January 31, 2020

Iowa Caucus Prediction

We see a lot of profiles in pusillanimity in pundit-land so this blog means to fill the gap.  Instead of some mamby-pamby "it's murky" malarkey, I'll tell you the exact order of finish with percentages.

We start from the premise that Iowa is 50-50 hard-left versus left.  This was shown by virtual dead heat in '16 between Clinton and Bernie.

We also start by using the gold-standard Des Moines Register poll, which has:

Sanders:20
Warren:17
Buttigeg:16
Biden:15
Klobuchar: 6
Yang: 5
Booker: 3
Bloomberg: 1
Other: 5
Unsure: 11

This neatly dovetails with the hard-left/left-left breakout, 41% to 40%, lending further credibility to the poll.

My almost completely ignorant understanding is that after the initial vote (we'll use the Des Moines results above), anyone under 15% has to caucus for another candidate (hence the term "caucus").   So now we have to figure how'll they'll break.

Klobuchar’s Midwestern-friendly vote goes to Buttigieg (4%) and 2% to Biden
Yang vote goes to wild Sanders (3%) and back-slappin' uncle Biden 2%
Booker goes to fellow senators Biden (1.5 and Warren (1.5).
Bloomberg’s goes to Biden/Butt (.5/.5).
"Other" gets apportioned to all candidates evenly.

So now the leaders are:

Sanders: 23%
Warren:18.5%
Buttigeg:20.5%
Biden: 19.5%

Next, the undecideds.  They should skew to Buttigiege and Biden since Warren and Sanders are “love them or hate them” types, and if they aren’t already with them they’ll probably pass.

So accepting 60% of 17.5% goes to Biden/Butt that’s 10.5% or 5.25 apiece;  40% of 17.5% goes to Warren/Sanders, 3.5% apiece:

So this ends up with:

Sanders: 26.5%
Warren: 22%
Buttigieg: 25.75%
Biden 24.75%

Hence, the final order: 
Sanders
Buttigieg
Biden
Warren

Take this to the bank.  If I'm correct, I will predict New Hampshire, else I will end my career in punditry in ignominy and disgrace.

UPDATE: Not too bad a prediction; as of 71% of the vote in it's looking Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, Biden.  I overestimated the number of second choice voters going to Biden.

January 28, 2020

Travails of the World’s Richest Man

It’s a tough time for the world’s richest man (WRM). He’s getting schooled left and right and the sharks smell naivety in the water.

First he buys the Washington Post because he can, blissfully unaware that bad actors might consider him responsible for what gets published.

Then came the Hollywooders, stroking his ego as head of the new streaming video service. “A far cry from pushing books!” he thinks.

Shortly after, like the cartoon character Pepé Le Pew, he grew hypnotized by Ms. S’s fake breasts. Who knew that Pepé was more documentary than cartoon? Not I, at least not I pre-puberty. Ms. S boasts to her brother, because reputation is the coin of the realm, “the world’s richest man is sexting me!” and brother thinks to himself, “man, that’s marketable shit” because that’s what you do where everything’s for sale. Sells it to the paper of record (the National Enquirer). WRM’s wife not pleased and asks for divorce and gets half WRM’s fortune.

Next WRM finds a BFF in a Saudi prince. Heady times! Wants to do business where few westerners have gone before: in the Kingdom. Why not? Not well-versed in slick Middle East operators, he’s still living off the Christian capital while the Prince is a rogue’s rogue. Later, Prince not happy about bad Washington Post press for trivial offense of getting political opponent murdered.

In April 2018 WRM meets with the Saudi and all is well. Big business plans, though Prince is deeply unhappy with WRM’s previous investments with competitor countries in region. Within two weeks though Saudi tells underlings: “stall this deal indefinitely”. And two weeks after that he hacks WRM’s phone...

Recall to mind those halcyon days of youth when WRM, then BEP (bright executive phenom), merely sold soap operas in paperbacks instead of living one.

January 27, 2020

Quick Takes

Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build is a really counter-cultural statement, certainly counter to my interior culture, as it talks about the need to build institutions and to see them as building us. It feels like the key that unlocks the prison doors of our current moment:
“An institution is a durable form of our common life. They are the frameworks and structures of what we do together...A institution is a form...for instance the shape of a candle (institution) is different from the raw wax (people) of which it is made.

