Friday, March 29, 2013

Truth & Democracy: Why Gay Marriage Isn't

It was one of those calls that was a long time in coming, but I knew it would.

As a leading young Republican politician, Andrew Trumbull had the media watching every move and writing down every word. I had heard some of this thoughts on this controversial subject before, but he, like every other politician, was being pushed to make a clear public statement. The time for vague, elliptical remarks was over.

"This would have been easier in the 19th century," Andrew said on the phone. "You could count on people reading more than one paragraph. Now, if it's not a ten-second sound bite, there's no chance of getting a fair hearing, and, damn it, some issues are too complicated for sound bites."

I had always been sympathetic to this view, but felt it was something the politicians had brought on themselves. Since JFK, they had been too ready to pander to the media, and now with 24-hour news, politicians had forgotten how to think and only remembered how to run on at the mouth.

"I'll take this slowly," Andrew began. "Stop me when you think something's unclear. When I go public, it has to be right. They'll crucify me anyway, but I have to give it my best shot."

"Go for it, Andrew," I said.

"I believe in equality and I am against injustice," he began. "I will work with local, state, national and international organisations and governments to further those ends.

"However, marriage is something that goes beyond governments. It came before governments. Marriage has its roots in religion - all religions - and as a result, marriage pre-dates and transcends all governments.

"As a matter of political and ethical philosophy, governments have no authority in matters of marriage. All governments can do is acknowledge marriage.

"Are you still with me, Commander?"

"I am."

"What governments have done is given a civil context to marriage and extended that context to civil ceremonies that have come to be called marriages but were not marriages in original concept, but rather contractual, legal arrangements for the convenience of both the participants and the state.

"This was done to keep order, enable practical record keeping, give a legal basis to other contracts entered into by those who were civilly joined and enable the administration of taxation and benefits."

"That's a mouthful," I said. "I understand it, I think; you're saying there are two types of union."

"Yes," he agreed. "Think of it, when a couple wants to get married, they have to get a marriage license. In the US, the state accepts the forging of a civil union by the religious organisation, but has nothing -and can have nothing - to say about any religious or spiritual aspect of the union. In some states, they insist of couples getting blood tests before they marry - that's nothing to do with any spiritual aspect of marriage. In Britain, the state even sends a state-appointed registrar to the religious ceremony and the couple have to sign the legal registration document during the ceremony.

"For civil ceremonies, it is only the legal part of the union that is involved."

"So what you're saying is that the state or government has authority over the legal arrangements, but not over what has for centuries been regarded as 'marriage.'"

"Exactly! The government can regulate the contract all it wants; that's in its competence; but it has no authority over marriage - and never has.

"It is an historical accident that civil unions have come to be called marriages, as in the ancient understanding of it, it was something different."

"So we're back to Lincoln and 'calling it one doesn't make it one."

"You've got it! Of course, it was the Romans who brought all the legal trappings into marriage and when the center of Christianity went to Rome, it got all tangled up in legal terms rather than its original phenomenological ones."

"You have been reading your philosophy again," I said. "So the bottom line for gay marriage?"

"There is a good legal argument for treating gay individuals as couples for the purposes of administrating the law and levying taxes. Just as there are good reasons for extending those privileges to siblings who have lived and grown old together in their parents' houses: there are good reasons why spousal inheritance tax rules should be extended to them."

"Legally, constitutionally, I don't have a problem with extending these legal arrangements to gay couples, though it will further reduce the tax-base," Andrew concluded, "but it's not marriage."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thanks for everything, Bill

When the phone rang early on February 28th, not only did I know who it was, I knew why he was calling.

"Good morning, Andrew," I said, while getting the coffee machine going with my other hand.

"Good morning, Commander," he replied. "Sad news, isn't it?"

"Indeed," I agreed.

And indeed it was. The death of William F Buckley, Jr., had been announced the previous day. I didn't know him, but Andrew and his family had known him, albeit distantly, for years.

Bill was the acceptable face of conservatism. His ideas and beliefs were the result of a rigorous process of thought and an encyclopaedic knowledge of history, philosophy and theology.

No self-righteous neo-con, Bill had a social conscience as well as his conservative principles. If he was 'the scourge of American liberalism,' as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. called him, it was because he exposed the flaws in the logic of liberal populists. Bill was the scourge of sloppy thought and lax language wherever he found it, left, right or center.

