Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Long Proud Line

Oceans Two

In "Duplicity," Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, red-hot lover-haters in 2005's "Closer," reunite as secret agents who quit their government jobs to run a $40 million con on rival cosmetic CEOs, marvelously played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. You'll have to see the movie to find out who really gets played. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), it's heavily influenced by "Oceans Eleven Through Thirteen," determinedly cool and ironic, with a dizzying number of flashbacks. Keep the dates in your head or else. Even then, there's a glaring hole in the story. If you see "Duplicity," please tell me how Owen gets out of the jam in Duke's lab 15 minutes or so before the end.

The corporate espionage angle has such a broad satirical coloration (American businessmen? What boobs!) that the stars sometimes have trouble keeping hold of their love story. In one scene, Roberts shows up unexpectedly in Cleveland, where Owen has taken a job as security chief for a food company. When she tells him that it's time to come to New York to join the big con, he says he's about to make a key move in connection with his boss's new product: Double-crust frozen pineapple and ham pizza. "That's never been done before," Owen says as Roberts looks bored.

Us, too, almost. But their chemistry is strong enough that you''ll probably hang in there, despite the plot's intricacies. Me, I figured they'd get each other or the money, but not both. They'd first met six years before the action of the movie, when the U.S. assigned her to seduce Owen (a dashing British agent) and steal the secrets in his briefcase, which she accomplishes after drugging his champagne. Just before she scoots, she tucks a pillow under his head. They meet again in Rome two years later and hatch their plot. But he never completely trusts her, nor she, him. It's an occupational hazard, of course, though the idea is that even civilians keep secrets from one another. "Nobody trusts anybody," Owen says during their passionate reunion in Rome. "We just cop to it."

Timeless Songs: "Because The Night" (1978)



A live performance by Patti Smith. Go here for a montage of stills set to the original recording of by the Patti Smith Group and here for a performance by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe (for whom Smith was a major influence) and Bruce Springsteen, who co-wrote the song with her.

Maybe The IRS Is Hiring

Though I don't always agree with him, I never miss the weekly e-newsletter from Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach). Here's his math on the federal budget that passed the House and Senate this week without a single GOP vote, en route to an appropriations process that will be considerably more rancorous. Italic and boldface type in the original:
The spending increases are so massive that it doubles the national debt in only 5 1/2 years and triples it in 10 years. The government can probably not even sell that much debt. We’ve already seen this scenario play out in the UK and Germany, where issuances of their national debt failed to attract enough buyers. If the President wanted to balance his budget, he would need to increase every federal tax on every American by at least 30%. That means an increase on your payroll taxes, gas taxes, income taxes, alternative minimum taxes, corporate tax, capital gains tax, cigarette tax, excise taxes, etc by 30% each. This is in addition to what he has already proposed.

Having Your Coal And Burning It, Too

The article's in "Newsweek." It says that our nation's energy crisis is artificially induced, that the government has chosen to cut off sources of supply that could keep prices low while reducing our dependence on foreign suppliers. It opposes cap and trade. It strikes this Nixonian note:
What America needs is a rational energy policy that utilizes all our homegrown energy resources while protecting the environment.
The author is Newt Gingrich. Go here if you're interested.

Friday, April 3, 2009

So Much In Common

Faith Goldman, who attends St. John's with her beloved (and my godson), Harry Elliott, grew up watching her grandfather preside at her family's Passover Seder. He positioned a gold chalice on the table from which no one ever apparently drank, and yet by the end of the meal, it was always empty. Faith was a young woman before she realized that, when she and the other children had been sent outside to look for Elijah (whose return would presage the coming of the Messiah), grandpa would quickly gulp down the wine, like mom and dad consuming the goodies that kids leave out for Santa Claus.

Faith revealed these and other mysteries during an hour-long teaching for 35 of us tonight at St. John's. It's an apt subject for any Christian community. Jesus Christ was probably presiding at a Seder on the evening of his betrayal and arrest. The ancient ritual, always conducted at home rather than at temple or in a synagogue, has many correlations with Holy Eucharist (aka the mass) -- candles, ritual hand-washing, the common cup of wine, the breaking of bread. When the middle matzo is broken, wrapped in linen, and hidden until being brought out again for dessert, Christians naturally think of Jesus's broken body laid in the tomb until Easter. As Faith read the ancient prayers, just as her grandfather had year after year, we heard the source of other familiar themes in our worship -- creation, forgiveness, trust, blessing, deliverance, God's abundant love, and above all thanksgiving. So much in common, we people of faith. Thanks, Faith!

