Saturday, March 7, 2009

Planning a KO For Meso

Ken Bendix was the star of the show a fundraiser in his honor Saturday afternoon at St. John's Episcopal Church and School in Rancho Santa Margarita. Proceeds will be used to battle mesothelioma, which Ken has been courageously and inventively fighting himself for two years. Also pictured are his wife, Alexa, and elder daughter, Aria, a St. John's alumna. Younger daughter Isabella was among the great cloud of elementary, middle school, and high school dancers who provided entertainment for over 200 friends, well-wishers, and modern dance aficionados in the St. John's gym. To learn more about the disease and join in the effort, visit

Old/New Songs: "Hard Times Come Again No More" (1854)

Kate and Anna McGarrigle and friends performing in 2006. Song by Stephen C. Foster.

Texas Songs: "Did You Ever See Dallas From A DC-9 At Night" (1972)

Joe Ely, May 1980, Lubbock, Texas. Written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the song was first recorded by the Flatlanders in 1972. Read more about Joe Ely here, thanks to The New Nixon's Frank Gannon.

Cancer: One War, But Many, Many Battles

A Presbyterian pastor in New Jersey (whose daughter is attending Chapman University in nearby Orange, California), who has been grappling with cancer since his diagnosis in December 2005, offers a battlefield-level realist's perspective on the war on cancer first declared in 1971 by President Nixon and now rejoined by another commander in chief:
It’s highly unlikely that a single, miracle cure is out there, waiting for some enterprising researcher to uncover it. Why, it’s even unlikely there could be a single cure for non-Hodgkin lymphoma – which, by all accounts, is a family of dozens of different diseases.

That’s no reason to stop trying, of course. Surely, there are cancer cures waiting to be discovered, through even modest increases in research funding. If the political slogan, “finding a cure for cancer,” is what it takes to build support for this cause, I’m surely not going to stand in the way.

Seeing All Sides In The Middle East

Here's former AP reporter Robert Parry's survey of the debate over President Obama's appointment of Chas W. Freeman to a top intelligence post. He's a realist when it comes to the Middle East, which means that he has criticized Israel and is open to the perspective of Arabs and Palestinians. Critics say that means he's essentially a pro-Arab ideologue for refusing to acknowledge Israel's superior moral standing.

The debate has obvious Cold War resonances. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were viciously attacked by conservative Republicans and nascent neocons (and spied on by the Pentagon) as they reduced tensions with the Soviet Union, setting the stage for the end of the Cold War.

Today the issue is whether U.S. policymakers will acknowledge the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people as they try to fashion a peaceful and just endgame for the struggle of struggles in the Middle East. Friends of Israel, the only democracy in the region and our moral partner since its establishment in 1948, are rightly vigilant about any move that could threaten Israel's security. But it's wrong -- and, in a way, an investment in indefinite bloodshed -- to attack and try to silence Freeman for his views, which will help the U.S. be a smarter friend of Israel and a more effective agent for peace.

* * *

A blogging brother suggests that I shouldn't neglect charges against Ambassador Freeman that he has financial conflicts of interest that preclude his serving. Andrew Sullivan analyzes the trajectory of the Freeman controversy and shows that it began with outrage over his views. I'm with Sullivan. If there's a compelling financial question, then it should be judged strictly on its demerits.

The 50% Danger

Michael Barone fears that if wealthy people's federal and state taxes reach the magic number of 50%, they'll do what they did when taxes were high in the 1970s -- hide their wealth instead of putting it to work:
[A]t that point, I fear, the animal spirits of high earners are going to be directed away from productive investment and toward tax avoidance and tax shelters. Away from creating new enterprises that can provide avenues upward for any and all, and toward gaming the system for the well-connected and shrewd insiders. Away from an economy that grows more than anyone imagined and toward an economy where system-gamers take shares of a static pie away from the rest of us. Is that where we really want to go?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Write What You Know

Panning the Washington Post's pan of "Watchmen," Matthew Yglesias suggests that newspapers, their resources dwindling, stick to hard news reporting and leave the commentary about relatively trivial cultural events (such as "Watchmen") to the Hackosphere. Sounds about right.

