Saturday, October 16, 2010

"The Only Path To Coexistence"

Israel's ambassador to the U.S. says that Palestinians must formally recognize Israel as Jewish state if peace is to have a chance:
The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.


Amazon sold almost all Kindle books for $9.99 until Apple, trying to leverage a share of e-book sales for its new iPad, goaded publishers into raising prices. They were afraid that text was being undervalued by Amazon, which wasn't making money at $10 but had quickly come to dominate the e-book market.

Ironically, Apple had driven a radical restructuring of recorded music prices by selling $10 albums for its iPod that had cost $15 or more on CD. Apple's interference with the analogous favor that Amazon did for readers was pretty hypocritical. It also didn't work. So far, the iBook store is a failure.

Hello, Columbus

St. John's member Tom Tierney sent this great shot of Columbus Circle in New York City. I believe he snapped it from a building that Donald Trump built after I left the East coast in 1990.

"Bibi's Not Nixon"

Says R.M. Schneiderman.

For Now

President Obama has a card to play in the Middle East, too, though it wouldn't be pretty:
Palestinian officials have said in the past they might ask the Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, in case negotiations with Israel break down. The U.S. could quickly derail such a move with a veto, and it appears unlikely the Palestinians would proceed down that path without U.S. backing. For now, Washington opposes unilateral steps.

"I Must Have It"

From The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, published in book form in 1841, a thoroughly modern portrait of addiction and its economic and emotional toll on family members, especially children. Nell Trent, who's 13, and her unnamed grandfather have been driven from their home and business and to the brink of vagrancy by his gambling addiction. In the midst of their picturesque adventures, they escape a thunderstorm in a public house, where grandpa notices that two men are playing cards:
The child saw with astonishment and alarm that his whole appearance had undergone a complete change. His face was flushed and eager, his eyes were strained, his teeth set, his breath came short and thick, and the hand he laid upon her arm trembled so violently that she shook beneath its grasp.

"Bear witness," he muttered, looking upward, "that I always said it; that I knew it, dreamed of it, felt it was the truth, and that it must be so! What money have we, Nell? Come! I saw you with money yesterday. What money have we? Give it to me."

"No, no, let me keep it, grandfather," said the frightened child. "Let us go away from here. Do not mind the rain. Pray let us go."

"Give it to me, I say," returned the old man fiercely. '"Hush, hush, don't cry, Nell. If I spoke sharply, dear, I didn't mean it. It's for thy good. I have wronged thee, Nell, but I will right thee yet, I will indeed. Where is the money?"

"Do not take it," said the child. "Pray do not take it, dear. For both our sakes let me keep it, or let me throw it away--better let me throw it away, than you take it now. Let us go; do let us go."

"Give me the money," returned the old man, "I must have it. There-- there--that's my dear Nell. I'll right thee one day, child, I'll right thee, never fear!"

She took from her pocket a little purse. He seized it with the same rapid impatience which had characterised his speech, and hastily made his way to the other side of the screen. It was impossible to restrain him, and the trembling child followed close behind.

Morning Lines

Not unexpectedly, Israel goes ahead with plans to build housing units in East Jerusalem.

If you're skeptical about Israel, here's your line: "It isn't serious about peace." If we're impatient with the Palestinians, we say, "If they're serious about peace, they should stop setting so many preconditions and get back to the table."

You can blame the leaders if you want to. You can also blame their people. Remember that many Israelis still refuse to accept that they are complicit in the Palestinians' plight, while many Palestinians refuse to accept Israel's right to exist. I don't think President Abbas is politically strong enough to transcend his people's prejudices. That leaves Bibi.

Moral For Better Reasons

From last week's atheists' conference in Los Angeles, more on the creed's tactical disputes, schisms, and efforts to identify a source of moral behavior not anywise known as God:
The presenters did differ on where a secular morality might come from. In his new best seller, “The Moral Landscape,” [Sam] Harris argues that morality is a product of neuroscience. (The good, he argues, is that which promotes happiness and well-being, and those states are ultimately dependent on brain chemistry.) Others believe morality is bequeathed by evolution, while still others would argue for ethics grounded in secular philosophy, like Immanuel Kant’s or John Rawls’s. But all agreed that nonbelievers are at least as moral as believers, and for better reasons.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mo And Marty

Special congratulations to two winners of OC Weekly's "Best Of OC 2010" awards: Mo's Fullerton Music Centers (Mo is at left, left), where I got my first guitar on my birthday 15 years ago and my first lessons from Larry Samson (if you honk when you drive by his studio on Harbor Blvd., he'll wave) and novelist and "Orange Coast" magazine editor Martin J. Smith, whom I first met in his native Pittsburgh 25 years ago.


