Saturday, December 17, 2016

Music on My Mind

Heather Dale, "The Huron Carol". The song, the first Canadian Christmas carol, is said to have been written originally by St. Jean de Brébeuf in Wyandot, the Huron language; it was written down later by an associate and translated into French. This version is a gorgeous mix of Wyandot, French, and English for the first two stanzas.

Jean de Brébeuf, SJ, was ministering to his Huron flock when the village in which he was staying was raiding by Iroquois; he, St. Gabriel Lalemant, and some Huron converts were tortured and killed. He was canonized by Pius XI in 1930 and is commemorated on October 19 as one of the Canadian martyrs, or North American martyrs, as we say in the U.S.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Above All Else Inscribed in Lasting Gold

When I Review the Tablets of My Brain
by Francis Allen Hillard

When I review the tablets of my brain,
And see what memory hath scored thereon,
I count upon my hand the victories won,
And weep to see how small the total gain.
My one poor talent hidden in the ground,
Gains little interest, and hath naught to lend;
The small no larger grown, may ne'er amend,
Nor e'er with growing time be better found.
Still should oblivion the record shame,
Dim charactered in graving dull and old,
Yet leave in bold relief thy treasured name,
Above all else inscribed in lasting gold;
My heart would claim the scrip in lieu of fame,
More valuing friendship's worth than wealth untold.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Bill of Rights Day

Today is Bill of Rights Day, which is interesting in itself. The 1791 Bill of Rights, covering the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, has not always been a thing; they were not originally called the Bill of Rights, and not even usually regarded as a unit. Only after the Civil War did the term even occasionally get used, and then it was almost always a rhetorical tactic to support some very controversial political position -- that the amendments should be applied to the States as a special account of equal protection of law, or that the American acquisition of the Philippines was not the collapse of the Republic into an empire but could be a legitimate enterprise (because it was restrained by some of the rights listed in the amendments).

This all changed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt's New Deal raised major concerns about expansion of federal power and loss of individual freedoms. (It is interesting to note, incidentally, that every stage in the history of the Bill of Rights becoming a part of American culture indicates a major expansion of federal power beyond its prior limits; and it is perhaps worth thinking about why that might be the case. The history of this is summarized in a very nice article by Gerard Magliocca, which has saved me from many potential errors in this summary: The Bill of Rights as a Term of Art.) In response, Roosevelt began appealing to the Bill of Rights as the safeguard of liberty that the welfare state could not possibly infringe. Still a rhetorical tactic in a game of political controversy, but it set things up for the next step. Beginning in 1939, Roosevelt began contrasting the American society, based on the Bill of Rights, with the societies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Thus, when in 1941 the amendments hit their 150th anniversary, Roosevelt established Bill of Rights Day, which happened to fall eight days after Pearl Harbor. And the first Bill of Rights Day was celebrated with the most successful radio program in history, Norman Corwin's "We Hold These Truths", listened to with all the passion of patriotic war fervor by literally half the population of the United States. From that point on, the Bill of Rights became a central monument of the American Way of Life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Juan de la Cruz

Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church:

We must remember that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden in essence and in presence, in the inmost being of the soul. That soul, therefore, that will find Him, must go out from all things in will and affection, and enter into the profoundest self-recollection, and all things must be to it as if they existed not. Hence, St. Augustine says: "I found You not without, O Lord; I sought You without in vain, for You are within," God is therefore hidden within the soul, and the true contemplative will seek Him there in love, saying,

"Where have You hidden Yourself?"

O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures, who so long to know the place where your Beloved is, that you may seek Him, and be united to Him, you know now that you are yourself that very tabernacle where He dwells, the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden. Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good and all your hope is so near you as to be within you; or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it, "for lo, the kingdom of God is within you." So says the Bridegroom Himself, and His servant, St. Paul, adds: "You are the temple of the living God." What joy for the soul to learn that God never abandons it, even in mortal sin; how much less in a state of grace!

From the Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ (stanza 1).