I Miss "The Sopranos"

Letterman's top ten things never said in on the show

Clinton Reconsidered

Instapundit links to this reflection by Ilya Somin:
There is no need to romanticize Clinton. Government growth was constrained on his watch in part because his worst instincts were checked by a Republican Congress, and he in turn checked theirs. As a general rule, divided government leads to limited government. Obviously, Obama has also been able to take advantage of a massive economic crisis, the kind of event that often provides opportunities for expanding government power. Clinton's relatively impressive record was in part the product of the political constraints he faced (no big crisis to exploit, and a Congress controlled by a hostile opposition party during his last six years in office).

Still, Clinton appears to have had a genuine commitment to welfare reform and free trade, among other market-oriented policies. No such tendencies are evident in Obama. I never knew how much I would miss Bubba until he was gone.
And then adds puckishly:
MISSING BILL CLINTON[?] Heck, that’s nothing. By the time this is over, people will be missing W.

alt.-37 And Blue Man's Group

Reviewing "Watchmen" in the New York Times, as a public service A. O. Scott notes the use of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during a sex scene and beseeches filmmakers:
[C]an we please have a moratorium on the use of this song in movies? Yes, I too have heard there was a secret chord that David played, and blah blah blah, but I don’t want to hear it again. Do you?
Amen and (with apologies to my Lenten brethren and sistren) alleluia.

Several "Watchmen" reviews, including Scott's, have persuaded me to watch for the DVD, if only to restrict the gushing blood, cracking bones, and exploding bodies to a smaller screen.

Having missed the graphic novel phenom entirely, I did buy a copy of the book and am about halfway through. Reading a comic book at 54, I feel self-conscious, even though it's strictly for research purposes. President Nixon, of course, is in his fifth term, having sent a big blue superman called Dr. Manhattan to defeat the Viet Cong, enabling the U.S. to win the war. That's alt.-37 above, anxiously contemplating the possible loss of the entire Eastern establishment in a hypothetical nuclear exchange. It's now the mid-1980s. The Soviets have invaded Afghanistan and plunged into Pakistan. But the blue man has broken up with his girlfriend and been accused of giving everyone cancer. He's gone to Mars to sulk and so isn't available to RN to blunt the invasion.

The reflections of another from "Watchman"'s band of troubled superheroes on the meaninglessness of the universe and the pivotal role played by chance in our lives reminded me of one of Woody Allen's best movies. A ring decides a character's fate in Allen's "Match Point," a broken watch in "Watchmen." The book has also been giving me weird dreams. Its looming apocalypse resonates discomfitingly with our all-too-real economic crisis.

Youth Again Lead The Way

The "Economist:"
Young Americans and Britons are keen cocaine-users, despite being subject to some of the toughest anti-drugs laws among Western countries. Over 5% of 15-34 year olds said they had taken the drug over the past 12 months, according to the most recent data from the European Union's drugs-monitoring arm.

Mindfulness Your Own Business

Judith Warner wonders if peace of mind is overrated and sometimes even rude.

On The Road Again To Damascus

A predominantly Muslim country (though 10% of its people are Christian), Syria is rich in Abrahamic history. Christians view the healing of Namaan the Syrian as prefiguring baptism. Abraham's servant, friend, and heir Eliezer was from Damascus, and Jesus found Paul on the way to persecute Damascenes who followed the Way. Some villagers still speak Aramaic, thought to be Jesus's primary language. Now Nixon biographer and friend Jonathan Aitken, his own Pauline experience well behind him, describes his recent visit and proposes Nixon-style diplomacy to safeguard the country's sacred antiquities.

Obama's Errors

Michael Gerson on the risk that President Obama and we are running together thanks to his massive move to expand the federal government:

"It's not smart to say this economy can't recover," says economist and author David Smick. If the pipeline of credit is somehow unclogged, the Federal Reserve has provided plenty of money for there to be a quick recovery. Americans will eventually need to buy houses or cars again.

Clearly this is what President Obama hopes and expects. It would probably solidify eight years of political dominance. But there is one problem. The markets do not appear to find his economic approach remotely credible. "What we are seeing," says Smick, "is $3 trillion in revenues for $4 trillion in spending. An honest budget? Give me a break." Even more important, the markets have little confidence in the administration's sketchy bank bailout plan. It has been the largest, early mistake of the Obama presidency to focus on expensive reforms of health and energy before convincing markets that the financial sector will be fixed -- the achievement on which all else depends.

Stanley's Splicer

Fred Graboske, who oversaw the initial review of the Nixon White House tapes for the National Archives, explains why he believes historian Stanley Kutler purposely edited a key Watergate tape to alter its apparent meaning.

