Saturday, March 28, 2009

Credal Songs: "I Believe" (1986)


Kids Today And Their Computers, I Don't Know

Computer sleuths in Toronto find that a massive spying ring based in China has been stealing secrets from foreign ministries, embassies, and the Dalai Lama. They're not prepared to say, however, that it's a Chinese government operation. How prudent of them.

Knock-Knock. Who's There? Gnatcatcher. Gnatcatcher Who? Gnat Let Me Catch You Hanging Out With Cowbirds!

Margot Griswold spends many of her days pricking up her ears for the grateful song of the California gnatcatcher. Pairs of the four-inch-long bird, listed as an endangered species, were displaced, it is thought, by the construction of State Route 241 in Orange County, California, hereinafter known as the toll road, my daily drive between home and St. John's Episcopal Church. Dr. Griswold's sun-drenched 200-acre laboratory is called a mitigation and restoration area. Half used to be a citrus orchard, while the rest is coastal sage scrub, the birds' natural habitat. As a plant ecologist under contract since 1998 to the public agency responsible for the toll road, Dr. Griswold and her team have been transforming the whole area into a sage scrub wonderland for contented gnatcatchers.

This morning she took about 25 people (most of us being toll road users who usually whiz by sipping coffee and listening to the radio) on a three-mile walk up and down the site's gently rolling hills. In the wake of 2007's devastating Santiago Fire, it's also a burn recovery area. The gracious scientist never would've said that she welcomed the fire. But without people around, the area would burn every 50 or 100 years anyway thanks to lightning and other natural causes, and she's been intrigued to see how nature's and her own restorative efforts interact.

Her main tool is what she calls a deep seed mix -- "lots of species, interacting with one another, everyone beneficial to everyone else," she said. "You want the plants to grow together, like a net -- a physical net, not a philosophical net." She smiled and added, "Some people say it's a fantasy net. Some people say seeds are unreliable. Don't tell the plants! They've been doing it a long time. The pace of natural processes are lost on some of us. It takes time to grow, just like it takes time for some of us to grow up."

Creating a self-sustaining habitat is different from planting a garden, she said; "if you plant a garden and walk away, after a while, it's gone." Even as she conducted our tour, she had a eagle eye for species that were the most conducive to happy gnatcatchers. Springtime's yellow flowers all looked great to Kathy and me, but the mustard weed was unhelpful, especially if it grows too tall, while the daisy-like encelia was good. Fire-following white morning glories were everywhere, but Margot had an eye for the somewhat more elaborate white blossoms of the Catalina mariposa lily. Delighted, she pointed to a cholla cactus that had survived the fire by growing in a grassy field instead of in scrub. Her brow darkened as she wrenched a weed called Devil's claw from our path. She said she and her team would be back for its cousins.

Theological language came up once more, and somewhat more disturbingly. We walked past three enclosures designed to trap parasitic cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the gnatcatchers' and meadowlarks' nests. "It's like dumping your kids and taking off," Margot said. The songbirds end up looking after the larger cowbird eggs instead of their own.

This aspect of the massive and no doubt worthy effort to save gnatcatchers is a little bloodcurdling. The cowbirds are lured into the traps by so-called Judas birds. During our tour, two young men drove by in a white pickup truck. Their job: Release "non-target birds" such as swallows from the trap and then remove the cowbirds. When someone asked Margot what happens to them, she looked uncomfortable and drew her finger across her throat. She stressed that her portfolio is related to parasitic plants, not parasitic birds. Nonetheless thousands of cowbirds are giving their lives each year for the sake of the gentle gnatcatcher. Mitigation and restoration ain't for sissies.

Can We Get That On GPS?

Michael Barone's map of roadblocks being erected to slow the President's bandwagon.

Texas Songs: "Pancho And Lefty" (1972)

Townes Van Zandt. Read Frank Gannon's commentary here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Movie Songs: "Summerlong" (2005)

Kathleen Edwards

While the song was used in the underrated 2005 film "Elizabethtown," written and directed by Cameron Crowe, this video was edited by isamichelle89. Much of the action is set in the Brown Hotel in Louisville, where Kathy and I attended the reception following the 2001 wedding of The New Nixon's Robert Nedelkoff to his beloved Rene. Member of a notable Louisville-area family, Robert is the spitting image of Jed Reese, who plays Chuck Hasbro, whose wedding party, like the Nedelkoffs' in real life, is staying in the Brown Hotel.

One Toke Over The Bottom Line

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) hints that he's for legalizing marijuana -- so government can make money off of it, of course.

What Is The Educated Layperson To Think?

