Saturday, February 26, 2011

Glenn Scary Glenn's Off

Glenn Beck apologizes for comparing reform Judaism to radical Islam. Conservative Joe Scarborough says Beck is "losing it." Blogger and former Bush aide Peter Wehner calls him "the most disturbing personality on cable television."

Oh, Yeah, And It Would Kill Millions Of People

Somewhat bloodcurdlingly, experts conclude that just an itty-bitty nuclear war might reverse global warming.

Glad He Got A Window Seat

A commercial airline passenger captures Thursday's Discovery launch.

Social Gospel Work

Tim Rutten writes that Cardinal Roger Mahoney's tenure in Los Angeles will be remembered for more than his and the Roman Catholic church's mishandling of the scandal of sexual abuse by priests.

Sign Your Name Or Shut Up, Says Columnist

The assault on Lara Logan in Tahrir Square unleashed even more harsh rhetoric than usual from the general public on blogs and news media web sites. James Rainy argues that flamers should at least be required to use their real names:
It seems long past time for reputable news sites to clamp down on the gutter talk. Otherwise the open-door policy at, and many other sites drives down the quality of the conversation and alienates the kind of thoughtful guests that make the party worth coming to in the first place.

Eyes On The Sky

Looking northeast from Alicia and Santa Margarita parkways, 3 p.m.

Looking west from the Foothill Transportation Corridor, about 6:15 p.m.

All The President's Felons

From a wide-ranging post at NixoNARA by historian Maarja Krusten, two reflections on Nixonian management. First up is an insight from one of Nixon's budget chiefs, industrialist Roy Ash, that should be noted by every tycoon who thinks she can use her CEO chops to make government work at last. It's excerpted from a 1988 oral interview with Ash conducted by Maarja's former National Archives colleague Fred Graboske:
After leaving government, I went out and talked to business groups. . . . many of whom thought, and still think, "Why doesn’t the Government run like business?” . . . I said, "Imagine your board of directors comprising your customers, your suppliers, your employees, and your competitors. Now, how are you going to run your business?"
And then this important reflection on CEO Nixon himself:
Nixon was an intelligent and well-read man, someone who might have made a good history professor, as David Gergen once observed. I can’t speak to what led to his darker side, the side that made him ask Fred Malek to undertake Jew counting at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I don’t know if in different circumstances, and absent the Vietnam war, he might have kept that part in check or not. As to his downfall, we may never know everything about Watergate. (A new book offers some startling allegations about the “third rate burglary” at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.) What matters is that he need not have covered up the portion of the Watergate story of which he was aware. It’s important to remember that it was a different age, when executives clung more tightly to managerial infallibility than they do now.
It's absolutely true that Nixon trusted his management system, and it helped destroy him. As one of our most profoundly introverted presidents, he organized his White House to make it easy to limit the number of people he would see. To get the information he so desperately needed about Watergate, he naturally turned to his coterie of aides, people such Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, Chuck Colson, and Dwight Chapin -- all bound for federal prison.

Nixon wasn't blameless. Many of his aides thought they were doing what he wanted. But as Maarja suggests, he might've been more attentive to his own accountability and thereby saved his presidency if he hadn't been surrounded by men who were principally concerned with protecting themselves.

St. John's Sky

3:30 p.m. Saturday


As of this morning, 60,000 page views since August. Thanks, readers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

B Movie, For "Bourne"

In "Unknown," Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) thinks his identity has been stolen. "Unknown" is stolen by a charming pixie of a former agent of the East German Stasi, Ernst Jurgen, played by veteran German actor Bruno Ganz. Jurgen is working as a private investigator in Berlin. The movie meanders a bit until he and Harris meet, whereupon Jurgen livens things up by asking the same plotting questions we've been asking. "It used to be what I was known for," he says with a smile. "The details."

Harris, an American academic, and his icy wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), had arrived four days before for a biotech conference. On his way back to the airport to retrieve his briefcase, his taxi accidentally plunges into a river. By the time he recovers, Elizabeth has hooked up with another Martin Harris back at the conference, and they pretend they've never seen him before.

Once you know the whole story, you'll think again about the off-key interactions between Martin and Elizabeth in the first five carefully constructed minutes. This will tax your memory. The accident taxes (and alters) Harris's. I even forgot, at least for two hours, the unlikeliness of a sympathetic Stasi agent. "We all forget," says Jurgen. "We forgot the Nazis, and now we're forgetting 40 years of communism."

