Political Fix: Debates

glanzmanI’m beginning a series for this blog called “Political Fix” in which I will banter around ideas that I think will actually help fix America. While good policies on tax, immigration, education, war powers etc. are badly needed, those are not the types of fixes I’m proposing.

One of the central tenets of American Political thought is the fundamental structure of government. America is not a parliament that can do anything it wants. A written constitution with checks and balances, assigned powers that are enumerated, a system of Federalism in which the cultures of the different peoples of the states remain diverse on certain topics, all of these are fundamental institutions that have no particular policy attached to them. My proposals for restoring liberty, political efficiency, and general happiness to America will focus on proposals to strengthen the institutions, without any thought to what policies may come from those institutions.

DEBTATE

One of the hallmarks of a representative system, be it democratic or republican, is the ability to debate and put your ideas before the public for them to choose. This means debates have to actually involve candidates who will debate the same topic. This is NOT what happened in the last presidential election, specifically not in the primaries, and there’s a specific reason: the structure of the debates.

The Republicans are the better example so I’ll focus on them. At one point they had 17 major candidates all attempting to debate. It got so ridiculous that they split the debates into two tiers and still everyone was talking over one another. How to solve this problem?

Moderators

First, do not have moderators who can ask different questions of different candidates. Throughout the primary debates, moderators acted as third-party candidates, asking leading or sometimes misleading questions to expose a candidate’s weaknesses. Rarely if ever did they ask a question that highlighted a strength of any candidate.

The purpose of a moderator is to introduce the candidates, set the stage for the debate (perhaps by leading with a general topic or question) and keep time. This lets the candidates discuss how they would approach a topic, and ensures that each addresses the same topic so the people can judge who has the better ideas.

The debates need moderators who will keep the peace and the time, but allow each candidate equal time and opportunity to answer the same questions.

Issues:

When Abraham Lincoln and Fredric Douglas debated for a Senate seat it became one of the greatest series of political debates in American history. Over 7 debates the candidates ranged from the Kansas-Nebraska act to the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, but the themes of the debates was always centered around slavery, and what each party’s platform towards it would be.

The modern debates should be about the pressing issues, and less about the candidates’ personalities. Exactly how you would enforce this I’m not sure, but if each debate had a general topic to begin with that each candidate knew about going in, then the candidates would have to make choices themselves about how to craft their message and then respond, and either way the public would judge them on their performance. What we got last election was rude and prying questions into too much personal drivel.

Numbers:

Too many people makes a debate for the public impossible. Debates should have no more than 3 candidates on stage at a time. If there are more candidates, split them up into groups and let them debate on different days. Different days ensures that each debate can still be aired at a prime time, and no one is marginalized because he is momentarily low in the polls. You could also (gasp) let them challenge one another to debates not sanctioned or sponsored by the party (as Lincoln once challenged Douglas).

 

Time

It’s ridiculous to expect a person to be able to detail their strategy for “helping the economy” or the “war on terror” in 2 minutes or less (especially if they are blindsided by the question). Debates should ask a general question, start with a specific candidate and allow him a length of at least 20 minutes to answer, then allow each candidate 1/2 the time to respond. The next debate between the same candidates they will start with a different candidate. This will only work if several debates are held upon the same topic.

Better debates will mean a better informed people, a better candidate, and will be necessary for the other political fixes I will propose in due course.

 

-Felix

 

 

 

 

 

Game of Thrones and Christian Puritans

I recently stumbled upon an article published by the Gospel Coalition’s Facebook page entitled “I don’t Get it” about how the author cannot understand how and why Christians can enjoy watching Game of Thrones in good conscience.

[ https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2017/08/08/i-dont-understand-christians-watching-game-of-thrones/ ]

The Author admits that he has never watched ANY game of Thrones episode, so his criticism comes entirely from hearsay. He also admits that the most popular responses from Christians to his question include the show’s superb storytelling, vivid characters and epic setting. Yet he basically ignores all of this, and says that Christians cannot watch such a show in scriptural conformity because it has graphic sexual scenes, and has maintained such scenes throughout the seasons.

