The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Possibly not the best approach

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose work I have followed for years, want to arrest the Pope when he visits the U.K. in September:

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

I think the Pope's conduct in the child-abuse cover-up completely destroys any credibility and moral authority Ratzinger claims to have through his office. Still, despite the history of the U.K. vis a vis the Catholic Church, I caution Dawkins that perhaps this isn't the best way to make his case.

I think Dawkins was correct last month when he suggested the Pope "should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles," which creates dramatic irony, rather than trying to arrest him, which makes Ratzinger a victim. I just hope more children aren't tied up and raped before it happens.

Polish President and other top officials killed

Truly stunning news from Russia this morning, with devastating repercussions for Poland:

A plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders crashed in a heavy fog in western Russia on Saturday morning, killing everyone aboard.

... Among those on board, according to the Web site of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, were [President Lech] Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; former Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski; the deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzinski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczyglo; the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrzej Kremer; the chief of the general staff of the Polish army, Franciszek Gagor; the president of Poland’s national bank, Slawomir Skrzypek; the commissioner for civil rights protection, Janusz Kochanowski; the heads of all of Poland’s armed forces; and dozens of members of parliament.

The crash fits the strict definition of tragedy, as have so many air crashes involving VIPs:

A press secretary for ... the governor of Smolensk, said the landing took place under very bad visibility, and Russian air traffic controllers advised the crew to land in Minsk, but the crew decided to land anyway. The Polish news channel TVN24 reported that moments before the crash, air traffic controllers had refused a Russian military aircraft permission to land, but that they could not refuse permission to the Polish plane.

And unbelievable irony:

[Kaczynski] had been due in western Russia to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II. The ceremonies were to be held at a site in the Katyn forest close to Smolensk, where 70 years ago members of the Soviet secret police executed more than 20,000 Polish officers captured after the Soviet Army invaded Poland in 1939.

The crash quite literally decimated the Polish government. Poland has some difficult days ahead.

Update: Author and pilot James Fallows explains why this is a tragedy in the literal, Greek-dramatic sense I meant above.

Eminently more sensible than our way

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown requested the Queen dissolve Parliament today in advance of their May 6th general election:

The formalities between the Prime Minister and monarch lasted 23 minutes. The details of their conversation will remain private but Mr Brown was to ask the Queen for a dissolution next Monday. He then returned to Downing Street to name the date on the steps of No 10.

[Conservative Party leader David] Cameron was not in a mood to wait, starting his campaign appearance while Mr Brown's motorcade was still moving. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was also out campaigning.

Mr Brown finally emerged from No 10 at around 10.45am, announced what he called "probably the worst-kept secret of recent years" and started the pitch to voters that Labour campaign strategists hope will lead to a record fourth term for Labour.

I don't think we should have the Queen dissolve Congress—the last time that happened things ended badly for the U.K.—but I do like the British 5-week limit on campaigning. Can you imagine how much Congress would get done if they could only campaign for re-election during the months of October and November?

Cameron's party will likely win more seats than they have now, but Labour may retain a plurality. That would cause a hung Parliament, and give the Liberal Democrats a lot of power to form a coalition (probably with Labor). So on May 7th, look for Gordon Brown retaining his job but Nick Clegg in the Cabinet. That should be interesting. (Also look to Brown to resign shortly after the election. Prime Minister Darling, one wonders?)

And on All Fools Day, yet

I had planned to write about the smallest pre-reading box ever[1]. I had planned to write in Ubbi-Dubbi Pig Latin, a language spoken, as far as I know, by only one other person on earth. I had planned, in other words, not to have this come out:

No, not that. The updated version:

Pope Benedict, accused by victims' lawyers of being ultimately responsible for an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests, cannot be called to testify at any trial because he has immunity as a head of state, a top Vatican legal official said on Thursday.

"The Church is not a multi-national corporation," Giuseppe dalla Torre, head of the Vatican's tribunal, said. "He has (spiritual) primacy over the Church ... but every bishop is legally responsible for running a diocese."

Dalla Torre also rejected suggestions by some U.S. lawyers and critics of the Church that Vatican documents in 1962 and 2001 encouraged local bishops not to report sexual abuse cases.

He re-stated the Vatican's position that the documents, one of which called for procedures to remain secret, did not suggest to bishops that they should not report cases to authorities.

"Secrecy served above all to protect the victim and also the accused, who could turn out to be innocent, and it regarded only the canonical (church) trial and did not substitute the penal process," he said.

