09 July 2018

Considering SCOTUS Selection Strategies

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement at the end of the 2017/18 Supreme Court term affords President Trump another opportunity to fill a seat on the Nation's High Court.   After the Borking of President Reagan's first choice in 1987, the confirmation process is no longer a gentile process of Senate vetting whether the President's choice is qualified.  While the vacancy is still up in the air, it is a fun political junkie parlor game to consider the strategies the President Trump may employee to make the nomination. Major factors include: timing; traits; temperament

I.  Timing

Firstly, there is a question of timing.  Democrats have been braying that there should be no confirmations until after the midterm elections.  They point to how President Obama was denied an opportunity to replace the Scalia vacancy with Merritt Garland as Republicans refused to confirm just before an election.  Of course, their objections are ahistorical, as Kagan was confirmed thee months before midterm elections.  But when do fact matter to partisans who talk out of both sides of their mouths to gain advantage?  The difference in 2016 is that Republicans were in the majority and set the agenda.

Some partisans focused on the political horse race postulate that it might make sense to hold the confirmation until after the midterms to have Trump supporters Get Out The Vote (GOTV).  Such a strategy is needless and short sighted.   While our elected officials do not work in a vacuum so they need to be mindful of elections, the decision should not be primarily driven by political advantage. However, the deferral of confirmation in 2016 was a prudential decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to let voters decide. This move respected a 73 year old tradition for about Supreme Court openings in the last year of a Presidential term.

If one looks through a partisan lens, it makes little sense to stall the confirmation until after the midterms. Republicans have a majority in the Senate.  Thanks to ex Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blowing up comity in the Senate by exercising the Nuclear Option in 2013 and Democrat Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) leading a Supreme Court confirmation filibuster in 2017, cloture votes are obviated and a only a majority vote is required.   While Senate Democrats have a hard midterm election cycle, one never knows what the future holds, so it would be better to try to get it done sooner rather than later.

Summers in the District of Calamity are often the silly season as political news is either trivial or outrageous, but typically few people pay attention as they are on vacation. Democrats are intent on fighting any Supreme Court nominee from President Trump tooth and nail, so the expected vitriol and direct action will not have as much resonance as it would be if it became a campaign issue.

If President Trump did not have a booming economy or positive news from foreign relations, it might make sense to make a SCOTUS nomination a campaign issue.  But George Barna pointed out through polling of evangelicals about the 2016 election, the two issues which that 11% segment of the population cared most about was the Supreme Court and pro-life positions.  Evangelical turned out 98% in 2016 and 96% voted for Trump, so there is little reason to gin up that base over a Supreme Court nomination.

It seems pretty clear that the nomination of Trump's second Supreme Court choice will be sooner rather than later.  During the 2016 Presidential election campaign, Mr. Trump had circulated a list of twenty five jurists who would be considered.  This list was augmented with five names after his inauguration which included now Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The White House indicated that it will announce the President's choice before he flies to Europe on July 10th. In fact, two days after Kennedy announced his retirement, President Trump announced that he had winnowed the frontrunners to five, including two women and set the selection announcement on July 9th.  So we will not play this Between the Beltways parlor game for long.

Moreover Majority Leader McConnell proclaimed that there will be a vote for confirmation by October.  This is in keeping with Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley's (R-IA) timeline that from nomination to confirmation vote, the Senate could do its work in 78 days.

II. Traits

A Supreme Court nomination is one of the marquis decisions during a President's time in the Oval Office. The pick stays on the High Court long after the Chief Executive leaves the White House.  The fact that it is Justice Kennedy's replacement is even more significant.  Even though Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, he has been a swing vote in his 31 years on the Supreme Court.  So Mr. Trump's choice will significantly impact the balance of power on the High Court.

At a campaign rally in Minnesota, President Trump mused that his choice could be on the bench for forty years.   Many of the jurists on the list are in their 40s and 50s so it seems that prospective longevity on the Supreme Court is an important attribute.

Does race or gender matter?  Perhaps.  Other Presidents have tried to make their mark by appointing "the first" identity group (e.g. Johnson with the first black of Thurgood Marshall in 1967, Reagan with the first woman Sandra Day O'Connor in 1982, Obama with the first Hispanic with Sonya Sotomayor in 2009). 

