Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sunday Morning Massacre

Jones goes.

Satan's Backrub

What the world needs now is more medieval misogyny. Not. Though its Muslim culture has always been relatively conservative, Gaza's self-appointed church laddies, the New York Times reports, are turning up the heat when it comes to women's clothing and public displays of affection. Cover up, women, lest "the devil play in the minds of men." The good news is that even the Hamas-controlled government is worried that it's going too far. Dealing with lunatics can tempt a regime with the heavenly ways of moderation.

Sultan Of Strings

Folkie finger-style guitar god Mark Knopfler (founder of Dire Straits) has a new album, "Get Lucky." Listen to a taste of the record and a 16-minute interview here. The songs sound wonderful, of course. At about 7:00, he rhapsodizes about his guitar collection. Asked about his "desert island" guitar, he named two: A 1950s flattop Gibson and a custom-made by John Monteleone in Islip, New York.

She Still Needs A Future

There's a reason Presidents don't risk getting involved in the Middle East, with its ancient hatreds and treacherous politics, until relatively late in their terms, if at all. President Obama showed courage, perhaps born of naive self-confidence, by naming a Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, even before he was inaugurated.

In the months since, Mitchell has pressed Israel hard on the West Bank settlements. The Palestinians responded by spurning such incremental measures while refusing to budge on Israel's demand that they acknowledge that it is an inherently Jewish state. Now Israel has announced new settlement construction, prompting howls from Ramallah and a stern rebuke from the White House.

Michael Crowley speculates that Mitchell secretly green-lighted the new construction to help reset the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, presumably by making the PM appear less beholden to Washington in the eyes of Israeli voters. Crowley refers to reporting along these lines by Ben Smith at "Politico," but the link doesn't work, and I couldn't find anything from Smith except a blog item about the White House statement. If there's a chess game underway, I'd prefer to think that Mitchell and Netanyahu were collaborating on a message to the Palestinians that they need to bring something to the table, too. Otherwise, Crowley writes:
Obama has now essentially been flipped off by both the Israelis and the Arabs, no?
Which is precisely why Presidents usually stay away from Jerusalem until they've got almost nothing to lose. Israelis and Palestinians who really want peace might remember that an attentive White House will be nearly indispensable and begin to act accordingly.

Friday, September 4, 2009

And The Cop Says, "I Suspect The Thurifer"

The Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger, LA's firefighting priest, rector of the Church of the Ascension in Sierra Madre, reports from somewhere behind the lines of the still-treacherous Station fire:
I realize it’s been a few days since the last update… sorry but I’ve been a little busy and somewhat out of touch. The real fire chief got back on Monday and contrary to expectations – the fire didn’t go out. In fact, as of tonight it is about 155,000 acres and at 44% containment – the biggest fire in Los Angeles County in recorded history. Every major watershed in the Los Angeles basin has been burned out. The most visited National Forest available to an urban population in the United States will be unavailable for who knows how long, Two firefighters have died and dozens have been injured. Civilian injuries have been limited, thankfully, and most were due to people refusing to evacuate as advised. 64 homes and several businesses have been lost. It will take years for us to calculate the losses, and centuries for the forest to recover.

And we’re not out of the woods yet. There is still an awful lot of open “line” and some of the most critical is right above Sierra Madre. The next few days will be critical. We need favorable winds, lower temperatures and higher humidities. And a lot of hard work by the ground-pounder firefighters, dozers and aircraft.

My job on the fire for the last few days has been Agency Representative for the City of Sierra Madre. (I’m a long way from the fire lines – my personal biggest risk is paper-cuts.) What I do is go back and forth between the city and the Incident Command Post in Lake View Terrace and I go to planning meetings, briefings, and spend time with field supervisors. I had a fun time today with some guys from an incident management team from Alabama who have come to watch how we do this in California. I also stand around bored some of the time.

Today was quite emotional as there was a memorial service at the fire camp before the 6a.m. briefing for the two fallen firefighters. Later, there was a procession for one of the men from the mortuary in North Hollywood past the command post and fire camp out to his home in Victorville. Hundreds of firefighters and law enforcement people, and even some civilians who figured out what was happening, lined the freeway all along the way.