Fifty years ago last night, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, though a continent apart for the third of their four presidential debates, still managing to peek over one another's shoulders. Afterward, Nixon accused Kennedy of cheating by using notes. Kennedy and his staff admitted he'd had one, then two documents that he used for quotations.

For its blog, the LA Times unearthed the clipping of its article about the controversy, written by one of the relatively few reporters Nixon trusted at the time, Lou Flemming. The blog gratuitously recaps Nixon's famous perspiration problem, which was an issue for the historic first debate on Sept. 26 but evaporated for the next three. Some felt Nixon won on Oct. 13. Too bad 20 million fewer people were watching.

Hot off the presses, a couple of highlights.

Kennedy at his deftest, parrying a thrust by Thurston Morton, GOP chief, who had said Kennedy owned Nixon an apology because Harry Truman had said that he and his party could go to hell:
Mr. Truman has his methods of expressing things. He's been in politics for 50 years; he's been president of the United States. They may - are not my style. But I really don't think there's anything that I could say to President Truman that's going to cause him, at the age of 76, to change his particular speaking manner. Perhaps Mrs. Truman can, but I don't think I can. I'll just have to tell Mr. Morton that. If you'd pass that message on to him.
Nixon on the religion issue (which in 1960 was Protestant anxiety about Kennedy's Roman Catholicism), a text that Islam-bashers like Newt Gingrich should study:
[A]s far as religion is concerned, I have seen Communism abroad. I see what it does. Communism is the enemy of all religions; and we who do believe in God must join together. We must not be divided on this issue. The worst thing that I can think can happen in this campaign would be for it to be decided on religious issues. I obviously repudiate the Klan; I repudiate anybody who uses the religious issue; I will not tolerate it, I have ordered all of my people to have nothing to do with it and I say to this great audience, whoever may be listening, remember, if you believe in America, if you want America to set the right example to the world, that we cannot have religious or racial prejudice. We cannot have it in our hearts. But we certainly cannot have it in a presidential campaign.

From Fullerton To Everest

Cindy Abbott, hometown fitness hero. Restaurant recommendations included.

Black Socks Scandal

Alex Gibney on Roger Stone, seeking to be New York 's one-man gubernatorial recall-and-replacement apparatus. Mature readers only, please.

Agnes Of God

Malcolm Boyd -- priest, civil rights and peace activist, poet, and theologian-in-residence for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles -- asked five random worshipers about President Obama's faith life and got this reply from 22-year-old Agnes:
Racism and religion get mixed up when it comes to President Obama. He has disclaimed the dogmatic, historic and highly political "black church." Yet he is clearly not a member of a mainstream "white church." Maybe he's a true original, refusing such a simplistic faith definition. Isn't this OK? Is there anything anti-American about it? I think he may represent the wave of the future.
The photo shows 44 in an old-fashioned denominational moment last month at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, being totally cracked up by the Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, the rector.

But He Did Not Shoot The Sheriff

In his history of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally describes an unexpected rim shot at the Red Dog Saloon, a now-legendary music venue in Virginia City, Nevada:
On opening night, June 29, 1965, the sheriff stopped by, handed his gun to the bartender, and said, "Check my gun." The bartender fired a round into the floor and handed it back. "Works fine, Sheriff."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Washington Rules

It helps to be a post-modern guy sometimes. Speaking to Peter Baker, 44 skillfully self-diagnoses:

[Barack Obama] has learned that, for all his anti-Washington rhetoric, he has to play by Washington rules if he wants to win in Washington. It is not enough to be supremely sure that he is right if no one else agrees with him. “Given how much stuff was coming at us,” Obama told me, “we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”

That presumes that what he did was the right thing, a matter of considerable debate. The left thinks he did too little; the right too much. But what is striking about Obama’s self-diagnosis is that by his own rendering, the figure of inspiration from 2008 neglected the inspiration after his election. He didn’t stay connected to the people who put him in office in the first place. Instead, he simultaneously disappointed those who considered him the embodiment of a new progressive movement and those who expected him to reach across the aisle to usher in a postpartisan age.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In a straw poll, 100% of archival professionals predict that the Nixon library Watergate exhibit, opposed by Nixon's foundation and his White House aides, will be installed more or less as director Tim Naftali has designed it.

