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