Saturday, November 20, 2010

Takes One To Know One

Sarah Palin in her new book, as reported by "Huffington Post":
"There is a narcissism in our leaders in Washington today," Palin writes.
Matt Labash in the "Weekly Standard":
It’s hard to tell sometimes where Sarah ends and Alaska begins. The Last Frontier of Alaska is as wild and untamed as Sarah Palin’s ambitions. So it makes sense that Sarah loves Alaska, because loving Alaska is like loving herself. And that’s what Sarah Palin’s Alaska is really about: self-love.

Skepticism Can Lead Both Ways

This month, an Israeli rabbi, Adin Steinsaltz, 73, celebrated the completion of an epic project he began in the 1960s: A 45-volume translation of and commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. Born into a not-very-religious home, he was tempted by faith in his teens:
“By nature I am a skeptical person, and people with a lot of skepticism start to question atheism,” he said.

(Last) Sunday's Sermon: "Barbarians"

Jesus Christ devotes a lot of effort to preparing his disciples (and thus us) for bad times, not just so we can better endure them but so we can capitalize on them for sake of the kingdom of God. In the 5th century, as the Roman Empire fell apart around him, Pope Leo, whom the Church remembers on Nov. 10, still managed to stand up for orthodoxy while helping keep Attila the Hun from sacking Rome (several saddlebags full of gold also helped). What do the barbarians at the gate look like in our time? My sermon from last Sunday is here.

No Longer A Sin To Feel

Andrew Sullivan describes and credits the Mormon church's changes in its teachings and policies about homosexuality.

Glad That's Settled

For the last couple of years, David Brooks and Paul Krugman, whose columns appear on the New York Times op-ed page, have been conducting a gentlemanly duke-out about the federal government's role in stimulating the economy. Luckily, a blogger at the "Economist" has finally straightened it all out:
The trouble with the "liberal technicians", as I see it, is that they are caught in something of a no-man's-land between "old-fashioned hydraulic Keynesianism" and updated, "behavioural" neo-Keynesianism. The microfoundations of old-school hydraulic Keynesianism are no more plausible than those of the Lucas-Sargent-Prescott "fresh-water" rational expectations school, and hydraulic Keynesian models are less well empirically validated.

Carry On Talking

Simon Sarmiento on the proposed Anglican convenant:
Yes, there are problems in the Anglican Communion. No, the covenant is not the solution. The only way forward is to establish the principle that these are issues on which it is OK for Anglicans to disagree with each other. And carry on talking.
Hat tip to Susan Russell

God And Men And Women At College

The LA Times on a new study of college students' spiritual lives. First, they question what they've been taught to believe already:
It also found that many young people eschewed the rituals of organized religion but embraced what the researchers defined as the cornerstones of spirituality: asking the big, existential questions; working to improve one's community; and showing empathy toward other people.

"These spiritual qualities are critical and vital to many things a student does in college and after," Astin said.

The researchers also found that students who were more spiritual typically performed better academically, had stronger leadership skills, were more amiable and were generally more satisfied with college.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You Can Always Count On The Nixon Guy

Fox News founder Roger Ailes says NPR executives are Nazis.

Obama's Biggest Foreign Policy Gamble

One of my former Nixon Center colleagues on President Obama's decision to force a vote on the strategic nuclear arms control treaty with the Russians, which Senate Republicans are opposing just because they can:
“It’s really high stakes,” said Geoffrey Kemp, a former national security aide to President Ronald Reagan and a scholar at the Nixon Center, a research group in Washington. “I would say it’s the biggest gamble he’s taken so far, certainly on foreign policy.”

They May Get The Jets ANYWAY?

Israel continues to play bad cop, bad cop with President Obama.

GOP To Jobless: Drop Dead

In California, Republicans think they don't need Latinos. In Washington, they think they don't need unemployed people.

