Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ann Althouse: Wright Controversy Helps Obama

A different interpretation of events from Ann Althouse:
But I see a way for this awful problem to help Obama. It ties back to the original reason he became so popular. Obama seemed to offer a path out of the old-style racial politics that is based on grievances and demands and race as victimhood. Obama did not talk about race. He was black but he didn't talk about race. Now, Wright is rubbing our faces in the racial issues that Obama didn't want to talk about, and maybe he was disingenuous for submerging these things. But if Obama loses, Wright and his ilk will be magnified. They will have been instrumental in destroying Obama, yet they will use fact that Americans rejected Obama to reinforce their critique of America.

The message Obama needs to convey is: Take me now, whatever my flaws, or you will be saddled with people like Wright for decades. If we are disgusted by Wright, we shouldn't reject Obama. We should embrace him as the best hope we're ever going to have.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rev. Wright and the United Church of Christ

Recent editorial dicsussion of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's media circus/speaking tour of Washington, DC led me to the source--I stumbled into the National Press Club shortly after his 8:30 AM press conference ended and witnessed throngs of supporters and protesters inside and out, surrounded journalists with tape recorders, cameras, and so forth. To date, the story has centered on racial controversy, political calculation and suspicions voiced by commentator Juan William on Fox News that Wright may now be working for Hillary Clinton. Errol Louis of the New York Daily News agreed: "It also turns out that [Barbara] Reynolds - introduced Monday as a member of the National Press Club 'who organized' the event - is an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter..." (Which raises the question: Why aren't people calling on Hillary supporters to "distance" themselves from Wright?)

But there has been little discussion to date of the theological underpinnings behind Rev. Wright's sermons. In today's Washington Post, associate editor Eugene Robinson for the first time points out what should have been obvious:
The problem is that Wright insists on being seen as something he's not: an archetypal representative of the African American church. In fact, he represents one twig of one branch of a very large tree.
The reason, not mentioned by Robinson, is that Rev. Wright is a Congregationalist minister. His Chicago Trinity UCC church is a member of the United Church of Christ. Wright is not a Southern Baptist--he is a New England Puritan.

It is well-known that Congregationalists were among the New England Abolitionists. However, the same church was exposed by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter, the same institution persecuted Quakers, and burned witches. Like Rev. Wright, congregationalists have always been extremists, sometimes in a good cause (Abolition), sometimes not (Witch-Burning).

Such extremism has yielded results, winning through intimidation is not a new concept. Today Congregationalists tend to be found among the richest and best-educated segments of the population--and Rev. Wright's Hyde Park congregation (which from the newspaper accounts appears to do double duty as a political machine), close to the University of Chicago, is no exception. Wright has been a pastor to the privileged and the powerful of Chicago.

What this means is that the problem with Rev. Wright is a problem with the extremism inherent in Congregationalist doctrines. It is not a racial problem, but a theological one. The extremism preached by Rev. Wright has obviously been accepted by the United Church of Christ--there has been no move to expel him from the fellowship of Congregationalists, nor to denounce his teachings. Indeed, no newspaper has called upon UCC to "distance" itself from Wright--because it is impossible. Rev. Wright is a good Puritan, preaching hellfire and damnation.

A glance at the UCC's website makes Rev. Wright's theological chain-of-being obvious:
Take UCC identity seriously. If you want to serve as a pastor or in any other authorized ministry in the United Church of Christ, you should be able to say honestly to yourself that you love our denomination. You should know UCC history and polity and be willing to communicate your knowledge and enthusiasm to others. Being connected and staying connected to the whole UCC family as well as our ecumenical partners is part of what it means to be a minister in the UCC.
The Wright controversy represents a religious, not a racial, problem. In fact, the UCC has stood by Wright. The Rev. John H. Thomas General Minister and President United Church of Christ had this to say:
Is Pastor Wright to be ridiculed and condemned for refusing to play the court prophet, blessing land and sovereign while pledging allegiance to our preoccupation with wealth and our fascination with weapons? In the United Church of Christ we honor diversity. For nearly four centuries we have respected dissent and have struggled to maintain the freedom of the pulpit. Not every pastor in the United Church of Christ will want to share Pastor Wright's rhetoric or his politics. Not every member will rise to shout "Amen!" But I trust we will all struggle in our own way to resist the lure of respectable religion that seeks to displace evangelical faith. For what this nation needs is not so much polite piety as the rough and radical word of the prophet calling us to repentance. And, as we struggle with that ancient calling, I pray we will be shrewd enough to name the hypocrisy of those who decry the mixing of religion and politics in order to serve their own political ends.
Puritan New England was a Theocracy that persecuted heretics. That doesn't bother Puritans (hence, "God Damn America") but it must give non-Puritans pause. Which is why the controversy over Rev. Wright gives renewed meaning to the underlying principles that caused Thomas Jefferson--not a Puritan--to insist on the separation of Church and State. If Senator Obama realizes this, he may be able to turn this crisis into an opportunity.