Director Jaume Collet-Serra obviously hasn't forgotten the Bourne movies, on whose conventions "Unknown" relies especially for its fight and chase scenes as well blurry flashbacks of prior capers. Harris's alliance with the taxi driver who saves his life, played by Diane Kruger, operates the same way as Matt Damon's with his costar, Franka Potente, in the first of the epic trilogy.

Overall the movie's too Bourne-again for five stars. It falls apart at the end when a villain insists on trying to disarm a bomb so the explosion won't implicate her and then knocks a conspicuous hole in a hotel suite wall to get at it. It's implied that boring old agribusiness, not ideology, is behind all the bloody mayhem. In a startling scene where Jurgen and an American counterpart (not Nixon, but he played him in the movies) enfold one another in what is simultaneously a death grip and friendly hug, we're reminded again that the Cold War is long gone and yet sometimes, at least by storytellers, lamented.

Yorba Linda Sky

Looks like snow this afternoon.


I was wondering why I was having trouble getting especially worked up at the idea of the brass in Afghanistan using psy-ops on visiting legislators, as alleged in "Rolling Stone." Here's why, from Juliet Lapidos at "Slate":
The idea that, given a U.S. senator as a target, a psy-ops team could "plant" the urge, Inception-style, to give the Army more resources is fairly nonsensical. Psy-ops teams use persuasion, not mind control. If [Gen. William] Caldwell [shown here with Sen. McCain] really did want [whistle blower Michael] Holmes and others to compile detailed profiles of John McCain and others, including their voting records and opinions on hot-button issues, he might as well have assigned such research work to his public affairs staff. (The difference between psy-ops and public affairs is that the purpose of the former is influence and it's supposed to be directed at foreign audiences exclusively, whereas the latter merely informs audiences both at home and abroad. But the distinction can get hazy. A 1997 Army field manual on public affairs notes that the discipline helps the United States "achieve information dominance" and "contributes to the preservation of public support," which seems to edge into influence.)
If military personnel have really broken the law, they should be held accountable. Senators and congressmen are entitled to receive strictly factual briefings, whether in Kabul or wherever they interact with government personnel. I also could understand how a member might get upset learning that the Pentagon had used taxpayers' money to study whether his having been bullied by his high school football coach might make him more inclined to fork over funds for killing the Taliban.

But people of substance engaged in important work always go into meetings hoping to bring back something for their side, and generals are no different. If you're canny, you'll want to learn a little something about the person you're talking to first. Call it psy-ops, or call it empathy.

What astonishes me is the idea that you could be a member of Congress and be all that susceptible to being emotionally manipulated. Wouldn't the members of most congressional delegations have spent the 16-hour flight reading about Afghanistan and getting ready for the meetings themselves? If not -- if the generals are taking these conversations more seriously than the congresspeople -- where's the real scandal?

Mitch, Mitt, And The Race They Can Win

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is, according to current criteria, a moderate Republican, which is to say an authentic Reaganite. His mentors include respected centrists such as William Ruckelshaus and Richard Lugar. Now David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan want him to run for president in 2012. I'm a little confused about why fans of a more pragmatic conservatism would feel that way. Assuming an incumbent's advantage in a recovering economy, President Obama will probably be reelected. Why waste a candidate who could win in an open year?

Presidential elections aren't parlor games, I realize. Both parties should try as hard as they can to win in order to keep debates vigorous and urgent and give voters a real choice as well as be in the position to exploit the vagaries of circumstance. A young first-term senator from Illinois didn't start out expecting to beat Hillary Clinton. No one expected the September 2008 financial crisis to guarantee the election of whichever Democrat had been nominated.

No, you never know what will happen in politics. You also don't know what's going to happen when a .240 singles hitter steps to the plate, but you can make a pretty good guess. As political scientists have shown and common sense confirms, the smartest money and best candidates have a tendency to stay away from riskier races. The last year a Democratic incumbent was up was 1996, when Bill Clinton, thanks to his survivor's instinct and the ministrations of the great triangulator Dick Morris, seemed well positioned for reelection. So the GOP anointed Bob Dole, a respected warhorse about whom no one seemed especially enthusiastic.

But as the open election of 2000 approached, the drum beat for George W. Bush began two years or more before election day. In Republican circles you could feel the influence and money massing behind him. That's not happening now with any candidate because most of them (such as Daniels, I'd think) are wondering whether this is really the right time to run. All things being equal, the best nominee, whoever he or she is, will be naturally disinclined, since a better chance looms for a shift to the GOP four years later. It will be an especially tough call for Mitt Romney, who lost a strenuous bid for the nomination in 2008 and can't risk being a two-time loser.

