Minority report

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MINORITY REPORT.

In March the huge British car ferry Herald of FreeEnterprise turned turtle outside the harbor of Zeebrugge. More than a hundred passengers died as the dark waters rushed in and the vessel’s floor abruptly became its ceiling. The disaster was followed by the traditional disclaimers of fault or liability by the owners and by the government ministers responsible for transport. The usual stuffed-shirt inquiry was set up.

The inquiry proved more illuminating than is common ina country where secrecy blankets most of the operations of business and government. The good ship Free Enterprise was found to have been structurally unsound for some time. Its proprietors were found to have been well aware of the fact but unwilling to make the investment necessary to put matters right. Many warnings about the unseaworthiness of the Free Enterprise had been ignored. Efforts had been made to blame the catastrophe on the shortcomings of the crew.

No less fascinating was the testimony of the survivors. Asthe Free Enterprise was dramatically turned into a collective hell, there was little of the staunch reserve that distinguished the passengers on the Titanic. One man told of seeing his wife pushed away from a secure ledge by two younger men and drowning, disregarded, in the oily tide. Others had stories that were hardly less appalling. One man had, however, saved England’s honor. Seeing a five-foot gap over a hazardous drop that separated danger from safety, he had fallen across it like the span of a bridge and had called on people to walk across him. As many as half a dozen lives were saved by his incomparable act.

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In the rather shabby election campaign that is currentlybeing fought in the United Kingdom, one of the few points of interest is the collision of values. According to the reigning orthodoxy that is so sedulously propagated by Margaret Thatcher, the human-bridge fellow was a sucker. In her ideal society, the only principle worth preaching or following is “Every man for himself.’ The harvest of this is plain for all to see, with more than 11 percent unemployment and the spread of a dismal underclass through the growing innercity wastelands. The gradual collapse of health care and higher education, as the Treasury ax falls on the softer parts of the society, is likely to be the Prime Minister’s most enduring monument. There are, of course, rivals for that distinction. One such might be the Trident missile system, a $15 billion project which would give Britain, on its own, the ability to strike Moscow with nuclear warheads. For this, the last of the imperial illusions, there is always money. The sweatshop rules of Friedmanite economics do not apply to subsidies for business and the military.

The map of social relations has altered in precisely theway one might expect, given such priorities. When Thatcher came to power, in 1979, the income share of the top 10 percent was six and a half times greater than that of the bottom 10 percent. Now it is eight time greater and climbing. Wealth statistics show the same tendency, with the top 1 percent now owning 175 times the average of the bottom 50 percent. In 1979 the number of British people who managed to live at or below the line at which they qualified for “relief’ was 6.1 million. Today, it has almost doubled. It’s not as if Britain was free of class differences before the advent of the brave new Toryism; all the same, it’s striking to see inequality and greed given such a ringing official endorsement.

The Conservatives have been able to get away with a gooddeal during their eight-year tenure because their term in office has coincided with the good fortune of Britain as an oil-producing nation. The oil deposits in the North Sea, brought on shore by a major effort of public investment, have provided a cushion for a declining manufacturing sector. But most of the revenues have been squandered on paying unemployment benefits to the millions in enforced idleness, thereby using the dole queue to bust trade union resistance. This is the background to the boasted low rate of inflation. You can fill in the “quality of life’ corollaries for yourself.

Visibly delighted at her own performance in office, andsurrounded by yes men and sycophants, Thatcher decided last month to call an early vote. Most of the initial auguries seemed good for her, with the Labor Party disabled by internal strife and the glitzy centrist Alliance moving off its peak of support among the undecided and the apolitical.

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But almost as soon as she called for a fresh mandate,Thatcher was undone by her own hubris. She made the giant mistake of saying, in those grating tones that have been the excruciating background to the past eight years, that she would like a fourth term as well as the third one she was currently seeking. At those words a sort of shudder ran right through the nation. Strong men and women gagged on their glasses of stout, and even hardened Fleet Street hands blanched. Thatcher’s regime has already begun to take on a distinctly Gaullist tinge, with fainthearts ruthlessly hounded from the Cabinet, and police power employed without discrimination against those who dissent. There is an inchoate feeling that the mighty lady needs a reminder of her own mortality. If Labor can articulate this democratic and popular emotion, it could just confound the experts.

