Saturday, March 21, 2009

Perfect Medleys: "Cry Baby" (1971) and "Piece Of My Heart" (1967)

In a tribute to Janis Joplin at the 2005 Grammys, Joss Stone and, in one of the most exciting entrances and performances in televised rock and roll history, Melissa Etheridge

Jessica Simpson, Meet Your Reviewer, Bart

While I hold no brief for pop star Jessica Simpson besides a couple of her peppy tunes on my iPod, I winced reading this sneering account of her recent concert in Irvine, California, which happened to pop up on my MSN home screen (my version of President Nixon's "I happened to see something on TV last night..."). A person could've taken the same facts and yet not been unkind.

It makes me regret every unkind thing I ever wrote or said. You have to wonder about the affect it has on those who do it for a living. Also, "MSN Entertainment" isn't much of a byline. You want to trash someone, you should at least attach your name to it.

What If Iran Really Means What It Says?

Making a Nixon-to-China analogy, Nathan Gonzalez says Iran's coolness in response to President Obama's video valentine shouldn't be taken as proof that his policy is either reckless or ineffectual. Though useful for domestic consumption in Iran (and sometimes in China even these days), anti-U.S. rhetoric doesn't always reveal what leaders are really thinking:
During President Richard Nixon's historic visit to the China in 1972, Mao Zedung apparently couldn't believe that U.S. policymakers had taken his "anti-imperialist" propaganda to heart. Henry Kissinger writes: "[Mao] laughed uproariously at the implication that anyone might be taking seriously a slogan which had been scrawled for decades on placards and on the walls of public buildings all over China." In Iran, the cult of anti-Americanism has inspired government-sanctioned murals that depict the United States as a wretched country, and the phrase "death to America" ("marg bar emrika") is still something of a national political slogan.
Interesting. Unless, of course, Iran really means it.

New Wineskins

Vacationing and blogging, a proudly liberal couple who own a vineyard, complete with an amphitheater, in Sonoma County visit the Nixon Library and are not unimpressed with the Nixons, especially Pat.

Reaganites Discover Nixon's Virtues

Kim Holmes at the Heritage Foundation:
Once upon a time, American liberals loved to hate foreign-policy realists. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger - the uber-realists of their day - were the betes noires of the left. In the liberal view, stability and Realpolitik were the source of everything wrong with U.S. foreign policy.

No more. In an ideological shift that should make Mr. Nixon turn over in his grave, liberal internationalism is making peace with its erstwhile intellectual enemy, the tradition of realism in U.S. foreign policy. Liberals and realists are joining hands to forge a new vision of American leadership that President Obama may be tempted to embrace.
Why would Holmes think RN would be upset by this development? After all, it was he who went to China, dramatically improved relations with the Soviet Union, ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and balanced our unstinting support for Israel with a new acceptance of the legitimate interests of its neighbors. If RN were rolling over in his grave because President Obama is being tempted to make friendly gestures toward our current antagonists such as Iran, it would presumably be because Holmes and the Heritage Foundation feel that tough old 37 would think 44 was too soft. That's ironic, since at the time, the Goldwater/Reaganites who would soon found Heritage -- as well as their own tactical partners, the nascent neocons -- all feared that it was the vigilantly anti-communist Nixon who had gone soft. Pentagon hawks were so worried that they were actually spying on him.

Holmes sees a coalition forming between liberals (who would've been interventionists in the Kennedy era but now think America's world-changing days are behind her) and Brent Scowcroft-style realists intent on making sure the U.S. doesn't overextend itself on moralistic or otherwise misguided adventures such as Iraq.

Holmes is hopeful that Obama will find a Nixonian middle way:
He seems to sense a need to impose some limits on the inherent pessimism of the new liberal-realist fusion. A vision of America riding off into the sunset of geopolitical decline does not square with his message of hope and change. Americans may not want the U.S. to be the world's policeman, but they also still believe their country has a transformative role to play in the world.
Of course that was precisely Richard Nixon's view and legacy. It is good that the heirs of his often mistrustful conservative friends have come to appreciate it.

