Friday, March 30, 2012

Tree In The Desert

Stations of the Cross at St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo, California

"We Don't Have Enemies In Politics"

Nathan Fletcher, an Iraq hero, has had enough of the GOP wars. As a California state assemblyman, he was one of the few in his party willing to work on a tax compromise with the Democratic governor. Spurned for the GOP mayoral nomination in San Diego in favor of a tea party regular, Fletcher has left the party to run as an independent. He caught the attention of David Brooks at the New York Times, who reports:

[Fletcher] declared, “I believe it’s more important to solve a problem than to preserve that problem to use on a campaign. I am willing to work or share or give all the credit to someone if the idea is good. I don’t believe we have to treat people we disagree with as an enemy. I’ve fought in a war. I have seen the enemy. We don’t have enemies in our political environment here.”

Fletcher is the decided underdog in the June 5 voting. But he represents a nationally important test case. Can the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who were trained to be ruthlessly pragmatic, find a home in either political party? Can center-right moderates find a home in the GOP, even in coastal California? As the two parties become more insular, is it possible to mount an independent alternative?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Give Talks With Iran A Chance"

As Richard Nixon would have as well, Malou Innocent, writing at the former Nixon Center's National Interest, advocates negotiations instead of war to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon:

Negotiating with Iranian leaders will not resolve the nuclear issue in the next few months. What’s needed is a process that encourages Tehran to make tactical concessions, such as persuading it to forestall uranium enrichment at higher levels and allowing for more intrusive inspections. Next month, when Turkey hosts talks between Iran and the “5+1 group”—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—American officials should move toward adopting a long-term policy that incorporates Iran into the community of nations. Diplomacy remains the best means of containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Unfortunately, diplomacy is unpopular with those who see war as the answer to most international problems.

The Clintons Got Tired Of Him, Too

Ted Kennedy's Legacy

The Economist sums up the arguments being presented before the Supreme Court this week for and against the individual mandate, the centerpiece of the Obama administration's health care reform:

The challengers have simplicity on their side. They argue that Congress cannot compel individuals to buy something. Its powers are only those enumerated in the constitution. Let Congress regulate inactivity, challengers say, and there will be no limit to its meddling.

Mr Obama’s lawyers must rely on a more complex chain of reasoning. America’s huge health sector, they point out, is dysfunctional. People with pre-existing health conditions pay extortionate rates for their insurance, if they can get it at all. In part because of this, some 50m people have no insurance cover; yet many of them receive emergency care they cannot pay for. This raises the cost to everyone else; by an average of about $1,000 each year per family, the government argues.

The health law attempts to remedy these failings by requiring insurers to cover the sick without raising their fees. The mandate, by insuring more healthy people, would help offset these costs and fix the problem of uncompensated care. The mandate is constitutional for two reasons, says the government. The penalty falls within Congress’s power to tax (though Mr Obama has denied the mandate is any such thing). And the constitution’s “commerce clause” authorizes Congress to regulate interstate activity. Not buying insurance is a decision to pay for your own care, the reasoning goes. This has a big effect on interstate commerce, though arguably by similar logic one might oblige people to buy gym memberships or broccoli....

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision by the end of June. By then the Republicans will probably have chosen a presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who signed a mandate of his own in Massachusetts (he says it is fine for states to do this but not Washington). However the court rules, the political consequences will be huge. Even more important, for the long term, will be the court’s articulation of congressional power. Washington subsists on hyperbole. But this time it is all true.

If the mandate is overturned, and especially if the court junks the rest of the bill, too, health care reform could end up being radioactive for a generation. The tragedy would be that near-universal health insurance coverage, and the resulting more rational distribution of costs, could have been achieved without a federal individual mandate. Richard Nixon proposed requiring employers to share or pay employees' premiums for private insurance. Credits and subsidies would have enabled coverage for the self-employed and unemployed. The relative few who would have opted out and used the ER when they got sick wouldn't have caused anything like that $1,000-per-family distortion and the resulting spike in premiums and pricing anomalies such as $1,500 blood panels.

