Saturday, January 7, 2012

Put Some Windex On It

Here's some happy news:

A new study of British civil servants shows that cognitive skills such as memory and reasoning are already declining, typically, among people as young as 45.

GOP Sports Gaffe Watch

Reading Andrew Sullivan's GOP live blog, a commentator notes:
Romney and Santorum would spend tonight watching a football game being played on Monday. Newt would be watching a basketball game being played in April.

Politics, Religion, And The Nixon Covenant

In this post on some Christians' opposition to Mitt Romney on the basis of religion, I left off what I thought. This morning a couple of smart Facebook friends called me out. First, a buddy from Andover:
Half my ancestors are Mormon, going back to the beginning of the church. It is entirely legitimate to question the judgment of someone who enthusiastically participates in a fantasy based on an obvious fraud, concocted to feed the appetites for power and sex of the founders. And I don't just mean the GOP.
In reply, an Episcopal church friend:
I remember when I was a child and JFK was running for President. The “Protestant” fear was that if a Roman Catholic was elected, the Pope would rule America. Maybe the same people who are so critical about separation of church and state can now find some comfort in it.
I wrote:
You have [cogently] set the goalposts of a debate that will almost inevitably occur if Romney is nominated. I defer to [my first friend's] personal insights and confess to some concerns about the tenets of Mormonism. Of course [Christopher] Hitchens felt the same about orthodox Christianity. [The Episcopal] church has rightly been stressing comity among the three Abrahamic faiths. Any proponents of that view, who would naturally and correctly aver that there would be nothing wrong with electing a Jew or a Muslim, would, I assume, want to take the same view about a Mormon. In the end, the only way to avoid a descent into sheer chaos is to respect the covenant we've reached about a religion test that [my second friend] described.
As I wrote that, I imagined someone saying, "What covenant is that, and when did I sign it?" Hold onto your prayer books, because it was written by Richard Nixon, and it's stood all these years. The question is whether it will survive 2012.

Nixon's covenant was a promise he made to himself and the country and courageously kept throughout one of the closest campaigns in history. As the the GOP nominee in 1960, he said he wouldn't make John F. Kennedy's Roman Catholicism an issue. In Nixon's own words, from the third of their four debates:
[A]s far as religion is concerned, I have seen Communism abroad. I see what it does. Communism is the enemy of all religions; and we who do believe in God must join together. We must not be divided on this issue. The worst thing that I can think can happen in this campaign would be for it to be decided on religious issues. I obviously repudiate the Klan; I repudiate anybody who uses the religious issue; I will not tolerate it, I have ordered all of my people to have nothing to do with it and I say to this great audience, whoever may be listening, remember, if you believe in America, if you want America to set the right example to the world, that we cannot have religious or racial prejudice. We cannot have it in our hearts. But we certainly cannot have it in a presidential campaign.
Nixon was ideally positioned to enunciate and enforce this principle. A Yorba Linda and Whittier Quaker and a deep introvert besides, most of his theological inquiry and conversation with the divine was interior. He was a skeptic about the bodily Resurrection of Christ. He loved upbeat preachers such Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, and Robert Schuller, but he wasn't a consistent churchgoer. In the White House, his interfaith services were a model that liberal seminaries would have been proud to borrow.

His faith may have deepened late in life. I worked for him from 1979 until his death in 1994. In the 1980s, when I was his chief of staff, he talked a lot about his philosophical reading. I regret that I never had a chance to ask what he thought about my call to ordained ministry. I couldn’t have, since it occurred in part because of professional and personal turmoil after he died. But he made a telling eschatological prediction not long after Mrs. Nixon’s funeral in 1993, when I was meeting with him and a potential library contributor in his New Jersey office. The man, from Japan, diplomatically mentioned a possible gift. Nixon said, “Mrs. Nixon would be pleased.” He paused and added quietly, “Is pleased.”

Still, the free-thinking Nixon probably wouldn't have been mainstream American Protestants' first choice to negotiate the terms of their political engagement with Roman Catholicism. And yet his rule has essentially been followed for a half-century. Outside of reporting about the narrative of the candidates' lives, religion rarely came up, for instance, when Mormon George Romney was preparing to run in 1968 or born-again Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter ran and won in 1976.

