Saturday, August 29, 2009

Red Sky In Fullerton

As the Station fire rages 30 miles to the north of this spot in north Orange County, St. John's folk are praying for family, colleagues, and friends in Altadena, Pasadena, and Sierra Madre.
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Will That Be 1000 Dog Years Or People Years?

London Telegraph:
Now a group of atheists in the US have come up with a tongue-in-cheek solution, offering to take in the cats and dogs of "saved" believers in return for a small fee.

Home Again

Three beautiful eulogies for Sen. Kennedy today, by sons Ted, Patrick, and (in a different sense) Barack. The President's critics should note that he spoke gracefully and without a TelePrompTer. The theme of suffering lay at the heart of his remarks:
Through his own suffering, Ted Kennedy became more alive to the plight and suffering of others — the sick child who could not see a doctor; the young soldier sent to battle without armor; the citizen denied her rights because of what she looks like or who she loves or where she comes from. The landmark laws that he championed -- the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children’s health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act –all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy’s life’s work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding. He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not, and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.
Was Obama referring just to our societal sins or to Kennedy's as well? Melissa Lafsky had the honesty if the poor taste to write about the catalyst of Kennedy's self-empowerment. Weren't all those great initiatives worth one accidental drowning, she suggests? It still surprises me that he got the chance to try. Mark Steyn describes the British way of atonement for disgraced politicians:
Six years before Chappaquiddick, in the wake of Britain’s comparatively very minor “Profumo scandal,” the eponymous John Profumo, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War, resigned from the House of Commons and the Queen’s Privy Council, and disappeared amid the tenements of the East End to do good works washing dishes and helping with children’s playgroups, in anonymity, for the last 40 years of his life. With the exception of one newspaper article to mark the centenary of his charitable mission, he never uttered another word in public again.
While in British politics, redemption is generally much harder to come by, plenty of Americans have gotten the Profumo treatment. Richard Nixon of course comes to mind. One may wonder whether Kennedy could have roared back so effectively as a conservative, Vietnam- and Iraq-supporting, tax-cutting, anti-illegal immigration lion of the Senate. But Americans can be equal opportunity Puritans. Kennedy's former liberal Senate colleague John Edwards, despite his lessor transgressions, would at this point in his career probably have trouble getting Profumo's children's playgroup gig.

In the end, politics, like life, is all about the story, and Ted Kennedy's was irresistible. The college-cheating, adulterous son survives the violent deaths of three seemingly worthier brothers. His family's influence and Americans' sadness over his family's serial tragedies enable him to survive his worst crisis. He grows into a loving father, uncle, and patriarch and is transfigured by the love of a good woman from Louisiana. That he writes 300 bills liberal commentators and biographers love doesn't hurt. His greatest gift to us may be that he so obviously enjoyed the life God gave him and showed how to earn the devotion of those closest to him, who, after all, knew him best. Anyway, aren't we supposed to party whenever the Prodigal returns? We each are he often enough.

Means Are Ends

Matthew Yglesias, self-described progressive, isn't progressive on political procedure as he not only justifies the likely move by the Massachusetts legislature to alter the plan for replacing Sen. Kennedy but ridicules those who say it's hypocritical. Up is down, black is white, war is peace.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Over Her Dead Body

Hagiography run amok: Arguing that Mary Jo Kopechne's death was the catalyst for Sen. Kennedy's success, Melissa Lafsky speculates in the "Huffington Post":

Who knows -- maybe she'd feel it was worth it.
Actually, we probably do know. Like most people, Kopechne would've wanted to spend her life on her potentiality, not someone else's. Hard to believe HP ran Lafsky's distasteful article.

Dear Abbey

The Beatles' famous crosswalk on Abbey Road in London. Visit the 24-hour webcam here.

Yorba Linda Sky

7:20 p.m. PDT Friday

Another Nixon-Era Scandal?

The moon rock that Neil Armstrong and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts gave the Dutch turns out to be a piece of petrified wood. I'm assuming from the article that the possibility we discovered petrified wood on the moon has been ruled out.

