Monday, September 30, 2013

Reinventing Richard Nixon 4

On pages 116-117 of Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession, Daniel Frick talks about the book Born on the Fourth of July, a memoir that was written by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic.  The book was later made into a movie, starring Tom Cruise as Kovic.

Kovic grew up watching John Wayne movies and believing that the United States was a moral force in the world, and he went to Vietnam with those convictions.  But his mythical view of the world began to be challenged when he shot one of his fellow soldiers accidentally.  This sort of thing never happened in the movies, he thought, for, in the movies, the good guys killed the bad guys, not other good guys.  Kovic tried to prove to himself that he was a brave marine, and he became paralyzed due to a war wound.  His homecoming did not go according to his expectations, for Kovic felt degraded in VA hospitals, where rats chewed on paralyzed people's limbs.  And no one waves to him or invites him to speak at the Memorial Day ceremonies put on by his hometown.  While Kovic apparently thinks that he has repudiated the hero myth, Frick says, he actually continues to hold on to it, on some level, for Kovic portrays his and other Vietnam veterans' disruption of the 1972 Republican National Convention as a heroic act.

Life does not always (or even usually) play out as it does in the movies.  I think of the movie Pleasantville.  At the end of the movie, the Mom is upset because a date did not go as she expected.  She thought that things were supposed to turn out a certain way.  Her son, wised up from time that he has just spent in a 1950's sitcom, responds to her that things are not supposed to turn out in any particular way.  There's a lot of wisdom to that, but it's cold comfort to those who have been fed a bunch of myths over the course of their lives.

But where would we be without our myths, without ideals that inspire us and motivate us to get out of bed in the morning?  I think that one reason that many people turn to religion is that it gives them some assurance that God has a benevolent plan for them.  I myself do not believe that people should replace their idealism with jaded cynicism.  Maybe there is some realistic medium between the two extremes.

All of that said, it's sad that Vietnam veterans experienced what they did, without getting a whole lot of gratitude when they came home.  I'm not saying that the Vietnam war was necessarily right, but it must have been hard for people to have put themselves on the line as they did, and to experience things that radically transformed their lives, often negatively, only to return home without receiving so much as a "thank you."
I remember an episode of the early 1990's sitcom Major Dad, in which Gerald McRaney played Major John MacGillis.  In this episode, American soldiers are returning from the first Gulf War, and the General wants to give them a warm and celebratory welcome.  The Major at first is reluctant, for he recalls that he did not exactly get a warm welcome when he returned home after the Vietnam War.  The General then encourages the Major to give the returning soldiers the welcome that he should have received after returning home from Vietnam.  Life does not always go according to our ideals or our expectations, for it's a cold world.  But we can act to make this world a little bit better.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Puzzled about Baptism

We had a baptism at church this morning!  And, as has happened more than once when my church has had a baptism (see, for example, my post here), I became confused about baptism!

Here are two items:

1.  The liturgy said: "We praise You that in baptism You give us Your Holy Spirit, who teaches us and leads us into all truth.  Pour out your Spirit upon us and upon this water from the Jordan River, that this font may be your womb of new birth."

So is water baptism necessary for a person to be born again, or to receive the Holy Spirit?  The liturgy seems to suggest that, unless I'm misreading it!

The thing is, my pastor appeared to be saying the opposite in his sermon.  No, he did not say "Water baptism is not what saves you," but he seemed to be sticking with a model of salvation that I have seen so often within evangelicalism: that a person can be saved just by calling on the name of the Lord, even if he or she does not go on to be baptized.  You hear stories about people in their hotel rooms picking up a Gideon's Bible, asking Jesus into their heart, and becoming born again.  I remember being in a campus evangelical group, and the evangelist was telling us that we can be saved simply by sitting in class one day and asking Jesus into our hearts.  And the pastor this morning told us a story about a woman who saw Billy Graham on TV, watched him because she was too lazy to change the channel, and became saved.  She placed her faith in Christ, and her life changed.

The way that it was for me, I said the sinner's prayer (if you will) years before I was actually baptized in water.  I don't think I'm the only person like this, for I know even evangelicals who have not been baptized, or who became baptized long after their born again experience.
But the New Testament seems to me to associate baptism with forgiveness of sins and spiritual rebirth.  I think of Mark 1:4, Acts 2:38 and 22:16, and Romans 6.  My impression is that many New Testament Christians did not radically separate the initial profession of faith from water baptism.  Rather, what we often see in the Book of Acts is that people decide to believe in Jesus, and then almost immediately thereafter they are baptized.  There wasn't a long span of time because the initial profession of faith and water baptism, in short.

2.  Why was Jesus baptized, when he was sinless?  To be honest, I've not yet encountered an answer to this question that entirely sits well with me.  The liturgy says that Jesus was anointed as the Messiah at his baptism, and, yes, there do seem to be places in the New Testament in which baptism was the time of Jesus' anointing for his ministry.  But baptism is also associated with forgiveness of sins.  Actually, it's strongly associated with forgiveness of sins.  Did Jesus' own baptism lack that significance?  Well, I guess it had to, if you want to accept the traditional Christian view that Jesus was sinless, but how could Jesus' baptism mean one thing, while other people's baptism meant something else entirely? 

Reinventing Richard Nixon 3

On page 69 of Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession, Daniel Frick states:

"The 'completely pragmatic' and 'cynical' reactions of the Watergate president do not harmonize with the young man whose Quaker family taught him the difference between right and wrong (RN, 628).  Nor do justifying political espionage and lying to Congress and the public illustrate any of the personality traits enshrined in the orthodox success ethic.  Horatio Alger's heroes never said, 'Everybody does it.'"

The tension between morality and cynical pragmatism that Frick highlights is also present on page 93 of Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon: "Looking back, [Nixon's long, yet occasional, therapist, Dr. Arnold] Hutschnecker suspected Nixon had 'guilt feelings' for having pursued politics in the vindictive style of his father rather than on the 'saintly' path of his mother.  Nixon's fervent wish, the doctor felt, was that someday he would be able to say to Hannah, 'Mother, I have made peace.  Now I am worthy of you.'"

Can one get ahead by taking the moral and ethical high ground?  Or is something that a person once told me true: that an honest man cannot make it in this world?  Granted, it is hard for a person to be moral when so many around him or her are immoral: perhaps they are not all breaking the law, but they are primarily looking out for themselves, and they don't care whom they ruin or stomp on to advance.  I think of the politicians Nixon ran against in 1946 and 1950: they were principled people, but Nixon was able to run roughshod over them because he was willing to go on the attack (sometimes fairly, and sometimes not) and to receive the benefits of support from wealthy special interests, who provided him with money.  (I'm relying here on Roger Morris' narrative, which I deem to be credible.)  Did those politicians accomplish anything, for themselves or for others, by standing by their principles?  Perhaps not, even though they may have felt better about themselves than Nixon did (at least according to Hutschnecker's analysis of what Nixon felt).  But we do need more politicians who are principled and who take on the special interests, otherwise our country will stay in the same wretched condition.  I'll also add that people can get ahead by being good, on some level, for, when a person has a reputation for honesty, that can attract customers and employers, both of whom do not want to be taken advantage of.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reinventing Richard Nixon 2

On page 46 of Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession, Daniel Frick says the following:

"When, in the days before his resignation, Henry Kissinger tried to console Nixon with the thought that history would rank him as a great president, Nixon responded, 'That depends, Henry, on who writes the history' (RN, 1084).  Certain of the assessment his presidency deserved, Nixon determined not to bow to the judgment of the political analysts, journalists, and academicians with the power to create the accounts of his tenure in office.  In typically self-reliant fashion, Nixon resolved to write his story himself."
Here are some thoughts:

1.  Did Nixon's telling of his own story give him a good legacy in the eyes of the public?  I'd say "yes" and "no."  The fact that he kept on writing and speaking did ensure that he got to be known for something other than Watergate, and many respected him for that.  But the stigma of Watergate remained.  As far as his side of the Watergate story goes, I'm doubtful that most Americans are even aware of it.  But his books are out there for anyone who wants to learn about it.

2.  I like this paragraph because it is about a person setting out to define himself, rather than allowing others to define him.  In those days, in my opinion, a person needed some power to do so.  It wasn't like today, when all kinds of people can set up their own blog.  Rather, a person needed to have a degree of fame and influence in order to tell his side of the story, and Nixon had those things.

Psalm 127

For my blog post today about Psalm 127, I will post the Psalm in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will make three comments.

A Song of degrees for Solomon.  Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
 2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
 3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
 4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
 5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

1.  I have a hard time believing that whatever project God does not support will fail, regardless of how much people work on it.  There are ungodly people who succeed, and there are godly people who succeed; there are ungodly people who fail, and there are godly people who fail.  One could perhaps say that we don't necessarily know when God is building a house, and that God may be building the houses of the ungodly, not just the godly!  That could be.  There are biblical passages about God giving power and authority to ungodly people, and God may very well have a purpose in doing so.  But the point of Psalm 127 seems to be to exhort people to trust in the LORD, to realize that they need the LORD for their endeavors to be successful.  If one can succeed without even thinking about the LORD, and if success is rather random (for, though it may entail hard work, luck, time, and circumstance also have a lot to do with it), what's that do to the lesson of Psalm 127?