The boldest challenge to the Nixon covenant came from the right in 2008, when Fox News and others smeared Barack Obama with the extreme views of his United Church of Christ pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I can understand those who said that Wright opened the door with his harsh denunciations of U.S. policy. But any systematic effort to load a religious leader's baggage onto a parishioner-candidate's back would shatter the Nixon covenant -- and more candidacies than one might at first think.

Many politicians, for instance, have sought the counsel of Billy Graham as well as the PR benefit of associating with him. He served as a gracious officiant at President and and Mrs. Nixon's funerals, which I oversaw at the Nixon library. In June 1993, as he and I waited alone in the lobby for the family to arrive with Mrs. Nixon's casket, I asked what he was up to. He said he had just decided to sell his memoirs to Rupert Murdoch's publishing company, though he’d been reluctant at first because of the risqué photos that appeared in some of Murdoch’s London tabloids. “But then I realized,” Graham said, “that those photographs are actually inducements so that his working class readers will have the opportunity to encounter a good conservative editorial message.”

I asked if he thought that anything would come along to reverse the general decline in cultural standards that had become so glaringly obvious.

“Why, yes,” he said.

“What will it be, in your opinion?” I said.

“Armageddon,” he said.

According to Fox News' Jeremiah Wright rule, a reporter would have the right to ask all candidates who are friendly with preachers who believe as Graham does whether they agree that the Almighty LORD was about to send his avenging angels to smite the world in its wickedness. "Will that be in your first or second term?" the reporter might ask. "Aren't those views indistinguishable from Ahmadinejad's? How will your belief in the imminent end times affect your decisions about how to use military power?"

You see where that leads. Here are more examples of what could happen to conservatives and progressives alike if we hold each other accountable for our religious views. Mitt Romney may well believe he'll get a planet when he dies, maybe two if he's really good. But we still need the Nixon covenant, now more than ever.

"Silver Threads And Golden Needles"

Be still my rockin' heart: Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, her former band, helping invent alt.-country. Hat tip to my blogging buddy Deke Rivers.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Romney's Tie (And I Don't Mean Iowa)

When Erik Eckholm writes about Christian evangelicals' increasingly frantic efforts to find an alternative to Mitt Romney, you have to read between the lines to find the real story.

They're afraid he's squishy on abortion and same-sex marriage, Eckholm writes. They want a real conservative, like health care mandate-favoring climate change hawk Newt Gingrich. The head of the Florida Family Policy Council goes so far as to say that Gingrich is "probably...the most viable candidate in the general election." Say what? Gingrich comes with more baggage than the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. President Obama loves his chances in that match-up, and everybody knows it, including, I'd assume, Erik Eckholm.

You can't see dark matter, which holds the universe together, and at least in this article you can't see what's bringing these evangelicals together: Their dislike of the LDS. You'd think Romney's Mormonism would be worth at least a paragraph, if only to let evangelical leaders deny that it's an issue. But Eckholm doesn't go near it. Reuters reporters
Santorum has been challenged for comments such as likening same-sex relationships to bestiality and saying states should be allowed to ban birth control. In Concord, New Hampshire, on Thursday, he was booed after appearing to compare gay marriage to polygamy and saying children of same-sex couples were being "harmed."

Some in the audience wondered if the polygamy reference was a coded reference to Romney's Mormonism.
Polls last year showed both that most evangelicals don't believe that Mormons are Christians and that they were less supportive of Romney that GOP voters in general. Sure, their lukewarm political support might be because of his more moderate views on social issues while serving as governor of Massachusetts. The Times' Eckholm seems inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. In a June 2011 post, journalist Mark Joseph wasn't:

Years ago I once interviewed comedian Jay Leno and he told me something I've never forgotten and think of quite often: when he wants to make fun of a fat man, he never makes fun of him for being fat; rather, he makes fun of his tie.

I think of Leno's maxim whenever I hear conservative Christian voters criticizing Mitt Romney for his alleged failings like Romneycare, flip-flopping, lack of personality etc. because like Leno, what I think they're really doing is describing his "tie" instead of saying what they truly mean to say: he's a Mormon.