Trump is not likely to bow to political correctness or play identity politics.  Still, with 40% of Trump's short list being comprised with women, selecting a female could put vulnerable Democrats in a difficult position.  Prominent Democrats (and their media allies) have been strident in seeking to savage any pick made by President Trump.  There are already ten Senate Democrat incumbents in states where President Trump won in 2016 who have tough re-election races.  If these vulnerable Democrats are associated with an unjust evisceration of a female Supreme Court nominee, this may play very poorly for them during the midterms with key groups (suburban Moms, traditional Democrats, Independents).

Because of the timing of the selection, President Trump may want to ensure that the background vetting of a prospective nominee is speedy.  That might give an advantage to candidates who have recently been confirmed, as they have fresh FBI full field background investigations. So when speculation draws to a fevered pitch, consider who has been recently appointed to the federal bench.

III. Temperament

Despite contradictory indications during the 2016 primary campaign, President Trump has proven to be a Pro-Life President.  Yet he maintained that he will not ask about abortion when he interviews his short list.  This is hardly surprising because a good Supreme Court candidate will wisely deflect such a probing question, pointing to not answering hypothetical questions or not tipping one's hand on pending matters.  As the left has made abortion rights a keystone issue, much of the pre-nomination hysteria revolves around the potential overruling of Roe v. Wade (1973).  Any prospective candidate for the nation's High Court needs to be prepared for hard questions from the Senate Minority.

This points to a couple of qualities which Supreme Court nominees need to possess at least through confirmation.  A SCOTUS choice must be prepared.  Harriet Miers was a failed choice of President George W. Bush, in part, because she was not impressive in constitutional chit chat with Senate Majority members when making courtesy calls.

To present well in the Senate Judiciary Committee, successful candidates must master "Murder Boards",  that is the harsh mock interviews preparing for the hard questions.  Once they are on the bench, Supreme Court members deliberate in private.  But before confirmation, they must skillfully parry with hostile questions, which generally do not tip the hand of a prospective justice yet sufficiently satisfy the interlocutor. 

For a contentious candidate, mouthing the mantra "I can't comment on a prospective matter" or "Courts adjudicate real cases and I do not comment on hypotheticals" will not suffice.  As Roe v. Wade will mostly likely be touchstone for skeptical questioning, whoever is nominated must be well prepped to answer questions about "the right to privacy" and the primacy precedence (a.k.a. stare decisis).

When John Roberts went through his confirmation hearings, he did not totally deflect about questions of precedence, noting that there are some instances of bad precedence that should be upheld (like "Separate but Equal" Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896 which was overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education).

Nominees also must be mindful how simple questions can be abused by opponents to their confirmation.  When Judge Bork was asked why he looked forward to being on the High Court, and Bork answered that it would be an intellectual feast.  That answer was twisted to portray Bork as being an elite intellectual who was only in the position for himself.  Combined with vilification of Bork's record by liberal Senators, chiefly Ted Kennedy (D-MA), the nomination was defeated. 

While Supreme Court candidates should be sufficiently deferential to tough questioning, sometimes they can successfully fight back.  The left tried to "Bork" Clarence Thomas in 1991 with allegations about a subordinate employee Anita Hill.  Thomas famously refuted his treatment as a "high tech lynching of an uppity negro."  Despite that contentious quip, Thomas was narrowly confirmed.

As for judicial temperament, President Trump's list of 30 prospective selections, prima facia most would be deemed conservatives.  But their legal logic is not necessarily uniform.  Justice Thomas's jurisprudence rests on "natural law", whereas Justice Gorsuch is a textualist who looks to the letter of the law  which defers to the will of the legislature (even if they pass stupid laws).  Then there is originalism, which sees things through the prism of an understanding of the Constitution when it was originally ratified. 

A judicial trait which seems to be in favor with President Trump is the notion of judicial humility.  

Former Judge Andrew Napolitano characterizes this jurisprudence to interpret the law and apply the Constitution to the laws Congress has written. Judicial humility has not been the prevailing model of Supreme Court activism over the last sixty years, with the High Court legislating from the bench by inventing rights (e.g. "The Right to Privacy") or rewriting law to rule it constitutional (e.g. "Obamacare").