Arianna Huffington, March 25, headline:
Larry Summers: Brilliant Mind, Toxic Ideas
Noam Scheiber, April 1, "New Republic" cover:
Springtime For Summers? Why The White House Needs To Unleash Him

Give It Up, Pinch

Even "Huffington Post" didn't like the smell of the New York Times hit piece on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), speculating that the paper attacked her for representing the tobacco industry as a young attorney because it's still mad that Caroline Kennedy didn't get the Senate seat.

Wall Street Yes, Duane-Reade No

Jack Dreyfus's death today, at the age of 95, closes a noble chapter in Wall Street history which has an odd pharmacological footnote. The legendary founder of the Dreyfus mutual funds, who helped pave the way for a revolutionary increase in the rate of individual investing and gave millions a new stake in the stock market (for better and, of course, worse), was also an obsessive promoter of Dilantin, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat epilepsy but which Dreyfus credited with helping with his depression and also promoted for treatment of a variety of other ailments.

Experts disagreed, but Dreyfus persevered. Many years ago, President Nixon's elder daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, and I visited him in New York City. He spent the whole time talking about Dilantin and said that if the Nixon Library would help him with his crusade, he would help the Library. Since lobbying the FDA was within neither our abilities nor our portfolio, his contribution remained unconsummated.

He had already been a generous friend of the late President over the years. When RN was running in 1968, besides being a contributor, Dreyfus sent over plenty of Dilantin to help him bear the burdens of the campaign. Mr. Nixon was always careful about doctors' orders and completely disinclined to self-medicate, so there is almost no doubt the stuff ended up in the plumbing system of the Nixons' Fifth Avenue apartment. But when British scandal merchant Anthony Summers tracked Dreyfus down while researching, if you can call it that, his 2000 book Arrogance of Power, Dreyfus of course said that Mr. Nixon had gobbled down every pill.

Though Summers must've seen the same manic glint in the great man's eye that Tricia and I had, the story made it into the book with no further checking. Then the usually more careful New York Times made matters worse. In exchange for getting first dibs on an advance copy of the Summers book, the Times's Adam Clymer rushed out an article that gave widespread credence to Dreyfus's and other otherwise unsubstantiated and appallingly false claims. A week later, the Times thought enough of contrary assertions by President Nixon's White House body man, Steve Bull, who saw Mr. Nixon almost every day of his Presidency, and me that it ran a followup story:

Mr. Bull, who is now director of government relations for the United States Olympic Committee, said: ''I never saw any evidence that he used any medication of that kind. Never.''...

Mr. Taylor produced a summary of White House records from April 1969 through mid-1973 recalling numerous attempts by Mr. Dreyfus to gain government backing for Dilantin through Mr. Nixon. The records state that Mr. Nixon met with Mr. Dreyfus now and then socially, but they portray the president as reluctant to get into lengthy discussions about Dilantin.

Mr. Taylor said that Mr. Nixon might have accepted Dilantin from Mr. Dreyfus so as not to hurt his feelings, but that if he did he threw it out rather than taking it.

Which is exactly what we in the former President's offices in New York and New Jersey did when Dreyfus sent us our own batches. Today, Dreyfus's Times obit repeats his statement that he gave pills to RN in 1968 and also discloses:
From 1990 to 1997, he also sought the help of Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma to promote the use of the drug to control violent tendencies in inmates. Governor Keating wrote every governor in the country, as well as President Bill Clinton, to recommend experimenting with Dilantin on inmates. Over the course of a decade, Governor Keating and his family also received $250,000 in gifts from Mr. Dreyfus, which they returned after the gifts came to public attention.
The lion of Wall Street now prowls heaven's Serengeti, safely beyond the reach of both Dilantin and derivatives. May light perpetual shine upon him.

Monetary Policy? I Just Changed Clocks To DST

"The Economist" says the Chinese plan for the world's reserve currency to be not the dollar but a synthetic currency called "Special Drawing Rights" probably won't be adopted immediately. Good thing, because it's going to take me a while to figure out what articles like this actually mean:

[The Chinese] plan could win support from other emerging economies with large reserves. However, it is unlikely to get off the ground in the near future. It would take years for the SDR to be widely accepted as a means of exchange and a store of value. The total amount of SDRs outstanding is equivalent to only $32 billion, or less than 2% of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, compared with $11 trillion of American Treasury bonds.

