Saturday, January 17, 2009

No Depression On Balboa Island, Yet

To get from the Balboa Peninsula (part of Newport Beach, California) to the tiny enclave of Balboa Island, you can take a three-minute ferry ride. People ride for $1. This Mercedes rode for $3. On Balboa Island, times don't seem so bad. The million-dollar homes facing the peninsula have the drapes open on their picture windows, to capture the warm afternoon sun and perhaps provoke curiosity. Nosiness would probably be a better word. In one dining room, a table was set for eight, with linen napkins and wine glasses. Kathy speculated they just had it that way for show. On the side streets, the summer cottages seem to outnumber the year-round residences. A few teenagers were around in their swimsuits.

Balboa always seems gracious and and mellow. And yet it's hard to imagine that the hard times aren't affecting even these privileged folks (though unlike elsewhere in Orange County, there weren't many for-sale signs). Almost everyone I talk to has been hurt by the recession or knows someone who has been. I hear about a layoff almost every day. Kathy returned from a midday shopping trip with a description of a big strip mall we visit all the time in Brea, in north Orange County, where half the stores have closed. Circuit City, a suburban fixture for years, is unplugging for good. A friend told us about a five-star hotel that just opened in south county that on several recent nights had no guests.

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. As we left on our outing, I told our neighbor, Doug, that we were going out to stimulate the economy. Shouting back across the street, he said he'd heard the problem was that people were stimulating foreign instead of U.S. economies. So we agreed the solution was national self-stimulation. It's hard to be too worried on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when people are walking their dogs, smiling at strangers, and watching the sun set on the smooth, green Pacific. As for the economy, we had dinner at the world-famous Tulsa Rib Co. and bought 17 boxes of mac and cheese at Trader Joe's for the church food drive. Take that, you doom and gloomers.

Why Is This Man Smiling?

Orange County's former sheriff, Mike Carona, was convicted in federal court yesterday of one count of jury tampering, a felony for which, according to the Orange County Register, he faces up to ten years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for April 27.

Sounds pretty serious, huh? And yet the Register's front-page headline reads, "Carona's 'Miracle': The former sheriff is guilty of only one of six counts." And here's the lead paragraph of its main article:
An Orange County jury Friday acquitted former Sheriff Mike Carona of conspiracy, rejecting the government's claim that he participated in a six-year scheme to win office illegally and use his position to enrich himself and his friends.
Only in the second paragraph does the article note that Carona was convicted of a serious crime for which he may well do time in a federal prison. As for the other counts, the detailed work of Frank Mickadeit, one of the last of the great reporting columnists, suggests a muddier picture than the triumphant headlines on the front page. Evidently the statute of limitations can be a sheriff's best friend.

Carona was jubilant after the verdicts, as were his many friends in the county. Their good mood appears to have rubbed off on some of the journalists. His charisma is extraordinary. I know him best as a poised and inspiring speaker at seven of our annual Sept. 11 commemorations at the Nixon Library. While troubled by the charges against him, I never felt emotionally vested in his conviction. I'm glad he's happy. But the stark fact of the matter is that there may be another picture in his future showing a convicted jury-tamperer being led out of a federal courtroom in handcuffs, on the way to jail. That moment will be hard to spin as vindication of his good character.

If you think one federal felony conviction is a mere wisp of a thing, you might think about President Nixon's former White House counsel Chuck Colson, universally remembered as the dark prince of Watergate, the greatest political scandal in modern history. How did he plead? Guilty to one itty bitty count of obstruction of justice in connection with the Pentagon Papers, which had nothing directly to do with Watergate. On the day of his conviction, the Washington Post headline didn't read "Colson's Miracle."

Thanks To Pat, "We" Includes "Me"

In a wonderful inaugural package, the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance includes a poem about First Lady Pat Nixon by Nikki Grimes, a bestselling and award-winning children’s author who begins with an author’s note:
The White House did not always belong to us all. For many years, African Americans certainly felt left out. But there was also a time when the deaf and the blind were strangers to the White House corridors. First Lady Patricia Nixon changed all that in 1969, throwing the doors open to finally welcome this segment of the American population. I tried to imagine what that first visit might have been like for one of the blind students who set foot inside those hallowed halls. Known for her personal touch, (As first lady, she personally shook the hands of more than a quarter of a million visitors in her first term, alone!) I’m certain Mrs. Nixon made this visit a memorable one.

