Saturday, January 3, 2009

Perfect Songs: "Tumbling Dice" (1972)

The Rolling Stones

Michael Mumbles, Mike Rumbles

R.E.M. performed "Radio Free Europe" on the David Letterman Show in 1983, the band's first time on broadcast TV. Mike Mills may be the best bass player since the Who's John Entwistle. Only God and Michael Stipe know what the song's about.

No BlackBerry Whine Served Here

Founding Nixon Center executive director Steve Clemons disses the iPhone:

I recently met a high-ranking AT&T executive who confided to me that he/she keeps a Verizon phone around at all times because AT&T's phone signal is undependable.

Despite hearing that advice, I allowed my staff colleagues at the New America Foundation to push me away from my old, always dependable LG Verizon phone to a new Apple made 3G I-Phone. I've had it for about four months, and I've been practically miserable ever since, at least in a phone sense. I never know whether I will be able to connect with people who call. I really can't do cell phone interviews on radio any longer -- and after I landed on the once aborted United flight to JFK on New Year's eve -- I needed to place a call to a transport company, and my call was dropped seven times despite all the bars being at "full" on the phone.

I have a very expensive piece of junk as far as I'm concerned -- and am on the verge of going back to Verizon. So while this may sound like personal bitching -- I can't believe that I can barely connect in this so-called broadband world we are supposed to be living in.

A Prayer For The Gaza War

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen. BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

Song For The 10th Night Of Christmas

Franked Male

Charles McGrath, going deeper with "Frost/Nixon" actor Frank Langella that most reporters, reveals the key role played by a fellow Frank at The New Nixon as he prepared to portray 37:
To prepare for the role Mr. Langella visited the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., spent hours watching tape at the Paley Center for Media, the broadcasting museum in Manhattan and interviewed Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, Frank Gannon — anyone he could think of who actually knew Nixon.
Read about Langella's visit to the Nixon Library here.

Throwing Cold Water On Red-Hot Kindle

The stock market watchers at the Motley Fool say Christmas was a setback for Kris Kindle:

The leading online retailer fumbled its handling of its e-book reader over the holidays. A month after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pitched the Kindle on Oprah Winfrey's show, the company ran out of the $359 devices by late November, just days before the start of the critical holiday shopping season.

Amazon may have profited from third-party resellers moving marked-up Kindles through its site, but asking potential buyers to wait "11 to 13 weeks" for deliveries cuts against the grain of digital delivery's speed and convenience. Even if Amazon is simply holding back until Kindle 2.0 is launched, it either underestimated the power of Oprah, or underestimated its ability to sell the gizmo.

A Dallas journalist is nonetheless experiencing Kindle love. She likes it for the books, but it could save the news business as well. Speaking of which, USA Today is now Kindled.

Baker's Not So Fabulous Bush Boys

It's not surprising that "The Huffington Post" would run a long expose on George W. Bush's National Guard service. What's surprising is that it's an excerpt from Russ Baker's new book, Family of Secrets. I've read about half of it, including all the Nixon chapters. It's a massive exercise in conjecture which hints that George H. W. Bush had something to do with JFK's assassination (Kennedy wouldn't do the bidding of Texas oligarchs, who were fiercely protective of the oil depletion allowance) and also oiled the skids for President Nixon's downfall because of his independent-mindedness on economic and foreign policy. Here's an example of Baker's style:
Maureen Dean, before meeting John during his White House residency, had been a Dallas-based flight attendant. She had been married to George Owen, who worked for Clint Murchison Jr. -- a central figure in the oil depletion-[Oswald associate] George de Mohrenschildt circle. At minimum, it certainly is a small world.
In part by drawing lines such as that between mid-century elites -- Baker must've had a thousand yellow stickies on his dining room wall -- he asserts that the CIA's behind almost everything in Washington's recent history, including John Dean. Even Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, who calls Dean a personal friend, is drawn into the fray. The tentacles, Baker hints, reach even that far.

We Nixonians are instinctively drawn to anything which exonerates our man, as Family of Secrets largely does. Baker draws on under-appreciated Watergate findings by Jim Hougan, Colodny-Gettlin, and most recently James Rosen. His book was praised by Nixon biographer Roger Morris and also carries an endorsement of the author (though not, it appears, of the book itself) by Bill Moyers. It's not that more scholarship about the Vietnam-Watergate era isn't needed, particularly since the corrupt FBI's self-protective machinations against an elected President have been cast in sharp relief by W. Mark Felt's death.

And yet time after time, Baker makes fateful implications and suppositions without quite closing the deal. Conviction by connection isn't the same as history. Which brings us back to "The Huffington Post"'s seeming opportunism in running a Baker excerpt. If it's in your political or ideological interests to promote Family of Secrets on W.'s Guard service (as Huffington does) or indeed on the alleged CIA frame-up of RN during Watergate, aren't you endorsing his whole enterprise, including, especially, the dark hints about the Bush family and the events of November 1963?

