Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thinking Carefully About Prayer

Pastor Mark Roberts offers a detailed analysis of the inaugural prayers of Rick Warren and Gene Robinson.

O Gracious Light

With consecutive storm systems lining up and taking numbers all weekend, the sky over southern Orange County is the star of the show. The golden sun pours over Catalina and the Pacific while dark clouds encircle the mountains and foothills. This is the steeple of St. John's Church at 4:30 p.m.
O gracious light
Pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed

Now that we come to the setting of the sun
And our eyes behold the vesper light
We sing your praises O God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices
O son of God, O giver of life
And to be glorified through all the world.

Getting Gilly With It

"The New Republic" has ten interesting things about New York's new senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, including:
She's one of a few representatives to disclose her daily schedule online, so reporters and constituents can see who's got access to her. She also posts her earmark requests.

Two In A Row? He Hopes Not

Over at The New Nixon, Joshua Trevino, a former member of the Bush Administration, writing on Jan. 20:
George W. Bush was, at bottom, a tremendous mediocrity, born to privilege but never quite deserving it. He had one war thrust upon him that remains unfinished; he started another that also remains unfinished; and his fiscal stewardship was disastrous. The One Big Thing that his defenders repeatedly invoke is the lack of terror attacks in the United States since 9/11. This defense is indefensible: al Qaeda has engaged in more successful attacks in more places worldwide since 9/11 than before it, it has killed more Americans since 9/11 than before it, and its mastermind remains alive and free. By this standard, we would have declared victory in the Second World War after clearing the Atlantic seaboard of U-boats.
As for W.'s successor:
If the former President was something tragic and sub-par, the new President is nothing at all. This is unfair to him if the view of his public record is limited to a Presidency that has produced nothing yet beyond festivities and oratory. Let us therefore expand our view to the whole of his public life, and find — festivals and oratory. I have written on this before, and there is little point in recapitulating it in full. It is enough to note that today’s speech, which I finally saw after the fact, and was in itself quite good, adds nothing to the plate. Barack Obama is our President now, and he may find greatness, or better yet, goodness, in the being. Yet as we are now ruled by a second Amory Blaine figure in succession, we do well to recall that a life spent in the becoming is no preparation for that.
The Amory Blaine reference, which went right over my head (not yours, I'm sure), is from F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side Of Paradise. I haven't read it, so you'll have to figure what it means by yourself.

RN Always Talked About The Altered Dominant

Composer Wes Flinn assesses composer Richard Nixon:

The tune is pretty straightforward, with a late-Romantic-cum-Tin-Pan-Alley harmonic structure. He likes the altered dominant (V7 becomes V+7, usually via a chromatic passing tone in the melody), and the phrase structure is regular - from what I heard, four-bar phrases are the order of the day.

The Proof Is In The Sausage

The New York Times has two big stories about the state's new senator this morning. One is about how Gov. David Patterson muffed the selection process. The other is about its most excellent outcome, his choice of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a feisty, intelligent, Mandarin-speaking centrist Democrat with Presidential ambitions who fits so perfectly with the Zeitgeist that it's hard to imagine Patterson considered anyone else. If she'd move to California, I'd vote for her.

Obviously, he did consider someone else, because he had to, namely Caroline Kennedy. The Times suggests he has suffered political damage as a result of the Senate derby. From this distance, it's hard to see why. Sure, it wasn't pretty, but politics usually isn't. The governor deserves props for keeping someone out of the Senate who wasn't qualified and who seems to have thought (along with many of her media and political boosters) that she could gain the office by pedigree.

Amid the Times's Saturday-morning sneers (what's really eating 'em, anyway?) is that Gillibrand has the support of the NRA and only votes for gay rights 80% of the time. Political insiders predict that when she no longer has to worry about what her relatively conservative rural upstate district thinks, she'll abandon her interesting mix of positions and become a decent, unimaginative, lockstep liberal just like Caroline Kennedy. We'll see. Says one of the downstate pols who think Gillibrand isn't liberal enough, yet:
“If we have royalty, it’s the Kennedys,” said Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera, a Bronx Democrat and chairman of the Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. “The way she was treated, the backbiting and the attacks, it was insulting,” he said....
But we don't have royalty. We have politics. We have backbiting, attacks, and insults, and that's just the way we like it.

Change We Can Believe In

Gov. Blagojevich forsakes RN.

Commander-in-Chief Misses His Mark

Great St. John's angle on the Commander-in-Chief's Ball on inaugural night.

About seven minutes into the video below, President Obama talks via satellite to seven members of an Illinois National Guard unit stationed at Camp Phoenix, near Kabul, who are helping train the Afghan national police. The first soldier to speak is Sgt. Major Mark Bowman. He and his wife, Karen, are friends of St. John's own Eric Sherman and Kathleen Driscoll.

