Saturday, August 28, 2010

"One More Saturday Night," The Grateful Dead

The greatest jamming roots band ever, and at the height of their powers, playing in Copenhagen in April 1972, the tour that resulted in the sublime "Europe '72." I'm dating myself here, but if there's a better live album, please tell me about it.

This Bob Weir song, in which poet-lyricist Robert Hunter may have played a role, kicks into tenth gear at 3:19 with one of the coolest instrumental bridges in rock and roll. Listen to Phil Lesh's bass (he's the one who says at the beginning that his monitor's not working) as a lyric instrument.

And did you catch that Nixon reference? Next time we're having a beer, ask me about Tricia Nixon and the radio commercial for "American Beauty."

Shelter With The Saints

Pakistani flood survivors look out from their make-shift tent after fleeing their village in Sajawal near Hyderabad, Pakistan on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis were fleeing floodwaters after the surging River Indus smashed through levees in two places, but many refused to leave the danger zone while others took shelter in an ancient graveyard for Muslim saints. (Caption and photo by AP/Shakil Adil)

To help through Episcopal Relief and Development, go here.

Dueling Hypocrisies

Charles M. Blow writes today:
I find it curious that many of the same people who object so strenuously to the Islamic cultural center proposed for Lower Manhattan, many on the grounds that it is inappropriate and disrespectful, are virtually silent on the impropriety and disrespect inherent in Beck’s giving a speech on the anniversary of King’s address.
He really doesn't find it curious. He's a smart guy, so he understands it completely. Reverse the polarities in his condemnation of hypocrisy -- challenge the Glenn Beck critics who aren't upset about the cultural center and mosque -- and you take in a category of liberal-minded people like Charles M. Blow and get yet another reminder of the persistent and sometimes exhausting divides over what's sacred in our civic life.

That's why the Constitution comes in so handy, preserving Beck's right to speak and Muslims' to worship where they choose. How upset people get about those freely exercised rights is a different question. I find I'm upset about neither. I'll add that I'm squishy on neither the threat of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism nor the saintly heroism of Dr. King.

Noninclusive Church

A good and praiseworthy thought on the door of the Canyon Hills Friends Church in Anaheim Hills, though it begs some christological questions. When the body of Christ is present, is not he also? Presumably if he showed up in more manifest glory, he'd get a pass.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wooden Boots

Hat tip to Tom Tierney for this celebration of American masters of the work-around

August Surprise

Franz Schurmann, legendary China hand, a lion of the Berkeley antiwar movement, and founder of the Pacific News Service, who died on Aug. 20, was a Nixon fan.

Obama's October Surprise?

Martin Indyk, Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel, says President Obama has a better shot at brokering a Middle East peace deal than Clinton did -- and Clinton came pretty close in 2000. What's different: Less violence, a reduction in Israel's building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a gathering consensus on both sides about a two-state solution, and the relatively small list of endgame issues. As for these, Indyk says, it all comes down to the will of three men:
Does President Abbas, already a weakened figure, have the courage to defend the necessary concessions to his people, particularly when it comes to conceding the “right of return” to Israel? Does Prime Minister Netanyahu have the determination to withdraw from at least 95 percent of the West Bank and to accept a Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem? And does President Obama have the statesmanship to persuade both parties to make the deal and to reassure them that the United States will be there with a safety net if it fails?

Life Along (And Above) The Santa Ana River

Friday afternoon

Boring Old Process Arguments Again

Veteran California political observer George Skelton, though an opponent of Prop. 8, says Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown should defend it in court since it expresses the will of the people.

What a sissy! Reminds me of people who stick up for the mosque in lower Manhattan just because freedom of religion happens to be in the Constitution.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Phone Company

This is the first picture I took tonight with my new iPhone 4, about 20 yards from the Apple Store in Brea. Is that he? Mr. Nixon? Sure looks like it, but how would the young people know?

I'd arrived about an hour before, breezing past a dozen sad, tired people snaking along the front window, and noted with satisfaction that the store wasn't crowded. No salesperson approached me, however. After about five minutes, I asked the guy at the cash register (how's that for a retrograde term?) what the people were in line for. "iPhone 4s," he said.

I joined the line. In the course of 20 minutes three or four people walking by in the mall asked what we were waiting for. I said to the young man behind me, who was about 30, that in Moscow in the old days, people didn't ask. Toilet paper, meat, fresh eggs -- whatever it was, they needed it, so they just joined the line.

He eyed me blankly. The Soviet Union, and by and large its state-induced shortages, had ceased to exist when my companion, a pharmacist named Dan, was a little boy. He did tell me he'd worked in southern Germany for five years. He asked if my work as a priest had taken me to Russia. I paused and was about to say I'd been three times with a former President, but I was saved from that outlandish assertion by Carlo, a young man in his early 20s in a blue Apple Store t-shirt, who shook my hand and asked if I wanted the 16GB or 32GB.