Coming Recovery Will Cost You $675 Billion

There are some relatively optimistic economists out there -- the ones who work for banks, corporations, and trade associations, says the New York Times:

If the dominoes fall the right way, the economy should bottom out and start growing again in small steps by July, according to the December survey of 50 professional forecasters by Blue Chip Economic Indicators. Investors seemed to be in a similarly optimistic mood on Friday, bidding up stocks by about 3 percent.

But in the absence of that government stimulus [at least $675 billion over two years], the grim economic headlines of 2008 will probably continue for some time, these forecasters acknowledge.

“Without this federal largess, the consensus forecast for 2009 is for the recession to continue through most of the year,” said Randell E. Moore, executive editor of Blue Chip Economic Indicators, which conducts the monthly survey of forecasters.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Nizar Rayyan: Jews "Are A Cursed People"

Two years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Hamas military leader and Islamist theologian Nizar Rayyan, killed on Jan. 1 along with two of his four wives and some of their children, whom he kept close by in the apparent hope that they might be martyred with him. Goldberg:
I asked him if he believed, as some Hamas theologians do (and certainly as many Hezbollah leaders do) that Jews are the "sons of pigs and apes." He gave me an interesting answer that reflects a myopic reading of the Koran. "Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to reproduce. So it is not literally true that Jews today are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They are a cursed people."

Watching History In Person

Chelsea Gilbert, 8th grade teacher at the Mission Parish School in San Juan Capistrano, had the exciting idea to take her class to the inauguration of the next President (whoever it was; she hatched the plan before the election). They're raising over $50,000 to pull it off. Thanks to Jackie Franke, with whom I go to church at St. John's, the kids visited the Nixon Library two weeks ago. Read their story here.

Can Hamas Learn?

Hamas wants to emasculate Fatah. According to Shmuel Rosner, Israel will win the war if it succeeds in beginning to pacify Hamas:
The outcome of the military campaign, which is still in its early stages, will help observers decide whether the operation was a wise move on Israel's part. The outcome of negotiations leading to the conclusion of the campaign—the terms under which a renewed cease-fire will be achieved—will also determine whether the Gaza war was successful. But most of all, it is the expectations of all parties involved that will dictate how this round of violence will be perceived by Israelis, Palestinians, and the rest of the world. Anyone who expects this to be the last round is delusional. Anyone who hopes that the days of Hamas rule in Gaza are numbered is unrealistic. Only those who think Hamas will learn a lesson that might make it less likely to permit the shelling of Israeli citizens—while maintaining its power and its ability to cause trouble whenever it chooses—might be right. Time will tell.

Sometimes The Fake Tree Wins

While trees wait to be mulched in Yorba Linda, California, the noble plywood still stands tall on the ninth day of Christmas, cheering a foggy Back Bay in Newport Beach.

"Have Them Send A Chopper, Daddy!"


A travel-savvy friend sent this link to a photo feature of 24 destinations deemed overrated by LA Times readers. Some are obvious, I suppose. Las Vegas? Vulgar and expensive, said a grumpy reader. Of course she hated gambling, so you have to wonder whether she and her husband had done enough research. Nothing to do on Catalina Island? I guess I can buy that, although the buffalo, imported years ago for a movie shoot, are worth hunting down.

But also on the list were Bali, Costa Rica, and Greece, where notwithstanding its being the birthplace of democracy the dissenting couple had a bad experience as a result of loud music and people smoking too much in a nightclub. It's a free country; blame it on Pericles.

As I read through the escalating grumps, I said to myself, "Somebody had better not complain about the Grand Canyon." The friend who sent me the link probably said the same thing to himself about his beloved Hawaii, which didn't make the list. But sure enough, here's bellyache #18:

Although the canyon is certainly a geological sight to behold, the campgrounds are atrocious, about as charming as pitching a tent in the alley behind your local big-box store and just as close to nature. Hiking is limited to down the canyon and up the canyon, and although, yeah, I know that's why you're there, not every member of every family is capable of such strenuous effort. Despite the family demographic, you won't find playgrounds to keep the kids grounded. The Grand Canyon is a great destination if you are under 30 with a good prostate, balance and a taste for trail mix.

The thing is, looking at the Grand Canyon and walking in and out of it are why we go there. That fact actually can't be logically modified by a "while" or an "although." For the same reason, you just can't say, "Although Renoir's 'Luncheon Of The Boating Party' is a beautiful painting, it doesn't say anything funny or serve caffeine-free Diet Coke." In other words, the Grand Canyon is a great destination, period. When a culture has reached the point where people are willing to complain in print, over their own names, about the alleged shortcomings of the most beautiful places in the known universe, we might consider redoubling our efforts in the "count your blessings" department.

One of my blogfollowers (my elder daughter) and I walked in and out of the canyon in November 1998. Quick energy from trail mix, taken in small handsful every 20 minutes, was our salvation. While my prostate was already well beyond 30, the attraction, which indeed has fewer rest rooms than Universal Studios, offers more than enough bushes to hide behind.

On the canyon floor, whose two-billion-year-old rock should give the young earth folks something to thing about, we stayed at the Phantom Ranch, where (at least back then) visitors were offered either steak or beef stew. In the men's bunkhouse, I lay awake most of the night, listening to the rain and wondering how we were possibly going to make it out again.