Staking Claim

I told myself
it was no big deal.
So, no blind person had ever been
to the White House before.
So what
I wasn’t getting my hopes up
for anything special,
never mind what Teacher said.
But then, Mrs. P got to me,
Kind as any aunt,
though no kin of mine
(her skin, they say, was birch
to my ebony)
it’s her gentleness I remember.
She guided me through the halls
of that grand house,
coaxed my nimble fingers along
the scaled serpent legs
of the wooden Empire sofa
in the Red Room,
and tempted me to touch
the Green Room’s silk draperies,
soft as a hush.
When my fingers tangled
in its tassels,
Mrs. P’s laughter
tinkled like glass.
Then she surprised my warm palms
with the cool silver
of an ancient urn
that once served hot coffee
to John and Abigail Adams.
China Room, Green Room,
Red Room, Vermeil Room—
these were just words to me.
But thanks to Mrs. P
I did “See” the White House that day,
and the memory lodges deep
in the beds of my fingertips.
Now, when others speak
proudly and personally
of Our White House,
their “our” and “we”
includes me.

– Nikki Grimes

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Media Are Killing Communications

Catherine Blyth:

For all of the amazing, proliferating ways that we have to be in touch, face-to-face conversation is being pushed to the margins of our lives. And it has for thousands of years been the core of human interaction, and it's very good at what it's designed to do.

There's a whole lot to be said about the pleasures of a wired-up world, but there is a lot of difference between being in touch and having an interaction. If anything, I think that with too much communicating via machines, people end up hiding behind screens.

Amen. I'm struck by how often, when I suggest a person give someone a call, I learn later that he or she has chosen to send an e-mail instead. I'm also amazed at the number of two-way correspondences that end up being conducted in front of a peanut gallery thanks to the insidious "reply all" option. Relationships can go downhill fast that way, especially when people give in to the impulse to say exactly what's on their minds.

Like all newspaper people, my mother has a keen way with words. She long ago learned the knack of flaming someone in a letter or memo and then putting it in drawer while she calmed down. By and large, they stayed there. With e-mail, which makes instant communication so easy, it's easy to give in to one's worst instincts.

It's even worse in faith communities, when angry e-mailers sometimes act as though they have the warrant of heaven. For a couple of years I've been threatening to teach a class at St. John's entitled, "E-mail is Satan," not because any medium is inherently evil -- God knows, I send a lot of e-mails -- but because it can encourage anti-incarnational, anti-community impulses. Look at it this way: When you e-mail, you're trying to be in control. When you phone or meet, you're opening a dialog and relationship to possibilities you can't anticipate. Which option sounds more Godly?

I Got Covered!

War correspondent and editor (and fellow Episcopalian) Tracy Wood got your correspondent some e-ink from Kevin Roderick at "LA Observed." Thanks, fellow newspaper-lovers!

Smell The News

Since I got my Kindle for Kristmas in 2007, the Nixon Foundation's copy of the New York Times has languished in my office until, after the decent interval I have decreed in the event I should for some reason choose to bestow my favor, a colleague takes it to be enjoyed by those who still read newspapers on newsprint. After all, the entire editorial content downloads to my Kindle every morning, for about $14 a month. On a handy device the size of a trade paperback, I can read it (or any one of 25 books, blogs, magazines, or other newspapers I've downloaded) before getting up or while having breakfast. Since Kindle news consumers pay for content, the device and ones like it seem to me to hold the key to the revitalization of the newspaper business.

Or so I believed until this morning. For whatever reason, I didn't read the paper before coming to work. As usual, the printed Times awaited on a credenza. It asked nothing of me. It has grown used to my neglect. But this morning, across five columns (shrunken columns, since the paper got narrower a couple of years ago), was a color photo of the US Airways Airbus A320 floating in the Hudson River. The Kindle edition would've had the photo, but small and black and white. I've seen plenty of on-line photos of yesterday's miraculous event, and it was all over the cable and broadcast news last night.

But five columns in the paper! That means something right off the bat, because usually a photo above the fold in the Times is three or maybe four columns. They invite a glance. For an experienced newspaper reader, five columns demands special attention and even wonder.

And yet the emergency landing wasn't the lead article, according to the Times's lights. That privileged spot was reserved for a one-column headline on the far right that read, "Senate Releases Second Portion Of Bailout Fund; A Victory For Obama; Democrats in the House Offer an $825 Billion Recovery Plan."

