Saturday, January 10, 2009

If Mark Felt Does It, That Means It's Not Illegal

The late W. Mark Felt's attorney and co-author, John D. O'Connor, rises to his defense:

In Mr. Felt’s prosecution, five attorneys general and President Richard M. Nixon testified that national security entries need no warrant, and the court eventually agreed.

The only quibble was whether presidential authorization could be implicit (per Mr. Felt and Mr. Nixon) or must be written.

Mr. Felt authorized these entries (or “black bag jobs”) because of concern about activities of members in the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United States after the terrorism at the Munich Olympic Games and about the Weather Underground, which had claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings and whose predecessor group had in 1970 been preparing antipersonnel nail bombs to kill and maim innocent Fort Dix soldiers.

Mark Felt was a great hero, undeserving of such shabby treatment.

Put Not All Your China In Cabinets

Ben Stein, who wrote speeches for Presidents Nixon and Ford, reflects on the Cabinet meetings he attended early in 38's term:
The Ford cabinet experience was educational. The men and women in the room, high-ranking White House officials and secretaries of cabinet departments, were pleasant and well briefed. But they struck me as similar to small-town Rotary Club members or Junior Chamber of Commerce officials — polite and cordial, but far from rocket scientists. They were just high-average to B+ status, with the exception of some supersmart types like Henry Kissinger....

The Obama people could be wonderful, smart people, an order of magnitude above what I saw at the Ford cabinet meetings. Obviously, many people believe that they are.

But they are just human beings, albeit in some cases human beings with glowing résumés. I do not see the supermen and superwomen. They do not have the gift of foresight. They have never been in a situation like this, at least not exactly. There is simply no good reason to believe they will get it right except by trial and error, turning the tumblers until the safe eventually opens. The problems we face now are so large that they humble the average and the above average and even the very much above average.

High-level bureaucrats, like high-level professors or doctors or investment bankers or baseball pitchers, are just people, whether serving with Bush 43 or Barack Obama or anyone else. I can vividly recall leaving those long-ago cabinet meetings and saying to myself as I walked across West Executive Avenue, “Put not your trust in princes.” It’s a proverb for a good reason — then, now, and always.

Separate And Equal

After a reader accused her of a separate but equal attitude by opposing gay marriage, Laura Harrison McBride replied:
[S]ince marriage and civil union, except for the terminology, are exactly the same thing spiritually and legally speaking, I don't see how one can contend that “it's two different water fountains.” It is not; if it were, then the underlying assumptions concerning civil unions and marriage--the legalities and the spirituality per se--would need to be different in each case. And they are not.

In fact, what I am advocating is that the legality of a civil union be precisely the same as the legality of a marriage; only the terminology should be different to properly describe the unassailable facts. Those are that a marriage is between a man and a woman, and a civil union is between two consenting parties of the same gender.

The terminology, because English is a very precise language, is essential. If most people hear the term marriage, they think of a man and a woman. If they hear the term civil union, they think of two women or two men. Likewise, if they hear the phrase ménage a trois, they think of two members of one gender, and one of the other, engaged in some sort of consenting adult relationship. What would you have us say in that case? If the parties were committed to it, would you call it a marriage? Ludicrous. (If you doubt there are long-standing ménages a trois, see the movie The Duchess, which chronicles one such. Only two members of the ménage were willing parties, but the arrangement lasted for decades and was sanctioned even by the unconsenting member upon her death.)
A thoughtful argument. But in fact, civil unions and marriages don't yet provide exactly the same rights to partners. In most if not all states where civil unions are sanctioned, gay and lesbian people have to work harder and spend more money to get the same protections married people get automatically.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Nobody Steps On A Church In My Town*

It's often been a blessing to have Pastor Rick Warren's mammoth Saddleback Church in our backyard at St. John's in Rancho Santa Margarita, about two miles south of Warren's digs. His ministry gives inspiration and comfort to tens of thousands in our community and millions around the world. He brings the gospel alive in practical ways to help people live better, more faithful lives.

