Saturday, December 31, 2011

Never Let Them Shoot You Sitting Down

Matt Bai:
You tempted to point out that Gingrich doesn’t seem to be leading a populist wave so much as getting swept up in one, that he’s really just the latest in a string of Not-Romneys — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain — to be temporarily buoyed and then dashed on the rocks. Next week, it might be Ron Paul, or Rick Santorum, or even Buddy Roemer, who’s apparently still running. If this seems self-evident to you, though, it is not so to Gingrich. As he sees it, the current of history has been carrying him toward this moment, or something like it, for many years.
Photo by Eric Ogden


My Episcopal brother the Rev. Canon Gregory Larkin, although the most equable of souls, takes an absolutist position on any deal to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers that gives a piece of the action to the man the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke calls the worst owner in franchise history. Fr. Greg's letter was just published in the Times:
As one of Bill Plaschke's army of Dodgers fans who said "no" last year, I would caution Steven Cohen, Magic Johnson or anyone else who wants to own the Dodgers that no means no. No Frank McCourt! No owning the parking lot, no paying rent for the stadium. None of my money is going to Frank McCourt in any fashion, even if it means staying away another year. So, if you're going to buy the Dodgers — you had better buy the whole thing: team, stadium, parking lots, land, the whole works. Then I'll be ready to say, "Yes."

Gregory Larkin

A Working Definition Of Love

For New Year's Eve, one of the happiest songs in the world, "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show, about a man heading home to his girl and the Raleigh sunshine. Singer and fiddler Ketch Secor wrote it with Bob Dylan. In all church and family settings, The Episconixonian endorses the Camp Stevens policy of changing the lyric in the third verse as follows:
Walkin' due south out of Roanoke
Caught a trucker outta Philly
Passed the time tellin' jokes
If you're a guitarist, you play it in G with your capo at the second fret for the sake of the fiddle, which defaults to the key of A. You can bet the fiddler won't tune to you.

Except under certain circumstances. When I was in elementary school in Detroit I had a book of clarinet duets. My godfather, Louis Cook, would tune his violin up a half-step to play along. Louis also taught me how to put sliced tomatoes on buttered toast and white onion on cheeseburgers. But for a violinist who treasured his instrument, wrenching it out of tune so he could accompany an 11-year-old on "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes" was a working definition of love.

Friday, December 30, 2011

One And A Half Cheers For Arab Women

Listing ten Arab Spring myths, Juan Cole argues that things weren't that great for women under tyrants with their elite-imposed "state feminism." How will women fare under regimes strongly influenced by Islamists? Cole doesn't exactly inspire optimism:
If Tunisia and Egypt can now move to democratic systems, women will have new freedoms to organize politically and to make demands on the state. Nor can outsiders pre-define women’s issues. Their actual desires may be for social services, notably lacking under Mubarak and Ben Ali, rather than for the kinds of programs favored by the old elites. In any case, while women’s causes may face challenges from conservative Muslim forces, it is healthier for them to mobilize and debate in public than for faceless male bureaucrats to make high-handed decisions for women.
Funny this idea of outsiders (I guess that would be us) not pre-defining what freedom for women looks like. I think I can pre-define it pretty well. I don't accuse Cole of being soft on women's rights by any means. But across the whole range of commentary on the Middle East, it's impossible to miss the tendency of experts to be more sanguine about the oppression of women by what Cole calls "conservative Muslim forces" than we were about, for instance, the oppression of blacks under South African apartheid.

The Israel Paradigm

On Dec. 21, Terry Gross's "Fresh Air" featured an interview (podcast available here) with Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, who has covered the uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world and was held prisoner by Qaddafi's forces in Libya. His accounts of getting in and out of Syria and the terrifying incident in Libya, where his driver was killed, are riveting. He spoke movingly about watching history unfold in Tahrir Square and throughout the region:
I think when you look across the Arab world, absolutely, but even elsewhere, this idea of old kind of paradigms coming to an end and that people are searching for something that can represent them better, that's more meaningful to their lives, that somehow maybe transcends these older institutions that have held sway over so many places for so long - interestingly, I mean just as a kind of footnote here, or even, you know, a side note here, is that you often hear this from Islamists. When I was talking to Rashid al-Ghannushi, a very prominent Tunisian Islamist leader, he made the very same point to me, that what he was seeing going on with Occupy Wall Street, with the Arab Spring, was that, you know, people were looking for ideologies that were different. Of course he was volunteering his ideology as a replacement, but I think that sense of things coming to an end is very powerfully felt in a lot of places right now.
Here's the challenge, as Shadid sees it:
Are these new systems of politics that emerged in, say, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, you know, Bahrain, Yemen, any of those countries, are they going to revolve around this access of citizenship, or are these societies going to divide along, you know, I think more kind of basic notions of sect or ethnicity or other notions of identity that feel very exclusive?
Although it wasn't mentioned in the 40-minute interview, Arabs actually don't have to look far for inspiration. Israel is multiethnic and democratic. While it's a majority Jewish state, Arab citizens, whether Muslim or Christian, worship as they choose, vote, and own property, as do women. It has a strong secular sensibility. Some 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets this week to protest plans by Israel's ultra-orthodox minority, the haredim, to subjugate women. The more that emerging Arab polities resemble Israel, enabling freedoms that have been scarce or nonexistent in Arab countries so far, the better off their people, and especially their women, will be. As for Palestinians living under occupation on the West Bank, they're the least free in Israel but still among the freest in the region. They'll be worse off if an independent Palestine follows the old Arab paradigm instead the new Israeli one. Here's hoping that as Fatah and Hamas grow closer, the Palestinian movement doesn't lose its taste for democracy and gender equity.

Being viewed with distaste by its neighbors and relegated to the global doghouse for dragging its feet on Palestine doesn't make Israel in particular or democratic values in general less worthy models. On the contrary, it's a helpful lesson for democrats in training. We may feel that Benyamin Netanyahu's hardline policies are wrong and that the wisest step for Israel in the wake of the Arab spring would be to set up a Palestinian state as quickly as possible. That Israel's elected government doesn't agree is a reminder that while despots, to whom we hope Arab nations are saying goodbye forever, don't have to listen to their people, elected leaders do.

