Friday, May 15, 2009
Water, water, everywhere water. Know it, embrace it, manage it or drown. Same goes for cars, trucks, chainsaws, knives, crowbars, blowtorches, teakettles and guns. Based on the inept, clumsy, irresponsible failure of braindead, uncoordinated nitwits, I will not be denied the pragmatic, functional utility of anything.
I will not drown, drink and drive, chainsaw massacre anyone, stumble, slice, burn or shoot myself, nor will I ever hold up a bank. So the best advice would be to think, improvise, adapt and overcome, man-up, but by all means, leave me the hell alone. You don’t ban electric guitars just because someone may have a lapse in logic, goodwill and decency and spontaneously break out into country and western music. The vast majority of sensible people will use electric guitars as God intended and whip out good, sexy rock-n-roll licks.
Matt Freed, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ted Nugent holds his guitar and an assault rifle during his appearance at the 2004 National Rifle Association convention in Pittsburgh.
I need my water, cars, trucks, chainsaws, knives, crowbars, blowtorches, scalding hot water, guitars and guns, thank you. Amazingly, I have mastered them all, and they are all wonderful ingredients for my American Dream of rugged individualism, declared independence, and self sufficiency. They all serve me well, and I am not giving any of them up. Ever.
The masses must never be controlled for the sake of the lunatic fringe. Remember “Don’t Tread on Me”? Just don’t.
The National Rifle Association was formed 138 years ago. This ultimate "we the people" grassroots family organization dedicated to the self evident truths of self defense will gather together in Phoenix Arizona today through May 18th for our annual meetings to celebrate good over evil. It is a beautiful thing. I will be there.
With increased NRA memberships, guns and ammo sales and concealed weapons permits surging at unprecedented rates, never in the history of mankind have more people possessed more firepower and most significantly, carried more concealed weapons on their persons than today across America.
And as FBI crime reports, numerous law enforcement and academic studies conclude, the inescapable truth is that more guns clearly equals less crime. Where there are more guns per capita, violent crime goes down, particularly crimes of assault, rape, burglary and robbery. This is good. This is what the NRA stands for. Anti-gunners, not so much.
It is indeed Ted Kennedy’s gun ban dream of “gunfreezones” that have proven to be the guaranteed slaughter zones where the most innocent lives are lost every time. Think Columbine, Virginia Tech, Lane Bryant, Northwest Illinois University, New Jersey, Salt Lake City and Omaha Malls, Luby’s Cafeteria, Calgary University, Toronto, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Flight 93, the mayor's office in San Francisco, ad nauseum.
Peace and love will get you killed, and unarmed helplessness is a welcome mat for evil. Common sense, that is, unless of course your anthem goes baaa….. baaa…… baaa.
So why in God’s good name would any human being wish to force unarmed helplessness on another? That level of cruel indecency and forced victimization is incomprehensible to me and about 100,000,000 Americans who own guns and believe in self defense. The lunatic fringe left won't dare touch the issue of gun control. Self defense is the most powerful, driving instinct in good people everywhere. To deny this, is evil personified.
Write this down: Gun Free Zones are a felon’s playgrounds. Ban Gun Free Zones now. Join the NRA.
Good people don’t want the rapist to succeed. We want him dead. We don’t want our homes invaded. We want the invaders dead. We don’t like carjackers. We like them dead. We don’t like armed robbers. We like them dead.
We have examined all the evidence we could possibly need to know that calling 911 is a joke, unless of course they bring a dustpan and a mop to clean up the dead monster we just shot while protecting our family.
The choice is clear: gun control as the Chuck Schumers of the world try to force on us is complicit in every violent crime committed. Conversely, gun control a la Ted Nugent is putting the second shot through the same hole as the first shot, where innocent lives are saved and recidivistic maggots come to a screeching halt, felled by the lovely ballet of good over evil we call the Double Tap Center Mass Boogie. Learn it, know it, love it, shoot it. Good guys should live, bad guys not so much.
It is reassuring and ultimately convenient, that fresh from escaping the scourge of tyranny and slavery of kings and emperors, our brilliant, sensible Founding Fathers knew it was important to write down the self evident truth that the right to self defense is surely a God given individual right to keep and bear arms.
And write this down too -- "keep" means it is mine, you can’t have it. "Bear" means I’ve got them right here on me. “Shall not be infringed” echoes that beautiful “Don’t Tread on Me” chorus. Sing it.
I like the US Constitution and our sacred Bill of Rights, but quite frankly, I don’t really need them in order to know in my heart and soul the list of self evident truths therein. Those came from thinking, common sense men who refused to be helpless, dependent slaves to anyone or anything. These truths are all burned forever on my soul. I live them, no matter what.
Meanwhile, in order to stop the drowning and murders, I will work on banning water, Obama can try to ban guns. Good luck. Save an innocent life, join the NRA and celebrate 138 years of keeping and bearing. Drive a bad guys nuts. Then shoot him while he’s committing a violent crime.
- Rock legend Ted Nugent is noted for his conservative political views and his vocal pro-hunting and Second Amendment activism. His smash bestseller Ted, White & Blue: The Nugent Manifesto, is now available at http://www.amazon.com/Ted-White-Blue-Nugent-Manifesto/dp/1596985550/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219159210&sr=8-1/. Nugent also maintains the Official Ted Nugent Site at http://www.tednugent.com/.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Some of the bravest and most distinguished analysts from the Middle East emphasize that region’s culture of cruelty. Kanan Makiya titled his 1994 book about Arabs Cruelty and Silence. Fouad Ajami writes about Beirut being “lost to a new reign of cruelty,” about Iraq’s “plunder and cruelty and sectarian animus,” and about the region’s “cruelty, waste, and confusion.”
That cruelty, usually at a remove from outsiders, became cinematically vivid on April 22, 2009, when ABC News aired a tape of a prince from the United Arab Emirates sadistically torturing an Afghan merchant he accused of dishonesty. No less instructive were the passive reactions of his government and of American officials. The story reveals much and is worth pondering:
In Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s largest and most powerful emirate, the Nahyan family has long ruled and dominated. After the 2004 death of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who had ruled the emirate since its independence in 1971, his long-restrained 22 royal sons and grandsons reveled in their new-found freedom of action. One of them in particular, Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a younger brother of Abu Dhabi’s current ruler and president of the seven-member United Arab Emirates federation, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (b. 1948), went crazy. “It’s like you flipped a switch and the man took a wrong turn in his life and started getting violent,” comments Bassam Nabulsi, 50, of Houston, Texas, a native of Lebanon and former business associate of Issa’s.
Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Issa met Nabulsi in Houston, where Nabulsi provided him with hotel and limousine services. Their relationship developed into a business partnership that lasted over twelve years. But Nabulsi is now suing Issa for breach of contract in a federal court in Houston; to support his accusations, Nabulsi made public a 45-minute tape of Issa torturing an Afghan grain dealer named Mohammed Shah Poor in 2004. Issa accused the dealer of cheating him of a grain delivery to his ranch worth about US$5,000 and assaulted him at night in a remote spot.
ABC News ran an initial television story of the tape (which can be seen here). Its accompanying print story, “Torture Tape Implicates UAE Royal Sheikh,” summarizes the gruesome details:
The Sheikh begins by stuffing sand down the man’s mouth, as the police officers restrain the victim. Then he fires bullets from an automatic rifle around him as the man howls incomprehensibly. At another point on the tape, the Sheikh can be seen telling the cameraman to come closer. “Get closer. Get closer. Get closer. Let his suffering show,” the Sheikh says.
Over the course of the tape, Sheikh Issa acts in an increasingly sadistic manner. He uses an electric cattle prod against the man’s testicles and inserts it in his anus. At another point, as the man wails in pain, the Sheikh pours lighter fluid on the man’s testicles and sets them aflame. Then the tape shows the Sheikh sorting through some wooden planks. “I remember there was one that had a nail in it,” he says on the tape. The Sheikh then pulls down the pants of the victim and repeatedly strikes him with board and its protruding nail.
At one point, he puts the nail next to the man’s buttocks and bangs it through the flesh. “Where’s the salt,” asks the Sheikh as he pours a large container of salt on to the man’s bleeding wounds. The victim pleads for mercy, to no avail. The final scene on the tape shows the Sheikh positioning his victim on the desert sand and then driving over him repeatedly. A sound of breaking bones can be heard on the tape.
Shah Poor survived this sustained assault; Nabulsi says his frantic efforts got Shah Poor to a hospital where he spent months recovering from internal injuries.
Nabulsi recounts that Issa had tapes made of this and other torture sessions so he could later relish his sadism and writes that he “maintained all important business and personal items for Sheikh Issa,” including the Shah Poor video. In April 2005, Nabulsi explains, due to his criticism of Issa’s torturing, the two business partners fell out. Nabulsi hid the tape as evidence of Issa’s depravity and, in turn, Issa sent the Abu Dhabi police to retrieve it. When Nabulsi stonewalled, they arrested him on trumped-up charges of marijuana possession and held him in Al-Wathba Prison for three months.
Nabulsi says he was subject to many assaults during his incarceration. According to his Houston lawyer, Tony Buzbee, as police officers stuck a finger in his anus. they said, “This is from Sheik Issa. Are you going to give us the tapes?” Buzbee maintains that the guards “would keep him from sleeping, deny him his medications, tell him they were going to rape his wife, kill his child. They made him pose naked while they took pictures.” Allegedly, Issa himself sometimes participated in the torture sessions. A court eventually acquitted Nabulsi and he managed to escape Abu Dhabi.