Ted Kennedy, who crusaded for health reform throughout his Senate career, blocked the Nixon plan because it relied on private insurance instead of a single-payer system. Nixon wanted the same outcome for people as Kennedy did but without creating vast new federal powers. If Barack Obama's bill dies because he overreached as well (in his case by failing to anticipate the intervention of the most conservative Supreme Court since the 1930s), he could end up sharing Kennedy's legacy of 50 million semi-permanent uninsured. In politics, having your heart in the right place doesn't excuse poor tactics.


Dov Zakeim, writing in the former Nixon Center's National Interest, warns that if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan too hastily a dangerous civil war might commence between India's and Pakistan's proxies. He writes:
It was precisely such an alignment of forces that led to the Taliban’s triumph in the late 1990s, followed by its sponsorship of al-Qaeda and the trauma of 9/11.
Indeed, [Afghan] President Karzai’s seemingly erratic relations with the United States can best be understood in terms of his concern about the future cohesion of his country once American forces depart. Should anything remotely like this civil-war scenario manifest itself again, America’s decade-long war will have been for naught.

The difference between then and now is that any president would make clear through words and action that the hint of renewed Taliban-al-Qaeda collaboration, or any threat to the homeland emanating from Afghanistan, would be intolerable. As for the regional interests Zakheim mentions, especially the possibility that Pakistan itself, a nuclear power, could fracture, they're obviously important. But before Sept. 11, none would've justified U.S. and NATO intervention in Afghanistan.

To some extent the U.S. deserves to be held accountable for whatever it's done to alter the regional landscape, including by raising hopes in some circles that, having stayed ten years, we might stay 20. But the Obama administration's critics should remember that there was no mystery about the limited and highly focused motive for our intervention. The American people supported the war because the Afghan government was a Sept. 11 conspirator, not because we were concerned about Pakistan, Uzbekistan, or Tajikistan. The president will always be responsible for making sure it doesn't happen again. Polls and common sense make clear he or she will have to do so without having troops on the ground.

The Cross Of Anglican Unity

George Pitcher, who spent ten months as Rowan Williams' media strategist, sums up:
Rowan subsumes his own opinions, prejudices and preferences, even substantially his personality, in the service of his archiepiscopacy. It's what characterizes the decade of his incumbency of the See of Canterbury. The cross he bears is Anglican unity at whatever cost to himself. It's why he has disappointed both liberals (where his heart lies) and conservatives (whom his heart encompasses), why his friendship with the ambitious gay campaigner Canon Jeffrey John turned to dust and why he has tried to push through an Anglican Communion Covenant, a code of conduct for the faithful that his own Church has all but rejected for being essentially un-Anglican.

Episcopal Equinimity

The presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, along with the bishops of Los Angeles and Jerusalem, opposes anti-Israel divestment and boycotts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

First Drive No Nails

The text of my annual Easter letter to the people of God at St. John's:

New York Times
columnist Alina Tugend wrote recently, “My sisters and I have often marveled that the stories we tell over and over about our childhood tend to focus on what went wrong.” Alina says she had a normal childhood with many good times and some bad ones. Can you relate to her experience? What do you remember most about growing up? What affects us more: Praise or criticism? When we get together with friends, do we rush to recount mishaps, illnesses, discouragements, or gossip, or do we dwell on the grace, joy, and abundance we’ve experienced?

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was famous for promoting the power of positive thinking. Alina consulted authorities who remind us that there is vast power in negative thinking as well. In epochs when life was far more dangerous, counting our blessings might have felt good, but paying close attention to dangerous events or circumstances kept us alive.

We usually think of those who sent our LORD to the Cross as being evil. We will relate to them better – and even begin to see ourselves in the crowds shouting “Crucify him!” -- if we think of them as frightened people who took action to keep their status and power.

