Friday, November 27, 2009

Race For The Pure

A civics lesson from Matthew Yglesias:
I know some liberals who are excited about the prospect of a joke candidate like Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney getting the GOP nomination in 2012. Not me. The basic fact of the matter is that power tends to alternate between the two political parties. Ultimately, the nation’s interests require both parties to nominate the best people possible. So I hope the Republicans find someone who’s very smart and compelling and does an excellent job of identifying and explaining the flaws in Barack Obama’s approach.
That's not what actually happens. Whether the races are local or national, the best, and best-funded, candidates end up in campaigns where they have a good chance to win. Was Bob Dole really the best candidate to run against Bill Clinton in 1996 or Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan in 1984? And as a matter of fact, it's not just Democrats who are rooting for a Palin candidacy in 2012. If Republicans nominate her or someone similar and lose as decisively to Barack Obama as I assume she would, Republicans will learn the kind of lessons about being an inclusive, winning party that only two consecutive losses can teach.

Palin' It Forward

Judith Warner bemoans the incivility and impatience people evince in their everyday interactions and suggests we take a page from Sarah Palin's book -- of etiquette, that is. Read Warner's New York Times (you read that right) blog entry here.

Yorba Linda Sky

5 p.m.

Don't Call Fritz Coleman Quite Yet*

Awkwardly positioned Christmas decorations

Over at Facebook, Donald Harrell wrote the headline I wish I had: "No Room at the Bin?"

Yorba Linda Sky

4:30 p.m.

Truly Getting Acquainted In The Middle East

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, in the Dec. 3 "New York Review of Books," argue that the current generation of Palestinians is by and large unwilling to recognize Israel's right to exist even on part of its land, whereas most Israelis won't recognize their nation's role in causing the historic plight of the Palestinian people. This is why a comprehensive peace has been out of reach, not the shortcomings of particular leaders at particular times nor the failings of successive U.S. administrations. Agha and Malley do say that the Obama administration has been inept:
In this last respect, Obama is only the latest in a string of American presidents who have shown few limits to the harm they can inflict on those Palestinians they purport to strengthen. By twice twisting Abbas's arm, first to attend a meeting with Netanyahu and then to withdraw the Goldstone report, the administration unwittingly hurt him more in the space of two weeks than its predecessor had done in as many terms. The US hope was to tame Netanyahu, empower Abbas, motivate peace advocates, curtail extremists, and energize negotiations. So far, it has accomplished the precise opposite.
The article was filed on Nov. 3, three days before the Palestinian president said that he wouldn't seek reelection, a development which obviously bolstered the authors' argument -- not that they think a more deft, experienced U.S. administration could ever do much better in view of the two sides' failure to move on the first principles of Israel's right to exist and Palestinians' right to have their grievances addressed. Instead, Agha and Malley favor "a long-term interim arrangement" which would create a de facto Palestinian state (possibly in confederation with Jordan, which could take a lead role in providing security) without resolving the other issues that are usually envisioned as being necessary for a comprehensive deal:
Israel would withdraw from all or part of the West Bank, diminishing friction between the two peoples. Security arrangements would be put in place. More vexing questions, including final boundaries, the fate of refugees and of Jerusalem's holy sites as well as Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, for now put on a slow track, would be taken up only after both peoples had grown accustomed to their new interaction.

By lowering the bar, the proposal would lower the stakes, preserving Israeli and Palestinian aspirations while defusing the conflict's more volatile aspects. Should Palestinians feel more secure and prosperous and Israelis feel safer, the constituencies backing renewed confrontation might shrink. Unlike Oslo's lofty dreams, an interim arrangement would more authentically reflect the two sides' feelings: begrudging mutual acquiescence as opposed to earnest acceptance.

Black Friday Indeed In The Holy Land

Ethan Bronner believes Middle East peace talks won't resume soon, since Israel really isn't suspending West Bank settlement construction and the Palestinians really aren't tamping down violence against Israel:
[E]ach side in this dispute has stopped listening to the complaints and the accusations of the other. Many Israelis now firmly believe that the Palestinians are not serious about two states; the Palestinians feel the same way about the Israelis. As a result, each is appealing to a foreign audience in hopes of bringing pressure on the other.

Who's Eating Who?