Almost as revealing as the tape itself was the response to it from the Abu Dhabi and U.S. governments. In an official statement, the former deemed the matter settled privately between Issa and Shah Poor because the two agreed “not to bring formal charges against each other, i.e., theft on the one hand and assault on the other hand.” Prodded by ABC News, Abu Dhabi’s Interior Ministry acknowledged Issa’s role in the tape but claimed that “The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior.” Its review found “all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department.” As for Nabulsi’s case, Interior “also confirmed that Mr. Nabulsi was in no way mistreated during his incarceration for drug possession.”
Perhaps it bears mentioning that Abu Dhabi’s minister of the interior is one of Issa’s brothers?
As for officials at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, Nabulsi gives them mixed grades. Some knew about the torture tapes but did not protest Issa’s actions. In particular, Bill Wallrap of the Department of Homeland Security saw some of the tape one day before Nabulsi’s arrest; Nabulsi quotes his response as advising him to “gather your family and get out of the country as soon as possible for your own safety.” Other U.S. embassy employees, however, did help and Nabulsi says their visits to him in prison had a critical role in his staying alive and fleeing the country. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been conspicuously silent on the matter; revealingly, after watching 10 minutes of the film, one U.S. diplomat bloodlessly commented, “It was interesting.”
However, the one-two punch of ABC News playing portions of the torture tape on air and to Rep. James McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts), chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House, did have consequences. Fully five years after the incident took place, Abu Dhabi authorities finally arrested Issa, detained other participants in the torture session, and announced a criminal probe into the torture.
Most inconveniently for the UAE, the torture tape surfaced just as the U.S. government was considering a nuclear cooperation agreement with it, jeopardizing the bill’s passage. Rep. Ed Markey (Democrat of Massachusetts) expressed the view of many: “A country where the laws can be flouted by the rich and powerful is not a country that can safeguard sensitive U.S. nuclear technology.” Despite itself, the State Department is having to take the torture tape into account; the nuclear deal has been delayed and faces uncertain congressional prospects.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
The Washington Post
Friday, May 15, 2009
This month, I wrote a column outlining two exceptions to the no-torture rule: the ticking time bomb scenario and its less extreme variant in which a high-value terrorist refuses to divulge crucial information that could save innocent lives. The column elicited protest and opposition that were, shall we say, spirited.
And occasionally stupid. Dan Froomkin, writing for washingtonpost.com and echoing a common meme among my critics, asserted that "the ticking time bomb scenario only exists in two places: On TV and in the dark fantasies of power-crazed and morally deficient authoritarians." (He later helpfully suggested that my moral deficiencies derived from "watching TV and fantasizing about being Jack Bauer.")
On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the  Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."
Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin's moral calculus.
That moral calculus is important. Even John McCain says that in ticking time bomb scenarios you "do what you have to do." The no-torture principle is not inviolable. One therefore has to think about what kind of transgressive interrogation might be permissible in the less pristine circumstance of the high-value terrorist who knows about less imminent attacks. (By the way, I've never seen five seconds of "24.")
My column also pointed out the contemptible hypocrisy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is feigning outrage now about techniques that she knew about and did nothing to stop at the time.
My critics say: So what if Pelosi is a hypocrite? Her behavior doesn't change the truth about torture.
But it does. The fact that Pelosi (and her intelligence aide) and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and dozens of other members of Congress knew about the enhanced interrogation and said nothing, and did nothing to cut off the funding, tells us something very important.
Our jurisprudence has the "reasonable man" standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.
On the morality of waterboarding and other "torture," Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.
Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. As Slate's Jacob Weisberg points out, those favoring harsh interrogation at the time included Alan Dershowitz, Mark Bowden and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. In November 2001, Alter suggested we consider "transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies" (i.e., those that torture). And, as Weisberg notes, these were just the liberals.
So what happened? The reason Pelosi raised no objection to waterboarding at the time, the reason the American people (who by 2004 knew what was going on) strongly reelected the man who ordered these interrogations, is not because she and the rest of the American people suffered a years-long moral psychosis from which they have just now awoken. It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions -- our blindness to al-Qaeda's plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by a second 9/11, the likelihood that the interrogation would extract intelligence that President Obama's own director of national intelligence now tells us was indeed "high-value information" -- and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.
And they were right.
You can believe that Pelosi and the American public underwent a radical transformation from moral normality to complicity with war criminality back to normality. Or you can believe that their personalities and moral compasses have remained steady throughout the years, but changes in circumstances (threat, knowledge, imminence) alter the moral calculus attached to any interrogation technique.
You don't need a psychiatrist to tell you which of these theories is utterly fantastical.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
MARK STEYN'S column appears in several newspapers, including the Washington Times, Philadelphia's Evening Bulletin, and the Orange County Register. In addition, he writes for The New Criterion, Maclean's in Canada, the Jerusalem Post, The Australian, and Hawke's Bay Today in New Zealand. The author of National Review's Happy Warrior column, he also blogs on National Review Online. He is the author of several books, including the best-selling America Alone: The End of The World as We Know It. Mr. Steyn teaches a two-week course in journalism at Hillsdale College during each spring semester.
The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on March 9, 2009.
MY REMARKS are titled tonight after the words of General Stark, New Hampshire's great hero of the Revolutionary War: "Live free or die!" When I first moved to New Hampshire, where this appears on our license plates, I assumed General Stark had said it before some battle or other—a bit of red meat to rally the boys for the charge; a touch of the old Henry V-at-Agincourt routine. But I soon discovered that the general had made his famous statement decades after the war, in a letter regretting that he would be unable to attend a dinner. And in a curious way I found that even more impressive. In extreme circumstances, many people can rouse themselves to rediscover the primal impulses: The brave men on Flight 93 did. They took off on what they thought was a routine business trip, and, when they realized it wasn't, they went into General Stark mode and cried "Let's roll!" But it's harder to maintain the "Live free or die!" spirit when you're facing not an immediate crisis but just a slow, remorseless, incremental, unceasing ratchet effect. "Live free or die!" sounds like a battle cry: We'll win this thing or die trying, die an honorable death. But in fact it's something far less dramatic: It's a bald statement of the reality of our lives in the prosperous West. You can live as free men, but, if you choose not to, your society will die.
My book America Alone is often assumed to be about radical Islam, firebreathing imams, the excitable young men jumping up and down in the street doing the old "Death to the Great Satan" dance. It's not. It's about us. It's about a possibly terminal manifestation of an old civilizational temptation: Indolence, as Machiavelli understood, is the greatest enemy of a republic. When I ran into trouble with the so-called "human rights" commissions up in Canada, it seemed bizarre to find the progressive left making common cause with radical Islam. One half of the alliance profess to be pro-gay, pro-feminist secularists; the other half are homophobic, misogynist theocrats. Even as the cheap bus 'n' truck road-tour version of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, it made no sense. But in fact what they have in common overrides their superficially more obvious incompatibilities: Both the secular Big Government progressives and political Islam recoil from the concept of the citizen, of the free individual entrusted to operate within his own societal space, assume his responsibilities, and exploit his potential.
In most of the developed world, the state has gradually annexed all the responsibilities of adulthood—health care, child care, care of the elderly—to the point where it's effectively severed its citizens from humanity's primal instincts, not least the survival instinct. Hillary Rodham Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. It's supposedly an African proverb—there is no record of anyone in Africa ever using this proverb, but let that pass. P.J. O'Rourke summed up that book superbly: It takes a village to raise a child. The government is the village, and you're the child. Oh, and by the way, even if it did take a village to raise a child, I wouldn't want it to be an African village. If you fly over West Africa at night, the lights form one giant coastal megalopolis: Not even Africans regard the African village as a useful societal model. But nor is the European village. Europe's addiction to big government, unaffordable entitlements, cradle-to-grave welfare, and a dependence on mass immigration needed to sustain it has become an existential threat to some of the oldest nation-states in the world.
And now the last holdout, the United States, is embarking on the same grim path: After the President unveiled his budget, I heard Americans complain, oh, it's another Jimmy Carter, or LBJ's Great Society, or the new New Deal. You should be so lucky. Those nickel-and-dime comparisons barely begin to encompass the wholesale Europeanization that's underway. The 44th president's multi-trillion-dollar budget, the first of many, adds more to the national debt than all the previous 43 presidents combined, from George Washington to George Dubya. The President wants Europeanized health care, Europeanized daycare, Europeanized education, and, as the Europeans have discovered, even with Europeanized tax rates you can't make that math add up. In Sweden, state spending accounts for 54% of GDP. In America, it was 34%—ten years ago. Today, it's about 40%. In four years' time, that number will be trending very Swede-like.
But forget the money, the deficit, the debt, the big numbers with the 12 zeroes on the end of them. So-called fiscal conservatives often miss the point. The problem isn't the cost. These programs would still be wrong even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover them each month. They're wrong because they deform the relationship between the citizen and the state. Even if there were no financial consequences, the moral and even spiritual consequences would still be fatal. That's the stage where Europe is.
America is just beginning this process. I looked at the rankings in Freedom in the 50 States published by George Mason University last month. New Hampshire came in Number One, the Freest State in the Nation, which all but certainly makes it the freest jurisdiction in the Western world. Which kind of depressed me. Because the Granite State feels less free to me than it did when I moved there, and you always hope there's somewhere else out there just in case things go belly up and you have to hit the road. And way down at the bottom in the last five places were Maryland, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and the least free state in the Union by some distance, New York.
