Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Come Pick Me Up," Ryan Adams

Royce Hall at UCLA, January 2008

I Vote For Perris In The Springtime

A good line of malarkey and $28.8 million, and you could get a space shuttle.

U.S. Right Is Soft On Terrorists And Traitors

Forty-three conservative bloggers discern that Richard Nixon was worse than Alger Hiss, Ted Kennedy than John Wilkes Booth, and Woodrow Wilson than Timothy McVeigh. Lee Harvey Oswald doesn't even make the list. Worst person ever in U.S., they say: Jimmy Carter.

Just Don't Call Him Barry

What the president's been reading.

"Born To Run," Harris and Knopfler

A Saturday afternoon toe-tapper by the best ad hoc duo in recent history

Peace Of Penguins

Midnight Sunday in Miyagi

Friday, August 13, 2010

Strip Search

Politicians love to collect the original art of editorial cartoons in which they feature, and Richard Nixon's domestic affairs advisor, John D. Ehrlichman, although doomed, was no different. In February 1973, not long before Nixon fired him over Watergate, Ehrlichman wrote to Garry Trudeau asking for a Doonsbury strip parodying Nixon's relative disinterest in domestic affairs. The letter was released last month by the Nixon library. Read a blogger's sardonic take here.

I met with Ehrlichman many years ago at the library, when he was trying to enlist our support for a TV project on the scandal. He died in 1999. He always blamed Nixon for making the decision for which he went to jail: Over Labor Day weekend in 1971, sending burglars to get dirt on Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Scholars Stanley Kutler and Rick Perlstein have also tried to pin the Ellsberg caper on the chief. After all, it's the Watergate mother lode. If Nixon had even known about it at the time, it would tend to put a criminal coloration on his Watergate actions and statements beginning in June 1972. But none -- neither scholars nor self-serving aides -- has actually made the case.

Blooming Statesmanship

As President Obama finally comes out in favor of the mosque and cultural center near the World Trade Center, my former colleague Steve Clemons, founding executive director of the Nixon Center, gets prominent play in a New York Times article when he says that Obama's talking points came from city hall:

Once [New York mayor Michael] Bloomberg spoke out, the president’s course seemed clear, said Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, a public policy institution here.

“Bloomberg’s speech was, I think, the pivotal one, and set the standard for leadership on this issue,” Mr. Clemons said.

Salt Shaker

At the end of Phillip Noyce's rollicking thriller, as she staggers through the woods toward the sequel ("Salt II"?), Angelina Jolie (as CIA agent Evelyn Salt) has long since earned our respect for successfully mating MacGyver (she fashions a crude thermonuclear device from cleaning solvent and a plastic tube after masking the security camera with her underwear!) and Jason Bourne, conflicted but super-competent death machine.

But Jolie had already achieved elite action hero status as Laura Croft. In "Salt," she's even better acting her way through three delicate scenes. One pairs her with a little girl (played by Yara Shahidi) whom Salt encounters while escaping from cops and federal agents. They briefly commiserate about math homework, and then Jolie drops off her pet dog for safekeeping while changing into the getaway rig that all CIA agents evidently conceal in their apartments. She also has intense, quietly seductive moments with one U.S. agent she's trying to win over and another she hopes to trick so she can save the world.

I can't tell you if she succeeds in the story, because it would give too much away, and they might come for me. But she definitely succeeds on the screen. "Salt" also succeeds in establishing post-Soviet Russians as endlessly reliable bad guys, in this case Manchurian candidate indoctrinator Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), who shows up in Washington one day pretending to be a defector just as Salt's leaving the office for an anniversary dinner with her arachnologist husband. Keep your eye peeled for one of his spiders in particular. It enables a deft plot twist that definitely stung me.

