Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Graciously, he didn't add "stupid," as James Car-ville might have. I guess I'm the only driver in America who thought there was still a Rube Goldberg-like relationship between my accelerator and engine. I assumed that I press the pedal, it resists, a complicated series of pulleys and levers is activated, and more gasoline is fed into the carburetor.
But of course I'm just toe-punching a signal to a computer. During the Q&A, another breakfast guest said that automakers are on the verge of disconnecting the mechanics of the steering system. Think about that for a second. It's weird. And who needs power steering when the steering wheel's a joystick? We'd better get a discount there.
It helps you appreciate why you want someone really smart writing the code, which is Robinson's point. A legend in legal circles for helping hold Ford liable for Pintos' exploding gas tanks in the 1970s, he and his colleagues are representing the plaintiffs who have sued Toyota because of injuries allegedly suffered as the result of "sudden unintended acceleration." As an instance of multi-district litigation, all the cases are being lumped together for trial before a federal judge in Orange County. Among those hearing Robinson's preview were two judges, Andrew J. Guilford of the U.S. District Court and William F. Rylaarsdam of the state Court of Appeals. I was the guest of Andy's and my St. John's friends, Bob and Ann Mosier.
"Now I'm going to tell you something you didn't know," Robinson said impishly during his half-hour talk. The basis of his case, at least so far, is that the problem isn't with Toyota's floor mats or accelerator pedals, as publicity about the company's recalls has led us to believe. He said the cars that malfunctioned didn't have brake override safety systems, an additional bit of computer code that gives the brakes permission to say "who's your daddy?" to the gas. That way, unintended acceleration notwithstanding, slamming on the breaks instantly solves the problem.
Robinson said that some Toyota, GM, and Chrysler cars have it. As recent ads by Toyota's arch competitor make clear, Nissan has had it in all its cars since 2004. Veedubs have had it for ten years (way to go, Valerie and Mark!).
Robinson stresses that he's just getting started in the case and looks forward to hearing Toyota's side of the story. Indeed careful preparation is said to be his hallmark. But once his tank is full, legal experts say he disconnects his brake override safety system and pretty much punches it.
For over thirty years, the artifacts from the Nixon presidency resided largely out of public view in gift vaults in the Washington, D.C. area. Today, after a cross-country move, all 30,000 of these items are now permanently housed here in Yorba Linda. In celebration, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has designed Treasures from the Vault, a special exhibit showcasing some of the most interesting, unusual, and breathtaking gifts given to President Richard Nixon, First Lady Pat Nixon, and the Nixon family by world leaders. This show runs from September 4, 2010 through January 17, 2011 in the Special Exhibit Gallery.
In direct mailings and broadcast advertisements bombarding Fox News viewers and listeners of WABC radio, each man accuses the others of being carpetbaggers, frauds and bogus conservatives....The primary election's Tuesday. Most experts say the district leans Democratic in November.
Mr. Cox does claim to have created jobs as a lawyer and a business consultant, but has shied away from providing any numbers or details about those efforts, which is something his rivals, of course, ridicule.
“There’s nothing that would qualify him to run for Congress other than winning the birth lottery,” [rival candidate and former prosecutor George] Demos said.
President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu were here last week, and they came with a sense of purpose and seriousness and cordiality that, frankly, exceeded a lot of people’s expectations. What they said was that they were serious about negotiating. They affirmed the goal of creating two states, living side by side in peace and security. They have set up a schedule where they’re going to meet every two weeks. We are actively participating in that process. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be flying to the Middle East for the first series of next meetings on September 14th and 15th.
And so what we’ve done is to bring the parties together to try to get them to recognize that the path for Israeli security and Palestinian sovereignty can only be met through negotiations. And these are going to be tough negotiations. There are enormous hurdles between now and our endpoint, and there are going to be a whole bunch of folks in the region who want to undermine these negotiations. We saw it when Hamas carried out these horrific attacks against civilians — and explicitly said, we’re going to try to do this to undermine peace talks. There are going to be rejectionists who suggest that it can’t happen, and there are also going to be cynics who just believe that the mistrust between the sides is too deep.
We understood all that. We understood that it was a risk for us to promote these discussions. But it is a risk worth taking. Because I firmly believe that it is in America’s national security interests, as well as Israel’s national security interests, as well as in the interests of the Palestinian people, to arrive at a peace deal.
Part of the reason that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu was comfortable coming here was that he’s seen, during the course of 18 months, that my administration is unequivocal in our defense of Israel’s security. And we’ve engaged in some unprecedented cooperation with Israel to make sure that they can deal with any external threats. But I think he also came here understanding that to maintain Israel as a Jewish state that is also a democratic state, this issue has to be dealt with.