A Boy Named Eboo

Eboo Patel, a 35-year-old social scientist and interfaith leader, is smooth, articulate, and, as a regular commentator on CNN and NPR, media savvy. And yet speaking this morning to 650 Episcopal educators gathered at a National Assn. of Episcopal Schools conference in San Antonio, he twice came close to losing his composure.

He almost choked up describing the day he ran into his old principal, nearly 20 years after being graduated from Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. To remind a breakfast plenary session full of teachers of their influence in young lives, he said he still remembered seeing Mr. Abrazo standing in the same spot in the hallway every day between classes and helping him form a new campus organization that others on campus had discouraged.

The second moment -- and here Patel evinced sheer astonishment -- was his description of how it felt last summer when Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, history professor, and putative authority on American values, compared him to a Nazi. Patel reminded us that in 1790, President George Washington had promised the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island that the U.S. government would give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." But that kind of woolly-headed thinking went out the window once Gingrich and certain other Republicans discerned that political profit could be gained by scapegoating Muslims such as Patel and his family for the Sept. 11 attacks and by stoking an anxious public's confusion about the religious affiliation of their somewhat remote-seeming but thoroughly Christian president. Gingrich's own former House colleague Joe Scarborough called it "political hate speech."

During what Patel called our summer of intolerance over whether a Muslim cultural center should be built in lower Manhattan, his mother called and asked whether it might've been better for him and his wife to have given their children less Muslim-sounding names. That way, she was suggesting, they'd be safer.

A sad turn for an American family, brought about by their fellow Americans. "I was tempted to ask her, 'So why did you name me Eboo?'," he said. We Episcopalians laughed with relief. But our keynote speaker didn't let us off the hook. He said our diminutive denomination of churches and schools -- noted for its tolerance of ambiguity and, especially in our schools, promotion of religious pluralism in chapel and religion classes -- is destined to play a central role if our nation's complex religious mix is ever to become less flammable. "We're the most religiously diverse nation in history and the most devout in the West," he said, "living in a time of global religious conflict." Our diversity will only lead to a heightened sense of spiritual communion, he said, if we reacquire some religious and interfaith literacy, learn to talk about our shared religious values, and get to know one one another as individuals instead of stereotypes.

Instead, according to a recent study, a significant percentage of incoming Boston College students couldn't name the four gospels, identify Mother Teresa's denomination, or correctly associate the Koran with Islam. At the same time, Patel said, "the only ones who are willing to speak out out about religion in America are the ones who are comparing Muslims to Nazis." They, of course, as well as the neoatheists, who deftly throw us religious moderates out with the fundamentalist brimstone. Patel said that Episcopalians "are just about in the best place" to promote interfaith encounters based on the acceptance of God's heart for mercy, justice, righteousness, and love -- but to do so, our church will have to stop wringing our hands and start ringing our bell. Essentially, our speaker was calling us to re-embrace our Anglican heritage of prophetic pragmatism, loudly and proudly.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spurred By Song

At this afternoon's opening Holy Eucharist service at the biennial conference of the National Assn. of Episcopal Schools, convened two blocks from the Alamo in sunny San Antonio, we had an energetic celebrant in the Bishop of West Texas, the Rt. Rev. Gary R. Lillibridge, and a rousing, moving sermon from the Rev. Paula Lawrence-Wehmiller.

And the music was rocking. Dr. Thomas Lee of the Episcopal School of Texas in San Antonio did yeoman service on a borrowed organ, accompanied by Brass FX, another local outfit. After the service, the Come As You Are Worship Band served up some smoldering Tex-Mex praise music right off of a Joe Ely record. As one of the band's vocalists did a flute solo, I noticed the FX trombonist standing nearby with a smile that said, "Can I have a turn?" And that he did.

