The Long View 2006-04-20: Electoral College Reform; Zeitgeist & Conversion; Acis & Galatea

I've never quite been convinced that Electoral College reform will actually pan out to be a good idea, but John Reilly liked it.

Electoral College Reform; Zeitgeist & Conversion; Acis & Galatea

This is the best political reform proposal I have seen in a long time, ably summarized here by one of its opponents, Tara Ross:

This latest anti-Electoral College effort, the Campaign for the National Popular Vote, was announced on February 23. Five states are currently considering the NPV plan: Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, California, and Louisiana. The Colorado state senate acted on the bill quickly, approving it on April 14.

If enacted, the NPV bill would create an interstate compact among consenting states. Each participating state would agree to allocate its entire slate of electors to the winner of the national popular vote. The compact would go into effect when states representing 270 electoral votes (enough to win the presidency) have agreed to the compact.

The National Popular Vote Website is here.

It is, of course, a scandal that presidential campaigns ignore the largest states, because the winner-take-all system of electoral votes makes it a waste of effort for a candidate to try to increase the size of his minority share in a state where the majority of the vote is certain to go to the other candidate. We saw the fruit of this system in the election of 2000, when the 18th-century voting mechanism chimed "cuckoo! cuckoo!" and actually selected the candidate with fewer popular votes. President Bush himself is reported to be not opposed in principle to Electoral College reform, since he recognizes that under such a system he would still have won; he would simply have spent a little more time increasing his popular majority in his home state. Many Republicans, however, treasure a morbid and inexplicable attachment to the present disaster-prone system.

The Electoral College victory of the Election of 2000 was a blow to the legitimacy of the Bush Administration from which it never recovered, not even after a fairly decisive popular-vote victory in 2004. Can we please defuse this timebomb before 2008?

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Speaking of regional majorities, hat tip to Danny Yee for this valuable collection of maps showing the Distribution of religions in the United States. The trick is to spot the Methodists.

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Meanwhile at First Things, Joseph Bottum notes that conversions have different cultural dimensions in different generations:

It’s common among Catholic commentators to look back on the era from the late 1930s to the early 1960s and see a great time of conversions in America and England...Now, it’s not quite as common among Catholic commentators to look back on the 1990s and see another great era of conversions, but I think future generations will name it so....But what may be more interesting is the difference between the allure of Catholicism in the 1940s and 1950s, and the allure of Catholicism in the 1990s—for somewhere in that difference lies the explanation for the nearly complete non-existence of Catholic art and Catholic literature at this moment...Robert Lowell is...a good case study. It wasn’t an aesthetics the young convert Lowell needed for his poetry; he had plenty of his own. And it wasn’t a morality; to read Ian Hamilton’s biography is to realize that Lowell wouldn’t know an ethics if it whacked him upside the head. What he needed was a metaphysics, an ontology, a thickening of the world by a meaning that lies outside the world. What he needed was a cosmology.

The difference has less to do with changes in the nature of Catholicism than with changes in the nature of the arts, I suspect.

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Speaking of the arts, I'm not much of an opera buff, but my eldest sister got a pair of tickets to a performance by the New York City Opera of Handel's rarely staged Acis and Galatea, so we went to see it on April 18.

The story is from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and there is not much to it. Acis the shepherd and Galatea the nymph are lovers whose idyll is ended when Galatea rejects the suit of the giant Polyphemus, who then crushes Acis with a rock. Galatea is reminded by the other nymphs and shepherds that she is half divine, so she gives Acis a kind of immortality by turning him into a fountain.

Part of the reason the piece is so rarely seen, perhaps, is that its barely an opera; it has been characterized as a cross between a masque and an oratorio. The libretto is by John Gay; it's mostly about how keen springtime is. Handel's score is not memorable, but it is as tasty as sugar candy. The Mark Lamos's staging was spare, as befits the story, and the coustuming was hilarious: everyone except Polyphemus was in the sort of beachwear you might see in an Old Navy commercial (beach chairs are actually provided) and Polyphemus is a yob in a jumpsuit, wearing a helmet lamp. The small-scale model of the main stage that raised and lowered him into the action was particularly clever. A high time was had by all.

The one dispiriting part of the evening was Lincoln Center. It had been at least five years since I was last there, and longer since I attended a performance there. It has not changed much, but this time I was struck by how shabby the place is. It's not just that the rugs in the opera house need to be replaced. The Center was built shabby. The lighting fixtures might almost be lava lamps, so anachronistic have they become. The very paving is annoying. The concrete is flecked with streaks of black, perhaps to suggest a Jackson Pollack canvas. Pollock has not actually aged all that badly, but this kind of International Style has.

Now that I think about it, Lincoln Center grated on me because I had walked there through Times Square, which embodies the future that the designers of Lincoln Center claimed to be anticipating. They got it wrong in every detail. The future turned out to be fun.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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