"To create is to resist. To resist is to create."
—Stéphane Hessel (1917-2013)
(Swans - March 25, 2013) HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM: So we have a new pope, Francis from Argentina, the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years and a Jesuit. He looks friendly, humble, even debonair. Will he be a bridge-builder (pontifex) and will he decentralize the church in light of modern realities? Or will he hold to the dogma of papal infallibility and concentrate power in the Vatican according to the old expression, "Rome has spoken, the case is closed" (Roma locuta, causa finita)? This is an old debate that prompted Lord Acton to write in 1887 his famous words: "Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it."
CHANGE IS UNLIKELY. Behind his humble and friendly façade Francis is a very conservative man like his two predecessors, Jean Paul II and Benedict XVI. He's already said that secularism is the work of the devil. He is against marriage for priests and women becoming priests. He is quite critical of children born out of wedlock -- not the children per say but the parents -- which is a refusal to accept a social reality. Not surprisingly, Catholicism is becoming increasingly insignificant in Europe. He is going to have to tackle the shortage of priests, the ongoing sexual abuse in the church, the banking scandal, the recurring power play within the curia, the increasing competition of Islam and the evangelical churches, and, of course, the growing secularism in Europe -- quite a few challenges for a 76-year-old leader who has to tend to a flock of about 1.2 billion Catholics with all their diversity in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and North America.
THOUGH I AM AN ATHEIST, I wish Francis well. I cannot deny or refute that most of my personal values have been molded by the philosophy of the Catholic Church, even if I rejected its dogma decades ago. I hope he will become closer to the values of John XXIII -- the "good pope" -- than those of Benedict XVI, but I doubt it. With the growing violence around the world (e.g., Europol has just reported that there are 3,600 criminal groups in the EU; you cannot watch or read the news without seeing daily murders in most cities) we all could use a bit of wisdom
PASSING OF THE TORCH: We've lost Isidor Saslav, as you all know. Other personalities have also disappeared. I'm thinking of Hugo Chávez, the former president of Venezuela who died of cancer recently. The Western press has not been charitable with him, emphasizing his fiery rhetoric about anti-imperialism and anti-USA (though he kept oil deliveries to the U.S. ongoing). Beyond his rhetoric, I think history will remember a man who eradicated 75% of poverty in the country, and brought health care and education to the entire population, using oil money for the greater good rather than just for the enrichment of the few. He also delivered cheap oil to the poor and to neighboring countries, and never waged war against any country. There must be a reason that so many heads of state came to pay homage. Too bad the Europeans and the Americans chose not to attend. Chávez was a good man.
ANOTHER GOOD MAN passed away, Stéphane Hessel, about whom I wrote in my October 2011 article, "Growing Indignation." He was a humanist of the first order; a man of extraordinary moral rectitude. I also would like to report the death of André Fontaine. He will not ring a bell for most readers except for my generation who grew up in France. He was a journalist for some 60 years. He specialized in international affairs, and eventually became editor and director of Le Monde. He was always fair-minded, a bit like the American Bill Keller. His writing was both comprehensible and mordant. Finally, there is the great Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, who will always be remembered for his 1958 masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. Good people don't last forever.
IRAQ WAR: With the 10th anniversary of this horrendous conflict much has been written in the press, to which I cannot add much but to say: The war was illegal and unnecessary. It has been an utter disaster for the Iraqi people. Their country has been destroyed both socially and economically, with its infrastructure decimated by design. They still have little electricity, water, or clean sewage. Their president is becoming as authoritarian as Saddam Hussein was. This war was not just a disaster. It was a crime against humanity based on lies and super lies. Yet Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz, Ms. Rice, and others have never been brought to justice. Instead, they enjoy the life of the rich and famous. At times it makes you want to vomit because of this abomination. To get a sense of how these people think and act I highly recommend Andrew J. Bacevich's article published in the March 2013 issue of Harper's, "A Letter to Paul Wolfowitz." It will give you an idea of the pathology of these people. Sickening...
TO END ON A LIGHTER NOTE, France is turning into a laughable circus. The secretary of the budget had to resign due to allegations that he had a hidden bank account in Switzerland. Former President Sarkozy is under legal investigation for an alleged solicitation and reception of money from the senile but wealthy Liliane Bettencourt. Meanwhile Pépère, as the Canard enchaîné calls President François Hollande, is hiding under his desk. Job losses average 1,000 a day. We hear that Pépère will give a strong speech in the next few days to demonstrate that he is in charge and knows what he is doing. The vaudeville carries on unaltered.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.
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