Paulists Pressed

If Ron Paul is nominated, my Nixon brother Hugh Hewitt's voting for Obama.

"Hard-Core Troubadour," Steve Earle

Don't you want to get your guitar out and learn the chords right now? Listen for the Springsteen reference.

Brief Empty Nest Inspection

My favorite Christmas Day photo -- Kathy after making the day festive for everyone, Lindsay rocking her Nepalese cap from Joshua Tree and getting set for the snows of Washington State, Valerie and Mark experiencing their last single Christmas, and Meaghan and Dan a few hours before their flight to London.

I'm Willing To Go To The Matt This Time

I've been playing second banana for years to Nixon gags by OC Weekly's deft polemicist, Matt Coker. In 1999 the alternative weekly ran a full page, which I attributed to him, on my attempts to cast a favorable light on President Nixon's White House tapes. My wife and Nixon confederate Kathy O'Connor had it framed.

Now Coker's ended an article about my Nixon-Rebozo post with the indelible image of 37, Bebe Rebozo, and aerosol valve inventor Bob Abplanalp (also not gay, not that it would have mattered if he were) window-shopping on Martha's Vineyard. He writes, "Nope, nothing gay-sounding there." Kathy reminds me that all three of these dudes loved to shop. Why, when we were in Beijing-- But what's the use? It may finally be time for Coker and me to meet man to man and settle our differences over lattes and fistfuls of petite vanilla scones.

And Then Ron, And Then Rick, And Finally Mitt

Here's why Hendrik Hertzberg believes Newt Gringrich failed as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney:
There is a certain wan the fact that the “baggage” that is proving to be Newt’s undoing is not so much his rabbity love life or his lucrative, un-historian-like subprime lobbying as it is his past forays into unorthodox decency, such as recognizing that mass roundups and deportations of undocumented immigrants and their children is inhumane as well as impractical, acknowledging that global warming is a reality, not just a secular-socialist hoax designed to crush freedom, and (the latest news from five years ago) suggesting that medical care should be available to everybody—all hundred per cent, which necessarily includes even more of the undeserving, the improvident, and the ungodly than does the ninety-nine per cent.

In Fairness To The Monks

After reading about Rod Dreher's blog for years, I'm a little embarrassed that it took a nudge from David Brooks this morning to pay closer attention. He has a fascinating (and, for a political blog, exceptionally civil) discussion thread about the post-Christmas Day monk mash at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I left this comment:

As a three-time pilgrim, I try not to be too critical about the occasional clashes at churches in the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher [shown here], where, as you may know, six denominations have been co-managing the premises (with a Muslim family controlling the keys) for over 150 years. I actually think we could learn something from them. How would any of us do, coexisting with our arch rivals in incredibly close quarters for the sake of a shared goal (in the case of the Holy Sepulcher, preserving and venerating the place all six agree was the site of Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection)?

Christians do take their faith and doctrinal differences seriously in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which makes the long days and nights of uneasy peace and cooperation between these well-publicized incidents all the more remarkable — even beautiful if one has a chance to see the intricately scheduled and sometimes overlapping worship that occurs almost constantly around Christ’s tomb.

Some of us can't take a ten-minute drive without getting mad at another motorist. Twelve members of a congressional super-committee with a combined 220 years of education couldn't agree on a budget. U.S. bosses spend millions of hours a year mediating employees' squabbles over turf, office supplies, and who was mean to whom first. (I made that statistic up, but I'll bet it's true.) Find one on-line debate about the Middle East that doesn't descend into ad hominem attacks, and we don't even live there. We're really going to make fun of people who've dedicated their live to preserving our LORD's birthplace because they sometimes have a bad day, too?

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Israel's top spies are less concerned than its political leaders and their U.S. supporters that Iran, if it developed a nuclear weapon, would use it against the Jewish state. Their perspective appears to be based on the assumption that Israel would shoot back. How naive!

Nixon And Jackie Robinson Were Gay Lovers!

The proof: Holding his hand instead of Pat's!

The Tea Kettle Must Be Boiling

The dreaded Romney's picking up steam everywhere.

"What The Secretary Of State Meant To Say..."

Robert Reich predicts that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden will swap jobs.

Giving Teheran Iran Around

Want another war? Then support the current U.S. policy in Iran, which is designed to give the regime no incentive whatsoever for improved behavior.

"Like The Weather," 10,000 Maniacs

Hat tip to No Depression

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

America's Battle Of Realities

At the "National Interest," published by the Center Formerly Known As Nixon, Paul Saunders wonders why public policy pragmatism is popular but, in practice, increasingly difficult to achieve:

The underlying difficulty may lie in the changing nature of America’s public-policy debates. The dramatic multiplication of media in the United States—starting with cable television and continuing on the Internet—appears to have undermined our ability as a society to agree on the facts. Politicians, cable-TV talking heads and bloggers regularly state “facts” and “statistics” that are at best creatively engineered and at worst cynically manipulated. This is not new behavior; disingenuous political arguments are as old as politics. The transformative element is a volume of information that appears to have exceeded the capacity of our marketplace of ideas for self-correction, something that allows bad information to develop a self-sustaining life of its own. As a result, our debates sometimes seem to be between contending realities rather than contending policies.

In this environment, the content of our public-policy debates and politics appear naturally to be gravitating away from concrete policy choices—which are increasingly difficult to discuss meaningfully in the absence of a shared set of facts—and toward competing ideals. This in turn forces our debates out of the realm of pragmatism, where discussion could focus on the best means to achieve our ends, and into the world of idealism, where even modest changes in policy can be assailed as threats to America’s core principles.