Because of the tape delay, Mark appears to interrupt the President (sort of like the Chief Justice administering the oath of office a few hours earlier). Catching himself, Mark says, "Go ahead, sir."

God bless and protect these young men and women and speed them home to their families.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Koo-koo-ka-choo, Bishop Robinson

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson and his daughter, Ella, with the President

With the Christian church in disunion for the last, oh, roughly 2,000 years, interesting that a politician is acting a unifier. Gail Russell Chaddock:
"Rick Warren and Gene Robinson are symbols and represent large constituencies – and were in that sense daring choices," says Charles Haynes, a scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington. "But I think the mood of the country is to say: This is what we want. People want to see the president trying to represent the country as a whole. If there ever was a moment when we have to have a cease-fire in the cultural wars, it's now. Given the nature of the problem the country faces, we cannot afford to demonize each other, to tear each other down."
Hat tip to Greg Larkin

Level Mesa

Les Mesa, retiring from the Brea-Yorba Linda, California police department after 34 years, was celebrated at a testimonial dinner tonight as a modernizer, a loyal, big-hearted friend, and a skilled teacher of techniques for suppressing violent suspects without the use of firearms. As speech followed laudatory speech, Les's seven-year-old son, Jared (pictured above is five-year-old Brian and their mother Liz) stole the show when he took the microphone and said, "Congratulations on your retirement, daddy. We're really happy we'll get to see you more."

At the Nixon Library, he handled VIP protection for 18 years as we've welcomed Presidents, First Ladies, VPs, governors such as Arnold and Jesse, presidents from the Balkins, vice premiers from China, and about half the U.S. Congress for President Nixon's 1994 funeral. Calmly and cheerfully, Les massaged egos and made everything run smoothly. He even played third base for two years on the Library's co-ed softball team. His sizzling throws nearly put a hole in my mitt at first base.

In his remarks, Les told us about the time he and his partner were the first officers at a grisly scene about three miles from the Library, on Imperial Highway at State College. On the way to commit an armed robbery, a man adjusting the sawed-off shotgun hidden under his jacket managed to blow his right arm off and put a basketball-sized hole in the roof of his Toyota pickup.

As Les was getting his bearings, five Santa Ana police cars whizzed past on a nearby freeway, chasing a suspect on a motorcycle. An hour later, the investigation was still going on, and so was the high-speed chase, now on State College. As the suspect approached, Les, mildly irritated at the disruption of his crime scene, took out his nightstick (remember his skill in avoiding guns when possible) and knocked the guy off his motorcycle, only to realize that he'd done so in full view of the news crews covering the case of the self-disarmed robber.

Les's career survived the publicity, lucky for us.

Vain Thain's Pane

"The Economist" on the departing Merrill Lynch chief:
[John] Thain reportedly ordered $1.2m to be spent on his suite last year, of which $87,784 went on a rug, $68,179 on a 19th-century credenza, $28,091 on curtains, $18,468 on a George IV chair and $35,115 on a commode, presumably not the type used for night-time relief. The interior designer was not the only beneficiary of Mr Thain’s largesse: his driver picked up $230,000 for a year’s work.
And the New York Times:
Last summer, fuming over another grim quarter for the firm, [Thain] halted a meeting with his chief financial officer and hurled a chair against the wall, shattering a nearby glass panel, according to people briefed on the meeting.
We know just how you feel, John!

Abraham, Barack, And George

"The Economist" sounds only guardedly hopeful about prospects in the Middle East as President Obama turns to the former senator who helped Bill Clinton earn richly-deserved accolades for driving the settlement of the Irish question, itself once thought intractable:
Mr [George] Mitchell, though, manages to sound confident. On Thursday he referred to the hopeful example of seeing centuries of violence come to an end in Ireland. “Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings—they can be ended by human beings”, he said. His new challenge may be to persuade rivals in the Middle East to consider their adversaries’ interests. In his 2001 report, he suggested that each side’s lack of appreciation for the other’s views encouraged rivals to adopt the most extreme positions possible.
Of course, the senator is right. For Presidents, the question has always been how much precious and finite political capital to invest in that most risky of investments, namely angry-human futures. Will Israel and the Palestinians be enlightened or exhausted enough to make peace? If they aren't, Obama will pay a price.

For now, all people of good will are with Sen. Mitchell as the U.S. is once against triangulated into humanity's longest-running family spat.

President Nixon And Beautiful Women

A writer in London, Ellin Stein, tells about meeting President Nixon in New York when she was 12; and I reply.

36 Years Ago Today

Hat tip to Jack Nesbitt

Maybe It Was Uncle Francis

This prayer is and has been a favorite of many Christians, including Mother Teresa, who said it every day:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Many believe the prayer was written by St. Francis of Assisi, who was born in the 12th century. Now the New York Times reports:
An article published this week in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said the prayer in its current form dates only from 1912, when it appeared in a French Catholic periodical.