Howard's Trend

Howard Ahmanson, who provided major funding for the anti-gay marriage Prop. 8 in California as well as for conservative American Anglican causes, has switched his registration to the Democratic Party. Reading this article, I couldn't quite figure out why.

Would Jesus Tweet? It Sure Is Efficient

Evidently voice mail is going the way of IBM Selectric typewriters, being overtaken by texting, e-mails, Facebook messages, and Twits, young people's (them again) preferred methods of communication. Some people don't even listen to their voice mails anymore or await programs that will translate spoken messages into type.

Why meet, why touch, anyway? Better to sit at home with a computer on your lap and BlackBerry within reach. Why not hold the whole world at bay behind walls of pixels? Jill Colvin's article about this phenomenon buried the lead -- or maybe she wrote it this way on purpose. Her final paragraphs:
For Charlie Park, 30, a Web developer in Williamsburg, Va., a text message is more efficient and — equally important — more respectful of the recipient’s time.

“You never send an e-mail that says, ‘Hey, e-mail me back!’ You’re always sending information,” he said.

But even Mr. Park admits that sometimes, there is value in voice.

When his eldest daughter, Lucy, now 5, was learning to talk, he had to take a business trip. While away, she left him a message: “I love you daddy. I miss you. Come home soon.”

Mr. Park said he kept the message for several years and would replay it again and again.

“There is something nice about hearing people’s voices,” he said.
You think?

Perfect Duos: "This Is Us" (2006)



Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler. Song by Knopfler, from their album All the Roadrunning, which was seven years in the making.

Not The London The Obamas Saw



Thanks to ChrisCLondon, a unique tour of the city

I Asked Her To Say The Gettsyburg Address

An amazing type-to-voice program. Watch her eyes follow your cursor.

Hat tip to John Barr

A Voice That Crieth In The Wilderness

A visionary Roman Catholic priest, his heart full of wisdom and love, would've rescued generations of victims from sexual predators, if the Church had only listened in 1952. Whose unheeded prophetic voice is speaking today?

The Children Of God, Free And Safe



Children's procession of palms, Mt. Olive United Methodist Church, Arlington, Virginia, Palm and Passion Sunday 2005

Beating Children, But Not Extremely

The Secretary of State says the U.S. is open to reconciliation with non-extremist elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. After watching a portion of this video, obtained by the British Guardian, I'm wondering who that would be. The video shows a teenage girl being flogged. Here's why, according to an official Taliban spokesman:
"She came out of her house with another guy who was not her husband, so we must punish her. There are boundaries you cannot cross," he said. He defended the Taliban's right to thrash women shoppers who were inappropriately dressed, saying it was permitted under Islamic law.
Would the person who spoke those words be an extremist or Secretary Clinton's new conversation partner? If the latter, what would be their common frame of reference as negotiations begin, besides the shared experience of walking upright?

Given her devotion to the rights of women and children, it's an especially sad irony that Clinton should be the one to extend the hand of peace to those who beat children in the name of God. I've often wondered how history might've been different if, as First Lady, she had exerted pressure (or more pressure; who knows what passes between a couple?) on Bill Clinton to adopt a more aggressive position against Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as the world learned of the regime's savage atrocities against women. President Nixon's former aide Bruce Herschensohn called for the Taliban's ouster in 1999 -- a lonely voice at the time, perhaps a prophetic one after Sept. 11. In any event, if we talk to the Taliban now, it should be about a lot more than al-Qaeda.

Read David Stokes' views on the subject here.

Suffer The Children

From the President during his press conference yesterday, an elegant expression of a great and good nation's global responsibilities and potential, as reported by Helene Cooper:
“Look, I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the president of China,” Mr. Obama said. Then he added, “It is also my responsibility to lead America into recognizing that its interests, its fate, is tied up with the larger world.”

Mr. Obama said that if America neglected or abandoned poor countries, “not only are we depriving ourselves of potential opportunities for markets and economic growth, but ultimately that despair may turn to violence that turns on us.”