Losing matters less to true believers such as those conservatives who, in Richard Nixon's deathless formulation, would rather be right than president. The likes of Daniels and Romney would be wise to leave 2012 to any one of the tea party's Quixotes. Assuming I've read the tea leaves correctly and Obama wins, we'd see if in 2016 the GOP wanted to try to get another pot out a used bag or come back toward the center where the voters are.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun Underperforms

He should've said, "Get out of my meeting."

Scott Walker Is The New Nixon

So says Wisconsin blogger Deke Rivers.

Slipping The Surly Bonds Once More

Discovery's 39th and last launch today

No DOMA Ado For Obama

New York Times:

A few years ago, the president’s decision might have set off an intense national debate about gay rights. But the Republicans’ reserved response this week suggests that Mr. Obama may suffer little political damage as he evolves from what many gay rights leaders saw as a lackluster defender of their causes into a far more aggressive advocate.

“The wedge has lost its edge,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who worked for President George W. Bush during his 2004 campaign, when gay marriage ballot measures in a dozen states helped turn out conservative voters.

Golden-Throated Gary

From medieval icons to Chagall's "White Crucifixion," from Bernini to Dali, our friend Gary Toops took 25 St. John's art lovers on a 1600-year sacred art walk these Thursday evenings in February. The brain child of Gary and our former associate vicar, the Rev. Karen Ann Wojahn, the class took two years to schedule in part because of Gary's busy schedule as teacher, organist, and community choir director. His and Marjorie Toops' Festival Singers rehearse each Tuesday evening at St. John's (a wonderful soundtrack for our weekly Bible study, which meets a few steps away). Over Memorial Day weekend last year, the Festival Singers and the St. John's Middle School choir, under the direction of my colleague Lori Speciale, appeared at Carnegie Hall, members of a 200-voice choir performing John Rutter's "Mass of the Children."

We'll actually have one more meeting of "Exploring Sacred Art," this Saturday at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Our classroom work ended tonight with Gary's analysis of a work by a local artist, Charles Frazee, professor emeritus of religion and church history at Cal State Fullerton and the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont. In 2009, I acquired this icon which Charlie painted of our church's patron, John Chrysostom, the fifth century archbishop, preacher (hence his Greek sobriquet meaning "golden throat"), and courageous reformer.

The late Walter Annenberg (with whom I actually spoke the very week he bid successfully for "At the Lapin Agile") and the Getty had to reveal what they paid at auction for their Renoirs and van Goghs, but I shan't. That's between Charlie and me, as is the five-point ID question I missed on his final when I was in seminary 13 years ago. I barely remember. Okay, it was the Shepherd of Hermas. The Annenberg name-drop was a compensatory defensive gesture.

Missing The Forest For The Tweets

Gord Hotchkiss:

Yesterday, I overheard this in our lunch room: "I went for dinner the other night but have no idea how it was. Between tweeting my location, updating my status and posting a review to Yelp, I never actually ate anything."

I'm guessing this comment was made in jest, but you never know. I remember one after-conference party held under the bridge in Sydney's magnificent harbor, watching one very well-known search guru tweet his way through the entire evening. I don't think he even noticed the Opera House on the other side of the bay. He was so busy tweeting his experience; he overlooked the actual "experiencing" part.

It seems to me that the more we engage in social media, the less social we actually become.

Hat tip to Cindy Drennan

Why Governments Are Going Broke

Reflecting on Wisconsin, a reader writes:
The primary purpose of public unions is to grab for their members more than they would get on the open market. (Think about that!) They do this by public strikes (which are combinations in restraint of trade) and by using the power of campaign ads to buy politicians who will spend taxpayer dollars to pay off those who can keep them in power. No wonder governments are going broke while taxpayers are paying more!

Leadership Deficit

Simon Johnson says our fiscal crisis is nowhere near as bad as our gutless and opportunistic politician crisis:
None of the leadership on either side is willing to talk openly about how our biggest banks caused great fiscal damage. No one is willing to explain why our health care costs continue to rise. And no top politicians currently champion real tax reform.

The Republicans have seized a moment. To them, this is not really about fiscal responsibility; this is about an opportunity to shrink the size of government.

But the Democrats have played perfectly into their hands. The heart of their mistake was the president’s refusal to explain clearly how the financial system produced a recession that has pushed up our national debt.

Restoration And Resurrection

The Episcopal Church and Smithsonian are collaborating to save beloved 1950s-era murals in the ravaged Episcopal cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Coverage and photo in the New York Times. St. John's Church is also on the scene, or somewhere nearby, since our member John Schafer is one of a Diocese of Los Angeles delegation visiting Haiti's Episcopal schools.

