Saturday, September 26, 2009

Perfect Songs: "If I Should Fall Behind" (1992)

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Happy birthday to the Boss.

Boomer Songs: "Stones In The Road" (1994)

Mary Chapin Carpenter. One Presidential reference, one senatorial.

Getting A Kick Out Of Obama's Speech

I'm sure the White House loves Fareed Zakaria's Nixon angle:
Obama's [UN] speech was part of a calculated strategy. In sentiment it recalls Richard Nixon's line after losing the California governor's race in 1962: "You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Obama was telling the world: the United States is willing to be cooperative, to rejoin international institutions, to adhere to treaties. But in return, other countries will have to help solve some of the world's common problems. You can't just kick us around anymore.

Groovin' Up Slowly

Whenever I hear two songs in a row on the radio by the same artist, I still wonder if somebody died. On the evening of Dec. 8, 1980, WNEW-FM, then New York City's flagship rock station, played a long John Lennon block. Then the DJ (had they brought in the legendary Scott Muni that dark night? I can't quite recall) said that Lennon had been murdered outside his and Yoko Ono's apartment building at 72nd St. and Central Park West.

By then, I'd been working for former President Nixon for three months in his office in 26 Federal Plaza. The next day I typed out a few pages saying that Lennon and the 37th President, as prophets of peace, had been toiling in different sections of the same vineyard. Yes, it was impossibly callow. Among other things, my essay overlooked the FBI's surveillance of Lennon during the Vietnam war, though I probably got in a lick or two about the naivete of Lennon's facile if heartfelt peace talk.

Two of RN's more senior aides, Paul Bateman and the legendary Ray Price, wisely induced me not to submit it to the Village Voice, which had been my plan. But when someone else wrote to the Voice saying that if a Beatle had to get shot, too bad it wasn't Paul McCartney, I did submit a letter taking umbrage, which, as I recall, was published. Another letter to the Voice around the same time said in its entirety: "Imagine John Lennon with no possessions," which seemed churlish then and even more so now.

At Strawberry Fields, in Central Park right across from the Dakota, sitting crossed-legged and flashing the two-fisted peace sign appears to be de rigueur. Maybe there was something to the Nixon comparison, since tourists standing in the doorway of RN's chopper at the Nixon Library do pretty much the same thing. When Kathy and I visited the Lennon memorial on Friday, it was more moving than ever. To have just recorded tunes as sweet as "Woman" and "Watching the Wheels," to have been so contentedly in love, to have one of the greatest rock and roll voices ever (think "Twist and Shout" and "Yer Blues"), and to die at 40. You get to be my age, and the poignancy and tragedy definitely creep up on you. Come together, right now!

Right Vs. Right

Radical journalist I. F. Stone favored the establishment of a Jewish state but hated that it was done at the expense of the Palestinians. In his review of a new biography of Stone, Jonathan Mirsky includes this quote:
For me the Arab-Jewish struggle is a tragedy. The essence of tragedy is the struggle of right against right.... When evil men do evil, their deeds belong to the realm of pathology. But when good men do evil, we confront the essence of human tragedy.

Steady States

As Democratic candidates gain on GOP favorites in two key governors' races, are hopes fading for a Republican comeback in 2010? Ed Kilgore wonders.

Hoaxis Pocus

Andrew Sullivan is appropriately vigilant in questioning whether an NBC News producer was the victim of a right-wing hoax. We're still waiting for Sullivan to own up about the Trig Palin hoax in which he was complicit and for which he has stubbornly refused to apologize.

Follow Leaders/Don't Watch Your Falling Meteors

Reviewing a book by Vaclav Smil which assesses the comparative likelihood of the full range of global catastrophes over the next half-century (the author's prediction: At least "a 'mega-war' and one or two pandemics such as influenza"), Joel E. Cohen cautions us to avoid worrying too much about interplanetary or even environment calamity. As always, war probably will be the most successful killer:

Among violent conflicts, Smil concentrates on what he calls transformational wars: the Napoleonic Wars (1796–1815), the Taiping War (1851–1864), the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. These wars added up to some forty-two years of conflict over two centuries and averaged seventeen million deaths of combatants and civilians per conflict. Smil estimates the probability of a transformational war during the next fifty years at "no less than about 15 percent and most likely around 20 percent." These estimates are ten to a hundred times higher than the probabilities of globally destructive natural catastrophes. As Pogo said, the enemy is us.