But now he's offered to help dissident Episcopalians plant a church in our neighborhood. Thanks a lot, dear colleague!

In the wake of Monday's ruling by the California Supreme Court under which three churches which tried to leave our Diocese may soon have to return their buildings and other properties, Warren wrote,
We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.
As the orthodox pastor of the closest Episcopal church to Saddleback, I'll try not to take it personally. Still, if any of the 20 million Baptists who aren't especially taken with Pastor Rick's conservative Southern Baptist Convention want to plant a church in his backyard, I'll happily talk to the St. John's Bishop's Committee about using our choir room to start Saddleback South. We could only seat about 20, compared to Pastor Rick's 50,000 Christmas Eve worshipers, but all good things start small.

Among dissidents' problems with Mr. Warren's Southern Baptists is this carefully worded policy statement from the Convention's web site:
Women participate equally with men in the priesthood of all believers. Their role is crucial, their wisdom, grace and commitment exemplary. Women are an integral part of our Southern Baptist boards, faculties, mission teams, writer pools, and professional staffs. We affirm and celebrate their Great Commission impact.

While Scripture teaches that a woman's role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men, it also teaches that women are equal in value to men.

That's right: Pastor Rick and his colleagues believe Jesus Christ didn't want women to be pastors. The policy is one reason former President Jimmy Carter resigned from the Convention in 2000. With us Episcopalians and many other denominations, the seeming crisis is over the sacramental status of gay and lesbian people. But an even more important problem is that many Christians haven't even come to terms with the radical equality of women in the body of Christ.

In the early church, women played a prominent role in all aspects of ministry. After all, the "apostle to the apostles" wasn't Peter, James, or Paul, or indeed Tom, Dick, or Harry. All four gospels agree (in other words, "scripture teaches") that Mary Magdalene first received the good news of our Lord's Resurrection. She believed, while Jesus's male followers (who had fled in fear after the Crucifixion) at first did not.

And yet in the 21st century, powerful Christian leaders still keep Mary's half of the population down. I can well understand why they prefer to talk instead about the 2-3% of the population who are homosexual. Safer odds.

* Name that movie!

Hat tip to Greg Larkin

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

On a windy afternoon in Yorba Linda, Rear Admiral Garland Wright placed a wreath at the grave site of the 37th President, part of a daylong celebration of what would've been his 96th birthday.

The Florida-born admiral is a sailor in more ways than one. An all-American athlete, he was co-captain of Annapolis's first-ever national championship sailing team. In their remarks to a crowd of 150, he and Commander Sheri L. Snively, chaplain of Miramar MCAS in San Diego, talked about RN's own naval service. Snively -- a Quaker minister and distant Nixon cousin -- stressed the significance of the future President going to his peaceloving Quaker mother Hannah and asking permission to seek his naval commission at the beginning of World War II.

After the wreath laying, I gave a talk about President Nixon in the White House East Room -- after being introduced by the great Bruce Herschensohn. It should've been the other around! Read an account of the day at the Library here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Republicans Are More Fun

Updating Army Archerd's coverage of President Nixon's famous 1968 appearance on "Laugh-In" ("Sock it to me?"), "Variety" provides this detail:
"Laugh-In" hoped to get opposition candidate Hubert Humphrey to appear, saying "What a good IDEA!!!" in response to Nixon's "Sock It To ME!!!" But they could never get the Demos to OK his appearance.
On Dec. 29, NPR's Terry Gross, on her "Fresh Air" program, rebroadcast a fall 2008 interview with "Saturday Night Live" head writer Seth Myers (available here on a podcast) in which Myers describes how easy Gov. Palin and her staff were to work with during her famous SNL appearance. As a matter of fact, he said Republicans were typically easier to work with than Democrats. When Gross asked why, Myers replied that Democrats are afraid that Republicans will use comedy show appearances against them, whereas Republicans know Democrats won't reciprocate.