One could then say that what God supports will survive in the long run, whereas what God does not support will ultimately come to an end.  I suppose that there's a bit of truth to that, from a certain perspective, since virtually every human endeavor comes to an end at some point.  We are limited, we die, and life moves on, with powers rising and falling, and cultures changing.  If you want to bring a Jewish or Christian view of the afterlife into the equation, you can indeed say that what the righteous build will survive, since the righteous will receive eternal rewards.  But I'm not so sure that the author of Psalm 127 has in mind any afterlife.  He seems to focus on what he considers to be truths in this life.  Could, however, the author have believed in some eschatological restoration of Israel, in which the houses that Israel would build----supported by God----would last forever?  I can't rule that out, for scholars have speculated that a number of Psalms are about the restoration of Israel and God's judgment of Israel's enemies, both of which can be eschatological concepts.  But I can't escape my current impression of Psalm 127: that it appears to be positing truths that it deems to be relevant in the here-and-now----that, in the here and now, what and whom God supports thrive and prosper, whereas what and whom God does not support fail and come to an end.

2.  I like v 2, which says that "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep."  It's like God can give prosperity or sustenance to someone, without that person having to over-exert himself in working.  Proverbs, however, promotes a solid work ethic.  I'm the sort of person who would like for success to come to me easily.  But success in a number of cases is the result of hard work----and even hard work does not necessarily guarantee success.  I believe in a combination of hard work and relying on God.  I don't deny that I need God, on some level: if I am ever to write a publishable paper, for example, I'll need an idea about what to write, a flash of insight, if you will.  That doesn't mean that God giving me an idea for a paper topic is the same as God inspiring Scripture.  I can't even dogmatically say that an idea that I get for a paper is from God, and not my own mind.  What I'm saying is that I feel limited, and that certain things (i.e., getting a flash of insight) are outside of my control, which is why I rely on God.

3.  Vv 3-5 are about the benefits of having children.  In those days, having lots of children gave a man workers, people who could support him in his old age, people who could defend him from enemies, and clout.  Even today, children can be a benefit to their parents, for children can take care of a parent when the parent gets old, and they can also provide companionship in a lonely world.

I did not care, however, for an article that I read on Jim Daly's Focus on the Family blog, entitled "Is Intentional Childlessness Biblical?"  Daly's answer was essentially "no."  I suppose that one can make the case that God wants for people to have children, for God in Genesis 1:28 tells the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply, and Psalm 127 depicts having children as a blessing from God.  But, as some commenters noted, one can also find in the Bible another perspective: Paul was single and even expressed preference for the single lifestyle, even as he acknowledged that singleness was not for everyone (I Corinthians 7).  Similarly, I would say that having children is not for everyone.  Not everyone has what it takes to raise children.

Incidentally, my favorite comment under Daly's post said the following: "This article has reminded me why I am beginning to love the Jesus presented in the Bible, but not very interested in participating in church or conservative Christian culture."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mary, Martha, and the Bible

My church had some interesting discussions last night at our Bible study.  We're still going through our study on the Gospel of Luke.  I'll use as my starting-point a question on page 35 of the curriculum that we are using, Luke: Gospel of Reassurance With Michael Card

"Read Luke 10:38-42, another passage from Luke that Michael views as dispelling the idea that the Bible is 'anti-woman.'"

Luke 10:38-42 is the story of Mary and Martha.  Martha is working in the kitchen, upset that her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet, learning from Jesus, instead of helping her out.  But Jesus commends Mary.  Michael Card was saying that Mary's sitting at Jesus' feet and learning was revolutionary in those days.  After all, Michael Card notes, rabbis didn't even speak to their own wives in public, and they were against women learning Torah.

I didn't care for Michael Card's point that the story of Mary and Martha dispels the idea that the Bible is anti-woman.  I wouldn't say that the Bible is anti-woman, per se, but I would say that it has passages that are sexist and patriarchal, as well as passages that are liberating and progressive.  "The Bible" does not say the same thing all the way through, for it is a collection of documents with different ideologies and writers.  Even a conservative Christian in the group remarked that the Bible has its ups and downs when it comes to its views on women, since there are times when women are portrayed as strong or as leaders: Deborah and Esther are examples.  I'm not sure if he was dismissing biblical inerrancy, though.  I may not have made clear to the group that there are patriarchal passages in laws that are attributed to God, and so perhaps he thought that I was merely describing features of ancient Israelite culture, which did not necessarily come from God.  Someone else in the group, however, said that men wrote the Bible, and they were reflecting the sexist and patriarchal notions of their day. 

I was thinking some about Michael Card's statement that rabbis wouldn't speak to their wives in public.  I do recall rabbinic passages like that.  At the same time, I'm hesitant to say that rabbis didn't speak with women at all in public, for I have read rabbinic tales about matrons asking rabbis a question.  Moreover, while Michael Card is correct that there was a rabbinic aversion to women learning Torah, that wasn't the entire story.  See my post here.

We talked in the group about whom we identified with more, Mary or Martha.  A lady in the group said that somebody needed to cook to feed all those people, so she could understand Martha's concern.  A man in the group, whom I usually call "Bob" on this blog, said that he identified with Mary, since he was a man.  Bob said that women back then were expected to do the cooking and cleaning, whereas men could pursue other things, such as learning.  Society allowed men the luxury to be Marys, in short.  Bob lamented that it's still like that, regardless of how far society has advanced.  Bob asked why a man couldn't have helped Martha out. 

Reinventing Richard Nixon 1

I started Daniel Frick's Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession.

My latest reading was about how Richard Nixon's story about himself reflected rags-to-riches stories in American culture.  There was Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, in which Benjamin Franklin goes to a city and is all alone, with only a few loaves of bread to eat, and yet Franklin manages to make a success of himself.  There were Horatio Alger novels, which portrayed street urchins who rose to a position of middle-class respectability.  And there were Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, which essentially communicated that people could attain success by having the right attitude and by practicing certain strategies.

Nixon depicted himself as one who got ahead through hard work.  There was a rugged individualistic tone to Six Crises; for example, Nixon portrayed himself as the main protagonist in the Alger Hiss case, as he chose not to reveal that Father Cronin fed him information about Alger Hiss before Hiss even appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).  (Cronin would deny in 1990 that this was the case, after years of saying otherwise, but Frick notes that Cronin even in that particular interview says that he helped Nixon out.  I should also note that Anthony Summers, on page 490 of The Arrogance of Power, asks how Cronin was even able to retract his long-standing claim in 1990, for Cronin in January 1991 "was in a home for the aged, deaf, and...unable to hold a cogent conversation.")  Even later, Nixon would portray himself as a lone sage.  A 1972 campaign poster showed an apparently solitary Nixon staring outside of a White House window; the thing is, that picture originally had Henry Kissinger standing close to Nixon and speaking to him, but Kissinger got cropped out of that picture in the campaign poster.

Frick acknowledges that there was more nuance in the rags-to-riches motif from which Nixon may have been drawing.  Benjamin Franklin and a protagonist in one of the Horatio Alger novels, for instance, needed outside support, for some prominent people helped Franklin out of debt, and the Horatio Alger protagonist advanced after he saved a prominent man's son from drowning.  They didn't get ahead all by themselves.  I would add that Dale Carnegie's book presumes that people need others, which is why one might want to win friends and influence people.  (Carnegie himself, however, says that he's presenting a way of life of giving to people, not merely a strategy to get ahead.)  Frick likens the Nixon narrative to Westerns, in which a lone hero comes forward and saves the day.

The narrative that Nixon rose through hard work came into play at Nixon's funeral, as Bob Dole said that Nixon got ahead by working longer and harder than anyone else.  According to Frick, Dole was depicting America as a land of opportunity, in which anyone could get ahead, and he was tying Nixon with Americanism.  But Frick says that some might have deemed even Dole's comments to be divisive.  Nixon arguably started his political career by portraying his opponent as insufficiently patriotic.  Was Dole doing something similar, by implying that being a patriotic American coincided with appreciating Richard Nixon as one who epitomized American values?  Frick notes later in the book that Richard Nixon's Six Crises came out at around the same time as Michael Harrington's book on poverty, entitled The Other America, and also Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.  Is Frick implying that there was a growing acknowledgment that things were not as rosy in America as Nixon was indicating in Six Crises: that America was not a place where everyone could get ahead through hard work?  (That's not to suggest that Harrington and Friedan were responding to Six Crises.)

