Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ford's Critique

Shortly after Gerald Ford’s death, recent interviews that had been conducted with the president were disclosed. The interviews cover a wide-range of subjects, but a good deal of time is devoted to the late president’s critical view of what he saw as the rightward tilt of the Republican Party. Not surprisingly, the media has been unrelenting in their focus on Ford’s harsh appraisal of the GOP and President Bush. Watching moments of the funeral last night, I lost count of how many times smug commentators reminded viewers of Ford's opposition to the Iraq war. In case anyone missed the point, Ford opposed the war. Today, I came across a a recent Newsweek article that discusses Ford’s outlook. My thoughts on each observation are included.

"As he grew older, he also increasingly moved to the center. He was privately critical of Bush's Iraq war and was also surprised by Cheney's growing hawkishness. He has been quoted criticizing President Bush's Iraq war, and marveled to friends that Cheney had grown so much more hawkish…what stands out most from our talk was Ford's frustration that the Republican Party had lurched so far to the right. 'If I'd been elected in '76,' he told me flatly, 'the party wouldn't be as far right as it is at the present time … I sure hope it comes back to the center.'"

This is, quite frankly, not a very profound or intelligent observation by either Newsweek or Ford. As a general rule, losers in politics are not the first group of people I would go to for advice on how to guide a Party to success, but this trend seems to be a popular one in DC; for Democrats still worship the flop of a president Jimmy Carter. As far as Republicans go, Ford had integrity, but as a leader, he was not much better than the disasterous Carter. He was not elected in ’76 for many reasons. No doubt, his judicious pardon of Nixon contributed to his defeat but it was not the only reason for his demise. His mediocre, bland style of Republicanism was not appealing to the base of the Party. In short, he was rejected by his own. He was a decent man but certainly not an inspirational leader. It is typical for Republicans of Ford’s mold to lambaste fellow Republicans who embrace the traditional values and convictions of their base as “extreme”, “right-wingers” or “hawkish”. The truth is that, whenever Republicans have tried to move to the “center” (msm parlance for becoming liberal) they have their clocks cleaned in elections. In positioning themselves in the center, they abandon the principles of the Conservative movement. Whenever they stake their candidacy on the traditional issues of the Conservative movement (limited Federal government, pro-life, pro-tax cuts, pro-free-market, etc.), they win convincingly. So, move to the center and lose or hold fast to the core convictions of the base and win. What is a Republican to do? Reagan was one of the greatest presidents for many reasons, chief among them because he saw himself as the leader of a clearly defined movement, born of a well-thought out philosophy of government; a movement that was rooted in core principles that were plainly distinguishable from the other side. He defined the Conservative cause and he defined the opposition, drawing a line to mark the differences. He was very outspoken in favor of life, he favored tax cuts and he was not in the least afraid to project the might of America’s unrivaled military into the face of threats to our national security around the globe. He viewed the world in black and white, good and evil. The United States is not perfect, but it is still one of the world’s greatest forces for good. Reagan, in a certain sense was the anti-Ford, and history has vindicated Reagan’s vision for the Republican Party and the United States.

The article goes on…

"He (Ford) criticized Bush Senior's public avowal that he had come to oppose abortion rights. 'I know damn well that he and Barbara are pro-choice,' Ford told me. 'Why didn't they get up and say it? That really disappointed me more than anything.' Ford's comment, Bush says, was off the mark. 'That's wrong,' he says of Ford's suggestion that Bush was secretly pro-choice."

This vignette offers an unfortunate glimpse into Ford’s acerbity. He brazenly questioned the sincerity of President George H. W. Bush’s pro-life convictions. The unwarranted aspersion against Bush Sr. smacks of petulancy emanating from Ford and contributes to the construction of an image of a disgruntled and aged former president who really has no outstanding legacy of his own and has been reduced to unleashing withering critiques of friends.

Continues the article…

"Ford said that during his fall campaign against Jimmy Carter, 'the only time [Reagan] appeared with me … was when … we had a nice, vigorous rally [at a fund-raising dinner] in Los Angeles … He made no other campaign appearances on my behalf … I never understood that. If he had made an appearance in Ohio … Louisiana and Mississippi, we would have won, I'm sure.' A tough-minded politician, he was a decent man who came to symbolize an American longing for bipartisanship and courage. We may marvel that Ford could remain so good-hearted amid such a toxic political environment."

One simply cannot imagine Reagan or even Bush Sr. whining about the past in the manner of Ford. It must have been difficult for a politician of Reagan’s unmatched caliber to psych himself up with regards to Ford’s floundering presidency and, subsequently, the prospects for his election in ’76. It is also somewhat curious that these critical interviews took place under the condition that they be made public only after Ford’s death. Indeed, what was he afraid of? Why wait? If he was so upset about the direction of his Party, why not make reform a top priority? Ford was an honest, well-respected man. His insights surely would have been taken seriously. But instead he chose to have the full force of his opinions released in concert with his permanent departure; it does not reflect well on the man. The media’s gushing over Ford’s criticism of Bush is difficult to bear; there is nothing they like more than to see a self-described Republican lay hard into President Bush. In some way, it vindicates their own insufferable prejudices against the man. The bottom line is that Ford was a man of integrity but was certainly not a great President, or even a very good one. He utterly lacked vision for the country and, being a moderate (liberal) Republican, he was a politician without a home and thus explains his failure as president to win election. The country waited out his and Carter’s listless reigns in expectation of a real leader. The waiting paid off with the arrival President Ronald Reagan. President Bush, despite his foibles, has governed as a Reaganite Conservative on social issues; the very issues Republicans like Ford find so troubling and threatening to the future of the Party. Predictably, Bush was reelected, just like Reagan. There is a strong mandate for conservative issues in America. Republicans who recognize this fact have succeed and will continue to succeed. Republicans, like Ford, who do not accept this have lost, and will continue to lose.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford vs. Reagan

Here's an article worth reading by Jeffrey Lord from the American Spectator. He discusses the epic clash between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford for the soul of the Republican Party and the Conservative movement. The history lesson hits home when Lord touches on the similar struggles today within the GOP. Lord is right on when he credits Ford for his basic honesty and integrity but faults him severely for his Keynesian-leaning economic policies and soft stance toward the Soviet Union. These faults contributed to Ford's defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter in 1976.

In this clash between Republican giants, Reagan was the undisputed victor and GOP victories ever since can be credited to his unabashedly conservative vision for the Party's future. Whenever Republicans stray from Reagan's conservative principles, they suffer; as seen in the last election cycle. Ford and Bush Sr. also lost in their day because they pooh-poohed conservative principles while governing. President George W. Bush seems to be a blend of the two schools but at present, he's tilting more toward Ford than Reagan. In retrospect however, George W. Bush will be seen as a great president, despite his shortcomings. With the exception of his failure to curb Congressional spending, Bush gets it right where Ford got it wrong.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

"Jesus came for each one of us and made us brothers...With such sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, let us live through the last few hours that separate us from Christmas, by preparing spiritually to welcome baby Jesus." -Pope Benedict XVI

I also just wanted to put in a reminder to pray for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and especially for those who have been killed in defense of our freedom. They are sacrificing much for our country.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Carefully Timed News Release

Now that the election is over and the results were pleasing to the Democrats, the mainstream media will allow (some) good news about Iraq to trickle forth, as it no longer stands to threaten the Democrat Party's prospects. Newsweek released a major story that covers Iraq's booming, yes, booming, economy. I thought the country was in chaos and falling apart at the seams! Needless to say, we never heard of such news prior to the last election.

Monday, December 11, 2006


The general verdict by respected conservatives on the Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) report is that it contains two fatal flaws that call into question its overall standing as a serious policy study. The first is that it naively presupposes that Iran and Syria would be honest deal-brokers, willing to meet the United States halfway with open dialogue and fair compromise. The second is that it completely ignores the root cause of Islamic terrorism, preferring to see this global scourge in the narrow template of traditional political and territorial disputes. Islamic terror networks are relentlessly seeking to extirpate Western civilization and to substitute in its place a Wahhabist interpretation of Islam, which is an extremely radical manifestation of the Sunni tradition. That there is a global jihad underway against the West can no longer be denied. This obvious fact slips beneath the radar of the heavily secularized analysts in the mainstream media who seem hopelessly bewitched by a moral relativism that fails to clearly distinguish right from wrong. As a result of the media’s reticence, many Americans are oblivious to the global objective of this fanatical sect and, subsequently, they fail to understand precisely what it is that we are fighting against in the war on terror. To buy the naïve action line often proffered by the media and other “experts” that the present conflict is born of, or is an extension of, the seemingly eternal border disputes raging between the Israelis and Palestinians would be woefully shortsighted. The overarching premise of the ISG’s flawed plan is the assumption that Iran and Syria will respond positively to the carrot and stick method of traditional diplomacy and reciprocal concessions and, further, that these nations are interested in a stable Iraq. This is a marvelous display of historical amnesia. When has traditional diplomacy ever worked with radical Islamic states or terror cells? Ask Israel about Hezbollah’s appreciation for compromise and reciprocity.