Prayer (And Policy Change) Opportunities

CBS radio's Cami McCormick has been injured in Afghanistan. August is the bloodiest month for U.S. service personnel since the war began eight years ago.

Before Sept. 11, no President would've dared mount a war to unseat the Taliban, notwithstanding their oppressive policies, especially toward women. After the attacks, which the regime enabled, defeating them became a vital national interest. As recently as 2008, Barack Obama could portray Afghanistan as the good (or at least the better) war, arguing persuasively that President Bush's obsession with Iraq had prevented him from finishing the job against the Taliban.

Have politics and the perils of best intentions now drawn Obama into the same treacherous straits that wrecked the British and Soviets? The question for the U.S. must be whether there's a way to protect ourselves and our friends from terrorist attacks mounted in Afghanistan without being drawn any deeper into a war that looks as though it could rage for another eight years.

Love Songs: "Love, Love, Love" (2008)

As Tall As Lions. "Love's not a grave, it won't decay on you/Too many days I was afraid of love." Amen!

Hat tip to St. John's colleague Janice Hellie-Dennis (always good to know what the young people are listening to!)

Boomer Bummer

The generation that was going to change the world is busy wondering where it left its car keys and reading glasses.
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No News Is Bad News

State budget woes and the decline of print silence the scrappy student newspaper at Cal State Dominguez Hills.;JSESSIONID=6E3F69259854495C32AB.3535?view=page7&feed:a=latimes_1min&feed:c=localnews&feed:i=48910527
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Leon Vs. Eric

No-Drama Obama couldn't quiet an operatic Cabinet clash over torture prosecutions.
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The Inconvenience Of "Rough Men"

Pat Buchanan makes the case against torture prosecutions of CIA personnel:

"Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

George Orwell's truth comes to mind as one reads that Eric Holder has named a special prosecutor to go after the "rough men" who, to keep us sleeping peacefully at night, went too far in frightening Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the engineer of the September massacres....

[Obama] and Holder may not like what was done...but who does? And where is the criminal intent? These agents are not sadists. They were trying to get intel to abort plots and apprehend terrorists to prevent them from killing us. And they succeeded. Not a single terrorist attack on the United States in eight years.

Do we the people, some of whom may be alive because of what those CIA men did, want them disgraced, prosecuted and punished for not going strictly by the book in protecting us from terrorists?

Who Remembers Hot Pants?

The AP on the Nixon White House's surveillance of Ted and Joan Kennedy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bow Wow

Leon Wieseltier thinks Israel should dismantle the West Bank settlements to enable the nation of Palestine to form. But he doesn't appreciate the Obama administration fawning over Arab and Muslim dictators:
Obama’s great opening to the Muslim world, a strange blend of realism and multiculturalism, seems so far only to have imbued the Muslim world with the sense that in the cause of reconciliation with Israel it need exert itself no more, because it has at last been understood.

I am not one of those Jews who are maddened by American “pressure” on Israel, but I do not take kindly to it when it is accompanied by a bow to the Saudi king.

My Brain Hurts

From a Christian anti-relativism site:
If all truth is relative, then the statement "All truth is relative" would be absolutely true. If it is absolutely true, then not all things are relative and the statement that "All truth is relative" is false.

American Terrorists?

Writing in the British "Spectator," Rod Liddle says some Americans' criticism of Abdelbaset al-Megrah is rank hypocrisy:
In the single year before the Lockerbie bombing the IRA murdered 20 people, mainly civilians, and maimed thousands of others — 11 dead and many more injured in one single atrocity in Enniskillen in November 1987. That campaign of terror, waged against British citizens for more than 30 years, was bankrolled by donations from the USA — and in those 30 years not a single terrorist was extradited from the US to face charges here, despite our repeated requests. Both federal and local US courts refused extradition requests almost as policy, while the funding of the IRA continued without interruption and was still raking in the money even after 9/11, when the Americans suddenly decided that they ought to start proscribing certain terrorist groups. The IRA was not, for some time, one of the groups so proscribed.