On the topic of getting ahead through hard work, I see some value in that narrative.  I agree with the Puritan Frick quotes who asked how one could go to sleep at night without having done a hard days work.  I'm all for working hard and persevering because that increases the chance of me arriving at success.  What I don't like is people appealing to that narrative to imply that everyone who is poor is somehow at fault, for there are plenty of people who are poor yet work long and hard.  I one time read a conservative friend of mine appeal to his father's folksy wisdom about being a hard-working employee in arguing that the minimum wage should not be increased.  I agree with that friend's father that an employee should show his or her worth to an employer by working hard.  But that should have nothing to do with the debate over whether or not to raise the minimum wage.  When an economy does not pay people enough to support themselves or their families, then that is problematic, and no amount of folksy wisdom will change that.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 33

I finished Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.  On page 1052, Black says the following about Henry Kissinger's eulogy to Richard Nixon at Nixon's 1994 funeral:

"At this critical moment, all rivalry between the two men finally vanished, and Kissinger's own best instincts came naturally to his eulogist's task.  His voice broke slightly at one point, when he referred to hearing 'the final news, by then so expected but so hard to accept, [when] I felt a deep loss and a profound void.'  (He told the author that he felt that 'part of me died with him.')"

That's one narrative about Richard Nixon's funeral: that it was an incident at which Americans were brought together.  Similarly, Daniel Frick states on page 4 of his book, Reinventing Richard Nixon:

"Had the Nixon funeral contained only...preaching to the converted, the ceremony could only have been expected to exacerbate old divisions.  Whatever evocative power the funeral service might have had must have come from its enactment of a ritual of political forgiveness between longtime warring camps.  Nixon himself could not have selected a more perfect candidate to fulfill this task than Democratic president Bill Clinton.  First of all, as a Vietnam-era college student who had avoided the draft and protested the war, he effectively symbolized the irresponsibility and lack of patriotism that Nixon had claimed epitomized too many in the baby boom generation.  And, second, Watergate had been pivotal in opening Clinton's political career...So, when in his eulogy, President Clinton affirmed that Nixon had made mistakes and that these were part of his record, no one could miss the unspoken reference to Watergate.  Only someone well-schooled in the catechism of anti-Nixonism could credibly offer the absolution that followed: 'Today is a day for his family, his friends and his nation to remember President Nixon's life in totality.  To them, let us say: may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close...'  As an attempt to face the past and move on, this moment was the political high point of the ceremony: offering to Nixon's memory a pardon more genuine and complete than the merely legal one that Ford had granted."

Frick goes on to say that divisions still remained, even during and after Nixon's funeral.  But the narrative that Nixon's funeral was a place that healed divisions stood out to me on account of the opposite picture that I was reading in Anthony Summers' anti-Nixon biography, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon.  After Richard Nixon's death, Alger Hiss, the ex-State Department official whom Nixon during the late 1940's said was a Communist spy, said: "I am not going to gloat...There are a lot of things in that man's life that were left unatoned for..."  Summers probably agrees with Hiss' assessment, since his book is about the negative things that Nixon allegedly did throughout his political career.

Summers also notes who did not attend Nixon's funeral.  Some of them (i.e., Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt) did not particularly surprise me.  But some of what Summers said on page xiv did stand out to me:

"Tens of thousands more Vietnamese died in the short time that remained until South Vietnam collapsed, less than a year after Nixon's resignation.  The ousted former president of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, was not at the funeral.

"New research strengthens the suspicion that in 1968, on the eve of the election that brought him to the White House, Nixon manipulated the Vietnam War for selfish political ends.  Did he, fearful that impending peace negotiations would swing vital votes to his Democratic opponent, covertly urge Thieu to boycott the talks?  The prominent Republican Anna Chennault, who met secretly with Nixon and acted as a go-between with the South Vietnamese, claims he did.  She eventually came to despise Nixon and stayed away from the funeral."

I didn't know that Chennault came to despise Nixon, after allegedly serving him during the 1968 Presidential election.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Negative and Positive about Religion

I had negative and positive feelings about religion while I was watching ABC News last night. 

One story that ABC News was reporting was actress Leah Remini's claim that the Church of Scientology is rooting for her to lose on Dancing with the Stars.  She has left the church , and she says that the Church of Scientology often forecasts disaster for those who leave.  The Church of Scientology responded that Remini is self-absorbed, and that it couldn't care less how she did on Dancing with the Stars

I don't know a whole lot about the Church of Scientology, but Remini's point-of-view sounds believable.  I know of religious movements and environments that are similar to what she is saying the Church of Scientology is like.  They claim that leaving them or their belief system will lead to God's disfavor, or disaster on the life of the person who leaves.  And, when a person challenges them, they immediately seek some moral flaw in that person.  In my opinion, this sort of thing exists especially within conservative Christianity.  The story about Leah Remini made me feel quite negative about religion.

But then ABC News had another story.  It was about a minister named Becca Stevens who has a ministry that provides prostitutes with a way to get off of the streets and on to a better life.  She provides them with a place to live, and they work at her company, which makes soaps, oils, and lipbalms.  This company, according to ABC News, made almost a million dollars in sales this year.  See here to watch the story, and here to visit the web site of the company, Thistle Farms.

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 32

On page 1011 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black states: "The real problem had been the endless smearing of the president, the war of a thousand cuts over taxes, Cambodia, CREEP financing, dirty tricks, home improvements, aides making belligerent noises and then plea bargaining and having religious conversions (Magruder became a Presbyterian minister)."

I did not know that Watergate conspirator Jeb Magruder became a Presbyterian minister.  I was familiar with Chuck Colson's conversion, but not that of Magruder.  But, according to this article, Magruder in 1981 got an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and he wrote a book in the late 1970's entitled From From Power to Peace, which is about his re-commitment to the Christian faith after the Watergate scandal.  Senator Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican and a devout evangelical Christian, wrote the foreword to the book.  Why did Magruder become religious after the scandal?  Was it because the moral absolutism of Christianity especially resonated with him after a path of moral ambiguity in the world of politics had led him to disaster?  (I don't know for sure if Magruder himself conceptualized his involvement in Watergate that way, since I have not read his books.)  Was he looking for the peace that Christianity offered in the midst of his troubling times?

I thought about something that I read about Michael Deaver in Lou Cannon's excellent book, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.  Deaver was a high-ranking official on President Ronald Reagan's White House staff.  Deaver himself had a sort of rebirth, if you will.  On pages 517-518, Cannon states:

"Deaver's behavior, within the White House and with the media, gave him a reputation for arrogance that undoubtedly contributed to his fall.  Many in the White House complained about Dever's high-handedness, and some of these complainers apparently became sources for the unfavorable stories about Deaver after he left the White House.  These stories and Deaver's greed and determination to build a big-time lobbying business while Reagan was still in office led to a congressional inquiry into his lobbying activities, the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate charges of influence peddling, and Deaver's eventual conviction on perjury charges.  In my own dealings with Deaver near the end of his White House service I sometimes found him furtive and troubled, and wondered if he was ill.  But I had no clue as to the toll being taken by the first lady's obsession with astrology and Deaver's alcoholism.  Like others who had known him as a calmer, happier Mike Deaver in Sacramento, I ascribed his behavior to the poison of White House power and thought his position had gone to his head.  Three years after Bitburg, Deaver told me that the difficulty of the deception in which he was engaged had imposed an inner strain that 'I probably don't even know about yet.'  Since then, with much help from his faith, his wife, and Alcoholics Anonymous, Deaver has courageously struggled to repair his damaged life."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gabriel Vahanian's The Death of God

I've decided to get back into reading about religious studies and theology.  It's not that I ever stopped doing that, per se, but I've been reading materials for my dissertation.  I'd like to expand my knowledge about religious studies and theology because I may sometime be teaching them some day.  Plus, as I travel through the religious studies blogosphere, I realize that there are so many books that I have not read.

I was in a library recently, looking for books to check out.  I came across a book published in 1961, Gabriel Vahanian's The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era.  The book looked interesting to me for a variety of reasons.  First, it was about how many in that time were considering Christianity to be inadequate, and that is a topic of interest to me: the search for an adequate belief system.  Moreover, Vahanian, rather than completely discarding the Bible, seemed to make use of its categories to describe people's predicament.  Second, the book got into the thoughts of various theologians, and I figured that I could beef up my knowledge on that.

The book ended up being way over my head, to tell you the truth.  It's not that Vahanian used difficult words that I had to look up in the dictionary.  Rather, he was putting together fairly simple words into sentences that I did not understand, and I had a hard time following his train of thought.  I can easily find myself despairing as a result of this, telling myself that I'm just not smart or sophisticated enough for academia!  But I try to resist those kinds of thoughts.  Ayn Rand said that even those who are simple can practice reasoning, on some level, and so I will attempt to learn and to read.  We all have to start somewhere.  We were all at one time in a position where we did not know something and had to learn it----we're all still in that position, for that matter, for none of us knows everything.  And there are plenty of good books that I can read that are easier for me to understand.

