Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Mama Tried," Merle Haggard

Beloved of Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, "Mama Tried" is the story of Haggard's checkered early life. Newly re-pardoned by California's governor and feted at the Kennedy Center, Haggard, 73, reflects on meeting Richard Nixon at the White House:
The intelligence of Nixon was impressive. He was able to carry on a conversation with me and introduce me to about three other dignitaries and their wives, and tell me what their kids' names were. He knew all that. And at the same time, tell me a story about how he was in college when I was in prison, and host the whole evening with all these pots on fire.

Knock Knock? Who's There? Hummus. Hummus Who?

Whose hummus is more like it.


Wikileaks may have put lives in danger in China, and for what? The New York Times:

A Chinese intellectual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared exposure, said the disclosures had left some Chinese who had had contact with United States diplomats “nervous” about the possibility of persecution by the authorities, who had blocked access in China to the WikiLeaks Web site.

Some people have been saying blithely that the era of secrecy in diplomacy is over. Too bad for the billions still living under tyrannical or authoritarian regimes such as those in Iran, North Korea, or China, where dissidents and other sources of vital information will think twice about trusting an American diplomatic or intelligence contact again.

Down By The Riverside

Progressive evangelical preacher and leader Jim Wallis (left) is married to the Rev. Joy Carroll, an Anglican priest from England who was the model for the fictional character in the BBC series "The Vicar Of Dibley." Speaking this morning to the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in Riverside, Wallis said that when their younger son, Jake, was watching Joy celebrate Holy Eucharist one day, he turned to dad and said, "Are guys allowed to do that?" More later on Wallis' reflections on women and faith. He's shown here with Paul Reza of St. John's.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bring A Friend To Church

Advent initiative of the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles

Consent Of The Governed Under Review

William A. Galston and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, writing about (as MK suggests) the latest iteration of Richard Nixon's silent majority:
On Dec. 13, more than 1,000 citizens from the 50 states will convene in New York to change the odds. They are founding a movement - No Labels. Among them will be Democrats, Republicans and independents who are proud of their political affiliations and have no intention of abandoning them. A single concern brings them together: the hyper-polarization of our politics that thwarts an adult conversation about our common future. A single goal unites them: to expand the space within which citizens and elected officials can conduct that conversation without fear of social or political retribution.
I wish I could go. Instead, I "liked" No Labels on Facebook (and had already asked for an "Of no party or clique" t-shirt for Christmas).

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Tears Of Christ

Since I can't figure out how to include a credit line, I'll say here, as I did a couple of years ago, that I took the the photo under the flag of my blog (as we used to call the top of a newspaper's front page) in Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco. The centerpiece of the Interfaith AIDS Chapel is a 600-pound triptych by the late Keith Haring showing the tears of the crucified Christ falling on the Bethlehem baby.

Happy Birthday, E-P-A

"The Atlantic":

Forty years ago today, Richard Nixon's Administration officially created a new entity, the Environmental Protection Agency.

1970 was a year of tremendous environmental action by Nixon and Congress.The President signed the National Environmental Policy Act on January 2nd, delivered a call to make "the 1970s a historic period when, by conscious choice, [we] transform our land into what we want it to become" in his State of the Union Address, and ended the year with the creation of an independent agency to regulate the environment.

It's almost impossible to imagine such strong bipartisan support for environmental legislation these days, but politicians of all stripes were responding to real and serious problems in the country's towns, suburbs, and wilderness areas.

They Followed His Money

Catching up on podcasts of NPR's "Fresh Air," I just listened to Dave Davies' Nov. 4 interview with Alex Gibney. He's made a documentary about former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after the news broke that he'd been visiting prostitutes.

Gibney wonders why the Bush administration went after Spitzer but not Washington figures who were involved with prostitutes. He also speculates about whether those whom Spitzer had targeted when he was New York attorney general, such as former AIG chairman and CEO Hank Greenberg, may have played a role in his demise. Spitzer blames no one but himself.