Since the Kennedy retirement has been announced, there has been rampant speculation about Mr. Trump's picks.  Even though the President has interviewed seven prospective SCOTUS picks, it has been generally considered that the list has been narrowed to four candidates.  Some even say that there are just two front runners.  Senator Orrin Hatch stirred up the rumor mill when he stated in an Op/Ed that he will fight for Mr. Trump's pick.  But some wonder if he had insider information, as Hatch's release  opined

"But no matter the nominee's background or credentials, progressives will do everything they can to paint her as a closet partisan, if not an outright extremist."

This could well be a MacGuffin to throw off all speculation, a ghostwriter using inclusive language or a retiring Senator tipping the hand. If Hatch was not just being deceptive or politically correct, there is only one female on the short list of choices, Judge  Amy Coney Barrett, who made headlines when Senator Diane Feinstein rebuked her by saying: "The [Catholic] dogma lives loudly within her" during her September 2017 confirmation hearings.   If President Trump is raring for a fight, picking Barrett could paint Democrats as being bigoted towards Catholics, and hint that Roe v. Wade might not stand.  But considering the vitriol which Democrats have been displaying and the importance that they place on abortion rights, this may also be a dangerous donnybrook.

One thing can be said with certainty -- the Simpsons were being satirical rather than sagacious with their rending of a Trumpian Supreme Court pick.

Ivanka will not be sporting a black robe (in public) anytime soon. 

08 May 2018

Book Review: The Great Revolt by Salena Zito and Brad Todd

After Richard Nixon won the 1972 Presidential election in a 49 state landslide, New Yorker film critic was flummoxed at how this could happen as none of her Manhattanite friends would vote for him.  This possibly apocryphal episode illustrated how seaboard elites can be so out of touch with Middle America (sometimes flippantly labeled as  “Fly Over Country”).

A similar cognitive dissonance has occurred at the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. Heading into election night, the 538 blog polling guru Nate Silver predicted that Hillary Clinton had a 72% chance of winning.  Yet when election results were confirmed at 2:30 AM November 9th, Donald J. Trump gave a victory speech.  While Mr. Trump won a huge 304 to 227 (with five disloyal electors), the margins of victory in five Rust Belt states were close.  Had 56,000 voters not voted for Mr. Trump, then Bill Clinton would have returned to the White House as First Gentleman (sic).

To delve into how Donald Trump was able to confound conventional wisdom and assembled a new coalition which led him to the White House, Salena Zito and Brad Todd wrote “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics” (2018 Crown Forum 309 pages).  Salena Zito is a reporter from Pittsburgh but made made her mark during the campaign for the New York Post by traveling to these Midwest battleground states and interviewing prospective Trump voters to understand their attraction and enthusiasm for this first time populist candidate. 

These oral histories are backed up by data from Brad Todd’s On Message Inc. polling unit. The metrics were particularly instructive in seeming how sentiments shifted in swing counties between 2008 and 2016.

The Great Revolt featured 21 interviews with voters from two key counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. These interviews felt like an extended coffee talk at a diner with a trusted confidant.  The Great Revolt broke down these voters into seven archetypes: 1) Red Blooded and Blue Collar 2) Perotistas 3) Rough Rebounders 4) Girl Gun Power 5) Rotary Reliables 6) King Cyrus Christians 7) Silent Suburban Moms.  While they all chose to support Trump, their pathways were not straight and narrow and deserve careful consideration. 

Over the past several elections, Democrats seemed to abandon salt of the earth blue collar erstwhile Democrats to favor demographically up and coming minority majorities and those new voters who might be culled from immigration.  During the 2008 Democrat primaries, candidate Barack Obama derisively referred to rural Rust Belt voters as “bitter clingers to their guns and their Bibles”.  Ironically, Ms. Clinton was trying to win their support for her first failed presidential run.   

Yet in 2016, these same segment of voters were ignored by the Hillary! campaign as she declared that half of Trump supporters were a “Basket of Deplorables” which might serve as a caricature of this segment of voters which would be more sympathetically described as The Forgotten Man.  

Hillary Clinton chose to ignore Wisconsin during the 2016 General Election campaign and made only a couple of trips to large population centers in Michigan, figuring that she had those votes already in the bag.  Donald Trump campaigned hard in Rust Belt states in rural precincts and scraped together enough support to win the Wolverine State by about 8,000 votes (0.23%) and the Badger State by about 22,000 votes (0.77%).  