Meanwhile, In Palestine

Encouraging talk of a unity government.

Their Hearts Are In The Wrong Place

Rob Stein in The Washington Post:
The nation's organ-transplant network is considering giving younger, healthier people preference over older, sicker patients for the best kidneys.

Instead of giving priority primarily to patients who have been on the waiting list longest, the new rules would match recipients and organs to a greater extent based on factors such as age and health to try to maximize the number of years provided by each kidney - the most sought-after organ for transplants.

"We're trying to best utilize the gift of the donated organ," said Kenneth Andreoni, an associate professor of surgery at Ohio State University who chairs the committee that is reviewing the system for the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a Richmond-based private nonprofit group contracted by the federal government to coordinate organ allocation. "It's an effort to get the most out of a scarce resource."

Worst idea of the year. It's one thing to argue, as I do, that our society overspends on end-of-life care because patients and families haven't faced up to their mortality. It's quite another to say that a 20-year-old is more deserving of a new kidney than an otherwise healthy 60-year-old.

Dr. Andreoni appears to be in the thrall of kidney idolatry. The gift of the organ is nowhere near as valuable as the life it saves -- and when it comes to human lives, well-meaning medical ethicists shouldn't be exempt from our hard-won rules against discrimination on the basis of age. The same utilitarianism could be used to justify a preference for choosing an able-bodied transplant candidate over a disabled one, and from that point the slippery slopes run in a dozen other directions.

A Difficult Spell For Libya

Edward Jay Epstein, via Martin Peretz:
According to the New York Times, he is “Muammar el-Qaddafi,” to the Wall Street Journal he is “Moammar Gadhafi,” to the L.A. Times he is “Moammar Kadafi,” to the Washington Post, he is “Moammar Gaddafi,” to Reuters, he is “Muammar Gaddafi,” to Bloomberg, he is “Muammar Qaddafi,” the AFP, he is “Moamer Kadhafi,” to the English edition of the Xinhua News Agency, he is “Muammar Khaddafi,” to the US State Department, he is “Mu’ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi,” to the CIA, he is “Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi,” and to his official site he is “Muammar Al Gathafi”.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Punk'ds And Thugs

At "Caffeinated Politics" in Wisconsin, Deke Rivers compares Gov. Scott Walker to Richard Nixon for seeming to be open to the idea of sending thugs into the crowd of anti-Walker, pro-union demonstrators in Madison.

In his conversation with a blogger who was pretending to be fat cat David Koch, Walker sounded to me like someone who was parrying a bad idea with a tactical argument instead of saying to a powerful, friendly multibillionaire, "How dare you make such a disgusting suggestion?" But Rivers is right that it should probably be looked into:
I think we need to know who the “we" happen to be that work for Governor Walker that would hatch an idea about placing “troublemakers” into a protest crowd at the Capitol.

Were they trying to test the patience of all involved, including law enforcement? Who brought the idea to Walker? Why was that person not released from state service at once? Where did this idea get discussed? In the Governor’s office? The residence?
This is serious as it could have led to chaos and even bloodshed had it been put into action.

The De-rogue-ifier

My Nixon buddy Hugh Hewitt has stimulated a debate between Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush's defense secretary, and former White House aide Peter Wehner over how much stress Bush placed on democratizing the Middle East in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Rumsfeld says it came up very little behind closed doors. Wehner says Bush mentioned it in several major speeches. Hewitt aptly leapfrogs the conversation:
Whatever one concludes about this debate, most serious observers connect Libya's disarmament of WMD with America's overthrow of Saddam, and aren't we glad this week that Qaddafi isn't sitting on his stockpile of deadly agents?
Hewitt's argument is preferable to those that credit Bush and his freedom agenda for Egypt's Nile grassroots revolution. What's still at issue isn't Bush's admirable post-Sept. 11 vision of a freer Middle East and Persian Gulf region but the use of force to bring it about. Besides, how could the Egyptians have been inspired by Iraq, since its inenviably tenuous democracy occurred as the result of an invasion by Western powers?

But Libya's self-de-rogue-ification because it didn't want to mess with Texas was a definite win for Bush, U.S. interests in the years since, and Libya's besieged people today.

Waving The Yellow Flag

It looks like the battle of Richard Nixon's former White House aides against the Nixon library's new Watergate gallery is coming to an end. According to this notice appearing on the library's web site, the new installation will be ready at the end of March.


The only thing I don't like about digital reading is that Kindle notes and underlining are harder to find later than those in real books. And now scholars are worried about losing famous people's marginalia.