The august, blue ribbon ISG seems to present Iran and Syria as potential allies in the search for a solution regarding the crisis in Iraq. A more realistic assessment demonstrates that Iran and Syria are the fundamental problem, not the solution. From the get go, they have been partners in crime in their quest to inflict as many casualties on Iraqis and American soldiers, in the hope of precipitating our withdrawal. Andrew McCarthy explains the ISG’s delusion in his National Review piece: “Iran and Syria, the ISG suggests, could be persuaded to help us in Iraq because, notwithstanding that they have assiduously destabilized the situation for three years running, they are profoundly interesting in having a stable Iraq.” That a group of supposedly serious and erudite analysts would make such a diplomatic leap of faith by trusting Iran and Syria reveals the alarming extent to which many in the DC milieu are in the dark as to the historical track-record of such nations. The conflict in Lebanon last summer should have left no doubt that Syria is hell-bent on nefarious interventions to fuel terror organizations like Hezbollah in its bloody campaign against Israel. It is foolish to believe that Syria would be interested in collaborating with the United States on good faith with the shared goal of stabilizing Iraq. As long as the US military is present in Iraq, Syria will actively pursue sabotaging that country’s security. If the United States were to leave Iraq prematurely, Syria would certainly burrow more deeply still into the country and only then be interested in stabilizing it. Similarly, there can be no doubt that Iran is a principal agent for funneling the means of terror into Iraq and around the world. That Iran is lead by a maniacal president who is convinced that he will play a fundamental role in ushering in a new age of global Islamic dominion guarantees that Iran is hardly a stable or reliable partner for negotiation. Yet the ISG seems more than willing to approach Iran in good faith. National Review contributor Michael Ledeen makes a salient observation when he says that negotiating with Iran would “legitimate that increasingly dangerous regime and reward its violent and hostile actions against us and our allies. We should rather endeavor to discredit and undermine this regime.” Not a bad point. Iran is notorious for bolstering and influencing other radical Islamic groups in Lebanon, Palestine and Somalia. Hezbollah owes its very existence to Iran. This nation needs to be held accountable for its wicked meddling rather than be treated as an equal and given a place of privilege at the negotiating table.

To be fair, the ISG report does say that the US should convince these unlawful and dangerous nations to get their acts together. But outside of its chimerical hope of progress via dialogue and negotiation, it comes up woefully short in the specifics category as to precisely how this lofty goal should be accomplished. However, Ledeen sees a silver lining in the ISG report in that it forces Tehran, albeit obtusely, into the spotlight and under the international microscope. This newfound attention may subsequently encourage the US to amplify its calls for a regime change in that nation. As Ledeen puts it, “the president and the secretary of state should finally educate the American public about the real dimensions of the Iranian threat.”

Does the ISG report focus on victory or on the most efficacious way to bolt from Iraq? Do Americans want a clear, decisive and final victory over merciless fanatics who see us as their sworn adversary? In light of the critical events in Iraq, these seem to be the pivotal questions facing the nation. My concern is that the ISG report attempts to redefine our objectives in the war on terror by substituting our original goal (victory over the terrorists) with that of a reaching a national consensus (whatever that means) on how to most effectively scuttle from the scene while saving at least some face.

Old Meets Older in Rome

Saint Pudenziana's Fourth Century Apsidal Mosaic

Last Saturday I paid a visit to two ancient Churches in Rome that serve as repositories for superb examples of early Christian art: Saint Pudenziana and Saint Prassede. Saint Pudenziana is located a short walk from the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and its apsidal mosaic, dating from the late fourth century, is one of the finest examples of Classical art in Rome. The mosaic depicts Christ enthroned, flanked by Saints Peter and Paul, together with other early Christian saints. To appreciate the full context of the mosaic’s story, I did a little background investigation into its history. Art critic June Hager describes the work as “the last gasp” of Classical art in the city, and that “there is nothing comparable in all of Rome” to this mosaic, in terms of its age and combination of Classical and Christian elements. The mosaic “offers a window into the Roman world through which Christianity entered.” We are treated to a scene straight out of Ancient Rome; Christ and the Apostles are depicted wearing the traditional garb of the era, perhaps reflecting what the Emperor and Senators wore over 1,700 years ago. The image is remarkably lifelike; there is a true sense of proportion throughout, and the features of Christ and the Saints are quite realistic. Most of the ancient Christian artwork in Rome is Byzantine-inspired, from the eleventh or twelfth century. However in Byzantine art, the proportions are one-dimensional; the characters portrayed usually possess an almost otherworldly expression, with wide-eyed features, set against a solid gold background. The clothes worn by the subjects in these early medieval mosaics are the traditional robes of Byzantium. After the fall of the Western Empire in the fifth century, the Eastern Empire, centered in Constantinople, continued to rise in prominence while her influence in art and culture spread into the West. However, in Saint Pudenziana, the style found in this mosaic actually predates the ancient Byzantine artwork that dominates most early Christian art in Rome. The apsidal mosaic in Saint Pudenziana, dating from before the sack of Rome in 411, is Classical art in its purest form. It is truly remarkable that it survives to this day and further, that it depicts a Christian scene.

Located about a five-minute walk from Saint Pudenziana was the next Church on my list: Saint Prassede. This Church possesses a precious relic from Christ’s passion. The column to which He was tied during the scourging is reserved in a side chapel, having been brought to Rome from Constantinople centuries ago. The beauty of this Church is found in its explosion of ninth-century Byzantine art. The side chapel, named the Chapel of Zeno, is almost completely encased in bright, colorful mosaics depicting nature scenes, angels, Christ and the Virgin Mary. Throughout the Middle Ages in fact, this small chapel was referred to by Romans as the “garden of paradise” for its glittering and varicolored beauty. For it is here that we see just how powerful Byzantine influence was in Western Europe’s sacred art. The apsidal mosaic in the Church is probably one of the best examples of early Byzantine art in Rome, or anywhere for that matter. Behold Byzantium in its finest and purest; there is a mystical and ethereal quality to Eastern mosaics that sharply distinguishes them from later works of the Renaissance and Baroque in Western Europe. The figures in Saint Prassede's mosaics are flat, one-dimensional. The subject's feet are barely touching the ground as they appear to be on the verge of levitating. This is a forceful break away from the style seen in Saint Pudenziana, which is rooted in the proportion and realism of the Classical age. With the introduction of the Byzantine school in Rome, the realism captured in Saint Pudenziana's mosaic will not be seen again until the Renaissance.

Saint Prassede's Ninth Century Apsidal Mosaic

Scenes from "The Garden of Paradise" Chapel

Saints Peter and Paul

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Turning a Blind Eye

A more careful analysis of the Baker-Hamilton ISG report will be forthcoming. I'm reading up on the subject now and I hope to put pen to paper over the weekend. For now, I just wanted to mention a salient observation that I came across while reading a National Review analysis of the Baker-Hamilton report. It pointed out that the highly celebrated report failed to address, at all, the radical Islamist ideology that is fueling the terror in Iraq and around the world. Can any study, purporting to grasp the root causes of the current crises in the Arab world, be complete if it excludes the eschatological and nihilistic strains driving Islamic terrorism? I think not. Many in the West continue to ignore the particular nature of ISLAMIC terrorism, and speak only in terms of political and diplomatic solutions, which are of course, also important. However, to ignore the thorny and politically incorrect issue of militant Islamic Fascism’s questionable philosophical/ideological strains is a grave error, no doubt rooted in the disgustingly popular political correctness of today’s establishment.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Pope in Turkey: A Recap

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey was by all accounts, a remarkable success and it proved once again that Benedict is a Pope who refuses to be pigeonholed into neatly prepackaged or loaded categories crafted by savvy, although quite often clueless, media pundits and talking heads. He is a Pope that defies expectations and predictions. His visit to Turkey was covered in the press throughout the world and understandably, with particular intensity here in Rome. In the days leading up to his departure, the media focus on his visit reached a fever pitch. Only a couple days before he left, I attended the Sunday Angelus held under a brilliant, clear-blue sky in St. Peter’s Square. As the Pope addressed us from his apartment window, he asked that our prayers might accompany him during his journey. I could sense a peculiar excitement in the air, of course, blended with more than a little concern for his safety. It was as if he was telling us, “You know how important this is; pray for me.” So the Catholic world did just that. And within a couple days, he was heading east for an encounter with the Muslim world, with our Orthodox brethren and with history.

