April 26, 2005

A French Blogger Speaks Truth to Power

Étienne Chouard, a Marseilles high school teacher, has come to prominence in France by questioning the European "constitutional treaty" soon to be voted on by the French electorate, and sinking in the polls daily:

In this public matter, the basic principles of consitutional law are distorted, which causes us to focus on five traditional principles desinged to protect citizens:

1. A Constitution ought to be readable to permit a popular vote: this text is unreadable.

2. A Constitution doesn't impose one politics or another: this text is partisan.

3. A Constitution can be revised: this text is infected with a requirement of double unanimity.

4. A Constitution protects from tyranny by the separation of powers and by the control of powers: this text offers netiher a true control of powers nor a real separation of powers.

5. A Constitution isn't imposed by the powerful but is established by the people itself, precisely to protect itsself from the arbitrariness of the powerful, through an independent constituent assembly elected for this purpose. This text emerges from European institutions designed for 50 years by men of power who are at the same time judges and partisans.

The translation is my hurried one, and may be imprecise. I have, however, translated correctly and particularly like Point 1 -- the idea that a referendum on an unreadable documents is inherently undemocratic (the Internal Revenue Code, anyone?).

The French ex-President Giscard d'Estaing is the midwife of this atrocious document (444 articles compared to 7 in the U.S.Constitution), but France may for once bring honor on itself by voting "Non!"

This Constitution is not viable and is neither in the interest of Europe nor the U.S

Let us hope it fails now, before it brings on disaster.

HT: Christopher Caldwell in the Weekly Standard.

April 24, 2005

Frank Rich's Flaming Sword of Secularism

Frank Rich's concept of liberty sometimes seems reduced to the consecration of the male anus as an erotic object, and a defense of the risqué in the public arts. This genital definition of liberty and progress has become ubiquitous, as the other objects of ressentiment among the knowing ones have failed or disappeared.

This genital progressive, naturally, then, does not select as villains the tyrants or the slave-traffickers, but those whose preach an ethos or a creed that includes a measure of sexual restraint. First among these are the traditionally religious, Catholic and Protestant. Thus it is no surprise that in this piece Rich views with alarm "Justice Sunday," a broadcast, under evangelical auspices, intended to promote the confirmation of Pres. Bush's appointees to the federal bench and to condemn the minority's use of the filibuster to prevent it.

This is a particularly vicious piece. There appears to be a collective hysteria on the left about two hardly radical notions: that the Senate should be able to consent to judicial nominations by majority vote, and evangelical Protestants should be able to participate on an equal footing by others in political discourse in this country. Thus people like Rich regard the "Justice Sunday" event not as simply another event in a national political discussion, but as the camel's nose of theocracy in the American political tent.

What is really happening here is that hatred for any version of Christianity that differs from the liberal consensus on social injuries has become both respectable and widespread. Incidentally, among secular and liberal Jews, the same attitude prevails with respect to Orthodoxy.

Rich repeatedly expresses this bias in his piece:

  • The title, first of all, is "A High-Tech Lynching in Prime Time." Even if Rich has borrowed the catch-phrase from Clarence Thomas, the association of evangelical Protestantism, in whose ranks the South is disproportionately represented, is a way of making an amalgam between this form of American religion and the shameful history of lynching in the South. Rich presumably would not defend such an amalgam except by saying he was being hyperbolic; by even a relatively relaxed standard, however, this title itself is bigoted.

  • This reference to racism is repeated, this time by a sudden allusion to the late George Wallace's attacks on federal judges who enforced desegregation, with a leap to cross-burning and bombing directed against Judge Frank Johnson and his mother in those bad old days. To an implication of racism, which Rich does not identify in fact in these churches, Rich implies that criticism of judges leads inexorably to violence against judges. In other words, Bill Frist may not throw bombs himself, but if he criticizes judges, he might has well have been caught buying Semtex for a homicidal nutcase.

