Friday, November 5, 2010

Daily Office

Did you see NBC's "The Office" on Thursday? Pam and Jim's baby was baptized in a fictional church in Scranton, Pennsylvania that bore a remarkable resemblance to one of southern California's prettiest, Church of the Angels in Pasadena, whose longtime rector is my clergy buddy the Rev. Canon Robert J. Gaestel.

Bob's one of several priests in the Diocese of Los Angeles whose classic-looking buildings frequently end up on TV and in movies. By now Bob's blase about the Hollywood stuff. In fact I don't think he'd be ashamed if I revealed that, when I asked him excitedly whether he'd met Steve Carell during the taping a couple of months ago, he replied, "Who's Steve Carell?" Whereas I'm still buzzed just about seeing one of my favorite hangs on TV. Bob and a half-dozen of us meet every other month in the COA parish hall, in a sitting room located through the doorway that you can see over actor John Krasinski's right shoulder. I'm also pretty sure I spotted the snazzy new coffeemaker Bob's been deploying lately during our day-long gabfests.

Carell's character, the irredeemably off-key Michael Scott, jokes in a bad Italian accent about being the baby's godfather (which, in fact, he isn't) and impulsively jumps on a bus with the cheerful members of the church's youth group as they prepare to depart on a three-month service trip in South America. How refreshing that "The Office" didn't make fun of the church folk, who were as well-adjusted and sincere as members of the ensemble cast (employees and executives of a paper company) were misanthropic. Imagine that: A TV comedy that makes you want to go to church. In case you do, here's the real thing.


When I was still at the Nixon library, its able curator, Olivia Anastasiadis, and I were trying to think of an exhibit idea that proclaimed Christmas. And the Holy Spirit said, "Trains!" The tradition began in 2006 with the "Festival of Holiday Trains" and continues with director Tim Naftali's annual Lego extravaganza, which opens Nov. 8.

If Compromise Is So Bad, Why Do We All Want It?

Barack Obama didn't receive a mandate for radical change in 2008, and Republicans didn't get one Tuesday. Andrew Sullivan:
The pre-election NYT poll found that 78 percent want the Republicans to compromise with Obama rather than stick to their positions in the next two years; 76 percent want the Dems to do the same; and a slightly lower percentage, but still overwhelming, wants Obama to compromise too: 69 percent.
For archival purposes (well, maybe my reader will enjoy it, too), I'm reproducing a post I wrote on the Nixon foundation's blog a week before the 2008 election. I'll admit that, as an intestinal moderate, I'm mandate-averse. When any leader begins to envision himself or herself as a singular visionary, watch out. But Tuesday's result looked like nothing more than a rebuke of President Obama's overreaching (not because we didn't need health care reform, which we did, but because it kept him from focusing on jobs one in order to demonstrate a relentless desire to get his people back to work). Anyway, back to October 2008:
It’s not over yet. But while almost everyone will blame either Sen. McCain or Gov. Palin for the expected GOP debacle on Nov. 4, it’s important to fix the blame for the party’s dire prospects where it belongs — the plummeting economy, whose authors are Republicans and Democrats, Congresses and Presidents, Fed chairmen and Americans who borrowed more than they could afford in the hope that real estate prices would balloon indefinitely.

Amid the dread that millions of Americans are feeling, no different VP nominee would have helped McCain more, and no different GOP nominee — Romney, Huckabee, Reagan — could probably beat Sen. Obama. By the same token, Obama’s considerable gifts notwithstanding, Sen. Clinton would have done just as well. It’s just like 1980, when any Republican — Connally, Bush, Reagan — could’ve beaten Jimmy Carter thanks to the abysmal mess his administration had made of the economy and foreign policy.

President Reagan’s hagiographers have turned the 1980 election into a mandate for Reagan-Goldwater Republicanism rather than for the doctrine of anybody-but-Carter. They’re wrong. Not his election but his first-term tax cuts and tough Cold War line earned him his legacy, along with his unfailingly sunny demeanor.