I dissent.

First, this angers me that Christians on respected forums are writing what amounts to “fake-news” articles on art and culture. It is morally and intellectually wrong to criticize something without knowing the subject matter. If the Author had actually watched even some of Game of Thrones and then had the same arguments, he might have points worth listening to. But arguments from ignorance ought never to come from a Christian.

Second, his argument is actually factually incorrect, at least in part. Due to complaints by the cast, the directors have reduced the number of on-screen nudity involving main cast characters. Though some scenes still show nudity, it is not as much as was shown in the early seasons.

Third, shall Christians forebear something because it is not 100% pure? The Author argues that it is sinful to look upon nakedness like this. His implication is that it is too tempting and gratuitous, and will arouse lustful thoughts/desires in the viewers. However, the author completely misses the point of the nudity in many of the scenes, and the overall context they have in Game of Thrones.

One of the things which makes GoT so attractive to audiences is its unflinching portrayal of the world and the characters in it. This is not a world of pure saints and ravaging devils, though there is perhaps one character who has honor above the rest and several who are despicable beyond measure. Anyone, no matter how integral to the “plot”, may be killed off unexpectedly. Religion is revered by many simple people, and some hallowed ones. Political power is wielded rightly and harshly by different people.

In short: the show portrays life as it really is. And it does so very well: intricately and in all the nuanced ways that make an excellent character study for how people can choose to live their lives. Honor is not always rewarded; cruelty sometimes conquers love, the wealthy are sometimes oppressive, sometimes benevolent.

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Tyrion Lannister, a Wealthy aristocrat who transforms from being a hedonist to a man of purpose as the show progresses.

This is good storytelling because it’s what people in real life actually experience; It’s a mirror by which the audience can safely see the world around them, filtered through a fantastical lens.

 

As for the sex; sex is as much a part of the human condition as power, love, lust, mercy or cruelty. While the show did have some very gratuitous scenes, most of them actually gave insight to the characters in them.

Demanding 100% purity in the narrative is actually not desirable because it does not show accurately what these settings were like, how the characters thought, and what motivated them (yes, sex can be a powerful motivator, just ask Helen of Troy or King David).

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The Sons of Benjamin stealing women for forced marriages, book of Judges. Gustave Dore.

Even the Bible doesn’t remove these aspects from its stories. The Bible is replete with incest (Absalom and his sister), fornication (Samson), multiple-wives (Solomon and David), Adultery (David) and homosexuality (Sodom and Gomorrah).

Nowhere does the Bible endorse any of this of course. But neither does Game of Thrones.

Perhaps instead of complaining about why some Christians are actually attracted to good art and storytelling, the author should ask why Christian critics and artists seem so inept at producing it.

Feelings v. Reason

There was an interesting picture with caption that circulated around my Facebook feed this last week about protestors who block traffic to draw attention to their protesting. The Picture is reproduced below.19429977_1444934185574102_3710162928890527738_n.jpg

 

I got into a rather heated debate with a friend about whether this was A) prudent, and B) actually a moral thing to do. My friend believed it was justified for the reasons the captions lists: it is not done to win support, nor even to simply express a feeling. It is done to make other people feel what you feel. That at least is the primary objective. We are left to hope whether that will make the victims of this protest feel any sympathy for the protestors’ cause….. The caption ends by saying that as soon as you learn to feel the rage these other people feel, they won’t do these things to you (“the sooner you won’t be stuck in traffic”). I cannot help but conclude from this that the protestors are of divided minds on why they are doing what they are doing. Is it only to make other people feel their pain, or is it to change the minds of others? The two are not the same thing, but the poster seems to hold that if they can make you feel as angry as they do, you will join their cause.

I dissent.

If you wish for a revolt, anger is your greatest weapon. If you wish for reform, wisdom is your greatest tool, and wisdom does not come about through anger. Wisdom comes through thought, debate, experience, and long-concerted effort to find the best means to achieve your ends. This what the Greeks called ‘prudence.’ The history of English and American law (especially the common law) is one of incremental reforms and nuances. It did not come about by violent revolution or sweeping reform by a Napoleon or a Caesar.

