Saturday, February 19, 2011

They Were Enemies, And They Were Friends

A pivotal moment in Sandy Tolan's extraordinary book The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, And The Heart Of The Middle East occurs in chapter nine, when Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi (shown here in a recent photo) come face to face in July 1967. She's an open-hearted young Israeli from Bulgaria who's performing her mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces; he's an attorney and Palestinian activist living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank city of Rahmallah.

More to the point, Dalia and her family are living in the house Bashir's father had built for his family in the 1930s in al-Ramla, Palestine, about 12 miles south of Tel Aviv. Most of the town's Arabs left or were driven out during and after Israel's War of Independence in 1948.

After June 1967's Six-Day War, Bashir and two cousins return to al-Ramla to see the the town they'd left as children. With some trepidation, Bashir knocks on the Eshkenazis' door. Dalia, who's alone in the house, smiles and welcomes in three strangers, three nervous-looking Arab men. This profoundly moving moment seems to embody all the emotional power of Abraham welcoming the three strangers before his and Sarah's tent in the book of Genesis.

Dalia's instinct to trust ("'As soon as I saw them,' she remembered, 'I felt, Wow, it's them. It was as if I'd always been waiting for them'") enables the whole narrative of The Lemon Tree to take shape and then to teach. Tolan's meticulously researched and balanced book is as good a primer on the roots of Israeli-Palestinian conflict as we're likely to get, especially because he uses Dalia and Bashir's stories to make sure the reader doesn't forget the authenticity of the dreams and grievances nursed by both sides. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has asked all its members to read The Lemon Tree this year. At St. John's, some of our once and future pilgrims, including Monica Swanson, had done so already. We eagerly took up the challenge and are now halfway through our study.

One thing most of us won't be able to do when we're done is participate in the popular ritual of identifying the Middle East's moment of original sin. There are far too many choices -- antisemitism, Zionism, the Balfour Declaration, the Arab uprising in the 1930s, the failure of Palestinians to accept partition, the Six-Day War, Arab terrorism, West Bank settlements. Tolan hasn't touched on it yet and may not, but if we're scripturally inclined, if we like we can go all the way back to God's mischievousness in giving Canaan to Abraham and his followers even though people lived there already.

If you're stuck in an intractable problem or bruised relationship, if everyone's pointing fingers and no one can decide who's really at fault, what do you do? Friends remind me that often there is a right and wrong, there should be a winner and loser, there must be judgment and punishment. But increasingly it seems as though we're apt to demand judgment too hastily, give up too quickly on dialog and relationship, and resist acknowledging our own accountability.

Thankfully, Dalia and Bashir avoided such temptations. In chapter nine, Tolan recounts their first three meetings, two in al-Ramla and the third when Dalia persuades a friend to drive her to Ramallah so she can reciprocate Bashir's visits.

It's January 1968. The Israelis have just let him out of jail, where they'd interrogated him about the strike he organized among his fellow Palestinian attorneys. He's a potential Palestinian fighter, she's serving in the IDF, and they disagree completely on the recent history of their peoples. On paper, they have nothing in common besides their humanity. As Dalia tells Tolan later:
[T]his was an amazing situation to be in. That everyone could feel the warmth and the reality of our people meeting, meeting the other, and it was real, it was happening, and we were admiring each other's being, so to speak. And it was so tangible. And on the other hand, we were conversing of things that seemed totally mutually exclusive. That my life here is at their expense, and if they want to realize their dream, it's at my expense.
Tolan continues:
Each had chosen to reside with the contradiction: They were enemies, and they were friends. Therefore, Dalia believed, they had reason to keep talking; the conversation itself was worth protecting.
A preachment indeed to families, communities, Americans, and the Christian church from the front lines of the world's most difficult political conflict.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Godless Right

Conservative atheists.

Chuck Those Indictments

A lively debate at "LiberalOC" between a former GOP assemblyman from California, Chuck DeVore, and blogger Chris Prevatt over whether DeVore should have been prosecuted for conspiring to disrupt a Muslim Student Union event at UC Irvine on 2007.