We pour ourselves into our family, our community, our church, our work or our school, and in so doing we begin to take the institution’s shape. This shape then enables us to be more effective. It both protects us and empowers us to interact with others. We aren’t just loose individuals bumping into each other. We fill roles, we play parts of larger wholes...It moves us to ask how we ought to think and behave with reference to a world beyond ourselves: ‘Given my role here, how should I act?’
That’s foreign to my reflexive view of institutions. Platforms of blogging and Twitter come more easily than institution-building. I’m awfully Gen-X, having that ironic outsider sensibility of early David Letterman. Levin says:
“We rarely think of the necessity of such formation itself, even when we bemoan the social breakdown we confront.

What does stand out about our time, though, is not the strength of the pressures we are under [globalization or automation or polarization or populism] but the weakness of our institutions - from the family on up through the national government, with much in between. That weakness leaves us less able to hold together against the pressures we do face."
Another excerpt:
"The notion that we are formed by institutions runs against the grain of how we think about personal freedom, justice, choice, and many other things we care about. It amounts to a practical argument against a lot of liberal theories of man and society. Institutions play a role that we would rather believe is unnecessary. They form us by mediating between each of us and all of us, so our need for them suggests we need formation and mediation—and we would prefer to think we don’t.

SUCH RESISTANCE IS NOTHING NEW, ESPECIALLY IN AMERICA. IT HELPS explain why we have always tended to be blind to institutions or to resist them. Our popular culture has its roots in a dissenting Protestantism that sought a direct connection to the divine and rejected as inauthentic or illegitimate most forms of institutional mediation. That culture has therefore always appealed to an implicitly individualistic conception of the human person as complete and whole, in need of liberation more than formation.

At the other end of the spectrum are many of the genuinely novel institutions of the twenty-first century: most notably the virtual institutions of social media, which are inherently intended as platforms and not molds. They are ways for us to shine and be seen, not ways for us to be transformed by an ethic shared with others. It would be strange to trust a platform, and we don’t."
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Sometimes I wake up with an old song running through my head and, thanks to the Internet, I can look it up and hear it anew. Usually I haven’t heard it in decades, and that’s true for today’s offering: “All I Need is the Air That I Breathe” by the Hollies, a top 10 hit in 1974 when I was 10 turning 11.

Songs seem like they can be access points to the past, what I was feeling, even maybe what I was like at a given age. It feels like the era of mystery and innocence ended around ’73 or ’74. In ’73, when I was nine turning ten, all was fresh and ethereal. Some of the '74 hits and all the ’75 hits there was more a feeling of my modern consciousness. Up till age 10 feels like my “prehistory” and from 11 on feels like recorded history. It’s funny it hinges on a round, double digit number like that ten.

Of the Billboard Top 10 per year, all hits from years 1964 on are mostly familiar, surely because the radio play of these huge hits were played every year after (such as the Beatles’ songs). But the year I was born there were old style songs, Bobby Vinton and such, that aren’t played today. So in a sense modern pop music began in late ’63 or early ’64 - basically when the Sixties as we know it started. it’s odd that though we’re only about a year apart, my sister wasn’t born before “modern” music started.
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On the morning on commute, finding the radio tedious given our news readers' obsession with impeachment, I enjoyed a Great Books podcast on Moby Dick. The Christian focus (Hillsdale College) left the homosexual undertones out, which was a mercy. And was even ginger on the theme of God as the white whale, but ultimately sees it not only as a metaphor for God but as a metaphor for anything one can’t control. The line in Job, which Moby Dick has some resonances with, is God saying, “who places the hook in the leviathan?” And Melville has Ahab do that in the story, though it doesn’t end well for Ahab.

Melville also has Ahab intentionally choosing his hatred for the whale and his longing for control over returning to his family and taking care of them, despite his being attracted to that option. Shows free will.