Thai, Everyone!

From the DVD of "Frost/Nixon," a little documentary about the Nixon Library featuring director Ron Howard and, oh yeah, President Nixon's last chief of staff, Kathy O'Connor, and me. Thai translation provided for your convenience.

The Founding ED Of The Nixon Center...

...may have Barbra Streisand's shades.

"You Lie!" Says Ahmadinejad

The BBC:

[Iranian President] Ahmadinejad...flatly denied claims - by US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown - that the plant was a secret facility.

Qum's The Word

Spy novel stuff in the New York Times as the Obama administration decided how to use George W. Bush-era intelligence on Iran's now-blown (only figuratively for now) outlaw nuclear facility near Qum to apply maximum leverage on the Iranians when all the leaders were together for the General Assembly opening this week:

At his meeting at the Waldorf the next morning, Mr. Obama decided that he would personally tell Mr. Medvedev, the Russian president, when they met Wednesday afternoon for a previously scheduled meeting. Mr. Obama also spoke with Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Brown. Meanwhile, Jeff Bader, a senior White House adviser for China, informed his Chinese counterparts.

On Thursday, while Mr. Obama was leading the Security Council meeting, General Jones left his seat behind Mr. Obama, walked over to Mr. Prikhodko, the Russian national security adviser, and whispered in his ear. Mr. Prikhodko got up and followed General Jones out of the room. Minutes later, General Jones sent an aide back to get his Chinese counterpart as well.

Administration officials said they were gratified with Russia’s reaction — Mr. Medvedev signaled he would be amenable to tougher sanctions on Iran.

Heading Home

JFK, Saturday morning
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Friday, September 25, 2009

The Elusive "Madame X"

With a new gallery being built for the Met's collection of American paintings, I thought I'd miss John Singer Sargent's wonderful portrait. But the American Wing's curators have "visible storage," so there she was, just hanging out and awaiting her new digs. Remember her, Lindsay? And "Charlie Wilson's War" fans: Did you spot the allusion?
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Central Park Sky

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Two Hot Dogs, 16 oz. Papaya, $4.45

Gray's Papaya at 72nd and Amsterdam. Best lunch in town
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Remembering Lee Annenberg At The Met

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Joachim And Anne

From the statuary hall in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Joseph And Mary

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Mother And Child

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Jesus's Crib

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Face Of The Crucified Christ

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Eucharistic Dove

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Mix 'Em, Match 'Em

In Central Park on a beautiful autumn afternoon
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dmitri Said "Sanctions"

President Obama was smiling today on this sidewalk on Broadway around 110th and yesterday at the UN -- and with good reason. He persuaded the Russian President to suggest that Moscow would be open to punishing Iran for failing to cooperate with international efforts to deter it from developing nuclear weapons.

The New York Times
speculates that we got the Russians on board by scraping the current U.S. policy on our so-called missile shield over the former Warsaw Pact countries. If that's true, according to a friend who's an expert on arms control and SDI, then Obama's breakthrough came in exchange for virtually nothing, because the shield has been a chimera (although, in fairness, evidently never to the Russians) ever since President Reagan became infatuated with the idea in the 1980s. Reports the Times on this ten-strike win for Obama's foreign policy:

With a beaming Mr. Obama standing next to him, [Russian President Dmitri] Medvedev signaled for the first time that Russia would be amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks scheduled for next month failed to make progress.

“I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Mr. Medvedev said, adding that “sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”

White House officials could barely hide their glee. “I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” a delighted Michael McFaul, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser for democracy and Russia, told reporters after the meeting. He insisted nonetheless that the administration had not tried to buy Russia’s cooperation with its decision to scrap the missile shield in Europe in favor of a reconfigured system.