Protesting has a long a noble history in the English speaking world, and has a rightful protection in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, reading “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Notice however that the right to petition the government is not unlimited. The petitions must be directed at the government, and they must be peaceable. This has been long incorporated into the Supreme Court’s doctrine of “time, place, manner” restrictions; that in traditional public forums such as streets there are reasonable restrictions for safety and peace that the government can impose without violating the rights of protestors.

Thus, it has never been a first amendment right to block traffic, and so endanger public safety. A protest need not be overtly violent to potentially endanger public safety. Now, that’s the legal side. What about prudence and justice?

The great strength of protest is to show by argument, by mass of people, and by overt (though peaceable) action that a portion of the people are united for or against a particular cause. It is also to persuade the government and others of the rightness of your cause. No man is persuaded to join a cause by abuse. Prudence would dictate the use of some other means of protesting to win people to your cause.

Forgetting prudence, which is not always the test of justice; is it right to inflict pain, injury or any wrong upon another because you have been wronged? I think not.

Even self defense does sink to such a level. Revenge alone is so base as to say ‘I will hurt you, as you have hurt me, though it bring me no benefit or joy.’ And far apart from that, these people are not unleashing their vengeance upon the police or the government, but upon innocent bystanders. Not only is this revenge, but it is blind revenge gone foolish.

What then is the solution? I leave you with a quote from one of my heroes:

When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made.–I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed. So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay; but, till then, let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

–A. Lincoln, Lyceum Address, 1838.

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Quick Thought: Belief or Acts

What is more important, a man’s belief or his acts?

In a perfect man, his acts will flow from his beliefs, so the dichotomy won’t really matter. But on some subjects there is a disconnect; sometimes it’s quite out of our control and so our beliefs can never be acted upon in a meaningful way. A man who opposed slavery in America before the Civil War would have had little chance of abolishing it at the national level.

So it is, I think, with politics: what a man believes about politics is nearly useless. His actions matter far more. What does it matter if he voted for a democrat or a republican? Did he treat his enemies with kindness, his opponents with love and respect? Then he is a good man, whatever his policies may be. Did he tell the truth, and say it openly? Then he is an honest man. Did he abide by the Constitution even when it was to his disadvantage? Then he is an honorable man.

In all things, treat others the way you wish to be treated.

Dear Jesus, You have a problem, and it’s Me

I recently listened to a lecture by a catholic speaker on pornography addiction. He told the story that once, when he was in confessional, he confided his pornography addiction to his priest and asked what he should do. The priest replied, “You need to tell Jesus He has a problem.” The young man was confused. “How is my pornography addiction Jesus’ problem?” The priest replied, “You belong to Jesus don’t you? You need to pray to Him and tell him He has a problem, and it’s you.”

 

This was, to my thinking, quite right and also very counter-intuitive: certainly against much of what I’ve been impressed upon by sin. My thought on sin had been this: God lays down the rules, which are nearly impossible to follow, since you have to be perfect to do them all right; then if and when you break them you have to ask for forgiveness in Christ, which He will give you. But what I didn’t get was that God does not expect you to get better all by yourself.

While it’s our responsibility to do what He asks, we should not expect to get better without His help. This, I think, is what the Apostle meant when he wrote “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” (1 Pater 5:7)

Sin as a Pearl

There are many views of sin in the world, and many metaphors for what it is like in the Bible. Jesus likens sin to a lion, prowling around and seeking to devour, as something crouching at the door, as a thief in the night, and as leaven that levels a whole lump of bread. I wonder though, if in Christ, when we are saved, if sin becomes something else.

