Saturday, May 2, 2009

Kent State Redux

When a drunken crowd of 400 Kent State University students got out of control last week during a "college fest," police responded with rubber bullets and pepper spray. Sixty students were arrested. It brought back unpleasant memories for a friend who, at the age of 15, was on campus 39 years ago Monday when National Guardsmen opened fire during an antiwar demonstration. Authorities are understandably defensive:
The University for its part said in a statement that they were “disappointed in the events that have occurred” and described student behavior “inexcusable.”

Police were aware of the event and say that they were better prepared for the festivities, with Kent Police Chief James Peach saying the police response was “excellent.” The incident was the first clash between Kent State authorities and students since four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a campus-wide protest of the invasion of Cambodia.

Sunday Songs: "He Shall Feed His Flock" (1741)

Marian Anderson performing the aria from Handel's "Messiah." Tomorrow is traditionally observed as Good Shepherd Sunday.

The Lilies Of The Field, How They Bloom

A new site combining scripture, poetry, and the blogger's floral photography.

Boss In The House: Bishop Jon At St. John's

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Movie Songs: "Georgy Girl" (1966)

The Seekers

The Judge We Know And Love

Frank Mickadeit of the Orange County Register describing comments from the bench by Andy Guilford, the federal judge who sentenced former Orange County sheriff Mike Carona to five and a half years in jail for jury tampering:

You'll see the Guilford his friends know and love. You'll see a direct reference to the impact he believes Carona's actions had on his beloved Orange County. You'll see him not just as a member of his profession but someone who feels a responsibility for making it function at a very high, almost utopian, level.
That's Andy with his fellow St. John's Church member, superstar attorney Lisa Hughes.

The Shepherd Of Episcopalians

Before leaving this morning for one of my periodic lunches with church historian Charles Frazee, I jokingly wrote on Facebook that I expected a conversation about the Coptic church. While we went much further afield, as any conversation with Dr. Frazee must because of the astonishing extent of his interests and gifts, I did come away with a copy of his latest manuscript, An Historical Introduction to the Eastern Christian Churches, Copts, of course, included, exam, I pray, not.

My Facebook post prompted a half-dozen comments from fellow Episcopal priests who, like me, learned their church history from Charlie. "Yea, Dr. Frazee," said the Rev. Kay Sylvester. "He rocks." Wrote the Rev. Cn. Diane Jardine Bruce, "Give him my best...and tell him someone (not me!) lost all my 3x5 cards that I made from his classes!" When I passed these greetings along, Charlie's always cheerful face brightened a little more at the mention of each name. He even remembered Diane's copious index cards, photocopied and studied, thanks to her devout Christian pity, by a whole generation of M.Div. students at the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont, California.

Dr. Frazee, you see, didn't use a textbook. At the beginning of his two-semester course in late August, he's say, "The church of Christ was born the moment Mary Magdalene received the news of Jesus's Resurrection..." At the end of the last class in May, he'd say, "...and though Warren's church is Southern Baptist to the core, it takes pains to present a non-threatening, post-denominational face." In between we would have experienced 20 centuries of Christian history and practice -- the Gnostics, ecumenical councils, Crusades, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and perhaps 500 other topics. He would never have looked at a note, missed a name or date, grasped hesitantly for a word, or failed to utter a graceful, perfectly formed sentence.

If you had his class after lunch on Saturday, which I always did, students' energies might flag, but his never did. Each semester, he assigned four or five books and book reports -- The Rule of St. Benedict, The Imitation of Christ, that kind of thing. As for the core material, while he was always pleased to hear his often middle-aged students talk about the Holy Spirit or challenge him with their views on post-structural gender semiotics as applied to the gospel narratives, he said his job was making sure we future ministers knew when the First Letter of Clement had been written what Martin Luther's dates were. I lost five points on the fall 1998 final because I didn't remember the Shepherd of Hermas. Not that I'm licking old wounds.

