Wednesday, May 28, 2008

radio sententia -- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- "Night of the Lotus Eaters"

Another "single" from the new album. Previous videos here and here. The video for "Night of the Lotus Eaters" is, like the song, minimalistic and mesmerizing, featuring shadowy riot scenes and an immoderately shaggy Warren Ellis.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

eurovision 2008

The Russians won. Once again Eurovision shows how much European culture has gone downhill since Homer. The song is horrible, the presentation, inconceivably bizarre.

UPDATE: Sitemeter just told me a visitor from Holland stopped by. Anyone who knows me knows I'm joking about European culture. One thing though -- dudes, you have to do something about Eurovision.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

the state of the nomination

The crypt of the Condes de Buenavista, in the Santuario de la Virgen de la Victoria, in Malaga, Spain. Really, this has nothing to do with the blog post -- I was googling "Santa Maria de la Victoria" to look for an image since Obama's winning, etc., but really that doesn't work for me because that devotion usually has to do with a bellicose and imperialist idea of Catholicism that's a wee bit distasteful, but at the same time I found this image and had to put it up because, dude, it is so cool...

So what's going on? Obama's people say he has won the majority of pledged delegates, Clinton's say she has won the popular vote. What does all this mean? Well, it's confusing as all hell, but let's take a look at it.

Pledged (and super) Delegates

Officially, the party's nominee is chosen at the convention. Each state party picks delegates that pledge to vote for a candidate based on results from the state's nominating process, either a primary or a caucus (I don't think any states pick delegates at state conventions any more, but I could be wrong). The results are rewarded proportionally (as opposed to what the GOP does -- winner-take-all), though each state has it's own (usually extremely convoluted) way of counting and rewarding them. Since the system is so complicated, no one knows exactly how many pledged delegates each candidate has, though the tallies are close. For example, RealClearPolitcs gives Obama 1652 and Clinton 1496 pledged delegates. The New York Times provides both their own estimation of delegates (Obama, 1625; Clinton, 1481) and the AP's (Obama, 1649; Clinton, 1497). The difference between the two candidates in the respective estimations are 156, 144, and 154. The remaining three primaries -- Montana, South Dakota, and Puerto Rico -- offer a grand total of 86 delegates. So, according to party rules as they currently stand, even if Clinton were to get every single delegate from each of those primaries (practically impossible, especially since Obama does well in western states), she still couldn't win the majority of pledged delegates.

The wrench in the works here is the question of Michigan and Florida. These two delegate-heavy states held early primaries in defiance of Democratic National Committee rules, rules to which none of the candidates (including Clinton) objected at the time. When those primary elections were held, it was understood that their delegates would not be seated at the convention. The candidates agreed not to campaign in these states (Hillary followed through on this promise in letter, but her "fund-raising" trips to Florida make one wonder if she did so in spirit) and all the major candidates except Hillary took their name off the ballot in Michigan. It was not even possible to write-in Obama in Michigan.

On May 31, the DNC will meet with the campaigns to make a ruling on Florida (211 original delegates) and Michigan (157). The Florida results were: Clinton, 50%; Obama, 33%, and Edwards (who has since endorsed Obama), 14%. In Michigan, Clinton won 55% of the vote, while "uncommitted" won 40%. So, if these two states were given all their delegates, and if Obama was not awarded the "uncommitted" delegates from Michigan, Clinton may be able to barely overtake Obama in pledged delegates. Especially in the case of Michigan, it goes without saying how wrong this would be. Although the DNC has every right to exclude the delegates of the these states, I would like to see some time of compromise that allows their delegates to participate, but in a reduced way (the GOP, for example, cut their number of delegates in half). I cannot see a reasonable situation that would allow Clinton to take the lead in pledged delegates.

The superdelegate count -- that is, the delegates who have a vote in the convention because they are party insiders or elected officials and whose purpose is to keep the party from nominating an egregiously unacceptable candidate, the people's will be damned -- is somewhat fluid, since at this point they only state their intention and do not have to commit in any institutionally binding way. Still, almost all stick to their original endorsement. Right now, the count is estimated like this: RealClearPolitics -- Obama, 305; Clinton, 279. NYT -- Obama, 304.5; Clinton, 272. AP -- Obama, 307; Clinton, 279. Don't even ask me what that .5 delegate means. According to the NYT, there are only 181.5 superdelegates that are still uncommitted. The times has a nifty little interactive toy that you can manipulate to see different scenarios that would allow each candidate to win the nomination. Right now, if Clinton were to win 50% of the remaining pledged delegates, she would still need 96% of the remaining superdelegates. If, impossibly, she were to win 100% of the remaining pledged delegates, she would still need an overwhelming majority -- 68% -- of the undecided superdelegates, and the common wisdom is that superdelegates would be very unlikely to overturn the popular vote.