As this obfuscation indicates however, it's a prejudice that nobody wants to cop to because there seems to be a general feeling that it's an icky one and so as a result, mainstream journalists continue to be befuddled over Romney's lack of success and try to blame it on the various criticisms of his "tie," only it's not about his "tie," it's about his religion.

Don's Snowflakes

You know that guy at the office, Mr. Passive-Aggressive? Never says what he thinks in a meeting but then sends e-mails around dissing everybody and taking credit for their ideas? What if he's running the Pentagon? Condi Rice, President Bush's first-term national security adviser, wastes little time in her new memoir, No Higher Honor, before getting to the nub of her and and Secretary of State Colin Powell's problems with Don Rumsfeld:
Don would send memos (snowflakes, we called them) that implicitly -- and sometimes explicitly -- criticized what State or the NSC was doing. Often those memos reflected discussions that had already taken place, but they left the impression that it was Don imparting new wisdom or making an important recommendation. In meetings, he would ask Socratic questions rather than take a position.

I Paid For Some Of It At The Office

Writing about a new study of moderate Republicans, Timothy Noah says the tea party is actually a big-spending social welfare movement dedicated expressly to its own social welfare:
[T]he Tea Partiers’ anti-­government ideology is tempered by quiet support for Social Security and Medicare. That’s because the activists themselves tend to be middle-aged or older. Tea Partiers aren’t opposed to government benefits per se, according to [Theda] Skocpol and [Vanessa] Williamson; rather, they’re opposed to “unearned” government benefits, which in practice ends up meaning any benefits extended to African-­Americans, Latinos, immigrants (especially undocumented ones) and the young. A poll of South Dakota Tea Party supporters found that 83 percent opposed any Social Security cuts, 78 percent opposed any cuts to Medicare prescription-drug coverage, and 79 percent opposed cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians and hospitals. “So much for the notion that Tea Partiers are all little Dick Armeys,” Skocpol and Williamson write. The small government Tea Partiers favor is one where I get mine and most others don’t get much at all.

Feast Of Epiphany Light

Light does interesting things in the St. John Chrysostom chapel at St. John's Church.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Newt's Defining Foment

Robert Wright recalls Newt Gingrich's 2010 demagoguery about Muslims and declaration of war on the First Amendment:
Gingrich said they shouldn't be able to build a mosque within a few blocks of the World Trade Center site just as "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington." Surely Gingrich is smart enough to see the problem with this analogy. (Hint: The 9/11 attacks were organized by a terrorist group called al Qaeda, not by a religion called Islam.) But he knows that people who hate Muslims won't fuss over details--and if the Nazi comparison amps up their hatred, so much the better for the politician who champions their cause.

Time For A Hard Liberalism

As Islamist parties coalesce into a parliamentary majority in Egypt, Leon Wieseltier urges democracy's real adherents in the world to pay close attention:
The Islamists do not agree that a codification of rights is a condition of democratic life, and regard it instead as an outcome of democratic life that they wish to avoid. But rights are prior or they are not real. So a hard liberalism is needed now, respectful but suspicious, coldly resolute, undeceived by the bliss of passing solidarity, aware that the party of the open society has too often assisted in its own demise.

Space Clipper... what a majority of Nixon aides polled wanted to call NASA's new adventure instead of "space shuttle," which one said connoted "second class travel."

Bob Felt Strongly

A top FBI official, Mark Felt gave law enforcement secrets to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and helped destroy Richard Nixon's presidency. One authority, Ivan Greenberg, recently called it a coup, asserting that at least three others at the FBI were involved. Did Felt, who died in 2008, want to save his country from White House abuses or to get back at Nixon for passing him over for J. Edgar Hoover's job as FBI director? Historian and journalist Max Holland promises to answer the question in his new book, Leak, due in March. Thanks to Max posting on Facebook, here's an excerpt from the jacket copy:
Holland critiques all the theories of Felt’s motivation that have circulated over the years, including notions that Felt had been genuinely upset by White House law-breaking or had tried to defend and insulate the FBI from the machinations of President Nixon and his Watergate henchmen. And, while acknowledging that Woodward finally disowned the “principled whistleblower” image of Felt in The Secret Man, Holland shows why that famed journalist’s latest explanation still falls short of the truth.