Israel's Voice Of Reason

Shimon Peres, Israel's figurehead president and former prime minister, advocates renewed peace talks with the Palestinians and argues that Israel's nuclear forces deter Iran (which would mean, of course, that Iran is rational and therefore a suitable negotiation partner).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Big Honking If

A British blogger has fun with the Daily Mail.

Summers' Time

For a disrespected writer, accused of slipshod use of evidence by the Washington Post, Anthony Summers is having considerable influence on how the personal lives of our Cold War leaders will be remembered.

In 2000, he accused Richard Nixon of domestic abuse against his first lady. A principal source had waited many years to get his questionable charges into print. Summers was his man. Now a new book by Donald Fulsom repeats the domestic abuse allegations. He quotes or cites Summers nearly 50 times. We'll have to wait until its publication in late January to learn if he adds anything to Summer's claims.

Anticipating Fulsom's allegations about Richard Nixon and his friend Bebe Rebozo, U.S. News recently noted that sex stories were being told about Nixon as they earlier were about the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover. Britain's Daily Mail, publicizing the Fulsom book, also notes the Nixon-Hoover coincidence, since the film "J. Edgar," in which the actor playing Hoover dons his mother's dress and jewelry, opens in London next month, when the book is published.

What neither account mentions is that the most explosive allegations about Hoover -- that he engaged in cross-dressing at gay orgies -- were also made by Summers in 1993, also based on statements by a person who'd been waiting years for someone credulous enough to roll the presses. Almost all historians now repudiate Summers' Hoover allegations, according to Jeff Stein at the Washington Post:

“Too good to check!” reporters sometimes joke when they hear a story so fantastic they fear checking it out, lest it turn out untrue.

Likewise, the public seems determined to cling to the story that J. Edgar Hoover, the piranha-jawed director of the FBI for over 40 years, liked to par-tay in a cocktail dress, fishnet stockings, full makeup and a wig.

No matter that it’s almost certainly untrue, based as it is on a single discredited source, according to almost every historian of the FBI, including the G-man’s fiercest critics.

As with Nixon's alleged battering, a source only Anthony Summers was naughty enough to use. Don't get me wrong. I have almost nothing to say in defense of Hoover -- and that's just based on what's true.

Richard And Bebe: The Inside Story

A salacious new book is ringing in a happy new year for Nixon haters. Ranking the imputations by former UPI reporter Donald Fulsom beginning with the worst, the 37th president is alleged to have beaten his wife, had Mafia ties, and roughhoused in the pool and maybe engaged in adulterous sex with his best friend, Bebe Rebozo. All this comes from a Daily Mail article that's setting the blogs ablaze. "Huffington Post" covers it here.

Fulsom's book, Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President, comes out at the end of January. You can get a flavor using Amazon's preview feature. He begins his narrative with one of Nixon's weakest moments, his rage at Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers during wartime and his unconsummated order to aides to stage a break-in at a think tank affiliated with the former Defense Department analyst. Break-ins are wrong. But imagine what FDR would've said if someone had told him during World War II that a disaffected former War Department aide had a safe full of pilfered cables he was planning to give to the Japanese.

In his early pages, Fulsom also provides an overheated account of Nixon sending a message to South Vietnam before the 1968 election to the effect that it could get a better deal with North Vietnam under a Nixon administration. As stinky as that sounds, in politics there's usually something just as noxious bubbling in the other kitchen. If there's anything more outrageous than a presidential candidate playing politics with war, it's when a commander-in-chief does it. The weekend before the election, President Johnson ordered a bombing halt and intimated that a peace agreement was at hand, giving Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's vice president, a desperately needed if unavailing boost. In this 1991 letter to the New York Times, Johnson administration official William P. Bundy takes a similar tack, though in more moderate language, focusing on Nixon's perfidy but doing nothing to allay suspicions that Johnson was trying to help Humphrey. This William Safire column, to which Bundy was replying, argues persuasively that Johnson was colluding with Moscow to try to defeat Nixon.

Fulsom says Nixon "erroneously" thought that Johnson's move was political and leaves the momentous question at that. By ignoring the ambiguities surrounding October-November 1968, Fulsom signals that his is a get-Nixon project not unlike Anthony Summers' 2000 book The Arrogance of Power. Indeed Fulsom, according to an Amazon search of his text, cites or mentions Summers nearly 50 times, which is a lot for an author the Washington Post accused of "slipshod use of evidence." For instance, Summers preposterously accused Nixon of self-medicating with an anti-inflammatory medication, Dilantin, which was obsessively promoted as a cure-all by a political friend.

Far more outrageously, Summers said Nixon beat his beloved wife of 53 years. Is Summers the principal source for Fulsom's wife-beating charges? Here's what the Daily Mail says about the new book:
[Fulsom] claims Nixon's relationship with Pat...was little more than a sham. A heavy drinker whom his own staff dubbed 'Our Drunk', Nixon used to call his First Lady a 'f***ing bitch' and beat her before, during and after his presidency, says Fulsom.
No one close to Nixon has ever said or intimated that they saw or heard anything remotely like this. Summers' principal source was a former uniformed Secret Service agent who would rarely if ever have been in the White House family quarters. I learned about him after one of Nixon's former pilots overheard the man bragging in a bar about his coming star turn with a British TV crew that was promoting the Summers book. The man's allegations were probably known to Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, who had a family connection with the source, and Pulitzer Prize winner (and thoroughgoing Nixon critic) Seymour Hersh. Neither reporter published the charge. Hersh mentioned it at a Harvard seminar in 1998, claiming he had seen hospital records that proved Mr. Nixon had harmed Mrs. Nixon. Hersh didn't adequately explain why he'd chosen not to publish what he says he knew. His somewhat weaselly move seems to have helped Summers find the source and get his story into print at long last. Lacking Woodward and Hersh's reticence about the source's bona fides, Summers made alleged Nixonian battering a centerpiece of Arrogance of Power.