In the U.S., turkeys and consumers are bulking up simultaneously. Read the details in the "Economist," then skip that turkey sandwich (or at least hold the mayo).

No "Covert Coping"

Quietly absorbing workplace injustices is bad for your health.

The Church Standing Pat

Pat Buchanan lauds U.S. bishops' and Rome's new militancy about abortion, homosexuality, and converting Anglicans who can't bear the idea of female bishops* and adds this distasteful fusillade to his recitation of the good news:

The Vatican has reaffirmed that Catholics in interfaith dialogues have a moral right if not a duty to convert Jews, and reaffirmed the doctrine that Christ's covenant with his church canceled out and supersedes the Old Testament covenant with the Jews.

When Abe Foxman, screech owl of the Anti-Defamation League, railed that this marks a Catholic return to such "odious concepts as 'supercessionism,'" he was politely ignored.

Buchanan thinks U.S. Roman Catholics have been yearning for this kind of leadership. Not the ones I know, but we'll see. To me, Benedict XVI's revanchist papacy is beginning to look like a medieval nostalgia trip. You really want to see the Church Militant, as Buchanan now defines it? You want to see Christianity as mediator of righteousness, justice, and grace and agent of transformation and salvation? Then recognize women as full members of the body of Christ in all orders of ministry, in all denominations and sects, from the Roman Catholic Church to the Southern Baptists. Repent, and believe in the good news, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

* I first wrote "misogynist Anglicans" and then repented of the name-calling, which was tantamount to saying that every conservative Anglican and indeed Roman Catholic priest wants to keep women down.

The Revenue Side Of Health Care Reform

Charles Krauthammer says use the 2,000-page House and Senate bills to ignite the Yule log and start over:

Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method -- a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one -- tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 -- and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

God Spelled Backwards

This is just the opening exchange. See who gets the last Word here.

Easy Money

Five ways to give without donating.

After Dinner At McCain HQ

Hat tip to

Edwin And His Turkey

It seems strange that a New York Times reporter evinces sympathy for a functionary of a security agency that committed a monumental error when it admitted a publicity-hungry couple into the presence of the Obamas and the Vice President without authorization:
Edwin M. Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service who spent his Thanksgiving Day dealing with phone calls from reporters, would not discuss the investigation in detail but said the initial focus was on “a Secret Service checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list.”
A quarter million or more Americans spent their Thanksgiving serving in hazardous places abroad. Mr. Donovan's colleagues should have done a better job protecting the commander in chief. Under the circumstances, who cares that he was inconvenienced?

The Anti-Gift Party

A grumpy, unsentimental columnist embraces the advice of a grumpy economist: Everybody should give everybody gift cards and cash at Christmas. Bah humbug.

A Good Message For Thanksgiving

A site called Wikileaks has released 500,000 IMs sent the morning of Sept. 11, including this one:
Honey wanted to tell you how much i love you. I was a little worried. I Don't want to lose you now that I got you back. You mean everything to me. You have my whole heart and life. I love you so much.
We don't know who sent it or if anyone received it. But we can still borrow it.

30,000 More Troops To Afghanistan

Writing at the "Daily Beast," veteran foreign affairs watcher Leslie Gelb says he has the inside track on the Afghanistan moves President Obama will announce on Tuesday. Gen. Stanley McCrystal will get at least 30,000 more U.S. troops with an option for 10,000 more in a year if Obama is satisfied with our progress. Our goal will shift from destroying to "dismantling and degrading" al-Qaeda, with a diplomatic component of working more closely with all the nations in the region so that terrorists will have nowhere to hide and rebuild.

Gelb likes what he hears, though he has one big concern:
It’s unclear at the moment just how tough Obama will be with Pakistan. In effect, Islamabad has provided a safe haven for Afghan Taliban for more than a decade as a hedge against Indian encroachments into Afghanistan. As a result, Pakistan urges the United States to stay and fight in Afghanistan to keep the Indians out, but provides succor to the Taliban to hedge against an American withdrawal. So, the Pakistanis want us to stay in Afghanistan and help the Taliban to kill our troops. It’s hard to see how Obama’s new strategy can work unless Pakistan’s leaders are brought to see for themselves the terrible consequences (the strengthening of the Pakistani Taliban extremists) of pursuing this duplicitous course.