Yet walking up the Bright Angel Trail the second day was actually easier than the descent. Something about what walking straight downhill for six or seven hours does to your calve muscles. About a third of a way down, Valerie, 13, had sat down on a rock and said, "Daddy, I can't go any further. Have them send a chopper." The next day, she didn't complain once. She walked, and rested, and walked some more, for nearly nine hours. I will never be able to describe the feeling of arriving with my daughter at the trailhead. Overrated, huh? Top five experiences of my life. The LA Times and its reader might consider giving it another try. I suggest they wear two pair of socks, however. I can still feel the blisters.

Photo by Steven Pinker

New Ideas In Troubled Times

Bill Simon on how the wealth of principled conservatives can help our economy recover.

Imagine: Frost Complaining More Than We

Sir David Frost is steamed about the 10-15% of Ron Howard and Peter Morgan's "Frost/Nixon" that he says is pure fiction. Does he mean the drunken phone call from President Nixon that never happened? RN saying that Watergate was "not illegal" as opposed to aggressive measures to combat domestic extremists during wartime? His appearance before the "Orthodontists Society of Houston?"

Those weren't the fictional parts of the movie that piqued Frost. They were the parts about Frost:
I voluntarily gave up my rights to editorial control of it. I'm not complaining but it does mean that 10 to 15 per cent of the film is fiction. I wasn't just a talk show host before (Richard Nixon). I'd done British prime ministers - Harold Wilson, Ted Heath - all the U.S. presidential candidates, Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan. I think Peter (Morgan) did it this way to make me out to be the underdog - more a showman than a journalist.
For Nixon insider Frank Gannon's review of the movie, which received the coveted full five Checkers rating at The New Nixon, go here. Mine's at the second link above.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What We Do Today And Tomorrow

Israel's attack on the radical Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip is in its sixth day. These details from a New York Times report help underscore the cultural gulf between the combatants in this heartbreaking New Year's war, in which about 400 have died so far (between a tenth and a quarter of them civilians):
The Israeli air force on Thursday afternoon bombed the house of Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader, killing him along with two of his wives and four children, Palestinian hospital officials said. Mr. Rayyan was the first high ranking Hamas figure killed so far in the Israeli campaign.

The Israeli military confirmed the strike and described Mr. Rayyan, who was 46 and lived in Jabaliya, north of Gaza City, as an extremist who had helped plan suicide bombings and had sent his own son on a suicide mission in 2001.
Rayyan was a polygamist who sent his son to die in a suicide mission and purposely exposed other family members to death today. I don't write that to call him names. They're the bald facts of the life he chose to lead.

Tolerated or encouraged in most of the Islamic world, polygamy is countenanced by the Koran and is thought to have been practiced by the prophet himself. It is said that after his first wife died, he took others to protect them from economic privation. While the practice has its proponents in the West (I was surprised to learn that the Utah ACLU opposes the LDS's ban on multiple wives), it's inconsistent with modern principles of equality and mutuality among free individuals. The Koran, it should be noted, does not permit women to take up to four husbands. Polyandry was never a Mormon practice, either.

By devaluing women, polygamy seems to encourage the kind of deep-set thinking whereby a military leader is excused and even celebrated by others in his culture for keeping his family close to him even when he's being targeted by an enemy, as Rayyan has known to be the case since the Israeli bombardment began. Instead, the Times recounts, he refused to leave his home, and even took reporters up on the roof to to call further attention to himself (and of course the women and children living downstairs). Had he survived, as the wording of the article suggests, he had even more women and children to offer as martyrs. After all,
Mr. Rayyan was known in Gaza a popular Hamas preacher who openly extolled and championed the idea of martyrdom.
Women such as Rayyan's wives are victims both of historical circumstance and the males in authority in their culture and families. As long as they are willing to keep following orders and give their lives for the sake of destroying Israel, the war will go on.

In fairness, something similar (but not the same) can be said about those who are willing to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. All wars ultimately depend on the willingness of soldiers to fight. But that is as far as the moral equivalence goes. Whatever Israel's own sins or excesses, Hamas is getting exactly what it wanted this week. The purpose of its missile attacks on Israel was to provoke a disproportionate response that would emasculate the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the more moderate Fatah party in control of the West Bank. Protesters filling the Arab street are playing their parts as well, condemning an attack on Hamas that Hamas did everything it could to bring about. This wasting circular logic will continue until someone, or a preponderance of someones, finally says, "Stop."

As I wrote in March 2008 after Al Abu Dhaim's murderous attack on a seminary in Jerusalem:
The operation fit perfectly into Hamas’s plan to promote chaos by provoking Israel and ultimately discrediting Abbas in the eyes of his people. It’s what violent extremists so often do — destroy hope by attacking the center and by exposing everyone residing there to the temptation of becoming violent extremists themselves in their grief, rage, and sheer frustration.

