Saturday, May 07, 2011

Albino Porcupine Eating an Acorn

This Says it Better Than I Can [Anthony McCarthy]

We finally find and kill that evil fuck, Bin Laden.

You gots to ask yourself then, why, on every single goddam talk show, news broadcast and web site, is everybody suddenly talking about waterboarding? It's like Command Central took over all the information feeds and began injecting the Thoughts for the Day into the national discourse.

This is how it ends.

Quintin Compson, Negatory (at Eschaton Blog)

And this:

But this is not why I think torture is wrong. Just because something benefits me doesn't mean it's morally right. Let us assume that the logic of torture were sound. What, then, if the only way to convince a terrorist to reveal the ticking bomb's location was not simply to waterboard him, or to tear off his fingernails, or to electrocute him. In this day and age, many bombers have no qualms about sacrificing their own lives, so even extreme torture might not induce them to might only validate their martyrdom complexes.

Maybe dragging in their children would work. And if a little torture might help, then a lot of torture might be better. Maybe if you force the terrorist to watch his children be brutally raped and murdered before his eyes, that would break his spirit and force him to tell you everything.

That doesn't make rape or murder ethical, any more than it makes torture ethical. Indeed, I'd argue that the willingness to do what's right even when it's hard is exactly the measure of a person's morality.

Joshua Rosenau: Thoughts from Kansas.

Our FREE PRESS is the sales vehicle for torture, and it isn't just on the Sunday Morning Chat Shows the promotion of torture has been a consistent theme in entertainment crime shows for most of the past twenty-thirty years. The complaint that juries are being corrupted by what they see on the popularity of crime shows featuring fictitiously omniscient forensics studs is taken seriously by the criminal justice system. The far longer promotion of the equally fictitious "ticking bomb" excuse for torturing people couldn't have less of an effect.

Our free press, our media, our establishment wants to abridge the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel punishment. They aren't only doing it to give their hack writers something to spice up their crappy scripts with. This is for a reason and there's nothing good about that. We will rue the day that we allowed torture to be made legal.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Critters

In no particular order

The Three Revelations of Eric Cantor. Or Conservative Principles on Health Care

Reading a particularly revealing piece like this one makes my knees go weak and my eyes light up with delirious joy. To be offered a well-known politician's real views for the tearing-apart process! I am not worthy.

The well-known politician in this case is Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader from Virginia, and the views he reveals to us are from a talk he gave to the College of American Pathologists, which is a fun detail, given what increases the customer base of pathologists.

Anyway, here is Cantor's First Revelation:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday that private healthcare plans ration care for profit but that consumers should be free to buy whatever coverage they can afford rather than depend on government rationing.
Free to buy whatever care they can afford! That is beautifully put. He is very clear on what his concerns are when it comes to the idea that governments might ration care: That might stop some people from buying loads and loads of care, even if they could afford it. The poor naturally are free to buy no care at all under the current system, if they can't afford it. So that is all right.

But those poor billionaires! In Cantor's world they are the true victims of government rationing. In the world the rest of us live all so-called socialized health care systems have auxiliary private insurance plans for those who wish them, which means that billionaires are not affected, except to the extent that they must still pay taxes to fund the public system. Perhaps it is this which Cantor finds so distasteful?

Cantor also thinks that the amount of care the not-so-rich can afford to buy on their own is the correct amount. Government plans are too generous:
In remarks to the College of American Pathologists, Cantor warned that Democrats' healthcare reform law mandates benefits that are too generous and will bankrupt the country as the government ends up having to offer ever increasing subsidies. That can only lead to government rationing, he said.
"That doesn't mean those kinds of decisions aren't being made now by the private sector," Cantor added, "because they are."
Indeed. Those kinds of decisions are made by the private sector, and the yardstick for rationing is money. If you can pay for a procedure you are likely to get it, whatever the nature of the procedure and whatever the seriousness or non-seriousness of your condition.

If you cannot pay for a procedure in the private market-place you will not get it, whatever the seriousness or non-seriousness of your condition. It is the government that you will turn to, then, but Cantor doesn't like that at all. I think he prefers a world where the dying lie outside the gates of the rich. It's Biblical.