The Christians speaks often  of being “saved”, that is, Christ took the penalty of our sin away when he died in our place. This allows us to be with God when we die, yet it does not remove our desire for sin, nor our proclivity to sin. We still lust, we still get angry, we still feel self-righteous and judgmental just like every other human. For this we are meant to repent. Lately in my life I’ve wondered if I’m really a Christian because I’ve reflected on one sin in particular that I can’t seem to shake off. It is what St. Augustine would call a “besetting” sin, or something that we acknowledge as sin but keep doing, for one reason or another. For some people it’s drugs, for others its anger. The thing about sin is it’s not a mistake. It’s something you deliberately do. So if we keep choosing to do it, can we really say we believe and accept Christ? I have felt hopeless so much because of the shame of being tempted by this sin, that I often just give into it. And yet, I wonder if Sin takes on a different form once saved. Rather than a little leaven, infecting the whole person, perhaps sin becomes a grain of sand, irritating us, but turning us continually to Christ, until eventually it forms a pearl of wisdom and humility in us.

Character of the Week: Demosthenes of Athens

Greek, Athenian statesman most noted for his speeches against Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, collectively known as “philippics.” He shaved half his head to prevent himself going out in public until he had learned to speak without lisp or stammer, and practiced orating with pebbles under his tongue to enhance pronunciation and by the sea to master projection and rhythm.

Born: 384 B.C.

Died: 322 B.C. (62 years old, which is quite good considering the time period.)

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Demosthenes Practicing Oratory by Jean-Jules-Antione Leconte du Nouy (1842-1923)

 

 

 

Of Men and Dragons

It is the beginning of strawberry season in Virginia, and growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles I did not have much occasion to pick fruit for myself. As a litigation attorney most of my job revolves around the misery people inflict upon one another. I find cooking a therapeutic outlet, especially when cooking for others. It’s refreshing to make other people happy. I got it into my head to pick local strawberries and make some jam.

After I got home with my haul, I offered to make whipped cream and strawberries to share with one of my room-mates who was lounging on the couch. He said that two men sharing strawberries and cream was ‘gay’ and that I was welcome to eat them on my own, but he would not participate. ded3475d592c0e6932859cfec4b91250Now I should clarify that this friend is older than I am, from the South, and consistently sarcastic. I am quite literal, which impels me to continually clarify whether he is joking or not. I pressed whether he really meant what he said; he insisted it was very un-manly.

I confess I was quite hurt by what he said. I think this sort of thing happens because the modern mind does not have a good model of what is manly, so it goes to extremes to ensure it is never mistaken for its opposite. But is cooking inherently effeminate? Does my enjoyment of this, and desire to share it make me effeminate? I think not. I think men are like dragons.

Dragons share common characteristics; they are reptiles, they are large, strong, tough, and potentially dangerous. Generally they can breathe fire, have wings and can fly. But it’s important to note that not all dragons have these later abilities.

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Glaurung, the First Dragon.

Glaurung for instance, the first dragon according to J.R.R. Tolkein, did not have wings. Haku the water-dragon from “Spirited Away” could fly without wings, and showed no ability to breathe fire. But those dragons are not lesser dragons because they were different; they were simply an uncommon type of dragon. So too it is with men. Some men are artists, some warriors, some a mixture of both; some are fast, some clever, some strong. Some men have none of these abilities,

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Not all men are equal, but they may still be men. Tyrion Lannister, from Game of Thrones

yet they can move the soul with music. King David was blessed with both the arts of music and war.

I may lack “some of that quick spirit” which is in other men, but I am not a lesser son because of it. Did not Jacob cook the stew while Esau hunted? Yet God chose Jacob to be his instrument. It was Jacob who eventually wrestled with God from evening until morning, not Esau. Paul himself wrote:

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our un-presentable parts are treated with greater modesty……–1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (partial)

Unless something is inherently or explicitly sinful, I do not think we should so casually disdain it because it is different. It is un-christian. I am not a normal type of dragon, but I am no less for it.

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Haku, from Spirited Away.

 

 

Poem of the Week: The Day is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
      Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
      From an eagle in his flight.
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“Mist Raven” by John Avon

I see the lights of the village
      Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
      That my soul cannot resist:
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A feeling of sadness and longing,
      That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
      As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.
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Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.
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Read from some humbler poet,
      Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
      Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
      And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
      Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
      The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
      That follows after prayer.
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Then read from the treasured volume
      The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
      The beauty of thy voice.
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And the night shall be filled with music,
      And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
      And as silently steal away.
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Henry W. Longfellow