In order to stay informed on all the details of the trip, I made a point of picking up the local Roman newspaper every morning. Then, over a cappuccino, I poured over the various stories covering Benedict XVI's visit. As his trip progressed, I was pleased to see the positive coverage he received in the press. The initial skepticism and doubts that had peppered the pre-visit news coverage evaporated when confronted with what can only be described as a glimmering demonstration of papal charm and gravitas. Before the visit, I read the snide remarks in the press reminding the world that Benedict XVI will never be a worthy follow-up to the more charismatic and media-friendly Pope John Paul II. It was a foregone conclusion that Benedict XVI was not going to win hearts in Turkey, but at the very least, it was hoped that this academic-turned-pope would avoid causing any major offense by sidestepping serious blunders; so the argument went. Expectations were low; nerves were high.

On the first day of his visit, Pope Benedict XVI honored the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk. Dispelling the conspiracy theorist’s assertion of some cryptic agenda behind his trip, the Pope signed the guestbook at the Ataturk Mausoleum with a touching inscription. “I make the words of Ataturk my own: ‘peace in Turkey and peace in the world’.” By taking up the founder’s words as his own, Pope Benedict immediately struck a cord with the Turkish people, who suddenly realized that, perhaps this Pope isn’t so dreadful after all. His second day was more personal, more spiritual. He celebrated an intimate Mass for only 250 faithful in Ephesus, at the house of the Virgin Mary and Saint John. After the Mass, as he was greeting the faithful, the Holy Father was handed a huge Turkish Flag fixed to a pole and he bore it aloft, carrying it for some time. This was not a neatly timed publicity stunt for the ever-vigilant cameras; rather, it was a genuine expression of the pope’s true affection for a nation and her people. The Holy Father then met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. Both leaders renewed their commitment to seeking full unity between the two Churches and made a memorable appearance together on the balcony of the Patriarch’s residence; the exuberance on their faces was unforgettable. It was as though two family members had been reunited after a long time apart. In a certain sense this was the case, although the reunification was not a perfect one. Both Pope and Patriarch commented that their joy was also tinged with bitter sadness, that they could not yet celebrate “the sacred mysteries” together as one Church, fully united, as in the first millennium of Christianity. Day two proved just as much a success as the first, and there were still two more days to go.

Day three featured the Pope’s most highly anticipated moments, as he prepared to meet with prominent Muslim representatives. In doing so, Benedict XVI became only the second pope in history to enter a mosque. As he was being lead through the famed Blue Mosque of Istanbul, his guide, the Grand Mufti Ali Bardakoglu, brought him to the mihrab, the focal point in all mosques that faces Mecca. The two paused for a couple minutes of prayer and reflection. There stood the Pope, spiritual leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, with the Grand Mufti, together in a magnificent mosque. Both men remained motionless, with eyes closed and their minds totally absorbed in their own distinct encounter with the transcendent. The Holy Father's lips were quite clearly moving as he continued praying, even after Bardakoglu had finished. And this was the image from the trip that made headlines around the world. Everyone seemed surprised; but then again, what would they have expected the Pope to do? Before leaving the mosque, the Holy Father addressed Bardakoglu, “Thank you for this moment of prayer.” I read one article that quoted an anonymous Turk saying, in reference to the Pope, “He came here as Cardinal Ratzinger, he left as Pope Benedict XVI.” But here again was a perceived disparity where, in reality, none existed. Cardinal Ratzinger is now “papa Ratzinger,” as he is affectionately referred to in the Italian papers. He is the same person with the same message, yet he continues to mystify and even vex those who simply don’t understand him. On the last day of his historic visit, the Holy Father celebrated Holy Mass before heading back to Rome. The papers commented how relaxed and joyful he now looked; maybe even the Pope was relieved and surprised at how well his visit had gone.

This past Saturday evening in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Benedict XVI prayed vespers with the faithful, marking the beginning of Advent. I wanted to catch a glimpse of him after having returned safely from Turkey and, in my own way, to show him my support for coming through as he did. It couldn’t have been easy to go to Turkey, but he went nonetheless. As he walked by, only an arm’s reach away, he looked peaceful, relaxed and happy. He then spoke about Christ, and His coming into the world to save us; in other words, the story of the Father’s love for man, the story of our salvation. This is the message of Pope Benedict XVI, nothing more, nothing less, media expectations and predictions aside.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Off Beat Political Humour: Carter on Book TV

I thought that this was mildly entertaining, and imagine that C-SPAN will be screening their callers more carefully in the future.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini: 1598 - 1680

For a city as rich in renowned works of art as Rome, it’s not easy to single out one particular artist as one’s favorite. After more than two years here, I’ve been able to take in most of what the city has to offer. I can’t say that I’ve seen everything, since I’m still discovering new surprises on an almost weekly basis. But in terms of the best-known masterpieces, I’ve been fortunate to receive a liberal exposure to them all. I guess it’s one of the fringe benefits of taking out a hefty student loan and relocating across the Atlantic. Rome is a city bursting at the seams with unparalleled works of art. Paris, most likely, is Rome’s closest rival, but the Eternal City still stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Indeed, the Louvre owes much of its own repute to Rome, as a result of Napoleon’s relocation (some might call it stealing) of many of the city’s priceless works of art to Paris during his occupation of the city. But what museum in the world can compare to the experience of stepping into the Sistine Chapel, and elevating the eyes toward heaven? In terms of a single painting, there is probably nothing on the earth that can surpass Michelangelo’s sublime tour de force depiction of the history of mankind and salvation. As is the case when confronted with transcendent beauty, words fail to pay worthy homage to such a magnificent display of artistic splendor.

One of the experiences that I never tire of while in Rome is entering an inconspicuous church off the main drag, along a narrow cobblestone street, and stepping into what seems to me to be another world of indescribable beauty. Perhaps it is the Church of Saint Louis of France where, tucked into a side chapel, one will find a cluster of Caravaggio’s paintings. His stark realism and use of light and darkness always catch my eye. The simplicity of the subjects in his paintings is a striking feature, particular to him. There is no idealism to be found in the features of Christ or the Virgin Mary. They are normal human beings, just like us. This tendency of Caravaggio, to stress the unadorned humanity of his subject was, and still is, controversial. Should the Virgin Mary be depicted in art as a glorious queen or as a simple peasant girl? Does heaven meet earth in a Caravaggio, or does the viewer stay grounded? Opinions will vary.

Rome is the place to be for the aficionado of Baroque. I’ve narrowed down my own list of favorites in that genre, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini ranks at the top. He designed the vast, Saint Peter’s Square and the stunning baldacchino that rises above the high altar in the basilica. But it was his gift as a sculpture that makes him unique to me. Frozen in the middle of dramatic action, his subjects appear ready at any moment to burst free from their thin marble shells. The Galleria Borghese in the north of Rome hosts a generous supply of Bernini’s earlier works, many sculpted when he was only in his mid-twenties. One of Bernini’s best-known works is his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, located in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Here, the artist captured the precise moment before the Saint’s heavenly visitor plunged his burning arrow, symbolizing God’s love, deep into her bosom. The expression on Teresa’s face, revealing a blend of pain and passion, coupled with the unearthly serenity of the angel, speaks volumes about the intensity of her mystical communion with God. That Bernini was able to carve out such a spiritually action-packed moment, from a cold block of marble no less, seems in itself a miraculous feat. Another powerful demonstration of Bernini’s skill can be seen at the Church of San Francesco di Grippa across the Tiber River in Trastevere. Here, Blessed Ludowica Albertone is depicted in the midst of one of her ecstasies. So impeccable was Bernini’s ability to capture the moment, and the movement involved in that moment, that there’s an undeniable fluid and airy quality to the light garments of his marble subjects.

Bernini never disappoints. Whether it is his athletic David, with lips pursed, torso twisted, on the verge of launching his deadly stone at Goliath, or Daphne caught in the very moment of being morphed into a tree to escape the clutches of the love-struck Apollo, or Saint Teresa’s mystical encounter with the Divine, Bernini’s genius was in his unrivaled ability to freeze dramatic action in his artwork, to stop time as it were.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Multiculturalism

Every generation produces its own revolutionaries, some revolt against the moral order, by which I mean the order of the soul, and others the constitutional order, by which I mean the principles of justice and jurisprudence. These individuals perceive this inherited order as flawed and incongruent with progress—when indeed it is the fons et origo of every good we enjoy, and a springboard for the cultivation of our society.