Things and be expected to get dirty before the Tories willeven consider giving ground. On May 24 an alarmist document was leaked to the Conservative press. Purporting to come from the desk of Gen. Bernard Rogers, the retiring head of NATO land forces, it threatened a complete cutoff of American military cooperation with Britain in the event of a Labor victory. The document has been disowned as a forgery by the Pentagon, and very probably it is one. But the happy timing of its release allowed Thatcher to announce over the radio that it was the sort of thing her friend Ronald Reagan might be contemplating if the British electorate ever dared to be ungrateful for the United States‘ “umbrella.’ This is the sort of thing that is dreamed up on the bridge of the Herald of Free Enterprise. The odds are still against it, but should Labor find the courage to call Thatcher’s bluff, it might be able to unite the passengers and stop them from fighting wretchedly among themselves.

>>> Click here: The people of Belfast are getting used to peace, and, not surprisingly, they like it

The people of Belfast are getting used to peace, and, not surprisingly, they like it

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BELFAST-Dispatches from the peace process are gloomy and downright alarming. There is talk that all the optimism of a year ago, and all the political gambles that have been taken on both sides of the Irish Sea and both sides of the Atlantic, may be for naught. Men with bombs, guns and a grievance still operate in this city, and they seem intent on returning to the days of army patrols and barricades and car bombs.

At the same time, the people of Belfast are getting used to peace, and, not surprisingly, they like it. While Belfast still has awful poverty and religious-based injustice, it is benefitting from a genuine peace dividend that promises to bring desperately needed investment into this rusting relic of the Industrial Revolution. There’s a new five-star Hilton Hotel near the city’s main rail terminal, and the Europa hotel- once one of the most-bombed buildings in Europe-has been transformed into a delightful, business-friendly jewel. Shops, pubs and businesses along Great Victoria Street speak to the downtown area’s new prosperity.

Those who wish to turn Northern Ireland back into a battlefield are not taking into account the collective will of people who have been liberated from fear and disorder. They will not tolerate a return to the way things were. They have known peace for the first time in a generation, and they are not about to stand idly by while rogue paramilitaries attempt to wreck the peace.

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A year ago, the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic voted overwhelmingly in favor of peace. The gunmen and assassins speak for nobody, for no cause other than violence for its own sake. The horrible assassination of the attorney Rosemary Nelson, who represented nationalist clients and who was killed by a car bomb within sight of her daughter’s school, was designed to provoke a response from the Irish Republican Army and thus end the province’s peace. There was no response; but three children have been robbed of a mother, a husband of a wife. Similarly, Loyalists who support the peace process did not react in kind when a dissident I.R.A. faction blew up the town center of Omagh last year, killing more than two dozen passersby in Northern Ireland’s worst atrocity.

It has become commonplace to refer to the Irish peace process as fragile, but the description clearly is wrong. It is sturdy, it is stout-hearted, it is determined. Otherwise, it surely would have been broken into a thousand pieces after Omagh, after the bomb that killed Rosemary Nelson. Strong men and women, some of them former paramilitaries, have seized a historic opportunity, and they are not about to let it slip from their grasp.

I have visited this city five times since 1985; this is the first time I have not had a gun pointed at me. The British army patrols that were once so conspicuous have disappeared, or at least they are much more discreet. During past visits, I’ve tried, no doubt unsuccessfully, to act like a jaded New Yorker as soldiers fanned out all around me, keeping me and other passersby in their gun sights as we passed. In 1991 I brought along my wife, the granddaughter of a Catholic run out of Belfast’s shipyards nearly a century ago, because I thought she ought to see what it was like. We took a ferry from Scotland and were on Northern Irish soil no longer than 10 minutes when soldiers marched into the ferry terminal, took up positions and aimed their weapons. Never for a moment did I feel unsafe, but I certainly was intimidated. At my wife’s suggestion, we have since chosen more idyllic locations for family holidays.

