Saturday, August 22, 2009

It Was Just What Happened

The March 1968 massacre at My Lai of between 347 and 504 civilians, the majority older people, women, and children, is the darkest chapter of the U.S. effort in Vietnam. The communists systematically did worse, slaughtering up to 6,000 civilians and POWs at Hue around the same time, but that can't excuse what we did. This week William Calley, the only officer or soldier convicted of crimes at My Lai, including those whom Calley accused of giving the order to open fire, spoke out for the first time since his court martial:

When asked if obeying an unlawful order was not itself an unlawful act, he said, “I believe that is true. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them — foolishly, I guess.” Calley then said that was not an excuse; it was just what happened.

Dig In

Julie Powell's Julia Child blog is still up at Salon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Tasty Portrait Of Two Great Marriages

"Julie and Julia," writer and director Nora Ephron's interlocking story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and a New York writer, Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who spent a year in 2002-03 cooking and blogging her way through Child's classic Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, is also a paean to great husbands. Stanley Tucci as diplomat Paul Child and Chris Messina as Eric Powell empower their wives and don't recoil from their strong emotions.

Men may be recoiling from "Julie and Julia." At the Anaheim Hills, California showing Kathy and I attended, women predominated by a ratio of three to one. Too bad. It would be a great resource for marital (and premartial) counselors trying to teach couples what mutuality actually looks like. In a short, touching scene, Julie learns that her sister is having a baby. Her joy turns quickly to anguish; she and Paul never had children, though the movie doesn't reveal why. Tucci comforts her gently and wordlessly. Later, when her cookbook is rejected by a publisher, he says, "F--- 'em." Couples who fail to support one another during everyday crises: All too common. Couples who stand united again the maelstrom of a chaotic, sometimes unjust world: Priceless.

World historical events enliven without overwhelming the parallel stories. Julie Powell worked with survivors of Sept. 11, while Paul Child had a brush with Joe McCarthy's witch hunt. For Julie, the cooking project is therapy after long, dispiriting days. Though he successfully dodged McCarthy, Child finds himself wondering what his career has really added up to, which enables Julia to be the comforter.

Tucci and Streep have better chemistry than Adams and Messina, not surprisingly, since one of the movie's narratives is how Julie masters the art of being as easygoing and upbeat as Julia. Streep's relentlessly cheerful Julia Child grew on me. At first, she sounded like Dan Akroyd, whose famous Julia Child skit from SNL's glory days was wisely featured in the movie. By the end, you're saying, as usual, that she's a genius, especially when she's turning on postwar Paris with her smile. Adams, whose only scene with Streep is pictured above, admirably portrays an anxious 21st century American with ADD. Her best bit of ensemble acting is over a lunch with three narcissistic, greedy girlfriends, a "Sex And The City Goes To Hell" moment that Julie transcends, like Carrie, by getting her book and movie.

Pat Matt

More offensive generalizations from self-described progressive Matthew Yglesias:

I think Josh Marshall is to some extent overthinking his analysis of Mike Huckabee’s claim that “generally Evangelicals are so much more supportive of Israel than the American Jewish community.” Everything he writes about Christian Zionist eschatology, the apocalypse, and Revisionist Zionism is true. But the larger truth is just that Evangelicals, on average, despite the fact that an intuitive reading of the Gospels points in a different direction, are just generally inclined toward an affection for violence, brutality, and authoritarianism.
I guess that's why so many Christian evangelicals are supporters of China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Iran.

The Incarnation Can Sure Come In Handy

"Newsweek" reports that a quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters, up 300% from the mid-1980s. Popping more pixel pills won't help (boldface italics added):

Social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace may provide people with a false sense of connection that ultimately increases loneliness in people who feel alone. These sites should serve as a supplement, but not replacement for, face-to-face interaction, Cacioppo says. He compares connecting on a Web site to eating celery: "It feels good immediately, but it doesn't give you the same sustenance," he says. For people who feel satisfied and loved in their day-to-day life, social media can be a reassuring extension. For those who are already lonely, Facebook status updates are just a reminder of how much better everyone else is at making friends and having fun.

Michael J. Bugeja, a professor of communications at Iowa State University and author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age, says that the encroachment of digital communication into our social lives can amplify feelings of isolation. He describes texting or Twittering in the presence of others as a "prescription for loneliness." Such behavior, he says, sends the message that someone somewhere else is more important. "The human heart is suffering from lack of authentic interaction," he says. "Just being able to engage genuinely and politely with your neighbors is a better fix than Xanax could ever affect for mental stability."

