Monday, April 28, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up (#2)

Apparently, French Socialist parliamentary deputies denounced President Nicolas Sarkozy's consistent policy of Franco-American rapproachment, criticizing France's "global strategic alignment" with the United States. NATO officials might be surprised to hear this, no? At the way that the U.S. security guarantee over France morphs, according to the Socialists, into a nefarious Orwellian alliance?

April 22: Pennsylvania (both parties)

Clinton 55
Obama 45

McCain 73
Paul 16
Huckabee 11

Pennsylvania's Catholic voters split seven to three for Hillary Clinton. I couldn't believe this. In Wisconsin, Obama had captured just shy of half the Catholic vote. At a time when I find myself returning to my Catholic roots, what on earth went on in Pennsylvania?

A big part of the answer came this morning as I flipped channels. EWTN, the Catholic channel, was airing a rerun of the news from a week ago, when Obama made his unfortunate comments about "bitter" rural Americans "clinging to guns and religion". Like many others, I thought Obama's comments were oversimplified, but not far off the mark: a lot of Americans don't understand globalization. They don't realize how to adapt to it or how to intelligently resist it.

The three male anchors at the EWTN news desk tore into Obama. One of them even said, "People with high school diplomas are more educated than people with higher education." I nearly fell out of my chair and muttered, "Only in the United States."

Their subsequent comments seemed straight out of the 1950's. Obama had insulted ethnic working-class communities. Obama exemplified of the groupthink that highly educated people inevitably succumb to (false at best, insulting at worst), and so forth. It hit me why so many Pennsylvania Catholics broke for Hillary: vestigal European ethnics-vs-blacks racism (which the Church is now bravely transcending) and equally vestigal Catholic contempt for the WASP intellectual elite. Ugh. That's cultural Catholicism at its worst.

Obama is in no danger of losing his pledged delegate lead: of the 10 or so delegates he lost here, he'll gain back in North Carolina and then some. Yet he needs to actually win a primary. Hillary, justifiably so, has a mini-argument that mirrors Obama's "ten in a row" run before March 4: she keeps winning (in the states most demographically favorable to her). Harold Ford of Tennessee was spot-on when he said, "Obama must win Indiana."

The folks at Daily Kos were atwitter about 30% of the Republican vote not going to John McCain. But, as John McAdams, author of the provocative and principled blog Marquette Warrior, said, protest votes are most theoretically worthwhile in elections where the outcome doesn't matter (implying free choice at the polls, of course). Thus, I backed off.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Peggy Noonan on the campaigns

Dear readers, in case you feared I had lost interest in the presidential race, fear not. Peggy Noonan has said it, far better than I could, in Friday's Wall Street Journal. Enjoy!

On hunger of various sorts

For most of this academic year, I have fought my calling to a kind of monastic life in Milwaukee. The most visible manifestation of this calling is living and eating alone. I've never done either for a prolonged span; I lived at home, where either Mom or Dad was present for nearly every meal. Then I moved to Michigan State, where I lived in the dorms and took my meals with friends in the Case Hall cafeteria. For a long time, I felt lonely and resisted the loneliness in many ways, not all of them edifying. I complained to Sally when she had plenty enough to do in Ukraine, went out alone at night (never a wise idea), and felt wounded when my new friends paid attention to lifelong, local attachments ahead of me.

I've now embraced the calling to interior reflection, sober living, and habitual prayer. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen are my best friends; their books point me towards a Christian life that is obedient but not uncritical. I'm happier than I have been in a long time. The essential question of my vocation, though, remains open.

Often, I sense a calling to live in the way of Merton and Nouwen - pastoral care, counseling, study and lecture on God's Word and spiritual topics, menial labor, service to the poor, and healing. The name Jason means "healer", so perhaps I am on to something.

Other times, I feel an inner conviction to keep on the path I have chosen so far - the study of international relations. In this field, I have the ability to do something about world hunger, whether it is feeding the malnourished directly (as a representative of an aid agency or a UN body), lobbying for domestic public policies and better global governance to ensure that the malnourished are fed, or someday helping to draft and implement those policies myself. Nouwen, because he wisely (for him) chose to devote his life to personal ministry, could only write how frustrated he was at the problem; in contrast, I have the opportunity to be God's hands to the hungry.

So the dialogue continues - though I am consciously letting it become less of an inner dialogue and more of a prayer-dialogue between Jesus and I. Readers, I welcome your prayers.

On the hunger crisis

Henri Nouwen writes on November 25, 1974:

"More and more, the hunger in the world is entering our consciousness. I have heard and read about it for years, but now it is the dominating issue... at the end of the '60s the Vietnam War was the central issue. Now it is hunger, starvation, famine, death. It is an issue that is so enormous and so overwhelming that it is nearly impossible to grasp in all its implications. Millions of people are faced with death; every day thousands of people die from lack of food. It makes it all the more frustrating to think about this in a monastery where three days a week about 15,000 loaves of bread come out of the oven and where the wheat and corn harvest was better than in many previous years."

(From The Genesee Diary, p. 186)

Friday, April 18, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up (#1)

In honor of my weekly subscription to The Economist, I'd like to share with my readers the news items that I find side-splitting. World politics is full of unintentional humor - one of the reasons studying it is so enjoyable. The best example came from an article on the rising price of pork in China last year.

The U.S. government maintains strategic reserves for a variety of commodities. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is best-known, but we also maintain reserves of essential metals like titanium, iron, and gold (hence, Fort Knox is perhaps our oldest "strategic reserve"). Well, the People's Republic of China keeps strategic reserves of - you guessed it - pork. This Chinese strategic reserve, according to The Economist, consists of both frozen pork and live pigs.

Imagine the call from the PRC's Politburo: "Mr. Zhou, this is Mr. Liu. Go to the deep freeze! We need 5 tons of frozen pork NOW!"

The best one from this week comes from Egypt. Hosni Mubarak, faced with riots over the rising price of bread, ordered the Egyptian armed forces to bake bread and distribute it to the people. Way to increase your national debt and maintain your dictatorship all at once!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jay Leno is spot-on

After the Ohio primary, I blogged on the essential differences between the (younger) supporters of Senator Obama and the (older) supporters of Senator Clinton. Last night, Jay Leno revealed another distinction:

Jay: "So now Hillary Clinton has called Barack Obama an 'elitist' who 'thinks he's smarter than most people'. Isn't it about time we had a President who's smarter than most people?"

(General laughter.)

Jay: "Haven't we already tried the other way 'round?"

(Loud laughter.)

Jay: "How has our political system got so messed up that being smarter than most people disqualifies you from being President?

(Hysterical laughter.)

Heh. It may be worth noting that at the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago, one of my neighboring poster presenters had done a survey on favorability ratings of leading media personalities based on one's position on the left-right political spectrum (divided into quadrants). Oprah, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, Letterman, Leno, and Bill O'Reilly were the media personalities. Leno was the only one to garner a net favorable rating from all four quadrants.