New York! How does the song go? "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere!" If you can make it there, you're some kind of genius. "This is the worst fiscal downturn since the Great Depression," announced Governor Paterson a few weeks ago. So what's he doing? He's bringing in the biggest tax hike in New York history. If you can make it there, he can take it there—via state tax, sales tax, municipal tax, a doubled beer tax, a tax on clothing, a tax on cab rides, an "iTunes tax," a tax on haircuts, 137 new tax hikes in all. Call 1-800-I-HEART-NEW-YORK today and order your new package of state tax forms, for just $199.99, plus the 12% tax on tax forms and the 4% tax form application fee partially refundable upon payment of the 7.5% tax filing tax. If you can make it there, you'll certainly have no difficulty making it in Tajikistan.
New York, California... These are the great iconic American states, the ones we foreigners have heard of. To a penniless immigrant called Arnold Schwarzenegger, California was a land of plenty. Now Arnold is an immigrant of plenty in a penniless land: That's not an improvement. One of his predecessors as governor of California, Ronald Reagan, famously said, "We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around." In California, it's now the other way around: California is increasingly a government that has a state. And it is still in the early stages of the process. California has thirtysomething million people. The Province of Quebec has seven million people. Yet California and Quebec have roughly the same number of government workers. "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation," said Adam Smith, and America still has a long way to go. But it's better to jump off the train as you're leaving the station and it's still picking up speed than when it's roaring down the track and you realize you've got a one-way ticket on the Oblivion Express.
"Indolence," in Machiavelli's word: There are stages to the enervation of free peoples. America, which held out against the trend, is now at Stage One: The benign paternalist state promises to make all those worries about mortgages, debt, and health care disappear. Every night of the week, you can switch on the TV and see one of these ersatz "town meetings" in which freeborn citizens of the republic (I use the term loosely) petition the Sovereign to make all the bad stuff go away. "I have an urgent need," a lady in Fort Myers beseeched the President. "We need a home, our own kitchen, our own bathroom." He took her name and ordered his staff to meet with her. Hopefully, he didn't insult her by dispatching some no-name deputy assistant associate secretary of whatever instead of flying in one of the bigtime tax-avoiding cabinet honchos to nationalize a Florida bank and convert one of its branches into a desirable family residence, with a swing set hanging where the drive-thru ATM used to be.
As all of you know, Hillsdale College takes no federal or state monies. That used to make it an anomaly in American education. It's in danger of becoming an anomaly in America, period. Maybe it's time for Hillsdale College to launch the Hillsdale Insurance Agency, the Hillsdale Motor Company and the First National Bank of Hillsdale. The executive supremo at Bank of America is now saying, oh, if only he'd known what he knows now, he wouldn't have taken the government money. Apparently it comes with strings attached. Who knew? Sure, Hillsdale College did, but nobody else.
If you're a business, when government gives you 2% of your income, it has a veto on 100% of what you do. If you're an individual, the impact is even starker. Once you have government health care, it can be used to justify almost any restraint on freedom: After all, if the state has to cure you, it surely has an interest in preventing you needing treatment in the first place. That's the argument behind, for example, mandatory motorcycle helmets, or the creepy teams of government nutritionists currently going door to door in Britain and conducting a "health audit" of the contents of your refrigerator. They're not yet confiscating your Twinkies; they just want to take a census of how many you have. So you do all this for the "free" health care—and in the end you may not get the "free" health care anyway. Under Britain's National Health Service, for example, smokers in Manchester have been denied treatment for heart disease, and the obese in Suffolk are refused hip and knee replacements. Patricia Hewitt, the British Health Secretary, says that it's appropriate to decline treatment on the basis of "lifestyle choices." Smokers and the obese may look at their gay neighbor having unprotected sex with multiple partners, and wonder why his "lifestyle choices" get a pass while theirs don't. But that's the point: Tyranny is always whimsical.
And if they can't get you on grounds of your personal health, they'll do it on grounds of planetary health. Not so long ago in Britain it was proposed that each citizen should have a government-approved travel allowance. If you take one flight a year, you'll pay just the standard amount of tax on the journey. But, if you travel more frequently, if you take a second or third flight, you'll be subject to additional levies—in the interest of saving the planet for Al Gore's polar bear documentaries and that carbon-offset palace he lives in in Tennessee.
Isn't this the very definition of totalitarianism-lite? The Soviets restricted the movement of people through the bureaucratic apparatus of "exit visas." The British are proposing to do it through the bureaucratic apparatus of exit taxes—indeed, the bluntest form of regressive taxation. As with the Communists, the nomenklatura—the Prince of Wales, Al Gore, Madonna—will still be able to jet about hither and yon. What's a 20% surcharge to them? Especially as those for whom vast amounts of air travel are deemed essential—government officials, heads of NGOs, environmental activists—will no doubt be exempted from having to pay the extra amount. But the ghastly masses will have to stay home.
"Freedom of movement" used to be regarded as a bedrock freedom. The movement is still free, but there's now a government processing fee of $389.95. And the interesting thing about this proposal was that it came not from the Labour Party but the Conservative Party.
That's Stage Two of societal enervation—when the state as guarantor of all your basic needs becomes increasingly comfortable with regulating your behavior. Free peoples who were once willing to give their lives for liberty can be persuaded very quickly to relinquish their liberties for a quiet life. When President Bush talked about promoting democracy in the Middle East, there was a phrase he liked to use: "Freedom is the desire of every human heart." Really? It's unclear whether that's really the case in Gaza and the Pakistani tribal lands. But it's absolutely certain that it's not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, New Orleans and Buffalo. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government "security," large numbers of people vote to dump freedom every time—the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, and a ton of other stuff. It's ridiculous for grown men and women to say: I want to be able to choose from hundreds of cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies from Netflix, millions of songs to play on my iPod—but I want the government to choose for me when it comes to my health care. A nation that demands the government take care of all the grown-up stuff is a nation turning into the world's wrinkliest adolescent, free only to choose its record collection.
And don't be too sure you'll get to choose your record collection in the end. That's Stage Three: When the populace has agreed to become wards of the state, it's a mere difference of degree to start regulating their thoughts. When my anglophone friends in the Province of Quebec used to complain about the lack of English signs in Quebec hospitals, my response was that, if you allow the government to be the sole provider of health care, why be surprised that they're allowed to decide the language they'll give it in? But, as I've learned during my year in the hellhole of Canadian "human rights" law, that's true in a broader sense. In the interests of "cultural protection," the Canadian state keeps foreign newspaper owners, foreign TV operators, and foreign bookstore owners out of Canada. Why shouldn't it, in return, assume the right to police the ideas disseminated through those newspapers, bookstores and TV networks it graciously agrees to permit?
When Maclean's magazine and I were hauled up in 2007 for the crime of "flagrant Islamophobia," it quickly became very clear that, for members of a profession that brags about its "courage" incessantly (far more than, say, firemen do), an awful lot of journalists are quite content to be the eunuchs in the politically correct harem. A distressing number of Western journalists see no conflict between attending lunches for World Press Freedom Day every month and agreeing to be micro-regulated by the state. The big problem for those of us arguing for classical liberalism is that in modern Canada there's hardly anything left that isn't on the state dripfeed to one degree or another: Too many of the institutions healthy societies traditionally look to as outposts of independent thought—churches, private schools, literature, the arts, the media—either have an ambiguous relationship with government or are downright dependent on it. Up north, "intellectual freedom" means the relevant film-funding agency—Cinedole Canada or whatever it's called—gives you a check to enable you to continue making so-called "bold, brave, transgressive" films that discombobulate state power not a whit.
And then comes Stage Four, in which dissenting ideas and even words are labeled as "hatred." In effect, the language itself becomes a means of control. Despite the smiley-face banalities, the tyranny becomes more naked: In Britain, a land with rampant property crime, undercover constables nevertheless find time to dine at curry restaurants on Friday nights to monitor adjoining tables lest someone in private conversation should make a racist remark. An author interviewed on BBC Radio expressed, very mildly and politely, some concerns about gay adoption and was investigated by Scotland Yard's Community Safety Unit for Homophobic, Racist and Domestic Incidents. A Daily Telegraph columnist is arrested and detained in a jail cell over a joke in a speech. A Dutch legislator is invited to speak at the Palace of Westminster by a member of the House of Lords, but is banned by the government, arrested on arrival at Heathrow and deported.
America, Britain, and even Canada are not peripheral nations: They're the three anglophone members of the G7. They're three of a handful of countries that were on the right side of all the great conflicts of the last century. But individual liberty flickers dimmer in each of them. The massive expansion of government under the laughable euphemism of "stimulus" (Stage One) comes with a quid pro quo down the line (Stage Two): Once you accept you're a child in the government nursery, why shouldn't Nanny tell you what to do? And then—Stage Three—what to think? And—Stage Four—what you're forbidden to think . . . .
Which brings us to the final stage: As I said at the beginning, Big Government isn't about the money. It's more profound than that. A couple of years back Paul Krugman wrote a column in The New York Times asserting that, while parochial American conservatives drone on about "family values," the Europeans live it, enacting policies that are more "family friendly." On the Continent, claims the professor, "government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff-to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family."
As befits a distinguished economist, Professor Krugman failed to notice that for a continent of "family friendly" policies, Europe is remarkably short of families. While America's fertility rate is more or less at replacement level—2.1—seventeen European nations are at what demographers call "lowest-low" fertility—1.3 or less—a rate from which no society in human history has ever recovered. Germans, Spaniards, Italians and Greeks have upside-down family trees: four grandparents have two children and one grandchild. How can an economist analyze "family friendly" policies without noticing that the upshot of these policies is that nobody has any families?
As for all that extra time, what happened? Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, they don't have to pay for their own health care, they're post-Christian so they don't go to church, they don't marry and they don't have kids to take to school and basketball and the 4-H stand at the county fair. So what do they do with all the time?