Stalking Source

Hat tip to the "Daily Dish"

Does Compute

M.C. Escher on pixels: Mind-bending photographs by Erik Johannson

Kennedy-Nixon Debates

Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post:
Asked about his greatest regret as a legislator, Ted Kennedy would usually cite his refusal to cut a deal with Richard Nixon on health care.

Old Boys' Night Out

Billy Bob Thornton (who takes Rick Danko's verse on "The Weight" and sounds eerily like the late, great Band-man) was among the special guests at Levon Helms's Midnight Ramble in Woodstock in August 2008. My music buddy Gary Baker and I are making the pilgrimage in November, although we should probably act our age...Hey, wait a minute: We are!

Anti-Corpulent Reforms Needed Now

Somebody should do something about 550-calorie breakfast drinks at Starbuck's and 1,420-calorie cheeseburgers at Hardee's. I know: Don't eat them! Brad Reed reports.

There Was That One Thing

Hanna Rosin on Sen. Kennedy and women.

Remembered Soul

Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego

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Young Man Blues

George Will turns a nice phrase about Sen. Kennedy:
In the Senate, as elsewhere, 80 percent of the important work is done by a talented 20 percent. And 95 percent of the work is done off the floor, away from committees, out of sight, where strong convictions leavened by good humor are the currency of accomplishment. There Ted Kennedy, who had the politics of the Boston Irish in his chromosomes, flourished.
Since I read newspapers on-line (and on-Kindle, where I proudly pay for content), I rarely see the marvelous way great papers still express themselves in page layout and headlines. Here in a Starbucks in San Diego, I caught a glimpse of a grandiloquent banner headline in the New York Times: "Senator Kennedy, Battle Lost, Is Hailed as a Leader."

I wonder who wrote that: A baby boomer authentically mourning the end of an era, or a younger editor who had gotten himself or herself into the spirit of the moment. While the "battle lost" bit is elevating, it's a battle many of us will join as well. I'm in San Diego to conduct a committal service for a less-well-known man who battled cancer no less bravely, as millions do and shall. So perhaps that element could have been skipped, at least in the headline.

As for Kennedy as a great leader, all notable people should be given their due in the wake of their deaths, as the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby does. But Jacoby's summary of Kennedy's foreign policy legacy is startling:

Abroad, he failed to take seriously the stakes in the Cold War. “Today, with the exception of East Germany, Russia has no more satellites,’’ he wrote in 1968, the year Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia. He hailed Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet dictator, as “a warm individual . . . completely committed to peace.’’ He fought to cut off aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975 - aid that might have prevented a communist bloodbath. In recent years he was willing to consign millions to Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, opposing not only the 2003 liberation of Iraq but even the 1991 campaign to undo the occupation of Kuwait.

On domestic affairs, Kennedy used most of his influence promoting ways to spend other people's money. While Kennedy has been hailed this week for his courage, in politics, being a big spender is courageous only to the extent of sometimes exposing one to being voted out of office, which would have caused no meals to be missed in Kennedy's household.

As for the issue with which he is most closely associated, in 1971 he missed a chance to provide health insurance to virtually all Americans when he opposed President Nixon's national health insurance plan. His subsequent efforts amounted to de facto acts of expiation for failing as a young man to exhibit the bipartisan temperament for which he being so fulsomely if selectively praised today. The thing is, 38 years ago, he actually could've pulled it off. So whose fault is it that 43 million Americans remain uninsured?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I took this test and came out as above. Looks about right.

Kennedy's Biggest Policy Mistake

Daniel Schorr made it perfectly clear on CBS. In February 1971, President Nixon proposed requiring employers to buy insurance for 150 million working Americans and their families and pay up to three-quarters of the cost of the premiums. The poorest Americans would've gotten 100% government-funded policies. Older Americans would've had their Medicare premiums covered by the feds. The self-employed would have gotten government help for their premiums as well.