The conversation reminded me of a post I wrote for the Nixon foundation's bog on March 3, 2008. I wasn't sticking up for Spitzer. I guess I was in a libertarian sort of mood:

Spitzer Tied To Prostitution Ring

“Why was that the headline?” my attorney friend (with a journalism background) asked. “Were they saying he was involved in running the prostitution ring?” My friend said it should’ve been:

Spitzer Visits Prostitute

That would’ve sounded different as the scandal broke — less ominously legal-sounding, more rooted in personal ethics and morality. My friend’s version would’ve gotten the story right the first time. Most people’s judgments about Spitzer come from what they think about a married man having sex with someone else. Of course the narrative behind the first headline, the real headline, was rooted in the way the governor’s activities caught the eye of investigators, as reported this morning by the New York Times (emphasis added in boldface type):

As part of the “know your customer” requirements, banks must assess their clients’ financial patterns and set guidelines to ensure that an alarm is sounded if there are unusual transactions, said Bob Serino, a former deputy chief counsel at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency who now advises banks and individuals on anti-money laundering regulations. “The idea is that if somehow a customer who usually deposits $3,000 a week starts depositing $300,000 into his account daily, that would be kicked out and looked at,” Mr. Serino said. “Banks could certainly decide that a politician’s risk rate is higher and thus have a higher level of due diligence set for someone like Spitzer.” In addition, banks must exercise an extra level of due diligence for a “politically exposed person.” While the law defines such people as “current or former foreign political figures, their immediate family and their close associates,” several banking officials at major institutions said that as a matter of practice, they extend extra scrutiny to American political figures. The July Suspicious Activity Report by North Fork that flagged Mr. Spitzer’s transactions picked up three wire transfers totaling roughly $10,000 to QAT International, in what appeared to the bank as a possible attempt to avoid a separate legal requirement that banks notify the Treasury Department of transactions of $10,000 or more, officials involved with the case have said. The requirement to report such large transactions applies only to currency transactions — “the coin and paper money of the United States” — not to wire transactions of the sort that Mr. Spitzer allegedly made, Mr. Serino said. Once a bank determines that a transaction is suspicious, it is obligated to file a Suspicious Activity Report with FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a division of the Treasury Department. The standard for filing such reports has diminished since 9/11, with banks erring on the side of caution out of fear that the government will later second-guess its decisions, experts said. The Suspicious Activity Report filed by Mr. Spitzer’s bank was one of hundreds of thousands filed annually, and three people with knowledge of the investigation said it did not immediately attract the attention of federal investigators. But when HSBC filed its report on the shell companies, the I.R.S. began an inquiry. A former director of FinCEN, who now works in the industry at a company whose policies prohibit speaking on the record, said that since 9/11, suspicious activity reports had increasingly been used as a source of tips for law enforcement.

Sorry for the long quote. Let’s make sure I’m reading this right. A U.S. citizen legally moves around a sum of his own money sufficient for a decent down payment on a Dodge Neon. Bankers, who evidently have the right to decide for themselves who is prominent enough for special scrutiny (not just politicians but their family members and friends — heck, maybe the town planning commissioner who turned down the variance for their family room last month), alert the Treasury Department.

Post-Sept. 11 anxiety gives the bankers additional warrant, notwithstanding the relative unlikelihood of elected officials funding terror cells. The higher rate of reports by Mr. and Mrs. Nosy Parker at your local bank has been giving investigators plenty of non-national security stuff to get their teeth into. Spitzer would still be governor if our friends at Homeland, I mean Internal, Revenue hadn’t found his “suspicious activity report” at the bottom of someone’s in-box.

My lawyer friend points out that it’s still legal to deposit and withdraw cash that belongs to you. We all understand that many large cash transactions are suspicious. Also, sometimes a guy gets a few grand out of the bank to give another guy for a pickup. They’d better keep an eye out for the feds. Our libertarian brothers and sisters, noting the pivotal role played by the IRS in the New York scandal, might have written this headline:

Big-Spending Democrat Caught In Complex System Designed To Ensure Uninterrupted Flow Of Your Money To Washington

Pakistan's Persecution Of Christians

The Rev. Jane Shaw, Pakistan's first and only female Anglican priest, tells the Anglican Communion News Service that the country's religious persecution is keeping Christian pastors away:

She said that while there have been incidents of Christians being attacked and killed, the majority of persecution was more insidious. "It’s largely low-level harassment," she said, "not being short-listed for jobs because you’re a Christian, or, if you do get the job, your colleagues making you so miserable that you have to leave. Also, in some cases Christian businessmen have been told that they’ll only get the most lucrative contracts if they convert to Islam."

