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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Party of the Poor


Only a grocer's daughter...
A friend of mine, a fellow Canadian, backs Obama for the US presidency.

Interesting how Canadians, Brits, Bessarabians and Jordanians always have a favourite in US elections. Nothing could make clearer America’s status as “leader of the free world.”

Why does my friend like Obama? H answer is straightforward. He is well-educated and has a decent teaching job, but considers himself, on the whole, one of society’s “have-nots.” The Democrats he sees as the party of the poor; the Republicans are the party of the rich and of the big corporations.

If I believed this, I would also support the Democratic candidates, so long as competence and honesty were equal. I believe, however, that the Republicans are really the party of the poor, and the Democrats are the party of the upper class.

Formerly on welfare.
It is true, apparently, that those at higher income levels really do break Republican, while those with lower incomes break Democratic. This distinction is not that clear, however; it is more reliable to say that urbanites, rich or poor, break Democratic, while suburbanites and folks in the country, rich or poor, break Republican. And there are no good stats for income levels above $100,000—I suspect that once the income gets stratospheric, you would find a Democratic tilt. The Gates’s, the Buffets, the Soros’s, the Jobs’s seem to trend Democrat.

But look at where the Democratic leaders, or the Republican leaders, went to school. Here my case becomes, I think, clearer. While both parties tend to favour Ivy League, Dems are more consistent about it. This, where you went to school, far more clearly than annual income, indicates class. Ivy Leaguers will tend to be the second or third or fourth generation of wealth in their families. More importantly, they will all know each other, will have grown up together, will have belonged to the same fraternities and gone to the same parties. They will think alike. They will be conscious of themselves in class terms.

University of Saskatchewan, class of 1919.
Quick tally: Obama—Columbia, Harvard. Kerry—Yale. Gore—Harvard. Clinton—Oxford. Dukakis—Swarthmore, Harvard. Mondale—University of Minnesota. Fritz at least was a man of the people.

For the Republicans: Romney—Harvard. McCain—Naval Academy. Bush—Yale. Dole—Washburn University. Bush I—Yale. Reagan—Eureka College. Ford—Yale. Washburn University? Eureka College? Not exactly Ivy League. Definitely more diversity here.

Both parties, in sum, are dominated by an old-money ruling class, but the Democrats more so. If you did not come up through the right schools and the right connections, you have a far better chance of reaching the top among Republicans. This speaks to class consciousness.

Not incidentally, it is the same in Canadian politics. Quick tally of Liberal leaders: Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, as is well known, were actually roommates at U of T. Rae: U of T, Oxford. Ignatieff: U of T, Oxford, Harvard. Stephane Dion: Laval, Sciences Po. Paul Martin, U of T. Jean Chretien: Laval. John Turner: UBC, Oxford, Sorbonne. Anyone who did not know each other at Oxford, Laval, or U of T? We’re talking one degree of separation at most.

Conservative leaders: Stephen Harper: University of Calgary. Stockwell Day: no degree. Joe Clark: University of Alberta. Preston Manning: University of Alberta. Brian Mulroney: St. FX, Laval. Kim Campbell, UBC. Jean Charest: Sherbrooke. The most obvious difference between Conservative and Liberal here is East vs. West; but the Western schools are on the whole less well-established, and the Western establishment is often first-generation. And apart from that, we have a far greater spread. Sherbrooke? No degree?

Okay, how about the NDP? They’re the party of the working class, right? Thomas Mulcair: McGill. Jack Layton: McGill. Alexa McDonough: Queen’s, Dalhousie. Audrey McLaughlin: Guelph. Ed Broadbent: U of T. David Lewis: McGill, Oxford. Give them credit for Guelph. Everything else is Canadian Ivy League, with a special shout out to McGill. Could this be why their teams are called the Redmen?

Sure, the Liberals and the NDP want to look after the poor. The upper class has always wanted to look after the poor: part of their mandate and their justification is to look after the poor. In the Arabian Gulf, sheiks are obliged by custom to have a free water tap on the outside wall of their compound, so that the poor can always get fresh drinking water, a major issue in the Arabian desert. The English lord was socially obliged to see to the health of anyone ailing on his estates. And I do not want to be cynical about this; ruling classes are not altogether a bad thing.

But invite them to your parties? Go to school with them? Let them marry your daughter? Elect them to a leadership position? I shouldn’t think so.

And there is a fundamental problem with a ruling elite that claims it is not a ruling elite, but instead “the party of the poor.” This is dishonest, and suggests there may be other dark deeds afoot. A ruling class is only tolerable when it is bound by a strict sense of honour to work for the general good; this speaks of a lack of any such strict sense of honour, and so of a corrupt ruling class.

In the meantime, the choice for those who are poor or on the outside of society in some way is this: do they want to be “taken care of,” by the Liberals or the Democrats or the NDP? Or do they want to move up, no longer being poor, no longer being on the outside? Then you go with the Republicans or the Conservatives.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Occidentalism



"The Harem Pool." French, 19th century.
Columbia’s Edward Said became famous with his book and thesis “Orientalism,” which held that Western views of the Orient were historically false. “The ‘Orient,’” he argued, “was constructed as a negative inversion of Western culture.” (Wikipedia). Which I think is only partly true—the Orient has been perceived not as a negative shadow of the West, but as the land of dreams. Some dreams are nightmares; but there are also dreams of Shangri-La, Xanadu, the New Jerusalem, Prester John, and King Solomon’s mines.

When I was in Barcelona recently, I noted a section of their art museum was dedicated to 19th century Orientalism. The paintings generally featured a beautiful woman lounging with a remarkably lack of clothing, while an Arab man looked on. Rather unlike daily life in Saudi Arabia, I find. An establishment of dubious morality in the old town, featuring what are often called “exotic dancers,” was named “Baghdad.” Nor is this a purely Spanish notion. A famous strip tease joint somewhere in Canada was called “Little Egypt,” and “Fawzia Amir” was a noted stripper during my Montreal youth.

Such are our dreams. 

"Bedouin Girls." French postcard, 19th century.
But a friend of mine, who has lived for long in the Middle East—sic—argues as well that the thesis is disturbingly un-self-conscious of Edward Said. He wants to write a book called “Occidentalism.” For as surely as the Orient has been traditionally conceived by the Occident as exotic and lacking a moral code, so the Occident has been traditionally conceived by the Orient as exotic and lacking a moral code. And people like the 9/11 bombers are acting on this delusion.