If Obama wins, he won’t have an ideological mandate. Reagan could blame his predecessor for most of the nation’s problems in 1981 far more legitimately than Obama will be able to in 2009, especially now that Iraq war has taken such a positive turn. Even more than Reagan, who talked right but often governed as a moderate, Obama is more likely to succeed by walking right down the middle of the road. Just like Reagan, his greatest resource will be his temperament.
Which Obaman temperament I had completely misread, incidentally. A general outlook that appeared sunny and nonanxious during the campaign now appears to be prone to being gloomy, inflexible, and restive.

They Didn't Really Need It

A Nova Scotia couple wins $11 million and gives almost all of it away. What was it St. Francis said about preaching the gospel?

The Book Of The Blues

At the New York Public Library, Keith Richards revealed that he'd considered becoming a librarian and then demonstrated his skills as a musical archivist:
With a rueful shake of the head, he recalled explaining to John Lennon why the Beatles "could rock but not roll.” On blues, he said that "the power of American music has been one of the most underrated forces to come out of this country," offering Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan as favourites. He recalled meeting Mr Jagger for the first time and their mutual shock at the intensity of their shared interest in the blues. The two swapped records and developed obsessions with Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and Elmore James. Mr Richards also remembered later encountering some of the bluesmen he'd idolised as a child. "Meeting heroes can be a tricky business," he said. "But their humility struck me. They had a way of taking a person into their heart."

It's Never Too Early For "Messiah"

On Oct. 30, 650 choristers from the Philadelphia area, mingling with Macy's shoppers, performed a stately "Hallelujah," somehow accompanied by the world's largest pipe organ. Organizers called it one of 1,000 planned Random Acts of Culture.

Hat tip to Tom Tierney

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Iron Political Law Of Immigration Policy

Up to 80% of Latino voters went for Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. As their numbers grown in California, the GOP just won't win with candidates who acquiesce in the scapegoating of illegal immigrants.

Write-In Grizzly

Lisa Murkowski's apparent grassroots triumph in Alaska over Sarah Palin and the tea party vindicates the authentically radical notion that a moderate can still win.

Looking Down The Pope's Nose

A secretive traditionalist sect that's too weird even for the Vatican.

Outwaiting Obama

Andrew Sullivan on the reasons for Israel's intransigence:
I think Netanyahu simply thinks he can wait out Obama and get a Republican US president prepared to enable Israel in its doomed occupation (past the point of no return) and eager to bomb Iran as some kind of global power-move.

So he waits. And in practice, there is little the current president can do to prod Israel, except lay out an American ideal solution to the Israel-Palestine question, corral international support for it, offer as many enticements to Israel to come along, all the while ramping up sanctions against Tehran and hoping for some kind of diplomatic off-ramp or delay. This seems to me to be the obvious next move. If the Israelis will not or cannot move, then America should.

Obama shoud not be intimidated and move forward.

The Horror Of Child Marriage

I received an e-mail containing this video, purporting to depict the illegal wedding of a little girl in France, from the good folks at at the children's relief agency PLAN (formerly Foster Parents Plan). The scene was inadvertently captured by tourists. Quoting the e-mail:

Although child marriage is illegal in France, it is legal in many countries around the world – and just as horrifying no matter where it occurs. Unless we act to stop it, 25,000 girls will become child brides tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

That's why we're asking 25,000 people by the end of November to add their name and say:

Child marriage is wrong and it has to stop. I'm standing up for girls everywhere to guarantee their right to education, health and well-being. To have a childhood. I'm standing against child marriage.

Young girls who are forced into marriage are much more likely to suffer from domestic abuse, disease, and abandonment. Few are ever allowed to go to school. Girls as young as eight years old are being forced into marriage today.

It doesn't have to be this way, and we can do something about it. The first step is raising awareness – so please take action, then forward this video to your friends, post it to your Facebook page and share it on Twitter.

With your help, we can protect the world's girls and make sure they get the childhood they deserve.