It doesn’t matter if we weren’t in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. The power of negative thinking is still ours to command whenever we want to drive a nail into a relationship at home, at work, or even at church. Instead, let’s be people who accentuate the positive, who remember the blessing and forgive the trespass, who bend toward hope and away from fear – people who live in the light of the empty tomb, where the ultimate power of negativity was destroyed forever. Let us be Resurrection people this Easter and all the days that follow.

Little Hummers

Kathy and I are expecting. When she came home today, she thought she saw two hummingbirds buzzing protectively above the nest. A mom and aunt, perhaps, since males don't participate in nesting, we learn. Incubation lasts 14-23 days. Two eggs are SOP. We'll keep you posted.

Not So Much The Handshakes Anymore

One aspect of the colorful mosaic being fashioned in retirement by my friend and mentor, the Rev. Canon Mark Shier, is lending his mellifluous instrument to the production of public domain audio books, which he does as a volunteer. Along one of his literary back roads he discovered an 1895 collection of short stories called Red Men And White by Owen Wister, who also wrote The Virginian. Mark sent along this excerpt from the author's introduction, which resonates pretty well this political year:
With no spread-eagle brag do I gather conviction each year that we Americans, judged not hastily, are sound at heart, kind, courageous, often of the truest delicacy, and always ultimately of excellent good-sense. With such belief, or, rather, knowledge, it is sorrowful to see our fatal complacence, our as yet undisciplined folly, in sending to our State Legislatures and to that general business office of ours at Washington a herd of mismanagers that seems each year to grow more inefficient and contemptible, whether branded Republican or Democrat. But I take heart, because often and oftener I hear upon my journey the citizens high and low muttering, “There’s too much politics in this country”; and we shake hands.

Turin Jesus On His Face

Historian Thomas de Wesselow says that the Shroud of Turin (thought by many to be a medieval forgery) actually was Jesus's burial cloth and that its ghostly imprint tricked the disciples into thinking he'd been raised from the dead. At least in the Huffington Post article, de Wesselow doesn't say why the shroud's Jesus, who may well have had Semitic features and was probably in his early thirties when he died, looks like the English knight who guards the Holy Grail in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

The article concludes with a predictable question:

What remains to be seen is how Christians around the world, who are about to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, will respond to de Wesselow's assertion that the bodily resurrection never happened.

Same way we do every year: Proclaim "He is Risen!" and go forth in the name of the risen Christ.

The Church's Barack Obama

And Jane Kramer at the New Yorker on Rowan Williams and why he resigned (hat tip to Norris Battin for this and all the RW links):

Williams is a scholar (philosophy and theology), a teacher (Oxford and Cambridge), and a writer (more than thirty books, including a poetry collection, a biography of Dostoyevsky, and a luminous reflection on the nature of art and love, called “Grace and Necessity”), as well as a priest. In other words, he is a thinker in a world of increasingly harsh theologies. His critics liked to compare him to Barack Obama, because he saw “three sides of any argument” and, as often as not, chose none. The comparison was apt, because, like the President, Williams “reached out” across the aisle—or the transept—to the people most likely to ignore him. He believed that with reason, compassion, and accommodation, he could reconcile a warring clergy.

Being Excluded Because Of Who You Are

Writing at Huffington Post, my LA clergy bud the Rev. Susan Russell on the legacy of Rowan Williams:
[T]he truth is that the sacrifice that will hold the Anglican Communion together is not the sacrifice of the gay and lesbian baptized but the sacrifice of a false unity based in dishonesty. It is nothing less than rank hypocrisy that the Archbishop of Canterbury was willing to lay at the feet of Canadian and American Anglicans the blame for divisions in the Communion when the only difference between what's happening in our churches and in his is that we're telling the truth about it.

Because the truth is there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Brother and sister Anglicans walking away from the table because they've been disagreed with is a painful thing. The church walking away from the gay and lesbian baptized is a sinful thing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You Can Always Count On The Nixon Guy

My former colleagues at the National Interest, published by the former Nixon Center, tiptoe into the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman story.