Holland showcases the many twists and turns to Felt’s story that are not widely known, revealing not a selfless official acting out of altruistic patriotism, but rather a career bureaucrat with his own very private agenda.
While Woodward kept the secret for a generation, Nixon and his aides always suspected it was Felt. In 2009 Holland promised to reveal the identity of the person who tipped off the White House. Presumably that nugget will be in Leak.

In an April 2008 post, I plotted the Felt connection between the Nixon and Obama eras:

If everyone knows that William Ayers and his comrades in the Weather Underground were planning to set bombs to murder innocent people, why didn’t they do time?

Because the investigation against them was muffed thanks to the illegal activities of the Washington Post‘s favorite Watergate answer man himself, Mark Felt — aka Deep Throat.

In 1972-73, FBI official Felt and his colleague Edward S. Miller authorized nine illegal break-ins at the homes of Weather Underground members. When the black bag jobs became public, the federal government decided it couldn’t prosecute the alleged terrorists. Indicted during the Carter Administration, Felt and Miller were tried in 1980 in Washington. Ever the patriot, former President Nixon voluntarily testified on the defendants’ behalf, but they were convicted anyway and pardoned by President Reagan in March 1981.

Mr. Nixon’s gesture was especially gracious in view of his suspicions in the early 1970s that Felt had been the Post‘s famous source. When J. Edgar Hoover died, Felt had hoped to be named FBI director, but Mr. Nixon passed him over, whereupon the author of the FBI’s illegal campaign against the Weathermen developed a more finely-tuned sense of righteousness when it came to White House efforts to limit the FBI’s Watergate investigation. Behind the back of his rival and boss, acting director L. Patrick Gray, Felt used the press to undermine Mr. Nixon by dishing confidential information to Bob Woodward. He and the Post kept the secret of his identity and motives until 2005.

Now we know the truth. If it hadn’t been for Mark Felt, President Nixon might have finished his second term, and William Ayers might have gone to jail.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Double-Barrelled Canonade

My best clergy buds have been writing up a storm this Christmas. First it was the Rev. Canon Greg Larkin in the LA Times, keeping Frank McCourt out of baseball. The Rev. Canon Bob Gaestel showed up in the Wall Street Journal keeping Christ in Christmas, even on Sunday. You go, Fathers!

The Dignity Of Certain Human Lives

My Diocese of Los Angeles bud the Rev. Susan Russell on the Santorum surge:
This week I had sad news from two long time friends. One was a clergy colleague who lost his wife of 55 years to a long illness on New Year's Eve. The other was an [Episcopal Church Women] friend who lost her partner of 23 years on Christmas Day.

Both are now coping with their own grief and loss while planning services to celebrate the lives of their beloveds as they claim the resurrection promise that in death life is changed -- not ended -- and the sure and certain promise that God's love never ends.

And one of them is also having to deal with frozen assets in bank accounts while trying to pay funeral expenses; "proving" her next-of-kin status in order to carry out the last wishes of her beloved; facing the financial challenge of no "standing" in terms of Social Security survivor's benefits.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, the Republican presidential poster child for political homophobia Rick Santorum proclaims: "Ask me what motivates me, it's been the dignity of every human life."

Unless it's a gay or lesbian life. In which case, he argues that gay relationships “destabilize” society, wouldn’t offer any legal protections to gay relationships and has pledged to annul all same-sex marriages if elected president.

"Are You Tired Of Me Darling"

Answer only with your eyes. Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, and Iris DeMent. Hat tip to No Depression.

Santorum: Harsher Than Netanyahu

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for this exchange about Israel and the Palestinians between Rick Santorum and an outgunned if well-meaning young interlocutor. Santorum makes a manifest destiny argument: Israel won the West Bank (in a war neither man dates correctly) and gets to keep it. Watch this and you'll be whispering lines to the kid: Unlike the U.S. with Texas and New Mexico, Israel has never sought to annex the West Bank. Or try this: What good is it when someone wanting to be president takes a harsher view than Netanyahu? Or: Saying "There's no Palestinian" is ignorant, cruel, and dangerous. Or even: Hey, Rick, you argue like a teenager in a dormitory.