Speaking of Br. Martin, I wouldn't say that Charlie spent a lot of time on the Reformation. He figured we'd get plenty in our Anglican history and theology classes. He also believes that the mother church would probably have managed to reform without the Protestant reformers. An inactive Catholic priest with a brilliant wife and two brilliant daughters, Charlie served in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis during the 1960s and early 1970s, earning the scorn of his bishop for helping lead protests against the Vietnam War. After he, Kathy, Sara, and Jill came to California, he taught at California State University, Fullerton and, of course, ETSC.

Though retired from both posts, he teaches and lectures frequently and writes incessantly. Some of his prior books are listed here. In September, he's leading a pilgrimage to Catholic Greece. Did you know there were 50,000 Roman Catholics in Greece? You do now, and watch out: It'll be on the test.

Anaheim Kids On "Today"

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Relying On Politics, Not Word Games

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer doesn't try to make the case that waterboarding isn't torture. Instead, he rests his argument on two political realities. The first is that if the Bush administration overstepped its bounds, it was in order to protect the people of the United States. The second is that Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats knew what the administration was doing and didn't object.

A third reality -- rarely noted by his critics -- is that President Bush stopped the waterboarding in 2005 in response to media revelations and political pressure.

For the sake of the public's right to know and guidance for future Presidents, I say yes to full disclosure of what techniques were used, on whom, by whom, and to what effect, but only if it wouldn't endanger national security. To prosecutions of elected or appointed officials, attorneys, judges, or interrogators because of waterboarding and other extreme techniques, no.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sweet Songs: "I'll Never Find Another You" (1965)

The Seekers

Our Dirty Dough

One of "Discover" magazine's "20 Things You Don't Know about Money":
In a study last year, researchers found more cocaine residue on U.S. bills than on any other currency. Also found on money: staphylococcus bacteria and fecal matter.

Worry Not About What You Are To Drink

The Washington Post reassures those coming to the altar rail in the midst of swine flu anxiety:

Clay Morris, the Episcopal Church USA's program officer for worship and spirituality, said research shows that the practice of sharing the common cup at Eucharist generally carries a very low risk of infection. But the practice of dipping the wafer, called intinction, may carry a higher risk since fingers are also often dipped into the wine.
One reason it's safe to sip is that the real presence, Episcopal Church-style, features real wine. The main reason: God won't permit it!

Plus He Came Up With Unlimited Free Shipping

Bill Gates compares Jeff Bezos to Gutenberg for kreating the Kindle.

Dinnertime In Echo Park

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White House Burned By Hackosphere

It appears that someone at the White House gave President Obama Andrew Sullivan's post saying that Winston Churchill's government didn't use torture during World War II. During his press conference last night, Obama offered it up as authoritative evidence in favor of his no-torture position.

As it turns out, the record isn't so clear. Ben Smith has now unearthed evidence of British torture centers that was obviously beyond the reach of the resources of "The Daily Dish" and the Executive Office of the President, elusive evidence buried deep within the web site of the British Guardian, damning evidence available only to those who Google with exactly the right search words.

Sullivan now says that if it really happened and Churchill knew about it, then he's a war criminal, too.

Interestingly, if you capture the link to Sullivan's new entry, it says, "the-british-tortured," perhaps the draft headline for the entry. Someone changed the final "Dish" headline to "Three Mansions In London," which sounds like the title of a Moody Blues song. I thought that on this subject, we didn't like weasel words.

There Are No Bloggers Available To Help Cover The Swine Flu Story, Since The Vice President Said To Stay Away From Crowded Places Like Starbucks

What if they gave an epidemic and no one covered it?

Hat tip to Tracy Wood

Somebody Didn't Get Biden's Memo

Hat tip to Jim Lusby

Air Force Two Is Probably Cool

How about our wacky Vice President? If he were us, he wouldn't ride on planes or subways or be in confined spaces with other human beings. Beyond that, don't panic! According to CBS radio news, the White House issued a statement saying he meant flights to Mexico. Whether he also meant subways to Mexico is unclear. I'd glad we didn't elect that incompetent, Gov. Palin. Of course, if Dick Cheney had said such a thing...Oh, never mind.

