Monthly Archives: October 2012

Time Once Again for “No, the Electoral College is Not Obsolete”

Or, “Learn Your Constitution, You Stupid Liberals.”

The Constitution means something. The Ancient Athenians learned with their experiments in democracy that democracy leads to government bankruptcy and tyranny, as the people will always vote for the person who a) has the most money to buy a campaign, b) promises the voters lots of things, and/or c) is ambitious and rhetorically gifted enoough.

Aristotle in his _Politics_ evaluates the different forms of government in the ancient Greek world, and notes that, whatever the form of government is, a Constitution is crucial. The only way to keep the flawed human beings who serve in government from becoming tyrants is to have a set of laws which strictly define what they are and are not allowed to do. This is why the Founding Fathers of the United States made a Constitution.

The Constitution was based upon timeless principles of political philosophy, and there is no reason why the fact the men who wrote it lived over 200 years ago should make it irrelevant to what happens today.

Thus, a popular notion, particularly since 2000 when Al Gore won the so called “popular vote,” is that the Electoral College is obsolete. In last week’s Halloween–themed episode of _The Office_, Oscar wears a “dinosaur” costume (though it looks far more like an alligator) and says he’s the “Electoral College.”

Recently, an in-law replied to a chain email discussion of politics by saying he thinks the US needs to write a whole new Constitution and turn to a Parliamentary system rather than the 2 party system we have. Many people arguing in favor of the “two party system” insist it’s what the Founding Fathers set up. Unfortunately, they’re all wrong. Indeed, George Washington famously warned against having political parties *at all*, and through most of the 19th Century, the US actually had 3 parties. That’s why we refer to smaller parties as “third parties,” since in many elections, historically, there have been two parties that captured a significant portion of the vote and a third party that took a smaller portion.

England had a Parliament, the Founding Fathers recognized the flaws of the Parliamentary system. England also had Common Law courts that legislated from the bench. One of the goals of the Constitution was to establish three separate branches with checks and balances *AND WITH CLEARLY DEFINED ROLES*.

Practically since the beginning, the Executive and Judicial Branches have violated the Constitution with impunity (by using “executive orders” and “judicial review,” respectively, to usurp the rights of Congress), and one issue never resolved is how to enforce the Constitution. Since no president has been removed from Office by impeachment–a disciplinary measure that was supposed to be used frequently to protect the office from the occupant–and no Supreme Court Justice has ever been impeached at all (a disciplinary measure meant to stop justices from legislating from the bench), and since the Civil War took away the notion that States had the right to critique the federal government for violating the Constitution, the document has historically lacked any teeth.

Nevertheless, there were valid reasons for the Electoral College, some of the very reasons liberals object to, and rather than calling for its abolishment, we ought to be calling for its strict enforcement.

1) Then, as now, the different regions of the country had differing interests and populations. The very reason why liberals hate the Electoral College is they tend to dominate in the Northeast and in the proverbial Left Coast. The Electoral College protects the interest of less populated states by evening out the states’ interests. Thus, the Electoral College is apportioned similarly to Congress.

2) However, while the Electoral College is supposed to mirror Congress, it is a separate body from Congress precisely to avoid the pitfalls of a parliamentary system. While those of us who are concerned about particular issues and agendas may desire to have control of all three branches to get our issues addressed efficiently, the Founding Fathers hoped to protect the country against that very thing. That’s why we have Checks and Balances. That’s why Presidents have Veto Power, and Congress has the power to override a veto with 2/3. That’s why we have a bicameral legislature (with the Senate intended to represent the States as such and the House to represent the people). That’s why the Senate has filibuster. That’s why 1/3 of Senators are elected every 2 years, while Representatives are elected every 2 years. All of these things are supposed to present any particular interest group–any region, socioeconomic class, ideological group, or temporal concern–from controlling the country (or at least from controlling the country for too long). So, too, the Electoral College allows for the President to have a separate Party from Congress while retaining the same geographical balance as Congress (see point 1).