“Unless we are concerned about the education of all children and not just our children, not only may we be depriving ourselves of the next great scientist who’s going to find the next new energy source that saves the planet, but we also may make people around the world much more vulnerable to anti-American propaganda.”

The Pony Express Has Finally Arrived

Bart Ehrman brings 19th century Biblical criticism to the masses.

American Songs: "Oh Shenandoah"



Tony Rice

Good Cop, Bad Cop

The most powerful incentive Iran has to respond constructively to President Obama's initiative: Benjamin Netanyahu.

Level Land

Charles Krauthammer:
[Obama's] goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation's income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.

Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission.

Politics Again Ends At Water's Edge, For Now

Dan Quayle's former chief staff, "Weekly Standard" editor, and leading neocon Bill Kristol is among those who are giving President Obama support and cover on foreign policy, especially when it comes to his escalation of the Afghanistan war.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Keffiyehs And Clerical Collars Don't Accessorize

An Episcopal priest is defrocked after proclaiming that she's a Muslim.

Israel, Palestinians, And "Useless Outrage"

Writing in the "Spectator" about her postwar visit to Gaza, Mary Wakefield:
Richard Ben Cramer’s excellent book, How Israel Lost, puts it like this: ‘On the Palestinian side the conflict has more or less replaced life — or cooked it to a standstill. Among the Jews, the effects are harder to pinpoint, or more insidious — because the whole point of Israel was to create a place where Jews could live the best life — and liveliest — in accordance with their values.’ What has happened to values when Jewish children are inured to the idea of collective punishment, to the effects of white phosphorous and dime bombs? What has happened to Israel’s admirable ‘Purity of Arms’ when young Israelis fighting for the side we think of as right leave graffiti in Gaza like this: ‘We came to annihilate you’; ‘Death to the Arabs’; ‘Kahane was right’; ‘No tolerance’; ‘We came to liquidate’.

It’s not just the soldiers who are warped by the war. Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, reports this week that 68 per cent of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same apartment building as an Israeli Arab.

‘Twenty years ago I would have called Israel a nice little socialist country, with one problem,’ writes Ben Cramer. ‘Now I’d say the “one problem” has eaten up the rest of the country.’ It eats up the rest of the world too. Everyone’s got an opinion; everyone’s flushed with useless outrage one way or the other.

Detroit Songs: "Lose Yourself" (2002)



Eminem. (That's my town!)

Hot Bats, Hot Planet

In his column today, George Will, a climate change skeptic, says there's been a cooling trend since 1998. Jonathan Chait cries foul, and in a comment on Chait's post, "Rhubarbs," a former Washington Post contributor or reporter, turns Will's passion about baseball against him:

Someone needs to forward this chart to Will:

baseballanalysts.com/.../was_the_1990s_h.php

Because it turns out home-run production has followed an eerily similar course to global warming over the last century. Except rather than hitting a record peak in 1998, home runs peaked in 2001. So using Will's logic, the fact that there were fewer home runs in 2006 than there were in 2001 proves that home runs are not increasing over time, even though five times as many home runs were hit in 2006 than in 1919.

Ergo the last twenty years of Will's bitching about the increasing offense in baseball is proved to be [BS]. QED.

Given that Will has written much more, and clearly cares more passionately about, baseball than global warming, I would think that applying the "logic" of his climate assertions to debunk his baseball assertions might just have a motivating effect on the man.

Keeping It In Right Perspective

Over at the Heritage Foundation, they're arguing that conservatives have had it much worse than they do today. After all, they even survived Nixon!

Nixon, Too, Might Have Junked "War On Terror"

Is Peter Baker making fun of the Obama administration?:
They may be sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, much as Mr. Bush did to Iraq, but it is not a “surge.” They may still be holding people captured on the battlefield at the prison at Guant√°namo Bay, Cuba, but they are no longer “enemy combatants.” They may be carrying the fight to Al Qaeda as their predecessors did, but they are no longer waging a “war on terror.”
Not necessarily. His analysis continues:
“You have to tell the American public and the world that there’s a new sheriff in town without opening up the jail and letting all the prisoners out,” said Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way, a moderate Democratic advocacy group. “The changing of the way they talk is a low-risk way of purging some of the Bush-era stuff without doing any damage.”
Not to overstretch the metaphor, but if the new sheriff has the power of commutation but doesn't use it, isn't he or she tacitly affirming the old sheriff for putting the prisoners in jail? Not necessarily. While Richard Nixon wouldn't have made the same mistakes in Vietnam that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson did, when in January 1969 he inherited the raging, foundering war that was the consequence of their policy choices, he decided it was in our interests (it certainly wasn't in his) to Nixonize rather than immediately end the conflict.