Other harassment includes Christian children being teased or bullied at school, Christian workers being assigned excessive work­loads, Christians being evicted from accommodation without notice, and influential community members occupying Christians' land with impunity.

Beer Summits Take Two

Ask most Washington observers who the obstructionists will be over the next two years, and they're likely to say congressional Republicans. But in a Nov. 3 interview with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," veteran political writer Todd Purdum tells a somewhat different story. He describes the incoming GOP speaker, John Boehner, as likable and willing to work with Democrats, the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with. His relationship with the tea party crowd is, in Purdum's word, correct. He's not interested in radically reforming government. He is interested in creating jobs and getting spending under control.

The problem, Purdum said, may end up being the president's worldview:
Certainly John Boehner and Barack Obama do not have the kind of personal reality and experience in common that you could say Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton had [after Republicans took control of Congress in 1995]. There was a level at which Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were able to take the measure of each other as wonky, super-political Southern guys of a comparable generation, and I think they each felt they had the other's number and could somehow understand each other. I don't think there's much in Barack Obama's life experience or worldview that would make him a natural, give him natural affinities with John Boehner. So it'll be really interesting to see how they are able to work together.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Life, Death, And Taxes

My St. John's friend and the founding treasurer of St. John's School, Bruce Hughes, shown here with Lisa at son Scott's June wedding, wrote to the Orange County Register about one of the recommendations of the bipartisan debt commission:
I am happy to hear that our government’s debt commission is finally trying to be fiscally responsible and rein in our national debt by reducing our payments from Social Security and Medicare. After all, no one guaranteed these people that they would actually collect from the taxes that they paid for 40 or 50 years. They were also told that this government pittance would not be enough to support them through their elderly years and they would need to supplement this pension. As such, they should all have some savings in the bank. Maybe we can tax this money, too.

The more I consider this proposal, the angrier I get. Our Washington elected politicians can retire at any age after 20 years of service while receiving 80 percent of their full salary. Public employees can retire after 25 years of service at any age with near full salary benefits. This proposal is creating an elite group who can stop working at an early age, with near full salaries and all the rest of us who will be like cattle led to slaughter.

The rest of us must continue to work until we die and pay taxes to support the public employees and politicians. If this deficit commission wants change, let’s make the system equal. That will be a major change.

Beam Me Up, Frankie

Laser propulsion. Really.

Wednesday Afternoon Lights

Praying with a full heart in the transept chapel of our church last Wednesday, Thanksgiving eve, I received a mighty jolt as a gracious light illuminated Jesus Christ's face in the icon that hangs over our rack of votive candles. I thought it must've been filtering through the branches and leaves of a tree growing on the south side of the church.

Last week, the light moved directly over the child's face in the center of the image. This week (you knew I'd check!), the upper-right corner of the icon began to glow at about 12:03 p.m. The circular wash, smaller than last week, again moved from north to south along the wall, this time just grazing the top of Mary's halo. I took the above-left photo at about 12:07. The photo at right, from last week, shows the light heading south, away from its (and therefore my) startling encounter with mother and child. As for what's changed in seven days, I'm sure declination and right ascension have something to do with it.

Being of a thoroughly scientific, post-Enlightenment bent, this week I tried to establish the source, which, rather than being a direct beam through a southerly window, was apparently a reflection involving the east-facing windows high in the chapel wall. I jumped up and down and waved my hands back and forth, but I couldn't reach high enough to be able to say which window or combination of windows was producing the effect. Probably better that way.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Exceptionalism Of U.S. Volunteers

U.S. Navy deck crew coordinate with U.S. Naval aviators of the F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter attack aircraft as they prepare to launch off the deck of the USS George Washington, during a joint military exercise off South Korea's West Sea, in South Korea's West Sea on Tuesday. Jets roared off a supercarrier in U.S.-South Korean war games Tuesday, as the U.S. and two crucial Asian allies agreed to talk in Washington about North Korea's attack on a South Korean island and the North's nuclear weapons programs. (Photo and caption: AP/Wally Santana)

You Can Always Count On The Nixon Guys

It falls to Paul R. Pillar at "The National Interest," the Nixon Center's journal and blog, to enunciate, from the neorealist's perspective, the perils of a foreign policy rooted in the mentality of American exceptionalism:

It leads to the mistaken belief that the involvement of the United States is indispensable in many endeavors best left to others.