Prevatt argues that DeVore's plan to provoke sponsors by videotaping the event against their wishes was as egregious as the disruption of the Israeli ambassador's speech that was allegedly planned by 11 UCI students in February 2010. Thanks to Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas, the students are now under indictment and facing up to six months in jail.

The DeVore-Prevatt exchange about the technicalities of the law against disturbing or breaking up public assemblies doesn't convince me that DeVore should have gone to jail. It does makes it all the more clear that the 11 students shouldn't, either.

Obama Toes the Israeli Line On Settlements

Jeffrey Goldberg challenges Israel to reciprocate.

The Heart Of "The Sopranos"

Carmella visits an honest shrink.

Afghanistan: "Get Out"

Republican and Democratic congressmen, Walter B. Jones and James P. McGovern, join forces on Afghanistan, now the longest war in U.S. history:
Simply put, we believe the human and financial costs of the war are unacceptable and unsustainable. It is bankrupting us. The United States should devise an exit plan to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan, not a plan to stay there four more years and "then we'll see." This doesn't mean that we abandon the Afghan people - rather, we should abandon this war strategy. It is a failure that has not brought stability to Afghanistan and has not enhanced our own security. As the retired career Army officer Andrew J. Bacevich has written, to die for a mystique is the wrong policy.

Sarah Smile

Good for the ex-governor. Scrambling to the left of Birther Bachmann, Sarah Palin says flatly that she doesn't question the president's faith and citizenship.

Union Dos -- And Don'ts

When can and should Democratic politicians take the political risk of taking on unions? When their members are paid by taxpayers through local and state governments that are broke or nearly bankrupt. The "Economist":
[P]rivate- and public-sector unions really are different creatures. And it is becoming increasingly clear that their interests aren't necessarily aligned. A cash-strapped state that can't afford to, say, maintain or improve its physical infrastructure obviously can't afford to contract with private-sector union crews to do the work.

The Price Of A Nuclear-Free Iran

It's easy to make fun of Glenn Beck for associating Shi'ite Muslims' longed-for messianic 12th imam with the Antichrist. Indeed it's easy to make fun of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad for longing for the 12th imam.

Theology aside, it's not so funny if Iran really is embarked on an apocalyptic project that involves using a nuclear weapon against Israel or anyone else. And yet there's also evidence that, Iran's fanatical-sounding front man notwithstanding, the Iranian government is engaged in rational decision-making about whether to build nukes at all.

As Richard Nixon used to say about the U.S. and Soviets, we have irreconcilable ide0logical differences with Iran. But that doesn't mean we can't make a deal. Because of the uncertainty Iran sows about its ultimate aims, we obviously can't permit it to have nuclear weapons. I'd rather be open for business now than at war in five years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Palin It Backwards

I'm rereading Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby by listening to an audiobook narrated by Alex Jennings, who portrayed Prince Charles in "The Queen." Published in 2009, it's an affectionate and affecting performance in which the brilliant actor gives distinctive voices to maybe 30 characters, male and female, young and old, poor, rich, and pretending to be rich.

For a few (especially sadistic Yorkshire schoolmaster Wackford Squeers and an insinuating gigolo, Mr. Mantolini), Jennings seems to have been inspired, and naturally so, by performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1982-83 production. For a couple of others, he channels Luigi Vercotti, the nightclub owner portrayed by Michael Palin in Monty Python's Piranha Brothers skit.

Dickens may also have influenced the Pythons. A passage in chapter 22 foreshadows one of their most famous skits. Nicholas and his friend Smike, on the way to Portsmouth, stop at an inn and ask about dinner:
"Why--what would you like?" was the landlord's no less natural answer.

Nicholas suggested cold meat, but there was no cold meat--poached eggs, but there were no eggs--mutton chops, but there wasn't a mutton chop within three miles, though there had been more last week than they knew what to do with, and would be an extraordinary supply the day after tomorrow.

"Then," said Nicholas, "I must leave it entirely to you, as I would have done, at first, if you had allowed me."
In Monty Python's "Cheese Shop," the dialog between customer John Cleese and proprietor Michael Palin goes like this:
"Now then, some cheese please, my good man."

"Certainly, sir. What would you like?"

"How about a little Red Leicester?"

"I'm afraid we're fresh out of Red Leicester, sir."

