Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Army has announced the results of yet another investigation into the torture committed by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison. And once again, mirabile dictu, the investigation cleared all senior Army officers. (Apparently, the only superior officer in the prison who was responsible for the actions of her subordinates was the National Guard general, designated scapegoat Janis Karpinski).

Specifically exonerated was Gen. Ricardo Sanchez -- even though he authorized torture in a memo that has since been released, and then lied about it to Congress.

If you can't figure out why this is an outrage, go to Phil Carter for a military perspective, or Scrivener's Error for a few sharp words on how Dubya's crew holds themselves to a far lower standard than, well, anyone else on the planet. Don't go to me. I'm tapped out. Jim Henley thinks it's outrage fatigue, but in me, it's outrage overload. They just come so fast, these days. (Dubya's U.N. nominee, on top of all his other disqualifications, mishandled North Korea -- a disaster in its own right. But with the disaster in Iraq to distract us -- to say nothing of the Michael Jackson trial -- who has time for it?).

But you won't hear any of this from Democrats in Congress. They don't want to be seen criticizing American military policy. They're convinced that's really bad politics. Why, if Republicans in Congress, under Clinton, had launched repeated attacks on his handling of Yugoslavia, they'd be... well, pretty much where they are right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Last weekend, at a rather ecumenical Passover seder, I heard two Catholics discussing the new Pope, as well they might. One of them referred to the man by his old nickname, "God's Rottweiler". I must have raised an eyebrow, because she quickly turned and preemptively told me that I had nothing to say about it. It seems to be something a lot of Catholics are a bit sensitive about -- like the commenters on Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog who upbraided her for commenting on a matter which, as a non-Catholic, she knew little of -- only to be told that she is, in fact, Catholic. Oops.

Well, I'm not Catholic. And I'd just as soon prefer that the matter was none of my business. But I'd also just as soon that the guy thought that American politics were none of his business -- which is evidently not his view. And if he's going to inject himself into my politics, I have a right to comment on his character.

Not to mince words, the guy is a theocrat. As the occupant of an office which is simultaneously head of a church and head of state, this should be no surprise, no matter how badly it fits American traditions. (Though Christian religious practice is a lot more pervasive here than it is in Europe, where there is centuries of experience with theocratic traditions. Odd, that). But there's no reason to expect him to shape his behavior to fit an American mold. It's not as if he's, say, a Catholic supreme court justice advocating theocracy from the bench. So, for him to urge American politicians to conform their politics to Catholic views is really just in the nature of his office.

And this, in turn, puts American Catholic politicians in a bind. They simultaneously have to uphold the American tradition of ecumenical culture and secular governance, and the Catholic tradition which, well, is what it is. And in dealing with this double bind, it matters a great deal to them whether the clergy is willing to allow them a little freedom of conscience. Well, when still a cardinal, Ratzinger tried to get John Kerry denied communion because -- as he explained in the debates -- he didn't feel it was proper for him to turn his personal convictions on abortion into national policy.

That's one reason that the politics of the pope matter to non-Catholic Americans. The other, given that he's determined to pressure Catholic politicians, is what he's going to pressure them to do. This is plain. The church's tradition is to uphold the authority of the clergy, and that suits Benedict just fine. He was more comfortable with the Salvadoran dictatorship, than with Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop who opposed it. Romero thought the Christian tradition of charity and mercy demanded that they oppose a government which improverished and murdered its citizens. And, as Catholic blogger Jeanne D'arc sadly notes, Cardinal Ratzinger was there to correct him.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Melora Kuhn's all-too-knowing waifs continue to fascinate, delight, and disturb. If you're around New York, they'll be at the Zieher Smith gallery in Chelsea through May 25th.

I'll be returning to regular posting later in the week, I hope...