In short, at this point it really is next to impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination. Even given more primary victories, even given an unlikely surge in superdelegate support, even given a way to include Florida and Michigan that would seem at all acceptable to all parties involved -- Obama will still be the nominee. When an Obama supporter claims that Obama has won the nomination, she or he is not being arrogant or democratic, or "dismissive" of Clinton's voters or the states to come, it's just the reality of the situation. It has been for some time, but at this point it's very hard to argue.

The Popular Vote

Clinton's campaign keeps talking about how she won, or will win, the popular vote. This is very misleading for three reasons:

1. It wouldn't matter anyway, because that has nothing to do with the rules that everyone agreed upon at the outset. Obama's people have made a good point in saying that that if that were the case, they would have run a different campaign -- concentrating on running up the vote in Illinois, for example.

2. There is no popular vote tally. Because Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington have caucuses -- meetings across the state instead of primary elections with ballots -- they do not release a vote total. Results can be extrapolated, but it's not like a national election with countable ballots. The system doesn't work that way.

3. Only by the most tortured accounting involving Michigan and Flordia can Hillary Clinton claim to have a substantial lead in the popular votes. According to RealClearPolitics's analysis,
Obama wins the popular vote unless you count Michigan but do not count "uncommitted" as votes for him. Counting the popular vote total without caucus states or FL & MI, Obama wins by almost a half million votes. Extrapolate the caucus and that's over a half million votes. Even with Flordia (but without the 100,000 vote lead he has in the caucus extrapolation), he wins by almost 150,000 votes. Only by counting Michigan without "uncommitted" does Clinton win (by 181,000 votes) and if you take away the caucus estimation, it's more than 100,000 votes less.

So by the best-case scenario, Clinton comes out 181, 523 votes ahead. "Uncommitted," however, received 238,168 votes in Michigan. It's true that there are still three primaries ahead, including Puerto Rico which Hillary should win handily, but the math by any metric is not only not in her favor, but overwhelmingly against her.

Should Clinton give up? Well, that's up to her. Her campaign is in debt, she can't win, and it's essential that the Democrats win the White House this year. Her attacks on Obama have calmed down, but still her surrogates like Geraldine Ferraro are calling Obama "sexist" and questioning whether or not they would vote for Obama in the fall. I won't even go there, since this post has been long enough.

One more thing: I, like many Obama supporters, have often been very disgusted at how Hillary Clinton has run her campaign (just do a search on "Hillary" for my blog for details). Still it's been a very close race and it's time to relax a bit. It's also time to think back on the campaign and to realize that for all the race-baiting and sexism that have sprung up over the past year or so, it has been a close campaign between two ground-breaking candidates. Arianna Huffington, who has never been hesitant to criticize Clinton, had a nice column on what she has achieved in this campaign:
I have regularly criticized Clinton over the course of her campaign (and long before it, starting with her vote to authorize the war), but there is no question that she has forever altered the way women running for president will be viewed from here on out. In the words of the Times, Clinton has established "a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign -- raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her."
Of course, I say this from the perspective of one who has supported the winner. Although I respect what she has achieved, I still deplore the Rovian methods she often used to achieve it. I hope this is that last time I will be writing about Hillary Clinton unless I am commenting on how she is throwing all of her support to the person who is without doubt the nominee.

UPDATE: Perhaps Arianna and I have gotten too sentimental. Via The Late Adopter, Allison Benedikt in Village Voice tears apart the idea of Hillary Clinton as a victim of sexism:
Here’s the thing: There is plenty of sexism—more than enough, thank you very much—in this country. Which is why it’s so sad to see Hillary’s supporters (and lately even her female detractors, and way too many column inches) elevate her to some kind of goddess warrior, symbolizing the decades-long fight for gender equality, absorbing the entirety of history’s catcall in one massive blow, and then standing tall again because that’s what women do. Powerful stuff, except that she’s a lying, race-baiting insult to our collective intelligence. Powerful, if she and her husband hadn’t sold out poor people in the ’90s or if she had stood tall like a woman against the war in Iraq or if she wasn’t right now trying to change the rules of the game and stir up the worst kind of identity politics. Powerful, if her most fervent supporters weren’t threatening to vote for John McCain out of spite, Supreme Court justices be damned.
Benedikt refers to a NYT article I had already read that shows some remarkable views of certain Clinton supports:

Cynthia Ruccia, 55, a sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics in Columbus, Ohio, is organizing a group, Clinton Supporters Count Too, of mostly women in swing states who plan to campaign against Mr. Obama in November. “We, the most loyal constituency, are being told to sit down, shut up and get to the back of the bus,” she said.
"Get to the back of the bus." Interesting choice of words, considering the context. There are more, including Ferraro's comments.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

st francis of assisi church, manhattan

Last Wednesday, I took the day off (I had finished grading the night before) and decided to take walk through midtown. I started my day with Mass and Confession at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street. St. Francis is quite an institution in Manhattan. As you can tell from the picture, it's right in the middle of the city, surrounded by tall buildings. They have a number of daily masses and it's a popular site for confession. The Franciscans there do what Franciscans have done for eight hundred years -- they go to the middle of urban spaces, preach, and hear confessions. They also have a daily breadline, legal help for immigrants, a bookstore, a spirituality center, etc. It's a nice little island of prayer in the center of midtown madness. Their website features a story from the National Catholic Reporter that really gets the spirit of the place. An excerpt:
Where in the world (shrines apart) is there another church with no registered parishioners that has a pastor and 20 assistants, offers confessions 13 hours a day and utilizes 520-plus volunteers -- 250 for liturgical duties, 270 for social outreach? and has Br. Sebastian Tobin, a non-ordained friar, making sandals in the basement. This is a commuters' church such as is possible only in New York.

Daily at 7 a.m., as it has since 1929, the St. Francis Breadline -- a $600,000-plus-a-year project -- welcomes the hungry and homeless for coffee and sandwiches.

This St. Francis complex is as much beehive as parish. There are Franciscans everywhere. The friars are fire department and union chaplains, physicians, psychotherapists, canon lawyers, teachers, treasurers, magazine editors and the all-essential fundraisers. The parish has adult education programs, seniors groups and self-help meetings, Filipino Fellowship, Masses in Korean, devotions, novenas, stations, lecture series and outings. Catholic to the core.

At Br. William Mann's West 31st Street bookstore, even the thieves are Catholics. One elderly soul dropped an unpaid-for videocassette into her pocketbook. Mann asked her to replace it on the shelf. A hopeless case? The video was, "How to Make a Novena to St. Jude."

Hey, this is New York. If people rub St. Francis' bronze heels on West 32nd Street, someone knocked off most of the animals' heads on the St. Francis sculpture on West 31st Street.

St. Francis was also the home of Father Michal Judge, OFM, the NYFD chaplain who was the first official victim of the attacks of September 11th. I saw the first half of a documentary about him called Saint of 9/11, and he seems to have been quite a remarkable man. The film was good, too, and you can watch it on your computer if you have Netflix. In one chapel of the church there's beautiful stained glass memorial to the victims of 9/11. It shows a dove circling the base of one the WTC buildings while angels comfort two firefighters. A cross is imposed on the building and beams of light proceed from the cross. To the right, placed a position that is appropriately, for a minor friar, understated, is Father Judge, contemplating the light. A very moving tribute in a unique sacred space.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

radio sententia -- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- "More News from Nowhere"

The second video from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!. I already blogged the first here. In this video, Nick and the boys play a strip bar where old businessmen eye the girls and meanwhile, hints of human drama throughout the club...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

pentecost, mother's day, confirmation

St. Anne teaching the child Mary to read, from a book of hours.

It's a busy day for celebrations! Happy Mother's Day for all you mothers out there, and happy birthday of the Church for all you Christians out there. Things are even more joyous chez nous, since Filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis is getting confirmed today. He's taking the name of Augustine for many reasons, but especially because his mother took the name of Monica when she was baptized and confirmed a few years ago. Only recently did I remember that Augustine's father's name was Patricius, that is, Patrick, which was my confirmation name when I received that sacrament so long ago.

Pentecost, from a sixth-century manuscript.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Thomas Aquinas, holding a wee church and a book containing his fellowship application.

I received some very good news last week. I was awarded the Dolores Quinn dissertation-writing fellowship, which means I won't have to teach next year and can concentrate on my own work. So I should be able to finish up next year -- hooray for me!

Coming soon: tattoo update.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Cats and mice, from a thirteenth-century English bestiary.

I walked into the kitchen yesterday afternoon and nearly jumped when a small brown animal dashed out from behind the dishrack and into the stove via one of the burners. Now, mice are more appealing than certain vermin one might come across in this city (New York rats usually weigh about 200 pounds and have prison tattoos), but it's not the most hygienic beast to share a home with, so I went into the bedroom to consult with the cat, where she sat calmly and regally on the bed.