Typical Inside-The-Beltway Good Sense

My friend and former colleague Steve Clemons, founding executive director of the Nixon Center, writes that he's thankful for the Obama administration's openness to debate. Must be nice. Too bad debate is being anathematized on the right, which targets Republican candidates for failing to conform to a conservative covenant which in some of its key elements, such as ceding war policy-making to the military, has nothing to do with conservatism.

The GOP's leading light, Sarah Palin, is as far as I've seen unable or unwilling to make a nuanced comment on any policy or political issue or personality. We'll see if a political movement can be built on the pillars of her anger and sense of entitlement. In the meantime, Steve, better see if you can bottle up some of that inside-the-Beltway good sense and sell it on Amazon!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Annals Of Homeland Security

Michaele Salahi and the Vice President. With no invitation and without being on the guest list, she and her husband got into a White House state dinner last night and were hanging out with the Obamas and the Indian prime minister.

Thanksgiving Acceptance

Don't absorb too many lessons from your family over Thanksgiving, Brian Alexander advises on MSNBC:
Don’t overreact to the negative things you see in the relationship between mom and dad. Instead, the goal should be to reach a kind of “comfortable acceptance” that a little conflict is OK, said [therapist and NYU Prof. Judth A.] Siegel. Otherwise, “you may be silenced or become passive and withdrawn. You need a voice to express your differences and disappointments,” she said.

Overreaction is not uncommon, especially if you’ve been away from mom and dad for awhile. The trick is to avoid locking yourself into a pattern just because your folks drive you nuts.

For example, if you’re a woman who sees her mother taking a lot of guff from pops, and you tell yourself “I will demand respect!”, you may shut yourself off from constructive, legitimate criticism.

Detroit Songs: "Mustang Sally" (1965)

Sir Mack Rice in Detroit, July 2009, performing the song he recorded in 1965 (the year the Ford Motor Co. unveiled the Mustang) and Wilson Pickett released the year after.

Hat tip to

Happy Thanksgiving

Nixon pardon

Redeemed Songs: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975)

In this version, starring the Muppets, nobody dies.

Hat tip to many Facebooks friends

iPod Maintenance Preoccupies Me Constantly

If you're a little nutty about keeping your iTunes library in perfect order, check out these cool tools.

Rogue's Reading

On the Sean Hannity program tonight (a repeat from Wednesday), Sarah Palin, who twice said Iraq when she meant to say Iran, finally revealed what she reads: (a conservative news compiler, which happily notes the endorsement here), the Wall Street Journal, and the Wasilla Frontiersman, plus other unspecified internet sources. Would it have killed her to have said New York Times? Perhaps. Ross Douthat reflects here on whether a conservative loses ground by sounding too smart.

Unprecedented Unprecedentedness

The Obama White House's many alleged historic firsts.

Yorba Linda Sky

5:15 p.m.

The View From Neo-Connecticut

From his home town of Salisbury, Connecticut, the local angle on Forty Years War co-author Tom Shachtman, who, with Len Colodny, aims to rewrite the history of Watergate, the last years of the Cold War, and the neocons' march to war in Iraq.

Time To Start Talking Again

Israel announces a near-freeze on West Bank settlement construction for ten months.

No New Palin

Former Bush adviser Matthew Dowd has outlined how Sarah Palin could still reinvent herself (as I had). Only one problem with such imaginings, Michelle Cottle writes:

For better or for worse, Palin is who she is. As is often the case, her awesome charisma comes burdened with breath-taking arrogance and a whole lot of crazy--which, as Bill Clinton so graphically demonstrated, cannot easily be weeded out. When dealing with such fundamentals, the contention that Palin can become president if only she will be x instead of y winds up less an exercise in showing how the ex-governor can succeed than in exposing Dowd's real belief that she cannot.

On-The-Chin One For The Gipper

Conservatives want to cut off national GOP money for candidates who don't pass an exacting policy purity test, including doing whatever the Pentagon says in Afghanistan and Iraq. Isn't civilian control of the military a classically conservative idea? One wag says Ronald Reagan, the king of tax increases, would've flunked the test abysmally.