Get Out Of Her Closet

The First Family are a joy to observe. From an article on the First Lady's views about their new household:

On the president and her wardrobe:

“He’s always asking: ‘Is that new? I haven’t seen that before.’ It’s like, Why don’t you mind your own business? Solve world hunger. Get out of my closet.”

The Nexis Of Reporting And Blogging

This paragraph, in a New York Times analysis of President Obama's week of improvisational responses to the AIG story, seemed strange:
It is not clear whether the spasm of anger set off by news of the bonuses paid to A.I.G. executives was a one-week affair or a sign of a larger political shift driven by a sense that American-style capitalism in the last several decades has become fundamentally unfair.
What is reporter Jeff Zeleny getting at? If "the last several decades" means three or four, then he's suggesting that the fundamental unfairness of capitalism had been rampant since 1) 1969, when the stock market was in the doldrums or 2) 1979, when American capitalism was languishing at the end of the Carter administration.

Or maybe his "several" stands for "two or three," thus bracketing in the Reagan era, when income disparities between the rich and poor became more pronounced and Oliver Stone provided Gordon Gecko as a convenient archetype for rapacious business practices. If so, beyond the fact that everyone just kind of knows and thinks that about the Reagan and Clinton years, does Zeleny have anything more to go on? At the same time, more and more Americans got their own stake on Wall Street through pension funds and individual investing. Millions are reeling now from the loss of value in portfolios that they might not have owned several decades ago. Is that part of the fundamental unfairness, too?

What about Zeleny's "it is not clear"? Does it mean he had an authoritative source who injected the possibility of a sea change in people's attitudes about their economic system into a conversation but asked not to be quoted or described? Does it mean that he really tried to see if there's any polling on shifting attitudes toward capitalism but couldn't track anything down in time? Does it mean that he didn't try but definitely thinks there's something in the wind based on what his family, friends, and colleagues say and stuff like that? Or does it mean, "I sure hope so, so let me see if I can shoehorn it into this story"?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spitzer Rising?

As rage at AIG persists, its nemesis, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, grasps for redemption.

Yes Nukes

Nearly 60% of Americans now support the use of nuclear power.

Madame Defarge, Call Your Wine Shop

E. J. Dionne, Jr. hopes populist outrage over the AIG bonuses and other corporate welfare schemes will lead to better public policy -- and not, one hopes, bonus recipients having to continue to worry about their and their families' safety. The fiercely eloquent anonymous poster at "Body Parts" wonders if Congress's probably unconstitutional confiscation of the bonuses could be seen as affirming vigilantism.

Obama's War

Via Nixon Center founding executive director Steve Clemons, Katherine Tiedemann's case for a land war in Asia:
[T]he dangers of leaving Afghanistan altogether are great. With Pakistan pushing militants across the border into Afghanistan, security conditions in Afghanistan declining dramatically, and predictions for rising violence in 2009, it is naive to think simply because there are competing priorities on the world's stage that the United States can turn its attention and resources from this strategically critical region.

President Obama has seemingly embraced the Af-Pak struggle as "his" war, much like the Iraq War was President Bush's main foreign policy focus. Now is no time to turn our heads from the conflict, just as the United States appears poised to devote the resources to the country that the Bush administration should have.

And so while it is insist on cost estimates and a strategic rationale, we cannot risk allowing the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan's wild border regions.

Texas Songs: "Tonight We Ride" (2004)

Tom Russell (for more about Gen. John J. Pershing and Pancho Villa, go here)

Memo To Fellow Clergy: Go For Undecideds!

In the March 24 issue of "Christian Century," which credits "Junior Achievement and Deloitte," we learn that when teens are asked to identify their role models, 54% say family, 13% friends, six percent teachers or coaches, five percent siblings, and (gulp) three percent clergy. We're not holding up our end! Good news: 11% are still up for grabs; they say, "No role models."