UPDATE: More on Rev. Wright's 1984 Cuban Council of Churches-sponsored trip to Havana in an article by Humberto Fontova.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Public Diplomacy 36,000

At dinner last night, someone said that Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has held up the nomination of millionaire Harvard grad, former Washington Post investment columnist, and AEI fellow James Glassman -- to the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Glassman is author of Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market, a notorious 1999 book of investment advice which could have cost any reader a fortune had it been followed. Here's a sample comment on the book's listing:
James Glassman should apologize for his stupidity, his arrogance, and this book, which lured in a whole lot of amateur investors just as the stock market was about to go bust.
Glassman was also co-author of a doomed report from the Advisory Board on Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World, following the release of which in 2003, American prestige plunged lower than the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The reason cited by our dinner companion: problems with Radio Farda, America's Persian service, which Glassman supervised as head of the Board of International Broadcasting and which featured anti-American broadcasts. This view was supported up in a comment posted on MountainRunner about the controversy:
God bless Tom Coburn for doing what no one else in the US has the courage to do--clean out the Voice of America. If you think Jim Glassman is "America's combatant commander in the War of Ideas," then you are carrying the wrong person's water. Just ask one of the many VOA employees who tried to warn Jim about the anti-US fakes at Voice of America. Instead of helping, Mr. Glassman has turned his back on us. My friends at Voice of America tell me that most of the people in charge of the Persian channel don't even speak Farsi. We Iranians can spot a fake when we see it. Why can't you?

President Bush is sticking with his nominee, despite the fact that at this point in the war for hearts and minds around the world there is nobody in charge of America's messaging...and apparently Senator Coburn is adamant that Glassman not be appointed. Rather than nominate another candidate who might be unanimously approved, Bush is picking a fight with Coburn.

IMHO, there must be someone in a country of 300 million who could do the job better than Glassman and who is willing to take the job. On the Republican side, Torie Clarke did a good job in the Pentagon (though she might not want to work for Bush again); on the Democratic side someone like James Carville or Paul Begala. Best of all would be an actual expert on Islamist extremism in general and Iran in particular--such as Daniel Pipes.

Senator Coburn is right to hold up his nomination and demand someone with better qualifications, untainted by failures of the Bush Administration. I hope he continues to stand fast on this one.

Tom Hayden on Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama

It's beginning to look a lot like 1960s battles are being re-fought in the Democratic Party. Here's an excerpt from Tom Hayden's attack on Hillary Clinton in The Nation:
She was in Chicago for three nights during the 1968 street confrontations. She chaired the 1970 Yale law school meeting where students voted to join a national student strike again an "unconscionable expansion of a war that should never have been waged." She was involved in the New Haven defense of Bobby Seale during his murder trial in 1970, as the lead scheduler of student monitors. She surely agreed with Yale president Kingman Brewster that a black revolutionary couldn't get a fair trial in America. She wrote that abused children were citizens with the same rights as their parents.

Most significantly in terms of her recent attacks on Barack, after Yale law school, Hillary went to work for the left-wing Bay Area law firm of Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein, which specialized in Black Panthers and West Coast labor leaders prosecuted for being communists. Two of the firm's partners, according to Treuhaft, were communists and the two others "tolerated communists". Then she went on to Washington to help impeach Richard Nixon, whose career was built on smearing and destroying the careers of people through vague insinuations about their backgrounds and associates. (All these citations can be found in Carl Bernstein's sympathetic 2007 Clinton biography, A Woman in Charge.)

All these were honorable words and associations in my mind, but doesn't she see how the Hillary of today would accuse the Hillary of the sixties of associating with black revolutionaries who fought gun battles with police officers, and defending pro-communist lawyers who backed communists? Doesn't the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whom Hillary attacks today, represent the very essence of the black radicals Hillary was associating with in those days? And isn't the Hillary of today becoming the same kind of guilt-by-association insinuator as the Richard Nixon she worked to impeach?

It is as if Hillary Clinton is engaged in a toxic transmission onto Barack Obama of every outrageous insult and accusation ever inflicted on her by the American right over the decades. She is running against what she might have become. Too much politics dries the soul of the idealist.

Yasmina Reza on Nicolas Sarkozy

This article by Alan Riding in yesterday's New York Times about Dawn Dusk or Night: A Year with Nicolas SarkozyYasmina Reza's new book on President Sarkozy of France, had some interesting tidbits:
The book, “L’Aube le Soir ou la Nuit,” nonetheless caused a stir here. While many French viewed their new president as a dynamic young leader bent on modernizing France, Ms. Reza described him variously as impetuous, irascible, sentimental, occasionally vulgar, frequently childish.

Now, eight months later, the book has been translated into English as “Dawn Dusk or Night” and was published in the United States on Tuesday by Alfred A. Knopf. Along the way, something peculiar has happened. Ms. Reza’s portrait of Mr. Sarkozy, 53, is the one that has stuck, lent credence by his taste for glitter, his divorce from one beautiful woman and hasty remarriage to another, his sharp tongue and his penchant for political action.

Another — perhaps apocryphal — life-imitates-art story from Paris comes to mind. “I don’t look like that,” Gertrude Stein is said to have remarked in reaction to Picasso’s 1906 portrait of her (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

“You will,” Picasso supposedly replied.

Ms. Reza, who likes to describe her book as “an impressionistic sketch,” has been surprised by what has followed its publication. “It is as if Nicolas Sarkozy stepped out of my pages and now leads his own life,” she said in an interview in her Left Bank apartment.
You can buy a copy of the book from

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hillel Kook and The Hebrew Republic

Bernard Avishai has let me know that he posted some sample chapters from his new book, The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace At Last on his website on his website, in PDF format. An excerpt I found particularly interesting:
A FINALWORD about the book’s title. I first heard the term Hebrew republic from Hillel Kook, a minor Zionist celebrity, whom I met in 1975. I was a young political scientist living in Jerusalem and had written a series of articles on Israeli affairs for the New York Review of Books.Kook had read them and decided I needed some mentoring. He was then a man in his sixties, still robust and almost always accompanied by (and in what seemed intimate conversation with) his striking new wife. He sported a gray goatee, tweed jacket, and had a lean aspect—a modern Jewish aristocrat, I thought, with an air of precise, perpetual disappointment. He was the nephew of Jewish Palestine’s first chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook, and had been an aide to Revisionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky. In the 1940s, under the pseudonym Peter H. Bergson, he organized the New York–based Emergency Committeeto Save the Jewish People of Europe, the first American group to organize against the Nazi horrors then unfolding.