You know what I said. As his fingertips danced on the screen of his own iPhone, disentangling me from Verizon forever, I gave in to the temptation to garrulousness, which has never been my tendency. I assume no one's that interested. But I'm beginning to think the privilege comes with age. Most young people listen politely to older people. It's pretty cool.

I told Carlo and his colleague that, as an AirTouch-Verizon customer since 1999, I'd gone to the Verizon store today intent on replacing my ailing BlackBerry Storm with a Droid Incredible but hadn't been able to persuade the salesman to give me an extra four months' grace on my contract, which would've made the new phone affordable. It wasn't his fault. He was a good guy, but he didn't have the latitude. When I called to ask what my termination fee would be, I gave the operator another chance to give me the four months, but he didn't bite, either.

Verizon lost half a lifetime of business (okay, I'm being a little optimistic there) for a lousy four months. I told the Apple guys, "Going in there, it's like what dealing with the phone company used to be like." They eyed me blankly, too. Carlo's colleague said he'd been born in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell and several years after the conglomerate formerly known as today's least sought-after wireless carrier was broken up into the baby Bells, which created our raucous telecom reality.

You say "the phone company" to someone my age and we all remember when, a week after mom or dad called, the guy came by to install our new phone, choice of two designs and three colors. You say "the phone company" to the kids in the blue t-shirts at Apple, and you might as well be talking about the Inchon landing or Ozzie and Harriet.

But hey: Nixon's still cool enough for a white t-shirt at the mall. And I've got a phone that can tune my guitar and call Mars.

About Tim(e)

From a recent New York Times editorial:
A rare bipartisan move is afoot to crimp one of the clubby abuses of the United States Senate — the “secret hold” that lone lawmakers employ anonymously to block worthy bills and nominees. Secret holds have been used by both parties to halt progress and extort concessions, even after a measure has been enthusiastically approved for advancement by committee majorities.

"If It Wasn't For Bad," Elton John & Leon Russell

A single from the old piano men's upcoming album, "Union," was released this week.

Different Kind Of Tea Back In The Day

From a New York Times article about FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C. libertarian group that's helping organize the anti-government tea party movement:
[A] portrait of Ayn Rand hangs on the office walls along with one of Jerry Garcia.

Liberal Dupes

If Newt Gringrich and Sarah Palin keep up with what they're doing on the lower Manhattan community center and mosque, they'll finally get their wish: The U.S. will end up just like western Europe. The New York Times:

For many in Europe, where much more bitter struggles have taken place over bans on facial veils in France and minarets in Switzerland, America’s fight over Park51 seems small fry, essentially a zoning spat in a culture war.

But others, especially in countries with nothing similar to the constitutional separation of church and state, find it puzzling that there is any controversy at all. In most Muslim nations, the state not only determines where mosques are built, but what the clerics inside can say.

Oops. Sorry. That's what they say Obama wants. I forgot for a second.

Atheism's Useful Idiots

In their opposition to the lower Manhattan mosque, atheists and the movement once known, ironically enough, as the religious right are combining their efforts, no doubt without meaning to, to weaken the First Amendment's command that government leave religion alone.

As I wrote yesterday, it endangers everyone's freedom when powerful politicians try to hold religious leaders publicly accountable for their beliefs, whether it's Muslims' conception of the state, the weird stuff in the Book of Mormon, Roman Catholics' opposition to abortion, or for that matter the Episcopal Church's prevailing support for gay marriage.

Notwithstanding that danger, the unlikeliest of anti-religion coalitions has taken shape in opposition to the mosque. We all know about Baptist-turned-Roman Catholic Newt Gingrich comparing Muslims to Nazis. Religionists from Gary Bauer to Hindu Human Rights Watch are on board as well. But you don't have to be faithful to ride their train to glory. Atheist Charles Krauthammer is one of the mosque's most strident critics. Atheist Christopher Hitchens doesn't oppose it per se, but he thinks Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf should be called to account for his favorable view of Iran's theocratic regime.

I don't question the motives of everyone in the atheist party. Krauthammer's position is consistent with his years of hawkish commentary about Islamic fundamentalism. Hitchens has been harder on Imam Rauf's GOP critics than on the imam himself. To paraphrase Sen. Mitch McConnell, both say they're supporters of the U.S. Constitution's religion protections, and I take them at their word.