  • Rich then goes on to view with alarm the fact that this particular event is under evangelical Christian auspices, and like Pope Benedict, these folks believe their own religion to be true, and thus others, including Catholicism, are not. This has of course been the belief of most serious evangelicals for hundreds of years, just as Catholics have held the parallel belief that there is no salvation outside the Church. One may not accept either or both of these doctrines, but in America we have lived for a long time with various faiths that proclaim themselves the only keepers of the keys to salvation, and managed to allow their followers to proclaim these contradictory truths without excluding them from the body politic. To condemn these beliefs, as opposed to differing with them, is in effect to reject religious freedom.

  • Rich goes on to make another historical analogy -- from the sponsors of "Justice Sunday" to Billy James Hargis, a preacher who organized a national crusade against communism, and as Rich carefully puts it, "his career was ended by accusations that he had had sex with female students at the Christian college he founded as well as with boys in the school's All-American Kids choir." In short, the sponsors of "Justice Sunday" are (by Rich's amalgam) hypocrites and sexual abusers of children.

Now among those of every creed, and those of no creed, there are hypocrites and sinners. The existence of hypocrisy and lust in a movement does not disqualify all its leaders from participating in public debate. If it did, Rich would no doubt be demanding that Bill Clinton maintain a repentant silence, and that Congress abolish the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, a notorious womanizer. Or even better, arguing that because modern Democrats are heirs to the New Deal and the Great Society, and Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson's adultery is reason enough to suspect today's Democrats of similar sins and accordingly urge that they not participate in our national debate.

It's particularly odd that Rich should focus on the alleged sexual transgressions of the late Rev. Hargis in denouncing "Justice Sunday," because in the same piece he claims that the semi-secret agenda of its sponsors is anti-gay bigotry:

The judges being verbally tarred and feathered are those who have decriminalized gay sex (in a Supreme Court decision written by Justice Kennedy) as they once did abortion and who countenance marriage rights for same-sex couples. This is the animus that dares not speak its name tonight. To paraphrase the "Justice Sunday" flier, now it's the anti-filibuster campaign that is being abused to protect bias, this time against gay people.

One wonders if the disapproval of homosexual behavior by the traditionally religious is some kind of dark secret. Both Pope Benedict XVI (whose church Rich doesn't condemn in this piece, choosing instead to employ it is a foil for the evangelicals) and Bible-believing Protestants, like Orthodox Jews, regard such behavior as sinful, and the efforts of some activist judges to redefine "marriage" as unconnected with reproduction, child-rearing, or the union of people of opposite sex as wrong-headed and destructive. This has been the dominant view in the West for thousands of years, and though one may differ with it, as Rich obviously does, it is a bit early to take the "progressive" step of driving from the public square all those who are still "heteronormative."

Frank Rich, like many of his fellows, has developed a particular hatred of James Dobson, leader of "Focus on the Family." That Dr. Dobson is a thoughtful and compassionate radio host and author escapes Rich, who no doubt has never spend much time listening to and reading Dobson. For Rich, Dobson will always be the fellow who criticized Sponge Bob for appearing on a pro-gay PBS segment, and therefore an ignorant rube.

It is this kind of effort to delegitimize, as opposed to disagree with, all discussion by the spokesmen for an important segment of the American community, that is so offensive. Can one not question both the wisdom and the legal reasoning that went into Justice Kennedy's recent decisions finding an unwritten constitutional prohibition against homosexual acts, and using foreign law among other things to tease out of the Constitution an absolute prohibition against the executions of murderers who were under the magic age of 18 when they did their crimes, as well as Massachusetts justice's creation of a right to homosexual marriage by judicial fiat as opposed to legislative act?

Defend the decisions, Frank. Tell us why Judge Pryor, who is a practicing Catholic, is for that reason disqualified for the federal appellate bench, and that something other than anti-Christian bigotry motivates his opponents. But don't flog people who think you are wrong.

This column contains a couple of other points worthy of comment. On both of these, Rich has lurched into a bit of truth.

First, Rich points out that Bill Frist, a doctor, gave a public diagnosis of Terry Schiavo, a patient he had never seen, and tried to duck a question about the dubious science behind some federal publications on AIDS transmission. Dr. Frist probably erred on both scores, and merits criticism.