Forget for the moment Europe's lack of world-beating companies: They regard capitalism as an Anglo-American fetish, and they mostly despise it. But what about the things Europeans supposedly value? With so much free time, where is the great European art? Where are Europe's men of science? At American universities. Meanwhile, Continental governments pour fortunes into prestigious white elephants of Euro-identity, like the Airbus A380, capable of carrying 500, 800, a thousand passengers at a time, if only somebody somewhere would order the darn thing, which they might consider doing once all the airports have built new runways to handle it.
"Give people plenty and security, and they will fall into spiritual torpor," wrote Charles Murray in In Our Hands. "When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do, ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome."
The key word here is "give." When the state "gives" you plenty—when it takes care of your health, takes cares of your kids, takes care of your elderly parents, takes care of every primary responsibility of adulthood—it's not surprising that the citizenry cease to function as adults: Life becomes a kind of extended adolescence—literally so for those Germans who've mastered the knack of staying in education till they're 34 and taking early retirement at 42. Hilaire Belloc, incidentally, foresaw this very clearly in his book The Servile State in 1912. He understood that the long-term cost of a welfare society is the infantilization of the population.
Genteel decline can be very agreeable—initially: You still have terrific restaurants, beautiful buildings, a great opera house. And once the pressure's off it's nice to linger at the sidewalk table, have a second café au lait and a pain au chocolat, and watch the world go by. At the Munich Security Conference in February, President Sarkozy demanded of his fellow Continentals, "Does Europe want peace, or do we want to be left in peace?" To pose the question is to answer it. Alas, it only works for a generation or two. And it's hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latterday Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.
As Gerald Ford liked to say when trying to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." And that's true. But there's an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn't big enough to get you to give any of it back. That's the position European governments find themselves in. Their citizens have become hooked on unaffordable levels of social programs which in the end will put those countries out of business. Just to get the Social Security debate in perspective, projected public pension liabilities are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8% of GDP in the U.S. In Greece, the figure is 25%—i.e., total societal collapse. So what? shrug the voters. Not my problem. I want my benefits. The crisis isn't the lack of money, but the lack of citizens—in the meaningful sense of that word.
Every Democrat running for election tells you they want to do this or that "for the children." If America really wanted to do something "for the children," it could try not to make the same mistake as most of the rest of the Western world and avoid bequeathing the next generation a leviathan of bloated bureaucracy and unsustainable entitlements that turns the entire nation into a giant Ponzi scheme. That's the real "war on children" (to use another Democrat catchphrase)—and every time you bulk up the budget you make it less and less likely they'll win it.
Conservatives often talk about "small government," which, in a sense, is framing the issue in leftist terms: they're for big government. But small government gives you big freedoms—and big government leaves you with very little freedom. The bailout and the stimulus and the budget and the trillion-dollar deficits are not merely massive transfers from the most dynamic and productive sector to the least dynamic and productive. When governments annex a huge chunk of the economy, they also annex a huge chunk of individual liberty. You fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state into something closer to that of junkie and pusher—and you make it very difficult ever to change back. Americans face a choice: They can rediscover the animating principles of the American idea—of limited government, a self-reliant citizenry, and the opportunities to exploit your talents to the fullest—or they can join most of the rest of the Western world in terminal decline. To rekindle the spark of liberty once it dies is very difficult. The inertia, the ennui, the fatalism is more pathetic than the demographic decline and fiscal profligacy of the social democratic state, because it's subtler and less tangible. But once in a while it swims into very sharp focus. Here is the writer Oscar van den Boogaard from an interview with the Belgian paper De Standaard. Mr. van den Boogaard, a Dutch gay "humanist" (which is pretty much the trifecta of Eurocool), was reflecting on the accelerating Islamification of the Continent and concluding that the jig was up for the Europe he loved. "I am not a warrior, but who is?" he shrugged. "I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it." In the famous Kubler-Ross five stages of grief, Mr. van den Boogard is past denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and has arrived at a kind of acceptance.
"I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it." Sorry, doesn't work—not for long. Back in New Hampshire, General Stark knew that. Mr. van den Boogard's words are an epitaph for Europe. Whereas New Hampshire's motto—"Live free or die!"—is still the greatest rallying cry for this state or any other. About a year ago, there was a picture in the papers of Iranian students demonstrating in Tehran and waving placards. And what they'd written on those placards was: "Live free or die!" They understand the power of those words; so should we.
By R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. on 5.14.09 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) gets a kiss from her campaign manager Terry McAuliffe at an election night rally at the Marriott Hotel May 20, 2008 in Louisville, Kentucky.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)
WASHINGTON -- I see that my chum Terry McAuliffe will be in Virginia's June 9 Democratic primary competing for his party's gubernatorial nomination. He is up against two party stalwarts, Brian Moran and R. Creigh Deeds. Already his supporters are huffing and puffing about any unfavorable treatment he gets in the press. Just the other day one of his indignados appeared in the correspondence page of the Washington Post complaining that the newspaper had printed a news story detailing the dubious methods by which my old pal amassed his fortune. The story also noted McAuliffe's propensity for exaggeration.
Frankly there was nothing particularly surprising or controversial in the story. All the Post did was report well-known highlights of McAuliffe's celebrated career. For years his friend Hillary Clinton has been chided for her "Cattle Futures Deal," the one that saw her investment of $1,000 metastasize into nearly $100,000 in but ten months. That is nothing compared to McAuliffe's magic touch.
As the Post reported, he entered into a deal with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' pension fund in the early 1990s. The fund put in about $40 million. McAuliffe put in just $100. Several years later he who would be governor of Virginia walked off with a profit of nearly $40 million, which was actually more than the union's profit. Good show, Terry! Then there is his famous investment in the now-defunct Global Crossing run by his friend Gary Winnick. He who would be governor of Virginia invested $100,000 and walked off with a cool $8 million just before his friend's jerry-built conglomeration went belly-up.
In its report, the Post chides McAuliffe for his tendency to exaggerate. It points to his claim that a construction company controlled by him constructed 1,300 homes, a claim that had to be scaled back to "closer to 800" after the newspaper apparently contacted the company. As for McAuliffe's boast that he started "five businesses" in Virginia, creating jobs for large numbers of Virginians, the Post reports, "It turned out that all five are investment partnerships, with no employees, registered to his home address in McLean," a posh Virginia suburb.
The only uncharitable reference to McAuliffe that I saw in the Post piece was its reference to him as a "huckster." Yet that is precisely what McAuliffe calls himself in his bizarre memoir What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals. The Post was merely quoting him. It is a surprising quote, but McAuliffe's identification of himself as a huckster is one of the book's rare accurate statements.
The book was the occasion for me to enter into a four-month correspondence with him back in 2007. I guess you would say that we became pen pals, hence my earlier mention of him as a "chum." The book abounds with false claims, false charges, and errors, most of which are easily demonstrable. It is a perfect example of his penchant for exaggeration and, dare I say it, mendacity. Our correspondence displays his utter refusal to face fact. Are the Virginia Democrats going to put their money on him?
My favorite exaggeration is, as you will understand, his assertion on page 58 that in The American Spectator, "…they [my editors and writers] cooked up the nonsense they put out against Clinton, alleging that he'd ordered the murder of political opponents…." That is a serious charge, and I wrote him as soon as I was aware of it: "I have not been able to find such articles. Could you give me citations?" He failed to respond. Shortly thereafter, when I encountered him in the green room at MSNBC, he was evasive about my inquiry. Thus began our correspondence. Again I asked him to supply the citations for the articles wherein we claimed President Bill Clinton had ordered murders. He ducked. He weaved. He never came up with the evidence, which is not surprising. The American Spectator never published such charges. Yet he kept responding to my letters with his stubborn deceits -- weird!
He never backed down. He never admitted to his calumny, though he could provide no evidence, and if there were evidence he could have easily proved that he had not lied to his readers. There are two items here that Virginia Democrats might consider. My friend Terry is brazen. To make up such a charge against a magazine is also reckless, that is the second item. Another example of his recklessness is his repeated correspondence with me. A prudent politician would never have responded. Terry did, and we published the whole correspondence in our "Current Wisdom," a section of the magazine reserved for nonsense from notables.
As with his patrons, the Clintons, McAuliffe gets into trouble for no particularly good reason. Do the Virginia Democrats really want to put up a candidate with a penchant for self-inflicted wounds? I leave it to them on June 9.
Bob Tyrrell is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. His books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; and The Clinton Crack-Up.
He makes frequent appearance on national television and is a nationally syndicated columnist, whose articles have appeard in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, National Review, Harper's, Commentary, The (London) Spectator, Le Figaro (Paris), and elsewhere.
Bob is also an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute and was until its demise a contributing editor to the New York Sun.
May 13, 2009
Not even Dick Cheney can incite the blood-curdling rage of liberals at the sight of a sexy Evangelical Christian. Paula Jones, Katherine Harris, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and, most recently, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, have all come under a frenzy of attacks from liberals.
Christians are supposed to be fat, balding sweaty little men with bad complexions. It's liberals who are supposed to be the sexy ones. (I know that from watching "The West Wing" and all movies starring Julia Roberts.)
But sadly for liberals, in real life, the fat, balding sweaty little guy with the bad complexion is Perez Hilton and the smoking-hot babe is Carrie Prejean.
This apparent contradiction incites violent anger in liberals, triggering their famous "fight or flight" response. So liberal masturbators are, once again, launching furious attacks on a beautiful Christian in a fit of pique similar to the one directed at Joan of Arc.
First, the Miss USA contest held a press conference to announce that Prejean had breast implants. Take a Christian position in public and Satan's handmaidens will turn all your secrets into front-page news.