Gospel According To Matthew

After a week in Israel and the West Bank, Matthew Yglesias sums up the holy mother of all political conflicts:
I basically buy the fundamental conceit of secular Zionism and want to see a homeland for the Jewish people. I think the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza are unjust and that the former is killing Zionism as a project to boot. I’m much more skeptical about the efficacy and morality of force as a tool of policy than are Israel or Hamas. I’m convinced that a peace deal is within reach in the short term if Israel is willing to take risks, and I think Israeli politicians and the Israeli public are gripped by a risk-aversion that if not checked will likely lead to national suicide.

Gingrich's Hate Speech

Former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough blasts his former leader:
The same man who once compared himself to Napoleon (and grandly told his lieutenants that he was at “the center of a worldwide revolution”) now grabs cheap headlines by launching bizarre rhetorical attacks.

The same politician who once saw himself as a latter-day Winston Churchill — sent by God to save Western civilization — now gets rich off political hate speech.

These days, Newt Gingrich’s modus operandi is to smear any public figure who fails to share his worldview. His insults are so overblown and outrageous that after the rhetorical dust settles, the reputation most damaged is his own.

"The War On Jobs"

Meg Whitman certainly mastered this moment in tonight's debate with Jerry Brown, as reported by the LA Times:
During a discussion of the candidates' prescriptions for curing the economy, Brown jumped on Whitman's proposal to cut the capital gains tax, saying the beneficiaries would largely be wealthy people, including those who have donated $30 million to her campaign.

"How much money will you save if the tax breaks were in effect this year or last year?" Brown asked Whitman.

Whitman demurred but said, "I'm an investor, and investors will benefit from this. So will job creators, and I was a job creator. We have got to get someone in office who knows what the conditions are for small businesses to grow and thrive," she said. "Your business is politics. You've been doing this 40 years and you have been part of the war on jobs in this state for 40 years."

They're Now Mad As Hell, Too

Patt Morrison on the latest self-inflicted wound of New York's GOP gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, who spoke at a synagogue even though female reporters were barred:

Would Paladino have agreed to appear at an event at which the organizers had said, OK, but no black reporters allowed? No Latino journalists? Had that happened, Paladino would have had an even bigger self-made mess on his hands than he does now.

St. John's Sky

5:55 p.m.

La Voz Linda

Linda Ronstadt, a versatile interpreter of American popular songs both norte and sur, was one of the premier voices of the 1970s and early 1980s. I first saw her perform in a bar with peanut shells on the floor in San Diego, just before she became a superstar with her album "Heart Like A Wheel" in 1974. I waved, but I doubt she remembers.

A "No Depression" blogger, in the course of atoning for things he wishes he hadn't said over several beers, offers a compilation of quotations from and about her, including this 2000 look-back at her roots:
I remember the Byrds were happening and doing folk-rock, and I thought, there you go. So I went to the Troubador. I grew up singing Mexican music, and that's based on indigenous Mexican rhythms. Mexican music also has an overlay of West African music, based on huapango drums, and it's kind of like a 6/8 [time signature], but it really is a very syncopated 6/8. And that's how I attack vocals. Rock `n' roll comes from black music, and I came from Mexican music.
Whether any of us understood that or not, let me just say this: She's the only person in the world you probably want to hear sing "Tumbling Dice" besides Mick Jagger. I remember reading that he stopped by the studio to make sure she had the lyrics down. Her 1977 version features the mighty bass guitar and the backing vocals of Kenny Edwards, who died in August.


Noting my post about a Grateful Dead insider's advice to Richard Nixon during Watergate, a friend replied, "The difference between RN and Ron Rakow is that Rakow really was a crook."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jerry Brown's Empty Blackboard

The Tea Party notwithstanding, Jerry Brown may be the year's true revolutionary. His moderate Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, is spending a large fortune on elaborate plans and advance men with ear plugs without offering any real hope of being able to do anything to fix California's broken government that wasn't available to the moderate Republican incumbent. According to this Joe Hagan account in "New York" magazine, Brown improvises, stumbles, and promises almost nothing. No more likely to fix the state, probably, but his no-plan plan is somehow refreshing:
Brown’s campaign strategy appears to be, let Whitman spend all her money while Brown leans back and declares her a spendthrift and a dilettante.

