The Fish, Out of Matter: R.I.P.

Yes bassist Chris Squire passed away last night at age 67. I don’t usually pay too much attention to what goes on in the entertainment world, as I don’t have much personal investment in it, and never really have. But there have been some exceptions to that. Chris Squire would be pretty close to the top of that exception list.

csSquire had noted on Facepalm® last month that he had fallen victim to a brutal disease, so today’s news was not entirely surprising, but it was disturbing nonetheless, and I’m feeling as if I lost a friend. That’s a silly sentiment, really, considering I never met the man, and may not have gotten on very well with him if we had met. I haven’t had any interest in the music he’s been involved in for the past decade and a half or so, and even the older Yes music can wear a little thin these days.

Yes, as a band, has become little more than a Yes tribute band after parting ways with Squire’s co-founder Jon Anderson several years ago, and, frankly, they’d exhausted their musical genius decades ago. But, at least at the time, it seemed to be a formidable genius, indeed.

My older brother introduced me to the Yes cult when he gave me the Close to the Edge album for my birthday. That would have been late July 1974, when I turned 14. Thinking that the side with two songs looked somewhat more inviting than the side consisting of a single, 18-minute song, I played the second side of the album first. I was absolutely transformed in my relation to music by the end of that first twenty minutes. After spending a few moments in silence, futilely trying to understand what had just happened to me, I flipped the album over and listened to the title track. My wonder and consternation were magnified. As the saying goes: I was blown away.

As he handed me the record, my brother told me that it would cure me of my interest in Grand Funk Railroad. I took that as one of those annoyingly paternalistic things older brothers say to their little brothers to keep the pecking order establishment clear, but by about the time my next birthday had come around, I’d sold all my Grand Funk, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, and other non-Yes albums to a kid up the street, for $10. I would eventually listen to other artists again, but the terms of my engagement with music had forever changed, and there would be no going back to Alice Cooper. For the first time in my life, I’d experienced music as a form of art, and not just as a come-on, or an entertainment.

Prior to my initiation into Close to the Edge, I’d spent many hours listening both to “hit” radio and to albums from popular rock bands, searching for a personally satisfying connection with the music: convinced that such meaning was available for the mining, and invariably disappointed as the music failed to deliver. A satisfying ditty here, a satisfying ditty there, perhaps, but even at that tender age, I knew experientially that the music I was listening to was shallow and contrived; that the excitements it created were ephemeral and, ultimately, phony. But Yes music was different.

It’s not uncommon to hear Yes music referred to as “spiritual”, as one way of distinguishing it from most other rock. I get what’s meant by that, which is to say that Yes music is not vulgar, and that it is open to and even traffics in a certain level of transcendence. But to grasp the importance of that, it is important to understand that all music is spiritual, for better or worse. If it weren’t, it would only be sound, because “spiritual” is really just a synonym for something having meaning, and music, by definition, is the appropriation of sound, as sound, into meaning, expressed in time.

But meaning in music can range from boring monotony to cheap titillation to transformative profundity. There’s nothing unspiritual about cheesy music, it just wallows in the shallow end, and it often leaves the intellect unengaged – if not disengaged. So, we could call such music spiritually incomplete or even impoverished, but it remains spiritual even when it is so in a trite or even denigrating way. Political slogans function in much the same way. We could draw an analogy and say that most pop music relates to music-as-art similarly to the way sloganeering relates to literature (i.e. writing-as-art). It would not be inapt to relate both depraved forms to propaganda. It is not for nothing that sensitive souls have from time to time been alarmed concerning the presence of the demonic in certain music. Nor should we fail to recognize that sacred music actually exists, even if one can hardly find a modern liturgist who is cognizant of that fact. Not all bad music is debauched.

The sensual nature of music implies that it always approaches us at the level of our passions, but it is a further engagement on the intellectual level that allows music (or language) to engage a person in a fully human way, in a way that is spiritually “complete”, and thus to form a deeply penetrating meaning. Yes was by no means the only or even the first rock band that pushed their music beyond the banalities of pop and into a realm of deeper musical meaning, but they took advantage of the opportunities presented by the times to produce work that stands as paradigmatic of the possibility of intellectually serious commercial rock music. Thematic development, intricately interwoven melodic and rhythmic phrasing, shifting modalities and tonal centers, complex meters and metrical diversity, all coupled with the esoterically ambiguous but aesthetically charged character of Anderson’s lyrics: the Yes experience was a compelling introduction for this young teen – and many others like me – to the pursuit of the spiritual goal of art, which metaphysics calls the third transcendental attribute: beauty.

I became a hard-core Yes fan. I absolutely loved their music. For a time at least, being a Yes fan seemed like an important part of who I was. Modern people attach themselves to musical acts – or sports teams, or TV shows, or any number of products and/or ideas – in ways that are pretty totemistic. We wear their logos, or colors, or names, or other symbols. We say that we idolize them, because, well, we do. We “identify” with them, because they somehow provide meaning to us; they mediate some greater, unreachable reality for us in ways that allow us to feel we have at least some small part in it. None of this is particularly healthy, but some attachments are worse than others. I drew the Yes logo on my jacket. I wrote their lyrics on my t-shirts. I put their album covers on my walls. After high school, I dropped most of the outward pieties, although the devotion lingered for years, until I found a better way to what I was really seeking.

I was very glad, at the time, to be a Yes fan, and I’m still glad that I was. In fact, I was blessed to be a Yes fan, because in showing me how the musical genre which modern consumer culture had basically imposed on me (rock) could be used as a vehicle to strive, with excellence, the path to true beauty – and to the awe and wonder which beauty inspires – Yes also showed me the path which leads to the first and second transcendental attributes: truth and goodness. That is to say, Yes ultimately showed me the path that leads to God.