"Homecoming": Sermon For 16 Pentecost

While in southern California it's hard to tell that summer has given way to fall (at St. John's, we had a jazz mass and Homecoming picnic to prove it), Jesus's earthly ministry takes on the chill of winter once Peter and his other disciples discern his destiny. They definitely hadn't banked on the Cross. Before long they recover enough to begin squabbling with one another over which of them will be ranked first. As an alternative to hierarchy, Jesus tells them to behave toward one another and the rest of humanity exactly as he welcomes the most powerless and frequently undervalued people of his time, namely children. Steve the Phillies fan showed exactly how you do that last week when his three-year-old threw away his precious foul ball. See that loving expression? See the look of perfect forgiveness? Well preached, Steve, because that's how Jesus calls us to act toward everyone. My Sunday sermon (in which I call Steve "Joe"; strike one!) is here.

Farewell, Mark! (When Can You Come Preach?)

My mentor, sponsoring priest, and beloved friend, the Rev. Canon Mark Shier -- Vietnam veteran, brilliant theologian, and loyal Bruin -- is retiring this weekend after nearly 35 years as rector of the the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew the Apostle in Fullerton, California. The Orange County Register takes due note:

[Fr. Mark] said he appreciated the religion's unconditional acceptance of humanity including the Episcopalian views on women as priests, gays and lesbians and immigration.

"We don't demand everyone agree with us 100 percent; we are saying to pray for and love one another," he said.

Shier can't forget when his older, gay brother was dying of AIDS. He told his congregation he was bringing him to Fullerton and would care for him no matter what.

"I said if anyone had a problem with that, to come and talk with me," Shier said. "No one came. Instead, many people asked how they could help."


At Lord & Taylor on Fifth Ave., preparing to promote the upcoming season premiere of the Showtime series about a serial killer with a conscience

Just TRY Being Taller Than Me

Under construction near the Empire State Building


For Episcopalians visiting New York City, all roads, streets, and avenues lead to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of New York, the Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk. It reopened last November after a devastating fire in December 2001. I first saw it nearly 30 year ago and remember it looking gloomy and in desperate need of a good sandblasting. Kathy said the same thing yesterday when we visited St. Patrick’s. Now the massive pillars in the St. John’s nave are clean and bathed in pale blue light; the eye follows them to the distant arched ceiling and beyond. I remember pews, but they’re gone now. Bas-reliefs in the floor depicting the signal places of Jesus’s life and ministry – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Bethany -- guide the visitor toward the altar, associating this grandest of structures with the far more modest-seeming but epochal places we St. John (Chrysostom) pilgrims visited during our pilgrimage in August.

“It’s Episcopal?” one stunned visitor asked a docent. “It’s not Catholic?” Only 2.5 million of us, but the most stunning cathedrals in New York and Washington. So there. This one’s famously unfinished, especially the spires that front Amsterdam Ave., which stonemasons are building the Middle Aged-fashioned way, brick by brick. Plus the gift shop, in which the fire started, has not reopened, and the volunteer in the narthex wasn’t sure it ever would. So where does a guy get a Book of Common Prayer in this town?

During our visit, someone was tuning the really high notes on the organ, which added to the ethereal impression of a building whose highest reaches have been newly thrown open to upwardly cast eyes. Outside, in the children’s garden between the cathedral and diocesan offices, there was…well, the kind of bird you don’t normally see in Manhattan. From the look on his face, I don’t think he recognized me, either.

Brian St. John (that name again), of Orange County, California, tells me it's a peacock -- or, as Flannery O'Connor called them, peahens. But I thought they had colored feathers? Oops: Over on Facebook (where there is considerably more attention being paid to this question) Nancy Larkin confirms it's a white peacock. Thanks, friends!

W. 110th St. Sky

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Adam's Church

At St. Edward the Martyr on E. 109th, Kathy and I were graciously welcomed for a look around by Cecilia, the church secretary. The 126-year-old parish (preparing for a visit by Bishop Sisk this Sunday) serves a diverse English- and Spanish-speaking congregation. For seven years beginning in 2001, the rector was a friend from the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Rev. Adam McCoy of the Order of the Holy Cross. Oddly and reassuringly, my first home in New York City (for three weeks in September 1980) was on the same street but on the west side, off Broadway. That's St. Edward above. If I'd had my head on straight, I'd have gotten a photo of Cecilia.
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Live Cat On Lexington Ave.?