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

Blessed Are Those Who Trust

One of the mysteries and comforts of liturgical worship -- doing certain things on certain days just because that's what the schedule (or the prayer book, or the lectionary, or the e-mail) says -- is that believers often find themselves saying, "How did God know that was what I needed to hear today?" For instance, the daily reading from the good folks at Sojourners, today from the prophet Jeremiah [17:7-8]:
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Living To Fight Another Election Day

Studying accounts of yesterday's California Supreme Court hearing on Prop. 8, Andrew Sullivan is hopeful about what he considers the ideal outcome: That the voter-approved ban on gay marriage be upheld, the 18,000 same-gender marriages performed while it was legal be permitted to stand, and proponents of lifting the ban win fair and square at the polls next time.

Bum Rush

Linda Chavez says that the GOP desperately needs a leader and the country needs an effective loyal opposition.

Not Left Enough For Him

Michael Lind says there's too much of the free market in President Obama's liberalism.

Happy Songs: "Beautiful Day" (2000)

U2 on Letterman, Thursday night

More Disappointment At The Center

Stuart Taylor:
Having praised President Obama's job performance in two recent columns, it is with regret that I now worry that he may be deepening what looks more and more like a depression and may engineer so much spending, debt, and government control of the economy as to leave most Americans permanently less prosperous and less free.

Other Obama-admiring centrists have expressed similar concerns. Like them, I would like to be proved wrong. After all, if this president fails, who will revive our economy? And when? And what kind of America will our children inherit?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rocks Are Their Heads

If Joshua trees are the main event in Joshua Tree National Park, the rock formations make up a remarkable supporting cast. When the earth's crust was cooling 100 million
years ago, magma oozed up and formed massive monzogranite formations with remarkably consistent horizontal and vertical seams. Sometimes the rocks look like stacks of bricks. Sometimes, when fresh lava has
seeped between the older rocks and dried, it
looks like dinosaurs' spines. And sometimes you'll be wandering through the park and come across a rock that looks a heck of a lot like Henry Kissinger. Or a whale. Or the alien from "Independence Day." Or a solitary soul meditating in the desert.

Father Songs: "The End Of The Innocence" (1989)

Don Henley (song by Bruce Hornsby, with additional lyrics by Henley)

We Are, Together, Lighter Than A Breath

The reading of the day from Jim Wallis and the folks at Sojourners:

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.

- Psalm 62:9-12

Balancing Budgets Is For Sissies

Deftly, Jonathan Chait challenges Ross Douthat's argument that late-Clintonian fiscal discipline is a good model for President Obama. Ronald Reagan didn't worry about deficits when mounting his massive ideological revolution. Why should Obama?

Calling Frank Langella

Robert Wisden plays RN in "Watchmen."

No Time For Normal Politics

Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach), whose e-newsletter is the best I've ever seen from a member of Congress (not that I always agree with it), doesn't like what happened when he was on sick leave:
I can't believe that in the middle of this huge economic crisis, the President is still pushing forward on socializing medicine and a cap-and-trade tax increase on energy to combat global warming. Both of these programs are enormously expensive. If the President confiscates the income of everyone over $100,000 per year per person, he still will not have enough money. I know that he is doing this to try and push through his agenda while his political capital is at its peak; this is a lesson from many of his predecessors, both Republican and Democrat. But these are not normal times and they do not warrant normal action.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Save The Earth, Win The Kids

The Republican Party has a lengthy record of environmental accomplishments, which stretch back to Abraham Lincoln’s protection of Yosemite Valley in 1864 and include Theodore Roosevelt’s forest and wildlife conservation, Richard Nixon’s creation of the EPA, and Ronald Reagan’s leadership in addressing ozone depletion....

Republicans must start staking out more defensible terrain on environmental issues and be a constant and constructive force for stewardship. In doing so, we must draw a positive contrast to Democrats by exposing their shortcomings and exploiting their areas of vulnerability.

Environmentally conscious voters, particularly young people, have come to associate the Republican Party—and conservatism—with short-sighted opposition to responsible environmental protections. In last year’s election, Barack Obama captured the youth vote by a 2-to-1 margin. Republicans cannot hope to be politically competitive again without getting a larger share of the youth vote.