Amazingly, English was his third language. Few can achieve the command of English as a first language that Bill had, and one can only speculate what being on the receiving end of his Spanish or French must have been like.

What enabled Bill to endure, win new admirers, if not converts, and continue to be widely read and respected was his humor and wit.

Few of our generation will forget his performance on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In where he spontaneously parried well aimed lances and barbs, delighting the audience and inquisitors alike.

Unlike many - most - celebrity politicians and writers, Bill was no one-trick pony. He succeeded in personal appearances, on television and in print. The subjects of his non-fiction ranged widely; his novels are eminently entertaining, and his thousands of articles provided a contrapuntal continuum for two generations.

He enjoyed being a gadfly and knew that he would probably not succeed in elected office, rightly evaluating his chances at the polls.

"He liked your writing," Andrew said.

"I never wrote anything for him," I replied.

"No, but you ghost-wrote enough for me. When he read the stuff in Atlantic, he knew I hadn't written it," Andrew said. "He asked me who did."

"What did you tell him?" I asked, curious that I had never had an invitation to write for National Review.

"I wouldn't tell him," Andrew said.

"Bastard! Why not?"

"I needed you to write for me."

Well, it might have been Bill's loss, but probably not. I wrote to him once, though. I was in my first or second year at college and was enjoying my subscription to NR and antagonizing my professors - after all, it was 1967. I sent him a letter suggesting that he take up novel writing. I was, at the time, enjoying Evelyn Waugh and thought WFB could do something similar and contemporary for America.

He wrote back. A short note on NR paper saying that he'd thought about it, but was afraid to. Unfortunately for me, the note doesn't refer to novel writing but stands vaguely alone.

"Well," Andrew said, "when it gets to lunchtime over there, raise a glass to him."

"No fear."

Requiescat in pace

Monday, December 31, 2007

A great 2008?

I seized the initiative as part of my new year initiative to be more successful, and called Andrew. When I got past the security and call filtering, I pretended to sound as though the process hadn't been a major inconvenience. (I've got too many passwords to remember without having to remember ones necessary to speak to supposed best friends.

"Long time!" Andrew said cheerfully. I resisted giving reasons why, wishing I'd stuck to email this time, too.

"Just wanted to wish you, Sabine and the children a happy new year," I said.

"It's going to be quite a year," he said.

"It will. Presidential elections. Low-carbon mania. Increased guilt-trips for anyone who travels to work more than a few hundred yards. Inflation. Looks like being a great year to hibernate through," I said.

"You really think it will be that bad?" he asked, uncertainty creeping into his voice.

"With the Fed cutting interest rates instead of putting them up, it's going to be near chaos," I said. "Property prices will continue to inflate, but be spongy; no one will be encouraged to save a dime, and company profits will be hit by trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Trying to convince people that it's worth paying more for things they throw away anyway because it's 'greener' will only appeal to the dedicated fringe," I said.

"You're being very cynical," Andrew replied.

"Why shouldn't I be? We've had a Republican president for eight years who has done more for Hilary Clinton's campaign than Bill has. The economy's shot full of holes and losses are stacking up. The Chinese are buying Wall Street and the stock market goes up because all the twelve year olds who work there think it's a great thing because they can keep their jobs for another 24 hours."

"It's the American Way 2.0," Andrew said.

"I preferred the American Way 101," I replied.

"Well, you're coming up to retirement. Why not just take it as an audit. Happy new year!"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What do we think we're doing?

It had been a while since I'd called Andrew. Email had been taking its toll on personal communication.

"What's going on in Washington?" I asked.

"That's what I keep asking myself," he replied. For someone who had his eye on the White House, I thought this was a rather vague attitude.

"So what don't you understand?" I asked.

"Everyone keeps going on about reducing waste, reducing consumption, saving energy, cutting 'food miles' and leading a more basic life," he said.

"It's much the same here," I agreed. The potential banning of foie gras as had happened in Chicago was a frightening prospect.

"What do the people who propose this sort of thing think is going to drive economies, provide employment and put food on the table if we strangle business this way?" he asked.