And it matches the odd mixture of aggressive capitalism and right-wing Christianity which has so tainted the Republican Party. As the quoted article mentions, competition in health care markets does not bring prices down and does not guarantee quality, for reasons which have to do with the fundamental economic problems in that particular marketplace (uncertainty and severe informational asymmetry). But Cantor and others like him believe in the gods of free markets to such an extent that his Second Revelation is this:
Cantor appeared to go further than Republicans have in the past by acknowledging that not all patients are certain to get optimal healthcare under a system of private insurance. 
"I think that the fundamental nature of our system of third-party payer is the problem," he said. Patients, he added, too often are left with "no decision about what they want and what they can afford."
He does suggest that the care patients get under private insurance is not optimal. But note that what he thinks would be optimal is a system with no insurance at all! Because that way it is your wallet which hurts when all those bills come in, not the wallets of insurance companies and plans.

He's not talking about the problems of denial of services or of cherry-picking in the market, nope. He's referring to the ideal conservative jungle-world where you pay for all your health care expenses out-of-pocket. That way you will examine every proposed service, decide if it is worth the fee and then calmly and rationally either buy or refuse to buy the proposed package. All this from your hospital bed or nursing-home wheelchair!

I must be fair here and acknowledge that Cantor probably isn't planning to ban health insurance. But what he refers to in the above quote is a traditional conservative economic argument: If only people had to directly pay for their own health care consumption they would be more careful about how much to spend!

And they would be. In the case of catastrophic illnesses they would have to choose between losing everything and getting the recommended treatment, even if that treatment bankrupts not only the patient but her or his whole family. Health care costs, by the way, are a common reason for bankruptcies in this country, even with health insurance. The situation without it would be devastating. But sure, people would mind their money like hawks. Or try to.

To recap, Cantor wants rationing to take place not by the government and not ultimately by the marketplace, either. It is the individual patient who is supposed to simply accept the fact that he or she can't afford medical care and choose the alternative. That way the rest of us don't have to pay taxes for the treatment of Others. It is invisible rationing until the dying arrive at the gates of the rich.

But Cantor is not so heartless as these quotes might have made him look, no. Because he gives us his Third Revelation:
Later, Cantor said Republicans want a safety net for people who can't afford care but that "we're not for everyone having the same outcome guaranteed."
They are not for everyone having the same outcome guaranteed. The safety net care should take place in industrial bunkers, with gray walls, bad cabbage-soup as the meal of the day, fewer medications, fewer health care professionals and cheaper care in general. Possibly even death panels?

I'm joking there. But the usual conservative description goes something like my previous paragraph. It never occurred to me that Cantor and others like him hold it as the proper way government-funded care should be: Second rate, intended for those who don't have enough money.

Note that suddenly Cantor IS all for government rationing, too. It's just that the rationing should only apply to the poor, not to Cantor. In his world the markets should ration care, those who can't afford it are quite free not to have any, but because we are charitable people they can get tax-funded care which will be rationed in quality if not in quantity.

Mother's Day (by res ipsa)

Just now, in the Chinese restaurant:

Cashier: Thanks, res. Happy Mother's Day! /hesitates Are you a mother?
Me: No. /smiles
Cashier: Oh! /makes sad face; strokes my hand

A few weeks ago, at a four-year-old's birthday party:

Adult partygoer: Hello, I'm So-and-So. My son Such-and-Such is the blonde one with the striped shirt and cake in his hair.
Me: Cute! Hi, I'm res. Birthday boy is my partner's Godchild.
Adult partygoer: Oh, are you the childless friends?
Me: I think I'll fix myself a drink.

Last year, Mother's Day, at the greenmarket:

Guy selling fish: Thanks. Happy Mother's Day. Are you a mother?
Me: No. /smiles
Guy selling fish: Well, don't worry. It takes no talent.
Woman next to me: What the hell do you mean, 'It takes no talent'? /commences rant
Me: /smiles, walks away

I think I know what the fishmonger meant, but whether or not conceiving, giving birth, and/or mothering takes talent is not my point.

What is the proper response in these situations? I don't have children. I wanted them, but I didn't have them. (Do I say that?) Once that made me sad, but now I am okay with it. (How about that?) There are children in my life. (Should I tell them about the three-month twins whose acquaintance I made about two weeks ago and whose pictures are now my screen saver?). I like children. I just didn't have them.