"Oh never mind, how are you on Tilsit?"

"I'm afraid we never have that at the end of the week, sir. We get it fresh on Monday."

"No matter. Well, stout yeoman, four ounces of Caerphilly, if you please."

"Ah. It's been on order, sir, for two weeks. I was expecting it this morning."

"It's not my lucky day, is it?"

Who Was So Soft On Abortion, Taxes, Gun Control, Torture, Military Intervention, And Arms Control That Sean Hannity Would Have Laughed In His Face?


Leadership Is Like Parenthood

Sometimes you have to tell the kids they can't have everything they want.

"Patriotic Song, "Stephen Oliver

My Nicholas Nickleby post prompted some great e-mail and Facebook exchanges. My Andover buddy David Schwartz sent this video melding the third-season finale of "The West Wing," in which composer Stephen Oliver's "Patriotic Song" appears, with a scene from the Royal Shakespeare Company's marathon 1982-83 production of "The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby," for which Oliver wrote the song.

If you're not a "West Wing" aficionado, all you need to know is that President and playgoer Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) has reluctantly ordered the illegal assassination of a terrorist -- the sometimes dark work of national security as against the idealized vision of nationhood in Oliver's rousing anthem.

Who Cares What The Public Thinks?

A poll reveals that 37% of Americans think the Egypt crisis increases the chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, 28% think it won't make any difference, and 22% think it will hurt. That leaves 13% who don't have a clue -- which at this stage of the game is the right answer.

Also Iran

Not Fareed Zakaria's best effort. The Arab revolution is something new, unless it isn't. He also continues to overlook the fact that the revolution of rising expectations he's discovered among Arab youth happened among the youth of Iran in 1978-79, leading to tyranny and oppression for all its people.

"Never Gonna Change," Drive-By Truckers

I just got their new album, "Go-Go Boots." I want to be in this band.

Scarcely Less Beautiful In Decline

In Charles Dickens' The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man has freed an adolescent orphan from an abusive Yorkshire schoolmaster. They're now bound for Portsmouth, fleeing London to avoid causing Nicholas's mother and sister more grief, and we get some masterly reflections on aging:
A broad, fine, honest sun lighted up the green pastures and dimpled water with the semblance of summer, while it left the travellers all the invigorating freshness of that early time of year. The ground seemed elastic under their feet; the sheep-bells were music to their ears; and exhilarated by exercise, and stimulated by hope, they pushed onward with the strength of lions.

The day wore on, and all these bright colours subsided, and assumed a quieter tint, like young hopes softened down by time, or youthful features by degrees resolving into the calm and serenity of age. But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow decline, than they had been in their prime; for nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.
Photo: Roger Rees and David Threllfall as Nicholas and Smike in the 1982 Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Nicholas Nickleby

Revolutionary Realism

Using the metrics of strict realpolitik, the Nixon Center's Dimitri Simes finds President Obama's handling of the Mubarak crisis wanting and concludes:
All may end well and the military may be able to ensure a smooth transition. Moderate forces may prevail. Egyptians may be too tired after eighteen days of disorder to support more upheaval, and the current government may realize that stability cannot be restored without meaningful reforms. But history suggests that once begun, revolutions develop their own dynamics—and that often the people who start a revolution are not the ones who finish it. President Obama may be able to avoid that outcome this time, but repeating his performance in Egypt in future crises could cost the United States dearly.

Texting On The 405 Is One Thing

Pay attention, soldier!:
A gunner inside an armored vehicle [in northern Afghanistan] types furiously on a BlackBerry, so engrossed in text-messaging his girlfriend in the United States that he has forgotten to watch for enemy movement.

Count The Women In Egypt's Transition

Reporter Ursula Lindsey has lived in Egypt since 2003 and says public taunts and harassment by Egyptian men are unremitting. Her post about the assault on CBS's Lara Logan (shown here) does provoke guarded optimism that generational and cultural change is underway, especially if 26-year-old anti-harassment activist Engy Ghozlan has anything to do with it:

Egyptians insist that what happened to Logan is not representative of their revolution; some note that sexual violence unfortunately happens the world over. But some also say it’s a reminder that the road ahead is a long one, and that they need to focus on social as well as political change.