3) Most importantly, and this is where the Electoral College has failed but could easily be reclaimed, the Electoral College is supposed to prevent having national campaigns. Liberals usually argue that the Electoral College is obsolete because they say it was created at a time when technology did not permit a national campaign. No, at the time, the country was just the Eastern seaboard, and candidates could fairly easily traverse the country. There were newspapers.
The reason reason for the Electoral College was that they knew that if a campaign was launched at the national level, it would be won by the person who had or could raise enough money to basically buy the election. To that end, the Electoral College is more necessary now than ever. We were not supposed to have national elections, and we were not supposed to have Parties. Instead we were supposed to have political “parties” and town halls. We were supposed to assemble locally and meet locally to discuss the issues. We were supposed to relay our concerns at these parties and town halls to our state and US representatives. Our state representatives would relay our concerns to our Senators (who were supposed to represent the states, not the people and were appointed by the state governments till that was changed by the idiotic Populist movement).
It’s relatively easy to meet and possibly become acquainted with a state representative, state senator or US representative. It’s less easy to know the governor or senator unless they’ve held those offices first, and almost impossible to meet the President.

The Founding Fathers wanted a system based upon character more than anything else. We were supposed to get to know the people who represent us at these parties and town halls, and at the levels where the individual was less likely to know the politicians, the intermediary figures the individual could have access to were supposed to know *them*.

So few of us can personally know Barack Obama or Mitt Romney even casually, but we are all supposed to not only know who are Electors are, but know them personally, and the Electors are supposed to know the presidential candidates quite well. That way, when we decide whom to vote for, it’s not supposed to be based upon the men running for president per se, but upon which Elector(s) we deem most trustworthy, and upon what *they* think of the candidates.

It’s actually a great system, if it were executed the way the Founding Fathers intended. Rather than making it obsolete, technology ought to make it more feasible since for example we could get to know our Electors very well through social media even if we’re not able to get out and meet them personally at events.

The new _Beauty and the Beast_: CW’s answer to _Grimm_.

Early in _House, MD_ (probably the pilot, but I forget), House asks Cameron what trauma in her life made her become a doctor, since a woman as good looking as she is wouldn’t bother with medical school and everything unless she had some cause (though the series apparently later just threw this notion aside).

This touches on a common dilemma of TV shows: when *extremely* good looking people are posited as working in very unlikely fields (i.e., police.)

Another is the question of how best to handle the revival, reboot, adaptation or continuation of an existing franchise on television (or movies). Sometimes, it seems that with the original creators intact, tings work better. Sometimes, as in the case of the _Dallas_ revival on TNT, cutting the (surviving) original producers out and making room for totally new talent can be quite successful. The previous two attempts–the reunion movies in 1996 & 1998, and the long-struggling development of a theatrical movie in the past decade–involved the surviving producers and didn’t go well. While I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the popular _Battlestar Galactica_ reboot, it was obviously fairly successful, and involved new producers where, as with _Dallas_, people involved with the original series had tried to revive it for years.

Sometimes, too much loyalty to the “original” can lead to an attempted revival being just a copy of what’s already been done. Sometimes, it can be basically glorified “fan fiction.” Other times, as with BSG, it can become unrecognizable.

Thus, a big part of me was really excited to hear CW was rebooting _Beauty and the Beast_, but I had my cautions. Having just viewed the pilot on Hulu Plus, I’m leaning towards the trepidation side. Ironically, while I was thinking this was the fault of corporal shills making money off of “intellectual property” without concern for the original creative vision, I found out that Ron Koslow, Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas (son of Danny) are all involved in the new series (B&B was one of few dramas created by Witt-Thomas, known primarily for sitcoms like _Benson_ and _The Golden Girls_).

The original series was the epitome of a “cult classic”, and lasted a full three seasons, making it relatively successful for a prime time, network series of a more sci-fi or fantasy bent.

My first critique of the reboot is my complaint about just about everything on TV today: it totally lacks the charm or elegance or artistic beauty of the original.
Television (and most movies) today is all “grit” or special effects or “glamour” of a fashion magazine sort.

_Smallville’s_ Kristin Kreuk plays Det. Catherine Chandler, who, along with her partner, looks more suited to a fashion shoot than a crime scene. On the other hand, based upon the first episode, it’s going to be the gruesome murder mystery that’s become all too common in the post Law & Order/CSI TV world: not that murder isn’t gruesome, but there are other crimes out there. The plots on the original series often have more to do with white collar criminals hiring thugs and such than with investigating murders.

Another problem typical of today’s TV, which I frequently lament, is the lack of a score. One of the hallmarks of the original series is the lush, romantic score by Lee Holdridge.