He cites, as an example, the strange absence of street protests against the current genocide in Syria; yet at the very same time, there have been big protests against some obscure film trailer from the US. Doesn’t this suggest that events in East and West are judged by a double standard in the Arab world?

My first wife was born and raised in Pakistan, and was nominally Muslim, although certainly not practicing. She would commonly refer to the “Wicked West,” as if this were a known, established truth.

Sadly, this conception of the exotic or the “other” is universal. Edward Said’s notion that it is a Western thing is therefore profoundly racist. Every culture thinks the folks over the next hill are strange and lack a moral code. This is what culture shock is about. 

Exotic dancer, "Little Egypt."

But in world terms, the West is actually less guilty of this than most. The proof is the very term “the West.” Only “the West” does NOT think itself the centre of the universe, but “the West.” In Beijing, they show you the centre of the universe, in the middle of the capital of the “Middle Kingdom.” Yet Koreans show you the same thing in the middle of Seoul. For Arabs and Muslims, of course, the centre of the universe is the Ka’aba in downtown Mecca. For India, it is Mount Meru, in the Himalayas.

Only the West conceives of the centre of the universe being somewhere outside its own borders. (In Jerusalem, actually.) Nor was mankind held to be born in the West; this too is unique among world cultures. That is a remarkable, historic act of cultural humility. In exact opposition to Said’s theory, it seems most likely that it is this relative openness to other cultures, rather than their misrepresentation, that gave Europe empire. It made Westerners far more likely to venture outside their own borders, and far more inclined to deal with foreigners on their own terms.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Gospel



Christ gives sight to Bartimaeus - William Blake

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way. – Mk 10: 46-52.

Christ gives sight to Bartimaeus - Stover.

There is, as usual, a punchline here. Last three lines: Jesus tells Bartimaeus to go on his way. And Bartimaeus follows Jesus. Disobediently.

This sort of dissonance in a narrative tells us to look more closely, and not to take things at face value. If Bartimaeus’s way is to follow Jesus, he becomes the model of a believer, of a Christian. We should read his story that way.

Bartimaeus is us. We are all, if we are not already on the way, poor beggars at the side of the road. He is blind because all of us are blind. We do not see the world as it is, in its spiritual reality.

We hear of Jesus; though we cannot see him. We may, if we are moved by faith, call out to him in prayer. And the rest of the world will immediately tell us to shut up. The world as a whole thinks faith is folly. They are all blind, but unlike the man of awakening faith, they do not know they are blind.

If we have strong faith, and lack attachment to the world, we will persist. We will have to struggle against the social world in order to do so. We will have to be ready to leave our cloak—the material world--behind to respond to the call.

If we persist, Jesus will respond with grace. That grace will give us spiritual sight, awareness of the spiritual world.

We are then no longer on the side of the road. We are on “the way.”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bullying in the Schools



A friend has recently departed the green fields of academics/education—English teaching—for the green fields of editing. He says he did so to get away from the office politics and backbiting, and says there seems to be much less in non-academic fields.

Having also worked in both fields, I completely agree. So, incidentally, does Henry Kissinger, who publicly lamented how fierce academic infighting always was. I warrant Larry Summers feels the same, having been forced to resign as president of Harvard after successfully navigating the field of actual politics for many years.

How come? Why is there always such nasty politics and infighting in academics and education?

I think this is an indication of the reality that the field is tailor-made for bullies, and so it attracts the bullying type. The bullying type will then not stop at bullying their students; they will also, if they can, try to bully their colleagues.

Conventional wisdom, of course, is that the classic opportunity for bullies is in the corporate world. And I have no doubt it has its share. But in the corporate world, the bully is held in check to some extent by market discipline; his bullying instincts must come second to producing something that will actually sell. Conversely, the bullied, if they can actually show that they generate a profit, can protect themselves.

In education and academics, there is no such check, and no such protection.

The basic situation in academics is perfect for a bully: a room full of people who must do whatever you say for several hours every week, who must do whatever they can to please you, on pain of having their futures destroyed. You don’t get that, handed on a plate, in the corporate sector. You might hope, with luck, to one day get something like that, but certainly not guaranteed, and certainly not so early in your career. This is especially true for el-hi teachers.

The heavy pressures for political conformity that we see in the classroom and the academy are a clear example of this bullying, and a symptom of how bad the problem has become.

The solution: first, those who teach should not be those who evaluate. This would impose something like a market discipline. Second, at least at higher levels, instructors should be evaluated primarily by their students, and this should have real repercussions for their salary and advancement, if not their tenure.

Friday, October 26, 2012

This Statistic Shows the Wisdom of McGovern's Mincome

If the money spent on poverty programmes in the US were simply handed as cash to families below the poverty line, all of them would have incomes above the mean--about $61,000 on top of whatever they currently earn.

Obviously, over two thirds of what we are currently spending to "help the poor" is really going in bureaucrats' salaries.

The Ghosts--or Spooks--of Benghazi



Predator Drone.
I frankly have not been closely following the Benghazi attack story, because I thought nothing was likely to come of it.

But it does look as though Obama’s early attempts to blame the State Department and the intelligence community are coming home to haunt him. Someone’s been releasing a lot of information in the background. The kind we did not get on Watergate for many months.

You don’t want to scapegoat spies, especially not as a group. They have their techniques.

We have now heard that the administration had intelligence within hours, by email, that it was a terrorist attack.

We have now heard that the administration was able to see events in Benghazi as they unfolded, and had special forces and helicopters located one hour away, but did nothing to save the diplomats. And the two security personnel died six and a half hours into the attack.

We have now heard that Hillary Clinton ordered more security for Benghazi before the attack, but the request was denied. By whom? Who outranks the Secretary of State? Only two people…

Remarkable level of detail there… all coming out in what seems like daily drips, well-calculated to keep the matter in the news, and with the apparent guilt of the administration building day by day…?

