as civil marriage itself. So again we have two conservative principles in conflict: the procedural conservatism that respects states' rights, and the theocratic conservatism that holds that a "sacred" meaning for civil marriage must be imposed nationally regardless of any state's decision. It's time that opponents of equal rights for gay couples acknowledge that this is now the choice: between a diverse, federalist country, and an explicitly Christian definition of a civil institution to be imposed on everyone.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I am literally sitting in the hospital room with my dying father as I read your comments on Eric Cohen's commentary. He is dying of Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease from which there is no chance of recovery. He has specified in a living will, and thru multiple discussions with family and the hospital staff, that he does not wish to be placed on life support when the rapidly approaching (within days) time comes. The thought of having the state, in the name of someone else's beliefs, defy my father's wishes for a natural death with dignity, fills me with rage. If we can not maintain a simple right to die when nature itself would have us do so, what rights do we maintain? Who is playing God here?" The Republican party is playing God, that's who. - 10:25:00 AM
Thursday, April 14, 2005 "SUPER-AIDS" UPDATE: The whole idea of "super-AIDS" was a punch-line on South Park last night. Congrats to New York City's Health Department. Their credibility is now even lower than it was before their hysterical photo-op in February. The generation they need to reach has tuned them out. They're not reading the Health Department's p.r. department, i.e. the NYT, either. - 4:46:00 PM LIVING WILLS - A GUIDE: Some important lessons here:
* It's important to have a lawyer present when you draft a living will, as it makes the desire to be dead that much more tangible. * Specify which flavor of feeding-tube nutrient you prefer. Otherwise, you may get stuck with cream of mushroom day in and day out. * If, in the event of a catastrophic brain injury, you wish to be taken off life support and kept out of the guardianship of your overprotective Catholic parents, underline those directives over and over with a thick red pen and then highlight them in bright yellow. * Leave at least one reasonably flattering photo for the press. This point cannot be emphasized enough.
Sage advice. Especially on cream of mushroom. - 3:16:00 PM MURDOCH ON THE WEB: Dead-on as might be expected (although it took a lot of lobbying to get News Corp to make its websites free). Full text here. Full disclosure: yes, he pays me a salary. But so once did Howell Raines. - 3:11:00 PM THE SUN CONGRESSMAN: Zach Wendling suggests a new nickname for Tom DeLay. I'm not that impressed with the ethical complaints against him. His sleaze doesn't seem to me to be that unusual. Having his wife work for him is almost routine in Congress. The problem with DeLay is that he's a repulsive figure on television and elsewhere. I've never met him and can't believe he's this repellent in person (he wouldn't have done so well in politics if he were). But his religious fanaticism, his seething hatred for his opponents, his natural proclivity for arrogance all reflect a real problem for the GOP. He does indeed represent what the party seems to be becoming. That's why he won't be forced out. And that's why smart Republicans will keep him out of the public eye as much as possible. He makes Newt seem likable.
THE NEOCON CONSPIRACY: Another dark twist from Germany.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "You're being too nice to Eric Cohen. The State doesn't 'intervene' in right-to-die cases. These cases end up in court because of disputes among family members or between families and caregivers. The state is forced into action--it doesn't volunteer. Moreover, Cohen's example is fatuous. In the situation he describes, the decision is left up to the incapacitated individual's legal guardian, just as it was in the Schiavo case. Michael Schiavo said that Teri told him she would want to die, and the courts agreed. In Cohen's example, the guardian could enforce the terms of the living, or not. It's his or her call. If the legal guardian chose to ignore the terms of the living will and provide treatment, it would be very difficult for anyone else to challenge that decision on legal grounds. The state doesn't just jump in to enforce the terms of a living will--someone has to ask for relief in court, and that person then must overcome the presumption that the legal guardian's decision is not in the best interests of the incapacitated person. If you're going into court asking for guardianship so that you can kill someone, it would be pretty tough to overcome that presumption, regardless of any statements made in a living will." - 3:06:00 PM
Wednesday, April 13, 2005 WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? Apparently he's up to no good, according to a State Department press release issued April 5:
According to the indictment, between August 1999 and July 2001, Christ was assigned as a political-economics officer at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius. Christ allegedly conspired to fraudulently provide nonimmigrant visas and to deprive the State Department of Christ’s honest services. Christ and others allegedly charged individuals amounts ranging from $3,000 to $14,000 to acquire nonimmigrant visas to the United States. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $42,500 and a vintage BMW motorcycle. The co-conspirators allegedly obtained visas from Christ without the applicants having to appear in person at the American Embassy in Vilnius. The recipients then used the visas they fraudulently obtained to enter the United States, with most arriving through O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, according to the indictment.