Cheap Shot?

An odd column setup by Matt Towery:

As many know, it was an ambitious lawyer named Arlen Specter, working on the Warren Commission inquiry into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who is credited with having conceived of the "single bullet" theory that somehow established that Kennedy's only assailant was Lee Harvey Oswald.
Careful, there. Oswald was the only assailant. If Specter was the one who understood the evidence well enough to prove it, all power to him, his party affiliation notwithstanding.

She Tries Harder

Ann Coulter, writing about Gov. Palin in "Time":
The only thing I have against her is that she threatens to surpass me in attracting the left's hatred.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Supreme Court Prefers Twitter

While White House reporters evidently aren't reading Andrew Sullivan, the President evidently is.

Well, One Bought $1 Trillion In U.S. Treasuries

Hat tip to Padre Mickey's Dance Party via Greg Larkin

Altering History

In a new collection of his writings, Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" reprints his April 1994 obit of President Nixon and writes in a blurb that some had accused him of spitting on RN's grave. He adds that the director of the Nixon Library, "the friend I tapped to bring Nixon to 'Newsweek' in 1988," had never spoken to him again. Excuse me if I didn't get the quote exactly right. I didn't buy the book. That library director, now former, is I. And I'm confounded.

First of all, I wouldn't say Alter and I were friends. We went to the same prep school, but he's three years younger, so our paths barely if ever crossed. When I was working for President Nixon in New York City in the 1980s, we talked a few times, though my recollection is that it was always in connection with his duties at the magazine. We had lunch once, too.

In 1986, President Nixon ran into Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham at a publisher's conclave in San Francisco, after which, it's widely understood, she, not Alter, tapped the former President for the famous "He's Back" cover for "Newsweek." Alter wrote the article. I don't remember reading his 1994 obit. I didn't read it tonight, either, when I spotted the book at Border's. I would have, but the subplot about moi was far too distracting.

As for my never talking to Alter again, I don't know why I necessarily would have, since we didn't have a social relationship. In any event, Alter's statement in his book is false. We definitely did speak after his obit, and there were thousands of witnesses. A year or two after RN's death, we debated one another on a cable TV show. I expected the conversation to be reasonably friendly, since we did know each other, but Jonathan had a better understanding than I of the emerging etiquette of cable news channels. He ripped into Nixon and taunted me personally for defending him. If Alter means I hadn't talked to him since that episode, he's right. Actually, I've always assumed that he wouldn't have wanted to talk to me.

Prophet Of Cool

I enjoy listening to President Obama -- the care he takes about everything he says, the way he hesitates while grasping for just the right word and then almost always comes up with it, his avoidance (most of the time) of cheap shots and demagoguery, his droll, situational wit, his preternatural cool, and his apparent lack of ideological blinders. His answers are at once artful, thoughtful, and direct. For instance, on abortion:
I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they, if they, suggest -- and I don't want to create straw men here -- but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations.

I think -- look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with. The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that -- that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a President of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their doctors, with their clergy.

So -- so that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's -- that's where I'm going to focus.

Cheney Of Command

The demonizing of Dick Cheney intensifies. I predict the effort to prosecute him will fail. His sin, if any, grew from a zealous, overpowering ambition -- to protect his country.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Swine Blue

"The American Spectator," at least, doesn't act like Sen. Specter's defection is good news for the nation's dwindling number of Republicans. W. James Antle, III sees it largely in terms of pork:

The Democrats can more or less directly make the electorate more congenial to their party through immigration policy, increased dependency on government programs, and expanded unionization. Republicans can only very indirectly and imperfectly try to encourage the growth of the "Investor Class." They obviously can do little or nothing to influence the numbers of white evangelical Christians.