Next, a photographer released a single cheesecake photo of Prejean. This prompted liberal reporters who have never met a Christian to proclaim that Christians were outraged by the photo. Liberals believe abortion is a sacrament, but smoking, wearing short skirts and modeling lingerie are mortal sins. (And if wearing women's underwear is a basis for being disqualified from the pageant, that's the end of Perez Hilton's judging career.)
Then on Monday some genuine "semi-nude" photos were released. These were not what we'd call appropriate for a Christian. In a curiously similar attack, the left's final attempt to destroy Paula Jones was to lure her into appearing naked in Penthouse magazine. Oh well.
Christians aren't people who believe they are without sin; they're people who know they're sinners and are awestruck by God's grace in sending his only Son to take the punishment they deserve.
This is in contradistinction to liberals, all of whom believe they're on a fast track to heaven on the basis of being "basically good" people -- and also believe that anyone who disagrees with that theological view is evil.
Finally (so far, anyway), reporters gleefully released the divorce records of Prejean's parents. Because when you want the truth, what is more reliable than angry accusations traded in the middle of an acrimonious divorce?
Liberals used the divorce papers to argue that Prejean had some deep-seated psychological disturbance causing her to oppose gay marriage. Symptoms of this debilitating illness include a belief in some sort of "god" and a reverence for the Bible.
It's not as if Prejean's special talent in the Miss USA contest was to perform an opposite-sex marriage. (Or, as the president and I call it, "marriage.") She didn't even volunteer her "controversial" views on marriage. Rather, she was asked for her opinion on gay marriage and gave it -- in an answer wrapped in so many layers of sugar it took 10 minutes to get to the point.
"Well, I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that's how I was raised, and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman."
What a vicious hate-monger! Any second there I was expecting her to bust out a "by golly!" or an "oh my gosh!" Angry gay-marriage supporters should be happy they didn't get my version of that answer. It contains some terms you won't find in your Bible.
Liberals wouldn't attack James Dobson with the amount of bile they've directed at a 21-year-old beauty contestant. It's not just Christianity -- it's women liberals hate.
From Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Bertrand Russell, who treated women -- mostly their mistresses -- like dogs, to Teddy Kennedy and Bill Clinton in our own day, liberals are ferocious misogynists. They share Muslims' opinion of women, differing only to the extent that liberals also support a women's right to have an abortion and to perform lap dances.
You'd be better off in a real burqa than under the authority of a liberal American male.
I'm not sure we needed a psychological profile of Prejean to figure out why she holds the same position on gay marriage as: the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards and his mistress, and the vast majority of the American people.
But what is crying out for an explanation is why every bubble-head TV news anchorette from a nice, churchgoing red state ends up adopting the political views of Karl Marx.
From Katie Couric on CBS to Norah O'Donnell on MSNBC, the whole stable of TV anchorettes weirdly have the exact same politics as their liberal masters. It's the ideological burqa women are required to wear to work in the mainstream media. As with a conventional burqa, it enforces conformity and severely restricts the vision.
The only way to protect yourself is to do the liberal male's bidding, as the bubble-head anchorettes do, or stand on the rock of Christianity.
Now, another beautiful Christian has thrown off the liberal burqa, thereby inciting mass hysteria throughout the liberal establishment. Prejean doesn't care. She is blazing across the sky, as impotent nose-pickers jockey for a piece of her reflected light by hurling insults at her.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
By Ralph Peters
New York Post
May 12, 2009
FACED with catastrophe, Pakistan still has time to play the dead-man's hand it holds. The question is whether its leaders are betting or bluffing.
The recent, belated military response to the Taliban's dissection of the country, combined with the disgust locals feel over extremist excesses, offers a potential winning formula.
Unless Pakistan's government chooses to lose.
First, consider the current offensive to drive Taliban fighters from Buner and parts of the Swat Valley. Sounds great. But we've already bought that used car, only to see it break down pulling out of the lot.
Yes, the Pakistani army and its paramilitary Rangers are fighting. But the key questions are "For how long?" and "How far will they go?" A limited operation will have limited results. The religious extremists must be destroyed if Islamabad wants a return of peace and order.
Overheated news reports focus on refugees and distant air strikes. But every battle seems like the big one to the inexperienced. You can't tell what's really gone down until the dust settles.
It sounds impressive that Pakistan attacked the fanatics with 15,000 troops. But that's a mere 1.5 percent of Islamabad's defense establishment of 1 million men in the armed forces and paramilitary rangers (and that doesn't count another half-million reservists).
Would a state intent upon decisive victory limit its commitment to less than 2 percent of its forces?
And will the government fight on this time, until it drives the fundamentalist remnants back into their remote valleys? Or will it call off the fight again, declaring victory as the Taliban regroup?
Once you have the extremists on the defensive, you've got to keep hounding them. Otherwise, you've only bought a little time with your blood.
Of course, pressure will mount from the "world community" to cut another "peace deal." I just heard our millionth "counterinsurgency expert" tell a TV audience that military force won't work, that it only alienates the population.
That's a wild misreading of Pakistan's situation. The loudest complaint from the residents of the Taliban-occupied territories is that the army failed to defend them, that it abandoned them to the fanatics. The people of Swat and Buner want the Taliban gone.
Which brings us to Pakistan's second chance: Religious extremists, once in power, inevitably alienate the people. Suffering under a corrupt government -- such as Pakistan's -- citizens may long for a change. But the changes religious fanatics deliver soon horrify the man in the street (to say nothing of the woman to whom the street's forbidden).
That's what happened with al Qaeda in Iraq and with the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Religious fanatics rapidly wear out their welcome.
But there's also the danger of the "Iranian model," in which extremists manage to consolidate their power. Today, many Iranians wish they could be rid of their nuthouse government and its medieval approach to life. But the Islamists command the means of violence. Citizens are powerless.
Which circles back to the first point: Pakistan can't afford to fight piecemeal, re-taking a slice of one province, only to lose another. One thing "classic" counterinsurgency theory gets right is that dependable security for the population is essential.
That means driving out the Taliban and doing whatever it takes to keep them out. Excuses won't do. I, for one, am puking sick of hearing that Pakistan's million-man military needs more arms and training.
The army thinks it could take on India but can't fight the ragtag Taliban?
The fanatics don't have a massive defense industry (which Pakistan does). The Talibs fight with limited arms -- but with unlimited determination. The extremists will sacrifice everything. Pakistan's generals want to commute to the war.
Nor can the Taliban invest hundreds of millions of dollars in sophisticated training programs of the sort the Pakistanis insist they need. Instead, the Taliban has a vision: Its fighters die with zeal to serve their god. But who wants to die for Pakistan's shyster president, Asif Ali Zardari?
The people who've tasted Taliban rule don't want it. They want their government to protect them. If Pakistan's government won't, it has no justification for existing.
These are decisive times for Pakistan. The question is whether that miserable country's leaders can act decisively.
Ralph Peters is Fox News' strategic analyst and the author of "Looking for Trouble."
The New York Times
May 13, 2009
The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has acquired what some scholars now say is the first known painting made by Michelangelo. And if he created it, he did so when he was only 12 or 13.
This latest research holds that Michelangelo painted “The Torment of St. Anthony” between 1487 and 1488. That would make it one of only four known easel paintings by Michelangelo — another is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and two unfinished ones are in the National Gallery of Art in London — and the first to enter an American museum.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
A detail of “The Torment of St. Anthony,” which many scholars now think was painted by Michelangelo at 12 or 13.
The painting’s attribution has been the subject of ferocious debate among scholars for four and a half centuries. While experts, citing historical records, agreed that Michelangelo had made a painting of the saint, the question was, Is it this work?
But “The Torment of St. Anthony” — an oil and tempera on a wood panel, depicting the saint poised in midair and beaten by demons — has recently undergone conservation and technical research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Keith Christiansen, a curator of European painting there, said he firmly believed that it was by the hand of the master.
But he acknowledges that others will disagree. “A lot of people still won’t accept it as Michelangelo,” Mr. Christiansen said.
Eric McCauley Lee, director of the Kimbell, said in a telephone interview: “It sounded ridiculous at first. But when I went to the Met and saw the painting, I was struck by its power as a work of art. It had been obscured by dirt and overpainting. And when you hear Keith Christiansen’s argument, you realize it’s enormously important.”
But as recently as July, some scholars had doubts. When it was offered at a Sotheby’s auction in London, it was cataloged only as “Workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio,” where the young Michelangelo had been a pupil.
“It’s quite a famous picture, and we knew Michelangelo had painted this composition, but we just didn’t have enough evidence at the time,” said Alexander Bell, head of Sotheby’s old master paintings department in London.
Michael Hirst, a leading Michelangelo scholar in London, said last year that he did not believe the work was by the artist. (Mr. Hirst was traveling and could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.) And when it was included in an exhibition of the young Michelangelo in Florence in 1999, it was also attributed to Ghirlandaio’s workshop.
Adam Williams, a New York dealer, saw the painting and said he was convinced it was a Michelangelo. So convinced that he bought it at the Sotheby’s auction for about $2 million. The painting did not get an export license until September, and when it arrived in New York, Mr. Williams took it straight to the Metropolitan to be examined.
“I had never seen it before,” Mr. Christiansen said. “I looked at it and said this is self-evidently Michelangelo. There’s a section of the rocks with cross-hatching. Nobody else did this kind of emphatic cross-hatching.”
Michael Gallagher, conservator of paintings at the Metropolitan, cleaned and studied the painting.
“It was incredibly dirty,” he said. “But once the centuries of varnish were removed, its true quality was evident.”
"The Torment of Saint Anthony."
Photo: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
Claire M. Barry, the Kimbell’s chief curator, heard about the work and came to the Met to see it. She then contacted Mr. Lee, who also inspected it and persuaded his board to buy it. Although no one will disclose the price, experts in the field say they believe the figure was more than $6 million.