Interesting that what this professor got out of it was the character study of two individuals: the monomaniacal singularly focused Ahab (seeing everything selfishly as how it pertained to him) and the other-focused, interested in everything (including whale biology minutiae) narrator Ishmael. And in the end Ishmael’s view won, pervaded, as he lived to tell the tale. Ishmael was also open to other cultures, witness his very openness to other religions and races and nationalities, a quintessentially American tale given the “melting pot”.
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Another beautiful homily from priest at the Byzantine church. Very mercy-centric. Zaccheus story tells us why we emphasize repentance and conversion - it’s a reaction to God’s mercy. Zaccheus climbed a tree not just out of small stature (I thought, "why didn't he get there early and get a better spot in front?" and as if in answer the priest said that in part because he wouldn’t mix well with the people there who hated tax collectors, an outsider among his own people. He relented after Jesus called him, not before. Jesus loves him first.)

Using Verbum software on the Beatitudes:
We simply are not capable of willing ourselves free of anger or lust. Jesus does not imply that we are to be free of either anger or lust; that is, he assumes that we are bodily beings. Rather, he offers us membership in a community in which our bodies are formed in service to God and for one another so that our anger and our lust are transformed. Too often technologies of the self, used to free ourselves of anger or lust, make those passions posses an even greater hold over our lives. Jesus, however, is not recommending that we will our way free of lust or anger, but rather he is offering us membership in a people that is so compelling we are not invited to dwell on ourselves or our sinfulness.

Alone we cannot conceive of an alternative to lust, but Jesus offers us participation in a kingdom that is so demanding we discover we have better things to do than to concentrate on our lust. If we are a people committed to peace in a world of war, if we are a people committed to faithfulness in a world of distrust, then we will be consumed by a way to live that offers freedom from being dominated by anger or lust. -Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew (p. 69). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.
In the wake of Kobe Bryant news I turned to Verbum on the famous Beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn” turns out (according to nearly every commentary) to refer to those who mourn for their sins, not for a tragedy like Kobe Bryant’s (albeit sins are admittedly a tragedy): “This includes weeping for sins as well as the grief that comes when the saints are made to suffer for their faith.”

Another puzzle I’ve always wondered was why Jesus said to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection: “do not cling to me, I am not yet ascended”.

The gist of it seems to be that Mary wanted to touch Him as man when he was God (she called him only “Teacher” rather than “Lord”). It’s also possible that he was wanting her to have faith in His resurrection without the proof of touching that Doubting Thomas required.

St. Augustine:
“So what can touching be, but believing? We touch Christ, you see, by faith, and it is better not to touch him with the hand and to touch him with faith than to feel him with the hand and not touch him with faith. It was not a great matter to touch Christ; the Jews touched him when they seized him, they touched him when they bound him, touched him when they hung him up; they touched him, and by touching him in a bad way, they lost what they touched. Just you touch by faith, O Catholic church; see that you touch by faith. If you have thought of Christ only as a man, you have touched him on earth. If you have believed Christ is Lord, equal to the Father, then you have touched him when he has ascended to the Father.”
Other thoughts:
“Jesus is not so much reproaching her as telling her to look beyond the human to his divinity, which he shares with the Father....When Jesus told Mary of his need to ascend to the Father, he was telling her the good news that the one from whom we were formerly alienated has become our Father and our God (GREGORY OF NYSSA).”
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Amy Welborn:
"[Chaplin’s City Lights] is a lovely film, with an ending that will undoubtedly leave you misty. A beautiful, gentle and deeply satisfying moment.

And a moment that’s only made possible because The Tramp had made a sacrifice. That’s where the power is – in the sacrifice. Always."
This reminds me of what Yuval Levin says of our revulsion of institutions. The military is respected because it’s sacrificial which confers legitimacy; Congress is the opposite of self-sacrificing and lacks legit authority or esteem.

It’s less that we want institutions overthrown as we want the people in them to have a sacrificial mindset rather than see it as a platform for their own aggrandizement.

January 24, 2020

Authenticity Macht Frei

One of the interesting things about getting older is you wake up one day in an entirely different culture. A generation or two comes of age under much different influences. Education has always been passed down in erratic and precarious ways, especially of late once the teaching profession became an arm of the Democrat party. The idea that socialism is a good idea, for example, would’ve been foreign to me when I was in my 20s.