I think President Abbas came here, despite great misgivings and pressure from the other side, because he understood the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing. And there are a whole bunch of parties in the region who purport to be friends of the Palestinians and yet do everything they can to avoid the path that would actually lead to a Palestinian state, would actually lead to their goal.
And so the two parties need each other. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Ultimately it’s going to be up to them. We can facilitate; we can encourage; we can tell them that we will stand behind them in their efforts and are willing to contribute as part of the broader international community in making this work. But ultimately the parties have to make these decisions for themselves.
And I remain hopeful, but this is going to be tough. And I don’t want anybody out there thinking that it’s going to be easy. The main point I want to make is it’s a risk worth taking because the alternative is a status quo that is unsustainable.
And so if these talks break down, we’re going to keep on trying. Over the long term, it has the opportunity, by the way, also to change the strategic landscape in the Middle East in a way that would be very helpful. It would help us deal with an Iran that has not been willing to give up its nuclear program. It would help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region. So this is something in our interest. We’re not just doing this to feel good. We’re doing it because it will help secure America as well.
Rauf shouldn't be expected to bargain away his controversial lower Manhattan site to keep an oddball pastor from gratuitously insulting every Muslim in the world and putting our troops at risk. But he'd earn the respect of many Americans, and some additional leverage in his battle to make his vision a reality, by taking the meeting.
Those who wish that there would be no mosques in America have already lost the argument: Globalization, no less than the promise of American liberty, mandates that the United States will have a Muslim population of some size. The only question, then, is what kind, or rather kinds, of Islam it will follow. There's an excellent chance of a healthy pluralist outcome, but it's very unlikely that this can happen unless, as with their predecessors on these shores, Muslims are compelled to abandon certain presumptions that are exclusive to themselves. The taming and domestication of religion is one of the unceasing chores of civilization. Those who pretend that we can skip this stage in the present case are deluding themselves and asking for trouble not just in the future but in the immediate present.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
An impressively succinct report published this week by a bipartisan group convened by Steve Clemons, a hyper-networked denizen of the New America Foundation, says simply that the president's counter-insurgency strategy is not working, cannot work, and is based on a flawed understanding of America's interests in the country. In effect, it resurrects the Joe Biden idea that nation-building in Afghanistan is a fool's errand, and that America can take care of its strategic interests in the country at far less risk and cost by stripping down its ambitions there.
We live in an era of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, exploited, used and manipulated by politicians, for their own purposes, and used by the media for its own. This has always been a dangerous and toxic combination, inimical to liberal society, dangerous to secular democratic politics, and today, something that can also lead to global warfare and destruction on an unimaginable scale.While anything's possible, it's hard to imagine Pastor Jones' comic opera escalating quite to that extent (though they probably said the same thing when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, before the worst war in history ensued). I've felt for the last two days that Jones was feeling so much heat that he was looking for a way out, hence his jumping to take a deal that he hadn't even been offered.
He's now implying that he might go ahead with the bonfire after all. The smarter move would be to take the meeting he's evidently been offered with Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind Cordoba House in New York City. It speaks well of Rauf's sense of civic responsibility that he's willing to engage with Jones at all in view of the moral inequivalency of their projects. Because Rauf is obviously a class act, Jones has blundered into a richly undeserved moment of respectability. Let's hope his second 15 minutes go better than his first.
"People ask me what I believe," Eastwood said as he watched sheep meander across [his] rustic hotel's pasture. "I say, 'I don't know yet.' I'm not closed off to it. There are points in my life when I thought I knew all the answers and other times when I was sure I didn't know any of them. Right now, well, I'm waiting to see. Aren't we all?"
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Another unscheduled encounter had occurred in mid-afternoon, when I wandered into the church office reception area to check my mailbox just as a man in paint-splattered shorts and a t-shirt walked in. We'd helped him before, and as we sat down to talk I gently urged him to be expeditious about sharing the details. It was a technical violation of the Unitarian's advice but one I sometimes rationalize in situations where a financial appeal is looming on the basis that it's in both our interests to get to the bottom line as quickly as possible.
As we talked, I remembered liking and trusting him the first time. He works as a painter for a man who does home improvement jobs. He needed $3400 to put down first and last months' rent on an apartment for him, his wife, and their six children. He opened his wallet and showed me cash and checks adding up to $3000. If someone were going to defraud you by claiming to be in extreme need, he wouldn't show you that he's already loaded. I told him he could have $400 from my pastoral care account if he promised to pay it back.
I also asked to speak with the landlord, so the man went to the parking lot to get the number from his wife. When she came into the office with three of their beaming children, including a joyous six-month-old baby named after his father, grace abounded. A father's diligence and pride, a mother's strength and poise, their kids' curiosity and cheerfulness. I wish I could show you the photos I took, but I don't want to invade their privacy. She hugged me as they left to go sign their lease. She said that she prayed to God all the time and that God always answered, one way or another, although not always when she expected or thought she most needed it.