I felt as if I was reading a book in a different language and had to draw from here and there to understand what Vahanian was saying.  Vahanian's main point seems to be that many in his time deemed the Christian God to be irrelevant to their situation.  Vahanian says that one problem is that the Christian God is too transcendent, when many are focused on the here and now; for some reason, however, Vahanian does not seem to be particularly keen on going to the opposite extreme and saying that God is very imminent.  Vahanian says on page 231 that "The dilemma of radical immanentism is that it offers no resolution to man's predicament because, although it attempts to define man in terms of his relatedness to others, it can only project man as a god or a wolf to his fellow man."  Huh?  You can hopefully see what I mean when I say that I understand the words that Vahanian uses, but not the sentence or the thought that Vahanian is trying to convey.

In critiquing the social Gospel, Vahanian appears to be arguing that people wonder what role Christianity will play, when all the social problems are solved.  I can't envision all of humanity's problems being solved, to be honest, and I seriously doubt that Vahanian himself envisions that.  But even if people have arrived at a level of comfort and do not feel that they need God to be fulfilled, they may still have spiritual needs.  The thing is, Vahanian appears to acknowledge that people have spiritual needs.  He just doesn't believe that Christianity is adequately meeting them, for some reason. 

In reading about why people become atheists, I come across a variety of reasons: encountering historical-criticism of the Bible shakes people's faith in biblical inerrancy; science continues to shrink what is seen as God's role in the cosmos; people throughout the world have different religions and cultures, making one wonder what makes one religion correct; the problem of evil and suffering calling into question the existence of a just and loving God.  Vahanian gets into some of these issues----these topics that influence some to question that theism is factually accurate.  But these issues do not loom as large in Vahanian's book as one might expect.  Rather, Vahanian's point seems to be that Christianity (or theism) is not resonating with people.
One can legitimately ask: Does this matter?  Just because a belief-system does not resonate with people, does that mean it's not true?  A fundamentalist could say that God still judges sinners, even if people don't believe in God, or even if the truth that they are sinners does not resonate with them.

The thing is, God is also love, and many might think that a loving God would try to meet people where they are.  Within the Bible, arguably, God is reaching out to people within their own cultures, using categories that they understand.  In light of this, would God respond to people's failure to see the relevance of theism with, "Well, who cares?  It's the truth anyway, regardless of what you might think?"

I'll be moving on to an easier book: Scientists Confront Creationism.  If you're interested, here is the wikipedia article about Vahanian, and here is the wikipedia article on the death of God, which discusses Vahanian's contribution to the discussion.

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 31

On page 977 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black characterizes Nixon's typical political strategy as follows: "Nixon's courage...depended on him being alone, on feeling entirely deserted, on going to ground and then surprising the adversary with a dramatic speech or initiative that brought instant redemption: Checkers, the silent majority, Cambodia, the economy in 1971."  But Black argues that this would not have worked so well with Watergate, for the attacks just kept coming, plus "There had been too much petty lawbreaking, sloppy legal bungling, shabby compromise and evasion, and too little loyalty in the inner circle" for Nixon to wage a long battle.

I have three points.

1.  Nixon's typical strategy is not surprising, in light of Nixon's introversion.  Nixon did not accomplish a great deal through cooperation with the Congress, for a number of Democrats in the Congress were against him, and Barry Goldwater himself implied that Nixon had failed to develop relationships with people on the Hill.  But Nixon's strategy was to bypass that when he could by appealing to the American people.  That didn't require a great deal of back-slapping or formation of relationships, for Nixon would simply give a speech to a bunch of people whom he did not know.  If I were in public life, my strategy would probably be the same as Nixon's.  Or at least Nixon's strategy makes sense to me, since I am an introvert who has difficulty forming and keeping relationships.

I can't make a blanket statement about Nixon's strategy, however, for relationships did help Nixon to advance politically.  Thomas Dewey was instrumental in getting Nixon to be appointed as Dwight Eisenhower's running-mate in 1952.  Nixon got a lot of IOUs when he campaigned for Republican officials throughout the nation.  And yet, even here, Nixon's strategy was to dazzle people with speeches, which is quite different from developing relationships with people.  Still, I'd say that relationships, on some level, played some role in Nixon's political advancement.  Nixon at least had enough social competence not to alienate his benefactors!

2.  A while back, I watched Nixon's 1952 Checkers Speech on YouTube, then I watched part of his 1974 resignation speech as President.  It was depressing to watch the latter after the former, let me say that!  In the Checkers speech, Nixon was young, energetic, fresh, convinced of his innocence, and fighting.  In the resignation speech, he had bags under his eyes, and he appeared depressed and defeated.  In the former, Nixon saved his political career, so there was a happy ending for him.  In the latter, Nixon's career as an elected official was coming to a dismal end.

3.  The passage from Black with which I opened this post depicts Nixon as one who fought alone, as if Nixon was an underdog.  That particular image of Nixon has long resonated with me.  But how about Nixon as a well-connected bully?  That repulses me!

On pages 210-211 of Nixon's Darkest Secrets, Don Fulsom talks about Nixon's alleged physically violent acts against people.  He quotes Jim McManus, a White House reporter who said that Nixon slammed his shoulder against him.  McManus said, "One doubts that [Nixon] ever picked on anyone whose relative status----or gender----guaranteed a counter-attack."  And Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie talked about Nixon slapping Zita Remley, a Democrat who alleged that people in 1946 called Democrats and said that Nixon's opponent in the congressional election, Jerry Voorhis, was a Communist.  Brodie states: "There were no cameras or newsmen to catch the happening, and Mrs. Remley, fearful of losing her job, told only a few friends."

If this is true, then it is horrible.  Nixon could arguably have caused Remley to lose her job, had he wished, since, as much of a loner as he was, he still was politically powerful and well-connected, and thus had the pull to get her fired.  To attack someone who cannot attack back is bullying.  Incidentally, the same can be said about other abuses of power, such as sexual harassment (not that Nixon engaged in that).

Monday, September 23, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 30

On page 957 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black states:

"Nixon's plucky and generally very popular daughter, Julie Eisenhower, had gone out speaking in support of her father.  She invariably made a very good impression, and even Norman Mailer acknowledged that his demonized view of Nixon did not allow for loyal and attractive daughters."

As I read this, I thought about Don Fulsom's claim in Nixon's Darkest Secrets that Richard Nixon was physically and verbally abusive to his wife, Pat.  On what does Fulsom base this claim?  On page 69, Fulsom quotes a statement by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that "There was a serious empirical basis for believing [Nixon] was a wife-beater, and had done so----at least hospitalized her a number of times...I'm talking about trauma, and three distinct cases."  What specifically led Hersh to this conclusion, we are not told, but Fulsom is quoting from this article in which Hersh explains why he chose not to write a story about this topic.  On page 71, Fulsom refers to Time magazine reporter Frank McCullough, who came to Nixon's home in 1950 to interview him and heard Nixon call his wife a "dumb f***ing b***h".  McCullough promised Nixon that he would not report this in the magazine, but McCullough did tell Fulsom about it in a 2010 telephone conversation.  And, on page 212, Fulsom appeals to anonymous sources: "In the mid-'60s, clued-in Capitol Hill reporters, including yours truly, heard from completely reliable sources that Nixon had also beat Pat when he was a member of Congress."

Whether or not you consider that to be solid evidence is up to you.  I know that Anthony Summers, in The Arrogance of Power, also argues that Nixon was physically abusive towards his wife, and it will be interesting to see how he supports this claim.  But suppose that Nixon indeed did physically and verbally abuse his wife.  How could his daughters have been so loyal to him?  If Nixon abused his wife, did that take place away from the children?  Was his daughters' loyalty to and love for their father merely an act?  Did Julie write that glowing book about her father and mother just to make money?  I'm very reluctant to question the loyalty and love that Nixon's daughters had for their father.  I don't know them, but their loyalty comes across to me, a simple observer, as authentic.

People nowadays can listen to some of the Nixon tapes online, and I've heard a few of them on YouTube.  I've read some people who comment that Nixon was loving towards his wife, Pat, and they base that on what they heard of Nixon's interactions with her on the White House tapes.  They are entitled to their impressions, but allow me to offer mine, as unreliable as they might be.  Whenever I listen to Nixon's conversations with Tricia, Julie, or Pat, the ladies come across to me as rather nervous, like they don't want to rock the boat.  I could be completely wrong about this, but I know that I tend to talk fast when I am nervous in social situations, as if that will somehow mitigate my nerves.  Tricia, Julie, and Pat, at least on the tapes, seem to me to talk rather fast.  You can judge for yourself by going to YouTube and typing in their names.  Does that mean, however, that they were intimidated by Nixon because he was an abuser?  Not necessarily.  All kinds of people can be intimidated by their father or husband, even if the father or husband is not abusive.  And maybe they weren't even nervous, for there are women who can talk fast without being nervous.  I'm just offering my impressions as a listener, and I may be off-base.  After all, people with Asperger's (like myself) are supposedly inept at reading people!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Man Who Just Keeps Praising the Lord!