For me, at least, it also now comes together into a plausible picture, a plausible narrative, that makes me believe that something really is amiss. It sounds as though Obama made a series of bad decisions for political reasons. He knew from the beginning, I imagine, what was happening in Benghazi, but did not want to risk sending help because

1. It would magnify the incident, indicating that al Qaeda was still very much alive, erasing Obama’s trump card on foreign affairs in the election;

2. It risked scaring a war-weary nation with the thought of a new foreign intervention;

3. It would have discredited the sunny interpretation of the “Arab Spring,” also damaging Obama’s reputation in foreign affairs;

4. It would have been an admission of his own previous error in not sending better security to Benghazi.

So he took the easy route of doing nothing and just hoping it would turn out okay.

When it did not, the urge to deny and cover up was made greater by the knowledge that he could have saved these people. That he was in a real sense personally responsible for the deaths. Hence the public insistence for two weeks, in the face of all the evidence, even when the claim seemed totally implausible, that this was a spontaneous demonstration. Hence his oddly extreme declaration of moral outrage at the second debate about any suggestion that he did not do everything he could to protect his diplomats, as if trying to pre-emptively shut down the issue.

It all sounds right—and paints an internally consistent picture of an immature, self-centred chief executive. Someone who is not good at accepting responsibility for his own action.

And the worst is the horrid possibility that Obama and his office knew what was happening, could have sent help, and did not. This image is a violation of the American mythos. The cavalry did not arrive.

If true, this alone is a compelling reason, leaving aside the economic record, why Obama should not be re-elected.

Obama's Miscalculation; Romney's Shift


Obama’s campaign strategy of attacking Romney may have blown up on him in more ways than one. It is not just that Romney, by showing up at the debates and sounding moderate and reasonable, easily and instantly made the attacks looks false. It is not just that the attacks threw away Obama’s chief advantage, his likability, making him sound, angry, extreme, and disingenuous. It is also what probably enabled Romney to move to the centre in the debates, to appeal to independents. Under normal circumstances he probably could not do this without angering or disaffecting his base. But by putting him under attack, and what seemed unfair attack, Obama encouraged Republicans to rally around him. They will now turn out to vote for him in Hurricane Sandy force no matter what.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Born This Way?



Two men with gay jeans.
Is there a gene for homosexuality?

Any idea of a genetic basis for behaviour must be anathema to the Catholic Church, or to humanists. It has to be; if behaviour is genetically determined, there is no free will, so no chance for heaven or salvation. We are reduced to the status of lower animals or machines. No more human dignity.

But that is no concern of science’s. Just the facts, ma’am. What are the facts?

Whenever some new science comes to the fore, for a while, as Arthur C. Clarke observed, it looks like magic. For a while, it explains everything. When electricity was discovered, it was at once considered the secret of life. Hence Frankenstein’s monster. When magnetism was discovered, it was also considered the secret of life, and we heard about “animal magnetism.” When radiation was discovered, for a while, we were x-raying everything. Radiation gave us Spiderman, the Hulk, and many movie monsters.

In the seventies, eighties and nineties, thanks to Watson and Crick, genetic science was hot, so the tendency for a several decades or so was to see it as the secret of life too. We heard discoveries not only of a “gay gene,” but a “schizophrenia gene,” a “manic depression gene,” a “depression gene,” an “alcoholic gene,” and an “aggression gene”; no doubt others. None of these “discoveries,” though, have proven to be reproducible in later studies.

Psychologists are perfectly sanguine to admit now that there is apparently no schizophrenia gene, or manic depression gene, or depression gene, and have moved on back to environmental explanations.

But politics complicates the case of the “homosexual gene.” Too many laws were passed, otherwise immoral deeds done, inalienable human rights declared, and constitutional judgements handed down based on the assumption that there was a “homosexual gene.” Those in power in a range of fields, most notably government, now have too much to lose.

Of course, there could be a secondary genetic component to homosexual behaviour. But is this sensibly described as a “gay gene” or deterministic?

Here are a couple of hypothetical possibilities which would result in some trace of a genetic element to homosexuality:
  1. Suppose that generally physically attractive boys are more likely to be molested by homosexual pedophiles or pederasts? And suppose that such molestation tends to make them homosexual? As physical appearance is genetic, that would show up in twin tests, for example, as a “gay gene.” 
  2. Suppose that any significant difference that sets you apart from others, such as being left-handed, makes you think of yourself as “different,” and therefore less inclined to go along with the general consensus on other things. This tendency to experimentation might, in turn, make you more inclined to experiment with or decide to prefer homosexual unions. Since being left-handed is genetic, this would also show up in twin tests as a “gay gene.” 
But are these really therefore genetically determined behaviours?

Interestingly, it has been suggested that 1. physically attractive men are more likely to be homosexual, and 2. left-handed men are more likely to be homosexual. Odd, that…

Against this, there is an insurmountable argument against a “gay gene”: any such gene would eliminate itself within a couple of generations, through failure to reproduce.




No October Surprise



Boo! the ghosts of Octobers past.


In predicting a Romney win, I am assuming no event will arise to reverse the current momentum. I am betting against a proverbial October surprise.

Time alone makes that less likely. The one October surprise I most expected, an Israeli bombing of Iran, is surely not going to happen before the election now. If the Israelis had calculated that they had to do it before the election, they would have done it well before, so that as much dust as possible could settle before voting in the US. They do not want to help Obama get re-elected. If they have waited this long, it makes sense to wait just a bit longer. If Obama wins, they can go as early as November 7. If Romney wins, they may not have to go.

Obama does not have the option of a “Wag the Dog” adventure to rally the nation behind him. He can’t suddenly go into Syria, for example. The US is too war-weary. Anything that looked like voluntary involvement on Obama’s part would work against him.

What else might happen? A terrorist attack? If so, this works in Romney’s favour, not Obama’s. Obama has staked his reputation too plainly on getting Bin Laden, with the implication that he is the conqueror of Al Qaeda. He has to at least look better than Bush post-9/11 on this score. This is the obvious explanation for the administration’s denial for two weeks that the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism.

An economic collapse in Europe or China? Again, works for Romney, against Obama, as Romney is the guy who’s supposed to know economics.

Some sudden peace gesture by Chavez, Ahmadinejad, or Kim? This has actually been rumoured. But it would be hard to predict how this would play. It would have to be something substantial not to look like a stall. But if substantial, it would look as though they were seeking to influence an American election, or even as if they were working with Obama. Since they are America’s enemies, this does not necessarily reflect on Obama favourably. Probably the reverse.