And yes, I can see their point. The miraculous saving of 155 lives is a big story, and so it got five-column art plus a five-column hed over a news story and human-interest sidebar, all above the fold. Last night on TV, the plane was almost all we heard about. But while CNN and Fox News were hyperventilating, editors at the Times wanted to make sure that readers realized it may even be more important that our representatives, on the same day, took a giant step closer to spending $1.175 trillion in taxpayers' money within weeks or even days after Jan. 20. That's what newspapers do -- they reach beyond the urgent to the important. They whisper in our ears what we need to know while other media shout what we want to hear.

Below the fold there was another dramatic photo from the Hudson, showing three women in their orange and yellow life vests in a raft floating near the stricken aircraft. The remaining articles are on Gaza (where the three-week war has resulted in 1,000 deaths), AG designate Eric Holder's confirmation hearings, and Japan's so-called outcasts, the buraku. That's not a subject people will usually go looking for with their browsers and BlackBerries, not something that will make the "CBS Evening News" or the "O'Reilly Factor," but deserving of our attention nonetheless, and available only because highly paid editorial professionals have done their work covering a world that they know better than most of us do.

Across the bottom of the page, a 12.5" ad for a new cable TV series. I really haven't been paying attention. For decades the Times has run classified ads on the bottom of p. 1, but I don't remember seeing a color display ad. All power to them if it helps them stay afloat. Thumbing through the sections, I came to Weekend Arts, with a breathtaking photo above the fold of the White House (brilliantly lit thanks to Pat Nixon, who raised the money to install the lights) and looming against a royal purple sky. It's a 16-page section on Washington during Inaugural week, with information about restaurants, historic sites, art galleries, and logistics. Reading on my Kindle, I might've skipped the section entirely. The paper version is someone you want to slip into your briefcase to look at later.

But what actually seduced me this morning was the paper's odor. Do you remember the acrid and yet sweet smell of ink on newsprint? I grew up with it. My parents and godfather were newspaper people, and on Saturdays my mother would take me to her office at the Detroit Free Press or the Arizona Republic. While she worked, I'd play with the thick black copy pencils, Underwood manual typewriters, and smelly three-ply NCR paper (my mother called them "books") reporters used to write their stories. When she had something to send down to the composing room, she'd let me roll it up and put it in the pneumatic tube.

The composing room itself, with the now long-gone Linotype machines clattering madly, was an explosion of sound and sparks. The smell of ink and paper was everywhere, and it came off my spurned newspaper this morning like pheromones. Not even a Kindle, with its lightning fast Internet access and revolutionary text pricing, can make a newspaper kid that happy.

I imagine people my age are equally nostalgic about the memory of thumbing through our Zeppelin and Stones albums even as we thumb our iPods and let the records rot in the garage. But while digital music sounds just as good as vinyl, no new medium has as yet replaced the experience of absorbing, in one evocative and intelligently-ordered and -designed package, the creative work of editors and reporters. And since that work is essential to a well-informed public and thus to freedom and democracy, we should think twice before spurning newspapers unless and until something better (if not necessarily their olfactory equivalent) comes along.

The Coming Bush Revival

Charles Krauthammer believes that President Bush's rehabilitation will begin sooner than everyone thinks, thanks to the PE retaining key Bush Administration personnel as well as the fundamentals of his anti-terrorism policies. Of course it all hinges on Iraq, which will loom large in Bush's legacy:
Obama opposed the war. But the war is all but over. What remains is an Iraq turned from aggressive, hostile power in the heart of the Middle East to an emerging democracy openly allied with the United States. No president would want to be responsible for undoing that success.

In Iraq, Bush rightly took criticism for all that went wrong -- the WMD fiasco, Abu Ghraib, the descent into bloody chaos in 2005-06. Then Bush goes to Baghdad to ratify the ultimate post-surge success of that troubled campaign -- the signing of a strategic partnership between the U.S. and Iraq -- and ends up dodging two size-10 shoes for his pains.

Absorbing that insult was Bush's final service on Iraq. Whatever venom the war generated is concentrated on Bush himself. By having personalized the responsibility for the awfulness of the war, Bush has done his successor a favor. Obama enters office with a strategic success on his hands -- while Bush leaves the scene taking a shoe for his country.