That would, of course, be one Matthew Christ, a State Department Foreign Service Officer. - 1:04:00 PM A NEW BLOG: From the always-thoughtful Robert A. George (not the theology professor). - 12:37:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "What's maddening about this pope's signature gay bashing is this: When the pope — the dead one, the next one, the one after that — says something stupid about homosexuality, straight folks take it to heart. The church's efforts have helped defeat gay rights bills, led to the omission of gays and lesbians from hate-crime statutes, and helped to pass anti-gay-marriage amendments. But when a pope says something stupid about heterosexuality, straight Americans go deaf. And this pope had plenty to say about heterosexual sex — no contraceptives, no premarital sex, no blowjobs, no jerkin' off, no divorce, no remarriage, no artificial insemination, no blowjobs, no three-ways, no swinging, no blowjobs, no anal. Did I mention no blowjobs? John Paul II had more "no's" for straight people than he did for gays. But when he tried to meddle in the private lives of straights, the same people who deferred to his delicate sensibilities where my rights were concerned suddenly blew the old asshole off. Gay blowjobs are expendable, it seems; straight ones are sacred." - Dan Savage, in his often-brilliant weekly column. Yes, the only theological argument against gay sex is identical to the argument against almost all straight sex now occurring in America. But it's easier to beat up on and discriminate against fags, while giving straight sodomites every protection of the law.
THEOCONS VS LIVING WILLS: Eric Cohen has another thoughtful piece about the limits of autonomy in end-of-life decisions. He proposes that where a living will has clearly stated that a person, under some future medical conditions, wants to refuse treatment and die, such a living will should be over-ruled:
[L]egally, guardians should not be forced to implement living wills that aim at death as their goal.
As for the courts that are called upon to settle certain cases, they will need some political guidance or governing principles to do so. For example, what if a tenured professor of bioethics, unable to bear the loss of his cognitive powers, leaves written instructions not to treat any infections if he ever suffers dementia? Decades later, now suffering from Alzheimer's, the former professor is mentally impaired but seemingly happy. He can't recognize his children, but he seems to enjoy the sunset. He's been physically healthy for years, but then gets a urinary tract infection. All his family members believe he should be treated.
Should the state intervene to prohibit antibiotics--to protect the incompetent person's "right to die"? Or should the state leave the family members alone, so they can do what they believe is in the best interests of the person the professor now is? If Andrew Sullivan and other critics are worried about "theocons" using the power of the state to undermine the right to self-determination, are they willing to use the power of the state to impose death when families choose life? Is this what their idea of "autonomy" really requires?
It's a tough case, but: yes. The state isn't enforcing this death: the dying person is. And freedom inheres in the individual, not his or her family, let alone government. If such a person wants to avoid life-saving treatments because in his view, he has essentially stopped living, that should be his choice. Is it a choice I would make? I doubt it. But as someone living with a terminal illness that might one day render me incapacitated, there are treatments that I would like to refuse in advance - regardless of the wishes of my family, or Eric Cohen. I don't see why my family or Republican politicians should determine my fate. Liberty means above all the right to control what is done to our own bodies. The religious right has long been appalled by modern Americans' control over their own bodies. They don't want us having sex as we want to. And now they don't want us to die as we want to. How do I put this nicely: Don't tread on me. Make your own moral decisions about your body and I will make the same about mine. And leave me - and every other freedom-lover - alone.
THEOCRACY WATCH: "Whether the debate centers around a Presidential election, the right to die movement, the gay agenda, prayer in school, or simply letting our children recite the Pledge of Alligence, the teachings of Jesus Christ always seems to thwart the agenda of America's left wing elites. Forget what you heard in the 1960s. God is not dead. In fact, he is very much alive and beating liberal elites on one political issue after another. Maybe that is why so many of them hate the Prince of Peace." - Joe Scarborough. Is Scarborough honestly saying that Jesus Christ had a position in the last presidential election, that only Republican voters were true Christians? Is he saying that criticism of a Pope's style or record is somehow identical to "hatred" of the Gospels? Did a Jesus who never mentioned homosexuality take a position on gay politics in the 21st century? The complete conflation of politics and religion among today's Republicans just gets deeper and deeper. And dumber and dumber. - 12:17:00 PM
Tuesday, April 12, 2005 GEO-GREENS: Some interesting dissenting points can be found here. While you're at it, here's another gay, conservative blog from ... Canada!
EMAIL OF THE DAY: Both of my parents were raised in fairly strict Roman Catholic households, but drifted away from the church in the 1960’s. For them, this was over the issue of contraception, and what they saw as the hypocrisy of Catholic clergy giving special dispensation for those from England’s upper classes to use contraception (based on their value to the church or how many children they had produced), while of course, the rest of the faithful flock had to follow church teachings.
The cynical political nature of the church over the Bernard Law affair should come as no surprise to students of Vatican history, but it is surely the contempt that this body has shown to its own followers which is most distressing. My mother [as a lapsed Catholic] is all too familiar with the ritual and mystery, but also genuine spirituality and religious feeling which is part of the Catholic faith and her comment on the church’s attitude to the sex abuse scandal was quite insightful. What she feels is so appalling about the abuse itself and the church’s dismissive attitude to it, is that what has been done to these children is not simply the horrible physical and sexual acts committed – abhorrent though they are. The worse aspect from a Catholic perspective, is that the spirituality of the affected children will probably have been harmed or even destroyed, after being so exploited by these paedophile priests. How can one think kindly of God, when one of his representatives on earth has been sodomizing you? People of a non religious disposition might take this concept in their stride but those who actually believe in God are more likely to understand how serious this all is. Not only have these Children lost their innocence on Earth, but after such abuse, they are more likely to turn away from the path, which in Catholic eyes at least, will allow them into heaven. No doubt this point has been made before, but it is an important one for Catholics and by treating this matter with so little remorse or real compassion, the Vatican is only going to prove to its critics that it has totally lost its moral, religious and spiritual compass." The betrayal of the Church in this instance is indeed fathoms deep: the abuse was not just an attack on chidlren's psychological and physical health; it was an assault on their religious and spiritual life; and an attack on the church itself. We know how the Vatican really views this by the way Cardinal Law is now an esteemed part of the Roman establishment. - 12:53:00 PM POSEUR ALERT: "The ball meanders in the air, a halfhearted ennui, the kind of existentialist hit that would keep Camus or Sartre in the money if they had played baseball ... The ball is so bored, so tired of itself, it doesn't even roll once it plops." - Buzz Bissinger, in his new book, "Three Nights in August," as noted in Salon.