"Episconixonian" Hits The Big Time

Thanks to my bud Deb Zingales, whose daughter is somewhere in this scrum, one of my photos from the March 7 mesothelioma fundraiser at St. John's Episcopal School in honor of Ken Bendix made it into the on-line edition of the Orange County Register. Reporter John Crandall writes that the event raised nearly $3,200 to battle the disease. Crandall also relayed this wise teaching from the honoree:

"Remember to follow your dreams and don't be afraid to tell those around you how much you love them," Bendix said.

"I Am For Overreaching And Overreaching"

Leon Wieseltier sounds worried about Obama's foreign policy realism and just a little nostalgic for W.

Targeting Moderate Democrats

As the House budget committee passes the Obama budget on a party line vote, Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach) yearns for a new spirit of bipartisanship:

Hopefully, the Senate will kill this thing. Republicans are united in opposition and joined by some like-minded Democrats. But those Democrats are being threatened. According to a report from the Capitol Hill publication, Congressional Quarterly, The Campaign for America's Future is "launching television and radio ads targeting Democrats that the group says are 'standing in the way of President Obama's reforms.’" I hope that together we can block the door. Now, there's a bipartisan effort.

The U.S. And Iran: Will They Or Won't They?

Sue Pleming at Reuters, writing about President Obama's Iranian initiative:

"This is not a Nixon goes to China moment," said Iran expert Joe Cirincione, referring to former President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972 which broke two decades of silence between the two nations.

"You will have a series of incremental steps -- small pieces that put together the mosaic of a new relationship," added Cirincione, who heads the Ploughshares Fund, a grant-making foundation focused on nuclear issues.

Actually, President Nixon's China initiative was a series of small steps. It's just that they were largely undertaken in secret. Even public gestures, such as Beijing's invitation to U.S. table tennis players in 1971, while noted by the media as evidence of warming relations, never exposed the careful preparatory work being done by Henry Kissinger at the behest of President Nixon before he stunned the world in July 1971 by announcing that he would visit Beijing. As Margaret Macmillan recounts so carefully and the statesmen's memoirs also disclose, the U.S. wanted to know exactly what China would demand on Taiwan and other issues before the President's visit was announced. Great care was even taken over how China's invitation and the two governments' announcements would be worded, since neither side wanted to look too eager. The worst thing for the U.S. strategically, and for RN politically, would've been for the Chinese to rebuff or ridicule his suit.

It's impossible to know, of course, what secret contacts or understandings may exist between the White House and the Iranians. It's hard to imagine that these don't exist, if only because it would be reckless to launch a public initiative without having some confidence about how it would be received. Iran's unconstructive comments in response to Obama's message could just be posturing. "You realize that for the sake of our domestic constituencies we'll have to call you Great Satans a while longer," the Iranian UN ambassador (for instance) would've said to Obama's envoy over orange juice.

What could have prevented Obama from attempting a private dialog, no matter how much the Nixon-China analogy would seem to have recommended it, was the countervailing example of the Reagan administration's much-ridiculed attempts to reach out to so-called Iranian moderates. Either way, for now Obama is hanging fire. Here's hoping the suspense will be overtaken by the surprise announcement of a visit set against the backdrop of an agreed upon framework of principles that embraces our and our allies' fundamental security interests.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

You're President! Have A Beer!

From a New York Times article about the ubiquitousness of the Obamas around Washington

Hibernating Bear

Interviewed by "Christian Century," Walter Russell Mead reminds idealistic U.S. policy makers that some nations are better equipped for political modernization than others -- and he's not talking about Iraq:
[O]ne can't be deterministic about who is and who isn't able to change. Look at Russia: In some ways it is still struggling with the basic issues about liberal democratic capitalism that it was struggling with 100 years ago, before the Soviet takeover.

Don't Make Him Mad, Mullahs

Leslie Gelb believes that President Obama's Iranian initiative is likely to succeed, opening the way for productive negotiations over its nuclear program. And yet if Obama is rebuffed, Gelb worries that he might gravitate too far in the other direction:
Obama's moment of truth will come if Iran doesn't, ultimately, want to play.... Will he exaggerate Iran's power, as the Israelis and neoconservatives routinely do, turning a relatively modest regional player into an existential threat — mad mullahs ready to blow up the world? Will he allow Republicans to force him into a tough-guy pose for domestic consumption? Will he suffer the delusion that U.S., or Israeli, power can "take out" the Iranian nuclear program without disastrous retribution?

Plus The President Smokes: Film At 11

As a young lawyer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was assigned to represent Phillip Morris. While it's not actually a scandal, a New York Times expose goes on and on and on. It suggests that the Times hasn't gotten over Gillibrand being named to Hillary Clinton's seat instead of Caroline Kennedy.