Maybe this is my first mistake, but I don't object to people assuming I have children and wishing me a "Happy Mother's Day". What I do object to is the assumption that I need my hand patted when someone asks me if I do, and I reply, "No". I smile for a reason when I say, "No" (to put the person asking the question at ease). Am I wrong to do so? It took some work to be okay with not having children, but I did accomplish that work. Should I start ranting? Or maybe I have this all backwards?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

A Musical Interlude

On Medicaid, Cinderella and Pumpkin Politics

Ezra Klein writes about the vulnerability of Medicaid today:
There are two reasons Medicaid is more vulnerable than Medicare. The first is who it serves. Medicaid goes to two groups of people: the poor and the disabled. Most of the program’s enrollees are kids from poor families, though most of the program’s money is spent on the small fraction of beneficiaries who are disabled and/or elderly. These groups have one thing in common, however: They’re politically powerless.
The second is who pays. Medicare is a federal program. Medicaid is a state-federal match, and it kills states during recessions, as unlike the federal government, states can’t run deficits, and so they find themselves with increased costs because they have more people in need but decreased revenues. So there are a lot of governors — particularly GOP governors — straining under overstretched state budgets who’d like a way out of their fiscal crisis that doesn’t include raising taxes, and there are a lot of federal legislators who’d like to save money without having seniors mounting protest marches outside their office, and Medicaid begins to look like an answer to everyone’s problem.

Medicaid is the federal-cum-state health financing program for specified groups of the poor. (It's easy to confuse it with Medicare which is the federal health financing program for the elderly.) While attacking Medicare has been called the third rail in American politics (you get electrocuted because the elderly vote), attacking Medicaid has far fewer risks, and the reason, as Ezra states, is in the powerlessness of its recipients and the fact that they mostly don't vote.

It does look like Medicaid has been picked out as the Cinderella who will not go to the ball, after all, by both the Republicans and some Democrats. Something needs to be cut and the neediest among us are also the least likely to mount powerful opposition to such cuts. Both the Ryan proposal of replacing federal matching funds with block grants and the ironically named State Flexibility Act would make sure that the pumpkin stays a pumpkin and doesn't turn into a carriage.

But so would the federal spending caps proposed by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.):
More than half of the Senate's Democratic members have signed a letter to President Obama opposing Medicaid block grants as well as spending caps.

"Just like a block grant, a total spending cap fails to account for trends like the aging of the population and rising health care costs," the letter states. "It would require such unprecedented and draconian cuts to Medicaid over time that it would inevitably result in s block grant, spending caps or other radical changes to the Medicaid program."
How fascinating that states should have more flexibility (to kick people off Medicaid, mostly) but that the federal government should have less flexibility! It is pumpkin politics.

The only real hope of not cutting the state budgets by cutting off aid to the most vulnerable might lie in the fact that a quarter of Medicaid funding goes to the elderly, mostly because long-term nursing home stays are not covered by Medicare but by Medicaid, absent private funds for them. Many of these elderly recipients, if not most, were not poor to begin with. Nursing home care is expensive and once private funds are run down it is Medicaid which takes over.

Thus, the Medicaid cuts might mean that middle-class voters will wake up some day finding an extra very large bill for grandpa's nursing home care in their mailbox. Or grandma might be deposited on their front step because there are no longer funds to care for her.

That is the only fairy godmother (badmother?) that I can conjure to help Medicaid.

Fun Wonkery!

Watch Paul Ryan get tangled in his own shoelaces (metaphorically speaking) in this Racine Townhall meeting:

Ryan has previously opposed the individual mandate, but in fact his Mediscare proposal would have one because you have to pay the taxes for the later vouchers, whether you wish to do so or not! As the wonks at Think Progress tell us:
All this tells us is that the mandate isn’t some horribly coercive policy aimed at usurping individual freedoms. Rather, it is a mechanism by which government attempts to encourage more individuals to purchase coverage and expand the size of the health care risk pool, thus spreading the costs and risks of insurance across a larger population (and bringing down health care costs). It’s simply asking able individuals to take personal responsibility for their health care expenses and it’s something Republicans have supported in the past and (apparently) still favor.
Perhaps consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but inconsistency isn't necessarily some wonderful thing, either. And Ryan is inconsistent here, mostly because the vouchers in Medicare are intended as a preliminary step in its total eradication. The final dream is for all of us to work hard, win the game, and then go out there to study the details of all complicated health insurance policies offered in asymmetric markets with incomplete information and to easily pick the most suitable of them. Piece of cake.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act

This bill has passed in the House though president Obama has told that he would veto it.