The Arrogance of Complacent Incompetence

A fascinating article on Clinton's loss in Michigan, which does very well at highlighting the incompetence of Robbie Mook, her campaign manager, and reads at times like a textbook case of the dangers of centralized planning:

Michigan operatives relay stories like one about an older woman in Flint who showed up at a Clinton campaign office, asking for a lawn sign and offering to canvass, being told these were not “scientifically” significant ways of increasing the vote, and leaving, never to return. A crew of building trade workers showed up at another office looking to canvass, but, confused after being told there was no literature to hand out like in most campaigns, also left and never looked back.

“There’s this illusion that the Clinton campaign had a ground game. The deal is that the Clinton campaign could have had a ground game,” said a former Obama operative in Michigan. “They had people in the states who were willing to do stuff. But they didn’t provide people anything to do until GOTV.”

But the really telling thing is this:

Top aides in Brooklyn write off complaints from battleground state operatives as Monday morning quarterbacking by people who wouldn’t have had much of a case if Clinton had won. They continue to blame the loss on FBI Director James Comey, saying he shifted late deciders, not any tactical failures.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Radio Greats: Twelve Portraits of Marcia (The Whistler)

I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak!

The Whistler is one of the great series of the Golden Age of Radio. For thirteen very popular years, from 1942 to 1955, it presented weekly 'strange stories' with unexpected twists and poetic ironies about the darkness in the human soul, each one opened by that distinctive 13-note whistle, which I believe was whistled anew each week by Dorothy Roberts for all thirteen years. The show used a formula, but it was a very powerful and flexible one. The typical tale was a comeuppance tale, like a mystery, except we already know the perpetrator, and follow them through their plotting of evil deeds and the inevitable unraveling of it all. The perfect crime is laid bare by the one unknown thing. The act of vengeance is brought to light by the chance meeting. The clever criminal ties himself up in his own clever web. The evildoer finds himself evilly done. The means of undeserved success suddenly turns and becomes the means of a very deserved downfall. And through it all, The Whistler himself in the shadows talks the perpetrator through it, almost gloating, as the doom inevitably comes.

Done well, there is no kind of story that is more satisfying as a story. And The Whistler is often done well, which is remarkable given its astounding run. Not only did it last thirteen years, it was the only major radio series that never took a summer break. Except for preemptions and occasionally repeated favorites, it was a new episode each week, for a grand total of 692. Alas, probably about a third of these have vanished, but that still leaves a very fertile field.

"Twelve Portraits of Marcia" is one of the best of the typical Whistler tales, with a distinctive story and a nice balance between psychological thriller and ironic humor, a rather poetic style, and a twist different from what you might expect. Ralph is a painter, on his twelfth portrait of Marcia, the woman he has promised to marry. He is talented. All he needs is publicity to become a famous painter. And he has a plan for how to get it -- don't you, Ralph?

You can listen to "Twelve Portraits of Marcia" at the Internet Archive (number 204).

'Faithless Electors'

I've been avoiding most election issues, particularly as they have become more and more conspiracy-theory-like, but I've been meaning for a while to talk a bit about electors in the Electoral College, and since they electors place their votes one week from today, it seems about as good a time as any.

I've been actively arguing in favor of the Electoral College for well over a decade now, and the issue of 'faithless electors' has always been the major beef people have with it. How dare we have a system in which the electors can vote against the will of the people! This is the first election that I have come across people arguing that electors should be 'faithless', but the same basic idea is really in play.

The Electoral College was invented in part in order to admit the 'sense of the people' into the election of the new Office of the President, and the tweaks since then, whatever else their motive, have certainly been with the intent of make it better suited for this. Can the electors vote against the will of the people? Sure, strictly speaking, in exactly the same sense that Congress can act against the will of the people. Are they ever supposed to do so? No.

We get into the habit of thinking that as people vote, so is their will, but there are clearly cases where this is not true. The most common case that has actually required action by the Electoral College is when the candidate the people actually voted for died before the electors met. In such a case, of course, what the electors do is they, usually in practice on advisement from their parties, cast a vote for an alternative that they think will make a reasonable fit for what the people would want. Voting, despite its value, suffers from the fact that it's a snapshot-petition, not a rigorous accounting of what the people want or need. It is also, although we tend to ignore this even more, highly ambiguous -- when people cast a vote for President they may be voting for the candidate, for the party, for a set of policies, or for a lesser evil. That vote may be with firm conviction or with the greatest hesitation and reluctance. (This is why talk of a 'mandate' is always a bit absurd.)