So some guy named Rogan, apparently a major influencer, said he’s voting for Bernie primarily on the basis of his “authenticity”. And I think that explains part of the thirst for leaders who are increasingly unexperienced: from Obama to Trump to that Greta girl, the idea is that if you can find individuals who have not been corrupted by the political system they are seen as legit and authentic.

Charlie Kirk said something on a radio show that resonates:
“I’ve been trying to warn people that young people, in particular, will vote for Bernie Sanders and clueless people will vote for Sanders because they think he’s authentic. And there’s an authenticity crisis happening right now in America politics. People believe that politicians espouse certain positions only because they are paid to do so and that money in politics is the number one issue. Republicans and conservatives are on the wrong side of the money and politics issue.”
This would help explain Trump’s rise - he boasted in ’16 he was spending his own money and wouldn’t be beholden to the system - as well as the shocking recent poll that Mayor Bloomberg has somehow bought himself a fourth place ranking among Democrat voters nationally. He, like Trump, is supposedly too rich to be bought off. The only legit sources of money nowadays become self-funding or grassroots Bernie-style. Which means populists or billionaires. Narrows the field a mite.

At root it reminds me of what Yuval Levin says in his latest book about the hatred of institutions and anything formational.   To have governing experience, to learn how to govern, is to be corrupted by it. (Bloomberg, tellingly, isn’t telling anybody in his ads he was a mayor, at least that I can tell.) The fiction is that the only free person is one who has not been formed when actually it’s only formed people that are truly free. It goes back to whether you see human nature as needing to be freed from constraints to be good or that we need constraints precisely because of the nature of human nature.

January 16, 2020

The Mystery of Bishop Inquity

To continue the previous post, another comment by the priest I heard give a talk said this concerning a former bishop of Columbus:
"When I realized what actually did go on, my greatest shock was that it didn’t so horrify the bishops that they didn’t stop it. There was a priest in Mount Vernon [Ohio] who was very bad. And everybody knew it. And Bishop Herrmann wouldn’t move him. And finally the farmers from Knox County came and told Herrmann: 'either you move him or we shoot him'. So he moved him to Newark [Ohio].
I mean, it’s incomprehensible how that happens. But again the bishops themselves were part of this bizarre alteration. Any bishop who deeply believed in Jesus Christ and the mission of the Church could have never done that. It’s hard to say, and you'd ask 'are you accusing them of not believing?' No, I’m accusing them of not believing what they should believe."
So like with the post on McCarrick and Bernardin I tried to figure out what the heck went on with Herrmann. How could a priest born so deep in the pre-Vatican II world go so astray (I say naively)?

He was born on the East Coast (Baltimore) and, just like with Bernardin and McCarrick, lost his father while still a toddler. He had to help his family during the Great Depression, working for an oil company for years and like both Bernardin and McCarrick had a late vocation.

According to the Columbus diocese website his nine years as bishop was highlighted by a reorganization of the Diocese, the implementation of community housing and food programs, and a spirituality program for priests begun by social justice Jesuits in 1973. This list of accomplishments seems to neatly encapsulates what the priest mentioned:
"The root cause of much of the problems in the church was created by influential Jesuits in the '60s and '70s who saw the Church’s mission as more one of social justice rather than one of transcendence...those who saw the Church as an NGO..."

January 15, 2020

Bing Crosby Movies Ruined the Church (hot take!)

I had the rare opportunity to hear a priest give a talk recently whom I greatly esteem and who is well-connected to American and European bishops.  The candid talk was downright therapeutic. Really opened my eyes to a new way of looking at much of the corruption in the Church.

He began by reading the gospel passage in Matthew where John the Baptist is languishing in prison and is presumably wondering what happened to the promises in Isaiah of the Messiah such that the lion and lamb would lie down together, the child putting the hand on the adder, etc... and yet this isn’t turning out how he thought it would. And John asked his followers if Jesus was the messiah or should we expect another...

He said this is where we’re at today. “We are in prison. We are not experiencing the success of the message of the gospel." How can the world be this bad despite the grace we’ve been given?

The root cause of much of the problems in the church was created by influential Jesuits in the '60s and '70s who saw the Church’s mission as more one of social justice rather than one of transcendence. If you think about, who is better as leader of an NGO than McCarrick, who was light on transcendence but heavy on fund-raising?