As a student, I see many of my classmates rejecting tradition, and while they are motivated by different things, a major source of this rejection are multicultural groups on university campuses, which promote an amorphous post-modern virtue, diversity. Rather than promoting irenicism, multicultural organizations tend to splinter university campuses by encouraging a militant provincialism: At almost any university one can find scores of clubs and events geared towards one ethnic group or another. (Just this week I was e-mailed about a networking event for women and minorities, and wonder what those who do not fit into either category must think when reading similar e-mails.) And while not all such groups reject the inherited order, they do create factions on campus, which, at best, segregate part of the student body and promote a myopic sense of mankind.

Multiculturalists believe that they are the disenfranchised members of society, and that the moral and constitutional order is weighed against them. Therefore, instead of reaping the benefits of the American culture that they have inherited, they fatuously search for ways to “even the playing field.” In lieu of legitimate academic programs encouraging minorities to excel, university multicultural groups promote special networking events and internships solely for students of color. The words of Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France come to mind, “You think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature.” Indeed, multiculturalists are at war with nature when they denigrate themselves by simultaneously refusing to participate in the moral and constitutional order, and complaining that they are the victims of that order.

This is not a new phenomenon, years ago Russell Kirk noted, “multiculturalism is animated by envy and hatred,” and labeled it as not only “intellectually puny”, but “anti-cultural.” It is intellectually puny because it would replace time-tested educational standards with more diverse curriculums and modern pedagogical methods. I do not claim that universities should never adjust their curriculums, but unfortunately the modernization and diversification of university curricula produces mediocre results. It is anti-cultural because multiculturalists zealously adhere to their ideology and are prepared to polemicize their opponents, even when they are minorities themselves. A salient example is the story of Mia Martinez, a College of the Holy Cross undergraduate that criticized a pre-freshman program for minority students in her campus newspaper as encouraging self-segregation by the participating students. Her opinion being that after participating in the program the students would naturally stick together since they already knew each other. Her honest observation resulted in a scolding from the college administration and even the threat of a lawsuit.

Multiculturalists are not likely to renounce their phantasmagoria anytime soon. Multiculturalism has persisted in the academy, and will continue to persist as long as there are individuals who are willing to pander to certain minorities’ sense of entitlement. We who believe in an inherited moral order – one that holds that all men are created equal – must also be persistent, and prepared to remind those who would undo tradition that, again to quote Burke, “we owe an implicit reverence to all the institutions of our ancestors."

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities

The pope’s visit to visit to Turkey provides Christians the opportunity to pay homage to the Byzantine Empire. In some ways, Byzantium seems to be a forgotten or lost period of time. Rarely is the Eastern Roman Empire discussed anymore, outside of stuffy history books. Part of this reticence may have something to do with how the empire expired; its jugular finally slit by the scimitar’s blade, wielded by the soldiers of Islam and Memhet II. Fortunately, the ancient civilization of Byzantium is receiving some much-deserved and belated attention as a result of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit.

Although Orthodoxy was the de facto religion of Byzantium after the schism of 1054, Catholics too can take pride in the accomplishments of this magnificent civilization. In fact, the very last liturgy celebrated in the renowned Hagia Sophia, before being converted into a mosque by the conquering Turks, was a Catholic Mass. Constantine XI Dragases, the last Roman Emperor, was desperate for military assistance from the West and signed an agreement of unity between the two bickering sides of Christendom. He attended the last Divine Liturgy; the Patriarch was notably absent. The beating heart of this vibrant empire was the city of Constantinople, inaugurated by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. For over one thousand years, this “nova roma,” also known as Vasileousa Polis or the Queen of Cities, remained the source of a golden age in culture until 1453 when it collapsed. In terms of the arts, learning, culture and engineering, few cities could rival her accomplishments and triumphs. “Old Rome” herself seemed to pale in comparison to her younger, imperial sister and rival. As barbarian hordes overran Rome, Western Europe was carved up into an array of competing tribes, as warring kings squabbled over territorial boundaries. Throughout this time, Constantinople and Byzantium flourished, shining as a beautiful gem in the East. Unfortunately, fraternal friction emerged between East and West that at times bordered on unbridled hatred. With more than a little condescension, the haughty Greeks disregarded the Latin West as a barbarian melting pot of uncivilized philistines and the source of all religious heresies. Returning the favor, Western Europeans, the Franks in particular, saw the Greeks as effete, prissy and sanctimonious. Looking beyond the lamentable cultural, political and most importantly, religious fault lines that cleaved the two pillars of Christianity, it could safely be argued that Constantinople was, at the height of her splendor, a city unrivaled in Europe and the world. Accounts from Western travelers who passed through Constantinople remain. They express astonishment at the city’s unparalleled wealth and beauty. Hagia Sophia, the greatest church in Christendom, was so beautiful that it seemed to gracefully elude words that attempted to form a description of it. Stephen of Novgorod, a 14th-century Russian passerby in Constantinople had this to say about the renowned Church of Holy Wisdom, “As for St. Sophia, the human mind can neither tell it nor make description of it!” The city was teeming with exquisite churches, monasteries and convents, all harboring suburb works of Christian art. Byzantium gave the world another august age and a proved herself a worthy successor to Athens and Rome.

All of this came to an abrupt end however in the year 1453. The Byzantine Empire, hobbled and exhausted from relentless onslaughts by the advancing Ottoman fury, finally capitulated and was conquered. Emperor Constantine XI died gloriously in battle, futilely rallying the brave defenders who remained behind, mostly Greeks, with some Venetians and a handful of Spaniards. According to eyewitness accounts, he was last seen on his horse with his sword drawn, right before throwing himself into an advancing Turkish hoard. Just before doing so, he tore off his purple cloak, the imperial regalia and the last outward vestige of his link to the glory days of Rome. “The city is taken but I am still alive!” were his last words to his beleaguered comrades. Soon, both city and emperor were gone forever. The enormous and glittering statue of the Emperor Justinian dating from the sixth century, which had stood for the ages as a symbol of Byzantine might, promise and glory was ripped down from its massive pedestal. Janissaries, the elite fighting force of the sultan, poured into the now defenseless city, mercilessly cutting down soldiers and citizens, women and children alike. No distinctions were made as a generous portion of the population was killed. Those who survived the horrific conquest and sack of Constantinople were rounded up like cattle, divided up again as spoils for the victors and sold into slavery or deported. Every church in the city was desecrated, convents and monasteries were ransacked, relics and sacred images shamelessly defiled. The Janissaries marched through the streets bearing a large crucifix chanting, “Behold the god of the Christians!” This ancient Christian capital of Constantine was immediately transferred into hands of a twenty-one year old Ottoman sultan. The triumphant Memhet II waited until order was restored before he majestically entered his newly acquired prize on horseback. His first appointment was at Hagia Sophia, now emptied of its Christian worshippers. He immediately ordered it converted to a mosque and within seconds, an imam issued the first call to prayer from within the apse of the gutted temple. According to legend, to add a final exclamation point to his stunning victory and to forever seal the fate of the Christian line of Constantine, the sultan had the slain emperor’s straw-stuffed head sent throughout the capitals of Arabia as proof of his astonishing feat. He viewed himself as heir to the Caesars of Rome and was eager to demonstrate his claim with a morbid trophy. His claim as successor to Caesar is dubious however, since in the West, a Holy Roman Emperor was already firmly established and he, being Christian and reared in European culture, would certainly have had more legitimacy to claim himself heir to the Caesars and, more importantly, to the civilization Rome breathed forth.

Constantine XI

Regardless, the fall of Constantinople marked the end of an age. It is considered by historians as point of departure to signal the end of the Middle Ages. For their part, the Ottoman Turks continued on a remarkable and seemingly unstoppable march toward conquering “Old Rome” herself, and thus closing the circle of their conquests. Even before the Ottomans could dream of capturing Constantinople, Muslim armies were accustomed to psyching themselves for battle against Christians with the rallying cry, “roma, roma, roma!” With the arrival of the ferociously militant Ottoman Turks, their goal was not all together so unrealistic. European kings and the pope looked on with terror as the Ottoman armies swallowed up huge tracts of territory in their march west, coming within striking distance of Europe’s heart: the Eternal City. Only with the decisive defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna could Europe breath a collective sigh of relief as Ottoman expansion finally, miraculously stopped.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Pope and Islam

TIME recently ran a cover story on the pope’s upcoming visit to Turkey. In general, it was well written, quoting liberally from complimentary sources who, to one degree or another, agreed that the Pope, in his Regensburg speech, said what needed to be said. For example, one “high-ranking Western diplomat in Rome” was sited by TIME that summed up the shared sentiment of many of those quoted throughout the article. “It was time to let the rabbit out of the can, and he did. I admire his courage.” Even those who disagreed with the pope were measured in their criticism. Tariq Ramadan wrote an op-ed expressing his points of departure from the Holy Father’s view. He nevertheless defended the pope’s right to express himself. “It is Benedict’s right to exercise his critical opinion without being expected to apologize for it.” And further, “Benedict XVI should be free to express his opinions without risk of impassioned denunciation.” It was refreshing to read an article in a magazine like TIME that gave voice to articulate supporters of the Holy Father like Father Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak. This is not to say however that the article was error-free. When it came down to dealing with the nuts and bolts of what the Holy Father actually said in his Regensburg address, the writers for TIME fell short of the mark.