In general, it inhibits appreciation of the limitations to what the United States can accomplish. Those limitations may involve anything from U.S. military forces reshaping a foreign country to U.S. intelligence services trying to figure out what is going on in a foreign country.

All of these tendencies have gotten the United States into trouble—sometimes deep, very expensive trouble—and could do so again.

Birther Pangs

CNN's Anderson Cooper vs. an Obama birther, Texas GOP state Rep. Leo Berman. Cooper wins, to put it mildly.

Epiphany In The Land Of Light

From our newly digitized St. John's parish newsletter (thank you, Cindy!), my Advent anticipation of an Epiphany adventure with 29 friends in faith:
As our Vaya Con Dios experiences the flowering of new life, the latest group of St. John’s pilgrims is getting ready to say vamos a Dios. We’re going to God, or, at least, to the place where God did his most mysterious, magnificent work by the Resurrection of our LORD Jesus Christ. We’re heading for the holy city of Jerusalem in January to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and his family and followers, experience the quiet majesty of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Sea of Galilee, and leave the prayers of our church and school community tucked into the ancient crevices of the Western Wall.

It will be the second pilgrimage for St. John’s Church and the third for your vicar. We’re taking a group of 30 this time. We’ll divide our time between Jerusalem and Nazareth, with plenty of side trips along the way.

We’ll see ancient sites, and modern ones. We’ll imagine ourselves walking the hills of Palestine in Jesus’s time, and we’ll experience something of the tension and anger between Israelis and Palestinians today.

Why do we go? What’s the most special part of making a pilgrimage? Each pilgrim, you’ll find, will have a different answer. When I visited the Holy Land for the first time in the summer of 2007 with a group of seminarians and fellow priests, I had a feeling of belonging, almost of homecoming. Within a few days, I knew I’d be back – and I was pretty sure I could talk Kathy and some of my St. John’s brothers and sisters into coming along.

Sure enough, about 20 of us visited in the summer 2009. If you saw the presentation in the multipurpose room on our return, you know that we floated in the Dead Sea, touched the damp rock in the Bethlehem cave where the Church believes Jesus was born, and even walked along first-century streets (literally, perhaps, in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) that had been excavated deep beneath our pilgrim guest house in Nazareth.

Our Epiphany 2011 pilgrimage will be in the Middle Eastern winter, which, we’re told, is a lot like a Rancho Santa Margarita winter. It may be a little chilly at night, and we could get some rain and even snow. Each day, we’ll worship and pray and experience moments of deep fellowship and profound silence. We’ll enjoy quiet evenings in the garden of St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem and explore the labyrinthine streets of the Old City. We’ll laugh, shop, eat and sleep well, and spend a lot of our time with our mouths hanging open as we say to my fellow guide, Canon Iyad Qumri, “Wow!” (He says that’s the word Americans use most often in the Holy Land.)

And when we return, we’ll tell you all about it, and ask when you’d like to go!

Leather Idols And Orange Slice Sacraments

So the Southern Baptists are fretting about yoga? As Orange County's own Joanna Brooks notes, if God's being crowded off the field, it's not by hordes doing the paripurna navasana:

If there is a sport that is a religion right now, no question, hands down, it’s youth soccer. Soccer is like Saturday morning church in the suburbs. It’s pretty much compulsory. Dutifully we worship the small people wearing the brightly-colored silken vestments. Faithfully we line up to form “spirit tunnels,” touching fingertips with parents from opposing teams. Lovingly we serve juice box and orange slice sacraments. We hand-sew lavish new banners each season, banners we know will expire within a few weeks. Yes, soccer has become as ritualized as High Church Episcopalianism. Except it’s far better attended.

As for the leagues that schedule games and practices on Sunday mornings, I understand pool and field slots are at a premium these days. "Judge not" and all that. Besides, St. John's offers a convenient community Holy Eucharist service Saturdays at 5 p.m.!