FRUM AND DWORKIN: They agreed on one important thing: the need to roll back sexual freedom:
And in one respect at least, she shared a deep and true perception with the political and cultural right: She understood that the sexual revolution had inflicted serious harm on the interests of women and children – and (ultimately) of men as well. She understood that all-pervasive pornography was not a harmless amusement, but a powerful teaching device that changed the way men thought about women. She rejected the idea that sex was just another commodity to be exchanged in a marketplace, that strippers and prostitutes should be thought of as just another form of service worker: She recognized and dared to name the reality of brutality and exploitation where many liberals insisted on perceiving personal liberation.
And she shared with Frum a deep suspicion of people who believe they are free and act accordingly. - 11:52:00 AM
Monday, April 11, 2005 NOW, THEY ARE THE KLAN: James Dobson, the religious figure who all but dictates Republican social policy, just referred to Supreme Court justices as the modern equivalent of the KKK. Yes, the GOP is getting even more extreme. Money quote from Dobson:
I heard a minister the other day talking about the great injustice and evil of the men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan, that roamed the country in the South and they did great wrong to civil rights to and to morality and now we have black-robed men.
The quote is around the 22 minute mark. Dobson then referred to the coming Supreme Court nomination battle as "World War Three." - 3:53:00 PM BAD LINK: Sorry, I gave the wrong link to my latest Sunday Times column. It's here. - 3:15:00 PM IRAQ: It behooves me to write that I'm chastened - and extremely heartened - by the progress we're making in Iraq. The elections were obviously the key - and they should have been scheduled at least a year before they were. But it's equally true that the constancy of our amazing troops, and the magic of democracy, are turning this long hard slog into a long hard slog with an end in sight. The criticisms of the past endure. But the fundamental objective seems to be within sight. The right decision - to remove Saddam - is no longer being stymied by wrong decisions. I feared the worst. I was wrong.
HIPPIES, HAWKS AND THE HOLY: The strange but wonderful geo-green alliance. My take in the Sunday Times.
THEY ARE STALINISTS: The more I read about the recent conference for conservative critics of the judiciary, the scarier it gets. One attendee, according to the Washington Post, had this to say:
[L]awyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that [Justice Anthony] Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law." Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said. The full Stalin quote, for those who don't recognize it, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."
Cornyn is beginning to sound mainstream. This was a meeting Tom DeLay promised to attend, before going to the Pope's funeral. Last week also saw the meeting of something called the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. Christian reconstructionists play a part in it - they want to abolish the Constitution and put Biblical precepts as the only source of American law. They have an agenda, as cited by the National Journal:
According to [organizer, Don] Feder, the manifesto will call for a plan to begin impeachment proceedings against federal judges; remove judicial jurisdiction over issues key to religious conservatives, including marriage and the separation of church and state; limit courts' jurisdiction over the establishment clause of the Constitution, which has been used to enforce the firewall between religion and government; initiate a process for defunding courts that defy these new rules and continue to overstep their authority and eliminate the ability of Democrats to filibuster Bush's judicial nominees. The manifesto is based in part on legislation introduced early last month by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., known as the "Constitution Restoration Act." Their bill would limit federal courts' jurisdiction and would enshrine a recognition of God in federal law -- a provision the bill would make nonreviewable.
Theocracy? Only hysterics think that's going on, don't they?
ATWOOD, KANSAS: The residents of this small town voted 984 to 113 to deny gay couples any protections for their relationships whatever. Even hospital visitation rights. The man who set up the town's newspaper website, a man who calls Atwood his home, is now one of the undesirables. So he's taking down the website. And letting his neighbors know what it's like to be declared an enemy of society, even while you have long been one of its most solid citizens. The attack on gay relationships continues.
EUPHEMISM WATCH: I think I know what the NYT is trying to tell us here:
Prince Albert, meanwhile, has been linked to a long list of high-profile women known for appearing on the arms of middle-aged bachelors. There have been no signs of anything like a romance. "Knowing Rainier, I am convinced he was sorry not to see his son marry a young Catholic princess and have children," said Claude de Kemoularia, a former chief of staff in the palace and a longtime friend of the prince. "He was always reluctant to give the power to his son too early because he was waiting for his son to marry and have a male heir." So reticent has Albert remained about marriage throughout the years of public speculation and private pressures that his father sought changes to the Constitution three years ago to allow the crown to pass to one of the princesses or their children if Albert abdicated or died without a child.