There's a reason "When did you stop beating your wife?" is often presented as the definitive no-win scenario. You've lost the argument the moment it's asked. Now we have two books published 11 years apart, with attendant media coverage, alleging monstrous behavior by a U.S. president with no real evidence. Like most that last over a half-century, the Nixon' marriage was sometimes complicated. It probably wasn't easy to be married to politics' greatest introvert. But theirs was a richly nuanced partnership based on love and profound mutual respect. Hundreds of family members, associates, and aides would agree, as would anyone who saw Nixon break down, for the first time ever in public, at Mrs. Nixon's June 1993 funeral in Yorba Linda.

Who disputes that portrait of the Nixons' relationship? So far as we know, no one except bottom-feeding sources used for ammunition by character assassins. We'll have to wait until January to see if Fulsom has found evidence of his own or just recyles Summers' tales. My guess is that if the hospital records Hersh mentions existed, we'd have seen them by now. As I recall, at least one of the incidents is said to have occurred after Nixon's 1974 resignation. The San Clemente hospital is in the phone book. Calling all real reporters!

Summers also labored hard though unsuccessfully to prove that organized crime was behind Nixon's early political success. I don't know what to think about Fulsom's allegations that Rebozo was connected. Getting more attention today is Fulsom's claim that Nixon and Rebozo were connected. Not true -- take it from me, his former chief of staff, executor, and library director, and from Kathy O'Connor, his last chief of staff. We were around him for tens of thousands of hours, and the gaydar registered zero. The needle never flickered. Nixon was heterosexual. He loved smart, attractive women, flirted with them keenly if ineptly, and had no sexual energy whatsoever with men.

Being gay, of course, isn't a scandal. What gives Fulsom's allegations their heft is the automatically accompanying allegation that Nixon, being a Republican, was homophobic. The news is the hypocrisy rather than the homosexuality. But even here, the case is thin. In the 1960s, the Daily Mail reports, he said a prominent gay man was "ill." Appalling as that sounds today, it was the same position taken until 1973 by the American Psychiatric Assn. Nixon's views on homosexuality were relatively mainstream. In the spring of 2009, when a White House tape featuring Nixon and two of his equally square advisers was making the rounds, I wrote:
The three men exhibited assumptions and anxieties about homosexuality -- I understand why they get up to that, but it shouldn't be glorified -- that were typical of their generation. The President, for instance, had been born in 1913. I'm surprised how few commentators and bloggers have pointed out that the chat occurred 38 years ago, just as gay liberation was picking up steam. George Carlin and Monty Python were still getting laughs with routines based on the same cultural stereotypes being indulged in the White House. By the same token, on another occasion President Nixon predicted that we'd have gay marriage by 2000, making him more progressive than the majority of California voters in 2008.
Secretly gay legislators who vote against gay rights and and closeted evangelicals who preach against them are fair game for the hypocrisy argument. Nixon isn't, because he wasn't gay, wasn't, therefore, a hypocrite, and in any event wasn't especially bigoted compared to men of his era.

That leaves Rebozo. When Kathy and I knew him in the 1980s and 1990s, Nixon told endless gags about his premarital conquests. We visited him at his home in Key Biscayne, where he shared a bedroom with his gracious wife, Jane. She cared for him devotedly after he suffered a stroke in the mid-1990s. Beyond that, his sex life was no one's business but his own. Innuendo and gossip from Summers, Fulsom, and the Daily Mail aside, the Nixons had a loving marriage, and Nixon and Rebozo had a strong, affectionate friendship that lasted 40 years. Maybe someone's suggesting that if two men care for each other, they must be gay. Who's homophobic then?

Tide Of Information=Tide Of History

From the Christmas double issue of "The Economist," a fascinating article about 16th century social media and the success of the Reformation:

In the early years of the Reformation expressing support for [Martin] Luther’s views, through preaching, recommending a pamphlet or singing a news ballad directed at the pope, was dangerous. By stamping out isolated outbreaks of opposition swiftly, autocratic regimes discourage their opponents from speaking out and linking up. A collective-action problem thus arises when people are dissatisfied, but are unsure how widely their dissatisfaction is shared, as Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, has observed in connection with the Arab spring. The dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, she argues, survived for as long as they did because although many people deeply disliked those regimes, they could not be sure others felt the same way. Amid the outbreaks of unrest in early 2011, however, social-media websites enabled lots of people to signal their preferences en masse to their peers very quickly, in an “informational cascade” that created momentum for further action.

The same thing happened in the Reformation. The surge in the popularity of pamphlets in 1523-24, the vast majority of them in favour of reform, served as a collective signalling mechanism. As Andrew Pettegree, an expert on the Reformation at St Andrew’s University, puts it in “Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion”, “It was the superabundance, the cascade of titles, that created the impression of an overwhelming tide, an unstoppable movement of opinion…Pamphlets and their purchasers had together created the impression of irresistible force.” Although Luther had been declared a heretic in 1521, and owning or reading his works was banned by the church, the extent of local political and popular support for Luther meant he escaped execution and the Reformation became established in much of Germany.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hamas On The Horizon

Even if Israel refuses to deal with Hamas, the U.S. should be open to the possibility, Paul Pillar writes at "The National Interest":
As the United States confronts any Israeli foolishness, whether long-term or short-term, it needs to overcome not only the business about Hamas recognizing Israel but also understandable queasiness about dealing with a group that has the blood of innocents on its hands. Two observations are pertinent to this. One is that we have been through this all before, not only in other conflicts such as Northern Ireland but also in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself, with the acceptance of the PLO as a legitimate interlocutor at the start of the Oslo process. The other observation is that if one is to follow the “once a terrorist, always a terrorist” posture that is so often taken toward Hamas, then the United States ought not to have any dealings with Likud, some of whose earlier leaders—notably Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir—had also been heavily involved in the killing of innocents through terrorism.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

You Think?

