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Chen and his cause

The blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, whom we have been blogging about, has been released and has arrived in the United States, where he will be a fellow at New York University.  Melinda Henneberger writes about the human rights issue Chen has been battling:

The day of Mei Shunping’s fifth forced abortion in China was “the saddest day of my life,’’ she told a congressional subcommittee this week.

The cause that human rights activist Chen Guangcheng has so long championed is often glossed over in this country, where we tend to focus on how cool it is that a blind guy scaled a fence and escaped his captors like some kind of action hero. But Mei spelled out the gory particulars for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

This undated photo provided by the China Aid Association shows blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, right, with wife Yuan Weijing and son, Chen Kerui in China. (AP)

On a monthly basis, she told those of us in the hearing room, she and all other female employees in the textile factory where she worked were subjected to humiliating physical exams to document that they weren’t pregnant; otherwise, under China’s one-child policy, they weren’t paid. And when any woman not approved for childbearing was even suspected of missing a period, co-workers were quick to inform on her, because when one became illegally pregnant, all were punished.

On the worst day of Mei’s life, not only was she physically dragged to the hospital, she said, but she collapsed in pain after complications following the procedure. She had no one to lean on, either, since her husband had been thrown in jail for arguing with the doctors: “My young son didn’t know what was happening and kept crying for his father. I didn’t know what to do and could only hold my son and cry with him. Even now, when I think of all this, my heart shudders and the pain throbs.”

via Why Chen fights, and why U.S. abortion rights supporters should care – She The People – The Washington Post.

If those who believe in abortion are really “pro-choice,” as opposed to pro-abortion, why aren’t they protesting forced abortion?

The influence of the Lutheran parsonage in Germany

Sociologist Peter Berger on the influence of the Lutheran parsonage in Germany, particularly in East Germany under Communism:

[Chancellor Angela] Merkel [daughter of a Lutheran pastor] and [President Joichim] Gauck [a former Lutheran pastor] share a background of Protestant life in Communist East Germany. To what extent has this background shaped their worldview and their overall lifestyle? I don’t think that I know enough about these two individuals to answer the question—though it is hard to believe that the conditions under which one lived during one’s formative years leave no traces in one’s later life. In the event, one can take an individual out of a Lutheran parsonage—I doubt whether one can take the parsonage out of the individual. The powerful language of Luther’s German translation of the Bible and the powerful music of Lutheran hymnody must inevitably reverberate even in the consciousness of individuals whose ties with the Lutheran church have frayed. But we do know a lot about the story of that church in the so-called German Democratic Republic, and in East Germany since then. It is an interesting and somewhat puzzling story.

The ideology of the DDR was an aggressively atheist Marxism. Religious institutions were closely watched by the Stasi. Clergy and active lay people were harassed, frequently arrested, treated as second-class citizens. As a result religion existed in a barely tolerated subculture, tightly contained and periodically persecuted. Because of the exigencies of German religious history, the population of the DDR was mostly Protestant. By the very nature of its pariah status, the Protestant church inadvertently maintained (as it were, preserved in amber) not only a particular religious tradition, but the bourgeois culture with which it had been historically linked. Visitors to the DDR were regularly impressed by the old-fashioned appearance of its urban landscape—socialist neglect had kept away the frenetic modernization of West German cities and towns. But equally impressive was the preservation of bourgeois values and habits, equally old-fashioned by Western standards—not only in the Protestant quasi-ghetto, but especially there. Most Protestant congregations did not actively oppose the regime. Nevertheless, they constituted oases of an older, different culture in the desert of official Communist institutions. Since the Protestant church was the only institution with a degree of tolerated autonomy, it very naturally became the main locale of political opposition in the late 1980s. The regime change was inaugurated by the huge demonstrations that first emerged from the historic Thomaskirche in Leipzig (where Johann Sebastian Bach had been organist). When the regime finally collapsed in 1989, some people spoke of “a Protestant revolution”—prematurely, as things turned out. In the final years of the DDR and the first years after re-unification, a number of church-related individuals, including pastors, became politically prominent. Merkel and Gauck were not the only ones. But the role of the church diminished rapidly in the 1990s. Today the territory of the former DDR and the Czech Republic constitute the most thoroughly secularized region in Central Europe. (The Austrian sociologist Paul Zulehner has described them as two countries in which atheism is the established religion.) Why this is so is an intriguing question, but I cannot pursue it here.