But it's also true that a dominant theme of the post-Sept. 11 neoatheist movement is that religion does more harm than good. In the U.S., it does its nasty business under the mighty wing of the Constitution. As leading atheist voice Sam Harris wrote in 2006:
Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of their strongly held beliefs.
Well, not anymore, at least if you're a moderate imam following in a 1300-year-0ld Abrahamic tradition who has Jewish and Christian admirers and a wife who lobbies for women's rights within Islam. If that's you, and you want to build a community center in lower Manhattan that includes a tiny worship space, now you have to answer Christopher Hitchens' questions about your views on Iran. You also have to "give good evidence and valid arguments" to the Republican Party and maybe even, if the pressure keeps up, to the agencies of the City of New York that will decide your project's fate.

Krauthammer says he's not calling on government to stop the mosque. Sarah Palin summed up that argument in her Facebook challenge to President Obama: "We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?” Palin should use her bully pulpit for a civics lesson in tolerance and freedom of religion. Instead she, fellow ex-governor George Pataki, a former speaker of the House, and other current and former officeholders are creating a hostile environment for a perfectly legitimate faith community.

As the debate becomes more and more noxious, can government action, perhaps in the form of the kind of dodge recently suggested by Chapman University constitutional law professor Hugh Hewitt, be far behind? Of course thanks to all the political and rhetorical firepower and the public's susceptibility to anti-Muslim tendencies, the anti-religion coalition might be able to drive Imam Rauf's establishment out of town without even bothering to enable a constitutionally inconvenient regulation or law such as Hewitt suggests respecting the establishment of a religion.

But just you wait. Whether they succeed in their efforts or not, the atheists and rightists will soon part company. Someday, the political winds will shift. The case of the inconvenient mosque would be a useful precedent for harassing others with unpopular or controversial views such as Roman Catholics, orthodox Jews, Mormons, and even Rick Warren and his fellow Southern Baptists. Should that moment come, religion's enemies would smile as they remembered the day when Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin became their useful idiots.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

St. John's Sky

Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Woolly-Headed At The White House

During World War I, Woodrow and Edith Wilson kept a flock of sheep on the White House grounds to save costs to cut the grass. The wool was also auctioned off to raise money for the Red Cross. c. 1920-1924, by Martin A. Gruber. Black and white print, Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007355 - Martin A. Gruber Photograph Collection, 1919-1924.
Photo and caption from The Bigger Picture: Visual Arts and the Smithsonian
Hat tip to Peter Kurilecz

Richard Vs. Richard

Stunning those who counted John McCain out a few months ago, GOP conservatives failed to deprive him of another term in the U.S. Senate. Once he'd scrambled to the right (and collected, it must be said, Sarah Palin's endorsement), he sailed in for an easy win in yesterday's primary against talk show host and former congressman J.D. Hayworth, who proved to be a weak cup of tea.

Ageless right-wing guru Richard Viguerie is now harrumphing and reminding McCain how much he's in debt to those who wanted so desperately to end his distinguished career. As Richard Nixon would say, and would be writing his old POW friend today in his longhand scrawl, he owes them nothing. I bet McCain starts tacking to the center again the day after tomorrow and spends what will probably be his last six years in Congress as Mr. Neo-Maverick out of sheer, joyful spite.

Laura Skinny

Kathleen Parker on last week's story:
Dr. Laura deserves a little slack. The good she has done during her 30-year run, helping people see their own flawed thinking, should be balanced against her insensitivity in this case. She was unfeeling and callous, true. She also missed an opportunity to discuss why some words carry more freight than others.

Ain't No Place I'd Rather Be

As Christine Stansell writes, women got a constitutional amendment permitting them to vote because of this one guy in Tennessee:
Nine Southern states joined by Delaware forced ratification to a halt, one state short. Only Tennessee was left, and the opposition had good reason to think it would line up with the rest of the region. But after a nine-day special session in the heat of August 1920, a legislator pledged to the nays jumped ship — he later said it was because his mother told him to — and the 36th state was in.
She adds:
Today the country is again divided over how far the rights of citizenship extend. In the controversy over same-sex marriage, the prospect of constitutional protection calls up truculence from one part of the country, approval from another. How remarkable, then, that a parallel conflict — one that similarly exposes the fears and anxieties that the expansion of democracy unleashes — is now largely lost to memory.
No mystery there: Culturally speaking, women's rights are still in the back of the bus. Based purely on what I observed and felt throughout the 2008 primaries, pundits and journalists were far more excited about the historic portent of electing an African-American president compared to electing a woman. By the same token, while we're perpetually fixated on race, we don't focus fully on the shame of gender apartheid that lasted until just 90 years ago nor, therefore, on the means by which it was finally brought to an end.

Race is arithmetic. Gender is algebra. Sexual orientation is calculus.