The criticisms I’ve heard or read emanating from the pseudo-intellectual elites of America regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture are, in varying degrees, the same hackneyed talking-points crafted and reshaped to suit different audiences. TIME dismissed the substance of what the pope said in his sophisticated discourse as “slap-dashed and flawed.” It seems that the problem many experienced when reading the controversial address stems from modernity’s general disregard for philosophy as a science. The modern American mind has been reared in the school of positivism, which forbids or holds highly suspect, a correct anthropology of the human person and any definitive conclusions on moral actions. Such critics of the Pope’s lecture come across as sorry attempts by intellectual inferiors to grasp something that soars far above their limitedly trained mind’s capacity. The Pope’s brilliant summation of Western civilization’s present dilemma passed clear over the heads of many for the simply reason that he, and anyone else schooled in the Classics, are on a different level, intellectually speaking. One passage from the TIME article particularly galled me. It was made in the familiar arena of criticizing the Church for its involvement in the Crusades. It followed up on a discussion of the Koran and passages within it that could be interpreted today by extremists to sanction violence. To appreciate the astonishing oversight by TIME, it is worth citing the passage in its entirety.

The bellicosity of some Koranic passages owes much to the fact that they were written at a time when Muslims were engaged in almost constant warfare to defend their religion. But when suicide bombers today go to their fates with the Koran’s verses on their lips, it invites questions about Islam’s credentials as a religion that is willing to police its own claims of peace and tolerance. As conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak points out, the Vatican’s pacifism gives Benedict unmatched moral standing to press this point. “Being against war, he can say tougher things…than any President or Prime Minister can. His role is to represent Western civilization.” Perhaps so, but then he might have to represent its past as well, including all the historical violence done in Jesus’ name (despite the Gospel’s pacifism).

For starters, the writers for TIME seem quite willing to give the early subscribers to Islam a moral pass for behaving violently because they were merely defending their religion. Could it ever have been a possibility that Christians too have also taken up the sword in defense of their prerogatives to worship freely? TIME seems ready to excuse or overlook the violent excesses of Muslims in the 7th century in the name of “defense” and, further, to ignore the clear-as-day fact that for one-thousand years Muslims on the offensive overran entire Christian civilizations, from the Iberian Peninsula, across northern Africa and into the Orient. This oversight by TIME is most unfortunate and provides yet another manifestation of a selective historical bias. More troubling still is TIME’s failure to make a critical distinction. TIME rightly observes that Christians acting violently in the name of Christianity contradict the very essence of the Scriptures. Surprisingly and commendably, considering the rampant political correctness of the day, TIME even gets close to broaching the subject of the Koran’s blatantly violent passages, leaving open for discussion the unresolved connection between violence and the essence of Islam. The deficiency of the observation lies in its reluctance to clearly distinguish, as Pope John Paul II did in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, between the theology and anthropology of Christianity and Islam. Such a distinction sets the two religions worlds apart. One simply cannot conclude that, because Christians committed atrocities in the name of their religion, Christianity and Islam, as religions, are the same with regard to their relation to violence. The whole point of this debate is a critical study into the very essence of Islam and Christianity. TIME at least recognizes the intrinsically peaceful soul of Christianity and it deserves credit for raising the topic of Koranic exegesis in light of Muslim terrorists. However TIME’s omission in delineating the essences of the two religions by virtue of their holy texts is extremely frustrating. This failure opens the door to moronic comments that serve to undermine Christianity’s sublime message, sabotaging it with the cruel actions of some of her members; actions clearly at odds with the religion’s essence.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Appia Antica

The Appian Way in Rome, like most of the sites in the Eternal City, is a tour de force of early Christian history. The military road for the vast Roman Empire was constructed in 312 B.C. and is composed of massive flat rocks set into the earth. Remarkably, the road is still in use today. While not quite as impressive a feat as the Pantheon or Colosseum, the smooth, well-trodden road is nevertheless a remarkable display of Roman ingenuity. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Appian Way and stop along several prominent sites for the early Christian Church. One of the many things I savor about the Appian Way is that it is situated just outside the grasp of the frenetic and noisy city life of Rome. The near silence and natural setting permits one to be transported back to the early days of Christianity. It’s one of the few places in Rome that seems relatively untouched by the modern world.

Along the road, pilgrims will come across the Quo Vadis Church, erected centuries ago over the exact spot where tradition says Christ appeared to Saint Peter to strengthen him and encourage him to return to Rome and face his martyrdom. A little further down the road, in the basilica of Saint Sebastian, the very stone on which Christ stood and addressed St. Peter is still preserved, with His footprints miraculously pressed into the rock. As the name of the Basilica suggests, Saint Sebastian, one of the early Church’s most beloved martyrs, is under the altar beneath a beautiful sculpture depicting the Roman soldier in his final moments of agony before winning the crown of martyrdom.

Of course, the ancient catacombs are among the most sacred destinations for pilgrims in Rome since they serve as the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of Christians. Early Christians carved the extensive network of tombs and mausoleums out of the soft turfa rock on the outskirts of the city. There is an undeniable spiritual dimension to the visit that makes it a must-stop site for any pilgrim to Rome. To descend into the earth and walk down the dimly lit, labyrinthine passageways is to experience an almost mystical bond with some of the earliest members of the Christian community. Our guide for the visit was a charismatic priest who, throughout his presentation, harmonized salient points of theology with the history we were all experiencing firsthand. We walked past row after row of tombs now empty, stacked one on top of another. Faded images of Christ in the Byzantine style painted on the walls, together with other Christian symbols etched in Latin and Greek, most dating from the third and fourth century, were moving testaments to what transpired there so long ago. The most profound emotion for the conscientious pilgrim is the spiritual link with the early Church. Our guide reminded us several times that Catholics remember all the members of the Church during the Mass, the living and the dead, and visiting this expansive subterranean cemetery brought that message home with great force. And what better way to encounter this nexus of past and present than to follow in the footsteps of the early Christian community of Rome? To this day, Masses are celebrated daily in the catacombs. What a beautiful manifestation of the Church’s transcendence, her living history and her connection to the past!

Walking along the Appian Way helps Christians of every age to see in their own lives a microcosm of the entire history of our salvation; that is to say, the story of personal conversion, a shared hope and faith that conquers the shadows of age-old persecution and a lasting testament to humanity’s redemption.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Democrat Crack-Up

With the Democrat takeover of Congress secure, preparations for the reign of the witches on Capitol Hill have begun in earnest. Inured to a political sideshow status after 12 years of inactivity and eager to flex their muscles, Nancy Pelosi and her cohort of left-wing kooks are beginning to anxiously reveal their agenda for the next Congress. At the top of the list of priorities for this rag-tag group of intellectual lightweights will be the minimum wage, expanding federal funding for the disembowelment of human embryos under the guise of science (let’s call it what it really is), and the further socialization of the American economy. As troubling as all of this is, certain events have already played out which are indicative of a crisis within the victorious Democrat Party. Their reign, as I see it, will be plagued with a host of schisms and inner squabbles. The new queen bee of the House Democrats has already suffered a humiliating setback at the hands of members from her own Party. With victory assured, Nancy Pelosi wasted no time revealing just where her loyalties and sympathies rest as she proffered the anti-war, left-wing extraordinaire John Murtha as her primary choice for Majority Leader of the House. Fellow Democrats, far more intelligent and shrewd than Pelosi, revolted immediately, having recognized the public relations disaster that loomed if an individual like Murtha was elevated to such a post. This forced the whipsawed Pelosi to withdraw her support for the Congressman. Less than one month after the election, a potentially fatal splintering within the Democrat Party has manifested itself for the first time. For Republicans, still stinging from their election day whipping, this could turn out to be an unexpected November ‘06 surprise. This quandary for the Democrats is not merely the delusional and wishful thinking of a disappointed member of the flawed but preferable Republican Party: this dilemma for the Democrats is a real one.