It is true that I was not only already baptized, but lived in a family that honored virtue, and acknowledged Christ as Lord. It is also true that I would eventually have to unfix my eyes from all my “idols” in order to properly turn them to God. Nonetheless, Yes opened my eyes to His reality – whether anything like that was ever the band’s intent or not. This is no exaggeration. I was as convinced an atheist as a 14-year-old can be: disgusted with the world, utterly alienated, and frighteningly self-destructive. I was one sad-sack kid. I still grieve for that kid, constantly. It is a grief that deeply informs my relationships with my own children. I don’t know what would have happened to me if Yes hadn’t happened to me. Yes music was a ray of light in the dreadful darkness of my adolescent existence that started a revolution in my life, however slow-moving that revolution turned.

Though I’ve moved on in many ways, there are still three albums from Yes that I would grab for my proverbial desert island supply. One is Close to the Edge, another is the brilliant Relayer album from 1974. But the third would be the 1975 solo album from Chris Squire: Fish Out of Water. Less brash than the band albums, it sounds like what I once hoped Yes would come to foowsound like as they matured. It didn’t quite work out that way. The album nodded toward the Yes mode in places – the thematic resolution at the 12:00 mark of “Safe” is a minute and a half of probably my favorite rock bombast ever. And the outro that follows it, closing the album, is as gorgeous as electronic music gets. Squire’s distinctive bass playing combined the driving rhythmic foundation of electric bass with a melodic sensibility that really set him apart from other bassists. I always hoped he’d record a second solo album before he retired. He had forty years, but he never did it.

But I am thankful for what he gave the world in his work. I don’t know anything about his personal life, but I hope he died in peace with himself and his world. I pray that his family and friends may be comforted in their grief. And now that he has died and faced his Maker in judgment, I pray that Chris recognizes Him as his Lord and Savior, and that he might know the peace of his Lord telling him that “you will be/safe with Me”. Cue the outro…

…it was the halting and reversing of a socio-cultural revolution

The lights have been out at this blog for about a year and a half, but I’ve been targeting to get back to it, and even made a few tweaks and updates over the past week in preparation. And I could hardly find a finer way of turning the lights back on than by sharing this illuminating article at TheWeek.com by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who punctures the absurd conceits of the Progressive movement concerning the “inevitability” of social change, by revisiting the origins of the concept of racialism (race & racism) in early modern and – especially – Enlightenment era “scientific” liberalism:

Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it started out as a fringe idea and became mainstream seemingly overnight. The idea of studying and classifying “races” as such appears as mostly a sidebar in scientific inquiry in the mid-part of the 18th century, but by the end of the 18th century it’s all over the place and by the 19th century the idea of races is pretty much received wisdom. In the American Colonies, the first person to be legally recognized as a slave was owned by a free black man. While some colonies had laws banning marriage between free persons and slaves, none of them originally had anti-miscegenation laws. These laws were passed in a sudden wave, in a matter of a generation.

Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it draped itself under scientific accoutrements. To many people, theories of evolution seemed to naturally indicate that there were different races and that these races had intrinsic traits. “Scientific racism” was all the rage. While we hear about people like James Henley Thornwell, the Southern white Calvinistic preacher who backed slavery, we hear much less about figures like Louis Agassiz, the Swiss-born deist scientist who built a profitable public speaking career in the South promoting scientific racism.

Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it advanced under the banner of moral progress. Racism is inseparable from colonialism and the “white man’s burden” to colonize the lesser races to teach them civilization (at the barrel of a gun if need be — for their own good, of course). Another form of so-called moral progress, enthusiastically embraced by progressive elites and coevally linked with racism, is eugenicism. Margaret Sanger, the doyenne of the family planning movement and great advocate of eugenicism was, like the Ku Klux Klan, a sworn enemy of both inferior races and the Catholic Church (and in fact, spoke at a KKK event and was well received).

Part of Gobry’s point is that the progressive conceit that there is no turning back from social change once it is committed to is refuted, unawares, by progressives themselves every time they toll their signal bell claiming once-for-all social victory over the dark and “ancient” scourge of racism through the Civil Rights movement: the civil rights movement was nothing but the turning back of earlier but still relatively recent moral and cultural “progress” rooted in liberal (i.e. anti-Catholic) ideology.

To me, this is so obvious as to be pretty much self-evident, and I’ve always been baffled by the success of progressivism’s propaganda accusing its opponents (“conservatives”) of being champions of racism. Christian doctrine is as necessarily opposed to racism as it is to same-sex marriage: not simply because it’s a bad idea or evil result, but because it is an absurdity relying on a bogus premise concerning the nature of the human being, one which ultimately denigrates the race through mockery of just what it means to be a human being, created in the image of a God who is Father of all. But a lie can travel half-way around the world…

A world so lost that people no longer believe it ever really existed

Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard has an insightful article coming out in the September 30th edition of the magazine (available now online), entitled “Two Miserable Decades” in which he compares and contrasts the periods from 9/11 until today, and the 70’s – or more precisely, the period from 1967 through 1979. Having been born in 1960, I endured that earlier period at a highly impressionable yet largely oblivious stage of life. Of course, it is common lately to hear the Obama presidency compared to Carter’s, but this article looks much deeper into the fabrics of these oddly-related eras:

So which period was worse? There’s a strong case to be made for each. Superficially, you could argue the ’70s, for all the obvious reasons: 58,000 Americans dead in Vietnam, Watergate, gas lines, the last helicopter leaving Saigon. But the deeper undercurrents suggest a different answer.

After all, American culture was fraying in the ’70s, but for the most part, society agreed that it was fraying and that this dissolution was problematic. In the 1970s, the country retained habits learned during almost two generations of the strongest growth in American history. A 40-year-old in 1970 had lived through the Depression and the Second World War, and his parents had seen the Great War, too. These people were made of stern stuff. And they could plausibly look at the world around them and see it as a terrible aberration. They could believe that the normal state of affairs was much better and that a return to normalcy was possible. That’s why the country responded to Reagan’s call for “morning in America.”

Our age is different. A 40-year-old in 2000 was a teenager during the maelstrom of the ’70s. He saw the bright spot of the mid-1980s and the respite from history that was the 1990s. But to him, the economic and social patterns of the ’00s look like the norm.