"Tahrir Square was a small representation of what we want Egypt to be, but not necessarily what it is," says Ghozlan. "Society still does have its problems and we can't ignore them and think they've gone away."

Ghozlan's group has long campaigned for a new law against sexual harassment. Today, they and other women’s rights groups are also calling for women to be better represented in the political transition, so their concerns aren’t left by the wayside.

In the last few weeks, says Ghozlan, “We set an example. We set a rule.”

Would the transitional regime's failure to bring a significant number of women on board be an indication that the revolution is being hijacked by Islamists?

Hat tip to The Daily Dish

Man From Hawaii, Woman From Mars

I'm among those who believe that President Obama should do nothing more to prove he's a U.S. citizen. The hospital where he was born in Honolulu has properly certified the blessed event. If he provided a massive corroborating file tomorrow, the Birthers would claim that rogue FBI agents had fabricated it in secret labs in the White House basement.

No, Mr. President, leave it alone. It's a no-win issue -- for Republicans.

Michele Bachmann is the latest likely 2012 GOP candidate to take the official Birther pledge. The coded language goes like this: "It's not for me to say that Obama was born in the United States and is a Christian. That's for him to say." It means she's read the new poll revealing that 51% of likely GOP primary voters believe the president's not a U.S. citizen.

Her difficulty is that at most 20% of Americans are living the fantasy, only 14% with any conviction. Those, presumably, would be Bachmann's eagerly sought-after primary voters. Say she (gulp) wins the nomination and is standing on a stage with the president and gets the Birther question. Does she repudiate the pledge and outrage her base or repeat it, thereby amusing, outraging, or even losing great swathes of the 86%?

Plus he'd get to say, "Michele, people tell me all the time you're from Mars, but I refuse to make a campaign issue out of it."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Budget Cuts Do People Really Want?

Not many, it turns out.

Eyes On The Sky

When afternoon rainstorms are shattered against the anvil of the southern California coast, my commute between Rancho Santa Margarita and Yorba Linda is accompanied by a light show. I took the first two photos along the 241 toll road after pulling over near Santiago Canyon; the second, looking east into the Irvine Regional Park, captured a wisp of a rainbow. The third view is looking west through the windshield along state route 91.

Will Egypt Be Democratic For Its Women?

Freedom will begin to die if people like CBS News' Lara Logan ever stop running the risks of battlefields and revolutions. Journalists who are attacked or injured while keeping us informed deserve to be called heroes no less than the volunteers in our armed forces.

Sneering at media victims or saying they asked for it is unforgivable. Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg rightly castigate those on the left and right who have slipped beyond the pale in their commentary about the sexual assault Logan suffered. And yet (how best to put this, since my question was prompted by one of the slobs Sullivan and Goldberg quote?) I wonder if the media are being attentive enough to women's interests in their coverage of the upheavals in the Arab world.

Was anyone raped by a gang of men in Tienanmen Square in 1989, for instance, or in Chicago or Paris in 1968? You might reply that it's not fair to Egyptians to try to make the attack on Logan emblematic of a larger problem with gender in their society. Yes, a significant though still relatively small percentage of the demonstrators were women. Women are much better off in Egypt than Saudi Arabia.

Yet 82% of Egyptians still believe that adulterers should be murdered -- and please tell me the last time you saw a photo or video of a man being stoned to death in the Islamic world. Only 41% of Egyptian men believe women should be allowed to serve in top government positions. CBS itself wrote of the indignities women usually suffer on the streets of Cairo, adding that demonstration organizers took care to minimize these in Tahrir Square. Was that just for the sake of Western media crews such as Logan's, ironically enough? We certainly wouldn't fall for it if habitual abuse of members of an ethnic minority was being hushed up for PR purposes.

The attack on Logan should help us remember that Egypt is having a mostly men's revolution to decide which new group of mostly men will be in charge next. Does the U.S. have its political house in order when it comes to gender equality? Not by any means. Our racial politics still usually come first. Gender even took a back seat when we were debating the lower Manhattan cultural center and mosque. But it ought to be worth an occasional mention that we're considerably better off than Egypt and that the democratic ideal toward which it and other mostly Muslim countries are finally straining grows from the radical equality of all people, especially men and women.