Helps Explain Congress, Too

According to experts, toddlers aren't as smart as they look:
Three-year-olds neither plan for the future nor live completely in the present. Instead, they call up the past as they need it.

"For example, let's say it's cold outside and you tell your 3-year-old to go get his jacket out of his bedroom and get ready to go outside," [doctoral student Christopher] Chatham explained. "You might expect the child to plan for the future, think 'OK it's cold outside so the jacket will keep me warm.' But what we suggest is that this isn't what goes on in a 3-year-old's brain. Rather, they run outside, discover that it is cold, and then retrieve the memory of where their jacket is, and then they go get it."

Retro Songs: "They Don't Know" (1983)

Tracey Ullman (watch for Sir Paul McCartney)

What U.S. And Iran Need From Each Other

Le Monde takes the Obama-as-Nixon analogy from the strategic to the tactical as it considers the olive branch the President has extended to Iran:
At the end of the trip [to China in 1972], Nixon jotted down on a piece of paper the priorities needing to be addressed: 1. Taiwan-the most crucial (in reference to Chinese demands of a reduced American military presence in the region). 2. Vietnam-The most urgent.

Today is certainly a different time, but one could imagine President Obama rewriting the note as follows: 1. Security guarantees-the most crucial (for the Iranian regime, who want assurances that Washington will stop desiring their downfall). 2. Iraq, Afghanistan-the most urgent (American will in finding a solution to these two military adventures).

2003... when the seeds of economic disaster were planted, according to one view.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chicago Songs: "Stratford-On-Guy" (1993)

Liz Phair (who also directed the video)

If You Cover It, They Will Read

Garrison Keillor on what he likes to read in the newspaper:
I look at the papers more often now and find more that I want to read. In the old flush days, the paper seemed to go more for high-minded term papers about positive things happening in our community, but what I want to read is a clear account of what the police say happened when that man allegedly assaulted the woman walking down the avenue four blocks from my house. It doesn't take a team of eight journalists to come up with that. I also want the paper to send reporters to the meetings of legislative committees and the city council. I don't read political blogs and broadsides and the withering crossfire of partisans. Not interesting. Government is interesting. The difficult choices facing President Obama these days, some of which seem to point away from the positions he took as a candidate: all interesting. But it takes dedicated talented journalists to make it so, and if you put out a newspaper that they write, people will buy it.

Arthur The Lover

My wife, Kathy, President Nixon's last chief of staff, has all the Arthur Richman stories. The former baseball columnist and legendary Mets and Yankees executive -- the genius who suggested to George Steinbrenner that he hire Joe Torre as manager -- died today in his sleep at the age of 83.

That's Arthur with Kathy at Angels Stadium a few years ago during one of his periodic trips west with the Yankees. He'd always say, "Honey, do you need any money?" She may (or may not) have been surprised to learn today that it wasn't just she. Jack Curry writes in the New York Times:
A few years ago, after Richman once again asked me if I needed any money, I decided to teasingly test him. I asked him what he would do if I took him up on his offer and said that I needed a few bucks.
“I’d ask you how much you wanted and I’d give it to you,” Richman said. “How much do you need?”
Kathy never took his money, either. But once she took me to dinner with Mr. Richman at Mr. Stox in Anaheim. It's a big guy place -- Sansabelt slacks, loafers, blue blazers, martinis, back-slapping, loud stories, big hugs. Tim Mead, longtime Angels VP for communications, was there, along with some of his colleagues from the team. Arthur held court and picked up the major league tab. He talked respectfully about Steinbrenner and told us about going on the road with troubled Yankee right fielder Darryl Strawberry to help him stay focused on his play. He passed his World Series ring around the table. When we left, he told Kathy he loved her.

Evening Shades

Wednesday evening in the East Lake neighborhood of Yorba Linda, California

Noah's Lark

That's state-of-the-art marketing guru and St. John's Episcopal School trustee Noah McMahon (right), who cut his teeth at the Nixon Library, riding the merry-go-round at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California.

Perhaps you're wondering why.

See, you never know what Noah will get up to -- such as, for instance, floating around at 30,000 feet with legendary astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in Zero Gravity Corp.'s specially rigged 727. This time, Noah and Wing Lam, owner of Wahoo's Fish Taco, were assisting their fellow supporters of the Orange County Register's "Season of Caring Presents the Possible Dream," a collaboration between our hometown paper and world-famous shopping center (all presided over by the energetic Sandra Segerstrom Daniels) to raise $270,000 for ten local children's charities. I'm proud to be one of the judges as well as a board member of Register Charities.