Blink, And You're Broke

Listing him as No. 9 in its April 2 list of the 50 most important, creative, brilliant people in the universe, "Rolling Stone" praises White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for his "balletic" political talents:
Emanuel started the [Obama stimulus] bill not with an our-way-or-the-highway proposal but with broad outlines and a dollar figure -- letting Congress take ownership of the details.
Would that include details such as the AIG bonuses? So now we know that neither the White House nor members of Congress read the bill. Talk about blinkered leadership.

Did Illness Bear Her Heart Away?

In the March "American Spectator," a review by Algis Valiunas of Brad Gooch's new biography of Flannery O'Connor (now on my Kindle for a few bucks less than the print-is-dead version). The cheerful, thoughtful, conventional Christian orthodoxy of her letters always seemed to conflict with the darkness in her fiction, especially the novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. I always thought I just wasn't subtle enough. But Valiunas and Gooch note it, too. Perhaps it was the struggle against chronic, wasting disease (she was diagnosed with lupus as a young woman) and the specter of mortality. Valiunas:
Gooch lays out the evidence from O'Connor's letters and essays for her belief that [deeply troubled novel protagonists] Motes and Tarwater were truly touched by God, but he also cites the opinion of the novelist John Hawkes, a friend and correspondent of O'Connor's, "that hers was a 'black,' even 'diabolical,' authorial voice." O'Connor assured Hawkes it wasn't so, but, dubious as it may be to question the word of a virtual saint, the books appear lit by a fire from below that bespeaks not the terrible speed of mercy but the terrible slowness with which the tormented soul is consumed. O'Connor died at 39. To judge from her fiction, she had likely had all she could take.

Way Fewer Widgets

In the New York Times, Nelson D. Schwartz on the global manufacturing decline emanating from the financial meltdown:
The pattern of manufacturing and trade ominously recalls how the financial crisis of 1929 grew into the Great Depression: tightening credit and consumer fear reduced demand for manufactured goods in one country after another, creating a downward spiral that reduced global trade.

Nixonian Spectator

Is the "American Spectator," long a skeptic about Sin0-U.S. ties, mellowing? George H. Whittman sticks up for the delicate U.S.-PRC-Taiwan balancing act that grew out of President Nixon's Beijing breakthrough. Maybe it's the $1 trillion in Treasuries China holds:

[In Taiwan. the] United States has retained a valuable ally in a key geo-strategic part of the world. Taiwan may lack broad diplomatic recognition but nonetheless plays an important economic -- and thus political -- role internationally. And the PRC has been able to maintain its claim of sovereignty over this large island that it never conquered, while at the same time having the advantage of trade and investment.

Blue Devils May Care

A Duke alum analyzes anti-gay sentiment directed at its basketball team.

AIG's Good Money Going After Bad?

In his weekly e-newsletter, Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach) totes up the full AIG bill:
All the ire surrounding AIG right now is about the bonuses. But frankly I’m more worried about the $1.6 TRILLION of assets that AIG needs to liquidate from their financial products division. Mismanagement there could easily cost the taxpayers $100 billion or more. And I am worried about their formerly profitable property and casualty as well as life insurance divisions. Taxpayers have invested $80 billion in AIG. We will never get it all back. And we will almost certainly put in more. But any hope of getting any of it back requires the sale of those “good” divisions. But they are sinking fast.

Live And Let Spy

Jacob Heilbrunn on Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers and their hold on the right and left in postwar America.

Following Taxpayers' Money To UBS

Meghan Clyne, an aggressive young journalist writing today in the New York Post, knows how to get her readers' attention:

Americans are justifiably furious about the $165 million in bonuses paid at AIG. But what if, instead of subsidizing only incompetence, AIG had also sent billions of your tax dollars to people who'd laundered money for terrorist states, helped Americans cheat on their taxes and banked for the Nazis?

Well, it did. Earlier this week, AIG revealed that it had paid $5 billion of its bailout money to the Swiss bank UBS.

Hat tip to John Barr

Who's Boss?