Orwell Lives (Or Laughs)

Writing in the American Spectator, an overheated Jeffrey Lord says that the KKK and Nazis were leftists and agrees with Bill O'Reilly that U.S. leftists are are fascists for using their free speech rights to organize an advertisers' boycott against Rush Limbaugh -- which wouldn't have gotten any traction if Limbaugh didn't have the potty mouth of a mean 12-year-old who's afraid of girls. I thought conservatives were all about individual accountability.

Lord's "left is right" logic gave me a headache. Go here to read about the meaninglessness of "fascist" as an epithet. When I was in college, campus radicals hurled it at university administrators because of their decisions about teaching assistant compensation. A couple of years ago, Roger Ailes called NPR executives Nazis. And so it goes -- name-calling in lieu of substance, what all too often goes for political discourse in the 21st century (a persuasive argument against evolution, which ought to please the ignorant right-wingers-- Oops!...sorry).

You Think?

The Wikipedia page for Easter carries this warning:
The neutrality of this article is questioned because of its systemic bias. In particular, there may be a strong bias in favor of Christianity.

Romney Channels Gingrich

Trying to score points over Barack Obama's innocuous comment to the Russian president, Mitt Romney said that Russia is the "number one geopolitical foe" of the U.S. We have a classic great power relationship with Russia, partners in some matters, rivals in others, with generally friendly and constructive relations across the board. It used to be in presidential politics that a comment this ignorant and irresponsible would disqualify a candidate. Romney's father's prospects foundered because of a far less worrisome statement about Vietnam. I guess Newt Gingrich has lowered the bar for everyone.

"Broken," Whitehorse

A new duo from Canada. The song remains the same -- "You've gotta have a heart to have a broken one" -- with wonderful voices and guitars. Hat tip to No Depression.

Watergate And Factional Journalism

At Salon, Jefferson Morley reviews Max Holland's Leak:

Portraying [Mark] Felt/Deep Throat as a factional power player, not a high-minded voice of truth, is a public service. But Holland goes too far in deprecating the accomplishments of Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He develops the argument first made by Edward Jay Epstein that the Post got too much credit for exposing the criminal conspiracy emanating from Nixon’s White House.

“Contrary to widely held perception that the Post uncovered Watergate,” Holland writes, “the newspaper essentially tracked the progress of the FBI’s investigation with a time delay ranging from weeks to days, and published elements of the prosecutor’s case well in advance of the trial.” From the leisurely perspective of a historian that may be convincing. For working journalists, the publication of a story days or weeks in advance of the government is the whole point.

Nevertheless, “All the President’s Men” embellished Woodward’s and Bernstein’s fine job to an act of moral heroism. The film reassured viewers that the good guys could win with the help of a wise man on the inside. Any young person who is inspired to do journalism by “All the President’s Men” should also read Leak. The romantic myth of journalism is dead and that’s a good thing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ex Cathedra

The gag goes that when a fire alarm goes off in church, Presbyterians form a committee while Episcopalians laboriously don complex vestments before lining up for a stately procession and heading for the exit. This afternoon at Chapman University in Orange, California, we of many faiths processed for gracious scholar and Presbyterian pastor the Rev. Dr. Gail J. Stearns in celebration of her installation as dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel -- a moving ceremony in which Chapman's undergraduate Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, Hindi, Sikhs, and Wiccans played ceremonial roles. The University Singers, under the direction of Stephen Coker, ringed the vaunting Wallace chapel and lifted our hearts with two anthems. The keynoter, USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, gave a spirited talk about the anti-institutional, post-denominational Millennials whom all us liturgically-disposed mainliners would give our stoles and souls to get into our pews with prayer books and hymnals in their laps.

Before offering a pacific benediction, Dr. Stearns (who preached at St. John's during Advent and is shown meeting with our members) listed three goals of her deanship: Nurturing students' spiritual lives in all their diversity, promoting dialogue among campus theologians and other disciplines, and deepening relationships with local religious leaders.

