Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving to God: Lincoln's Proclamation

Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln


Still monumental kitsch: That wretched Rome statue of John Paul II

Capeman II: Papal statue not improved

November 20, 2012

ROME - It is such a sad debacle, the original errors of conception and execution in the first version have been compounded and increased. And it is sad that the sculptor was bullied into making something more absurd and wrong than the first attempt.
In my earlier post, “Blessed Papa Wojtyla as Capeman” I said,” Pope John Paul II was seen and recognized by more people than any other person in history. For a sculpture of him to not bear his likeness is bizarre like a bad joke.
The first attempt was a forced application of the Early Modern Sculpture modus operandi, emphasizing the physical qualities of the material and the abstract design, to the detriment of the requirement in portraiture of presenting a likeness. The revision has become a sad experiment in remolding an intractable hard metal. The beauty of bronze as a sculptural medium is that it can replicate faithfully the fluid quality of clay impressed by the sensitive fingers of the sculptor. In this revision the sculptor has carved (grinded with a power tool) the hard bronze making simplified cartoon lines for mouth and chin. Portraiture is first of all, and essentially all about proportion. A likeness in portraiture depends on all the subtleties of proportion being correct. A few cursory lines for a smile don’t cut it.
The essence of a portrait likeness can be seen in the wonderful drawing by Bernini of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It was made in preparation for the life-size marble bust of the cardinal. The drawing is first generation, direct from life, and it has that immediacy and truth. It captured the vivacious quality of the Cardinal and Gian Lorenzo was able to imbue the marble portrait with that same life.
In Papa Capeman II we have an inadequate attempt at portraiture that is sad because it fails so dramatically in presenting the man who possessed such a commanding physical and spiritual presence. He now looks like a curmudgeon. It was not reasonable to hope that the sculpture could be improved.
There is a story that while Michelangelo was carving his large David in marble, the mayor of Florence offered his opinion that the nose was to big. The sculptor climbed the scaffold, scooped up a handful of marble dust and clanked hammer to chisel without touching the marble while letting the dust fall. The sculptor asked, “Is that better?” The mayor responded, “Yes, much better.”
We wish that the beloved pope looked better. I am a sculptor and I do not wish to attack a fellow artist but I must critique the process. The truth is that the sculptor and the memory of the great pope are the victims of a limited philosophy and aesthetic of art, and the inadequate commissioning process that has botched it twice.
The commissioning body approved a small model by the sculptor. I suspect that the sculptor was chosen for many different reasons, such as his political connections, his overall career, and his past accomplishments. We can be sure that none of his successes involved portraiture and so the process was basically flawed from the beginning. Forcing him to try to redo a ten foot tall ton of bronze was an idea doomed for failure from the start. What were those so called art experts thinking? Even if it were physically plausible to revise the immutable material you can never tinker with and improve what was initially a bad idea. Man with cape? I feel bad for the sculptor that he found himself in this no-win situation.
It would be wise for the individuals on the commissioning body to take a long critical look at how they have perpetuated and prolonged this travesty. Many thousands of people who met Pope John Paul II have said that when he looked at you, you knew that he saw you as if you were the only person in the world. One of his enduring teachings is about the inestimable value of each human individual. To have meaning portraiture must be about the human individual.
Massive monumental monolithic Marxist-like collectivist monstrosities don’t make it anymore.
The statue: before and after
Bernini's drawing of Cardinal Scipione Borghese

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nihilism, Narcissism, and Death: Culture and Class in the 2012 Election

Paul Adams

As the data and commentary flood in, some preliminary thoughts.

The most interesting analysis I have read so far is by Joel Kotkin , who describes the dominance of a New Clerisy, much along the lines predicted by Daniel Bell in 1976. Even though the financial giants backed Romney - a switch from 2008 when no-one did more to back Obama than Goldman-Sachs - Obama

held his own in the cash race by assembling a new, competing coalition of wealthy backers, from the “new hierarchies of technical elites” that Daniel Bell predicted in 1976 in The Coming Of Post-Industrial Society. For that group, Bell wrote, nature and human nature ceased to be central, as “fewer now handle artifacts or things” so that “reality is primarily the social world”—which, he warned, “gives rise to a new Utopianism” that mistakenly treats human nature as something that can be engineered and corrected by instruction from their enlightened betters. This approach, although often grounded in good intention, can easily morph into a technocratic authoritarianism.

Along with Hollywood, Obama’s big donors have come from the tech sector, government, and the academy—with his top five made up of the University of California, Microsoft, Google, the U.S. government, and Harvard. Tech heavyweights such as Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have given maximum donations to the president, as have Eric Schmidt and four other top executives at Google.

These idea wielders make fortunes not through tangible goods but instead by manipulating and packaging information, and so are generally not interested in the mundane economy of carbon-based energy, large-scale agriculture, housing, and manufacturing. They can afford to be green and progressive, since they rarely deal with physical infrastructure (particularly within America) or unions or the challenges of training lower-skilled workers.