Of course, these days one of those idyllic locations could be, yes, Northern Ireland! It has always been a beautiful place hidden by war and oppression. With the guns quiet, the bombs put away and troops almost invisible, it is heartbreakingly lovely.

That is not to say that the province’s injustices have been resolved, that the ugliness of sectarian hatred and divisive politics has been banished like the snakes of old. In the town of Portadown, where the Orange Order will soon be banging its Lambeg drums to celebrate the victory of the Protestant King William III over the Catholic King James II in 1690, ugly graffiti announce the religious makeup of its segregated neighborhoods. Loyalist paramilitary organizations are saluted with slogans in Protestant neighborhoods, and the I.R.A. is immortalized with spray paint in Catholic areas.

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Clearly there is work to be done. And it is, in fact, being done. Some of the Irish peacemakers-the two Nobel Peace Prize winners, John Hume and David Trimble, along with Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, and Loyalist leaders like David Ervine and Gusty Spence-have put their reputations and perhaps even their lives on the line. Others, like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, President Bill Clinton, former Senator George Mitchell and the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, have demonstrated that courage and determination can make a difference. The people here appreciate what has been done for the sake of their future and their prosperity.

I have often quoted the observation of the political writer Richard Reeves that thanks to the Reagan Revolution of the 1980’s, economics has replaced politics in many places throughout the world. Until recently, many believed it was naive to think that Northern Ireland could undergo such a transformation. Yet it is happening. Sure, some cultural purists will grumble when they see a gleaming American franchise outlet rising from the rubble of Belfast. Sorry, but that’s real progress.

The people won’t stand for anything else.

>>> Click here: The misanthrope’s corner

The misanthrope’s corner

Abstract:

Feminists naturally decry misogyny, but many of the most extreme examples of women hating have been from women themselves. There have been numerous women who upon reaching an advanced station in life sought to deny it to other women, seeing them either as incapable or victimized.

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UNDERSTANDING female misogyny requires a taste for paradox. A female misogynist is an exceptionally independent, self-confident woman who starts out assuming that other women are just like her and gets dismayed and impatient when they aren’t. Eventually, after years of watching the majority of her sex snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat and call it femininity, she realizes that women capable of leading women are also capable of despising them.

Nineteenth-century suffrage literature is replete with examples of female misogyny. In a letter to Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton called housewives “the mummies of civilization” and boasted that “such pine knots as you and I are no standard for judging ordinary women.”

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Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first woman doctor, diagnosed the illness and blamed the patient: “I believe that the chief source of the false position of women is the inefficiency of women themselves — the deplorable fact that they are so often careless mothers, weak wives, poor housekeepers, ignorant nurses, and frivolous human beings.”

Florence Nightingale was made apoplectic by neurasthenic Victorian women who cultivated the morbidly romantic image then in fashion of woman as fragile flower. “It is a scene worthy of Molicre,” she wrote scathingly, “where people in tolerable health do absolutely nothing and persuade themselves and others that they are victims.”

Caroline Norton, who pushed the Married Women’s Property Act through Parliament after being legally robbed of chattels and children by her estranged husband, blasted other women for their “feeble, supine, docile natures.” Josephine Butler, who campaigned against Victorian England’s brutal prostitution laws, looked down on women who shrank from using such words as “rape” and “hymen” as casually as she. Emily Davies, founder of the first women’s college at Cambridge, coined the acronym “LOA” — lack of ambition — to describe women less erudite than she.

The most unexpected blast came from anarchist Emma Goldman, the most freewheeling woman in America, who kicked off the fastest backlash in political history when she published her famous essay, “Women Need to Be Emancipated from Emancipation,” almost as soon as the ink was dry on the newly ratified Nineteenth Amendment.