At church this morning, the pastor was talking about a handicapped man who keeps on praising the Lord.  When a ramp was set up at his house, this man was just praising the Lord!

Why am I reluctant to be that way?  Is it because I consider it to be shallow, or unrealistic?  Is it because I like a story in which a person descends before ascending, rather than a story about someone who is always on cloud 9?

The thing is, it's not as if my griping, ungrateful, self-entitled attitude is all that admirable.  It's not.  Far from it!  I don't want to be the way that I am now.  But I'm not sure if I want to be the sort of person who is always happy and praising the Lord.

I can't judge, though.  How do I know that the man my pastor mentioned lacks his share of struggles?  Maybe his attitude of continual praise is his way of coping. 

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 29

On page 912 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black calls Nixon "This most suspicious, morose, generally joyless of men..."  I thought about this characterization as I was reading Don Fulsom's anti-Nixon book, Nixon's Darkest Secrets.  Fulsom talks about the times that Richard Nixon was drunk.  Nixon liked to have drinks with his friend, Bebe Rebozo.  According to Fulsom, there were times when a drunk Nixon would awkwardly hit on women.  Fulsom refers to Nixon ex-aide John Ehrlichman's story in Witness to Power about Nixon hitting on an attractive blonde secretary, whom an editor said was reportedly Shelley Scarney, the future Mrs. Pat Buchanan.  (UPDATE: According to Anthony Summers, Shelley Buchanan said that she did not recall this incident.) On page 199, Fulsom quotes investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who said that Nixon at a Miami restaurant stopped a nice-looking woman and offered her a White House job.  While I have read elsewhere that Nixon was rather Spartan as a Duke Law School student, Fulsom contends that Nixon even in his younger years had a problem with alcohol.  Fulsom refers to a schoolmate of Nixon's at Whittier College, Philip Blew, who told about a time when Nixon got drunk.  Blew said: "The affair turned into a spree...and we, in effect, had to pour Dick into bed."

I can understand why a "suspicious, morose, generally joyless" person would drink.  (And this is not to suggest that Black would agree with Fulsom's contention that Nixon had a problem with alcohol.)  Life can get pretty drab.  Many would like the sort of life that they see on TV, where romance is often easy, and adventure is commonplace, and they look to alcohol to give them the fun that they want.  Moreover, being unhappy due to resentments can influence people to seek some solace in alcohol, as can being afraid on account of the ups and downs of life.  Alcohol can also give people confidence that they ordinarily may not have.  I remember hearing one recovering alcoholic talk about his observations while people-watching at a local restaurant: guys come in with two left feet, they have a few drinks, and suddenly they're Fred Astaire!  But the recovering alcoholic then went on to ask: Why can't they be Fred Astaire without alcohol?

I can still identify with much of what I said above, and I've not had a drink for six years.  (Yesterday marks the sixth year anniversary of when I quit drinking.)  But I can also see the other side: that sobriety can lead to a quality of life that alcoholism can inhibit.  People who used to spend their time holed up in their rooms drinking become sober and go on to do enjoyable things, such as studying a field of interest, or traveling.  People who used to feel lonely find fellowship in a twelve-step group.  People who used to deal with their resentments and fears by drinking now deal with these things by talking them out with a sponsor, and also by relying on a higher power.  People who could not hold on to a relationship or a job now do both.
The thing is, could such a dream have been realized for somebody like Nixon?  Can it be realized for me, for that matter?  Nixon did enjoyable things: he traveled, he read.  But my impression from reading all of these books about him is that he did not like to share a lot with others.  That being the case, did he really have much of a way to deal with his resentments and his fears?  Speaking for myself, I am often afraid to share my problems because I fear being criticized.  That has happened in the past!  I doubt that I will take a drink anytime soon, since life for me is much more predictable and manageable when I do not drink.  But I wish that I had more joy inside of me.

I'd like to think that Nixon in his later years found more joy.  As I read Monica Crowley's books about her time working for Nixon during the 1990's, I noticed that Nixon even then had his pettiness and resentment, and yet he also seemed to have more fun.  He enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren.  His relationship with his wife, Pat, looked a whole lot better.  He liked opening up his lawn to people on Halloween and joking around with the celebrants.  Did Nixon find some way to feel happy, without relying so much on alcohol?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 28

On page 902 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black states:

"Nixon would have done better with a more credible and substantial spokesman than [Press Secretary Ron] Ziegler, but as [White House Chief of Staff Alexander] Haig pointed out, there were not a great many qualified people eager to be Nixon's press secretary at this time.  (Pat Buchanan might have been more effective, but most press encounters would have become boisterous shouting matches.)"

Now that's something that I would have liked to have seen!  Pat Buchanan as Nixon's Press Secretary, engaging in confrontational back-and-forth with reporters!

I'm reminded of something that I read in Pat Buchanan's 1990 autobiography, Right from the Beginning.  As a twenty-six year old writer, Buchanan would participate in public debates about the Vietnam War.  Buchanan narrates on page 314 that he wasn't that good at delivering speeches in those days, but that he saw that he had a knack at the question and answer part of the debate.  Buchanan would give quick comebacks to questions.  For example, when someone from the audience said to him that the United States and South Vietnam dragged their feet on elections after the 1954 Geneva agreements, Buchanan retorted that Ho Chi Minh hadn't held a free election in North Vietnam in ten years!  Thirty people lined up to ask Buchanan a question, and Buchanan apparently relished being the villain of the debate.

I've read people who blame Crossfire (which Buchanan often co-hosted) for the current level of political discourse, where left argues against right and partisan debates appear in the place of intelligent discussion.  They may have a point, and yet I have a hard time putting Buchanan in the same category as many of the talking heads who shout at each other on Fox News.  Granted, he has been one of these talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC, but he adds a touch of humor that I don't see among the other talking heads.  I love his laugh!  As Black says on page 919, Buchanan was "humorous" and "likable".

Moreover, while I don't embrace everything that Buchanan has said, I do believe that he has contributed important points to the political discourse.  I recently watched this interview, in which Buchanan was discussing his controversial book, The Suicide of a Superpower (the book that got him kicked off of MSNBC).  Buchanan was asking what exactly united Americans these days.  In the past, America had the melting pot and a common culture and Judeo-Christian ethic.  What unites America now, when those things have been undermined?  Maybe Buchanan idealizes the past, but I still think that he brings an important point to the table.  But does America have to go back to the 1950's to find unity?  Couldn't it unite around other aspects of its heritage, such as pluralism, freedom, and a respect for the rights of all, including minorities?

Psalm 126

I have three items for my blog post today on Psalm 126.

1.  The King James Version for v 1 states: "A Song of degrees.  When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream."  What does dreaming have to do with the reversal of Zion's predicament?  Different explanations have been offered.  The Jewish exegete Radak said that, when the Jews will return to Zion, the oppression that they experienced in exile will seem to them as merely a bad dream.  John MacArthur states that "The actual experience of liberation, so unexpected, seemed more like a dream than reality."

Both of these interpretations seem to presume that dreams are somehow less real than the world that we experience when we are awake.  But E. Gerstenberger challenges holding this sort of assumption when interpreting Psalm 126:1, for dreams in the ancient world were believed to be a component of reality.  Gerstenberger states that "dreams in the ancient Near East do not so much stress the anticipatory quality but the unexpected stunning grace of God's new reality (cf. Gen 28:10-15; 37:5-10; 40:5-19; 41:1-32)."  I don't entirely understand Gerstenberger's interpretation here, but I think that he does well to interpret Psalm 126:1 in light of the view of dreams in the ancient world, and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.  Gerstenberger's point may be that Psalm 126:1's message is that God is doing something new, something with which dreams often coincided.

The root ch-l-m can mean to dream, or to be healthy or strong (Job 39:4; Isaiah 38:16, where the hiphil is used).  Consequently, the Targum has "we were like the sick who were healed" (Edward Cook's translation).  And the Septuagint relates the verb to being comforted.

2.  V 3 states: "Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south."  John MacArthur comments: "The arid region S of Beersheba (called the Negev) which is utterly dry in the summer, but whose streams quickly fill and flood with the rains of spring. In this manner, the psalmist prays that Israel’s fortunes will rapidly change from nothing to everything."  MacArthur is probably not a fan of the prosperity Gospel, but his comment there reminds me of things that Joel Osteen has said: that our breakthrough can come suddenly, when we're not expecting it.  We can get that raise or that good job, or we can meet the love of our life.  I don't know if I can apply the lesson of Psalm 126:3 to my own life, when it is about the nation of Israel.  But the chance that things can suddenly get better is a motivation for me to get out of bed in the morning, and to keep on working and struggling.  As the Tom Hanks-character said in the movie, Castaway, you never know what the shore may bring!