In the original series, Vincent is a mystery–though arch-nemesis Paracelsus claims that he was an experiment. Vincent is a gentle soul who spends most of his time reading classic literature, listening to classical music, and mentoring the children of the “tunnel world” with occasional departures to rescue Catherine from harm. The usual episode plot involves *him* coming to Catherine for help because someone in the Tunnel World or one of their “helpers” is enduring some injustice, and Vincent wants Catherine to use the resources of the DA’s office to correct the injustice.

The whole essence of the original series is that Vincent is visually a “beast” but he’s a deeply loving soul, surrounded by friends living a counter-cultural life of harmony beneath New York, while Catherine is a rich socialite who is changed by being assaulted and by meeting Vincent.

Plus, part of the appeal for me personally was it had the whole theme of people with genetic mutations being more than just freaks.

In the new series, Vincent is an MD who’s been altered as part of some super soldier program. His backstory is really more like the Hulk. More importantly, his backstory is more or less explained in the pilot. There’s a nominal mystery surrounding his backstory, but it’s the same that’s been rehashed on so many shows since _The X-Files_ (military-industrial conspiracy, super soldier experiments, etc.)

Indeed, I think that points to part of the problem: mystery. The original series understands the notion of “mystery” in the sense of something that inspires wonderment and imagination, versus “mystery” in the sense of “facts that have to be uncovered.”

The original series is an attempt to tell a fairy tell in a modern setting; the new series is more like an attempt at copying NBC’s _Grimm_, and that’s about the best I can put my finger on it. It’s _Law & Order_ where the part of the attorneys is replaced by the Hulk.

Maybe time will tell if it can recapture the storytelling of fantastic episodes like, “Once Upon a Time in the City of New York,” “No Way Down,” “Masques,” “Nor Iron Bars a Cage,” “A Children’s Story,” or “A Happy Life,” but I doubt it.

Ironically, CW’s other new series, [The Green] _Arrow_, feels more like the original B&B.

I wish people cared about souls and about salvation, and about loving Jesus

And not about appearances, not about money, not about politics, not about secular laws, not about social status, not about pride.
I wish that when priests and those who work full time for the Church made decisions, they thought *first* about how their decisions might impact the souls of those under their care, and not about worldly reputations or money or secular legalisms.
I wish that every time a priest was tempted to say a cross word to someone, he stopped to think about whether he was acting in persona Christi, and whether he was helping to push that person away from not just himself or his parish but from Holy Mother Church, and even from Christ.
As much as I hate the phrase “What would Jesus do,” I wish that those who act as representatives of the Church would take it to heart, because negative encounters like that, more than anything else, are responsible for sending people away from the Church.

At the beginning of this liturgical year, nearly a year ago now, I found myself making a huge break through in my prayer life. Then my Community’s president handed out a flyer on the teachings of St. Teresa regarding stages of spiritual progress, and one of the things she says about the stage I believe I’ve reached is that judgementalism goes away. I’m still as orthodox as ever, and I still think critically, but I really find myself more naturally compassionate and able to see people where they are.

I really wish people could learn to try and see each other where they are, that when it comes to things that aren’t moral or theological absolutes, we could look at people and their burdens and challenges in life and not come at each other with anger and judgement and criticism but with a helping hand, and most importantly a kind word. “Wow I realize you’re having a hard time, and I’m amazed at what you’re able to accomplish” motivates a lot more than, “You’re doing a bad job” or “You need to do more.” To be told that no matter how hard you’ve worked, it’s never good enough.

The world beats us down badly enough, and then our families and our churches, which are supposed to be where we get our support, join in the chorus to tell us how worthless we are.

Just a little self-examination, just a little basic courtesy, that’s all we need. There’s no reason any person ever needs to utter a cross word to anyone. Inner peace shows itself through outer demeanor.

I don’t know how big this aneurysm is, but I can barely breathe or swallow. I have constant pressure throughout my torso. I can’t stand for my intestines or bladder to be barely full. I can’t walk much. I spend about 90% of my time in bed or on the couch. The few times a day I make it out to the kitchen, I sit on a chair. Every minute of my life is torture. When I first had the dissection, I was popping several painkillers a day. A pain specialist put me on Neurontin, and for over a year I did fine on 3 Neurontin, a Vicodin & a Tramadol. Now, that’s not cutting it anymore, but I can’t take much more painkillers without being totally stoned or throwing up, so I just have to deal with the pain. And I just don’t have it in me to put up with garbage from people. The slightest increase in my blood pressure, and I feel like I need to go to the ER. My time is so precious, and my pain is so horrible as it is, I just don’t even want to bother with people who are mean or grumpy or inconsiderate.