Depends On What You Mean By "Unconditional"

West Point's PR man walks a thin gray line in an article about gays and lesbians who have to duck and cover in order to continue to earn the privilege of risking their lives for their country:
Asked about gay culture at West Point, Lt. Col. Brian Tribus, the academy’s director of public affairs, issued a statement saying that the school “will continue to apply the law as it is obligated to do,” but also noting that cadets must take military ethics classes that include “topics about unconditional positive respect for others.”

Muslim Dupes In Africa

Speaking in Entebbe to Christian bishops from throughout Africa, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, schools us on religious pluralism:

He recounted the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate that prejudice should not get in the way of peace and helping other human beings. In this New Testament story it is a traditional enemy of the Israelites, a Samaritan, who aids an injured Israelite when members of the Jewish religious elite fail to do so.

“I am always looking for the good Samaritan,” he said. “Jesus says you shall know them by their fruits. You shall know them by their actions. Not by their words, not by their addresses, not by their titles, but by their works, by their deeds, by the products of their works.”

The President said those of all denominations or faiths needed to recognise one another’s right to exist: “If you are a Muslim, so what? I am a Christian. OK, so what’s your problem? You are what you are, but I am what I am. We’re different…I’m here by the permission of God. You must accept me the way I am whether you want it or not.”

More Muslim Dupes

Families of Sept. 11 victims prepare to school New Gingrich on religious freedom.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Presidential Plattitudes

When Oliver Platt blazes onto the screen as White House counsel Oliver Babish in "West Wing" 2:19, called in to grapple with a brewing scandal about President Bartlett's health, he's an instant Nixon three-fer. In his first scene, fumbling with a microcassette recorder, he says, "It's stuck on record. It won't stop recording things. It's just what you want lying around the White House counsel's office, because there's never been a problem with that before." Platt also shows up in the best Nixon movie ever, "Frost/Nixon," playing one of British journalist David Frost's researchers, Bob Zelnick.

Finally, Platt's the son of diplomat Nicholas Platt, who accompanied Nixon to China in 1972 and later served as president of the Asia Society. The actor talked about the Nixon-Platt connection in an April 2010 interview with NPR's Terry Gross:
We were living in Japan when Nixon resigned. And I remember, very clearly, we were driving out to the country and the news came over the radio. My parents pulled the car over and they told us all to listen.... [My father] actually just published a memoir about it called China Boys, about the opening of China; and he really had a remarkable perspective on it. He literally - he has a home movie, you know, of Nixon getting off the plane and shaking Zhou Enlai's hand and he's standing literally, you know, 15 yards away from him when that happened. And so he really, I think my father had complicated feelings about it.

Keep Your Sacred Cows Off My Grass

Opponents of the lower Manhattan mosque such as atheist (if I may) Charles Krauthammer say it's not a matter of using government power to stop it but just making clear that having an Islamic installation so close to the World Trade Center is aesthetically offensive. Sure, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has the right to build wherever he wants. But you have to wonder about the motives and basic human decency of anyone who would insist on doing something that's so disruptive to tender local sensibilities.

For his part, atheist (while I'm at it) Christopher Hitchens would like to question Rauf about his support for Iran's theocracy and his dubious theories about U.S. foreign policy and the Sept. 11 attacks. I can certainly understand that. As I've argued in this space, I'd like to ask the imam about women's rights myself -- not as an excuse for denying him permission to build his community center and mosque, you understand. But such questions would be a legitimate part of the vetting process, would they not?

Of course if the Roman Catholic Church wanted to build a new parish in an upscale neighborhood in Manhattan or San Francisco where Democrats had a 30% edge in voter registration, there might well be some pro-choice activists with questions of their own. It's not that anyone would want to take away the church's First Amendment rights. But you'd have to wonder about the capacity for empathy and basic good taste of those who want to deprive women of control over their own bodies trying to get a foothold in a neighborhood where their views would be considered noxious and even dangerous.

Now that I think about it, the hyper-Orthodox rabbi at my local Chabad Center probably has some extreme views about Arabs and their genetic links to the Amalek raiders as described in the book of Genesis. If he and his congregation want to expand their facility by building a preschool, that's all well and good. But local Arab-American groups might first want to ask, perhaps during a public hearing, about the curriculum -- though not to limit anyone's religious rights, no sirree Bob!

If I were a Latino and the LDS wanted to put a stake on my street, I'd definitely have a question or two about Mormon missionaries who dupe mis hermanos into converting by claiming that we're all descended -- get this! -- from a lost tribe of Israelites who came to North America 2600 years ago, which Mormons claim as a special revelation and anthropologists say is total bunk. I'm all for freedom of religion, but that doesn't meant I have to put up with Glenn Beck and his ilk foisting that kind of harmful racial mythology on my kids.