Saturday, April 09, 2005 JUST TWO MEN: One is a bare-knuckled political operative; the other a young soldier who was awarded a Purple Heart in Iraq. Last week, we discovered that the former has married his long-time partner and the latter has demanded that he be allowed to serve openly to defend his country. You can argue over homosexuality for ever, but what is changing the world - what has already changed the world - is the simple witness of people from all backgrounds and walks of life that this is who they are. What social conservatives have to grapple with is that openly gay people are not going away. The coming generations will have even greater cohorts, as fear and shame recede. Where do these people fit in? How can they be integrated into family life? How do we acknowledge their citizenship? And their humanity? The pro-gay-marriage forces have an argument: we want full integration into civil institutions, the same rules, the same principles of responsibility. No excuses. The anti-gay-marriage forces have ... what exactly? They are against civil unions, against domestic partnerships, against military service, against any form of recognition. They want to create a shadow class of people operating somehow in a cultural and social limbo. That strategy may have worked as long as gay people cooperated - by staying in the closet, keeping their heads down, playing the euphemism game. But the cooperation is over, as last week once again demonstrated. The old conservative politics of homosexuality has disintegrated; so the social right turns to even older, more virulent and prohibitionist methods. They won't work either. Get real, guys. Deal with the world as it is, not as you would imagine it should be. That was once a conservative project.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I was glad to see you praise John Derbyshire's latest column (which was excellent, I agree). The thing is, I think you've been too hard on Derbyshire; he's one of the few interesting writers left at National Review. Yes, he is virulently and often appallingly homophobic. But that's nothing new among conservatives (or among people in general), is it? But his open homophobia is far more tolerable than a Stanley Kurtz, who disguises his homophobia, or at least homophobic policy prescriptions, behind a veneer of fake sociology. At least with Derbyshire you know where he stands. And he's willing to admit inconvenient facts that don't support his worldview, as in his piece on why he believes that homosexuality is inborn. Have you ever seen Kurtz admit that? Doubtful. He will not admit anything that doesn't back up his talking points.
Which is the reason I like Derbyshire's writing even when I find it appalling: he's one of the few writers at NRO who has no use for talking points. Most of the writers there just go to prove that conservatism now is where liberalism was twenty years ago: ossified, unthinking, dependent on stupid cliches. My heart sinks whenever a new issue comes up because I know exactly what most of the posters in The Corner will say; they'll recite the same talking points that are on Fox News. The exceptions are Jonah Goldberg, who doesn't have a lot of original ideas but seems uncomfortable with reciting talking points (except about the war in Iraq, where he never really seemed to know what he was talking about), and Derbyshire, who, for good or for ill, always has something original to say.
I notice that of late Derbyshire's tendency to think for himself has taken him "off the reservation" several times, as he's split with the other NRO-niks on nation-building in Iraq, on intelligent design, on Terri Schiavo and now the Pope. Be interesting to see whether he gets dropped from NRO, not for being homophobic, but for independent thought." - 12:09:00 PM
Friday, April 08, 2005 COGNITIVE DISSONANCE WATCH:
"The memo 'does not sound like something written by a conservative; it sounds like a liberal fantasy of how conservatives talk. What conservative would write that the case of a woman condemned to death by starvation is 'a great political issue'? Maybe such a person exists, but I doubt it.'" - Powerline, as reported in Salon.
"Darling, 39, has been an active conservative for more than 15 years and is a former board member of Young Americans for Freedom. He was co-chairman of Conservative Working Group, an organization for Republican Senate aides.
Darling has an undergraduate degree from Salem State College in his native Massachusetts and a law degree from New England School of Law. He worked for former senator Steve Symms (R-Idaho) and the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), then was counsel to former senator Robert H. Smith (R-N.H.).
Darling briefly detoured to lobbying as a partner at Alexander Strategy Group, from 2003 until he joined Martinez's office in January. The firm's chairman is Edwin A. Buckham, who was chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) when he was majority whip.
Buckham said Darling worked with a coalition of airline pilots on the guns-in-the-cockpit issue. "He would take making a mistake very hard," Buckham said. "Our staff loved Brian. We didn't want to lose him, but he loves the Hill. He is still going to have a bright future in this town." - from the Washington Post today. Darling is, of course, an absolutely typical apparatchik of the religious right. Maybe the partisan blinders over at Powerline will eventually fray. - 1:28:00 PM HE'S BACK! Cardinal Law, one of the late pope's favored abetters of child abuse, will be in the conclave picking the next Pope. He also just gave a lengthy interview with ABC News, refusing to answer any questions on the church's record on the abuse of children and teens in its care. It's an important rule: don't just listen to what the hierarchy says; look at what they do.
SCHIAVO THIS: A bizarre echo of the Schiavo case in Australia. A man who attacked his wife wants to keep her in a persistent vegetative state so he can avoid being charged with her murder. My head is spinning.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Old Trout-ism has been sadly missing lately on the public stage. The current queen isn't theatrical enough to carry it off. Old Trout-ism was at its height with Queen Mary, the immensely grand wife of King George V. Think big picture hats, shoes wide enough to handle a muddy field, a generous monobosom alternating at night with deep cleavage and a heavy-duty diamond necklace nestling in the valley. Camilla will be great at this look." - Tina Brown, writing about the monarchy, her best subject.