I am going to get coverage from “SMD AREP” duty on Sunday and do my “regular” job on Sunday. I’m really looking forward to some normalcy. At the Command Post, a few days ago I ran into another priest with a similar interesting side gig – he’s a reserve deputy sheriff. We compared sermon notes and realized how odd this might be to some people. Some folks took our picture together. I can’t wait to send it on with the beginnings of a joke – “Two Episcopal priests walk into a Fire Command Post – one is dressed like a fire chief and one is dressed like a cop, and-- “ The contest is to come up with the funniest punch-line.

All shall be well – God is good.

Hey, Where're You Putin Those Bombs?

Creepy news about a publisher suppressing its own expose of Russian PM Vladimir Putin -- and, if it's true, creepy news about Putin:

The article, "Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power" by veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson, quotes a former KGB official on the record and at length implicating Russia's shadow leader in a string of Moscow apartment bombings that killed hundreds in 1999 and were officially blamed on Chechen terrorists. The wave of fear created by the attacks played a critical role in launching Putin to power.

Flavorful "Extract"

"Extract" is an offbeat, kind movie about extraction, as in being loose when you're feeling impacted. Joel (Jason Bateman) is experiencing a stalled marriage and flirting with the idea that it will help to retire. The die is cast when his druggie bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck, in one of the best performances of his career), meaning to give him a Xanax to improve his mood, accidentally slips him a horse tranquilizer, in whose throes Joel makes the fateful decision to authorize the hiring of a male prostitute to seduce his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), which will enable him in turn to seduce an inventive grifter, Cindy (Mila Kunis, right), without feeling guilty about it.

All this happens in a small town somewhere populated by small-town characters whom writer-director Mike Judge indulges and embraces rather than ridicules. Marvelously and phlegmatically played by Bateman, Joel is a good guy whom it's hard to feel especially sorry for. In graduate school, he invented a root beer extract recipe. He's now rich with a talented wife and beautiful house. At his extract factory, the genial plant manager, Brian (J. K. Simmons), keeps everything humming along, though he calls all the employees "Dingus" because he can't remember their names. The greatest thorn in Joel's side is his banally diabolical neighbor, Nathan (David Koechner, above), who spends most of the movie trying to collect $110 from Joel and Suzie for tickets to a Rotary Club dinner they don't want. You're not sure whom you want to strangle first -- Nathan or Joel for putting up with him. In the end, the couple realize they're free after all, Joel by taking care of people, Suzie by saying what she means. They even go cheerfully to the Rotary Club dinner, though Nathan can't make it.

Moving Van?

No matter what his qualifications, a person who thinks President Bush was in on the Sept. 11 attacks has no business working in the White House. It sounds like President Obama also realizes that Van Jones should step down.

Blessed Are The War-Preventers

Noting my passing reference to Dr. King earlier today, a friend who discerningly studies leadership (and pretty much everything else) shared his jewel of a precis:
The courage, charisma and eloquence of Dr. King may have prevented a racial war that would have left history's greatest country divided and weakened. If wars can change history, so can those preventing wars. Dr. King was a peacemaker appropriately awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, and uniquely honored with an American national holiday. Following in the footsteps of Gandhi, King demonstrated the courage it takes to be a peacemaker. He kept his eye on the prize despite being stabbed in New York, stoned in Chicago, and bombed in Montgomery. His tragic Memphis martyrdom underscored the threat of racism and the depth of Dr. King's courage to give his last full measure of devotion.