Thank you for standing up for girls today.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can't Tax, Can Spend

The LA Times on the altered powers of the California legislature:
Democrats still won't be able to raise taxes without agreement from some Republicans; a two-thirds vote requirement remains in place for that. Brown has said, in any case, that he wouldn't approve tax hikes unless voters did. And voters made an additional constitutional change Tuesday that took away the Legislature's ability to impose billions of dollars in fees on businesses with a simple majority vote, raising the threshold to two-thirds.

Obispo Y Obispas

As a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, I have three bosses (well, besides Jesus): Our bishop diocesan, Jon Bruno, and our two new bishops suffragan, Diane Jardine Bruce (below left, with other colleagues) and Mary Douglas Glasspool. At our annual convention last December, +Diane became the first woman elected bishop in our diocese, +Mary, a few hours later, the second. +Diane's responsibilities include the churches in the bottom third of our five-county diocese (lucky St. John's), +Mary's all the diocese's schools (double lucky, since St. John's has one of the nation's largest Episcopal day schools). Bishop Bruno visited St. John's last spring and checked in with Headmaster Jim Lusby. Bishop Bruce paid a gracious private visit a couple of weeks ago.

And this week, on Monday (All Saints Day in the liturgical calendar), Bishop Glasspool celebrated Holy Eucharist and preached at a rousing service attended by 750 students, teachers, and administrators as well as a parent or two. Using the opportunity to teach the congregation about the origin of Halloween, she marched in wearing pretty much the scariest monster mask ever worn by a bishop (which fit neatly under her miter). Before the service, she tried it out on her chaplain for the day, 8th grader Christopher Lanham.

Doffing mask and miter, she was soon teaching us a handy mnemonic chant -- Spooks! Saints! Souls! When we dress up on Halloween, it's like the ancient Celts putting on costumes and masks to ward off demons. The next day, All Saints, the Christian church remembers its heroes. Nov. 2, All Souls Day, is reserved for all the precious souls God has made.

That's Bishop Mary below, with the precious young souls who helped with Monday's worship. Headmaster Lusby and Chaplain Patti Peebles are at right.

Photo by Jo Ellen Wilson

Your Government Inaction

"The Economist" predicts "two years of mostly nothing."

They Don't Trust Him With Their Party

New York state GOP chairman Ed Cox's critics call on him to resign:
[I]t was Mr. Cox, his critics argued, whose exertions in seeking an alternative to Rick A. Lazio, rather than coalescing the party behind him, weakened Mr. Lazio in the primary for governor, opening the door for Carl P. Paladino’s Tea Party-fueled primary upset.

Burning The Bridge From Both Ends

Two LA Times reporters say Tuesday's real loser is the political center:
The clearest indication of the growing partisan gap was Tuesday's rout of the Blue Dog caucus, a group of moderate and conservative Democrats who urged the party to adopt a more business-friendly and fiscally conservative agenda. Fewer than half of its 54 members will be returning next year after incumbents were ousted in Pennsylvania, Ohio and a few Democratic pockets of the Deep South. Their absence will likely push the 190 or so remaining House Democrats even further left.

On the Republican side, the victory of dozens of insurgents backed by the "tea party" movement means the emboldened GOP majority will be even more conservative and confrontational than the one that harried President Obama over the last two years.

Obama's Empathy Gap

John Dickerson on the president's seemingly bloodless appearance today:
[Obama] seemed to struggle in the press conference, as he has throughout his presidency, with those parts of his job that call on him to convey to people that he understands what they're going through. "You know, there is an inherent danger in being in the White House and being in the bubble," he said. "One of the challenges that we've got to think about is—is how do I meet my responsibilities here in the White House, which require a lot of—a lot of hours and a lot of work, but still have that opportunity to engage with the American people on a—on a day-to-day basis and know—give them confidence that I'm listening to them?"

He doesn't necessarily have to travel to send that message. One place he could have started was at Wednesday's press conference.

Cuomo May Go To China

The New York Times on Andrew Cuomo's opportunity:
Edmund J. McMahon, the director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, which studies the state’s finances, said that if Mr. Cuomo could push through the introduction of a 401(k)-style pension system, “it would be a real Nixon-goes-to-China moment for him.” The first Democratic governor in the country to do so, Mr. McMahon said, “would have a real future in national politics.”
Is Jerry Brown listening, too?