Hat tip to Mike Cheever

Foreign Policy As Sudoku

David E. Sanger:
In declaring Tuesday that he would “finish the job” in Afghanistan, President Obama used a phrase clearly meant to imply that even as he deploys an additional 30,000 or so troops, he has finally figured out how to bring the eight-year-long conflict to an end.
I like that "finally figured out." If you think and think and think, we are being told, you can solve the problem of how to escalate a war a little in order to guarantee the outcome of ending it expeditiously.

Tuesday's address will be the most momentous of Obama's Presidency. It may be the first time a full-on policy wonk has stepped up a ground war in Asia, notwithstanding Douglas MacArthur, Vietnam, and "The Princess Bride." This Thanksgiving, pray for those who have volunteered to fight for freedom and are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and those who will soon be deployed, and for all their families.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reasonable Faith

Turns out 51% of scientists believe in God.

Fortunate Ones

I guess I'm the last Creedence Clearwater Revival fan in the world to know that John Forgerty's song "Fortunate Son" was written about a member of the Nixon family:
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
And when you ask them, "How much should we give?"
Ooh, they only answer More! more! more!

It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no military son, son.
It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, one.
Dan Reilly writes at "Spinner":
The song was inspired by President Dwight D. Eisenhower's grandson, David, who married then-President Richard Nixon's daughter, David (sic).
Mr. Reilly meant Julie. As for Eisenhower, he served in the Naval Reserve during the Vietnam war. I naturally assumed that Fogerty had served in a riskier capacity. But it turns out he was pretty fortunate, too. To avoid being drafted, he joined the Army Reserve and never left U.S. soil during his stint.

Nine Songs On The 241

If your iPod's on shuffle and "Revolution 9," from the Beatles' so-called White Album, comes up, you're probably going to be tempted to skip to the next song. That I didn't do so this morning seemed to be a signal to see what I could learn from a southbound from Yorba Linda, Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving random playlist. My theory, you see, is that when your iPod has more than 10,000 songs (I have 10,005), it becomes sentient. Sometimes, like this morning, it picks nine perfect songs right in a row.

Choosing the Beatles' longest, most obscure cut was my iPod's challenge not to be MP-3 ADD -- not to skip over two, four, or ten songs while looking for the perfect one but instead to settle down and hear what the spirit of music was saying. So I gritted my teeth and listened carefully to the John Lennon-Yoko Ono sonic adventure that Paul McCartney and producer George Martin fought tooth and scale to keep off the album. I'm glad they failed. A pastiche of found sounds, from choirs to passionate moaning, "Revolution 9" matches the album's foreboding theme and tone.

As you might imagine, a minute-by-minute summary of the song is on-line, including a transcript of Lennon saying, about a minute in:
They found a shortage of grain in Hartfordshire, and every one of them knew that as time went by, they’d get a little bit older and a little bit slower…factory work…five percent in the, in the uh, the district, they were intended to pay for...
We'll revisit that Hartfordshire factory with Mick and the boys in a moment. The Beatles were actually quoted in my second song, Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion," from his first solo album in 1972: "I know they say 'let it be', but it just don't turn out that way." Named for a dish in a Chinese restaurant and written about a deceased pet, the song, like the White Album, echoes with Vietnam-era urban elite discouragement, as do other songs on the album "Paul Simon" such as "Everything Put Together Falls Apart" and "Paranoia Blues." It was, after all, the year of the reelection of Richard Nixon, for whom no one Pauline Kael and probably Paul Simon knew in Manhattan would vote. A year later, as Watergate raged, Simon released the more elegiac "American Tune," set to music from J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion: "We can't be forever blessed."

A younger, equally skillful lyricist working from a smaller pallet, Belfast-born Christian folksinger Brian Houston wrote my third song, "Practical Reminder," a mid-tempo rocker from his 2005 album,"Thirteen Days In August," about an unnamed local Eleanor Rigby, an Enneagram 2 with a full-on martyr complex:

She's always loneliest when she's with other people
She just saves all of her tears until they leave
For if pol
iteness were a virtue, then I know she's be a saint
She could deny herself for Ireland in the next Olympic games

Living a less circumscribed life was the great, deeply troubled Janis Joplin, whose powerful last album, "Pearl," was recorded with a band called Full Tilt Boogie and released a a few months after her 1970 death from a heroin overdose. FTB were journeymen musicians whom Joplin was proud to have assembled into the rock-solid, cool-rocking band she'd always wanted. She wrote the song that blasted from my Saturn's speakers this morning, "Move Over," which is well lubricated by Ken Pearson on the Hammond B-3 organ and features a powerful guitar solo by Canadian John Till, who some years before had been hired by Ronnie Hawkins after the musicians later known as the Band abandoned him for Bob Dylan.