After a campaign over the holidays had raised 70% of our goal, Noah and his colleagues had the bright idea of putting 17 county leaders on SCP's famed carousel with their cell phones and riding (and riding, and riding) until each had raised $4,000 from friends, colleagues, and anyone else who felt sorry for them.

At a ceremony this afternoon at the Santa Ana offices of my valiant friends at the Register (who are battling to save democracy by saving the newspaper business), I forgot to ask Noah what was worse: Floating upside down for 30 seconds in Zero Gravity's vomit comet, or spending two and a half hours on a giant bunny rabbit while trying to dial numbers on BlackBerry keys the size of Chicklettes.

Either way, Noah and Co., you brought big dreams to life for some of those hit hardest by the economy -- even if you were just going around in circles.

"Lent Is Excised"

Charles Moore, editor of the British "Spectator," is one Anglican who pays attention to the words of the hymns in church, recognizing that they are expressions of prayer and praise to God:

At the beginning of Lent, the hymn ‘Forty days and forty nights’ is sung. Singing it this Sunday, I noticed that the words were different. In the original, the third and fourth stanzas go:

‘Shall not we thy sorrows share/ And from earthly joys abstain,/ Fasting with unceasing prayer/ Glad with thee to suffer pain?

And if Satan, vexing sore, / Flesh or spirit should assail,/ Thou his vanquisher before,/ Grant we may not faint nor fail.’

The Celebration Hymnal in front of me said:

‘Let us thy endurance share/ And from earthly greed abstain/ With thee watching unto prayer,/With thee strong to suffer pain.

Then if evil on us press/ Flesh or spirit to assail,/Victor in the wilderness,/ Help us not to swerve or fail!’

The changes are an almost perfect example of bowdlerising. Necessary antitheses vanish — ‘Sorrows’ are the opposite of ‘joys’ but ‘endurance’ is not the opposite of ‘greed’ . You are ‘glad’ to suffer pain because that is the opposite of what is normally expected: being ‘strong’ to suffer pain is what one would generally hope to be. ‘Flesh’, being weak, ‘faints’: why would it ‘swerve’? Fasting is removed, as are Satan and the temptation he offers. In short, Lent is excised.

For Young, Daily News Eclipsed By Daily Show

David at Freedom Writing is afraid that we're actually forgetting what news is:
I grew up in the 1970s, when it took a couple of years for enough irrefutable evidence to accumulate to lead to the resignation of Richard Nixon. The lesson of that experience was not lost on me.

But I was dismayed, some 20 years later, when I found myself in a classroom instructing aspiring journalists, many of whom expected news stories to be resolved immediately — and exhibited a certain impatience when they were not.

And that was before the influence of the internet and the more pervasive presence of cable and satellite TV — both of which have fed the fallacious impression that others can do the job of gathering the news better than trained journalists.

Today, the Huffington Post is reporting that a Rasmussen survey indicates that about one-third of Americans under the age of 40 believe that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are replacing traditional news outlets.

These men are intelligent and articulate. They may even have some insights into news events. But they are not — I repeat, not — trained news gatherers.

One Thing AIG Got Right

Perhaps members of Congress would work for $1 a year, with bonuses awarded for good performance. From BBC News:
[Jake] DeSantis, who worked in the insurer's financial products division, said after 11 years of service to AIG, he could "no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so".

"We in the financial products division unit have been betrayed by AIG and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials," he added.

Mr DeSantis had agreed to an annual salary of $1 (£0.68; 0.74 euros), but said he had been "promised many times we would be rewarded in March 2009", referring to a bonus.

"I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down," he explained.

He said he would donate his entire bonus to those suffering in the global economic downturn. "My intent is to keep none of the money myself," he said.

Stop And Listen, Fox And MSNBC

Walter Shapiro:
In the most provocative sound bite of the evening, Obama responded to a question about why was he slow to voice outrage over the AIG bonuses by snapping, "Well, it took a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." Of course, if cable television news and talk radio followed the Obama Doctrine, there would be long intervals of gape-jawed silence during the broadcast day.
Amen and (forgive me, fellow Lenten walkers) alleluia.

Obama's Poetry And Prose

I agree with Robert Schlesinger that Obama critics' fixation with his use of a TelePrompTer well get them nowhere. The President has two modes of discourse about public policy, each a boon. He can raise the rafters with set pieces written by Jon Favreau and his other speechwriters. Without a text, as during last night's Q&A with reporters, he's slow, sometimes halting, but never inarticulate. He reveals the wonk within by weighing each word, sweating the nuances, and leaving an impression of carefulness and discernment in frantic times. President Nixon might have said that Obama combines poetry and prose in the same package. What's missing is the obsessive importuning of his all-too-articulate Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. Obama doesn't seem to care so much if you like him, but he does want you to pay attention.