As for the culture, the social order of the 1950s may have been washing out to sea during the 1970s, but today it might as well be Atlantis—a world so lost that people no longer believe it ever really existed. When 1 out of every 10 births is illegitimate, it’s a societal failure. When nearly half are, it’s a new way of life.

Last touches on many different elements of both time periods, from the bizarre (e.g. Paul Erlich’s “Population Bomb” apocalyptic to Jimmy Carter being elected leader of the free world a few months after having submitted an official UFO report) to the banal (e.g. economic performance) to the culturally basal (i.e. the state of cultural institutions and the social expectations thus engendered – hence the notion of a world so lost as to be incredible).

Much of it was easy to follow, and hardly controversial. But Last made one comment in particular that jumped out at me as potentially very insightful – and certainly provocative. He claims that the passage of Obamacare may have an even deeper negative significance to the political fabric of the country than did the resignation of Nixon – this because of the purely partisan nature of support that saw its ugly passage by professional politicians who quite often did not really support it (indeed, how could they, since its content was unknown to those who voted it into law!), and who knew their constituencies didn’t want it, but who voted to enact it anyway, to toe the party line. In other words, he sees it as a failure of the democratic processes built into our political institutions, which is indeed a foreboding notion for a nation that has nothing else to offer toward social cohesion if democracy fails, other than television “culture”.  It is a fascinating and sobering thought, which gives some practical weight to the oft-repeated complaints of the hyper-partisan nature of contemporary political discourse, especially in Washington.

The essay makes for good reading, especially for those who think often about the era of the Western “cultural revolution”, and how it continues to influence behaviors and beliefs today.

Taking Stock

I went out to fetch some Chinese take-out this evening, and found myself driving past Saint Patrick’s just a few minutes before classes were to start for the beginning of the new CCD year. I sped up just a little. This is the first year in almost a decade that I will not be teaching a class of teenagers. It is a strange feeling, and I already miss the camaraderie of the classroom. I’ve really loved my charges over the years, and they’ve been a great source of joy and satisfaction for me.

There’s no good reason to expound upon why I wouldn’t go back this year: it is sufficient to say it’s not because I was tired of teaching. Nonetheless, I will be living a rather different kind of life this year; I am in a new mode, at least for now. I have time for other things, but I will need to choose wisely. I have time to correct deficiencies and address needs. I do not have time to read the “news”.

For some reason, I’m not quite prepared to abandon this blog/website, so I need to do something to correct its dysfunction, for a moribund, unused web site is dysfunctional. I will be re-thinking its purpose.

When I launched the site, in March 2008, I anticipated having a heavy focus on Bible Study tools, resources, and methods – which represented a significant aspect of my intellectual efforts at the time. But I was also just beginning my studies at Franciscan University, and my early plans would prove not only overly ambitious, but also of receding interest to me. I’ve moved on.

In light of that, I do not expect to produce pages analyzing software products beyond the two I managed to get published last decade: WORDsearch and QuickVerse. Ironically, they have been merged into essentially a single product since the purchase of QuickVerse by WORDsearch in mid-2011. I suppose I should simply suppress my existing QuickVerse analysis page, since it has no more independent interest. That would leave only my WORDsearch eval page in that section of the site, and I’m not sure why it should have any permanency. I’ve already (tonight) suppressed the “WORDsearch Versions Comparison” sub-page. I published (again, tonight) a revision to the WORDsearch page, updating it to account for all that has happened in the busy two and a half years since I’d last revised the page: the QuickVerse purchase, the sale to Lifeway, and the releases of WORDsearch versions 10, 10.5 and 10.6. My attention, however, has turned elsewhere, and the website needs to reflect that change in focus – assuming I can get around to it!

The weakness of it is not due to the argument itself but to the condition of the hearer

Published on cnsnews.com last Friday, the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo provides a lengthy response to Bill O’Reilly’s recent dismissal of “Bible thumping” in the public square over the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, including the following comments on the incompatibility of the type of law involved in establishing such a legal fiction with a constitutional order per se:

O’Reilly fails to make clear distinctions. For example, on the issue of religion in the public square, his claim that theological arguments are unacceptable in the public square is meant to indicate that if someone does not have faith in the authority of Divine Revelation, such argumentation holds no sway. This is true.

It is incorrect, however, to grant the further implication that religious argumentation should not be used in the public square. … To presume that the public square is owned [by] or exists because of the atheists of our modern day is historically false and an easy way out of a more complicated debate.

… The clamor for same-sex marriage is symptomatic of but not the root cause of our demise. The eroding of the philosophical and cultural foundations of the West is at the root of the problem. To ignore this is to miss the forest for the trees.

… The argument from faith, being revealed by God is essentially the strongest argument per se. It may not be understood to be so, by those who do not believe in Divine Revelation, but, if God exists and Christian revelation is true, it is undoubtedly the strongest. God does not have opinions, or positions on issues. God is simply Truth. The fact that the argument from eternal law cannot be used with the homosexual lobby, which is markedly atheistic, does not grant the further claim that Divine Revelation is a weak argument. The weakness of it is not due to the argument itself but to the condition of the hearer, who does not recognize Divine Law.

… If Bill O’Reilly believes in Divine Revelation and the divinity of Christ, he surely should realize that theology and reason (philosophy) are simply two different ways of arriving at the same conclusion. Theology and revelation are necessary, even in cases where one can arrive at the same conclusion [by] reason alone, because not every individual has the time or ability to arrive at correct conclusions from reason. Revelation in this sense is a service to the human conscience, for it affords another way for many people to arrive to necessary conclusions, quickly, and without the admixture of error. Revealed doctrine is a service to reason, not an obstacle.

But since Mr. O’Reilly demands "more than Bible thumping," I argue from reason, that homosexuality is simply not a normative inclination in the individual and therefore its existence constitutes shaky ground to make a norm for society as a whole. One has to take a deep breath and depersonalize the issue. We speak at this level when evaluating policy. The question before us is whether the tendency of some men and some women toward a same sex attraction is reasonable grounds to legislate for an entire nation or state.