It always seems to come back to the Band lately. The next song the mischievous iPod dished up could've been a Band song, with its country-style acoustic guitar and, I thought I heard, the hint of a mandolin. But as promised, it's back to Hardfordshire for the Rolling Stones' "Factory Girl" from 1968's "Beggars Banquet." I always thought of this Jagger-Richards song, which even has a country fiddle on it, as an invocation of an American mountain folk tune, but as a matter of fact, all that music came from England, Ireland, and Scotland to begin with. As Keith Richards said in 2003:
To me "Factory Girl" felt something like "Molly Malone", an Irish jig; one of those ancient Celtic things that emerge from time to time, or an Appalachian song.
Ancient indeed, since that was two songs in a row that had me wallowing in memories from high school. Thankfully, Lyle Lovett came along next with something newer, a genuine American country song, "Promises," from his stunning 1996 album "The Road To Ensenada." A sad, hopeless-sounding apology, it's a song St. Paul would have loved:

Promises given
And promises broken

Words stain my lips

Just like blood on my hands

And words are like poison
That sinks down inside you

And some things you do

You just don't understand

This minor-key Lovett original took me from nostalgia to discouragement to curiosity. When did he and Julia Roberts split? The year before the album came out, I see. Evidently Lovett fans have been plumbing it for clues about their breakup for years.

My musical buddy and recent pilgrimage partner Gary Baker tells me that his fellow Van Morrison fans are similarly well informed about the Belfast-born (that's twice in nine songs) living legend's love life. (There are relatively few details at Morrison's otherwise exemplary Wikipedia page.) His "Gypsy In My Soul" turned out to be the next song in my rotation. By this time I was hurtling past Rick Warren's Saddleback Church and listening to Morrison's nasal, supple tenor:

It’s just the gypsy in my soul
Make me pack up my things and go

It may seem like I’m on a roll

But it’s just the gypsy in my soul

Morrison, who used to live near members of the Band in Woodstock, appeared at their Last Waltz concert in 1976. Bob Dylan was in Woodstock as well, and in 1967, in the house called Big Pink, the Band recorded a song he wrote, "Orange Juice Blues," that was released in the 1970s on "The Basement Tapes." The ninth and last song in in my random playlist, it was playing as I rolled into the St. John's Church parking lot. Richard Manuel's beautiful, lost falsetto rang in my ears all day:

I had a hard time waking this morning
I got a lotta things on my mind

Like those friends of yours

They keep bringing me down

Just hangin' round all the time

"Thanksgiving Test": Sermon For Last Pentecost

When Jesus tells his followers, in one of scripture's most beautiful passages, that birds don't worry about what they are to eat nor flowers what they wear and yet God cares for them unfailingly, we may reply that we're neither birds nor flowers but rather reasoning beings who habitually give ourselves plenty to be anxious about above and beyond the fulfillment of our purely natural needs. Muffling our anxiety and counting our blessings, especially when times are tough, aren't easy things to do. Maybe a simple, three-part Thanksgiving tuneup will help us lead the lives of contentment amid chaos to which God so tantalizingly beckons us. My Sunday sermon is here.

English Bishop Stands Up For Christmas

Pilgrim at Jesus's traditional birthplace, Bethlehem, 2009

The Rt. Rev. Jonathan Gledhill, bishop of Litchfield, isn't going to take it anymore, according to the London Telegraph:

“Companies’ sacking those who want to wear a cross or fish lapel badge and councils rebranding Christmas out of fear of offending ethnic minorities are decisions made out of sheer ignorance.

“I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if in December all Christians wore a fish badge or cross necklace and sent out a loud message that Christians aren’t going to disappear quietly from the Christmas market place.”

His intervention has been welcomed by other bishops and comes only one week after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes should not be displayed in Italy’s schools.

The landmark judgment could force a Europe-wide review of the use of religious symbols in state-run schools. A panel of seven judges in Strasbourg said the display of Christian crosses violated the principle of secular education.

