Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Do pro-life Democrats' victories augur the 'Great Switcheroo'?

The ever hopeful quest for more pro-life and nationally successful Democrats continues.

Before I drown my optimism in a bucket of fresh despair each day, I imagine an imminent “Great Switcheroo” in which liberals’ preoccupation with blasting the Republicans distracts them from obstructing social conservative advances within their own party stronghold.

With the recent victories of several socially conservative Democrats, I find a modicum of maintainable hope in that scenario.

As others have noted, social conservatives comprise one of the least discredited factions of the George W. Bush coalition. As Democrats find richer targets in Republican blunders involving foreign policy and corporate favoritism, their change in priorities may temper their ire towards social conservatives.

Some are taking notice of the small but real progress of these “retro” socially conservative Democrats.

Over at Vox Nova, Policratus ponders rumors of pro-life Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson as an Obama pick for vice-president.

Taki Mag’s Richard Spencer is boosting South Carolina Senate candidate Bob Conley, calling him a “Ron Paul Democrat.”

Paleocons last swooned over a Democrat during Sen. Jim Webb’s Virginia campaign for the Senate, being deflated when Webb proved less friendly to their positions than their wishful thinking had declared. Conley seems more worthy of their support, but it is odd that a member of a group generally dedicated to place and rootedness is cheering on an Indiana transplant to the South. Didn’t some paleocons ridicule the California-born George Allen for cheering the Bonnie Blue Flag and his other Southerner posturings?

Conley himself talks the talk:
“There’s a big myth out there that there aren’t pro-life Democrats. In the South generally, but especially in the state of South Carolina, you can’t go out and attack traditional Christian values, traditional Christian morals and expect to carry the day.”

However, some Democrats’ reaction to Conley’s primary victory ought give pause.
Note this analysis at Daily Kos:
What's interesting about this is that these candidates are not in the Blue Dog mold. They are definitely not in the New Democrat mold. They take pieces from each faction of the Democratic Party and some from the Republican Party. If enough of them are elected they will probably form their own unique caucus.

They are capable of creating a great amount of mischief, particularly if they form an essential part of our working majority. But if they are essentially padding to a center-left immigrant-women-gay friendly working majority, they will probably be a net plus because of their economic populism and anti-imperialism stances. On many issues they will be better allies to the Progressives than either the Blue Dogs or the New Democrats. And they'll provide much needed cover for Progressives on issues like free trade, national security, and the Drug Wars.

“Padding,” in this case, isn’t a comforting description. Perhaps pro-life Democrats need a sound strategy for moving from inconsequential to valued to indispensible to dominant. Certainly they need more warm bodies first.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

St. Francis and the Leper

Ever since reading Michael Linton’s adulatory review of Olivier Messiaen’s opera Saint Fran├žois d’Assise, I have wished to see it.
Messiaen is an enigma to me. Unlike certain speedy critics, I cannot dismiss his experimental style as obscurantist and irrelevant. Neither can I claim to understand it.

That is, I think, part of its point. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, from what little I know, tries to depict the Apocalypse by transforming musical tempo. When well-formed, the work induces in the listener perplexity and astonishment, thus foreshadowing what one might feel when God strikes the stage of the world.

Witnessing divine intervention, one can only wonder and adore.

Messiaen’s Quartet certainly produces a marvelous wonder, but one can find another near-epiphany in a performance of the composer’s opera about St. Francis, scenes from which now grace the internet courtesy of YouTube.

The scene in question very touchingly shows St. Francis of Assisi’s transformative encounter with a leper. Messiaen wrote the libretto himself, but here the music takes back-seat to the words and the actions of the performers.

Here the taste for wonder is inflamed by a question only a saint can provoke:

What would drive a man to embrace a leper?

Watch, and marvel:

(My translation, a poor libretto, follows beneath the embedded video.)

Leper: What did he say? I don’t understand.

St. Claire (?) : He said: Your heart accuses you,
but God is far greater than your heart.
But God…
But God is all love.
And he who abides
In love,
He abides in God,
And God abides in him.

(Title: and the Leper comes restored…)

Leper: Father, forgive my endless recriminations.
Those brothers of yours, they call me “The Leper.”

St. Francis: Where do you find sadness for yourself,
When I sing joy?

Leper: I know being hideous well,
I have the same revulsion at myself!