And it became wildly popular only after it was reprinted in L’Osservatore Romano in 1916 at the behest of Pope Benedict XV, who wanted a prayer for peace in the throes of World War I.

Although news to many, the truth about the prayer had apparently been hiding in plain sight.
Including in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, most recently revised in the 1970s, which calls it "a prayer attributed to [emphasis added] St. Francis." That's the BCP version above. Another supposedly Franciscan formulation that is a favorite of preachers but has always seemed a little too perfect to be true: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Perfect Songs: "Feelin' Good Again" (1998)

Robert Earl Keen

What Do They Mean, The Right's Irrelevant?

Pat Boone was just on Sean Hannity's show, saying our problems would be solved by a return to the gold standard.

The Opaque President

Charles Krauthammer:

Clinton craves your adulation (the source of all his troubles). Obama will take it, but he can leave it too. He is astonishingly self-contained. He gives what he must to advance his goals, his programs, his ambitions. But no more. He has no need to....A complicated man, this new president. Opaque, contradictory and subtle.

Obama Wants His BlackBerry To Stay In Touch?

The BBC has the story. But you know it's so he can keep playing Brick.

Only Obama Can Go To Iran

Bernd Debusmann at Reuters:
Here is a piece of advice for Barack Obama for dealing with Iran, one of the countries that will loom large in his presidency. Forget the way five of your predecessors dealt with the place. Take your cue from Richard Nixon and his 1972 breakthrough with China.

Just as Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, realised that a quarter of a century of isolating and weakening China had not served America's interests, so Obama should acknowledge that 30 years of U.S. policy since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed and that what is needed is a grand bargain, a shift as fundamental as the one Nixon achieved with China.

Those suggestions come from Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, a husband-and-wife team of independent experts who worked on Middle East policy on the National Security Council during George W. Bush's first term in the White House.

The Few, The Proud, The Nimble

The classical music VIPs at the inauguration were fingertip-syncing to a recording made two days before. The Marine Band toughed it out and played live.

Bipartisan At The Nixon

On their annual field trip to the Nixon Library, the fifth graders of St. John's Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, with the President (so far as you know)

Hey, Kathy: When Did Ron Meet Richard?

Peter Morgan (left), Ron Howard, and Kathy O'Connor

Apparently, you don't have watch "The View." Someone prepares a State Department-like memcon. From today's show:
Ron Howard appeared on the show. He received an Oscar nomination for best director for Frost/Nixon. He said that it is a real thrill and it never gets old. Ron said that it is a surprising and unusual story based on the behind-the-scenes drama of the interview. Barbara loved the play and the movie. She mentioned again that she did an interview with Nixon three years later that was unpaid and asked Ron if he was going to do her film. He said that he will see how this film does first.

Ron met Nixon once briefly and doesn’t think he would have seen the movie, noting that Tony Blair never saw The Queen. He said that Frank Langella did a wonderful job capturing Richard Nixon and has gotten a lot of positive feedback. He saw both actors in the play and wanted to make a movie version with them in it, but knew it would be a tough sell with the movie studio. Ron was sent audition tapes by Academy Award winning actors who wanted to be considered.
I'll have to ask my wife and Nixon colleague Kathy O'Connor when and where the P. and Howard met. When I was the former President's aide in the 1980s in New York, I got a call from Brian Grazer, Howard's production partner, who said that the director was interested in Nixon and wanted to do something that was more friendly than we might expect from Hollywood. Nothing came of it at the time, although by my lights "Frost/Nixon" fills the bill admirably.

At least I was able to fulfill my journalist mother's wish that the suggestion somehow be lodged at Hollywood's loftiest level that Tom Hanks one day be cast as Richard Nixon. I pitched it to Howard himself in the Nixon Foundation men's room when he and "Frost/Nixon" playwright Peter Morgan visited the Library in December 2006 as they were preparing to do the movie. The idea lived for at least 15 minutes, since a colleague overheard Howard ask Morgan in the elevator, "So what do you think about Tom for Nixon?" But Frank Langella (now nominated for best actor) already owned the part.

Hans and Luke In Love

Hat tip to "The Daily Dish"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Combining Mush And Steel

At "The National Interest," Jacob Heilbrunn liked what he heard about foreign policy in President Obama's inaugural address:

Obama’s remarks about foreign affairs, by contrast, were noteworthy for their sobriety. America, Obama announced, “must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.” Obama sounded a familiar theme when he stated, “Our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” Exactly. The swaggering braggadocio of the past eight years boomeranged, creating the very coalition of antagonists that realist thought had predicted. Obama wants to unravel it by making American an example to the world, not a hectoring bully. Damascus and Tehran must realize that their salad days of profiting from America’s PR missteps are coming to an end.