Only last week Dundee City Council renamed its Christmas Lights switch-on the ‘Dundee Winter Light Night’ in apparent fear of offending members of other religions. The traditional telling of the Christmas story has also been dropped from the council’s festive programme.

He's Not Yet A Card-Carrying Member, But...

...according to the New York Times, former AG Ed Meese thinks our civil liberties are imperiled and welcomes a collaboration with the ACLU.

Tit For Tat In The Middle East

As Israel and Hamas prepare to swap prisoners for the first time, experts ponder anticipated and unanticipated consequences.

The Paradox Of Untrue Truths

Some say the key to fruitful interfaith dialogue is avoiding doctrinal questions while stressing points of convergence such as God's love and the imperative of serving others. According to the New York Times, a Jew, Christian, and Muslim in Nashville (all, admittedly, are theological liberals), thrive as friends by plunging into the good stuff:

What distinguishes the “amigos,” who live in Seattle but make presentations around the country, is a unique approach to what they call “the spirituality of interfaith relations.” At the church in Nashville, the three clergymen, dressed in dark blazers, stood up one by one and declared what they most valued as the core teachings of their tradition The minister said “unconditional love.” The sheik said “compassion.” And the rabbi said “oneness.”

The room then grew quiet as each stood and recited what he regarded as the “untruths” in his own faith. The minister said that one “untruth” for him was that “Christianity is the only way to God.” The rabbi said for him it was the notion of Jews as “the chosen people.” And the sheik said for him it was the “sword verses” in the Koran, like “kill the unbeliever.”

“It is a verse taken out of context,” Sheik Rahman said, pointing out that the previous verse says that God has no love for aggressors. “But we have to acknowledge that ‘kill the unbelievers’ is an awkward verse,’ ” the sheik said as the crowd laughed. “Some verses are literal, some are metaphorical, but the Koran doesn’t say which is which.”

Why Are You Still Here? Go Out And Play

What fueled the growing backlash against over-parenting, according to "Time"? During the recession, parents cut kids' extracurricular activities by a third -- and liked it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"The Economist" For Christmas, Todd, Please!

Franklin Graham on Sarah Palin's conversation with his father, Billy, yesterday at the great evangelist's home:
She...wanted his take on what the Bible says about Israel, Iran and Iraq, Franklin Graham reported.
That's pretty weird, since the Bible doesn't say anything about Israel after about 90 A.D., Iran (unless she means Cyrus the Great's Persia in the sixth century before Christ), or the war in Iraq (though Gen. 3 does suggest that the Garden of Eden was near Baghdad). Wrong briefing book, governor!

Perfect Songs: "Ophelia" (1975)

The Band, from "The Last Waltz." Levon Helm on lead vocals and drums. Song by guitarist Robbie Robertson

St. Rom

Rom Houben, a Belgian man who was injured in an auto accident in 1983, was thought to be in a vegetative state for 23 years, until a brain scan in 2006 revealed that he wasn't missing a trick. He's now communicating with the help of a special keyboard. The expression "patience of a saint" comes to mind, as do troubling memories of the case of Terri Schiavo, whose husband, Michael, had her taken off life support in 2005 on the assumption that she had no cognition. According to the doctor who revealed Houben's case in a scientific paper, 40% of those thought to be in a vegetative state really aren't.

As for Houben:

[He] said that at first he felt angry at his powerlessness, but eventually learned to live with it.

"Other people had an opinion of me," Mr Houben, now 46, told the BBC.

"I knew what I could do and what I was capable of but other people had a rather pathetic image of me. I had to learn to be patient and now finally we are on an equal footing."

Equal footing? I'd say he's selling himself short.


This unprocessed image was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during Saturday's flyby of the Saturnian moon Enceladus. It shows the moon's south polar region, where jets of water vapor and other particles spew from fissures on the surface.

Wireless Warning

Hat tip to Mark Shier

"Come Home, America" Watch, Day 66

E. J. Dionne endorses President Obama's Anglican approach to foreign policy:
When there is no good solution to a problem, a president has three options. One is to avoid the problem. The second is to pick the least bad of the available options. The third is to mix and match among the proposed solutions and minimize the long-term damage any decision will cause.

Afghanistan has presented President Obama with exactly this situation, and he is soon likely to settle on something closest to the third approach. This will make no one very happy. Yet it might be the least dangerous choice.