I constantly beat myself up over what I’m unable to get accomplished. My beautiful, understanding wife says, “In your condition, you ought to be in a nursing home being waited on hand and foot. The fact that you do anything besides get out of bed is a miracle.” Here she is, she works a full time job, takes care of four kids, and has her own health problems, and she has to help me with getting dressed, bathing, basically everything. I can’t even get up and get myself a drink from the kitchen most of the time, and she’s there for me. And she tries to be everything to everybody, and no one can do everything she has to do, but she tries her best and gets little appreciation for it.

Sure, it gets to be too much sometimes and sometimes we fight, and sure we get on each other’s nerves, but in the end we always see that in each other, and we try to make a habit of treating each other with love and respect and politeness and of talking to the children that way about each other.

I can’t take it anymore. It seems like in every “inspirational story” about somebody dying a from a long and debilitating illness, they say this, but no one ever seems to get the message. I want everyone to love each other: not the superficial, “Let’s all just get along and brush everything under the carpet,” but real love: to genuinely try to walk the proverbial mile in that person’s shoes and think about everything he or she may have going on, and to keep in mind what’s really important. I wish people would think of every moment they spent with someone as being potentially the last, because it is. You never know when you’ll be left with nothing but regrets.

A Periodic Reminder about Subsidiarity in Education

A friend of ours just got her kids kicked out of a Catholic school because she stood up for her and her children’s rights under Canon Law. It’s obvious these school officials have no concept of Canon Law or Catholic doctrine, and one wonders if they even believe in Jesus Christ to treat a dedicated family so uncharitably.

Here’s a great article about Homeschooling in Canon Law, which takes the argument that “Catholic schooling is the norm, and homeschooling is the exception,” to task. It is also great material for those Catholic parents who opt for Catholic school and but heads with administrators and pastors:

Some gems from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2217 As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”22 Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.
. . . .
2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law.

2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

2224 The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies

. . .
2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators.38 Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.

From Bl. John Paul II, _Letter to Families_ (1994), section 16:

Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.

If the Catechism is as dogmatically binding as some people believe it is, then arguably a lot of Catholic school officials are in states of heresy, or something approximating it.

Life Chain 2012

Thanks to Most Rev. Gregory John Hartmayer, OFM Cap., bishop of Savannah, for not just supporting Life Chain but coming to Augusta to pray with us. Now, apparently the organizers of the Augusta Life Chain are unaware it’s supposed to be *SILENT*, and while I appreciated His Excellency’s talk, I was uncomfortable with the loud hippy dippy guitar music blasting on the loudspeakers or the talks by Protestant ministers.

My eldest had to go for “Our Lady’s Honor Guard,” and my wife was watching the other kids but came up about halfway through to check on us and see if we needed water. Our 8 year old (who drew the previously posted “sign” while waiting) took up a sign and stood in line with our son. Then the 5 year old sat in her sister’s lap.

I took this picture, thinking how, in several respects, it embodies everything it means to be pro-life.

Today was also the day of the Augusta “Living Rosary,” which may be why His Excellency was in town.


My 8 Year Old’s Pro-Life Sign

“Daddy, can we have a Kia Sedona?”–The Pros and Cons of PBS

Back in the early 2000’s, Kia was one of the main sponsors of CBS’s Saturday morning-line-up. My 2 year old used to turn to me every Saturday and ask, “Daddy, can we get a Kia Sedona?”

There are several arguments for the existence and federal funding of PBS:

1) PBS Kids provides commercial free, educational programming for kids to watch. Supposedly, this saves them from the “dangers” of non-educational, purely fun shows (as if adults don’t watch non-educational, purely fun shows!) and from being influenced by advertisers. It also supposedly helps low-income children learn and develop a love of learning.
2) PBS provides cultural programming that supposedly won’t do well in a commercial, ratings-based environment.
3) Local PBS stations, which get the majority of federal funding, provide an important source of local programming.

