Saturday, April 16, 2011

BTO Watch

Bachmann vs. Obama's Libya war in 2011: "Foolish." Obama vs. Bush's Iraq war in 2002: "Dumb and rash."

The 2012 Theses

Andrew Sullivan doesn't like the GOP budget plan much because, he says, it cuts rather than increases tax revenue and would reduce retirees' access to health care by replacing Medicare with subsidies for private insurance policies insurers might not even be willing to write. And yet:
You can gloat that the GOP has committed political suicide by essentially ending Medicare and Medicaid as we know them, but that is not a substantive response. They deserve political props for nailing this proposal to the door of the White House.

Woodstock On The Block

The most fateful debate in a generation about the role of the federal government is officially underway, writes Richard W. Stevenson -- and it's all about the expectations of those of us of a certain age:

The aging of the baby boom generation and the costs of maintaining Medicare and Social Security have put the two pillars of the social welfare system on the table for re-examination. The growing weight of the national debt has given urgency to the question of whether the government has become too big and expensive.

The tepid nature of the current economic recovery, following big stimulus packages, has provided an opening to challenge the effectiveness of Keynesianism as the default policy option for government. And the revived energy of grass-roots conservatives has given electoral clout to the movement’s intellectual and constitutional arguments.

Back To The Wall

Thanks to Duane and DJ Gomer, my fellow St. John's pilgrims, for this photo Duane took at the Western Wall during our January visit. An orthodox Jew would not have turned his back on Herod the Great's wall and the holy of holies buried deep behind it. I'll be more careful next time.

"Godspell" And The Judas Paradox

When Christopher Lanham, now a St. John's eighth grader, was five or six, his father, Randall, a diligent Bible student, told him that Jesus's death enabled the salvation of the world at the first Easter.

Wouldn't that mean, Christopher replied, that Judas was a good guy?

Christopher was doing the kind of exegesis you don't normally encounter in kindergarten. Second century theologians grappling with the same paradox produced the revisionist, non-canonical gospel of Judas, in which the great betrayer is portrayed as Jesus's co-conspirator. Christopher solved the riddle his own way early this month in the St. John's Middle School production of "Godspell," in which he portrayed both John the Baptist, who was present at the beginning of Jesus's public ministry, and Judas, who helps bring it to an end.

My thanks to Christopher's mother, Kristen Welles Lanham, who helped the cast and crew get ready for their performances and also graciously sent me the photo of Christopher and me as well as of the Holy Eucharist the cast, crew, and I celebrated a couple of hours before the April 7 premiere. We used the propers for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose musical cadences opened the hearts of his congregations and audiences to the possibility of a better world. Our young people did the same with their song, dance, and acting. As I wrote to the people of St. John's in our annual Easter letter:
The players’ energy had their audiences grinning, and the rousing tunes had our toes tapping. But the end was all too familiar. The world rejected the son of God. His followers couldn’t stay awake with him, even for an hour. The Cross.

Thankfully, the kids (including Jesus) rushed back in for their last number and curtain calls. The music swelled, and the audience, at all four shows, responded with standing ovations. The cast and crew had worked long hours, after school and on weekends, to get ready. Their faces glowed with pride at a job well done. Having just reenacted the moment when humanity failed God, they brimmed with hope and possibility, promise and love. It reminded me of the feeling I get every Easter, bathed in the forgiving light of the empty tomb.
In the audience at the closing performance on April 10 was our St. John's Easter miracle herself, seven-year-old Emma Williams (left), who saw the show with a friend.

Ferlo Days

The Rev. Dr. Roger Ferlo, born into a working class Roman Catholic family in upstate New York, was ordained an Episcopal priest 25 years ago. Theologian, writer, seminary dean and professor, and cellist, he has devoted considerable energy over the last 15 years to the National Assn. of Episcopal Schools. At NAES's quarterly governing board meeting this week in Portland, Oregon, he stepped down as board member and president. The good work of our busy two-day meeting notwithstanding, many of Roger's colleagues said they feared having to get along without his erudition and gracious, priestly presence.