I should comment on the setting for this Psalm.  Has Israel already been restored, as vv 1-3 seem to suggest?  Or are the Jews still hoping for restoration, as vv 4-6 appear to be saying?  Perhaps it's both, for, even after Israel's return from exile, things were not entirely rosy.  In Ezra 9:8-9, after all, Ezra likens post-exilic Israel's condition to slavery.

3.  Vv 5-6 state: "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.   He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."  MacArthur comments: "By sowing tears of repentance over sin, the nation reaped the harvest of a joyful return to the land of Israel."  Citing Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says: "The seeds of Israel's spiritual mission may become drenched in tears of unbearable suffering, but the crop, the eventual harvest of homage to righteousness and truth, will be reaped in joy..."

I like these interpretations because they teach me that the spiritual things that I do will not be wasted, for they can bear fruit.  I believe that God sees and acknowledges, and maybe even honors, the spiritual things that we do.  Does that mean that God rewards devotions with material prosperity?  I don't exclude that, but I'm not dogmatic about it, either.  According to the New Testament, some of the rewards that we will receive will be in the afterlife, and there are righteous people who may die in this life without seeing any material prosperity.  But perhaps God also honors our devotions as we harvest righteousness and truth, spiritual riches, which edify us and help us to make a positive difference in this world.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Misuse and Use of Luke 10:21

At Bible study last night, one verse that got quoted was Luke 10:21: "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight" (KJV).

I think that this verse can be taken in unfortunate anti-intellectual directions: you don't have to listen to scholars, since God reveals wisdom to the simple; you don't have to understand why someone believes what she believes and respond to that, since reasoning is irrelevant, as knowledge of "the" truth comes by revelation.

This verse was quoted on the DVD that we watched within the context of the typical narrative that the marginalized, humble people came to the truth (i.e., accepting Jesus as the Messiah), whereas the scholars and religious leaders missed out.  There are many conservative evangelicals who would draw from this narrative the lesson that we don't need to listen to scholarly "worldly wisdom" because the scholars of Jesus' day missed out on the truth.  Can we also take from this narrative the lesson that maybe we shouldn't trust today's religious establishment because the religious leaders of Jesus' day missed out on the truth?  I doubt that a number of conservative evangelicals would want to go there, as such an idea would conflict with their belief in church "authority"!

I'm not sure if my problem is merely with the misuse of Luke 10:21, or with Luke 10:21 itself.  I'll have to admit that I can't think of ways to interpret Luke 10:21 in a way that makes me completely comfortable.  I will say this, though: there is perhaps a valuable lesson in Luke 10:21, namely, that God can work in ways that we don't quite expect.  We all (or many of us) have our biases and blinders, our egos and insecurities, our desires for power and acknowledgement of how the world "really" works.  I should take heed that these marks of "sophistication" not blind me to the good things that God does in the world. 

In a similar vein to some of my concerns, check out Pete Enns' excellent post here

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 27

On page 857 of Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, we read:

"An unprecedentedly massive air assault on North Vietnam began on December 18.  (Nixon told Haldeman and Kissinger that he didn't want to start on Sunday, December 17, because he didn't want a church service in the White House while he was bombing.)"

Nixon probably thought that he was doing the right thing in ordering the air assault on North Vietnam.  Why, then, did he not want to hold a church service during that time?  Perhaps it was because he saw the bombing as a necessary evil, and he did not want that to occur during an event that was good, a church service.

I thought of II Chronicles 23 which is about the high priest Jehoida leading a rebellion against the brutal Queen Athaliah of Judah.  In v 14, Jehoida tells the captains not to kill Athaliah in the house of the LORD.  They're killing someone, but they're not doing their dirty work in the house of the LORD.  I guess that makes it all right, doesn't it?

I also thought of the final episode of season 5 of Dexter.  The sociopathic motivational speaker Jordan Chase is finally on Dexter's killing table, and Dexter tells Lumen that she should be the one to kill him, since Jordan incited men to rape her.  Jordan laughingly says, "You're talking like there's a polite way to do this, as if there's some etiquette.  Murder is murder!"  See here for the scene.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 26

I have three items for my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.

1.  On page 822, we read: "[White House counsel John] Dean had set up his own investigation unit and had caused the investigation of the call-girl ring associated with the 'Happy Hooker' Xaviera Hollander, but this achieved nothing useful, since there were as many Republicans as Democrats in it, an unsurprising revelation."

The reason that this stood out to me is that Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin argue in their controversial book, Silent Coup, that John Dean's investigation of the call-girl ring was the motive behind the break-in at the Watergate hotel, as Dean allegedly was seeking information about the prostitution ring and was trying to cover things up, since his wife was supposedly connected with someone in the ring.  Dean would sue Colodny and Gettlin for libel.  It's interesting to me that Black essentially acknowledges that Dean was investigating the prostitution ring.  Black doesn't seem to buy into the idea that this was the motive behind the Watergate break-in, however, for Black appears to accept the prominent narrative that the Watergate break-in was aiming to collect information about Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O'Brien.  For Black, Dean was investigating the call-girl ring, but it was with the intent of finding dirt on Democrats.  According to Black, the problem, in terms of Dean's goal, was that Republicans were using the ring's services, too!

2.  On page 825, we read: "The tapes of these June 23 conversations were released on August 5, 1974, and became known as the 'smoking gun,' but they were not as damaging as they seemed when presented two years after the fact as a sort of last straw.  [FBI director L. Patrick] Gray had expressed a concern, denied by [CIA director Richard] Helms, about a CIA covert operation.  Helms told [Nixon aides] Haldeman and Ehrlichman that he would cooperate if given written instructions and an adequate explanation, by which he clearly meant that there would have to be an adequate reason to ask the FBI to desist.  No such instructions were given; no such request [Deputy Director for Central Intelligence Vernon] Walters spoke again to Gray.  The FBI did not desist, and didn't principally have carriage of the matter anyway.  It appeared two years later, and was represented by the press, as an attempt to obstruct justice, and it would have been if it had been pushed, but it wasn't pushed."

The topic here is the charge that President Richard Nixon obstructed justice by encouraging the CIA to restrict the FBI's investigation into Watergate.  Nixon's claim was that he was doing this because some of the people involved in the Watergate break-in were connected with the CIA, and Nixon didn't want the investigation into Watergate to blow the lid on any covert operations.  Black contends that, because Nixon didn't press the matter with the CIA, he wasn't really attempting to obstruct justice.

The low-key manner in which Black describes this topic contrasts with what I was recently reading in Don Fulsom's Nixon's Darkest Secrets.  Fulsom notes that Nixon wanted CIA director Helms to know that Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt could start blabbing on about the Bay of Pigs, if Helms did not limit the FBI's investigation into Watergate.  Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman said in The Ends of Power (written with Joseph DiMona), and Fulsom agrees, that "Bay of Pigs" meant the Kennedy assassination.  Fulsom says that the connection between the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination was probably that "the cast of characters employed in the 1960 plan to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and kill Fidel Castro and the cast of characters employed in the plan to assassinate Kennedy in 1963 were the same" (page 130).

Fulsom refers to the testimony of Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (in their books) that Helms really erupted when they brought up the Bay of Pigs, to the surprise of Haldeman and Ehrlichman!  Haldeman quotes Helms as saying: "The Bay of Pigs has nothing to do with this! I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs."  Fulsom later refers to Haldeman's statement in The Ends of Power that Haldeman told the President that Helms "got the picture" and said he'd "be very happy to be helpful" (Haldeman's words).  But Fulsom narrates that Helms then "had second thoughts and was refusing to cooperate with Nixon's gambit" (pages 135-136).  Fulsom then dryly relates: "For that insubordination, he was eventually banished to be the ambassador to Iran."  Fulsom depicts Nixon as more heavy-handed in his treatment of the CIA than Black does.

3.  On pages 826-827, Black states: "For the reelection committee to pay the legal costs and living expenses of part-time and full-time employees is quite in order.  It has been assumed that this was 'hush money,' payments made in exchange for silence about CREEP or White House involvement.  In all the voluminous material, it is not clear that was even the implicit intended nature of the payments, at least at the outset.  As time went by, what amounted to blackmail was attempted by some of the defendants, and some was paid.  But it is not clear that submitting to blackmail constitutes obstructing justice.  It was, however, both shaming and demeaning to the presidency."

This seems to correspond with Black's overall take on Watergate, at least in what I have read so far: that Nixon did foolish things, things that were beneath the Presidency, and yet he arguably did not do anything that would deserve impeachment.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 25

On page 804 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black states regarding FBI director J. Edgar Hoover: "His finest hour had been his opposition to the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast after Pearl Harbor in 1942."  I did not know that about Hoover.