Which is why I suspect Bush showed such equanimity during a private farewell interview at the White House a few weeks ago. He leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor -- and his country -- well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush's policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.
In March 2003, at the beginning of the war, when I was still a ministry intern, I preached a sermon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tustin, California in which I said that Bush would be judged on the basis of whether, 20 years after the war had ended, we were closer to peace in a fractious region. While not exactly bloodcurdlingly pro-war, it definitely wasn't antiwar, and many of my brothers and sisters were disappointed.

In the years since, when the war was going poorly, I've regretted this witness, especially because I had erred by lumping Saddam Hussein with Muslim fundamentalists. In the wake of the surge, I've felt better. Perhaps this shows that preachers shouldn't talk about foreign policy, or just that they should do it better than I did. Far more important, it reminds us that leaders sometimes have to make decisions whose consequences, for good or ill, won't be fully clear until long after they leave office. Do we want Presidents who will only take a risk on a policy they believe is best if they can be guaranteed favorable results in the next two or four years, or in time for the opening of their Presidential libraries? (Seeing the Krauthammer column as mere partisan repositioning, Andrew Sullivan takes exception to Krauthammer's rosy assessment of the situation in Iraq. Sullivan supported the war, too, of course, so to that extent he and Bush are in this together. Yet while Bush's approval numbers are historically low, Sullivan just won best blog. Go figure.)

As of now, many can't wait for George W. Bush to leave. This group may well include George W. Bush. Some, including Katie Couric, can't bring themselves to say the word "President" when introducing him. Others wish he had communicated as openly over the last eight years as he has in the last two weeks. And yet how interesting that the Presidential transition has gone so well, a tribute to the temperaments and love of country of both men. How interesting it would be if President Obama took the same pains to keep Bush informed as President Nixon did with his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, and especially if it became known that 44 was having the occasional private chat with 43.

Many are eager for new leadership because they think that Obama will be able to wave a magic wand and quickly repair an economy stunted by a generation of bipartisan mismanagement. Perhaps when he can't -- perhaps when he too is tested by challenges to U.S. security and interests -- we'll gain new appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the office. Perhaps then we'll say to George W. Bush, as Barack Obama no doubt will on the inaugural stand next Tuesday, "Godspeed, Mr. President, and thank you."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Also, "Adama" Means "Earth" In Hebrew

Thanks to "Salon," everything you could possibly want to know about "Battlestar Galactica."

Perfect Songs: "B Movie Boxcar Blues" (1978)

Delbert McClinton & the Blues Brothers Band

Obama Should Read Up On Nixon

Steve Clemons on The Nixon Center's dinner in honor of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs:
Admiral Mullen stated:

President Nixon, in his memoirs, recalled that same kind of surprise during a discussion on national security in 1951, when then General Eisenhower emphasized the political and economic facets of foreign policy rather than the military.

"This impressed me," wrote Nixon, "because then, as now, it was unusual to hear a military man emphasize the importance of non-military strength."

This is one of many passages in which American presidents have struggled with the efficacy of American military power and have tried to think through the best strategies to achieve America's national security and global objectives.

Admiral Mullen wafted into his Nixon-Eisenhower comment through the portal of late 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke and added his own name to that of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others who have asserted that America's most significant security threats can't be met by even the most richly endowed military machine. Other parts of the diplomatic and civil society establishment must be key parts of the American action plan....

Today, America's power in the world is wielded both by the size of the Pentagon and by the size of its national debt. This is not a healthy posture for the country and not sustainable.

Obama would be wise to read up on Eisenhower, on Nixon, on Edmund Burke and others -- and realize that for him to be a truly great leader, he must get out of today's intertia-drive decisions that lean too much towards military answers to problems -- and that are leading the US to greater calamity, global irrelevance, and impotence.

"He Said, 'Just Brace For Impact'"

Hat tip to Frank Gannon

That January In Paris

As the BBC notes, on this date in 1973 President Nixon ordered a ceasefire in Vietnam following the diplomatic breakthrough which led to the Paris Peace Accords a few days later.

Hat tip to Jack Nesbitt

The Church At Work In Gaza

Al Ahli Arab Hospital in the heart of Gaza City is operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, sister diocese of us here in Los Angeles. Read here about what's going on and how to help.