Yet 235 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted for an act which would expand the scope of the Hyde amendment to private choices as well as make it permanent:
The truth of the matter is that H.R. 3 breaks sharply with longstanding federal abortion policy in ways that could significantly impact people's health insurance and set a precedent that jeopardizes federal funding for many faith-based organizations. Proponents of the legislation claim it will permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, which is renewed annually and prohibits federal funding of abortion services except in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. But H.R. 3 would also create financial penalties for individuals whose insurance plans cover abortion services (something the majority of insurance plans currently do, and have done without arousing controversy during pro-choice and pro-life Presidential administrations in the past). The bill would discontinue all tax subsidies to private health insurance plans that cover abortion, even if abortion coverage is entirely paid for by private funds, and it would impose tax penalties on those that pay for abortion coverage. In other words, it would create incentives for health insurers to not cover abortion services at all. Pro-life leaders who support this tax increase and departure from the status quo should say so.

Isn't the language of the extreme forced birthers fun, by the way? An example:
“Today we seek to end taxpayer complicity in abortion violence,” Smith said Wednesday at a Capitol news conference. “No taxpayer should be coerced to pay, subsidize or facilitate the dismemberment, chemical poisoning, starvation or suctioning to death of a child and the harming of a woman.”
The bill would do away with tax breaks for insurance providers that cover abortion and would permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding for abortions in all federal programs. The amendment is typically renewed annually by Congress.
Democrats and abortion rights advocates have contended that federal law already bans taxpayer money from directly paying for abortion services, and that H.R. 3 would amount to a tax increase on individuals and insurance providers that cover abortion.
Remember Chris Smith? He is the guy who tried to alter the definition of rape in the early drafts of this bill. He is extremely concerned about the rights of zygote-Americans. The rest of us? Not so much.

And how interesting that my taxes can be used for the actual killing of people abroad or that donations causes I regard as evil are tax deductible in many states.

Just So You Don't Feel Special (by res ipsa)

Now that it has a newly majority-Tory government, Canada has commenced war against its female citizens, too.

Trigger Warning. Shame. Fat Hatred. Etc. (by res ipsa)

Trigger Warning: domestic violence. Yesterday, I put up a post about Barbara Sheehan, who killed her husband after being battered by him for years and years. Then, last night, in a misguided and insomnia-addled attempt to clean up the punctuation, wound up deleting the post instead. I talked about the question, "Why did she stay with him?" and discussed that in this particular case, the man had all manner of weapons (two on him at any given moment) and told his wife that he'd use his police training to kill her and make sure her body was never found. I also offered an anecdote about a newly-married friend who stayed with a batterer for months because she was so ashamed of what she perceived as a series of terrible mistakes, from having "chosen badly" to feeling not smart, mature, and/or "woman" enough to have married in the first place. I noted that prosecutor in the Sheehan case was trying to shame and intimidate the victim, too ("the defendant has failed to cooperate").

Trigger Warning: fat hatred. Was also going to discuss this David Sirota piece about the "Fat Guy's Privilege" and why it needs to end (and not just because I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than have to listen to any more bullying, braying, and/or bellowing from Chris Christie).

More, hopefully, later. Right now, I have to work. Why does it always get in the way?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Using A Wife As A Human Shield!

Did you manage to read about Osama bin Laden using one of his wives as a human shield? The story began here:
"Here is Osama, living in a million-dollar compound, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield," Brennan said. "It speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years...he's putting other people out there" to wage jihad while he is secure in his luxury compound.


Brennan also identified bin Laden as the combatant who had used a woman as a human shield. She was the only woman who died in the operation, which also killed a courier for bin Laden, the courier's brother, and one of bin Laden's sons, Brennan said. Brennan later said it was his understanding that the woman was one of bin Laden's wives, but officials later said Brennan was mistaken -- his wife had only been injured in the attack.
So the woman used as a shield (if this happened) was not one of bin Laden's wives. But Jonathan Chait thought so when he wrote this analysis:
This morning I forgot to take out the trash, but if my wife is upset when she sees me tonight, I'm going to bring up this.


Let's see if "At least I didn't use you as a human shield" gets me off the hook.