Sen. Kennedy called the $2 billion-a-year Nixon plan a boondoggle for the insurance companies and held out for a $60 billion-a-year government takeover of the health care system. The Nixon plan died in Congress. Meeting the former President in 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton said that Congress had erred in failing to embrace his proposal.

Wall Eye

It's not a room; it's a mural on a wall in San Jose, California by artist John Pugh.

Clash Of Civilizations? Nah. Just Idiots.

More news of women being beaten in the name of Islam and the state. A journalist in the Sudan faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers. She says she's willing to endure 40,000 to bring an end to such primitive savagery. Twelve other trouser-wearers copped a plea: Ten lashes each.

The Missing Side Of The Two-State Story

While it's good news that Israel and the U.S. are nearing agreement on a plan to limit West Bank settlements, it's passing strange how little we hear in mainstream outlets about corresponding Israeli and American expectations of concessions from the Palestinian side. The issue makes the 12th paragraph of this BBC story and gets one pro forma sentence:

[Israeli PM Netanyahu] reiterated his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
As if there's been any uncertainty about that since 1948. I can understand why the explicit concession of Israel's Jewishness is problematical for the Palestinians. There are 1.5 million Arabs in Israel, and the demographic trend is on their side. But I can't figure out why the two issues, settlements and Israel's Jewishness, don't get equal play from U.S. and British reporters, especially because they're two sides of the same coin. After all, from the Palestinian perspective, the settlements are an intrusion on the West Bank's essential Arabness.

Ironic that Arabs in the Holy Land will tell you that the U.S. media is endemically pro-Israel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Restoration Accomplished

In his halting November 1979 interview with Roger Mudd, Sen. Kennedy's operative word was "restoration." But just because his brother was cut out to be President didn't mean that he was. Instead, he helped define what it meant to be a great United States senator.

In May 2008, when we learned that Kennedy had cancer, a former Nixon White House aide, Geoff Shepard, published a book accusing him of having manipulated the Watergate scandal for the sake of a, well, Kennedy restoration. In the annals of publishing, a stroke of bad timing. With the country awash in sympathy, I decided it would be in poor taste for the Nixon Foundation to host a planned book event for Shepard with the federal Nixon Library. The gesture endeared us neither to the author nor the feds, but it seemed like the right call at the time.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Birthers, Truthers, And Buffs

Jefferson Flanders on right- and left-wing wack jobs, who, evidently, are pretty much the same.

Bibi Could've Skipped His Press Conference

How interesting: In a BBC article about PM Netanyahu's visit to London, the only substantive issue mentioned is the West Bank settlements. Why did the reporter exclude any reference to Israel's concerns about Palestinian resistance to its nature as an inherently Jewish state?

Sacramental Songs: "The Rising" (2002)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Owing to an administrative oversight, Norah Jones was given the Grammy for this song in 2003.

Two Prime Ministers Passing In the Night

It should come as no surprise that the Jerusalem Post covers Israel-Palestinian issues more carefully than U.S. papers. Stateside, it does seem to be all about the West Bank settlements. In his comments in London today, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu put countervailing stress on Palestinian resistance to the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland. The U.S. is neglectful of that issue, the Post suggests:
Netanyahu's comments came just hours before Wednesday morning's meeting in his London hotel, the Intercontinental, with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell during which the settlements, much more then Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland, are expected to be the focus of discussion.
Indeed no mention of the issue in this New York Times article about a new Palestinian National Authority road map for a state of Palestine within two years. It assumes east Jerusalem as the new nation's capital, which Netanyahu flatly ruled out in in his London press conference.

Brown Sound Only

Proof of Van Halen's ban on brown M&Ms.


The New York Times' Christoph Niemann imagines a sixth borough: Legoland.

IT Phone Tome

BlackBerry vs. iPhone -- you decide. (This analysis gives short shrift to the amazing BB Storm.)