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Sailing Uptown

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Encouraging News On Russia And Iran;jsessionid=205597629B1FEA71BF5D65A3E4ACD6D2.w5?a=443975&f=20

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scene From "Blade Runner"?

Times Square at dusk
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Third Or Fourth Thoughts About Afghanistan

I still think someone may have leaked Gen. Stanley McCrystal's Afghanistan report with a wink, even a nudge, from the White House. If you focus on the need the report evinces for more troops, you may well think the leaker was a hawk. But if instead you focus on McChrystal's pessimism about our long-term prospects, then the leak nicely bolsters President Obama in agonized reappraisal mode. The New York Times today:

The sweeping [administration] reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and still unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections and a dire report by Mr. Obama’s new commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Aides said the president wanted to examine whether the strategy he unveiled in March was still the best approach and whether it could work with the extra combat forces General McChrystal wants.

In looking at other options, aides said, Mr. Obama might just be testing assumptions — and assuring liberals in his own party that he was not rushing into a further expansion of the war — before ultimately agreeing to the anticipated troop request from General McChrystal. But the review suggests the president is having second thoughts about how deeply to engage in an intractable eight-year conflict that is not going well.

Hi, Security

I've been inside the security bubble of a sitting President twice, including when the Nixon Foundation invited President Clinton to speak at a foreign policy conference we convened in 1995 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of greeting him on arrival and escorting him through a cocktail reception. In his interactions with our guests, his exceptional charm was much on display. As for the security, it was as though the air hummed. For a half hour before his motorcade arrived at a side door, several dozen penetrating eyes in carefully composed faces followed me as I freely if self-consciously roamed the secured portion of the hotel's first floor. Maybe it's what power feels like, or just all those walkie-talkies buzzing at once. Whatever it is, it's invigorating.

So as Kathy and I explored Manhattan this morning at the beginning of a three-day vacation, it was hard to stay away from the Waldorf Astoria on Park Ave. between 50th and 49th Sts., where President Obama is staying during the opening week of the UN General Assembly. We knew he had addressed the GA at 10 a.m. Around noon, as we walked south on Park, we noticed there was no traffic on the northbound side. A plainclothes officer or agent and a doorman were standing in the middle of the street. Police officers stopped letting people cross either Park or 49th St., though they didn't interfere with those standing near the the main entrance. There was that buzzing, hyper-alert feeling again, enhanced by the sight and sound of a chopper circling overhead (we may assume it wasn't Channel 4). While we hoped we might see the President arrive, we assumed it was more likely he'd use 49th or even the Lexington Ave. entrance to the Waldorf Towers (where RN used to visit Herbert Hoover and Gen. Douglas and Jean MacArthur). Sure enough, at about 12:15, the officers received a signal, lifted the barricades, and disappeared. No POTUS for us. We have no idea how he got back into the building, which, as a matter of fact, is just as it should be.

Anyway, this is New York, so some new excitement is usually just around the next corner, or in our case, about ten blocks south on Park, where we ran across a movie shoot. It was between takes. I took a picture of a familiar-looking actor leaning against a car. Security was conspicuous here, too, and indeed all over this still-wounded town. A gracious young location assistant invited us to move along quietly, so we couldn't gawk at the actor long enough to figure him out. My Facebook friend Mark Wills says it's Mark Wahlberg, and I think he's right. He started shooting an Adam McKay movie today with Will Farrell. And hey, Wahlberg was in a movie about a President. Close enough.

Our Lady's Branch At St. Patrick's

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Special Guest

New York's finest outside the Waldorf Astoria, where President Obama is staying. UN speech in an hour.
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It Is Good For Us To Be Here

Church of Our Saviour (RC), Park Ave. at 38th St.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why So Angry About Mary?

A century and a half, and still no consensus about poor Mary Todd Lincoln. In his review of the latest batch of Lincoln books, Civil War scholar James McPherson compares an angry- and cruel-sounding depiction of the tragedy-haunted First Lady in Michael Burlingame's two-volume Abraham Lincoln biography with a more discerning portrait by the author of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life:
[Burlingame's] narrative is...marred by a relentless hostility to Mary Lincoln, who had, he writes, "many symptoms associated with narcissism and with borderline personality disorder," including manic depression. She made Lincoln's domestic life "a burning, scorching hell" as "terrible as death and as gloomy as the grave." Burlingame goes on for page after page like this, quoting almost every negative portrayal of Mary Lincoln he found and almost nothing from the numerous sympathetic appraisals that other historians and biographers have cited....