A view from London of the gracious Lee Annenberg, who died last week. That's she, as chief of protocol, a post for which she was immensely well suited, with Presidents Carter, Nixon, and Ford on the way to Alexandria in 1981 for Anwar Sadat's funeral. I love the expression on RN's face.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For Chapter 7, I'll Need, Oh, 12 Years

Robert Stein, a distinguished figure in U.S. publishing circles, notes the correlation between the methodology of President Bush's upcoming memoir, Decision Points, which will study 12 epochal moments in his Presidency, and Richard Nixon's first book, Six Crises. Predicting that W. will use the format to evade unpleasant subjects such as the aftermath of his decision to invade Iraq, Stein writes:
Nixon's "Six Crises" similarly stopped short of Watergate by only covering events until 1960.
Six Crises stopped short of Watergate because it was published in 1962. It also stopped short of Vietnam and the breakup of the Beatles. Watergate got a third of the space in RN's post-Presidential memoir.

Reality Bites

Analyzing polls that show support for President Obama breaking along typical partisan lines, David Paul Kuhn argues that the "We Are The World" moment of inaugural week was, well, a moment. He exhumes this quotation from a political warhorse:
I could just stand up here and say "Let's just get everybody together, let's get unified." Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions at how hard this is going to be."
That was Secretary of State Clinton during the 2008 campaign.

Abraham Songs: "Jerusalem" (2002)

Steve Earle

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

gAggInG On The Potomac

Who let the disgraceful AIG bonuses go though? No mystery whatsoever: The Obama administration and Congress. Officials' high dudgeon this week -- especially the abuse heaped on the company's diligent, dollar-a-year CEO, who inherited the bonus agreements, by the hapless Rep. Frank and his congressional colleagues, who spend billions without reading the bills -- was impossible to stomach.

The Gospel Imperative Of Self-Sacrifice

Concluding a six-day retreat, Episcopal bishops call on the church to rise to the historic challenge of bad times:

The bishops' pastoral letter called the church to repentance for failure to address the sorry state of national and international economic and environmental crises.

The letter cited "unparalleled corporate greed and irresponsibility, predatory lending practices, and rampant consumerism (that) have amplified domestic and global economic justice" and raised a specter of fear in the United States and the world. It also took to task a tendency "to ignore the Gospel imperative of self-sacrifice and generosity, as we scramble for self-preservation in a culture of scarcity."

"We have too often been preoccupied as a Church with internal affairs and a narrow focus that has absorbed both our energy and interest and that of our Communion—to the exclusion of concern for the crisis of suffering both at home and abroad," the letter continued. Examples of that suffering included ongoing wars and human and natural disasters that destroy the land.

Bishops also chided the church for failures "to speak a compelling word of commitment to economic justice. We have often failed to speak truth to power, to name the greed and consumerism that has pervaded our culture, and we have too often allowed the culture to define us instead of being formed by Gospel values."

May Light Perpetual Shine Upon Her

Natasha Richardson with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave

It Beats Seminary: Bible In One Minute

Sarah Laughed

Polls show that President Obama would crush Gov. Palin in '12. Too bad for Obama that she's not running.

"Speaking In Fewer Tongues"

We're Babeling less, says the "Economist":
Around a quarter of the world's population speaks just three languages: Mandarin, English and Spanish. But out of the 6,700 of the world's identified languages, nearly 2,500 are deemed at risk according to UNESCO, the UN's cultural body.

Perfect Hymns: "Come Down, O Love Divine"

Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958); words: Bianco da Siena (d. 1434?)

Lenten Flowers, Candles, And The Cross

One of the simplest and greatest blessings of working in the church is that, late on a midweek morning, when no one's there, I can wander from my office over to the church.

Having a church next door is good.

During our all-school Holy Eucharist service this morning, celebrated in thanksgiving for Cyril of Jerusalem, who in the 4th century stood up courageously for the orthodox faith in spite of people's lies and self-dealing, 800 students, faculty, and staff nearly raised the roof with their energy. That's the St. John's middle school choir under the direction of Lori Speciale, rehearsing my favorite hymn ("Come Down, O Love Divine") before the service.