What a deft and impossible-to-prove way of turning Republicans' game attitude against them. There's an alternative theory Myers ought to consider. It was offered by legendary LA Times political reporter Bill Boyarsky when he visited the Nixon Library about 15 years ago. He'd partied with politicians for years, he said; "Republicans are more fun."

Two Quiet Days In Santa Barbara

The sun-drenched hills above Santa Barbara didn't look so peaceful in mid-November, when fires destroyed 130 homes as well as the Mt. Calvary monastery and retreat house, California home of the brothers of the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross. The monks are now living down the hill at the retreat house of the Sisters of the Holy Trinity, another Episcopal order, which is located right next door to the Santa Barbara mission. Five clergy buddies and I spent two days with them this week as well as with some Franciscan brothers and sisters from northern California and one young monk from Brazil-- also all Episcopal. Monasticism runs deeper in our denomination than many people realize.

As he told me how to turn off the lights in the St. Mary's common room before going to bed, one of the Holy Cross brothers said he'd arrived at Mt. Calvary in October from one of the order's three other monasteries. He hadn't even had time to unpack his moving boxes before losing everything he owned in the fire. "Even now, we'll be talking, and someone will say that he has something in his room, and then he'll remember," he said with a sad smile. As the brothers mull whether to rebuild Mt. Calvary, they contribute graciously to St. Mary's hospitality, preparing hearty meals -- corn chowder, avocado and bean salad, pancakes, peppery chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce -- and offering services of morning prayer, compline (the nighttime service), and Holy Eucharist each Friday through Wednesday.

A couple of days at a retreat center like St. Mary's is such a relaxing and affordable experience that I'm amazed more people don't partake. Of course you make your own coffee and twin bed and usually have to walk down the hall to the bathroom. But just imagine the quiet and beauty of the buildings and grounds, the squeaky wood floors, the funky old furniture and generous library and, on a retreat like ours, the long, languorous conversations with friends and colleagues. It all contributes to a gently gathering sense of peace and wholeness.

Even when the stress of the world intrudes -- it's hard to escape the BlackBerry these days, and the Holy Nativity sisters offer wireless internet access in the main house -- the world's demands feel considerably more manageable, especially when, from after compline until after breakfast, guests observe the house's rule of silence. It's hard to worry about saying or doing the right thing when you realize that you don't have to do or say anything at all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Editors Have Done Their Jobs

Andrew Sullivan puts his finger on the reason newspapers are indispensable:
There is something deeply precious about letting expert editors guide you through the news of the day. I find and read stories serendipitously I would never find online. And I read them through because I trust the editors to have done their job.

No One Notices The Shoe That's Not Thrown

The Economist:
Morale is low after the organisation [sic; they're British] has lurched from failure to scandal in the past few years. Under George Tenet, the long-time director who was beloved by his staff, the CIA failed to spot the September 11th attacks in the works. Then came intelligence mistakes over weapons of mass destruction and Iraq, followed by controversy over the use of torture and harsh interrogation techniques, such as the “waterboarding” of suspected terrorists (making the detainee believe he is suffocating or drowning).
Another possible reason for low CIA morale: The failure of most in the media and politics to give the agency any credit for helping avert a catastrophic attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11.

The Big Three Thought Too Big

In his not-to-be-missed e-newsletter, Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach), who worked in the car business before beginning his political career, says the Big Three's biggest problem is not poor quality compared to foreign manufacturers, the failure to build attractive products, building too many big cars, or even the UAW contracts (expensive though they are because of retirement benefits).
So, what is the problem with the Big 3? They have made some bad management decisions of course. But they have been chasing increased market share for decades as their market share has steadily declined. They have never been able to accept the idea that they could be smaller but more profitable companies and instead have always spent like they were bigger than they actually were. That is an oversimplification of course. But if you spend $100 thinking you can sell $120, but only sell $80 and you keep doing it because you have access to the cash flow and that $120 is right around the corner, you will eventually run out of money. And they have.
His advice? Go buy an American car or truck!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Come, Light Of Christ

A half-hour ago, a friend sent me this photograph of the brand new Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, a good image to behold this morning of the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas ended last night. Today the church celebrates the enlightenment of the world as signified by the visit paid to the Holy Family by the Magi (the gospels actually don't say there were three of them).