Kook became a member of the first Knesset in Menachem Begin’s Herut party—which he left in disgust after one term. Israel, he began to warn, was heading for a fall because it had not shaken free of its revolutionary Zionism. It had failed to enact a written constitution. It was still in the thrall of old socialist Zionist institutions. It was being blackmailed by rabbis. It was completely lost regarding its own minorities. It had failed to redeem the real promise of Zionism, which was to create a “Hebrew republic.” These ideas struck a chord, but there was something so familiar, so material, about Kook’s liberalism that I could not quite believe it applied to the bloodied, noisy, metaphysical Israel emerging around me after the Yom Kippur War. He died near Tel Aviv in 2001, and I had not been in touch with him for years.

But more and more I’ve been thinking about him, and how he personified Gramsci’s famous dictum that the pessimism of the intellect should be coupled with the optimism of the will. So let us say, willingly, that it will take another generation to implement a Palestinian peace and, with it, slowly realize the vision of a Hebrew republic, which is actually a return to the most original Zionist vision. Fresh arguments will have to be made for this inspired vision, in Israel and in Western democracies. And fresh arguments, coming at a dark moment, have to pass a plausibility test that standard arguments, however stale and improbable, do not. Then again, a generation or more is not too much to ask. That is the time it took all of us to create the disaster we will now have to unmake.
Avishai neglected to mention that Bergson also founded the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, to support Israel's struggle for independence from Great Britain.

A Russian Perspective on Kosovo

From Desperate Dispatch:
A daily Russian newspaper, Argumenty i Fakty, claims many of these states have to tackle their own separatist conflicts. “The Kosovo precedent will inspire them,” the paper writes. “Time will show if Kosovo is the beginning of the end of Europe.”

A more liberal Rossijskaya Gazeta is equally fatalistic. “Kosovo marks the emergence of new principles of international law” where the United Nations is a legal “non-entity” and the “rule of force once again features as a key principle of world order.”

Michael J. Lewis on Yale's Abortion Art Scandal

A professor of art at Williams College published a very interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, explaining that Aliza Shvarts's Yale art project--where she supposedly inseminated herself artificially and then gave herself an abortion--is "a fully characteristic example of the program and its students." Basically, given the faculty at Yale and hegemonic assumtions of the contemporary art world, this project was intended to get an "A." Lewis blames Yale University's art department, not the student, for this fiasco:
Given the choice of this arduous training or the chance to proceed immediately to the making of art free of all traditional constraints, one can understand why all but a few students would take the latter. But it is not a choice that an undergraduate should be given. In this respect -- and perhaps only in this respect -- Ms. Shvarts is the victim in this story.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hommage à M. Aimé Césaire, poète français, homme politique et co-fondateur du mouvement littéraire la négritude

French President Nicholas Sarkozy's tribute to Aimé Césaire:
Publié le 17-04-08 à 13:06
Hommage à M. Aimé Césaire, poète français, homme politique et co-fondateur du mouvement littéraire la négritude.

J’apprends avec une très grande tristesse le décès d’Aimé Césaire. J’imagine le chagrin immense de toute la population martiniquaise, antillaise et ultramarine qui perd, aujourd’hui, l’un de ses pères spirituels. Mais, en vérité, c’est toute la nation française qui est en deuil.

Je veux saluer la mémoire d’un grand poète qui a acquis sa notoriété par la qualité de son écriture. On retiendra de lui qu’il est l’initiateur, avec Léopold Senghor, du concept de la Négritude. Ce fut un grand humaniste dans lequel se sont reconnus tous ceux qui ont lutté pour l’émancipation des peuples au XXème siècle.

Esprit libre et indépendant, il a incarné, sa vie durant, le combat pour la reconnaissance de son identité et la richesse de ses racines africaines. Par son appel universel au respect de la dignité humaine, à l’éveil et à la responsabilité, il restera un symbole d’espoir pour tous les peuples opprimés.

Je salue son engagement politique, sa longue carrière d’élu de la Martinique et de parlementaire de la Nation. Conscient des progrès que représentait la « départementalisation », il a su courageusement soutenir la loi de 1946 qui a mis fin aux colonies, sans pour autant rompre avec sa recherche identitaire qui constituait le cœur de sa vie.

Il restera pour nous tous l’une des figures les plus emblématiques de la classe politique de l’outre mer.

J’adresse, à l’ensemble de sa famille et à ses proches, mes condoléances les plus attristées et je tiens à lui rendre un hommage solennel au nom de la Nation et de tous les Français.
More about Césaire here, in French. And in English, from Wikipedia

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Victor Bokas at the Maitland Art Center

The mother of someone I know sent in this review by Philip E. Bishop from the Orlando Sentinel of "Roots and Branches," a new show by a Florida painter we met at her daughter's home:
Victor Bokas has always been an  artist of ebullient spirit, and his exhibition of recent work at the Maitland Art Center sparkles with new visual ideas.

Called "Roots and Branches," the show is inspired several times over. Many of the works are artistic meditations on Bokas' family and the idea of rootedness. The exhibition provides its own signboard in "Take One and Call Me in the Morning," an homage to Bokas' druggist father. He has used tablets and capsules to fill the neon outline of the sign on the family pharmacy in Gulf Breeze.The other inspiration was the artist's chance encounter with a blooming orchid tree, as Bokas explains in a catalog note. The tree's outline and extravagant colors merged in Bokas' imagination with a Chinese proverb --"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come"-- and so we have a bird in a tree, the real heart of this show.