Kevin Starr, the USC historian, who went to high school with Brown, calls Brown’s non-efforts a “Zen campaign,” which seems to acknowledge that politics itself, the function and purpose of it, has “been erased in California.” Or, put another way, why have a plan if plans aren’t going to work?

“It’s an empty blackboard,” Starr says.

Bibi At The Airport?

Does a flurry of gestures to the Israeli right presage, finally, Netanyahu's China moment?

"Whatever Nixon Has"

As reported by the New York Times, newly released transcripts reveal the panicked discussions among Israeli leaders at the beginning of 1973's Yom Kippur war as well as the Nixon administration's role in turning the tide:

The transcripts of the meetings show [Moshe] Dayan, the unflappable eye-patch-wearing defense minister, at the edge of desperation. As Syrian tanks rolled toward the Galilee unimpeded, he understood that he had misread the signals.

“I underestimated the enemy’s strength, I overestimated our own forces,” he is quoted as saying in an early meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir and others. “The Arabs are much better soldiers than they used to be.” Then: “Many people will be killed.”

Seeking a means of salvation, he urged recruiting older men and Jews from abroad.

Ms. Meir considered a clandestine trip to Washington to persuade President Nixon to help.

A colleague asked what she hoped to get.

“Let him give whatever he has,” she replied. “Does he have tanks in Europe? Let him give them. You want Phantoms? Let him give. Let him see this as his front and not let our guts spill until he gives us one missile.”

In the end, Ms. Meir did not go. But after appealing to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, she did get Mr. Nixon to send an airlift of matériel that made all the difference in Israel’s favor in the 20-day war. Although Israel won, it was the surprise attack and near victory that Egypt and Syria have focused on, and that led Egypt to make peace with Israel five years later in exchange for a return of the Sinai.

Print Media's Enduring Shoe Leather Monopoly

David Carr argues that the divide between print and digital journalism is vanishing. Maybe, but I'll really believe it when 100% non-print organizations set up expensive bureaus in Beijing, Moscow, and London and start covering (rather than opining about) the Supreme Court, Wall Street, and city hall (where Orange County, at least, has got a great thing going on-line, Voice Of OC).

Chrome Heart Shining In The Sun

For Richard Nixon in the deep forest of Watergate, there were several roads not taken. According to official Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally, the band was working hard on his problem at their headquarters in San Rafael, California:
[T]he Dead's best political statement came in a 1974 letter from Ron Rakow, then president of the Grateful Dead Record Company, to President Richard Nixon. Rakow offered the threatened officeholder an idea on how to continue his administration. "We pass our solution along to you with only the remotest expectation that you will carry it out. Since, while it is brilliant, it is not extremely logical. We have concluded that the problems referred to above would disappear, as if by magic, were you to chrome the entire White House."

Social (D-Santa Ana)

Mike Ness's politics. Cool.

The Shortest Distance To The Altar Isn't Always Through The Church

An "Economist" chart showing changing attitudes toward gay marriage based on religious affiliation. The largest shifts in favorable thinking between 2008-09 and this year were among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Oddly, the Pew Research Center polled Christians, Jews, and atheists but not Muslims.

Still Bluish In California

In California, Republican Meg Whitman, running for governor, has glided to the center, while Carly Fiorina, running for the U.S. Senate, is knee-deep in tea. The LA Times:
"If Meg wins, that's not a big shock. She's kind of like Arnold [Schwarzenegger], and we've had mainly Republican governors" in recent decades, said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at UC Berkeley. "If Carly wins, that's a big deal.... We're going to have to stop and really think when we say California is a light blue state."
Speaking of which, polls show they're both running behind their Democratic opponents.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Real Zzzzzzzz

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg might not have really resented the cool kids at Harvard, but I'll bet the director and writer of "The Social Network," David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, have some snob issues. Real Z denies being obsessed with getting into one of Harvard's social clubs. But members of the Porcellian, especially twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), come off as pious fops right out of P. G. Wodehouse. A key scene occurs after the duo narrowly loses to a Dutch team at the Henley Rowing Regatta. At a reception afterward, the athletes are wearing sport coats with white piping and look like they're about to sing "He Is An Englishman." I'd guess the filmmakers chose the location mainly so they could flash "Henley-on-Thames" on the screen.

