Saturday, October 30, 2010


Number of text messages sent or received by the average American teenager each month.

Big Cat

This guy caught my attention at the movies the other night, though I missed what he's promoting.

"Rapture," The Bittersweets

Based in Nashville, the Bittersweets are songwriter and guitarist Chris Meyers (from Massachusetts) and vocalist and guitarist Hannah Prater (from California). Check out their albums "The Life You Always Wanted" and "Goodnight, San Francisco."

Obama Is The Old Bush

Cut the president some slack, says Nicholas Kristof:
[M]aybe the best comparison is with President George H. W. Bush, a solid president and admirable man who had stratospheric approval ratings in 1991 at the end of the Persian Gulf war and then was fired by the public a year later when he sought re-election — because of a much milder recession than today’s. Bill Clinton, who was as good a president as we’ve had in modern times, captured Mr. Obama’s challenge: “I’d like to see any of you get behind a locomotive going straight downhill at 200 miles an hour and stop it in 10 seconds,” Mr. Clinton [said.]

Solomon Keith

Discussing his new autobiography, Life, on the Oct. 25 "Fresh Air," the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards tells host Terry Gross that he created most of the dense, overloaded guitar sounds on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man" (he says all the guitar sounds, but that can't be true) by playing an acoustic guitar through a cassette player. When the veteran broadcaster (to whom most guests speak with due respectfulness) asks which song he wants her to play to illustrate the technique, he replies:
I love 'em both, honey. Don't ask me to cut the babies in half.

Couple Hallmarks Stand Out, Right Off The Bat

The lead headline on the New York Times web site reads, "Bomb Plot Is Said to Contain ‘Hallmarks of Al Qaeda'." Exactly: They hate and want to murder Jews. The reporter who did the story for LA's NBC affiliate last night had picked up a hint locally that one of the two Chicago synagogues the bombs were headed for has a predominantly gay and lesbian congregation. If so, that would be an al-Qaeda twofer: Murdering Jews and homosexuals at the same time.

Department Of It Goes With The Territory

The New York Times:
The plot unfolded in dramatic fashion on international television, with scenes of security teams surrounding cargo planes in several countries, military fighters accompanying a passenger plane into New York and a grim-faced president and his aides, many of whom had spent a sleepless night.
Poor dears. I bet the stewards brought milk and cookies!

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Hereafter" Gave Me The Dickens

In Clint Eastwood's masterpiece "Hereafter," Matt Damon plays a reluctant psychic named George Lonegan who has just one dishonest moment which may actually amount to the same kind of leap of faith theologians have been taking for centuries. A little boy named Marcus (played by both Frankie and George McLaren) has pestered Lonegan into giving him a reading about his late brother, Jason (ditto). When earnest but fairly routine brother-to-brother advice from the great beyond doesn't satisfy Marcus ("You're on your own now, he says"), a calculated look crosses the psychic's face. "He's come back," he suddenly says. The next round of ghostly advice is far more reassuring. "If you're worried about being on your own, don't be. You're not," Lonegan tells Marcus (the bit from the trailer). "You're in him, and he's in you. You're one."

It was pretty clear, at least to me, that Lonegan made the second speech up to make the kid feel better. Or maybe it was inspired revelation. Either way, he was creating doctrine -- sort of like the gospel plus St. Paul plus church tradition. Eastwood and his scriptwriter, Peter Morgan (with whom I briefly discussed matters of faith when he visited the Nixon library several years ago), portray just two supernatural things as true: Lonegan's authentic insights about people in the afterlife and the near-death experience of French TV journalist Marie LeLay (Cecile de France). Such nonsectarian universalism, though insufficient for and even offensive to doctrinaire Christians, was far too churchy for LeLay's producer boyfriend and others in her rigidly secular milieu in Paris, especially after she insists on talking and writing about the visions (welcoming white light and so on) that she experienced when she nearly drowned during the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.

