December 5, 2012

1. Ten Christian Scenes

The Annunciation
Fra Angelico

The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.... Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. (Luke 1:26-31)

The Visitation
Rogier van der Weyden

Thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age.... And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:36-41)

The Adoration of the Magi
Hans Memling

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.... And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.... And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-11)

The Flight Into Egypt
Like the previous three paintings, this painting depicts Mary in a blue robe

The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod. (Matthew 2:13-15)

Jesus Among the Doctors
Matthias Stomer (Dutch, early 1600s)

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.... They sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. (Luke 2:40-47)

The Baptism of Christ

John did baptize in the wilderness.... And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan.... And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.... And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him, and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Mark 1:4-11)

The Crucifixion

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.... And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, “This Is The King Of The Jews.” (Luke 23:33-38)

The Resurrection (sometimes called “Christ Risen”)

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away, for it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted. Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified. He is risen; he is not here, behold the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:2-6)

The Gardener

In this painting, Jesus is represented as a gardener, because that’s what Mary Magdalene initially supposes him to be. But when Jesus speaks to her by name, Mary realizes who he is.1

Mary Magdalene stood without at the sepulcher weeping.... “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him.... Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. (John 20:11-16)

Doubting Thomas

When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.... But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. (John 20:19-28)

2. The Election

In the last issue, I predicted Romney would win the election by 2.5%. I had the margin of victory right, but the name of the victor wrong (a minor point). I was so sure Romney would win the popular vote that I wanted to place a large bet on Intrade (luckily, I was prevented from placing the bet by the procedures that Intrade has for opening an account; since Intrade is based in Ireland, you can’t open an account with a credit card). Even on the night of the election, I was sure that my forecast would be closer to the outcome than Nate Silver’s (Nate Silver is the pollster for the New York Times).

In fact, Nate Silver’s forecast proved to be strikingly accurate; in the future, no one will want to bet against Silver. Silver was even accurate with respect to Florida; he gave Obama a 50.3% chance of winning Florida, and Obama won Florida by a narrow margin. Silver began as a baseball statistician, and a disciple of Bill James (the movie Moneyball, which deals with a statistical approach to baseball, mentions Bill James). I didn’t think you could forecast an election by crunching numbers, as Silver does, but perhaps you can.

How does a modern statistician, like Bill James or Nate Silver, differ from a traditional statistician? Modern statisticians look more deeply into the numbers, and use more computing power to help them. For example, a traditional statistician might make a list of pitchers who won 20 games three years in a row. A modern statistician, on the other hand, might say, “It’s easier to win 20 games if you’re pitching for a team that scores lots of runs, so we need to look at more than just wins.” One might say that the modern statistician looks at the numbers behind the numbers.

A few days before the election, my confidence in a Romney victory was shaken. The Gallup and Rasmussen polls, which I felt were reliable, showed a sharp drop in Romney’s lead. Perhaps this was due to the big storm (“Sandy”), perhaps to some sort of mysterious momentum in Obama’s favor. So on election day, I still felt Romney would win the popular vote, and probably the electoral vote, but I had more misgivings than I had a week earlier.

One of the most surprising things about the election was the drop in turnout — on both the right and the left. One would have thought that the apparent closeness of the election would inspire more people to vote, and one would have thought that the sharp differences between the candidates would inspire people to vote. Perhaps people were tired of Obama, disillusioned with Obama, but also cool toward Romney.2 It was widely believed that Romney didn’t represent the working class, and his personality was somewhat aloof, distant. Would the Republican party have fared better with a different candidate, with a Ryan-Rubio ticket?

Obama did well with minority groups — blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews, gays, etc. The Democratic party seems to represent the non-white voter and the immigrant voter, while the Republican party seems to represent the white establishment, the Christian establishment, the people who were “here first,” the people who once ran things.

Asians supported Obama by a margin of 3 to 1, perhaps because the fastest-growing segment of the Asian community are people from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, and they may feel that the Republican party has a pro-Christian tendency. Gay voters appeared to make up 5% of the electorate, a higher percentage than in previous elections, prompting some analysts to say that Romney was defeated by the gay vote. Unmarried voters, especially unmarried women, supported Obama.