Black Hawk Tom

That's Tom Tierney (USAF, ret.) of St. John's Church with a UH-60 Black Hawk on a recent fact-finding visit to Colombia and Honduras. Hey, Tom: One of those would sure be helpful for pastoral visits around southern California!

Allman's Blues

My colleague Patti Peebles lent me this CD. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, it's the real deal.


Huffington Post celebrates a 16-year-old singer's enlightened views on Canada's health care system and laboriously explains his views on abortion.

You Decide.

An anonymous former Fox News insider claims the network is totally focused on advancing the GOP agenda.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Misleading Microcosm

From CBS's coverage of the brutal assault on its correspondent, Lara Logan:

Sexual harassment of women is an all-too-common occurrence on the streets of Cairo. But many women noted a complete absence of it in the early days of protests in Tahrir Square, where demonstrators made a point of trying to create a microcosm of the society without many of Egypt's social ills.

However, in the final days, and especially after the battles with pro-Mubarak gangs who attacked the protesters in Tahrir, women noticed sexual assault had returned to the square. On the day Mubarak fell, women reported being groped by the rowdy crowds.

So what other all-too-common aspects of Egyptian society did demonstrators make a point of covering up? For instance, when Egyptians aren't groping women in public, they're endorsing murdering them for commiting adultery.

Is It Important To Be In A Fast-Growing Church?

Then see you down at the Kingdom Hall.

The Burden Of The Birthers

Half the Republican Party is confused:
According to [a new] poll, 51 percent of those likely to vote in a GOP primary in the next election cycle adhere to the conspiracy theory suggesting the president was born outside the United States and therefore is ineligible to serve.
Will the 2012 nominee have to cop to this? If so, how will he or she manage to get elected?

More Than A Budget In The Balance

Andrew Sullivan elaborates on yesterday's strenuous outburst against President Obama's proposed budget:

My belief in balanced budgets and living within one's means is deeply entrenched. I attacked my idol Reagan over it; I gushed over Perot on that count (about the only one); I backed Bill Clinton's first, Eisenhower-style budget; I praised the Gingrich-Clinton surplus. But, from the get-go, I went after George W. Bush on fiscal matters and his indifference to deficit spending (unlike most of the Tea Partiers). I went ballistic over Medicare D and unfunded wars. I have been relentless in skepticism toward the Tea Party's alleged fiscal credentials. So why would it in any way be surprising that I would treat Obama the same way? I gave him leeway in the first two years because cutting spending in such a recession would not have helped. In my post yesterday, I support his distinction between investment and mere spending.

But he was elected to provide change we can believe in. In the biggest domestic challenge - America's compounding bankruptcy - he has offered denial and politics.

Sullivan acknowledges that Obama's budget may be the first move in a grand bargain with Republicans that he would work toward in his patient, non-anxious way. His soporific news conference this morning certainly suggested as much. The usual kabuki dance is the president challenging Congress to embrace his vision and Congress and the media proclaiming that it's DOA. But Obama wasn't dancing. He said his budget amounted merely to a guide to the discretionary spending reductions and cuts that he'd find acceptable. If people want more deficit reduction, then they'll have to come from entitlements, defense, and taxes.

If it's true that most Americans have a gathering sense of alarm about the long-time solvency of the United States, then I'd think elected officials will be feeling the heat all across the board. Defense aficionados may come to understand that national bankruptcy would be a national security crisis. The well-off may realize that means testing for Social Security and Medicare won't affect their retirement lifestyle, which in any event will be much more pleasant if the U.S. isn't in default. Progressives may be willing to accept even more of those "mere spending" cuts if it enables them to protect spending that puts people to work, now and in the future. I'd even say (though I don't quite believe it) that anti-tax hawks might come to understand, as their hero Ronald Reagan did in his time, that more revenue must be part of the picture.

Over the next few months, can Obama weave all that together into an historic deficit reduction and long-term investment package? It depends on whether Americans are really paying attention and on how many of their leaders, Obama included, are willing to put their country ahead of their reelection.