They tell us that PBS is a “commercial free” network, yet for quite some time PBS shows, including PBS Kids shows, have had what used to be considered “advertising”: corporate sponsors. For years, _Masterpiece Theater_ was called _Mobil Masterpiece Theater_, for example. Watch _Sesame Street_, and you’ll see how _Sesame Street_ is sponsored by “Beaches” resorts. Even McDonald’s is a “sponsor” of PBS Kids shows. So when it comes to advertising, PBS Kids is actually behind the “Kids” networks on cable: Disney Jr., Nick Jr. and Boomerang all have policies against product advertising, though they *do* advertise the programs on their sister networks.

Now, back in the 1990s, when Republicans raised the issue of defunding PBS, they argued that Cable showed that commercial television could do what PBS does. At the time, A&E still stood for “Arts & Entertainment” and “TLC” stood for “The Learning Channel.” A&E, Discovery and TLC had fine arts programming and documentaries. TLC and Discovery had truly educational children’s programs during the day.

These days, however, some of that has been negated. While many Disney & Nick shows are comparable to a lot of the kids’ shows on PBS, there are still more overtly educational shows on PBS, while even the Discovery Kids network is now The Hub: co-owned by Hasbro, it’s an enjoyable network but competing with Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and other sister networks in the Disney family.

One thing I do not understand about PBS is why, after 40+ years, they need *new* shows. The only reason is “kids are different,” which is a big lie. Kids are always the same. The problem with *both* PBS and the cable “kids'” channels is that they’re just as much about indoctrination as education. Conservatives rightly complain that PBS indoctrinates kids to liberal ideology, but so do Disney & Nick, a network whose primary purpose is to facilitate kids to watch MTV.

Sesame Street has been on for 40+ years, and other than the fact that Carroll Spinney is on track to beat Helen Wagner as the longest actor on a TV show in history, there’s no real reason that the previous 40+ years of programming aren’t more than enough to educate toddlers for generations. Sesame Street has aired over 4240 episodes: enough to air it back-to-back, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for almost half a year–or once a day every day for 11 years–without repeating an episode. Then there are all the decades of _Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood_ (though the amount of programs he produced per year dwindled as he got older) and [ugh] _Barney & Friends_. _Cyberchase_, _Wild Kratts_ and the sadly cancelled _Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman_ are superbly educational but so are the original _Electric Company_, _321 Contact_, _Reading Rainbow_ and _Mathnet_. Yes, some of these programs may represent obsolete technology or scientific understanding, but there are still plenty available. How much money could be saved if they stop developing needless new shows and just show “classic” PBS shows? It’s not like ratings are going to drop! After all, isn’t the argument for PBS that they don’t need ratings?

Speaking of older shows, Discovery and PBS co-sponsor a fantastic website called “United Streaming” that provides old kids’ series from PBS and Discovery as well as non-broadcast educational videos. It’s *wonderful*. I don’t know how much it costs, but I imagine that a worthy compromise would be to cut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, support United Streaming, and maybe give a tax break for high speed internet for families with young children.

Apparently, from a cursory Google search, the operating budget of PBS is in the mid-$400 millions, with about 20%, max, of that coming from federal money. However, the federal money accounts for 40% of the budgets of local PBS stations. We’re told that this would provide a desperate hit to local stations, but perhaps if localism is the issue, then maybe local stations could get local funding to promote local programming?

While PBS occasionally promotes “fine arts” programs, a great deal of its prime-time content really just rehashes BBC programming–which BBC America exists to show. The argument that high culture programming is available on cable (these days only on channels like Ovation that are available only in top tier plans in most markets and satellite plans) doesn’t really make sense coming from Republicans who complain about lower class Americans having cable to begin with. Nevertheless, just as Thomas Sowell once called PBS “welfare for the affluent,” just as with Discovery Streaming, there are a variety of avenues for people to obtain this kind of programming: online streaming and DVD among them. Indeed, when PBS asks for a $200 donation so you can get a concert DVD that costs $20 or less at the mall, it doesn’t make sense to pay tax money to support PBS, does it?

All of that said, this discussion must be handled delicately. Polls show the majority of Americans oppose cutting PBS funding, even though it seems like an obvious way to save some of the federal budget.

When Republicans oppose something like PBS, flat out, it comes off as reinforcing the worse stereotypes of political conservatives. While what Mitt Romney said in the debate was actually a nuanced argument, House Republicans and many pundits, not to mention online commentators, often come off as anti-intellectual, a matter I’m going to discuss in another post.