That leaves some personal scandal. Here again, the possibilities favour Romney. He seems to be a genuinely straight-up guy in terms of his personal life. Not drinking eliminates a lot of opportunities for scandal. A former leader of his church, still married to his high school sweetheart. This could all be a hypocritical sham, sure. But he’s the son of a famous man; he grew up in the public spotlight. What are the chances he could have maintained such a sham for so long?

On Obama’s side, by contrast, his early life is obscure, so that it is possible to imagine something troubling there that we do not yet know. In fact, there are many rumours about this—not just the bagatelle about his birth certificate. If the reader has not seen them, I am not going to repeat them.

If, however, the Romney campaign has anything on Obama, they probably won’t release it. If they are winning anyway, as they seem to be, there is no point in doing so. And any slinging of mud holds risks—the chance of a backfire is fairly high.

Nice try, Donald Trump. Nice Try, Gloria Allred.

The Real Story Behind the Prosecution of Italian Earthquake Scientists

Vox Popoli: Let Science be silent:

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Happened to Libya?



The most striking thing about the Third Presidential debate is that it led off with a question about the attack in Libya, seemingly tailor made for Romney to go after Obama on this, and he did not.

I think he was wise not to.

That was the one question and the one attack Obama was most expecting. He would certainly have a well-rehearsed answer prepared, and walking into it risked giving Obama a slam dunk first thing in the debate, starting the debate on the wrong foot for Romney. If Obama did not have a zinger, at best, it would be too easy for him to wriggle out of responsibility. It would have just been a wasted exchange.

There is a problem with ever going after a sitting president on any specific aspect of foreign policy: he has access to secret intelligence that the challenger does not have. This gives him a huge automatic advantage. Even if the intelligence supports the challenger, the incumbent can lie about it and never got caught. Or at least not until thirty or fifty years later.

Dylan Transfigured






Rolling Stone’s recent (September) interview with Bob Dylan suggests some interesting things about Dylan’s religious life.

First, it seems he experienced his religious conversion not in the seventies (traditionally 1978), but already by Blonde on Blonde, indeed in ‘64. He says in the interview that “Rainy Day Women” is based on the Book of Acts.

Second, he is still religious, as only some had suspected; he never left it. He still refers to Jesus as “Our Lord”—in fact, he also does so in the recently released song “Duquesne Whistle.” He planned his next album to be a collection of hymns. He says “No kind of life is fulfilling if you haven’t been redeemed.” Asked if the Bible informs his songs, he responds “Of course, what else could there be?”



He also, paradoxically, when asked about his faith, says “Who’s to say that I even have any faith or of what kind?” But he prefaces it with “O ye of little faith,” and immediately follows it with “I see God’s hand in everything.” Which seems to mean not that he has no religion, but that his religion has progressed past faith to certainty.

There are also some indications that he might actually be Catholic, or at least have studied Catholicism and accepted it as some sort of authority. He says he was “transfigured,” and when asked to clarify, says “you can go learn about it from the Catholic Church.” Sixties flashback: What was he talking about in “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”? Wasn’t that a pretty Catholic song? And before his supposed seventies conversion? Of course, it was 1967, so we were all too drugged up to notice:




"I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive, with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was among the ones that put him out to death
Oh, I awoke in anger, so alone and terrified
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried."
The image of martyrdom is a very Catholic one, and Dylan inserts it deliberately: the real St. Augustine was not martyred.

In his latest release, “Duquesne Whistle,” he says the train whistle sounds “like the Mother of Our Lord.” Isn't that a Catholic image? Isn't it Mary calling us to Jesus? To that Slow Train Coming?

Time to comb back through Dylan’s lyrics to 1964. There’s a doctoral thesis here…

Romney Will Win




Ready for framing.

I think the 2012 US Presidential Race is over. Momentum should now carry Romney over the top. With two weeks to go, there are no more good chances to change it. I expect about a seven point win, comparable to Obama's win over McCain four years ago.

Romney's likability is now equal to or greater than Obama's, according to the polls. If likability is equal, the focus shifts to competence. Romney has an edge there, on the economy, and it's the economy everyone is concerned about.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And Romney STILL Wins the Focus Group


Three words: likability, likability, likability.

Obama Wins One



Stock photo of Obama smiling. But why?

The post-debate snap polls show a clear win for Obama this time.

Will it matter? Maybe not. First, given the economic situation, Americans are not thinking much about foreign policy. All Romney needed to do in those circumstances is come across as plausible, and as someone who would not start a war. That seems to be what he concentrated on in the debate, and he succeeded, by all accounts. Had he gone hard after Obama, all he might have done is shift the focus of the campaign to foreign policy, which is not his best argument. Winning the debate as a debate, for him, might have been a losing strategy.

Obama, on the other hand, may have lost some campaign ground in exchange for winning the debate. He was aggressive once again; people are talking about his “death stare.” This will cost him likability, and likability is, I have argued, the most important ingredient in American electoral success.

I don't know whether Obama had a better strategy available to him. If he had stayed calm and presidential, the debate would probably have been dull, and the focus would have remained on the economy. He needed to wave some red flags to try to get the bull to charge. But then, everything hinged on Romney being rattled into making some obvious blunder, like Ford saying Poland was not under Soviet domination back in '76. Or at least sounding angry and warlike. He didn't.

So the debate probably won't by itself cause any big shift in the campaign dynamics, but it will confirm Romney as a safe choice.

Going into the debate, Romney had the momentum. This debate was the last obvious chance to switch that momentum. Unless there is a late "October surprise" or gaffe by either candidate, that momentum in a tight race looks likely to carry Romney over the top; RealClearPolitics's poll of polls currently has Romney at 47.6 vs 47.2, even with the widespread apparent pro-Democratic bias in the polls. 

I note, though, with interest and surprise, that the InTrade market, usually extremely reliably, still leans strongly toward an Obama win. Does somebody know something about an October surprise we don't know?

Monday, October 22, 2012

RIP George McGovern



McGovern in later years.
You know you're getting old when the most interesting part of the paper becomes the obituaries.

I guess I will never get old. I don't even read newspapers any more.