NO PURPLE HEARTS, PLEASE: A gay soldier awarded the Purple Heart asks to stay in the military and serve openly. He's got to be kidding. The military will get rid of him as soon as they can.
EMAIL OF THE DAY I: "I want to call into question your use of statistics to argue against the effectiveness of John Paul II's tenure as Pope. I'll flag two points because I need to get back to work.
1) The decline in the number of priests. I do not know how to account for the decline. You attribute it to the Pope. However, it's certainly a logical possibility that there would have been even more of a decline had he not been Pope. Consider two factors which might have contributed but were not due to his papacy. (A) Sociological changes in the West. Here in the US, we are becoming more materialistic and having smaller families. I suspect that neither is conducive to large numbers of people signing up to be priests. Nor are these two likely the consequences of the Pope's actions. (B) Changes in the perception of priests. Vatican II redefined the role of priests. Given that much of the mystique and power of the priesthood has been (in my view) diminished, fewer are going to feel the tug of these factors and become priests. And that's not an altogether bad thing of itself. But it has nothing to do with John Paul II.
2) The decline in numbers of people attending Church. I think that Church attendance is a very weak indicator of whether someone is a "good" Catholic, and, so, whether the Church is thriving. Certainly attending church regularly is important to developing one's faith. We are part of the community of God, so how can we thrive off by our lonesomes? But there is so much more to the Catholic faith than church attendance. If there are fewer people attending Church, but they are doing this act more out of response to the gift of life and of love from God than were the multitudes once upon a time, I'd be inclined to think that the Church is now healthier. I'd add that the sociological changes for priesthood that I described above might also apply here. Correlation simply is not causation.
I step back and allow myself to not know what the overall outcome of this papacy will be. I suspect we won't know for centuries. In the meantime, I can have faith that God is present to us, and that as we inexorably yield to truth (for what else is there?), the Kingdom will continue to grow. And I can rejoice in what I perceive to have been a genuinely deep-felt sense of spirituality that John Paul II lived for us all to see. In that context, I'll voice concerns about particular actions of the Church, but I do so with a lot of humility (seeing how much my views have changed as I've learned both faith and life) and from the context that I've just described."
EMAIL OF THE DAY II: "Twenty four years ago I was a young priest who had been assigned to the chancery as vocation director. JPII just came on the scene and like many others, I wondered what the future of my ministry would look like with him at the helm. For a while I tried to convince myself and others that he was the perfect choice for pope since his obvious narrowness was stirring an energy in the church that would finally force the laity and clergy to stand up and say "Whoa!" Twelve years later my "Whoa" became "Enough" and I left active ministry and while I still believe JPII has caused many to take a clearer stand on what they believe, I am saddened by the regressive place he has left the church. I just read some of his Last Will and Testimony and was heartened by his request for forgiveness. I forgive him for trying to turn me into a poparatchik and for not accepting me as a gay man and I pray that he rests in peace." - 12:52:00 PM
Thursday, April 07, 2005 CLAYBOURNE RETRACTS: Josh does the right thing on the Martinez memo. - 12:33:00 PM BARNES ON THE SCHIAVO MEMO: Money quote:
Yet the infamous memo that argued Republicans stood to gain politically by saving the life of Terri Schiavo was characterized by ABC News as consisting of "GOP Talking Points." True, a few paragraphs were of Republican origin. They had been lifted, word for word, from a Martinez press release outlining the provisions of his legislative proposal, "The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act." This was the inoffensive part of the memo. The offensive part--it didn't come from Martinez--left the strong impression that Republicans are callous and cynical in their attempt to save Schiavo's life, ill-motivated in the extreme.
My italics. Read the whole piece in light of what we now know. - 11:15:00 AM THE POPE, AGAIN: My TNR piece is now up. - 10:59:00 AM THE FAILURE OF THE POPE: Locusts and frogs are falling on my head, but John Derbyshire has a must-read on the failed papacy of John Paul II. This Pope lost even Ireland. Yes, Ireland. How much more damning an indictment can there be? I disagree with Derbyshire on his lack of hope for the Church. But I do believe that its revival will come from the West, not the South, and it will require amending some of the most anti-modern aspects of Church teaching on sexual ethics or the role of women and a refocus on the simple and powerful message of the Gospels. - 10:57:00 AM DATA ON JOHN PAUL II: I'm surprised that hard data on the damage the late Pope did to the Catholic church has not been readily available in the mainstream media. But here are some interesting statistics. Since 1975, the number of priestly ordinations in the U.S. declined from 771 a year to 533 last year. (In 2000, the number hit a low of 442.) When you adjust for population growth, in 1975, 771 newly ordained priests faced a Catholic population of 49 million; today, 533 emerge for a total of 64 million Catholics. Essentially, per Catholic, we saw a 50 percent drop in vocations under this Pope. No wonder that in 1975, 702 parishes had no priest; and today, over 3,000 are without a pastor. That's quite an indictment. Globally, the picture is a little brighter, but still not encouraging. The number of parishes without priests went from 23 percent of all parishes in 1975 to 25 percent in 2000. In the U.S., weekly church attendance has slowly but innexorably declined to well below 50 percent of all Catholics. The decline in religious orders has been particularly steep: down by over 30 percent. And all this understates the crisis facing the American church, because almost half the current priesthood is over 60 - and their replacements are in shorter and shorter supply. This is the legacy of John Paul II: a church that may soon have no-one to run it. John Paul the Great? Puhlease.