And shrewd tactical instincts, because there's politics everywhere, even in the church and especially at hundreds of Episcopal schools that work in sometimes uneasy collaboration with parishes. Imagine what can happen when two institutions, shepherded by strong-willed school heads and priests doing the seemingly divergent work of teaching children and ministering to aging congregations, have to share leadership, finances, and real estate. Priests at parishes with schools sometimes complain that heads get all the attention, heads that priests just don't get schools.

Tensions seemed to escalate as the church lost members while schools grew, though in recent years enrollment has leveled off. Amid change and crisis, our Episcopal-Anglican values, which teach us to live with ambiguity, haven't always been enough to help testy neighbors manage their differences. If our experience at St. John's Episcopal Church and School is any guide, a successful confederation makes for a lively, diverse, worshipful community. But some on both sides of the fence say that Episcopal schools can only really thrive when they achieve independence from parishes.

Church-school disharmony also echoes society's prevailing incivility and household discord. Like all pastors, I've counseled angry, discouraged spouses. As a school vicar and religion teacher, I've noticed that while lessons about church doctrine can leave students cold, a unit on Cain and Abel gets the attention of anyone with an annoying sibling (and what sibling doesn't have one?). Bickering and divorce have become societal norms; schism remains an all-too-common ecclesiastical one. Going against the grain takes patience and grit. No matter what his personal views are on the inevitability of school independence, Roger Ferlo, among others at NAES, models a coequal passion for parish and school ministry that encourages optimists in their faith in the creative coexistence between our fractious Episcopal relations.

Perhaps the children will lead us yet again. Portland's Oregon Episcopal School, where Roger and Anne's daughter, Liz Harlan-Ferlo, is high school chaplain and a member of the religion faculty, hosted the NAES board on Thursday. I had a chance to ask some students what they said when non-OES friends wondered what "Episcopal" meant. Their answers demonstrated an instinctual grasp of contemporary Anglican theology. One student said our church has to do with community; another said it's all about service. Maybe building stronger households and communities through the habit of mutual servanthood can help keep our families together amid the inevitable disturbances of our common lives -- husbands, wives, partners, siblings, even schools and churches.

BTO Watch

Jonathan Bernstein insists that Iowa's GOP caucus goers are far too serious and substantive to support someone such as Michele Bachmann. We'll see.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Birtherism And The Death Of Decency

Why did Michele Bachmann take the birther pledger in February? Donald Trump in March? Sarah Palin in April? Here's one possible reason:
Only 38% of Republican primary voters say they're willing to support a candidate for President next year who firmly rejects the birther theory and those folks want Mitt Romney to be their nominee for President next year.
Being a birther isn't like disagreeing with Barack Obama on the budget or even calling him a Muslim or socialist. These prospective candidates are accusing him of stealing the presidency by means of felonious fraud. Do they really believe it? If not, they've demonstrated their own unfitness for the job. The stability of the presidency is a vital U.S. interest. Proclaiming to the world that our president holds his office illegitimately strikes me as an unpatriotic act if the accusers don't believe it and are just saying it to seize power themselves.

So I'll be interested in what reporters can learn about how and when Bachmann, Trump, and Palin decided to take the pledge. Here's one hint. Trump's friend and adviser Roger Stone attributes the tycoon's recent success in the polls to his tilt to the birthers and pro-lifers:
The strength Trump is showing in horse race polls is less a function of Republicans admiring him due to him being a prominent successful businessman and job creator - qualifications Trump has not yet exploited - and much more a positive reaction to all his conservative rhetoric in just the last few months.

Gospels In Conflict

Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand? Not so much.

Houston Has A Problem

Houstonians are upset at being left out when space shuttles were designated for display at museums in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. and at the Kennedy Space Center. They seem especially angry about New York, which gets 45 million tourists a year.

NASA picked museums where the largest number of taxpayers will find it most convenient to view their property. It would be more logical for Houston to ask why the agency played favorites between its two primary mission-related installations by sending a shuttle to Florida. Since it would've been unfair to the American people if both spots had won, I'd like to learn more about the politics of that particular coin toss.