But I did note the death of former senator George McGovern, a figure from my youth.

I was not a McGovern supporter back in 1972; in the primaries, Muskie was my man. But I detested Nixon, still do, and would probably have voted for McGovern in the general election. Had I been American, and old enough to vote...

You will say he was a left-winger. But being a left-winger in those days was very different from being a left-winger today. Back then, being left-wing did not necessarily mean you supported bigger government and greater regulation of everyday life. Back then, there was still some liberalism left in the left.

McGovern had some of that. It was the Plains tradition. He was, most prominently, against the war in Vietnam. So was I; not because it was immoral, but because the time and place did not favour American success. If you are not yourself China or Russia, you do not want to get into a land war in Asia. A peninsular war, like Korea, is just doable for a sea power, but not a long littoral open to the interior like Vietnam.

That said, that was not a reason to vote for McGovern. By 1972, the war was no longer a live issue. Either Nixon or McGovern was going to get the US out of Vietnam, and of the two, I would have trusted Nixon to get it done with the least damage to the US's interests and reputation.

What attracted me more to McGovern, besides the essential conviction that Nixon was not an honest man, was his proposal for a guaranteed annual income.

This was a liberal (meaning, these days, right-wing) concept—indeed, a concept promoted in their day by both Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. McGovern's selling points included the valuable one that it would reduce government bureaucracy, which he generally spoke against. And it would, in the same way that a flat tax would. With a straight guaranteed income replacing the myriad social programs, the money would go directly to the poor, instead of into the pockets of various bureaucrats, regulators, and professional experts. 


McGovern in 1972.
It would probably also save us a lot of money over the current approach. To illustrate, there is a good argument that it would be cheaper to just buy homes for the homeless than to leave them on the street. Their frequent emergency room visits cost the taxpayer more than a decent condominium would. Simply giving everyone a guaranteed minimum income would be the ultimate solution to these sorts of distortions.

It would also go a good way towards restoring the dignity of the poor. At present, they must grovel before petty bureaucratic tyrants regularly to plead their case. These bureaucrats inevitably have their personal prejudices, ensuring a lack of fairness in the system. Give the poor their own money, and let them spend it as they want, making their own choices; don't treat them like children.

Of course, the problem with a guaranteed minimum income is that some people would abuse it to avoid work: the alcoholics and the welfare queens. I think that is undeniable. But the present system is also full of abuses. On the whole, might it be better if those abusing the system were at least genuinely poor, rather than relatively wealthy bureaucrats?

It might be time, once this recession is over, to give McGovern's idea a second look.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Big Party in Heaven Today



Only portrait from life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Today is a great day. Today is the day the Pope canonized Kateri Tekakwitha. Words cannot express...

Congratulations to all my fellow Canadians. And Americans, for she is also their saint. I grew up with her, and she has always been a special friend of mine. Her feast day is my birthday.

St. Pedro Calungsod
Congratulations too to all Visayans and Filipinos on the concurrent canonization of Pedro Calungsod. My wife is Visayan. St. Pedro holds a special place in Visayan hearts very similar to the place St. Kateri holds in Canadian hearts.

The sad thing is that this is not bigger news in Canada.



I naturally feel some special ties too to Saint Marianne Cope of Molokai, also canonized today. She is from Syracuse, N.Y., where I went to grad school; and my daughter's name, coincidentally, is Maryanne. I found some wonderful photos of her at Wikipedia.

Saint Marianne Cope.


At the funeral of St. Damien.



The Canadian Prison Chaplain Controversy



A lot of folks are agitated about the Conservative government's plan to cut the number of prison chaplains. They point out that it will eliminate all, or nearly all, the non-Christian chaplains. That, many argue, is an attack on religious liberty.

It isn't. I'm the first to fight for religious liberty and freedom of conscience, but it is not as if those who do not have a chaplain will not be served. It is only a matter of whether the taxpayer should pay the salary for their minister--something he does not do for those of us on the outside. Those who have no chaplain will simply be served by the local minister from the nearby community.

Is there nevertheless a bias here in favour of Christianity? I don't think so; it's purely a practical matter.

Here are the stats for the prison population, according to a story in the Washington Post:

“According to corrections data, in the last fiscal year, 36 percent of Canada’s nearly 15,000 federal prison inmates identified themselves as Catholic; 18 percent as Protestant; 5 percent as Muslim; 4 percent as following aboriginal spirituality; and 2 percent as Buddhist. Sikhs and Jews registered less than 1 percent each. Twenty percent said they were nonreligious.”

So—taking out the nonreligious, we have 45% Catholic, 22.5% Protestant, 6.25% Muslim, 5% native religions, 2.5% Buddhist. This is not quite what you would expect from the general population--it seems that Jews do not go to prison. Note too that the overwhelming majority of Native Canadians do not follow what are called native religions, but are Christian.

The government wants to reduce the total number of chaplains to 71. Now, how do you equitably distribute 71 chaplains into that percentage? The math, if I have it right, says 32 Catholics, 16 Protestants, 4 Muslims, 3.5 native religions, 2 Buddhists, 1 each for smaller communities. 

Now we come to some problems. Those random communities are all below 1%, and cannot all be served; who gets a chaplain and who does not?

Then there are those native communities. It is arbitrary and meaningless to throw them all into one statistic as if they are the same. Native religions, such as they are, vary widely, and each probably has only a few thousand followers in total. Who gets a chaplain, and who does not?

This leaves us with the Muslims and the Buddhists. But all religions are not like Christianity. Christianity has a tradition of regular worship, sacraments, and ministers. Neither Buddhism nor Islam share these features. There is, in fact, no recognized position equivalent to "minister" or "priest" in either of these religions. Simply put, no Buddhist or Muslim needs a chaplain, as a Catholic would, in order to fully practice his religion. While it might seem like equality to insist on the invented office, it would really be practically almost pointless for the prisoners involved.

In any case, what is the practical value of one or four chaplains of a given denomination hired to serve the entire prison system? If they are to serve all prisoners, the travel costs would be insupportable--certainly not what I'd want to spend my tax money on. If they stay put, they are no better than no chaplain at all to the majority of their faith community.