That's not to say that he didn't fundamentally alter our approach in Vietnam. Obama is doing the same thing when it comes to the three wars he has inherited. In Iraq, of course, it was George W. Bush's surge, which Obama opposed, that enabled the endgame tactics that the President is now fruitfully pursuing. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it's fair to say that Obama is escalating the war, as Nixon was accused of doing on several occasions in Vietnam.

Obama's word games have more to do with his third war: The global struggle against violent jihadists, which he's decided not to call a war at all. And if I may, Richard Nixon might well approve of his decision.

By 1969, RN had stopped talking about the threat of global communism. That was rhetoric from an earlier time. Instead, he hung tough against Hanoi while making overtures to Moscow and Beijing. Today, Obama is hanging tough against Islamists in Afghanistan while talking respectfully about the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has the makings of a supple, flexible policy. It puts the U.S. in the position of exploiting and even encouraging divisions within a movement his predecessor tended to see in monolithic terms, just as Nixon had done as he studied the Sino-Soviet breach.

At the time, Mr. Nixon was criticized by some for believing that communists could ever be induced to give up their ideological or strategic ambitions -- in other words, that they would behave rationally. Obama is making the same assumption about those who trouble our interests today. While I'm inclined to think he's right, a lot depends on what Iran does.

One Bulb To Light Them All

Environmentalists and bloggers hammered columnist George Will recently for getting some facts wrong in a column about climate change. He's hammering back.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How To Defeat Childhood Obesity

Parents should give their children less food.

Blues Songs: "Red House" (1967)



Jimi Hendrix, performing at Woodstock in 1969.

Harbinger of 2010

Sen. Chris Dodd and AIG. Oh-oh.

A Grownup Republican

Mitt Romney demonstrates that it's actually still possible in politics to give credit where credit is due:
Romney praised Obama for not pulling troops from Iraq haphazardly and for going after terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also said Obama has been good at talking tough to the struggling auto industry.

Will He Or Won't He?

Republicans don't want Hank Greenberg to testify about AIG before a congressional committee. Neither does AIG.

The Right Is Deranged About Obama

Leftist-turned-conservative David Horowitz critiques the right's bizarre Obamaphobia.

Don't Sell Him Out

In February, Secretary of State Clinton put human rights on the back burner when it comes to our relations with the communist nation holding $1 trillion in U.S. paper. This week, a Sino-Franco group hug, reports the New York Times:
[T]he French authorities seemed to have stepped back from their previous readiness to antagonize the Chinese leadership as the world confronts a global economic crisis in which France can ill-afford poor relations with a global economic power-house.

Last year, President Sarkozy’s support for the Dalai Lama angered Chinese leaders. In response, China postponed a meeting with European leaders that France was supposed to host. At that time, France held the rotating presidency of the European Union.

China strongly opposes any encounters between foreign government figures and the Dalai Lama, accusing him of harboring separatist ambitions for Tibet, which he denies.
As well they should, the French have reaffirmed the one-China policy. Enshrined in the Shanghai Communique as negotiated during the Nixon administration, the one-China policy is also the basis of Sino-U.S. relations. But support for the Dalai Lama's bid for Tibet's cultural autonomy conflicts with the one-China policy only if you conclude, as Beijing claims it has, that this deeply spiritual, plainspoken, patient man is lying when he promises that he's not seeking political independence for his homeland.

A core Nixonian principle is that great nations don't hector one another in public if they have an interest in ongoing constructive relations. We should never assume that U.S. and French leaders aren't taking a stronger line behind the scenes. Let's hope so, because it may be bad for the soul to sell out a holy man.