If I'm against gay marriage, and I think gay sex is a sin that disqualifies someone from ordained ministry, don't you dare try to put an Episcopal parish on my street. People are free to worship as they choose, but that doesn't mean you can come into my neighborhood and trumpet your radical political agenda from the pulpit.

If I'm for gay marriage, and it's legal in my state, I guarantee I'll bring a civil rights suit against any pastor who refuses to perform same-gender marriages because he insists on hewing to his narrow Bible-thumping theology. While I'm at it, I'll get a group together and picket his church -- not to deny anybody his right to worship whatever God he wants. I totally believe in freedom of religion. But I'm talking about my civil rights here, and having a bigot in my town is aesthetically offensive.

By the same token, if I believe that the protection of women's hard-won equality in the U.S. is a cultural imperative, I'm not sure the First Baptist Church of Lake Forest Saddleback Church should continue to operate with impunity, and with tax-exempt status to boot, until Rick Warren answers some questions about his denomination's refusal to allow women into the pulpit. Marginalizing any protected group in that manner is completely un-American. No one has the right to use the First Amendment as a shield for unpatriotic behavior.

What may make these hypothetical examples seem a bit far-fetched is that they're about what some mosque critics would call established American faiths -- even though Islam predates Protestantism by almost 900 years and Mormonism by 1200. Muslims comprise a fifth of the world's population. Perhaps five million live in the U.S.

Newt Gingrich may think he can help pick up a few House and Senate seats and boost his presidential chances by comparing them all to Nazis. But should he and the rest of the GOP succeed in driving Imam Rauf out of town, you just watch. The precedent will be used in unanticipated ways against other faiths and denominations that become nationally or locally non-PC -- maybe even yours. That's how politics works, as Gingrich learned after destroying Speaker Jim Wright only to be destroyed in return. Chevy Chase said it well: The Hindus speak of karma (though that doesn't mean I have to put up with their smelly sacred cows).


Christopher Hitchens, while not opposing the lower Manhattan mosque, is no fan of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf:
I would like to see Imam Rauf asked a few searching questions about his support for clerical dictatorship in, just for now, Iran. Let us by all means make the "Ground Zero" debate a test of tolerance. But this will be a one-way street unless it is to be a test of Muslim tolerance as well.
And, while we're asking him questions, I had one about how the cultural center and mosque will treat girls and young woman.

Only Half The Demos Needs Apply

As Republicans continue to defile the First Amendment to win some House and Senate seats, a former governor of New York criticizes local officials for letting the lower Manhattan mosque go forward and for failing to do more to rebuild a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed on Sept. 11. To give some additional heft to this brazen hypocrisy, at the same news conference a GOP congressional candidate from Long Island, George Demos, a Greek Orthodox Christian himself, piped in:
[He] said, without offering evidence, that the Islamic center would be built with money from Saudi Arabia, “a nation that prohibits people from even wearing a cross or the Star of David.”
Whereas the Greek Orthodox church prohibits half its people from even wearing a collar.

Muslim Dupes

Assuming my Nixon buddy Hugh Hewitt doesn't succeed in his proposal to end-run the First Amendment by declaring the area around the World Trade Center a religion-free zone, Trinity Episcopal Church at the foot of Wall St. will continue as it has for the last 313 years. It and its nearby St. Paul's Chapel became famous for their devoted ministry to the heroes of Sept. 11.

But Trinity's vicar, the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, didn't feel the love when she attended a community meeting called in May to debate the lower Manhattan mosque and cultural center. As a matter of fact, she's now being accused of being duped by Muslims:
The mission of the center is to be peace and reconciliation, inter and intra-faith understanding. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is not a stranger, as he and Trinity Television worked together right after 9/11 to produce a piece to promote dialogue and mutual understanding in the wake of the terrorist attacks. He leads worship in a mosque just a few blocks from St. Paul's and Ground Zero, a mosque that has been there almost 30 years.

That community board meeting was a frightening display of hatred and incivility. What I encountered there, with what I have read and heard in the months since, has only strengthened my resolve for this difficult work of reconciliation. As the issue has grown from a local concern to a national and even international tempest, particular details of content have gotten traction such as the location of the proposed community center, constitutional rights and even the faith of the president of the United States. But underneath all this lies fear and hatred: Fear that can only be addressed through the willingness of people to come together, to address the issues that fuel the fear and build the barriers; and to reject the ingredients that foster prejudice and hatred.