… Now, when we discover non-normative tendencies, we seek causes. We ask: Why is this non-normative behavior taking place? We don’t start making laws for an entire population based on the non-normative tendencies of a tiny segment of the population. More clinical, sociological, and medical science is needed here, not lawyers and judges acting by fiat to institutionalize in the nation’s law non-normative tendencies of any type. This is, I submit, an unreasonable and insufficient ground for law.

… The problem here is that if non-normative tendencies become the criteria for constitutional or state law, law itself will become biographical. This atomization of law, culminates in the inability for us to have fundamental rights, as human beings. Things are institutionalized after centuries in law and custom, because they are recognized as normative, and, in the case of marriage, as a good for society. The legal institution of marriage is the normalization of that which is de facto normative in man. Marriage institutionalized in law and by religion is the proper effect the fruit of a normative tendency in man. Heterosexual, monogamous unions were not simply admitted into the marriage franchise (to which others now seek entry), it is rather the author that produced marriage as we know it. They have as it were, authorship rights over marriage since they produced the institution.

Creating institutions in law and possibly at a constitutional level, using non-normative tendencies (which are many and vary greatly in our society), as the justification is unreasonable and theoretically unsound.

Equality under the law in this sense is already being assaulted by post-modern philosophy, as unfair. Precisely for this reason, "the notion of "equality under the law," is now seen by many as failing to address the biographical preferences and tendencies of all kinds of biographical groups in society.

If we continue down that path, there will be no end, except the end of what we now know as the rule of law. It is unreasonable to legislate on constitutional order in this fashion.

Although I’m not sure how much of Guarnizo’s far-flung argument addresses the problem with O’Reilly’s libertarian indifference to non-utilitarian aspects of public life, the article nonetheless articulates a number of ideas that rarely make their way into the public discourse on this contrived controversy.

Given the hysterical nature of the thought-policing imposed on the matter (e.g. anyone who disagrees with the idiotic pretenses of the radicals is a “bigot’), it’s good to see some of the underlying intellectual errors exposed, as this piece does in pointing out how the special-interest nature of “biographical preference” law undermines the very basis of lawful order by replacing genuine equality under the law with targeted “rights” meant to benefit the politically well-positioned. Ostensibly advanced to serve the cause of “equality”, these kinds of laws are ultimately tyrannical, precisely because they are irrational, and that which is not rooted in the truth of the nature of things has no capacity to (continue to) exist on its own, and must be propped up by raw power. They are politically dangerous, socially poisonous, and morally unjust.

HT to Ed Morrissey at HotAir.

Not so much a cultural revolution, as it is a mop-up job

Thanks to a link provided by Operation Rescue Boston’s Bill Cotter in a recent newsletter email, I recently came across an article by John Jalsevac at LifeSiteNews.com, which I consider the most insightful piece of short literature I have read on the cultural phenomenon of gay marriage, recognizing not only the problem the concept presents, but also acknowledging the very thin grounds modern (i.e. liberalized) “conservatives” have to stand on in resisting the expansion of the modern notion of marriage to include gays:

But an honest look at the cultural landscape raises the question of just how much is left to defend. The statistics suggest that social conservatives may be brandishing their scimitars not in defense of a robust institution suddenly threatened by a new and hostile cultural force, but rather the smoking ruins of an institution long ago surrendered and abandoned as lost. The Sexual Revolution of the 60s, and what a friend of mine calls the subsequent “hell of the Divorce Tsunami” of the 70s, have already swept this Thing That We Used to Call Marriage out to sea, leaving us clinging to the bobbing flotsam and jetsam.

By this point the statistics are so familiar that they have ceased to be shocking. And yet the numbers ought to shock us. Right now, some sixty percent of couples cohabit before marriage; nearly half of all marriages end in divorce; a record number of Americans aren’t bothering to get married in the first place, and those that do get married are getting married ever later; 41 percent of all children are born out of wedlock; 35 percent of children live in single-parent homes; only 61 percent of children under 18 live with their biological parents; and the birth rate has now dipped below the replacement level, as couples are having fewer and fewer, or sometimes no children at all.

So much for marriage being “life-long,” “exclusive” and child-oriented! Well then, what do we have left? Only the final third of our definition of traditional marriage: that marriage should be between one man and one woman. From the perspective of the gay rights movement, getting rid of this final scrap of our definition is not so much a cultural revolution, as it is a mop-up job. The revolution already happened. Now it’s simply a question of tying up the loose ends.

And they are not wrong.

Jalsevac insists that what is being defended against the encroachment of homosexuality is not marriage in any historically meaningful sense, but a liberal institution he calls New Marriage, which is little more than the corpse of that institution upon which civilization has been built. He is absolutely correct.

Liberalism – understood in its older sense, and not something that began in the 1960s or late 19th century – has had as its aim the destruction/replacement of two fundamental institutions: the Church, and the family. In fact, I think one could reduce its aim to the singular goal of the destruction/replacement of fatherhood (i.e. patriarchy). On the family/marriage front, the main battle was lost about fifty years ago. I barely know anyone who understands marriage as anything that even closely resembles the reality that formed human culture.

Were it not for the working of grace in my life, I don’t think I would be able to understand what the difference is. But there is a difference – a momentous difference – and the truth, however elusive, must be pursued, embraced, and proclaimed. I recommend following the link to the entire article.

A Belated Clarification

Circumstances compel me to issue a clarification to a notion rendered in my last entry, from late December, lamenting the re-election of Barack Obama. My expressing a similar idea in a conversation prompted a sharp rebuttal that I was (wrongly and uncharitably) entertaining a conceit that everyone who voted to re-elect Obama did so either for trivial reasons, or out of naked self-interest. It is not true that I believe that, but I can understand how someone could come to that conclusion, given the cynical tone of my harangue.