The Revolution Is Not On YouTube

In honor of Gil-Scott Heron's 60th birthday today, I thought I'd find a video of his song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," which is chockablock with Nixon-era references, but it's evidently not available. Go here to sample or buy the song on iTunes.

Art Training

With an item about Diane Disney Miller's new Walt Disney Family Museum, the New York Times presents this 1959 photo of the Nixon family with Walt and, in the bubble top of the Disneyland monorail, Art Linkletter.

The Perils Of Peace

Laura Secor worries that no matter how warmly millions of Iranians may welcome President Obama's initiative, the current regime in Tehran may be too dependent on its American and Israeli bogeymen:
There can be no more urgent interest than the regime's own survival, which is threatened by internal pressure for democratization. The anti-American and anti-Israeli stances bind the hardliners to their small but loyal and heavily armed constituency, and they furnish a pretext for domestic repression, as members of the opposition are jailed and tarred with accusations of participating in American or Zionist plots to overthrow the government. To give up this trump card--the non-relationship with the United States, the easy evocation of an external bogeyman--would be costly for the Iranian leadership. It would be a Gorbachevian signal that the revolution is entering a dramatically new phase--one Iran's leaders cannot be certain of surviving in power.

You Don't Tug On Superman's TARP

Howard Fineman calls him Super Prez, assuming the highest profile of any President since FDR and missing nothing:
At a private meeting with House Democrats this week, one member urged Obama to propose more money for roads and bridges. The president tartly reminded the fellow that he had voted “no” on the original stimulus package, which contained money for that very purpose.

“Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother,” Obama added. There was laughter all around, but nobody missed the point: The president was at the helm, firmly in control.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Orange County Jump Suit In His Future?

Former Orange County sheriff Mike Carona, who weirdly pronounced himself vindicated after being convicted in January of the federal crime of jury tampering (an assessment with which some in the media, even more weirdly, seemed to agree), today lost his last bid to avoid being sentenced in late April.

Perfect Duets: "I'm Blowin' Away" (1975)



Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt, performing in August 1979 at a benefit concert for the family of Little Feat's Lowell George, who died that June at, I was astonished to learn, the Key Bridge Marriott in Roslyn, Virginia. This song was written by Eric Kaz. Both singers recorded it. This is Ronstadt's arrangement. Raitt's, featuring an orchestral track, appeared on her 1975 album "Home Plate."

An Almost Perfect Love

Binnie Kirshenbaum's novel An Almost Perfect Moment acts a little ADD as it careens from character to character -- four ladies in 1970s Brooklyn, New York playing Mahjong and gnoshing every week, two lonely schoolteachers who try but fail to make a connection, and especially 15-year-old Valentine Kessler, a beautiful Jewish girl who's fixated on the Virgin Mary.

Sometimes the narrator stays with a character for only a sentence or two before bouncing somewhere else. The happiest place is the Mahjong circle, which is centered on Valentine's lonely mother, Miriam. When crisis strikes, her friends rally impressively. We all should have such friends. Meanwhile the unrelieved loneliness of Joanne and John, the high school teachers, plays out almost sadistically. Their revulsion at their burdensome parents makes Miriam's friends' devotion to her, and hers to Valentine, seem especially precious.

At the beginning of the book, Kirshenbaum, perhaps mindful of Valentine's never-fully-explained progression into her Marian obsession, presents a quotation from the gnostic "Gospel of Philip": "Is it permitted to utter a mystery?" You can tell the narrator is keeping secrets about all these characters, but if one thing is perfectly clear, is that's the lesson of the story is that if we don't love our parents, children, and friends, no one will, and that such love can be practiced and mastered:
It occurred to Miriam how often she done this, watched Valentine sleep, how she did so without thinking, the way ritual evolves into a part of being....Miriam, as she always did whenever she looked at Valentine, filled with love and then more love came, a flood of love, and Miriam began to fear it, so overwhelming the love was.

They Were Always Liberal Interventionists

As predicted, the neocons run home to mamma.

When Bipartisanship Becomes Inconvenient

John Dickerson:

With no penalty to be paid for dropping the pretense, Obama aides hope to push their luck by painting Republicans as either irrelevant or ridiculous. The equation is simple: The more clownish the opposition seems, the more the White House can get away with.