A few years ago I heard a lecture by a historian about the role of the Protestant parsonage in German cultural history. The role was quite remarkable. A disproportionate number of writers, scholars and artists were the children of Protestant pastors. But the Protestant parsonage, the Pfarrhaus, was a focus of education and cultural activity beyond the family that inhabited it, especially in smaller towns and villages. The parsonage radiated the distinctive “Protestant ethic” to which Max Weber ascribed an important causal role in the genesis of modern capitalism—personal discipline, soberness, honesty, a penchant for orderliness. Did all good Protestants live that way? Of course they did not. (Deservedly or not, pastors’ daughters had a reputation for sexual laxity.) Did this ethic have negative aspects? Of course it did. It could be stuffy and stultifying, and its penchant for orderliness often led to a supine respect for authority, any authority. Yet many of the greatest cultural achievements in German history had Protestant, specifically Lutheran roots.

via The Long Reach of the Protestant Parsonage in Germany? | Religion and Other Curiosities.

HT:  Joe Carter

New Agers get ready for the end on Dec. 21

Harold Camping has repented of his dating of doomsday, but Christian types are not the only ones who fall for end times predictions.  The Mayan calendar runs out on December 21, 2012.  So quite a few people think that will be the end of time.  (I’m not sure why they think the ancient Mayans would know that information.)  In France, people are already gathering at a mysterious mountain where they believe they will be saved when time runs out:

A mountain looming over a French commune with a population of just 200 is being touted as a modern Noah’s Ark when doomsday arrives – supposedly less than nine months from now.

A rapidly increasing stream of New Age believers – or esoterics, as locals call them – have descended in their camper van-loads on the usually picturesque and tranquil Pyrenean village of Bugarach. They believe that when apocalypse strikes on 21 December this year, the aliens waiting in their spacecraft inside Pic de Bugarach will save all the humans near by and beam them off to the next age.

As the cataclysmic date – which, according to eschatological beliefs and predicted astrological alignments, concludes a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar – nears, the goings-on around the peak have become more bizarre and ritualistic.

For decades, there has been a belief that Pic de Bugarach, which, at 1,230 metres, is the highest in the Corbières mountain range, possesses an eery power. Often called the “upside-down mountain” – geologists think that it exploded after its formation and the top landed the wrong way up – it is thought to have inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Since the 1960s, it has attracted New Agers, who insist that it emits special magnetic waves.

Further, rumours persist that the country’s late president François Mitterrand was transported by helicopter on to the peak, while the Nazis, and, later, Israel’s Mossad, performed mysterious digs there. Now the nearby village is awash with New Agers, who have boosted the local economy, though their naked group climbs up to the peak have raised concerns as well as eyebrows. Among other oddities, some hikers have been spotted scaling the mountain carrying a ball with a golden ring, strung together by a single thread. . . .

Upwards of 100,000 people are thought to be planning a trip to the mountain, 30 miles west of Perpignan, in time for 21 December, and opportunistic entrepreneurs are shamelessly cashing in on the phenomenon. While American travel agents have been offering special, one-way deals to witness the end of the world, a neighbouring village, Saint-Paul de Fenouillet, has produced a wine to celebrate the occasion.

via Hippies head for Noah’s Ark: Queue here for rescue aboard alien spaceship – Europe – World – The Independent.

Nostalgia liberals vs. accountability liberals

Fred Hiatt, himself a liberal, notices the rise of two different and contending kinds of liberals:  Nostalgia liberals and accountability liberals.

The priorities of nostalgia liberalism are community, social cohesion and preservation of New Deal and Great Society programs. Accountability liberals put more stock in market forces and individual empowerment. Their debate is sure to sharpen over the next four years. . . .

Accountability liberals say reform is needed to save Social Security — and that the only way to protect benefits for the poor is to scale back expected benefits for the wealthy.Nostalgia liberals worry that more means-testing will transform Social Security from broad-based social insurance into a poverty program that will gradually lose political support, and therefore funding.

Accountability liberals believe that failing city schools represent the nation’s biggest challenge, since they deprive a generation of mostly minority children the opportunity to move up. Charters, vouchers — whatever it takes to break them out of that prison is justified.Nostalgia liberals deplore those failing schools, too, but say traditional public schools are where America’s cherished melting pot comes to a bubble: the only right response is to fix them.

Accountability liberals like the idea that people who drive more should pay more. HOT lane fees will discourage driving, which is good for the environment, and keep bicyclists and transit riders from having to subsidize highways they don’t use.Nostalgia liberals agree on the need to discourage gasoline consumption, but they hate what they call “Lexus lanes.” Wealthy people shouldn’t be allowed to buy into better versions of public goods — be they parks, public safety or highway lanes with less traffic — than other citizens.

Accountability liberals favor more merit pay and less lifetime tenure for public employees. Nostalgia liberals put a higher priority on shared benefits and shared protections.