Most movingly, several anthems were offered by Les Petits Chanteurs, an internationally renowned boy's choir from Port-au-Prince, flown in thanks to the generosity of Episcopal institutions throughout the U.S. (including St. John's Church and School). They sang the national anthem last night at the San Antonio Spurs game (which probably would've been national news if it hadn't been for the sad word about the breakup of Tony and Eva Longoria Parker). Their sweet, high voices melted 700 hearts -- and when they capped it off with "We Are The World," as they do at all their appearances, we were standing, swaying, and beaming. Hearing these kids sing it, I'm not so sure that Jackson-Richie standard shouldn't be in the hymnal!

"Down By The Water," The Decemberists

The Decemberists, out of Portland, Oregon, played this great song on Conan's show tonight, with uberfolkie Gillian Welch on backing vocals. This somewhat more ragged performance was captured in Indianapolis -- in August 2009, according to YouTube, though the song was just released this week.

Invitations You Wish You'd Received

For his Nov. 19 speech at the Pacific Club, the World Affairs Council of Orange County has a few seats left for a speech by Mr. Bako Sahakyan, whose title is given as follows: "President as recognized by the people of the Artsakh-Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and as the Leader by others."

Gracious Light

Candles, altar, and reredos in the apse of San Fernando Roman Catholic Cathedral, San Antonio. The remains of Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and other heroes of the Battle of the Alamo are in the narthex.

Budding Library

C-SPAN has begun airing Nixon library director Tim Naftali's interviews with Richard Nixon's ex-staffers, beginning with Bud Krogh (shown here), most famous for organizing Elvis Presley's 1970 White House visit and running the leaker-hunting Plumbers unit that burglarized the office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Lewis Fielding, in September 1971. Krogh did federal time for violating Fielding's civil rights.

While Krogh's Wikipedia entry puts all the blame on him, some kind of surreptitious effort to find out what Fielding knew about Ellsberg's public activities was approved by top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who later tried to pin it all on the president. Proving Nixon's foreknowledge (which he credibly denied) of the Fielding break-in is Watergate's mother lode. Scholars from Stanley Kutler to Rick Perlstein have tried and failed.

Naftali did 126 interviews, including with Dwight Chapin, who used the opportunity to accuse Nixon of having been present when chief of staff H. R. "Bob" Haldeman ordered him to set up a dirty tricks unit for Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign. The allegation would've been big news to federal prosecutors and the House Judiciary Committee. It's important to remember that Chapin was jailed for lying under oath.

Does C-SPAN plan to air the Chapin interview? And will we ever see it in the new Nixon library Watergate exhibit, which has been strenuously opposed by Nixon's ex-aides?

Cable News. Not.

Hat tip to my Facebook buddy David Schwartz for this Washington Post op-ed by Ted Koppel, who bemoans the rise of TV niche journalism (much of which, isn't). David learned about it from our fellow former Andover journalist Gary Lee. Two excerpts:
Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.

The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible. Legions of new media present a vista of unrelenting competition. Advertisers crave young viewers, and these young viewers are deemed to be uninterested in hard news, especially hard news from abroad. This is felicitous, since covering overseas news is very expensive. On the other hand, the appetite for strongly held, if unsubstantiated, opinion is demonstrably high. And such talk, as they say, is cheap.
As Koppel makes clear, because they make relatively little (if any) money, news divisions have always had a tenuous hold on the loyalty of network executives. So it probably should've been predictable that network news would be further eroded when someone figured out how to make money offering news (or "news") on cable.

There's an imperfect analogy with our dying newspapers, whose display and classified ad revenues have been sapped by the Internet, which in turn still offers most newspapers' hard-won and well-reported content for free. That can't be sustained much longer. How much does it cost the New York Times to keep a bureau in Beijing? A million dollars a year? More? And they'll pay for that with my free page views of the coverage? Not for long. After that, for fact-based insights about what the word's newest superpower is up to, we'll be relying on the Hackosphere, whose own overhead has been dramatically reduced thanks to free wireless at Starbucks.