All About The Clothes, Even When It's Not

Instapundit spotted and featured this site, "Bad Vestments," which means that the political color for the moment is libertarian true blue. The site itself features photographs of lavish, odd, or, if I may, ugly liturgical clothing being worn by priests and bishops. The site's recurrent theme is "because Christian worship is not supposed to be about you." As far as I can see, its creator doesn't identify her- or himself, so one can only speculate about the coloration of their theological views. One hint is the persistent references to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, as Mrs. Schori, a commonplace on theologically conservative blogs, where some find her views objectionable and others, her gender, at least insofar as its being fit for the episcopacy is concerned.

No question that the site is a hoot. Yet ridicule is a questionable activity for Christians (mea culpa, he quickly adds), anonymous ridicule* even more so. It's in the paradox of Christ that when we fault others for acting as though it's all about them, it can mean that it's all about us. If the authors of "Bad Vestments" have an idol, it's liturgical exactitude. Like two of the folksingers in "A Mighty Wind," we prayer book-thumping Christians are tempted to worship color -- purple for Lent and the impending season of Advent, white for Christmas and Easter (and weddings and funerals), red for Pentecost (think the tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit descended on the church).

Many of the priests and bishops depicted at "Bad Vestments" are thinking well outside the basic Crayola box. One smiling bishop is arrayed in cathedral stone gray, which doesn't show up on any of the liturgical calendars I've seen. As for ordinary time, or, as some say, "after Pentecost," the long season between Trinity Sunday and Advent, green is called for, but surely not lime green, Holy Father. And yet what's the matter with a little variety within the confines of those all-too-familiar basic color groups? Suggesting it has to be a certain green is akin to arguing that God prefers the King James Version of the Bible.

To be fair, "Bad Vestments" doesn't seem to be making such a restrictive point. Creative is one thing. Hideous is, of course, another. The site's other targets are we pastors whose raiment sometimes screams, "Please look at me, and get ready for a homily about where this bizarre rig came from." As a matter of fact, I have some stoles (the long strips of colored cloth, a vestige of Roman senators' garb, that priests wear around their necks) that people have given me or that are meaningful for some other reason. This especially applies to those I've brought home from two Holy Land pilgrimages. The red stole shown here, a treasured gift from the Altar Guild of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in the Diocese of Los Angeles, prevented me from being the most inconspicuously dressed new priest in recent history at my ordination in January 2004, for which I'd neglected to order a custom-made chasuble as my beloved colleagues had.

It makes me feel good to wear these items, and sometimes I'm tempted to talk about them during sermons, but I rarely if ever do. I'm not sure why. And then's there's the issue of wearing our own vestments at all. Before almost every service, and especially on Sunday, I remember advice from my mentor, the Rev. Canon Mark Shier, now enjoying the first months of a well-earned retirement as rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. A priest of God for over a third of a century, he had a sacristy drawer full of personal vestments that he wore for weekday services but almost never on Sundays. He told me that that it gives the congregation pleasure and perhaps even some comfort to see their priest wearing a stole from the same set, as the Altar Guild would say, as what they see on the altar and the ambo (the liturgically correct term for lectern).

Yesterday at St. John's, our church was dressed in white to help us remember Christ the King on the last Sunday in Pentecost. We don't get to wear white all that much, so I was tempted to reach for a white and gold stole from the heart of old Jerusalem, the handiwork of Sami Barsom, a Syriac Orthodox tailor I met in 2007. I've worn it often enough on Sundays that it's soaked in the water of a score of baptisms. But just before the first service began this week, for whatever reason I heard my teacher's voice, so I wore the beautiful white St. John's house stole instead. Yep. I matched. Even when it's not about the clothes, it is.

*Mea maxima culpa, because each post, I now see, is signed by Christopher Johnson. Sorry about that, brother.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bellwether Watch

If two Senate centrists, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, get their way and keep the government-run insurance option out of the health care bill, the Senate's socialist member, Bernie Sanders, won't vote for the bill. Hmmm.

