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Martyrs, Modified.


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In a small field in a corner of Pas de Calais, a lanky farmer is committing illegal agriculture on the perilous edge of biotechnology: He’s growing corn, the genetically-modified variety. “The stuff’s fantastic,” he says, explaining that GM corn not only grows quicker than he expected, it’s also proving to be resistant to the kind of pests that nearly led him to a corn-free summer last year. “I wanted to see what would happen, and now I know.” He tells me he’s discovered “the master race of corn.”

Of course Nazi jokes are ten Euro-cents a metric dozen in France. But in this case, one man’s genetic masterpiece is another’s horror. So in another part of France, in a prison in the hot, hot south, sits Jose Bove, a very famous Frenchman who likes to call himself a sheep farmer. But Bove, with his droopy mustache and briar pipe, is a shepherd sort of the same way Al Sharpton’s a minister or Bill Maher’s funny. Mostly, Bove is the Sgt. Pepper of the French anti-American/anti-globalization movement. Made famous by attacking a local McDonald’s with a chainsaw — what Delacroix could have done with that — Bove, who spent four years at Berkeley where his parents worked as bio-researchers, travels the world to campuses and demos and meetings wrapped in the colors of his radical French farmers’ union, looking angry but rural.

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Bove hates “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs, which he sees as yet another example of probably lethal American treachery. So, a few months ago, Bove broke into a lab, destroyed research records, and trashed a bunch of GM seeds and crops. He was arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to ten months — a sentence he declined to modify, of course. He returned to his farm and waited for the government to back down rather than stir the wrath of Bove’s supporters. Instead, a few days ago, police arrived at Bove’s farm at dawn, nabbed Bove from his bed, tossed him in a helicopter and flew him directly to jail. The French press, including Le Monde, was outraged. His lawyer condemned the arrest as a French “commando operation,” despite the fact that it was successful.

It was also another salvo in the ongoing U.S.-EU war over genetically modified organisms. Liberation reported Pres. Bush had launched a “diatribe” on the subject of GMOs on the eve of the EU-U.S. meeting today in Washington. To the French, genetically modified food = Yankee death chow, the culinary equivalent of smallpox in blankets. So while they puff their Gauloises and tailgate like madmen, the French, who couldn’t even be persuaded potatoes were safe to eat until the late-18th century, insist on maintaining the EU’s policy of keeping GMOs out of Europe — a policy that comforts green weenies, but kills people in places like Africa, where governments won’t accept GM seed because they can’t export the harvest. Not incidentally, an anti-GM policy also means more support for French agriculture: Just last week, Chirac once again skirted efforts to reform France’s unfriendly and illegal agricultural policy, and a lovely skirt it was.

Within 24 hours, the new prisoner, according to Le Figaro, had become the poster boy the French union movement so desperately needed — especially after all those soporific semi-strikes in opposition to social-security reform. Green-party officials pointed out that Bove was being treated like a — well, like a prisoner! The whole thing went French: Unions promptly rallied to his cause; a mob was mobilized; demonstrators demonstrated their anger by setting fire to a hedge. I find that very odd. Finally, Le Monde revealed that Bove was asking for the ultimate French honor: He wished to be transfigured into a character from Dumas and declared a political prisoner — a legal status that would ease the discomfort of his circumstance and sanctify his martyrdom. He’d get more visitors, among other things, so maybe a journalist can smuggle him a Big Mac.

While the French press was manufacturing its martyr, the British press sinister was making their own. He is Canon Jeffrey John, newly appointed by the Church of England to be their Bishop of Reading. According to the Guardian, it seems the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev. Richard Harries, who has episcopal supervision over Reading, thought the CofE should become a “gay-friendly” enterprise. So he appointed John to the position, John being gay and all. Amid warnings of schism, this became the running story of the week — and a small book of revelations in its own right: John has been in a homosexual relationship for 27 years, it seems. But was he, almost nobody wanted to know, a practicing homosexual? No, he said, telling the Independent that his relationship has been asexual since that day in 1991 when the Church of England issued a wonderfully Anglican document saying that the laity could have gay sex, but the clergy couldn’t. And he also pointed out that he and his lover, another CofE vicar, weren’t actually living together or anything (although the Daily Telegraph subsequently noted, in the words of the paper’s headline writer, “Gay bishop and curate boyfriend bought flat together last year”). Nevertheless, he said, “I regard this life partnership as a gift and vocation from God” — thus ending the nature-nurture controversy. He also added that he would not repent of his homosexual acts and would work to make the church embrace gay unions. Dowagers fainted in their naves, but few noticed, since Sunday church attendance in England hovers near nil. Most churchgoers are either infants or the dead.

You could be forgiven — after confession and contrition, of course — if you thought the story of Jeffrey John might finally elicit interesting consideration of complex theological issues such as the nature of sin; chastity, as opposed to celibacy; the relationship of the Sacrament of Marriage to the civil laws of the always-godless state; the importance of Scripture and Tradition; the roles of oeconomeia and penance. But this is the most modern of liturgical churches we’re talking about here, so the dispute, sadly but predictably, went lame as the man at the gate, with one side shouting, “Anaxios!” because it sounded better than “gay guy!” and the other shouting, “Bigots!” because it sounded more convincing than axios. The primate of the Anglican church in Nigeria said he would watch sadly as the Church of England departed the Anglican communion. The Independent quoted the Bishop of Carlisle explaining to a national broadcast audience that “the penis belongs with the vagina,” sort of the way the knee bone connected to the thigh bone. And the Archbishop of Canterbury took to the pages of the Daily Telegraph and tried to calm the shallow waters by saying the appointment wasn’t actually his department and remarking with surpassing irony that the “credibility” of the Church of England may suffer as a result of the controversy.

But it was former Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams, writing in the Observer who got it right. Comparing the Church of England to its political arm, New Labour, Ingrams wrote: “What happens next is anybody’s guess. But in all the talk about dodgy dossiers and gay bishops, we may tend to overlook the fact that both of these organisations are not only bankrupt of ideas, they are also literally bankrupt. And the hungry sheep are unlikely to bail them out, even if they were in a position to do so.”

Paying attention, M. Bove?

Items:

News from yesterday shows the world is not bereft of real martyrs, as the Daily Telegraph notes — although the cause of Iraqi freedom, or whatever, is perhaps becoming less noble by the minute.

Note to those with an unquenchable thirst for analysis of the maneuvers surrounding the EU’s proposed constitution: See John Vinocur’s brilliant take in the IHT. For an enlightening look at Giscard d’Estaing’s poetic temperament, see this notice in the Guardian.

And for all of those (read: both of you) who sent me messages about my daughters’ recitations from HMS Pinafore, here’s some topsy-turvy news, again courtesy of the Guardian.



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