Frightening Specter Of A Looming Snowe Drift

Soon, all the snorting about Arlen Specter will be over. Those seeking the holey grail of a Reagan-Goldwater renaissance (despite the likelihood that pining for a 21st century facsimile of the former will almost certainly bring about a candidacy with the general election prospects of the latter) will eventually tire of saying good riddance and questioning Specter's motives.

Those who think that Specter's defection is good news because having all this power means the Democrats inevitably will fail -- this cohort will have had its say and will go back to sitting around and waiting for something to go so horrifically wrong in the country or world that the Republicans (all 21% of them) can rise from the ashes.

And then there are the Democrats who don't seem especially happy about the new kid, either, perhaps because they fear that his influence and that of other moderates and independents will make it easier for the Democrats to dominate the center but at the expense, undoubtedly, of elements of the left-liberal agenda. They too will eventually move on to other distractions.

And then Republicans will be left with this calm statement of an unavoidable and irreducible truth, as stated this morning by Specter's friend and fellow moderate, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine):

Senator Specter indicated that his decision was based on the political situation in Pennsylvania, where he faced a tough primary battle. In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide.

I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates.

In that same vein, I am reminded of a briefing by a prominent Republican pollster after the 2004 election. He was asked what voter groups Republicans might be able to win over. He responded: women in general, married women with children, Hispanics, the middle class in general, and independents.

How well have we done as a party with these groups? Unfortunately, the answer is obvious from the results of the last two elections. We should be reaching out to these segments of our population — not de facto ceding them to the opposing party.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Spirit Of Truth

A bust honoring Sojourner Truth -- former slave, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate -- was unveiled on Capitol Hill today. Episcopalians remember her each July 20, when they say this prayer for her and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, and Harriet Ross Tubman:
O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Stalled In The White Zone

While Pat Buchanan refuses to count out the GOP just yet, he says it's on the ropes:
"There's a real demographic problem with the Republican Party," Buchanan said. "It is a heavily white party, quite frankly. And as a share of the electorate, that is diminishing and Hispanics are growing very rapidly, Asians are growing rapidly, and by two-thirds they tend to vote Democratic."

Buchanan [said] that the party is losing young people as well.

"Young people increasingly are more liberal and more socially moderate, and they move away from the Republican Party," he said. "These things are undeniable, the Republican party ... is in tough shape."

Whelan Dealin'

Andrew Sullivan apologizes twice -- the second time, abjectly -- to a constitutional scholar and high-powered lawyer, Edward Whelan, over an error in a post on torture. The second apology includes this touchingly empathetic note:
It must be distressing to deal with this while attending a family funeral (something I was unaware of), and I am indeed sorry for causing Mr Whelan any distress at this time.
Sullivan never apologized to Gov. Palin for repeating and amplifying the fabricated story that she and her minor daughter had engaged in a massive fraud to cover up the her infant son Trig's true parentage -- the most effective libel of the 2008 campaign. Mr. Whelan (or his lawyer) must've written one heck of a letter.

Steve Schmidt: Equality Now, Marriage Later

Sen. McCain's senior campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, speaking to Hugh Hewitt:
I am personally supportive of gay marriage. I believe that if you believe that people are born with their sexuality, as I do, that it is wrong for them to be disenfranchised for what I think is a central element of our national creed, the pursuit of happiness, which I think marriage is a key component of.

But I said in [my recent] speech that I understand number one, my view’s a minority view in the Republican Party, and two, it will be for some time. What I did say is that the party ought to be respectful towards gays, it ought to show tolerance towards gays. That is important to so many suburban voters in parts of the country where we were once strong but no longer are.

And I talked in the speech that as far as it goes for employment protections and extending legal protections to same sex partners so they can make end of life decisions for one another, or they can benefit from tax code status that everyone else benefits from, that they ought to be treated equally there.