Pining For Bill Clinton

Steve Chapman speaks up nostalgically for cautiousness and pragmatism:

[Bill] Clinton, for all his appetites and excesses, was a cautious, centrist sort of Democrat. He had innumerable ideas for things the government could do, but most were small and fairly innocuous. He was willing to go along with Republicans on some of their sound ideas -- such as balancing the budget, reforming the welfare system and expanding foreign trade.

Gambling With Liberalism's Future

Ross Douthat says that President Obama's popularity will diminish dramatically, as will liberalism's prospects, without an economic recovery:
If you're running enormous deficits and don't have any economic growth to show for it, it doesn't matter how popular your social-spending programs are in the short run, as more than a few ex-Latin American leaders will be happy to attest. And what does make the Obama strategy misguided is that it looks increasingly like a substitute for a depression-fighting strategy - and what's worse, a substitute that has the potential to actually make matters worse, when Obama, liberalism, and America all desperately need things to get better.

The Three-War Plan?

Dennis Ross, Cold War veteran and James Baker acolyte, who has said that he believes a military strike on Iran is a reasonable option, has quietly been made the Obama administration's point man on Iran. Is the hand the President extended to Tehran curling into a fist because of growing concern about its nuclear capabilities? Michael Crowley.

Half Alternative

Richard Nixon and the movies these days -- whoa! There're now almost as many references to "Watchmen" as there were last month to "Frost/Nixon." From Canada's Globe and Mail:
Watchmen is set in an alternative 1985, in which the Cold War is still raging and Richard Nixon is still president.
Actually, the Cold War really was still raging in 1985.

In Which I Learn Why I Don't Like Christian Rock

Brett McCraken is writing a book about Christian hipsters. Go here for a complete definition. Here's the reading list:
Christian hipsters like music, movies, and books that are well-respected by their respective artistic communities—Christian or not. They love books like Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. They tend to be fans of any number of the following authors: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, John Howard Yoder, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, Soren Kierkegaard, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robison, Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris, or anything ancient and/or philosophically important.
Sweeping hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

At Our Altars, Men And Women Do The Dishes

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, surmises that, at least in non-western cultures, assumptions about males' authority over females contribute to concerns about homosexuality:

The most intriguing conversation I had [when Anglican primates met recently] in Alexandria [in Egypt] was with a primate who asked how same-sex couples partition "roles." He literally asked if one was identified as the wife and one as the husband, and then wanted to know which one promised to obey the other in the marriage ceremony. Several of us explained that marriage in the West is most often understood as a partnership of equals, and has been for some time.

Those of you with a few more years on you may remember that the marriage service in the 1928 (and earlier versions) of the Book of Common Prayer did indeed have language about the wife obeying her husband. It's pertinent here to note that the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer is still the norm in many provinces of the Anglican Communion, and it uses the same kind of language about obeying in the marriage service.

As I traveled from the airport to the hotel where we met, I noticed that almost every woman on the street past childhood was veiled, with at least her hair covered with a scarf, and in a not-small number of cases, covered head to toe in a long, flowing garment. I even observed a couple of women whose coverings were so thorough that I couldn't even see a slit for their eyes -- the fabric must have been thin enough for them to see through, but not for others to see in. The hotel had only a handful of female employees, mostly professional women who worked behind the desk. Only a couple of them wore no scarf.

The striking thing was that the meeting room where the primates' deliberations took place, the hotel's largest and principal conference room, was bedecked with several large paintings of half-naked women. It was a space that, in normal circumstances, apparently was used only by men. I found it striking that public expectations of women are modest dress and covering, yet there is evidently a rather different attitude toward men's entertainment.

These complex and conflicting gender expectations have something significant to do with attitudes there and in other parts of the world toward male homosexuality. The greatest difficulty in many cultures, including parts of North American society, is the perception that one of the partners in such a union must be acting like a woman -- and that is most definitely not a socially desirable status!

Like The Guy In "Fast Times At Ridgemont High"

Today's "voice of the day" from the good folks at Sojourners:
To the true servant of God every place is the right place and every time is the right time.

Catherine of Siena

Like Obama Going To Havana, Only Real

From The Moderate Voice, props for Margaret Macmillan's book on RN's China breakthrough.

Barack's Christmas Gift: Seven More Years?

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers says there may be something nice in our stocking in December:
The asset bubbles in housing and equities are maybe three-quarters deflated, and are starting to show some signs of bottoming. They both continue to descend at around 10% a month and should hit bottom around the summer. Meanwhile, there have already been a couple of $500+ billion rounds of recapitalizations of the banks, after which they shockingly discover that it wasn't enough, and return for another tranche. I would expect another one or two.