Bokas is a graphic designer by day, and he transforms and elaborates his visual ideas with exuberant ingenuity. The orchid tree's florid silhouette, with a bird stenciled or attached at its center, is painted first as a positive, then as a negative image. It's reproduced in silk-screen prints and
 painted 20 times over on large ceramic tiles. The array of painted tiles makes an especially handsome wall installation in the art center's main gallery.
Bokas's work includes this mosaic at the Orlando International Airport. His website:

Happy Passover!

From Wikipedia:
The verb "pasàch" (Hebrew: פָּסַח) is first mentioned in the Torah account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23), and there is some debate about its exact meaning: the commonly-held assumption that it means "He passed over", in reference to God "passing over" the houses of the Israelites during the final plague of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint (παρελευσεται in Exodus 12:23, and εσκεπασεν in Exodus 12:27). Judging from other instances of the verb, and instances of parallelism, a more faithful translation may be "he hovered over, guarding." Indeed, this is the image used by Isaiah by his use of this verb in Isaiah. 31:5: "As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He passeth over" (כְּצִפֳּרִים עָפוֹת--כֵּן יָגֵן יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; גָּנוֹן וְהִצִּיל, פָּסֹחַ וְהִמְלִיט.) (Isaiah 31:5)

The English term "Passover" came into the English language through William Tyndale's translation of the Bible, and later appeared in the King James Version as well.

The term Pesach (Hebrew: פֶּסַח) may also refer to the lamb or kid which was designated as the Passover sacrifice (called the Korban Pesach in Hebrew). Four days before the Exodus, the Israelites were commanded to set aside a lamb or kid (Exodus 12:3) and inspect it daily for blemishes. During the day on the 14th of Nisan, they were to slaughter the animal and use its blood to mark their lintels and door posts. Up until midnight on the 15th of Nisan, they were to consume the lamb. Each family (or group of families) gathered together to eat a meal that included the meat of the Korban Pesach while the Tenth Plague ravaged Egypt.

In subsequent years, during the existence of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem, the Korban Pesach was eaten during the Passover Seder on the 15th of Nisan. However, following the destruction of the Temple, no sacrifices may be offered or eaten. The story of the Korban Pesach is therefore retold at the Passover Seder, and the symbolic food which represents it on the Seder Plate is usually a roasted lamb shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck.
At last night's Seder, it was pointed out that this is the first Passover in our lifetime without Charlton Heston, who played Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's epic, The Ten Commandments. Here's an appreciation of the film, by Doron Rosenblum, from Haaretz:
Even at a time when we are flooded with cheap audiovisual stimuli, when movies are bursting at the seams with computerized effects and surround sound makes the apartment shake, it is amazing how much power still resides in this movie. Seemingly this is due to the spectacles: the staff that morphs into a snake, the yellow Nile turning into blood, the creeping green miasma of the "killing of the firstborn" that passes over the houses of the Hebrews, on which the mezuzahs have been marked with blood, the pillar of fire that goes before the camp - and the zenith: the Red Sea divided in two, which no digital effect has yet been able to outdo in the thrill and sense of wonder it inspires.

But these effects reflect the frame of mind in which the film was made, and which still preserves it: abysmal seriousness and a profound faith in sublime values. And those values are, like it or not, the values of the Western world, the Judeo-Christian world, which have been so twisted in vain wars, so subjected to attack from the outside, and have become so outmoded and tattered from inside: namely, human dignity and the right to freedom.

As though to emphasize that this is not just any movie, it is served up with religious solemnity: a long "overture," uplifting music and credits inscribed in marble. Moreover, "before the curtain goes up" the director, Cecil B. DeMille himself, emerges from backstage - a cordial uncle type and surprisingly authoritative - to deliver a kind of papal urbs et orbis, in which he makes it clear that he is not intent on just telling a story, but wants to transmit an ambitious message: "The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God's laws or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the State or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today."

One critic remarked that this is probably the last time we heard an oration to the masses, in the name of God, delivered in the spirit of humanism and enlightenment, and not in the spirit of revenge, suppression, terror and hatred.

Cecil Blount DeMille, the son of an Episcopalian preacher and a Jewish mother who converted to Christianity upon her marriage - accompanied the cinema from the silent period to the great spectacles of the age of Technicolor, with almost unbroken success. His image - with riding boots and whip (though he never got on a horse in his life) - became a legend in his lifetime. He was reputed to be tyrannical with his actors, a pedant who made sure the last of the extras was properly outfitted and the most negligible element in the set was accurate. At the same time, he was an educated man and knowledgeable about the Bible, and in "The Ten Commandments" he invested not only extensive historical research, but his very soul. During the shooting in Egypt he suffered a heart attack but kept on directing (it would be his last film: he died three years later). Throughout the film his sonorous voice, like the voice of God himself, is also heard in narration, seamlessly blending biblical fervor with the American values of liberty. According to the values of that world, the good, the people whose side God is on, is embodied in the ancient Hebrews; and, by inference (as also expressed in Otto Preminger's "Exodus," from the same period), the new Hebrews, too, meaning the Israelis. God was ours, ours alone.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Desperate Dispatch

Someone told me about this website today: Desperate Dispatch:News Stuck Behind the News. Among other items, it reports this news from Somalia (remember Somalia?):
Somalia’s President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed returned to capital Mogadishu on February 16 after more than a month in London and visits to Addis Ababa.

The militant branch of Islamic Courts forcces, Al-Shabab, greeted his return with a series of attacks at the airport, seaport and the Presidential Palace Villa Somalia.