Talk About A Specter

As Pennsylvania waxed Democratic, Sen. Arlen Specter was facing another primary challenge from the right. He probably would've prevailed, but at 79, why bother? Why battle in a rightward-tending party for the privilege of representing your constituents and honoring your centrist principles? So today, he switched parties.

Lots of Republicans will say good riddance. Ed Rollins hinted last year that a John McCain defeat would be good for the GOP, since being relegated to the wilderness would accelerate the party's return to its true, Goldwater-Reagan roots. So I imagine Rollins is among those exulting today as the wilderness express picks up steam. Assuming Sen. Al Franken (that was hard to type) is seated, then President Obama and the Democrats will have the makings of a filibuster-proof majority. Yessir, Ed -- we've got 'em right where we want 'em now!

Even the smartest conservatives seem to have trouble seeing what's happening, such as Josh Trevino, who writes today at The New Nixon:
Specter’s party switch is the latest in a long trend of ideological party-sorting, in which the Republicans get the conservatives, and the Democrats get the leftists.
Uh, no. The Specter move means that the Republicans are keeping the conservatives, while the Democrats are keeping the liberals and getting the moderates. Let's do the math together.

Break A Frog's Leg

Springtime is frantic time for Lori Speciale, director (and makeup artist) of the annual St. John's Middle School musical. This year, her pre-preparatory repertory company is staging "A Year with Frog and Toad," written by Robert and Willie Reale based on Arnold Lobel's children's stories. The show was first produced in 2000; its Broadway run was in 2003. If Lori's track record is any indication, 2009 in Rancho Santa Margarita will be another one for the record books. Dress rehearsals were today, with students starring both on stage and behind the scenes, running spotlights and the soundboard.

In Thanksgiving For All Creation

To mark Earth Day and as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of creation, members of the St. John's Episcopal Church sustainability ministry took to the pulpit last Sunday (the third of Easter). Their sermons are here.

Wondering about the person who chopped down the last tree on Easter Island, Jeff Allport asked if we'd know when we'd used the last barrel of oil. Perhaps the meek will inherit the earth because "they are the ones who consume the least" ...Gloria Sefton talked about her years of environmental advocacy in her beloved Trabuco Canyon, including giving tours to inner-city and homeless children who've "never seen a running stream or a soaring hawk"...John Schafer reflected on hearing birds sing during the silence in church and expressed his love for the cathedral-like peace of our national parks...Kate Fernelius, fresh from her Model UN triumphs, said Christians are called to see our world as "an international, inter-species, inter-environmental community"...Linda Allport talked about how easy it is to get stuck in the complex economics of environmental stewardship. Instead, "when we do one thing to care for the Earth, no matter how small, we become more involved, more mindful of participating with God in His creation. That mindfulness opens us to the grace to do more."

"One-Way Ride": Sermon For Easter II

After I'd covered my first City Council meeting in 1979, Kile Morgan, mayor of the scrappy little town of National City in San Diego county, said he was going to take me on a one-way ride. Sounds like a Tony Soprano move, huh? It turned out to be his official tour of the town he'd rebuilt almost single handedly, ending with breakfast at Aunt Emma's, the restaurant he owned in Chula Vista, at 10:30 in the evening.

We're all on one-way rides, of course -- and they begin right now, in the light of the radical freedom of mind, heart, and spirit won for us by the Cross and the empty tomb. My sermon for the second Sunday of Easter is here.

Three Sermons En Route To Easter

Good Friday is an impossible paradox. Jesus's killing was inevitable. It was completely unjust. It was drenched in glory. By the same token, our deaths are inevitable. We'll each contend with unjust circumstances in our lives. And we each have the capacity to make our lives a glorious anticipation of the realm of God. Listen to my sermon here.