The brothers claim Zuckerberg got the Facebook idea from them (they got a massive settlement in real life) but hesitate to sue at first because it's not what Harvard men do. The real Winklevosses rowed for the U.S. in 2008 in Beijing. Did they deserve their portrayal? Does real Zuckerberg deserve being portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg as an angry, misogynist oddball? Was Napster co-founder and Facebook consultant Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) really the devilish manipulator (in a San Francisco nightclub, his face is actually lit like a grinning jack-o'-lantern) who persuaded Zuckerberg to betray his best friend and founding CFO?

Sorkin, creator of "The West Wing" and writer of "Charlie Wilson's War," doesn't care. A good story, not accuracy, is the thing, he says. His dialog, including Eisenberg's byte-o-babble, is as dazzling as ever. Close your eyes when Zuckerberg's hectoring his girlfriend, and you can almost hear Mary Louse Parker telling Bradley Whitford, "Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster." The ending is poignant, but again, you don't know what it has to do with Zuckerberg and Facebook. What if your problem is that real Z, who after all is only 26, is nowhere near as interesting as 500 million members and $24 billion? Call Aaron Sorkin.

The Great Reconciler

What a blessing to contemplate the life of the great Nelson Mandela. "60 Minutes" did so tonight.

Richard Nixon, Christian Fundamentalist?

On NPR's "Fresh Air" on Sept. 30 and in a Christian Science Monitor interview last Friday, Mark Feldstein, author of Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture, incorrectly describes Nixon's religious life. For instance, he tells the Monitor:
[Anderson's mentor] Drew Pearson was a liberal, very ideological and, like Nixon, was a Quaker. But he was a pacifist compared to the fundamentalist, almost evangelical strain of Quakerism that Nixon was raised in. He was very much of what we'd call a born-again Christian today.
This book review by Chuck Fager includes accurate surveys of Nixon's faith journey and the struggle between fundamentalist and modernist Quakers in the early years of the 20th century. There's no question about the side of the divide on which Nixon ended up. His discipleship at Whittier College under one of the leading modernists, J. Herschel Coffin, swept away all Sunday School notions:

[A]s a result of Coffin's tutelage, senior [Nixon] wrote, "My beliefs are shattered....My religious thinking has been revolutionized...." Vanished, he noted, was biblical literalism, even faith in the physical resurrection of Jesus. In their place was--what? Nixon's essays point toward a mid-thirties Protestant liberalism, focussed on "God as creator of all things," and the vaguely described "religion of Jesus" as a model for personal and social uplift, a model which included a commitment to a strengthened League of Nations.

Feldstein would have done well to study the intersection of politics with conservative Protestantism as carefully as Sam Tanenhaus has done. As Whittaker Chambers' biographer recently showed, Nixon's liberal Republicanism made him the target of the conservative Protestants who moved to take over the GOP in the 1970s.

On "Fresh Air," Feldstein made other questionable assertions, including by saying that while he was in the White House Nixon "pocketed" the $100,000 than industrialist Howard Hughes gave Nixon buddy Bebe Rebozo. I don't believe the money made it out of Rebozo's safe, but maybe Feldstein's learned something new. I've just Kindled the book. When I was running the Nixon library, Tricia Nixon Cox's lawyers falsely claimed that Rebozo had said he didn't trust me with his money, so the least I can do is try to keep the facts straight about what he did with Hughes's wad.

Aw, Their First Schism!

As 300 hundred atheists gather for a conference at the Biltmore in Los Angeles, there's already blood in the water, just like in the Church, which means that the movement is experiencing a vital moment of denominational maturity.

The largest tactical question the no-faith faith faces is how aggressively to challenge and confront believers. Books, articles, and conferences? Wearing sandwich boards on street corners? Throwing Gideon Bibles into the hotel pool? More cartoons of Mohammad (let's not and say we did)? The chairman of the Center for Inquiry, dedicated to fostering a secular society, has already been ousted in part because he was considered too mellow. Purges are good; they've definitely worked for us over the centuries, as has the public denunciation of apostates. When a second member of the accommodationist clique, author Chris Mooney, said that you didn't have to believe in God to be spiritual, biologist P.Z. Myers responded:
Whenever we start talking about spirituality, I just want to puke.
No worries. You guys are doing just fine!