U.S. Loses Leverage In Iraq Now That Troops Are Out" -- New York Times RSS feed headline for this article

The Kids At Christmas

At home in Yorba Linda, Dan, Mark, Valerie, Lindsay, and Meaghan

At St. John's before midnight Mass, Julianna, Caden, and Davey

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cf. Saigon, April 1975

The New York Times, yesterday:

There were fears that the precipitous withdrawal of American troops might lead to instability in Iraq, but the speed with which conditions have deteriorated has alarmed Western officials. Until Thursday, however, the bitter fighting between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and his foes in Parliament had not been accompanied by a rise in violence.

But with this round of bombings, the political turmoil seemed to spill into the streets, where a still potent insurgency, in abeyance for some time, remains capable of mounting attacks that can undermine the fragile government and pit Sunnis against Shiites.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How The West Lures Palestine's Christians Away

Less than a century ago, Khaled Diab writes, 10% of Palestine's population was Christian. Today, the Christian population is four percent in the West Bank, 2.5% in Israel, and one percent in Gaza. Diab says they're leaving not because of persecution but as the result of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and also because, according to one of the authorities he quotes, Christian faith often trumps national identity. Their Western partners and friends are evidently playing a role:
“I think that an awful lot of well-meaning Christians in the West, whether they are in America, Britain or other places, have poured a lot of money into the West Bank, and specifically into the churches and ministries here,” observes Richard Meryon, director of Jerusalem’s Garden Tomb, which is locked in a spiritual/territorial dispute with the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the exact location of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

This outside aid, he notes, “is causing a hemorrhaging of Palestinian believers,” because many are given assistance to move to the West to study but, once there, decide never to return.
As for the validity of the Garden Tomb's claims, which date from the 19th century, check here and draw your own conclusions. The preponderance of modern scholarship favors the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (photo above by Kathy O'Connor). During our St. John's pilgrimages we've found that evangelical Christian groups tend to favor the Garden Tomb. The ancient, ornate Holy Sepulcher, where monks chant and incense billows, is run by the Roman Catholic and five orthodox churches. The Reformation ain't over till it's over.

Voting Is Not A "Purist Abstraction"

Andrew Sullivan, who has endorsed libertarian Ron Paul for the GOP nomination but says he'll support liberal Barack Obama in the general election (and yes, he can explain why), acknowledges the racism and homophobia in the Pauline opus -- and yet:

It seems clear to me that Paul has associated with people with some vile views, and profited from it. At best, that is reckless negligence. At worst, it is a blind eye to real ugliness. Neither interpretation flatters Paul. Against that, you have to weigh his character as it has revealed itself over three presidential campaigns, his opponents (whose extremism and bigotry do not need to be ferreted out), and his argument: that domestic liberty requires a drastic re-callibration of our military-industrial complex and an end to the drug war. Voting is not some kind of purist abstraction. Every candidate is flawed. The moment and the argument matter. Viewing it all together, I would not have a problem supporting Paul if I were caucusing in Iowa. And I think a victory will help enormously in reorienting the GOP away from its dangerous foreign policy belligerence.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

King Newt

Dahlia Lithwick:
For a self-confessed epic character, Newt Gingrich has stage-managed himself into an epic piece of political stupidity. With his escalating attacks on the federal judiciary, he has confirmed that, if elected, he would place himself atop a government that simultaneously manages to be both a dictatorship and a theocracy. In recent weeks—and just as his presidential star was improbably rising—he doubled down on his initial claims that the federal courts “have become grotesquely dictatorial and far too powerful,” to offer up new promises that, as president, he would abolish federal judgeships, occasionally ignore the Supreme Court, and—in the manner of a tiny tyrant in khaki shirts and mirrored sunglasses—have federal marshals arrest errant federal judges and force them to testify before Congress about their unpopular decisions.

An' a 1, An'a 2, An'a 3, Advent IV

After Sunday's wonderful Christmas pageant at St. John's (that's Brenna Hayden, as Mary the mother of our LORD, singing a solo as angel Emily Salvanera watched beatifically), we skipped the readings appointed for the fourth Sunday in Advent, which were all about paradox and perplexity, just like the Incarnation -- God spurning the mighty temple King David wanted to build, the astonishing miracle of St. Paul's universal ministry in the hidebound first century, and especially the Annunciation.

Here's the song I offered instead. I wish I could hum it for you. I probably wish this more than you wish to hear it. The congregation graciously joined in on the chorus. Think Calypso. Thanks to Andy Guilford for the balcony-eye photo:

We love Christmas, but here’s the thing
How can a baby be a king?
This Bible stuff, it seems to us
Is sometimes too mysterious

[2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16]
Joseph descended from David’s throne
Capernaum was his stepson’s home
No saint ever lived in poverty
Who understood that grace is free

[Romans 16:25-27]
You’d have found Paul too intense
The job God gave him was immense
The equity we still aim to achieve
In the apostles’ time, an impossibility

[Luke 1:26-38]
Love that transfigures time and space
Revealed at a single hour and place
The favored one’s perplexity
Should daily happen to you and me

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Christmas Trees!

My Christmas letter to the people of God at St. John's Church. The drawing is by Catherine Marie Michaels:

When you enter St. John’s Church at Christmastime, take a close look at our beautiful decorations and, in thanksgiving for the Holy Trinity, count to three.

This year, Kathe Hayden and the Altar Guild have been inspired by an old folk tale about three saplings that dreamed big. One wanted to be made into a treasure chest. The second yearned to be a great sailing ship. The third just wanted to be tallest.

What happened? You probably know the story. One tree was used for the rough hewn feed box that became our LORD’s cradle, the second for the disciples’ rugged fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, and the third – for the hard wood of the Cross.

The story teaches, as does Holy Scripture, that God exalts the humble and humbles the proud. That’s a timeless prophecy to a world that is still hungry for justice and freedom, a world where people so often seem to be rewarded for doing the wrong thing by receiving far more than their share of blessings.

But God’s just purposes are just part of our promise in Christ. Even more wonderful is knowing that there’s no tree in the forest, no lonely traveler along the often difficult way of earthly life, for whom God doesn’t intend something unique and indispensable. From schoolyard to workplace, from pew to dining room table, from hospital bed to the neighborhood board and care – whenever we find ourselves on our journeys, we are in God’s care and called to perform ministry that we, and we alone, are in the position to accomplish for God’s glory.