Couple this with the dramatic drop in the price of oil, which acts as a far larger stimulus to the economy than any of the congressionally allocated funds, and I think a whiff of recovery will be in the air by the 2009 holidays. Considering the staggering scale of the housing bubble and the near collapse of the financial markets last year, that's just amazing.
If he or she is right, then President Obama will look like a genius, his big-government moves (whether or not they worked) will be eagerly and hungrily validated by journalists and historians, and the GOP comeback in the '10 midterms will be inoperative. Ain't politics grand?

Obama's Be-Like-Nixon Report Card

A stock authority on how well 44 is doing channeling 37:
Yesterday, Gary Weiss blogged that President Obama needs to "channel Richard Nixon" and make a strong statement about his confidence in the long-term future of the U.S. stock market.

In 1970, President Nixon proclaimed: "Frankly, if I had any money, I'd be buying stocks right now," in the middle of a recession. The market jumped on the expression of confidence. A few hours after Gary Weiss wrote that Obama should do the same thing, Obama said -- in his usual mild-mannered, carefully hedged way -- that stocks represent a "potentially good deal" for long-term investors. OK: not exactly the rah-rah cheerleading we were hoping for, but it's a start.

Wonder White House Years

The New Nixon's Frank Gannon on Stevie Wonder's recent appearance at the White House. Here's the video, which, though it says "Superstitious," actually is a performance of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and "Superstition."

Seeing all those officials rocking out reminded me of the episode of "West Wing" where James Taylor appears at the White House. But if history is repeating television, it's also repeating Nixonian history, since thanks to the President's daughters the first White House rock and roll occurred under RN, who invited the Guess Who and the Temptations to come play.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Missing Samuelson's Rocks By That Much

San Bernardino Mountains from rough vicinity of Samuelson's Rocks

John Samuelson came to Joshua Tree in the 1920s, living in the wilderness with his wife, Margaret, and working his gold claim. In 1928, when he tried to acquire the title to his homestead, the land office learned that he was a Swedish citizen and turned him down. He sold the claim and moved to Los Angeles, where he got into a fight with two men at a dance in Compton and killed them. He ended up in mental health facility from which he escaped in 1930. He died in the 1950s in Washington state after being injured in a logging accident.

This information comes from a National Park Service web site. Not so easy to find is the cluster of rocks in the Lost Horse Valley in Joshua Tree National Park where Samuelson carved his reflections on life, the universe, and everything. When Kathy and I inquired in a park office this morning, a ranger told us that the trail to Samuelson's Rocks wasn't officially maintained. She did give us a slip of paper telling us to look for mile marker 22 on the main road through the park and an old road trail nearby. A mile south was a braided wash. Turning west, we'd find the rocks after walking another half mile or so. "I think the mile marker may be missing, though," she added.

Using the odometer on the mighty Saturn to measure the specified 1.7 miles from Quail Springs, we found what looked like an old road trail and then a wash running east to west through the valley. We hiked back and forth but couldn't find Samuelson's Rocks. It occurred to us that the National Park Service wasn't exactly making it easy for us to do so. Who knows why. Perhaps in the next stimulus bill there will be money to improve the trail. In the meantime, here's a photo from the feds' web site showing the wisdom of John Samuelson on matters theological and scientific. Another of his carvings, apropos of his times if not ours, reads:

The milk of
human kindness
ain't got thick
cream on it for
all of us
Ask Hoover

Rich, Arch, And Gays

TV critics irregular Ehrlichman, Nixon, and Haldeman

Some mornings former President Nixon would tell aides in his New York or New Jersey office that he just happened to see something fascinating or shocking on television while trying to find the news or a football game. We suspected that our still-overachieving boss didn't want anyone to think he was wasting his time. He did happily admit that he and Mrs. Nixon enjoyed watching "Murder She Wrote" and "Barnaby Jones" together.

By the late 1980s, he was urging us all to get C-SPAN, because for the first time he was able to watch uninterrupted senatorial hearings, think tank panel discussions, and other high capital dramas that for a politics and policy junkie such as him were the equivalent of pure heroin. (I had to tell him that because of the way his administration had set up the cable TV system, Jersey City, where I lived, hadn't yet let a cable contract, hence no congressional debates on Congress St.) And yet still, every once in a while, the easy availability of Carnegie Endowment seminars on U.S.-Russian relations notwithstanding, he'd tug on his lower lip with the end of his reading glasses and say, "I ran across the damnedest thing last night when I was trying to find the Mets game..."