I made two offending comments: one that “many people” had voted for him in 2008 because of the color of his skin (from which it was inferred that I therefore also meant to imply that the same occurred last November, which I did not say, but which I have no good reason to doubt happened on some scale, although I suspect it was not nearly the factor it was in 2008), and the other that “a majority of citizens are [now] willing to vote themselves other people’s money”, which I did say had appeared to have become a real possibility. What I said, I maintain, is true – in both cases. The first is demonstrable – nobody even tries to hide it until someone impolitic like myself is uncultured enough to point out its unseemliness in plain speech. The second I did not and do not assert as an accomplished fact, but did and do assert as either a real or near and impending crisis of political morality, representing the inevitable culmination of a century of domination of the American polity by political and social progressivism.

Neither of these claims, however, precludes the possibility of a principled support for Obama. I certainly have asserted that not all political support for Obama was of a principled nature, but that is not the same thing as saying that none of it was. I have no doubt that there is a core of true believers in the cause of progressivism who got behind Obama – as they get behind many other politicians from the Democrat Party, or other members of the left wing of the political landscape. In other words, there are people who actually believe this stuff. In fact, it’s silly to think that I think they don’t exist. So if you want to accuse me of claiming that all Obama supporters are either fools or knaves, I stand guilty as accused; I think it is utterly foolish to believe that the utopian nonsense of progressivism will produce anything but increased misery, impoverishment, dependence, enslavement, and social disorder, as it systematically funnels all the levers of social power into an ever-expanding, all-powerful state bureaucracy. But I categorically deny the charge that I think they are all knaves. There’s a difference.

Nonetheless, the point I was making, which referred to the crisis of political morality mentioned above, is that the Democrat Party, as the torch bearer for progressivism in America, has quite intentionally and systematically constructed an ever-growing constituency of self-interest, significantly augmenting that ideological core, through the enactment of policies that constantly increase dependence upon governmental “services” (e.g individual welfare subsidies; management of social crises) and “largesse” (e.g. institutional welfare; “friendly” tax code manipulation; grants and other funding), while simultaneously creating an ever-expanding constituency of direct dependents in the form of public sector employees whose livelihoods depend  on the secure growth of governmental reach into society.

Taking, as the most egregious example, public sector unions, the Democrat Party has assumed the role of sophisticated money launderer on behalf of the unions (or perhaps it would be even more accurate to say the unions act as money launderers for the Democrat Party), when, sitting as public officials and ersatz agents for the commonwealth, they allow the unions to fleece their neighbors through budget-breaking contract agreements (typically overloaded with sugardaddy-like risk removal) that quite transparently come attached with an implicit quid pro quo of solid political support for the Democrats, including the transference of public funds from tax revenues, through union salaries, to (mandatory) union dues, which finally make their way to political campaign contributions to the Democrat Party. The public sector unions are the largest political contributors in the U.S. (The NEA is consistently ranked #1), and virtually 100% of their “contributions” go to their sponsors: the Democrats. Every cent of that is tax dollars that are re-routed through the unions to the Democrats for campaigning against Republicans. Every cent. And this is legal.

But I digress. All of the government-dependent constituencies of the Democrat Party have similarly, if sometimes less radically, incestuous relationships in place with the party of the political class, cemented in place by the trading of tax revenue “allocations” for political support at the ballot box, an arrangement that seems to me to represent the very definition of political corruption. My complaint is that this arrangement promises to cannibalize the social contract that liberal society assumes as its foundation.

Furthermore, I have to say that I am simply not naïve enough to suppose that the vanguard of the political enterprise willing to use such means to achieve and consolidate power is necessarily to be found comprised of a full slate of idealistic but foolish true believers, who only want to see the flowering of the utopian future of “equality” and “justice” – and none who might better fit the description of knaves. The idealists may not be able to see it, but the truth of the matter is that when and if the leftist takeover is complete, the land will not be ruled by educated and sensitive idealists sipping wine in tweed jackets. Just saying…

Some Concluding, Year-End Musings on 2012

Logos: Logos Bible Research scored huge in my estimation this year. I had struggled to be productive with earlier versions of their software, but version 4, released just about 3 years ago, represented a dramatic improvement in usability and performance, and I started drifting toward it then – especially since they were also beginning to release quality Catholic resources (e.g. works by Aquinas). Then, this Spring, they put together a series of terrific Catholic base packages, all of which included an outstanding edition of the CatechismCatechism of the Catholic Church. Logos version 5, released a couple months ago, adds some nice capabilities to an already terrific product, and has also been published in a separately-branded Catholic product line called Verbum.

Like the standard Logos 5 offerings, the base packages seem disproportionally weighted toward the upper end of the price range, but the entry-level Catholic package, The Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection (in the $50 range), is simply the best set of resources available at anywhere near that price for Catholics looking for a digital study platform. Check it out. It lacks an NAB, but that can be surmounted – and the versions it contains, the RSVCE and Douay, are better versions, anyway. Besides the CCC, it includes the Roman Catechism, the conciliar documents from both Vatican Councils as well as Trent, the essential dogmatic reference works of Denzinger and Ott, and the (daily) Catholic Lectionary. It is an outstanding value, and the resources work together brilliantly. I’m really impressed.

WORDsearch: Continuing the Bible Study Software theme… After rushing WS10 out the door last Christmas week, Lifeway finally got the product to the right spot with a series of version 10.5-enumerated updates released to WS10 owners beginning in June of this year. With a (Greek only) morphological search tool, user-created book types, a History window, and a sermon management tool, WS finally filled some long-standing functionality gaps. But for me, it’s too little, too late. I’ve been a loyal WS user since 1992 – my first (DOS) version of WS came with the NAB, NJB, NRSV, and a Strong’s-tagged KJV, plus TSK; it was Bible Study bliss. No application has served me better over the past 20 years, but it’s time to move on. This program simply cannot compete with the heavyweights. New owner Lifeway (i.e. the Southern Baptist Convention) has had a year and a half to demonstrate a commitment to improved professionalism with the product, and it has not materialized. The only changes I’ve sensed are an increased interest in chasing the latest cultural fads (you can now tweet your Bible Study results from within the program, if that’s your thing), and a decreased likelihood that the platform will be seeing anything like the excellent Catholic resources that are showing up steadily from Logos. On the increasingly rare occasions that I’ve opened the app to work with it recently, it has usually been crashing. Forget it. Thanks for everything; it was great while it lasted.