“The shelling started hours after the president’s arrival in the capital but the closest shell landed on a house near the palace area and others passed (by),” the security official told AFP.

Abdirahim Ali Mudey, a spokesman for the Islamic Courts, has claimed responsibility for an earlier attack at the seaport on February 15. Mudey said they targeted the seaport because “a ship docked there brought weapons and other materials for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)”.

The violence has intensified in recent weeks with over 6,000 killed and two million Somali lives currently “at risk”according to UN estimates. The casualty levels in Mogadishu’s hospitals have doubled since last year. Most Somalis see no clear end to violence and have no place to go. Seventy Somali refugees were expelled from Kenya last week alone.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Comes to Washington

(White House Photo)

Here's a link to Claire's Papal Visit Blog.

Apartment Therapy: Polly's Pomander Walk House

Polly is an "old girl" from a British boarding school attended by someone I know. So we were pleased as punch to learn an online tour of her recently redecorated 580 square foot townhouse is featured in Apartment Therapy (click here for tour).

Bolt from DC to NYC for $1...

Just read about this in today's Washington Post--after seeing my first one the other day on DC streets and wondering, to someone I know, what's that? Turns out, a new service from Greyhound based on RyanAir-type cheap seats. Prices run from $1 to $20, depending on when you book your seat. Service takes about four hours from New York to Washington, DC or vice versa. First reviews from Marc Fisher at the Post are very good:
The Bolt is a spanking new orange and black coach--so new it has the most intense new car smell I've ever sniffed--that pulls up to the southeast corner of 11th and G streets NW 12 minutes early. (It will pull out two minutes early, another impressive touch.) The driver, dressed in a neat, form-fitting Bolt Bus black sweater and a black uni, just glances at the boarding pass you've printed out at home and you're on your way. Service started last week, so I guess the fact that there were a grand total of six people on my midday trip to New York is not necessarily a sign of lack of customer interest.

On my trip, three of the six passengers chose Bolt because its buses offer wireless service all along the route (though a couple of folks complained that the reception was slow--hey, for a buck, hold the whining.) All of us chose Bolt because of the price. One woman, a student at the University of Maryland, said she picked Bolt because "I heard it's owned by Peter Pan/Greyhound, so it's reputable-ish."

Only two of us got the $1 fare (there's a 50-cent booking fee online, which is the main way to buy Bolt seats). The others paid $5 or $7, except for the one walk-on, who paid $20, which is still less than Greyhound and less than a third the cost of a regional Amtrak train around the same time of day. Bolt uses a Southwest Airlines-style fare system in which a few seats on each trip are sold at ludicrously cheap levels and the prices bump up a notch or two as more seats sell and as the time before the trip diminishes. But the service's highest fares remain competitive with the Chinatown buses and cheaper than real Greyhound (which these days offers a $22 web-only one-way fare to New York.)

The Bolt bus was sparkling clean with black velour seats and heavily tinted windows.While there were three flat-screen TVs on board, luckily they were not in operation. Indeed, our driver told us that while "we usually say to please keep conversation to a minimum so you don't disturb your neighbors, today you can do whatever you want" because there were so few of us and we were spread all around the bus. I used three rows for my various paraphernalia.

We made it to 33rd Street on Manhattan's West Side in three hours and fifty two minutes--eight minutes longer than an Amtrak local train I took on the way home and 25 minutes shorter than the scheduled time for Greyhound's D.C.-NYC run. It was a remarkably smooth ride, with a courteous and friendly driver who helped folks with their luggage. And best of all, Bolt, unlike some of its competitors, makes no potty stop--just a nonstop Bolt to the big city. Anytime I'm on a Chinatown bus that makes a pit stop, I cross that company off my list.

"Artist" Tortures Dog in Costa Rican Gallery

Agustin Blazquez, our favorite Cuban-American documentary filmmaker (also a painter), sent us this item :
Please sign and crosspost to everyone you know. Not just rescuers. Send to friends and family, too.

This is a very serious matter...

In 2007, the 'artist' Guillermo Vargas Habacuc, took a dog from the street, tied him to a rope in an art gallery, and starved him to death.

For several days, the 'artist' and the visitors of the exhibition have watched emotionless the shameful 'masterpiece' based on the dog's agony, until eventually he died.

Does it look like art to you?

But this is not all... the prestigious Visual Arts Biennial of the Central America decided that the 'installation' was actually art, so that Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel action for the biennial of 2008.


Please read to the end of this....He has been INVITED to do this again THIS year.

Note: He paid five local children to help him catch the terrified stray the impoverished area. The dog had no way to escape capture or his fate once he was in the hands of this cruel maniac.

But this is not all... the prestigious Visual Arts Biennial of the Central American decided that the 'installation' was actually art, so that Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel action for the biennial of 2008.


Besides signing the petition, please also write or e-mail the gallery that will host the 2008 exhibition to ask them to prohibit him. We can also write to other galleries that carry his other works and ask them to boycott him. Here's some addresses:


Centro Nacional de la Cultura
Antigua Fábrica Nacional de Licores.
Avenida 3, calle 15/17. San José, Costa Rica.
Teléfono: (506) 257 7202 / 257 9370
Fax: (506) 257 8702

This is the email address to a gallery which currently holds some of
Vargas' work for display and sale. If anyone would like to ask the gallery to
drop him from their list of artists the email address is below.
Email address:

ALSO: The Animal Legal Defense Fund. suggests:

At this point, we feel the most effective method of protest is to write local animal protection agencies demanding they put a stop to this exhibit. You can search for agencies here in the Latin America/Caribbean section
On the other hand, we received this email today:
Hello Larry!