St. Francis: Where do you find fault,
If I open the way to Truth?

Leper: But you are good.
You call me “friend, brother, son”

St. Francis: Where do they find the darkness,
If I bear the Light?
The Light!

Forgive me,
My son.
I have not loved you enough.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Catholics capitulating to social liberalism

When considering poll results, it’s important to keep in mind Peter Hitchens’ words on the subject:

Polls are now the best way to influence public opinion, largely because they're treated (much like the BBC) as impartial oracles of the truth by most people who read them. As readers of the excellent political thrillers of Michael Dobbs (serialised on TV with the incomparable and much-missed Ian Richardson playing the ultra-cynical politician Francis Urqhart) will know, it’s not quite that simple. Dobbs has one of his characters say (roughly) "The thing you must realise about polls is that they are not devices for measuring public opinion - they are devices for influencing it"… My guess is that political professionals use polls to float ideas, and massage them to try to create swings in opinion from nothing, or amplify small swings into bigger ones, taking advantage of humanity’s regrettable herd instinct and desire to be on the winning side.

That being said, the poll results from the Paul B. Henry Institute’s Religion and the 2008 Election: A Pre-Election Analysis are hardly encouraging.

Catholic News Agency reports that the survey divvied up the Catholic population according to traditionalists (5.3% of respondents), centrists (5.4%), modernists(4.9%), and Hispanic Catholics(6.8 %). The traditionalist category is not a measure of enthusiasm for the Latin Mass, but rather a grouping according to high levels of religious observance and doctrinal orthodoxy.

Here are the poll’s findings on social conservative issues:

Perhaps surprisingly, the survey discovered that a majority of self-described Catholic respondents clearly support pro-abortion stands, and on the issue of homosexual marriage they are evenly split.

When asked to consider the statement “abortion should be legal and solely up to the woman to decide,” 51 percent of non-Hispanic self-described Catholics agreed. Traditionalist Catholics disagreed with the statement 71 to 21 percent, centrist Catholics agreed 54 to 40 percent, and modernist Catholics agreed 80-16 percent. About 47 percent of Latino Catholics agreed with the statement, while only 35 percent disagreed.

Concerning homosexual marriage, Latino Catholics are split 42 percent in favor to 41 percent against, judging by their response to the survey statement that “gays and lesbians should be permitted to marry legally.” Non-Hispanic Catholics are also closely split, 45 percent disagreeing while 43 percent agree. About 68 percent of traditionalist Catholics disagree with the statement, while centrist Catholics are evenly split and 65 percent of modernist Catholics agree.

If accurate, the poll again demolishes the idea that America is importing social conservatives from Mexico. By way of comparison, Hispanic Protestants agreed with the pro-choice abortion statement 49-45 percent and disagreed with the homosexual marriage statement 48-42 percent.

As we know from Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Nancy Pelosi, a person’s self-description as a Catholic has little relevance to his or her stands on controversial issues.

It is quite discouraging that only 68 percent of “traditionalist” non-Hispanic Catholics could bring themselves to voice opposition to the crackpot radicalism that is same-sex marriage. While a few percentage points could be attributed to smartass respondents who realize that gays and lesbians are already allowed to contract sham marriages with members of the opposite sex, these numbers represent a significant capitulation to the trend of the moment even among the highly observant.

The figures on abortion also show a pro-life advantage only among the most observant. A politician with national ambitions can look at these results and reasonably conclude he only has to worry about attracting Hispanic, centrist and modernist Catholics.

Perhaps the poll report's only good news is that the Republican-leaning traditionalists are not overwhelmingly supportive of the Iraq war: “Traditionalist Catholics support the action by 56-36 percent, centrist Catholics oppose it by 54-34 percent, and modernist Catholics oppose it 68-29 percent. Latino Catholics oppose the Iraq action by a margin of 69-25.”

As Archbishop Chaput says, “We’ve been deeply naive about the congeniality of American culture toward Catholic belief.” I hope these survey results shake many from their naivety.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Can voters kill the EU?

I consider myself fortunate not to have to concern myself with European Union debates, such as that surrounding the Lisbon Treaty. What little I know of the controversy inclines me to the Euroskeptical side.

My skepticism only increases upon reading an eerie news show transcript, produced in the aftermath of the recent Irish anti-Lisbon vote, in which a journalist asks a Eurocrat how voters might avoid interminable do-overs (interminable, I suspect, until the first pro-EU vote is reached and then made irrevocable).