I Was For Them Before I Was Against Them

Reporting today in the New York Times --
Israeli officials said Friday that the government would authorize construction of hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements in advance of a building freeze of six to nine months aimed at restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. The announcement prompted a sharp rebuke from the White House and the Palestinian leadership.
-- provoked a recollection of Leon Wieseltier's observation last week:
I see no evidence in Netanyahu of Begin-like or Rabin-like greatness. Politics will always keep him from history. His diplomatic strategy is to postpone diplomacy or to bog it down. He will prevaricate--proposing freezes, denying freezes--on behalf of the status quo, in which the time is never right for the recognition that the Jewish state may be destroyed not by a Palestinian state but by the failure to allow one to come into being. There is nothing visionary about this. A look at the fertility rates on the west side of the Jordan River tells the tale. The continued appeasement of the settlers, and the continued alienation of the Palestinians, and the continued cartographic distortion of the West Bank, are in no way good for Israel. It is cynical and short-sighted to suggest otherwise.

More Proof Nixon Invented The Internet

Here. First announced here.

Welcome To The Pigpen

My colleague the Rev. Susan Russell has blogged about a report that the divorce rate in Massachusetts has dropped since gay marriages began five years ago.

A blessing that this is happening, whatever the reason. But I doubt it has anything to do with the uniquely mature or conciliatory qualities that gay and lesbian people may be bringing to their marriages.

Here's how you get that statistic. Lots of gay couples got married all of a sudden. Some were longtime, stable couples, ergo fewer divorces. Either way, the marriages are relatively recent, ergo fewer divorces. Both these factors would drive down the state average. Take the same measure in ten or 15 years (or even seven!), or constrain the samples by controlling for marriages' duration, and we shall see.

My guess is that, statistically speaking, gay people will make precisely the same muck of their marriages as straight people.

Saturday Night Live, Sunday Morning Wonk

Sen. Al Franken skillfully toes the party line at the Minnesota State Fair. I wish I could erase the "angry mob" reference on this YouTube video, since it is nowhere in evidence. As for the senator, who likes the Switzerland model of heavily regulated private insurance, he gets a little testy with a man who mentions illegal immigration and its impact on health care costs.

The Gospel According To Boaz

Political scientist Cynthia Boaz has always told friends that the U.S. shouldn't consider itself a Christian nation but rather one based on secular, Enlightenment values. But when she applied New Testament teachings to domestic and foreign policy issues, she liked what she discovered.

I don't agree with much of her analysis, especially the canard that the NT proves that Jesus and his followers were socialists. As for foreign policy, imagine a President saying after a brazen attack such as Pearl Harbor or Sept. 11 that we are called to love and forgive our enemy and turn the other cheek, namely Los Angeles or Seattle.

It's important to remember that Jesus's earthly ministry was personal, one-on-one, incarnational. He was most concerned about individual, not corporate, behavior. When tempted with the prospect of wielding earthly, political power, he pointedly declined. He didn't quite say so, but one can easily imagine him believing that if he could persuade people to behave justly and peaceably toward one another in close quarters, then justice and peace would thrive everywhere.

Still, Boaz's essay should be provocative for all Scripture followers, if only as a reminder of how Christian principles can influence and infuse our relationships with those to whom we are closest. Her conclusion:
[H]onest Christians are hard-pressed to deny that the example offered by Jesus' life tells us that if our own spiritual evolution (and frankly, salvation) is a consideration, we have no choice but to not only hold the needs of others in equal stead with our own, but must find ways to share what (oftentimes little) we have in order to fulfill that calling.

So if we concede that the United States is a "Christian nation," it follows that its citizens, as practitioners of the teachings of Jesus, should be: anti-war, anti-gun, anti-death penalty, pro-universal health care, pro-taxes and pro-(democratic) socialism, while also being - to the rest of the world - forgiving, meek, humble, generous and loving of everyone, even perceived enemies.


At age 50, Frank Mickadeit of the Orange County Register, one of the last of the big-city reporting columnists, reports on his first week at Chapman University's law school:
[W]e got a bracing talk from Assistant Dean Jayne Kacer, who illustrated with an anecdote just how small the seemingly vast O.C. legal community really is, and how knowledge is nothing without reputation. One O.C. judge she knows was taking over the case load of another judge and came upon an unfamiliar acronym in the notes the outgoing judge had made in one file – “LLPOF.” Ah, the old judge said, it was there to remind him about the character of the attorney who was trying that case. It stood for, “liar, liar, pants on fire.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brother Songs: "It's Been A Long Time" (1991)

Southside Johnny & and the Asbury Jukes, with Bruce Springsteen and Steve van Zandt. And they say the Kennedys were America's only royal family.