God Smack

Blogger John Piper says God sent a tornado to Minneapolis to warn Lutherans debating whether gay and lesbian people are entitled to a full life in ordained ministry. I wonder what those Taiwanese were getting up to last week. Probably Buddhism.

Hat tip to Caffeinated Politics

It Bodes Well

Bode's Galaxy, 11.6 million light years away, is in Ursa Major. Hat tip to for this Hubble photograph.

Unappealing Truth

The Lockerbie bomber's release dashed hopes that his appeal in the Scottish courts, which he has now dropped, would uncover new information about others who may have been involved in the attack.

When Two Or More Are Huddled

Endangered species news from Newsday coverage of Nixon son-in-law Ed Cox's bid to be state GOP chairman:

He is listed in Who's Who in American Law as a "Republican Episcopalian."

Subsidizing The Gentle Nudge

Charles Krauthammer commits coherence on the end-of-life counseling debate:

We...have to tell the defenders of...Section 1233 of H.R. 3200 that it is not quite as benign as they pretend. To offer government reimbursement to any doctor who gives end-of-life counseling -- whether or not the patient asked for it -- is to create an incentive for such a chat.

What do you think such a chat would be like? Do you think the doctor will go on and on about the fantastic new million-dollar high-tech gizmo that can prolong the patient's otherwise hopeless condition for another six months? Or do you think he's going to talk about -- as the bill specifically spells out -- hospice care and palliative care and other ways of letting go of life?...

[W]hy get Medicare to pay the doctor to do the counseling? Because we know that if this white-coated authority whose chosen vocation is curing and healing is the one opening your mind to hospice and palliative care, we've nudged you ever so slightly toward letting go.

It's not an outrage. It's surely not a death panel. But it is subtle pressure applied by society through your doctor. And when you include it in a health care reform whose major objective is to bend the cost curve downward, you have to be a fool or a knave to deny that it's intended to gently point you in a certain direction, toward the corner of the sick room where stands a ghostly figure, scythe in hand, offering release.


Tycoon and publisher Rupert Murdoch was once among the most despised men in journalism. Now his company bids to lead his whole industry back from the brink of financial disaster by helping publishers and editors understand that that they can only survive by charging for editorial content:
As newspapers across the country struggle with declining readership and advertising revenue, News Corp. executives have been meeting in recent weeks with publishers about forming a consortium that would charge for news distributed online and on portable devices -- and potentially stem the rising tide of red ink.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

You Can't Call Him Johnson

Former Lyndon Johnson aide Tom Johnson -- and, as publisher of the LA Times when it was still the LA Times, my mother's former boss -- is circulating this account of how the one-time Senator majority leader would've passed a health care bill:
LBJ would have:

A list of every member of Congress on his desk

He would be on the telephone with members (and their key staffers) constantly. "Your President really needs your vote on this bill"

He would have a list of every special request every member wanted---from WH tours to appointment of federal jobs and commissions

He would make phone call or have an in-person personal visit with every member individually or in a group. Charts, graphs, coffee. They would get the Johnson Treatment as nobody else could give it.

He would have a willingness to horse-trade with every member

He would keep list of people who support each member financially. A call to each to tell them to get the vote of that representative. (Arthur Krim, Lew Wasserman)

He would have Billy Graham calling Baptists, Cardinal Cushing calling Catholics, Dr. King calling blacks, Henry Gonzales calling Hispanics, Henry Ford and David Rockefeller calling Republicans.

He would get Jack Valenti to call the Pope if it would help.

He would have speeches written for members for the Congressional Record and hometown newspapers.

He would use up White House liquor having nightcaps with the leaders and key votes of BOTH parties.

Each of them would take home cufflinks, watches, signed photos, and perhaps even a pledge to come raise money for their next reelection

He would be sending gifts to children and grandchildren of members.

He would walk around the South Lawn with reporters telling them why this was important to their own families.

He would send every aide in The White House to see every member of the House and Senate. He would send me to see Senator Russell and Carl Vinson because I am a Georgian.

He would call Kay Graham, Frank Stanton, Robert Kintner, and the heads of every network.

He would go to pray at six different churches.

He would do newspaper, radio and TV interviews. Especially with Merriman Smith, Hugh Sidey, Sid Davis, Forrest Boyd, Ray Scherer, Helen Thomas, Marianne Means, Walter Cronkite, Phil Potter, Bob Novak.

He would threaten, cajole, flirt, flatter, hug, and get the bill passed.


