Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Habemus Papam!

We welcome Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, the most important religious leader in the world. Now, some background from the BBC:

Cardinal Ratzinger has been head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition - since 1981.

One of his first campaigns was against liberation theology, which had gained ground among priests in Latin America and elsewhere as a means of involving the Church in social activism and human rights issues.

He has described homosexuality as a "tendency" towards an "intrinsic moral evil". During the US election campaign, he called for pro-choice politicians to be denied Communion.

He has also argued that Turkey should not be admitted into the European Union.

The eighth German to become Pope, he speaks 10 languages and is said to be an accomplished pianist with a preference for Beethoven.

I've previously expressed conflict on the issue of Turkey joining the EU, but I most certainly agree with his view as a European. Could Benedict XVI save Europe? We'll see if the Europeans let him.

Some reaction has been predictably ignorant, possibly due to frustration at the failure to impose affirmative action on the papacy:

(AP) "It's Ratzinger," French pilgrim Silvie Genthial, 52, barked into her cellular phone before hanging up.

"We were all hoping for a different pope - a Latin American perhaps - but not an ultraconservative like this," she said.

Or perhaps a Protestant? Or a Muslim? Anyone but a Catholic who doesn't want to turn the Catholic Church into the Unitarian Universalists?

(NY Times) R. Scott Appleby, a historian on American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, said many Catholics were dismayed, stunned and depressed at the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger.

"This is their worst nightmare come true," said Professor Appleby, who predicted that the selection could lead to a "winnowing" of the American church.

"There is an idea associated with Cardinal Ratzinger and some American cardinals and bishops," Professor Appleby said, "that if we face a choice as Catholics between a pure, doctrinally orthodox church on the one hand and the current situation, which as they see it is a wide range of practice and belief and a moral laxity, they would choose a smaller, purer, more doctrinally orthodox church."

What's wrong with this? I'm reminded of the debate over how big the GOP tent should be, but the Catholic Church doesn't have to concern itself with winning elections. The Catholic Church survived the Reformation and centuries of devastating religious wars. It should be able to survive John Kerry and Tom Daschle.

On a side note, I feel some small connection to the new Pope:

(AP) He deserted in April 1945 and returned home to Traunstein. It was a risky move, since deserters were shot or hanged. But the Third Reich was collapsing.

"The Americans finally arrived in our village," he wrote. "Even though our house lacked all comfort, they chose it as their headquarters."

Ratzinger was identified as a deserter and placed in prisoner of war camp near Ulm in southern Germany. He wrote that he could see the spires of the city's cathedral in the distance.

"It was, for me, like a consoling proclamation of the indescribable humaneness of faith," he wrote.

I visited Ulm in 2003 to see and climb to the top of the world's tallest cathedral. It really is quite a sight.

Update, Apr. 20: New Sisyphus explains the media reaction well:
In the United States, there seems to be widespread anger and revulsion at the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger because he appears to be Catholic. Not only that, but he also appears to take the central tenants of that faith seriously.

Monday, April 11, 2005

What Does it Take to be "Relevant"?

On April 5th, Christiane Amanpour had this to say about the funeral preparations for Pope John Paul II:
You do get a sense of timelessness. This majestic pomp that has been ceremonial throughout centuries. And again it's also a very religious moment. And I keep coming back to the deep belief that this is a critical juncture for this church. It's got find out how to be relevant for the next several centuries or at least the next generation.
Relevant? How does she get from timelessness to questioning relevance?
(Boston Globe) The audience was extraordinary: 300,000 mourners at the service, who came on 24-hour bus rides from Poland, who sold possessions to fly from Mexico, who slept all night in the square to be present to cheer the life of one of the most extraordinary figures of the 20th century; and millions more in the streets of Rome, and hundreds of millions beyond them who watched on television.
Despite the short notice and cost of travel, the number of visitors to Rome exceeded the city's own population. In Krakow, 800,000 people gathered together to watch the funeral. In addition to at least four million pilgrims, the funeral drew "an unprecedented gathering of world leaders," from President Bush and Taiwanese President Chen to Robert Mugabe and Iranian President Khatami. Two billion people were expected to watch the funeral on television.

Perhaps Amanpour was just feeling left behind. As Anderson Cooper said previously:
It's interesting, I was talking to a priest on line earlier when I was shooting a story, and he was saying this is timeless. This is almost you could be in the medieval time. I mean, yes there are cameras and yes, there as you said, this media event. But you really don't get the sense of this being a media event. I mean, I think as you said last night, we are sort of flies on the wall here. This would all be going on whether or not we are here.
Which I suppose raises the question: is CNN relevant?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Gubernatorial Election Circus: Episode V

5 months after the election which produced two governors-elect, King County "discovers" 87 more ballots.

The discovery is likely to bolster a key Republican claim: that there were so many irregularities in the election that the true winner can't be determined. Republicans have cited many errors by election workers and have focused on King County, where batches of uncounted and improperly rejected ballots had been discovered earlier.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's chief election official, was surprised by news of the most-recently found ballots.

"Oh my gosh," he said.

Reed said the news confirmed his belief that problems in the King County elections division are "very deep and very significant."

Meanwhile, in the Washington State House of Representatives:
Democrats removed identification requirements at the polls, something that Gov. Christine Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed supported and the original Senate bill required, either in the form of photo ID or a voter registration card.
Which raises the question: why should it be easier to vote than to buy cold medicine?

Previous Episodes:
Episode IV: Gubernatorial Election Circus Continues
Episode III: Dino Rossi Third Count Update
Episode II: Dino Rossi Interim Update
Episode I: Rossi Wins! - Twice!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Extrapolating Beyond Reason: Statehood and the Gas Tax

There's been some discussion, probably less serious than it should be, about creating a new state out of Eastern Washington so that its residents wouldn't be subject to policies created primarily for the Puget Sound area. The only argument to be widely used against the split (or for it, in the view of some Westerners) is that Eastern Washington receives more money in transportation spending than it produces in gas taxes (and the numbers are still pretty close).

Quick Question: Are all of these dollars actually spent in the counties in question? Picture, for example, an entirely empty county that a road needs to pass through. Supplies and labor would have to be imported from neighboring counties, but would probably be attributed to the empty county, prompting idiotic questions like "there aren't even any people there, why are we giving them money?"

More importantly though, why do they stop at gas taxes? Gas taxes make up 6% or less of Washington State revenues. What about the other 94%?

Now, I'm pretty good at finding stuff on the internet, sometimes it even shocks people - but I couldn't find this critical information out there. My contact at the Census Bureau says the state doesn't even publish it. So where is the other 94% spent? I guess they just don't want us to know.