For centuries, art historians have known that Michelangelo copied an engraving of St. Anthony by the 15th-century German master Martin Schongauer for a painting. Michelangelo’s biographer and former student, Ascanio Condivi, said the young Michelangelo told him that while he was working on the painting, he had visited a local market to learn how to depict fish scales, a feature not found in the engraving.
A painting of St. Anthony is also mentioned in Giorgio Vasari’s chronicle of Michelangelo’s life, although Vasari at first ascribed the original engraving to Dürer. But after Michelangelo complained, Vasari changed his account, naming Schongauer.
Measuring 18 ½ inches by 13 1/4 inches, “The Torment of St. Anthony” is at least one-third larger than the engraving. It is also not an exact copy; Michelangelo took liberties. In addition to adding the fish scales, he depicted St. Anthony holding his head more erect and with an expression more detached than sad.
He also added a landscape to the bottom of the composition, and created monsters that are more dramatic than those in the engraving.
Mr. Christiansen said studying “The Torment of St. Anthony” with infrared reflectography had exposed layers of pentimenti, or under drawing, revealing what he called the master’s hand at work.
And once the centuries of varnish were removed, the colors suddenly came alive. There is eggplant, lavender, apple green and even a brilliant salmon, which was used to depict the scales of the spiny demons. The palette, Mr. Christiansen said, is a prelude to the colors chosen for the Sistine Chapel’s vault.
Asked why the Metropolitan didn’t try to buy the painting, Mr. Christiansen replied: “The timing wasn’t right. We had other acquisitions on the dock.”
The work will be on view at the Met from June through August. It will then go to the Kimbell, where it will be displayed along with the Schongauer print.
“It is now one of our greatest treasures,” Mr. Lee said. “And will receive pride of place in our collection.”
‘The Torment of St. Anthony’
By Peter Hannaford on 5.13.09 @ 6:06AM
The American Spectator
America's "mainstream" media missed it, but April 17 was a red-letter day for its Deep Ecologists. Red letter because it was the day the Obama Administration declared that carbon dioxide and five other gases emitted by industry threaten "the health and welfare of current and future generations." This opens the door to regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency to "cap" emissions. The Deep Ecologists see this as the path to their cherished dream of a less populous nation with greatly reduced industrial production. It will also lead to a poorer (they would call it "simpler") standard of living.
The Deep Ecologists' philosophy came together in 1973 with a treatise by a Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess. He and his followers disdained the "utilitarian" environmentalists who, up to that time, had been working on clean air or water and saving this or that species. The facts of science and logic were not enough, he believed. They lacked an ethical framework that required deep questioning and commitment. Naess said that humans didn't rank above other creatures. That is, "the right of all forms [of life] to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified. No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species."
In this, Naess and his followers resembled the mid-19th century pantheists who believed that all species were interrelated. For example, they called fish, "the finny tribe."
The Deep Ecologists went well beyond this romantic view. In a 1985 book, two of them, W. Devall and G. Sessions, spelled out eight principles the world should live by. Here is Number Four: "The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population." Number Five reads, "Present human interference with the non-human world (flora and fauna) is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening." It leads to Number Six: "Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present."
Whether they admit it or not, most active environmentalists believe in the Deep Ecology thesis that mankind has despoiled the land, misused natural resources, and is greedy and wasteful. (A friend once said of the Sierra Club, "It believes that mankind is but a passing disaster on this planet.")
Deep Ecology has been the underlying drive of Green Parties and the rush to declare Global Warming a coming disaster. This, despite the fact, as Steve Milloy puts it in a new book, "the fatal flaw of global warming alarmism is that there is no scientific evidence indicating that carbon dioxide, much less man-made carbon dioxide emissions, control or even measurably impact global climate." (Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them. Regnery Publishing.)
Global Warming hysteria is based on hypothetical computer models that have never been validated against real world experience. The fact that many scientists accept the hypotheses does not make them true. For that matter, many scientists actively dispute those same hypotheses.
The EPA's license to cap emissions may take some time to play out through such things as a carbon tax ("cap and trade"). Once it does, this would serve another of Obama's objectives, income redistribution. As the carbon tax is imposed on industry, the cost to consumers of most goods and services will go up. The administration would use the tax receipts to provide "rebates" to lower income households to soften the effect.
In time, the coming regimen will decide what kind of car you will drive, what kind of house you live in and what kind of products you'll buy. Congress, in response to pleas from various affected interests, may soften the plan around the edges, but will not stop it in its tracks.
The Deep Ecologists have worked for nearly four decades silently but persistently through many environmental organizations to reach what they consider to be Utopia. You and your neighbors may decide it is more like Hell.
- Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Ronald Reagan for a number of years and is the author of Recollections of Reagan. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
May 11, 2009
As was evident at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, it is deja vu, 1961, all over again. We have a young, cool, witty, personable president—and an adoring press corps.
"I am Barack Obama", the president introduced himself. "Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me. (Laughter and applause.) Apologies to the Fox table. (Laughter)"
U.S. President Barack Obama laughs during actress Wanda Sykes' comedy routine at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington May 9, 2009.
What is also evident is that, without its new superstar in the lineup, the Democratic Party is a second-division ball club. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are not terribly formidable. Last fall, the Congress they ran had an approval rating below Vice President Cheney.
Why then is the Republican Party agonizing publicly over what it is supposed to do? If history is any guide, the pendulum will swing back in 2010.
After all, in 1952, Eisenhower was elected in a more impressive victory than Obama's, and ended the Korean War by June. And, in 1954, he lost both houses of Congress.
Lyndon Johnson crushed Goldwater by three times the margin of Obama's victory. He got Medicare, Medicaid, voting rights, and a host of Great Society programs. And, in 1966, he lost 47 House seats.
Ronald Reagan won a 44-state landslide in 1980, cut tax rates -- and proceeded to lose 26 sets in 1982.
Bill Clinton recaptured the presidency for his party in 1992 after 12 years of Republican rule. In 1994, he lost 52 seats and both houses of Congress.
Though, demographically, the nation is tilting toward the Party of Government, the GOP must remain the party of free enterprise, and should follow the counsel of Australia's Robert Menzies, long ago:
"(T)he duty of an opposition ... is to oppose selectively. No government is always wrong on everything. . The opposition must choose the ground on which it is to attack. To attack indiscriminately is to risk public opinion, which has a reserve of fairness not always understood."
Rather than debating what the national party position should be on foreign policy, health care, education, or social issues—which the party will decide when it chooses a nominee in 2012—the GOP should focus now, and unite now, on what it will stand against.
Here the party has a good start. With the exception of Specter the Defector and the ladies from Maine, it united against the $800 billion stimulus bill. And as it is impossible to shovel out an added 6 percent of GDP in two years, without vast waste, fraud and abuse, this stimulus package is going to come back and bite Obama by 2010.
And, recall, in his address to Congress, Obama assigned Joe Biden to see to it there was no waste, fraud or abuse in spending the $800 billion: "And that's why I've asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort—because nobody messes with Joe."
Joe has been set up to take the fall.
The next place to take a stand is against "cap and trade".
More and more Americans are coming to conclude, after the record cold temperatures in many cities this winter, that global warming is a crock—that there is no conclusive proof it is happening, no conclusive proof man is the cause, no conclusive proof it would be a calamity for us or the polar bears.
But cap and trade would mean a huge hike in the cost of energy for all Americans, the shutdown of fuel-efficient U.S. factories, and their replacement by dirtier and less fuel-efficient Chinese plants.
And we do know the agenda here is a vast transfer of wealth and power from U.S. citizens to government bureaucrats, and from the U.S. Government to global bureaucrats who will run the oversight and enforcement machinery set up by the Kyoto II conclave in Copenhagen.
A third issue on which Republicans ought to stand and fight is health care. For the end goal of Obamacare is the same end goal as Hillarycare: nationalization, bureaucrats deciding what care each of us shall receive, when we may receive it, and whether we even ought to have it.
If the Republican Party remains the party of the individual and the private sector, does it have any choice but to fight?
For if cap-and-trade passes, and Obamacare becomes law, the government share of GDP rises to European socialist levels, and, as we saw after the Great Society, there is no going back.
A party defines itself by what it stands for, and what it stands against. After the Bush era, the Republican Party has been given the opportunity to redeem and redefine itself—in opposition to a party and a president who are further left than any in American history.
A true conservative party would relish such an opportunity.
After all, the Goldwater young did not lie down and die after a defeat far more crushing than the one the party suffered last fall.
Is this Republican Party made of similar stuff?
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Patrick J. Buchanan needs no introduction to VDARE.COM readers; his book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, can be ordered from Amazon.com. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, reviewed here by Paul Craig Roberts.
Monday, May 11, 2009
by Judith Reisman
From Salvo 8 (Spring 2009)
Subscribe to Salvo today!
The world-famous science historian Thomas Kuhn, in his work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, warned that all bets are off in a science “crisis.” Displacing an accepted theory creates a scientific revolution, and a new “paradigm” emerges. So when Al Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) hit the nation, it did not just cause a sexual revolution, it caused a sex science revolution.
Kinsey’s sex “findings” displaced the common law and Judeo-Christian theories of human sexuality, which had dictated our conduct, culture, and sex-crime penalties. The ideals of delayed rewards, complete abstinence before and fidelity within marriage, said Kinsey, were scientifically false, constraining, repressing, and, (most condemnatory), “hypocritical.”