Secrecy did substitute for the penal process. And abetting a felony is usually a felony. So: What did the Pope know, and when did he know it?

[1] It contained two textbooks, one of which I can leave at home for the residency, a CD, and a few sheets of paper, total about 3.5 kg.

Thus endeth all dispute

An island claimed by both India and Bangladesh has vanished, ending a territorial dispute going back to 1971:

The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis.

Recent satellites images show the whole island under water, says the School of Oceanographic Studies in Calcutta.

"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.

Professor Hazra said his studies revealed that sea levels in this part of the Bay of Bengal have risen much faster over the past decade than they had done in the previous 15 years.

And he predicts that in the coming decade other islands in the Sundarbans delta region will follow New Moore, or South Talpatti, beneath the waves.

The article doesn't explain that both countries claimed the tiny uninhabited island because the law of the sea allows countries to claim a 370 km exclusive economic zone around any land they "control," even if it's just a speck poking above the water. This means the total disputed territory was actually over 430,000 km²—an area about as big as California or Thailand. But with the island gone, the competing claims have vanished as well.

(With the island sitting right at the mouth of a major river, however, the 22 km territorial waters were probably more important to both.)

Too much dark humor, but too many victims

Today the Vatican announced that there has been no cover-up in the latest U.S. sex-abuse scandal, and could we all just leave the Pope alone?

This whole thing must feel like someone stampeded cattle through St. Peter's.

But let's be serious. It looks quite like the current Pope intervened in the Ecclesiastical trial of a priest accused of molesting 200 deaf boys, and failed to act on dozens of other cases:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

Andrew Sullivan:

What's fascinating in the steady onslaught of new incidences of previous cover-ups of child rape and molestation in the Catholic hierarchy is the notion that the hierarchs tended to see child rape as a sin rather than a crime. Hence the emphasis on forgiveness, therapy, repentance - rather than removal, prosecution and investigation. Obviously, there's one reason for this: they were defending the reputation of the church by hiding its darkest secrets, and they were using the authority of religion to do so. But I suspect it's also true that this is how they genuinely thought of child rape or abuse.

How could that be, one asks? Well: imagine you are a young gay Catholic teen coming into his sexuality and utterly convinced that it's vile and evil. What do you do? I can tell you from my own experience. You bury it. But of course, you can't bury it. So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy or you will burn in hell for ever ... so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination. Some shard of beauty, some aspect of sensuality, some vision of desire will keep you sexually energized for days.

Now suppose your powers of suppression and attachment to religious authority are also strong - perhaps stronger because you feel so adrift you need something solid to cling onto in your psyche. And you know you cannot marry a woman. But you want to have status and cover as a single man. If this is the 1950s and 1960s, it's into the Church you go. You think it will cure you. In fact, it only makes you sicker because your denial is buttressed by their collective denial. And the whole thing becomes one big and deepening spiral of lies and corruption.

As Sullivan said only last week, "If this were a secular institution, the police would move in and shut it down."

True Conservatives

If you believe in small government, individual liberty, and all the other things that conservatives traditionally believe, then equal rights for gays naturally follows. As evidence I give you the British Conservative Party's leader (and probably the next prime minister), David Cameron:

[N]o-one should be in any doubt that the Conservative party abhors homophobia, that we support equal rights, that we support civil partnerships, that we think that part of being a strong central right party in Britain today.

One of the bedrock issues is being in favour of proper equality for people whether they are straight or gay, or black or white, or men or women, or whether they live in the town or the countryside or whatever God they worship - important points.

He's the Conservative Party leader. That's what a center-right politician looks like everywhere else in the world. His positions are entirely within the foundational beliefs of conservatism (and liberalism, of course).

Incidentally, the interview quoted above was with—wait for it—Gay Times magazine. Now stop, for a moment, and consider the crashing improbability of Sarah Palin or John Boehner sitting down with the Advocate and you start to see how out of touch with conservatism the Republican leadership really is.

Why the euro isn't the dollar

Paul Krugman has a good explanation today why the problems of Spain and Greece come from the ways Europe and the U.S. are different:

[T]here’s not much that Spain’s government can do to make things better. The nation’s core economic problem is that costs and prices have gotten out of line with those in the rest of Europe. If Spain still had its old currency, the peseta, it could remedy that problem quickly through devaluation — by, say, reducing the value of a peseta by 20 percent against other European currencies. But Spain no longer has its own money, which means that it can regain competitiveness only through a slow, grinding process of deflation.