When she and the boyfriend are reunited after the disaster and embrace, you can't imagine them ever letting go. But he does soon enough, after LeLay keeps asking what he thinks heaven's like and he decides to sleep with her on-air replacement. The world's brokenness all too often rips asunder those who love one another, like little Marcus and his drug-addicted mother, and even kills love aborning, as with Lonegan and Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), who meet in a cooking class in San Francisco. These scenes are the most charming in the movie. In an inspired bit of casting, the teacher is portrayed by Steve Shirripa of "The Sopranos," who plays Nessun dorma and Che gilda manina in class while George and Melanie cautiously flirt and feed one another spoonfuls of Italian delicacies.

But when Melanie learns George is a psychic and insists on a reading, he learns things she can't bear for a near-stranger to know, and their relationship ends. It's happened to him before, and it's the main reason he wants out of the business. Finally, he flees to London, where he meets Marcus (and his brother). Journalist LeLay's there, too, enabling the threads of the story to come together in a way that seems as easy and natural as every moment, line, and note (Eastwood wrote the score, with a little help from Rachmaninoff) in this enchanting, beautifully made movie. He surely has now earned the status of one of our greatest directors.

The freaky thing for me today was the reason George goes to London. He's a Dickens fan who falls asleep listening to passages from David Copperfield, and the first thing he does when he hits town is visit Dickens' house at 48 Doughty St. Kathy and I have been there. But not knowing we'd be seeing a movie tonight about God and Dickens, this afternoon I wrote a post about Dickens and God.

Clash Of Civilizations? What Civilization?

Yemen-based terrorists tried to send bombs to two synagogues in Chicago.

As Good As God

Turning to Charles Dickens in middle age and as a relatively recently minted priest (we call ourselves "midlife vocations"), I've been especially curious about his many references to God, faith, and the church.

As for his denominational status, the Unitarians make this apparently reliable claim:
Although Dickens was baptized and reared in the Church of England and was a nominal Anglican for most of his life, he turned to Unitarianism in the 1840s as a Broad Church alternative. He associated with Unitarians until the end of his life. Early experience with Dissenters gave him a lifelong aversion to evangelical zeal, doctrinal disputation and sectarianism. Equally unsympathetic with High Church Anglicanism, he feared that the Oxford Movement might lead the English back to Roman Catholicism.
That adds up. In Bleak House he makes several references to the beautiful language in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer but evinces no regard for its underlying doctrines (such as the pretty thoroughly Calvinist 39 Articles). A Christmas Carol stresses fellowship and compassion as the virtues of true religion. According to his father, Bob Cratchitt, Tiny Tim offers a bit of Christ talk pertaining exclusively to the Savior and his healing work:
Somehow [Tim] gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.
In my current read, The Old Curiosity Shop, a unnamed London passerby serving as narrator in the first few chapters says this on encountering the central character, little Nell:
I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.
I wrote earlier in the week about Dickens as liberation theologian because he says the poor are especially close to God. So too in chapter 41, when young Christopher Nubbles, called Kit, goes looking for his mother to help in a scheme to persuade his beloved Nell and her grandfather to return to London. Kit, getting ahead in the world by virtue of his honesty, industry, and decency, had taken his mother, siblings, and friends to the theater and an oyster dinner the night before. When he arrives home the next evening to collect her for her mission, she's apparently gone to church -- not an Anglican one, mind you, but what we would call an urban evangelical storefront called Little Bethel where the pastor thinks he knows (as some also insist today) who the real Christians are:
Little Bethel might have been nearer, and might have been in a straighter road, though in that case the reverend gentleman who presided over its congregation would have lost his favorite allusion to the crooked ways by which it was approached, and which enabled him to liken it to Paradise itself, in contradistinction to the parish church and the broad thoroughfare leading thereunto.
Kit finds the preacher in full voice and his mother and most of the congregation fast asleep. Rousing her and propelling her into the street, the usually equable and kindly young man waxes prophetic. He thinks the evangelist is exploiting her misguided shame over the prior evening's innocent indulgences:
"What was there in the little bit of pleasure you took last night that made it necessary for you to be low-spirited and sorrowful tonight? That's the way you do. If you're happy or merry ever, you come here to say, along with that chap, that you're sorry for it. More shame for you, mother, I was going to say."