Re today's blog post: are you sure that everything this "artist" says is true?

Juanita Bermúdez, director of the Códice Gallery, insisted Natividad escaped after just one day. She said: 'It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in.',,2269320,00.html
Chaining up a dog and forcing it to go without food and water in the name of art is a surefire way of making yourself unpopular with animal lovers. The furore created by Damien Hirst's pickled sheep and Tracey Emin's dirty bed pales into insignificance against the international outrage Guillermo 'Habacuc' Vargas has unleashed.

The Costa Rican has been called an animal abuser, killer and worse over claims that a stray dog called Natividad died of starvation after he displayed it at an exhibition last year at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. Vargas tethered the animal without food and water under the words 'Eres Lo Que Lees' - 'You Are What You Read' - made out of dog biscuits while he played the Sandinista anthem backwards and set 175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner. More than a million people have signed an online petition urging organisers of this year's event to stop Vargas taking part.

Vargas, 32, said he wanted to test the public's reaction, and insisted none of the exhibition visitors intervened to stop the animal's suffering. He refused to say whether the animal had survived the show, but said he had received dozens of death threats. [emphasis mine]

Juanita Bermúdez, director of the Códice Gallery, insisted Natividad escaped after just one day. She said: 'It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in.'
Then again, it may be Ms. Bermudez who's pulling our chain, but this whole matter's not be so cut and dried... it may be as serious as you report, or it may be another artist-provocateur exploiting not animals, but people's capacity for outrage and willingness to embrace it.

Is it true? I don't know...this looks bad: "He refused to say whether the animal had survived the show, but said he had received dozens of death threats." Maybe one of our readers in Costa Rica can tell us for sure...

Meanwhile, if Habcuc did it, it wouldn't have been the first time. At least one "artist" has killed a dog before, in the USA--Tom Otterness, according to Wikipedia:
Gary Indiana criticized Otterness for an independent work done while part of the East Village art scene in the mid-eighties called "Shot Dog Piece", in which Otterness "adopted a dog and then shot it to death for the fun of recording his infantile, sadistic depravity on film."
Here's what Indiana's wrote in New York Magazine:
But I’m repulsed by this show’s inclusion of Tom Otterness, a sculptor of limitless nonentity despite his demonstrated skill at conning public-art commissions and taste-impaired collectors into making him rich. Mr. Otterness, once upon a time, adopted a dog and then shot it to death for the fun of recording his infantile, sadistic depravity on film. I’d like the New Museum’s visitors to keep that in mind while looking at this creep’s work. Mr. Otterness isn’t one of those special exceptions deserving the adage “Lousy person, terrific artist.” Lousy both.
It didn't seem to hurt Otterness's art career--his "public art" installations include works on display at a New York City public school. As an alumnus of P.S. 24 in the Bronx, it makes me very sad...I found this post in the comments section of a Flickr site that gives more detail:
candidoescandido says:

I'm afraid... no I'm still very, very angry because in fact the piece about Shot Dog Piece is absolutely true. I was an art critic in New York at the time and I know how very difficult it was (and still is) to break into the NY art world. I used to hear the gallery owners complain about the young artists coming around and leaving their slides (God forbid that they would actually see the works themselves). The gallery owners could show a maximum of what- a dozen artists a year? So it was unfortunately necessary to do something to attract the attention of those with the power to make an artist and Otterness was hungry to make it and hit on a 'good idea'. I saw the video at a gallery I cannot remember at a group show. I didn't stay for the whole thing but I saw the puppy playing at Otterness’ feet as he lay sitting on the ground under a tree. Then he picked up a gun and shot it. I turned away so I couldn't authenticate whether or not he filmed the death throes of the dog or not. The accompanying material lead one to believe that the dog was his old family pet and was at the end of its useful life anyway. So that’s the story- a young artist so hungry to make it that he killed a dog in order to attract attention. Now the beloved artist is the toast of Beverly Hills with his own factory/foundry in Brooklyn and I think its more of an indictment of the incompleteness of the Internet that not one page details this crime than its being a cause for suspicion as to the truth of Otterness’ canineacide.
According to the Brooklyn Eagle, Otterness has apologized for killing the dog...but, I don't believe it has brought the dog back.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bernard Avishai on The Hebrew Republic

I was in the World Bank "InfoShop" bookstore on Friday and happened upon a copy of Bernard Avishai's new book, The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace At Last. Reading the jacket blurb, I thought Avishai's thesis sounded very familiar. I realized that I had already heard a similar proposal from Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) and Samuel Merlin in the 1970s. They had handed me a copy of their manifesto calling for an Israeli constitution--promised to them as members of the first Knesset. The failure to write a constitution, Merlin and Bergson argued at that time, was at the root of Israel's insecurity in the world. Israel had to define herself first politically, before peace would be possible. At the time, I didn't understand what they were saying. It seems that Bernard Avishai did, and has taken Bergson and Merlin's message to heart in the mission of his new book. On page 12, Avishai notes his meeting with Bergson in 1975 to discuss the concept. As Bergson explained, an Israel with a constitution that separated religion and the state would look more like America, less like England. It would be Jewish in the way America is Christian, for historical, cultural and demographic reasons--and Israeli Arabs would be truly equal citizens, in the way that American Jews can be equally American. Israelis could be Israelis, Jews could be Jews, Arab Jews would be able to achieve full equality in Israel, while American Jews would not be made to feel guilty about living in the Diaspora. Such a vision should equally appeal to many Russian immigrants, who are not officially Jewish, yet form a significant part of today's Israeli immigrant class. Just as descendants of Mayflower pilgrims do not constitute the majority of the American population, descendants of Zionist pioneers need not be a demographic majority in Israel to maintain the values of the founders. Israeli nationalism, not Jewish religion, would become the driving force in national development. Israel would transform into a Hebrew Republic, more than merely a Jewish State--in the way that the Republic of Ireland replaced the Irish Free State. Today, the Republic of Ireland is booming, no longer fighting England in Protestant-Catholic warfare. A Hebrew Republic of Israel could develop a similar relation with her Arab neighbors.