He says people laugh at him for this, but he thinks Bing Crosby's movies ruined the Church by setting up ridiculous expectations of priests in Going My Way and Bells of St. Mary.
"They anesthetized people's common sense. Anybody who couldn't see that was phony couldn't see anything.  And yet they became cultural icons of the Catholic clergy, that you could do no wrong. I don't think any sane priest thinks they can do no wrong;  I know there are priests who do think they can do no wrong but they're not sane. I think that this idea somehow that there was this kind of ethereal clergy did violence to us.  I think it's part of the cultural baggage that we came out of the horrific World War II with, trying to find some peace and security, and in fact not doing that at all."  
Imagine if we laity and media weren't so awed by the priests since the '40s that we nipped the pedophilia scandal in the bud by pushing back hard?

His primary messages:
1) Reform almost always comes from the ground up, not from the hierarchy.
2) You can only do what you can do.
3) Bishops have very complex jobs that hardly anyone can handle.
4) Benedict saw that he could not handle the papacy.  Neither can Francis.
On Benedict's resignation and the woe in some quarters it created:
“But it happened. He did what he thought was right. Many people think it wasn’t right. But you know Benedict was hated in Germany. When he went to Germany the bishops didn’t even shake hands with him. He was more beloved over here than over there. But you’re not going to have a single person anymore who is going to meet all your needs. It’s not possible. Which is why there ought to be a pulling back, into the real focus of the real meaning of their life. They have probably become too activist in world affairs. There’s a book out by Pius XII’s involvement to assassinate Hitler. That might’ve been something justifiable, considering that Hitler was a mass murderer, but Pius made it very clear ‘this is me personally involved in this, not the Catholic Church’. I think that we’ve put too much on the papacy that no one can carry and I think Benedict realized that. I’m sorry he resigned but I think Francis is trying to carry it and obviously he can’t. You shouldn’t try to carry what you can’t carry. You should be what you’re supposed to be and move back. 
There’s a scholarly article by John Watts about how the monarchical papacy got started in the 13th century and how it develops. There are many ways to be pope.

And a very high profile, public, political figure is not necessarily one that suits the age. Because it’s just not possible.”
It’s all coming together: why Benedict left, why Francis was elected. I’m a victim of the same George Bush mentality that expected utopian things to happen in Iraq upon liberation - without the proper culture you cannot reform. Similarly the Vatican, where the culture is noxious.

A 2012 article in Der Spiegel was helpfully prescient, though I wouldn’t have believed it at the time. An insider is quoted as saying: “the Vatican is a ball of wool that's almost impossible to untangle -- not even by a pope." Events have proven the truth of what Benedict already knew. Bergoglio was elected as a “reformer” but reform was no more going to happen in Rome than Iraqis were going to have a healthy, functioning democracy.

Ten years ago Vatican finances were something of a distraction to me compared to the need for evangelization. Admittedly financial corruption, let alone sexual corruption, hurts the Church's ability to authentically mirror Christ to put it mildly. But pre-McCarrick I felt like evangelization was more important than reform, and presumably Benedict felt the same given how much importance he put on writing his books on Jesus rather than knocking heads in the Curia.

But now we’ve seen just how ugly the corruption was, especially with McCarrick and his rise to power. It seemed gobsmackingly crazy that an institution of and for Christ was incapable of meeting minimal secular standards of finance (with the banking) or minimal standards of conduct (i.e. sexual crimes). But the Vatican culture predates the American experiment just as Iraqi culture does and is certainly not immune to the "crooked timber" of all humanity. This isn’t to excuse the corruption but ... you can’t reform from above it seems. No single person, no pope, can do it. Certainly that seems to be the tale from Paul VI to John Paul II on down the line.

January 08, 2020

Harry & Meghan Takin’ Their Talents to Canada

Picturing this to Green Acres tune starring Prince Harry and Princess Meghan:
North America is the place to be
Barn livin' is the life for me
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep your palace just give me that countryside 
Nova Scotia is where I'd rather fend
I get allergic around footmen
I just adore an in-law free view
Darling I want that Michigan Avenue

The bores! the floors! fresh air! no cares!
You are my husband, goodbye palace life...
Green Acres we are there!