That’s the promise of Resurrection. That’s the power of Incarnation. That’s the glory of Christmas. So join us at St. John’s this Christmas – and please bring a friend to church!

Going Flat In Iowa

Newt Ginigrich, the latest un-Romney, is already de-carbonating.

The Refiner's Fire

Fifteen years ago this Christmas, during my toughest professional crisis, the soundtrack was Handel's "Messiah," inevitably. I've been listening to the king of oratorios through and through over and over in the car during Advent and Christmas for years. (Trevor Pinnock's recording this year. Wow!) But its triumphal choruses and sweet arias will always resonate with the lessons I learned that life-changing Christmas about the preciousness of true friendship and the abundance of grace.

To start with, it was President Nixon's doing. After his death in April 1994, I was surprised to learn that he'd named me co-executor of his estate, along with his personal attorney, Bill Griffin. His daughters were also surprised. That spring, Julie Eisenhower invited me to her late parents' Bergen County townhouse. As we sat in the sun room, she said how angry she and Tricia Cox were that their father hadn't picked them.

Over time, and naturally enough, it proved easier for them to get angrier at me than stay angry at him. For the next two and a half years, I kept running Nixon's private library while trying to settle two presidential records-related lawsuits the estate had inherited. In our periodic conversations, Nixon's attorney son-in-law, Ed Cox, did everything possible to inflame the wound Nixon had inflicted on his family by putting Griffin and me in charge of his estate. I can only speculate (and speculate I do) about why Nixon made the choices he did. Whatever his motives, as the reality of the situation settled in, Eisenhower (who had been friendly for years) was painstakingly and methodically brought around to the view that I wasn't "responsive enough to the family."

In the fall of 1996, Ed Cox blocked a deal I'd worked out with the Justice Department and National Archives that would have federalized and endowed the Nixon library. At issue were the tens of millions that would flow through the estate as compensation for the value of Nixon's White House documents, tapes, and other materials, which Congress had seized after his resignation. As executor, I had to protect both the family's interests and the library's, which Nixon had made his largest beneficiary. David Eisenhower told me that Cox, whose firm was representing him and Julie, had promised a substantial sum over the amounts specified in Nixon's will.

Why do the natio
ns so furiously rage together? For a while it looked like it would be paid over my dead body. Cox cut off direct negotiations in early October 1996 after I insisted on including a Nixon foundation attorney. Before long, I began to hear that I had "problems with the family." Tricia called some of my colleagues at the library and promised that, once I was gone, they would be "protected."

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Cox had already tried to get me to resign as executor. Now the family called in a resentful consultant and ex-speechwriter, Ken Khachigian, to fire me at the library. I got the impression that he told everybody else in Orange County first. Herb Kalmbach, Nixon's White House-era attorney, drove to Yorba Linda to warn me. "The long knives are out," he said. Khachigian had a chance to plunge them in at Wheelspinners, a holiday party for politicians and journalists at the Biltmore in LA. Instead, after eying me sullenly from a redoubt hard by the appetizer bar, he asked about a pending Watergate-era project of his. He had been wondering how often his name came up in a new batch of tapes and asked if I could get a report to him by Friday. "I want to know why my political enemies might use against me," he said.

On Friday, I got a call from a friend on the library board, who said that Khachigian had asked him to tell me the Nixon family wanted my resignation. I wondered later what they had needed Khachigian for, since he hadn't even been up to the job of lowering the boom. Instead, I had to place the call to my own evidently timorous executioner, waiting by the phone at his San Clemente office. "I'll be overseeing the transition," he said optimistically. He told me that Nixon had let him go from his ex-president's staff in the late 1970s. Now it was my turn. I replied that Nixon had given me both my jobs and that if he had wanted a Cox, an Eisenhower, or Khachigian to handle his affairs, they would have been. In a lengthy fax over the weekend, I said I wouldn't resign. I also suggested that he make an appointment with the library's archivist to listen to the Watergate tapes himself.

That same weekend, Julie Eisenhower decided that I could stay. By then the Nixon foundation was awkwardly overseen by a super-board composed of Nixon's daughters, former Treasury secretary Bill Simon, and ALLERGAN chairman Gavin Herbert. Simon and Herbert had complained to me about Cox's pressure for more money. Based on a conversation I'd had with Simon in 1993, I assumed Khachigian wouldn't make much progress if he tried to get Simon to team with Tricia to fire me. Finally the Coxes maneuvered Herbert into quitting, which gave the family a 2-1 governing majority.

Nixon had never said he wanted his family to run his library. They didn't for long. For months Ed Cox had faxed me instructions purportedly issued by both women. He told people I'd been fired but refused to leave the premises. Meanwhile the Eisenhowers kept in touch with Kathy O'Connor, Nixon's last chief of staff, and me, urging us to stay the course. After Nixon's first postmortem crisis hit the newspapers in April 1997 (see here and here), Kathy and I put Simon and Eisenhower together and reorganized the foundation under its first independent fiduciary board. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion!

No one familiar with families' struggles over money, power, and hurt feelings would be surprised by this story. If there's one thing more awkward than siblings who disagree, it's the third party whom a beloved parent has interposed. I couldn't tell which Cox spouse took it more personally that Nixon had overlooked them as custodians of his estate. Even though I served his father-in-law and family for nearly 30 years, Ed called me a johnny come lately in an e-mail he sent Nixon's brother Edward. Anyone in Yorba Linda who'd dealt much with Cox (currently the New York State Republican chairman) had no difficulty thinking that he was taking the lead oar. But I urged people not to underestimate Tricia. What John Moorman, scholar of the Church of England, wrote about the 16th century’s Mary Tudor applied to Nixon’s elder princess as well – “a tight-lipped, severe woman who had passed through the fire of suffering and is now in the grip of a firm determination."