As he prepared to intone the words of installation, Chapman's dynamic chancellor, Daniele Struppa (rocking the biretta, above), a St. John's member along with his colleague Lisa Sparks and their children, mentioned his and Chapman president Jim Doti's bidding war with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral, in which Bishop Todd Brown and the diocese prevailed. "To provide a larger venue for today's ceremony, President Doti wanted to buy us a new church," Daniele said. "But Bishop Brown felt it would be better to have it here in the All Faiths Chapel." Daniele told me afterward that the bishop (shown chatting with Rabbi Heidi M. Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana) smiled beatifically.

Five Freedoms

During the Sundays in Lent at St. John's, we've considered the healing that comes from acceptance and the resulting freedom from idealization; the healing of faith and the freedom to relinquish control; the healing of revaluing and the freedom of free-flowing grace; the healing of our impatience and the freedom to wait; and finally the healing of death in Christ and the freedom to thrive. If only George Zimmerman had heeded Jesus Christ's teaching in John 12: "Those who love their life lose it." My sermon for the fifth Sunday in Lent is here.

Taking Charge In Dallas

The April 2 New Yorker presents a meticulously researched account by LBJ biographer Robert Caro of the day Lyndon Johnson became president. It culminates with his stage-managing this iconic scene above Air Force One as it idled on the tarmac in Dallas -- making sure Mrs. Kennedy and her husband's casket were aboard and that she would be present to lend her legitimacy to the transition of power, for the same reason demanding that as many Kennedy assistants as possible cram into the stiflingly hot stateroom, arranging the placement of the photographer and witnesses, researching the words of the oath, and deciding that it would be administered a federal judge, Sarah T. Hughes, whose appointment he'd favored as vice president but whom the Kennedys at first had blocked:
The scene was still eerie: the gloom, the heat, the whispering, the low, insistent whine of the jet engine, the mass of dim faces crowded so close together. But one element had vanished: the confusion. Watching Lyndon Johnson arrange the crowd, give orders, deal with [Kennedy aides Ken] O'Donnell and [Larry] O'Brien, [Johnson aide] Liz Carpenter, dazed by the rush of events, realized that there was at least one person in the room who wasn't dazed, who was, however hectic the situation might be, in complete command of it.
In the agony of the moment, Johnson encountered resistance from Kennedy aides, some of whom didn't like him and didn't think having the ceremony in Dallas was necessary. Johnson had become president the moment Kennedy died; wasn't that enough? But Johnson understood the stricken country needed to witness the continuity of authority, and there was no better way than to conduct this sacred ritual. His left hand rested not on a Bible but a pocket-sized Roman Catholic missal.

When Two Become One Flesh

Diane Ackerman on married people who manage to reclaim a corner of Eden:

While they were both in the psychology department of Stony Brook University, Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron scanned the brains of long-married couples who described themselves as still “madly in love.” Staring at a picture of a spouse lit up their reward centers as expected; the same happened with those newly in love (and also with cocaine users). But, in contrast to new sweethearts and cocaine addicts, long-married couples displayed calm in sites associated with fear and anxiety. Also, in the opiate-rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those affiliated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly.

A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby. Small wonder “Baby” is a favorite adult endearment. Not that romantic love is an exact copy of the infant bond. One needn’t consciously regard a lover as momlike to profit from the parallels. The body remembers, the brain recycles and restages....

During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons — sweet or villainous — can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.

Yorba Linda Sky

8:23 a.m.

The Power Of Negative Thinking

Why do we focus more on bad than good experiences? Why is it so hard to hear criticism? For the usual reason: Because we're wired to survive. Alina Tugend analyzes the scholarly work of Roy F. Baumeister:

In an experiment in which participants gained or lost the same amount of money, for instance, the distress participants expressed over losing the money was greater than the joy that accompanied the gain.

“Put another way, you are more upset about losing $50 than you are happy about gaining $50,” the paper states.

In addition, bad events wear off more slowly than good ones.

And just to show that my family’s tendency to focus on the negative is not unusual, interviews with children and adults up to 50 years old about childhood memories “found a preponderance of unpleasant memories, even among people who rated their childhoods as having been relatively pleasant and happy,” Professor Baumeister wrote.