Second, evoking the Schiavo case and the hasty legislation Congress passed, Rich questions the right's shorthand condemning "activist" judges. "Activist" is, of course, an epithet the right uses for judges who make up constitutional rights to suit the liberal mood of the moment, deferring neither to the constitutional text nor the the political process.

Because our jurisprudence has strayed beyond reason from fidelity to the text, deference to the people and the legislative branch, and toward the expansion of federal power, any attempt, on the center-right, to swing the pendulum back even a bit, will also be tinged with activism.

The truth is, as with states' rights or the filibuster, most people in political life, living on two to six year cycles, are result-oriented, and not "activist" or "quietist," centralist or federalist.

Frank Rich is certainly a clever propagandist, and in this case he cleverly panders to the worst fears of his latte-swilling readers by citing the novel and film Elmer Gantry and evoking the strange fruit of lynching and the ghost of George Wallace. America, however, contains communities whose thought is undreamed of in the philosophy of Rich and Sulzberger. Rich would post secular cherubim with flaming swords to exclude evangelicals of these from our garden. To me, that makes Frank Rich a bigot.

April 23, 2005

A Philosophical Discussion of the Marriage Debate

Here, from the challenging Claremont Review of Books:
Following the pattern of recent jurisprudence, the nominally neutral courts that have already substituted in the public square secular religiosity for actual religion now undermine the sacramental character of marriage with their competing, profane version of that institution. There is mysticism to these new deconstructionists, insisting that each 'marriage' has to be considered on its own terms, independent of the universals. Of course, most deconstructionists would, at this point, say that the law should not and would not sanction as marriage the union of a man and 12 women, or a man and a sow. But they cannot, on the principles enunciated by the supreme courts of Vermont or Massachusetts, say why, for the principles are not themselves rational.

No doubt PETA would speak up for the sow.

April 21, 2005

The Opposite of Love

So there is a new Pope, Benedict XVI. I was going to write "we have a new Pope," but as a non-Catholic, it seems inappropriate to say "we," nor can I, like the MSM, tut-tut that the Catholics have chosen someone who is -- a believing Catholic. Tut-tut, he won't water down the teaching of millenia for Planned Parenthood, Andrew Sullivan, or the New York Times!

A factor in Benedict's prompt election, no doubt, was the homily he gave on the eve of the conclave, a warning against relativism, the notion that there is no fixed truth. Relativism is different from heresy or infidelity, because the heretic and the non-Catholic can believe there is objective truth, even if they differ with the Catholic Church about what truth is.

Catholic teaching has long condemned what it calls "indifferentism," the idea that as between faiths, it does not matter what one chooses.

Elie Wiesel, no Catholic for sure, and not even one whom I particularly admire, is quoted as having said:
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

Although Europe today no doubt contains many faithful, as witness the outpouring upon John Paul II's passing, they are a remnant. The hordes of those indifferent to faith are larger, and the hordes of those with quite another faith, Islam, are growing daily.

A generation ago, we were told the world was on the cusp of overpopulation leading to starvation. The "enlightened" excoriated the Church because its teachings on marriage, family, birth control and abortion supposedly abetted the "Population Bomb."

Today, without the lead poisoning that is supposed to have sterilized the Roman upper class, the European homelands of Western Christianity are emptying, even as the historic Muslim enemies of Christianity rush in to fill the vaccum.

There are many explanations for the decline in fertility, but no doubt one is the loss of faith and the flight from a Jewish and Christian concept of sexuality and family to a secular, individualistic morality that sees sexuality not as an act of creation and love, but as a pleasant sort of sneeze.

Against this view Benedict's teaching, the traditional Catholic teaching, stands. Whether any form of Christian faith, or even devotion to the search for scientific truth, will survive this era of indifference and Islamization, stands in question.

That Benedict stands against the relativism and indifferentism of post-Modern Europe is to his credit. That's his job. The world shall see how he and the Church answer the question of its survival and Europe's.