Obama In "You Talkin' To Me?" Mode

Mark Knoller, the veteran CBS News radio reporter, had stayed behind in the press room Thursday afternoon in Chicago after listening to an audio feed of President Obama's speech at a fundraiser. Obama's microphone was left on, so Knoller heard his private conversations with home town donors about last week's 11th hour budget deal. "Politico" reports:
Obama, recalling a conversation with Boehner staff: “I said, ‘You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid? … Put it in a separate bill. … We'll call it up. And if you think you can overturn my veto, try it. BUT DON’T TRY TO SNEAK THIS THROUGH.’ … When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, he's just being America's accountant … This is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill -- but wasn't paid for … So it's not on the level.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bubble Love

St. John's preschooler on Tuesday afternoon

Past Eddie

A half-dozen candidates are standing in line for Ed Cox's job as New York GOP chairman, according to the New York Observer:
Like his father-in-law, Mr. Cox has a rare ability to inspire an almost nameless, vitriolic animus among his detractors.

I Am Not A Liar

Republicans would be wise to heed the advice of a thoughtful political insider:
I think that over the last two and a half years, there’s been an effort to go at me in a way that is politically expedient in the short term for Republicans but creates I think a problem for them when they want to actually run in the general election, where most people feel pretty confident the president was born where he says he was, in Hawaii.


"Politico" and the Watergate revanchists.

Verging Birthers

Trig birtherism gets some rare mainstream attention from "Slate," though the writer, Rachael Larimore, is finally "inclined to believe" that Sarah Palin is the natural mother of her youngest child. Meanwhile the godfather of the TBs, Andrew Sullivan, who published the fabricated story during the 2008 campaign without checking the facts, says Palin's assertion that she's Trig's mother is "literally incredible," which sounds like another way to say she's lying.

Sarah It Ain't So

One of Sarah Palin's few virtues as a potential presidential candidate was that she refused to take the birther pledge and accuse the president of the U.S. of being a liar and usurper. No more.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This Romney Hasn't Been Brainwashed

Go here to read about a Republican who isn't willing to call the president of the U.S. a liar and usurper to get nominated.
Hat tip to Politico

Whitman Wisdom

In the 2010 elections in California, two GOP candidates with considerable promise foundered on the immigration issue -- Senate candidate Carly Fiorina because she took a tone-deaf hard line, gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman after her carefully nuanced position was deftly if ruthlessly undermined by attorney Gloria Allred (shown here with the Whitmans' former housekeeper).

Whitman's attempt to find a better way to be in conversation with California's burgeoning Latino population was no doubt inspired by her senior adviser, former Gov. Pete Wilson, who was burned in 1994 by his support for Prop. 187. I also saw his fine hand in Whitman's comments yesterday in Dallas, as reported by Seema Mehta:
"My view is that the immigration discussion, the rhetoric the Republican Party uses, is not helpful; it's not helpful in a state with the Latino population we have," Whitman said during a brief interview following a speech at a George W. Bush Institute conference on the economy. "We as a party are going to have to make some changes, how we think about immigration, and how we talk about immigration."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wrapping Up Lent: "Destiny" And "Death"

What does the enlightened evangelist put in her kit bag for performing Christian witness in a skeptical age? During the first three weeks of Lent at St. John's, we packed a couple of books (the Bible and Book of Common Prayer), reconnected with the ancient mystery of our liturgy, and pondered our thirst and hunger as tools for ministry. Fourth up was honest reflection on the legacies of our parents. Finally, we realized that they minister best who accept the inevitability and powerlessness of death.


"Nixon goes to China" was an unpredictable move. "Maarja goes to 'The New Nixon'" was a courageous one.

True Love

Tasty commercial

Meat And Right

Solons of the left, right, and center have complained for years that policy debates have grown so rancorous than substance is crowded out and opportunities dwindle for finding common ground. Democrats in particular called on Republicans to put a serious 2012 budget proposal on the table.

And now that Rep. Paul Ryan has done so, we hear this from veteran Democratic operative Paul Begala:
The Ryan proposal could be the foil Obama needs. I hope every vulnerable Republican in Congress signs on to the Ryan plan to kill Medicare, because we will beat ’em like a bad piece of meat.


Ann Coulter disses the birthers.