Trinity has been criticized for supporting Park51, as the proposed community center is now called. I have been confronted in anger by those who ask how I can be so naïve, so stupid, so duped as to trust Imam Feisal; not because they know him personally (they usually do not) but solely because he is Muslim. The experience has led me back to the ninth chapter of Luke, when Jesus has sent the twelve to go out to preach the Kingdom and to heal. They come back later, both amazed by the work they have been able to do in his name, but alarmed because they saw an unknown stranger doing the same kind of good work. Rather than celebrate this witness to the power of God, they tried to stop this stranger. But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you."

We have our work cut out for us. The need for reconciliation is only too apparent. I do not believe we can do it alone -- it will take all of us. Let us work together.

Blame The British

Reviewing Jonathan Schneer's new book about the Balfour Declaration, Great Britain's 1917 announcement that it would facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (it came pretty close to being written on a cocktail napkin; see image at left), Tom Segev says that Israel's opponents consider it the "original sin" of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. I recently heard the same expression applied to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. As for God, while without sin, he was definitely being mischievous when he gave the same land to two peoples back in, oh, 3000 B.C. or so.

About England's move, Segev writes:

The Balfour declaration...finds its place among a multitude of fruitless schemes and indulgent fantasies, except, of course, that in this case, surprisingly, the British by and large kept their word. For at least two decades they allowed the Zionist movement to bring hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants into Palestine, and these new arrivals set up hundreds of settlements including several towns, as well as the political, economic, military and cultural infrastructure of the future state of Israel. But if Israel’s existence originated with the British, so did the Palestinians’ tragedy. The Balfour declaration was only the opening chapter of a still unfinished story.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hoynes Employs The Nixon/Otter Defense

Speaking of Nixon references in "The West Wing" (okay, I'm pretty much only speaking to myself), in episode 2:18, as Toby Ziegler tries to figure out why Bartlett's vice president, John Hoynes (Tim Matheson), is acting like he's about to run for president, he wonders aloud whether an "Eisenhower and Nixon" scenario is afoot. With this implicit reference to President Eisenhower's hints in 1956 that he might dump his VP, Richard Nixon, Toby is suggesting that Bartlett may have let it be known that he's considering looking for a new running mate, prompting Hoynes to feign a move to challenge him for the Democratic nomination (in 2002, oddly enough).

In this episode, we also learn that Republican deputy White House counsel Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) is an Episcopalian. Duh.

What We Do Today And Tomorrow

This post originally appeared at The New Nixon on March 9, 2008 after a terrorist murdered eight students in the library of a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Much has happened since I wrote it, especially including the Gaza war. It was the era of another Israeli prime minister and U.S. president. But some things don't change, including the possibility that extremists will try to disrupt even the slim chances for a conclusive deal that most experts foresee as a new round of talks gets underway in Washington in early September. I took the photos, of Palestinian and Israeli schoolchildren in East and West Jerusalem, on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2007.

At the Episcopal school where I pastor and teach, each spring the 5th graders grapple with these verses from the Hebrew Testament:

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Gen. 12:6-7)

This is before God gives his great patriarch the name Abraham, which happens in chapter 17 (remember, kids, that’s on the test). Abraham, from whom three billion Jews, Christians, and Muslims trace their theological lineage, is the first biblical figure whom a broad range of experts are willing to try to pinpoint in time. It’s thought he probably lived about 4,000 years ago, following the call of the most high God to travel from Ur of the Chaldeans (modern-day Iraq, where we’re at war today) to the promised land (ditto). My annual question to the fifth graders: Why would God give Canaan to Abram when there were people living there already? Did he love Abram’s people more? Most of the youngsters rule this out. Was he punishing the Canaanites? The Bible doesn’t say, so probably not. Is the answer even in the text? Each year a child looks between the lines and says what I hope she will say. I don’t actually know if it’s the right answer, thought I pray it is. She says, “God wanted them to share it.”

Not everyone reads this scripture like a Christian 5th grader in southern California who has no personal stake in the struggle between Israel and Palestinians and who mourns no victims of generations of terrorism and war. Secular Middle Easterners have little if any interest in anything ancient texts may teach about the present, seemingly intractable crisis. For others, the events of Abraham’s time are searingly relevant. Yaakov Shapira, chief rabbi of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem — where a 25-year-old Palestinian murdered eight students studying in the seminary’s library on Thursday, most of them teenagers — reached back to Genesis as he tried to make sense of what had happened:

The murderers are the Amalek of our day, coming to remind us that Amalek has not disappeared, just changed its appearance.

