Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Crossroads Blues," Cream

Where has this been all my life? Thank you, No Depression. Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton performing the Robert Johnson song during their farewell concert on Nov. 26, 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall. Odd camera work; you won't get a good look at Clapton's fretboard until 3:04. Oh, to be at the crossroads in June! Here's the spot, in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

You Think?

Headline on the New York Times' lead article Saturday morning (Kindle edition): "Failed North Korean Launching a Setback for Kim Jong-in."

Clognitive Dissonance

In a commercial before the safety video on United flight #481 this morning from BWI to LAX, the president and CEO said the airline was spending $500 million to upgrade its planes. I hope he saves some for this busted flush. At one point 15 customers from the sold-out main cabin were waiting in line for the remaining restroom. But so far as I know, no protestors from coach tried to occupy the the facilities of the 1% class cabin.

Right Of Way

Dragon boat vs. duck in Baltimore inner harbor, Friday evening

Friday, April 13, 2012

Smooth Operators

John F. Harris makes the case that we could be in for a contest between cool-rocking pragmatists in era of angry extremism:

Any comparison between Obama and Romney shouldn’t be pushed too far. They are men of different generations, different formative experiences, different cultural tastes, and — no matter their shared instinct for pragmatism — different ideas of what the country needs.

But at the moment they do have a common bond. They both will run this year — and one of them will govern after 2012 — in a political system that demands balancing their own coolness and instinct for compromise against the hot and unyielding temper of the times.

Hat tip to Jim Lusby

The Flag Is Still There

Atop Federal Hill in Baltimore

Bush Needed Bucking Up

Since I buy almost all my text digitally, visiting the Barnes & Noble along Baltimore's inner harbor this evening was a nostalgia trip, like going to a museum. Whoa. A newsstand. Out of sheer guilt I bought a commemorative issue about my favorite band, R.E.M., published by the British music magazine "Uncut," in which I was astonished to read this quote in a May 1988 interview with guitarist and band co-founder Peter Buck:
I recommend anyone reading this who's a psycho and can buy a gun to shoot George Bush. I'm serious. I would consider it myself. I live in a country that I hate! I live in a country where I wanna shoot politicians, where the only way you can make a real dent is not voting, it's murder.
As you might imagine, Buck and vocalist Michael Stipe supported Michael Dukakis that year. A Google search reveals nothing about Buck being questioned by the Secret Service or denounced by talk show hosts. Nor does Dukakis appear to have been forced to return any campaign contributions because of these repugnant comments. Imagine if someone of Buck's stature said this today about the president. Maybe nobody was reading "Uncut."

Good thing I'm learning it after R.E.M.'s breakup. As for the 20 CDs I already own, I don't care what they about it, I'm gonna keep 'em.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Busy Night In Key Biscayne

How 31, 34, 35, and 37 figured out how not to make a mess out of '60.

Apple Loses. Amazon And Consumers Win.

A couple of years ago, we learned that Steve Jobs' Apple had colluded with publishers to undercut Amazon's bid for galactic domination of the e-book market, which it was quickly gaining by charging $10 for bestsellers and most every other title. Apple hoped to get a quick and dirty piece of the action for the iPad and its own bookstore. Instead it got the attention of the Justice Department, which sued Apple and five big publishers for blatant price-fixing.

Rather than celebrating this victory for the consumer, David Streitfeld of the New York Times is worried about Amazon's clout:
[P]ublishers and booksellers argue that any victory for consumers will be short-lived, and that the ultimate effect of the antitrust suit will be to exchange a perceived monopoly for a real one. Amazon, already the dominant force in the industry, will hold all the cards.

“Amazon must be unbelievably happy today,” said Michael Norris, a book publishing analyst with Simba Information. “Had they been puppeteering this whole play, it could not have worked out better for them.”

If Amazon's 60% of all e-book sales can really be called a monopoly, Amazon earned it by brilliantly parlaying its dominance of mail-order books sales into a launching pad for the Kindle. If it was willing to take a loss on a $10 e-book sale (based on what it was paying publishers for resale rights) to encourage readers to buy Kindles, that was literally its own business. But the media appear to be buying the publishers' complaints that they couldn't make money on $10 e-books and that the price undercut the perceived value of text. The oil companies need to find reporters this credulous. We need higher prices to spur our exploration efforts! Only by paying more for gas will people appreciate the preciousness of this scarce resource!

Besides, I agree with Matthew Yglesias, who wonders how you don't make money on a $10 file download. If publishers can't, they need to streamline their business, which began to happen with recorded music after Apple figured out how to sell $10 downloads to people who'd been paying $18 for CDs. Apple used its wits to help the consumer get more affordable music and to spur restructuring of an arteriosclerotic industry. Apple then turned around and tried to stop Amazon from making text more affordable in precisely the same way. This week both companies got what they deserved.

Deep Throat, Shallow Footprint?

Defending his former reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, from charges that they were stenographers for an ambitious secret source, Barry Sussman, editor in charge of the Washington Post's Watergate investigation, says that Max Holland, author of Leak, overstates Mark Felt's importance to the story:
Deep Throat wasn’t an important source at all. He was nice to have around, helpful on occasion, especially in October, 1972, when he confirmed and added to a story in which the Post introduced Donald Segretti as a political saboteur against the Democrats. But that’s about it. Woodward and Bernstein have blown up Felt’s importance for almost four decades or nodded in assent when others did, and instead of pricking this big balloon, Holland pumps more air into it.

Holland states that for decades “the parlor game that would not die” – the search to uncover Deep Throat – had the effect of “elevating Deep Throat’s role as a source and cementing the myth about the Post reporters’ own role in uncovering Watergate.” Except Holland very much accepts the first part of that formulation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Wednesday Sky

5:31 p.m., St. John's Church


Perhaps because we're deeply conscious of our worst tendencies, our fascination with perpetrators can muffle compassion for victims. God staged the perfect death so we'd learn to love life as much as God does. My Good Friday sermon, "All About Jesus," is here.

You might not realize it (St. John's School seventh graders do), but it's the movement of the heavens that brings us modern people to church each Easter Sunday. My sermon for the Sunday of the Resurrection, "Moonstruck," is here.

The St. John's Choir's magnificent "Hallelujah," from Messiah, which sent us out into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit and God's love, is here.

Easter Wednesday Sky

7:27 a.m., Yorba Linda

Exit Marx and Mussolini

It's outrageous that Rep. Allen West (R-FL) said he'd heard that as many as 80 of his Democratic colleagues were communists. The far right doesn't need any more hysterical and nonsensical incitements. Then I Googled "fascists in Congress." Sure enough, on April 5 David Seaman at Business Insider criticized "congressional fascists" for a raft of new national and cyber security measures, just the kind of reckless, ahistorical rhetoric that's bound to get the left all riled up.

How ironic and reassuring that the major party nominees will by election day have amassed roughly comparable four-year records as enlightened, pragmatic chief executives. While each is now in his 'Scuse me while I kiss my base period, in the general election it will become abundantly clear that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have so much in common that stale ideological appeals will lack all credibility. They can't evade their records, and they shouldn't try. We've heard more than enough about Marx and Mussolini, about all these imaginary communists, socialists, and fascists. This political year now belongs to the silent and heretofore overlooked majority as the epic battle for the great American center finally begins.

Why Do Snails Cross The Sidewalk?

I have the same question for earthworms, who with their even less keen sense of direction end up frying by the thousands. It's a rainy morning in Yorba Linda, so this guy has half a chance, although he altered his vector after mistaking a crack in the sidewalk for the promised land. On a hot day he'd end up baking in his shell for sure. Have you ever helped a snail reach his destination?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An American Classic Begins Today

Talk about burying the lead. Here's how Zach Beauchamp put it at The Dish: "So Santorum up and left, taking with him the last vestiges of interest in the GOP primary." The other way to describe today's events is that Mitt Romney has just won a dazzling victory and set the stage for an American classic.

After the tea party-driven GOP surge in the 2010 elections, it was a foregone conclusion that the far right would dominate the 2012 cycle. Yet all its champions left the arena or were defeated by the establishment choice, the so-called Massachusetts moderate: Palin, Huckabee, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and now Santorum. If the GOP has a "fundamental problem" with dominance by the right, as Beauchamp says and so many pundits have been insisting for months, why has the candidate conservatives liked the least been able to wrap up the nomination by early April?

Continuing to devalue Romney's achievement, Beauchamp writes:
The obvious conclusion is that, assuming Romney loses in 2012, the candidate best positioned to win the GOP nod next time around will be someone with Santorum-esque views with an extra dollop of political talent.
But lack of charisma was never the GOP's problem. It had many talented conservative candidates. Romney demolished them all. Assuming that Romney will lose is also premature, not only because it's April 10 but because Real Clear Politics' composite poll shows him running only 5.3% behind Barack Obama, another stunning achievement given how bruising the primaries have been.

But who's congratulating Romney tonight? Not Democrats, who know he's Obama's least desired opponent. Not conservatives, who never wanted a moderate standard bearer nor even, I suspect, a Romney presidency to the extent that he would reposition his party closer to the center by forging new center-right coalitions in the country and especially on Capitol Hill. While moderates who think he's just been pretending to be conservative are happy, we don't know for sure if their optimism is warranted.

So is Romney moderate or conservative? To me he seems relentlessly opportunistic (which helped him beat all those conservatives) and non-ideological, a throwback to the days of the country club Republican. His cool temperament and refusal to be pigeonholed remind me of the other pragmatic Republican in the race: Barack Obama.

In the fall election (which began today), party propagandists will spend millions calling Romney a wealthy, far-right wing nut and Obama a socialist. But little if any of that mud will stick, and not only because Romney can't very well run against Obama's big-government health care bill (which was patterned on Romney's) nor Obama against Romney's coziness with fat cats (which isn't that much cozier than Obama's). Voters are smart enough to know that both candidates are steely, smart pragmatists. Obama and Romney are primed to give us the hardest fought, most substantive, and possibly closest presidential race since 1960 -- and that's worth celebrating.

Loaded For Bunny

Elizabeth Tierney of St. John's Church, photographed on Easter Sunday with an eggceptionally tall secular symbol

Stand In The Place Where You Work

The New York Times says sitting for too long can be deadly, even for people who exercise regularly:
[Researchers] found that the more hours the men and women sat every day, the greater their chance of dying prematurely. Those people who sat more than eight hours a day — which other studies have found is about the amount that a typical American sits — had a 15 percent greater risk of dying during the study’s three-year follow-up period than people who sat for fewer than four hours a day.
That's former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld at his famous standing desk.


The Obamas were at St. John's on Easter Sunday and heard "Hallelujah" from Messiah (although it was the St. John's in Washington). The pool report (prepared by one reporter, in this case Mark Landler of the New York Times, for the White House press corps) is here.

"Everybody Needs Love," Drive-By Truckers

Just like the sun and moon and stars up above. On the June 21, 2011 Letterman show (and he really likes them!). Hat tip to No Depression.

One More Time, With Feeling?

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Herb Kaion speculates that the Palestinians are interested in negotiating again:
[T]he tactic the Palestinians adopted since September 2010 – when PA President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from talks with [Benyamin] Netanyahu and seemingly turned his back on the idea of a negotiated settlement to the conflict in favor of trying to get one imposed on Israel – has not produced results.
The two leaders will meet next week. Kaion reports that the Quartet (the U.S., Russia, the European Union, and the UN) is expected to call tomorrow for another round of direct peace talks.

Meaning And Mechanism

TEC's presiding bishop (and presiding oceanographer) Katharine Jefferts Schori is featured on the Huffington Post talking about science and religion. Science is about mechanism, while faith is about ultimate meaning, she says; using both views at once gives us "better depth perception."

Monday, April 9, 2012

At Least They'd Stopped Saying "Perfidious Jews"

When African-Americans received full sacramental status in the LDS church in 1978, Mitt Romney, who was 30, said he wept with joy. Nevertheless some commentators promise to confront him during the campaign about the Mormons' racist past.

But is there any religion or denomination whose history or awkward doctrines couldn't be held against a candidate-adherent? When it comes to religion and politics, better to adhere to the Nixon covenant -- which is why, since it was in effect during the 1960 election, no reporter probably asked John F. Kennedy about the version of the prayer for conversion of the Jews that was still being used in Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgies:
Let us pray also for the Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray. Let us kneel. Arise. Almighty and eternal God, who dost also not exclude from thy mercy the Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

War Between The Solutions

Robert Wright explores whether the idea of the states of Israel and Palestine living side by side is dead and concludes:
One of the few things I can imagine delivering a shock to Israel's political system sufficient to salvage a two-state solution is the tangible prospect of a one-state solution.

"I'd Get On The Phone To Bibi"

Michael Barbaro examines the friendship between the likely GOP nominee and Israel's prime minister, who worked together as business consultants in Boston in the mid-1970s:
Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu — a level of deference that could raise eyebrows given Mr. Netanyahu’s polarizing reputation, even as it appeals to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who are fiercely protective of Israel.

In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’ “

Martin S. Indyk, a United States ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said that whether intentional or not, Mr. Romney’s statement implied that he would “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”

“That, of course, would be inappropriate,” he added.

More Wars Of Watergate

In the wake of the publication of Max Holland's Leak -- which argues that the Washington Post's legendary secret source, lately identified as Mark Felt, was parceling out FBI secrets in a bid to get the director's job -- Holland dukes it out with Woodward and Bernstein in The Daily Beast:

Woodward and Bernstein are most alarmed by Holland’s claims about the scope of their Watergate reporting. “The most interesting thing he says is that we were just following what the prosecutors had found, and that is factually wrong,” Woodward says, noting that at the 1973 trial of the first seven Watergate defendants, federal prosecutors identified former G-man Gordon Liddy as “the mastermind” of the operation. On the contrary, Woodward says, their Washington Post reporting uncovered a massive, long-running political espionage and sabotage campaign that went far beyond the mere wiretapping of the Democrats and was run directly out of the Nixon White House. “This guy Max Holland doesn’t understand Watergate,” he says.

Holland retorts: “I wasn’t writing about Watergate,” but instead focusing on a single key actor amid a complex moment in history. “Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting deserves every kudo it has ever gotten. But let’s appreciate it for what it was and not pretend it was something it wasn’t … I talked to everybody at the FBI, the prosecutors, the journalists—I talked to everybody who’s still alive. Don’t they have a side of the story? Watergate isn’t the exclusive history of Bob Woodward. He doesn’t own it. There are other points of view.”

The Hardest Work Of All

In late March, Charles Snelling of Allentown, Pennsylvania killed his wife of 61 years, Adrienne, who had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for six years, and then himself. Last fall David Brooks published an essay by Mr. Snelling about his life and devotion to Adrienne:

It never occurred to me for a moment that it would not be my duty and my pleasure to take care of my sweetie. After all, she took care of me in every possible way she could for 55 years. The last six years have been my turn, and certainly I have had the best of the bargain. So I have dug in with the will. Adrienne likes to be with me so, everywhere I go Adrienne goes as well. We have wonderful helpers here in Allentown, at Estrellita, and in Washington. Certainly they have helped me enormously, but real care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s cannot be delegated. I did not need to be told that; I felt it in my bones.

Brooks reflects here. I was an Andover classmate of one of Mr. Snelling's daughters, Marjorie, and had the pleasure of meeting him and Adrienne. I can only imagine the agony in their close-knit family over the tragedy and all the commentary. At church I probably worry most about those such as Mr. Snelling who are providing full-time care for the chronically ill. Few responsibilities are more grueling, lonely, and emotionally and spiritually exhausting, especially, it seems, when the patient is suffering from dementia.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

The Roots Of Homophobia

From ScienceDaily:
Homophobia is more pronounced in individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires, a series of psychology studies demonstrates.

You Can Always Count On The Nixon Guy

Pat Buchanan isn't pulling his punches since being fired by MSNBC. Writing about Max Holland's Leak, he says Mark Felt was a snake and Woodward and Bernstein his stenographers.

The Snow Job Of New Hampshire

From Mike Wallace's New York Times obit:

Running for president, Nixon offered Mr. Wallace a job as his press secretary shortly before the 1968 primaries began. “I thought very, very seriously about it,” Mr. Wallace told The Times. “I regarded him with great respect. He was savvy, smart, hard working.”

But Mr. Wallace turned Nixon down, saying that putting a happy face on bad news was not his cup of tea.

As Nixon's chief of staff in the 1980s, I fielded constant interview requests from journalists and rarely got to say yes. He loved pouring over weekly lists of the "TDs" (turn-downs). I bequeathed to my successor, Kathy O'Connor, a plaque reading "Tact is the ability to tell a man to go to hell and make him feel happy to be on his way."

Wallace called one day and told me to give Nixon a personal message invoking their early-1968 interactions: "Tell him I mentioned the snows of New Hampshire." Though 37 smiled, Wallace didn't get the interview.

Record-Breaking Spouse

My wife, Kathy, just paid the 150,000th visit to The Episconixonian since I started blogging again in August 2010. Thanks to her and her fellow readers!

Second-Class Victims

Maureen Dowd asks the world's most logical question. The shameful answer is that women's rights often take a back seat to other civil rights issues:
I know that the International Olympic Committee is another old-boys’ club and that tyrannies are legitimized in the name of sport. But the I.O.C. does have a charter that bans discrimination, and it did bar South Africa from the Games from 1970 to 1991 because of apartheid. So why not resist the petrodollars and kick out Saudi Arabia for gender apartheid?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The View From Washington

I snapped this photo on Holy Tuesday from a St. John's Middle School classroom as seventh graders and I labored through 1 Peter. I offered it to Andrew Sullivan for his "View From Your Window" feature at "The Dish," which ran it today. A photo from Kathy's and my idyll in Twentynine Palms in March 2009 also made the cut.