At the Easter Vigil at St. John's, the most important service of the church year, it was good to hear the voices of our youth retelling the creation story from Eden through the deliverance from Egypt. It was good to hear the voices of the corporate church raised in support of our 12 baptismal candidates. And it was good for God to hear our voices proclaiming, "Alleluia! He is risen!" That's Lisa Naulls rehearsing the youth choir beforehand. My Saturday night sermon here.

On Easter morning, it's hard to evade the peril of deciding that Jesus's resurrection was merely symbolic or spiritual, since if God's action in raising him is in doubt, so is the notion that there's any benevolence in the creation beyond the minds and intentions of its creatures. Our Easter faith is that Christ wants his people to have hope, peace, and a faith in God's transcendent and perfect love. My Easter Sunday sermon is here.

Burned Bush

In a "Vanity Fair" profile that ended up being kinder than I expected, George W. Bush is quoted as saying this about a chance encounter during a post-Presidential trip to the hardware store:
“And a guy in there says to me, ‘Hey, did anybody ever tell you you look like George W. Bush?’” Bush said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, man, happens all the time.’ And the guy says, ‘Oh, that must make you mad!’”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Obama Is The New Spock

Steve Daly in "Newsweek":
It's the Spock plot strands that give the new "Trek" its best shot at once again commanding the zeitgeist. Spock's cool, analytical nature feels more fascinating and topical than ever now that we've put a sort of Vulcan in the White House. All through the election campaign, columnists compared President Obama's unflappably logical demeanor and prominent ears with Mr. Spock's. But as Spock's complicated racial backstory is spun out in detail in the new "Trek"—right back into childhood—the Obama parallels keep deepening. Like Obama, Spock is the product of a mixed marriage (actually, an interstellar mixed marriage), and he suffers blunt manifestations of prejudice as a result. As played by Zachary Quinto, the young Spock loves his human mother, but longs to assimilate completely into his Vulcan father Sarek's ways, eschewing messy emotions the way all Vulcans do. Young Spock is constantly being told by Vulcans and humans alike that he's either seething with inappropriate emotions—indeed, he takes Kirk by the throat at one point—or that he's not emotional enough and shouldn't be so repressed. Obama may or may not be a fan—the White House says he isn't, but Trekkies have claimed him as one of their breed ever since he said, "I grew up on 'Star Trek'—I believe in the final frontier," at a campaign stop last year. If he does check out the new movie, I can imagine he might feel a special empathy for Spock's position, given the chattering class's insistence that he needs to show more emotion, too.

That Campaign Would've Been Torture

Former blogger Ross Douthat, the New York Times's latest new conservative, thinks Dick Cheney should have run for President last year instead of Sen. McCain so George W. Bush's interrogation techniques could have been adjudicated politically instead of legally.

Five And A Half Years

Some people wondered why former Orange County sheriff Mike Carona was so jubilant in January after he was convicted of jury tampering in federal court. They included the judge who sentenced him to five and a half years this afternoon:
[Federal judge Andrew] Guilford said he found it troubling that Carona seemed to be celebrating a victory when he had been convicted of a serious felony.

“Carona,” he told the courtroom shortly before he handed down his sentence, “has given no indication that he wouldn’t ask someone again to lie.”

How Soon They Forget

Reading a letter from a viewer in Nokomis, Florida and mispronouncing the town's name, Bill O'Reilly said tonight, "I don't know where that is." Here's where:
[Sept. 11 terrorist hijackers Mohamed] Atta and [Marwan al-]Shehhi then moved into a small house nearby in Nokomis where they stayed for six months.

So It Really IS All About The Clothes

Newspaper columnist William Murchison calls the Episcopal Church "the Peace Corps in ecclesiastical drag."

Drifting, Not Driven, Away From Church

A Pew study reveals that while half the people in the U.S. have left the religion they were born in, it's not necessarily because of the big issues:

"The reasons people change religions are as diverse as the religious landscape itself," [researcher Gregory Smith] told CNN by phone.

Some factors that might be expected to drive people away from religion -- such as sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, or a belief that science "disproves" religion -- actually play a very small role, the study suggests.