More seriously, I wonder if this will help destroy whatever romantic allure bin Laden has left. I don't know very much about Muslim cultures, but it's hard to imagine there's any culture in which hiding behind your wife, or any woman, rather than fighting for yourself is not considered about as shameful and cowardly as it gets.
Hmm. Chait hits all the points in a particular gender relations plot.

The next round of possible information on the human shield topic:
President Obama's counterterror chief John Brennan also initially said that bin Laden used one of his wives as a human shield and the woman was killed in the gun battle. That has turned out to be incorrect and officials attributed the mistake to the confusion that usually accompanies a fast moving gun battle, or "the fog of war."
And also:
When the SEALs entered the room in which bin Laden was hiding, his wife charged them and was shot in the leg, Carney said. Bin Laden was then shot in the chest and head.
Wow. My head spins. We move from a wife being used as a human shield in the most reprehensibly anti-masculine way to a wife charging Navy Seals.

I am now eagerly awaiting Chait's new funny post, based on that latest information!

More seriously, as Chait might say, this reminds me about the way evo-psycho popularizations are spread over the world in a nanosecond whereas the later corrections are only known to those inside the ivory towers.

Liposuction, Fat and Body Shape

Gina Kolata writes about a liposuction study in the New York Times. This study is interesting because it matched the experimental group having surgery with a control group of otherwise similar women:
In the study, the researchers randomly assigned nonobese women to have liposuction on their protuberant thighs and lower abdomen or to refrain from having the procedure, serving as controls. As compensation, the women who were control subjects were told that when the study was over, after they learned the results, they could get liposuction if they still wanted it. For them, the price would also be reduced from the going rate.
The result, published in the latest issue of Obesity, was that fat came back after it was suctioned out. It took a year, but it all returned. But it did not reappear in the women’s thighs. Instead, Dr. Eckel said, “it was redistributed upstairs,” mostly in the upper abdomen, but also around the shoulders and triceps of the arms.
I am not going to write about the study itself or its meaning but about something slightly different.

Kolata mentions that more than half of the control group in the study still wanted the surgery after learning that the fat comes back though in different parts of the body. Yglesias writes about this, noting:
The psychology of medical care remains a bit murky.
I think he means the fact that a procedure found ineffective (in removing fat and keeping that fat away) was still desired by more than half of the women in the control group.

But if you read Kolata's description of the study carefully you will notice that the women in the study were not obese. They were what used to be called pear-shaped, with fat perhaps mostly lodged in their thighs and lower abdomen.

If a woman with that body-type wanted liposuction before the study, why wouldn't she want it after the study? She may well have welcomed more upper-body fat, considering that it reduces the pear-shapedness, and the abstract of the study does state that the areas where fat was liposuctioned stayed smaller.

Not all the women in the control group wanted to go on with the surgery after they learned the results. But those who did may not have acted in mysterious ways. If their desire was for a less pear-shaped body, then the surgery succeeded in achieving that.

Cartoon by Artful Asp

Monday, May 02, 2011

Joanna Russ, RIP

Joanna Russ, a feminist science fiction writer, died on April 29, 2011. She is best known for her novel The Female Man. Several feminists recommend her 1982 How To Suppress Women's Writing as a "reverse" guide for women and minorities.

I was never able to get through The Female Man. Mea culpa. It is time to try it again. For me Russ' most important work by far is We Who Are about To, followed by The Two of Them.

Neither of those books is thick. That is about the only light thing I can say about them. Yet they are important to read because Russ' complex (and pessimistic) views on gender are under-represented and because she is excellent at showing the larger connections, the ways in which gender hierarchies serve and support the societies which created them and the ways in which they do not. Neither her men nor her women are free to make their own lives but neither are they complete victims of the system. With a few exceptions, they see dimly, comprehend partially and struggle on, sometimes in the wrong direction.

Hers is a pessimistic eye. She doesn't shy away from the violence in human society, including in its gender relations, and she doesn't offer easy solutions to those. Yet the characters in her books have some agency. They have choices, though we might not regard those choices as very pleasant.

We Who Are About To is the better of the two books. It is better written and offers us not only a dystopian example of gender arrangements but also a dystopian example of what space travel might really mean, to counteract all those utopian examples where having a space ship means that one is a step closer to godhood than in our actual earthbound lives.

