Archive for October, 2009

The Lord’s Prayer

October 29, 2009

Navajo_sandpainting2Christians are taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer which begins, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  In other words, Christians pray to an authority figure who lives somewhere else, a place no one can even visit in this life. The prayer signals that this authority figure is insecure and needs lots of praise.  So Christians must first remind him that his name is “hallowed”; that it is His will that must be done; and that His is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. In fact, of the 69 words in this beautiful prose-poem of prayer, only 31 words are humans asking anything of this supernatural power and all but seven of those beg this authority figure for abstract forgiveness for our evil, fallen ways. The only material thing asked for is a piece of bread.

Navajos pray a little differently. For them, I suspect, heaven is right here, right now and their holy people a little more self-confident and less stern. This is how Navajos pray:

In the house made of dawn,
In the house made of evening twilight,
In the house made of dark cloud and rain
In beauty I walk.

With beauty before and behind me,
With beauty below and above,
With beauty all around me, I walk

Remind me: Which is the “primitive”  religion?


The photo of the Navajo sandpainting (ca. 1900) comes from the Library of Congress’s “American Memory” web site.



October 25, 2009

Punditry, the ability to render opinions whether founded or not, makes money for a select few who are willing to put their opinions before the public.  Mostly, no one ever checks up on the pundits after the fact.  (Except for William Safire, who checked up on himself once a year.) It seems to be an occupation where no mistake goes punished.  Wrong often, pundits just keep opining away and getting paid for it. Some even pun while doing it.

Which is why I was excited to discover that the Washington Post is having a pundit contest.  All you had to do was render an opinion about something, send it in, and wait to hear if you made the final 10 contestants.  You might even get an expense paid trip to D.C. if you became a finalist.

And, if you won, you got to pen thirteen pieces which will be on the Post’s web page and maybe even in the print version of the paper.  Plus you would be paid $200 per piece.

A Blogger’s dream.

Sadly, I only found out about the contest two days before it ended and I was on the road.  The last evening of the contest I wrote a piece, thinking I could submit it before the midnight (EDT) deadline.

I didn’t reckon with the internet connection from the hotel. Down.  The whole evening.

So, even though I didn’t get to enter, here is the pundit piece I woulda, coulda, submitted.  But, sigh, now nobody – including President Obama – will read my wise words.

Well, that’s not true.  You will read them.   I hope.


Unforced Errors

copenhagenNow that President Obama’s futile Copenhagen trip to boost Chicago for the 2016 Olympics is over and the trip fades from the public mind, it is time for an appraisal.

New presidents are prone to unforced errors.  Like athletes who bumble a grounder, fumble a football, or slam a tennis ball into the net, presidents often make mistakes that appear unnecessary.
Abraham Lincoln’s Powhatan fumble and John Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs bumble spring to mind. But such errors are learning opportunities for presidents.  Lincoln never again was careless about transmitting orders and Kennedy learned skepticism about experts and both became much more careful about their advisers.  President Obama should learn as much from the Copenhagen trip.

In the future he should pay more attention to that adviser or advisers who told him not to go.  Presumably he got advice such as, “Mr. President, you should not go for at least three reasons.  First, the political mosquitoes will trumpet a defeat and while the conservative commentators are no more than mosquitoes, even a mosquito can carry a deadly disease.  Second, we can’t count the votes so we don’t know if Chicago will win.  If you lose, the political professionals on Capitol Hill are going to question our ability to count votes.  Finally, leaders around the world are apt to draw the wrong conclusions and make dangerous mistakes in the future.  Like the Soviet Politburo did with Kennedy, they may decide that you are not a strong leader and don’t have good political judgment.  North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan are just a few countries who could make misjudgments about more serious matters. The story will be off the front pages in a few days but the perceptions will last and perceptions create their own realities.

Some of Kennedy's Untrusted Advisers

Some of Kennedy's Untrusted Advisers

“There is too much at stake for you to go to Copenhagen, especially when you are going again soon for a climate change summit that matters much more.  The Copenhagen Olympic meeting is why you have a Secretary of Commerce.  Send him, whatever his name is.”

Assuming President Obama had advisers who said something like that, he needs to pay more attention to them next time. If no one told him, he needs some new advisers.


Contestants also had to submit 100 words on why the Post should select them.  Here is mine.

You should select me so I can resolve several modern riddles.  For instance, I know what to do about Afghanistan (teaser – Kashmir), global climate change (hint – atoms), health care (No more hints.  I don’t work for free.), the economy, and America’s cultural decline.

In addition, you should hire me because I love to write but have no editor. I whine about this deficiency on both blogs that I keep.  ( and )

Besides, for a short time only, my writing is on sale: Only $200 for 800 words.  Don’t wait!  These special prices won’t last forever!

Here is some humorous advice for modern pundits from a modern pundit.

Afghanistan and the Spanish Civil War

October 19, 2009

Rereading George Orwell’s memoir of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War reminded me of the current debate about what to do next in Afghanistan.  A relative thinks we should just “win.”  Unfortunately, nobody knows what that means.  Orwell had a clear-eyed view of what is and what is not possible in war and was scathing about news coverage of wars.  He not only went to Spain to cover the war as a journalist, he enlisted in the fight against the fascists and was shot.  Here is what he had to say about war debates:

“One of the most horrible features of war is that the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

Return from Big Ditch

October 13, 2009

Returning to the work-a-day world from the Grand Canyon is like reading a Dan Brown novel after watching Hamlet.

But, here I am, so I had better make the best of it.

I had intended to regale you with an analysis of the “dog-fighting” case argued last week in the Supreme Court but Dahlia Lithwick of Slate beat me to it and did it better than I could. Read it here and enjoy laughing.  Not much suspense in how that case is going to turn out.
And, from the satiric Onion, comes this photo along with the headline that the Supreme Court has been ordered to remove the tip jars from its bench.  And the humorous faux news that Justice Sotomayor did not escape jury duty.

And the real news that the Supreme Court was not interested in the glass dildo case.  Really.

Brief Hiatus

October 7, 2009

The Golden State will take a brief hiatus until Monday, October 12th.  We’re off to the Big Ditch, also known as the Grand Canyon for a three-day backpack.

Another First Monday in October

October 5, 2009

It’s the first Monday in October again, President Obama is back from his unforced error in Copenhagen, we’ve survived the first New York Times Sunday Magazine knowing that we are deprived permanently of William Safire’sautumn tree-1 “On Language” column — or would that read better if I split the infinitive and wrote “are permanently deprived” ? — and the Supreme Court is back in town, ready to render several 5-4 decisions before the new term ends.

At the New York Times, Adam Liptak, who replaced Linda Greenhouse as the Times Supreme Court reporter, wrote a good synopsis of many of the business cases before the Court this year and did it without once using the word “liberal” for which he is to be congratulated.  Eva Rodriguez of the Washington Post reviewed the docket and managed the same feat.  Kudos to her.

By next June, we should have some idea of whether the word can be applied to Justice Sotomayor.  Early indications are that she too will be a moderate, but we’ll have to wait to know for certain.  In the meantime, we’ll soldier on, waiting for the day when the word “liberal” will once again be useful in describing Supreme Court justices.