Matt Pat

Matthew Yglesias:
Richard Nixon’s universal health care plan is pretty fantastic.

Found It!

In the late '70s I loved a peppy song, "You Got Me Runnin'," by Ohio-born singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, which hurtled all the way to #33 on the national charts in January 1977. Been trying to find it for a couple of years, but it's too obscure for iTunes. When I searched again tonight, it popped up on YouTube and at IMEEM. According to some of the YouTube comments, it's a religious song, which, now that I think about it, makes sense. Just this year Cotton released a Christian album, "Songs For the Journey." Besides his music, he ran unsuccessfully for the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2001 and has devoted himself considerably to good works. I'll leave this good work here so I know where to find it.

Light Of The World

Taken from the International Space Station. Click on the picture or go here.

They're So Mad, They Want To Eat Paste

Outraged by President Obama's plan to talk to schoolchildren, leading conservatives impersonate them.

Middle Was Set On Medium

New studies of Arctic temperatures confirm that there was a Medieval Warm Period a millennium ago but that it was cooler than the region is today.

Tolerant Tirana

A fascinating article by Nathan Thrall about Albania, the Muslim world's most open-minded, pro-U.S. nation. It's even flirting with same-sex unions. Bad news: Nearly three-quarters of Albania's violent deaths are vendetta or revenge killings. As for Albanians' piety:
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Muslim world's most tolerant nation is also its most secular. A recent Gallup poll (free registration required) found that of every Balkan and Muslim-majority nation, Albania had the smallest proportion of people who said religion was an important part of their daily lives.

Another Security Wall In Israel

Archaeologists working in Jerusalem have found a massive fortification showing that the ancient Canaanites had a formidable civilization:

The wall dates to the 17th century B.C., when Jerusalem was a small, fortified enclave controlled by the Canaanites, one of the peoples the Bible says lived in the Holy Land before the Hebrew conquest. The kingdom thought to have been ruled from Jerusalem by the biblical King David is usually dated to at least seven centuries later.

More grist for Palestinians' indigenous peoples argument.


Another conservative, Steve Chapman, bails on Afghanistan:

The U.S. has remained in Afghanistan this long on the assumption that it was a war we had to win: Pull out and we would soon be back where we were on Sept. 10, 2001, with the Taliban in control and al-Qaida enjoying a refuge from which to launch attacks. But our safety does not require us to stay there to engage in the costly and open-ended projects known as nation-building, or even to defeat the extremists.

Before the attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. government was averse to going after our enemies in Afghanistan. But no jihadist in the most remote reaches of Helmand province could possibly expect a repetition of that forbearance. Even if the Taliban were to regain power, they and al-Qaida would know that any attempt to strike American targets would assure another cataclysmic response.

Today's "safe haven" for terrorists actually lies in Pakistan, which the U.S. has not seen the need to invade. The threat to Pakistan from Islamic extremists is commonly offered as another rationale for our presence in Afghanistan. But as the war has continued, Pakistan has grown less stable and more vulnerable, suggesting that our efforts are either ineffectual or counterproductive.

Hoping to hang a failure around President Obama's neck, partisan Republicans may be tempted to join in. It would be better for the country and especially our troops if we devised a bipartisan plan for disengaging from the ground war while continuing to battle al-Qaeda with all effective means at our disposal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

They Paved The Holy City, Put Up A Parking Lot

When Jerusalem's municipal government opened a new parking lot for those visiting the Old City, ultra-Orthodox Jews begin protesting and rioting because it's open on the Sabbath:
Yoelish Kraus, the operations chief for the Eda Haredit, the militantly Orthodox organization behind the protests, said the mayor’s mistake was announcing the opening of the parking lot at a news conference. As soon as there is a public sanction for violating the Sabbath, he said, “we have to fight.”