Trigger Warning: Female Journalists and Sexual Assault

Lara Logan's 60 Minutes interview is not going to get much attention because of bin Laden's death. But it should be discussed. The video of the interview, available here, deserves a strong trigger warning about detailed descriptions of sexual assault.

To put this heinous crime into a wider perspective: Female journalists face a heightened risk of sexual assault, especially when reporting from chaotic places and areas of warfare. Women journalists seldom talk about this risk, and the reason is an obvious one: The cure they would be advocated is worse than the disease, because the cure usually consists of urgings not to send women out to those types of assignments. Yet if a woman is a war reporter, how can she carry out her job if she is not going to be sent to war zones?

All journalists covering dangerous events face greater risks of death and violence, of course, and it is not clear to me that men wouldn't face the risk of sexual assault. But if the talk is about sexual assaults, the concern is about women.

Did you note something interesting about the way I wrote those paragraphs (other than my usual first-draft clumsiness)? Did you notice the passive tense that crept in? How I wrote about women "facing a heightened risk of sexual assault", as if "sexual assault" was something like a tornado? This way of writing is the common one on the topic. For example*:
Logan was attacked by a mob near Cairo's Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, the day that President Hosni Mubarak was finally driven from power. At the time, CBS News issued a statement saying that she "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers." Her attack reverberated around the world and highlighted the dangers of sexual assault and harassment that women face while reporting.
With the exception of that active attacker, "the mob", the quoted paragraph turns things upside down. It is Logan who suffered a brutal attack, it is female reporters who face the dangers of sexual assault and harassment. The people doing the harassment become a simple mob and then fade away altogether.

This may sound trivial. But once we begin focusing on the victims of the assault and on how they affect their own odds of being attacked, we are well on the way towards solving the problem by focusing on the victims, too. That means limiting their abilities to live the lives they wish.

It also feeds into a wider problem. As Logan mentions in the video interview, street harassment of women by men is a way of life in Egypt, as it is in many countries of this world, and when it happens the blame is often placed on the women. They shouldn't go out alone or they shouldn't dress "provocatively."

If we focus our solutions only on the victims of sexual assault, who is it we are ultimately protecting here? And whose lives we are limiting?
*The quoted article does continue with a (too-gruesome-to-quote) paragraph which puts the blame where it belongs.

On Osama bin Laden's Death

I heard about it last night in the president's speech and then watched people celebrating (USA! USA!) on television. The three vibrant young people I knew, one very well, who died in the World Trade Towers and were never found are still dead. The mother of one of them who died because of her son's death is still dead, too.

And so are all those Afghanis and all those Iraqis and all those members of American military forces who have died in the last ten years since 911. Many among them were not combatants. Justice was not done to them, though perhaps it was done to bin Laden, as Obama stated in television last night.

Was revenge done? And was it a revenge for the USA as those celebrants seem to argue or for the actual victims of 911? I understand revenge, I do. Had you offered me the chance to kill the creator of the 911 carnage a week or so later, after all those phone calls, all that searching and all that suffering I watched so closely...

But even then what I wanted was an international police operation, a court and proper sentencing. Criminals should not be made into warriors, crime should not be turned into war. That way come the martyrs for a cause and the chance to grow it. But we all know what actually took place.

What does the death of bin Laden mean? It has mythical meanings and those are different for the American people in general, for those who lost someone either in the 911 massacre or the wars following it, and those are also different for people in Pakistan or for members of Al Qaeda. Which myths will matter the most in the future shaping of events remains to be seen.

Bin Laden's death also has practical meanings. What those will be depends partly on the battle of the myths, but they also depend on who it is who in fact runs Al Qaeda if anyone does. Then there is the practical meaning of the fact that bin Laden lived in the suburbs of the capital of Pakistan a city halfway between Islamabad and Peshawar* and not in some tribal area in the hinterlands as we were told.