It's obvious most Americans still find it impressive. While critics read their denunciations of his TelePrompTer dependence off theirs, he gets high marks for coolness and steadiness. Republicans won't win by attacking his competence and temperament. Instead, they'd better try to remember how to win an argument about ideas and policies.

Joy In The Commonplace

"Young Women In The Garden" by Pierre Bonnard, on display in a special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

From Mourning To Community

As he mourns his 83-year-old father, who died last week in Jerusalem, Michael Medved provides a useful, moving primer on Jewish burial traditions:
[R]ather than asking specific mercy on the departed, or comfort for the bereaved, we respond to death by acknowledging God’s power, majesty and control of every aspect of our lives. To honor the memory of a loved one, mourners recite this declaration in morning, afternoon and evening prayers every day for the eleven months following burial. The challenge is that a prayer quorum (minyan) of ten adult Jewish males is required to say the kaddish, which means that in honoring a loved one who has died you must depend on, or return to, a religious community. In that way, the eleven months as a mourner has served for many disaffiliated or indifferent individuals as a path back to commitment or continuity.

Wondering What The Next Page Will Bring

A thoughtful reflection on the dying newspaper industry.

Out Of The Bretton Woods

The global monetary system is pegged to the dollar. Is China's call for an alternative approach actually the biggest economic story in the world right now? We'd better get educated about this stuff!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Turn Up Your Radio *

As newspapers die, NPR thrives. "Morning Edition" even has more listeners than "Good Morning America."

* name that song

Nyet Reset

Anne Applebaum writes that the tensions in U.S.-Russian relations aren't the fault of George W. Bush:

It would be nice, of course, if U.S.-Russia relations really had been frozen as a result of irrelevant technical complications and could begin afresh. Unfortunately, while America may have a new president, Russia does not. And while America may want to make the past vanish -- as a nation, we've never been all that keen on foreigners' histories -- alas, the past cannot be changed. The profound differences in psychology, philosophy and policy that have been the central source of friction between the American and Russian governments for the past decade remain very much in place. Sooner or later, the Obama administration will have to grapple with them.

No Federalist Papers

Michael C. Moynihan says government ownership isn't the answer for the faltering newspaper business. Government-dependent reporters would do an even worse job holding government accountable. Besides, a bailout would make it easier for newspapers to avoid fixing the fundamental problems with their financial model.

Taking "God Is My Copilot" A Bit Too Far

A time to fly, a time to pray:
An Italian court has jailed a Tunisian pilot who paused to pray instead of taking emergency measures before ditching his plane, killing 16 people.

Turning Green In The Red

Bad times can be good for the environment.

Glad He Was Mad

In The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester tells the story of W. C. Minor (left), a military physician who seems to have been severely traumatized by the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War and was sent to an English mental institution after killing a man in London after the war -- only to become a principal contributor to the mammoth Oxford English Dictionary. James Murray, its editor, built a network of volunteer readers by distributing fliers via booksellers. One of these found its way to Dr. Minor, who became a vital cog in Murray's apparatus long before the editor realized that his most brilliant and dependable volunteer was confined to the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

Winchester speculates that Minor suffered from schizophrenia, which, today, would be substantially relieved by drugs and other therapies. Since like many troubled geniuses, Minor was obsessive about his creative work, we're left to wonder about the extent to which the advance of civilization -- not just the creation of great dictionaries -- depends on untreated or rampant pathologies:
One must feel a sense of strange gratitude, then, that [Minor's] treatment was never good enough to divert him from his work. The agonies that he must have suffered in those terrible asylum nights have granted us all a benefit for all time. He was mad, and for that, we have reason to be glad. A truly savage irony, on which it is discomfiting to dwell.

Distinguished Trio

Timothy Dalton, Holly Hunter, and Alan Rickman at Natasha Richardson's funeral

Elect First, Think Later

Speaking at Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson discusses being lectured by the Archbishop of Canterbury about preparatory steps the Episcopal Church should've taken to prepare the church and the world for the election of an openly gay bishop. Bishop Gene demurred:
I said, "You know, in 1974 the 11 women who were irregularly ordained in Philadelphia, they weren't following the rules, they were breaking the rules. But it turned out to be the right thing, and two years later we began regularly ordaining women in this church." And I said, "Had they not done that, how long do you think it would have taken this church to get around to it? Would we still have an all-male priesthood?" It seems to me that, by God's grace, we sometimes do the right thing and then think our way to it.

Not Sola Scriptura?