Bobby Kennedy Sought Vietnam Peace Mission

A peek at Sen. Kennedy's soon-to-be-published memoirs:

Mr. Kennedy tells of a secret meeting in the spring of 1967 between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy, whose increasingly outspoken criticism of the war in Southeast Asia was becoming a political threat to Mr. Johnson. According to the book, Robert Kennedy proposed that Mr. Johnson gave him authority to personally negotiate a peace treaty in Vietnam. This, implicitly, would have kept Mr. Kennedy out of the 1968 race for the Democratic nomination, a prospect that Mr. Johnson had come to worry greatly about.

“If the president had accepted his offer,” the book says, “Bobby certainly would have been too immersed in the peace process to become involved in presidential primary.” Mr. Johnson could not take the offer at face value, concerned that Robert Kennedy had ulterior motives.

Bah, Billboard!


Attention, Brothers [And Sisters*]

The NIV, the leading Bible translation among U.S. evangelical Christians, is going gender-neutral.

He Is Smiling Impishly

A former Nixon aide (and a principal collaborator on the sections of his memoirs about Watergate) is going to anchor a network newscast.

Afghan Hearts And Minds

Because I think that, thanks to Richard Nixon's policies, South Vietnam might have held on indefinitely if the U.S. Congress hadn't deprived it of guns and bullets after our troops came home in 1973, I resist Vietnam-Afghanistan comparisons. Yet it's a weird experience reading this "Economist" survey of recent developments and substituting "Viet Cong" for "Taliban" and "Diem" for "Karzai."

To venture further into the analogy, Afghanistan was Bush's intervention (substitute the Vietnam-era "JFK") and Obama's escalation ("LBJ"). The danger is whether the U.S. will end up taking ownership of the Afghans' faltering regime as we did when we acquiesced in the coup against Diem in 1963.

Bush managed to commence the U.S. extraction from Iraq before its government could lose legitimacy as the result of being pegged as a U.S. puppet. Obama will have that model to follow, ironically enough. If he doesn't, and if the U.S. military effort escalates as the Afghan regime grows weaker, we'll need another new Nixon to try to clean up the mess.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bipartisanly Nonnegotiable

Christine Russell on how Sen. Kennedy kept President Carter from enacting health care reform, too.

"To Not Judge": Sermon For 13 Pentecost

Ted Kennedy died on the day the Episcopal Church remembered Louis IX of France, 13th century namesake of St. Louis, Missouri, a pious and compassionate ruler who authorized the burning of Jewish manuscripts and participated in two Crusades. Imagine that: A good guy, and yet history's jury is still out. How do Christians judge a public person such as Sen. Kennedy? Perhaps on outcomes. (Does that mean he's no good if we don't agree with him?) On process, then. (Which effective politician has never been cynical, hypocritical, opportunistic, or demagogic?) Then at least we can judge them on how close they are to God. (Really? And how much do we really know about someone else's walk?) As it turns out, while we're certainly entitled to our opinion as citizens, our God in Christ doesn't give us a vocabulary for judgment. Instead, the gospel warns us explicitly against two impulses, pride and anger, that often lead to our harshest judgments of others. My Sunday sermon is here.

Who Really Speaks For Mary Jo?

I guess it's always a matter of whose ends and whose means. The Justice Department prepares to investigate CIA agents who may have stepped over the line to protect their country. Andrew Sullivan bristles when a columnist ponders whether it was appropriate to torture the Sept. 11 mastermind to see if he knew of more plots. Meanwhile two writers openly speculate about whether the death by slow suffocation of Mary Jo Kopechne was worth the subsequent blossoming of Sen. Kennedy's legislative career. First, Melissa Lafsky wrote:
Who knows -- maybe she'd feel it was worth it.
Only to be seconded by one of our country's most respected novelists and critics, Joyce Carol Oates:
[I]f one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?
As a Christian, I get that redemption can come from tragedy. Kennedy himself seems to have looked at it in that light. Oates's larger point is also about redemption. But this utilitarian-sounding weighing of the large good vs. the one instance of bad -- especially when imputed to the young woman herself -- is beyond the pale in that it would seem to invite the opportunistic to make the case for the purportedly small evil in advance.