So how can the world’s responsible voices not join in support for Olmert and Abbas, Bush and Rice? How can we not keep faith with the hope that Israel and Palestine will someday live in peace, side by side? How do we keep extremists from wresting control of events from those who are committed to peace? Palestinians I know seem prepared for this work..., prepared to live into the truth that God wants them to share the Holy Land. Last summer I spent over a week in Al Abu Dhaim’s own east Jerusalem, albeit in the cloistered grounds of St. George’s Cathedral, seat of Jerusalem’s Episcopal bishop. Bright young Arab Palestinian Anglicans (better read that twice) working, studying, and worshiping at St. George’s reminded me of Cold War-era Muscovites in that they were capable of sitting up until after midnight one night after another talking about politics. Their brief against Israel is as heartfelt and seemingly cogent as Israelis’s against them. One is tempted to choose sides and then compelled not to, both by a newcomer’s humility as well as the feeling that Israelis and Palestinians could play they-did-it-first all the way back to Abram and the Amalekites without resolving anything. In the end, all that matters (this is admittedly a theological statement more than a sophisticated political position) is what we do today and tomorrow.

Uncle Jay Explains 2008

Hat tip to Mark Shier

Hearts Turning Outwards

From the Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year's message:
[W]hat about a New Year in which we try and ask consistently about our own personal decisions and about public polices, national and international, ‘Does this feel like something that looks after our real treasure, something that keeps our real wealth safe - the lives and welfare of the youngest and most vulnerable?’

Jesus said where our treasure is, that’s where our hearts will be. Our hearts will be in a very bad way if they’re focused only on the state of our finances. They’ll be healthy if they are capable of turning outwards, looking at the real treasure that is our fellow human beings.

January 1: The Feast Of The Holy Name

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For A Rising 2009

The good people at "No Depression," the best-titled magazine in the universe, are not unexpectedly exulting about the PE's impending inauguration. All power to them and him. We are especially one nation under God at these times, and all Americans of good will wish our new President and his family Godspeed, just as they give thanks for the best efforts of President Bush.

"No Depression" also posted this Bruce Springsteen appearance at an Obama rally just before the election, a little speech followed by a solo accoustic performance of "The Rising." The song doesn't fit well with politics. It's about the sacramental self-sacrifice of brave firefighters and police officers, both Democrats and Republicans, on Sept. 11. But it's his song, and it's a magnificent one, so here goes:


On the New Nixon version of this post, an Episcopal Church colleague and I had the following exchange of comments:
  1. thomas bushnell, bsg on December 30th, 2008 9:24 pm

    what about the possibility that president Bush did not give his best effort? or the possibility that a little more humility might have saved, oh, thousands or more of needlessly lost lives?

    i recall Bush having declared, early on, that “responsibility” was a call-word for him and his party, that the party of “accountability” was supposed to be his. well, at what point, exactly, does he get held accountable?

    i’m all for responsibility and accountability. it is sad that the republican party is so firmly set against it. i wonder today if Bush were asked if he could think of any mistakes he has made, whether he could come up with a better answer than last time?

  2. John H. Taylor on December 30th, 2008 10:27 pm

    We may go ’round and ’round on Iraq, with the war’s congressional supporters, including the secretary of state-designate, and media boosters such as Andrew Sullivan and “The New Republic,” I’m sure, wanting to join in the accountability process. Mine was a modest suggestion that we give thanks for W.’s best efforts, whatever we take them to be. In recent weeks I’ve read articles praising him for dramatically increasing funding for community health clinics, the HIV-AIDS project in Africa, and the absence of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. I suppose it’s possible to argue nonetheless that he made no best effort of any kind. It’s a free country!

Was RN "Forced Out?" Ask Mark Felt

An intriguing UPI interview with director Ron Howard. Reading Peter Morgan's play "Frost/Nixon" and then seeing it on stage, he began to ask himself some good scholar's questions about RN:
"I was rediscovering (the interviews by) watching the play, sort of realizing how brilliant a man Nixon really is," the filmmaker said. "Realizing he had a lot of tough decisions to make. ... (Going through in my mind:) 'Did he step down because it was the politically expedient thing to do? Was he forced out by political enemies -- the media. What really went on?'"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Neocons Waxing Neolib?

As historians get to work studying how foreign policy neoconservatives captured the heart and mind of the Bush administration, Jacob Heilbrunn argues that the neocons themselves may be getting set to run home to mamma -- the Democratic Party in general and the interventionist secretary of state-designate, Hillary Clinton, in particular. According to Heilbrunn, who also writes for the Nixon Center's "National Interest" (this article is in "The American Conservative"), the neocons never much liked Republicans:

There can be no doubt that as staunch cold warriors, or, if you prefer, liberal internationalists, the neocons viewed the Republican Party, which was led by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, both realists and promoters of détente, with unease. The neocons, who had started out as Trotskyists, espoused a social-democratic program in domestic policy. Essentially, they were Hubert Humphrey Democrats. The neocons clustered around Sen. Scoop Jackson, whose adviser was Richard Perle. They didn’t want détente with the GOP itself; they beseeched Democrats to decry their opponents as selling out human rights and American ideals.