Two-Inch Nails

Holy relics, hoax, or wishful thinking?

"Behind The Wall Of Sleep," The Smithereens

Their oh-so-listenable 1986 hit. And they've got a great new CD, "2011." I didn't know they were from New Jersey.

Nixon Vs. Johnson

Historian Robert KC Johnson, writing at the History News Network about the Nixon library's new Watergate exhibit:

The Nixon Foundation greeted the new exhibit with a blog post from Anne Walker, wife of the foundation chairman. Walker faulted the Library for not effectively representing the true victims of the affair—Nixon and his advisers. (She recalled “the days of reading about our pals in the Washington Post every day, seeing them accused and vilified.”) In a bizarre argument, Walker suggested that critical Watergate defendants didn’t commit wrongdoing, since they were merely convicted of perjury. “Anyone,” she reasoned, “would eventually perjure themselves after countless grand jury sessions,” at which people are asked things like “how much you paid for a ham sandwich on a specific lunch hour.”

Walker’s contentions, of course, are ludicrous. But they also starkly illustrate a tension within the Presidential Libraries and Museums system. Presidential libraries have two constituencies—the public on the one hand, and the President’s family and closest friends and supporters (who help fund the libraries’ facilities) on the other.

A best-case scenario would be figures such as Lady Bird Johnson and former LBJ Library director Harry McPherson. Both were committed to preserving Lyndon Johnson’s legacy—but believed that the best way to do so came through honesty with the public and ensuring that scholars had full access to the available documents in the LBJ Library. The Nixon Foundation approach clearly represents the other extreme--Walker's blog post wildly portrays Nixon Library director Tim Naftali as coordinating a conspiracy designed to spread in the media unflattering (but accurate) quotes from Nixon. (It could be said, I suppose, that Nixon's associates have unusual expertise on the issue of conspiracies.)

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

Congress And Abortion

Nicholas Kristof, reflecting on Democratic and Republican cowardice and incompetence (his words) leading up to last week's near-shutdown of the federal government:

Conservatives have sought to bar federal funds from going directly to Planned Parenthood and the United Nations Population Fund. The money would not go for abortions, for federal law already blocks that, and the Population Fund doesn’t provide abortions. What the money would pay for is family planning.

In the United States, publicly financed family planning prevented 1.94 million unwanted pregnancies in 2006, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health. The result of those averted pregnancies was 810,000 fewer abortions, the institute said.

Publicly financed contraception pays for itself, by reducing money spent through Medicaid on childbirth and child care. Guttmacher found that every $1 invested in family planning saved taxpayers $3.74.

As for international family planning, the Guttmacher Institute calculates that a 15 percent decline in spending there would mean 1.9 million more unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 more abortions and 5,000 more maternal deaths.

So when some lawmakers preen their anti-abortion feathers but take steps that would result in more abortions and more women dying in childbirth, that’s not governance, that’s hypocrisy.

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

Monday, April 11, 2011

Political Joke

Donald Trump's outburst against comedian Bill Cosby.

The Fallacy Of The Simple War

With Libya becoming a military and diplomatic muddle, the risks proliferate for our inexperienced president:
Mr. Obama’s decision to join the military intervention in Libya may well be judged a failure if the initial result is a muddle or a partition of the country, an outcome that his own secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, declared less than a month ago would be a “a real formula for insecurity.” If the country’s civil war drags on, Mr. Obama will almost certainly have to answer a rising chorus of critics that he entered the battle too late, began to exit too early, and overestimated a very inexperienced, disorganized rebel movement.

"OC Weekly" Closes YL Bureau, Loses Almanac

Orange County's alternative sentinel writes:
When Richard Nixon became president in 1968, the national media rushed to the Podunk city of Yorba Linda, the Dickster's birthplace and a town that had just incorporated a year earlier and was still largely citrus groves and rolling hills instead of the exclusive estates and gated communities that characterize it today.
Nixon became president in 1969. Yorba Linda's orange groves were paved over years ago, and it has few if any gated communities.