Maybe it wouldn't work, but in this age of religious fanaticism, recasting Israel as a secular nation along Herzl's original Zionist principles deserves serious consideration and debate. To get started, heres' a link to Avishai's interview with himself on his blog:
Q: As opposed to a Jewish state, why do you espouse a Hebrew republic?

BA: The Hebrew Republic is the Jewish state as the most original forces in the Zionist movement conceived it. It is a democratic country whose language is Hebrew, much the way the French Republic is French. I am not proposing anything terribly original here. I’m just trying to bring Israel up to code. In a way, I’m trying to imagine what Israel would look like if it accepted the charter of the European Union and became a member, as I hope it eventually will be.

Zionism originally grew out of the insight that to survive in the modern world Jews would have to transform themselves into a nation. Jews would embrace scientific doubt, tolerance, individualism, and get out from under the suffocating power of rabbinic orthodoxy. They conceived of a Hebrew enlightenment. Many Zionists, is true, were appalled by the growing power of anti-Semitic movements in Europe. But Jews who were mainly concerned about that went to America, not to Palestine. The Hebrew Republic is merely a retrieval of Zionism’s original vision, that Jews should ask modern questions, from technological to erotic questions, in Hebrew.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why the US Might Reconsider Support for Separatism

(ht Drudge) Tibet, Xinjiang, Chechnya, Kosovo...might serve as precedents for the mother of all separatist movements--the "reconquista" of the American Southwest. Samuel Huntington warned about it in Who Are We?--and now Absolut Vodka (Swedish) is promoting it--in a Mexican advertising campaign. Here's the LA Times account:
The billboard and press campaign, created by advertising agency Teran\TBWA and now running in Mexico, is a colorful map depicting what the Americas might look like in an "Absolut" -- i.e., perfect -- world.

The U.S.-Mexico border lies where it was before the Mexican-American war of 1848 when California, as we now know it, was Mexican territory and known as Alta California.

Following the war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo saw the Mexican territories of Alta California and Santa Fé de Nuevo México ceded to the United States to become modern-day California, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. (Texas actually split from Mexico several years earlier to form a breakaway republic, and was voluntarily annexed by the United States in 1846.)

The campaign taps into the national pride of Mexicans, according to Favio Ucedo, creative director of leading Latino advertising agency Grupo Gallegos in the U.S.

Ucedo, who is from Argentina, said: “Mexicans talk about how the Americans stole their land, so this is their way of reclaiming it. It’s very relevant and the Mexicans will love the idea.”

But he said that were the campaign to run in the United States, it might fall flat.

“Many people aren’t going to understand it here. Americans in the East and the North or in the center of the county -- I don’t know if they know much about the history.

“Probably Americans in Texas and California understand perfectly and I don’t know how they’d take it.”

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why You Can't Take Your Water Bottle Onboard Your Flight

From today's Daily Mail (UK):
A gang of British Muslims planned to blow up seven planes within hours in the biggest terrorist atrocity since 9/11, a court heard yesterday.

Two thousand passengers would have died in the plot by eight fanatics working "in the name of Islam", the jury was told.

It could have involved up to 18 suicide bombers. And they were almost ready to strike.

The jets they targeted would all have been bound from Heathrow to cities in the U.S. and Canada, it was claimed.

Once the first had exploded the authorities would have had to watch, powerless, as the six others were downed.

Plastic soft-drink bottles were to be the murder weapon - filled with explosive and connected to a detonator.

The alleged plot led to a ban on liquid containers bigger than 100ml which is still in force at UK airports.

Had it been successful, the death toll would have far eclipsed the 52 killed on July 7, 2005, when four suicide bombers detonated their rucksacks on the London transport system.

And if the conspirators chose to blow themselves up over land, the number of casualties in the air and on the ground could have exceeded the Twin Towers attacks in which nearly 3,000 died.

Yesterday eight men went on trial at Woolwich Crown Court in South-East London accused of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to commit an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said: "What these men intended was a violent and deadly statement of intent which would have a truly global impact.

"These men were actively engaged in a deadly plan designed to bring about what would have been, had they been successful, a civilian death toll from an act of terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale.

"If each of these aircraft was successfully blown up the potential for loss of life was indeed considerable.

"And there would be little if any chance of saving any of them from their impending disaster.

"For when the mid-flight explosions began the authorities would be unable to prevent the other flights from meeting a similar fate as they would already be in mid air and carrying their deadly cargo."

He described the defendants as having the "cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic".

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Charles Moore: Treat Islamists Like Thatcher Treated Arthur Scargill

First read this interesting speech on how to defeat Islamists in The Spectator. Charles Moore recalled Thatcher's victory over another extremist--Arthur Scargill, who brought Britain to a halt with miner's strikes and Moscow gold--at the Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture entitled: "How to Beat the Scargills of Islam". You can listen to the speech as an mp3 file on this link at the Center for Policy Studies, thanks to Sophie Kydd. Or, you can read it here, as a PDF file:
Indeed, to return to my trade union analogy, even if we want to do a base deal with the extreme, self-appointed spokesmen of Islam today, we should recognise that they cannot deliver. Everything is in flux. We are seeing a battle about modernity. The struggle to replace the old, tribal immigrant leaders is led, on one side, by a rigorous revolutionary creed, a sort of God-intoxicated Militant Tendency which thinks it is in the vanguard of history. Hizb ut Tahrir, for example, sells itself as an organisation that scorns most of what happens in mosques, puts little emphasis on prayer and even holds out the prospect of much wider marriage opportunities than are traditional. It acts modern.