Faster Eddie

Nixon son-in-law Ed Cox's campaign to be New York's GOP chairman picks up steam as the incumbent bows out.

"Pro-Torture" Christians

Andrew Sullivan, an eloquent conservative voice against torture, rouses himself from his "summer bloggatical" to respond to yesterday's developments. In his post, he reiterates Matthew Yglesias's generalization about bloodthirsty evangelical Christians. I assume they have evidence to back their statements up. Sullivan's comparison of the attitudes of evangelicals and Iranian Muslims would take an exceptionally specific poll question, asked of both Americans and Iranians:
[M]uch of the American people, especially evangelical Christians, expect less in terms of human rights from their own government than Iranians do of theirs'. In fact, American evangelicals are much more pro-torture in this respect than many Iranian Muslims.

Forgetfulness Songs: "These Days" (1973)

Jackson Browne

Only Netanyahu Can Go To Ramallah

Israel in London, sounding conciliatory.

It's Soft Being Green

Making fun of silly travel gimmicks and gadgets, the "Economist" errs:
Someone out there will doubtless claim that the Skyrest travel pillow changed their travelling life. But if you're going to prop a pale blue cushion the size of a television on your knees and sleep on it, you will look absurd.
Oh, like people trying to sleep on airplanes ever look good, such as with their heads wedged between seats and drool running down their chins. This guy might look absurd; he also looks asleep.

We're Reluctant Enough To Sing As It Is

Arguing that the conspiracy-addled far right has merged with the GOP mainstream, Jonathan Chait merges his ecclesiastical metaphors:
Now, mainstream Republican leaders are reading from the same hymnal.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yorba Linda Sky

8 p.m. PDT Monday

Meeting The Beatles Again For The First Time

Inspecting an alien audio medium in "Men In Black," Tommy Lee Jones says, "I guess I'll have to buy the White Album again." He'll have his chance in a couple of weeks. As Brian Hiatt writes in the Sept. 3 "Rolling Stone," when the Beatles' catalog was issued on CD in 1987, critics said the sound was shrill and grating compared to vinyl. Expectations are high for the Sept. 9 release of newly remastered Beatles CDs, a development enabled by an agreement among Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and the widows of George Harrison and John Lennon. From painstaking digital transfers made from the closely guarded original tapes followed by the latest remastering, all overseen by a team of Abbey Road engineers associated with Beatles producer George Martin, these little miracles will ensue, writes Hiatt:
"Love Me Do"...loses its dusty, distant haze of age, and "The Long and Winding Road" no longer has what [chief engineer Allen] Rouse described as a "muffled" quality to it. Otherwise, it's a matter of suddenly noticing details: McCartney's nimble bass line on "And Your Bird Can Sing," the vivid three-dimensionality of Starr's opening and closing high-hat on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the cinematic quality of the choirs and orchestra on "Good Night."
The RS cover story, by Mikal Gilmore, recounts the band's slow-motion breakup. It wasn't just that Lennon tried to force his mates to accept Yoko Ono as the fifth Beatle, as most seem to believe. It was also differences over money and management and Lennon's self-consciousness about McCartney's greater output (at that particular moment) as a songwriter. After Lennon announced the breakup at a 1969 meeting where McCartney was trying to persuade the Beatles to go on the road again, Ono told a journalist:
We went off in the car, and he turned to me and said, "That's it with the Beatles. From now on, it's just you -- OK?" I thought, "My God, those three guys were the ones entertaining him for so long. Now I have to be the one to take the load."
What do you expect from four young guys with all that money and fame? Of course I had to spend the weekend listening to their albums. First, "Beatles 1," with their 27 #1 hits. The first dozen, from "Love Me Do" through "Day Tripper" (who wrote that opening lick, the Beatles or Eric Clapton?) are miraculous, but then you hit some mediocre songs, beginning with "We Can Work It Out," in which freshness gives way to self-importance. For the bridge, Lennon wrote, "Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend," while McCartney wrote in the verse, "Try to see it my way...Why da ya see it your way?" We can work it out, as long as I win. The song doesn't synthesize competing melodic and thematic ideas and ends with a ponderous, awkward cadence. The Beatles wouldn't part for another four years, but the seeds were planted.