POWERLINE CHOKES: So the Schiavo memo did come from Republican sources. Does Powerline concede? Barely. When your blog makes Sean Hannity look bipartisan, that's what you'd expect. Yes, some of the original reporting was too vague. But the basic truth is that this was a GOP memo, it was crass, and it does reflect the cynical nature of many on the GOP right.
HEARTY STONERS: A marijuana-based compound could be a breakthrough in controlling heart disease. But what if these people living longer had more fun while they were at it? Time for Mr Bush to step in.
IN THE LITERARY LOCKER ROOM: "The locker room of the Fighting Illini didn't have any fight left in it Monday night. In fact, the grief was so heavy I thought for a moment that I had left home for St. Peter's, not St. Louis, where Illinois succumbed to North Carolina in the NCAA finals, 75-70. This particular locker room at the Edward Jones Dome, just outside of where the players would soon go to change their clothes, contained large dark wood cubicles, mostly empty, that looked almost like confessionals. Inside them, or on chairs just in front, sat young men--boys, really--staring off into space like novitiates who had lost their Holy Father. The pope was dead, and so was their season." - Jonathan Alter, Newsweek.
WHY NOT FEDERALISM? Kansas is the latest state to put discrimination against gays into its constitution. A terrible stain but within the rights of the people of that state. Stanley Kurtz exults and points out that 18 states now have such constitutional bans against committed gay unions. Kurtz predicts 30 such anti-gay bans by 2008. But then he says this makes it all the more necessary to pass a federal amendment banning protections for gay couples in every state. Huh? Isn't the opposite actually the case? Doesn't state action mean federal action is less, rather than more necessary? This is surely how federalism is supposed to work. Why is it so terrible if the voters in Massachusetts or Connecticut or Vermont choose another path? (And voters have been involved. In Massachusetts, voters have punished pols who voted against marriage equality and rewarded those who supported it. The state legislature may well kill off an anti-gay-marriage amendment this year. In Connecticut and California, legislative bodies have enacted broad civil union laws, that are the effective equivalent of civil marriage.) We may well soon have a situation in which there are states that are safe for gay couples, and states that are unsafe. Gay people can move to the free states, rather as inter-racial couples moved across country to states where equality and freedom were respected. And in the process, we can see whether the gay-friendly states see marriage collapse, as opposed to the flourishing of marriage in those states which are constitutionally hostile to gays. I'm in favor of federalism. Today's GOP right isn't. - 10:42:00 AM
Wednesday, April 06, 2005 BUSH'S TAX INCREASES: They're inevitable. This president, who knows how to duck personal responsibility, may not have to preside over them. But his successor will be forced to. The Medicare explosion and Social Security crunch mean something obvious to anyone with eyes to see:
[B]aby boomers' children and grandchildren face massive tax increases. Social Security and Medicare spending now equals 14 percent of wage and salary income, reports Bell. By 2030, using the trustees' various projections, that jumps to 26 percent. Of course, payroll taxes don't cover all the costs of Social Security and Medicare. Still, these figures provide a crude indicator of the economic burden, because costs are imposed heavily on workers via some tax (including the income tax), government borrowing (a.k.a. the deficit) and cuts in other government programs.
Bruce Bartlett, a conservative (or what used to be a conservative), has begin to think of how best to minimize the damage Bush is doing to the economy, and believes a VAT is the least worst option. My only point is that it is absurd to believe that this president has really lowered the tax burden. By spending through the roof, while cutting taxes, all this president has done is borrow. The debt will have to paid off, or inflated or devalued away. But before then, this president's big government spending will require either massive cuts in entitlements (which he has threatened to veto) or massive tax hikes. I have no confidence that either party will cut entitlements. Bush's domestic legacy is that he has made America safe for a vast expansion of government and taxation. - 12:18:00 PM EURO-ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH: A major academic group in Britain, the Association of University Teachers, readies itself to ban Israeli lecturers, unless they sign an affidavit condemning their own government's actions. - 11:32:00 AM LEFT UNSAID: Last night on Hardball, I said what I think needs to be said. Under John Paul II (and his predecessors), the Roman Catholic church presided over the rape and molestation of thousands of children and teenagers. Under John Paul II, the church at first did all it could to protect its own and to impugn and threaten the victims of this abuse. Rome never acknowledged, let alone take responsibility for, the scale of the moral betrayal. I was staggered to see Cardinal Bernard Law holding press conferences in Rome this week, and appearing on television next to the man who announced the Pope's death. But that was the central reaction of the late Pope to this scandal: he sided with the perpetrators, because they were integral to his maintenance of power. When you hear about this Pope's compassion, his concern for the victims of society, his love of children, it's important to recall that when it came to walking the walk in his own life and with his own responsibility, he walked away. He all but ignored his church's violation of the most basic morality - that you don't use the prestige of the church to rape innocent children. Here was a man who lectured American married couples that they could not take the pill, who told committed gay couples that they were part of an "ideology of evil," but acquiesced and covered up the rape of minors. When truth met power, John Paul II chose truth. When truth met his power, John Paul II defended his own prerogatives at the expense of the innocent. Many have forgotten. That's not an option for the victims of this clerical criminality. - 11:00:00 AM
Tuesday, April 05, 2005 CORNYN RETRACTS: Good for him. Just ignore the blather about being taken out of context. He wasn't. He contributed to anti-judicial emotionalism; and he has retracted his inflammatory remarks. - 9:54:00 PM SHOULDN'T CORNYN RETRACT? Glenn adds his voice to the growing chorus. The more I mull over John Cornyn's disgusting remarks about violence directed toward judges, the more outrageous they seem. Shouldn't Cornyn be required to retract his comments? Can't the blogosphere do something to keep up the pressure? Here's hoping that even the judicial critics at conservative websites can draw the line at this poison. How must Judge Lefkow be feeling right now? - 1:21:00 PM THE POPE: Sorry for the lack of insta-analysis. It's taken me a while to sort out my conflicted mess of feelings and ideas about him. I've written a short piece for TNR on his legacy - a deeply mixed one, in my view. I'll post it once it's available.