Ron Howard And I, Molding Young Minds

Occasionally I get questions about President Nixon from middle- and high-school students. In the interests of transparency, and so people don't think we're too cravenly exploiting such access to impressionable young minds, here's the latest exchange:
How did the complications after the burglary affect Nixon's presidency? Please Explain.

The Watergate burglary on June 17, 1972, was solved pretty quickly. The burglars were arrested and put on trial. The problem for President Nixon was the appearance that he had participated in a cover-up of the degree to which people working at his re-election committee and in the White House itself were involved in the burglary by knowing about it in advance and even planning it. There is no evidence that President Nixon knew about the burglary ahead of time. Until his death in 1994, he never really understood why it had even taken place. But he did acknowledge after his resignation in 1974 that he had not worked hard enough to get to the bottom of it. On the White House tapes in June 1972 and again in March 1973, he is heard seeming to agree to a cover-up. I don't believe that he had criminal intent. But many people believe he did.

If the Watergate never happened, how do you think history would have judged Nixon's presidency?

Without Watergate, Richard Nixon's Presidency would be remembered as a great success because of his opening to China, improved relations with the Soviet Union, nuclear arms limitations, ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam and return of our prisoners of war, and course-changing policies in the Middle East, plus his progressive domestic policies including the war on cancer, establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and peaceful desegregation of public schools in the deep south.

How badly did Nixon damage the country? How long did the country take to heal?

The United States suffered because of President Nixon's actions during Watergate as well as the severe cultural, social, and political strains placed on it during the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially our argument with ourselves about the Vietnam war, which he inherited from the Johnson and Kennedy administrations. In a way, the argument over Vietnam continues, as you perhaps have seen in the debate over the Iraq war.

What problems occurred in the economy after the burglary? How did they resolve the problem?

While Watergate had no direct economic consequences, the deteriorating economy in 1973-74, especially rising gasoline prices and a recession, made President Nixon more unpopular than he would have been if Watergate had unfolded in good economic times.

Perfect Songs: "Six Days On The Road" (1963)

Steve Earle and the Dukes (song by Carl Montgomery and Earl Green)


As the Cuban government celebrates the proud achievement of perpetuating Stalinism for 50 years, a reprise of a couple of my New Nixon blog entries from early 2008, as Fidel passed the fatigues to Raul. The first, posted on Feb. 23, was written after a distinguished journalist tried to lay what he characterized as the failure of U.S. policy at the feet of you-know-who:

In this NPR commentary, Daniel Schorr (a distinguished reporter and commentator and regular participant in Nixon Center programs in Washington) argues that 50 years of misguided U.S. policy toward Cuba began when Vice President Nixon, after meeting Fidel Castro, said he was “incredibly naive about communism.” Schorr implies that every misstep in U.S. Cuba policy, from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Kennedy Administration’s assassination schemes, grew from RN’s observation. That’s hard to believe based on Mr. Nixon’s complete analysis, contained in a long memo he sent President Eisenhower after meeting alone with Castro for three hours in April 1959:

Whatever we may think of him he is going to be a great factor in the development of Cuba and very possibly in Latin American affairs generally. He seems to be sincere. He is either incredibly naive about communism or under Communist discipline — my guess is the former, and as I have already implied his ideas as to how to run a government or an economy are less developed that those of almost any world figure I have met in 50 countries. But because he has the power to lead to which I have referred, we have no choice but at least to try to orient him in the right direction.

When Castro argued that his people didn’t want free elections because they’d produced bad results in the past, Mr. Nixon replied that he should therefore hold elections as soon as possible “to restore the faith of the people in the democratic processes.” Castro soon demonstrated that he had no interest in redeeming Cuban democracy. As for the naive faith in communism Mr. Nixon identified, it laid waste to Cuba’s economy and turned it into Moscow’s pawn (and a potential ground zero) in the missile crisis of 1962.

Mr. Nixon acknowledged the force of Castro’s personality, predicted his regional influence, and tried to persuade him to serve his people. How could he have done better?

And from Feb. 19:
One of Richard Nixon’s last acts as an elder statesman was calling on the U.S. to drop its generations-long embargo of Cuba. In his book Beyond Peace, published posthumously in 1994, he said that it was time for those who hoped squeezing Castro would drive him from power to cry uncle. Fourteen more years of the embargo have amply proved Mr. Nixon right. Instead, he wrote in ‘94, since Castro no longer posed a threat to the U.S. or its interests, “[I]t is time to shift the central focus of our policies from hurting Cuba’s government to helping its people….This means we should drop the economic embargo and open the way to trade, investment, and economic interaction, while insisting that ideas and information be allowed to flow as freely as goods.” Until now, U.S. policymakers have chosen to wait Castro out. As he leaves the stage, perhaps it’s set for a last-act flourish by President Bush: A visit to Havana, Nixon-in-China style.

Too late for W. An opportunity for O?