Oh Oh

When Jerry Brown was newly elected as governor of California last night, I persisted in my optimism that he'd go to China -- that, as only a Democrat could (and as Andrew Cuomo vows to in New York), he'd take on entrenched interests such as public employee unions as a way of venturing a structural fix of our state's budget woes. It was a little more than wishful thinking, since, as a student journalist in the mid-1970s, when he was governor his first time, I remembered him saddling the elites at the University of California with a series of austere budgets. He also flirted with my dinner companion one time in La Jolla, but that's another story.

Then news came that Prop. 25 had passed. Deceptively advertised to voters as a way of docking the pay of state legislators who fail to pass a budget on time, its true effect is to permit them to pass budgets by a majority rather than two-thirds vote. A St. John's friend speculated weeks ago that Brown's promise -- "No new taxes without voter approval" -- was a veiled reference to Prop. 25. But I never imagined voters could be tricked into removing the only check on giving our cash-strapped state government a blank one.

In his comments today, Brown's stressing belt-tightening. But one-party rule plus a majority budget vote may well end up meaning substantial income tax increases.

* * *
Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, I've been reminded by my St. John's brother Mike Cheever that Prop. 26, which also passed, and other laws prevent legislators from raising most taxes and fees without a supermajority, irrespective of their new authority to pass a budget with a simple majority. I had assumed that Prop. 25's change in the budget rules applied to the revenue as well as the expenditure side.

Obama Agonistes

Democrats and journalists are talking hopefully about the ultimately happy outcome in 1994, when that year's disastrous midterm election -- the GOP won both houses of Congress -- spurred Bill Clinton toward the center and a six-year second presidency now considered one of the most successful in recent memory. There's also 1936, when FDR was reelected in spite of the ravages of the Great Depression.

It's a long way to 2012, when we assume Barack Obama will seek reelection. Perhaps by then he'll have transformed himself into the new Roosevelt or Clinton. But I fear not -- and I mean fear, because I don't crave Republican rule. For months, he's evinced no joy about the job he won so effortlessly. Instead, he seems impatient and restive, as he has his whole adult life. He seems like a leading candidate to be the new old Bush.

Obama's proud of what he takes to be world-changing initiatives such as health care reform, perhaps even a little smug about having had the vision to force them through. He still blames his predecessor for the lagging economy. And yet I wonder how different the world would be if he'd decided to spend his first two years on nothing but jobs and GDP growth. Instead of turning the architecture of the 2009 stimulus bill over to congressional leaders who cobbled it together out of every ward-heeling pet project members had been saving up for years, what if he he'd spent the same near-trillion on a coherent jobs, investment, and infrastructure package designed by the best and the brightest among a range of economic experts? Instead of spending a year on health care, what if he'd used every public appearance to promise his worried people that he wouldn't rest until every American who wanted to work was doing so?

Assuming today's obstructionist Republicans would even work with him on those kinds of policies, does he have the talent and heart for a log-rolling, back-scratching, Ronnie-loves-Tip presidency? That would take passion he hasn't demonstrated yet. The patrician Roosevelt learned to love his suffering people. After his '94 drubbing, Clinton learned to master and love the presidency. Remember when George H.W. Bush looked at his watch during one of the 1992 debates, a few months before Clinton beat him? I'm wondering if Obama isn't looking at his and saying to himself: I've got two more years of this?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Still Not Enough Rooms At the Inn

Are more homes for Christians the key to keeping Christians in their homeland?

Nothing Comes Between Them And Their Calvin

Young Protestants rediscover historic Protestantism.

Nixonite Grand Slam Eaten For Breakfast

Good year for Republicans nationwide. Bad year in California and New York for candidates advised or supported by Nixonites. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, a Nixon advance man and perennial 37 favorite, starred in loser Meg Whitman's brain trust, and ex-speechwriter Ken Khachigian was one of loser Carly Fiorina's top advisors. In New York, Nixon son-in-law Ed Cox, the state Republican chairman, recruited and backed a moderate loser in the GOP primary contest for governor, softening up the presumptive nominee for a successful challenge from his right by angry man Carl Paladino, who was advised by Nixon political friend Roger Stone and buried tonight in an historic landslide.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Politics And War

Columnist David Broder says President Obama could benefit politically from picking a fight with Iran. Andrew Sullivan says he's nuts.