San Diego Is Nice This Time Of Year, Anyway

My alma mater invites 29,000 rejected applicants to visit campus.

Let Us Pray It's Not True

Andrew Sullivan passes along reliable but unconfirmed reports that the Iraq government (our allies) plans to execute gay people.

Saving The Daily In Detroit

Big news from Motown: My folks' old newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, has worked out a deal whereby subscribers get an e-reader (like the Kindle, but probably cheaper) to which their morning paper will be delivered.

"Innocents And Accidents, Hints And Allegations"

This is a fun blog: Baseball, rock and roll, witty reflections on politics, books, and culture. Plus he has a Nixon post today. Name that lyricist!

Almost Past "Almost"

Something I never thought I'd read in "Time" magazine:
[Richard Nixon is] remembered for his 1972 trip to China almost as much as he is for Watergate.

Paging Ambassador Holbrooke

Norm Scheiber argues that AIG went south after its board drove out Hank Greenberg in 2005.

Retro Texas Songs: "My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day" (2002)


The Flatlanders, performing on Austin City Limits. The epic trio (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock) have a new album; read about it here thanks to the good people at "No Depression."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cool Lincoln

Steve Piotrowski, car and history buff and colleague of St. John's member Barry Fernelius, gives President Nixon's limo the Brian Eno treatment.

Rodeo Songs: "Someday Soon" (1964)


Judy Collins. Song by Ian Tyson. For an exquisite 1986 performance by Collins with Ian and Sylvia, go here.

Cooler Than Science Fiction

The International Space Station, photographed from the space shuttle Discovery, March 2009

Hat tip to Universe Today

Dalai Lama: "I Have To Accept Failure"

Sometimes pragmatists prevail; but not always. Other times, they are ruthlessly and cynically played. As the Dalai Lama marks the 50th anniversary of his exile, in the "New York Review of Books" Pico Iyer recounts the Tibetan spiritual leader's anguished reappraisal of the moderate line he has followed on cultural autonomy for his homeland.

While in his carefully written article, Iyer doesn't come right out and say that Beijing accommodated the Dalai Lama and his representatives strictly for PR reasons in the run-up to the Olympics in the summer of 2008, it sure looks that way. China has now savaged him with the apparently unfair charge of promoting independence. Iyer writes:

"The situation inside Tibet is almost like a military occupation," I heard the Dalai Lama tell an interviewer last November, when I spent a week traveling with him across Japan. "Everywhere. Everywhere, fear, terror. I cannot remain indifferent." Just moments before, with equal directness and urgency, he had said, "I have to accept failure. In terms of the Chinese government becoming more lenient [in Chinese-occupied Tibet], my policy has failed. We have to accept reality."

"A New Ecology": Sermon For V Lent

While Lent is a penitential season, Sunday's readings brimmed with good news. Jeremiah recounts how God wrote his law on every human heart, giving us the capacity for an intimate understanding of God's loving desires for us, unmediated by any person or institution. The Letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus Christ as a tireless advocate who has experienced our every agony. In John's gospel, he promises to gather all people, all creation, within the circle of his perfect love.

Not bad, and yet beginning on Palm and Passion Sunday and continuing through Holy Week, we will reenact humanity's singular failing of having misunderstood and rejected the gift and killed the giver. He was too convenient a scapegoat. It's a little like those charged with creating perfectly balanced ecosystems for endangered species such as the California gnatcatcher. In one such setting in Orange County, parasites called cowbirds (that's one above) could destroy the whole gnatcatcher population unless they are forcibly removed and the tender ecological balance restored. Aren't we always asking God to take care of just one little problem for us so we can live in contentment and peace? Instead, when we're in Christ, we're in a new ecology where we can coexist with our cowbirds. My Sunday sermon is here.

Powell At Intermission

In Orange County last Saturday evening to accept an award from Chapman University, Colin Powell was at his most energized while talking not about war and peace but education. He recounted a prior visit to Orange County to meet with students and teachers at Glenn L. Martin Elementary School in Santa Ana, where his sister, legendary teacher Marilyn Berns, who died in 2005, was working. Though Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, it turned out that not arriving by motorcade made all the difference. "The kids didn't know who I was or what I did," Powell told an audience of 600 at Chapman's gala banquet, "but they loved that helicopter." He also talked about America's daunting educational challenges, reminding us that a third of our young people (and half of all our minority students) still don't finish high school.