There is a growing synergy between science, academia, and these information elites. Environmental policies pushed by the scientific community not only increase specialists’ influence and funding, but also the emergent regulatory regime expands opportunities for academicians, technocrats, and professional activists. It also provides golden opportunities for corporate rent seeking, particularly among those Silicon Valley figures involved in a host of heavily subsidized “green” ventures, most famously Solyndra.

Those dependent on government benefits - half of us - have an incentive to vote for the party most likely to increase them, no matter the debt loaded on to the shoulders of our children and grandchildren (a deficit amounting to more in the last four years, in real terms, than in all of World War II) or the effects on economic growth and dynamism, small business, unemployment rates.  There is a contradiction (to use the Marxist term) between what economic exigencies require and what voters will support politically - a crisis of state legitimacy or ungovernability most evident in Greece but also a general crisis of European social democracy.  As Romney said, “If you want free stuff, vote for the other guy.” And half of us did.

But the dependence on the government is by no means limited to those receiving benefits like Social Security, Medicare, or various forms of public assistance or welfare. As Kotkin puts it,

As government has grown even while the economy staggers, the direct and indirect beneficiaries of that growth have hitched their carts to the administration. Many professors have been protected by tenure, even at hard-hit public institutions. Foundation and NGO heads, financed by philanthropy—much of it from often left-leaning Trustifarian inheritors—have remained comfortably secure, as have their good workers. And Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke’s money policies have funneled cash from return-starved investors into the coffers of tech and social-media companies.

Kotkin’s discussion of this new Clerisy, the term first defined by Coleridge in the 1830s, is compelling.  It points to the priestly function of the elite, which he compares to the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, “serving as the key organs of enforced conformity, distilling truth for the masses, seeking to regulate speech and indoctrinate youth. Most of Obama’s group serves, as Bell predicted, a “priestly function” for large portions of the population.”

This modern elite, “like any successful priestly class, embrace shared dogmas: strongly secular views on social issues, fervent environmentalism, an embrace of the anti-suburban “smart growth” agenda, and the ideal of racial redress, of which Obama remains perhaps the most evident symbol.”

Obama’s Clerisy, like the “unscrupulous optimists” described by Scruton, or the “unconstrained visionaries” of Sowell, is profoundly anti-democratic and authoritarian. They use populism against energy executives and rich businessmen, while lionizing their own. “Steve Jobs, by any definition a ruthless businessman, nevertheless was celebrated at Occupy Wall Street as a cultural icon worthy of veneration.” As Kotkin says, despite the Clerisy’s selective use of populist rhetoric,

many of its leading lights, such as former Obama budget adviser Peter Orszag, appear openly hostile to democracy, seeing themselves as a modern-day version of the Calvinist “elect.” They believe that power should rest not with the will of the common man or that of the plutocrats but with credentialed “experts,” whether operating in Washington, Brussels, or the United Nations.

And this power will continue to be imposed more and more intrusively in every sphere of life, from sexuality to food consumption to college admissions, housing types, composition of corporate boards, and more.

After the vote, Brendan O’Neill of the Daily Telegraph added this comment to his summary of Kotkin’s analysis:

Yesterday’s result was certainly a historic one, because it represented the further consolidation of this New Clerisy and its orthodoxies. That Obama’s influential supporters in the media fail to recognise the increasingly cut-off nature of the Obama camp is not surprising – members of an elite never believe that they are members of an elite.

But the vote was also a triumph of the culture of nihilism, narcissism, and death. It is the first time, I believe, that a major party has appealed so blatantly to the narcissism of young adults, and especially single women, as if uncommitted sex, backed by government subsidy and employer mandate of contraception and abortion, were a good for women.  Or as if the state-enforced redefinition of marriage, already disintegrating (at enormous cost in terms of inequality, poverty, and the lives and prospects of children) among the poor and increasingly the middle class too, were compatible with, indeed required by a just society.  

As the 2006 report on "The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs" already pointed out, “The two-person mother-father model of parenthood is being changed to meet adults’ rights to children rather than children’s needs to know and be raised, whenever possible, by their mother and father.”

Trends driving the revolution in parenthood include high rates of divorce and single-parent childbearing, the growing use of egg and sperm donors, support for same-sex marriage, increasing interest in group marriage arrangements, and proposals to allow children conceived with the use of sperm and egg donors to have three legal parents.

The new elite enthusiastically endorses and financially supports these developments.  They reflect the technocratic desire to detach humans from nature, to subordinate everything, including the needs of children, to the autonomy of the individual adult, however much she may be at war with her own body for much of her life.

One of the most important yet consistently ignored demographic variables in this and recent elections is family structure. The policies and politicians that won this election are also electoral beneficiaries of the breakdown of marriage and family.  Those living in intact families with married parents (husband and wife), like the religiously observant, are much more likely to vote Republican in this historic situation.  No wonder both God and democracy had such a hard time at this year’s Democratic national convention.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fr. Robert Barron: Resisting Aggressive Secularism

For All the Saints

Two renditions of one of my favorite English hymns.  Happy All Saints Day!

for this one, best to focus on the music - by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge - rather than the visuals

connected to the 2012 Olympic Games in London in some way, not sure how exactly