The test of a good scientific theory is its predictability. Kinsey predicted that when people believed his theories and data, divorce, venereal disease, “illegitimacy,” sex crimes, and all sexual dysfunctions would decrease. You many have noticed that Kinsey’s predictions didn’t quite pan out. The science was bad.
Now we face the post-1950s skyrocketing rates of divorce, adultery, new and virulent strains of “venereal disease,” “illegitimacy,” rape, statutory rape, child sexual abuse, incest, abortion, juvenile sex crimes, schoolhouse sexual harassment, sex and pornography addictions, and, well, shall we say, a passel of “gender confusion.” Naturally, those defending Kinsey’s sex science revolution have to deny reality, truth, facts. So they claim that these erototoxic pandemics are just “better reporting.”
Which brings us to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Cark Bilik. Mr. Bilik notes that folks tend to think that released sex offenders will re-offend. He explains, however, that “researchers say” sex offenders have a “low” rate of re-offense, especially those who were violating their own children.
I wrote to Mr. Bilik at his “Dear Numbers Guy” email address as follows: “The avid claims of lower sex offender recidivism rates (and 20–35 percent is hardly ‘low’ for the victims) reflects the hysterical defense of bad sex science theory come home to roost. Half the states in the union allowed the death penalty for rape in 1950. But following Kinsey, that was considered unjust. ‘Lower the penalty and you lower the rape rate’ was the idea in the 1950s’ ‘post-Kinsey Era.’”
Now, naturally, those who embraced the post-Kinsey sexual freedom science must deny its documented results. This means Kinseyans must claim that sexual lives are better and sex crime rates and recidivism are lower; the numbers are high only because of “better reporting.” “Just better reporting” ignores the frequent failure to report sex crimes, as well as plea bargains and law enforcement’s habit of changing sex crime definitions to create non-sex offenses.
A study in the October 2004 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, by Langevin et al., reported an 85 percent sexual offense recidivism rate over 25 years. This is hardly “low.” In order to believe in sudden sexual sobriety for a sex offender population, we must not believe our own eyes and ears. We must ignore the massive exploitation of sexual appetite via pornographic images on streets, on television, in films, on the internet. And we must forget the news reports of parolees who rape and murder.
Unfortunately, the Langevin finding of 85 percent sex offender recidivism is significantly more in keeping with rational observation of the human condition than are the naïve and often self-invested scholarly claims of the sex offender’s sobriety.
Last year I wrote a WorldNetDaily column asking why the Federal Bureau of Prisons spiked its own sex offender study at Butner prison in North Carolina. The Butner researchers found that of 155 men arrested “just” for child pornography, 85 percent later admitted committing child sexual abuse against a total of 1,777 young victims. My earlier articles noted that many Sex Crime Units were driven to hide thousands of “rapes and other sexual assaults” in their reports. One Philadelphia report admitted that “one in four rapes” was relabeled to appear in a “non-crime category.” They reduced sex crime “with an eraser.”
Sex crime recidivism is similarly semantically nuanced. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, US Army (Ret.), a psychologist and expert on violence and crime says: “We medicate, incarcerate and police ourselves at rates never seen before.” But most important, “we are lying about the data.” The National Institute of Justice paper, Managing Adult Sex Offenders in the Community, reported: “The number of adults convicted annually of rape, child molestation, or other forms of sexual assault and sentenced to state prisons more than doubled between 1980 and 1992. In 1994, state prisons held 88,100 sex offenders compared to 20,500 in 1980.” One officer said that crime comes down “because we cook the books.”
In 2004, the Policemen’s Benevolent Association in New York City admitted that officials were “cooking the books” to lower crime statistics. Felonies became misdemeanors, and rapes “inconclusive incidents.” A drive-by shooting where the victim is missed might be reclassified as “criminal mischief.” And so, too, is sexual recidivism erased.
We gutted our sex laws and changed our sexual behavior to fit the lusts of a team of Indiana University sexual psychopaths posing as scientists. It is time for Congress to investigate the Kinsey sex science fraud. Based on post-1950s hard data, the old sexual science was healthier for society. We had fewer sex offenders and therefore significantly fewer sex offender recidivists to argue about. Or to erase.
Cooking the Books
By Judith Reisman
Perhaps the most famous scandal involving the fudging of crime statistics took place in New York City in March of 2004. The Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the largest law-enforcement union in the United States, declared publicly that political pressure to keep New York’s crime rate down had led precinct commanders to downgrade crimes from felonies to misdemeanors or to not count them at all.
The allegations were advanced during a time of extreme tension between the city and union officials over policemen’s wages. Thus, when mayor Michael R. Bloomberg first got wind of them, he was quick to rebuke union leadership, saying, “You can’t have a billboard in Times Square claiming you’re doing such a great job and therefore need a raise, and then the same guy goes out on the steps of where he gave his press conference and claim[s] that the success of the NYPD is inflated.” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the PBA, refused to back down, however, insisting that police-department “commanders [were] forced to falsify stats in order to maintain the appearance of a continued reduction in crime.”
Though Lynch never managed to produce evidence showing that such practices were widespread (there are almost no paper trails with this sort of fraud), the allegations did put the rest of the country on alert, resulting in the uncovering of similar—and in large part verified— scandals in other cities across the U.S. What’s most interesting about this particular situation, however, is that the “book” allegedly cooked most often by New York precinct commanders was the crime of rape. If this were ever confirmed, it could be construed as just another of the many sex-crime reductions that have been achieved, not as a consequence of Alfred Kinsey’s twisted theories, but via a simple eraser.
by Joseph Bottum
The Weekly Standard
05/18/2009, Volume 014, Issue 33
All across campus, the flowers have begun to bloom, their dull Indiana roots stirred by the spring rain, and the grass is almost green again at Notre Dame. Beneath a 16-foot statue of the Blessed Virgin, the main administration building sits, as always, its gold dome sparkling in the warm spring sun.
Meanwhile, in the offices of the college chapel--some chapel: the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, with a 230-foot spire and the world's largest collection of 19th-century French stained glass--young couples are meeting with deacons to plan the alumni weddings that run nonstop through the spring and summer. The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes flickers with candles, lit by anxious students as they prepare for final exams. The 14-story mosaic of Jesus, arms in the air, signals a perpetual touchdown on the side of the Hesburgh Library. The girls wear shorts, the boys wear jeans, and the gossip is all about next year's football team.
Oh, and a small plane crisscrosses the sky above campus, dragging an enormous picture of a bloody fetus. The wild-eyed and news-hungry pro-life activist Randall Terry is being hauled away by the police for trespassing. Graduate students from the theology department, their faces twisted red in fury, are screaming "Torturer!" at former Bush-speechwriter William McGurn as he tries to give a campus lecture on abortion. The local bishop has declared he will boycott the graduation ceremonies, the Secret Service has announced its fears of violence, and the university's president has retreated in a snit to his office--venturing out only to make snide remarks about his fellow Catholics before he closets himself again. The official Notre Dame website has dealt with the circus by featuring a desperately uncontroversial photograph of the school's annual Eucharistic Procession, a kind of pathetic little lie that, really, there's nothing much happening here in South Bend, Indiana: No, sir, no need to worry. No need to worry, at all.
Welcome to 2009 at the most famously Catholic school in America. Welcome to Catholic education in the 21st century.
What's causing all the noise at Notre Dame is the announcement that President Barack Obama will be receiving an honorary law degree at commencement on May 17. There's not much use in pretending that Obama doesn't support legalized abortion. This is the man, after all, who voted against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act when it was in the Illinois state legislature--the man who, by rescinding the Mexico City policy three days after he took office, now has American tax dollars paying for abortions in foreign countries, and the man who used a televised campaign appearance at an evangelical church to dismiss the moral question of abortion as "above my pay grade." Who was he kidding? He told the world flat out where he stands when he said he wouldn't want any daughter of his who made a mistake to be "punished" with a child.
For that matter, there's not much use in pretending that Catholic legal analysis isn't opposed to abortion. Do all the casuistry you want. Bring in the sharpest canon lawyers from Marquette, and the cleverest Catholic ward-heelers from Chicago, and the slipperiest Jesuits from Georgetown. Sit them all down and show them again the tape of Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech about abortion at Notre Dame--you remember, the famous "personally opposed, but publicly supportive" speech that has provided Catholic politicians with talking points for 25 years--and let them spin the president's May 17 visit to campus as hard as they can. Still, there's something peculiar about the honoring of Barack Obama with a Catholic law degree. Couldn't they have made it a degree in sociology or something?
Ah, well, an honorary doctorate of law it is, and now the Catholic faithful are up in arms across the nation. A couple thousand of them are camped out in South Bend, parading past the campus gates with rosaries and placards. A tiny Catholic group called the Cardinal Newman Society jumped on the story and in just over a month collected more than 350,000 signatures for a petition denouncing Notre Dame. Another website announced that it had received, in a single week, pledges to withhold from the school $8.2 million in planned donations.
Of course, the protesters are not the only ones angry. Obama has plenty of Catholic supporters: He won 54 percent of the Catholic vote in the last election, after all, and at least 45 percent of the vote of Mass-going Catholics. A once fairly respectable Catholic law professor named Douglas Kmiec had committed nearly every sin short of mopery to make Mitt Romney the 2008 Republican nominee, but when that campaign stumbled and fell, he took to Slate magazine to declare, "Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural."
And maybe even without going beyond the life issues: Two months before Election Day, Kmiec published Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions about Barack Obama--a book in which he insisted that Obama, in the secret places of his heart, is actually against abortion, and, anyway, unlike the evil John McCain, he wants to help the poor, and when the poor aren't poor anymore, they'll stop having abortions, so the pro-choice Obama is more objectively pro-life than any pro-life Republican could possibly be.