The World Has Seen A Great Light

Star tip to the Rev. Cn. Joanna Satorius

Hard Times Are Theologically Neutral

As Episcopalians leave the church in disputes over women's ordination and the sacramental status of gay and lesbian people, much is made of the financial difficulties sometimes faced by those who remain. But in hard times, those who have left suffer, too, as this Wall Street Journal article shows:

The rector of [St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Easton, Maryland], Bishop [Joel Marcus] Johnson, attracted like-minded conservatives who disliked Episcopal innovations, such as ordaining female priests. In 2005, the church borrowed $850,000 to buy a much larger space that had once belonged to a Roman Catholic parish.

The 1868 Gothic revival structure was large for Bishop Johnson's congregation of 50 people. But the gregarious Midwesterner, who once raised money for a ballet troupe and orchestra, said he was confident his ministry and donations would grow. "I'm well liked, I'm a lucky man," he says he felt at the time. He wooed real-estate agents, bankers and well-heeled locals -- some of whom didn't even attend the church -- and received pledges worth $200,000.

Some donors said they were impressed with the bishop's generous food pantry and help given to local Hispanics. For a time, Bishop Johnson said Mass in Spanish on Friday nights for workers at a crabmeat processor, and the parish also offered English classes.

"He served a part of this community that often times does not get served well," says Lee Denny, president of the local General Motors dealership. Mr. Denny, an elder in Easton's Presbyterian Church, donated $10,000.

But expenses mounted. There were mice in the basement and bats in the belfry. It cost about $45,000 to stanch creeping black mold. Once the local Catholic parish began saying Mass in Spanish, it drew off most of St. Andrew's immigrant members. Weekly donations dropped to about $600 from $1,425 three years ago, says Bishop Johnson. And many of those who had pledged $200,000 toward the mortgage payments told the bishop they needed to delay their gifts, saying their stock portfolios were down.

Last February, the church couldn't meet its monthly interest payments. The lender, Talbot Bank, a unit of Shore Bancshares Inc., foreclosed in August, seeking $950,000, including principal and unpaid interest. It was one of five properties Talbot foreclosed on in the last two years, but the only church, says W. David Morse, a vice president at the bank.

Hat tip to Kris Elftmann

Sino-U.S. Ties, Like Marriages, Strained by Money

AP's survey of the approaching 30th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-PRC relations, which began under Richard Nixon:
The countries have now developed a more "complex and mature" relationship — one that can withstand the inevitable frictions that will arise, said Zhu Feng, director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.

But it is the level of economic interdependence that has become most striking. China now owns more than $500 billion in U.S. government bonds, more than any other nation. During the presidency of George W. Bush, as Chinese exports to America boomed, China's trade surplus hit $163.3 billion in 2007.

The biggest challenge going forward will not be political so much as economic, experts say. With the countries' economies so deeply linked, the continuing global financial crisis will take top priority for Barack Obama when he assumes the presidency Jan. 20.

"Both of us are feeling the pain of the economic slowdown. The question is whether we're going to be able to find a way to work cooperatively or whether we fail and move toward blaming each other," [veteran diplomat and China watcher J. Stapleton] Roy said. "If anything has been shown, it's that our economies are so closely linked now, neither can punish the other economically without inflicting pain on itself."

Applying vs. Manufacturing Band Aids

Body Parts:

The New Deal never ended the Great Depression, though it prevented the collapse from spreading like a contagion beyond its 1933 limits. That needs to be understood. Government welfare saved lives by preventing starvation, e.g., but government welfare did not bring prosperity. The economy began to rebound when war broke out in Europe, creating a market for American military manufacturers--ships, airplanes, tanks, guns, ammunition, clothes, food. Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and China began to buy American weapons and munitions through Lend-Lease. When the US entered the war in 1942, the American economy was unthrottled and prosperity returned (though consumption was restrained by defense policy limits on consumer goods). It was not that war itself brought prosperity; it was the unleashing of the economy. The war required that as much food and goods be produced as Americans could produce by working 24/7. It was agricultural and industrial productivity that made the nation prosperous. That is the lesson for today and a lesson that Obama and his economic advisors need to learn.

The Tragic Cycle Of Middle East Violence

As we pray for a just end to the violence in Gaza and elsewhere, two divergent perspectives.

Yosi Klein Halevi:
It was Israel at its best. In response to random attacks aimed at its civilians, Israel launched precise attacks aimed at terrorists. In place of political schism, Israel suspended election campaigning, and initiated coooperation between government and opposition. Instead of illusions about an imminent peace agreement with Bashar Assad or about half a negotiated peace agreement with half of the Palestinian leadership, we exhibited sobriety and a willingness to defend ourselves. And instead of military confusion and ineptitude, as we displayed in Lebanon two years ago, we showed the most impressive display of our intelligence, air power, and psychological warfare in decades.
Pat Buchanan:

About Israel's right and duty to defend its border towns, there is no dispute. When Hamas permits Gaza to be used as a launch pad for rockets, it must expect retaliation. Nor can Hamas claim some right to dictate the limits of that retaliation.

Yet the wisdom of so savage a retribution for rockets that killed not one Israeli is open to question. And crass Israeli politics seems to be behind this premeditated and planned blitz.

With Likud's hawkish "Bibi" Netanyahu ahead in the polls for the Feb. 10 election, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Labor's candidate, had to show that he, too, could be ruthless with Hamas.