New English Translation of the Roman Missal: It’s been just over a year now since the introduction of the new translations of many of the prayers in the Liturgy of the Mass. Although they can be awkward and clumsy at times, and although I still haven’t memorized the new versions of the Gloria or the Creed, I think they are overall a big improvement, and are working quite well, with the exception of the Sanctus. I get the Isaiah basis for the change, and consider it an important corrective, but of the half-dozen or so churches where I worship with some regularity, there is not a single congregation that proclaims it smoothly. There’s even one where the priest himself still says “God of power and might” – probably because of the difficulty of getting his people to use a common cadence in proclaiming the new version. It needs attention.

On Obama’s Reelection: I have to admit, I was stunned by the election results. I was quite confident the country would reject Obama, after having four years to see for themselves what you get when you vote for someone based on the color of his skin – as so many people have openly (even gleefully) admitted to doing during the messianic frenzy of 2008. Mitt Romney was admittedly not the easiest guy to get behind, but he offered a genuine chance to correct some of mistakes that have been made, get the economy growing again, and bridge some of the rancor that has afflicted US politics since the Nixon years, but which has reached utterly dysfunctional levels now under this most divisive and partisan of chief executives.

Romney’s loss was disheartening. Partly, that’s because the “kill Romney” character assassination campaign strategy worked for the Democrats, despite the fact that Mitt Romney might just be the most decent guy to have ever run for that office – he’d certainly have to be a serious candidate in any such ranking. That is not a good omen for the future state of presidential politics in this country. But it’s disheartening also partly because of the sheer political force displayed in it by the progressive movement. The Democrats didn’t just convince too many potential Romney supporters to stay home, they wielded a large voting bloc that was willing to support the progressive agenda in plain daylight, not just as a kneejerk reaction to Bush burnout.

It could very well be that we’ve reached – or at least come close to – a tipping point as a culture, where a majority of citizens are willing to vote themselves “other people’s money” from the public till, and to delegate to the state the responsibilities of human freedom, from citizenship to family to personal health and well-being. If this is so, then we have reached the end of the usefulness of the great democratic experiment, and are descending into tyranny – one that will surely tout the infamous conceit of manifesting the will of “the people”. I wouldn’t expect it to end any better than its leftist forerunners have.

On perhaps a bright note, this debacle has produced in me a certain loss of faith in both the American people and in the political process – faith that was in reality misplaced to begin with. It has caused me to lose a good deal of interest in politics – or more accurately, in current events – which should serve both to free up time for less ephemeral concerns, and to orient my priorities more meaningfully.

On the Vapidity of the American “Opinion” Bureaucracies: Related to the collapsing opposition to leftist thinking in America is the success on the part of the progressive movement to establish a fifth column focused on the formation of opinion and the control of knowledge for political ends. I refer, of course, to the thorough progressive domination of the agenda-setting and opinion-defining institutions of education (both mandatory K-12and university-level) and mass media. As it is abundantly clear to me that the greatest threat to America as a place of “liberty and justice for all” comes from a combination of the “news” media and the educational institutions, I’m all in here with Pat Caddell, in his rant from this past autumn:

On Gun Control Hysteria: On this, the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, it seems appropriate to complain that I was deeply distressed by the (media-driven) national meltdown of propriety and circumspection following the dreadful grade-school massacre in Newtown CT a few weeks ago. The notion that so many people were ready and willing to exploit the situation for dubious political purposes before the bodies of the dead children were even cold is chilling. Perhaps especially galling is the site of notoriously pro-abortion politicians crying crocodile tears over the carnage while intoning that “we must get serious” and “something must be done” to “protect the children”. Would it be impolitic to point out that during that very day, well in excess of 3,000 children were murdered in this country using devices – and furthermore, in the performance of acts! – that were not only perfectly legal, but which boast the unbending political protection of the very hypocrites who wailed the most loudly into the megaphones of self-righteous convenience on that sorry day? I hope those of us who retain some semblance of intelligence will be permitted a healthy degree of skepticism at the proposal that the repetition of such senseless bloodshed might be avoided by limiting the capacities of ammunition clips available to law-abiding citizens, causing mass murderers (of the gun-toting type, not the forceps wielding sort) to have to either buy their clips on the black market, or stop to reload a few times in the middle of mowing down a screaming group of defenseless women and children.

On Christmas: I’ve disliked the holiday we call Christmas at least since I was a young father without two spare nickels to rub together. As I’ve gotten older, my financial wherewithal has (predictably) improved significantly, and my Catholic faith has taken root and flourished into a principal self-understanding, but I don’t like the holiday any more. I refer to the holiday celebrated a few days ago that marked the close of the “Christmas Season”, a largely secular and irreligious period of consumer indulgence that began some time around Thanksgiving.

There is another day, a Christian Holy Day, also celebrated a few days ago, at the conclusion of the Advent season, and which marks the beginning of a Christian Christmas season, which has several permutations, being in the first place an Octave that concludes on January 1st, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God; in the second place a traditional period of gaiety extending twelve days, until the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th, though this can get moved to a Sunday), and thirdly as a liturgical season extending through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on the Sunday following Epiphany. This Holy Day and season celebrates the most remarkable thing that ever happened: the Incarnation of God in human flesh – in the flesh of a baby borne of a woman.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to celebrate the Holy Day amidst all the silly hoopla of the holiday, and I need to figure it out before I find myself thrown in to deep depression some one of these years.

In Case You Need to Know How to Vote on Tuesday…

The coveted MaybeToday.org Election 2012 endorsements and voting guidelines are here at last. Readers will certainly want to use these statements to inform their own decision-making prior to the upcoming election. For example, any of my neighbors in Precinct 8 of lovely Natick Massachusetts could print out this post and take it with them to the Morse Room in the Morse Institute Library next Tuesday, for use as instructions on precisely how to cast one’s votes (I think that would be legal, but I have to admit I’m not sure – please check with the voting officials before pulling this out at the polls! It might be classifiable as campaign-related material, although I have no involvement with any campaign). Others may find it less directly applicable to them in places, but hopefully still plenty helpful. Don’t forget to share it with your friends – or enemies, I’m not picky – I’m bi-partisan!