Koppel argues that the market is now in control of the news business. If that's the case, I'd bet that three-quarters of the American people still want, and may even be willing to pay for, solid, unbiased, well-reported journalism. So there's some hope. On the other hand, we also want pragmatic politicians.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kings And Queens Are Good

Matthew Yglesias' case for constitutional monarchy.

Paul Eskildsen Replied, "Comfy Chair?"

When she spotted this sign in downtown San Antonio this afternoon, Kathy said, "What more could a man ask for?"

Ratings Death Panels

My Nixonite buddy Hugh Hewitt says Nancy Reagan has insulted GOP presidential candidates by inviting them to a debate at the Reagan library. The reason is that the questions would be asked by the dreaded left-leaning representatives of the mainstream media instead of, Hewitt's preference, conservative journalists asking friendly questions.

Bad idea, for three reasons. First, if they're smart, candidates look for opportunities to hone their skills in tough forums. Who cares who's asking the questions? If you're going to win and be able to govern, you learn to answer the ones you wanted instead of the ones you got. Once you have power, you don't get to decide who's allowed to cause you problems.

Second, Hewitt's use of the term "new media" suggests he thinks Fox, Rush, and the lesser lights spinning around them actually comprise a nascent alternative media universe enabling politicians to opt out of MSM business as usual. And they certainly can do that, if they only want to reach a relatively small fraction of the electorate. Many mainstream journalists, liberal though most of them may be, at least try to be fair, whereas most self-identified conservative commentators don't. As a result, moderates, independents, and even some discerning conservatives tune them out, further diminishing their audience and effectiveness. Bill O'Reilly and others on Fox are fond of comparing their TV ratings to MSNBC. If instead you compare Fox's ratings to those of everybody besides Fox (aka the MSM), you see the real market share of Hewitt's new media.

As a matter of fact, I probably wouldn't vote for a candidate who acquiesced in an ideological litmus test for admission to a debate media panel, both because it's borderline creepy and also because the effective candidate will be preaching to her primary season choir and general election congregation at the same time. Sitting around with a bunch of friendly ideologues who are tossing nothing but puffballs should never be of interest to a potential national leader. Okay, you want to show how, one time, Barack Obama was on a panel with journalists from "The Nation" and "Mother Jones"? If so, how's that working out for him?

Third, Hewitt seems to think media people have a lot more power than they actually do. The media don't really set agendas or decide which candidates succeed or fail. Leaders lead, and commentators talk. Voters are smart. They know the difference.

Do You Remember (The Alamo)?

The current "Rolling Stone" (to whose print edition I'm fated to subscribe until it dematerializes) has a disturbing article about Phil Collins, whose hits in the '80s and '90s with Genesis and as a solo artist manifested an easy, soulful sensibility that I found irresistible. He also did a great job producing Eric Clapton's mid-'80s comeback albums, "Behind the Sun" and "August."

His outstanding work notwithstanding, some extremely unpleasant art rock devotees identified Collins as the cause of all their problems after he took over from Peter Gabriel as Genesis' lead singer in 1975. In every field of human striving, there's a fanatical cabal that sucks every glimmer of joy out of life in the name of some ideal of purity. In Collins' case, they sent him hate mail because they didn't like his pop songs.

What's really disturbing, the RS article discloses, is that it seemed to get to him. He's also lost a good deal of his hearing and, as the result of a neck injury, the ability to grip anything with his hands -- not only drumsticks but eating utensils. While he's preparing to tour behind a new album of Motown covers, he won't be playing the drums, and he's considering retiring from music afterward. He admits to having had suicidal thoughts.

The great joy in his life, besides his two sons, whom he's raising at his home in Switzerland, is his collection of Alamo memorabilia, one of the world's best. So arriving in San Antonio this afternoon for an Episcopal schools conference, having just read the RS article, I found it synchronicitous indeed to get a chance to hear his upbeat voice narrating an account of the Battle of the Alamo written to go along with a carefully constructed 13- by 15-foot model showing the Alamo compound circa 1836.