Words And The Word

Robyn Henk of St. John's Church:
I’ve been thinking about words lately. I’ve been looking up words like, evangelical, liturgical, orthodox, protestant, emergent… in my Bible. I tried the NLT, NIV, TNIV, NRSV, JB, NKJ, NASV, even The Message – but I couldn’t find any reference to them, let alone any instruction as to which one is the “right way” of practicing our faith.

I did however find a lot of references to the poor, widows, orphans, brokenhearted, captives, lost, oh yes, and “One Body.” I’m beginning to think that maybe were focusing on the wrong words?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Doing Equal Time

With 11 Muslim students facing jail for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador at UC Irvine a year ago, Jewish members of a northern California peace group say they should be prosecuted, too:
"Our own members have engaged in similar protests in the past without being charged, and stand by it as a form of legitimate expression in an open and democratic society," the Oakland-based group said Monday in a news release. "The targeting of a group of Muslim American students, who were already sanctioned and whose organization was already suspended by their university as punishment, is unacceptable and will only strengthen Islamophobia and attempts to stifle political speech in this country."

Haldeman's Wall

Steven E. Levingston on Mary C. Brennan's upcoming book on Pat Nixon:

Chief among her adversaries was chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, who saw it as his job to build a wall around the president, leaving Pat Nixon and many others excluded. When the administration bought a new airplane for the president’s 1972 campaign, Haldeman put the first lady’s compartment at the back. To see her husband, Pat Nixon had to walk through the White House staff offices – until she intervened and had the plane redesigned.

Haldeman annoyed the first lady by inserting himself into staffing and other matters of her East Wing operations. “On more than one occasion,” Brennan writes, “she ‘blasted’ Haldeman for his interference in her domain.”

Palin's Failin'

A detailed examination of [Sarah] Palin’s polling in the early going suggests that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the media splash of her late entry into the presidential caucuses and primaries would barely rock the electoral boat. While her endorsement is likely to be a key 2012 prize, pollsters and Republican operatives in the three states repeat the same mantra: Unusual numbers of Republican voters actively dislike her; and among the majority who like her, few think she can serve as president.

Yorba Linda Sky

Morning morning

Yorba Linda Sky

Sunday evening

Electric Lady Nixonland

Is this how the Egyptian revolution started? Noticing a spike in sales at Amazon of his book Nixonland, historian Rick Perlstein tracked it to this item about last night's surprise Grammy phenom:
Lady Antebellum are the Nixonland not-so-silent majority candidate, this year's stealth Taylor Swift, the voice of Middle America with a pretty, de-twanged sound that's all about harkening back to a "simpler" time.
Why that would cause anyone to buy a $14 tome about 1960s-70s politics is beyond me, but I don't have time to worry about it, because I just remembered I need to download some Lady Antebellum.

Thoroughly Depressing

Tell us about it. The "Economist" on the Obama budget:
The situation is thoroughly depressing. Washington seems to have finally gotten itself in the mood to cut deficits. Unfortunately, the cuts that result are likely to be unhelpful, or possibly counterproductive, as leaders slash useful programmes to the bone because they're too scared to talk about reining in health care spending, or cutting wasteful defence programmes, or raising taxes.

Must-See On Next Pilgrimage

Breathtaking mosaic from a fifth to seventh-century Byzantine church recently unearthed by Israeli archaeologists on a hillside southwest of Jerusalem


A moment ago, The Episconixonian got its 55,000th page view since recommencing in August. Thank you, readers.

"Obama's Cowardice"

Andrew Sullivan missed Egypt's revolution owing to illness. He wastes no time diagnosing what's wrong with President Obama's proposed budget, which is busted on the back of discretionary spending:

To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you're fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama's cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America's fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.

The Feast Of Andrew

After a scary-sounding three-week illness, the definitive blogger is Dishing again.

Time For You To Subscribe To The "Times," Hosni

I agree with my Facebook and Andover buddy and Phillipian better David Schwartz that, as first drafts of history go, this New York Times analysis of the Egyptian revolution is one of the best. If the so-called new media have produced anything in the last two weeks to match this exercise in careful reporting by trained professionals, I haven't seen it.