Though he served four years as George W. Bush's secretary of state, Powell didn't mention him. When he did address global issues, they had to do not with the war on terror, in which he played a central role, but the end of the Cold War, where he was a supporting player under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Accordingly I was honored to have on my arm my wife and successor at the Nixon Foundation, former Nixon chief of staff Kathy O'Connor, who once accompanied 37 when he called on Powell at the Pentagon.

Thanks to the presence of former Ambassador to Spain and former Nixon Foundation chairman George Argyros (one of the architects of a supercharged Chapman along with its visionary, marathoner president, economist Jim Doti), Powell reenacted the comic opera of Perejil Island, a uninhabited pile of rocks in the Strait of Gilbraltar claimed by both Spain and Morocco. One Saturday morning in July 2002, on the way to spend the day with his grandchildren, Secretary Powell kept the two countries from a full-scale confrontation by typing out and signing a peace agreement, faxing it from his home in northern Virginia, and pressuring the king of Morocco to accept the deal and remove his forces.

It was a wonderful story. I also would've liked to hear what it had been like on Sept. 11, how he feels about his controversial speech to the UN in the runup to the Iraq war, and what he thinks the U.S. should do to win in Afghanistan. My friend Don Will, professor of peace studies at Chapman, told me that some of these questions came up when Powell met with three undergraduates before dinner and that Powell had answered directly and graciously. This Orange County Register report has details about that conversation.

As charming and uplifting as his dinner talk was, I felt he was holding the larger audience somewhat at bay, as though he was still sifting through strong and perhaps conflicted feelings about the Bush administration. Whether or not he finishes that process, I'll bet there's a final act of public service to come, either appointive or elective. On Palm Sunday, the Episcopalian Powell will turn 72. Fit and ramrod straight, he looks and acts 60. On Saturday night, he made a lot of cracks about being comfortably retired, but I left the event thinking about a thoroughbred straining in the gate, unsure whether its next race would be six furlongs or a mile, on turf or grass, but almost beside itself with the power to run.

Lonely At The Center

Jonathan Chait argues that moderate Democrats' special interest entanglements and the dysfunction of Congress, especially the Senate, may doom President Obama's legislative agenda, as with President Carter and Clinton. He wishes congressional Democrats would line up in lock step behind Obama as Republicans did behind George W. Bush, because, after all,
Obama's budget...represents a once-in-a-generation chance for the Democratic Party to reshape the priorities of the federal government--to reduce America's unsustainable carbon emissions and reform its bloated, cruel health care system. Democrats have utterly failed to rise to the occasion.
When conservatives say that moderate Republicans have failed to rise to the occasion, it's because they're ideologically squishy, afraid to take a stand, or too eager to be liked by the media or Washington's elites. Chait's centrist Democrats are just greedy doofuses who lack his vision.

Too bad moderates never had a William F. Buckley, Jr. to give some substantive weight to their movement, not that pragmatism ever was or probably ever will be a movement. By and large the success of moderate Presidents is in the narratives of their eras -- Eisenhower from 1953-61, Nixon from 1969-1973 (before Watergate, obviously), Clinton from 1995-2001 (after his own "once-in-a-generation" chance to wonkify health care failed). I think Obama may be angling for something similar.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where The News Comes From

Another reminder of the indispensability of daily journalism, from Jeff Greenfield:
In Philadelphia, entrepreneur Brian Tierney and a consortium of wealthy investors bought the 180-year-old Philadelphia Inquirer and the tabloid Daily News nearly three years ago. They've placed a multi-hundred million dollar bet that the papers can adapt and survive, even in print.

"We had a series recently on the EPA and the Bush administration; it took several months to do it, it cost a quarter of a million dollars to do that. I can't do that with two bloggers," Tierney said. "I can't do that the way all-news radio in this market does it, where they basically buy our paper and then paraphrase our stories every day. We are the originators of the investigative work that needs to be done."

Tales Of Kindle Love

Instapundit loves his Kindle and adds:

Using it in public places — cafes, restaurants, even once at the car wash — I’ve been surprised that most of the people who approach me to ask about it are women.