She shares Henry VIII's pragmatism. Until his death in 2009, Nixon aide-turned-columnist Bill Safire was one of the Nixon family's few media friends. During the awkward months before we reorganized her father's foundation, Tricia pressured me to consult Safire, an anti-Beijing hawk, on the speaker list for a conference we were planning on Sino-U.S. relations. When I said that Safire’s views on China were opposed to her father’s, she didn't even bother to argue that they needed to be taken into account for balance's sake. She just said, “My father’s dead."

The struggle with her and her husband continued for years. I was called out of a final exam at seminary to take phone calls about the suit we filed, with the Eisenhowers' encouragement, to secure the $19 million Bebe Rebozo had left the library upon his death in 1998. He had given Nixon's daughters and another friend, aerosol valve inventor Bob Abplanalp, a voice in its disbursement. Tricia Cox made clear that she wanted to use her leverage to overturn our 1997 governance reforms. We settled the suit, got the money, and kept our independent board, but it wasn't pleasant. She and her legal team, which the dutiful Khachigian helped organize, spread the story that Rebozo, famous for stowing $100,000 from Howard Hughes in his safe, had said he didn't trust me with his money. Abplanalp, who repudiated the Cox tactics in a letter, said that Rebozo had admired me and just wondered during my early years at the library how much experience I had managing large investment accounts. I'd had a similar conversation with Rebozo myself. The Cox spin on Rebozo's question turned it into character assassination.

With all that behind us, when I left the library in 2009 after 19 years to begin full-time ministry, the women joined in a gracious statement:
We will always be grateful to John Taylor for his loyal and creative service to our father. He worked closely with him on his eight post-Presidential books and then provided dynamic leadership at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda since its opening in 1990. He will be missed and we wish him well in his ministry.
As Ron Ziegler might've said, their statement is now inoperative. I was surprised to find recently that a sinister force had erased it from the Nixon foundation web site, although the press release it which it once appeared remains.

Recent reports make clear that the Coxes now have considerable influence at what former Nixon library director Tim Naftali calls the Haldeman foundation. Its current attorney, CREEP administrator and Cox buddy Rob Odle, helped stop the Nixon Center from using Nixon's name. Tricia disliked the center's president, Dimitri Simes. So did Khachigian, who called me once to say he'd been surfing the web to see how many (or how few) media hits Simes was getting. He was despised, rejected! As the Nixon foundation conducts its programs while promoting the agendas of family members and John Dean-hating aides of disgraced White House chief of staff Bob Haldeman, at least the Nixon library is now safely under federal government control. When Ed Cox blocked our 1997 National Archives deal, it cost the foundation millions and the public a ten-year delay in taking control of the Nixon library. In 2007, thanks to our independent board and $1 million in lobbyist fees, Kathy and I, having expanded the library, finally handed it over to the National Archives. Hallelujah!

Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. Being on the Nixon family's enemies list wasn't as bad as health and other setbacks experienced just last week by members of the church I serve. But after working hard for Nixon from 1979 until his death and investing so much of my heart in the process, being the object of Borgia-like secret maneuvers and ice-hard ruthlessness might have crushed me. At least it felt like it would at the time, as all one's own emergencies usually do. Instead, the experience sparked a call to ordained ministry and taught me some important lessons besides -- and not just how to survive in the Church, which these last 20 centuries has perfected the art of institutional bloodletting. In a gut fight, if you're in someone's way you don't get credit for past service or having your heart in the right place. I also discerned the decisive difference between a friendship and an alliance and came to believe that truth-telling can stimulate understanding, growth, and forgiveness. One may even discover, as did the Jews returning from Babylon with Isaiah's redemptive prophecy ringing in their ears, that all things really do work together ineffably. Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplish'd, that her Iniquity is pardoned.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Because The Night," Bruce, Patti, and U2

During the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert, Bono reunited Springsteen and Smith for "the song we wish we'd written," the song Bruce gave away during the "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" sessions. Listen for the 23-second bridge, the most majestic of Bruce's peerless bridges, a bridge of Wagnerian proportions.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Side Of The Road," Lucinda Williams

Following that unbroken line. Austin City Limits, 1989

Iraq And A Hard Place

As U.S. troops come home from Iraq (thanks be to God), some domestic political realpolitik from Christopher Preble at "The National Interest," who says it's all the same for Barack Obama if the Iraqi government succeeds or fails:
The American people want this war to end, and he wins credit, fairly or not, for following through on his promise to end it. And if Iraq descends into chaos and civil war, or if Iran somehow manages to consolidate power over its restive neighbor, Obama can claim, justifiably, that these things wouldn’t have happened had people listened to him in 2002. But he doesn’t have to say it. Others will say it for him. Nearly every news story reporting on this week’s events have reminded viewers, listeners and readers that the president opposed this war. That one fact translates to a relatively favorable perception of the president’s handling of foreign policy, generally.
It's easy to worry about Iraq if you saw Ted Koppel's inaugural report for NBC's "Rock Center" last week. Some 16,000 Americans are staying behind in our fortress embassy and consulates, keeping an eye on both Iraq and Iran. The terrorist threat remains acute. Cleric Moktada al-Sadr, allied with his fellow Shi'ites in Iran, promises that his militiamen will be gunning for Americans. Koppel's report makes clear that you need an advance team and two motorcades to go out for a pack of cigarettes.

Will the Iraqis protect our personnel against the dozen or more insurgent groups that are intent on tearing down the country's fragile government? Can Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunni, and Kurds figure out how to coexist and collaborate? Most analysts sound pessimistic.

Analysts are, of course, changeable. Most sounded giddily optimistic during the Arab spring. We were assured that the region's secular-minded young people were using Facebook and Twitter to grasp for democracy, inspired neither by the U.S. project in Iraq nor the lure of Islamism. As the year ends, the picture isn't so clear. "The Economist" and New York Times counsel readers not to panic as the Muslim Brotherhood and more extremist Islamists win a majority of seats in Egypt's unfolding parliamentary elections.