In case you're wondering, the track list for the R.E.M. live album due out Oct. 26. Recorded in Dublin. It includes one of Michael Stipe's favorite songs, "New Test Leper," from their 1996 album (to me, their best) "New Adventures In Hi-Fi." Here's a performance from 1998:

Lyricist Stipe's reference to Jesus and his teachings has always intrigued me, as does his song "Let Me In," which, though generally taken to be about Stipe's friend the late Kurt Cobain, includes this allusion to the post-Resurrection events described in John 21:1-13:
I only wish that I could hear you whisper down,
Mister fisherman, to a less peculiar ground.
He gathered up his loved ones and he brought them all around
To say goodbye, nice try.


The U.S. has the occasional chaos of the balance of powers. Israel has the even greater chaos of coalition government. Even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received praise as word leaked out of a five-month-long suspension of government-sponsored settlement projects on the West Bank, the "Economist" reported:
[F]our of his more hawkish ministers...chose to tour several of the “illegal” settlement-outposts on the West Bank which the government has pledged to dismantle. These settlements were not illegal, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party declared. Moshe Ya’alon of the Likud, one of Mr Netanyahu’s two vice-prime ministers, said the government should seriously consider restoring the settlement of Homesh which Israel dismantled as part of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank in 2005. Mr Netanyahu’s office said nothing.

No Short Shrift

Attesting to the abundant good sense of the American people, of the 300,000 who gave the Today Show their opinion, 87% said it was okay for the First Lady to wear shorts on vacation. Only odd thing: Largest response ever received by the Today Show.

Betwixon And Between

During the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Anaheim in July, Bishop J. Jon and Mary Bruno (shown at left) chose the Nixon Library's East Room for their gala dinner in honor of Anglican Communion primates from around the world. In briefly welcoming them and the Brunos' other guests, I took the opportunity to enunciate the Episconixonian Creed. I just caught up with dinner coverage provided by my colleague and fellow Michigander, Pulitzer Prize winner the Rev. Pat McCaughan. Thanks, Pat!:

The Rev. Canon John Taylor, vicar of St. John Chrysostom Church in Rancho Santa Margarita and former director of the Nixon library, said the facility, which opened in 1990, was a wonderful setting for the gathering because like Anglicans, Nixon, the 37th U.S. President, was "a centrist. He was betwixt and between … what Nixon called enlightened realism or pragmatic idealism" is possibly a way forward for the church as well, with our polarized politics."

Taylor noted that Nixon was between two poles in American politics. "He was not welcomed by the far right of the Republican Party" because of his opening to China, improving relations with the Soviet Union and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as relatively enlightened views on civil rights in the 1950s and forward, Taylor said.

Nor was he welcome "on the left in American politics because of the Vietnam War and his especially aggressive anti-communism early in his career."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Impious Moment At The Western Wall

At the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, men and women are separated. During our recent St. John's pilgrimage, my wife, Kathy, caught me checking to see how the other half prayed.

Watching The Neocons On China

Henry Kissinger was RN's partner in the opening to China, ending a generation of alienation. He took considerable and well-deserved satisfaction as Washington-Beijing became the most important bilateral relationship in the world. The global economic crisis is signaling a third era in postwar Sin0-U.S. relations, Kissinger writes this morning:

According to conventional wisdom, the world economy will regain its vitality once China consumes more and America consumes less. But as both countries apply that prescription, it will inevitably alter the political framework. As Chinese exports to America decline and China shifts the emphasis of its economy to greater consumption and to increased infrastructure spending, a different economic order will emerge. China will be less dependent on the American market, while the growing dependence of neighboring countries on Chinese markets will increase China's political influence. Political cooperation, in shaping a new world order, must increasingly compensate for the shift in trade patterns.

In the 1970s, RN and Kissinger famously revamped U.S.-Soviet relations in response to a similar trend, or so they thought -- a decline in U.S. dominance matched with an improvement in Moscow's strategic position. Detente, as it was called, was good for the world, though it exposed Kissinger to withering fire from conservatives who charged that he'd waved the white flag too soon in the Cold War. He's also probably right, as he argues in this piece, that the U.S. and China should take the lead role in fashioning what sounds like an embryonic Pacific Rim Common Market:

While the center of gravity of international affairs shifts to Asia, and America finds a new role distinct from hegemony yet compatible with leadership, we need a vision of a Pacific structure based on close cooperation between America and China but also broad enough to enable other countries bordering the Pacific to fulfill their aspiration.