"Mishea, there's a mouse in the kitchen."

She absentmindedly licked her paw.

"Are you going to do something about that?"

She yawned.

"Heck of a job, Brownie!"

She put her head down and went to sleep.

I guess we have two pets now.

(By the way, the image comes from a wonderful site called The Medieval Bestiary that looks like it can provide hours of fun and manuscript descriptions.)

(Tattoo update coming soon).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

indiana and north carolina

The baptism of Clovis (doesn't really have much to do with the primaries, but it's cool).

I think anyone who has read my blog at all over the past few months knows that I have been supporting Obama. So it will come as no surprise that I ask the gentle citizens of the great states of Indiana and North Carolina to vote for him in the primaries today.

A word about Hillary Clinton. The blogosphere has grown bitter with attacks from all sides against all the candidates. And yes, I count as one who has not always moderated his language when describing the junior senator from my state (I confess to having compared her to the devil in two posts -- I'm not sorry). I would like to explain my extremity of expression.

When the race for the Democratic nomination began (sometime in the fifth century, at least it seems that way to me), although I considered Hillary as intelligent and capable, I did not rush to support her. One reason was that I felt that dynasty politics are very bad for the country and that a continued Bush-Clinton alternation should be avoided. The other big question was, of course, the war. I was against the war from the beginning. I was one of those who shivered in the cold in the big February demonstration. I knew the accusations against the Hussein regime made no sense and I could see that an invasion would have horrible consequences. This war has been a massive disaster politically, diplomatically, and most importantly, morally. Of course, almost all Democratic politicians cravenly bowed to the administration's warlust, and Hillary is not the only one at fault. Yet her attitude towards the vote has been brazenly unapologetic. I have no idea whether John Edwards was sincere in his apology for voting for the war or not, but at this point at least a gesture is required. To tell the truth, until everyone who enabled this war -- from Bush and Cheney to Kerry and Clinton to Judith Miller and Rupert Murdoch -- engage in the equivalent of a barefoot pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Santiago, I will not be convinced that they are even aware of the enormity of the crime they have committed.

That said, at the beginning of the whole process I was uncomfortable with much of the criticism leveled at Hillary Clinton, especially from the right. Her "ambition" was constantly cited as a negative factor, as if anyone who was running for president were not ambitious. It seemed to me that what really motivated these attacks was blatant misogyny felt by those threatened by a strong women.

Of course, much of that was true, and the examples of sexism coming out of various pundits and talking heads during this campaign are legion. Still, I have become aware there are different kinds of ambition, and some are extremely destructive. Samantha Powers was forced to resign from the Obama campaign after calling Hillary "a monster" who "is stooping to anything," but at this point I have to agree with her. Of course, Hillary's senate record is not void of silly/nauseating pandering (the flag-burning amendment, the Kyle-Lieberman amendment), but hey, a politician's a politician. What she has done in this campaign, however, has been
toxic. I've already discussed this in earlier posts, so I won't go into detail, but the truth is that there is nothing her campaign hasn't sunk to -- race-baiting, lying, changing the rules mid-game, discounting a large portion of the electorate, threatening nuclear war, etc. It's unpleasant and destructive for her party.

In the end, it's destructive for the res publica on the whole. Hillary has used every Rovian tactic available -- the echo chamber of slander, the appeal to patriotism, the "with us or against us" accusation, the dismissal of her opponents as "elites." The gas tax holiday is really the last straw. Every economist, even the Hillary-worshiping Paul Krugman, have said that it's a bad idea. Many do not hesitate to use terms like "stupid." Clinton's response? She's for the common people, not those elite economists! Does this sound familiar at all? Think about George W. Bush and his rejection of elite scientists. Apart from whatever policy differences they have, Clinton, like Bush, depend on the dumbing down of the electorate to achieve and hold onto power. Clinton says things she knows aren't true hoping that we're stupid enough not to really check into them and rather rely on a complacent and lazy media more interested in sound-bites than in real information. She is using the tried and true GOP method to appeal to ignorance against knowledge. Whether or not the GOP and Hillary are right about the general electorate (and I pray they aren't, despite the evidence of the last eight years), they are insulting our intelligence. I'm sure Hillary really does believe she can do good things for the country and help people, but she comes from a political culture that sees the average citizen as nothing more but something to be manipulated and bamboozled at election time, and then thrust out of the way. Who is the true elitist here?

Come on Indiana and North Carolina, let's end this circus.

ADDENDUM: As usual, Jon Stewart explains it best:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

going up!

Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem.

Happy Feast of the Ascension, everyone!