Maybe. But I wish he'd managed one stern, look-them-in the eye wartime vow to those hostile to our interests that any move to take advantage of our good intentions by attacking the United States or its friends would be met with withering and relentless fury.

Channeling Lincoln

Here's the closing prayer from today's National Cathedral service by Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church:
On this radiant day we give thanks to you, O God,
for the freedom to gather united in prayer.
Strengthen and sustain Barack, our President,
that in the days to come he may lead your people
with confidence and compassion.
Grant patience and perseverance to the people of this Nation.
With malice toward none, with charity for all,
may we strive to finish the work you have given us to do
that we may achieve a just and lasting peace.
In this time of new beginnings, new ventures, and new visions,
light in us the fire of justice, and the passion for forgiveness.
Give us the strength to hold fast to what is good
that we may go forth renewed and committed to make hope a reality. Amen.

Drawn in part from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address,
March 4, 1865

Bush Critics Without A Hitch

Christopher Hitchens makes the case for George W. Bush:
[Had Democrats been in office, we] might have avoided the Iraq war, even though both Bill Clinton and Al Gore had repeatedly and publicly said that another and conclusive round with Saddam Hussein was, given his flagrant defiance of all the relevant U.N. resolutions, unavoidably in our future. And the inconvenient downside to avoiding the Iraq intervention is that a choke point of the world economy would still be controlled by a psychopathic crime family that kept a staff of WMD experts on hand and that paid for jihadist suicide bombers around the region. In his farewell interviews, President Bush hasn't been able to find much to say for himself on this point, but I think it's a certainty that historians will not conclude that the removal of Saddam Hussein was something that the international community ought to have postponed any further. (Indeed, if there is a disgrace, it is that previous administrations left the responsibility undischarged.)

Make That 40 Peaceful Transitions

Adam McCoy is a politically savvy monk, former prior of the Mt. Calvary monastery in Santa Barbara -- until it burned in November, one of four houses operated by the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross. He was also my spiritual director several years ago before becoming rector of a church in Manhattan. Br. Adam on the inauguration:
Rick Warren’s prayer...made the appallingly ignorant point that “Now today we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time.” I have so far found no one in the media who pointed out that four of those transfers were at the point of a bullet: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy. So many brains were checked at the door, Warren’s and those of the people whose job it is to frame these events for the nation. The adulation of Obama worries me.

Twice Is Nice

My wife Kathy said tonight that if there was any uncertainty about whether President Obama had repeated the oath of office correctly, Chief Justice John Roberts should just administer it again. I pooh poohed the idea. Is my face red. ABC News:

Chief Justice Roberts came to the White House tonight and administered the oath of office to President Obama at 7:35 pm ET in the Map Room.

"Because there was one word out of sequence," in yesterday's oath, explained White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the President took the oath again "out of an abundance of caution."

The only people in the room were Obama, Justice Roberts, Gibbs, White House communications staffer Katie Lillie, White House photographer Pete Souza, and four print reporters.

Marc Ambinder has the press pool report.

She Was For It Before She Was Against It

Caroline Kennedy decided she wanted to be a senator, then decided she didn't, then almost changed her mind, and then finally told the governor New York that she definitely doesn't.

Li And Glen, Ji and RN -- Together Again

Friendly U.S.-China relations have many fathers and mothers -- table tennis players, Richard Nixon and Zhou Enlai, Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaopeng. Surely they include legendary Flying Tiger Glen Beneda and China's Li Xiaolin, longtime friends who were reunited today at the Nixon Library.

A fighter pilot from Nebraska, Beneda was shot down over Japanese-occupied China in May 1944 during a Flying Tigers bombing raid. After crash-landing his single-engine P-51 Mustang in a rice paddy, the injured Beneda evaded capture for two months until meeting up with the Chinese communist New 4th Army, commanded by Gen. Li Xiannian. Li later became President of the People's Republic, serving from 1983-1988. His daughter, pictured above with Beneda, is VP of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. She's perhaps China's leading citizen diplomat.

China is justifiably proud of its pre-revolutionary collaborations with Americans against the Japanese. Beneda is treated like an emperor when he visits China with his wife of 63 years, Elinor. She was a farm girl, sister of an air corps buddy of Beneda who died in a 1943 bombing mission over Romania. She told me Glen was a city boy -- 6,000 in his town, she said.

During a ceremony at the Library, Beneda reciprocated China's friendship by presenting Madame Li with his "walkie pointie," a phrasebook he used to communicate with the Chinese farmers who helped him along the way, as well as the Chinese flag he carried with him.

Madame Li and other Chinese officials were in Yorba Linda to show reporters a new exhibition marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. The exhibit (on display through Friday before moving to longer installations back east) includes the famous photograph (above left) of President Nixon shaking hands with Premier Zhou Enlai at Capital Airport in Beijing during their historic meeting in February 1972.