Far-Right Statist Warmonger?

Andrew Sullivan goes to work on Rick Santorum.

Or Working-Class Hero?

"The Economist" questions whether Rick Santorum's just another not-Mitt:
David Brooks had a widely read op-ed yesterday praising the former senator's concern for the working class: "I do believe that he represents sensibility and a viewpoint that is being suppressed by the political system." Ross Douthat concurs that Mr Santorum has his strengths: "He has deep blue-collar roots, a more substantial legislative record than many of his rivals, and his campaign has been the only one to even try to hit the right-wing communitarian notes that Mike Huckabee struck so effectively four years ago." And as Dave Weigel notes, Rick Santorum spent $1.65 for every vote he received in the caucus; Rick Perry spent $817. That would seem to suggest that Iowa voters were drawn to Mr Santorum's particular message, despite the shoestring budget.

The Road To Amman

Tuesday's Israel-Palestinian talks and the rise of political Islam.

The Scones Of January

By 7:15 a.m. on the 11th day of Christmas at Starbucks in Yorba Linda, there were no fruit cups left, nor any yogurt with honey and granola -- just 5,160 calories worth of scones.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I like Gen. 1's Version Better, Anyway

As Rick Warren, Saddleback's energetic pastor, adds the the cause of America's alarming biblical illiteracy to his portfolio, Paul Wallace wonders if influential Christian leaders are contributing to a rise in scientific illiteracy:
I suspect more moderate leaders like Warren have a lot to do with it. Warren’s own views on evolution, while less hysterically expressed than those of [Albert] Mohler and [Ken] Ham, are not finally distinguishable from them. In a 2007 Newsweek debate with Sam Harris, Warren declared, “Do I believe in evolution[?] The answer is no, I don’t. I believe that God, at a moment, created man... Did God come down and blow in man’s nose? If you believe in God, you don't have a problem accepting miracles. So if God wants to do it that way, it's fine with me.”

In his opinion on evolution, Warren displays his own considerable scientific illiteracy. That in itself is not too big a deal; one man rejecting evolution is not news. But when that man is Rick Warren, a major Christian figure who has, despite his conservative credentials, pushed the evangelical envelope on a number of environmental and social issues, the rejection carries a lot of freight.

Palestinians Dash Hope For Progress At Talks

Lowering expectations is one thing; prohibiting them is another.

Free Ticket To Rome, Double Berth (wink, wink)

The New York Times on the pope's shepherd-stealing.

The Nixon Line Is Not Pauline

Ron Paul's odious newsletters notwithstanding, Andrew Sullivan likes the GOP candidate's George McGovern-like foreign policy isolationism opposition to the U.S.'s tendency toward global hegemony -- and so does Jacob Heilbrunn, writing at "The National Interest," published by the Center Previously Known As Nixon. Pretty ironic, since in today's Iowa caucuses 37 would be supporting the candidate most susceptible to his favorite post-presidential talking point: If the U.S. won't lead in the world, who will? It's a good guess it would be someone proclaiming a world view somewhere between Rick Santorum's reckless militancy and Paul's whole-scale retreatancy. Anyway, Heilbrunn writes:
[T]he dominant foreign-policy wing of the Republican focusing on a new war with Iran--as though any attempt to stop Iran short of bombing constitutes a new Munich. Sen. Rick Santorum, for example, has flatly said he would bomb Iran. Paul, by contrast, says that's nuts. The result is that the Republican debates have, at least when it comes to foreign affairs, actually seen the candidates debating with each other, or, to put it more precisely, with Ron Paul. It's Paul who blows the raspberry at everyone else in the debates. Say what you will about the man, the Iowa caucus would have been a lot more boring if he weren't around to enliven it.