My 5th graders and other Bible readers first encounter the Amalekites in Genesis 14, which discloses that they are conquered by a coalition of kings who also defeat Sodom and imprison Abram’s nephew Lot. Abram defeats the kings to save Lot, but the Amalek emerge later in scripture as nomads who harrass the people of God during their flight from Egypt and are eventually wiped out by King David. For Rabbi Shapira, this ancient blood feud should directly inform a present-day political response. As the New York Times reported Saturday,

[Shapira] said that the gunman had made targets of “everyone living in the holy city of Jerusalem” and critized the [Ehud] Olmert government for its willingness to negotiate the return of some occupied land to the Palestinians. “The time has come for all of us to understand that an external struggle is raging, and an internal struggle, and everyone believes the hour has come for us to have a good leadership, a stronger leadership, a more believing leadership,” he said.

A more believing Israeli leadership would presumably accept that all of Israel’s enemies are animated by a hatred so deep and blinding that it has become part of their DNA. Some Israelis I’ve met do seem to believe as much, whether they take their cues from the Bible or not. Watching the coverage of the victims’s funerals, it is not hard to understand how they have come to believe as they do. Any person who murders children in a library is evil or insane. Family members of the murderer, Ala Abu Dhaim, say he was upset by the deaths of 126 Palestinians in Gaza last week. But even repeating that statement would seem to hint at a justification for the unjustifiable. Israel’s critics often posit a moral equivalency between casualties in its military operations and deaths from acts of terrorism. Their argument crumbles when one reads that Hamas has praised the murders even as Israel’s government grapples with both the moral and tactical challenges of launching attacks into Gaza where civilians might die. Hamas, of course, systematically puts its own people at risk, at the same time it implicitly acknowledges Israel’s superior if imperfect scruples, by locating military assets in civilian neighborhoods.

Hamas, however, is not the same as the Palestinian people. There are Israelis who can’t accept the distinction, just as there are Palestinians who are blind to the moral courage and vigor of Israelis who struggle to reconcile their entitlement to safety and security with their conception of justice in the form of some vision of a Palestinian nation next door. As dialog between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has increased in recent months, and as the Bush Administration has dedicated its last year to moving the peace process forward, one has been waiting for Hamas and other extremists to disrupt the process, to do what they can to stifle and kill hopes for peace. That’s why it’s hard to believe that Ala Abu Dhaim acted alone. His operation fit perfectly into Hamas’s plan to promote chaos by provoking Israel and ultimately discrediting Abbas in the eyes of his people. It’s what violent extremists so often do — destroy hope by attacking the center and by exposing everyone residing there to the temptation of becoming violent extremists themselves in their grief, rage, and sheer frustration.

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

See You In September

With new talks two weeks away, Israel says a deal is "possible," Palestinians "doable."

A Died-And-Gone-To-Heaven "Weight"

For this Band-Robbie Robertson classic, Elvis Costello brought together Ray LaMontagne, Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson, Larry Campbell, and Allen Toussaint, with Band drummer Levon Helm overseeing the whole process on drums. I'm not sure there's ever been more talent on one stage.

Hat tip to YouTube for always knowing what I like

Web Of Ties

Maarja Krusten, an historian and former tapes specialist at the National Archives' Nixon Project, has graciously shared some of my recent Nixon library posts with her colleagues on the Society of American Archivists web board.

Calling The Next Dick Morris

Eric Martin:
The Republican Party (with commendable exceptions such as Grover Norquist and Ted Olson - whose wife was killed on 9/11), aided by its major media apparatus, is actively and deliberately whipping up bigotry, hate and anger - pitting Americans against Americans - for little more than electoral gain.
Read Martin's whole post. His says demonizing Islam could weaken our national security by lending credence to Al-Qaeda's core argument, which is that the U.S. and west are at war with Islam.

Of course if we think the religion of Islam is already at war with the west, we're not going to worry about that. But I don't. I do understand the temptation to think so, because unless we spend some time studying Islamic thought, culture, and life, we'll be inclined to see most Muslims as pre-reform woman-oppressors and infidel-haters. Even the gentle and learned church history teacher from my seminary days says that most Muslims are by definition theological fundamentalists (by which he means that they're like Christians before the Reformation and Enlightenment, not that they're terrorists).

What we need, it's often said, are more Islamic moderates who embrace western political values and promote women's rights and true interfaith dialogue -- more people, for instance, just like the founders of the lower Manhattan mosque, whom Newt Gingrich has compared to Nazis. That kind of rhetoric is as low as it can be, as was Sen. Mitch McConnell's weaselly answer yesterday about the president's faith.

But Democrats won't staunch the bleeding in 2010 and win in 2012 by proclaiming that the right is exhibiting poor taste and a lack of scruples. The pickle the president's in is as much his fault as his critics', for two reasons. First, he remains surprisingly aloof to many Americans, which enables his critics to sow and exploit confusion about his motives and intentions. To know him better would be to trust him more.