"I'm glad someone else is asking that question," I said. "I was in London last week, and the British are talking about charging people for using the roads. Now, gas is already about $8.00 a gallon there, the trains are not only expensive, but full, so if people have to pay $5.00 just to drive to work - as well as pay for parking - then either they'll have to find other jobs, or they'll demand more money to pay to get to work."

"That won't be good for inflation," Andrew said, seeing the danger immediately.

"No, it won't. But the environmental lobby is almost as powerful as the disabled and gay lobbies now and few politicians have the nerve to speak against them."

"The lack of logic is worrying," Andrew agreed.

"The best joke is that the telephone company is now charging £4.50 per quarter as a payment processing charge - and the consumer organisatons are pretty laid back about it."

"Say, that's a pretty good idea," Andrew said. "We could charge everyone $10.00 for processing their income tax, and raise billions without puttng up taxes. Terrific!"

Monday, August 21, 2006

America & Alcohol

"What is is about America and alcohol?" I asked when Andrew telephoned me at two in the morning.

It wasn't what he had called about, but I didn't want to discuss financing foreign aid at that time of the morning.

"I don't know, what?" he asked.

"How does it make sense that you can get married at 16, have two or three children, celebrate your fifth wedding anniversary and still not be able to buy a bottle of wine?"

"You've lived in France too long," he replied with some annoyance.

"It's a perfect example of how Americans will attack the wrong end of a problem," I said. "I have no problem in keeping young people who are at school from drinking - but by the time they're 18 and could theoretically be drafted - like you and I were - and, of course, they can voite - so why can't they legally have a beer?"

"Because of prohibition," Andrew said wearily. "America never got over it. Most Americans aren't used to drinking at home, so they get smashed when they are away from their families."

"So the law is made to restrict the minority?" I asked.

"Don't be clever. Do you know how many people are killed each year by drunk drivers?"

"I'm not saying that people should drink and drive. I'm saying they should be able to learn how to drink and then be able to at about the same age as they can get married," I said.

"Politicians won't touch this one," Andrew said. "The lobby is too strong."

"So that's it?" I demanded. "Common sense goes down the drain? The great democratic experiment collapses at what Mencken called 'The Great Experiment.'?"

"Please don't start with the Mencken quotes," Andrew said painfully.

"Children should learn to drink with their parents, or family friends at least. Watered wine - not spirits - with meals," I began.

"But children don't eat with their parents. Half of Americans don't eat at a table: they eat on their laps or little tables watching television," Andrew said.

"And they don't drink?"

"Not at meals."

"Your family did. Mine did. Sarah's did."

"That's different," Andrew said, getting annoyed now.

"Are you saying it's a class thing?"

The silence on the line was deafening.

"Okay, then. But have a listen to this: If you drew a map of where Catholics and Protestants live in Europe, you would also be drawing a map of where people preferred their food preserved in glass bottles and jars, or in tin cans."

"What?" came a faint plea.

"And the same map would define who drank wine, and who drank beer."

"Say that again."

"Okay: Catholic areas prefer food packaged in glass to food packaged in tin cans, and they drink wine. Protestants prefer tin cans and drink beer. Think about it: France, Spain and Italy - Catholic, glass and wine. Germany, The Netherlands, Britain: Protestant, tin cans and beer."

"Amazing," Andrew said, the light beginning to dawn.

"Now, go make a similar map of America and see what it tells you."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Code Bonaparte

It was about time to start thinking about opening a nicely chilled bottle of Tariquet when Andrew called.

“You know, when you were talking to my about Pamphylian treasures a while back, I thought you’d been on the Pernod for too long,” he began. “Now I’m not so sure. This Da Vinci Code nonsense has flushed out a whole new crop of conspiracy theories, hidden ciphers, and secret societies and the number of people who believe them is astounding.”

“I know,” I said. “I have to wade through lines of tourists on Da Vinci Code tours around the Louvre when I cut through. Some of them can’t believe that the old meridian DOESN’T actually line up with the inverted pyramid. They think it’s been moved to hide the real location.”

“The geography’s all wrong, too, isn’t it?” Andrew asked. “Versailles is to the southwest Paris, not the northwest.”

“Yes, and you cross the Place de la Concorde and the Crillon Hotel before going up the Champs Elysées. Books used to have editors who were literate,” I said.