By 10:30, the students were back in class and the altar cleared, enabling silence to gather again. Our church is less than six years old. While that's a lot of praying, proclaiming, and singing so far, the space still feels new. During the week on this busy campus, when morning chapels are over, it calls out to be visited and used. The candles and prie-diex, recently installed in the Chrysostom Chapel by our Altar Guild, are a considerable blessing. It's easier being in an empty church when there's something to do -- light a candle, kneel, say a prayer, or read a little scripture, such as this bit from Isaiah, appointed by the church for use at midday, when the sun is high and unblinking, the tensions of the day perhaps at their greatest:
O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength. [26:3; 30:15]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nearing --30-- For The Industry

Will the Kindle save newspapers before newspapers die?

CA Conservatives Cooling Off? Not Likely

From a 50-state "Salon" assessment of the state of the GOP, the California entry:
PRESIDENTIAL VOTE 2000: Gore 53-42 2008: Obama 61-37
U.S. SENATE 2005: 2D 2009: 2D
U.S. HOUSE 2005: 33D-20 2009: 34D-19
STATE HOUSE 2005: 48D-32 2009: 51D-29
STATE SENATE 2005: 25D-15 2009: 26D-14

In the state that has always the nation's leading indicator of social trends, recent Democratic dominance has been based on the same coalition of urban liberals, suburban social moderates, and minorities that elected Barack Obama last fall. After a few wipeouts, the GOP learned how to survive in that environment and nominated Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose politics would make him a Democrat in most non-coastal states. With the voting population getting less white by the day, there's probably no turning back for California Republicans, though conservatives keep trying. The decision by six GOP lawmakers to side with the Democratic majority in the state Legislature and pass a state budget containing tax increases brought demands for censure from the party's conservative base. State chairman Ron Nehring urged conservatives to cool off and concentrate on growing the party instead. In 2010, when Arnold is termed out, expect eBay exec Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner -- both suburban, business-oriented, moderate millionaires -- to fight for the Republican gubernatorial nod.

Memorable quote: "We have to get out of the doldrums from the November election. We need to rally people." -- State GOP vice chairman Tom Del Beccaro

River Songs: "The River" (1981)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (R.I.P., Danny Federici)

Green Snake Moan

The straight skinny on St. Patrick.

Modern Monks

Ever wondered what it takes to be a monk in this day and age? Here's what, thanks to the Rev. Adam McCoy of the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross:
What sort of men became Holy Cross Benedictines? Well, there are the obvious qualifications: male, between 25 and 50 more or less, in good physical and psychological health, free of family and other relational obligations, out of debt, a practicing Anglican or in communion with us, finished with your education to your satisfaction (i.e., if you want to go to seminary and get ordained, it would be better to do that first!). Those are the objective qualifiers. The subjective ones are more nebulous. The three most important are: wanting to be united with God through Jesus Christ; wanting to be a monk in some realistic way (do you love prayer, silence, the Scriptures, praying the Daily Office, good honest and sometimes hard work, obeying someone else when you don't especially want to, etc?); and able to live constructively in community with others, which has a LOT of subheadings.

Fallbrook Fallback

Following up its decisions requiring that congregations which have left the Episcopal Church return their properties to the Diocese of Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court issues a similar ruling about a church in San Diego county:
The...Court has refused to hear an appeal of an earlier court ruling that St. John's Church in Fallbrook could not disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of San Diego and continue to control church property.

Happy Songs: "Better Things" (1981)

The Kinks

Ought To Have Done Vs. Ought Not To Have Done

Though he praises Frank Langella's subtle, powerful portrayal, Carl Bernstein doesn't like "Frost/Nixon" because it makes Richard Nixon look too good.

That, at least, was journalist and Nixon biographer Elizabeth Drew's assessment, which Bernstein embraced during a restaurant chat with buddies. Drew actually called director Ron Howard "dishonorable." Specifically, Bernstein wishes filmmakers had included RN's denial of an illegal coverup of the Watergate burglary.

If that's a sin (and we may discuss it if you wish), then it's a sin of omission. Neither Bernstein nor anyone else (besides The New Nixon's Robert Nedelkoff and us other true believers) acts offended about another transgression, namely the film's contention that RN's famous "it's not illegal" comment was made about Watergate rather than a controversial plan for cracking down on dissenters during wartime. The demerits of the never-implemented Huston Plan notwithstanding, Howard and playwright-screenwriter Peter Morgan may have worried that, in the age of terrorism, some moviegoers would nod their heads at a President saying that extra steps to combat violent groups such as the Weather Underground were justified.