As I see it, the Party is deeply divided and it remains to be seen whether or not it can be reconciled or salvaged. On one side stand the Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha types, who represent and trumpet the purest, most undiluted vision of the far left in the world. On the other side of the chasm, Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton stand for the more pragmatic, cunning members of the Party. While perhaps just as liberal as their Democrat brethren across the fault line, they are far more adept in the political sense and they recognize the simple truth that Americans by and large are more conservative than the great majority of the members of their own Party. It was proven in the last election that Democrats, in order to win and survive as a viable political Party in the United States, must present themselves as centrists while at the same time cloaking the fringe base of their Party at least until after the election. Remember the John Kerry blunder? Immediately following his reckless and clumsy but revealing diatribe against US soldiers in Iraq, he was temporarily exiled by his own Party for fear of repercussions on election day. The San Francisco poster-child for American liberalism, Nancy Pelosi, was barely seen in the weeks leading up to the election…a coincidence or a well-thought out strategy? Pelosi’s ill-fated attempt to force through Murtha with whip and spur to a leadership position will be just one of many displays of the growing fissions within the Socialist-lite party of America. This presents a Gordian knot, of sorts, for the Democrats. It is clear that the core base of their Party, the interest groups that bankroll them, consists primarily of the militant pro-abortion, affirmative action and gay rights organizations in the US. Americans in general are not so cozy with these radical groups and they observe the intimacy shared between the Democrat Party and such nefarious organizations with suspicion. Democrats will succeed in politics only to the extent that they can deceive and conceal their true identity from the public. They cannot win simply being that which they are in reality; that is to say, a motley crew of “new world order” socialist-leaning, anti-American firebrands. The minute the curtain is drawn aside, their hideous features are revealed under the light of day. Their only chance for political survival is to deceive Americans by presenting themselves as straight-shooting, middle of the road, “everyday people”. Propping up someone as unabashedly fanatical and clueless as Murtha would have been suicidal, especially fresh after an election year in which the pundits for the Party were left breathless from constantly reminding us that they could be trusted in prosecuting the war on terror.

On a personal note, I couldn’t help experiencing some Schadenfreude as a result of the Democrat’s plight. Who can blame me for expressing some satisfaction after the prerequisite and prolonged period of mourning that follows any victory for the Democrats?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Moving Forward

The political Party of thorough corruption, proven incompetence and disguised socialism has taken hold of the reigns of power in the United States Congress. There can be no glossing over a defeat, and this one is a bitter pill to swallow. Truth be told, the Democratic conquest of Congress sends a terrible message to our enemies. Democrats are ever fond of caterwauling once they sense that their patriotism is being called into questioned, but facts are facts. Democratic triumphs at home prove that the terrorist’s Fabian tactics in Iraq are, to one extent or another, effecting the general public. I am forced to ask myself some difficult questions: Do Americans take the war on terror seriously? Do we genuinely have the will to fight and win this epic struggle? The terrorists in Iraq would interpret a premature departure on our part as a decisive victory. And which major political Party has been demanding for months a “timetable” for withdrawing our troops? Such a Party’s success at the polls can, in no way, be framed as a good thing for America. If Democratic policies were enacted, Bin-Laden’s 1993 slander against U.S. soldiers as timid “paper tigers” would be reinforced. In addition, the enactment of Democratic policies regarding national security would bolster the terrorist’s conviction and hope that Americans cannot stomach a prolonged conflict that involves high numbers of US casualties. If the Democrats were to have their way, and thank God that they won’t as long as Bush is in office, America would be humiliated, the terrorist’s emboldened and their modus operandi vindicated. It is a remarkable thing when a major political Party in the United States shares the objectives and talking points of the terrorists in common. It is more remarkable still that such a Party can succeed to the extent that they have in pulling the wool over the eyes of a significant number of Americans and convince them that theirs is the Party to be trusted with so sacred a trust as a nation’s security. So, our defeat on Tuesday is troublesome, there’s no escaping it. But, as it is useless to dwell on what should have been done, our current frustrations, or other factors which are now irrelevant, we can derive some consolation from several points.

• George Bush is still president and he will not hesitate to wield his veto pen when necessary. The Democrats still have no direct power to affect any of their dysfunctional schemes. (Although they do control the purse strings to military funding, a definite hurdle to overcome.) Bush will not allow them to touch national security issues. All that the Democrats can do is spawn more rancor from the halls of Congress, given their new majority status. And if they actually manage to pass any legislation, Bush will stop it dead in its tracks with a veto, Deo gratias.
• Now the machinations of the degenerate Democrats will be placed squarely under the spotlight for Americans to inspect. If Republicans manage themselves wisely over the course of the next two years, having learned from their mistakes, the public will see with greater clarity the blunders and fecklessness of the liberals and give them the boot in ’08. Soul searching is always a good thing and, the truth is, losing often forces one to introspection.
• The Supreme Court has been shifted significantly to the right over the course of Bush’s term. I’ve never been one to take enormous consolation from present judicial supremacy in the affairs of government, but with the likes of Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito and, to a much lesser extent, Kennedy, I have my hopes on this front. Perhaps Bush will get another shot at tipping the scales of the high court in our favor: he still has two years left.
• The Democratic victory is hardly the extraordinary event that the media is portraying it to be. The congressional shake-up just witnessed is consistent with all previous midterm elections that fall on a president’s second term. Historically, the president’s Party has always taken a hit in Congress during his sixth year in office. Democrat’s, and their willing accomplices in the “drive-by media,” are apt to describe this election a long-overdue comeuppance for the president and his policies. There may be varying shades of accuracy to that assertion, but not nearly to the extent that they claim. The election was simply another manifestation of a long existing historical precedent in American politics. That the Democrats are ecstatic that they finally won an election after numerous failures is understandable but it ought not cause us to magnify the significance of what actually happened.

Life moves forward. Gazing in the rear-view mirror and dwelling on this setback is counterproductive. The laceration left by this electoral scourge is painful but it is hardly a fatal wound. We need to regroup, reorganize and plan for the real battle in 2008, when much more will be at stake. It does not require the gift of prophecy to envision Senators Obama and Clinton paired-up in an unholy alliance, aiming to close the circle of their Party’s 2006 triumphs. With such a grim prospect not unlikely, we have no time to squander in feeling sorry for ourselves. The ‘06 election could be the wake-up call we desperately need.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kerry's "Joke"

John F. Kerry’s telling blunder once again lays bare his and the dysfunctional Democratic Party’s contempt for the military and, by extension, America. As I see it, the only shocking feature of the entire episode is that someone as renowned for his intelligence and Brahmin tastes as Kerry would make such a stunning mistake a mere week before crucial midterm elections. I had to laugh when I read the furious reaction of an anonymous Democrat, who couldn’t contain his bewilderment. “He (Kerry) already cost us one election, he needs to just shut his mouth until after this election.” In a frantic display of damage control following the wave of criticism he received, Kerry issued a cri de coeur, asserting that he merely “botched” a joke, and predicted that Karl Rove’s minions would scheme to exploit his slip for cheap political mileage ahead of next week’s elections. He must think the general public is as gullible and naive as he suggested the soldiers in Iraq are stupid. In both cases, he is sorely mistaken. Finally, after a relentless barrage of revulsion and condemnation from every honest patriot in America, Kerry was whipsawed into making an artfully constructed and begrudged apology. And everyone savored Vice President Cheney’s quip that “Kerry must have been for the joke before he was against it.” Now there’s a real joke! That Kerry caused a fatal wound to his own political fortunes, no one can deny. But was his mea culpa proffered to the troops and to Americans sincere? One can only guess.

The media is keen on reminding us, ad nauseam, that Kerry is a “decorated” war veteran, while his actions since returning from Vietnam receive noticeably less attention. Kerry’s history of casting aspersions on American soldiers, however, is hardly a novelty; it can be traced back to his post-Vietnam, medal-jettisoning days, when, for starters, he likened U.S. soldiers to the marauding armies of Genghis Khan. More recently, Kerry made a sweeping accusation that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were “terrorizing women and children.” How comments such as these can be interpreted as being helpful or supportive to the overall mission in Iraq or to our country is a question left unanswered. It seems to me that his apology was, in a sense, nothing more than an expression of regret that his “joke” was misinterpreted. In other words, “I’m sorry that you didn’t get what I really meant.” So everyone, not just the soldiers “stuck in Iraq,” must be stupid, since no one was able to grasp the subtle nuance of his sophisticated humor. Maybe Americans should apologize to Kerry for their inability to keep up with his quick wit. As I see it, his qualified apology for this latest and totally unwarranted slander was just as forced and artificial as his attempt to play the role of the American hunter during his failed run for the presidency, when, strutting about, he risibly and unforgettably asked, “Can I get me a hunting license here?”