Pundits have pontificated that Republicans face a demographic problem whereas Democrats have a geographic problem, as they continue to lose support in vast swaths of middle America.  In 2016, Mrs. Clinton only won 526 counties compared to the over 1500 counties that her husband President Clinton won in 1992.  What became obvious after election night 2016, racking up large victories in the popular vote does not necessarily win the White House.  Both parties would learn from contemplating the shared psyches of these Trump voters  if The Great Revolt was a one time populist phenomenon, if it can transfer unto other populist politicians and if it can be sustained after 2016.

A couple of these Great Revolt subgroups, such as Rotary Reliables and NRA inspired Girl Gun Power types  are likely to continue to actively oppose progressive politics as it directly impacts their intrinsic interests.   It is more dubious for other groups.  In 2016, evangelical voters made a pragmatic decision to back Mr. Trump, who has a messy personal life and whose blithe brashness is an antithetical attitude, because they were concerned about the Supreme Court and pushing back against abortion.  The outlook for Perotistas is unclear as their support seemed personality driven and may not be transferrable.  The three women interviewed as Perotistas were superannuated, so one can surmise that their support will age out.

As much as the iconoclastic mainstream billionaire turned celebrity politician appealed to some segments of The Great Revolt voters, what became quite clear is how his opponent and the nature of the race also impacted the election.  In some of the vignettes, the anti-Hillary! sentiment jumped off the page. 

 Many of the interviewees came from union families or those who served in the military would have been quite at ease in John F. Kennedy’s Democrat Party but who are red headed stepchildren in today’s Democrat Party.  That being said, they probably would not have participated in politics or been motivated to vote GOP had Donald Trump not reached out and appealed to their sensibilities.   They may not always agree with Mr. Trump and may recoil at some of his Tweets or stances but as Salena Zito nailed during the campaign, they know to take Trump seriously but not always literally (unlike the anti-Trump pack press).

Most of the coalition in The Great Revolt worried about their economic security and loss of their rural way of life, it did not seem like there was strong linkage to “Build the Wall” or immigration.  While one union activist was strongly against NAFTA, much of the blue collar sentiments revolved around being forgotten by their erstwhile allies, the Democrats.   

While the interviews in The Great Revolt were vivid, it would have been desirable if there was a bit more uniformity when describing the interlocutors.  Not all of the portraits had demographic details or made it easy to discern the interviewees profession.  There also seemed to be a disconnect between the prefatory analysis with the dialogues of the Trump voters.  The authors rightly proposed that Mr. Trump’s social media instincts allowed him to circumvent curating by the mainstream media and directly reach his coalitions.  Yet many of the interviewees contained in The Great Revolt wished that President Trump would tweet less. 

That being said, surely Salena Zito and Brad Todd appreciated President Trump’s pre-publication post which extolled the virtues of The Great Revolt.

The case histories in The Great Revolt offer insightful context for the unexpected coalition which elected Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.  But the archetypes portrayed in The Great Revolt may point to traits that could appear in other voter segments.   Democrats have opted to appeal to progressive identity politics and rely on the brown wave of new voters in lieu of  “The Forgotten Man” (rural, blue collar, union white males).   A flaw with that strategy is that it relies upon banked voters, which since 1964 have been the bulk of black voters.  The Great Revolt chronicles how slim segments of voters who feel neglected and come to the epiphany that their traditional party no longer represents their values can impact an election.

Recently, Kanye West said some favorable things towards President Trump. Perhaps that was a publicity stunt or an African American celebrity "talking out of turn" as Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA 43rd) claimed. But afterwards polling showed a doubling of his support among African Americans.  Mr. Trump has been making explicit appeals for those voters.  

It is conceivable that an upsurge in black labor participation and showing up to make the case may shift some attitudes, or mollify some of the bile against him. Conservative Black video bloggers Diamond and Silk have shown that elements of the Trump Administration agenda may have some appeal to fed up African American voters.  Black represent about 13% of voters and in recent elections have voted about 95% for Democrats.  If there is a 5% shift in that segment of reliable votes, Democrats’ election strategy may be in trouble. 