So what's worse, Carl: Leaving something out, or rearranging the narrative to avoid burdening the audience with ambiguity?

Six Recessions and A Depression

It's a sunny afternoon at St. John's, and the 5th graders await a lesson on Abram and Sarai (When's the change to Abraham and Sarah? Anyone?... Anyone? That's right: In Genesis 17. It's on the test, kids!). As always, a few indecent people are behaving indecently, and yet the vast majority are doing the best they can. On the bread front, housing numbers are encouraging, the Dow's up nearly 2% (as of five minutes ago, at least), and Ben Bernanke is steady in the buggy. On the circuses front, the AIG scandal is better than "Dallas." And now TIME has this chart on job losses, which makes the Bush-Obama recession of '08-'09 look an awful lot like Carter-Reagan's of '80-'82. Still terrible for those who are suffering. But there's hope this week, suddenly, isn't there?, that isn't not like Hoover-FDR's. Hope that it seemed almost reckless to feel just two weeks ago.

There's just something about Lent.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Magnificent," That 'Surely'"

The March 16 "New Yorker" contains ten poems, collectively titled "Endpoint," by John Updike, Episcopalian, who died of lung cancer on Jan. 27. The last in the series (his last poem?) was written on Dec. 22:


Why go to Sunday school, though surlily,
and not believe a bit of what was taught?
The desert shepherds in their scratchy robes
undoubtedly existed, and Israel's defeats--
the Temple in its sacredness destroyed
By Babylon and Rome. Yet Jews kept faith
and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites,
from table to table as Christians mocked.

We mocked, but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely--magnificent, that "surely"--
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the days of my life, my life, forever.

For The Love Of Mike

Michael Jackson has just sold 860,000 tickets to 50 concerts in London.

Perfect Covers: "Baby Don't You Do It" (1964)

The Band performing at the Academy of Music, December 1971. Song by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

As When The World Was Young*

Aging boomers unite and arm photon torpedoes: The new trailer for the new Star Trek movie, which opens May 8 (*Name that old Star Trek movie!)

Gay Marriage: No Copouts Allowed

The body politic and the body of Christ are similarly conflicted about whether gay and lesbian people should be allowed to get married. Both bodies hope the other body will find a solution -- or, at least, lift the cross from their shoulders.

For years, moderate and undecided Protestants could say that since marriage was a civil contract, whether to permit gay marriage was entirely up to the state. All the church had to figure out was whether to permit its ministers to bless same-sex unions. The California Supreme Court deprived the church of its copout last year by legalizing gay marriage. As a result, with all ministers now having the legal authority to marry same-gender couples, the church's argument about blessings automatically became a much more contentious argument about marriage.

Fence-sitters breathed a secret sigh of relief when Prop. 8 passed in November, again making the to-marry-or-not question a civil rather than an ecclesiastical one. Michael A. Lindenberger now explores whether the same copout will work for government. In those states that permit civil unions for gays and lesbians, the government would go one step further and say nobody gets a civil marriage:
[G]ive gay and straight couples alike the same license, a certificate confirming them as a family, and call it a civil union — anything, really, other than marriage. For people who feel the word marriage is important, the next stop after the courthouse could be the church, where they could bless their union with all the religious ceremony they wanted. Religions would lose nothing of their role in sanctioning the kinds of unions that they find in keeping with their tenets. And for nonbelievers and those who find the word marriage less important, the civil-union license issued by the state would be all they needed to unlock the benefits reserved in most states and in federal law for married couples.
Not likely, of course, as Lindenberger notes himself. Heterosexual couples won't want to give up their right to civil marriages. Churches run into the same problem, even though the idea of separating the civil contract from the marriage blessing has significant historical warrant, at least for Protestants. During and after the Reformation, some churches told couples to take care of the legal contract at city hall (or on the church steps) and then come before the altar for a blessing. Churches that adopted this policy today would theoretically avoid the corrosive debate about marrying gay and lesbian people, since they'd only be performing blessings. After all, we bless Bibles, prayer books, and crucifixes, and bless animals on St. Francis Day. In practical terms, though, it doesn't work, for the same reason Lindenberger identifies: Heterosexuals wouldn't want to give up their big church marriages for the sake of solving a minority's problem.

