The Long View 2004-05-24: Definitions & Extreme Situations

Anything that imitates the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the rump of the Holy Roman Empire, probably isn't a bad idea.


Definitions & Extreme Situations

Mark Steyn was recently discussing the possibility of returning self-government to Iraq region by region, when he used a term I had not seen before: "asymmetrical federalism." The term comes from Canada, apparently, where it means that Quebec shakes down Ottawa for powers over immigration and culture that the other provinces don't have. As Steyn points out, asymmetrical federalism is not that unusual. Within the United Kingdom, for instance, Scotland has a parliament with some power to tax, while the assembly for Wales cannot. An odd thought: the only major component of the Union without its own parliament is the Kingdom of England. That was also true of Austria in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by the way. The Imperial Diet met in Vienna, but Hungary had its own legislature, while Austria did not.

Asymmetrical federalism flies in the face of the principle of "one man, one vote," but it often works well enough in practice.

* * *

Larry Abraham's Insider Report recently carried a geostrategic piece entitled The Clash of Civilizations and the Great Caliphate. The analysis alleges that Islamists call the great struggle in the world today "The Third Jihad." (The first was the great expansion of Islam in the first century after the death of Mohammed; the second was the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, particularly into Europe, during the 15th and 16th centuries.) I can't say that I have seen this term being used in Islamist literature in English, but it looks handy enough.

My I suggest that the political situation in the Western world would be clarified if we stopped talking about "The War on Terror" or "The Terror War" and started talking about the "Jihad"? To talk about "fighting terrorism" is a little like talking about "fighting crime." It obscures the fact that the West (and China and India too, for that matter) are trying to beat back a series of offensives by a network of ruthless and clever people. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are defensive campaigns against the Jihad.

* * *

Why does this story about the prospect of creating a blue rose catch the eye?:

"When we moved a liver enzyme into a bacterium, the bacterium turned blue," Dr Guengerich said. "We were aware that there were people in the world who had been interested in making coloured flowers, especially a blue rose, for a number of years."

To put it another way: why have people been trying to create a blue rose? And why (as you can see from running a Google search) are there so many music albums, songs, and coffee shops with that name? No doubt it's because the German Romanticist known to literature as "Novalis" (Friedrich Leopold Freiherr von Hardenberg (1772-1801)) used The Blue Flower as a symbol of esthetic transcendence.

The name Novalis, whether justly or not, later became associated with the sort of morbid mysticism that we associate with the term "decadent." Young people who set out to find the Blue Rose tended to wind up as pretty corpses. For that reason, perhaps we should be disturbed by the creation of the real blue rose. It's not a good sign.

* * *

Speaking of the tragic death of the young, I recently viewed Gus Van Sant's film, Elephant, a lightly fictionalized presentation of the Columbine High School Massacre. The film was made using real high school students, in a recently closed high school. It was shot in cinema verite' style, but with the Rashomon-device of following certain students through the day, so we see how each arrived at some encounters.

This is a fine film, which has been much reviewed. I have just two remarks:

First: why weren't any of those kids carrying books? The students in Elephant don't even carry notebooks, though we do see them taking notes at one point. I went through high school with 20 pounds of stuff in my arms, or in a backpack.

Second: my God, that high school was big. And flat. I've been in airport terminals with less floorspace. Maybe gunfire really is the only way to get the attention of people at the other end of one of those enormous halls; maybe that is what the film is about.

* * *

Some tasty new rights are in the offing. On Sunday, The New York Times ran a long article on the trade of bodily organs for transplant, particularly kidneys. The Times piece dealt with a network based in Israel that linked a Brazilian donor with a recipient from New York; the transplant was done in South Africa. The donor got $6,000 for his trouble, and thought himself lucky. Maybe he was: I believe the price for a kidney in India is $1,000.

All of this is highly illegal, but that could soon change:

On one side, said Alexander M. Capron, the director of the ethics department of the World Health Organization, are "transplant surgeons who believe that a good way to remedy the shortage of organs would be to offer payments," and bioethicists and philosophers who see organ trade as an extension of the principle of autonomy.

But an opposing group, Mr. Capron said, "fears that the line between selling organs and actually selling people is a rather fine one" and that, as in sex trafficking, the marketplace is one in which coercion and exploitation may be unavoidable.

Here's a defense from South Africa of the organ market.

What we have here, of course, is another permutation of the autonomy right that evolved from Griswold to Roe to Lawrence. There are jurisdictional issues in a case like that profiled by the Times that make prosecution of recipients unlikely. So, perhaps, does the certainty that the defendant would raise a constitutional defense that could well succeed.

To paraphrase Dr. Who: what we have here is the prospect of a right to cannibalism, without the need to chew the grisly bits. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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