I can also do without "Paperback Writer" (ambitious pop stars making fun of ambitious writers), "Yellow Submarine," "Eleanor Rigby" (faux empathy), and "Lady Madonna" (as if the Beatles were conducting their home lives particularly admirably).

The Beatles' last #1, "The Long and Winding Road," has a sappy string accompaniment which was added on, I learned from the Gilmore article, by Phil Spector and recently removed by McCartney for a pared-down re-release of "Let It Be." At the time, Spector said of producer extraordinaire Martin, "I don't consider him in my league. He's an arranger, that's all." In retrospect, Martin comes out on top, and not just because the "wall of sound" is behind bars. After "Beatles 1," I listened to the Martin-produced "The Beatles" (aka the White Album) straight through for the first time in years. Maybe it's because I first heard it when I was an impressionable 14 (I got it for Christmas in 1968), but it's still astonishing in breadth and scope. It rocks, it soars, it shimmers, it tantalizes. As Gilmore writes, the Beatles had been listening to the Band, and you can tell from "Rocky Raccoon" and "Don't Pass Me By." It's got a song about candy, George Harrison's "Savoy Truffle," and social commentary that works, especially the "Piggies" out on the town eating their bacon (even as the Beatles were in the process of cooking the goose that laid their gold records).

Is "Back in the USSR" the greatest Beatles song? It's certainly their most confident straight-out rocker, plus an affectionate Chuck Berry and Beach Boys parody. And that's what's most amazing about "The Beatles" -- its tongue-in-cheek sophistication, as if the band is letting us in on something. They parody things that have been barely invented, such as heavy metal with "Helter Skelter." Songs fall apart at the end Wilco-style, like Lennon's "Dear Prudence." "Long, Long, Long" and especially "Good Night," with its soporific vocal and creepy strings (Spector should have done so well), sound pre-apocalyptic. In "Revolution," the Beatles refused to pander to the prevailing elite Zeitgeist. (Lennon probably wouldn't have liked that statue of Mao at the Nixon Library.) But something was going on. Something was about to happen. This amazing record captures it.

"We'll Kill Your Children" (Lest You Kill Ours)

A summary of the IG's report on CIA interrogation techniques. Every American should grapple with the fact that these things were done in our name -- without ever forgetting that the interrogators loved their families and country and were convinced their actions would help protect us against implacable and fanatical enemies.

The Reason JFK Named His Brother

I'm sure the President is acutely grateful, even in the midst of the massive bipartisan health care push that will help define his term, for his attorney general's tender conscience:
Aides said Holder himself was so troubled by some of the reports [of alleged abuses by CIA interrogators] that he felt a prosecutor might be needed – even though the move is likely to be viewed as an unwelcome distraction by the White House.

"Four Christs": Sermon For 12 Pentecost

Some of Jesus's followers fled when he said they'd have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to be saved. Perhaps they were terrified by the sheer intimacy of the suggestion. Talk about violating boundaries! And yet our God in Christ does seek an intimacy with us, in one way or another. Christians who participate in Holy Eucharist (aka communion or the mass) find meaning in the ultimate mystery of humankind joining with the divine, evangelical Christians in individual salvation, progressive Christians in accountability and interdependence among members of the body of Christ. If God has made a difference in our hearts, the precise details may not matter as much. Most of us probably borrow from all three. We St. John's pilgrims also encountered a fourth Jesus, the Jesus of history, in water lapping along the Sea of Galilee (where we celebrated Holy Eucharist ourselves one day; thanks to Andy Guilford for the photo), hillside homes in Nazareth, even shards of pottery that Kathy excavated at Sepphoris. However we find him, he takes delight. My Sunday sermon is here. Canny listeners will note the error about Solomon building the Second Temple. Can I still blame jet lag?

This Beating's For You!