Digital Road To Nowhere

After experimenting with his new Kindle DX, rock star David Byrne (Talking Heads) identifies a problem I hadn't (but should've, given the amount of energy federal archivists have put into trying to solve the same problem as it pertains to other digitized documents):
Years from now, having gone through a few computers, your music collection is unplayable except for the files without DRM. Well, same with these books — if you migrate to a different tablet (the forthcoming Apple one we hear so much about, for example), you are [unlucky]. All the unread books in your Kindle library are stuck on what will eventually become antiquated technology.
And yet...As Kindle users know, the books you buy (though not the newspapers, magazines, and blog articles) are saved indefinitely on Amazon's servers. If the buyer retains the right to view the texts even after the Kindle is replaced by something else, maybe Amazon will end up with the responsibility for making sure the data is available to the users who purchased them.

No School, No Hope

Want to know one of the worst problems in the world? Think about this fact, from the international aid organization PLAN (the former Foster Parents Plan):
UNICEF found that 101 million children of primary school age were not in school in 2007 — of these, 58 million were girls.

Goodnight Kabul

George Will on Afghanistan:
[B]efore launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan...
Which of course would leave the Afghan people largely to themselves once again, even if the Taliban regain control of the national government. And that probably can't be helped.

In the 1990s there was a seminal article in the "New Yorker" about the ruling fundamentalist Muslim Taliban's savage policies, especially toward women. I remember thinking that it was too bad the U.S. couldn't do something, which, of course, it couldn't. American foreign policy can't be based on eliminating odious regimes. If it were, we would probably have to begin with our trading partners and bondholders in Beijing.

After Sept. 11, U.S. forces made seeming quick work of the Taliban. The successor regime, while hardly ideal when it came to women's rights, was a considerable improvement. If we hadn't undertaken the massive effort in Iraq, perhaps President Bush could have made Afghanistan into a model of modern nation-building while also doing a more thorough job of rooting out Taliban fighters and reducing their destabilizing effect on Pakistan. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Afghanistan is the rock on which great powers stub their toes in wearying succession. If there's one lesson of the last 150 years, it's don't get embroiled in a war there. As Will suggests, find other ways to battle al-Qaeda. But get our troops out.

To accomplish a deescalation, President Obama will need cover from like-minded Republicans who refuse and even pledge to forgo using it as a political issue. If that doesn't seem possible in this toxic political environment, perhaps everyone could think about how toxic it is for the men and women who have been sent to Afghanistan to do the near-impossible. And if anyone is thinking of making a Vietnam comparison, please don't. South Vietnam was Switzerland in comparison.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Health Care Reform's 1971 Death Panel

Reflecting on President Nixon's Ted Kennedy-scuttled national health insurance plan in 1971, Paul Krugman criticizes today's right-wing ideologues (for opposing such reforms now) with nary a word of direct criticism of yesterday's left wing ideologues (for making them impossible then). That crazy swinging pendulum! The San Jose Mercury News also weighed in on Kennedy's refusal to work with Nixon.

Great Cover Songs: "Bizarre Love Triangle" (1986)

Original by New Order. Cover by these guys.

Barely Registering

Freedom Communications and the Orange County Register are reportedly about to file for bankruptcy.

Rancho Santa Margarita Sky

5:30 p.m. PDT
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Torturing Grandma

Torture in America, less than a century ago: The brutal treatment of women protesting peacefully for the vote in front of Woodrow Wilson's White House, culminating in an almost unbelievable "night of terror" in November 1917. Hunger striker Alice Paul was tortured for weeks. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know about this before. Read about it here and here.


Muslims' anti-Hindu hate speech (complete with the severed head of a cow) in Malaysia.

Losing Will

George Will is reportedly calling on the U.S. to withdraw its ground forces from Afghanistan.