Collins purchased the model last year and gave it to a small private museum, the History Shop, on Houston St., not far from where the compound's northeast corner would've been on the morning in March 1836 when the forces of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna launched their first assault. They eventually killed all the defenders, sparing only the woman and children huddled in the sacristy of the old mission church in the southeast corner (the building, below, which most people think is the Alamo).

A young woman named Megan was on duty when Kathy and I visited this afternoon. She showed us a small excavation, perhaps four feet deep, that had revealed horseshoes (which, given the museum's location, might have been left by elements of the Mexican army) and a cannon ball. We also met El Paso-born History Shop staffer Art Duke, who assisted with the dig. He told us that Collins would be back in town soon for an Alamo anniversary event.

His narration takes 13 minutes as spotlights illuminate key moments and positions inside and outside the compound. It's not a "don't mess with Texas" show but rather one that acknowledges ambiguity and unanswered questions, such as how many of the new Texas Republic's best were holed up and died there (estimates ranging from 180 to 225). Being fair to all who fought their hardest for a cause they believed in, he calls one Mexican officer who died while trying to rip the Texas flag from atop the Long Barracks a hero. He should be careful, because Texans make Peter Gabriel fans seem like pansies.

The Internet Is Buzzing

Most famous for Friday Night Lights, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger (sports editor of The Phillipian at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts the year before my buddy Bill Kaplan had the job), having once denounced the hackosphere and with good reason, has taken to binge tweeting.

The Happy Kathy and John Plan

At the LA Times, columnist Sandy Banks touched a nerve when she wrote about "senior living communities." She summarizes the contents of her mailbag here. A sample:
A few readers bristled at the very concept of shuffling seniors off to live separately. "Warehousing is warehousing under any name or at any price," wrote Harold Shapiro. "As a culture we perpetuate this practice whether for the poor or the well-to-do. We essentially relegate the elder in our society to the sidelines."

Others championed their own senior living communities. I was invited to Claremont to visit Pilgrim Place, to Walnut Village in Anaheim, to Glendale's Windsor Manor and to Laguna Woods Village (nee Leisure World) by 88-year-old Walt Wood, who warned me: "you'll have trouble getting a word in edgewise."
The variety and passion of the messages Banks received are obviously signs of our unresolved feelings about old age and how best to care for our aging relatives. Having done some research about nursing homes (not the ideal generic rubric, either) and performed my share of visiting ministry in them, I've resolved never to judge families who decide to place someone in one. First, we can never know all the factors that came into play for those involved. Second, a third party's judgment does no one who's directly involved any good.

And third, I've come to the conclusion that each of us is in training, or should be, to be an old person and that a contented, active, socially engaged old Kathy and John living down the hall or in the granny-grandpa shack out back would also be a reasonably happy Kathy and John at Golden Acres. That's our plan, at least.

What A Party!

"It's No Secret: St. John's Celebrates God's Grace," a glimpse at what's up at St. John's Episcopal Church. For production assistance, our thanks to Brandon Wislocki of St. John's School. For scriptural inspiration, our thanks to St. Paul (1 Cor. 5:8).

Hillary Rising

The Secretary of State now stands astride the Middle East, says Roger Cohen:
If anyone can persuade Israel that its self-interest involves self-criticism, that occupation is corrosive, that its long-term security demands compromise, and that a new Palestine is emerging, it’s Clinton. If anyone can persuade Palestinians that self-pitying unilateralism (“Help us! Recognize an occupied state!”) is the way of the past and a road to nowhere, it’s Clinton.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No More Unconditional Love?

Maybe the new deal with Israel means that President Obama has the upper hand after all.

I Guess The Cold War Isn't Over

Another example of journalists' obsession with process over substance is this long New York Times article about Republicans blocking a nuclear weapons treaty with the Russians in which no Republican is asked to explain why the treaty's actually a bad idea.