The obvious solution is the one the government proposes: apart from the largest denominations, the local faith community will serve their own in prisons on a volunteer basis. The paid chaplains will have it as part of their jobs to make sure they are indeed served.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sunday Gospel




Jesus washing the feet of the apostles.
Jesus summoned the Twelve and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." --Mark 10: 42-45

Today's gospel reading features one of the most important short passages in Western civilization.

Anyone who has lived outside the Christian world has seen its effects.

From the beginning of the Christian era, the relative modesty and attitude of service among Christian leaders was contrasted to the way with “Oriental potentates,” who lived in greater luxury, had fewer checks upon their powers, and treated their subjects with less consideration.

“Oriental potentates” here really being anyone outside the influence of the Christian teachings. No particular rap against the Orient per se.

This has led, over time, to significantly more honest and less corrupt governments, and significantly more honest and less corrupt elites and upper classes. Anyone about to succumb to the natural temptation to use high office to bully or to feather his bed had these words, at least, and the example of God himself in Christ, ringing in his ears. They had their moral force. And no other tradition has anything comparable.

These, more honest and less corrupt governments, elites, officials and ruling classes, have been the essential advantage the West has long held over the rest of the world, leading to its total dominance over the past 500 years.

Sadly, to the extent that Christianity is now “secularizing” and turning its back on tradition and Christianity, it is losing this edge and defaulting to the human norm. This is that anyone who finds themselves in a position of power sees it as an opportunity for personal aggrandizement, running roughshod over others, and personal comfort.

Friday, October 19, 2012

On to Debate Three



Teddy Roosevelt: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Now comes the third debate. I think this one is the greatest challenge for Romney; it is not his field, and his best strategy throughout has been to keep the focus on the economy. So how does he approach this?

His biggest concern has to be to prevent any perception that he would be likely to get the US engaged in any more wars. Obama will surely make the claim, the memory of G. W. Bush's two wars will make it plausible, and the US is sick and tired of war.

After that, he must simply sound knowledgeable on foreign policy. He must convince people that he would be a capable hand at the helm.

Only after that, he should take the opportunity to go after Obama on Libya and on the shambolic situation in the Middle East.

Statue of Ronald Reagan in Warsaw. With flowers.

His best theme is “peace through strength,” citing how Reagan ended the Cold War not by open combat, but by improving the US economy and boosting US weapons programs (Remember Star Wars? Remember the “Peacekeeper missile”?) to the extent that the Soviet Union could no longer compete financially.

Peacekeeper Missile in silo.
Romney should project the idea, not that the world is a dangerous place, but that the US is intrinsically far stronger than its likely opponents. Within a few years, North America can be self-sufficient in energy and oil. Iran is a third world country with an unstable government. China, an economic if not a military threat, is facing demographic doom. North Korea is starving, for goodness sake. These guys are angry pygmies. All the US needs is resolve. But visible weakness is the worst way to avoid war. Becoming deeply indebted to China is thew worst way. Gratuitously bowing to foreign leaders is the worst way. Broadcasting a date of departure is the worst way. Saying we (they) are shifting away from a region is the worst way. It makes future war more likely, because it emboldens America's enemies to do something foolish.

Strong at home; strong abroad.

Winston Churchill: Forearmed is Forewarned.

Late Thoughts on the Second US Presidential Debate




Obamney.

I do not have TV currently. Last night, I finally got to watch the second US presidential debate for myself. I think, on balance, it will help Romney.

Scored as a debate, it was a draw, or possibly an Obama win. But that does not account for context. Obama had great responses for everything; but the fundamental problem was that he was largely defending his record of the last four years, and his message was that everything was great. This is not going to work, because everyone looks around and sees things are not great. They can see it on the gas pumps. Romney nailed it, drawing out this perception, by saying Obama was a great speaker, but his record shows he does not get things done.

As a result, even Obama's best arguments are likely not to stick to the target. Worse, the contrast between what he said and the perceived reality gives him an aura of mendacity, which hurts him on the essential likability factor.

This is made worse, I think, by his flashes of anger during the debate: most notably, his attempt to shut down all criticism on the Libya debacle by declaring it “offensive” to suggest he or anyone in the administration lied about it. Anger is not generally attractive; and he was, to some extent, expressing anger at voters themselves—the many among them who have indeed been suspecting the administration lied for two weeks about the nature of the Benghazi attacks.

And I think Obama's likability suffers again from the open partisanship of the moderator. Her intervention to endorse Obama's claims on Libya was, to me, absolutely jaw-dropping.

We know from many polls and surveys that most Americans no longer trust the media. The fact that Obama and the moderator were acting in consort—this is an observable fact, not some kind of conspiracy theory—actually tarnishes Obama as the candidate of the media. It will anger many who do not like to feel manipulated.

And the intervention itself probably did no good. Anyone who has been keeping abreast of the news knows full well that the Obama administration was saying for two weeks that the Benghazi attack was spontaneous and not terrorism.

The attempt to wiggle out by bombast, tricks with words, and collusion with the media, instead cements the impression that Obama's claims and promises, on anything, are not to be trusted.

Obama's energetic defense of his record will probably energize his base, and prevent him from being embarrassed on election day. But his base, in poll after poll, is under 50%; it alone will not get him reelected. He did not reach out to undecideds, and his debate strategy did not seem to be designed to reach out to undecideds. A defense of his record is not going to accomplish that; he has to give them a positive reason to vote for him, a vision for the future.

Obama did not do that in this debate, and he has not done that in this campaign. It is, of course, a difficult thing for an incumbent to do—the inevitable question becomes, “if this is your plan, why didn't you do it over the last four years?” Still, others have pulled it off; and it seems to be the approach best tailored to fit this candidate's oratorical skills. Why has he not done this?

I think it is further evidence that he does not really want to be president. He does not like to even think of the task of governing for four more years. His game now is to protect his legacy, and retire with some dignity.

That was his tone throughout this debate.

Here's Someone Who Sounds Like He Knows What He Is Talking About

... saying two surprising things about the polls:

1. Obama has been trailing all along;

2. The Vice Presidential Debate really shifted the polls to Romney.

In saying he sounds as though he knows what he is talking about, I'm really saying I buy his arguments. Point 2 especially rings true to me: never underestimate the likability factor. As I said, Biden seemed to swing a wrecking ball on the likability of his entire ticket.

Parliament of the Imperial Federation




"Freedom, Fraternity, Federation": The British Empire in 1886.