On the other side are those genuine reformers who long to live at peace in the free Western world, who are in Britain by choice as well as by chance.

I think the extremists are as brittle as was Arthur Scargill and, unless we are so foolish as to help them, they will not prevail. The bearded men who brandish placards calling for the beheading of those who insult Islam because of a few harmless cartoons will quite soon come to look as outdated as those pickets with their mutton-chop whiskers gathered round braziers and shouting ‘Scab!’ in the 1970s.

Conservatives, who have the advantage over the Left of being unembarrassed by British history, should study the interesting fact that tens of thousands of Muslims volunteered — they were not conscripted — to fight for the British Empire in two world wars. In the first, they fought against the Ottoman Empire, to which, in theory, they owed spiritual allegiance. Why did they do so? Not, surely, because they were offered multiculturalism, but because they felt themselves respected and secure in the self-confident British political culture of that time.

We should bear in mind the importance of the individual rather than the group. A believing Muslim will naturally regard his belief as encompassing his whole life, but that will not mean that he makes no separation between his personal beliefs and his politics.

Our Western language of rights and freedom puts great stress on the fact that each person is entitled to choice and autonomy. We must never allow our respect for any organised religion to allow us to forget the individual rights of its adherents and of the rest of us. We must not fall into the trap of speaking of Muslims as being defined, for purposes of most public policy and law, by their religion. For most purposes, we do not need to speak to Muslims through self-appointed gatekeepers. Muslims here, like Jews and Hindus and Sikhs and Christians and nothings and don’t knows, are individual men and women and they are British.

But it may also be that, purged of its current political deformations, Islam will indeed have things from which British society can profit. I am in correspondence with a Muslim thinker who criticises the ‘identity politics’ pursued by so many Islamist leaders. He says such attitudes produce only anger and pride. Muslims are enjoined, he says, to be ‘scholars of the heart’. In Islam, the word ‘honour’ does not have to go with the word ‘killing’, but can have a real meaning which it has too often lost in our secular society. So can ideas of dignity, of obligation to elderly parents, of community. He quotes a Sufi saying: ‘If every man were to mend a man, then every man would be mended.’ Our broken society, of which conservatives rightly talk so much today, has need of such mending.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Carla Bruni Joins Gordon Brown in UK

From The Guardian, today:
Moving rapidly to capitalise on the national explosion of Carlamania, which saw Bruni-Sarkozy heralded as a new Princess Diana during the French state visit to the UK last week, Brown will formally announce the latest addition to his "government of all the talents" in a speech tomorrow at the Institut Français in South Kensington, London.

For too long, he will say, Britain has suffered an inferiority complex with regard to mainland European countries such as France and Italy, whose citizens are seen as effortlessly stylish and sophisticated.

"I want a Britain, now and in the future, where good taste and sophistication are the birthright of the many, not the privilege of an elite, whether in fashion, in food and drink, or in cultural pursuits," Brown will say. To launch the scheme, the Italian-born Bruni-Sarkozy, 40, will relocate to London for three months, starting in June, according to one Brown aide. She is expected to commute back to Paris via Eurostar for French state engagements involving her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"At first, when it became clear she was going to upstage [Sarkozy] during the state visit, we got a bit worried about it all looking a bit frivolous," the aide said. "But it was during the banquet at the Guildhall that the prime minister had his eureka moment. Yes, she charmed him. But the key point is that he is committed to putting that charm in the service of a better Britain."

Bruni-Sarkozy will focus initially on improving the UK's dress sense and cuisine. The aide joked that she would steer clear, for the moment, of the other popular British assumption about the French and Italians - that they have more exciting sex lives.

She is understood already to have spoken to the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, Stuart Rose, to discuss the launch of an affordable range of high-street designs inspired by the demure tailored grey suits that won her so much acclaim during last week's visit. They were created for Dior by the British designer John Galliano, who has signed up as a supporter of Brown's plan. The M&S versions will be roomier, and may incorporate several more practical features, such as zip-up pockets and mobile phone holders.

Bruni-Sarkozy has also expressed an interest in meeting Jamie Oliver to develop plans to introduce a more "continental" approach to eating and drinking, which could see British parents encouraged to serve small volumes of red wine with meals to children as young as seven or eight.

To coincide with the prime minister's announcement, the thinktank Demos will release a report this week arguing that the answer to a wide swath of social and economic problems facing Britain may lie in adopting a more French approach.

"The missing ingredient in the UK's approach to a range of pressing policy challenges is straightforward: it is savoir-faire," the report's authors said in a press release.

The study concludes that numerous national problems - including the decline of Britain's railway infrastructure, the collapse of Northern Rock, and the scourge of binge drinking - could all have been more successfully addressed had politicians and bureaucrats demonstrated "a certain je ne sais quoi".

Bush Resigns!

Today, I am resigning as President of the United States because I have compromised the trust of my constituents.

"Several months ago, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth.

"So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public -- even myself.

"For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

"The truth is -- I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office.

"I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.

"Some time ago, I asked my lawyers to inform the special war crimes prosecutor that I would like to plead guilty and begin serving a prison term.

"Today is the culmination of that process.

"I will continue to cooperate with the government's ongoing investigation to the best of my ability.

"In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow.

"And now I know great shame."
(April Fool)