Oddly, someone's missing from the photo in the exhibit. Standing directly behind Zhou at the airport that day was translator Ji Chaozhu. You can see him in the picture at right. Though Ji, one of China's most respected diplomats, later served as ambassador to the Court of St. James's as well as an undersecretary of the United Nations, he fell out of favor in Chinese politics and was airbrushed out of this most photo revered of photos. Although Ji has long since been rehabilitated, the Ji-less picture of the first Nixon-Zhou meeting still shows up occasionally in publications -- and now exhibits.

I was along in November 2002 when Julie and David Eisenhower visited Beijing to mark the 30th anniversary year of the Shanghai Communique. Appearing on Chinese television with Ambassador Ji, Julie decided to put him back in the picture (which I took the liberty of snapping, with a first-generation digital camera). As I wrote at the time:
Mrs. Eisenhower knew about the altered photo and had presented Mr. Ji with an autographed copy of the real McCoy during an earlier visit. She decided to do him one better with the cameras rolling. "I'd like to ask Ambassador Ji to show us where he was standing when my father met Zhou Enlai," she said. Mr. Ji gamely jumped to his feet and took up his accustomed position next to the statue of his late boss. He said he recalled President Nixon reaching for Zhou's hand and saying, "This handshake comes across the vast Pacific ocean and many years of no communication."

Nobody Does It Better

Hello, boss! That's the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, next to the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, as he opens this morning's prayer service for President Obama.

The Rev. Otis Moss Jr., who gave the stirring opening prayer, showed how to talk about Jesus Christ in an interfaith setting, saying, "O LORD, our strength and our Redeemer," and praying "in the name of our LORD."

Moving as one, the cathedral's acolytes carried the cross of Christ and candles up the aisle like none in the world -- except at St. John's!

Inaugural Pastors

Bishop Gene Robinson on his Sunday prayer and Pastor Rick Warren.

Obama Is The New Ford

Nixon Library director Tim Naftali:
The previous administration leaves under a cloud and is very unpopular. And when there are unpopular presidencies, the country is desperate for a healer. Gerald Ford was a healer and moved the country forward. And I have a great deal of hope and a great deal of expectation that Barack Obama will be another healer who will also move us forward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obamush In Office

What would RN be doing? Plumbing the foreign policy sections of the President's address. Obama's first comment:

Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.

Good. We do have enemies. He didn't call them evildoers, but he called them haters. Same difference. Regretably, that's the high point.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

This bit he got backwards. Not only can we imagine the perils our forebears faced, we learn precisely what they were by studying history. In contrast, they couldn't have imagined the perils we face. Obama seems to be saying that because George Washington wouldn't have tortured someone to find out where a British cannon was hidden that could have killed or injured a half-dozen colonial soldiers, we shouldn't do so to find a nuclear weapon hidden in Manhattan that could kill half a million. I'm not advocating torture. I'm just saying that this particular invocation of the founders wasn't persuasive.

And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

President Bush probably heard that as a criticism. He may also have wondered why Obama didn't pledge that the U.S. would be a friend not only of those who seek peace and dignity but also those who deserve liberty.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations.

Oddly, still no mention of freedom as one of our enduring convictions. It may be that the anti-neoconservative foreign policy realism of Brent Scowcroft and my Nixon Center colleagues is showing. That's not bad in and of itself. Focusing U.S. policy on promoting freedom and democracy is the paramount neocon aim, even if it means we overextend ourselves in reckless adventures. Instead, Obama stresses alliances, prudence, patience, and a Nixonian faith in "the force of our example." Ironically, W. talked about humility in his first inaugural as well. That was of course before Sept. 11.

We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.

Worst split infinitive in inaugural history? I'll leave that to the experts. What does he mean by "responsibly?" Ditto. If he thought he could get out quickly, he'd probably have given Iraq its own sentence. "Forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan" is vague and far inferior to a promise to track Osama bin Laden and his savage, murdering cronies to the ends of the earth until they scream for mercy. During the campaign, he strongly criticized Bush for failing to do so.

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Is that all we get on Iran's nukes? Half a sentence leading to global warming?

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Another run-on mess of a sentence, striking fear in the hearts of no one besides Strunk & White.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

What a dispiriting muddle. I wonder if the otherwise gratuitous religious survey was an antidote to Rick Warren's gratuitously exclusionary prayer. The passage also suggests that the world is America writ large, that its sectarian, racial, and regional hatreds will fade because America's have. And yet our common national humanity has been drawn forth methodically and painfully over two centuries against the anvil of the genius of republican government and through the tragedy of civil war. RN too believed that freedom would win out in the end, but he was thinking in terms of generations or more. Obama's utopian vision will take a lot longer than four or eight years to be realized. Will the world's old hatreds pass, for instance, before Iran threatens its neighbors with a nuclear weapon? If not, what do we do in the meantime?