Damon Linker wonders why some faithful social conservatives have an "obsession" with homosexuality. Is it only because they respect the authority of scripture and the church?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Department Of The Glaringly Obvious

The AP:
Uncertainty about revenue and the form in which news and information will be delivered present key challenges for 21st century news media, according to a panel of industry leaders.

Plus There's Ample Free Parking

The morning line from the "Boston Globe" on the churches in the running to be the Obama family's spiritual home. So far, no Episcopal parishes. I'd vote for St. Mary's in Foggy Bottom, a small, recently restored church with a rich history and an amazing music program, not to mention proximity to the White House.

"Patience": Sermon for IV Lent

Historian John Summers, a visiting scholar at Boston College, was surprised when he went home to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over Christmas, took a walk with his wife, and saw that the trees lining his beloved Seminary Ridge had been chopped down. Those in charge of the battlefield decided they wanted it to look as it did at the time of the battle, even though the trees, shrubs, flowers, and grass that have grown there since July 1863 were watered with the sacred blood of the dead and wounded. Summers' reflections reminded me of my wife's and my walk through the Santa Ana River basin last weekend and our witnessing of God's astonishing regenerative power in the wake of November's devastating fire.

And yet how impatient we can be for restoration on our timetables instead of God's -- just like Moses' people, wandering in the wilderness and wondering what God and his prophet had done for them lately. Sometimes we may even wonder whether we can trust Jesus's promise in John 3:16 to destroy death's power over us. We're impatient because we want to win, we're afraid principles we hold dear aren't being respected, or we don't want those we love to suffer. In a way, we're all little Gettysburgs, displaying the scars of battle as well as evidence of God's restorative grace. As St. Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus, "We are what God has made of us." For my Sunday sermon, go here.

LA Songs: "LA Freeway" (1972)

Guy Clark (incomplete performance)

I Guess The Era Of Bipartisanship Is Over

The left's fretting about Democratic congressional moderates talking to Republicans. Oh-oh!

Cool Hand Barack

The "Economist" doesn't like Barack Obama's handling of the AIG scandal, urging him to be a calming, teaching President. And yet the magazine leaves out his calm, teaching criticism, during his "60 Minutes" appearance Sunday, of the House's hysterical and possibly unconstitutional bonus-confiscation measure.

RN always wanted to be the coolest person in the room. These days, Obama appears to be the coolest in the country.

Obama's Gift Of Detachment

Does the left fear being marginalized again? Was the stimulus bill the high water mark of what some hoped would be a new progressive era? Is there some concern among left-leaning think tanks and politicians that a too-early recovery wouldn't be in their long-term interests?

This morning, pundits worry that the Treasury Department's financial stabilization plan doesn't go far enough toward nationalization of major banks, but foreign and U.S. markets seem reasonably impressed. Meanwhile, though the news comes with a lot of "yes, buts," sales of existing houses were up over five percent in February, the biggest one-month spike since July 2003.

The New York Times (perhaps angling for nationalization itself) has become a bastion of skepticism about the Obama administration. In articles Saturday and again today, its writers seemed to be pining for a class war in the wake of the AIG bonuses, although, as John Harwood admits in the second article,
How long economic anger will persist remains unclear. “So far we don’t have the big political movement that helped stir up class issues in the 1930s,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at Columbia...
On Saturday, reporter Jeff Zeleny had written something oddly similar:
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...
It remains unclear whether "it's unclear" means "we hope so" at the New York Times. But the round of criticism Obama received in Sunday's paper adds to the impression that he is paying the price for his gifts of carefulness and discernment. Critics imply that he's out of his depth. It looks more like he's watching and waiting to see what the economy does and whether the business cycle and stimulus appear to be working. If he doesn't have to resort to more super-federal solutions, all the better. Just as I was never especially impressed that the Europeans loved him last year, I'm pleased to read today that pro-corporate government European finance ministers are skeptical of his bank plan.

Republicans should skeptical be as well. Actually, "worried" would be a better word. A center-leaning Obama riding the wave of a third- or fourth-quarter recovery would doom GOP chances for a strong comeback in the 2010 midterm elections. So I wasn't surprised to see Republican strategist Ed Rollins front and center in John Harwood's article this morning about populist outrage:
“I’ve not seen anything like this,” said a Republican consultant, Ed Rollins, who was a strategist for presidential bids by Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot and Mike Huckabee. “They think it’s all occurring because of greedy bastards on Wall Street and inept government officials.”
If Rollins and the left are saying the same thing, something's afoot. Republicans of course don't want a failed recovery, but they probably need one to gain back much ground next year. Left-liberals of course want the economy to improve for the good of all, but they'd prefer that major structural reforms of U.S. capitalism occur as well. Satisfying neither while consolidating the great American center (where populist outrage would be substantially mitigated by a decent recovery and a 10,000 Dow) may well be Obama's plan.