Democrats are encouraged by the fact that their constituencies are growing, while Republican constituencies are shrinking. As Ross Douthat said, “Reliable Republican constituencies — whites, married couples and churchgoers — are shrinking as a share of the electorate.” Romney was often criticized as a friend of the rich, but in upscale neighborhoods of Manhattan and California, Obama did well; Obama received the support of the very rich and the very poor. Romney tried to win on “pocketbook issues” (jobs and the economy), but Obama appealed to “values” (gay marriage, abortion, etc.).

Despite losing the Presidential election, and many Senate elections, Republicans kept control of the House. Of Ohio’s 16 House seats, Republicans won 12, and of Pennsylvania’s 18 House seats, Republicans won 13. Democrats say that Republican success in House races is due to gerrymandering. Perhaps so, but Republicans couldn’t gerrymander unless they first won state-level elections. Democratic voters tend to live in urban areas, small areas, making it easy for Republicans to gerrymander — easier than it would be if Democratic voters were widely dispersed.

A large number of Americans are characterized as “poor,” and receive welfare, food stamps, or healthcare (Medicaid). In 2011, “a record 70.4 million Americans were enrolled in Medicaid. That’s about 22 percent of the population.”3 The federal government pays about 57% of Medicaid expenses.4 Total welfare costs in the U.S. are about $1 trillion per year, about 80% of which is paid by the federal government. About one-third of welfare recipients are white, one-third Hispanic, and one-third black.

California has one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, though only 13% of the nation’s population. California’s population is only 40% white, down from 80% in 1970.5 Hispanics make up 38% of California’s population, Asians 14%, and blacks 6%. Once a Republican stronghold, California has became solidly Democratic.

[California] now has the worst state credit rating in America, thanks to chronic overspending, massive state debt, and the clout of the pension reform-resisting unions.... Only the very rich and the very poor — along with the 1.8 million who collect state and local government paychecks... can afford to make their homes in the Golden State these days.... During the decade from 2000 through 2010, California lost nearly 1.1 million residents, with Texas alone receiving about one-fourth of them.6

California isn’t the only solidly-Democratic state with shaky finances. Illinois is also solidly-Democratic, and also has shaky finances; Illinois has been classed as a “Bottom 5 Sinkhole State.”7

Will the U.S. as a whole go the way of California and Illinois — solidly Democratic, powerful unions, rising debt, falling credit rating?

3. Demographic Trends

It’s often said that the number of Hispanics in the U.S. is rising sharply, but a recent article in the Weekly Standard says that the Hispanic population may be starting to stabilize. This is due to the sluggish American economy (a sluggish economy is less attractive to immigrants), the falling fertility rate among Hispanic-Americans, and the falling fertility rate of Hispanics living outside the U.S.

America’s net annual immigration numbers started declining in 2006.... In the most recent years there’s been a net flow of zero immigrants from Mexico.... Mexico’s fertility rate — which has been heading downward on an express elevator since the 1970s — started nearing the replacement rate. The data are slightly conflicting on how low it is — some people believe it has already dipped below 2.1, others put the number just over 2.2. But everyone agrees that the trajectory is downward still. And that the same is true of nearly every other country south of the American border.... The boom days of Hispanic immigration may already be a thing of the past.... The fertility rate of Hispanic Americans has been moving downward faster than it has for any other ethnic group.

The article says that there’s a sharp rise in the number of unmarried people, and in the number of people who don’t have children.

In Europe, Asia, and most advanced countries, people are running away from marriage, children, and family life at an amazing rate. To pick just a smattering of data points from the highlight reel: Thirty percent of German women today say that they do not intend to have children. In Japan in 1960, 20 percent of women between 25 and 29 had never married. Today the number is more than 60 percent.... Once a society begins veering away from marriage and childbearing, it becomes a “self-reinforcing mechanism” in which the cult of the individual holds greater and greater allure.

The article says that the decline of the family is a problem for society, so Republicans should encourage marriage rather than competing with Democrats for the votes of the unmarried:

Rather than entering a bidding war with the Democratic party for the votes of Julias [i.e., singles], perhaps the GOP should try to convince them to get married, instead. At the individual level, there’s nothing wrong with forgoing marriage. But at scale, it is a dangerous proposition for a society. That’s because marriage, as an institution, is helpful to all involved. Survey after survey has shown that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than their single counterparts. All of the research suggests that having married parents dramatically improves the well-being of children, both in their youth and later as adults.... As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project — liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state — possible.