Here's some progress to report in the annals of justice and gender equity. While Malaysian authorities plan to give a brutal, primitive beating to a woman in the name of the state and Islamic law because she drank beer, for "compassionate reasons" they have decided to delay the torture until Ramadan is over. What a great bunch of guys, huh?

Sometimes, We're Burundi

A primer on other nations' health care systems by T. R. Reid at the Washington Post:

In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Baby Steps To The Promised Land

Veteran foreign affairs watcher Jim Hoagland, trying to decide whether President Obama is canny or merely weak, assesses the lack of progress so far in the Middle East:

Obama has also left some Arab leaders with whom he recently met confused and doubtful about his intentions on Middle East peace. They have reported to aides that the president acknowledged that he has failed thus far to secure matching concessions from Arab countries and Israel as the basis for new negotiations.

The Arabs complain that they have been offered no tangible incentives to move toward normalizing relations with Israel before an Israeli-Palestinian deal is reached. They dismiss both Obama's publicly undisclosed demand for a one-year freeze on Israeli settlements and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's counteroffer of a six-month freeze as equally meaningless.

"Incrementalism and the step-by-step approach has not, and we believe will not, achieve peace," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Washington on July 31. The comments by Saud, who did not see Obama, echoed the broad Arab consensus that Obama has not been bold enough. "Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace," the Saudi prince added.

I don't understand how anything but incrementalism will work in the Middle East, as long as it is moving the right direction. What do Arab leaders expect from Obama? Israel is a sovereign democracy that can be pressured but not forced to stop West Bank and east Jerusalem settlements. Do they want the U.S. to punish Israel by slashing its aid budget, which runs around $3 billion a year? Hard to imagine how that would work at home politically unless we cut authoritarian Egypt's $1.7 billion take as well.

Beyond that, Obama doesn't have many cards to play. He took a courageous risk by going to work on the Middle East so early in his Presidency. Responsible conversation partners in the region might want to return the favor by joining him on the path to peace, baby steps and all. If they don't, he's entitled to wonder how much they really want his initiative to succeed. It's also worth noting that when Bill Clinton brokered a bold, comprehensive peace deal in 2000, it was Yasser Arafat who blinked.

Jericho Portrait

Fellow St. John's pilgrim Andy Guilford took this picture of my elder daughter Valerie and me on a balcony of the Monastery of the Temptation high above Jericho in the West Bank.

World Clock

This is eerie, especially when you click the "day" option.

Besides, Remember Lot's Wife

Commentators on the Youpai Forum complain on moral grounds about the statues of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. (More commentary here.) These Chinese communist leaders, they write, were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions. The writers don't say why they think bad people shouldn't be depicted three-dimensionally as opposed to in photographs and text, since I assume the bloggers don't want all references to Mao and Zhou in the museum expunged.

It may be that the critics, who are asking federal Library director Tim Naftali to remove the statues, are mistaking an exhibit for a memorial. As the Nixon aide (later, private Nixon Library director) who supervised the design of the display in which the statues appear, I can say with absolute confidence that they weren't intended to honor anyone. We asked President Nixon to pick the ten leaders he'd met who'd had the most decisive impact on the postwar world. Four of his choices were leaders of communist regimes -- the two Chinese plus Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Khrushchev. The idea was to give visitors an idea of what they looked like and illustrate RN's proposition that the U.S. could be a force for stability and constructive change by finding ways to be in dialog even with leaders of unfriendly or unsavory powers.

Nixon would have been the first to say that the Chinese regime was odious. He dedicated much of his career to opposing communism. And yet there's considerable evidence that his overtures and policies were good for the Chinese and Soviet peoples, in the same way that the North Koreans and Iranians might end up being better off if relations with the U.S. improved. While Library officials may well decide to replace the whole exhibit one day, Soviet- and PRC-style airbrushing of the politically incorrect or even morally repugnant is a terrible and an anti-historical idea.

Yorba Linda Sky

7:40 p.m. PDT