Assuming each seat represented 500,000 constituents, here is the representation by population for a "Parliament of the Imperial Federation," as envisaged once before World War I. The idea is now underfgoing a revival, thanks to the near-collapse of the EU.

Most of those currently pushing the idea speak of limiting it to the “developed” members of the British Commonwealth. The following are usually given as the most likely members:

England: 102 members
Canada: 68 members
Australia: 44 members
Scotland: 10 members
New Zealand: 8 members
Wales: 6 members
Northern Ireland: 4 members

Total: 242 members; population circa 121 million.

But Malta, Cyprus, Singapore, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago now also seem to qualify as developed:

Malta: 1 member
Bahamas and other islands of the West Indies: 1 member
Barbados and other islands of the West Indies: 1 member
Trinidad and Tobago: 2 members
Singapore: 10 members
Cyprus: 2 members

Total: 257 members; population circa 128 million.

This is still, of course, far from the entirety of the “Anglosphere.” A number of big players are missing:

Ireland: 9 members
Jamaica: 6 members
USA: 628 members
India: 2410 members
Philippines: 207 members
South Africa: 98 members

There are obvious problems with incorporating some of these. The USA would dwarf the rest put together. India would dwarf the rest including even the USA, and flood the union with cheap labour. The Philippines would also be a huge injection of cheap labour; Jamaica a smaller one. Which might be either good or bad.

Leaving aside labour and wages, I cannot see a union working well with any one member too dominant. The danger of democracy is of any large majority bullying and oppressing any distinct minority.

Personally, I'd like to see a union including Ireland, the USA, Jamaica, and the Philippines. I would hope that including the Philippines would give enough counterweight to prevent complete domination by the US.

And since it's my fantasy, I guess I get my way.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Professional Journalism


Heading West.

A question inspired by Candy Crowley's mismanagement of the second US Presidential debate: why has journalism grown so bad, and so corrupt? What caused this?

For many years, I had the strong sense that newspapers and newsmagazines in general had tumbled far downhill since my youth. But I could not be sure. It might have had to do with the more jaded eyes of age. But now, with the Internet, there can be no doubt: the amateurs in the blogosphere do far better than the professionals.

And that last word may tell the whole story. I think it was a terrible error to turn journalism, during my own lifetime, into a “profession.” Journalists just a little older than I tended to have only a high school education, if that—they got into journalism because they could do it, because they could write, and tell a story interestingly. Now they get into the profession not because they can write, but because they have taken the required courses. The same awful process has also, over about the same time period, destroyed the teaching profession.

There is a basic principle here that is too often overlooked. Whenever you introduce standards to any area, you are eliminating two things: the bottom, the substandard, but also the top, the exceptionally good. That is the essence of professionalism: standardization—in other words, conformity. It is fine in areas in which simple competence is sufficient for all or most purposes--technical areas. But in areas, like writing or teaching,that require some element of creativity in order to work at all, it is going to damage, and ultimately destroy, the field.

The single obvious reason why the US dominates the contemporary world, culturally, technologically, and politically, is because of its tradition of nonconformity—aka “rugged individualism'” if you like. Those who found the local society too constraining in its demands could always escape to the frontier; and the doctrines of individual liberty on which the country was founded reduced the demands of conformity in the first place. There was also always the sense that this was the “New World,” which need not ever be constrained by the habits of the old.

The same secret led to the strength of Britain. On top of a strong innate social tolerance for, indeed glorification of, eccentricity, robustly expressed by John Stuart Mill, Britons needing breathing room could always take to the sea, and long had the ready option of shipping out to the Empire. There is nothing like the expatriate existence for freeing oneself from social pressures.

Sailing Before the Wind: The Jeanie Johnston.

This alone ensures that professionalization will be a disaster in most instances. On top of this, the creation of a profession creates a group consciousness, and a sense of common interests. This is not good. As Adam Smith observed, you cannot expect a group of people in the same trade gathered together, even for recreation, not to immediately turn to ways to conspire against the public interest for their own benefit. That is what a profession does, perfectly—a thing we would hold illegal in the corporate world. Now journalists all come up through the same schools, have many friends on rival papers, and attend the same parties, on top of their inevitable time together in the newsroom. They are a clique. Membership in the clique comes to be based not on ability, but on reliable commitment to the interests of the clique.

Fortunately, just when everything seemed to be going Stalinist, the innate rebellious genius of the Anglosphere created a new frontier: cyberspace. We have the bloggers, now, and the online educators, shaming and exposing the cliques and recovering the option of excellence. It is no accident this all first came from California, the last post on the Westward march; and, in the case of the WWW, from a Briton who had opted to live abroad.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rules of Engagement


  1. Most people are really stupid.

  2. It is not their fault they are really stupid. They are not doing it to annoy you.

  3. They do not know they are really stupid. They are, after all, really stupid.

  4. They have not had to learn patience as you have. They will never show you the patient tolerance they always demand of you.

Looks Like Romney Won Debate 2


Obama Held His Own

I think I called debate #2 pretty well: I said the best Obama can hope for is, unless Obama manages a TKO, or Romney makes a serious blunder, the headline "Obama holds his own."

That seems to be the generic headline today.

Later: No, I'm being too easy on myself. I fudged it a lot, but I was really expecting a narrow Romney win. This one seems to have been a tie.

The Female of the Species


A merry widow.

 There are many complaints this morning that Candy Crowley was blatantly partisan in her moderation of the Obama-Romney debate last night. Most notably, she interjected to defend Obama against the charge that he misrepresented events in Benghazi--which, of course, he did.

Rudyard Kipling could have explained why it is intrinsically a bad idea to have a woman moderate a debate:

She is wedded to convictions - in default of grosser ties;
Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him, who denies!
He will meet no cool discussion, but the instant, white-hot wild
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.

...
Proof of evil in nature.
So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
To some God of abstract justice - which no woman understands.

Though stated in a painstakingly gentlemanly way, what Kipling says here is outrageously politically correct. But ask yourself, isn't it nevertheless true?

 
The first wave of feminism insisted that men and women were identical except for the dangly bits. That was so obviously absurd that no feminist would say it any more today. Now we have so-called "difference feminism." Which means, necessarily, that men may be emotionally and intellectually better suited to some situations than are women, and women may be better suited to some situations than men. Feminists themselves insist on this when, for example, they claim that women are more "nurturing," or less "competitive."

