Monday, March 29, 2010

The challenge to the Pope--and the Papacy

The headline on yesterday's Boston Herald echoed a question I have been asking since last week: "Can the Pope Survive?"

As the lovely Diane pointed out when I expressed that, short of murder there is no way for the Church hierarchy to remove a Pope, and despite a number of popular novels positing plots for papal homicide, we surely don't expect that.

On the other hand, there are levels of survival. Given the burgeoning sexual abuse scandal across Europe, the present occupant of St. Peter's throne might conceivably be "forgotten but not gone," if the Vatican does not do much more to address what has happened, and the responsibility of high officials in the church for allowing it to continue for so long after the pattern became clear. Today's New York Times has an account of Palm Sunday reactions to the scandal from several cities in Europe and the United States. Including this telling comment from an Austrian woman in her '60s:
To think of Jesus Christ is one thing. To think of the pope is another.
Coming from an older woman from one of the most Catholic countries on Earth, that is exactly what the Church hierarchy should fear: the separation of the Church from Jesus, and Jesus from the Church.

(You might wonder why I, a non-Catholic, comment on this issue. Coming from the most Catholic large city in the United States, the Church has always had a presence in my life. And the Church is a very important institution, for good, ill or neither, and thus of significance to all of us.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A crock

So there was Sara Palin campaigning for former running mate John McCain (R.AZ) on Friday, and NPR had a clip of her saying, "I'm a commercial fisherman, and we know that only dead fish go with the flow," followed by predictable cheers from the crowd.

You've probably heard that phrase before, but have you ever stopped to think about it?

It's a crock. In truth, all fish spend most of their lives going with the flow, and I daresay that many of them never go against it. Why do sharks and whales appear in northern water in the summer, but not the winter? Because they go with ocean currents, that's why. Even the salmon--the fish that we think of as going against the flow--goes with the flow on its way down rivers to the sea. And when it mounts that fight back upstream--impelled not by courage but by atavistic biological imperative--remember that it's going to spawn and die.

Yesterday, Palin and allies gathered in Searchlight, Nevada, hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.NV). Strikes me that pretty much all of the countries where they could do that without getting hit with water cannon, tear gas or police batons are governed by the kind of social democratic governments that the Tea Partiers disdain. Maybe they should think about that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The best gift Democrats could wish for

Have you heard about the new Harris poll of 2230 Republicans that found that:
57 percent of them believe that President Obama is a Muslim

45 percent believe that the President was not born in the United States

38 percent believe that Obama "is doing many of the things Hitler did"

24 percent believe that Obama "may be the Antichrist"
(Presumably Jewish Republicans--of which, I regret to say, there are some--were not among the last group.)

As Jim Farley said of FDR, "We love him for the enemies he's made." Or, to turn an old saying on its head, "With enemies like these..."

Maybe I was wrong

Regular readers may recall that I have taken Democrats to task for not reaching out to elements of the Tea Party crowd who are justifiably angry with a system that--even a year into Barack Obama's presidency--seems stacked against the "ordinary" American.

After seeing the disgraceful, racist, homophobic behavior of the Tea Party crowd in D.C. this past weekend--using the ultimate racist slur against the great John Lewis, a hero of 20th Century America, and insults at my congressman, the inimitable Barney Frank--maybe I was mistaken. Perhaps the Tea Partiers really do represent all that is evil about American populism.

Still, I have hopes that there are responsible citizens who were attracted by the Tea Party movement but will now be repelled by the antics of the demonstrators in Washington, and propelled into a more serious effort to change our politics to reflect the interests of the great mass of our people. If there are such citizens, Democrats should reach out to them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The heat of the matter

The Indian Army weaponizes chili.

One more down

According to AP, Mit Romney told a book-signing in San Diego that the health-care reform package is unconstitutional, because it interferes with interstate commerce.

That view ought to disqualify the Mittster from running for President again. You'd think that it should be a basic requirement for wanting to be the person who takes an oath to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution that he or she would actually have some understanding of the document that established our Republic. Clearly, Mitt does not.

The Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, part of Section 8 of Article I, defining the power of Congress, states, that "The Congress shall have the power...To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states..." Regulation necessarily implies interference. Commerce that is not regulated is, by its nature, not interfered with--at least not by the government. (As no less an authority than Adam Smith knew, government regulation is in some cases preferable to the interference in the market of unchecked private interests, but that is another matter.)

So Mitt turns the Constitution on its head.

Romney was at one time a serious figure. He has become--like most Republicans on the national scene--a buffoon.

(Josh Marshall is of the view that if health-care is still an issue in 2012, that will put paid to Romney's chances for the GOP nomination, because he would be too ripe a target for Democrats pointing to his sponsorship of health-care reform in Massachusetts that is strikingly similar to the plan passed by the House on Sunday night. Hypocrisy has not stood in the Mittster's way in the past, however; viz. 2008. Yet there are those who still think him a serious candidate for the nomination next time. The GOPher party has become such a rodomontade that anything is possible, even likely.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The New Testament tells us that the wages of sin are death. What are the wages of ignorance? National decline, perhaps?

Consider this: Last month, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring that astrology is a factor in global warming. Not only that, but the South Dakota solons also ruled that thermology is also a contributor to climate change. Not familiar with thermology? It is the analysis of detailed infrared images of the human body. Who knew? Apparently, only South Dakota's political elite.

(In fairness, the South Dakota Senate later passed a measure--but only by a razor-thin majority--to delete references to astrology and thermology. But the rest of the measure questioning global warming remained intact.)

This story would be merely an amusing instance of Churchill being right, if it were not one more example of the march of militant ignorance upon our society. Down in Texas this week, a bunch of right-wing zealots proud of their anti-intellectualism ordered the state to adopt a social studies curriculum that enshrines their simplistically-Christian, politically "conservative" view of the world; that decision will control the state's study of history and civics for a decade (likely long after the people of the Lone Star State have come to their senses and thrown these yahoos out of office) and, because Texas buys more textbooks than just about anyone, will spill over to the studies of millions of students in other states, many of which are markedly less hostile to actual knowledge.

As Prof. Steven Salzberg of the University of Maryland whose blog post discusses the South Dakota inanity in detail, points out, the tactic of the anti-intellectuals is familiar by now: challenge scientific knowledge with religion or, lacking support in someone's version of the Bible, the views of some minority of scientists (who have probably been bought off by industries with an interest in obscuring the truth), then demand that schools teach the controversy.

Americans like to think of themselves as fair-minded, so the idea of giving all sides equal time has strong appeal. Who could object? But what if one side is clearly right (the world is round) and the other is clearly wrong (the world is flat)? Then we are wasting time and energy by presenting both sides.

Oh, and those who argue for teaching the controversy don't really mean it. They want to teach both sides where they have the weak side of the argument. Evolution is the most common example these days. (When I was growing up, we thought the Scopes Monkey Trial had consigned literal belief in the Bible's creation story to the far, far boondocks. Apparently, ignorance is like kudzu.) But the proponents of giving both sides equal weight falter when that would mean giving equal time to those whose ideas they reject. Thus, the board that controls teaching in Texas rejected a book by a well known young-adult author, because (ignorance strikes again) they confused him with an author of Marxist bent. You won't find equal time for socialist ideas in the Texas social studies curriculum.

Meanwhile, the United States faces challenges from nations that take education seriously and use it to make themselves stronger in the challenge for world markets.

The NEA, I think it was, put out a bumper sticker a few years ago, that read, "IF YOU THINK EDUCATION IS EXPENSIVE, TRY IGNORANCE."

Ignorance is no bargain at any price.
attributing global warming, in part, to "astrological dynamics." That's astrology to you and me. Yep. Not only that, the legislators declared that there are also thermological constituents to climate change. Not familiar with thermology, like the members of the South Dakota House (well, a majority of them; let's not tar the rest by association)? It's the study of