Thus the point of a body like the Electoral College is to make sure these matters are considered in the actual election. There is no possible rule that can guarantee that they are done so in the right way -- considering them requires looking at the endless variations of circumstance that every practical decision of importance requires. Of the 157 EC votes that have not followed the popular vote,

71 have been cast because the candidate for which the popular vote went died;
30 (in 1832) were protest votes against Martin Van Buren;
23 (in 1836) were protest votes against the Vice Presidential candidate Richard M. Johnson;
7 (in 1828) were protest votes against John Calhoun;
6 (in 1808) were protest votes against James Madison;
4 (in 1896) were due to the fact that two different parties, the Democratic Party and the People's Party, endorsed the same Presidential candidate but different Vice Presidential candidates, and some People's Party electors decided to vote the Democratic slate for the latter;
3 were protest votes against Richard Nixon;
3 (in 1812) were protest votes against Vice Presidential candidate Jared Ingersoll;
2 (in 1832) were protest abstentions against Henry Clay;
1 (in 1820) is supposedly because the elector believed that giving the votes unanimously was not usually reasonable;
1 (in 1948) was due to the fact that the Tennessee Democratic Party had a schism;
1 (in 1988) was to draw attention to the fact that electors could vote for someone other than the person who won the popular vote for the state;
1 (in 2000) was a protest for the lack of Congressional representation for the District of Columbia;
the remaining 4 were for reasons unknown.

Not all of these were equally savvy moves, and one may reasonably disparage the wisdom of some of them, but the fact of the matter is that if you are genuinely trying to represent the will of the people instead of shoehorning the people into an arbitrary number, this is exactly the sort of deviation you would expect. The protest votes against candidates all correspond to issues that were genuinely part of the election; several raise questions not about candidates but about the system itself, concerns which certainly exist; several are due to the complications of party politics, which does not always easily resolve into a vote for a particular candidate.

Thus in this election, if the Democratic party electors (at least 2 from Washington and some from Colorado) who have said that they will not cast a vote for Clinton actually follow through, this is actually reflecting the fact that there is a more complicated process going on in the Democratic party than just supporting Clinton -- in this case, anger over the politics of picking Democratic candidates. If any Republican electors, like the 1 from Texas, refuse to vote for Trump, this reflects something genuinely going on among the people.

To be sure, electors can ignore the people; in this sense, though, they are like any representatives. Their purpose, however, is to make the sense of the people known, even in cases in which the popular vote numbers are potentially misleading for one reason or another. It's thus entirely reasonable to expect that they will generally follow the popular vote -- and there also needs to be a recognition that there may sometimes be genuine popular reason to deviate somewhat.

In any case, to affect the election, at least 37 electoral college votes, perhaps more, would need to be moved. This has not happened since 1872 (when 63 votes deviated from the popular vote), and that was because Horace Greeley died, so there was no point in voting for him. It is extraordinarily unlikely that we will see anything like this. If it happens, there would certainly be an uproar. But that many votes shifting would also convey something about the uneasiness of the people, which vote tallies could never do.

If it did happen, of course, so that nobody wins the EC, it kicks the Presidential decision to the House of Representatives, who will vote on it. However, each state delegation only gets one vote, and, unlike the Electoral College, they cannot choose anyone they want -- they are locked into a choice among the top three Electoral College contenders. It's difficult to imagine, however much they might not like Trump, that the Republicans, who dominant the state delegations in the House, would not worry about the repercussions they might experience from their constituencies if they voted for Clinton, so Trump would almost certainly win. But if it went that far, that too would tell us something about the sense of the people.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Bombing at St. Mark's, Cairo

A bomb has exploded near St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, the mother church of the Coptic Orthodox; at least 25 people have been killed and over thirty injured. The bomb actually exploded in an adjunct chapel (the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul), and seems to have been calculated to try to kill as many people as possible as liturgy was ending.

The Cathedral itself is relatively new, but when it was built, they incorporated several churches that were already there, some of which are quite old and in turn incorporate elements of even older churches.