Now, if Spain were an American state rather than a European country, things wouldn’t be so bad. For one thing, costs and prices wouldn’t have gotten so far out of line: Florida, which among other things was freely able to attract workers from other states and keep labor costs down, never experienced anything like Spain’s relative inflation. For another, Spain would be receiving a lot of automatic support in the crisis: Florida’s housing boom has gone bust, but Washington keeps sending the Social Security and Medicare checks.

And then there was Hawaii

Forty nine states have snow on the ground right now thanks to a rash of snowstorms caused, in part, by human-induced climate change (.pdf, 1.8 MB). First, the situation on the ground:

The extraordinary rash of snowstorms which have swept the U.S. in recent weeks, many generating record snowfall, have produced one of the country's most expansive snow packs in recent memory. National Weather Service researchers charged with monitoring the country's snow cover and its water content estimated Friday that more than 67% of the Lower 48 sat beneath a veil of snow. Hawaii, despite the presence of mountains which can and often do become snow-covered in winter, is the only state not to report at least some snow on the ground. The snow has been so widespread in recent weeks, even perennially snow-free Florida has failed to escape. De Funiak Springs, in the state's panhandle near the Georgia border, reported a 1" snow accumulation late Friday afternoon at the same time a thundery squall line in warmer air to the south was diving southward the length of the Florida peninsula unleashing driving rains and 70 mph gusts.

And the prediction the National Climatic Data Center summarized on their Climate Change FAQ page:

In some areas where overall precipitation has increased (ie. the mid-high northern latitudes), there is evidence of increases in the heavy and extreme precipitation events. Even in areas such as eastern Asia, it has been found that extreme precipitation events have increased despite total precipitation remaining constant or even decreasing somewhat. This is related to a decrease in the frequency of precipitation in this region.

Now, I'm not a physicist, but I do understand that putting the same amount of energy into a system while cutting off the avenues for the energy to dissipate means more energy remains in the system, like having a slow drain in a bathtub. All the evidence might support a different conclusion, of course, which is why scientists are looking for more evidence. Maybe climatologists are wrong. Maybe we're not experiencing an unprecedented shift in worldwide climate, and maybe we didn't cause it. At the moment, though, that's wishful thinking.

Time to hug the dog

One year into the Obama administration, it seems that a sizable portion of the country believe that because he hasn't cleaned up the unprecedented mess left by the former occupant, he somehow caused it. That, anyway, comes through in the reports of GOP focus groups of independent voters in Massachusetts. That, and crashing ignorance:

"I like what Scott Brown stands for and I feel that the Democrats cannot run the country anymore. That too many people that don’t have jobs are going hungry. They’re not taking care of business. They’re not doing their jobs. They’re caught up in this health care thing. I’m saying they’re not taking care of the people that are unemployed.” (Independent Man, Bristol)

Except for the bits in the past year where the Democratic Congress expanded unemployment insurance, passed a stimulus package, prevented massive bank failures, and started winding down two wars.

"Scott Brown ran a campaign as an underdog and he ran without support and is getting his message out, it doesn’t feel like he’s tied to anybody...." (Independent Woman, Norfolk)

Except for the largest single GOP money-drop in a decade.

"Brown would be the forty-first elected Republican, breaking the monopoly the Democrats have in Congress. I think they’re running away with their agenda and not listening to the American people. Just that there are so many cases where, for example the tea party, people are out there expressing their opinions. I see interviews with Harry Reid, not hearing the majority." (Independent Man, Bristol)

Except for the majorities who voted for the Democratic Congress, Senate, and President (53%, 52%, and 53%, respectively) in 2008.

In fact, the Democratic Congress' failing could be that they've tried too hard to represent the entire country, including the obstructionist right wing, when they should have taken their mandate and rammed their policies through. This, if you recall, is what the Republicans did in 1994 and 2000. Andrew Sullivan summarizes:

[The health care reform bill is m]ore conservative than Nixon or Clinton - and yet it's a threat to the meaning of America. This is claptrap. Hooey. Hysteria. And wrong. If the Democrats give into this FNC/RNC campaign to smear Obama as something he is not, they will miss the only chance of real, imperfect but meaningful reform. They will have blinked after being psyched out.

The Republican Party doesn't care about policy, they don't care about governing, they don't care about helping people, and they certainly don't care what the majority of Americans want or need. The Republican Party cares about winning qua winning. And then what? Well, they don't care.

And yet, today's aftershock in Haiti and Japan Airlines' bankruptcy (¥2 trillion) will probably be more important events a year from now.