Tamin' Palin

Joe Scarborough:
[T]his is one Republican who would prefer that the former half-term governor promote her reality shows and hawk her books without demeaning the reputations of Presidents Reagan and Bush. These great men dedicated their lives to public service and are too good to be fodder for her gaudy circus sideshow.

If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

But if the party of Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wants to return to the White House anytime soon, it’s time that Republican leaders started standing up and speaking the truth to Palin.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Andy On The Eve Of St. Andrew's Day

With his beloved Winston Churchill, Kathy's and my St. John's friend Andy Guilford this afternoon at a surprise birthday party in his honor at the Ronald Reagan federal courthouse in Santa Ana. Andy was 60 yesterday; Sir Winston would've been 136 tomorrow (the feast of St. Andrew, as it happens). Preserving the element of s. required careful coordination among Andy's wife, Loreen; his assistant, Pam; his courtroom clerks; the Very Rev. Canon Peter Haynes, who distracted him over lunch as arrangements were finalized; and a fellow federal judge who summoned him to an emergency meeting in a third-floor conference room that was brimming with well-wishers.

Brown Sounds

Management school-tested principles of ingratiation.

Talking Turki

At "The National Interest," Paul Pillar casts doubt on the idea that the Saudis are lobbying for a U.S-Iran war:
A more reliable indication of Saudi leadership attitudes were the remarks in Washington earlier this month of Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said flatly that a military strike against Iran would be calamitous. It is highly unlikely that Turki would make such a strong public statement if it clashed with the king's views, public or private.

Don't Touch My Socks

Critics of President Obama and the TSA have been urging them to adopt the Israeli model for airport security, which I've experienced. It's based on profiling, one-on-one interviews with passengers, and invasive inspections of your luggage, including bundles of dirty laundry, while you watch. According to Dana Milbank, it would cost the feds between $40 billion-$150 billion a year.

The Heart Of The White House

One of the pleasures of my years at the Nixon library was working with one of our preferred caterers, Bruno Serato, owner of The White House restaurant in Anaheim, and his gracious colleagues. He was too humble ever to mention that since 2005 he's served 250,000 free meals to children at the Boys and Girls Clubs, as revealed in this August 2010 CBS News segment.

Check The White House out here; and make your holiday reservation today.

Hat tip to OC Weekly

Advent Karma

A Buddhist teacher offers five steps for counteracting negative thinking. (SOB stole my parking space!) If you prefer a Christian practice, read #5, transformation, with Resurrection in mind.

You Are Part Of The Great Connecting

Just because you can doesn't make it right. Hat tip to my St. John's colleague Catherine Sjostedt for this call to digital civility.

"What Have You Done For Me Lately?"

Karen Tumulty surveys the debate over American exceptionalism, which President Obama triggered (by being a bit too clever answering a question last year in France) and Republicans are exploiting for political purposes (by sowing more doubt about whether he can be trusted).

The United States was blessed to have been born at the apogee -- indeed as the apogee -- of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Our founders were inspired to root a nation in their profound understanding of our God-given liberty. No other such nation exists. But that was just the beginning of the story. Still being written, the rest is how we live into our destiny by deepening our commitment to liberty and opportunity for all our people.

No party or politician has a monopoly on exceptionalist props. Some want to limit our freedom by further enhancing the power of the federal government. I'm not a big fan of bureaucrats and regulators, but they're an incredibly easy target. It's also too easy to single out those whose commitment to freedom of religious expression, and freedom from religious persecution, was found wanting as soon as a short-term political advantage could be gained by scapegoating and frightening our Muslim citizens.

Instead, let's try these:

Freedom: When it comes to human liberty, our record as exceptionalist stewards has been improving slowly but steadily. We've been a living exemplar of freedom for centuries, and Americans have fought and died for others' liberty where before great nations fought only for themselves. Yet it took us until 1865 to free the slaves, 1920 to let women vote, and the 1960s to eliminate de jure racial persecution in the South.

Today, some still want to deny gay and lesbian people the right to the same public benefits that heterosexuals receive when they set up households and have children. I'm not taking about the sacrament of marriage, which is the business of the church and other faith institutions. I'm talking about financial and other practical advantages still being withheld from homosexuals because some in politics think it's the government's job to enforce St. Paul's rules, as they understand them, as expressed in the Letter to the Romans.