Second, he should've kept mum on the lower Manhattan mosque and community center. To amplify its message going into the midterm elections that he's out of touch with the American people, the GOP had been looking for exactly what he gave them -- something sexier than the perils of regulating derivatives or extending insurance to 25-year-old college students. By speaking up for the mosque, he handed it to them on a prayer mat. Tempering his support a day or two later only made it worse.

Yes, being in favor of freedom of religious expression was the right thing to do. Except it wasn't, because he hurt himself and his party without doing the mosque planners any favors. GOP spinners are already stirring pernicious doubts about his religion and unpopular support for the mosque into their already potent cocktail about his unpopular and so far ineffective policies (remember 10.5% unemployment), ending up with a toxic and perhaps even dangerous brew, to be served up to swing voters everywhere, about a strange, foreign man with secret, malign purposes.

To get himself through the midterms and especially to help him govern afterward, Barack Obama must locate some more defensible terrain from which to govern. He must figure out how to love the great pragmatic American middle and to receive its support and even affection in return. One way or the other, he must find his Dick Morris. From now on, he needs "Nixon goes to China" rather than "Obama goes to Mecca" moments.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nixon Props

In "West Wing" 2:17 -- an episode in which a silver-maned senator who looks a lot like former Sen. John Warner, an ex-Nixon advance man, conducts an epic filibuster -- Bartlett aides Josh, Toby, and Sam caucus in Josh's office. On the wall behind his head, you can see a photo of Presidents Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon that was taken in the White House in 1981 before the three formers departed for Anwar Sadat's funeral.

And Yes, She Has A Tape Measure

A real estate wizard with whom I worship at St. John's, Leslie Eskildsen, performs a signal public service in her "Orange County Register" blog: Helping buyers and agents actually understand each other.

Imam Rauf: "I Am A Jew"

Jeffrey Goldberg on Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim cleric behind the lower Manhattan mosque:
In 2003, Imam Rauf was invited to speak at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. The service was held at B'nai Jeshurun, a prominent synagogue in Manhattan, and in the audience was Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father. In his remarks, Rauf identified absolutely with Pearl, and identified himself absolutely with the ethical tradition of Judaism. "I am a Jew," he said.

There are those who would argue that these represent mere words, chosen carefully to appease a potentially suspicious audience. I would argue something different: That any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, "I am a Jew," is placing his life in danger. Remember, Islamists hate the people they consider apostates even more than they hate Christians and Jews. In other words, the man many commentators on the right assert is a terrorist-sympathizer placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism.

Can Alexander Hamilton Stay?

Looks like the Episcopal Church may take yet another hit. My Nixonite brother Hugh Hewitt, arguing for a no-religious-message zone (and thus no mosque) near the World Trade Center, seems to be making a case for tearing down Trinity Wall Street (emphasis added):
As a lawyer who has long represented churches and religious schools in land use disputes, the basic law is this: The government may not constitutionally treat one proposed religious land use differently from similarly situated other religious land uses, and the government may not single out religious land uses for discriminatory treatment in ways that uniquely burden those uses.

By contrast, the government can and does zone land to serve the general good, and in the course of doing that, it may treat religious land uses as one category of land use that will be treated in specific ways, provided those ways are not intended to burden or discriminate against that class of land uses or a particular denomination.

Thus New York City or the state or even the federal government could choose to protect the entire area around and including Ground Zero from all uses that are intended to exploit proximity of the hallowed ground to send messages of any sort. None of these governments could single out the Muslim faith for special burdens or prefer a different faith seeking a shrine nearby.

Midnight Train To Kentucky

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, exhibiting conduct unbecoming:
The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word.
Hillary Clinton said something similar during the presidential campaign. Neither McConnell nor Clinton did it out of disrespect, or any real suspicion that Obama's isn't a Christian, but as an exercise in rank opportunism. If polling detects, as it did then and does now, that some voters are confused about Obama's religious affiliation, then the canny politician is tempted to encourage the mistaken impression or at least do nothing to ameliorate it. In the 1950s, the smear would've been, "My opponent says he's a loyal American, and I'm aware of no evidence to the contrary."

This year, it's part of a grand strategy McConnell's party's adopted in the run-up to the midterm elections: To portray Obama as being out of touch with the American people because of his health care and financial regulatory measures. Those are good issues, and they're fair play. But to gain additional traction, or so they hope, Republicans are also piling on Obama's grudging support of freedom of religious expression in lower Manhattan as well as the persistent rumors that he's lying about his faith.

The mosque issue, while patent demagoguery by conservatives who claim to honor the Constitution and Bill of Rights, isn't completely beyond the pale. But McDonnell's intimation about the president's religion is indecent. No class. I'd like to move to Kentucky just to vote against him.