And yet beware militant neo-neocons lying in wait to play the soft-on-China card against President Obama. Not everyone agrees with Kissinger that another Cold War wouldn't be an absolutely grand idea.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Empire Statement

RN son-in-law Ed Cox is in line to be New York State GOP chairman.

O Bibi!

By announcing it's approved construction of no new settlements since March, Israel does President Obama a good turn as he meets with President Mubarak.

Rhetorical Genocide

Matthew Yglesias accuses Gov. Huckabee of favoring ethnic cleansing because he opposes a Palestinian state on the West Bank.

George On Their Mind

Sen. George McGovern, RN's Democratic opponent in 1972, is coming to the Nixon Library on Aug. 26.

That You Could Hear What I Hear

The St. John's Middle School Choir in the church this morning, rehearsing "Praise My Soul, The King Of Heaven" under the direction of Lori Speciale. The descant on the fourth verse: Heaven indeed.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

The Hot, Messy Battles In The Cold War

A newly declassified White House memo reveals 1971 discussions between President Nixon and Brazil's military leader about getting rid of Fidel Castro in Cuba and Salvador Allende in Chile (shown at right).

U.S. policy toward communists and socialists in Latin America during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s is one of many subjects deserving some next-generation scholarship, which is to say scholarship uncolored by Vietnam-era passions and grievances. For instance, what did the Nixon Administration really do in Chile, especially in connection with the 1973 military coup in which Allende lost his life, and what didn't it do? Wikipedia seems to weigh the available evidence fairly. It will undoubtedly be a hot topic when the records of the Nixon White House arrive at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda next year.

As for the bigger picture, Central and South America are now predominantly free. The West won the Cold War without a nuclear war. If these outcomes are deemed salutary, let's at least keep them in mind while probing the seamy aspects of the tactical skirmishes over Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Ducking the G.Q.

Jerry A. Coyne wraps up his review of Robert Wright's The Evolution Of God:
When he finally comes to the big question--is there in fact a God who is pulling humanity toward morality?--he suddenly becomes humble and retiring. The existence of God, he plaintively concludes, is "a question that I'm unqualified to answer." What? With all this possible and purported evidence of divinity tugging at his sleeve, he still will not decide? Why doesn't Wright accept the thrust of his own arguments? Is he peddling a reassurance to others that does not work for himself?

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Derangement": Sermon For 11 Pentecost

In the current "Esquire," Jon Reiner, whose digestive track had stopped working, movingly describes what it's like not to be able to eat for 60 days. The organ-shaped nutrition packs he took intravenously did nothing to relieve what he called "the derangement of hunger." It got me thinking how many of the Holy Land places we St. John's pilgrims had visited concerned hunger and eating, especially the traditional sites of Jesus's temptation (at a monastery carved into a mountainside near Jericho, visible in the upper left) and the feeding of the 4,000 as well the two places the risen Christ became known to his discouraged followers over a good meal. Through our faith and the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ offers himself as the food that never runs out, that gives eternal life. If we don't partake of that blessed meal, how do we mask the derangement of our spiritual hunger? Through addiction, ambition, or apathy, it seems to me. My Sunday sermon is here. This version, artfully fixed by St. John's volunteer audio guru Dale Griffith, does not include the not-quite 18 1/2 minutes of a-gony (for our good congregation even more than me) when I forget my first "a" (addiction) and couldn't proceed with the sermon until I remembered it. I'm addicted to doing things in order!

Farmers' Original Sin?

Climate change and ancient agriculture. Maybe this explains why God preferred Abel's offering to Cain's.

Local Angel

No Doubt comes home. I actually saw the show below in 1995. (Language warning!)


Having heard about the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, some of us St. John's pilgrims imagined improvised communities of prefab houses or even trailers. They're actually highly engineered, self-contained, well-fortified towns and villages. The third largest, with a population of over 30,000, is shown here, behind Pilgrim Monica. Some demographic insights from the current "Newsweek":
The number of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories has more than doubled since 1993, but the numbers are misleading. The fastest-growing cohort—nearly one third—are the ultra-Orthodox, who tend to be far less hawkish than the ultranationalists removed from Gaza in 2005. Another third are "economic settlers," who moved to the West Bank for the cheap rents and short commutes to Jerusalem. Many could probably be persuaded to leave with the right financial incentives. And for all the talk of "natural growth," only 9,602 babies were born to settlers in 2007, while 17,007 newcomers moved in, according to Peace Now. Raising barriers to further immigration could have a big impact.