The Bible: Story Of God, Story Of God's People

My mentor and friend, the Rev. Cn. Mark Shier, five months from retirement after an extraordinary third of a century's rectorship at the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Fullerton, California, on reading the Bible:
Only the simple or the lazy would look at the events and attitudes of the Bible without realizing that they are colored by the lens through which they are reported. The text of the Bible did not descend miraculously out of the clouds of heaven and the mind of God. The Bible as we have it is the result of a long and complex development, guided indeed by the Spirit of God but nonetheless the work of different men and women with different personalities (different neuroses!), folk observing and interpreting events out of different societies and cultures, most of them far more harsh and primitive than our own. If we don’t do the work of compensating for the shortcomings of the reporter, we will get a skewed idea of what is reported. If we read a book about Sherman’s march through Georgia to the sea in our Civil War, we will want to know whether the author is a Southerner or a Northerner or a third party presumably free from bias. If we want to know of the contributions of Jewish culture to Europe, we will want to know if our author is a Nazi or an Israeli. It will make a difference.

So it is with the Bible. We will want to know what period of history the book comes out of, who were the friends and who the enemies, what experiences of conquest and injustice might have colored the narration in front of us, how was God conceived, what was the idea of mercy (it is not always our idea of mercy – for example, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not a harsh prescription of punishment but a merciful way of limiting retaliation for wrong (Exodus 21.23, Leviticus 24.19, Deuteronomy 19.21), and so on. The Bible is the story of God’s people every bit as much as it is the story of God. If we are wise, we will make and know the distinction.

No Chopper For Natasha Richardson?

Eve Fairbanks is skeptical about efforts to blame Natasha Richardson's death on the Canadian medical system:
A trauma helicopter might have helped Richardson, but on the flip side, in the United States such helicopters are generally way overused, in part because they're profit makers and because the burden of their costs is distributed in such a way that it isn't appropriately felt: This past September, a Medevac chopper crashed in Maryland, killing three personnel (including one ambulance volunteer, a gig I've done) and one of the two wounded girls it was transporting from the scene of a car crash. Both girls originally had non-life-threatening injuries. "We've just gotten into a situation here in the United States where we think that the helicopters are a panacea," an emergency medicine researcher told the press after the accident. The September crash, sort of the reverse image of the Richardson incident, could be considered an event in which the overabundance of medical equipment killed.
That's sort of a creepy argument. Before we argue, as Fairbanks does, that trauma helicopters aren't worth the risk, we would need to see a comparison of the number of operators and passengers killed in such accidents compared to lives saved when patients get to trauma centers in time.

It's hard to believe that Fairbanks doesn't assume, as I do, that more people are saved than killed by trauma choppers. In our safety-obsessed culture, are we actually beginning to be open to the idea that the appropriateness of any job that entails risk -- firefighter? police officer? soldier? -- is open to debate?

Either that, or Fairbanks is echoing the utilitarian argument about expensive medical measures that always seems to come up in debates about nationalized health care. Ultimately, such a system's rules, rather than the market and the availability of insurance, end up deciding who gets treated and when. As for Fairbanks, she doesn't like trauma choppers not only because they occasionally crash but also because they make their owners money and sometimes transport patients who turn out not to have needed them (even though, as my grandmother used to say, better safe than sorry).

Back to the real question: Did Richardson get all the care and attention she and anyone would have deserved in her situation? I didn't know there was any question.

Waterboarding Unavailing?

Though former Vice President Cheney and an anonymous intelligence insider quoted in the article disagree, a Washington Post investigation suggests that the U.S. learned nothing of value by subjecting terror suspects to waterboarding.

Having Sloppy Joe For Lunch

Conventional GOP wisdom was that because of his celebrated gaffes, the VP would be relegated to his own private policy Alaska. Not so, reports Mark Leibovich:
Mr. Biden’s reputation for windiness, self-regard and unrestrained ambition have long prompted some degree of eye-rolling around him and probably always will. But what has been striking to many in the administration has been how strenuously the president has worked to include him and, perhaps most notably, the influence Mr. Biden appears to be wielding.

Perfect Duets: "Trapped Again" (1978)



Southside Johnny Lyon, Bon Jovi, and friends. Song by Lyon, Bruce Springsteen, and Steve van Zandt