Jolie goes full Bourne after Orlov accuses her of being a Russian sleeper agent who's planning to kill the Russian president during a visit to Manhattan, an event which, we're invited to believe, would lead to a Brezhnevnik renaissance in Moscow. Which leads me to my one Salted beef (besides the characters ruining the transept of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on Park Ave.). It's the idea, essential to the movie's totally dopey narrative, that John F. Kennedy was shot by a member of Orlov's corps. If I favored content regulation of filmmakers, my first rule would forbid anyone from asserting or implying that the 35th president was murdered by anyone except a homegrown communist traitor acting alone. The young people are confused enough about Cold War history as it is.

Personal Empowerment By Means Of Penguins

Via a webcam, I took this photo of a guy feeding the penguins a few minutes ago at a zoo in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Why? Because it's my day off, and I can.

Shefa-'Amr To Rancho Santa Margarita

The Rev. Fuad Dagher is an Arab Christian who lives and does ministry in a predominately Arab Muslim community in northern Israel -- and if that doesn't encapsulate the dilemma and opportunities of life in the Middle East, nothing does. Fr. Fuad is the energetic rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Shefa-'Amr, a town of 35,000 that's part of the five-nation Diocese of Jerusalem. Among his current projects is building a school for those with physical disabilities.

As a pilgrim in 2007, I enjoyed the hospitality of Fr. Fuad and his wife, Hana, at St. Paul's. This Sunday, he'll be our guest at St. John's in Rancho Santa Margarita, where he'll meet with St. John's pilgrims who visited Israel and the West Bank last year and another group whose members are planning a visit in January 2011 -- our hoped-for Epiphany in the land of light. In the meantime, we'll be praying for peace and justice for Fr. Fuad and all his neighbors.

"Tricky Dicky"? "MacArthur's Park"? What Is It With Those English?

Richard Nixon's current crisis jumps the pond.

Read It And Worry

Based on a mess of interviews, Jeffrey Goldberg says Israel will attack Iran's nuclear sites next spring.

We're Gonna Hire Our Political Enemies

Thanks to an NPR retrospective on the death of Daniel Schorr (left), I've belatedly learned about a local angle (besides the man from Yorba Linda himself) on the 1974 articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, namely Orange County businessman Larry Higby, once Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman's aide.

It all started when the White House decided it didn't like Schorr's reporting on the CBS Evening News. As Schorr told NPR's Terry Gross in a 1994 (rebroadcast on July 30, a week after Schorr's death; the transcript is here, and you check it out on iTunes here):
[Nixon] had Haldeman have his assistant Larry Higby call J. Edgar Hoover and simply say the boss, the president, wants to have some background stuff on a correspondent named Daniel Schorr.
But either Higby or the FBI's usually pretty canny director missed the point. Rather than dishing whatever dirt happened to be on hand, Hoover ordered a full field investigation, the kind the FBI does on those in line for high-level government jobs. When agents visited Schorr himself, inadvertently revealing that the White House and a federal police agency had developed a constitutionally unhealthful fixation on him, Nixon aides concocted the story that they were planning to offer one of Washington's most prominent journalists the lofty post of PR man for the Council on Environmental Quality.

This bumptious episode turned deadly serious, Schorr told Gross, when the use of the FBI against a journalist was cited by the House Judiciary Committee in one of the three articles of impeachment it approved in the summer of 1974.

Admiring Nixon for his final comeback, Schorr became a regular guest at Nixon Center events in Washington during the 1990s. At one, the ex-president smiled at him and said, "Damn near hired you once." To Gross's apparent surprise, Schorr chose to take Nixon's remark as a backhanded apology. "[Only] he who is without blemish should be casting stones around," Schorr said. "I consider life too short to have grudges, retain grudges, and furthermore, I find him interesting."

Bibi Aisha's Rule

Charles Krauthammer makes a vigorous argument against the mosque and cultural center being proposed for a site near the World Trade Center. His strongest point --
Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
-- doesn't persuade me to affirm any government agency in the United States denying a building permit on the basis that there is an atmospheric problem with people observing a certain religion there. Nazis killed Jews expressly because they were Jews, and as a matter of fact, they had appropriated enough elements of the German church and of the energy of post-Reformation European Christian anti-Semitism that displaying a cross near a death camp could clearly be seen as objectionable.