In an hour or two, I'll have the blessing of preaching at St. John's School about three epiphanies -- the one in the Bible, the ones we experience when we least expect them (those aha! moments of revelation, belonging, and peace), and the ones we can actually engineer by counting our blessings instead of our grumps. I also just finished writing the "Prayers of the People" for our Epiphany season liturgy at St. John's Church, which will take us right up to Lent (which is closer than you think!). We'll be asking for Epiphany light to suffuse all the shadowed corners of our lives and world:
As our world is darkened by ambition, aggression, and injustice, may those in authority be continually strengthened to do what is best for all your people. We pray especially for the President and President-elect; for those serving in the Armed Forces of the United States; and for the safety of the innocent amid war and strife.

Light of Christ, shine in every heart.
Hat tip to Kris Elftmann

Monday, January 5, 2009

Another View On Panetta

Michael Ledeen:
I always liked Panetta. He served in the Army and is openly proud of it. He seems to be a good lawyer (oxymoronic though it may seem). He's a good manager. And he's going to watch Obama's back at a place that's full of stilettos and a track record for attempted presidential assassination second to none. But Italians know all about political assassination; you may remember Julius Caesar. Or Aldo Moro. The self-proclaimed cognoscenti will deride his lack of "spycraft," and he's never worked in the intel bureaucracy or, for that matter, in foreign policy or national security. But he's been chief of staff, which involved all that stuff. I think it's a smart move.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

A Giant Amazonian Apple

Adam Engst predicts the Kindle will make the iPod get bigger:

Look for Apple to introduce a new version of the iPod touch with a larger screen designed for better video viewing and text reading; Bluetooth keyboard compatibility; and optional 3G data access. Although this could be a bit too much wishful thinking, the market is ready for such an iteration of the iPod touch. Sure, it won’t fit in a pocket, but (a) many people in their 40s and 50s simply can’t see the tiny screens on current devices; (b) there’s a sweet spot between the iPhone and the MacBook Air that’s currently unfilled; (c) Amazon’s Kindle has been sufficiently successful to prove that people want a larger device for reading; and (d) the whole pocket thing is sexist anyway, since women mostly carry purses and don’t have reliable pockets. Oh, and (e), I want one.
And here's another techno-blogger promoting the idea of a larger iPod Touch comprising an Apple move on the Kindle. I love iTunes, too, but do we really want one company dominating music and text markets?

Intelligence Failure

John M. Deutch flamed out as a Clinton-era CIA chief. New York Times:
Mr. Deutch, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said there would have been good reasons for Mr. Obama to select a C.I.A. veteran to lead the agency. But Mr. Deutch also cited the examples of John McCone in the Kennedy administration and George Bush in the Nixon administration as cases in which outsiders became “two of the agency’s most successful directors.”
Except that George H.W. Bush was named by President Ford.

Secret For Saving Newspapers? It's Classified

Matthew Yglesias on newspapers' biggest mistake:
[T]he clearest thing management could have done better was to recognize earlier what business they were in. In particular, letting the online classified market slip away was a preventable error. Everyone might be posting their free classified on had someone really smart come up with that idea. The pageviews involved would have been a huge additional asset to the website and it would have been one newspaper undercutting the competition rather than all newspapers being undercut by a guy named Craig.