Kadima Party candidate and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has an even greater need than the highly decorated Barak to show toughness. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, departing in scandal, wants to exit in a blaze of glory, to blot out the memory of a botched war against Hezbollah that he launched in the summer of 2006.


Pat Buchanan's assertion about the lack of casualties from Hamas rockets seems strange in view what Alan Dershowitz writes:
The rockets are designed exclusively to maximize civilian deaths, and some have barely missed schoolyards, kindergartens, hospitals, and school buses. But others hit their targets, killing more than a dozen civilians since 2001, including in February 2008 a father of four who had been studying at the local university. These anticivilian rockets have also injured and traumatized countless children.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bruce's New Tune: "My Lucky Day"

From the new album "Working On A Dream," out Jan. 27

The Deficit Non-Terminator

Opposing spending cuts at any level of government in the teeth of the recession, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Krugman awards the booby prize to budget-cutting governors, especially California's:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor’s budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state’s fiscal future — and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.

I Guess. But What Was That Third Thing?

Garrison Keillor:
We have a new president coming in and I'm delighted about that and also pleased that he's a man of great discipline and decorum and isn't full of himself or vindictive and righteous and he invited that evangelical guy to give the invocation at the inauguration. Bravo, Barack. Enormous progressive changes have been wrought by mannerly people in ordinary clothing.

Who's Kindled? Hugh's Kindled!

We got another one, and influential, too. Among Hugh Hewitt's '09 resolutions:
I intend to master my Kindle and my iPhone...

"RN Seemed Very Human To Me"

A moving observation by Maarja Krusten, historian and former Nixon tapes archivist at the National Archives:
As to why it took ["Frost/Nixon"'s Frank Langella] acting largely on intuition to present a Nixon to whom people could relate, rather than having a writer capture that in a book of popular history, I'm not the best person to explain why that was. I voted for RN and sent him a letter of support to his home in San Clemente when he resigned in 1974. Two years later, I joined the Archives as a NARA employee. I spent some time working with his White House documents. But mostly, my career at NARA centered on the tapes. I spent ten years working solely with his tapes, listening to thousands of hours of his conversations. Some I found sad and even wrenching to listen to. I felt a great deal of sympathy for him, even though he bore some responsibility for some of what happened. Obviously, RN long has seemed very human to me.

The Ghost Of Beijing Future?

An "Economist" writer, passing Christmas in a Beijing bookstore, reflects on the interrelatedness in China of economic and political stability:
Earlier in the week the authorities had arrested one of the country’s best known political activists, Liu Xiaobo, after he and some 300 other academics, lawyers, journalists and other intellectuals circulated a petition known as Charter 08 (echoing Charter 77, a document signed by dissidents in Czechoslovakia in 1977 calling for human rights protection).

The petition called for sweeping reform, including freedom of the press and the right to form opposition political parties. As the economy sputters, a pillar of the party’s legitimacy (its ability to deliver growth) is beginning to wobble. Such demands are the last thing the party wants in these anxious times. Officials are desperate for the middle class to get out and shop in order to help take up the slack caused by plummeting demand for China’s exports.

There's An Alternate View Of Watergate...

...that smells a little like a coup d'etat. It's creepy, so if you're still in a Christmas mood, don't go here.

An African Priest's Tough Love

Laurie Goodstein's touching article about the four-year pastorate in Oak Grove, Kentucky of a Roman Catholic priest from Kenya, Rev. Chrispin Oneko. In his prior ministry, people had evidently not felt as sorry for themselves:

He confessed that he had an easier time relating to white Americans than African-Americans because he did not understand why blacks carried such resentments toward the United States.

“Their ancestors are long gone,” he said. “They are bitter for I don’t know what.”

He has little tolerance for what he sees as unnecessary self-pity. When an unemployed Vietnam veteran told him he blamed his war experience for his poverty, Father Oneko said he told him: “I blame you, because military people have so many opportunities. You are getting some pension from the government, so you should not complain.

“There are some poor people, poorer than you, somewhere, in Africa, in Jamaica,” Father Oneko said. “But you, at least you have freedom. You have somewhere to sleep.”
And of course there were the inevitable civics lessons from his devoted laypeople:
“My husband was driving him down 41A and there was a big old statue of Uncle Sam,” said [Marie] Lake, who owns an accounting business and keeps the church’s books. “He thought it was Sam from Sam’s Club wholesale.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Perfect Songs: "Promised Land" (1965)

Chuck Berry

Salvation Of Journalism Begins At Home

I got my daughters, 20 and 24, Kindles for Christmas. The elder has signed up for the two-week trial subscription to the New York Times.

No Heavenly Middle Ground

Showing how modern Christian evangelicalism is rooted in early 20th century fundamentalism, Pastor David Stokes says that a rapprochement between evangelicals and political liberals is almost impossible:

Evangelicals, those who take the Bible and their faith seriously, need to realize that when it comes to issues like gay marriage – even abortion – there is not really any middle ground with those on the left, even the so-called Christian left.