Besides, the property in and around Auschwitz isn't governed by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Osama bin Laden murdered people on Sept. 11 not because they were Christians, Jews, and Muslims, which they happened to be, but because they were mostly Americans. He wanted to hurt America, and we hurt America more by compromising a core First Amendment principle.

And yet there's another uniquely western principle that may well be at stake in this debate. I've seen stories about the mosque planners' questionable views on the root causes of Sept. 11. I've read and heard wild speculation about whether this or any other mosque will spawn terrorists. But I haven't yet read of anyone asking if girls and young women in the lower Manhattan cultural center will be treated exactly the same as the males -- empowered, encouraged, and educated in the same way and taught that Muslim women in the United States are guaranteed the same rights and opportunities as men. Call it the Bibi Aisha rule. Give the wrong answer, and maybe you get your building permit but lose your tax-exempt status.

Pool Reporters

For the first time since the series ended, I'm watching NBC's "The West Wing" from beginning to end. Someone has to keep the classics alive. And who better to probe the frequent Nixon resonances? Who, period?

Here's one: In a subplot during episode #11 of the second season (2:11, the canonically minded might say), "The Leadership Breakfast," broadcast in January 2001, White House aide Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) proposes a space-saving efficiency: Moving the press briefing room from the West Wing to the Old Executive Office Building. Press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) demurs, saying reporters would assume the White House was hiding things from them. "We are hiding things from them," Sam says.

In the course of the show we learn that the press room was built over a swimming pool. What series creator (and 2:11 writer) Aaron Sorkin doesn't reveal is that the pool was installed for FDR and decommissioned and drained by Nixon. The new digs were more spacious than journalists' traditional haunt, the Roosevelt Room, which couldn't contain their burgeoning arsenal of broadcast gear. In addition, Nixon wanted them further away from the Oval Office. He was hiding things from them, too.

A Companion, Not An Enemy

Talking with NRP's Terry Gross about his new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell explains how he domesticated the stammer that he had found paralyzing and isolating when he was younger:
It took a long, long time to understand that a stammer is more like a kind of a force field, and the more you throw at it, the more it throws back at you. You sort of have to outwit it rather than outfight it. And, in a way, not even outwit it.... I think of it now as a kind of a companion. It's a part of me. It has a right to exist as I do and I need to sort of come to a working accommodation with it.

A friend who was an alcoholic once said to me that an alcoholic never stops being an alcoholic. He may - but what you have to aspire to be is a teetotal alcoholic. And in the same way a stammerer, I think, certainly in my case, will never not be a stammerer but you have to aspire to becoming a non-stammering stammerer. And this involves certain strategies and techniques that you can sort of encrypt into how you speak so that I'm able to do this interview, for example, which 20 years ago would've been unthinkable. And in the end, these strategies can become so well-integrated into who you are and how you speak that they become behavior and speech patterns rather than techniques....

I view my stammer now as a companion and not an enemy. I might've been a writer without it, but I certainly wouldn't have been this writer. One of the strategies I was referring to, which you meet quite early on in your career as a stammerer, is you autocue sentences ahead of time. You see what words are coming up, and say right now I'd have difficulties with words beginning with S. If I, certainly as a younger person, if I saw an S word was approaching then I would try and reengineer that sentence to avoid needing that S word. And this teaches you how language can be employed many, many different ways to say the same thing.
And then the lesson from his experience for the rest of us:

If life is obstacleless, if you're just coasting along without responsibilities, without duties, without sort of having to take care of an elderly relative or an offspring with special needs or whatever, well, perhaps, that's what existential malaise is. Maybe that's sort of when you start to drift and have problems of another type. Maybe your problems and your obstacles, rather like your stammer, is in fact, a kind of friend in disguise for you. I don't know if we're venturing into self-help territory too much here, but it's something that I kind of believe in.

Junk E-Mails You Wish You Got

Subject: Exciting Setting of Responsorial Psalms‏