Opportunity: Also serving as barriers to the full realization of American exceptionalism are those who tolerate and even act to prop up our society's unfair system for funding public education. Teachers in rich districts are paid more than those in poor ones, and higher-poverty schools within districts still sometimes get fewer resources than lower-poverty ones.

What, do you imagine, does God really think about that? When it comes to public education, the favorite conservative slogan is local control. Here, a commitment to gospel principles evades some of those conservatives who number themselves among the faithful. Jesus Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves -- quite literally to worry as much about a child in Watts as one in our own house or neighborhood.

But when we hoard opportunity for our own children and community, we violate the Enlightenment ideals behind American exceptionalism by victimizing the most innocent and powerless among us -- children who can't possibly thrive without a good education. It doesn't excuse our selfishness to say that the federal government lacks the wisdom to equalize opportunity. Our obligation to do so remains.

Tumulty's article says this about our conception of the religious roots of American exceptionalism:
A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: "God has granted America a special role in human history."

Gingrich says Obama fails to understand that "American exceptionalism refers directly to the grant of rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence," and that it is a term "which relates directly to our unique assertion of an unprecedented set of rights granted by God."

Unique assertion? I'll grant that, for the reasons I've already given: That the American experiment was launched at a unique time in the the West's intellectual and spiritual development. Unprecedented set of rights? That actually doesn't make any sense. What was unprecedented was humanity's all-too-tardy recognition, as the scales of medievalism fell from our eyes in the 18th century, of the abundant love God has always expressed for all his creatures as unique individuals. We'd been hearing about it through the Hebrew prophets since the 8th century B.C.

But if Gingrich or that 58% in the Brookings poll are saying that God loves America or Americans more than any other nation or peoples, they're obviously wrong. The means of protecting individual rights and diffusing state power that our founders derived from God's law are available to all, and democratic societies around the world are doing pretty well with them. Our special status as stewards of freedom will always exist because the light was first lit on our shores. But that doesn't mean God won't always be asking what we've done for him lately.

The "Madness" Of War With Iran

Andrew Sullivan takes a hard line against the Saudis' proposed U.S. war against Iran:
The idea that the US should risk a tidal wave of Jihadist terror, a blow-up in Iraq, and a fatal p.r. blow in Afghanistan at the behest of the dictators and monarchs who funded Wahhabist terrorism and extremism for years is beyond absurd. It may make sense from an entirely myopic, short-term, Likudnik point of view. From any other perspective, it's madness.

What Price Security?

James Hanley on the TSA's patdowns. (For mature readers only, please.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Dire Wolf," The Grateful Dead

Did MTV get the idea for its "Unplugged" series from this tasty, almost-all-acoustic performance on the Tom Snyder Show in 1981? According to Grateful Dead publicist and historian Dennis McNally, the song title came from Jerry Garcia's girlfriend, Mountain Girl, who was watching "The Hound of the Baskervilles" with lyricist Robert Hunter one night and called the pooch a "dire wolf":
The wolf, "600 pounds of sin," is also the devil, and the fact that our guy invites him in speaks volumes. By and large, the Dead stood for moral goodness, but later they would also write a song called "Friend of the Devil." The pivotal moment in American blues history had taken place some 40 years before, when, as Son House told the story, Robert Johnson made a Faustian compact and sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play the guitar, leaving the church and setting out on the blues road. The Dead's postmodern, post-Christian cosmology didn't demand that choice.

Edmund Morris's Take On U.S. Exceptionalism

Edmund Morris, biographer of TR and Ronald Reagan, says Americans
are insensitive to foreign sensibilities,...are lazy, obese, complacent and increasingly perplexed as to why we are losing our place in the world to people who are more dynamic than us and more disciplined.

I Take Exceptionalism

Is Hugh Hewitt (in his review of her new book) saying that those who don't support Sarah Palin are anti-American?:
"America by Heart" is an upbeat, positive affirmation of traditional American values. I have often thought and said that not since Richard Nixon can any Republican divide a room more quickly than Sarah Palin, and this is because she is so completely the anti-anti-American, totally comfortable with and confident in her assertion of American exceptionalism.