20 April 2018

Ruminating on the Book Primal Loss by Leila Miller

Recently, I had some coffee talk with a more liberal Catholic friend who wondered why I am aghast at the sleight of hand in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016) concerning communion for Catholics in irregular marriages.  My interlocutor argued that I should not care as this change neither effects me nor rocks my faith and it is meant to reach out to an increasingly secularized culture that needs healing. 

The impetus of Amoris Laetitia's pastoral provision can be characterized as offering band aids to the wounded in the field hospital of faith. However, by  circumventing the annulment process with a suggestion of pastoral counseling, it seems intended to attract more wayward Catholics who have “moved on” from a bad marriage  back to the faith with the incentive of receiving the Eucharist.  Such a procedure moots the Magisterium and risks cheapening the faith and endangers souls.

This theological conversation took place as I was reading Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak (2017) edited by Leila Miller. The author graduated summa cum laude from Boston College, is a reverted Catholic mother of eight who became known for her blog “Little Catholic Bubble”.  Leila Miller has now turned to writing apologetics on thorny moral issues.  Primal Loss which aggregates the oral histories of 70 adult children of divorce in reaction to six simple but revealing questions:

1) What effect has your parents’ divorce had on you?
2) What is the difference between how you felt about the divorce as a child and how you feel as an adult?
3) Has your parents’ divorce affected your own marriage or view on marriage?
4) Asking for reactions to the bromides “Children are resilient”, “You’ll be just fine and live a successful life after your parents’ divorce.
5) Asking what would you say to your parents about their divorce and if their reactions are just unconscious revenge.
6) What should society know about how divorce affects children.

Sociologists might dismiss Primal Loss as anecdotal evidence from a self selected contributors which did not stem from a controlled study.  The author’s objective was to given unvarnished opinions from those directly impacted by a divorce and to educate people on the ignored pitfalls of the Divorce Ideology which is championed in current culture and is one of the linchpins of the Sexual Revolution.

Indubitably, divorce is more prevalent today than it was a half century ago before the widespread. implementation of No-Fault Divorce.  But those bent on accommodating the new reality of divorce culture cite the statistic that 50% of marriages in America end in divorce.  But the index of Miller’s interviewees (whom she scrupulously protected their anonymities) belie that false fact.  So many of the contributors to Primal Loss have parents who were married several times after their initial divorce.  This certainly inflates the marriage rate.  Michael Medved points to studies which show that two thirds of marriages last until one person dies.  But the bogus 50% divorce rate statistic is part of the mythology that people in troubled marriages use to justify their self-centered action of divorce.

It was remarkable to read in Primal Loss the unvarnished opinions and reflective reactions that the now adult children of divorce had to their parents breaking up their family.  Several of them chronicled abusive parents or adults mired in addiction (sometimes both parents), where it was understandable that separation was necessary for safety. Many times adultery (or the desire for a newer or more compatible mate) was the driving force for the divorce.    But more often than not, these grown children of divorce recognized that parental selfishness was at play.  Divorcing parents also broke up their families for seemingly trivial reasons under the generous guise of No Fault Divorce without weighing the devastating consequences on their children.

It was unsurprising that divorce pushes custodial parents into poverty and unsupervised parenting which makes kids prone to promiscuity, abortions and addiction to fill the void that they feel. These interviews also highlight how their parents example of divorce negatively impacts their faith.  To justify their life style choices which are contrary to traditional church teaching, previously faithful parents pull back on their religiosity and children follow suit.  The domestic church is decimated. 

There is also the uncomfortable dynamic that with joint custody, kids of divorce have to adapt to two different households and parental styles.  So during adolescence, when kids are struggling to discern their true identities, they must act to please the powers that be in their household du jour (which often may harbor bad feelings towards churchy purveyors of guilt).  Add on the feeling of betrayal and abandonment for an institution which seems to be made of straw caused a fair number of interviewees to abandon their faith, seek more conducive pastures or seek self destructive secular solutions.  As Primal Loss originated from Catholic social media connections, most of the contributors seemed to have reverted back to Catholicism.