As it turned out, our day at St. John's was all about the themes of waiting and trusting, and this resilient woman had just preached a sermon about them. And yet she couldn't possibly have known about Fr. Alexander, in whose name we were spending the day in praise and worship. The Episcopal Church has a book of biographies and matching scripture readings that we use when we're going to celebrate Holy Eucharist on a weekday. If we were Roman Catholics, we'd call them saints, but since our view of sainthood verges on the all-inclusive, we call them notable people. This coming Friday, it's an abolitionist and Episcopal priest, Alexander Crummell. Born in 1819 in New York City, he endured one racist indignity after another on the way to ordination. He did ministry in Liberia for a while, returned to the U.S. after the Civil War, and died two years before the turn of the century. He may sometimes have wondered if things would ever get better for his people.
Our liturgical rules permitted us to transfer Fr. Alexander to today. At a noon healing service and our season-opening "Youth Euch" this evening for 45 St. John's Youth Group members and their adult leaders, I said that the experience of this dedicated pastor and activist (who had laid foundations on which others built) offered comfort in moments when we were tempted to think that we didn't matter, that we weren't making a difference, that nothing was turning out as it should. While our lives and world will never be as we may wish them to be, if we abide in faith and hope we need have no doubt about the future or our legacy. As a verse we heard today from the apocryphal book of Sirach teaches, whatever we accomplish in God's name is sufficient:
If God's servant lives long, he will leave a name greater than a thousand, and if he goes to rest, it is enough for him.
I despise Islamist terror and Islamist politics. But I do not believe that we defeat them by empowering them, by giving them noxious symbols of Western intolerance in order to justify their own far far worse bigotry. We defeat them by the example of our toleration and the precision of our military power.
The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
[W]e remain in a state of ignorance concerning UFOs, leaving us with the conclusion presented in [my] book: We need a systematic, scientific investigation of the skies that actively looks for these mysterious and elusive objects.Kathy asked Nixon about them one time.
When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves.
Monday, September 6, 2010
[Sakineh Mohammadi] Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned [to death], even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.
"The possibility of stoning still exists, any moment," [her attorney] told The Associated Press. "Her stoning sentence was only delayed; it has not been lifted yet."
The woman received 99 more lashes last week after a British newspaper printed a photo of an unveiled woman and falsely said it was Ashtiani. The newspaper has apologized for its mistake. Iran hasn't yet apologized for practicing medieval savagery on its women.
I applied for a job at a Sears store in a mall. The only opening was in men’s underwear. It was humiliating. I tried to quit, but I was given a raise. Evidently, the position was difficult to fill. I asked to be transferred to toys, then to appliances. My bosses said no and gave me another raise.Would you believe I published a novel on the same day, thanks to the same editor and publisher, as Grisham's first book, A Time To Kill? Some details here.
I became abrupt with customers. Sears has the nicest customers in the world, but I didn’t care. I was rude and surly and I was occasionally watched by spies hired by the company to pose as shoppers. One asked to try on a pair of boxers. I said no, that it was obvious they were much too small for his rather ample rear end. I handed him an extra-large pair. I got written up.
There’s the 32 percent of Democrats who blame “the Jews” for the financial crisis. There’s the 25 percent of African-Americans who believe the AIDS virus was created in a government lab. There’s support for state secession, which may have been higher among liberals in the Bush era than among Republicans in the age of Obama. And there’s the theory that the Bush White House knew about 9/11 in advance, which a third of Democrats endorsed as recently as 2007.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
She likes telling colleagues a story about [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat’s calling her husband in late 2001 to tell him that he was ready to make a deal with Israel. “That’s great,” Mr. Clinton replied, “but I’m not in office anymore.”
While the fringes of American politics might not have the sheer numbers, they have massive influence. In a political firefight, embattled centrists can be weakened and even done in by flanking fire.An analysis in the New York Times by Sam Tanenhaus (biographer of Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley, Jr.), makes clear that the right's distrust of Nixon (which had some sinister aspects as well) was actually, pace Perlstein, the genesis of today's culture wars. Tanenhaus argues that the same dynamic, but with an essential theological coloration, is now dogging Barack Obama. Here's an extended excerpt, but please read the whole thing:
It happened to Richard Nixon during 1973-74. The left had always hated him for his crusading anti-communism. Their antagonism was magnified by his Vietnam policies, which many so-called neoconservatives, ironically, vastly underrate to this day. But we sometimes forget that many on the right also disliked his domestic and economic policies as well as his rapprochements with China and the Soviet Union.
