A Cautious Man
April 19, 2005
No, it's not what you hear just before a little old lady shouts "Bingo!"

It's apparently an acceptable shorthand reference to Pope Benedict XVI, who became well-known under a different name. I don't know what is going to happen in the next few years, but I don't think I'd be going out on a limb by describing this choice as "interesting".

Think about it. John Paul II was not only Pope for a long time (the only Pope so many adults ever knew), but when he was chosen he was such an unknown to most of us. All we ever real knew of him (outside of some biographical information) and our impressions of the man came from our experience of him as Pope. Benedict XVI may well be the first "modern" Pope, in the sense that the world knew so much about him and his writings, even before he appeared on the balcony today.

So, what does that mean? Well, JPII seemed to serve at least two roles for people. He was the "man in charge" of the Church, of course. But for many others, he seems to have been ethereal, or other-worldly (See anything about him by Peggy Noonan, for instance). Benedict XVI is definitely not that - even tonight, the more orthodox priest/commentator on Fox just kept referring to him as "Cardinal Ratzinger" (consistent with the idea that he's not anyone the world is unfamiliar with). It remains to be seen if we really do know the man, or if his new Office, new responsibility, and new possibilities will surprise us.

April 07, 2005
Well I’ve Been A Losin’ Gambler
The brackets are out for the Sistine Chapel Playoffs starting later this month.


(Found courtesy of Iron Knee.)

April 05, 2005
About That Whole "Culture Of Life" Thing ...
Via TalkLeft, some death penalty facts from Amnesty International -
Over half the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
Amnesty International's latest information shows that:
- 84 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;

- 12 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;

- 24 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions
making a total of 120 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
Easy question - guess who's not among the 120? And, there's also this most charming statistic -
In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA.

Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 3,400 people were executed in China during the year, although the true figures were believed to be much higher. In March 2004 a delegate at the National People's Congress said that "nearly 10,000" people are executed per year in China.

Iran executed at least 159 people, and Viet Nam at least 64. There were 59 executions in the USA, down from 65 in 2003.
By the way, have I mentioned lately that the U.S. Catholic Conference has ramped up The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty?

If you happen to see a "Culture of Life" President or similar politician any time soon, feel free to point this out to him.

Culture Club
The death of the Pope has not prevented President Bush from continuing to use religion as a political weapon. Most recently, he has continued to misappropriate the phrase "culture of life", as if that applies to his politics (and thereby relegating his opponents to being part of the "culture of death"). This blatant philosophical "trademark infringement" can be seen in the President's statements which, while presented as tributes to the late John Paul II, are really just political mischaracterizations. For example, his prepared remarks released after the announcement of the Pope's death included the following:
Throughout the West, John Paul's witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak. And during the Pope's final years, his witness was made even more powerful by his daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.

All Popes belong to the world, but Americans had special reason to love the man from Krakow. In his visits to our country, the Pope spoke of our "providential" Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity in our Declaration, and the "blessings of liberty" that follow from them. It is these truths, he said, that have led people all over the world to look to America with hope and respect.
It's bad enough that the President tries to pigeon-hole the Pope into representing just the "West", and as supporting the political view that the U.S. is somehow entrusted with carrying out "God's plan". The abuse of the concept of "culture of life" has been growing lately. It is not, as the President would have it, a "conservative" concept. It's not really "liberal", either, as that term is used in U.S. politics. An essay by Father Raymond A. Schroth of St. Peter's College and the National Catholic Reporter, published yesterday, provides a concise summary of what the term really means:
John Paul II's most lasting legacy is his support for the dignity of human life at every phase of its development. That means we do not kill life in the womb; we nurture the lives of children with health care and education; we do not execute murderers; we provide medical insurance for the sick and security for the aging; we do not actively terminate prematurely the lives of the very sick; we do not fight -- above all, do not start -- wars without demonstrating just cause; we do not torture or humiliate prisoners of war, and we do not bomb a whole neighborhood to take out one sniper.

It is the most sublime concept that the church preaches today, but it has not sunk in -- both because the culture resists and because the church does not really push it with all its heart. If President Bush and Catholic members of Congress had listened to the pope, Saddam Hussein might still be president of Iraq, but 1,500 American soldiers and an estimated 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians would still be alive. I can think of no moral calculus that would value one man's removal over all those lives.
The President's abuse of the concept is being noticed, at least. The resident "White House Press Gaggle" watcher at First Draft has a summary of the reporters' torturing of the President's Press Secretary over this.

Not to worry, though, since the President's allies in the media will continue to support his distortion of the concept. The latest outrageous example is from (where else?) the online version of the Wall Street Journal, where James Taranto's "Best of the Web" contains this little nugget:
Along with being the first president to attend a papal funeral, Bush has embraced the "culture of life," much in the news of late, which owes a great deal to Catholic theology. Perhaps just as Bill Clinton has been called the "first black president," George W. Bush will one day earn the honorary title of "first Catholic president."
So, we're supposed to forget about that Kennedy guy? Of course, Taranto is engaged in the usual non-funny, ill-informed snarkiness that characterizes his work. And, granted, that insulting little statement echoes one by Senator Santorum a couple of years ago. That doesn't change the fact that there are people who actually take those assertions seriously. This is right after an election in which it became politically acceptable to attack, not just the Democratic nominee's military record, but even his right to be a Catholic. When politicians and political pundits claim the right to decide who is, or was, a genuine Catholic (and to masquerade as "Catholic-like"), that sort of arrogance needs to be pointed out and turned back.

April 02, 2005
Public and Private Things
We've been inundated with news about a woman's very public death, which should have been private. We're now observing the last hours of a very public man, being allowed to die in private, at home. I can't help noting that the Pope has been allowed to remain at his residence, instead of being rushed to the hospital to be hooked up to various devices. Apparently, Sean Hannity was not inclined to move his circus tent from Florida to Rome, demanding additional treatment for the Pope.

As attention moves from one death, on to the other, I guess it's too much to hope that the politicians not revisit poor Ms. Schiavo's case, to advance their own political agendas. An editorial in yesterday's New York Times provided some thoughts, which should be kept in mind in the future:
Americans are a deeply pragmatic people, who constantly surprise ideologues of every persuasion with their willingness to accept whatever solution seems to work best at the moment. Our great ideals, when they are boiled down at a moment of crisis, often turn out to be mainly instincts - for fairness, for the right of individual self-determination or sometimes just for the pursuit of happiness. Watching the Schiavo case unfold, most Americans quickly opted for the solution that would end the ordeal.

Some people hold religious convictions so heartfelt that they could not bow to public opinion or the courts and accept the conclusion that Ms. Schiavo should be allowed to die. They deserve respect, just as her husband and her other relatives deserve sympathy.

Those relatives also deserve to be left alone, to be protected from a spotlight that turned a family tragedy into an international spectacle of sometimes shocking vulgarity and viciousness. The case attracted outsiders in search of little more than another opportunity to further their own self-aggrandizement. But worst of all were the powerful people who looked at the world we live in today, in which politics is about maximizing hysteria at the margins, and concluded that the Schiavo fight was a win-win - for everyone but the people who actually cared about the dying woman.
The whole editorial is at this link (You can use "CautiousMan" as a user name, and "Cautious" for the password).


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