Not So Clear After All

UC Irvine professor Jon Wiener, writing on April 5 about the Nixon library's new Watergate exhibit:
The exhibit makes clear how, with the country in turmoil over an unpopular war, the president became obsessed with "enemies" and formed a secret unit, "the plumbers," to carry out illegal assignments.
Wiener overreached by saying that Nixon personally authorized the plumbers to break the law. While I look forward to reviewing the exhibit in detail, nothing in the on-line resources the library published last year shows that Nixon knew in advance about the plumbers' fateful burglaries in September 1971 (at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office) and June 1972 (at the Watergate).

Did Nixon contribute to an atmosphere in his wartime White House that resulted in wrongdoing? Yes, and he admitted as much. But that's just not the same as authorizing or knowing in advance about specific criminal acts. This distinction is more important to some than others. In July 2008, I wrote that historian Rick Perlstein, in his book Nixonland, had misconstrued a secondary source in a way that gave the impression that Nixon had known in advance about the 1971 burglary. Perlstein replied that I was technically right but that the "preponderance of the evidence suggests that Nixon probably knew what was going on." And yet criminal culpability hinges on technicalities, not assumptions or atmospherics.

Other writers have overreached in attempting to pin advance knowledge of the burglaries on Nixon. There's plenty in the Watergate story that reflects poorly on Nixon and his men without imputing to him crimes that he didn't commit.

Big Hitter, The O'Llama

A camelid cameo at the Nixon

Don't Write The Things The Reader Skips

While Kathy and I were in Detroit, Metro Times, its alternative weekly, published a great Q&A with crime novelist and Detroiter Elmore Leonard. The on-line version doesn't include his "ten (plus one) rules for writing in brief":
1. Never open a book with the weather. 2. Avoid prologues: They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreward. 3. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"...he admonished gravely. 4. Never use a very other than "said" to carry dialogue. 5. Keep your exclamation marks under control. 6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." 7. Use regional dialogue, patois, sparingly. 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. 9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. 10. Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

My post important rule is one that sums up the ten: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Obama Aide Making Trumple

The White House definitely wants to run against a birther. Adviser David Plouffe on Donald Trump, who recently took the birther pledge:
I saw...Trump kind of rising in some polls and given his behavior and spectacle the last couple of weeks, I hope he keeps on rising. There is zero chance that Donald Trump would ever be hired by the American people to do this job.

Pragmatically Oblique

Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker adopt a policy of pragmatic skepticism about U.S. involvement in Libya:
[O]ur idealistic goals cannot be the sole motivation for the use of force in U.S. foreign policy. We cannot be the world’s policeman. We cannot use military force to meet every humanitarian challenge that might arise. Where would we stop? Syria, Yemen, Algeria or Iran? What about countries that have been strong allies but do not share all of our values, such as Bahrain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia? What about humanitarian violations in other countries, such as Ivory Coast?
Their "pragmatic idealism" paradigm was a favorite of Richard Nixon's, envisioned, ironically, as a critique of Kissinger's super-realism. Nixon's biographer, Jonathan Aitken, insisted that it was a contradiction in terms.

How Do You Shrink A City?

With Detroit's population 25% smaller than than ten years ago, city planners are considering ways to compress the city geographically, including by gradually diminishing service levels in the most sparsely populated neighborhoods. Some are worried, as Monica Davey reports:

Would this simply amount to another chapter of “urban renewal” in which the poorest, least educated and unluckiest would be forced to move?

And what exactly would become of the neighborhoods with diminished services, likely to be places already plagued in some cases by what residents described as new, audacious brands of crimes? (Stores in some neighborhoods here have taken to placing cement blocks outside their glass entryways, residents said, to prevent thieves from crashing their cars through the doors for break-ins.)

“I’m hopeful, but I don’t know what it all would mean,” said Bayard Kurth, a screen printer from the West Village, another established neighborhood. “Big greenbelts in the city? Unmonitored places where people do whatever they want? All-day parties there?”

Photo: Lagoon and skating pavilion, Belle Isle, Detroit

The Book On Reducing Adolescent Depression

Teens who read a lot are less likely to be depressed than those who listen to a lot of music.

"Boys, This Is My Church"

A Good Friday preview from Karl Malden, testifying in "On The Waterfront"
Hat tip to Maarja Krusten