Pro-democracy advocate Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, counsels patience:
Nothing is instantaneous in politics. To think of elections as a panacea, let alone a sure road to real democracy, is to evince a failure of historical imagination. The proper role of the free world is not to encourage or to stop elections. Its role should be to formulate, and to stick by, a policy of incremental change based on creating the institutions that will lead ineluctably to pressure for more and more representative forms of government. The free world should place its bet on freedom — the hope and demand of Tahrir Square — and work toward a civil society defined by that value.

That sounds more or less like what George W. Bush tried to achieve in Iraq. History's judgement about whether he was right to do so by force of arms, in a war that left 4,500 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis dead, still depends to a considerable extent on the condition in which history finds Iraq in a quarter-century. For now, maybe advocates of a form of Arab democracy in which sectarianism takes a back seat should take another look at what the U.S. and Iraqis have tried to accomplish. Obama didn't support the war, and Preble is probably right that his political fortunes wouldn't be harmed if Iraq foundered after a decent interval. How much better for everyone -- both U.S. presidents and especially Iraq -- if it didn't.

Arise, Shine, For Thy Light Has Come

St. John's on the eve of the fourth Sunday in Advent

Friday, December 16, 2011


Ron Paul's right about at least one thing: Iran.

Practical Theology

Wrestling With-- Whatever

Suck it up, Christopher, says Eric Reitan. Celestial bliss awaits whether you like it or not:
I cannot agree with a statement made earlier today by Douglas Wilson—Hitchens’ conservative Christian debating partner and friend—in his otherwise sympathetic reflection on Hitchens in Christianity Today. “We have no indication,” Wilson writes, “that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.”

Against this invocation of conservative dogma I cannot help but juxtapose the words of an earlier iconoclastic writer, the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil: “…one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

Those who, like Hitchens, are devoted to the true and the good are, by implication, oriented towards anything that could rightly be called God. And so, if there is a deity waiting on the other side of death, I cannot but believe that Hitchens is even now stumbling in surprised wonder into those arms.

BlackBerry Jam

Better get an iPhone.

Begging To Be Newtered

I don't understand how anyone can listen to this Dec. 8 "Fresh Air" interview with Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty, who's been covering Newt Gingrich for years, without concluding that his nomination would be the greatest gift to an opponent's ad writers in the history of politics. He tried to pocket a $4.5 million book advance while in office. He was fined $300,000 by the House for ethics violations. He took millions from Freddie Mac, whose executives were sued today by the SEC. He shut down the federal government while trying to cut Medicare and said it was because President Clinton didn't let him ride up front on Air Force One. Whether it's technically lobbying or not, he's cashed in on his access to fellow politicians. Former allies and intimates say he has political ADD, flitting from one half-baked idea and policy crusade to the next. His own people tried to oust him as Speaker. He resigned before being driven from office.

Gingrich and his team have explanations and excuses for every allegation. Tumulty says the IRS repudiated the House Ethics Committee finding that resulted in his fine, for instance. But attack ads don't have footnotes. Besides, there's just too much here. Incumbent presidents seeking reelection, Obama included, don't have half this much baggage. As they spent their advertising millions, the Obama team and its associated PACs might not even get around to his personal life or outrageous policy statements such as comparing Muslims to Nazis (which Gingrich's former House colleague Joe Scarbourgh called hate speech), flip-flopping on the Libya intervention, or saying Palestinians are a manufactured people.

Tumulty says, "Newt Gingrich views himself as a historic and even transformational figure." And that he was, an historical 17 years ago. She credits him with the destruction of the career of former Speaker Jim Wright (over his own book deal) and the astonishing GOP takeover of the House in 1994 and passage of the Contract with America, which died in the Senate. But since then he's been a gadfly, and so too for almost all of the run-up to the 2012 caucuses and primaries. His surge occurred after no one else -- neither Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, nor Cain -- got up a head of foam as the tea party's desperately yearned-for un-Romney. Gingrich isn't transformational anymore. For those desperate to prevent a center-right realignment of the GOP, he's just the best of what's left.

Holy Families

At the St. John's School Early Childhood Center Christmas pageant, last week on Grandparents Day

At last night's elementary school pageant

St. Christopher's Mettle

David Frum on a great man of the middle:

If Christopher [Hitchens] quit the left...he never joined the right. Like his great hero George Orwell, he was a man whose most creative period of life was a period of constantly falling between two stools: his new hatred for George Galloway never dimmed his old animosity toward Henry Kissinger. He was for the Iraq war without ever much trusting or liking the leaders who led that war. The stock phrase of the 2000s on the right was "moral clarity." If moral clarity means hating cruelty and oppression, then Christopher Hitchens was above all things a man of moral clarity. But he was also a man of moral complexity, who would not submit to Lenin's demand that who says A must say B. Christopher was never more himself than when - after saying A - he adamantly refused to say B.

I wrote to Hitchens in June 2010, after I'd finished reading Hitch-22 and just before his cancer diagnosis. I never heard back. I'm not even sure I had the right address. Yesterday, before learning of his death, I'd been thinking of the e-mail as news came of the formal end of the U.S. war in Iraq:
Dear Mr. Hitchens:

Thank you for your wonderful memoir. I loved many things about it, but I'll confine my comments to some passages for which I was especially grateful.

As a seminarian, I preached a sermon about the Iraq war in the spring of 2003 (attached, not that you would possibly have time to read it) which, in our liberal Episcopal diocese, was viewed as bloodcurdlingly pro-war by virtue of not being antiwar. In the receiving line, a woman called me a liar for associating Saddam Hussein with Islamic totalitarianism. Since then, I've often wondered if I should've kept my intern's mouth shut, because of what our congregant said and also because of the way the war sometimes was going. Your summary of the evidence of Saddam's latter-day fundamentalism stanched one vein of second-guessing, and some patience about the ultimate outcome for the region and the people of Iraq should take care of the rest.

Thanks again.

Yours ever,

John Taylor