A Very British Analogy

The pro-Israel "Spectator" on Jan. 3:
Those who criticize Israel's actions should consider what Britain would have done if Sinn Fein had come to power in the Irish Republic during the Troubles and rockets had been regularly fired across the border. It is hard to imagine Her Majesty's Government sitting idly by.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dissident Churches Agree To Disagree On Women

Good point from the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson:

The partnership [of dissident Episcopalians angered about TEC's position on gay and lesbian people] claims to represent 1,000 congregations with an average Sunday attendance of 100,000.

"It makes me very sad and it is so unnecessary," Robinson said. "No one wanted them to leave ... But you can't keep people from leaving."

He noted, for instance, "This coalition of breakaway groups totally disagree on the ordination of women, but they have agreed to set that aside."

(Two breakaway dioceses, Fort Worth and San Joaquin, have refused to accept women as priests.)

Why, asked Robinson, could the church at large not "set aside" its disagreements on homosexuality and stay in communion?

Newspapers Rallied Against Kindle

Fearing the Kindle will enable Amazon to have the same hegemony over newspapers that iTunes does over music, "Slate"'s Jack Shafer suggests an alternative:

Before the Kindle has a chance to become the universal reader—TechCruch estimated in August that only about 240,000 Kindles had been shipped—newspaper publishers should take measures to make certain that they don't get Appled by Amazon. I'd have them create paid electronic versions under their control and leapfrog the scuzzy Kindle. Here's how:

Publishers have been promising customers lightweight tablet readers for decades—see this 1994 video for a Knight Ridder demo of the concept. All of that futurism is coming true as tiny, cheap PCs known as "netbooks" reached the market. Manufactured by Asus, Acer, HP, Samsung, MSI, Dell, and others, these full-fledged PCs start at $349, the same as a Kindle. While not optimized like the Kindle for tetherless downloading of publications, netbooks are more powerful and versatile than the Kindle, and their high-res color screens make the Kindle's gray-scale display look astigmatic. As both the price and form factor for netbooks decline, we start to approach a machine that does everything that a PC does and what a Kindle does for the price of a Kindle.

Kindle Love On The New York City Subway

Katie Henderson:
New Yorkers, who so often ignore each other with steadfast determination when smashed together on the subway, are inexplicably comfortable asking about the Kindle. Expect to get asked how you like it, how much it costs, and if some stranger can hold it. Unless you really hate your fellow man, this is not a compelling reason to skip the Kindle, which is all told a pretty amazing little toy.

Episcopalians Successfully Evangelize Obamas...

..on Inauguration Day, at least.

The Dog And Elephant (No, Not a Pub!)

Hat tip to Mark Shier

"I Wonder Why They Leave"

The perspective of an evangelical Episcopal priest in Houston, rector of the largest single parish in TEC and an opponent of parishes and dioceses that try to leave the church over the role of gay and lesbian people:

I have asked every person I personally know that has [left] or was pondering to leave the Episcopal Church if they were prevented in some way by their parish or bishop from preaching the gospel. Each one has said, "No."

They have been criticized. They have been mocked at clergy conferences, but they have not been prevented from preaching the gospel, and thus I wonder why they leave. But I do honor their decision to do so.

Hat tip to Cn. Jim White

Bruce's New Single: "Life Itself"

Hat tip to "No Depression"

China Blossoms Among The Bushes

The LA Times says that President Bush is still boffo in Beijing:
Many Chinese credit the Bush administration's free-trade policies with helping the Chinese economy to blossom over the last eight years. They appreciate the administration's efforts to rein in the fiery anti-Beijing rhetoric of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. And Bush's attendance of the opening ceremony of last summer's Olympics in Beijing at a time when many world leaders were urging a boycott over China's human rights record is viewed with deep gratitude.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Monday In An Expectant Washington

They say five million people are coming to Washington to see Barack Obama inaugurated next Tuesday, but this week, it felt empty and expectant. On Monday morning, the bookstores and sidewalk vendors had plenty of Obama merchandise ready, but shoppers were few. The chairs were in place for the VIPs on the west side of the Capitol. To accommodate the rest of the audience, Porta Sans are arrayed along the Mall all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial.

My Nixon Foundation colleagues Kris Elftmann and Kathy O'Connor and I felt as if we had the town to ourselves as we walked from our hotel in Georgetown to the Capitol -- until we saw a smiling friend standing next to us at a stoplight on Pennsylvania Avenue. Even though Tim Mead, legendary communications VP for our home town Angels, was on the way to the White House for a meeting with the President, he graciously paused to let Kris experience the heft of a World Series ring.