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Another letdown. We do care about what oppressed peoples think of their oppressors. We care more about what their oppressors intend to do to Americans and our interests. What will we do if hostile powers and movements don't unclench their fists? He just doesn't say. We're at war, as he said, and yet he doesn't ever manage a direct, stark threat aimed at our enemies.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

In the economic circumstances we face, there has never been an emptier promise of more foreign aid. And what does he mean by saying that "the world has changed"? First he says that the world will follow our example. Now he's saying we should follow the world's.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

What they principally have to tell us is that they have volunteered to fight and risk death for freedom, their families, and their country. I would've preferred if he had left it at that.

And that's all he wrote. Obama's foreign policy vision was mush during the primaries, and mush it remains.

Two Confused Branches Of Government

Graciously, Chief Justice John Roberts took the rap for getting the oath of office wrong this afternoon, as well he should have. President Obama played a role as well, but his honeymoon is still in full swing, so we'll cut him some slack.

Here's what happened: Roberts tried to say, "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear," but Obama interrupted him and said, "I, Barack Hussein Obama." That threw Roberts off his game. He'd memorized the oath, but having lost the rhythm of the words, he briefly forgot them. After Obama had caught up, Roberts continued, "will execute the office to (sic) President of the United States faithfully." Obama hesitated, because he knew "faithfully" belonged before "execute." Roberts realized it, too, and tried to fix it, which is what led to the comic portion of the process. Then Obama went ahead and said it Roberts' way (which is to say, wrongly).

It was your basic overachiever's nightmare. Couldn't have happened to a smarter couple of guys.

My "New Nixon" Archives

Mainly as a placeholder for my own reference, here's a link to my posts at The New Nixon since we launched it a year ago next month.

Building Bridges (Of Good American Cardboard)

Ric Leczel, Museum Store manager at the Nixon Library, consults with the President

Eyes Closed, Gazing Ahead

"Hope," by my cousin, famed Hollywood photographer Ralph Nelson

SNL Writers Already On The Job

Better than anyone, the First Lady knew how her overachieving husband felt after muffing the oath of office. But what a human, endearing moment as he regathered his energies for his remarkable inaugural address. Godspeed, Mr. President.


MSNBC says it was the Chief Justice who flubbed his lines:
Roberts, who used no notes, stumbled at one point, appearing to forget the opening words. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, made sure to insert the crucial phrase “that I will faithfully execute the office of president to the United States.”

Lake Forest Rules! Plus He Wore A Tie

Pastor Rick prayed an eloquent prayer, especially the "forgive us" litany and the acknowledgment that God loves all his people. He enunciated well saying Malia and Sasha.

People will inevitably debate his decision to end with the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus taught to his disciples and apostles. I prayed it with him. But many could not. Warren didn't mean to offend non-Christians. As a Southern Baptist, he meant to evangelize them. But in this sacred moment of national unity, to which he was called for civic and not religious purposes, a pastor essentially excluded millions of Americans.

The President-elect, his eyes closed, did not move his lips during the Lord's Prayer.

Profiles In Transition

The President-elect and President at the White House at about 10:45 a.m. Eastern time, waiting to be shown to their car for the drive to the Capitol.

Monday, January 19, 2009

44 In One

Rick Warren's Fangs

While Gustavo Arellano is proud that Orange County is on the cutting edge of American Christianity, he has some advice (and a prayer) for Pastor Rick Warren:
Saddleback Church belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention, about as socially conservative a denomination as one can find. When Warren endorsed Proposition 8 last year, and seemingly endorsed bombing Iran when he told Sean Hannity that it was fine to punish "evildoers," he shed his sheep's clothing and bared the conservative fangs long associated with Orange County, much to the detriment of his ecumenical standing.

If Warren truly wants to become "America's pastor," he'll scale back on such bombastic rhetoric. Warren has the chance to redeem Orange County as a place not of avarice but of altruism, and to show that evangelical Christianity can come free of politicking and show genuine concern for all. I'm praying for you, Rick, to consider my words and help lead us to a better future, damn the differences.

HBO Ends Silencing Of Gene Robinson

The New York Times reports that HBO will include the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson's prayer in future showings of its program on Sunday's inaugural concert. The PE's inaugural committee took the heat for what it called an error. A video made by an audience member is below:

The Right Commutations At The Right Time

I can't count the number of heated arguments I've had about Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, the former DEA agents who were sentenced to over 10 years in jail after shooting and injuring a Mexican drug dealer in 2005. President Bush commuted their sentences today. My conversations have almost always end up as arguments not about the facts of the case but about illegal immigration, in the same way that most arguments about Richard Nixon end up being about Vietnam.