Why was Hoover against internment camps for Japanese-Americans?  Essentially, he did not think that there was any evidence that Japanese-Americans posed a danger to the security of the United States.  This article states:  "In his Final Report, [General John L.] DeWitt maintained that ship-to-shore communication had led to the sinking of American ships. But on February 9, 1942, J. Edgar Hoover denied the existence of any information showing ship-to-shore communication."  The article also states: "J. Edgar Hoover said that the internment decision was a result of politics and hysteria, not a measure of national security. 'It is interesting to observe,' Hoover noted, 'that little mention has been made of the mass evacuation of enemy aliens.' The FBI had arrested 733 Japanese aliens in the U.S. by 6:30 A.M. December 8, 1941."

This article expresses that part about the enemy aliens a little more clearly: "Even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover opposed the mass relocation of Japanese Americans because he was convinced that the most likely spies or potential saboteurs among that population had already been rounded up in the initial sweep of 'enemy aliens' between December 7 and 13, 1941. During searches of Japanese American residences conducted by the FBI beginning in early February 1942, the Department of Justice reported that 'We have not uncovered through these searches any dangerous persons that we did not otherwise know about.'"  See here (on page 2) for Hoover's memo to FDR aide General Edwin Wilson, stating that the FBI had already arrested Japanese aliens who were deemed to be subversive.

This article says that Hoover thought that the internment of Japanese-Americans was unconstitutional.  I wish that the article went into more detail about Hoover's views on this, but the article itself appears to consider the internment to be a violation of the fifth and sixth amendments of the U.S. Bill of Rights, since it entailed depriving Japanese-Americans of their liberty and property without due process (i.e., criminal charges and a trial).

Ann Coulter says in this column: "Absurdly, liberals claim to hate J. Edgar Hoover because of their passion for civil liberties. The left's exquisite concern for civil liberties apparently did not extend to the Japanese. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt rounded up Japanese for the internment camps, liberals were awed by his genius. The Japanese internment was praised by liberal luminaries such as Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter and Hugo Black. Joseph Rauh, a founder of Americans for Democratic Action -- and celebrated foe of 'McCarthyism' -- supported the internment.  There was one lonely voice in the Roosevelt administration opposed to the Japanese internment -- that of J. Edgar Hoover...Liberals deemed it appropriate to throw Japanese citizens into internment camps on the basis of no evidence of subversive activity whatsoever."

Ann Coulter and other right-wingers I have read (see, for example, here and here) appear to be quite critical of the internment camps.  (UPDATE: This article seems to suggest that, in 2005, Ann Coulter was saying something different, but it does not include an actual quotation of her.)  I should also note that President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill granting reparations to surviving Japanese-Americans who had been interned in the camps, and President George H.W. Bush issued a public apology.

But there are some neo-conservatives who have retrospectively expressed support for the internment camps, implying that this piece of history is somehow relevant to how American Muslims should be treated in the U.S.  See here.  See also here for Michelle Malkin's defense of her book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  She states: "Liberal critics always ask if I’ve ever changed my mind about anything. Yes, I take back what I wrote in 2000; I have radically changed my mind about FDR’s actions to protect the homeland."  See here for good reviews of Malkin's book, both pro and con. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 24

For my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I'll use as my starting-point something that Black says on page 764:

"Nixon's last newsworthy act of 1971 was a commutation of sentence for James R. Hoffa, the former Teamsters' Union president who had served four years of a thirteen-year sentence for jury-tampering, having been the chief target of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.  Nixon assured the reelection of his friend and supporter, Teamster president Frank Fitzsimmons, and then had Hoffa released, provided he did not engage in union activities for eight years, appeasing Hoffa's followers in his union but assuring Fitzsimmons's position.  This had the additional benefit of a symbolic affront to the Kennedys, and a direct irritation to AFL-CIO chairman George Meany.

"With the leaders of organized labor...all was politics, and Nixon was trying to divide and conquer.  It wasn't a particularly admirable sequence of events, in the one case or the other, but, contrary to subsequent mythology, Nixon did not inherit a pristine system of presidential disinterest in the fermentation of American life, in all its creative and cynical spontaneity, that bubbled and erupted beneath him.  And John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson weren't saints either."

The reason that this passage stood out to me is that it overlapped with topics that I was reading about in Don Fulsom's anti-Nixon biography: Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President.  Richard Nixon's friendship with Fitzsimmons is obviously important to Fulsom, for Fulsom shows five pictures of Nixon with Fitzsimmons in the pictures section of his book.  Why would Fulsom deem this to be important?  Because Fulsom argues that Fitzsimmons had connections with the mob.  Fulsom says on pages 29-30 that "The president and Fitz quickly colluded on a plan for Hoffa's release, and they started an alliance that was sealed with cold cash----huge payments involving the Mob in return for White House kindness."  Moreover, on page 35, Fulsom states that "Newly released FBI documents show that, in 1978, federal investigators sought to force former president Nixon and Teamster boss Fitzsimmons to testify about events surrounding Hoffa's disappearance."  But the investigators said that upper Justice Department people were hindering this from happening.

Fulsom claims that Nixon received support from mob people, as far back as his 1946 race for U.S. Congress.  Why?  According to Fulsom, Senate investigator Walter Sheridan offered an opinion about why the mobster Meyer Lansky was supporting Nixon: "If you were Meyer, who would you invest your money in?  Some politician named Clams Linguini?  Or a nice Protestant boy from Whittier, California?"  There was also the hatred that many mobsters and mobster-affiliated people had towards the Kennedys.  As Fulsom says on page 23, "Robert Kennedy had been trying to put Hoffa in jail since 1956, when RFK was staff counsel for a Senate probe into the Mob's influence on the labor movement."  While John F. Kennedy himself initially had some support from certain mobsters, according to Fulsom, much of the mob would not care for his administration's tough stance against organized crime.  According to Fulsom, the Nixon administration would be much softer on the mob.  Page 30 of Fulsom's book says: "From 1969 through 1973, more than one half of the Justice Department's 1,600 indictments in organized crime cases were tossed out because of 'improper procedures' followed by Attorney General John Mitchell in obtaining court-approved authorization for wiretaps..."  Page 44: "Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, finally put the squeeze on a federal judge to slice Marcello's prison term to six months" (see here to read about Marcello).  Page 30: "...when the New York Times disclosed that FBI wiretaps had uncovered a massive scheme to establish a national health plan for the Teamsters, with pension fund members and top mobsters getting lucrative kickbacks, [Attorney General] Kleindienst again came to the rescue, rejecting the FBI's plan to continue taps related to the scheme."

Fulson also contends that Nixon's close friend, Bebe Rebozo, had ties to organized crime.  He refers to a Miami police report saying that Rebozo was close to Meyer Lansky.  On page 54, Fulson shows a declassified FBI memo that said that "A Philadelphia source who is in a position to provide reliable information was told by a third party that this individual within the last two weeks, observed fugitive Robert Vesco in the Bahamas in the company of former Nixon aide Bebe Rebozo" (the memo's words, only they were all capitalized in the memo).

Regarding the release of Jimmy Hoffa, Folsom refers to an FBI memo that refers to an informant saying that there was a $300,000 payoff from the mob to the Nixon White House to secure Hoffa's release.  But, in the memo itself (which is on page 25 of Fulsom's book), all I see about this is what follows: "Source advised that approximately one to two weeks before the Christmas before HOFFA was released from prison, ALAN DORFMAN and JIMMY HOFFA, JR. delivered $300,000 in cash to the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C., in a black valise and turned this money over to [blacked out].  The purpose of this money was to guarantee the release of JIMMY HOFFA from the Federal Penitentiary."  Does the memo say that the money was for the Nixon White House?  It depends on what it said before it was blacked out!

Do I buy any of this?  To be honest, I do wish that Fulsom cited more primary sources.  Often, when I check in the back to see Fulsom's source for something, it turns out to be a secondary source, such as Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power.  I'd have to look at Summers to see if he cites a primary source!  But I wouldn't be surprised if Nixon had support from mobsters or people with mob connections.  In the world of the powerful, I'm sure that there are many with money and influence who have had relationships with the mob or with mob-affiliated people, on some level.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 23

My blog post on Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full will focus on money supply and the gold standard.

1.  On page 696, we read:

"Unemployment was low, but inflation had risen from 3.3 percent to 5.5 percent under Nixon, and Arthur Burns, who had gone to the Federal Reserve chairmanship in January 1970, was a monetary conservative.  Nixon urged him to expand the money supply, as he had urged during the 1954 and 1958 midterm elections, but Burns declined to do so (as Eisenhower had).  There was virtually no economic growth through 1970."