Our destination was the lavish new Captiol Visitor Center, the $621 million installation you access from an underground entrance halfway to the Supreme Court in order to protect Sen. Harry Reid from smelly tourists. Again, we expected to be battling crowds, but it was pretty much we and the statue of Po'pay from New Mexico. Perhaps 20 others were along for a breathtaking new film about the Congress and a guided tour of the Capitol.

Naturally, I looked for Christian highlights among the artworks in our greatest secular temple. In John Gadsby Chapman's 1840 painting "The Baptism of Pocahontas," on display in the rotunda, that's her brother turned away in protest as one of my fellow Anglicans, the Rev. John Whiteaker, does the deed, evidently a prerequisite for her marriage to John Rolfe. (Our gracious young guide said the protester was her father, but the Architect of the Capitol sets him straight.)

Wandering around the Obama-fixated capital, I remembered Garrison Keillor's rueful "We're all Republicans now" from the early years of the Bush Administration. These days the rue is on the other foot. As I walked up 12th Street, I passed the headquarters of the Republican Committee of the District of Columbia, where the party's pervasive dysfunction was appropriately expressed by a word-processed sign announcing that the doorbell was out of order.

Republicans associated with The Nixon Center, the Nixon Foundation's nonpartisan foreign policy think tank, were feeling somewhat more au courant Monday evening at the Four Seasons in Georgetown. After all, we were honoring the exceedingly relevant Admiral Mike Mullen, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs will be President Obama's chief military adviser at least until late 2009. The smart money says he'll be reappointed for a second two-year term. Besides, The Center's foreign policy realism, halfway between isolationism and neoconservatism, corresponds neatly with the Obamian Zeitgeist. Recall that realist prophet Brent Scowcroft remained pointedly neutral during the fall campaign while staying in touch with Obama.

During the reception, I spotted the peripatetic Steve Clemons, whose influential "Washington Note" blog is also known for its humane, realistic perspective on international affairs. I asked him to pose with Singapore's ambassador to the U.S., scholar Chan Heng Chee, a loyal friend of The Center for many years. Steve graciously stooped to be photographed, since he's 6'5", and Ambassador Chan is not. Later Steve was seen giving my wife and colleague Kathy a foot rub at her table, which is a long story.

After paying tribute to President Nixon's foreign policy vision, Admiral Mullen called on the U.S. to make better use of its diplomatic and economic clout in addition to its military power. Good intelligence also plays a vital role in the war on terror, which meant that Orange County's Julia Argyros, wife of Nixon Center founding chairman George Argyros, was in a unique position to get up to date during her dinner conversation with Michael V. Hayden, director of Central Intelligence.

Meanwhile, Kathy (left) was getting caught up with Sharon Fawcett, deputy archivist of the U.S. in charge of all the Presidential libraries. We've been working with Sharon for many years on Nixon records matters in general and, most recently, the complex process of adding the Nixon Library to the Federal system, which culminated last year in the handover of the library and museum to the National Archives.

Sharon was having a little breather before returning to the gargantuan task of preparing President Bush's records for the long ride down to Texas and the soon-to-be-built Bush Library at SMU. She and her Archives colleagues face unprecedented technological challenges. She told us, for instance, that all the electronic records created by previous Presidents equal 2% of W.'s e-records. Among Sharon's most vital responsibilities: Making sure scholars can still read all those e-mails and attachments in 50 or 100 years without making hard copies of everything. Try getting an old file from a five and a quarter-inch floppy, for instance.

By the time all that's done, there'll be an Obama Library to plan -- in four or eight years, depending on whom you ask. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Godspeed on Tuesday, 44!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Best Ambassadors Are Civilians, Says Top Soldier

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, believes the U.S.'s greatest persuasive power isn't its military. The 40-year Navy veteran was honored tonight by the Nixon Center at the Four Seasons in Washington. The AP covered:
Mullen said civilian agencies including the State Department deserve more money and support, because they can often do a better job of projecting American policy and ideas. It's tempting to turn first to the can-do military when problems arise, but Mullen said that the experience of the Vietnam War gives him "an acute understanding of the finite application of force abroad, as well as its impact at home."

Mullen did not mention more recent conflicts, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, although top military leaders have said both will be resolved mostly through political settlements.

"When called, our military has served the role of ambassador extremely well," Mullen told a Nixon Center audience.