The U.S. attorney who prosecuted the agents, Johnny Sutton, has been pilloried on conservative talk radio for comments such as this:
These agents shot someone whom they knew to be unarmed and running away. They destroyed evidence, covered up a crime scene and then filed false reports about what happened. It is shocking that there are people who believe it is O.K. for agents to shoot an unarmed suspect who is running away.
Knowing what we do about the drug dealer, Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, it's easy to understand why angry people can justify the agents' shooting him, in the back, front, or sideways. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and many others said their sentences were excessive. Sutton himself suggested in 2007 that he agreed.

But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) goes so far as to say that the pair were suffering an "unjust captivity." CBS News quoted him today as believing that the agents should never have been prosecuted. It's one thing to say the sentences may have been too severe. But for failing to follow proper procedures after the shooting, their own exculpatory accounts of the incident notwithstanding, they deserved to be punished.

Police officers often know who the bad guys are in the communities they serve. May the officers shoot them and then falsify their reports? Many evidently say yes. Gary Haugen, an evangelical Christian who founded the International Justice Mission, would probably say that he recognizes that contention. I'm sure he hears it all the time while working in Kenya, the Philippines, and other countries with imperfect legal systems, where the IJM provides legal representation both for crime victims and unjustly accused defendants. He's profiled in the Jan. 19 "New Yorker" by journalist and former Obama adviser Samantha Power, who writes:
Westerners across the political spectrum have only a vague sense of the breakdown of legal systems in poor countries -- as Haugen puts it, the rule of law is "the invisible oxygen we breath at home."
Listening to conservatives and even libertarians say that cheating cops shouldn't have been prosecuted, I feel the oxygen being sucked out of the room. The President made the right move at the right time. It is good the men are now free. They and all law enforcement officers should be honored for the endless risks they take to protect the public. Johnny Sutton did the right thing as well, holding them accountable for abusing the public's trust.

Obama's E-mail Address Here!

At least according to the New York Times.

The Worst Day Of The Year

Feeling especially blue today? My New Nixon colleague Frank Gannon explains why.

"Sharon Stone Is In Town...A Sense of Family"

We knew the media would be beside themselves today and tomorrow. Allowances must be made, and distinctions as well, between worthy coverage and not so much. The Today Show ran a charming piece by Jamie Gangel about Presidential entertaining; look for President Nixon at the piano during his famous birthday party for Duke Ellington. Gangel warns Sasha and Malia to follow Amy Carter's lead and bring a book to the parties. Unfortunately, the segment was followed by an interview with a society editor, Susan Nixon (no relation), that may have you reaching for the on-air sickness bag.

A New Word For A New Era

Call President Bush's speechwriter: On the Today Show this morning, while interviewing Doris Kearns Goodwin, Natalie Morales said the times we're living in are "monumentous."

Musical Memories That Will Long Endure

I'm glad the PE is confident that the United States will endure, as he said today at his Lincoln Memorial concert. I didn't think we were so pessimistic as to think otherwise. It was an allusion to FDR's 1933 Inaugural Address:
This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.
But Mr. Obama's remark didn't come out quite as elegantly. The only other off note in HBO's broadcast of the concert was Garth Brooks' performance of the Isley Brothers' 1959 song "Shout." The rendition was more closely patterned on that of the fictional band Otis Day and the Knights in "Animal House," complete with Brooks and members of the backing choir making like John Belushi and Flounder in the basement of Delta House.

But then there was Bruce Springsteen singing "The Rising" with his acoustic guitar and a gospel choir. U-2 performing "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," about Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr., from the very place most associated with King. Stevie Wonder, Usher, and Shakira together on "Higher Ground." Pete Seeger leading the crowd in "This Land Is Your Land." Will we ever have a Republican inauguration with such musical moments? Hard to imagine.

Emma The Butterfly

At the St. John's Ministry Fair on Sunday

Sunday, January 18, 2009

He Answers

"When people ask me questions, I answer," says Jamal Malik (Dev Pastel) in Danny Boyle's wonderful, gritty "Slumdog Millionaire." He's trying to prove to a Mumbai police inspector that he hadn't cheated in the process of coming within one question of winning 20 million rupees ($500,000) on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" The investigation reveals that each pivotal experience in his life -- seeing his mother killed by an anti-Muslim mob, learning an old Indian song from a sadistic Mumbain Fagin, swiping tourists' shoes at the Taj Mahal -- helps him answer one of the questions leading to the grand prize. It's hard to imagine suitable questions lining up quite so conveniently on a quiz show. But the message is that life teaches invaluable lessons, that self-awareness is infinitely enriching, that truth begets salvation.

Jamal goes on the program not to win the money but in the hope that the woman he has loved and lost, Latika (Freida Pinto), will see him on television. The end of the deeply affecting movie has a fairy tale quality, especially when Jamal uses his "phone a friend" option. It's a dark movie, too, thanks to images of poverty and degradation on the city's streets and the struggles of Jamal's brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) to make honorable choices. He makes up for his bad ones in the end, a la "Gran Torino."