April 17, 2005

A Valuable New Blog

On avian flu.

This could be a major disaster, or, let us hope, a soon-forgotten epizootic.

April 10, 2005

Moonbattery and the Bottom Line

This op-ed piece by a college admissions consultant suggests that publicized politicization of campus life is not good for business, affecting both applications and alumni willingness to fork over contributions:

In 18 years of in-the-trenches experience counseling kids on their college choices, I've never seen the unhappiness as widespread as it is today. If colleges don't tone down the politics, and figure out how to control ballooning costs, they run the risk of turning off enough American consumers that many campuses could marginalize themselves right out of existence.

Colleges are having an ever-harder time making what they do comprehensible to the families footing the bills. I counsel families of all political stripes -- liberal, conservative and in-between -- and varied income levels, but they all agree on one thing: the overly politicized atmosphere on campuses is distracting colleges from providing a solid education to our young people.

Why students should start their life out in debt, parents should postpone retirement, or alumni contribute hard-earned cash so that students can listen to the Ward Churchills of the world, is a puzzlement.

Perhaps parents really should consider sending their kids to trucking school, notwithstanding some second thoughts on the subject.

There's only a little old man behind the curtain.

HT: Instapundit.

April 9, 2005

The Inspid Led By the Arrogant

George Soros and others have funded a Yale Law School conference on The Constitution in 2020.

One of the two lead speakers was law professor Cass Sunstein, something less than an ornament of the University of Chicago. Sunstein wants to establish a "Second Bill of Rights" that will enshrine rights to economic equality, as opposed to the present Bill, which is a restriction on what the federal gummint can do to the people.

Talk about arrogant elitists completely divorced from the society they would blithely reform.

And some bandy about the label "progressive", as in this booshwah:

It strikes me that we freely use the term “progressive,” but it isn’t clear that we have an articulable definition. While I’m not suggesting that we should or could reach consensus, I do believe we need to achieve some clarity. Right now, the progressive movement is dancing around the issue. We need to do more than erase “liberal” and substitute “progressive” or add “not” in front of “conservative.” Without some guideposts, it will be difficult for us to articulate our understanding of the Constitution and where we want to be in 2020; to define our understanding of the roles of Congress, the President, the courts, and state and local government; or to build a movement – distinct but related tasks.

This stuff makes me as sick as Larry Summers made Nancy Hopkins.

See my earlier post on "progressive" here.

April 8, 2005

Continuing Carnage

Frank Herbert writes about the unnoticed murders of minority youths:

The big shots have other things on their minds. In New York there's a football stadium that the power brokers want to build. In Washington, the focus of presidents of the United States, past and present, has been on who would get to go to the pope's funeral. In Los Angeles the other day, the black celebrity elite turned out en masse to profile at Johnnie Cochran's funeral.

Youngsters dead and dying? Nobody of importance is much interested in that.

He's right. But would an increased police presence, say; the death penalty for 17-year-old murders, Europe be damned; or serious, disciplined education elicit support from black leftists like Maxine Waters or Charlie Rangel? The question contains its own answer.

April 7, 2005

Another Take on John Paul

John Derbyshire has a different view of John Paul's life -- he admires John Paul's courage and rôle in defeating communism, but notes that secularism is on the rise wherever the cornucopia of material pleasures overflows:

So far as it makes any sense to predict the future, it seems to me highly probable that the world of 50 or 100 years from now will bear a close resemblance to Huxley’s dystopia — a world without pain, grief, sickness or war, but also without family, religion, sacrifice, or nobility of spirit. It’s not what I want, personally, and it’s not what Huxley wanted either (he was a religious man, though ofa singular type). It’s what most people want, though; so if this darn democracy stuff keeps spreading, it’s what we shall get, for sure. If we don’t bring it upon ourselves, we shall import it from less ethically fastidious nations.