Hello, sailor!
But hang on a moment. If there are differences, they cannot always be in favour of women.

Men read maps better than women. Men are better at abstract spatial reasoning. And women are far more partisan than men.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blame Hillary


She used to be rather good-looking, but she totally lost me with the pantsuits.

I'm impressed, and surprised, that, rather than a feud between Obama and the Clintons over who was responsible for the Benghazi bungle, Hillary Clinton has publicly accepted full responsibility.

But perhaps I shouldn't have been.

Some commentators have said this hurts her prospects for 2016. Assuming she has any interest in her prospects in 2016, though, on reflection, I think this might have been the best thing for her to do.

Had she fought back hard now on Obama's attempt to scapegoat her, she might well have caused Obama  to lose the election. If Democrats came to blame her for that, her hopes for 2016 would be dead.

If, on the other hand, she kept mum until after the election, Obama would then have all the more reason to scapegoat her, since she could no longer effectively kick back by doing him any harm--he's not running again. She could have been left twisting in the wind, as the Nixon White House used to say, and her 2016 prospects would have been almost as badly damaged.

Having no other good choice, then, acting now like the good soldier and taking the hit for the team gives her some claim to favors later.

In a way, it even gets back at Obama. She's setting an example that makes him look weaselly by comparison.

In any case, it is entirely likely that she is now telling the truth--that it really was her decision, and Obama and Biden were not really in the loop. If so, she has every reason to expect that this would come out anyway.  Best to step up to it and get it behind her, if possible.

Did Biden Win?



Who is that grinning jackanapes being mean to that nice young man?
I have seen more than one claim that Joe Biden won the VP debate last week, and not, as I said here, Paul Ryan. I can't figure out where they are getting the justification for this claim. Surely the fast reaction polls are definitive, if anything is. Joe Biden won one, by CBS; Ryan won three.

And this is aside from the crucial likability factor. As I have argued here before, I think this is the single most important factor in deciding who becomes president: who the electorate finds most likable. Who they want to see in their living rooms over the next four years. Nixon, many argue, won the 1960 debates on substance, but he looked too creepy. Gore lost the 2000 debates by looking too pushy. Kerry won the 2004 debates on substance, but came across as whiny, and it killed him.

If this is indeed the main factor, and I think history shows it plainly, Biden did himself and Obama about as much good as a wrecking ball. He'd have scuttled the ticket, had he been on top. As it is, since it was only the VP debate, it will have little significance. But what significance it has was not to Obama's benefit.

Witness this local poll.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Prediction for Second Debate



Lifelike image courtesy DonkeyHotey. CC license.

Since I did so well on my prediction for the First US Presidential Debate, I am emboldened to make a prediction for Debate #2.

I think Romney will win again.

It should not be as one-sided as the first debate—that win was historic. The odds are against that; though I think even this is possible.

President Obama will certainly try to do better this time; his pride is on the line. But if I am right that he fundamentally, in his heart of hearts, is sick of the job and does not want to be re-elected, he can be more or less counted on to self-sabotage in some way. Just as he seems to be self-sabotaging on the growing Libya scandal by trying to scapegoat both the Clintonian State Department and the intelligence community—two groups you really want to have on your side.

And I note with arched eyebrow that the debate prep this time is once again at a golf resort. Not the venue you want if you want Obama's full attention; sounds like another carrot for a reluctant horse.

Romney, on the other hand, won the first debate largely because he was so very well briefed. He is not going to become un-briefed. And as hard as Obama might be running now to catch up, Romney is likely to be running just as fast; he's not going to stop and wait for Obama.

I expect in any case that unless Obama scores a TKO, or Romney commits a gaffe, the news stories will be, at best, “Obama held his own.” Perhaps the news media would like the story “Obama closes the gap” better for partisan reasons, but it's really not as good a story yet as “wheels come off the Obama bus.” Problem is, there is hardly and gap to be closed yet. First they have to establish the gap. Obama has to go down further before his comeback becomes a good story.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Clint Eastwood as Prophet


Elijah ascends to heaven in his chariot of fire.

Several commentators are amazed at the prescience of Clint Eastwood. He imagined Obama as an empty chair in his speech at the Democratic convention, and that is just how Obama came across to many at the first Presidential debate. Suddenly there are all kinds of cartoons, including a New Yorker cover, showing Obama as an empty chair behind the debate lectern. It rings true. Then Eastwood, in the same speech, described Joe Biden as “a grin with a body behind it,” and now everyone is commenting on Biden's constant smirking in the VP debate. It rings true.

So what is going on? Is Eastwood clairvoyant?

Yes and no. Eastwood is an artist. Artists have a special, and an especially close, relationship with the imagination.

And the contents of the imagination are not random or meaningless. The imagination is a window on the spirit world.

I'm not the first to say this. It's not just my idea. Thomas Aquinas said it, and it is taken as a given in most cultures. Welcome to the real world: the spirit world.

The character type who becomes an artist in our modern Western culture is the same character type who would have been a shaman in an earlier culture, or, in ancient Judea, a prophet. He can see things hidden to the visible world.

You want another example of artistic prophecy? Did you know that Jack Kerouac's On the Road, written in 1949, at one point imagines its antihero, Dean Moriarty, driving relentlessly toward New York City, as an "Arab" intent on blowing up its towers?

Not all artists speak with the voice of God. There are false prophets. That does not mean they cannot prophecy. We know there are many spirits, good and bad. Jim Morrison, for example, believed he was possessed by the ghost of an Indian killed in a traffic accident. Phil Ochs believed he was possessed by a person named John Train. Bob Dylan, I recently read somewhere, believed he was possessed throughout the Sixties by a spirit who coincidentally had the same name as he did, Robert Zimmerman. No kidding. You may not believe it, but the artists themselves did.

These spirits in any given case might be benevolent, or they might be mischievous, or they might be malicious. It seems as though the spirits who possess rock stars are generally on the shady side. But all artists have a “genius.” That is a spirit guide—same root as “genie.” The greatest artists, surely, have God as their guide. These are the true prophets.

Not sure about Eastwood. Could be.