But if Salim can't always be trusted, Jamal can. He personifies integrity. Before he goes on the show, he works serving tea in the customer service department of a cellular phone company. While one of the operators goes on break, he persuades Jamal to answer the phones. The only lie I remember him telling in the movie is when he tells a customer calling from Scotland that he's right down the street from her, near the local loch. Which loch?" she asks. Looking at a travel poster on the wall, he says gamely, "Loch Big Ben."

There's some truth for us in the scene, since we're sometimes miffed when we call American Express or VISA and end up talking to someone in India. Jamal's just a fictional character. But I wouldn't mind calling an 800 number and getting him. We should be so lucky.

The Ostrich Policy Never Materialized

Will Ferrell on SNL, before the 2000 election

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Whose Violations Of The Constitution?

Reviewing a posthumous book by Peter Rodman -- Kissinger aide, Nixon Center scholar, and Pentagon official under George W. Bush -- former Sen. Gary Hart takes issue with a surprising turn that Rodman took:
Rodman succumbs to the fantasy that the much-maligned permanent government, frustrated at being systematically marginalized by the Nixon-Kissinger duo, colluded to bring down the Nixon presidency. Other presidents may have been "rogues and miscreants," but Rodman finds "in­triguing" the theory that "the demise of Nixon was due to no less than the revolt of the bureaucracy whose power he had striven so assiduously to break in every sphere."

This kind of nonsense seriously under­mines an otherwise worthwhile and instructive book and, by implication, excuses many troublesome abuses in the current administration. It is one thing to insist on presidential authority in foreign policy. It is quite another to casually accept violations of the Constitution in executing that policy.
Fantasy and nonsense? Pretty harsh language, senator. Here's what we know. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thomas Moorer, who was worried about Richard Nixon's foreign policy initiatives toward China and the Soviet Union, received and poured over documents stolen from the White House by a Navy yeoman. At the FBI, the powerful federal police agency, several officials and agents, worried because President Nixon had appointed an acting director from outside the agency, responded by illegally giving government secrets to reporters in order to undermine an elected President. Thanks to a suggestion from a book editor to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, these Nixon-hunting FBI officials were gathered together under the name of a pornographic movie. But it was more than lawbreaker W. Mark Felt, which means it was, technically, an FBI conspiracy to damage or destroy the President in order to protect the agency's prerogatives and perhaps keep its own embarrassing secrets under wraps.

Secret, extra-constitutional moves against Mr. Nixon by the military and FBI are certainly not the whole story of Watergate, but they're a part of it that has been neglected so far. Too bad Gary Hart wants to cover it up with name-calling.

"O God Of Our Many Understandings"

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson's prayer at the beginning of today's inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. Amen.

The photo above wasn't easy to find. No sign of Bishop Robinson so far at the New York Times or MSNBC. The first openly gay bishop, praying from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the official commencement of Presidential inaugural festivities, is a big story. But HBO didn't broadcast the prayer or even an excerpt in its concert coverage. Fox News reports that HBO, having bought the rights to the event, won't release the video and audio of +Gene's prayer.

Why are the media virtually muzzling him? (The Rev. Susan Russell recaps some print and on-line coverage here.) Perhaps it's because the only Christians the secular media want to lift up are the ones with whom they disagree or who are easily parodied or discounted. Whatever you think about +Gene or the controversies in the Episcopal Church over gay and lesbian people, a progressive Christian with a gentle spirit and a prayer-full of inoffensive and practical advice for us and the President-elect -- a pastor who could give faith a good name in a faith-skeptical elite culture -- evidently doesn't fit the media profile.

Many criticized Bishop Robinson for choosing not to mention Christ and invoking the "God of many understandings." It's a difficult call for anyone praying in a public setting outside of church who wants to be true to his or her faith tradition without being offensive to those who don't share it. How many thousands of Jews, Muslims, Hindi, and Buddhists were listening from the Washington mall, how many tens of millions watching on television? No one praying in such a setting wants to exclude anyone.

Of course the bishop could have injected a Christian element his prayer by speaking of God's forgiving, redeeming, sanctifying work. That he chose not to was a little disappointing. Yet what will Pastor Rick Warren choose to do on Tuesday? He faces the same challenge Bishop Robinson did: Honoring his beliefs without leaving out any faithful persons. In Southern Baptist style, will Pastor Rick use his national prayer as an altar call to those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior, or will he find a way to include a grace note about those who believe but aren't Christians?

As for videos such as this, which accuses +Gene of being satanic for honoring other faiths, I'd say this: If there is a being called Satan (which I definitely don't rule out), and if that being wanted people to think a certain way about Christians in order ultimately to destroy the faith, he would cause such videos to be produced and identified as Christian.