In Sickness And In Health? Well, Sometimes

A "Newsweek" article makes discouraging reading. A new study, seconded by doctors' experience, shows that when a man gets a disease such as cancer or MS, his wife tends to slip naturally into the role of caregiver:
But husbands were more likely to take off, even if that meant the wife suffered more. And the study found that the medical consequences were considerable. Abandoned spouses, the researchers found, were more likely to be depressed and less likely to complete prescribed treatment or enroll in new therapies. They also spent more time in the hospital and were less likely to enroll in hospice care, probably because that's a service that generally takes place at home, Chamberlain says.
One answer, according to experts, is for doctors and other medical professionals to make sure couples get early access to counseling and other forms of support.

Richard Nixon And Dede Scozzafava

Was Richard Nixon done in by his own people? From the History Book Club's precis of The Forty Years War by Len Colodny and Tom Schachtman:
The first section of The Forty Years War traces the rise of the “neocons” during the fateful presidency of Richard Nixon. Though the conventional narrative has Nixon being overthrown by his traditional enemies on the left, Colodny and Shachtman reveal how much Nixon’s historic fall owed to conservative resentment of the foreign policy of Nixon and Henry Kissinger, particularly Nixon’s overtures to the USSR and China. They reveal how administration insiders—including White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig—used their positions of responsibility to bring Nixon’s foreign policy to a halt. And they show how Nixon’s alienation of the emerging neoconservatives in Washington ultimately left him politically isolated and unable to survive the storms of Watergate.

Blunting The Islamification Of Christianity

The New York Times on Saturday's Vatican meeting between Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams:
[Williams]...questioned why the longstanding dialogue between the religions had foundered over the question of female clergy.
Here's why, your Grace. The pope's brazen move to convert British Anglican priests who oppose female bishops is an obvious sign that he considers the Roman Catholic Church's misogynist ecclesiology to be its leading missionary edge. Because it marginalizes women to say they shouldn't be bishops or priests (or pastors, as most U.S. evangelical Protestants still do). It devalues women to say that they aren't pure enough to do sacramental work. It insults women to claim that they are a lessor order of humanity, as Gen. 2 seems to teach, though Gen. 1:27 does not (which notion of creation have you been taught and do you prefer -- woman made as an afterthought from man's rib or male and female created simultaneously in God's image?). It cuts women off from the grace of God itself to say that God and our LORD Jesus Christ view them as less worthy to preach and teach and bless and absolve in their holy names.

Treating women that way in the church either makes sense to one, or it doesn't. It evidently still makes sense to Benedict, but my guess is that, deep down, it doesn't make complete sense even to young American Roman Catholics, both male and female. And it no longer makes sense to most in the Episcopal Church, which has had female priests since the 1970s and now has a female presiding bishop, nor to ++Rowan, who favors the British Anglican church eventually ordaining women as bishops.

So how long are we reportedly besieged, marginal, so-called progressive Christians -- especially those who believe that Jesus Christ's radical and reckless love extends to male and female followers, apostles, and priests in precisely equal, which is to say infinite, measure -- going to continue acting so defensive? How long are we going to let Christians whose view of women tends to mirror Islam's have the upper hand in the church and especially in the news media, which largely dictate how secular society views people of faith?

Precisely as long as we continue to let our critics get away with pretending the great debate is about something else entirely. So-called orthodox conservatives like to say the church is mainly having an argument about the authority of scripture and the role of gay and lesbian people. It behooves them to do so to distract the attention of the half of the human race about whom Christendom is truly convulsed. Will or will not the relatively small minority of Christians who are absolutely right on this issue finally be able to stand up for women and blunt the Islamification of Christianity?

"Come Home, America" Watch, Day 65

On Afghanistan, is President Obama displaying indecision, as his partisan critics proclaim, or taking the appropriate amount of time to make the right decision? I'm still inclined to think the latter. I'd be more certain if there weren't so many leaks, which do tend to make him look weak, as he and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates obviously realize, hence their threats to fire the leakers.

As for judging the outcome of his deliberations, we may not know until he's long out of office. Same with George W. Bush's Iraq intervention. Sometimes blink decisions are the best ones, though if the repercussions will last for decades or more, and if hundreds or thousands of lives are at stake, it's wise to take as much time as you have. Imagine if Kennedy and Johnson had done the same thing in Vietnam.

There Will Indeed Be False Teachers

David Stokes, an evangelical pastor, columnist, and budding author, on those who abuse scripture for political purposes.