When the money supply is expanded, that can mean inflation, since, when more money is out there, companies raise prices.  But some people support expanding the money supply as a means to stimulate the economy.  Nixon sometimes favored expanding the money supply for this reason.  Arthur Burns, however, a "monetary conservative" (as Black calls him), was resistant to this.  Ron Paul was a Presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012, and he often spoke in favor of the gold standard and restricting the money supply to combat inflation.  What did Ron Paul think about Arthur Burns?  On pages 115-116 of End the Fed, Paul states: "Following the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, [Burns] dearly wanted to be reappointed.  He cut the discount rate and accelerated money growth.  True, he was a Republican, but he wanted to go down in history as bipartisan...Sadly for Burns, the courtship failed.  Even more sadly for the country, the courtship wrecked the dollar further."  Paul apparently did not regard Burns as a man of principle in terms of monetary conservatism, at least after Jimmy Carter's election in 1976.

2.  On page 739, we read the following about the Bretton Woods agreement:

"In 1944, the Western countries had agreed at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, on a new international currency agreement, based on the U.S. dollar and the backing of the dollar by the gold reserves of the United States.  There was gold in the Treasury of the United States to redeem about one-quarter of the outstanding currency, and there were fixed exchange rates with other major currencies, especially the British pound.  This system had worked well for twenty-five years, but now U.S. gold reserves had declined (from $25 billion to $10.5 billion), Europe was back on its feet, Japan was much more powerful economically than it had ever been, the United States was on the verge of running its first trade deficit in over seventy-five years, and gold was clearly under-priced as a commodity, as the dollar was overpriced as a currency.  Gold played an obsolescent and impossible role now because there were at least six or seven other important hard currencies.  Manufacturing in Japan and Western Europe was now extremely competitive..."

That's Black's explanation of the problems in the Bretton Woods agreement, a sort of gold standard (though Ron Paul in End the Fed refers to it as a "pseudo-gold standard"), which Nixon wanted to end.  These problems included a decline of U.S. gold reserves, gold being under-priced, and the need for the U.S. to compete with Europe and Japan, something that the Bretton Woods standard may have been hindering.
Joan Hoff in Nixon Reconsidered is rather critical of Nixon's policy on Bretton Woods.  Her discussion of the rationale behind ending Bretton Woods overlaps with what Black says: "Faced with a gold drain and a trade deficit, the United States allowed the dollar 'to float' on international markets to increase markets abroad and stop any more speculative pressures against the dollar.  This could not be done without causing even more domestic inflation and had to be offset by some deflationary action to placate unions in the form of wage and price controls" (page 140).  But Hoff argues on pages 143-144 that things did not work out as planned:

"Still another unintended consequence arose from the decision to abandon the Bretton Woods system.  This aspect of the NEP represented a deregulation of international currencies.  Since then, economic regionalism has flourished because three rival trading blocs emerged.  Each established a separate regional monetary order based on the yen, mark, and dollar----a situation that has contributed to exchange rate instability and currency speculation since then.  The increased tension among these three major regional trading blocs will continue until the current global recession is over.  What the world learned following the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement is that floating exchange rates and freer trade do not go hand in hand.  In fact, instability of the former almost always produces complaints about unfair trading practices and pressures for protectionism.  Yet the intensification of regional international competition based on competing currencies...could result in a worsening of worldwide economic conditions in the 1990s.  There is little doubt that the world needs another Bretton Woods system to stabilize currency exchange rates."

I vaguely understand some of this discussion.  I don't entirely comprehend why countries debase their currency in order to make their exports more competitive.  I did a search online to find an answer to my question.  Some of the articles were too abstract for a layperson like myself.  One comment that I read simply said that debasing currency makes exports cheaper abroad, but it did not explain why.

I think that what I see here is a tension between a desire for flexibility and a desire for stability.  The reason that we ended Bretton Woods was probably that it did not allow for the flexibility that we wanted: it was chaining the dollar (not all, but some) to gold, which was not in great supply, and it was hindering the U.S.'s ability to compete.  But Hoff's concern appears to be that eliminating Bretton Woods led to instability: now that currency is not attached to gold but can float freely, there is not much stability in terms of exchange rates.  And countries are concerned that other countries are debasing their currency in order to give their own exports a competitive edge, a practice that they consider to be unfair, and which can encourage them to retaliate with protectionism.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Repentance and Forgiveness

The theme at church this morning was repentance and forgiveness.  I'm not always sure how to respond to that particular theme.  I'm told that I need to believe in Jesus to be saved.  Do I truly believe in Jesus?  How do I know that Christianity is even true?  And how do I repent?  Can I truly change and eliminate every flaw from my life?  Does God even change people?  If so, then where has he been in my life?  I can think of plenty of times in my life when I wished that I could feel God's nearness, but what I felt instead was fear.  Why hasn't God taken away my fear of people? 

I'm not entirely sure what I believe right now, but I do think that there are simple steps that I can take each day.  I can identify things that I have thought and have done that strike me as wrong.  I can ask God to forgive me, and for the strength to have better thoughts and deeds.  And maybe, as I recognize my own flaws, I can become more understanding and charitable when it comes to my view of others. 

But it's a struggle.  I no longer impose on myself a standard of absolute perfection.  But I do have thoughts that, well, I don't think are particularly healthy for me----thoughts of bitterness and unforgiveness of others, for example. 

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 22

For my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I'll use as my starting-point something that Black says on page 720 about Richard Nixon's daughter, Tricia:

"She had avoided all public attention after she wrote a supportive letter to Georgia governor Lester Maddox, an Atlanta restauranteur who had refused to serve African-Americans and distributed axe handles to sympathizers, and ultimately closed his Pickrick Restaurant rather than integrate it."

This really surprised me!  I had never heard or read about this before.  I did some searching on the Internet, and I found a couple of articles.

The first article I found was from the September 22, 1969 Harvard Crimson, and it was about Tricia Nixon's boyfriend, Edward Cox (who would later become her husband), who was enrolling in Harvard Law School.  The article states:

"Tricia, who once encouraged Georgia's Governor Lester Maddox to turn his chicken restaurant into a private club to avoid Federal civil rights laws, is reportedly the most conservative member of the Nixon family. Washington columnists say that Cox is politically left of both Tricia and her father."
I suppose that I already knew that Tricia was rather conservative, on some level.  I think that I read about her defending her father's policies when I was reading Nixon's memoirs.  Maybe I chalked that up to her loyalty to her father, since I had a hard time picturing her as particularly political or ideological (not that I know her).  But it turns out that she was quite conservative ideologically, perhaps even to the right of her father.

In this article, there is a quotation of what Tricia Nixon said to a Parade reporter, as she explained her letter to Lester Maddox: "I'm not a segregationist, but private property is private property, and you should be able to do with it as you please.  I don't believe as Lester Maddox does, but our views happened to coincide for different reasons."  That's the sort of rationale that you will find in the words of Barry Goldwater, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul.

I'd like to share a few related items.  First, I liked something that Richard Nixon said on pages 105-106 of In the Arena, as he was talking about his coach at Whittier, Chief Newman:

"He not only talked a good civil rights game, he lived it.  In 1921, when he was a star at USC playing tackle on defense and fullback on offense, Chief went into his favorite restaurant near the campus with Bryce Taylor, one of the first black players ever to play on a Trojan team.  The counterman said he couldn't eat there.  Chief exploded, 'You serve him or you don't serve me.'  Forty-three years before the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in public facilities, it ended at that restaurant."

Second, on page 80 of volume 2 of his memoirs, Richard Nixon shares a diary entry that he wrote about a discussion that he had with his daughters, Julie and Tricia, about the Vietnam War.  Nixon was planning to bomb critical targets, and he was listening to his daughters' feedback.  He stated in his diary:

"Julie seemed concerned about it in terms of whether it would work.  She obviously has done a lot of reading about past failures on the military side in Vietnam.  She also was aware of the fact that many had become so disillusioned with the war that we might not have enough public support for it.  I mentioned the fact that if we did not do this the United States would cease to be a respected world power.  She rejoined with the observation that there were many who felt that the United States shouldn't be a great power.  This, of course, is the kind of poison that is fed into so many of the younger generation by their professors.  She was sure, however, that David would totally agree with the decision, and she seemed sensitive to what the needs were.

"Tricia's reaction was immediately positive because she felt we had to do something, and frankly didn't know what else we could do to avoid a continued deterioration in the battle areas."

Tricia's reaction does not particularly surprise me, in light of her conservatism.  Julie's reaction, however, intrigues me.  I think that it would be too simplistic to say that Julie was a liberal, for Nixon earlier in his memoirs refers to a note Julie left him that said: "You explained the situation in Vietnam perfectly...I feel that the strongest message which resulted from your speech was: We cannot abandon 17 million people to a living death, and we cannot jeopardize the chances for future world peace by an unqualified pull-out of Vietnam" (volume 1, pages 560-561).  But Julie did appear to be open to alternative points-of-view.  Still, at this point, I cannot make dogmatic statements about her political ideology, since I have not yet read her books.

UPDATE: According to this article, Julie in 2008 donated to Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, whereas Tricia donated to Republican Presidential candidate John McCain.

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