For a balanced profile of Mary Lincoln one should turn to a new biography of her by Catherine Clinton, where we encounter a sensitive treatment of a woman who (like Abraham Lincoln) endured the death of her mother when she was a child and watched helplessly the deaths of three of her four sons in childhood and youth—not to mention the assassination of her husband by her side. It was little wonder that she sometimes seemed to go off the rails. But she had many positive traits as well. Mary's "unconditional love sustained Lincoln's growth to greatness," writes Clinton[:]

She was a woman of intense intellect and passion who stepped outside the boundaries her times prescribed, and suffered for it. She was someone who endured more personal loss and public humiliation than any other woman of her generation.
McPherson also highlights Lincoln's wonderful description of the straining toward perfection that characterizes the American political project at its best:
[The founders] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be...constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.

Arizona Songs: "Ten Degrees And Getting Colder" (1971)

Bluegrass picker Tony Rice in a 1975 performance that includes Ricky Skaggs. Written by Gordon Lightfoot.

From Status Quo To Final Status

After talks at the UN, President Obama has shifted his Middle East policy from the difficult (getting Israel to stop building settlement residences in the West Bank and the Palestinians to make relatively small confidence-building gestures) to the near-impossible:
The pivot toward tackling issues that include the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the borders of a future Palestinian state greatly increases the stakes for an administration that has found even small advances to be beyond reach. It also risks making Mr. Obama appear ineffective in having not gained a tangible early goal of his Middle East policy.
This could be the first step toward Obama losing interest in trying actively to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. It's not that he doesn't have enough troubles. That may be a relief for Israel in the short term, but it's in no one's long-term interests. An interested and well-intentioned U.S. President is a priceless resource. Too bad both sides seem intent on squandering it.

Means And Ends And More Means

An honest if troubling article by John Judis. He begins with politics 101: Presidents and candidates rise and fall with voters' confidence in the economy and satisfaction with their own situations. (That's also why President Obama won decisively in '08 after the mid-September meltdown, as any Democratic nominee would have, and why he never had a mandate for massive change.) The scary part is that since the recovery is halting at best, especially on the jobs front, Judis counsels Obama to save Democratic candidacies in the upcoming gubernatorial and midterm elections, and himself in 2012, by spending recklessly on a Rooseveltian alphabet soup of public works and jobs bureaus -- "colorful new agencies," he calls them:
Obama should turn a deaf ear to those who are calling for fiscal responsibility. He should keep pouring money into jobs and into the pockets of people who will spend until the unemployment rate begins going down and wages begin going up.
Ironic that Richard Nixon was accused of acquiescing in wage and price controls while pressuring the Fed to keep credit and money flowing in the run-up to the 1972 election, boosting employment but causing inflation in the years that followed, especially after the controls were lifted. If Nixon manipulated the economy to stay in office, it was so he could end the Vietnam war and consolidate his course-changing policies toward China and the Soviet Union. Judis wants Obama to hand out government jobs so he can win another term and make government even bigger.

LA Songs: "Ashgrove" (2004)

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women. Alvin wrote the song about an LA blues club he visited as a young man. This Sept. 19 performance at the Mucky Duck in Houston was publicized by the good people at
No Depression.


From Ezra Klein at the Washington Post, a startling article about what the average American wage earner is already paying for health care:

The average health-care coverage for the average family now costs $13,375, according to Kaiser. Over the past decade, premiums have increased by 138 percent. And if the trend continues, by 2019 the average family plan will cost $30,083.

Three years of slightly above-average health insurance will cost a solid six figures.

Those are numbers to marvel at. Those are numbers to fear. But they are not the numbers that loom in the minds of most Americans. And therein lies the problem for health-care reform.

About 160 million Americans receive health coverage through their employers. In general, the employer picks up 73 percent of the tab. This seems like a good deal. In reality, that money comes out of wages.