So no copouts allowed. The great cultural debate of our time continues.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Hearts, Minds, And Soft Power

An Afghanistan-as-Vietnam warning from Michael Carmichael.

Tough Choices On Santa Cruz Island

What happens when one species threatens another? (Note: This isn't about humans!)

Yellow On Black: In The Santa Ana River Basin

Arizona Songs: "Americano!" (2004)

Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers (video montage by bmxflyingsquirrel)

Apartheid At Home

The worldwide Anglican Communion sent delegates to the 53rd meeting of UN's Commission on the Status of Women this month in Washington. Today's statement by our delegates reads in part:
The clear statement made at a plenary session by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon that 3 million girls are still undergoing female genital mutilation each year requires urgent further action by all concerned. Multiple presentations highlighted the association of this, other acts of violence against women and girls, and the spread of HIV. The lack of sexual and reproductive rights and education puts women and girls at increased risk of HIV and in some areas of the world married women are at highest risk. Innovative prevention measures are desperately needed. The vulnerability of women and girls in areas of armed conflict and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is an area of deep alarm. The delegates also recognize the challenges faced by migrant and indigenous women and girls; work is required throughout the world to support and empower them.

It is evident that gender stereotyping is a major hindrance in moving ahead and now needs to be addressed by clear action throughout the world. Work must be done with men and boys as well as women and girls to address harmful societal norms and practices. We ask churches across the Anglican Communion to examine how they can champion the equality of men and boys, and women and girls particularly with regard to caregiving.

When Plunging Stock Prices Are Good

Jonathan Chait:

[Jim] Cramer assailed Obama for "destroying the profits in health care companies (one of the few areas still robust in the economy)." The United States has the most expensive, least efficient health care sector in the advanced world. The flipside of that inefficiency is massive profits in the health care sector. Anything that reduces waste necessarily reduces that profit. Cramer naturally sees this as a disaster. But why should the rest of us care?

When They're Volunteers, You Don't Pay Them

President Obama and Congress are promoting volunteerism, and E. J. Dionne, Jr. thinks it's great. But to promote volunteerism, why do we need an additional federal spending bill?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bach's Gould Standard

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould recorded J. S. Bach's "Goldberg Variations" in the studio twice, in 1955, when he was 23, and 1981. Though the first is one of the most famous and highly regarded recordings in history, Gould decided it was too gimmicky and fast, hence the 1981 session (plus, he said, someone had gone and invented stereo and Dolby). It was Bach, not Chopin, he insisted. As an older man, he seemed better equipped for the cool restraint the music demands.

"Goldberg," named, perhaps, for its first performer, comprises a beginning and ending aria, or song, and 30 variations. A 2002 reissue of the 1955 record included a lengthy studio outtake, complete with banter between the eccentric Gould and his producer. I didn't pay much attention to the outtake cut until this week, when I found a couple of treasures. At one point, Gould, who always insisted on a special, low-slung chair while recording, says that he wanted to play one variation sitting on an upside-down wastebasket. Then, when the producer calls for a second take of the final variation, No. 30, Gould significantly digresses (I added the punctuation, since Gould spoke without it):
You know what this piece is, don't you, this Quodlibet? It's a combination of German popular songs of Bach's time.... That's why it's called Quodlibet. Apparently it was a fashion that the family sat around their living rooms trying to harmonize popular tunes together, within the same harmonic framework, you see. The two tunes in this are...I've forgotten the names of the songs in German, but they're both very dirty songs. [He plays the tunes.]