A set of lies which the Divorce Ideology trumpets is the knee jerk reaction “Oh, kids are resilient, they’ll get over it.” and the self serving “Kids will be happy if I am in a happier relationship.”.  The tangled webs we weave when first we learn to deceive.  Children crave acceptance so they will fake it until they make it and to great extends mask their woundedness from their family identity being torn away from their through divorce.  Superficially, they’ll embrace the prospect of having two Christmases etc...  But that comes at a cost of not having a stable place of their own.  And the reality that they will have to grow up quickly, often becoming their custodian parent's sounding board about the failed marriage. 

Combine an emotionally fragile adolescent who has been wounded by their parents’ divorce and parents preoccupied with their own love life along with authority issues with step parents, these children of divorce often are laxly parented lest they scion leave (and give their divorced spouse a “victory”).  That interplay creates FINE kids, which one interviewee used as an acronym for “F-‘ed up Insecure Neurotic Emotional”.

Another reaction to their hemaneutic that divorce is OK because it allows the parent to seek a happy relationship was:

Before I say anything to them, can I slap them around a little first, and let them know that that makes me happy so they should be happy too? No. Okay...

A reconstituted family rarely runs as smoothly as portrayed in the TV myths like “The Brady Bunch”.  Most adult children revealed that they long yearned for the possibility that their parents may become reconciled.  Adult children of divorce ruefully recall that their well being was perennially put in a lower position than their parents’ happiness.  And it is usually made clear to divorced children what their place is in a blended family. No wonder the contributor harbored that slap happy reaction.

What really seemed to be lacking in a Divorce Culture is the notion of sacramentality of marriage. If one views marriage as a contract, it is relatively easy to mentally justify walking away from it if you are not happy.  Marriage ought to  properly understood as a covenant which is a sacrament modeled as the Lord wedded himself to a stiff necked people who He called his own despite their weaknesses and infidelity.  Moreover, if we understand the Trinity as a divine relationship which results in the overflowing of love of the Holy Spirit, we should see the analogy in our own participation in creation through the sacrament of marriage and having children.  Being wedded to someone is never easy and often requires sacrifice.  And it is not just for us mere mortals. After all, the Lord endured having His only begotten Son sacrificed to reconcile with an estranged humanity. 

The Church also needs to improve its catechesis about divorce.  While dining with some on fire social justice warrior faithful, one person gave uninformed assent to provisions of Amoris Laetitia because divorced Catholics have already had it hard enough and ought to receive the Eucharist.  He seemed stunned when I observed that those who remain celibate (honoring their covenental nuptuals) can.  And those in irregular marriages (civilly divorced and remarried) can go through an annulment.  The author tried to solve this by including Catholic teaching on marriage in her last chapter, but the message is better disseminated from the pulpit as well as Catholic media.

Some Catholics consider annulments to be a Catholic divorce, and contend that annulments  are much easier to get today in America.  But the process for a certificate of nullity asks incisive questions of petitioners and their witnesses which require deep introspection.  I appreciated the suggestion by one Primal Loss contributor that couples should be allowed to go through the annulment process BEFORE having a civil divorce proceeding as it might encourage more couples to work through their problems and stay together. 

Circumventing the annulment process to allow for pastoral counseling to educate couples in irregular marriages poses several problems.  Priests already have severe time constraints and the necessity of educating thoroughly secularized consciences may make true faith formation challenging.  The reliance on abiding by individual consciences without the surety of formal pronouncement of nullity from church authorities means that either souls are endangered or the process is a fiction.  Furthermore, to continue to have an annulment process when this pastoral provision is foisted as being magisterial (which is mistaken as paragraph 3 of Amoris Laetitia indicates that it is a persuasive document intended pastorally) makes anyone seeking annulments as a pious patsy.

I appreciated the observation that when an annulment is granted, it may bring closure to the ex-spouses but it does not have the effect on the offspring as it does not change the dire circumstances of blowing up the family and snatching away their identities.  An adult friend of mine declared that he was a bastard because his parents had their marriage annulled.  I tried to tell him church teaching that while the sacramentality of the marriage was void, he was not born out of wedlock.  That nugget of truth did not change his long held self perception.

One contributor to Primal Loss eloquently expressed the resulting marred self perception of being a child of divorce:

Divorce creates its own language for a child. Much of it is unspoken and the child is the only one who achieves fluency.  It might be the voice of doubt in the back of one's mind one day, or the voice of indecision where I should be resolute another day.  This perpetually dysfunctional language replaces the language of family love that otherwise forms a child's internal dialogue. So, in a way, divorce becomes the 'everlasting gift' to the child that a child can't overcome. The dysfunction replaces the permanence and security of an intact family.