For President of the United States: Republican Mitt Romney gets my vote, and my unhesitating endorsement. I admit to starting out this campaign season as a simple anti-Obama voter (sensibly enough, I would hope the reader would admit), but I have grown considerably in my opinion of, and confidence in, Mr. Romney, and I look forward to seeing him inaugurated in January, which I am quite confident will be the outcome of this election. I have been particularly impressed with the graciousness with which he has tolerated the slanderous campaign against him by the Democrats. He has been a model of the idealized leading citizen envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers. Go Mitt!

For U.S. Senator from Massachusetts: incumbent Republican Scott Brown gets my vote, as well as my reluctant endorsement. I’m not a big fan of Scott Brown, but as was also the case when he ran for this seat in the 2010 special election, he represents the only even remotely sane option on the ballot. Of course, this is often the case with Republicans running against Democrats, but challenger Elizabeth Warren truly represents the worst of the Democrat Party. She is a relentless “I’m on the side of the little guy” demagogue who, as a professor at Harvard Community College University, pockets a salary of over $300,000/year for teaching a single course, while calling for the government at all levels to increase tax-supported “funding” to schools in order to make education “more affordable” to the kind of people who do her laundry. At the risk of sounding “sexist” by mentioning her physical appearance, I must say that her startlingly high cheekbones remind me of a legendary American cultural hero I once saw on a $3 bill (I think it was Chief Wild Eagle), but that’s just not enough to convince me she has what it takes to execute an honest political office. Good grief.

For U.S. Representative from the Fifth Massachusetts Congressional District: Framingham Republican Tom Tierney gets my reluctant vote, over perpetual incumbent Ed Malarkey. I would vote against Ed Malarkey purely on account of his idiotic (hence, predictably successful) campaign to double-down on the screwball idea of Daylight Saving Time – a social engineering adjustment that cost businesses billions of dollars in wasteful compliance costs when it was implemented a few years ago, and continues to screw up the works for various information systems today. However, Ed has much more to answer for than that. Tierney, for his part, looks to be almost as bad a candidate as Malarkey. He’s the very definition of a RINO, who I have to assume registers as a Republican only for the chance to (repeatedly) get on the ballot and garner some anti-Malarkey votes. On the other hand, at least he’s had a real job. Nonetheless, he will be trounced once again by party-line voters who have no idea who he is, and that will be no great loss, except as an opportunity to put a genuine alternative to insipid progressivism on the ballot for this important seat.

For Governor’s Councilor, Second District: I will be abstaining, as this Council should simply be abolished.

For Massachusetts State Senator, Second Middlesex & Norfolk District: I will also be abstaining on this choice, as incumbent Democrat Karen Spilka is running unopposed for her fifth term in the Massachusetts Senate. As a rule of thumb, I do not vote for candidates running unopposed, unless I specifically want to encourage them. I have no such desire to encourage Ms. Spilka.

For Massachusetts State Representative for the 5th Middlesex House District: Republican challenger William Callahan of Natick gets my vote, although I’m not sure why, except that he’s not seven-term incumbent, Natick Democrat David Linksy. Linsky isn’t a bad guy, but he’s very much the insider, and he strikes me as too much of a typical liberal: the sort who seem incapable of understanding that there might be actual alternatives to threadworn liberal solutions, habitually dismissive of those who don’t “get it”, where “it” is nothing but the pious orthodoxies of post-modern liberalism. It’s time for David to return full-time to private law practice. As for Callahan, he told a local newspaper that he was running on a “transparency” message, but I’ve found it almost impossible to find out anything about him other than that he’s ex-military (National Guard – retired as a colonel). Whatever. If he’s willing to run and serve, he’s worth a shot.

For Middlesex County Sheriff: Ernesto Petrone gets the nod over Democrat Peter Koutoujian, for no other reason than that Petrone is unaffiliated with any political party, which means that we belong to the same non-party. Let’s face it: one less Democrat occupying a political office in Massachusetts is a step toward establishing a more truly democratic (small-d) political environment in the state.

For Middlesex County Clerk of Courts: Democrat Michael A. Sullivan is running unopposed, and the “No Voting for the Unopposed” rule is to be applied.

For Register of Deeds, Middlesex Southern District: Maria Curtatone is running as an unopposed Democrat, which almost disqualifies her from consideration on two counts right away. But she goes down swinging wildly on strike three, when the 48 year-old identifies herself in a biographical sketch provided to e-the-People as “the proud parent” of two children. This smacks very clearly of the fashionable, transgressive, “post-gender” pieties that are coursing through the atrophied veins of the Democrat party and other lodes of progressive group-think these days. Any woman who has neither the sense nor the decency to identify her relation to her children as “mother” should be kept out of public positions of influence, as far as I’m concerned.

On QUESTION 1 – Right to Repair: I am advocating a NO vote on this question, seeing as compromise legislation has been worked out and signed into law since this question went on the ballot – otherwise, I would have supported this effort. The compromise agreement should be honored.

On QUESTION 2 – Legalizing “Doctor Assisted Suicide”: NO. This is such bad law that it is hard to know where to start in criticizing it. The sick, the despairing, and the dying do not need to be told that it is time for them to put themselves out of our misery. The medical profession is already fatally compromised by its embrace of abortion, but this would further erode the premise of its existence. Suicide is a tragedy, and those who destroy themselves – and mark my words: suicide destroys the self, not the evil circumstances of pain, suffering, and whatnot – they have absolutely no idea of what the personal consequences of such a self-repudiation are. I imagine they suppose it “ends it all”, but that would require that the human being be purely material, having no spirit (i.e. intellect and will). That is a dubious assumption, to say the least, and you cannot make the spirit to be as if it never was, simply by killing the body. This is beyond foolishness; the worst sufferings are spiritual, and everybody with a shred of honesty and self-awareness knows it. Why is it that, just when the human race finally has the technology to effectively ameliorate so much of the pain and suffering that have long defined the descent into death for the ill, it has suddenly become fashionable and “compassionate” to promote self-obliteration on account of the fear of pain and suffering? I smell a rat.