Lincoln Sense

When information's digitized, we look at it differently. Patricia Cohen:
When the collected published works of Abraham Lincoln were posted online a few years ago, the director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel W. Stowell, said he expected historians to be the most frequent visitors to his project’s site. But he was surprised to discover that the heaviest users were connected to Oxford University Press; editors of the Oxford English Dictionary had been searching the papers to track down the first appearance of particular words.

That The Blind Shall See

In January, Kathy and I will be members of a band of 28 pilgrims from St. John's Episcopal Church that will visit Jerusalem, Nazareth, and other Holy Land sites as guests of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which comprises 60 parishes, schools, hospitals, clinics, and other service institutions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Thanks to an organization of American friends of the Diocese, this word comes about its work:
In Jordan, public schools don't accept blind children. Until the Rev. Samir Esaid and his remarkable wife Sabah arrived in Irbid, blind children traveled 45 miles to Amman for an education - if they were able. Few made it. The Esaids saw a need and found their calling. Over the next five years they built a school, Arab Episcopal school, which mainstreams blind, low vision and sighted children, a revolutionary concept at that time in Jordan. Irbid blind girl learning to read

Today, 120 sighted and 30 blind and low-vision children benefit from the dedication and ingenuity of a committed and determined staff.

Nabeel and Rania are five years old and best friends. Until last year, Rania had never met a blind person. Families often leave their disabled children at home out of shame and the misguided sense that they're protecting them. But these two little kids run and play together, talk and tease, visit each other's home and are slowly advancing the understanding and the rights of the disabled.

In 2003, AES opened a kindergarten which admitted three- to six-year-olds. The school now goes through sixth grade and they hope to eventually continue through high school. They see a desperate need for a specialized vocational school for blind and low vision high school students in particular.

Graduation is bittersweet.

For many, public middle school is an option. For the disabled, no chance.

The library shelves are almost bare. Teachers design and make teaching tools for blind students from bits of plastic packaging, wood scraps and a lot of imagination. There's no bus to get the children to school and most families struggle to pay the fees. But AES's reputation for learning, caring and respect has spread far and wide. The wait list grows and as a result, some children miss out.

Parents of the blind are often completely unaware that their children have potential. They haven't heard of Braille and many don't know that blind children are capable of reading. Often children have never learned to feed themselves, walk or have friends. No one talks to them. So their language skills are deficient - for no reason. After a few months in school, whole worlds open up to them. Sabah told us that sighted students are excited as vacations approach. Blind children become sad. Educating parents and providing support groups is a constant need.

It takes three times as many teachers to fully integrate disabled children into a classroom, and costs four times as much because of extra equipment. But the commitment to this work is total. There is no government support for private schools, so without your help, the work cannot continue.

The wish list includes a bus for $45,000, a computer teacher for staff training at $250/month, Braille books and desperately needed scholarship funds. Every gift will help a child.

In early August, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, Bishop in Jerusalem, arrived to consecrate the beautiful new St. Mary's Church on the school campus, a visual symbol of growth and hope here. Rev. Samir, a refugee from Israel himself, told us, "The role of the Church is not to just pray on Sunday. Jesus walked among the people; he provided for social needs. We will too." Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Imagining A Republican Obama

Andrew Sullivan on the right's rampant distortions of President Obama's record:

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector's in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don't think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

He Should've Held Out For An Aircraft Carrier

Benyamin Netanyahu, last week: Obstructionist destroying chances for Middle East peace. Bibi, today: World's shrewdest negotiator. Under the deal negotiated by Hillary Clinton, here's what Israel would get if its cabinet approves an additional 90-day West Bank settlement freeze (which, as a Facebook correspondent recently wrote me, costs it virtually nothing):
[T]he Israelis would receive 20 advanced American fighter jets and other unspecified American military aid, as well as American promises to oppose any Palestinian attempt to obtain international recognition of statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza without Israeli agreement. The United States would veto a United Nations Security Council resolution along those lines and actively work against similar resolutions in forums where it does not have a veto.