"I've been struck by the very large number across all the different groups who say they just gradually drifted away. Not all of this is the product of carefully considered, conscious decision-making that happens at a specific point in time," Smith said.

Kindle Sight

Yet another pretentious (sorry! I vowed to avoid name-calling) article about whether reading a book on the Kindle (it used to be reading a book on tape or CD) is really reading. Typical of the genre is this:
Ellen Feldman, who writes literary fiction, worries about what will happen to the ineffable kinship among book lovers if the Kindle becomes ubiquitous. She was having lunch in an Upper East Side restaurant when she saw the man at the next table reading “The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson.”

“I started speculating about him,” said Ms. Feldman, whose novels include “Scottsboro” and “The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank.” “I had all these fantasies going — I was trying to think if there was a college nearby and if maybe he was a professor.”
Could it be that he was trying to impress someone? Was he whistling "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" as he read? Meanwhile, how about the ineffable joy that those with failing eyesight will experience when they realize that the Kindle, with its adjustable font sizes, makes every one of the quarter million titles available on Amazon for the device a large-print book? Try telling a nursing home resident who can now enjoy what was once denied to her that it isn't really reading.

Dead Songs: "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (1971)

Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, Letterman show, September 17, 1987; song by Bob Dylan

Hat tip to Paul Matulic, with whom I saw the Grateful Dead perform at Madison Square Garden two nights before. (You were perhaps wondering about the set list that night?) I remember thinking that the boys looked old. Yet in this video, they look relatively young (Weir more than Garcia, of course, who never looked exactly young).

I was President Nixon's chief of staff at the time. When he called my home that evening (to "check a few things," as he often did) and was told I was at a Grateful Dead concert, he may have concluded that I was at the funeral of an unpleasant person.


The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has figured out how to save journalism -- only one of 26 papers in the country so far. Kindle on!

Youthful Ethics

Young people are becoming more accepting of homosexuality but not abortion.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Remember How You Used To Love Fire Drills?

St. John's, Monday morning

Speaker In The Dock?

If waterboarding is found to have been illegal torture, if all all those who were complicit in breaking the law are impeached or indicted, and if Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach) is telling the truth about a senior colleague in his April 27 e-mail to constituents, then we may end up short at least one constitutional officer (since the Speaker should've called the D.C. police as soon as she was briefed):
Speaker Pelosi and other Congressional leaders were informed of the decision to use the controversial interrogation method and did not protest at the time.

The New Knitters

While it's always dangerous to speculate about motives, Michael Barone's assessment of why some people want Bush officials prosecuted rings true:

Whence cometh the fury of these people? I think it arises less from revulsion at interrogation techniques -- who thinks that captured al-Qaida leaders should be treated politely and will then tell the full truth? -- than it does from a desire to see George W. Bush and Bush administration officials publicly humiliated and repudiated. Just as Madame Defarge relished watching the condemned walk from the tumbrel to the guillotine, our contemporary Defarges want to see the people they hate condemned and destroyed.
Bush critics may well respond that their anger over torture isn't opportunistic. Instead, they'd say, the alleged abuses were the inevitable consequence of a mentality of lawlessness typifying the Bush administration from the beginning -- the original sin, of course, being the allegedly stolen 2000 election. In the same way, for many of Richard Nixon's most entrenched antagonists, the narrative that began with the Alger Hiss case was perfected in Watergate. It was in his nature, the argument goes. We should've known from the beginning. Why didn't they listen to us? As I've learned in a half-lifetime promoting the pro-Nixon nuances, it's almost impossible to dissuade those who have such fixed attitudes. Whether they should determine the structure and course of a sober national debate on torture is one of President Obama's many difficult tactical challenges.