As with many other quirks of the human psyche, there may be an evolutionary basis for this. Those who are “more attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased the probability of passing along their genes,” the article states. “Survival requires urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent with regard to good ones.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More Free Advice For Israel

Writing at The National Interest, published by the former Nixon Center, Paul Pillar applauds the Muslim Brotherhood's newly balanced stance toward the Palestinian parties and says it's time for Israel get over Hamas' support for terrorism:

In private discussion with the Israelis, the United States should point out that if Israel is genuinely interested in a peace settlement with the Palestinians, what the Egyptian Brotherhood is doing is as good as it gets, especially coming from the biggest political actor in the biggest Arab state. If the Israelis are not genuinely interest in a settlement, a negative posture toward the Egyptian initiative will serve only to underscore to the world Israel's responsibility for the impasse. And if Mr. Netanyahu raises issues of Hamas's past involvement in terrorism, he should be reminded that if the United States applied a once-a-terrorist-always-a-terrorist standard, it never would have had any dealings with some who have occupied the positions he does now of Israeli prime minister and leader of Likud.

Go To Church. Get .77 More Of A Happy Thought.

Gallup finds that churchgoers are cheerier, especially on Sundays and the rest of the week as well:
People who go to church, synagogue or other services at least once a week report 3.36 positive emotions a day versus 3.08 among people who never attend, Gallup found. Weekly attendees report an average of only 0.85 negative emotions a day compared with 1.04 for people who never attend services.

The Special Relationship, Church-Style

Diarmaid MacCulloch, scholar of the Reformation and biographer of Thomas Cranmer, weighs the consequences of the Anglican church (in England, that is) rejecting the Anglican Covenant, which was aimed, most observers agree, at punishing the The Episcopal Church and Canadian Anglicans for extending full sacramental status to gays and lesbians:

Anglicanism could be seen as a family: in families, you don't expect everyone to think in exactly the same way. You listen, you shout, cry, talk, compromise. You do not show the door to one member of the family, just because you don't agree with them. Now Anglicans can start listening afresh. The present archbishop of Canterbury has their warm good wishes, as he prepares to use his many talents and graces in a different setting. They should ask the next man or woman in the job to reconnect with the church and the nation.

As MacCulloch notes, while British bishops favored the proposed covenant by a wide margin, priests and the laity opposed it.

Diplomatic Brotherhood

Egypt's incoming rulers, the Muslim Brotherhood, are readjusting their relationship with the two major Palestinian parties, David Kirkpatrick reports:
Brotherhood officials say that they are pulling back from their previous embrace of Hamas and its commitment to armed struggle against Israel in order to open new channels of communications with Fatah, which the Brotherhood had previously denounced for collaborating with Israel and accused of selling out the Palestinian cause. Brotherhood leaders argue that if they persuade the Palestinians to work together with a newly assertive Egypt, they will have far more success forcing Israel to bargain in earnest over the terms of statehood.

Takes One To Know Some

Linguistics professor and left-wing activist Noam Chomsky on today's GOP, in which he thinks Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Reagan would be considered radicals:

The Republican party now has its catechism of things you have to repeat in lockstep, kind of like the old Communist party. One of them is denying climate change....

It happens that there's a huge propaganda offensive carried out by the major business lobbies, the energy associations, and so on. It's no secret, they're trying to convince people that the science is unreliable, that it's a liberal hoax. Those who want to be funded by business and energy associations and so on might be led into repeating this catechism. Or maybe they actually believe it.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives is now dismantling measures of control over environmental destruction that were instituted by Richard Nixon. That shows you how far to the right they have gone. Today Nixon would be a flaming radical and Dwight D. Eisenhower would be off the spectrum. Even Ronald Reagan would be on the left somewhere. These are interesting, important things happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world that we should be very much concerned about.

St. John's On The Town

That's Lisa Sparks and her Chapman University colleague, Chancellor Daniele Struppa, both of St. John's Church, at a recent celebration of Chapman's 150th anniversary. The photo appeared in the April edition of Orange Coast.