"Hush, dear!" said Mrs. Nubbles; "you don't mean what you say I know, but you're talking sinfulness."

"Don't mean it? But I do mean it!" retorted Kit. "I don't believe, mother, that harmless cheerfulness and good humour are thought greater sins in Heaven than shirt-collars are, and I do believe that those chaps are just about as right and sensible in putting down the one as in leaving off the other -- that's my belief."
Kit seems to mention shirt collars to signify the kind of well-off people he's now working for -- decent and honorable, as it happens, but just as likely not, as in the case of Scrooge and especially Nell and Kit's bete noire, the odious Quilp. Here Dickens' straightforward gospel is that being rich won't necessarily get you into heaven and indulging in simple human pleasures won't keep you out.

What does get us in? Dickens knew it when he saw it, as in the case of his sister-in-law, Mary, who died a few years before he wrote The Old Curiosity Shop. As we approach All Saints Day, Dickens seems to be teaching us to find divine inspiration in the recollection and emulation of those who have made our lives and world better. I don't like to think about it, but little Nell will die at the end of the novel, and as she does, a kindly friend will say:
There is nothing . . . no nothing innocent and good, that dies and is forgotten. Let us hold to that faith or none. . . There is not an angel added to the Host of Heaven but does its blessed work in those that loved it here.

Mi chiamano Mimi (And JUST Mimi, Please!)

You can tell a California politician anticipates anti-incumbent sentiment when, on the ballot, she declines to state that she's a state Senator.

Clash Of Civilizations? What Civilization?

A Swiss couple is cruelly mocked by extremist Muslims during their wedding in the Maldives.

Not Too Smarta About Jakarta

Demonstrating itself to be politically tone deaf days before the midterm election, the White House openly encourages reporting to the effect that President Obama is going to Indonesia in order to receive an "adoring" welcome. Republicans were wrong to encourage and exploit confusion about the president's Christian faith. But why is he helping them?

Greatly Unsure

Israelis are strangely ambivalent about one of their greatest statesmen, Yizhak Rabin, murdered 15 years ago for trying to make peace with the Palestinians. (A highlight of my time as a Nixon aide, when he had offices in 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan during the 1980s, was meeting Rabin at the curb and escorting him upstairs for a meeting. In this 1969 White House photo, Rabin is at right as Nixon meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban.) As the Nov. 4 anniversary of Rabin's death nears, Ethan Bronner's New York Times analysis neatly presents yet another Middle East paradox. Which is true? Both sound reasonable:
Has the public lost interest because it is disillusioned with peace and views Mr. Rabin’s involvement in the Oslo accords a mistake? Or has negotiating with the Palestinians simply gone mainstream, and Mr. Rabin is no longer its symbol?

The left has no doubt.

“Fifteen years later we can’t pretend any longer,” Yossi Sarid, a former member of Parliament from the left-wing Meretz party, wrote in Haaretz. “It was a perfect crime that paid off — a man was murdered and his legacy was covered with blood. Rabin’s way is deserted, in mourning.”

Ben-Dror Yemini, a conservative columnist for Maariv, thinks otherwise.

“The truth is the opposite,” he wrote. “Rabin’s assassination saved the Israeli left wing.” He added that before the killing, “There were terror attacks that gave rise to the phrase ‘the price of peace.’ The polls predicted a terrible fall for the Labor Party, and the strengthening of the right wing. The right wing not only ruled the violent and stormy street. The right wing also ruled in people’s hearts.”

Photo: Corbis

Iran For The Money

Attacking Iran wouldn't be a "strike." It would be another war that could end up strengthening the regime. I still say make a deal.

Roger That

The Nixon bona fides of one of angry man Carl Paladino's advisors.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is Israel Acting Irrationally?

Reflecting on his summary of Israel's actions beginning late in the Bush presidency and throughout Obama's, Andrew Sullivan sums up:

This, then, is what appears to me to be Israel's current position - even as it faces an existential threat from [Iran] and a demographic collapse from within: No retreat - in fact, retrenchment - on settlements; no regrets on Gaza; an attempt to bounce the US into bombing Iran by making and wild, emotional threats to do the bombing itself.

These are not the actions, it seems to me, of a country acting rationally in its own interests or of that of its allies.

They are not the actions of an ally willing to give and take.

50 Thumbs-Up

Hat tip, thanks to StumbleUpon. Double-click to enlarge.


I'm not sure my younger daughter Lindsay is still following this stuff, but I'll send her this news of director Peter Jackson's casting choices for long-awaited "Lord Of The Rings" prequel just in case.

The Ides Of Next August

From the Jerusalem Post, big news and a honking dangling clause in one lead:
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the PA will declare an independent Palestinian state in 2011, while picking olives with a reporter from Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, according to an interview published on Thursday.
Dexterous PM, lucky reporter!

Paleo Vs. Palin

Pull up a chair for the GOP smack-down.

Feeling A Little Snarky At The LA Times

Two political reporters make a comment reminiscent of being 12:
[Meg] Whitman is going out of her way to criticize as "bunk" a Sunday Los Angeles Times/USC poll that showed Brown leading by 13 points among likely voters.

Her criticism has not extended to other recent public polls, which have consistently shown Whitman trailing Brown by high single digits.


In a Matt Bai analysis that attaches way too much cosmic significance to the fact that a couple of old politicians are back in the saddle, a slap at old voters:
[Jerry] Brown was famous then for dating Linda Ronstadt. You can Google her, or just ask your mom.

Alzheimer's Myths

Sandra Day O'Connor (who lost her husband, John, last November to Alzheimer's disease) and two medical experts on the urgent need for more research as the baby boomers age:
Experience has taught us that we cannot avoid Alzheimer’s disease by having regular medical checkups, by being involved in nourishing relationships or by going to the gym or filling in crossword puzzles. Ronald Reagan suffered the ravages of this disease for a decade despite the support of his loving family, the extraordinary stimulation of his work, his access to the best medical care and his high level of physical fitness. What’s needed are new medicines that attack the causes of the disease directly.
They're right, of course (said the self-interestedly enlightened, aging baby boomer). It's important to note, though, that the article elides Alzheimer's and the dementia that can result from the emotional isolation and discouragement that attend old age, especially in nursing homes. No family that chooses institutional care for an aging relative does so blithely, and none deserves to be judged. But a considerable number of folks who manifest depression-related dementia while living in unfamiliar surroundings -- as many as 50%, according to one study several years ago -- might perk up at home.

First Time A Sitting President Is Called "Dude"

Who else but John Stewart?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whitman Endorses Brown

Oops. But isn't that Peter Coyote doing the narration?

Missing The Point, Now In My 57th Year

At a baby shower this afternoon for a St. John's School colleague, we guests were offered the opportunity to guess the date and time Kellie's baby would be born. I wrote down the due date at 7:20 p.m., turned in my little slip of paper, and then spent a moment or two wondering whether they'd announce the name of the winner before the event was over. (Kellie's due date is in November.) When the St. John's youth group gathered tonight for their annual pumpkin carving, acolyte Hannah Schuh had to explain to me why the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet would make a good template for a jack o'lantern. Of course I was the guy who didn't notice until 2002 or so that the work Beatles contained the word "beat."

Giving Obama Iran For His Money

Is the president going to get tough with Iran? The New York Times:
Two years into office, Mr. Obama has organized an impressive sanctions regime and managed to combine diplomacy and pressure better than many experts had predicted. But so far he has little to show for it, which has prompted a discussion inside the White House about whether it would be helpful, or counterproductive, to have him talk more openly about military options.

"I Wish I Was The Moon," Neko Case

The good people at "No Depression" recommend a video or two each week. Get their weekly e-mail and support the best in American popular music. This title is a condition contrary to fact, as far as we know, and so needs a "were" instead of "was." But a great song nonetheless.

The Arkansas Shuttler?

When the campaign's over, my former colleague at the Nixon Center, Steve Clemons, thinks the Obama administration should redeploy Bubba:
"Bill Clinton is the only guy I can think of who is trusted and liked by all sides," Clemons told POLITICO. "He is the only guy I know who successfully wrestled and pushed Netanyahu to do what he wants to do. And Clinton has spectacular popularity in Israel and Obama doesn't."

The former president "has granular understanding of every deal and piece of the deal - behind the scenes stuff that has been distorted and reframed," Clemons continued. "No one has a better grasp, ... sees the opportunity and has the global stature to both cajole, seduce and embarrass" the parties towards an agreement.

And under that scenario, which Clemons concedes is a float though one influenced by some kibitzing on the peace process with Bill Clinton at an event last week, how would Obama control the force that is Bill Clinton?

"Why would you want to control him," Clemons responded. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict "has become a global fault line in the eyes of the world, and a manifestation of America's weakness today. It has far greater significance" strategically "than northern Ireland. My bet is this is one of several defining issues" for the U.S. and the Obama administration, Clemons continued.

Still Testing The Watergate

The federal government's new exhibition on Watergate at the Nixon library, opposed by Mr. Nixon's White House aides, will be in by the end of the year, says director Tim Naftali.

Just Take A Guess

The most expensive domain names.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Autos de fe

"Clergy Parking Only."

So said the sign marking the space occupied by the 2010 BMW 650i convertible, which retails for around $84,000. While it's theoretically possible that the issue is just that I'm laboring in the wrong stratum of Christendom, prior experience suggests that this vehicle, photographed this morning at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Orange County, where I'd gone to visit a St. John's member after her surgery, belongs to someone who has been called to the vocation associated with the Hippocratic Oath instead of the Nicene Creed.

Saddleback is one of the few hospitals left in our region that provide parking for pastors. One day a couple of months ago, there was a Jaguar in our rank. I visited my patient and then set a stakeout from atop a grassy knoll overlooking the parking lot.

After maybe five minutes, a man came along and walked up to the car. (You may well be wondering how long I would've been willing to wait.) Relying on gifts of discernment that have been carefully honed through years of spiritual discipline, I identified him as a physician. It had something to do with the white coat and stethoscope.

I pounced. Like a Jaguar. Like the Spanish Inquisition.

"Excuse me," I said, "but are you a member of the clergy?"

He saw my collar and knew he was busted. I don't think I'd ever gotten the better of a doctor before. "Sorry," he said. "I had an emergency."

"Me, too," I said. "I won't park in your space if you don't park in mine."

I will cop to a technical violation of Luke 14:8 (the bit about expecting to occupy places of honor). Mea nissan maxima culpa.

Charles Dickens, Liberation Theologian

I suspect we'll be coming back to this perhaps epochal article again and again. Thomas B. Edsall argues that the United States is going through a period unlike any that its citizens, except for the very old, have experienced before. If economic growth remains anemic, tax revenues will as well, and deficits will continue to balloon. At the federal and especially state and local levels in an "age of austerity" and of rediscovered fiscal probity, Edsall argues, competition for scarce government largess will increase. Those with special influence and leverage (such as unions and large corporations) will have an even greater advantage than usual over constituencies, such as illegal immigrants and the poor, who can be easily scapegoated for gobbling up precious taxpayer resources (no matter how small a piece of the budget pie may actually have been set at the table for them).

We can hope that the mighty engine of U.S. productivity and growth (the last best hope of the material world, at least) will reignite and put the lie, as they say, to the doom-and-gloomers. Whether it does or not, it's important for everyone, from the humblest voter to the most exalted legislator, judge, pundit, and policy maker, to remember what the Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ proclaimed and the liberation theologians reaffirmed beginning in the 1960s: That God has a special place in his heart for the poor.

So I gave thanks when this passage from Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop came up on my iPod this morning as I drove between pastoral appointments. Those who were amazed a half-century ago to find such powerful faith burning in the darkest slums of Santiago said it no more powerfully. Nor has anyone ever written more beautifully about the roots of true patriotism:
[I]f ever household affections and loves are graceful things, they are graceful in the poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of the truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven. The man of high descent may love the halls and lands of his inheritance as part of himself: as trophies of his birth and power; his associations with them are associations of pride and wealth and triumph; the poor man's attachment to the tenements he holds, which strangers have held before, and may to-morrow occupy again, has a worthier root, struck deep into a purer soil. His household gods are of flesh and blood, with no alloy of silver, gold, or precious stone; he has no property but in the affections of his own heart; and when they endear bare floors and walls, despite of rags and toil and scanty fare, that man has his love of home from God, and his rude hut becomes a solemn place.

Oh! if those who rule the destinies of nations would but remember this -- if they would but think how hard it is for the very poor to have engendered in their hearts, that love of home from which all domestic virtues spring, when they live in dense and squalid masses where social decency is lost, or rather never found -- if they would but turn aside from the wide thoroughfares and great houses, and strive to improve the wretched dwellings in bye-ways where only Poverty may walk -- many low roofs would point more truly to the sky, than the loftiest steeple that now rears proudly up from the midst of guilt, and crime, and horrible disease, to mock them by its contrast. In hollow voices from Workhouse, Hospital, and jail, this truth is preached from day to day, and has been proclaimed for years. It is no light matter -- no outcry from the working vulgar -- no mere question of the people's health and comforts that may be whistled down on Wednesday nights. In love of home, the love of country has its rise; and who are the truer patriots or the better in time of need -- those who venerate the land, owning its wood, and stream, and earth, and all that they produce? or those who love their country, boasting not a foot of ground in all its wide domain!

I'm listening to the novel. You can read it on-line here thanks to the University of Virginia.

Andy And Jerry

Tough talk from New York's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Cuomo, possible during a campaign only because his opponent, Carl Paladino, is unelectable. I'm wondering if California's Jerry Brown has the same gumption:

Andrew M. Cuomo will mount a presidential-style permanent political campaign to counter the well-financed labor unions he believes have bullied previous governors and lawmakers into making bad decisions. He will seek to transform the state’s weak business lobby into a more formidable ally, believing that corporate leaders in New York have virtually surrendered the field to big labor.

And even as he girds for war, Mr. Cuomo, the state attorney general and an expert practitioner of political hardball, also plans to lavish attention on individual legislators, who he says are sick of being demonized and eager for accomplishment after years of gridlock and enmity.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Taliban Catholicism"

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Illegal Immigration Down, Anxiety Up

Thomas B. Edsall argues that in the politics of the coming "age of austerity," the poor will prove to be convenient scapegoats as budgets are cut at all levels of government. Immigration is a harbinger of the trend:

The rise of illegal immigration as an issue this cycle doesn’t correspond to material facts. The number of aliens pouring across the border is not increasing. On the contrary, the recession and improved enforcement have drastically reduced it. What is increasing is anxiety about resource competition. And that’s exactly why immigrants cause so much agitation: They are perceived by many voters as one giant, undeserving resource suck. In June, Gallup asked, “Which comes closer to your point of view, illegal immigrants in the long run become productive citizens and pay their fair share of taxes, or illegal immigrants cost taxpayers too much by using government services like public education and medical services?” Among all voters, 62 percent perceived immigrants as a resource drain. Among Republicans, the number concurring with that dim assessment rose to 78 percent. You’ll often hear Republican immigration proposals—rewriting the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship, for instance—dismissed as political suicide. I would argue that it shows the GOP’s astute understanding of the new zeitgeist.

Picking And Grinning

Picking his mandolin, Levon Helm's smile is the soul of music. I hope it may give some pleasure or comfort to visitors to my office at St. John's. It's a birthday gift from my musical buddy Gary Baker, who took the picture during a recent performance in Washington state by Helm and his Midnight Ramble show band.

Poor Coxswain

The GOP is expected to fare poorly in New York, and the party chairman's expected to get the blame.

Halloweek Begins

Kathy and I just discovered a street in Yorba Linda where the grownups dig Halloween even more than the kids. Don't tell anyone (it reduces the sheer intensity of the scariness) but the ghoul at left is Frank Amato, a doctor and volunteer docent at the Nixon library. I think he was meaning to flash a Nixonian V-for-victory sign, but he couldn't because he was holding a Snickers bar in one hand and a fake cocktail in the other.

Frank and his wife live on a cul-de-sac where the residents were dressed as witches, Na'vi, outlaw bikers, and giant pumpkins, dispensing candy by the fistful. One driveway had an inflatable Christmas merry-go-round next to a caped, hooded skeleton hauling a jack o'lantern in a chariot.

It's two months early for Christmas, sure. But a week early for Halloween. On our street a block or two away, we've had fewer trick-or-treaters every year. We weren't sure if it was a national decline owing to heightened parental anxiety (apparently not), evidence of concerns among evangelical Christians about pagan chochanals on All Hallows Eve, or maybe just our reputation as a dark, scary old people's block.

Now we think it's because of the annual spook night at our community center, which Kathy and I had never attended before. Although uncostumed, we participated on our afternoon walk. They had game booths, a pumpkin patch, and a petting zoo, where two lovely princesses were vying for sovereignty over a rabbit. At at dusk, parents led a costumed kids parade halfway around the lake to denude Dr. Amato's block of sugary combustibles. They'll be so full of Reese's and Butterfingers that they might not bother coming to our house on the real Halloween. That's okay. Leaves more for us!

Why We Need The Last Comma In A Series

Its proponents include Andrew Sullivan (who gets the hat tip), Strunk and White, and Jeff Weintraub. Remove the comma after "White," and you see the problem; sheer chaos (semicolon comes in hand, too).

Forever Blue?

Californians just aren't tea drinkers. A new poll suggests that the governor's mansion is well out of reach for Republican Meg Whitman, while the GOP's Carly Fiorina remains eight points behind in her bid for the Senate. The LA Times:
Most of the nation has seen pronounced enthusiasm by Republican voters as the midterm elections approach. In California, however, Democrats have gained strength and GOP motivation has ebbed slightly in the last month, the poll showed. The current standings represent a reassertion of a more typical profile for the state after an election year convulsed by a foundering economy, widespread discontent about the future and record-breaking spending by Whitman, who has dropped more than $141 million of her own money into her campaign.
The Times analysis says that Gloria Allred sank Whitman by holding press conferences featuring a woman who had lied about her immigration status to get a housekeeping job with Whitman and her husband. Nobody cares much for Allred and her tactics (excepting, of course, Mr. Allred and their pets), but if such an obvious setup was enough to upset a candidate's standing with a whole bloc of voters, then she was standing near quicksand already.

The fact is that Republicans have broken their picks with California's Latinos. Some blame former Gov. Pete Wilson. I remember (this was in my Nixon library days) taking a walk with him from his office to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and listening as he complained about the bad rap he said he'd received for supporting an anti-illegal immigrant measure, Prop. 187, when it and he were on the ballot together in 1994. It's true he won reelection. But the GOP has been in especially bad odor with Latino voters ever since.

I'd guess that Wilson, and others in his brain trust who have been advising Whitman, played a part in her shrewd if dangerous decision during the primary campaign to resist veering to the right on immigration by endorsing the Arizona law. Her more overt outreach to Latinos came next. That her housekeeper has evidently cleaned her clock so thoroughly means that if it wants to win, the GOP has a lot more hard work to do with voters who think, rightly or wrongly, they're being scapegoated.