I'm not sure that justice was done. For that crime must be swiftly followed by proper court proceedings and the appropriate punishment. What we got instead was a religious fanatic playing cat and mouse against the most powerful military on earth. With ten years of success.
*Thanks for this correction go to N. in the comments.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Giving Scandal, John Paul II Was No Saint [Anthony McCarthy]

People who don't follow the Catholic Church would probably be shocked to find out that a lot of the people who reject the fast track to canonization for John Paul II are Catholics, some of the Catholic theologians and clergy, many of them observant Catholics. Most of the criticism focuses on his knowingly abetting the sexual abuse crisis as it was building and his cover up of it once the dam burst and the scandal of it was undeniable. In modern Catholic history, its chief rival as a scandal was the Vatican's activities in relation to the Nazis under Pius XII (and before when he was a Vatican diplomat), who is also being fast tracked for canonization under the incumbent Pope. I'd also point to his appalling indifference to the slaughter of peasants in Central America, especially, during the 1970s and 80s. In a lot of ways he acted more like a CIA asset than someone who should be held up as a great moral example, which is the reason that canonization is supposed to be important.

The National Catholic Reporter has given quite a bit of coverage to the opponents of the rush to canonization and the reasons for it, much of it from sisters and priests. That alone would shock a lot of people who don't know much about Catholic and Catholic culture. Here are a few samples:

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister said John Paul’s “attitude toward clerical sex abuse of children embodied the worst kind of clericalism.”

Said Chittister: “The least the church could do in respect for those who have already suffered insult at the hands of the church is to let the perspective of time decide whether or not canonization is in order.”

Anthony Padovano, a professor at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., said the late pontiff’s use of power during his papacy set a bad example for “the kind of life you expect the people in the church to emulate.”

“The witness of John Paul II has been extremely disappointing,” said Padovano. “It should not be presented as a model for what a Christian is supposed to do.”

Fr. Charles Curran, professor of theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said that although he had no objection to the news of the beatification, the church “would be a lot better off if we stopped canonizing popes, bishops, clergy and religious.”

Mercy Sr. Theresa Kane said other causes for canonization should have more priority -- particularly Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero’s -- and called the late pope’s beatification “somewhat premature.”

Kenneth Woodward, author of Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, said the late pope had a “profound prayer life.”

Yet Woodward, a contributing editor for Newsweek, also bluntly said that John Paul “ruined the Catholic hierarchy” by making agreement on the issues of women’s ordination and a married priesthood a virtual requirement for episcopal elevation.

You might remember Sr. Kane from John Paul II's first visit to the United States for her address in which she called for sexual equality in all the ministries of the Catholic church to the Pope's stony glare. Needless to say, he did exactly the opposite, forbidding clergy from discussing women's equality, calling it a settled issue. I remember it because I'd been skeptical of him before that visit but by the end of it I knew he was bad news for anyone who wanted more equality.

Much has been made of the economic justice stand of the Vatican and, it's true, officially it is the foremost world institution that has been critical of market capitalism and capitalism, in general. You can only wish that they followed it up in ways that mattered. As John Paul II appointed bishops and cardinals they were generally far more friendly to exactly the same institutions and individuals that comprise the economic establishment that the last two Popes have spoken against.

Why this should matter to anyone except Catholics is that it does matter what direction the Catholic church takes. It has enormous influence over many influential people inside and outside of its membership. It has an enormous potential for doing things both bad and better. Its clergy exerts a strong influence on our politics, though less so now that the sexual abuse scandals have become known.

John Paul II infamously set up the fast track for canonization during his papacy, canonizing and declaring people "blessed" more people than all of the other popes combined. His canonization of some of them was a scandal in itself, Josemaria Escriva who started Opus Dei, which JPII turned into a spy agency in his war against the Jesuit order and liberals in general. A number of his fast track saints were canonized for political reasons, especially some of the Polish ones and Gianna Beretta Molla, who chose to die rather than have a hysterectomy and abortion to save her life (I'm not sure if it's still true but even the Catholic church allowed that kind of "indirect" abortion in cases when doing nothing would lead to a woman's death). It's led to some pretty bad potentials for scandal as the new prominence leads to a review of the lives and writings of those people.

With his papacy, John Paul II ended the period of reform set into motion by John XXIII and Paul VI. That reform was the reason that John Paul I took the names of his predecessors before his early death. John Paul II took the same name under false pretenses, his every action belied that tribute as he set up a dictatorial, scandal ridden clerical despotism, one which Catholics have been leaving at a rapid rate. Some of his and the present pope's critics say that it's part of the plan they made for a much smaller, much more clerically controlled Catholic church, killing the reforms of Vatican II and becoming a force of political and social reaction in the world. I don't see anything blessed in that.