More fundamentally, Paul, in all his crankiness, represents a budding debate inside the GOP that the party pooh-bahs will not be able to defer much longer. The truth is that the GOP has been peddling a schizophrenic approach to the federal government. On the one hand we are told that the growing size of the federal government is a very bad thing; on the other hand we are told that the very part of the government that is growing most quickly—the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, Homeland Security—cannot be touched at all when it comes to budget cutting. Indeed, they are to be pampered and showered with even greater funding.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Big Boys Don't Whine

When in power, Newt Gingrich did whatever was necessary to achieve his ambitions. In 1988 he spearheaded ethics charges against House Speaker Jim Wright, who'd made a questionable book deal, as Gingrich did, twice. After ending Wright's career, he pivoted right, criticizing his own caucus leader, longtime GOP leader Bob Michel, for being too cozy with Democrats, contributing to Michel's decision to retire. That meant Gingrich, not Michel, would be speaker after the GOP took back the House in 1994.

Which is why a Facebook friend mentioned karma in a Gingrich-related post today. In Iowa, Mitt Romney has used all legal means to blunt Gingrich's December surge. His super-PAC has, according to Gingrich, spent $3.5 million on sinister-looking ads about his 747-full of baggage, including, ironically enough, the book deal he made as speaker.

That's not the only irony. When the Supreme Court authorized unlimited super-PAC spending in its January 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC decision, reformers were outraged. President Obama called out justices to their faces at the SOTU. But Gingrich took the opposite view. Patrick Caldwell writes:
Before the recent wave of attacks [by Romney, Gingrich] had expressly favored loosening campaign finance restrictions. "I actually think that the Citizens United case is one of the best examples of a genuine strategy that I've seen in the years that I've been in Washington," Gingrich said in a video celebrating the one-year anniversary of the decision. "It's really one of the most sophisticated, methodical and serious strategies I've seen in my years looking at government. I think Dave [ Bossie, director of Citizens United] believed passionately that the heart of American liberty is the right of every citizen—whether you agree or disagree—to get up and be heard."
That's exactly what those running and funding Romney's super-PAC are doing -- getting up in Gingrich's face and being heard. Everybody knows Romney's people are calling the shots. Everybody knows that the beauty of the anti-Gingrich ads is that Romney's campaign didn't have to pay for them nor be explicitly associated with them. That's the whole idea of super-PACs. It's why reformers didn't like Citizens United and Gingrich did.

Ruthlessly and cunningly, Romney used the system as he found it to tear down an opponent, just as Gingrich did to get power. The former speaker's been complaining all weekend. Big boys don't whine.

Clash Of Civilizations? What Civilization?

Discouraged by the lack of progress for human rights as the optimism of the Arab spring recedes? Let's hear it for the Saudi labor ministry:

Saudi women, tired of having to deal with men when buying undergarments, have boycotted lingerie stores to pressure them to employ women. The government's decision to enforce the law requiring that goes into effect Thursday.

Both Child And Crucified

"The Conversion of St. Paul" by Italian renaissance master Caravaggio is well known to those who have attended St. John's continuing Christian education (and seventh grade New Testament) classes. Here's how it was described by Caravaggio biographer Andrew Graham-Dixon in a Dec. 1 podcast interview with one of the most cogent interviewers in the country, Sam Tanenhaus:
He's just painted St. Paul by his horse, lying on the ground. But the horse makes the scene feel like a manger, so St. Paul at the moment of his conversion is Christ the child, Christ the infant, and yet his pose, with his arms outspread, is that of the Crucifixion. What Caravaggio has brilliantly telescoped into this image is the idea that at the moment of conversion Paul experiences...mystically the entire life of Christ in his mind's eye as he's blinded by the divine light of revelation. He's both Christ the child and Christ the crucified.

From A Cantor To A Gallop

Steve Benen hammers House minority leader Eric Cantor for his and and an aide's bizarre assertion that Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes more than any predecessor, didn't raise taxes:

Why do Cantor, his press secretary, and Republicans everywhere deny what is plainly true? Because reality is terribly inconvenient: the GOP demi-god rejected the right-wing line on always opposing tax increases; he willingly compromised with Democrats on revenue; and the economy soared after Reagan raised taxes, disproving the Republican assumption that tax increases always push the nation towards recessions.

In other words, Reagan’s legacy makes the contemporary Republican Party look ridiculous. No wonder Cantor’s press secretary started yelling: [Leslie] Stahl [who was interviewing Cantor on CBS] was bringing up facts that are never supposed to be repeated out loud.