In that context, the late pope will be seen — assuming anyone bothers to study history any more — as a rearguard fighter, a man who stood up for human values before they were swept away by the posthuman tsunami. There is great nobility in that, but it is a tragic nobility, the stiff-necked nobility of the hopeless reactionary. You might say that John Paul II (who, you do not need to tell me, would have pounced gleefully on that word “hopeless”) stood athwart History crying “Stop!” Alas, what is coming down History Turnpike is a convoy of 18-wheel rigs moving fast, and loaded up full with the stuff that got Doctor Faustus in trouble — knowledge, pleasure, power. They ain’t going to stop for anyone. Homo fuge!

Derbyshire has a point. It's not a criticism of John Paul, but a reflection on our age -- the heartland of European Catholicism has become secular, sterile, and apparently on the rode to dhimmitude.

Do we believe in miracles?

April 4, 2005

Standdown in Papeete

It seems that the GIP (Polynesian Intervention Group) has been persuaded to lift its blockade of the port area of Papeete. Oscar Temaru had to back down a bit. The whole thing will come to a head again in three weeks.

It's very hard for an outsider to figure out what is really going on.

April 3, 2005

Legislating Morality (Secular, That Is)

The namby-pamby branch of liberalism epitomized by the New York Times editorial page usually claims to support freedom of expression and freedom of conscience as public goods. But not always In this editorial entitled "Moralists At the Pharmacy," the Times comes out for forcing pharmacists, as a condition of keeping their licenses, and thus their livelihoods, to dispense both the "morning-after" pill and birth control medications.

The Times condemns those pharmacists who, mostly for religious reasons, choose not to dispense such medications, and supports measures to compel them to violate their consciences in order to comply with the Times's view of right and wrong.

It is striking, first of all that the Times, in its very title, condemns "moralists." Presumably a "moralist" is someone who follows a moral code stricter than that espoused by the paper's editorial board and publisher. The Times, of course, also espouses a moral code, strange though it is and uncertain though its origins may be. Everyone has an ethos, even those who proclaim indifference to morality.

In a free society, freedom of conscience ought to amount to more than Lewis Carroll's question,"Who is to be master?" If this is so, many will make choices others condemn.

Why pharmacists should not enjoy this same right is unclear. The Times's best arguments are that in rural areas, a choice by a pharmacist not to sell certain products might render them completely unavailable, or at least discourage the customer who wishes to obtain them, and that certain groups might pressure pharmacists to follow the groups' views and decline to carry these items.

Although speculative, both scenarios are plausible. However, the internet and overnight delivery make almost everything available in rural areas that is available in Manhattan. Nor should freedom of conscience be tolerated only if it is convenient.

Would the Times require rural general store owners to sell guns and ammunition, against the owners' conscience, even if necessary to self-defense, in emergency situations? Probably not, because to the urban liberal, weapons and self-defense are Bad Things. Birth control and abortion, on the other hand, are Good Things.

The Times types generally condemn those in public life who would "legislate morality" and impose their moral views, or even those of the majority, on the whole society, whether the issue is school prayer, divorce, or homosexuality. But the Times sees nothing wrong in legislating compulsory dispensing of medical devices against the conscience of the dispenser.

Footnote: would the Times revoke the licenses of pharmacists who declined to fill prescriptions for suicide medications under that state's assisted-suicide law?

I don't want to hear the answer.

Update: Steve Chapman takes on the same issue.

An Extraordinary Woman

Dutch parliamentarian Hirsi AliThe New York Times, which I have pretty much written off, every now and then prints something extraordinary. This Sunday, it printed a portrait of Dutch parliamentarian Hirsi Ali.

Threatened with death, she has round-the-clock protection, à la Salman Rushdie. This excerpt gives the flavor both of her situation and her extraordinary personality:

She had also announced that she was no longer a believing Muslim. The punishment for such apostasy is, according to strict interpretations of Islam, death. That day at the Dudok, several dozen vocational students were taking up the main restaurant, so she and her guards parked at two tables near the bar. Hirsi Ali had her back to the restaurant when one of the students, apparently a Dutch convert to Islam, tapped her on the shoulder. ''I turned around,'' she recalls in her elegant English, ''and saw this sweet, young Dutch guy, about 24 years old. With freckles! And he was like, 'Madam, I hope the mujahedeen get you and kill you.' '' Hirsi Ali handed him her knife and told him, ''Why don't you do it yourself?''