Kerry’s attempts at feigning normalcy aside, Americans must ask themselves if his views are merely the private opinion of an aging, irrelevant political relic of the 1960s? Or, more to the point, is Kerry’s untimely, yet revealing, slur another manifestation of an opinion held in common by an entire political Party? Don’t forget that just two years ago, John F. Kerry was the Democrat’s anointed savior to run against enemy number one, President George W. Bush. Would a major political party in America throw their considerable weight behind a particular candidate without first whole-heartedly endorsing his own most deeply held convictions? It is no secret that Kerry ranks among the most liberal of his kind. Despite his superficial and transparent triangulation to cast himself as a moderate, or his priceless attempts at rusticity, Kerry’s haughty New England pedigree and down-the-line leftist voting record betray his true loyalties. The Democrats crowned him in Boston because he personifies their skewed vision of the world. Kerry stands as a prime apostle for the “BLAME AMERICA FIRST” movement in the United States and the rest of the world. We must not divorce his views from those held by the Party to which he subscribes. They are utterly indistinguishable.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Liberal Infallibility

Michael J. Fox is back in the spotlight these days, appearing in a series of political ads in Missouri endorsing a proposed amendment (Amendment 2) that deals with stem cell research and that, in addition, would open the door to cloning and other nefarious initiatives. Fox has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and throughout the ad, the symptoms of his illness are strikingly evident as violent tremors surge through his body. In response to the ads, Rush Limbaugh assailed Fox, accusing him of exaggerating the tremors and exploiting his illness for political purposes. Limbaugh also laid heavily into the former actor for intentionally misrepresenting the Republican opposition and subsequently misleading the public. The furor over the radio personality’s remarks was swift and harsh. Legions of media talking heads condemned Limbaugh for his audacity and “shameless” attacks on the ailing Fox. Subsequently, Limbaugh has expressed regret for calling into question the degree or intensity of Fox’s symptoms but has refused to issue a blanket apology or completely retract his other remarks. Limbaugh’s point, and it is well worth making, is that the left in America routinely props up victims of some disaster or illness and shamelessly showcases them about to advance their cause. Cindy Sheehan, the “Jersey Girls,” Christopher Reeves and Michael J. Fox are among the most prominent examples of this liberal M.O.

Having continually lost in the respected arena of honest debate, where ideas and reason hold sway over sentimentalism, liberals have taken refuge in their own cooked-up, shallow doctrine of infallibility. Desperate to see their agenda shoved through Congress and enshrined into law, random victim X is typically paraded around television promoting the popular liberal dish of the day. If anyone dares to dispute their position or questions their motives, he is immediately pigeonholed and categorized as loathsome and insensitive to the pain of the suffering victim. Of course, it is argued that the victims, being victims, are the ones nearest the issue and as such have the primary right to be heard. Nobody is stopping them from talking. But they shouldn’t be allowed to use their victim status as the sole basis for trumpeting their position’s veracity. And further, they shouldn’t accuse those who think differently of being cold-hearted or insensitive just because they happen to strongly disagree with the latest victim celebrity the left can scrounge up from among the disillusioned citizenry. This is the liberal doctrine of infallibility. To quote from the ever-polemical Ann Coulter, “If you have a point to make…why not send in someone I’m allowed to respond to? No, no, we always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die.” In the warped world-view of liberalism, simply disagreeing with a Cindy Sheehan or Michael J. Fox automatically diminishes the chance that the opposing view might actually be the right one based on the merits of the argument, as disagreeing automatically implies or is equated to “questioning the authenticity of the victim’s grief.” For example, I found the following on

"Celebrities have a long history of supporting political candidates. But there's no question that Fox is uniquely suited as a spokesman for stem cell research. The star of the "Back to the Future" films, shakes and rocks as he directly addresses the camera, the effects of his disease clearly apparent."

From the point of view of a personal experience, Fox certainly may offer his thoughts, does this alone make him "uniquely suited as a spokesman for stem cell research? Is he a scientist? Is he a bio-ethicist? No. In dealing with the questions of whether or not embryonic stem cell research and cloning are morally ethical, Fox is simply not suited or qualified to step forward. But this is the usual ploy utilized by the left. They ignore or obscure facts, among other complicated questions of science and ethics, and fall back on their doctrine of infallibility.

Limbaugh is making a salient point that can no longer be glossed over by shameless liberal chicanery. The paper-thin veil of liberal infallibility has been penetrated by Coulter’s sharp pen and Limbaugh’s sharp tongue. Feelings might be hurt in the process but in the end, the truth is vindicated.

a funny image from Rush's site

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The End of Europe?

Mark Steyn, the ever-witty contributor for National Review has released a fascinating book entitled, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. Personally, I have not read it but I plan to as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. I have a feeling that such a book will be, for obvious reasons, hard to come across here in Italy so I may have to wait until I return home. For those of you in the States, buy a copy asap! From the reviews that I have come across, it won’t disappoint. It seems that Steyn’s book would go well with George Weigel’s, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America and Politics without God. Steyn outlines the grim prospects for Europe; she continues to dwindle in population thanks to dangerously low birth rates while at the same time she is subject to a never ending influx of Muslim immigrants. Steyn argues that Socialist Europe will be ever more forced to accommodate the new arrivals so as to find a means to pay for massive amounts of retirement pensions looming on the horizon for the aging European population. In addition, Steyn reveals how a sickening multiculturalism has effectively killed, or in the very least severely wounded, the cultural identities of European nations, leaving a vacuum to be filled by, you guessed it, the disciples of Islam. The book is not all doom and gloom however. Steyn points out that Europe’s demise could be the decisive wake-up call that America desperately needs. He argues forcefully that, at present, we are not winning the war on terror. Americans are beginning to show the first signs of battle fatigue. With Europe’s rotting corpse being divided and dissected among the unstoppable immigrants, America will become more isolated and, as a result, may be shocked back into reality. Steyn is convinced that while Europe is finished, America still has a fighting chance, but we can’t lose sight of what Weigel refers to as the ¨stakes for the states¨.

Ultimately, I may not share Steyn's pessimism regarding Europe's ultimate fate. I prefer to reserve some hope that the efforts of JPII and BXVI will produce some fruit; indeed, their warnings may be Europe's last chance. I'm not sure Steyn takes this factor into account in his book. Poland's unique status in Europe also deserves some attention. Nevertheless, America Alone is a welcome reminder for Americans to come around.

Monday, October 23, 2006

President Obama???

Junior Illinois Senator Barack Obama recently backtracked on previous remarks to the effect that he would not seek the office of president. On NBC's Meet the Press, Obama confessed that he would consider running for president in 2008.

"I would say I am still at the point where I have not made a decision to pursue higher office, but it is true that I have thought about it over the last several months," said Obama.

Considering the astonishing level of attention he's been receiving over the past couple years, Obama's change of heart is not all that surprising. To the point however, I've never understood what everybody sees in this guy. He is presented by the media as the embodiment of mainstream America and the definition of moderation. But Obama is anything but mainstream or moderate. He's an unabashed, arch-liberal. He conceals his radical tendencies behind his next-door neighbor personality, smooth rhetorical tricks and wide grin. Washington insiders admit that he's done nothing of significance, outside of his presidential-like tour of Kenya which served only to further inflate his ego, and he has also been known to shirk the tedium of day-to-day congressional duties, preferring instead to bask in the lights of cameras and converse with coquettish reporters. The expression ¨style over substance¨ has rarely found a more appropriate home than with this ambitious political celebrity. Someone needs to bring this guy down to earth, quickly.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Poland's Triumph

The Shrine in Częstochowa

Recently, I traveled to Poland with a small group from my Communication class. Last Spring, six of us organized a four-day whirlwind tour of Pope John Paul II’s homeland to help kick-off the new academic year. One of my good friends here in Rome is a young Polish priest and he readily agreed to serve our guide for visiting many of Poland’s most renowned sanctuaries. Time was short; we only had four days to pack in a healthy dose of Poland’s rich culture, but with the help of our Polish friend, who safely delivered us through what would have certainly been a precarious language barrier, we were able to do much of what we set out to accomplish. Prior to the trip, I had heard a good deal second-hand about Poland’s history and culture and had been deeply impressed with her reputation as one of the world’s most devoutly Catholic nations. But for some time I wanted to experience this culture firsthand, so finally the time had arrived as we touched down in Warsaw. We started off by visiting the sanctuary in Częstochowa, which serves as the sacred repository for the revered icon of the Black Madonna. As we made our way through the Church, we were all deeply impressed by the intensity of the devotion exhibited by the Polish faithful at the shrine: young people lined up at the confessionals and Mass attendance was standing room only. The visit to the shrine confirmed right from the start of the trip that the Catholic faith in Poland is not merely an incidental or historical anecdote of Polish culture, relegated to the history books, but rather is a living, breathing part of modern Polish society. After the stop at Częstochowa, we took the long bus ride to the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz and, by the end of our tour of the grounds, we were all reduced to a somber silence: it seemed the only appropriate reaction, words weren’t enough. Undoubtedly, Auschwitz will serve for the ages as a dark reminder of humanity’s capacity for diabolical machinations against the dignity of his fellow man. As the visit progressed, we also toured Wawel Castle in Krakow. Wawel serves as a national shrine and final resting place for numerous Polish royalty and cultural and political luminaries from ages past. Along with the shrine at Częstochowa, many consider Wawel the epicenter and nexus of Polish culture and history. Wawel lacked the musty museum ambiance that characterizes other European cultural sites I’ve visited, where all too often, a nation’s cultural identity and past have been reduced to a faded memory or museum piece, an old, forgotten book gathering dust on the shelf of Europe’s collective conscience. Far different was the scene at Wawel; the castle was alive with Polish pilgrims, again young and old, streaming in and out of its cavernous chambers, paying respects to their national heroes. Looking back, what stood out most about the visit was a tangible cultural freshness unique to Poland, which sets her apart from other nations of Europe. All of these moving experiences brought to the forefront a salient question: Why is Poland so different from the rest of modern Europe?