By the way, I have a Quodlibet of my own; it came to me in the bathtub the other night. One of these times, I'm going to be invited to give a concert on the Fourth of July, I'm sure, and when I do, I've figured out that by leaving out the repeats in the "Star Spangled Banner" and starting your entry at the 13th bar of "God Save the King," and then playing "God Save The King" over again, and altering the harmony in the second half of "The King" to modulate to the supertonic region, it has the most marvelous effect. Listen to this [Gould plays it.]...Unfortunately, we have parallel octaves at the end, but it works beautifully otherwise.
"That's terrific," says the patient producer. Gould then says he's ready to begin the second take of No. 30, but the producer says he has to change the tape. All that yakking about the supertonic. Wikipedia reveals that two of the popular songs Bach used for No. 30 were titled Ich bin solang nicht bei dir g'west, ruck her, ruck her ("I have so long been away from you, come closer, come closer") and Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben, hätt mein' Mutter Fleisch gekocht, wär ich länger blieben ("Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, had my mother cooked meat, I'd have opted to stay").

At iTunes you have to buy the whole 1955 reissue to get the outtakes. Here's Gould playing variation No. 6 in 1981. Listen for his humming, which he claimed was unconscious. He died in 1982 after suffering a stroke at age 50.

Riverbed Resurrection

Orange County's "Freeway Complex Fire" used the express lane as it roared from east to west last November through the kindling-dry bed of the Santa Ana River. Starting along a freeway in Corona, in Riverside county, the fire jumped the river as if it weren't there and raged through Yorba Linda and beyond, burning hot enough to make granite crumble. Fed by Dollar and and Dry lakes 70 miles away, high in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in San Bernardino county, the river doesn't have much to offer in the way of deterrent effect by the time it gets to Yorba Linda, thanks to the demands of thirsty local water agencies along the way. It's so hemmed in by concrete that most of us suburbanites don't quite notice there's a major river in the neighborhood.

And yet four month later, as nearly 200 families grapple with the consequences of losing their homes, the Santa Ana River basin is coming alive again. This afternoon, Kathy and I parked in a neighborhood along La Palma Avenue and walked east, in the opposite direction as the fire. Wildflowers, vines, and ferns embrace and envelop desiccated trees and cactus, sometimes rooting in the charred branches themselves. The basin is home to several acres of orange groves, one of the few places left in Orange County where you can smell orange blossoms in March. A few of the trees were destroyed, but not many. Either the fire maneuvered around them, or firefighters maneuvered the fire.

With all the winter rain and snow in the mountains this year, the river was running strong, a lure for five teenagers we saw carrying a canoe across the railroad tracks that run along the north side of the riverbed. Kathy said that she wondered how the kids' parents felt about them crossing the busy tracks. I wondered what they thought about the kids riding in a canoe in the Santa Ana River.

We were soon distracted by child's play of our own. The trains run past the Green River golf course, where the big hitters on the northernmost holes litter the tracks with Titleist, Top Flight, Maxfli, Nike, and Callaway balls, plus one with the logo of ULCA women's softball. We collected 15 in all. We don't play golf, and we didn't have any way to carry them back, but how do you find 15 golf balls and not keep them? Finally, because we're sober, middle-aged people, we left them behind, except, of course, two -- one shimmering white Nike and the UCLA ball. We carried them back through the mud and wildflowers and burnt trees, amazed by nature's regenerative, Resurrection power.

Big Ben

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, son of a pharmacist and teacher from Dillon, South Carolina, was a superstar tonight on "60 Minutes," calm, down to earth, reassuring, and quietly inspiring. This is what I've been waiting for the President to say:
I'd just like to say to the American people is that I have every confidence that this economy will recover, and recover in a strong and sustained way. The American people are among the most productive in the world. We have the best technologies. We have great universities. We have entrepreneurs. I just have every confidence that as we get through this crisis, that our economy will begin to grow again, and it will remain the most powerful and dynamic economy in the world.
Scott Simon said he'd been trying to bag Bernanke for a year. No Fed chairman had ever done a TV interview before. I wonder if the second most powerful economic actor in the U.S. broke precedent and spoke up because he felt, until last week, No. 1 had been talking the economy down.