Holland, like much of Europe, is faced with the question of whether it should become a plural society, with Muslims having their own rules, including strict male control of women, polygyny, and "honor" killings, or whether it should impose standards for which its left, sunk in cultural relativism and secularism, can find no principled basis. Although events such as the assassination of filmmaker and iconoclast Theo Van Gogh have led to some reaction, low birth rates, secularism, and lack of conviction provide a basis for believing that Europeans are on the way to becoming dhimmis in their own countries.

Hirsi Ali's extraordinary personality and saga well illustrate the choices Europe faces.

Hat tip: Little Green Footballs.

Tea, Bread and Cheese

Haaretz reports on memories of John Paul II, then Karol Wojtyla:
One survivor, Idit Tzirer, said that she was an emaciated 13-year-old in 1945. She had just been released from a Nazi labor camp and was sitting on a street corner in the snow, too weak to walk, when Wojtyla approached.

'Suddenly, he appeared, like an angel from heaven, when nobody else was taking any notice of me,' she said on Israel TV. 'He brought me a cup of hot tea and two huge slices of bread and cheese ... After a while he asked me if I wanted to get away from that place and I told him I wanted to get to Krakow, but I couldn't walk. So he hoisted me on his back, like a sack of flour, and carried me, four or five kilometers.'

A life, even of a world-historical figure, is perhaps best understood one human interaction at a time.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:40.

Tea, bread and cheese. A true sacrament.

Another retelling of this story here. HT: Hugh Hewitt.

Polynesian Impasse Continues

This report confirms a continued crisis due to a wildcat strike by former Polynesian President Gaston Flosse's goon squad:
"A blockade of a Papeete road bridge by striking workers prevented New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff from making a scheduled visit to Tahiti's port.

The wild cat action in the capital of Tahiti prompted speculation its timing was aimed to embarrass the new Government of French Polynesia in front of an overseas dignitary.

The Polynesian Intervention Group (GIP) parked trucks across the Motuga Bridge, the only access to the capital's main port, on Thursday night (NZT).

* * * *

GIP, with a workforce of about 1230, is responsible to the French Polynesian Government for areas like security, park maintenance, cleaning and some maritime duties.

The industrial action over a leadership dispute followed a day-and-a-half long strike last week.

GIP was not happy about appointments made by new French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru.

The labour force, established a decade ago by former President Gaston Flosse, is locally regarded as Mr Flosse's private police force.

Philip Schyle, a politician who supports neither parties of Mr Flosse or his rival Mr Temaru, told the Herald he thought it was no coincidence the second strike coincided with the arrival of Mr Flosse back in the country from Paris.

The French government, the colonial ruler of Polynesia, was nowhere to be found. Gaston Flosse, the defeated former President, is a buddy of French President Jacques Chirac.

April 2, 2005

A Truly Thought-Provoking Essay on Marriage, Divorce, Illegitimacy and Social Reform

This piece by Jane Galt is modest, thoughtful, and truly thought-provoking. Who is this woman, anyway?

April 1, 2005

Blockade Causes Run On Tahiti Gas Supply

Followers of ex-Presidnet Gaston Flosse, a.k.a. the Ferdinand Marcos of Polynesia, have been blockading the port of Papeete, including the petroleum products storage depot. They are members of the GIP or Polynesian Intervention Group, which is supposed to be a disaster relief agency, but doubles in brass as a gang of toughs.

The blockaders claim to be protesting the replacement of their Director by an appointee of the newly-elected President of Polynesia, Oscar Temaru. In fact, rumor has it that Flosse is behind this as a way to create a crisis and return to power -- and especially to avoid an investigation of his notorious corrupton.

As a result of the blockade, there has been a run on gasoline in Papeete, the capital.

More here.