A Torturous Choice For CIA

The PE's adorable second grader, Sasha, was amply protected today as she headed to her new school. As Mr. Obama would be the first to affirm, every child in America deserves to be just as safe. In all the years since Sept. 11, no terrorist attacks have been launched on U.S. soil. It hasn't been because al-Qaeda and others haven't tried. While we may never know about all or even most of the attacks that were thwarted, the CIA and others in the intelligence community have obviously played an indispensable role. No more than any other agency in Washington, the CIA doesn't need to be cleaned up, reined in, or reformed. It needs to be inspired and empowered. That's why Leon Panetta's appointment as CIA director borders on boneheaded.

Panetta's opposition to torture, which hometown media friends proudly trumpet, is irrelevant. Whatever you think of water boarding and other extreme interrogation measures, a Senate investigation has made clear that the Bush White House authorized them. Since Mr. Obama takes a different view, he'll issue different orders. There's no evidence he needs a reformist watchdog sitting at Langley to make sure they're followed.

Others praise Panetta's management skills. Was there no one in the country who combined management skills and intelligence experience? As a distinguished former White House chief of staff, he would certainly have advised Mr. Obama to check with intelligence policy stakeholders in Congress before making the choice. It's hard to believe that Sens. Feinstein or Rockefeller wouldn't have had better ideas.

During his recent appearance at the Nixon Library, Bill O'Reilly said his sources in the intelligence community were already dispirited by Mr. Obama's AG choice. Unless Panetta -- nothing if not a canny political pro -- acts quickly to reassure his new colleagues that his main job will be enabling them to do an ever better job than they've been doing for the last seven years, agency morale could decline further, which would be bad news for us all.

Winners, Losers, And The Miracle Of Grace

It was quiet this afternoon outside the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. But there was jubilation within as word came down from the California Supreme Court that three congregations which left the Episcopal Church after the ordination of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire must return their properties to the Diocese.

My wife and colleague Kathy and I were downtown for a noon meeting. We visited the Cathedral Center in Echo Park afterwards. It seemed to be the place to be today, if only briefly. This news van was the first to arrive for a 2 p.m. news conference. It was national news several years ago when our congregations in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and North Hollywood voted to join the Anglican Province of Uganda. When they tried to keep their buildings and property, our Diocese sued.

Today's unanimous ruling is expected to complicate the lives of 100 other congregations around the country who have left TEC without leaving their buildings. It's not clear yet whether the dissenting LA churches will try to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here's Bishop J. Jon Bruno's statement from the Cathedral Center:
"The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is overjoyed with the conclusive opinion of the California Supreme Court.

"We have prevailed in all areas of law addressed in this case.

"We look forward to the possibility of reconciliation with these congregations, and we assure that this Diocese and the people of The Episcopal Church that we will continue mission and ministry in the areas of these congregations.

"The mission of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles continues, as our prayer book states, 'to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.' We will continue to seek this reconciliation with fellow Christians in the communities of Long Beach, Newport Beach, and North Hollywood, as well as La Crescenta, where Episcopal church properties continue as part of the Diocese of Los Angeles in accordance with the Court's opinion announced today.

"We acknowledge that this opinion establishes a precedent. We further note the pastoral concerns at this time within The Episcopal Church, which continues in its mission of service, especially in providing food, shelter, medicine, and pastoral care to those in greatest need locally and globally, respecting the dignity of every human being."
Political and legal entanglements are a fact of human life, including in the church. And yet neither elections nor legal rulings can settle theological disputes or heal spiritual or interpersonal wounds. Long after voters and judges leave off, the work of God's grace persists.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Eating, Sin, And Redemption

Laura Miller on our weirdness about food:
There's a crypto-religious element to our oscillation between unrestrained indulgence and penitential asceticism, the same thing that makes us talk about desserts as "sinful." Our eating lives are the sites of overwrought private dramas worthy of the Catholic saints, in which we seek release and then restraint; we gorge, then impractically resolve never to touch butter or pasta again, convincing ourselves that we can achieve the bodies of movie stars if we can only summon enough willpower. It's debatable whether that many of us really want to adopt a sensible eating plan, if it's going to deprive us of all this excitement.

Murdoch: Once Satan, Now Savior?