BAITING JUDGES: Josh Marshall links to Senator John Cornyn's extraordinary diatribe about the judiciary. Yes, Josh, you're right to be appalled. Just not shocked. Money quote from Cornyn:
I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.
Over to you, Mr DeLay.
BLAIR'S LEAD NARROWS: Several polls show a fast tightening British electoral race. The gap between Blair and the Tories has narrowed to two or three points. Labour should still win, but it no longer looks like a shoo-in.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I don't own a cell phone or a pager. I just hang around everyone I know, all the time. If someone needs to get a hold of me they just say "Mitch," and I say "What?" and turn my head slightly ..." - comedian Mitch Hedberg. Those were the days.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE VERSUS GAYS: BoyfromTroi makes an interesting point. Wealthy spouses are allowed to contribute an indefinite amount to their spouse's campaign. But gay candidates are not allowed legal spouses. Isn't this a formal form of electoral discrimination? - 11:50:00 AM
Monday, April 04, 2005 DEMOCRACY ARSENAL: A new, liberal-leaning, internationalist foreign policy blog.
MORE ON SCHIAVO: Whatever happened to theological moderation? My take in the Sunday Times.
SUPER-HIV: Since the mainstream media has been doing such a piss-poor job of understanding or even explaining the alleged case of super-HIV, with the New York Times leading the pack in reckless, dumb reporting, I thought it would be worth posting the technical details we now have. Some of this stuff is available online only to doctors subscribing to certain websites. One of them at NIH sent me this analysis:
The results of genotyping studies to ascertain the drug susceptibility of the patient's HIV-1 revealed broad resistance to nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI), non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI), and protease inhibitors. The genotype was confirmed by further testing done at ViroLogic with one notable difference: the detection of a mixture of M184V/I in reverse transcriptase (RT). The researchers interpreted the collection of mutations to confer resistance to thymidine analogues, lamivudine and emtricitabine, reduced susceptibility to abacavir and tenofovir, high-level resistance to nevirapine, possibly an attenuated response to efavirenz, and broad resistance to protease inhibitors. They also noted low degrees of reduced susceptibility to lamivudine and emtricitabine. Superficially, these findings suggest little evidence of drug resistance to these agents. However, given the presence of mixtures of viral species detected at aminoacid positions 184, 210, and 215 in RT - all resistance-conferring substitutions for NRTI - a discordance between the genotype and phenotype results was predicted. Additionally, the results of the phenotyping assay showed the virus was highly resistant to nevirapine and all commercially available protease inhibitors. The virus tested sensitive to two NNRTI, efavirenz and delavirdine, and to enfurvitide, an inhibitor that blocks HIV-1 entry into cells.
Treatment options for the patient are therefore limited. His virus is resistant to all protease inhibitors and nevirapine, and is sensitive to efurvitide and efavirenz. The phenotype data for NRTI show susceptibility to various drugs in this class. However, viral mixtures with aminoacid substitutions at positions 184 (conferring resistance to lamivudine and emtricitabine) and with thymidine analogue mutations at 210 and 215 (conferring resistance to abacavir and thymidine analogues) suggests that most NRTIs are unlikely to be effective. Furthermore, the presence of M41L together with mixtures reflected at positions 210 and 219 in RT predicts an attenuated response to tenofovir. Therefore efurvitide and efavirenz are the only two antiretroviral drugs that can possibly provide full activity against the virus in this patient. As I understand it HAART has been initiated, including efurvitide and efavirenz, and possibly fuzeon. I hope that he responds, and that efurvitide and efavirenz do prove effective - if they do, he's got a fighting chance.