Accountability liberals would redirect the tuition subsidy that public universities give to all in-state residents to poor families who need it most. Nostalgia liberals would say that in-state tuition is part of the package that makes people feel part of their community and therefore willing to pay taxes that support higher education.

via Different liberal camps divide progressives – The Washington Post.

How do you see those playing out in the Obama administration?  The Democratic party?

Could we say that there are likewise similar divisions in conservatism, between those who emphasize social concerns and those that just emphasize the individual?

Why so many conservatives are against Gingrich

Peter Wehner takes up the charge that the conservatives who oppose Newt Gingrich are “establishment” figures who oppose the kind of fundamental change that Gingrich would bring.

If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

The reality is that conservative/”establishment” opposition to Gingrich generally falls into three categories. One is that if he won the nomination, he would not only lose to Barack Obama, but he would sink the rest of the GOP fleet in the process. A second area of concern is that Gingrich is temperamentally unfit to be president –he’s too erratic, undisciplined, and rhetorically self-destructive. A third area of concern is the suspicion that the former House speaker is not, in fact, a terribly reliable conservative, that he is not philosophically well-grounded (see his attachment to Alvin Toffler for more).

Some of these criticisms may be appropriate and some of them may be overstated or miss the mark. But to pretend the criticisms of Gingrich — expressed in varying degrees by commentators like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Charles Murray, Michael Gerson, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Bob Tyrrell, Pat Buchanan, Mona Charen, Mark Steyn, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, Karl Rove, Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Elliott Abrams, John Podhoretz, John Hinderaker, Jennifer Rubin, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Yuval Levin, and the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner, to say nothing of a slew of conservative members/former members of Congress who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s –are rooted in their fear of “genuine change” is simply not credible.

via The Real Reasons Conservatives Oppose Gingrich « Commentary Magazine.

Then again, I worry that #1 and #3 would also apply to Mitt Romney!  And #1 and maybe #3 would apply to Rick Santorum.  And at least #1 would apply to Ron Paul.   I remain undecided, but depressed.

Newt vs. Reagan

Newt Gingrich is always wrapping himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, but at the time, when Newt was a Congressman, he was best known for criticizing Reagan’s policies and for putting down the president.  So says Reagan administration official Elliott Abrams, who was there:

Here at home, we faced vicious criticism from leading Democrats — Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, Jim Wright, Tip O’Neill, and many more — who used every trick in the book to stop Reagan by denying authorities and funds to these efforts. On whom did we rely up on Capitol Hill? There were many stalwarts: Henry Hyde, elected in 1974; Dick Cheney, elected in 1978, the same year as Gingrich; Dan Burton and Connie Mack, elected in 1982; and Tom DeLay, elected in 1984, were among the leaders.

But not Newt Gingrich. He voted with the caucus, but his words should be remembered, for at the height of the bitter struggle with the Democratic leadership Gingrich chose to attack . . . Reagan.

The best examples come from a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986. This was right in the middle of the fight over funding for the Nicaraguan contras; the money had been cut off by Congress in 1985, though Reagan got $100 million for this cause in 1986. Here is Gingrich: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing.” Why? This was due partly to “his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail”; partly to CIA, State, and Defense, which “have no strategies to defeat the empire.” But of course “the burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan.” Our efforts against the Communists in the Third World were “pathetically incompetent,” so those anti-Communist members of Congress who questioned the $100 million Reagan sought for the Nicaraguan “contra” rebels “are fundamentally right.” Such was Gingrich’s faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

Gingrich scorned Reagan’s speeches, which moved a party and then a nation, because “the president of the United States cannot discipline himself to use the correct language.” In Afghanistan, Reagan’s policy was marked by “impotence [and] incompetence.” Thus Gingrich concluded as he surveyed five years of Reagan in power that “we have been losing the struggle with the Soviet empire.” Reagan did not know what he was doing, and “it is precisely at the vision and strategy levels that the Soviet empire today is superior to the free world.”

There are two things to be said about these remarks. The first is that as a visionary, Gingrich does not have a very impressive record. The Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, just as Reagan had believed it must. The expansion of its empire had been thwarted. The policies Gingrich thought so weak and indeed “pathetic” worked, and Ronald Reagan turned out to be a far better student of history and politics than Gingrich.

The second point to make is that Gingrich made these assaults on the Reagan administration just as Democratic attacks were heating up unmercifully. Far from becoming a reliable voice for Reagan policy and the struggle against the Soviets, Gingrich took on Reagan and his administration.

via Gingrich and Reagan – Elliott Abrams – National Review Online.


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