Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Worst

I often try to think back to Vietnam and ask myself whether today's situation is really worse than Vietnam. It feels a lot worse, but that may just be because it is now and memories fade. Many of the atrocities, both real and mataphorical, that outrage us today, also occurred during Vietnam. Bad or deceptive intelligence, threats against consitutional rights and torture were part of the bill of particulars against Johnson and then Nixon. Of course, in Vietnam, there were 55,000 dead and we're only up to 3,500 now. But still, why does this feel so much worse.

Well, one reason is that it was so predictable, which makes it even more tragic. You would think that the experience of Vietnam would have educated us at least enough to avoid the same mistakes again. Of course, Bush learned nothing from Vietnam, except maybe how to use connections to avoid any inconvenience visited upon himself.

But the real reason this is worse is because the misbehavior during Vietnam was wrong and those doing it knew it was wrong. They truly believed that the constitutional violations, the torture and the skewing of intelligence was necessary for some great good. But they also knew that, if it came out, they'd be screwed.

On the other hand, this crowd is actively trying to institutionalize the misbehavior. They are advancing consitutional theories that justify Presidential authority beyond all precedent. While they have tried to hide their activities, when caught, they seek to justify them under the unitary executive, which is another name for fascism.

That's why it's worse. Past "crimes" were always pretty much understood to be crimes. These crimes are portrayed as patriotic duty. In this way, they are trying to change the country into something different than what it was. As I read recently somewhere, Bush and Cheney gave an oath not to proect the American people or the physical boundaries of the United States. Their oath was to protect the Constitution. An oath they have violated repeatedly and continue to do so.

God Save the United States of America. That's what it will take, I fear, for us to survive the next 18 months.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bye, bye Bill

Bill Richardson is toast. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has an earthy appeal, a regular guy candor that makes him seem like a straight shooter. I know people who've worked for him and one of his closest advisors is a guy I know well and respect.

Then he appeared on Meet the Press. John Dickerson of Slate magazine takes him apart for his performance and he makes a good case. But, for me, it was the question at the end where Russert referenced the fact that he had claimed to be both a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan. And he had the quotes to prove it. Here's the end of a tortured explanation:

GOV. RICHARDSON: I, my favorite team has always been the Red Sox.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re a Red Sox fan.
GOV. RICHARDSON: I’m a Red Sox fan.
MR. RUSSERT: End of subject.
GOV. RICHARDSON: End of subject.
MR. RUSSERT: You better get rid of this book.
GOV. RICHARDSON: Oh, no! I’m also a Yankee fan. I also like...

Forget it! He's dead to me.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rep. Artur Davis

Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) is my new hero. He participated in a debate on the Lehrer News Hour last night with Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA) focused on Monica Goodling's testimony on the DOJ issues before the House Judiciary Committee. Davis was awesome, articulate, knowledeable and reasoned. Lundgren was his typical, toady self. Lundgren dismissed her admission that she used political criteria in hiring attorneys at Justice as some kind of minor infracation that should be forgiven because she admitted it. Can you imagine what Lundgren would be saying if the same set of facts applied to Janet Reno's Justice Department?

But Davis nailed the issue and it's worthing reviewing the entire session. But I found this to be the killer quote:

"Another quick point. If Monica Goodling acknowledged that she used political considerations with respect to the hiring of career AUSAs, then how can we not believe that political considerations were probably used to select the U.S. attorneys? It's a state of mind. And if you've got that state of mind and your administration has that state of mind, I don't think it just fades out."

She said she might have applied politics to hiring at the Department more than 50 times. And we're supposed to believe that politics played no part in the US Attorney firings??

Come on!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Einstein and Religion

Andrew Sullivan posts a great quote from Einstein on the relationship between science and religion that is very insightful and very comforting, in a way. It gives religion the respect I think it deserves when considered in the cosmic magnitude in which it is properly placed. In other words, it characterizes religion as something vastly larger than abject devotion to some old guy with a long, white beard. God is beyond comprehension, but also necessary to understand "what it all means." Why is there anything? The God that is discussed in popular religion is dramatically inadequate to what we ascribe his/her role in existence.

This is my favorite sentence in the longer quote:

[I]t seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of
the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious
spiritualization of our understanding of life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The immigration issue leaves me cold. I just can't get emotional involved. I'm struck by the intense emotional exhibited by both sides, but particularly those most vehement against illegal immigration. I think I've just figured out why they are so intense. I think they view American citizenship as some kind of precious possession and the illegal immigrants are stealing it, which enrages them.

I differ with them in that I look at American citizenship as a lucky break, an accident of birth. So, when someone unlucky enough to be born poor in Mexico comes over the border, I don't take it personally. And I don't consider them evil.

I know there are practical reasons for seeking a way to control immigration. And I recognize the resentment felt by those whose jobs are threatened by illegal immigration (these, of course, are the people desperatey trying to protect the ability of Americans to pick fruit and vegetables, bus tables in restaurants and clean hotel rooms).

But I do think the anti-immigrant forces are in some ways un-American. But I also think George Bush is generally un-American, except, oddly, on this one issue.

Go figure.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Godfather

I concluded my issues management course at the George Washington Graduate School of Political Management with class entitled "Issues Management and the Godfather.

Oh, I wish I had this video for the course. It is priceless.


Hillary Clinton had a great come back on the Today Show today. Matt Lauer was trying to get her denounce Jimmy Carter for his entirely justified critique of George W. Bush. To paraphrase:

"Doesn't President Carter's comments cross a line in criticizing a successor?" Lauer said.

"Well, I've said some pretty critical things myself," says Hillary.

"Yeah, but you're not a former President," Lauer said.

"Not yet," say Hillary with a smile. Laughter could be heard among the crew.

Nice one.

When you're hot, you're hot

Amazing how, when things are going good, the media finds all kinds of ways to validate that premise. A year ago, the Democrats, according to the media, couldn't get out of their own way. Even with the multiple disasters plaguing the Republicans, there was not way the Dems could win the House and the Senate was totally out of reach. Our own incompetence and infighting would preclude our ability to take advantage of the problems facing the Republicans. Of course, we were also told that Republican juggernaut would protect them from electoral disaster.

What a difference an election makes. Case in point is today's front page story in the Washington Post on how the Democrats are way ahead of the Republicans on the Internet.

I guess we now benefit from the media's pack mentality. I'll take it.

Friday, May 18, 2007


One of the amazing things about George W. Bush is how he has revealed as heroes people for whom I've had nothing but contempt over the years. That's the real dividing line in this Administration. People who subordinate their will to King George and prosper (or get the Medal of Freedom) and people who have an independent will and are destroyed (the list is too long to show here, but some examples, Paul O'Neil, Colin Powell, John Dellulio, etc., etc.) Who'd have thought that Ashcroft could be a hero, but you've got to admire the guy for his sickbed repudiation of Gonzalez and Card.

Well, here's another. Ron Paul. It's a testament to the decline of the Republican Party that Guiliani apparently got the boost from his exchange with Paul at the debate. But, the fact is, Paul was right. And click the video below to see him elaborate.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Les Miserables

I saw Les Miserables. I may be one of the last people to see the play. Don't have time for a full review. It's a spectacular work of art. Every word is sung and since I barely got there in time to take my seat, I didn't get a chance to read the plot digest, which would have helped. It's a little complex and confusing at the beginning.

The most powerful moment in the entire performance is when Jean sings "Bring Him Home" to a sleeping soldier. What a killer! I first heard this song at the Memorial Day Concert on the Capitol lawn by the guy to created the role on Broadway. It is a gut wrenching prayer asking God to ensure the safe return of the soldier. You couldn't help but think of soldiers currently in Iraq. While the actor was singing, you could hear sniffling all throughout the theater and many people daubing their eyes.

A great play.
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The Parthenon

A couple of years ago, I visited the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was a thrilling experience to be standing on the Acropolis, the huge elevated rock on which the Parthenon was built. I was struck by how poorly the Greeks preserved their historic artifacts. I think they were trying to improve the site, but much of it was simply piles of rocks. The Parthenon itself was basically a shell. Nothing inside, just rows of columns and some roof-type structures perched precariously on top. But there was nothing inside. Now I know why.

The interior of the Parthenon is in the Britsh Museum. There is a huge room with wall sculputures running down either side. At either end, there are a number of very impressive statues from the historic site.

If I was the Greeks, I'd be pretty pissed. I made this comment to a number of my British colleagues and one said, "Yeah, but if it wasn't for us the whole thing would have been burned down."
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Rosetta Stone

The British Museum is the oldest museum in the world. The sheer number of artifacts is stunning. And they go back as far as you can go in human history, thousands and thousands of years.

The first thing you encounter coming in one door of the museum is the Rosetta Stone. In my ignorance, I didn't know it was a real thing. Here it is. Created in 196 BC, it's got Greek and Egyptian versions of the same text, which allowed researchers to beging to translate hieroglyphics for the first time. Discovered in 1799, it took 20 years to translate it.
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Monday, May 07, 2007

St. Paul's Cathedral

I have had a recurring nightmare all my life that I am ascending a very narrow, steep flight of stairs to some very high place, getting more and more anxious as I go up. By the time I reach the top, I am literally on my stomach, clutching the stairs and the floor at the top landing. The fear of heights is paralyzing. I have not had the dream in a long time, but it remains in my psyche.

Which brings me to St. Paul's Cathedral. An amazing structure, which I believe provded the model for the dome of the U.S. Capitol. One of the coolest features is that you can go up to the dome of the cathedral, which provides the best available view of all of London.

Needing to get that picture I went up and the dream came back to me in force. There are 197 steps to get to the balcony inside the dome that overlooks the sacristy. I could not get near the railing to look down. But you have to walk along the balcony to continue the climb to the outside peak of the dome. I hugged the wall around the balcony.

The stairs to the top get narrower and narrower and at one point, both shoulders are touching walls. So, you get to combine your claustrophobia with your acrophobia. Then, you get to a wrought iron spiral staircase that provides a helpful view downward, way downward. Then, out you come for a stunning view. A few snaps and back down you go. quickly.

I expect that dream will be returning.


I saw Spamalot last night. As a devoted Monty Python fan, I knew I would enjoy it. I only hoped my expectations were not too high. They weren't. It delivered. It provided the appropriate evocations of the source material and built from there. I particularly liked the thowaway line, "It's got lovely plumage," which harkens to my favorite skit, the "Dead Parrot."

What struck me was how effective the show was at providing the best Broadway emotional manipulation, all the while ridiculing the Broadway conventions. The soaring showtunes about how silly showtunes are. I also felt uneasy about the gay and Jew jokes. Can the gays and Jews out there give me post hoc permission to laugh at those? Of course, similarly, I always feel a little uneasy about enjoying the song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," since the original was sung by Jesus hanging on the cross, compete with leg kicks. Still, it was a real high point of the show. And the entire audience sang along.

It was a great show and fun to see it in its natural habitat, here in London.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

St. Martin in the Fields

I attended "Choral Evensong" at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, next door to the hotel. I have found that, when I travel to cities with a high proportion of tourists, I gravitate to churches. It's the one place when authenticity reigns. Such was the case this evening. It was actually a special event in that it was the last service at the Church until at least September, when the renovation is scheduled to be completed. There was a bittersweet feel to the proceedings, but the music was very beautiful. See the following clip for a little taste.

At the clonclusion of the service the choir led the congregation out of the Church for the last time. The choir sang as people exited and gathered in a semi-circle around the door. Then the pastor very deliberately closed the door, locked it and turned and embraced a colleague. All but the embraces is show next.

Global warming

I plan to show this picture to any Europeans who lecture me on global warming.

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Me and Big Ben

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Alison Lapper Pregnant

This is thte statue referenced below. Very striking.
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Saturday, May 05, 2007


OK, Im back, after 6 months away. My last post was in Berlin. Today's post is from London. So, I've straddle the two major WW II capitols. I'm typing this on the banks of the Thames.

I arrived in London this morning and the weather is, well, like London. Cold and overcast. I'm staying at the St. Martins Lane Hotel, a very "new wavey" kind of place, with spare furnishing and wierd videos playing in the elevators. The staff is very accommodating, but I did run across the dimmest clerk I think I've ever seen. When I first arrived, the concierge told me that Trafalgar Square was close by. So, I dropped my luggage and came back down and, since the concierge was not at his desk, I asked the clerk at the reception desk where Trafalgar Square was. She seemed very puzzled, pulled out a map and scanned it very closely for a few minutes, scouring both sides of the Thames River and finally, uncertainly, sent me to the right going out of the hotel and directed me to an intersection and down a main street. I proceded with great suspicion.

At the intersection, there was a sign for Trafalgar Square pointing in the opposite direction, back from whence I came. Turns out that the Square was to the left, within sight of the front door of the hotel. I don't know how this woman finds her way to work in the morning.

The Square was filled with people, but the most striking feature in the statue of Alison Lapper, which presides prominently over everything except the towerring stature of Trafalgar himself. It is a massive shite statue of a pregnant, handicapped woman. I remember seeing a news report about this stature some years ago, but was taken aback when I saw it, given its size and pronience. My picture is posted, but you should click here to learn more about it.

Another amazing discovery is the fact that the hotel is next door to St. Martin in the Fields. It is currently being renovated, so its covered with scaffolding. I've got quite a few classical CDs of music by Neville Mariner at St. Martin in the Fields. I'd always pictured some buccolic setting for this church, not plopped in the middle of London's major intersection with cars, trucks and busses barreling by. Another bubble burst.

There is a fantastic concert being held tonight with Mozart, Back and Vivaldi. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of buying a ticket to the theater before leaving the hotel. Bummer! But they do have choir music on Sunday, so I will catch that.

As for the theater, it won't be so bad. Front row balcony for Spamalot.