GOP: Banking On Disaster

A former Bush speechwriter, mapping the GOP's road to recovery, enunciates the difficult truth that the phoenix usually needs ashes to rise from, such as RN from LBJ's Vietnam failure and Ronald Reagan from Jimmy Carter's economy:

In the most recent instance, the blow dealt to congressional Republicans in 2006 was primarily an expression of public fatigue with the war in Iraq. By the time the 2008 elections came around, that feeling had subsided considerably, but even in its diminished state it paired with the financial crisis to create a toxic atmosphere for Republican candidates. Thus, any sensible strategy for a Republican resurgence will recognize a timeless, if frustrating, truth of party politics - sometimes you have to wait for the mountain to come to you.

Finding Out Exactly What Happened

In supporting a Sept. 11-style commission to study Bush administration decisions on alleged torture, former Bill Clinton adviser William Galston puts getting the truth first:
My own view is that everyone involved should be granted immunity from prosecution--and then be required to testify fully and under oath. No doubt this approach would leave many people dissatisfied; the desire to punish wrongdoers and reaffirm the rule of law is understandable. Nonetheless, getting to the fullest possible understanding is more important. The path of prosecution would put the legal fate of a handful of individuals ahead of the broader national interest in finding out exactly what happened and in preventing what cannot be justified from recurring.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

When Science Begets Politics

Thomas Fuller calls himself a liberal skeptic on environmental issues. At, he writes:

Some of the science regarding global warming is settled. The globe has been warming, the greenhouse effect is real, and doubling CO2 will increase temperatures (although we don't know by how much). However, we are still within the normal band of temperatures for the past 10,000 years, warming has not increased for the past 10 years, and it is quite possible that our contributions to greenhouse gases will be swamped by other, greater forces of natural origin, such as volcanoes or sunspots.

The scientific issues that remain will probably not be settled until data collection improves. Only about 11% of the temperature measurement stations in the U.S. meet specifications. There aren't enough measurement stations, especially in the atmosphere, the ocean and in space. I am hoping that Obama's energy program will correct this.

I specifically hope that the CO2 measuring satellite that failed on launch some months back will be speedily replaced and successfully relaunched.

Otherwise, what I conclude from the global warming controversy is that it is similar to other controversies that started with science, but ended with politics.

As for the Obama administration's environmental proposals:

It is the smartest policy initiative to come out of Washington in a long time. This includes the cap and trade policy, which Republicans are cynically characterising as a tax increase, which it clearly isn't.

I think that President Obama's only mis-step is tying the policy so closely to global warming, which evidently reduces Republican support, proving that Republicans are as short-sighted and anti-science now as they were under George Bush. Take the label off the policy and present it as what's right for America for a dozen obvious reasons, and mention that it also buys us insurance against the possibility of future global warming, and it becomes politically palatable.

Losing The Revolution, Winning The War

Cervantes reviews a new biography of Chiang Kai-shek and concludes:

Perhaps Chiang has emerged victorious after all. For surely today’s China resembles his vision more closely than it does Mao’s.

Frank Rich's Astonishing Accusation

Astonishingly, Frank Rich writes that Bush administration officials may have ordered Abu Zubaydah to be tortured in 2002 not because they feared an imminent terrorist attack, as they say, but so he would fabricate a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein:
Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.
Astonishing, if true. If you are wondering about Rich's source, it's this comment by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who speculated to Rich about why investigators were putting so much heat on Zubaydah:
They’d say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
A politician's speculation leading to a direct charge, in print, of what would probably be an impeachable or indictable offense. Astonishing.

"Seven Days In May"? No Way. Transparency!

When is it okay with a liberal-leaning scholar and former White House official that the hawks at the Pentagon were spying on and stealing documents from aides to a President who was trying to end a war and improve relations with Beijing and Moscow? When the scholar is Roger Morris and the erred-against President was Richard Nixon:
[P]olicy power grew so concentrated in a secretive White House that the Joint Chiefs of Staff began their own espionage program against [Henry] Kissinger, the so-called admirals’ spy ring of 1971.