But who will bell the cat? How can Republicans possibly persuade people to marry?

4. The Death of Love, and How to Prevent It

An article in the New York Times discusses happiness, especially marital happiness. The title of the article is “New Love: A Short Shelf Life,” and it says, “newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years. Then the special joy wears off and they are back where they started, at least in terms of happiness.” The familiar isn’t as exciting as the novel: “Familiarity may or may not breed contempt; but research suggests that it breeds indifference. Or, as Raymond Chandler wrote: ‘The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine.’” The article is by Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does (one might compare this book to Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling On Happiness).

What if the proverb is true, what if “familiarity breeds contempt”? Surely contempt can undermine love and marriage, just as its opposite, respect, is an important part of love. The erosion of respect, as a result of familiarity, threatens long-term relationships. As Schopenhauer said, “no man is a hero to his valet” — in other words, no one is admired by a person who sees him on a daily basis, who sees him before he combs his hair. It’s difficult for respect to last, just as it’s difficult for desire to last. The decline of both respect and desire produces a high divorce rate.

Men seem to have an innate desire for young women, but women don’t seem to share this desire for youth — at least, not to the same extent. But both men and women have a desire for variety. Indeed, Lyubomirsky says that women have a stronger desire for variety than men:

We are biologically hard-wired to crave variety. Variety and novelty affect the brain in much the same way that drugs do.... In long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex, and to lose it sooner. Why? Because women’s idea of passionate sex depends far more centrally on novelty than does men’s.

How can a married couple prevent the fire of love from dying out? Lyubomirsky says that, even when we’re surrounded by familiarity, we can create variety and surprise. She recommends “changes in routine, departures from the expected.... Surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it.”

This is what travelling does: it surprises us, grabs our attention, sticks in our memory. Permit me to quote my book of aphorisms:

Time flies by, and life grows stale, when we’re living according to the daily routine to which we’re habituated. On the other hand, time passes slowly when we’re traveling; as Schopenhauer said, “When we’re traveling, one month seems longer than four months spent at home.”

Lyubomirsky recommends that couples engage in “exciting” activities as opposed to those that are merely “pleasant”:

Researchers gave upper-middle-class middle-aged couples a list of activities that both parties agreed were “pleasant” (like creative cooking, visiting friends or seeing a movie) or “exciting” (skiing, dancing or attending concerts) but that they had enjoyed only infrequently. Researchers instructed each couple to select one of these activities each week and spend 90 minutes doing it together. At the end of 10 weeks, the couples who engaged in the “exciting” activities reported greater satisfaction in their marriage than those who engaged in “pleasant” or enjoyable activities together.

Lyubomirsky quotes Woody Allen: “A relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” She says that the newlyweds who experience a let-down after two years may re-discover marital happiness when their children leave home: “In the freedom of the so-called empty nest, partners are left to discover one another — and often their early bliss — once again.... Marital happiness reaches one of its highest peaks during the period after offspring have moved out of the family home.”

© L. James Hammond 2012
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1. Kipling deals with this theme in his short story “The Gardener.”

For more paintings on Biblical themes, click here. back

2. “About 11 million fewer Americans voted for the two major-party candidates in 2012 — 119 million, down from 130 million in 2008. In fact, even though our population has steadily increased in the last eight years (adding 16 million to the 2004 estimate of 293 million Americans), about 2 million fewer Americans pulled the lever for Obama and Romney than for George W. Bush and John Kerry.... Obama lost an incredible 9 million voters from his 2008 haul.” National Review back
3. Orange County Register back
4. Wikipedia back
5. Wikipedia back
6. Weekly Standard back
7. See Wikipedia and IFTA.

Some Republicans were troubled by Obama’s language. In a Rolling Stone interview, Obama called Romney “a bullshitter.” Urging his supporters to vote, Obama said, “voting is the best revenge.” This remark probably comes from an old Spanish proverb, “Living well is the best revenge,” which found its way into George Herbert’s collection of maxims, Jacula Prudentum. The maxim was popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who apparently heard it from his friend Gerald Murphy.

Obama’s heated rhetoric, negative advertising, and combative attitude in the second and third debates not only demeans the office of President, but also undermines the civility that democracy requires. Romney, by contrast, was elaborately courteous, even making a kind of apology (in one of the debates) for using the common term “Obamacare.” back