In May 1971 in the White House, the President did the same thing with his aides Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The White House tape recorder captured his synopsis of an episode of "All in the Family" which he'd just happened to run across. The first episode of Norman Lear's epochal sitcom had been broadcast to rave reviews four months before, which suggests that as culture mavens, RN and his aides were behind the curve.

And yet as the tape below discloses, Messrs. Nixon and Haldeman were wise to Lear's moves. Archie Bunker dressed like a slob, Haldeman noticed; that meant you weren't supposed to like him. The former football player in the bar turned out to be gay, the President noted; that meant the show was twisting your melon when it came to assumptions about how gay people looked and acted. Postmodernists ought to have a field day studying a critical analysis of a cultural expression being performed by the individuals who were essentially among the objects of the expression itself.

The conversation turns from Archie Bunker (just like Meathead, RN keeps calling him Arch) to a dialogue on homosexuality that has made this tape segment the talk of the internet. The three men exhibited assumptions and anxieties about homosexuality -- I understand why they get up to that, but it shouldn't be glorified -- that were typical of their generation. The President, for instance, had been born in 1913. I'm surprised how few commentators and bloggers have pointed out that the chat occurred 38 years ago, just as gay liberation was picking up steam. George Carlin and Monty Python were still getting laughs with routines based on the same cultural stereotypes being indulged in the White House. By the same token, on another occasion President Nixon predicted that we'd have gay marriage by 2000, making him more progressive than the majority of California voters in 2008.

Fourteen seconds of the conversation have been bleeped by the National Archives on the grounds either of national security (doubtful in this case) or potential embarrassment to a living person. My guess is that the President and his aides were discussing national figures (not, the usual speculation to the contrary, J. Edgar Hoover, who is dead) or colleagues who were or may have been gay or lesbian.

Someone Poke Pinch

A 43-year-old who'd never purchased a newspaper subscription did so after he got his Kindle.

Sunrise In Twentynine Palms

The Fundamentally Different Pathmaker

Eugene Robinson says that we should've remembered how, early in the 2008 campaign, 44 disparaged pragmatists:
Sometimes, it turns out, politicians can be taken at their word. More than a year ago, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal that "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." Reagan, he said, "put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it." The implication was that Obama, if elected, would be no less ambitious.

Hank Greenberg On Deck?

Former AIG chairman and CEO (and Nixon Center chairman) Maurice R. Greenberg offers an alternative narrative for the company's last few months (and perhaps a glimpse of the Starr at the end of the tunnel).

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Free Man In Joshua Tree

The morning sky over Joshua Tree National Park is crisscrossed with vapor trails left by planes flying east from Los Angeles, heading west to Hawaii, coming north from Mexico. After a while they look like clouds. All those people going somewhere, while Twentynine Palms stays the same, or seems to. Just two miles away from the quiet center of town is a teeming Marine base. An expansion of the massive facility will soon be underway, we understand. The high desert-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marines lost 20 of their number at the hands of the Taliban during a difficult recent deployment in Afghanistan. So there are plenty of opportunities around town to thank young men and women for their service. But by and large visitors come to Joshua Tree for the peace and silence, the rock climbing, and, in the springtime, the desert flowers.

Yesterday it was 92 degrees at Cottonwood Spring, at the southern end of the park; today, around 86. Kathy and I climbed to the top of Mastodon Peak, which sounds a lot tougher than it really was. A few miles north, acres of cholla cactus spread across the desert, their spines glowing in the sun and seemingly from within. Of course everyone, including U2 and Gram Parsons, who died near the park in September 1973, comes for the Joshua trees, named by 19th century Mormon pioneers who were reminded of the great Hebrew Testament general gesturing heavenward. As sturdy as they look, they're prone to disease. They're pollinated only by a certain species of moth, so keep the mutually interdependent Joshua trees and yucca moths in your prayers. Tomorrow we're thinking of visiting Samuelson's Rocks, on which a Swedish gold miner carved his theological reflections. Can't miss that!