The conversation, apparently from the BBC's Newsnight, was reproduced at Ex Laodicea:
Journalist: Your boss, Jose Manuel Barroso, says the treaty’s not dead, it’s still alive. Can you explain to voters what they would have to do, to kill it?

Eurocrat: [3 sec pause] I think first of all if we are serious about democracy I think we have to understand why the Irish people voted no. That must be sort of the first stage, and this is what the Irish and what we will contribute to do until the heads of state and governments meet.

J: Presumably they voted no because they don’t like the treaty, but your boss is saying it will go on.

E: Well you don’t know that

J: I’m just I’m just asking you what would they have to do, not to have it?

E: I think you just have to find out, and i think the Irish government will make the analysis and we will through the europe parliament try to find out more

J: But is there anything

E: after the french and the dutch votes as well and the answers were very different actually if you compare what the voters in france and in the netherlands said

J: Well they said no. [Talking across each other a lot]

J: But is there *anything* voters can do? In a democracy.

E: In a democracy then you listen to the concerns and you see is there anything we can do do meet these concerns …

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The sociology of abdication

David Franz’s discussion of the origins of cubicle hell closes with a useful analysis of power in businesses with egalitarian ideals:
The ideals of office equality, fluidity, and collaboration in all their forms—including servant leadership, worker empowerment, and flattened organizations—required a kind of control more diffuse and amorphous, but also more personal than the old hierarchical bureaucracy. As Tom Peters and the other management theorists of “corporate culture” saw (albeit in a more positive light), the real managerial possibility contained in the cubicle was not lower costs or even the ability of managers to watch workers more closely. It was rather the creation of a culture in which workers would feel obliged to manage themselves. With everyone visible to everyone else, managerial obligation could spread itself throughout the entire office, becoming more personal and intense at the same time.
The ideal of the cultural workplace and its embodiment in cubicles also moves against another longstanding distinction of office work—the distinction between managers and workers. The ideal of a boss-less company has not been realized on anything like the large scale the management writers dreamed of, if it has in fact been realized anywhere. However, the impulse to equality and management through culture has led to something like the opposite of the boss-less company with bosses everywhere. As the managerial role is increasingly shorn of “authoritarian” tendencies and managers adopt the stance of a servant and facilitator, the scope of demands upon ordinary workers has risen. Observation, evaluation, encouraging the proper attitude and habits in other employees—these are all managerial tasks that are supposed to be shared. Such is the nature of being a team member.

Here we see the likely root of the ridiculous aspects of corporate culture personified in The Office’s duty-avoiding Michael Scott. Team-building exercises, sensitivity training, motivational seminars: all are necessary to a workplace that pretends no one is in charge but still demands the most of its employees. These heightened demands are then masked by lofty words about empowerment.

Such trends only aggravate a detrimental spiritualization of the workplace and the corruption of culture by the ideal of “total work.” As Joseph Pieper writes in Leisure: The Basis of Culture:
There can be no such thing in the world of "total labour" as space which is not used on principle; no such thing as a plot of ground, or a period of time withdrawn from use. There is in fact no room in the world of "total labour" either for divine worship or for a feast: because the "worker's" world, the world of "labour" rests solely upon the principle of rational utilization. A "feast day" in that world is either a pause in the midst of work(and for the sake of work, of course), or in the case of "Labour Day" or whatever feast days of the world of work may be called, it is the very principle of work that is being celebrated--once again, work stops for the sake of work, and the feast is subordinated to "work." There can of course be games, circenses, circuses--but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal?

Perhaps workplace-focused mass entertainments like The Office are themselves signs that work unduly burdens our leisure time. The absurdities of work are so overwhelming that, without such comedic catharsis, our productivity will suffer.

Franz’s thought applies to many other areas of life in which man’s little, brief authority has been abdicated, especially authority in relation to children. The parent who tries to be a friend only transfers all of his or her anxieties about power and responsibility to the unprepared child. The hip teacher similarly forces his incapable students to become their own instructors. These flights from the office of adulthood then subject youth to the unforgiving and unwise control of their peers.

In such cases obvious hierarchy, whatever its drawbacks, is surely preferable to the unacknowledged mess of diffused power.