God's Arms

From Charles Dickens, an image of God and an example of godliness in action. In The Old Curiosity Shop, Little Nell and her grandfather, victimized by his gambling addiction, have arrived in an unnamed factory town. They have no money and nowhere to stay. Wandering the cruel, indifferent streets, she has a pastoral vision of the divine:
"If we were in the country now," said the child, with assumed cheerfulness, as they walked on looking about them for a shelter, "we should find some good old tree, stretching out his green arms as if he loved us, and nodding and rustling as if he would have us fall asleep, thinking of him while he watched. Please God, we shall be there soon -- to-morrow or next day at the farthest -- and in the meantime let us think, dear, that it was a good thing we came here; for we are lost in the crowd and hurry of this place, and if any cruel people should pursue us, they could surely never trace us further. There's comfort in that. And here's a deep old doorway -- very dark, but quite dry, and warm too, for the wind don't blow in here -- What's that!"

Uttering a half shriek, she recoiled from a black figure which came suddenly out of the dark recess in which they were about to take refuge, and stood still, looking at them.

Christians may wonder about the significance of the three days. As we'll soon learn, the stranger works in a factory, where he stokes the same fire his late father had. He offers the pair an evening's warmth and a share of his breakfast in the morning:

"It's not far," said the man. "Shall I take you there? You were going to sleep upon cold bricks; I can give you a bed of warm ashes -- nothing better."

Without waiting for any further reply than he saw in their looks, he took Nell in his arms, and bade the old man follow.

Just a few lines after Dickens' image of God as a tree with outstretched arms, a stranger bundles Nell in his -- the first time anyone has done so in all her travels -- and bears her to safety. How much clearer can could Dickens be in his belief that God's kindness depends on the agency of his creatures?

Another Iranian Woman At Risk

Iran is reportedly prepared to murder one of its citizens, the justification being her alleged adultery. The story, quoting human rights advocates, is only available on Fox News. I pray that means it's not true.

Write-In Grizzly

Call it the New York 23rd effect: In Alaska, Sarah Palin's primary endorsement may add up to a Democrat win (and a retained majority in the Senate).

No Detente With The Devil

Nixon joins war against Nazi zombies.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Our St. John's friends Bruce and Lisa Hughes moved into their first house in Coto de Caza a day or two before Halloween over 20 years ago. When some of their kids showed up expecting to be fed, as children will, Lisa cracked some Hormel chili and Bruce grilled some hot dogs, because that's what was around. It's been their festive Halloween menu ever since, although with some elaborations, such as a choice of three kinds of hot dogs, including Ball Park Franks. This gave me the opportunity to clear my throat, ask for the kind attention of our hosts and their other guests, and explain how my father named the Ball Park Frank. If you like, I'll come over to your house and tell you about it, too. Really, I insist.

Besides being a partner, with Bruce, in one of southern California's premier family law firms, Lisa's a canny political insider who came within five points of denying archconservative former Rep. Bob Dornan the 1998 Republican nomination for Congress. Lisa would've given the one-term Democratic incumbent, Loretta Sanchez, a good race, whereas Sanchez easily defeated Dornan, whom she'd ousted two years before.

You can just hear party bigwigs rubbing their hands together and emitting a piercing Halloween cackle. Nominate a Republican who can win? That's just what they expect us to do! So we shouldn't have been surprised that Lisa gave Kathy and me our first opportunity (after nearly 60 combined years of service to 37) to interact with a mask depicting the ghost of moderate Republican past. Fun, if a little yesterday. We got back to Yorba Linda in time to give some Kit Kat bars to a teenaged President Obama. I thanked him for working for Middle East peace.

Yorba Linda Sky

7:05 a.m.