Reagan was guilty of other acts of apostasy against 21st century hyper-conservatism as well. Cantor looks silly saying otherwise. Could it be this is the first time he ever got the question, at least in a setting where a camera was boring in so tight that you could see the pores under his makeup? If so, good for Stahl.

Here's what he should've said: "President Reagan was the first to stand in the path of the prevailing policy juggernaut of his time and say, quoting Bill Buckley the only time he used a one-syllable word, 'Stop!' Of course he didn't accomplish all he hoped when it comes to diminishing the size and scope of a coercive federal establishment. Of course he sometimes had to compromise. His courage inspires us not to."

Or some such. I don't really want Cantor to sound smarter, because he's been wrong about the budget.

Mitt A Little Bit Of Luck

Ed Kilgore explores why the right couldn't beat Romney.

Biden His Time In Beijing

My former Nixon Center buddy Steve Clemons reports that the VP is taking over the China portfolio.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love Timeline

Elementary school-age social media can sure be mean. Over the last couple of weeks I've had trouble posting Episconixonian items to my Facebook page. This evening I learned I wasn't alone. Lots of Google Blog users were complaining.

Someone posting on Google's user forum sent me here. Shoot, all I've got to do, advises Facebook, is turn my blog into a graphic object, which involves issues such as these:
The Open Graph protocol defines four required properties:
og:title - The title of your object as it should appear within the graph, e.g., "The Rock".
og:type - The type of your object, e.g., "movie". See the complete list of supported types.
og:image - An image URL which should represent your object within the graph. The image must be at least 50px by 50px and have a maximum aspect ratio of 3:1. We support PNG, JPEG and GIF formats. You may include multiple og:image tags to associate multiple images with your page.
og:url - The canonical URL of your object that will be used as its permanent ID in the graph, e.g.,
Aren't the folks at Facebook great the way they make everything so clear? While I wasn't irrevocably opposed to figuring some of that out at some point, I kept nosing around. This citizen of the blogosphere is diligently working the issue, though so far without a breakthrough.

Finally I posted a cri de coeur on Facebook to see if anyone else was struggling. My seminary bud the Rev. Gwynn Freund, vicar of a church in San Diego, helped out. So did my brother the Very Rev. Canon Robert Cornner, who told me he'd been able to post from his Google Blog to his new Timeline page.

I'd been resisting Timeline. I like the simplicity of the old Facebook. But I made the switch, and sure enough, as the presence of this post on Facebook attests, I'm again able to post blog links to the status box without being absolutely certain about the canonical URL of the object that will be used as my permanent ID in the graph.

Did Facebook purposely make it harder to use its service to impel customers to use Timeline? One does wonder. But when the curia rules, what can we do but obey? Besides, as I usually remind those who complain about Facebook, it's still, uh, like, free. Bloggers can't be choosers.

Now: Who's going to be the first to get a sermon out of "canonical URL"?

Next War Watch: Santorum Surges

Molly Ball at the Atlantic plays catchup on Rick Santorum, who's actually been in the GOP primary race since 1997. This stood out for me:
Santorum is an extreme Iran hawk, arguing that tough action, likely military, is needed to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. In effect, he says, the U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979, and regime change will be necessary to ensure the country is no longer a threat. Santorum has been pounding this drum for some time. In 2005, he authored a bill to put $10 million toward Iran regime change.

Iran's Shi'a Pet?

Most of my former colleagues at the Center Previously Known As Nixon were skeptics about President Bush's invasion of Iraq. Now one of its scholars, Dov Zacheim, describes the strategic consequences of replacing Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baathist regime with Nuri al-Maliki, whom Zakheim calls "nothing more than a Shi'a strongman":
Maliki insists that he is not a tool of the Iranians. Strictly speaking, he is correct. Iraq will never allow itself to be completely dominated by Tehran. Nevertheless, just as there can be no denying that Iran was the real victor of Operation Iraqi Freedom because America defanged its only seriously powerful regional rival, so too is it true that Iraq has increasingly come to share Tehran’s perspective on regional affairs. Witness its abstention on the Arab League’s vote to suspend Syria. Iraq is now firmly rooted in what King Abdullah of Jordan years ago termed “the Shi’a crescent,” which includes also Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, which also abstained from the Arab League vote, and Syria.