"But our most effective ambassadors of peace in the future will not be those who wear uniforms, or bear arms. They will be our civilians."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sanctified Harry

The magic in “Gran Torino” begins when you realize you’ve been tricked into thinking that retired auto worker Walt Kowalski (magnificently played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed) is an ignorant racist. Eventually the story discloses that he’s actually on a quest for decency and civility in a vulgar, narcissistic time. We start off amazed that his standards are so low. We end up thinking they may be higher than ours.

A Korean war vet, Kowalski talks crudely about his former enemies, the gooks and chinks. He also calls his barber a dego. The barber calls him a polack. They obviously adore each other nonetheless. Holding onto his house in a changing Detroit neighborhood after the death of his wife, Walt thinks the family next door are either gooks or chinks, one, until he learns from the charming, crackling Sue (Ahney Her), one of the neighbors, that they’re Hmong, an ethnic minority from Laos who fought on the U.S. side in Indochina.

The movie doesn’t milk this irony as much as it might have. Walt’s heart is softened not by the sweet chords of interracial harmony but his belief about the promise and vulnerability of Sue and her gang-threatened brother Thao (Bee Vang). The breakthrough begins when Thao walks across the street to help a woman who's dropped her groceries. Though she was a gook or chink, Walt had been about to do it. When Thao rises to the occasion, you see the gears begin to whir behind Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum blue eyes. A father figure is born, and a fatherless young man is saved.

Walt’s relations with his own materialistic sons and their families are cool at best, a la the old Harry Chapin song "Cat's In the Cradle." It's his greatest regret, we learn, thanks to the persistence of a young parish priest who's trying to keep his promise to Walt’s dying wife to get him to come to confession. At their mom’s funeral, one of his sons, offended because Walt has scowled at the ring in a granddaughter’s navel, whispers to his brother that their dad’s stuck in the 1950s. That moment comes early in the movie, when you think it’s supposed to be an insult. Another of “Gran Torino”’s magic tricks.

Grace finally abounds when Walt (whose garage workshop, with every tool in its place, was just like my godfather Louis’s) rescues Theo and Sue in what seems to him, and maybe even to us, to be the only way out. Memo to pastors: “Gran Torino,” like “Doubt,” is a great Bible study movie. It takes the church, faith, ambiguity, and the Cross seriously. Scores of grown men and women left the theater with watery eyes and quiet, composed faces -- and not just because jazz hound Eastwood, his voice so ravaged that it’s sometimes just a whisper, decided to sing the movie’s title song over the closing credits.

Baker's Half-Baked?

In its "Secrecy News" e-newsletter, the Society of American Archivists engages with Russ Baker, whose conspiracy-minded Family Of Secrets has significant content on the Nixon Administration:
The Central Intelligence Agency did provide a copy of intelligence files relating to the Bay of Pigs to President Nixon in response to his request, an official of the National Archives and Records Administration said yesterday. He said that the statement to the contrary in Secrecy News on January 5, citing the new book "Family of Secrets," was in error.

"The CIA did not refuse the Nixon administration's request for records on the Bay of Pigs and other topics," John Powers of the National Archives said. What happened, rather, is that "[Director of Central Intelligence Richard M.] Helms insisted that if the President wanted these records, he would only give them to the President himself."

"There is a fascinating Oval Office taped conversation of this meeting in October 1971 that is publicly available. You can hear Helms putting the papers down on Nixon's desk," Mr. Powers said.

He identified the conversation as tape number 587-7 dated October 8, 1971. "Helms enters during [Ehrlichman's] briefing and they quickly change the topic, then get down to the issue of the papers."

Mr. Powers added that the CIA papers provided by Mr. Helms to President Nixon are contained in Boxes 36 and 37 of the John D. Ehrlichman files at the Nixon Presidential Library.

Mr. Powers said that some of the material may have been declassified and released since he departed from the Nixon Project nearly two years ago. "But my recollection is that most of the two [Ehrlichman] boxes were still classified. They are awaiting a researcher to file a Mandatory Declassification Review request."

Historian Maarja Krusten writes:

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) — of which I am a member — is not the publisher of Secrecy News. Secrecy News is published by the Federation of American Scientists (Steve Aftergood puts it out). Last week, I posted the item you mentioned to the Archives & Archivists Listserv (which *is* administered by SAA). Perhaps someone forwarded the item to you from that posting, making it appear there is an SAA connection? But SAA is not involved in discussing Baker’s book, to my knowledge.

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