Wawel Castle

It is widely acknowledged in Catholic circles, and it is immediately perceived by those who visit Europe, that the Continent at present finds itself in the violent throws of a particularly poisonous cultural malaise that has at its source an identity crisis rooted in its hostility toward its Christian heritage and broad embrace of moral relativism. By rejecting the essential ingredient of Christianity in the composition of its identity, most in Europe are grasping in the dark for something else that might fill the vacuum and give meaning to their existence. Dangerous ideologies promising to herald in a new august age of enlightenment, ranging from Nazism, Fascism and Communism have been the most popular substitutes over the past century and no doubt Poland has suffered the full fury of what these creeds had to offer; death on a scale unprecedented in the history of the world, disease, famine and political and economic turmoil, to name only a few. The pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have eagerly sought to allay these erratic spasms of secularism by imploring Europe to rediscover herself by fearlessly embracing her cultural heritage and, in particular, the faith that has over the course of two-thousand years, crafted Europe’s beautiful and diverse cultures. Both have made it clear in no uncertain terms that the survival of Europe as a cultural entity is at stake. Even traditionally Catholic nations like Spain and Italy have fallen prey to the predator of moral relativism. Yet despite the success that relativism has achieved in virtually every nation, Poland has firmly resisted and fought off relativism’s advances and consequently stands out as a pearl among the nations of Europe.

My short pilgrimage proved convincingly that the dark cloud of radical secularism has by and large passed over Poland. There are several reasons that can explain for this. Over the centuries, Poland has suffered severely at the hands of avaricious nations who have fought over how to divide, conquer and eviscerate not merely Polish territory, but Polish culture itself. Indeed, it is precisely because of Poland’s epic struggles to preserve a cultural memory against foreign powers over the past millennia that Poles today are so acutely aware of precisely what is at stake when the armies of relativism and secularism threaten at its borders. Throughout Poland’s agonizing ensnarement by Nazism and Communism, Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II fought mightily to remind his countrymen of their unique identity as Poles, found in the pages and chapters of their literature, the chords and notes of their music and most significantly in the faith of their fathers. Through the immense trials of foreign occupation and oppression, an authentic Polish culture, a unique Polish identity, was embalmed for future generations so that today, it remains viable and intact. Indeed, Poland embodies everything that Europe ought to be. To be certain, this Slavic nation, like all nations, faces the same challenges and hurdles that threaten any open and free society. Nevertheless I have never been in a country whose people and culture move in tandem so harmoniously with the traditional faith professed by the nation. Absent was the disparity present in so many other nations that sees modernity and faith set against one another as irreconcilable and mortal foes. Poland, as a society, culture and nation, has figured out how to be thoroughly modern and authentically Catholic at the same time by recognizing, revering and cherishing its culture. I believe this was the vision for Europe and the world that inspired Pope John Paul II.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Silver Lining

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's maniacal ravings against President Bush were truly disgusting but I believe, in the end, they will only serve to help our cause. Don't buy the "defense" of Bush by American liberals like Charles Rangel and Nancy Pelosi. Their defense speaks to the silver lining I see in Chavez's vitriol. The truth is that the Democrats were forced, kicking and screaming, into this pseudo-defense of the president because they see clearly that if they don't create some noticeable difference between their criticism of Bush and Chavez’s criticism, they will be lumped together and rejected by the people. The Democrat’s criticism of the president over the past several years has been just as bad, if not worse, than that of Chavez. Democrats see Bush rising in the polls, and his popularity will threaten their chances at winning control of the House in November. If Americans finally say "we've had enough" with the relentless, hateful attacks on the president, they will see that Chavez and the radical left of this country are one in the same, utterly indistinguishable. Ideologically speaking, both the left and Chavez are staunch socialists and subsequently, hostile to the United States and President Bush. The pathetic “defense” offered by Rangel is an attempt to mitigate the fury most sensible Americans feel toward Bush’s critics.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Interrogation and Terror

There is a debate swelling between conservatives and liberals regarding the treatment of suspected terrorists. At the behest of the omnipotent Supreme Court, President Bush is asking Congress to define more clearly Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which addresses the treatment of prisoners of war. The objective of Common Article 3 is to prohibit the torturing of prisoners at the hands of their captors. It is well known that Common Article 3 originally applied only to captives of traditional military forces, that is to say, uniformed soldiers from a legitimate nation-state. The Supreme Court however decided (declared) that Common Article 3 should be applied to al-Qaida and other terror operatives who flaunt all traditional rules of war: they blend into the civilian population thereby refusing to clearly distinguish themselves from the general public, they hide in and fire from mosques and hospitals, they intentionally target innocents, and they belong to no clearly defined nation. We are facing, in this asymmetrical war, manifestations of a new type of enemy truly unlike anything we've seen before. The enemies we face on the battlefield are savages, unmatched in their brutality and unscrupulousness.

Bush has repeatedly insisted that we do not torture our prisoners. I believe him. However we do make use of tactics that some may consider rough; tactics that would no doubt offend weak-kneed, effeminate liberals. We do make use of legitimate, alternative measures with interrogation to obtain extremely valuable information. That we have not had an attack in over five years says that we must be doing something right. In fact, several terror plots have been interrupted as a direct result of our intelligence gathering and interrogation tactics. The CIA is insisting that interrogation parameters need to be clearly defined for them so they will not be hauled before judges for the alleged torture of detainees. In response to the Supreme Court's foolish ruling, Bush has petitioned Congress to hammer out and crystallize acceptable interrogation techniques to avoid embarrassing court spectacles involving our interrogators. Liberals and a handful of renegade Republican Senators like John McCain argue that we shouldn't touch Common Article 3 because it would, they speculate, create a moral equivalence between al-Qaida and the United States. Torture would be sanctioned by the US and we would sink to the moral depths of the very terrorists who attacked us on 9-11. This kind of moral equivalence between the US and terror cells is truly sickening and should be rejected outright. It starts with a premise that I don’t readily accept. Liberals also argue that, if we tweak Common Article 3 in our dealings with prisoners, our enemies could follow our precedent and adjust the Geneva Conventions to suit their needs as well in the event that an American is captured. Those who hold our prisoners will look at our example and claim that they have the right to modify their own standards of interrogation imposed on them by their signing onto the Geneva Convention. This will, in the end, put Americans at risk. The problem with this argument is that the enemies we are concerned with in the war on terror have already tortured, beheaded, mutilated and slaughtered captive Americans. Assuming they even know about the Geneva Conventions, they certainly could care less about abiding by them. McCain argues that the Geneva Conventions have governed Western POW detention and interrogation standards for decades and ipso facto, shouldn't be changed. This kind of static thinking is deeply troubling, especially in light of 9-11 and the evolving nature of warfare. That something is old and "time-tested" should not be the sole criteria for upholding a particular policy. If we've learned anything, it is that we must continually update our tactics to stay one-step ahead of our enemies. We should take our leaders at their word (an almost impossible task for some) and trust that we are not torturing our captives, à la the regime of Saddam Hussein. At the same time, we must allow for effective, albeit rough, interrogation tactics to obtain the life-saving information we need.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

International Day of Peace

On September 21, the United Nations is celebrating the International Day of Peace. In 2001, the General Assembly unanimously approved the resolution reserving this day for peace, love, harmony and dialogue, how nice. I wonder if these characters are joining hands. Of course, more graphic images could be added to the gallery, but the point has been made sufficiently. In other news, Muslims across the globe will hold a "Day of Anger" on Friday to protest (peacefully, of course) the pope's remarks.

Mr. Sunshine