Since most of Primal Loss were oral histories grouped together by topics, it was in many ways an easy read. Yet absorbing the tales of pain, reflections on the adverse impact of divorce on kids lives and the intractable issues associated with breaking up families also made it a painful read.  A virtue of Leila Miller’s organization of the book is that aside from grouping narratives together which corresponded to her six questions, there was scant thematic argumentation, so a reader was not led to obvious take away conclusions, other than divorce is bad, it harms children in innumerable ways and ought to be avoided at almost all costs.

The penultimate chapter of Primal Loss contained Stories of Hope. Many of these accounts attest to the power of prayer. But they are not saccharine stories of sanctimoniousness.  These adult children of divorce find themselves at the brink of a marital breakup. But the reoccurring theme is that they do not surrender to selfishness and look beyond themselves, turning to prayer along with considering their childrens’ plight.

Recently, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, offered high praise of Primal Loss for highlighting a world view which denies the value of self sacrificial love along with the damaging and long lasting consequences of divorce.  This is a recommended read for anyone in a troubled marriage to contemplate before their break up their family.  These testimonials may also give real life examples for adult catechesis. For myself, it illustrated the ill born consequences of the Church circumventing the Magisterium on marriage to be more appealing in a populist driven New Evangelization.

27 March 2018

Savoring Sakura on the Potomac

The 6821 Quintet concert at the National Gallery of Art, March 26, 2018
The 6821 Quintet performing at the National Gallery of Art, March 26 2018

For the last few years, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been privileged to feature the 6821 Quintet, an ad hoc group of musicians, which was formed in 2015 and is comprised of members from Japan, New York and Philadelphia with through the support of the Ryunji Ueno Foundation. The 6821 Quintet derives its name from the distance between Washington, DC and Toyko, Japan.   This year’s ensemble is comprised of violinist Mayu Kishima, violinist Eric Silberger, violinist Meng Wang, cellist Clancy Newman and pianist Jason Solounias.

Sakura on the Potomac, which premiered at the 2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival was composed by Japanese composer and producer Kunihiko Murai.   Sakura is the Japanese word for Cherry Blossom Tree, which includes the twelve species of Cherry Blossom Trees that encircle the  Tidal Basin in the Nation's Capital since Japan’s generous gift to America in 1912.

The 6821 Quintet also played Songs of Spring and Portraits of Sakura– our memories of bloom, which were respectively the prior two years commissions for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

During the final performance at the National Gallery of Art, two of the three composers of National Cherry Blossom Festival commissions were present.  Michael Djupstrom had performed with the 6821 Quintet for a couple of years, but also composed Songs of Spring for the 2016 Cherry Blossom Festival.  Mr. Djupstrom commended the 6821 Quintet for their remarkable cohesiveness in their artistry, especially since they only perform together one week a year.

Kunihiko Murai had written over 300 songs and 30 film scores, so composing a tone poem like Sakura on the Potomac was a new adventure.  Mr. Murai revealed that he associated lyrics in his head for Sakura on the Potomac but did not reveal them.  The composer, however, noted that he was inspired by the T.S. Eliot quotation “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land”.  This seems apt as the blossoming of the Sakura on the Potomac signals Spring in the District of Calamity (sic), a.k.a Washington, DC.

Meng Wang, Kunihiko Murai, Clancy Newman, Eric Silberger, Jason Solounias, Mayu Kishima
The 6821 Quintet pose with Sakura on the Potomac composer Kunihiko Murai 

18 March 2018

Shamrockfest 2018 Memories

Despite the mostly mild winter in the DMV, St. Patrick's Day 2018 had weather which mimicked the Emerald Isle as it was chilly, overcast with a touch of rain.  Still hearty partiers shook their fists at the sky and danced a jig at Shamrockfest, which was held on the grounds of RFK stadium.

Shamrockfest featured three stages.  The Electric Isle featured DJs spinning tunes under a big tent. DJ Clinton Matthews kicked things off at what became quite the popular venue. 