Palestine? N.I.M.K.

As Jordan prepares to host the first talks between Israel and Palestinians in over a year, Ethan Bronner outlines the kingdom's aims and stakes:

King Abdullah is...eager to send a message to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip, that despite the rise of Islamism in the region, the Palestinian Authority remains, in his view, the leader of the Palestinians. Mr. Abbas has started talks for a unity government with Hamas, but they are proceeding slowly.

The king also has a very specific interest in a moderate Palestinian state being established in the West Bank and Gaza — he has tensions with Islamists in his own country and in addition, he does not want to encourage any thoughts of a Palestinian state being established in Jordan instead, as some on the Israeli right advocate. More than half of the inhabitants of Jordan are Palestinian.

Jordan and Israel share a common interest in focusing Palestinian nationalism on the West Bank and Gaza to prevent its being focused on either of their states. Mr. Netanyahu and his aides say they also worry that any Palestinian state in the West Bank would ultimately be overrun by Islamists.

Hot Air Jordan

What better day for a little hope on the Israel-Palestinian front?

Benedict Definitely Has His Priorities Straight

Padre Jeff left his episcopate
Deep in the heart of Texas
Rome wants 'em straight, not celibate
Deep in the heart of Texas

Higher Powers, In And Out Of The Newsroom

David Carr is media columnist for the New York Times and author of a harrowing drug addiction memoir, Night Of The Gun. On Dec. 28 NPR rebroadcast an October Carr interview by "Fresh Air"'s Terry Gross. Re-listening to a Carr interview is almost as good as a repeat of "Dexter." While his voice, injured by smoking, radiation treatments, and possibly exposure to toxins while he covered the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, is a little rough, he speaks about my parents' beloved business in smooth, graceful cadences. Transcript here, podcast here.

Excerpt one, on the omniscient and indispensable elite editorial intelligence behind daily newspapers:
When I wake up in the morning and the gun goes off, I'm checking Twitter. I'm checking RSS feeds, and I get four newspapers at my house every day. I get the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Star Ledger - because I live in New Jersey - and, of course, the New York Times.

And the reason I do is because the day before this, all this stuff has gone whizzing past me, and I seem to know a lot. But I don't really know what part of it is important. And I used to think it was so silly that newspapers would - like, I'd go to our page one meeting, and they'd be organizing the hierarchy of the six or seven most important stories in Western civilization. Meanwhile, the Web is above them, pivoting and eliding, and all these stories are morphing and changing. And I thought: Well, how silly is this?

But you know what? I came to want that resting place, where someone yelled "stop" and decided, "Look, this is stuff you need to know about going forward." Newspapers have become a kind of magazine experience for me, where they're - where it's a way to look back at what has happened.
And on his faith life and the great mystery of altruism:
I am a churchgoing Catholic, and I do that as a matter of - it's good to stand with my family. It's good that I didn't have to come up with my own creation myth for my children.

It's a wonderful group of people that I go to church with, and it's community. It's not really where I find God. And sort of what the accommodation I've reached is a very jerry-rigged one, which is: All along the way, in recovery, I've been helped - without getting into the names of specific groups - by all of these strangers, you know, who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life.

And one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. And not only is that not a general human impulse, but it's not an impulse of mine. And yet I found myself doing that over and over again.

So, am I underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good?

And so that's - that's sort of as far as I've gotten with a higher power thing, is I'm - you know, I'm kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I mean, I've done a bunch of terrible things, and yet I'm able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me.

You know, I think it's okay to sort of like have a superstitious belief in God and not really have thought it through. I think it's okay to just - I think there's freedom in allowing for the possibility of it. Like, I don't have a presence. I don't have some idea in my mind of a woman or a man figure or anything like that.

But I find the spaces between people, whether I'm making a newspaper with them or in recovery or living with them as family or friends or - I find something really godly in that. I don't have trouble acknowledging that.

What's In A Holy Name?

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER