Saturday, October 3, 2009

Obama's Brand New Old Iran Policy

Jackson Diehl writes that neither sanctions nor military action is likely to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The answer? Good, old-fashioned containment while we await regime change:
The point would be to limit Iran's ability to produce nuclear weapons or exercise its influence through the region by every means possible short of war -- and to be prepared to sustain the effort over years, maybe decades. It's an option that has been lurking at the back of the debate about Iran for years. "In their heart of hearts I think the Obama administration knows that this is where this is going," [former Clinton official Kenneth] Pollack says.

I suspect he's right. I also don't expect Obama and his aides to begin talking about a policy shift anytime soon. For the next few months we'll keep hearing about negotiations, sanctions and possibly Israeli military action as ways to stop an Iranian bomb. By far the best chance for a breakthrough, as I see it, lies in a victory by the Iranian opposition over the current regime. If that doesn't happen, it may soon get harder to disguise the hollowness of Western policy.

In Deep Dish

"Politico" on the President's Olympic debacle.

St. John's Sky

7:10 p.m. Saturday

Perfect Songs: "If You Were A Bluebird" (1977)

Joe Ely. Song by his Flatlanders colleague Butch Hancock. A perfect song for many reasons, including the unselfconscious use of the conditional contrary to fact. As RN might have said, there are those who would've written "if you
was a bluebird" (and yet note last verse!).

If you were a bluebird you'd be a sad one
I'd give you a true word
But you've already had one
If you were a bluebird,
you'd be crying
You'd be flying home

If you were a raindrop,
You'd shine like a rainbow
And if you were a train stop,
The conductor would sing low
If you were a raindrop,
You'd be falling
You'd be calling home

If you were a hotel
Honey, you'd be a grand one
But, if you hit a slow spell,
Do you think you could stand one
If you were a hotel,
Well I'd lean on your doorbell
I'd call you my home

If I was a highway,
I'd stretch alongside you
I'd help you pass by ways
That had dissatisfied you
If I was a highway,
Well I'd be stretchin'
I'd be fetchin' you home

Charles The Caterpillar

If conservatives are angry (and I'm not willing to stipulate that they're any angrier than liberals these days), I hope they don't see Charles M. Blow's column in today's New York Times, in which he positions them one rung above bug juice on the evolutionary ladder:
A hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln framed conservatism thusly: “What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?” It was and still is. Conservatism for some is a collective mooring against the waves of change. It is a reflexive reaction to uncertainty.

The Obama administration’s response to the financial and automotive crises and its pursuit of a wide range of reforms is the epitome of new and untried. Major change has come much too quickly for far too many. The response: retreat to a cocoon of conservatism.
His evidence? Among other things,
A May report found that for the first time since Gallup began asking about abortion in 1995, more Americans are now anti-abortion than supportive of abortion rights.
As I'm sure Blow realizes, an anti-abortion activist might well argue that new is not necessarily good. In the old days, W. A. Mozart, C. M. Blow, and J. H. Taylor all stood a mathematically better chance of peeking their caterpillar heads out of their cocoons than they might today. While I'm sure that he didn't mean to patronize those whose views on abortion are ambivalent or in conflict with his own, he did. Is Blow in a cocoon as a result of anesthetizing himself against an appreciation of the lost potentiality inherent in the West's abortion rates? Actually, I don't know his views on the subject, and so I shouldn't speculate. Nor should he so blithely about the views of others. Is he aware, for instance, of polls that show younger people are becoming more accepting of the rights of gay and lesbian people without becoming more accepting of abortion? Blow might call that cocooning. I call it discernment.

As for conservatives' resistance to Obama's big-spending policies, the higher taxes that seem inevitable wouldn't be even remotely new. The highest incremental income tax rate was 91% in the early 1960s. If Blow wants to go higher than that, it would be really old, because it would be called feudalism. What's also old (and tiresome) is know-it-all pundits who psychoanalyze everyone who doesn't embrace their definition of enlightenment.

Even In The Sixties, Verbs Agreed

As reported in "Rolling Stone," an excerpt from President Obama's June 2009 letter to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, who died last month:
Your passion for music and your ability to stir change has helped define a genre and a generation.

Culture Battles

Should Roman Polanski be extradited? Should gays and lesbians be allowed to marry? Does an abortion destroy a human life? Should this ex-Marine living near a golf course in San Clemente, California be flying the U.S. flag upside down because he thinks his life or property is imperiled by tax increases? These are my favorite kinds of issues -- the ones where people quickly express their points of view (often exposing the deep emotion behind them) while a democratic society takes its sweet time.

If Movie Critics Ruled The World

Village Voice film editor Allison Benedikt:
[I]f you knew Roman Polanski like we know Roman Polanski, you would surely understand how artistically narrow-minded it is to treat him like a rapist just because he raped someone.
Hat tip to

Forming More Perfect Unions

During the Prop. 8 debate last year, the position of Barack Obama and Carrie Prejean (the former still in his job) was that gay and lesbian couples could enjoy equivalent legal and financial benefits by entering into civil unions. The idea was that the debate was just over the definition of the word marriage. Equivocal though I was about Prop. 8, I felt the civil union argument was a dodge, since studies showed that unions didn't provide couples anywhere near the same protections and benefits. A New York Times article today makes this abundantly clear.

The Immaculate Predicton

This is amazing:

Hat tip to the "Daily Dish"

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sept. 11 War III?

Continuing to hold his position on the isolationist right, Pat Buchanan fears we're heading for another post-Sept. 11 war:

Obama is facing an awful choice.

Committing 45,000 more troops to Afghanistan will not assure victory, McChrystal is telling the president, but denying him the 45,000 troops may ensure an American defeat.

Being forced to make this Hobbesean choice will surely affect Obama's decision on Iran. Seeing what a decade of war has done to his country, he cannot want a third war with a nation more populous than Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Yet that is where the sanctions regime is inevitably headed.

Sauce For The Goose-Step

In today's toxic political atmosphere, it's appalling the way critics openly compare our leaders to Hitler and the Nazis. Right-wing Obamaphobes at Glenn Beck's Sept. 12 rally in Washington? Sure. Also OC Weekly, attacking the San Clemente City Council.

Anaheim Hills Sky

7 p.m.


Televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn was banned from entering England because of tougher regulations designed to keep "teachers of religious hate" out of the country. I'm no Hinn fan, but I don't think he's what advocates of the new rules had in mind.


Playing the low-expectations game with Iran after it promises to ship its enriched uranium to Russia:

It [is], in many ways, the exact opposite of what a White House usually does after major international talks. Instead of painting lukewarm concessions as major breakthroughs and going on and on about “warm substantive” meetings, officials were treating a potentially major breakthrough as if it were a suspicious package.

If Iran has really agreed to send most of its openly declared enriched uranium out of the country to be turned into fuel, that is a significant concession, experts said, and much more than the Bush administration ever got over the years of its nonengagement dance with Iran.

Pantsed Worldwide

Print journalism may be dying and the New York Times struggling, but six reporters were available today to assemble an article about David Letterman and his alleged blackmailer -- and a mean little article it is. The obvious, perennial cheap shot, in which the article revels, is hypocrisy:
David Letterman, who built his career skewering philandering politicians and show business “weasels” and “boneheads,” finds himself in the middle of his own celebrity scandal...
And then:
[T]here is the open question about how fans will receive Mr. Letterman, who has long used his stance as a sarcastic comic commentator to ridicule the behavior of politicians and celebrities. “Today, The L.A. Times accused Arnold Schwarzenegger of groping six women,” he once said in a monologue. “I’m telling you, this guy is presidential material.”
And yet the Times discloses that none of Letterman's affairs occurred after he was married, no one has ever accused him of sexual harassment, and his production company, Worldwide Pants, has no policy prohibiting such relationships. Based on what we know now, Letterman has done nothing wrong, unless the six reporters are opposed to premarital sex, revealing a heretofore undiscerned streak of sexual Puritanism at the Times.

As for the poor victims of Letterman's hypocritical rants, the LA Times had accused Schwarzenegger of inappropriate and possibly illegal harassment, which made him fair game for a monologue whether or not the comedian had a girlfriend. My guess is that those whom Letterman called weasels and boneheads weren't single people in consensual relationships, either. They had probably been caught committing adultery, abusing the public purse, abusing or harassing people, or covering up. In contrast, Letterman told the public exactly what had happened. Too bad it didn't occur to one of the six reporters to find an expert willing to reflect on how better off some of the weasels and boneheads might've been if they'd handled their crises as forthrightly as Letterman.

The Times also grossly misconstrued Letterman calling himself "terrible" and "creepy." Again, did all six miss the sarcasm? In his remarkable statement last night, Letterman says the alleged blackmailer threatened to expose him to public humiliation. Late in the segment, with a dramatic flourish, he reveals that the sum total of the accusation was that he'd had consensual sex with colleagues. Memo to the Times ombudsman: Letterman was saying that he's not terrible and creepy and also, I felt, that he profoundly resented being told otherwise by a towering weasel and bonehead.

Yorba Linda Sky

5:55 p.m. Friday
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Or Neither

So what has caused President Obama to change course on the Middle East: His impatience with the local players, especially Israel, or U.S. Jews' impatience with him, as David Hazony speculates at "Commentary"?

Hat tip to Mike Cheever

Fat Chance, Max

Max Boot tells Republicans to back the President if he gives Gen. McCrystal what he's asking for in Afghanistan:
The president’s dedication is indeed open to question, but it’s still possible he may give McChrystal what he needs in order to win. If he does, conservatives would be well-advised to support the president rather than to engage in partisan carping as too many of them did during the 1990s while Bill Clinton was taking military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere. Back then, some on the Right mindlessly adopted an isolationist stance simply because interventions were being ordered by a Democratic president. That is a mistake they should not repeat. Instead, “national security conservatives” should unite to support our troops and their battle-tested commanders as they try to turn around a failing war effort in Afghanistan.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever

"Bear Any Burden" Was A Good Line

Republicans prepare to accuse President Obama of being soft on national security. He could anticipate the thrust by keeping the same policies while toughening his rhetoric. I'm sure I'm not the only moderate who thinks he's on the right track so far with Iran and who worries about an open-ended commitment of ground forces in Afghanistan. But I've heard more than enough apologies and let's-be-friends speeches. Solicitous appeals to foreign audiences don't help him, us, or indeed them.

It would also be wise for him to crow about the progress U.S. forces, and policy, have made in Iraq. You say he was against it? So what? He's President now, and he sees the world differently. You would, too. Besides, he doesn't need to worry about losing the left.

5,870 Completely Preventable Deaths In 2008

It boggles the mind even to try to imagine the heartbreak and loss that accompany each of the avoidable injuries and deaths encompassed by these statistics:
In 2008 one in six of the teenagers killed in car crashes in America was found to have been distracted, in one way or another, just prior to impact. Five years ago, the figure was one in eight. The authorities fear that the number of teenage deaths caused by distraction while driving is about to explode, given the variety of new gizmos about to invade the car.

“To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society,” Ray LaHood, America’s Transportation Secretary, told an audience of more than 300 people at a two-day summit organised by the government in Washington, DC, that kicked off on September 30th. Last year, 5,870 people (16% of overall fatalities) were killed on American roads as a result of driver distraction, and 515,000 (22% of the total) were injured.
As this "Economist" article discloses, politicians and the journalists who cover (and sometimes enable) them hear these tragic numbers and swing into action, doing what they do best -- writing and endorsing new laws and regulations and new punishments for behavior that everyone of driving age, indeed everyone walking upright, knows is reckless and morally wrong without even having to be told.

I'm not against the laws. I'm astonished how the prevailing cluelessness of my fellow human beings and me makes them advisable. California's relatively mild hands-free phone law, which I see motorists flaunting several times a day, did work for me. But I could only manage to curtail obsessively checking e-mails while driving by promising my wife I would stop. I wonder how many conservatives who rail against government limits on their freedom indulge in behavior that gives government the warrant it needs to enact them?

Pastor David

David Letterman's presentation last night about his brush with an alleged blackmailer, a CBS News producer. They say the greatest comics are motivated by absolute terror. Here's proof. Even while telling this frightening, humiliating story, his timing is flawless. It's also worth studying the bond he creates with his audience by being honest (we trust) and self-deprecating (though ultimately standing up for what's right). It's actually a good life lesson for ministers. I'm not always his biggest fan, but I sure was last night.

Friday evening: CBS has prohibited YouTube from showing the video. Too bad. Courtesy of the New York Times, you can watch it here.

Bringing Krauthammer Down

Charles Krauthammer says the French think we're appeasing Iran. Actually, I wonder if the distinguished columnist can actually prove that. Evidently President Nicolas Sarkozy (or his aides, who had to rewrite his speech, poor dears) wanted President Obama to reveal Iran's secret nuclear facility last week during the UN Security Council meeting instead of a day later at the G-20 summit. The news from Qom was so dramatic, the weakening impact on Iran's position so immediately discernible, that it doesn't matter where Obama sprang it. But it appears Krauthammer also would have preferred the grandeur of the once-hated UN to the prosaism of Pittsburgh.

What a difference a year makes. To employ a favorite device of U.S. conservatives, the right would've given George W. Bush high fives and hallelujahs for irritating the French and choosing a city in Gov. Palin's "real America" for his dramatic announcement. Le difference is that Krauthammer thinks Obama's wasting time on Iran with weak diplomatic posturing. While I agree that Iran's bomb is probably our greatest national security challenge, it's too early to pronounce the Obama policy a failure. For instance, Krauthammer's column fails to take into account positive developments at this week's Geneva meeting.

I suppose if you think that Obama is hopelessly incompetent or feckless, that he would never be willing to take the ultimate steps that may someday be necessary to keep a madman from having a doomsday weapon, then you want to underrate and even undermine everything he does. I'm just not that pessimistic. I also believe that irrespective of the eventual outcome of the Iraq war, history will judge Bush harshly for failing to push harder on sanctions before going to war. So with Iran, every possible diplomatic expedient must be used short of the use of military power, including delaying tactics in the hope of regime change in Tehran.

Nobody should be eager to go to war against Iran (or anyone). So everyone should be hoping the Obama policy succeeds. By the same token, it makes no sense to pretend it's working when it isn't. But the French president's speechwriter's having to crank out a new draft and a questionable location choice for a press conference don't rise to the level of five-alarm crisis.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Last Laugh

David Letterman's account of being the object of a blackmail scheme was extraordinary -- raw, discomfiting, honest, and periodically hilarious. About his relationships with female staff members, he said, "Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would, especially for the women!" Describing his initial panicked reaction to the perpetrator's threat to reveal his affairs in a screenplay and book unless he forked over $2 million, Letterman said, "I'm a towering mass of Midwestern Lutheran guilt." But he got over that, and demonstrated to guilty politicians and entertainers everywhere how to take care of business. He called the cops and fessed up, and now somebody's going to get to write a genuine prison memoir.

It Wasn't So, Joe

President Carter repents -- or, rather, redacts.

Good Mao, Bad Mao

You need a degree in semiotics to figure out what Kai Chen's problem is with the images of Mao Zedong in the Nixon Library. Reporting about a demonstration by 12 people outside the Library today, the Orange County Register writes:

A needlepoint still-life, donated by the Chinese government, is in a nearby exhibit. Protest organizer...Chen of Los Angeles said he doesn't object to the other items, because they were presented by other people, whereas the statue was chosen by Nixon and seems to be an endorsement of Mao by the U.S. government – exactly what [Library director Tim] Neftali [sic] said he wants to avoid.
Let's be absolutely clear about this. The Chinese communist regime donated the framed needlepoint (showing President Nixon's 1972 meeting with Mao) in 1991, two years after the Tiananmen Square massacre. But that depiction of Mao is okay, whereas the statue is not because it was approved by the former President who formulated the opening to China considered by virtually every expert as a progressive hallmark of the Cold War (and who went back to China in the fall of 1989 to denounce the hardliners who ordered the Tiananmen tanks to roll). If I were Chen and his fellow protesters, who were actually wearing shirts commemorating Tiananmen Square, I'd be more offended by the gift from the butchers of Beijing.

Don't Walk Away, Ardi

Fascinating speculations about food, sex, and walking upright, 4.4 million years ago in Ethiopia.

Healthy Self-Esteem At 60

Spectacular photos from China's 60th anniversary celebration, courtesy

To Russia With Gloves

The Geneva talks sound like another win for President Obama:
Iran’s agreement in principle to export most of its enriched uranium for processing — if it happens — would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit.

#1 Reason Not To Try To Blackmail Letterman

You lose.

Hale And Ardi

Bones of a 4.4 million-year-old Ethiopian for the young earthers to pick.


Facebook friends weigh in on the controversy over Mao Zeodong's statue in the museum of the Nixon Library:
The Rev. Karen Ann Wojahn. I'm puzzled. Why does recognizing an individual's impact (for good or for evil) on the world -- especially an individual as powerful as Mao -- make him or her the the moral equivalent of similarly powerful people? I've marveled at that lovely exhibit many times, and never saw it as an homage to any of the figures. Instead, I saw it as a way to "see" in one place a sample of flawed (some more than others) but powerful figures whose lives impacted every living person in one way or another during the twentieth century.
Ed Cimler: I agree, Karen. A museum is not only a repository of stuff. It also serves to remind and educate us. It may be somewhat unfortunate that the bad guys seem, at times, to get more press than the good guys. If asked to name a bad emperor of the Roman empire, many would come to mind, but I would have to think hard to come up with a good one.
Stephen Bruce: It's like saying (forgive the analogy) that watching "Birth of a Nation" makes me a racist.

Among The Eggheads On The Boss's Birthday

From an academic symposium last weekend to discuss the work of the greatest single figure in the history of rock and roll:
"His music can call us to a higher purpose," said Dr. James Kelly of Carlow University in Pittsburgh...

Hat tip to Mike Cheever

Saying No To Joe

The U.S. Afghanistan commander, speaking in London:
General [Stanley] McChrystal was asked by a member of an audience that included retired military commanders and security specialists whether he would support an idea put forward by Mr. Biden to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of Al Qaeda, in place of the current broader effort now under way to defeat the Taliban.

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Newspapers' Latest Digital Savior

Apple's sizzling full-color Tablet could smother the once-smoking Kindle.

Red Zone

Just this once, OC Weekly isn't sure whom to make fun of: The Nixon Library or the single-minded critic of its Mao Zedong statue.

I Have One Word For You: Plastics

-- to explain why we're such a chubby people.

Physician, Heal Thy Church

Thanks to a court order today, the Diocese of Los Angeles is reclaiming one of the properties whose congregations left the Episcopal Church three years ago.

Chairman Cox


Mao Tied

An LA real estate investor has single-handedly made a federal case out of the presence of a statue of Mao Zedong at the Nixon Library. Previously confined to Kai Chen's website, the issue rose to the attention of the LA Times today:
"Mao was the biggest mass murderer in human history," Chen said, his volume set to high. "His hands were dipped in the blood of American soldiers who fought in Korea and Vietnam. How can that image be put alongside world leaders like Winston Churchill and De Gaulle? It's a perversion of American freedom. You don't put an anti-American symbol in a U.S. museum."
While generally sympathetic to the criticism, the Library's federal director, Cold War scholar Tim Naftali (shown here), doesn't promise to remove the statue anytime soon nor indeed those of Nikita Khrushchev or Leonid Brezhnev, neither of whom was a day at the beach. Naftali does say:
"I think having a statue of a person in a museum can imply respect," he said. "I thought there might very well be confusion among visitors. With Churchill, Meir and Sadat all in the same room, there is an equivalency there and the implication that they're all alike. They were not all alike. Mao was a mass murderer.

"It seemed to me out of place in a publicly funded museum," Naftali added. "I don't think it's the best way to teach history."
Why that's true, I'm not precisely sure. As I wrote in August on learning of Kai Chen's campaign:
As the Nixon aide (later, private Nixon Library director) who supervised the design of the display in which the statues appear, I can say with absolute confidence that they weren't intended to honor anyone. We asked President Nixon to pick the ten leaders he'd met who'd had the most decisive impact on the postwar world. Four of his choices were leaders of communist regimes -- the two Chinese plus Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Khrushchev. The idea was to give visitors an idea of what they looked like and illustrate RN's proposition that the U.S. could be a force for stability and constructive change by finding ways to be in dialog even with leaders of unfriendly or unsavory powers.

Nixon would have been the first to say that the Chinese regime was odious....And yet there's considerable evidence that his overtures and policies were good for the Chinese and Soviet peoples, in the same way that the North Koreans and Iranians might end up being better off if relations with the U.S. improved.
No one from the private Nixon Foundation was quoted in the Times article, though two of the Library's docents spoke up on behalf of the volunteers' nearly two decades of service as expert and unfailingly professional interpreters of President Nixon's life and times.

Overall the article seemed designed to leave the impression that sticking up for keeping Mao's statue would amount to a vote for the formerly private Nixon Library's pro-Nixon spin. Memo to the younger generation of reporters: Richard Nixon was an anti-communist. His counter-intuitive opening to Beijing was the essence of his genius as a statesman. I doubt if Naftali or indeed Kai Chen would argue that the Chinese people, no matter how they were abused by their communist leaders, would be better off if Richard Nixon hadn't sat down with Mao and tipped mao tai glasses with Zhou. If the policy was worth pursuing then, it makes abundant sense to depict the Chinese leaders now in a museum gallery designed both to capture a unique moment in the annals of geopolitics and to demonstrate the advisability of being willing to shake hands with friends and foes alike in the pursuit of peace.


Should supposedly objective reporters and editors be permitted to express their personal political opinions on Twitter and other social media? The Washington Post says no.

Fiddle Songs: "As Time Goes By" (1931)

Jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli's performance of Herman Hupfeld's song, with scenes from "Casablanca."

Gee, 20

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann write that the U.S. gave away some of its economic sovereignty at the recent G-20 summit:

[T]he world's most successful economy, ours -- which is the only one that has produced reliable economic growth for three decades and has lifted real personal incomes almost every year -- is going to subject itself to the burden of justifying its own economic policies in front of a global community of 20 nations, some of which do not even embrace free-market economies in the first place.

Indeed, it is only through access to our markets that nations have been able to escape poverty. Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, China and India have sequentially trod this path into prosperity.

Obviously, we live in a global economy. But the United States is 24 percent of it. We are entitled to more than one-twentieth of a voice, and it is the world that should be following our policies -- not the other way around.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Boycott Switzerland Boycotters

Kate Harding shows why Roman Polanski should do time. (This post is for mature readers only, please.)

The Chairman And The Mayor

Preparing to become chairman of the New York state GOP, Ed Cox wants Mayor Giuliani to reconsider his plan to run for governor and take on Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand instead.

A Momentary Loss Of Trust In Authority

Looks like someone told somebody it wouldn't hurt. This photo was distributed by the wonderful St. John's nurses in an e-mail about the first round of on-campus flu shots.

Hawks' Follies

At the "American Conservative," Daniel Larison rebuts those who say President Obama is on a foreign policy roll but saves his sternest words for the prior regime:
[T]he Bush administration oversaw setback after failure after defeat for American influence and power. Iran has become a far more influential regional power thanks to the folly of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, democracy fetishists helped to strengthen the hold of Hamas in Gaza to the detriment of Palestinians and Israelis, and Russophobes helped to encourage Saakashvili’s recklessness with talk of NATO membership and provoked Russian ire with the recognition of Kosovo that led to the de facto permanent partition of an American ally. Hawks have routinely unleashed forces they do not understand, cannot control and are unwilling to contain, and they still have the gall to shout “Appeasement!” when someone else tries to repair some small measure of the damage they have done. Compared to this partial list of Bush’s major failures, Obama has done reasonably well simply by not persisting in some of his predecessor’s errors, but it is far too early to speak of success or payoff and it is a mistake to measure Obama’s success in the way that his supporters wish to do.
Hat tip to the "Daily Dish"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is Iran Nuking Up Or Not?

Amazing that "intelligence" involves so much guesswork.

Horn Songs: "Coming Back" (1991)

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, performing on the Letterman show. Oh Lordy, those horns! Song (and, on the studio recording, lead guitar and backing vocals) by Steven van Zandt.

Roman Scandal

Iran's revealing secret nuclear sites, shooting off missiles, and threatening Israel, and we're arguing over convicted child molester Roman Polanski. (I wrote it that way because a sociologist on Patt Morrison's KPCC-FM program this afternoon said, in fairness to other child molesters, that's what we should be saying instead of "Oscar-winning director".) Okay: Root around here, and you'll learn that Polanski copped a plea to a crime that sounds nowhere near as bad as what he might actually have done to his 13-year-old victim. On the other hand, was Polanski right to believe that the judge in the case, now deceased, had committed misconduct? Maybe. Either way, I'm with former LA DA John Van de Kamp. Polanski should stop wasting our time, fly home on his own nickel, and make his best case. It's what he would've had to do years ago if he weren't rich and famous.

Holiday Road

On the radio today, Hugh Hewitt said it was odd that none of the articles he'd seen about Iran's missile tests and latest threats against Israel -- this AP article is one example -- mentions that it's Yom Kippur, the day Egypt chose 36 years ago for its own surprise attack on Israel.

Prudent, Good. Hamlet, Bad.

The "Economist" summarizes Barack Obama's Afghanistan quandary, "which has the power to break his presidency":
He has called it a war of necessity, but voters are turning against the campaign. General Stanley McChrystal, the commanding officer, has made a strong case for more resources, both to fight the Taliban and to convince Afghans that the outside world will stay the course. Mr Obama says he needs to see a strategy before adding to the 21,000 extra troops he has already sent to the country, but that looks like a device to reassure American voters at a time when his domestic policies are in trouble. It sends an alarming message to wavering Europeans itching to pull out and to Afghans wondering whether to throw their lot in with the government or with the insurgents. If Mr Obama really does believe he must prevail in Afghanistan, then public doubts and delay will only make the task harder.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Regular Touch

Politico on Bill Safire and the Nixon family:

Ed Cox, a New York layer active in conservative circles and the son-in-law of Richard Nixon said that Safire “will be known for his intelligence and his grasp of public events and he contributed a lot to our national dialogue by his always insightful columns in the New York Times.”

Cox said that he and Safire were in touch over the years, but that he had not talked with his former colleague in the most recent months. He said that Safire “always remained thoughtful about the Nixon family and we were in regular touch with him.”

Just Go Get Her, Bruce

"Surrogates" is another movie where a long-suffering Bruce Willis (Tom Greer) gets stomped half to death while making his way back to the woman he loves -- not that she's that far away. Unlike in the "Die Hard" movies, when his beloved anxiously awaits at the airport or on top of the skyscraper, Greer's wife is cocooned in a separate bedroom in their apartment, living her life by manipulating a high-tech robot that looks like a younger, happier her. FBI agent Greer works through a robot, too, which has hair and, like all the surrogates, a creepy, ductile complexion. Since surrogates were invented a few years before, billions of people around the world have taken to their high-tech beds, sending their robots out into the world to work, fight, and entertain themselves. Crime is down, but health care costs are probably skyrocketing since everybody from Boston to Beijing is a video game station potato.

A parable about technology run amok? It's not humanity's dependency on foxy robots that keeps Greer and his wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike), apart. It's their inability to come to terms with the death of their son. The action of the movie commences when surrogacy's inventor (whose slogan is "Life...only better") secretly starts a revolution against it. But surrogacy is just another anesthetic, like drugs, texting, college football, or Cheetos. By setting the action in the nearly-now (surrogates are still driving 2008 Priuses), director Jonathan Mostow slyly reminds us that plenty of us are using currently available addictions and dodges to try to hold pain at bay. Greer begins to see the light when his hirsute surrogate cop is destroyed (and, tellingly, crucified) during a hot pursuit into a humans-only reservation. Sure, he saves the world, but in the end, he does what he could've done at the beginning. Desperate to reconnect with the woman he loves, he kicks her door in.


To say goodbye to a beloved priest and pastor after nearly 35 years, the people of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Fullerton, California chose the theme of Aloha, which communicates the ancient and godly virtues of affection, grace, and love and has more recently come to mean (this is the especially helpful part when you're still a little in denial) "hello" and "goodbye" at the same time. So at the end of a ceremony this afternoon in front of a church packed with well wishers, the children of St. Andrew's took turns loading down the Rev. Canon Mark Shier with leis. As each young face approached, Fr. Mark's brightened more. Children all love him. Pretty much everybody else does, too, which made today's parting all the more poignant.

Several years ago, Mark spearheaded a renovation of the church grounds, including a reception plaza that has now been named in his honor. Our bishop, J. Jon Bruno, designated him rector emeritus. While his name will be all over the place, the church won't be seeing much of him in the weeks and months ahead as the congregation gets used to its interim pastor, who will help them get used to life without the only priest most St. Andrew's members have ever known, and launches a search for a permanent replacement.

Over the last few months, Mark has prepared the church for his leave-taking with his usual meticulousness, but today was still hard for his devoted people -- and I was one of them. Sitting in the pews, watching the sometimes stoic priest try to battle back tears, I remembered my first visit to this friendly church 14 years ago. I'd been in search of an Episcopal parish that felt right. As Holy Eucharist began that Sunday morning, thanks to Mark's gracious ministry, I knew I'd found it. Forgiving (or overlooking) the whole Republican-Nixon thing, he inspired, encouraged, and supported my own vocation, sent me off to seminary, baptized and confirmed my daughters, Valerie and Lindsay, married Kathy and me, and gave me my first job as a deacon and priest while teaching lifelong lessons about how to do both jobs. My life wouldn't be remotely the same if it weren't for this gifted theologian, liturgist, pastor, and proud Vietnam veteran and Welshman. That our lives intersected as they have (and still shall, I pray) is an ineffable thing. Only one other word for it, really: Aloha.

Yorba Linda Sky

6:45 a.m. Sunday
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Roman Holiday Interrupted

The long memory of the law.

Making Enemies Bleed

Les Gelb on his former Times colleague Bill Safire:
He was...the best friend and the worst enemy to friends and foes. And I can't think of a better accolade. There was little he would deny to a friend, and there was little respite he would give to a foe.
And this:
"[M]ake sure that at least twice a year you make somebody bleed in your column," he intoned. Boy, was he right, and the whole world seemed more eager to talk to me when the blood spilled onto the pages.

Safire Goes Out

The sad news comes from Washington of the death of one of President Nixon's legendary triumvirate of first-string speechwriters, William Safire, at the age of 79. While a line between two points is too simple a metaphor for these unique talents, Safire tended to occupy the middle ground between Ray Price and Pat Buchanan. His Nixon affiliation ranged from 1959 (where he actually snapped the most famous picture of the so-called kitchen debate between Vice President Nixon and the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev; note Leonid Brezhnev, who would unseat Khrushchev five years later, over RN's shoulder) until the early 2000s, when he played a behind-the-scenes role during some of the ups and downs in the Nixon extended family.

At least as famous for his punditry as his politics, he wrote op-ed and language columns for the New York Times for over 30 years. In his affectionate obit, veteran Timesman Robert D. McFadden demonstrated how Safire could combine the politically pugilistic and philological:
Mr. Safire called Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar” in print. Mrs. Clinton said she was offended only for her mother’s sake. But a White House aide said that Bill Clinton, “if he were not president, would have delivered a more forceful response on the bridge of Mr. Safire’s nose.”

Mr. Safire was delighted, especially with the proper use of the conditional.