Living With The Bomb

"The Economist" calls out the Arab hypocrites:
If they want America to bomb Iran, they're really going to have to go the very minimal distance and make the request publicly. If they can't be bothered to take the political risk of publicly making the call, they're just going to have to live with that Iranian bomb themselves.

You're Welcome

Another General Motors thank you, and an inspired one. You have to admire a company willing to compare itself to Bluto in "Animal House."

I'm SO Interested In Their Foreign Policy Advice

More news from the "Clash Of Civilizations? What Civilization?" desk:
In Saudi Arabia, no woman can travel, gain admittance to a public hospital or live independently without a "mahram," or guardian. Men can beat women who don't obey, with special instructions not to pop the eye, break an arm or leave a mark on their bodies.

Holy Sheik

I'll leave aside the inappropriateness of "an Australian journalist and Internet activist" deciding which classified documents pertaining to the security of my country should be made public. On this question, I trust Barack Obama a lot more than Julian Assange. I'll bet Obama's beginning to develop an appreciation of Richard Nixon's frustration over the Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers (which led to the Plumbers, which led to Watergate). I also appreciate the care the New York Times put into its decision to publish 100 of the leaked documents, some of them redacted at the request of the Obama administration.

Beyond the appalling fact of the leak itself, so far the biggest story seems to be this:
[T]he cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else.
And this:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia...according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.
The king is shown here. Other Arab leaders concur with his view.

The sheiks rarely utter a public criticism of Iran and yet privately urge the U.S. and Israel to start a war that could end up making Iraq and Afghanistan look like sideshows. What's the basis of these warmongers' inauthentic public solidarity with Tehran? They're Arabs and the Iranians, Persians, so they're not bound by ethnicity. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are tyrannies that practice apartheid against women, but that's probably not it. Within Islam, Sunni and Shiites are rivals, which could be part of the reason the sheiks want the mullahs snuffed. But they'd never have said so openly, because far more important is their ostensible mutual hatred of Israel -- which, these documents make clear, the Saudis actually hate somewhat less than they hate Iran.

So what's the right U.S. policy? It's certainly not fighting a war for the sake of the Saudis' interests or regional standing, oil or no oil. Do we go to war preemptively to stop the Iranian nuclear program for our own or Israel's sake, as Lindsey Graham and others have advocated? Only if we think the Iranians are lunatics who would invite the obliteration of their civilization by using their bomb, against Israel or any other U.S. ally or interest. But if the Tehran leaders are rational like everyone else in the world, then they can be influenced, bought, and if necessary deterred. That should be the basis of U.S. policy, just as in the Cold War, when the Soviet Union threatened our interests far more than Iran does.

As for whether Israel launches a strike, is it too naive to say that that's Israel's business?

Emeritus Sky

The view at 4:25 p.m. today from the parking lot of Emeritus in Yorba Linda, which, the last time I visited, was called Brighton Gardens, an assisted living community where I take communion to a friend. That means that this company just sold the place to this one. Happens a lot in this business, I understand. Sunset looks the same regardless.

Reading God's Footnotes

Driving and blogging between gigs in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, America's greatest cowboy folksinger, Tom Russell, files this report:
There is still a west. It exists on desert back roads and in odd, fragmented glimpses: Saguaros against Sonoran sunsets; pawn shop Kachinas; crosses made of Saguaro ribs and copper; the lingo of the muleteer, a blueberry pie slice in Pie Town; frozen quail on the hand of the Falconer. God’s footnotes.

The Major Threat To Marriage

Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, opposes gay marriage. But he has this to say about the sins of the church:
We have tolerated genuine hatred of gays; we should have taken the lead in condemning gay bashing but were largely silent; we have neglected to act in gentle love with people among us struggling with their sexual identity; and we have used the gay community as a foil to raise funds for political campaigns. We have made it easy for the media to suggest that the fanatics who carry signs announcing “God hates fags” actually speak for large numbers of evangelicals.

Worst of all, we have failed to deal honestly with the major threat to marriage and the family: heterosexual adultery and divorce. Evangelicals divorce at the same rate as the rest of the population. Many evangelical leaders have failed to speak against cheap divorce because they and their people were getting divorced just like everyone else. And yet we have had the gall to use the tiny (5 percent or less) gay community as a whipping boy that we labeled as the great threat to marriage.
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

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