The women’s-studies crowd treats female misogynists gingerly, either censoring them outright or else attributing their outbursts to temporary losses of equilibrium brought on by overwork. The one who defeats them is Ida Tarbell, the Queen Bee.

Ida Tarbell’s expose of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly forced President Theodore Roosevelt to take up trust-busting. A member of the New York State Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women, the star reporter of McClure’s magazine forged a second career advising women not to have careers. Posing as an unfulfilled spinster who missed out on the joys of dirty diapers and varicose veins, she wrote a series of articles called “The Business of Being a Woman” in which she proclaimed, “Women lack the vision necessary to achieve greatness.” Deploring “the essential barrenness of the achieving woman’s triumph,” she preached marriage, motherhood, and homemaking for all.

That Ida Tarbell was one of the boys is clear from the lavish approbation she collected. Said her McClure’s colleague Lincoln Steffens: “She was another fellow, a nice fellow — we didn’t have a feeling of man or woman in that office.”

British writer Arnold Bennett awarded her the ultimate backroom laurel, “just like a man,” which recalls Zbigniew Brzezinski’s assessment of Margaret Thatcher: “In her presence you pretty quickly forget that she’s a woman.”

THESE accolades describe a “virago” according to the original definition of this now-debased word: a woman of stature, strength, and courage who is not feminine in the conventional ways. Feminists know a virago when they see one, and they don’t like what they see.

Mention Lady Thatcher and they sneer, “You call that a woman?” Mention Joan of Arc and they sigh, “Yes, but she wasn’t really a woman.” Boadicea fares a little better because she was raped, but the fearless assassin Charlotte Corday, who rid France of Marat, “wasn’t really a woman.”

The current feminist claim that Hillary Clinton is unpopular because “Men don’t like strong women” is a classic example of projection. Feminists don’t like strong women because too many viragos would put them out of business. To prosper they need a steady supply of women who exemplify the other V-word, “victim.” Their all-time favorites are Sylvia Plath, the Brat of Endor, and Virginia Woolf, the Andromeda of the small press. As far as First Ladies go they probably would prefer Mary Lincoln, who went crazy — always a winner with feminists. But at least they have Mrs. Clinton, who got where she is by being a clinging vine in the most literal sense.

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The philosophical divide between the woman-as-virago and woman-as-victim camps was exposed by Election ’96. The lemming-like spectacle of women voters washing up on Slick Willie made female misogynists cringe, but feminists regarded the gender gap as a triumph of distaff political savvy. Thus the paradox of female misogyny is that things are the opposite of what they seem. “Feminists” who prefer victims are the real female misogynists, and “female misogynists” who prefer viragos are the real feminists.

Given the attraction of opposites, it is also a paradox that men never admire in women any trait they despise in themselves, e.g., timidity. Men and viragos admire women like Elizabeth I, who forbade English diplomats to accept foreign decorations because: “My dogs wear my collars.”

There was a broad! Shall we ever see another?

>>> View more: Why can’t Americans accept strong women?

Why can’t Americans accept strong women?

Abstract:

North American voters have always had a difficult time accepting the idea of female political leaders. The voters in the US may be asked in 1992 to accept a democratic ticket whose wives are well educated, self confident and possibly stronger than their husbands.

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It is interesting that North American voters, supposedly representing the vibrant and youthful New World, have never come to grips with the idea of female political leaders. The fuddy-duddies across the oceans have, not making any fuss about electing those of the other sex to lead in India, in Israel and Sri Lanka, in Britain, in Pakistan, in Norway and Iceland.

This side of the water, where women have the highest standard of living in the world? Joe Clark was tossed out of office because, among other things, rural Canadian voters thought he wasn’t strong enough to force his wife to take his own surname. And we all know what happened to Geraldine Ferraro–not to mention Walter Mondale–when the latter took so bold as to name the former as his vice-presidential candidate.

It is, therefore–considering the North American males and nervousness about women–most intriguing to contemplate the first American election in history that may be decided on the voters’ perception of females.

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Bill Clinton’s surprising (surprising because it is daring) choice of Al Gore as his Democratic running mate will be a real test of the American voting public. Never mind that the pick of Gore is a risk in itself: his state of Tennessee borders on Clinton’s Arkansas, they are within 19 months of each other in age, they are boys of the South, were educated in the Ivy League, they are in essence baby boomer twins–too much alike?

Real tests of the American voters will be: can they abide in 1992 two wives who represent very much 1992–well-educated, well-opinioned, more than slightly obstreperous and possibly stronger than their husbands?

Careful Democratic party strategists have already cautioned Clinton about calming down mate Hillary, who has panicked the nervous flacks surrounding her husband by blurting out to a Vanity Fair writer that everybody knows George Bush has had an affair or two so why don’t they lay off her husband?

So what does Clinton do? As a vice-presidential candidate he picks a guy whose wife is celebrated as yapping about putting warning labels on recordings with sexual lyrics. Do parents actually read warning labels? Of course not. Do kids love warning labels? Of course. Never mind. Tipper Gore is famous, in the American context, about being a strict mother trying to protect her four kids.

Does this sound like a nice antidote to White House-bound Slick Willie, he of the tape-recorded phone conversations with the airhead Gennifer Flowers? Of course. What is interesting is that Clinton is using women to counteract the rumors about himself and women.

Hillary Clinton–who went the Maureen McTeer-my-own-name route until she concluded it was hurting her husband politically–has stated that she sees nothing wrong with sitting in on cabinet meetings in the White House (as Rosalynn Carter did, and you know what happened to Jimmy). She says, further, that she sees nothing wrong with the possibility of her being picked as a member of the cabinet.

Clinton may have shut her down recently, but, aware of the risk, has now picked a comparative yuppie couple where the wife is not ordered to sit adoring, like Nancy Reagan, or silent, like Mamie Eisenhower. Maryon Pearson said that behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law, a truth we all know, but Clinton is daring the voters to recognize that he is prepared to put into the White House two strong-minded, intelligent women who may challenge their husbands on issues of import.

It is, in fact, a throwback all the way to the Roosevelt years, when Eleanor was a world figure–before the word feminist had been coined–as husband Franklin got on with coping with Winston’s drinking. Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, to Dan Quayle’s disgust, are very much of the Murphy Brown mould–same age, same education, same independent character.

So is, as a matter of fact, Quayle’s wife, Marilyn, who has just published a political novel and is brighter than he is, but he wouldn’t recognize–since he is not that bright–the similarity between his wife and the Murphy Brown clones he now will be attacking this fall.

One must give Clinton credit for his daring. The most dreary aspect of American presidential-making, for a foreigner, is the super-cautious attempt to “balance” the presidential nominee with his veep: other end of the country, North-South, Protestant- Jew, working class-aristocrat, those who inhaled while smoking grass balance with those who didn’t.

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Clinton, admittedly, chose in Gore a senator who has legitimate foreign-affairs credentials that he has not–he supported the Gulf War, served in Vietnam, which Clinton did not. Gore has just published a best-selling book on the environment, an area where Clinton is evidently weak.

But a major risk is a risk he must know. He’s not only chosen a southerner to match up with a southerner–disdaining all the regional mumbo jumbo–but picked a chap his own age rather than some long-toothed pillar adviser as running mate.

What he is challenging American voters to do is to pick two young men in their mid-40s married to two young women who represent what the world is about today–they yip and they yap and they force men to acknowledge that their opinions are just as good because their experience and their education and their knowledge tells them that it is so.

It will be interesting to see what Americans do with it.

>>> Click here: One adoption story

One adoption story

Abstract:

A new mother through adoption tells of the heartbreak at not being able to conceive, the spiritual confusion of childlessness, and the joy when the adoption caseworker finally called with their baby. She also expresses gratitude for the courage and love of the birth mother.

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Shortly after Joshua Steven Kavanaugh entered my life, a stranger who was an expectant mother gazed at my newborn son and turned to me for reassurance. “How was the delivery?” she asked. “Was it as bad as everyone says?”

I paused, considered my options and responded. “It’s not so bad,” I said. “There’s pain for a while, but as soon as it’s over, you start to forget.”

Those who know my family realize just how bold a statement that was for me to make, since the most remarkable thing about the birth of my son is that I wasn’t there. A baby boy was born earlier this year, and a short time later he became our Joshua when we were blessed with his adoption.

I wasn’t really lying when I talked to that woman about his arrival. In fact, I realized later that truer words were never spoken. In a way, I had been in labor for years!

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When my husband and I were married a little more than six years ago, we had it all figured out. I knelt before Mary and prayed for a family, but that was merely a technicality; we knew how it would all go. We would have about two years to ourselves before we were blessed with our first child. Then a second, third and fourth child would follow every 25 months. Now, according to that schedule, baby number three–Kevin, I believe it was–would be due any minute.

Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned. At least not as we planned.

I like to voice a philosophy that I’m certain is not original: True wisdom is the realization that one really knows nothing. Of course, the fact that I claim to know that much means I have a way to go, but I’ve made some progress since those “planning” days.

It took some time for us to get past the loss we felt when we realized the futility of our plans, to mourn those children we would never have and truly to trust. God called upon us to believe what we could not see and what we could not know. God’s plan asked us to have faith.

He asked us to trust, even in the most difficult times. Those times, for instance, when our family and friends were having children and more children, we were challenged to balance our joy for them with our own disappointment. This had to be done even on days like the Sunday several years ago when I inadvertently found myself at a Mass for expectant mothers. I’d gotten pretty good at avoiding that sort of thing, but I must have been remiss in reading the parish bulletin the week before. My husband and I laughed about it on the way in, talking about the Mass for showoffs, as we liked to call those fortunate enough to conceive. I had almost forgotten about it when the call came for all those expecting a child to stand for the blessing. Bam! The hurt took me by surprise, and I had what we like to refer to now as “my little breakdown.” There I sat, consumed by my own sorrow, trying desperately not to look as though I was crying, and consequently crying all the harder–feeling very sad, very empty.

In time, though, it got easier. We had always known, but slowly came to accept the truth that God was with us. Maybe we’d have children some day, or maybe it would be just the two of us. Either way, we knew there was a reason for the challenges we faced. Then one day, the reason became clear with a simple phone call. “It’s a go,” our caseworker told us; and in that moment, we had a son. Within 24 hours we saw our baby for the first time, and six years of struggle and longing began to evaporate. Just as I told that expectant mother, there was pain for a while; but as soon as I saw his face, I started to forget.

At Mass the next weekend, I was tongue-tied in prayer. This time, instead of tears I was giddy, and all I could hope to offer to my God was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Miraculously, I had become a mother. I was immediately awed by the thought of my own mother and all who had been down this road before me. I was humbled by the immensity of the experience, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to claim it and to the brave young woman who made it possible.

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The faith that brought Joshua into our lives was not only ours. There was another person called upon to trust and to understand that her difficulty and sorrow were purposeful–to recognize the life within her and to put her child’s well-being first. The young woman who became pregnant undoubtedly had fears. Perhaps her first instinct was just to make the issue go away, but she did not.

She took the opportunity, instead, to bring a beautiful, loved and welcomed child into the world. Then she loved him enough to let him go. My faith tells me that this remarkable young woman learned during her pregnancy some important things about the gift of life and love and about her own faith.

I believe she thinks of this child, wonders about him, worries about him, misses him. We in turn think of her every day, and my child will be told about her and the gift she gave all of us.

For my growing family and me, old habits die hard. At night, as I rock my glorious little man to sleep, I can’t help but make plans. I know just where he’ll go to school; I know what he’ll do for a living, and I know he’ll marry a charming young woman and create our four beautiful grandchildren. But I’ve learned that the real adventure lies in finding out just how wrong one’s plan can be. I’ve also learned that being Joshua’s mother will be my greatest joy. We in our family put our faith in God and explore together the journey on which only he can lead us.

>>> View more: French prize novels