Primates And Piccolos

Designed and worn by a high school band in Missouri, this t shirt was banned by district officials because it was seen as promoting evolution. "Discover" magazine has the story.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Still Awaiting Islam's Reformation

The headline in the New York Times refers to "hints of pluralism" among Muslims in Egypt. But the article is disappointing. It acknowledges that one courageous commentator, Gamal al-Banna, the brother of the founder of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, has been preaching a liberal line for years. All that's changed, in Egypt as elsewhere, is the reach of new media:
It is not that a majority agrees with him; it is not that the tide is shifting to a more moderate interpretative view of religion; it is just that the rise of relatively independent media — like privately owned newspapers, satellite television channels and the Internet — has given him access to a broader audience.

Don't Talk. Listen.

I'm nowhere near young enough to know if "500 Days of Summer" is emblematic of what today's twentysomethings really have to teach and learn about the mating rituals of urban elites. I've studied many of the earlier chapters carefully, however, as the scenes of my own adult life chick-flicker by. Can a Jewish writer in Manhattan find happiness (and avoid a statutory rape rap) with a shiksa half his age? Can Harry learn to think about Sally in other than purely sexual terms before they fall passionately in love? Will Bridget Fonda find a man who will say "God bless you" when she sneezes?

In the tradition of Woody Allen, Rob Reiner, and Cameron Crowe, directors of 1970s "Manhattan," 1980s "When Harry Met Sally," and 1990s "Singles," comes 34-year-old Marc Webb, whose "500" does for Los Angeles what his predecessors did for New York and Seattle. First movie I've ever seen with a character, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keanu Reeves with facial expressions), who ogles LA architecture. He's absolutely convinced that Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) is the one. I was, too, because that's how these movies usually go -- even after a weird-sounding omniscient narrator warned us at the very beginning that it wasn't a love story.

The problem is that Summer's just not that into him. After they've broken up, he's a blind date from hell for Alison (Rachel Boston), who, evidently as a public service, patiently and methodically asks him if Summer had ever misled him about her feelings or intentions. Certain that kismet is at work, Tom never actually listens to Summer or picks up her ambivalent signals. The movie's gimmick is that she doesn't believe in kismet until she changes her mind, but by then, it's too late for teacher Tom. Affecting movie, great music, appealing though poorly matched young stars, several Woody Allen-style grace notes (such as when Tom imagines himself as characters in Buster Keaton and Ingmar Bergman movies), and an old-fashioned (which is to say timeless) message about listening to what the other person is actually saying.

Pray And Wait And See

A buddy in the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger, is a volunteer firefighter and acting fire chief in the city of Sierra Madre as the chief rushes home. He reports tonight:
Some of you may have heard that today was a bad day for the fire service here. Two guys from the Los Angeles County Fire Department were killed when their vehicle went off the road in the burn area. The names of the two men have not been released. All of my people are accounted for and are safe.

The fire made some significant runs today. The fire is expected to come over Mount Wilson some time this evening. It will still be two big ridges and 4000 feet of elevation away from Sierra Madre, but as the crow flies, it is only 3 miles away. I anticipate some more nervous days ahead, but the terrain is in our favor and the weather is supposed to improve gradually over the next few days. We’ll just have to pray and wait and see.

Iraq At the Water's Edge

A former Spanish ambassador to the U.S. recalls a gracious gesture by Sen. Kennedy:
Shortly after the Iraq war started I saw Senator Kennedy in a public session of the U.S. Supreme Court. As we were taking our seats he briefly took my arm and told me he greatly appreciated the attitude of the Spanish government regarding the decision taken by the White House because, he said, "although you know my position " -- he was one of the few senators to oppose the authorization for the war -- "I appreciate the solidarity with my country in times like this." "I would appreciate if you relay this to President Aznar," he added.

The Road To Reform

My St. John's brother Jeff Allport on government's role in stimulating innovation:
[E]ven the most libertarian of those who don't want the government to tread on them use our freeway systems and complain about toll roads. We've all learned to consider driving a "right." We just haven't reached the same conclusion on healthcare. If we did, we'd demand government sponsored information exchange and bristle at privately controlled healthcare delivery for the privileged. We got our roads, and our innovation built the rest.

Edward The Confessor

A moving exchange of letters between a faithful penitent and the Holy Father.

Hat tip to Paul Arndt