A Marine and Army veteran argue that President Obama's surge is making the difference:
Not since the deterioration in conditions in Iraq that drew our attention away from Afghanistan have coalition forces been in such a strong position to force the enemy to the negotiating table. We should hold fast and work for the day when Afghanistan, and our vital interests there, can be safeguarded primarily by Afghans.

Palin's Non-Denial Denial

Andrew Sullivans says Sarah Palin has denied having a Facebook account that she uses to praise her own posts. Actually, she hasn't. She wrote:
[T]here’s always buzz about fake Sarah Palin Facebook and Twitter accounts. Please know that this is my only authentic Facebook account and SarahPalinUSA is my only authentic Twitter account. Pay no attention to the fake accounts and their fake messages.
Saying "there's always buzz" about other people (one assumes) setting up fake accounts disassociates her statement from the accusation that she's created an account under the name of "Lou Sarah," since, so far as I've heard, there's never been buzz about that. If we learn that she really is Lou, she'll be able to say she never lied by denying it. My Facebook statement on Feb. 23, she'll say, was about other people setting up fake accounts. That's why I mentioned Twitter.

Not surprising that her cadres accepted this, since by and large they wouldn't care if the charge was proved true. But her critics?

Treating Voters Like Big Babies

Mulling my Presidents Day post on Richard Nixon's tapes, temperament, and legacy, historian Maarja Krusten wonders how a balanced assessment of the left's one-time bete noir would be received by today's conservatives:
If a liberal scholar writes a balanced book about Nixon, what are the chances that right-wing talkmeisters will give him credit, given the comical way that Ronald Reagan has been built up into a mythical figure by the present day GOP? To hear them praise him is to think that he never raised taxes, which he did. Of course, Reagan governed in an age where politicians still treated the American people as if they were grown up and tough enough and unselfish enough to listen to debate about revenue imbalances in terms of options that ranged from cutting spending to raising taxes. Yes, really! There was a time when voters weren’t treated as big babies. That this no longer is the case is the responsibility of both the speakers and listeners, but more so of listeners. Too many have bought into a “make me feel good” culture.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You Stay Classy, Rush


Rush Limbaugh called Michelle Obama a hypocrite on his Monday show, saying that, while the First Lady advocates healthy eating, she "doesn't look like [she] follows her own...dietary advice" and would never be put on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.

Breathing Easier With Nixon

Reference to a Nixon-era policy on "The West Wing," episode 3:5, "On the Day Before": Bartlett aide Josh Lyman, defending the administration's environmental policies against charges that they cost jobs, says, "The decline in manufacturing isn't because of the environment...You want to see a study that says that if we hadn't passed the Clean Air Act, about two million more people would've suffered from heart disease, bronchitis, [and] respiratory illness?" President Nixon signed a substantial toughening of the Clean Air Act in 1970.

"I've Done A Lot Of Stupid Stuff." U, 2?

Bono on grace:
[A]t the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.
Hat tip to Richard Janics

Apartheid Watch In Tunisia

The Middle East revolution began in Tunisia. If you want an early warning that the rapidly evolving situation is going in the wrong direction, watch for big brother starting to tell women what to wear and how to behave. The New York Times:

About 98 percent of the population of 10 million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western lifestyle shatter stereotypes of the Arab world. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and women commonly wear bikinis on the country’s Mediterranean beaches. Wine is openly sold in supermarkets and imbibed at bars across the country.

Women’s groups say they are concerned that in the cacophonous aftermath of the revolution, conservative forces could tug the country away from its strict tradition of secularism.

“Nothing is irreversible,” said Khadija Cherif, a former head of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, a feminist organization. “We don’t want to let down our guard.”

Must Be Some Snow Plough

Lead, South Dakota, Jan. 5

Hat tip to Tom Tierney

The Joy Of The "Quest"

Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, murdered this morning by Somali pirates

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of Jean and Scott and Phyllis and Robert, and grant them an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lookey Louise

Old conventional wisdom: Sarah Palin is a credible candidate for president. New CW: Sarah Palin reportedly created a Facebook page using a fake name so she could "like" her own Facebook posts.

Terrible Tuesday

Because of disasters wrought by human beings and nature, pray for the people of Libya and of Christchurch, New Zealand, where dozens have died in an earthquake and the dean of the heavily damaged Anglican cathedral fears people are trapped in the ruins.

Steve Coll Didn't Get The Memo

In the Feb. 28 "New Yorker," Steve Coll reveals that the Obama administration has begun secret talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan:
The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation. That may take some time: the first secret talks between the United States and representatives of North Vietnam took place in 1968; the Paris Peace Accords, intended to end direct U.S. military involvement in the war, were not agreed on until 1973.
I'm pretty sure the magazine's position all these years has been that Richard Nixon could've gotten the same deal in 1969 that he got in 1973 and that tens of thousands of Americans died as a result. It's not true. I'm not complaining. But I'll bet someone else will, in the letters column next week.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Kylish Gesture

Presidents Day weekend is a fitting time to announce that I've resumed my careful study of "The West Wing" from beginning to end, with special focus on Nixon references and resonances. I've just started watching season three, which would seem promising because of the investigations of President Josiah Bartlett's cover-up of his multiple sclerosis.

Not much on Nixon yet, though. A congressional committee chairman who's antagonized the White House by favoring big tobacco is named Kalmbach, but they don't mean Nixon's jailed personal attorney. Episode 3:01, first aired on Oct. 3, 2001, is Aaron Sorkin's post-Sept. 11 teleplay on terrorism and Islamophobia. It holds up well after nearly a decade. In 3:3, "Ways and Means," producers breach (inadvertently, I assume) their policy of not referring to active-duty U.S. politicians. That's Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) on the TV screen behind Toby Ziegler. And that's a Nixon resonance after all, since Kyl's being honored next month by the Nixon Center.

Best Movie President Speech Scene Ever

From Michael Bay's "Armageddon." And with a reconciliation between a father and son to boot

A Presidents Day Epiphany

Tonight Fox News' Sean Hannity used the bludgeon of his imaginary Ronald Reagan (the one who didn't enact $400 billion a year in tax increases) to try to get Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to attack Barack Obama on fiscal policy and stick up for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to limit public employees' collective bargaining rights. Brown said that he'd prefer to work with Obama than attack him and that Wisconsin's policies were Wisconsin's business.

While Hannity's contempt for Brown was palpable, the senator kept his cool -- which got me wondering whether Brown might have what it takes to sit at the poker table.

Read historian Maarja Krusten's thoughts on the virtue of keeping our cool here.

Nixon's Best And Worst Ex-President's Days

Richard Nixon's best recent ex-president's day may have been the Feb. 2 Metropolitan Opera premiere of "Nixon In China." There's no doubt about his worst: The December 2010 opening of a secretly recorded White House conversation in which he and Henry Kissinger talk about whether it would've been an issue for the United States if the Soviet Union decided to murder all its Jews.

Reconciling the grand and tawdry in Nixon's complicated legacy should be the business of both historians and his dwindling cohort of intimates. Instead, Nixon's operatives chose to fight the battle of Yorba Linda over the contents of a Watergate gallery in which some of them play starring roles alongside 37. Here's hoping future Presidents Days will see that matter settled, at least, and historians hard at work in the Nixon library reading room, sifting through the immense record of the most copiously documented public person in the history of humankind.

As that record will show, Nixon was a great man, for good or ill. Being the subject of an opera makes him a grand one as well. In 1987, when I was his chief of staff, John Adams' "Nixon In China" was premiered in Houston and then in New York, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I conducted a reconnaissance by attending one of the BAM performances. I'd bragged to Nixon that I'd gone to prep school with the director, Peter Sellars, the infant phenomenon of 1980s international opera. But attending Sellars' one-man "Winnie-the-Pooh" in the Andover theater lab hadn't prepared me for the moment when a big, flat Air Force One glided onto the stage to thrilling orchestral fanfares and Nixon (baritone James Maddalena) stepped through the door and began to sing.

While I didn't care for the way the Nixons and especially Henry Kissinger were portrayed, I figured that having an opera written about you had to be a net plus unless your name happened to be Othello. But Nixon received my report with even more of his studied reserve than usual. He assumed his enemies were up to something, and besides, as he understood better than anyone, nothing could beat the drama of the real Nixon going to the real China in the real airplane.

At least to me, he never expressed any interest in seeing it himself. When his last chief of staff, Kathy O'Connor, was serving as acting executive director of the Nixon foundation in 2009, she also took a pass when the foundation was offered the opportunity to collaborate with a Long Beach Opera production. She feared that those closest to the Nixon family would appear to be blessing the opera's sometimes cartoonish characterizations. In particular, Kathy said the producers would have to be willing to change portions of the third act, in which Pat Nixon appeared to be drunk. The Nixon family had long battled against allegations that the first lady drank heavily in the White House during Watergate. One of my own first decisions as Nixon library director in 1990 was to remove the Nixon library cocktail glasses a marketing consultant had ordered for the gift shop.

Kathy's decision on the Long Beach production proved to be final. But some at Nixon's foundation still craved the spotlights, greasepaint, and mao tai (a fiery rice wine used by the Chinese for toasts that Nixon, as I saw during a 1985 trip to China, couldn't hold). They finally got the chance to raise their glasses in New York two weeks ago when assorted Nixon factotums, and even members of the Nixon family, attended the glittery Met premiere and were photographed backstage with Maddalena, who reprised his role as Nixon, and other cast members.

One especially knowledgeable guest, former Kissinger aide and ambassador to China Winston Lord, was deeply offended by what he saw. Like my theater critic father and godfather used to do, he was taking detailed notes on his program. Lord later found a sympathetic ear in journalist Gay Talese, who described his views in a "New Yorker" article:
[M]aking Kissinger a lecherous, cruel character is beyond the pale. It turns a heroic figure into a cardboard monster. There is no artistic rationale that explains this. One can only suspect a personal vendetta by the creators.
Lord stuck up for Kissinger where I'd failed to in my 1987 report to Nixon. Kissinger, in turn, had far more advocates than Nixon in December, when both attracted international condemnation for their taped remarks about Soviet Jews in 1973, in the midst of debates about Soviet emigration policy. Kissinger is heard saying that a Soviet holocaust would have been at best a humanitarian concern and by no means a U.S. interest; Nixon replies that it wouldn't be worth a thermonuclear war.

Their conversation was gross but not impossible to explain. Kissinger's friends weighed in, but no one now running Nixon's foundation stepped up to the plate to say that the Nixon they'd known and served wouldn't have permitted such a a foul genocide.

He wouldn't have. That the tapes make it appear otherwise pinpoints the greatest problem for Nixon's legacy and the greatest opportunity for scholars who are willing to open their minds to the ambiguity bequeathed to them by Nixon's tapes and temperament.

His taping system was the worst idea in the history of the modern presidency. He either had no idea how his private discourse would play publicly or no conception of ever losing control of the tapes. For someone who was so careful about his public persona, it was the ultimate nightmare. In the early 1990s, I got a call in Yorba Linda from Carlos Narvaez, who worked for Nixon in the National Archives. "The tapes must never come out," he said. "His reputation will never recover." After Nixon died in 1994, I prayed our friend Carlos was wrong as I negotiated a deal under which the tapes were opened beginning in 1996 and were supposed to be fully opened by 2000.

It now looks as though it will take the National Archives until at least 2012 to complete the laborious process. That's too bad. The battering Nixon's reputation takes from each successive tapes opening -- Watergate reporter Bob Woodward called it the gift that keeps on giving -- keeps a balanced view of his legacy under wraps. So does history's failure to appreciate his deeply introverted temperament, which made each of his public appearances a trial, each meeting with associates an intricate minuet of conflict avoidance, and each conversation with the few people he really trusted an opportunity to release all the tension and anger of being a wartime INTJ.

Nixon's toxic theories and statements about race are especially problematical. It will take scholars decades to sort it all out. When they do, I remain hopeful that they'll understand that he was a far more serious, diligent, and gracious person than history now remembers. For 37, there should be countless better Presidents Days ahead. In the meantime, remember that Nixon went to China, and they're still singing about it.

Above left: Nixon in Hangzhou, China in 1993 with his chief of staff, Kathy O'Connor. Behind them is a tree he planted during his historic 1972 visit.

Just A Little More Morphine For The King, Please

Following the dust-up between Christopher Hitchens and David Seidler, who wrote "The King's Speech," I learned this bit of history, which didn't make the movie. It's Seidler talking to HuffPo's Patricia Zohn:
The only cut I still regret is the exclusion of King George V's euthanasia. The old King was dying, but not on time. Everyone wanted the news to first appear in the respectable Times and on the BBC, not via the disreputable afternoon papers who might mention David's (Edward VIII) scandalous affair with American twice divorcee Wallis Simpson. The deadline (no pun intended) was midnight. The King was inconveniently lingering so they hurried him along with an injection into the jugular vein of a mixture of morphine and cocaine. I felt that including this not only gave more drama to the sequence but also demonstrated the immense power of the new media, which is what Bertie was going to have to face. Although the scene was filmed, Tom and the producers ultimately felt it was such a controversial subject it might overshadow the rest of the film. They're probably right but I still regret the cut.
It seems to me it demonstrated the immense power of the king's doctors. I doubt if anyone forgot about Mrs. Simpson just because the Times got the exclusive. One of the most powerful moments in the somewhat overrated movie was Bertie's outrage at the suggestion by his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), that his brother's love life might someday put him on the throne. "That's treason!" shouts the dutiful royal, marvelously portrayed by Colin Firth. Meanwhile, there are the palace attendants in the shadows, doing what they do.

Mutton Much

My exercise after seeing "Just Go With It," starring Adam Sandler as a plastic surgeon and Jennifer Aniston as his single-mother assistant, was identifying a redeeming, unblemished feature. Sandler and Aniston had good chemistry in a couple of scenes -- but their winsomeness was nearly crushed by a leaden script. Aniston's kids, played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck, were talented and cute -- but for some reason ten-year-old Bailee spent most of the movie using a tiresome British accent. Nicole Kidman was great as Aniston's college nemesis, with Dave Matthews as her too-good-to-be-true husband, reputedly the inventor of the iPod -- but that deteriorated into mockery of gay men. Rachel Dratch and Kevin Nealon were funny as plastic surgery victims -- but the depth of the film's insights on the subject was purely cosmetic.

You want unmitigated praise? The Hawaiian resort where the hi jinks unfolded looked very nice. And Nick Swardson, pretending to be a sheep salesman for reasons too complicated to explain, had a great moment after a young woman ran into the restaurant where he and Brooklyn Decker, who plays Sandler's girlfriend, were eating and said that her sheep was sick.What do you do with a sick sheep? Body slams and mouth-to-mouth, of course.

More broadly applied, the Farrelly brothers-style lunacy of Swardson's improvised lamb chops might've resuscitated the movie. Sandler was pretending to be married to win Decker; Aniston was pretending to be his husband; Kidman was still pretending to be all that. A mistaken-identity plot and great cast ought to have made for a lot of fun. But "Just Go With It," a title with no discernible connection to the story, ended up being a description of a comic road not taken.

A Jug Of Wine, Moose Stew, And Thou

From the leaked manuscript of an ex-Palin aide, an explanation of how John McCain, and the GOP, ended up with Sarah Palin:
["Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol had] gone to Alaska on a cruise in June, 2007 and sat across the table from the sexy future of the Republican Party. Much as President Bush, when looking into Vlad Putin‘s eyes, saw his soul, Kristol understood that deliverance for his beloved GOP lived inside this stunning, five foot five inch Aphrodite from Wasilla. Due Diligence was conducted over moose stew, red wine, and winky charm. He did not need to ask about foreign policy or current event expertise. He saw a winner. Kristol began bongo-drumming her out-Mavericking John McCain virtues in every venue at his disposal... In public and to his contacts within the McCain camp, he made it known that she was not only legitimate, but the only intelligent choice if McCain hoped to have any chance in the upcoming election.
Hat tip to The Daily Dish

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When "Obama's Not A Christian" is A Good Thing

Liberal media watcher Paul Waldman:
[B]oth [Barack Obama's] most fervent opponents and some of his most fervent supporters think the same thing -- that for political purposes, Obama has hid his true beliefs. Many secular progressives want to believe that in his heart he's just like them, and many religious conservatives want to believe that in his heart he's as alien from them as he could be.

Rush Rumsfeld

The former secretary of defense on President Obama:
I think he has made a practice of trying to apologize for America. I personally am proud of America.
A practice? I'm sure Rumsfeld has memcons to back that up.


Israel is hopeful about peace with post-revolutionary Egypt but doesn't like some of what it hears, according to its ambassador to the U.S., Michael B. Oren:
[W]e would be irresponsible to ignore the Muslim Brotherhood, which, although a minority party in Egypt, is the best-organized and -financed opposition group. “Resistance is the only solution against the Zio-American arrogance and tyranny,” the Brotherhood’s supreme guide recently sermonized, pledging to raise “a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

And the threat to peace comes not only from religious extremists but also from some of the revolution’s secular voices. The Kafaya democratic movement, for example, once circulated a petition to nullify the peace treaty. A spokesman for the April 6 Youth Movement recently demanded the halting of Egyptian natural gas shipments to Israel, which would cut off 40 percent of our supply. And last week the reformist leader Ayman Nour declared that “the era of Camp David is over.”

I Knew It

The iPad is useless.

There Goes That Excuse

So-called midlife crises occur because of life events, not a person's age, according to Brandeis University psychologist Margie Lachman:
[C]rises are usually spurred by some event that can happen at most any age, such as a career setback, the death of a friend or relative, or an illness.

Maybe The Senators Can Help At Coffee Hour

Wisconsin churches offer sanctuary to legislators trying to avoid voting on a bill that would eliminate most of public employees' collective bargaining rights.

St. John's Sky