During Watergate, no one was surprised when leftist antiwar firebrands such as Robert Drinan and Bella Abzug demanded his resignation. But the political earth moved when they were joined in March 1974 by conservative GOP Sen. James Buckley. Buckley warned that if RN didn’t resign, Republicans would be wiped out in that November’s mid-term elections.
After learning in August 1974 that conservative lions such as Barry Goldwater had also abandoned him, President Nixon gave up the fight, even though he hadn’t yet been impeached. Republican House and Senate candidates took a massive hit in November. Indeed the party did so badly that it’s reasonable to speculate it would’ve fared better in 1974 if the President had stayed in office until the House could impeach and the Senate try him.
Perhaps remembering what had happened to Republicans that dark November, during 1998-99 most leftist Democrats, many of whom despised President Clinton, stuck by him through his impeachment crisis. Suffering no left-wing defection comparable to Buckley’s and Goldwater’s was the key to his political survival.
The dynamic was subtly different during and after Watergate. For many conservatives, after the Goldwater debacle in 1964 the issue wasn’t so much whether the GOP would dominate politics but who would dominate the GOP. Perhaps some conservatives anticipated that MR (moderate Republicanism) would be discredited along with RN.
I doubt many Republicans intentionally moderated their support for President Nixon to help pave the way for President Reagan. But their profound antipathy to many of his policies might have kept some from fighting as hard as they would have for someone they considered a true-believing conservative.Whatever conservatives’ calculations at the time, Watergate and its aftermath unquestionably revived the prospects of the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the party.
Tanenhaus's analysis rings instantly true to the practicing pastor. Rusher's crusading early-1970s Protestantism has long since burst most denominational constraints. As an Episcopalian in Orange County, California, I do ministry along the edges of the chasm that's opened between mainstream Protestantism (what Obama has been practicing as a member of the United Church of Christ) and neo-evangelicalism. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church (a Southern Baptist church that tries hard to look fashionably post-denominational) are just two miles up the freeway from St. John's, after all.
To an early supporter like the writer Andrew Sullivan, Mr. Obama’s religious journey offered possible deliverance from decades of ideological strife. “He was brought up in a nonreligious home and converted to Christianity as an adult,” Mr. Sullivan observed in a celebrated essay in the December 2007 issue of The Atlantic. “But — critically — he is not born-again. His faith, at once real and measured, hot and cool — lives at the center of the American religious experience.”
In retrospect the idea seems not only mistaken, but perhaps misbegotten, for it was premised on a misreading of America’s ideological warfare, in particular the influence of evangelical religion on the tenor of American politics....Conservatives disenchanted with the moderate presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford threatened to bolt the Republican Party, prefiguring the Tea Partiers of today.
[Conservative publisher Bill] Rusher, for one, urged restive conservatives to form a third party, the Independence Party, that would form a “great coalition” composed of “the great bulk of middle-class Protestants.” Its natural tribune, Mr. Rusher wrote, was Ronald Reagan, who would in fact go on to challenge Mr. Ford in 1976 — a campaign that had the crusading atmosphere of a third-party insurgency.
All this signaled that political protest had migrated from the fringes to the mainstream, where it remains today. Seen from this perspective, Mr. Obama, who fits the 1960s idea of a consensus politician, appears to be firmly planted in one camp, with his establishment pedigree and his urban sensibility. He has overt connections to the underclass, through his work as a community organizer, and to the overprivileged, through his Ivy League background, but little to the alienated middle class. To this group he seems not so much the outsider of his actual biography but, rather, a burnished product of “the new elite” or “the new class,” to quote terms that came into vogue in the 1970s.
Mr. Obama’s Christianity also puts him in a particular camp. He is the Christian who seems as deeply immersed in the Social Gospel as in the Gospels, who acknowledges “I didn’t have an epiphany,” and describes his faith as “both a spiritual, but also intellectual, journey.”
Besides that, ask any Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, or indeed UCC congregant how often she's disclosed the name of her denomination only to have a suburban neighbor or coworker reply, "I go to a Christian church." What are we, chopped liver? Just about. Ask the teachers at a Corona, California evangelical school about it. They were fired this summer because their baptisms weren't legitimate -- the school's way of saying they weren't really Christians.
That's just what some are saying about Obama, isn't it? Not a real Christian. As good as a Muslim.
Three cheers for Sam Tanenhaus for nailing this.
What is neither understandable nor forgivable is the current collapse of the church into slithery, prickly victimhood. When, over child abuse, senior members bleat about the Church being unfairly singled out ‘although every institution has its rotten eggs, doesn’t it?’, I find myself shouting at the radio, ‘Do you understand nothing, you silly creature? If you claim to be conduits of God’s grace, you must expect a bit more stick than a judge or a policeman.’