Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kings of Heaven / Chief Justice John Roberts/ Abraham Lincoln / W

The school my son attends is laying it on thick with the Jesus being the King of Heaven schtick. Like, the only King of Heaven. So we have been working at home to populate heaven with a few other important people. For instance Allah, Yahweh, Shiva, Confucius, Buddha, Ghandi. You get the idea. I went to hear a talk on Abraham Lincoln by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court recently and Abraham Lincoln is definitely a King of Heaven.

Because for me the criteria for becoming a King of Heaven is whether or not their virtue makes my heart sing. Or maybe it is also they just make my heart sing. So I think Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield are definitely Kings of Heaven. And I think Jo Malone and the perfumes she makes. And I think Mahler.

So anyway, I want to tell you about the Chief Justice who may well be a King of Heaven. My father-in-law is Sir David Williams (definitely one) and he is so precipitously cool that there is an endowed lecture series in his honor at Cambridge. And the lecturers they find! Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was very cool and thought Owain was cute, which made me love her more) and Sandra Day O'Connor (before I met Rhys). A couple years ago - 2002 -- they had the Chief Justice of the New Zealand Supreme Court. On the way to that one (this was before kids and we were living in London) Rhys and I had a few glasses of wine on the train. And in my defense the world was being swept with Lord of the Rings mania. And also in my defense my London hairdresser was from New Zealand and had worked on the movie. (This turned out to be a lot less cool than I thought when I found out she had only styled orc extras). So anyway, I threatened to ask the Chief Justice about differences in Elvish and Hobbit law, and whether he lived in the same town as Frodo and Samwise. I was really working up the scarily ignorant American persona. For some reason I never will understand, we somehow never made it to the lecture and just joined the reception after. I suspect Rhys might have somehow engineered this because he thought I would really ask the question. And to be fair to him I am not above trying a joke in a crowd if I think I can get a big laugh.

This year was the Chief Justice and the man is ludicrously charismatic - a Jimmy Stewart glow and Gene Kelly's smile. And the brain on that man. Listen to this one. During the question period after the lecture on Lincoln, an Irish grad student (God bless those fighting Irish) asked the Justice whether he thought the Bill of Rights was essentially a statement of civil liberties of Americans or whether it was actually a statement of human rights, of universal rights. And the Chief Justice said without hesitation "'We hold these truths to be self evident' . . . well, I don't see how a truth can only be self-evident in North America." God bless him. Isn't that fabulous? And this guy was appointed by W himself.

Rhys and I also bothered the security detail at the dinner: it was one guy, a very Marine-ish looking agent who is in a special division of Judiciary Police who guard the Justices. He said he thought The Chief was in fine form. My husband, because he is a boy, asked the agent what weapons he was carrying in case trouble broke out. We were at an academic reception so the chances for trouble were pretty low in my estimation. And I guess the Agent's. Who made two fists and said he would be relying on 'cemetary' and 'hospital'. Is this some thing that everyone does in the States now? Name their fists? Things have gotten so tense over there.

The Chief Justice spoke about Lincoln and the extraordinary virtue of this man so committed to insuring that a government by the people, of the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth. And he also spoke about the founding fathers. He mentioned, also, I think, in the question period that the founding fathers of our country were so committed to the same idea that they risked their lives --hanging. That in fact it was a pretty unlikely outcome that the U.S. as a project worked. But they believed in it. Virtuous. Maybe that's a decent definition of virtue: betting your life on a good idea. I wish people spoke more about virtue in the public discourse. Hearing one of the most important people in the U.S. government speak openly about his admiration of the founding fathers' and Abraham Lincoln's virtue was good. Again, a W appointee. Dear reader, if you voted for Bush you have a bullet-proof partial vindication here.

What the Chief Justice totally didn't mention but I will is that if the founding fathers had risen up against the W administration, they would have been killed, waterboarded, imprisoned.

And what distinguishes these extremist groups that were killed, waterboarded or imprisoned by our government within their own borders from our founding fathers?

But would it be such a terrible idea in the name of world peace for the U.S. State Department to give these guys audience? To read what they were writing? Our guys wrote that they held certain truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights . . . We could read something short like that, couldn't we? Invite some kind of open letter? When it's out there, we can read it. They may have some grievances about the behaviour of the United States within their borders that should be made known. If not, how good would it look on the world stage if someone in the government was listening to them. Not as the enemy, but as a fellow citizen of the world. Would that be so bad? I think it may be reasonable to conclude that our understanding of the messages from these extremist groups (I include Iran and Argentina, who the United States has not listened to for a decade) during the Bush Administration may just have been a little distorted. Can we get some more accurate information from the current administration?

I am not being naive on this point. There are a lot of extremely sexist, racist mullahs in London and what I have seen translated in protests made my blood boil. The shit they pulled in Denmark was seven flavours of evil. The shit about women you would not believe. A lot of what people say could well be garbage. But wouldn't it still be a good idea to see if maybe there are things that would be fixable - transgressions made by our own military in occupying foreign sovereigns, perhaps? Maybe they knocked over someone's house or something and they want reparations. Can we sift through it for good ideas? Maybe make it an arbitration case. Don't worry - big international arbitrations go on for years and move so slowly that by the time there is an outcome, everyone has kind of emotionally moved on.

The talk Roberts gave was on Abraham Lincoln and the Supreme Court and how the guy basically got the best government possible by putting together people he didn't necessarily like -- who had in fact been outspoken critics of Lincoln or run against him in office -- that he thought would be good. He rose above any personal prejudices and made friends with people like Salmon Chase and Seward. For the good of this good idea - that true democracy shall not perish from the earth -- he did this.

Well, world peace is also a really good idea and it should be a priority of our governments. I realize their current priority is giving every last scrap of money to the banks, but maybe it shouldn't be. (Geithner has got to grow a pair and give it to the banks. I will lend him my angry pants).

The left are making fun of the teabag protests that happened in the U.S. recently, but I have to say, I have some sympathy for them. They are not unrepresented in exchange for their taxes, they are represented by people who are giving the banks a lot of money. The speed in which we are racking up unprecedented public debt worries me too. Maybe the government should take a afternoon off from handing out the money and running the auto industry and think about Abraham Lincoln and virtue and the words of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

What if the Chief Justice is right and the Bill of Rights could be interpreted as a statement of human rights? Think about the implications. Think about the good ideas. It is not too late for us too to take our shots at being Kings of Heaven.

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