On QUESTION 3 – Medical Use of Marijuana: NO. That this is nothing more than a Trojan Horse should be fairly evident to everyone eligible to vote on Tuesday, unless they’re stoned. The War on Drugs might be a disaster, but marijuana’s War on Intelligence is no suitable replacement.

So what the blank could possibly go wrong?

[Video] Quote of the Day for Friday, September 28, 2012. Illinois State Senate candidate Barbara Bellar putting some context around the Affordable Care Act:

 

Now that I’ve figured out what was wrong with my video embeds, I’m on a roll…

As funny as this is, Bellar is actually softballing the problem of the plan’s utter lack of attention to the need for doctors in order to provide government care, what with stories like 83 percent of doctors have considered quitting over Obamacare floating around. And it’s not just sheer numbers, but the fact that ObamaCare doubles-down on the screw-turning inflicted upon general practitioners. The inevitable result of this will be the increasing specialization of the doctors that remain in the work force, producing an escalating shortage of actual opportunities for “care” for all the folks who’ve been assured by the government that they’re “covered”.

Even the progressive siren Boston Globe recognized this pattern emerging in the wake of the implementation of RomneyCare in Massachusetts, reporting two years ago that primary care physicians are getting harder to find. And that’s in one of the world’s great medical hubs! Good luck to the rubes in fly-over country. OK, so that links to a Boston.com-based blog, not the Globe per se, and just because they report it about RomneyCare’s unwanted, unintended consequences doesn’t mean they’ll report the problem when it is being generated, in spades, by Obama’s program, but you get the drift. This “Patient Protection” scam is one idiotically-conceived boondoggle.

Alan Keyes Schools a Journalist on the Distinction Between Principles and Particulars

Alas, how different the world might be today if that 2004 Illinois U.S. Senate race had turned out differently:

 

The video provider labels this “A strong argument against gay marriage”, though I would be inclined to call it something like “A simple elucidation of the fundamental error of gay marriage”.

For what it’s worth, Alan Keyes is the only presidential candidate I’ve ever donated money to (in the 2000 election), though I very well may have donated to Rick Santorum this year if he had been the GOP nominee.

I love the look on Obama’s face when they cut to him near the end. It looks like he’s hoping he won’t get called on. He’s clearly out of his league with Keyes intellectually, but intelligence, unfortunately, does not win elections: politics does. And don’t we know how much craftier a politician Obama is than Keyes. Keyes never really had a chance as a politician, but he sure elevated the conversation.

Update: Video fixed, I hope.

The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished

Quote of the Day for Thursday, September 6th, 2012:

Janet Daley, in The Telegraph, explaining to her fellow Britons why “We should tune in to the Romney and Ryan show”:

What is being challenged is nothing less than the most basic premise of the politics of the centre ground: that you can have free market economics and a democratic socialist welfare system at the same time. The magic formula in which the wealth produced by the market economy is redistributed by the state – from those who produce it to those whom the government believes deserve it – has gone bust. The crash of 2008 exposed a devastating truth that went much deeper than the discovery of a generation of delinquent bankers, or a transitory property bubble. It has become apparent to anyone with a grip on economic reality that free markets simply cannot produce enough wealth to support the sort of universal entitlement programmes which the populations of democratic countries have been led to expect. The fantasy may be sustained for a while by the relentless production of phoney money to fund benefits and job-creation projects, until the economy is turned into a meaningless internal recycling mechanism in the style of the old Soviet Union.

Contrary to what many know-nothing British observers seem to think, the message coming out of Tampa was not Tea Party extremism. It was just a reassertion of the basic values of American political culture: self-determination, individual aspiration and genuine community, as opposed to belief in the state as the fount of all social virtue. Romney caught this rather nicely in his acceptance speech, with the comment that the US was built on the idea of “a system that is dedicated to creating tomorrow’s prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today’s.” Or as Marco Rubio put it in his speech, Obama is “trying ideas that people came to America to get away from”.

I’m not sure why it took a Brit [correction: she’s American born and bred, but has been “over there” since 1965] to distill the real essence of the political quandary facing the States this year, but Ms. Daley certainly sees through to the core of the issue at hand. I took the title for this post from the subtitle of the Telegraph article, and it smartly gets to the point that wealth has to be created – and that requires work. When everyone gets a free lunch, pretty soon, not only is the lunchroom trashed by ingrates contemptuous of the worthlessness they’re given, but there’s no longer any lunch to give out either, because the lunch-makers have stopped working at lunch, and are also awaiting their own free lunches. The truth of the matter is that entitlements can only be permanently effected using slavery.

As Daley notes, the West as a whole, including the U.S., is truly at a crisis point, where the direction chosen will not simply mean yet another recalibration of the extent to which the social politics of the late 19th century will dominate the culture, but will signify the readiness of self-governed man to admit fundamental mistakes, and forge a path of reform. I suppose she’s right that the U.S. is uniquely positioned to lead here, and if we fail, I think it’s hard to overestimate the wreckage that will  likely follow.

It’s not just that so much of the prosperity in the world is dependent upon U.S. prosperity. If, down the road, the U.S., incapable of functioning under its mountain of debt, significantly devalues the dollar, or outright reneges on its sovereign debt, China, swarming with women-less men who have no prospects of marriage due to their insane abortion practices, would be highly likely to perceive the move as an act of aggression equivalent to war – and understandably so – not unlikely responding so as to set off a proverbial World War III. The crisis, then, is not primarily about cozy retirement, or commoditized medical technology, or tax rates, or even about the immorality of intergenerational theft; it’s about whether the legacy of 20th century consumerism will amount to a 21st century of precarious but effective prosperity, or one that devolves into cruel warfare and the widespread grinding poverty that characterized so many pre-capitalist societies, but without a feudal system of patronage to fall back on.