Just Another Hollywood Nixon

At The Ticker, published by Baruch College in New York City, Alfonso Guerriero shares comments on "Frost/Nixon" from an authoritative source, Ray Price (shown at right in the photo with other members of RN's interview prep team, Diane Sawyer and Ken Khachigian; missing is The New Nixon's Frank Gannon, who was probably either playing the piano or taking the picture):
Price, 78, knew President Nixon for 27 years while working as one of his speechwriters. He wrote both of Nixon’s inauguration speeches, and he helped write Nixon’s resignation speech in 1974. When Nixon resigned from the presidency, Price continued being a loyal friend and collaborated with the president on two of his 10 books before Nixon’s death in 1994. He also helped Nixon prepare for Frost’s interviews, along with...Sawyer and other aides.

Price did not hesitate when offering his thoughts on Frost/Nixon and Frank Langella’s portrayal of the President saying, "[the film] grossly distorted the facts and reduced his character to a Hollywood caricature."

Nixon's Policy's Progress

China specialist Orville Schell says that economic crisis will bring the U.S. and China closer together.

Let's Check The Federalist Papers And See

E. J. Dionne, Jr. crystallizes the budget debate:
The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth.

Politicians will say lots of things in the coming weeks, but they should be pushed relentlessly to address the bottom-line question: Do they believe that a fairer distribution of capitalism's bounty is essential to repairing a sick economy? Everything else is a subsidiary issue.

From Barry To Barack

A rock-ribbed Goldwater Republican from Nebraska who switched to the Democrats over social issues. The GOP won't have a glimmer of a chance of a hope unless it wins his like back. He blames it all on President Nixon, incidentally, but that's another story.

Fair-Market Friends

In a Sunday New York Times article about individuals and families managing the transition from executive to so-called survival jobs, this poignant note about human nature:
[Ame Arlt's] new job at HometownQuotes pays $10 to $15 an hour and has mostly entailed data entry. But even though she has parted ways with some friends because she is no longer in their social stratum, Ms. Arlt said she was glad she was no longer sitting at home, “thinking, ‘Who have I not heard from today?’ ”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lent I And President Bartlett

Tens of millions of Christians in church today, the first Sunday in Lent, heard the story of Noah (in which God is so grieved by his people's vindictiveness and violence that he washes them away) and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Among many other things, the contrasting stories help explain our attitude toward the substance that essentially comprises us. As Harold Kushner has written, our relationship with water is primal. We're both drawn to it and frightened that it will reclaim us.

By their baptism in water and the Holy Spirit, Christians are cleansed of their iniquities (as the world was in Noah's story) and bound indissolubly to God and therefore made ultimately, perfectly safe. It's a powerful, almost magical sacrament, hence the arguments among denominations about whom (infants or believers) and how (aspersion, affusion, immersion, or submersion). In a conversation between services at St. John's this morning, we took comfort from the notion that while doctrine is often the work of men and women, Christian baptism, however it's practiced, is the work of God's spirit, which flows where it will.

During our class, I'd wanted to show the classic scene from the West Wing episode "Two Cathedrals," when President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen), a faithful Roman Catholic who is tempted to forsake running for a second term because he has lied to the American people about his health, experiences a kind of a civic baptism thanks to a tropical storm that has made its way up the eastern seaboard to Washington. Once Bartlett has been drenched and cleansed, you may guess, if you're not a "West Wing" fan, whether he decides to run again.

What makes the sequence pretty much perfect is the choice of the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms” as the soundtrack. Mark Knopfler’s silky progressions and finger-plucked guitar runs are hymn-like. Watch how Bartlett’s body man, Charlie (Dule Hill), takes off his raincoat because the President refuses to wear one. Watch when, as Knopfler sings the words “brothers in arms” for the first time, a trinity of Bartlett aides, Josh, Toby, and Sam, is together in the frame. Watch how, as Bartlett prepares to answer a reporter's question about the election, the American flag unfurls -- symbol of his civic faith, just as the Jerusalem Cross in the transcept of National Cathedral, which we also see in this scene, denotes his faith in Christ.

If you’re a Dire Straits or “West Wing” fan, you’ll want to watch this over and over again. If you’re a fan of both, you probably want to be buried with it. Thanks to a persnickety DVD player, I didn't get to show the scene in the class this morning. My thanks to my St. John's brother John Schafer for providing the YouTube link.

The Republican Circle Goes 'Round

Andrew Perez promotes Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (son of Richard Nixon's White House staff secretary) as the brains of a pragmatic, inclusive GOP.

Twentynine Palms, Sunday Evening