David Carr, New York Times media writer, talking on a Dec. 26 Book Review podcast about Rupert Murdoch's impact on journalism and the Wall Street Journal, which he recently bought:
I was at a party last night for a Journal reporter that's switching assignments. Unlike a lot of journalism parties I've been to lately, number one, it was about a promotion, number two, it was filled with happy people who were excited about what they were doing. The suggestion that Mr. Murdoch was going to ruin the Journal, which I and others couldn't say often enough when he bought the paper, turns out to be not true, not so far....[T]o suggest that he or [managing editor] Robert Thompson have gone about the business of tearing it apart or diminishing it just hasn't proven to be the case.
Reminds me of an article my editor friend Tracy Wood sent me in November about a publisher's party where the paper's employees were parking cars to earn extra money. Turns out Murdoch, at whom newspaper people have been turning up their noses for years, may be one of the few publishers left who can keep them all in business.


Scandal #1: Sen. Clinton allegedly takes care of the Clinton Foundation's friend in Syracuse. Scandal #2: Caroline Kennedy asks, "Where's Syracuse?"

The Bold And Brash Bush

From Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle, an extensive and fair assessment of the Bush Presidency. Read the whole thing, but here's a nugget:
He sought "to end tyranny in the world." He began two wars. He cut taxes three times, tried to privatize Social Security, and added the biggest expansion of Medicare since it was created under Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. He took on AIDS in Africa and redrew the federal role in education. He named two relatively young conservatives to the Supreme Court. He declared by himself a "global war on terror" and asserted unprecedented executive powers to fight it.

As bold and brash as his father was cautious, W. rolled the dice at history. And history rolled them back.

iPhone vs. Kindle? No Kontest

Marjorie Kehe, blogging at the Christian Science Monitor, thinks people will take to reading on their iPhones and presumably other handhelds, pushing the Amazon Kindle out of the market.

I doubt it. Who wants to read his phone sitting up in bed? It's not enough to hold onto. Who wants to prop her phone on the kitchen counter while eating her Cheerios? Phones are too small for a pleasant reading experience. I've read 20 books on my Kindle. It's the size of a trade paperback -- just right. Its designers grasped that miniaturization can lead to shrunken returns. Books, even when digitized, should have some heft.

Newspapers, too. Until I got my Kindle a year ago Christmas, I mistakenly thought there was nothing easier than reading the New York Times on a BlackBerry. Buy a Kindle today and save the newspaper business (including, if I may, the post-print Monitor).

Poverty, Bad Times, And HIV-AIDS

An Episcopal priest from northern California, Bill Rankin, is being honored for co-founding the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, which works on HIV prevention and care in impoverished central Africa. Under the leadership of Daphne Berry, the church I serve has supported GAIA for several years.

The devastation wrought by the disease is still hard to comprehend. The faltering global economy won't make GAIA's work any easier:
AIDS has hit Malawi hard, Rankin said.

"We've been in some villages where there aren't very many people left in the parent generation," he said. He estimates the growth of 40 percent of the children has been stunted by hunger, and said 86 percent of the young girls have been pulled out of school to care for sick family members.

Relying on local religious groups has been a double-edged sword for the alliance.

"The religious groups tend to be good when it comes to encouraging people to take care of the orphans and the people who are sick," Rankin said, "but on the other hand they tend to have a moralistic outlook on condoms and the naive view that says to be in favor of condom use is tantamount to being in favor of promiscuity. The assumption there is that promiscuity is not already a factor."

But Rankin said the biggest challenge people in Malawi face in coping with the AIDS epidemic is the republic's general poverty. He said, for example, most people there rely on ox carts to travel to health clinics during the rainy season - if they can find a cart.

"People die just getting from wherever they are to some kind of facility," Rankin said. If they manage to reach a clinic, it may be out of medical supplies or there may be no qualified medical personnel on hand, he said.

The global economic slowdown will only make matters worse.

Hat tip to Cindy Drennan