I know many of you will not be able to follow much of this, but those of us who have learned to understand some of the science can glean something useful. First: this is how sophisticated HIV treatment now is - specific genetic analysis of everyone's own viral strain and a callibrated response. Second: this patient is treatable. In fact, his options are far greater than they would have been, say, five years ago. Notice that resistance to various drugs is not binary. There's a spectrum, and skilled doctors can provide very precise combination options to target viral replication. I'll make a rash prediction: this guy will have a much improved immune system in a few months. As long as he doesn't touch any more crystal meth. - 12:37:00 PM
Friday, April 01, 2005 I MISSED THIS: My apologies but the Weekly Standard has already gone a long way toward answering my "What If?" question. In a subtle but ultimately very radical piece, Eric Cohen argues that the will of the vegetative person to be allowed to die, even if expressed in a living will or supported by all her family, is not the real issue here. People cannot be allowed to revoke life simply because it is theirs' to revoke:
[T]he real lesson of the Schiavo case is not that we all need living wills; it is that our dignity does not reside in our will alone, and that it is foolish to believe that the competent person I am now can establish, in advance, how I should be cared for if I become incapacitated and incompetent. The real lesson is that we are not mere creatures of the will: We still possess dignity and rights even when our capacity to make free choices is gone; and we do not possess the right to demand that others treat us as less worthy of care than we really are ... [T]he autonomy regime, even at its best, is deeply inadequate. It is based on a failure to recognize that the human condition involves both giving and needing care, and not always being morally free to decide our own fate.
So if we reject the "autonomy regime," what replaces it? The moral obligation to keep even people in PVS in permanent medical care, regardless of her own wishes or that of the family. But Cohen is somewhat vague on how this new regime can be imposed. The only possibility, it seems to me, is that the law state emphatically that living wills are not dispositive, that family wishes are not relevant, and that the law set a series of medical or moral criteria to determine whether to keep someone alive indefinitely. Doctors and families would be obliged to obey such laws. The state would be obliged to enforce them - through the police power if necessary. What if the family could not afford the care? Presumably the state would be required to provide it. So let us be plain: the theoconservative vision would remove the right of individuals to decide their own fate in such cases, and would exclude the family from such a decision as well. Indeed, the law might even compel the family to provide care as long as they were capable of doing so. My "what if?" is a real one. And the theocon right has answered it. They want an end to the "autonomy regime." They have gone from saying that a pregnant mother has no autonomy over her own body because another human being is involved to saying that a person has no ultimate autonomy over her own body at all. These are the stakes. The very foundation of modern freedom - autonomy over one's own physical body - is now under attack. And if a theocon government won't allow you control over your own body, what else do you have left? - 3:51:00 PM ANOTHER FORMULATION: Here's another version of the question I posed this morning. It's an email I just received::
What if the situation were exactly the same, with the exact same people hearing the exact same things that she supposedly said? Except her side of the family agreed that removing the tube would be the best thing because they agreed her quality of life and her hope for recovery was zero. Not because they could point to a like expression of her wishes. Then this would never have gotten to the courts, but the moral arguments for not killing her, and for violating her civil rights would be exactly the same. The only solution in such a situation would be that lawyers and the government would have to get involved at that point, in EVERY similar situation. Fine. Is that what society wants?
It's what the religious right logically must want: a huge expansion of government power to ensure that all life is held sacred at every point of the process that they consider relevant, i.e. no abortion, no living wills, no scintilla of a right to die. That agenda isn't explicit now. But it is implicit. And what happens when a person on life support, legally required to be kept alive, doesn't have the resources to maintain the care? Of course, the government must step in, to provide the funds necessary to keep someone from being murdered. When you think of the religious right vision of the benevolent, big "Christian" state, is it any surprise that Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader are on their side? - 12:59:00 PM WHY? That's the big question about Sandy Berger's theft and destruction of classified documents - and subsequent porkie pies about it. The MSM media have a great story to pursue. Will they?
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "It infuriates me that we'll never see those [Abu Ghraib] pictures, but here's something that disturbs me more. The other day my husband and I went to see our lawyer to sign new Wills, Living Wills, etc. Friendly chitchat and the lawyer said he was a Republican, I said I was a Democrat. This led to a discussion of politics, nothing unpleasant until Iraq came up. I mentioned I was shocked by the torture. Immediately my husband and the lawyer jumped on me, "That's war, it's always the way in war." I tried to object, but the lawyer looked at my husband and said, "The victor writes the history, right?" They smiled knowingly and I gave up. Andrew, my husband wouldn't hurt a fly, hates violence and has never served in combat. I have every reason to believe the lawyer is cut from the same cloth. They're a couple of middle class suburbanites. Neither of them gives a damn. I felt sick but I'm trying not to dwell on it as it will make me crazy." - 12:45:00 PM WHAT IF ...? Here's a question I can't get out of my head. What if Terri Schiavo had had a living will saying she wouldn't want a feeding tube to keep her alive for decades with no reasonable hope for recovery? Legally, of course, there'd be no issue. She'd get her chance to die in peace. But morally? The arguments of the proponents for keeping the feeding tube in indefinitely suggest that removing the tube is simply murder. If that is the case, then how can removing the tube ever be justified - even if she consented in advance? Murder is murder, right? Isn't a "living will" essentially a mandate for future assisted suicide? It seems to me that the logic of the absolutist pro-life advocates means that this should be forbidden too. They should logically support a law which forbids the murder of anyone, regardless of living wills. In a society that legally mandates the "culture of life," the individual's choice for death is irrelevant, no? Or am I missing something here?
WHERE ARE THE PICTURES? We tend to think that everything gets out in the media eventually. But not the torture pictures from Abu Ghraib. Why? Because the photos were selectively leaked to create the impression of high jinks or mere "abuse" rather than the officially sanctioned torture that was actually taking place. Matt Welch investigates. Bottom line: you don't have the right to know what your government is doing. - 10:57:00 AM