Andrew considered this.

“Look, I don’t know about the Pamphylian Treasure, but it looks like Napoleon might have hidden something somewhere,” he began. “I just finished reading a biography and all the ingredients are there:

“Napoleon was extremely good at map reading and navigating on land; he was mathematically astute, as his calculations of armaments and supplies demonstrate; he was a complete master of military equipment; and – this is the clincher – large amounts of his plundered treasure never reached Paris.”

Andrew waited for a response.

“And you are suggesting. . . .” I prompted.

“Well, he melted the gold, plundered from churches in Northern Italy during his early campaigns, into – I don’t know – bullets, cannon, something - and hid it somewhere.”

“Sounds almost credible. You should write a book,” I said. “Send it to me, I’ll edit it. Do you have any idea where he might have hidden this treasure?”

“I’ve thought about that,” Andrew said. “I reckon its at the bottom of a lake.”


“Well, it’s less likely to be stumbled upon. It would have been difficult for individuals to recover, but a small military operation could retrieve it easily enough. Gold wouldn’t tarnish, and once it was at the bottom, it wouldn’t matter if the black paint wore off.”

“This has possibilities,” I said. “What lake?”

“That’s tougher – it would have to be fairly convenient and easy to get to. He might want it nearby so he could keep an eye on developments in the area.”

“So you think it’s in Paris?” I said. “Not in the Seine?”

“No, not in the river,” Andrew said. “Too much traffic, prone to flooding that could scatter it along the bottom. A lake is better, no current. No heavy traffic.”

“Let me guess, the middle of the long lake at Versailles.”

“’X’ marks the spot,” Andrew laughed.

I thought of the great cross-shaped basin that was the ornamental long lake.

“That lake was built to hide something in. Look at the satellite maps – you can see it from about twenty thousand feet!”

“Next time you’re over, Andrew, we’ll get a metal detector and go for a boat ride. In the meantime, see if you can find the clues that lead to there.”

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Pamphylian Treasure

"Andrew," I began immediately, "is the CIA doing some bizarre archeological work?"

"What, like Raiders of the Lost Ark?" he answered, catching on quickly, as any good movie fan.

"Yes, exactly like that, but not the lost ark, or the Holy Grail, nor yet Cleopatra's tomb."

"There's not a lot left" he said, laughing. "What's led you to this speculation? You're not normally let to pursue myths and legends, apart from tracing abandoned railroad lines in New England when you're home long enough."

"Yes, but they're real enough," I said. "Beanie Rice was in town the other day with Solange, and we went to see them at her parents.

"Well, you know how sometimes you hear two random bits of information within a short time of each other, and they fit together with a click?" I continued. "That's what happened.

"An old friend of Sabine's was around about a month ago with a colleague from one of the Sorbonnes. He made a throw-away comment about some archeological work in Turkey having been abandoned a few years ago because the area was to be flooded to make a reservoir. The archaeologists moved out and the engineers moved in. A dam was built, turbines installed, the lot, but the valley was never flooded."

"I remember this," Andrew said. "There was a television documentary about it. Roman mosaics and villas - that sort of thing."

"That's it. Only, apparently, the engineers have now moved out and the oil companies have moved in."

"Sounds typical," Andrew said. "So what did Beanie say?"

"It was a casual remark," I said. "He wasn't giving away secrets."

"No, he wouldn't," Andrew agreed.

"It's not an oil company's anyone's heard of. It's based in Indonesia. No known backers in the oil trade. That was the second piece.

"The third is something I stumbled on myself. It's a line in a minor Russian short story from the 19th century that talks about the flight of the Trojans after their defeat, and how before dispersing to other destinations, a good number of them regrouped in Pamphylia. They planned to return so they hid the rest of the Trojan treasure.

"Now the coast of Pamphylia has always been a notorious place for pirates, and some of those pirates were descended from the rump of the Trojans."

"So you think the oil company is the CIA in treasure-hunting mode?" Andrew asked.

"The CIA has plenty of people who know about oil, and Beanie isn't one of them," I said.

"True. But is he a treasure hunter? No," Andrew said, "but he's a hunter. You could be right. Bus is there a Pamphylian treasure?"

"Not until someone finds it."