Rick Warren has spent a great deal of time and money, investing his ministry in initiatives that are outside of the normal evangelical box. He has worked tirelessly in Africa and elsewhere on the issue of AIDS – and has cultivated a compassionate and understanding persona when it comes to dealing with issues and ministry challenges stemming from same-sex attraction.

What Warren has not done, nor will he ever do, is to reach the point where he declares that homosexual behavior is not sinful. He will not do this because he is a Biblicist....

Unless evangelicals are willing to say that the Bible does not call homosexual behavior sinful, no amount of posturing will change anything.

It is sort of like the Israeli-PLO land-for-peace narrative. It will never work because the PLO does not think Israel should exist. Conceded acreage will not assuage that.

You Know, If It Had Been Palin...

Robert Nedelkoff on Caroline Kennedy's interview with the New York Times:
In what must have been a conversation lasting about 40 or 45 minutes, she uses “you know” no less than 138 times. Especially impressive are two occasions where she uses the words five different times in one sentence - or what would be a sentence, if it were not, in both cases, a chain of clauses with no grammatical conclusion....

And while it is true that quite a few Senators, past and present, have been as inarticulate as Ms. Kennedy, very few among them have used what facility of speech they had to assert, as Ms Kennedy more or less does in this interview, that they should be in the United States Senate, well, because they want to be there, whether or not there are more qualified candidates for the job.

"Frost/Nixon" Defrosts The Historical Nixon

The most riveting scene in "Frost/Nixon" is completely fabricated, as playwright and screenwriter Peter Morgan has candidly admitted. A tipsy former President (Frank Langella) calls David Frost (Michael Sheen) and describes them as a pair of overachievers out to show the world that they were good enough. He says that by "our success" in their televised interviews, they'll prove their critics wrong.

Frost gulps and agrees with RN's analysis. You get the feeling that he'd never voiced his own fears and motivations or even admitted them to himself. Imagine that: A fun-loving child of the 1960s bowing to the superior introspection of the most introverted and outwardly stoic of Depression-bred public figures. He then warns Nixon, "Only one of us can win."

About that, the fictional Frost is wrong. Thanks to the original Frost-Nixon interviews, the British TV personality won the fame and riches he craved. Thanks in part to Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon," the historical Nixon is beginning to win the measure of redemption he never dared hope for in life.

As my New Nixon colleague Frank Gannon has noted, Langella's gripping Nixon, like the statesman's milieu he occupied and the world he changed for the better, is large and consequential. He dominates almost every scene in which he appears. (One exception is his awkward, imaginary appearance before something called the Orthodontists Society of Houston, the kind of speaker's circuit event that he never did.) When Nixon passes through a room in the movie, the factotums and crew members part like the Red Sea. It's obvious why alarmed Nixon critic Elizabeth Drew called Howard "dishonorable." His Nixon shatters the confines of marginalization, one-dimensionality, and caricature thrust upon the historical Nixon as the result of Vietnam-era passions. It's the first film Nixon worthy of the real thing, the first that will help younger audiences begin to understand him and his tumultuous era.

Not surprisingly, the film doesn't convey much Watergate understanding. Its main conflict, between TV lightweight and political heavyweight, depends on fudges. Morgan and Howard misconstrued RN's famous "if the President does it, that's means it's not illegal" as being about Watergate rather than a plan to increase surveillance of domestic militants during wartime. As for Watergate itself, the movie Frost accuses Nixon of having claimed he didn't know about the break-in until June 23, which is obviously untrue. He read about it in the paper on June 18, along with the rest of the world.

All in all, "Frost/Nixon" is conventional in its failure to communicate that Watergate and Vietnam were inextricable. Whether Mr. Nixon ever intended a criminal cover-up of the June 17 burglary is doubtful. The preponderance of the White House tapes from 1972 show that he believed that anyone involved in the burglary itself (as opposed to previous national security matters) should own up. Russ Baker's intriguing if highly speculative new book, Family of Secrets, asserts that President Nixon correctly assumed from the beginning that the botched burglary was a CIA setup, but that's a blog for another day.

At the film's climax, Langella's Nixon owns up by saying he let the American people down, a moment that occurs after adjutant Jack Brennan (portrayed by the less-entertaining-than-the-real-McBrennan Kevin Bacon) panics and interrupts the final taping. Afterward, James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell), the most anti-Nixon of Frost's team members, exults at seeing the former President's face "ravaged by self-loathing and defeat."

It's a deceptive denouement, since it was actually Frost who interrupted the taping after misunderstanding a sign the real Brennan was holding up that said "let him talk." Mr. Nixon had chosen to make a statement of accountability. Neither Frost nor Reston maneuvered him into it.

Besides, self-loathing wasn't in Mr. Nixon's nature. By his death in 1994, he was at peace with what he had achieved in the nearly 20 years since his resignation, both personally and publicly. What mattered most, besides his family, was having the ears of his successors, and at that he succeeded, advising each one from Ford to Clinton and even playing a decisive role in U.S. relations with Russia and China.

Contrary to most conventional wisdom, he never expected broader rehabilitation during his lifetime. He said it would take at least 30 years before he began to get a fair shake. Yet again, he called it about right.