As Ezekiel Emanuel, who advises Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag on health-care policy, has pointed out, health-care premiums have risen by 300 percent over the past 30 years (and that's after adjusting for inflation). Corporate profit per employee has soared by 200 percent. Hourly earnings for workers, adjusted for inflation, have fallen. The wage increases have been consumed by health-care costs.

Klein argues that if most Americans really understood what health care was costing them, they'd be begging for reform. The greatest costs savings in the current proposals, he adds, would come from small fixes and the magic of medical IT:

For instance, despite all the fire over the co-op plan, it gets two pages in the Finance Committee's bill. Pages 75 to 110 are all devoted to delivery system changes that are meant to make the system a bit more efficient but that no one has ever heard of. "Value-based purchasing" alone gets six pages in the bill. The "National Pilot Program on Payment Bundling" gets another five.

Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin, a researcher at the Rand Corporation, and David Cutler, a health economist at Harvard, recently estimated the savings that could be attained by "modernizing" the system over the next 10 years. The changes they examined weren't dramatic. Replacing paper records with computerized files, making it easier for people to comparison-shop across insurers, "bundling" payments for the treatment of a single illness rather than shelling out separately for each doctor visit -- that sort of thing. Added up, they equaled a startling $2 trillion over 10 years. That's a lot of money for policies that have received virtually no attention in the debate.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Strap Your Hands 'Cross My Jazzy

Bruce is on the cover of the AARP magazine -- not that I subscribe, no sirree! A church friend lent me her copy:

This September, Springsteen will turn 60. In the months before his birthday, he will have traveled across America and Europe, putting on more than 50 concerts. At every one he will play several roles—hero, leader, preacher, rebel—the performances unfolding like a novel. His audiences will hold up homemade signs naming rare B sides and rock classics, and he and the band will play them from memory. He will ask fans to "remember your neighbors," and food-bank reps will traverse the crowds in search of donations.

Stan Leezard

Hat tip to

My Saturn And I Can Take No Credit

Worldwide CO2 emissions are down 2%, the largest decline in 40 years.

Dept. Of Problems I Didn't Know We Had

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks up about U.S. obligations toward a group of Iranians living in Iraq who are opposed to the regimes of the Shah (old news) and his successors.

Solution Green Is People

A young economist in England says cutting down on people would help with greenhouse gasses. I know what he's getting at (beginning with access to contraception for all those who want it), but it's still creepy.

War Killers

Glenn Greenwald reports about bloggers who think Gen. McCrystal's memo was leaked to build support for sending more troops to Afghanistan. That may be because people naturally assume that generals enjoy war, which is actually not true of most of those who have experienced it. The leak to Bob Woodward felt to me more like cautious military planners giving President Obama cover for getting out.

A Rescue, Not An Occupation

A friend who knows a lot more about Afghanistan than I do took umbrage at my call for a reduction of U.S. ground forces. I asked him if using counter-terrorism (CT) techniques to monitor, deter, attack, and eliminate active anti-U.S. terrorists in Afghanistan wouldn't be better than an open-ended commitment of ground forces. His reply:
In response to your query, look at the evidence from across the border in the tribal areas. How much success have we had there, including your conditionals, in light of the fact that this is a non-permissive environment? Now look at the Afghan side, a permissive environment, and measure the current presence of al-Qaeda. Then ask yourself how permissive that environment will be when we signal our intent to absquatulate? It will be an abandonment of a rescue, not an abandonment of an occupation, as made very clear by the only quote of a key Afghan in the [Gen. Stanley] McChrystal report:

I do not underestimate the enormous challenges in executing this new strategy; however, we have a key advantage: the majority of Afghans do not want a return of the Taliban. During consultations with Afghan Defense Minister Wardak, I found some of his writings insightful:

"Victory is within our grasp -- provided that we recommit ourselves based on lessons learned and provided that we fulfill the requirements needed to make success inevitable... I reject the myth advanced in the media that Afghanistan is a 'graveyard of empires' and that the U.S. and NATO effort is destined to fail. Afghans have never seen you as occupiers, even though this has been the major focus of the enemy's propaganda campaign. Unlike the Russians, who imposed a government with an alien ideology, you enabled us to write a democratic constitution and choose our own government. Unlike the Russians, who destroyed our country, you came to rebuild."

The above quote should be seen as debunking the tired conservative canard that manifests itself under isolationist cloak in every debate I've witnessed: They've been fighting for thousands of years! This was said of the encounters in the Middle East, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc. It is always historically false (they've usually been at peace for thousands of years, punctuated by violence caused by dynamics people are too reluctant to address). The current manifestation is the "graveyard of empires" construct. Even a cursory look at U.S. policy toward Afghanistan reveals -- and this is one of the things we tried to get right -- an attempt to partner, not occupy.

Do you believe that Afghans -- or any self-preserving people -- would continue to work with us if we break faith? And how does extending the insecurity of the tribal areas by several multiples of safe-haven support the argument that a CT strategy works?

I challenge the defeatism of the "open-ended" construction. McChrystal and others since the beginning have made clear that building Afghan security forces (ANA and ANP) is the ticket out. And the author of the poorly named Graveyard of Empires, RAND's Seth Jones, who is quite objective, clearly parses how we succeeded in building the ANA when we focused on it (and how we let that slip in the latter Bush years). The Afghans know how to fight and take very well to our training. We've built an army out of scratch (to approximately 90,000) in a few years of sustained commitment. Doubling that commitment, as Obama and McChrystal recognize is necessary, is the way to ensure that the Afghans will take responsibility for the security we are now leading. (Want to make any ARVN analogies?)

Youth Panels

Interviewing two women who were diagnosed with cancer while in their 20s, NPR's Terry Gross uses their experiences to demonstrate the advantages of health care reform. One of her subjects, after being diagnosed with colon cancer, returned to her native Czech Republic to escape the inconvenience of her insurance company's paperwork. Saying that she didn't have to wait for doctors' appointments, as critics of state-run health systems might expect, she explains why:
I really did not have that problem, just because I think everybody felt that I was young, and they needed to push me ahead of people who were just going for checkups. So I really did not have to wait any more than I wait when I go to see my doctor in the U.S.
The older people get, in Prague as elsewhere, the less likely that they are just waiting around for checkups. Perhaps this demonstrates nothing more than the shortcoming of arguing by anecdote when considering massive, complex reforms. But the idea of younger patients being pushed ahead didn't exactly warm the cockles of at least one nearly 55-year-old, politically conflicted heart.

St. John's Dodger Peanut Gallery

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Memo To Bob

Again demonstrating his knack for prying confidences and insider information from deep within the military mind, Bob Woodward writes this morning about Gen. Stanley McChrystal's pessimistic Afghanistan report to President Obama. Andrew Sullivan's assessment:
[I]f McChrystal is right, he is strategizing Afghanistan as a semi-permanent protectorate for the US. This is empire in the 21st century sense: occupying failed states indefinitely to prevent even more chaos spinning out of them. And it has the embedded logic of all empires: if it doesn't keep expanding, it will collapse. The logic of McChrystal is that the US should be occupying Pakistan as well. And Somalia. And anywhere al Qaeda make seek refuge.

In the end, Gulliver cannot move. And his pockets are empty. Whom does that deter?
Why the leak? There are those who say (Len Colodny) that former naval intelligence officer Woodward functions in a, shall we say, quasi-official manner when reporting about military and intelligence affairs. Whether or not that's true, by making the 66-page report available to Woodward, someone at the Pentagon, at a top level and perhaps even with the White House's acquiescence, seems to have signaled that it's time to bail. As Woodward writes:
[McChrystal] plan could intensify a national debate in which leading Democratic lawmakers have expressed reluctance about committing more troops to an increasingly unpopular war. Obama said last week that he will not decide whether to send more troops until he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."
However this morning's Washington Post story happened -- hustled-for leak or Pentagon press release -- it's a salutary development. The military mind understands better than most the perils of trying to accomplish in Afghanistan in the 21st century what the British and Russians could not in the 19th and 20th -- especially when there are better ways to battle al-Qaeda's shifting target. Let's not do the enemy the favor of getting bogged down yet again. Come home, America, from Kabul, at least.

Daniel Pipes On Israel And Palestinians

In an article that he says distills a decade's thinking and writing on the Middle East, Daniel Pipes argues that there can be no peace, and there should be no more negotiations, until Palestinians accept the permanence and legitimacy of Israel and cease all violence. Pipes argues that a nation can only make peace with a former enemy, and a defeated one:

[Premature] Israeli concessions inflamed Palestinian hostility. Palestinians interpreted Israeli efforts to "make peace" as signals of demoralization and weakness. "Painful concessions" reduced the Palestinian awe of Israel, made the Jewish state appear vulnerable, and incited irredentist dreams of annihilation. Each Oslo-negotiated gesture by Israel further exhilarated, radicalized, and mobilized the Palestinian body politic to war. The quiet hope of 1993 to eliminate Israel gained traction, becoming a deafening demand by 2000. Venomous speech and violent actions soared. Polls and votes in recent years suggest that a mere 20 percent of Palestinians accept the existence of a Jewish state.

Town Brawl

Michael Barone says what's helping make the nation's political atmosphere so noxious is the left's intolerance of dissent:
[I]t's interesting that the two most violent incidents at this summer's town hall meetings came when a union thug beat up a 65-year-old black conservative in Missouri and when a liberal protester bit off part of a man's finger in California.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Making Paranoia Rational

Mickey Kaus:
The more I think about it, the more the townhall anti Obama anger isn't explained completely by the issues....There's also something about Obama himself-. But that something (or the main something) isn't his race. It's that he's a relative newcomer, as Presidents go--an unkown quantity, an enigma, with a relatively short track record and patches of that record left fuzzy. That means opponents can fill in the blanks with ominous possibilities. It makes paranoia more rational, if you will.
I buy that. But race is also an issue, especially for Republicans.

Shrinking Presidency

Is the President "out of his depth"?

Whom To Believe?

Iran says it doesn't want nukes.

Prop. 2008

From one of President Bush's former speechwriters:
For a commencement address at Furman University in spring 2008, Ed Gillespie wanted to insert a few lines condemning gay marriage. Bush called the speech too "condemnatory" and said, "I'm not going to tell some gay kid in the audience that he can't get married."

Rancho Santa New Orleans

Choir member's hat, West Coast Dixie Band. Hold onto your hats, people of God!
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Repudiate The Racists, And Mean It, the conservative web site, circulates a daily e-mail offering links to its columnists and other resources. This morning's edition includes the picture at left (advertising something called the "National Republican Trust PAC") as well as a column by mainstream conservative Steve Chapman, who writes:
Obama may be a "post-racial" figure, but there is still a significant slice of the electorate that has never gotten past his skin color.

For anyone who regards blacks as irredeemably alien or inferior, Obama is a nightmare, not just because he is black but because he so thoroughly confounds racist stereotypes.

But that's a minor factor, not a decisive one. It is Obama's party and policies that are the real source of the opposition.
This strikes me as an important concession that there's a virtually unprecedented and potentially dangerous factor in the national political mix as the result of Obama's election that has nothing to do with his policies. Whether the racist fringe is "significant," "minor," or "not...decisive" (all different things; Chapman seems a bit conflicted) begs the question of whether conservatives and Republicans must become vigilant about repudiating rhetoric and tactics designed to attract and perhaps even inflame racists.

It's a difficult problem for any candidate. Political coalitions and blocs of voters are assembled across a broad spectrum. A Republican candidate knows that she gets votes from pro-choice fiscal conservatives and gun show attendees with Confederate flags and Birther bumper stickers on their pickups. The Democrat gets votes from world-government lefties and suburban moderates. Neither candidate wants to offend the fringe. The Townhall e-mail itself reflects the tension, presenting Chapman's column as well as a picture of Obama that is obviously intended to make him look like Nation of Islam security guard.

Let's be perfectly clear about this stuff. Appeals to the racist fringe are unacceptable. The racist fringe is unacceptable. Responsible Republicans should condemn it, and candidates should say they don't want their votes. You know who did it in 1962? Richard Nixon, when he spurned the Birchers. It helped him lose the California governor's election that year. But it couldn't be helped. It needed to be done. As a matter of fact, the propriety of the move notwithstanding, it prepared the GOP for the mainstream. It's time to get out the Nixon playbook again.