Explaining why the President smiled so much on "60 Minutes" last night, an NBC reporter said this morning that he was "Zen." The core Buddhist value is detachment. By detaching his fortunes (and ours) from the agendas of all ideologues, he could prove to be a true revolutionary.


The unease on the left escalates as John Judis rebukes Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner for stopping short of bank nationalization.

Political Memory Banks

A columnist for the British "Spectator," Fraser Nelson, describes an unexpected (if not unintended) consequence of the nationalization of British banks: The apparent requirement of those seeking loans to disclose their private political associations. He writes:

Geoff Robbins, a Cheshire-based computer consultant, recently approached [the state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland] to ask for a credit-card processing facility for his business. After the usual bankers’ inquisition, he was asked a question that knocked him for six: did he have any political affiliation? Did he know any MPs, councillors or mayors? It was a new question, the lady explained to him, which had been introduced soon after the government took control of RBS. She said, in his paraphrase, that ‘political influences may be used for corrupt purposes’.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Timesers

President Obama isn't liberal and dovish enough, says everyone at the New York Times.

Calming Down The House

Saying that he doesn't want to govern out of anger, President Obama tells "60 Minutes" that he opposes the House bill to confiscate bonuses paid to AIG executives:
I think that as a general proposition, you don't wanna be passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals. You wanna pass laws that have some broad applicability. And as a general proposition, I think you certainly don't wanna use the tax code to punish people. I think that you've got an pretty egregious situation here that people are understandably upset about. And so let's see if there are ways of doing this that are both legal, that are constitutional, that upholds our basic principles of fairness, but don't hamper us from getting the banking system back on track.

e-Book e-Price e-Creep

At "Slate," Jacob Weisberg is afraid that he's boring his friends with paeans to his Kindle. I know how he feels. I began preaching in the name of the Kindle last March. I didn't know this, though (from Weisberg's article):
Amazon, which is selling Kindle books at a loss to get everyone hooked, will eventually want to make money on them.
Now that you mention it, until last week every Kindle book I'd bought cost $9.99. Then I paid $16.50 for Brad Gooch's new biography of Flannery O'Connor. According to Amazon, that was a savings of $13.50 over the print edition -- but that's if you use the list price for comparison. Amazon's price for the printed book is $19.80, which means I really only saved $3.30. There's some price creep over at iTunes, too, but it took longer than it has for Kindle.

As print dies, it would be in publishers' and writers' interests to do everything they can to make e-books profitable for Amazon and other suppliers.

Good Thing He's Keeping RN's Bowling Alley

Special Olympics bowlers are better than President Obama.

Healing Comes With Patience

Talking about his new book and his brother, Ed Nixon covers some contemporary ground:
He said Richard Nixon was a booster of energy independence way back in 1971. He's convinced the answers to the nation's problems lie in private investment. And he sees Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, rather than "entertainer" Rush Limbaugh, as true leaders of today's Republican Party.

No fan of the media's treatment of his brother, he nevertheless believes Richard Nixon's accomplishments are being recognized.

"Healing has come with patience," Ed Nixon said. "You see the total life of the man."

Not At Our Best

Thomas Friedman describes the state of American politics:
Congress is slapping together punitive tax laws overnight like some Banana Republic, our president is getting in trouble cracking jokes on Jay Leno comparing his bowling skills to a Special Olympian, and the opposition party is behaving as if its only priority is to deflate President Obama’s popularity.

Frontiers Of Fair Employment

"Sopranos" trivia from the New York Times, reviewing a new play, "God of Carnage," in which Marcia Gay Harden, playing opposite James Gandolfini, explains why she didn't get a job on HBO's mob series:
Long ago, she said, she auditioned for the part of Tony Soprano’s sister, Janice, which ended up going to Aida Turturro; Mr. Gandolfini himself disqualified her in a way that she said she found sweet and to the point.

“He took one look at me and said: ‘No, no, this isn’t going to work. She can’t play my sister because I’d want to sleep with her,’ ” Ms. Harden recounted in a phone interview, adding, “But he didn’t use quite those words.”

We Don't Equate / On The Date / Burma-Shave

A Route 66 specialist tries to discern when 37 and his brother, Edward, traveled the historic highway together. He says it was 1939, but I could've sworn Ed said 1938 during his recent talk at the Nixon Library.