DJ Clinton Matthews spinning tunes at Shamrockfest
Watching DJ Clinton Matthews while wearing the green at Shamrockfest

The Shamrock Gold and Shamrock Green stages rotated with bands playing high energy rock with a touch of the Irish.  One had to marvel at the guitar playing prowess demonstrated by Reel Big Fish.  

Reel Big Fish performing at Shamrockfest
Reel Big Fish performing at Shamrockfest

And it was craic to rock to Carbon Leaf.

Carbon Leaf playing at Shamrockfest
Carbon Leaf playing at Shamrockfest 

Of course there was plenty of festival food and libations to enjoy, with plenty of Guinness and Jamison. 

A Guinness toast on St. Patrick's day at Shamrockfest

Shamrockfest is said to be one of the largest outdoor St. Patrick Day festivals around.  People really try to dress to impress to show their Irish.   Some chose to sport some udderly crazy costumes (sic) to have a good time. 
Having an udderly good time at Shamrockfest 2018
Having an udderly good time at Shamrockfest 2018

Shamrockfest is produced by Red Frog Events.  In mid June, they will hold Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware, which is a four day music extravaganza which will feature scores of bands, headlined by Eminem, the Arctic Monkeys and The Killers. 

Hope to see you at the Woodlands.

12 February 2018

On What Propaganda is Condemned and Countenanced at Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

The 23rd Winter Olympiad in Pyeongchang, South Korea had a reoccurring theme of Peace, as was evident from the Opening Ceremonies.  It was well known that athletes from North and South Korea would march as a unified team into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.  

One of the draws for casual sports fans to watch the Olympics is the Opening Ceremonies. The pageantry of the Opening Ceremonies, as expressed through artistic expression as well as thematic choice sets the mood for the Olympic Games.  Afterwards, there is the Parade of Nations, when all of the competitors gather in a gesture of unity and good will.  During this long march of nations, television viewers often have to endure commentary from NBC announcers to add color and context to the visuals.  Often this dialogue is pap or seems scripted.

However, when the Japanese team made their debut at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, NBC Asia correspondent Joshua Cooper Ramos offered an incredible generalization.  Ramos claimed that Koreans looked with admiration to Japan as an important example of cultural, economic and technological transformation.

Several hours after uttering this insensitive and insulting insinuation, NBC Sports issued a hasty apology.

NBC offeres shame faced apology for Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony insulting commentary

NBC paid $967 million for broadcast rights for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and it would seem that they did not want to insult their hosts.

With that in mind, one wonders why NBC keeps pushing North Korean propaganda while covering the Winter Olympics.  No doubt that a unified Korean team marching during the Parade of Nations was a big story.  It epitomizes the international aspiration of brotherhood and exemplifies the Pyeongchang Game's theme of Peace.  

[Front Center] Vice President Mike Pence [Back Center] Kim Yo Jung, sister of DPRK dictator Kim Jun Un
It is understandable that an Olympic broadcaster would want to capitalize on controversy by showing how close Vice President Mike Pence was seated to North Korean Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong during the Opening Ceremonies.

The coverage of the North Korea cheerleaders during the womens' hockey game between Korea and Switzerland does raise eyebrows.  It was a cute featurette to have a piece about the some of the 200 woman squad of  the North Korean "Army of Beauty" cheerleaders leading chants during the 0-8 rout of Korea.  Some say that the synchronized chants of the North Korea Beauty Cheerleaders stole the show. But what what telling is what they chanted and how they performed.  These NPDK cheerleaders chanted "Unity" waving "neutral" flags of a unified Korea. After each goal by their opponent, they chanted: "Cheer up!".  Perhaps that exemplifies a cultural trait.  

What has been shown but little explored are instances in which the female Beauty Squad use big heads of a Korean man.  Hmm.  Who could this be?  

It is dubious that it was an everyman Korean.  The Big Head looks rather like an idealized image of North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un. What does it say about the consequences of  "Unity".  Is that something that all Koreans also believe?

UPDATE 02/12/2018  BBC News quotes Korean media that the DPRK Army of Beauties cheerleaders were holding up big heads of Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (the first of the Hermit Kingdom's Juche post World War II dictators).  Yet the South Korean Unification Ministry insists that the cheerleaders were just holding up cut outs of "a good looking man".