Until they do, long live the old media. If you're not subscribing, whether in print or digitally, to the Times or some other newspaper that is still committed to this kind of journalism, you might want to get on that. I think I read on a blog somewhere that Thomas Paine said it best: A free people will be a well-informed people only so long as they pay for content.

As for the lavish White House spin embedded in the article, extolling President Obama's Lincolnian vision over the horizon, we have no reason to doubt it:
[Obama] made the point early on, a senior official said, that “this was a trend” that could spread to other authoritarian governments in the region, including in Iran. By the end of the 18-day uprising, by a White House count, there were 38 meetings with the president about Egypt. Mr. Obama said that this was a chance to create an alternative to “the Al Qaeda narrative” of Western interference.

American officials had seen no evidence of overtly anti-American or anti-Western sentiment. “When we saw people bringing their children to Tahrir Square, wanting to see history being made, we knew this was something different,” one official said....

By Feb. 1, when Mr. Mubarak broadcast a speech pledging that he would not run again and that elections would be held in September, Mr. Obama concluded that the Egyptian president still had not gotten the message.

Within an hour, Mr. Obama called Mr. Mubarak again in the toughest, and last, of their conversations. “He said if this transition process drags out for months, the protests will, too,” one of Mr. Obama’s aides said.

Mr. Mubarak told Mr. Obama that the protests would be over in a few days.

Mr. Obama ended the call, the official said, with these words: “I respect my elders. And you have been in politics for a very long time, Mr. President. But there are moments in history when just because things were the same way in the past doesn’t mean they will be that way in the future.”

It's All About The Duet

Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt. "Don't Know Much" is from her epic 1989 album "Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind."

They're Our Valentines

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A teary 41 and his tough cookie of a first lady, interviewed by their granddaughter

She's Our Valentine

News about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' astonishing recovery:
With a group of friends and family members acting as a backup chorus, Ms. Giffords has been mouthing the lyrics to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby.” And as a surprise for her husband, who is celebrating his birthday this month, a longtime friend who has been helping her through her rehabilitation videotaped her mouthing the words to “Happy Birthday to You.”

Blues Brother

For his first-ever appearance on the Grammys, an apt and humble choice by Mick Jagger: The late Solomon Burke's 1964 hit "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love."

Phobias In Yorba Linda

Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wahhaj is a former member of the Nation of Islam who later became a Sunni Muslim. In 1991, he was the first Muslim to offer an opening prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives. A U.S. attorney identified him as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, though he denies any involvement. Amir Abdel Malik Ali (shown below) is an Oakland imam who also cut his teeth in the Nation of Islam and appears regularly on college campuses to denounce Israel and profess his admiration for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Not guys you'd expect to find giving speeches at an event in Richard Nixon's birthplace town. Yet both were guests this evening at the Yorba Linda Community Center at a meeting organized by the Islamic Circle of of North America (more information here). The $25 per person event was advertised as a fundraiser for ICNA's charitable work, but several hundred protesters who came to Yorba Linda from around southern California weren't buying. A conservative activist interviewed on the local ABC affiliate said that while she thought a few guests might have been under the impression that the event had innocent purposes, she didn't think it was a coincidence that the Muslims had come "to conservative Yorba Linda on a quiet Sunday night to make trouble." Said another protester, "It's not right for terrorism to come to Yorba Linda."

Five years ago, protesters would've been looking back to Sept. 11. But there's something more going on. Trolling various web sites, you get the impression that a significant number of people have come to believe that Islam is waging a secret war to establish Sharia in the United States. If it were, then Wahhaji and especially Malik Ali, with his noxious views, wouldn't be doing the conspiracy much good. Nor is the puny rate of population growth among American Muslims. Anyone who promotes violence deserves to be spurned and scorned. But it seems to me that imagining, fearing, and actually devoting energy to preventing a Muslim takeover of the U.S. are historic wastes of time -- or worse, if they result in policies, legislation, and messages that target or scapegoat Muslims.

Egyptian-American journalist and filmmaker Jehan Harney has a good blog on Islamophobia in the media and politics. On Feb. 10, the ICNA issued a press release saying its Yorba Linda event was being targeted by Islamophobes, which brings the name-calling full circle, since Malik Ali is accused of antisemitism thanks to his bloodcurdling criticisms of Israel. The Middle East is enough of a muddle without the dimension of angry stateside pontification from either side of the equation. Yet the ICNA charge of Islamophobia in Yorba Linda would seem to have some merit based on signs I saw at the demonstration along Imperial Highway, though they went unmentioned by both ABC and this Orange County Register report: "Jesus Is The Only Way To Salvation" and "Send Islam To Hell." These messages were aimed not at two radicals but the heart of a whole faith.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

They Should Put This Show On The Road

John Mayer, Norah Jones, and Keith Urban performed Dolly Parton's "Jolene" on the Grammys tonight. More, please!

Hannah Nixon's Sky

From a quiet corner this evening, a view of the Yorba Linda United Methodist Church that a heart of peace would have loved

Khomeini More Times?

This New York Times analysis was tons more reassuring that its headline: "Egypt's Path After Uprising Does Not Have To Follow Iran's."

Jihadist Conspiracy Continues

The Muslim Brotherhood says it won't seek the Egyptian presidency.

"Episconixonian" Takes Congress To Woodshed

Speaking this morning with NPR's Audie Cornish, Reagan budget director David Stockman explains how Democrats have poisoned and paralyzed discourse about the federal deficit by stigmatizing any talk of cutting Social Security and Medicare and Republicans have done so by stigmatizing tax increases (often by forgetting to mention their hero Reagan's $400 billion a year in new taxes).

Stockman's right. They're all a bunch of scoundrels. The "Compact With America"? "Compact" is the operative word. Cutting a few hundred billion from discretionary spending? Chicken seed. Peanuts. Pennies on a $1.4 trillion annual problem, victimizing the least among us to protect the vested.

From now on, I don't want to hear from any president, senator, or congressman who doesn't talk about the three-legged stool of some entitlement cuts, some defense cuts, and some tax increases. Any politician who fails to do so is putting the future of our country at risk for the sake of his career. Rep. Jim Rogan did what he thought was right even though he knew he'd lose his seat. Saving the U.S. from stagnation and bankruptcy will take his kind of honesty and courage. President Obama could make the first move by speaking up for the findings of his own deficit commission.

Vote For Me. I'll Probably Do Just As Well.

Reflecting 0n the Jan. 20 "Fresh Air" on the proliferation (or, I'd say, the continuation) of violent rhetoric in politics, Geoff Nunberg says that Sarah Palin got a bum rap when she was accused of having had anything to do with inspiring the Jan. 8 shooter in Arizona. He concludes:
It's a strength of modern political culture that these apocalyptic metaphors no longer rouse people to armed insurrection. But then indignation has never had so many recreational outlets before. We can spend all our waking hours listening to broadcast political invective or writing sarcastic blog comments to excoriate the morons on the other side. That's the dirty little secret of political vituperation: left and right, we all enjoy going there sometimes.

But even if these violent reveries are almost never acted out, they coarsen the debate and dehumanize the other side. The scenarios behind those fantasies goes a long way toward creating the so-called climate of hate. If you're going to imagine yourself riding to the rescue of the republic, you're going to need to see your opponents as nefarious alien life forms. You put on a cowboy suit, and suddenly everybody else is an Indian.

As Nunberg notes, over the centuries a considerable amount of real violence has been sublimated into angry political conversation. Not only is it better to yell at than shoot each other, doing the former probably helps keep us from doing the latter. Palin's critics were seeing it the other way around.

And while I'd certainly enjoy more civility in political discourse, I wonder how practical that desire is in any system based on regularly scheduled, honest elections. Republicans wouldn't get very far mounting a challenge to President Obama by saying that while he's doing pretty well under the circumstances, they deserve a chance, too. It's hard to run against an incumbent without saying that all is lost if she continues in office; and it's hard to make that almost-always-incorrect accusation without doing a certain amount of rhetorical violence.

The alternative is to have elections only when we really need them. Anyone interested?

Taking The Point

While I resist the temptation to snap photos in church, it was Youth and Scout Sunday today, sheer exuberance was in the air, and I happened to have my phone out. Here's an image of our weekly joy, in this case fellow ministers Makenna, Elizabeth, and Ryan preparing to lead the people of God in procession.