Unsurprisingly, Douglas Kmiec is not happy with the protesters at Notre Dame: "Jesus' method was one of inclusion, teaching with generosity, forgiveness, and truth--not snubbing those in high office," he recently observed, forgetting, perhaps, Jesus' encounter with that high-officeholder Pontius Pilate. And Obama's other Catholic admirers are equally irate. The left-leaning Jesuit magazine America, for instance, harrumphed its support of "Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition."
Something in that adjectival pile-up--ah, the rich, subtle nuance!--makes it sound more like wine tasting than ecclesiology, but America was soon joined by the other old-line American Catholic magazine, Commonweal, which could not bring itself to express the least sympathy for the protesters. On the First Things website, a young woman named Lacy Dodd published an account of her pregnancy during her senior year and the pressure her boyfriend applied to talk her into an abortion. "Who draws support from your decision to honor President Obama," she reasonably asked her alma mater, "the young, pregnant Notre Dame woman sitting in that graduating class who wants desperately to keep her baby, or the Notre Dame man who believes that the Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is just dining-room talk?" Commonweal put a notice of the article on its own website, and 83 comments later, the young woman had been called everything but a slut. Her story was "flimsy," "manipulative," "hardly fair," a "negative stereotype," "polemical"--and she was just "a horny kid," one of the "victims of the Russian roulette moral theory of premarital sex" so rampant in the protesters' troglodyte version of Catholicism.
Even some conservatives, Obama's natural opponents, took the school's side and denounced Mary Ann Glendon for refusing this year's Laetare Medal, Notre Dame's annual honor for service to the Church and society. A Harvard law professor, author of the widely cited Rights Talk, and the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Glendon is well known for her basic niceness and her well-mannered willingness to join attempts at coalition building between left and right.
Her decision was no personal caprice. Back in 2004, the American bishops reached a compromise between their own left and right contingents and issued a carefully worded document called "Catholics in Political Life." "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles," the bishops agreed [emphasis in the original]. "[Such people] should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." In part, this explains why, at the present moment, not a single American bishop is supporting Notre Dame in its clash with the bishop of South Bend, John D'Arcy--and bishops from 68 of the 195 American dioceses have publicly chastised the school. What was the point of all that careful work by the bishops if Catholic institutions are simply going to ignore it?
Anyway, Glendon had first accepted the invitation to receive the medal back in December. In March came the announcement of Obama's honorary degree, and then the school's lashing out at critics, and then the leaking of Notre Dame's official talking points, which instructed the university's spokesmen to reply to complaints: "President Obama won't be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal." Glendon decided she didn't much like being a makeweight, so she wrote on April 27 to decline the medal, saying that Notre Dame's refusal even to speak with its local bishop threatened a "ripple effect" that could lead "other Catholic schools . . . to disregard the bishops' guidelines." The university's president, Fr. John Jenkins, had ratcheted the situation up, and up, and up, until even the gracious Mary Ann Glendon was forced to choose between the bishops and Notre Dame. What made them imagine she could possibly choose Notre Dame?
That wasn't how some saw it, of course. The comments about Glendon left, for example, on the libertarian law professors' blog The Volokh Conspiracy are well worth reading: a hilariously incoherent recital of a hundred years' worth of anti-Catholic tropes--mashed together with the thin-skinned reaction of Obama's supporters to any criticism of their leader and spiced with a conservative complaint that Glendon is childishly picking up her ball and going home, retreating into irrelevance instead of fighting the good fight.
What all these critics of Glendon share is a sense that Catholic unhappiness with Notre Dame must be about politics. "There is a political game going on here, and part of that is that you demonize the people who disagree with you, you question their integrity, you challenge their character, and you brand these people as moral poison," Fr. Kenneth Himes, chairman of the theology department at Boston College, complained to the Boston Globe. As James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal noted, this was the same Fr. Himes who in 2006 wrote the faculty a letter objecting to an honorary degree for Condoleezza Rice--a letter that read, "On the levels of both moral principle and practical moral judgment, Secretary Rice's approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict with Boston College's commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the university's work."
You could cut the irony with a knife: It's only demonizing when conservatives do it. Still Fr. Himes joins Douglas Kmiec, and America, and Commonweal, and the administration of Notre Dame, and most of the newspaper columnists who've weighed in on the controversy, and a surprising number of conservatives. They all look at the Notre Dame protests and think it must be about politics. Bad politics or good politics, take your pick. But politics all the way down.
As it happens, they're wrong. Politics has very little to do with the mess. This isn't a fight about who won the last presidential election and how he's going to deal with abortion. It's a fight about culture--the culture of American Catholicism, and how Notre Dame, still living in a 1970s Catholic world, has suddenly awakened to find itself out of date.
The role of culture is what Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame and many other presidents of Catholic colleges don't quite get, and their lack of culture is what makes them sometimes seem so un-Catholic--though the charge befuddles them whenever it is made. As perhaps it ought. They know very well that they are Catholics: They go to Mass, and they pray, and their faith is real, and their theology is sophisticated, and what right has a bunch of other Catholics to run around accusing them of failing to be Catholic?
But, in fact, they live in a different world from most American Catholics. Opposition to abortion doesn't stand at the center of Catholic theology. It doesn't even stand at the center of Catholic faith. It does stand, however, at the center of Catholic culture in this country. Opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life. And those who--by inclination or politics--fail to grasp this fact will all eventually find themselves in the situation that Fr. Jenkins has now created for himself. Culturally out of touch, they rail that the antagonism must derive from politics. But it doesn't. It derives from the sense of the faithful that abortion is important. It derives from the feeling of many ordinary Catholics that the Church ought to stand for something in public life--and that something is opposition to abortion.
Fr. Himes went on to tell the Boston Globe, "Some people have simply reduced Catholicism to the abortion issue, and, consequently, they have simply launched a crusade to bar anything from Catholic institutions that smacks of any sort of open conversation." Of course, here, too, there's a level of irony: Out at Notre Dame, the president, Fr. Jenkins, has defended his choice of Obama on the grounds of "conversation," but, now in full-lock down mode, the school hasn't actually scheduled any conversations or debates on the topic. They did invite the 82-year-old Judge John T. Noonan to take Mary Ann Glendon's place on the platform, and he is not, by any means, an unfaithful Catholic or a supporter of abortion. He has the reputation, however, of being one of the dullest speakers in captivity, and the school can't really expect him to provide much "conversation partnership," as Notre Dame calls it, for Barack Obama and his quicksilver rhetoric.
Still, in a peculiar way, Himes is right that "some people have simply reduced Catholicism to the abortion issue." It is a horrifying fact, in many ways, that Roe v. Wade has done more to provide Catholic identity than any other event of the last 50 years. Still, for American Catholics, the Church is a refuge and bulwark against an ambient culture that erodes morality and undermines families. Catholic culture is their counterculture, their means of upholding the dignity of the human person and the integrity of family--and, in that context, the centrality of abortion for American Catholic culture seems much less arbitrary than it first appeared.
This is what the leaders of Notre Dame need to grasp. They do not necessarily have bad theology when they equate the life issues with other concerns. They do not necessarily have bad faith just because they say that war and capital punishment outweigh the million babies killed every year in this country by abortion. But they lack the cultural marker that would make them Catholic in the minds of other Catholics. Abortion is not the only life issue, but it is the one that bears most directly on the lives of ordinary Catholics as they swim against the current to preserve family life. And until Catholic universities understand this, they will not be Catholic--in a very real, existential sense.
Out in Indiana, the flowers are still blooming, the dome is still sparkling, and the protests are still going. Randall Terry promised, "We will make this a circus," and he has certainly tried. Alan Keyes has announced his own Notre Dame protest, complete with his plans to be arrested. "There are unintended consequences to this kind of angry, vituperative language about their opponents," a liberal Catholic named Patrick Whelan grandly told the San Jose Mercury News. "By making themselves pawns of the conservative right, the bishops are playing into a cycle of decline for our Church." And on the South Bend circus goes.
Any Catholic with an ounce of awareness knew this fight was coming. The ordinary Catholic Church and the Catholic colleges were bound to clash, and it's a little unfortunate that it actually spilled into public view with a visit of the president of the United States to the campus of Notre Dame. A better place to make all this public might have been the Sacred Heart University dinner this spring, which honored the pro-abortion activist Kerry Kennedy. Or the Xavier University commencement, which is honoring the pro-abortion political strategist Donna Brazile. Or the University of San Francisco graduation, which is honoring the pro-abortion district attorney (and prominent Proposition 8 opponent) Kamala Harris.
For that matter, the fight should have been held in April, when Georgetown University accommodated President Obama's handlers by covering up the IHS, the monogram for Jesus, on the wall behind the rostrum when Obama spoke on campus. You'd think this really would mark the end for Georgetown. The school typically shrugs off criticism of its lack of Catholicism by proudly declaring its "Jesuit Tradition," but the IHS monogram was the symbol for the Jesuits that St. Ignatius Loyola himself chose when he founded the society in the 16th century.
There are reasons, however, that the struggle over Catholic culture broke into open battle over a visit of Barack Obama to Notre Dame. In part, it's simply because Obama is the president and a whole lot more prominent than Kerry Kennedy or Donna Brazile or Kamala Harris. But in greater part, it's because Notre Dame is, well, Notre Dame: home of the gold dome, the basilica, the grotto, and Touchdown Jesus. If Georgetown doesn't appear Catholic to ordinary Catholics, that's just Georgetown. But if Notre Dame is shaky--if the most identifiably Catholic place in America doesn't seem Catholic--then the old connection between Catholic culture and Catholic institutions and the Catholic Church really is broken beyond repair. And where will Catholics send their children to school then?
Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the editor of First Things.