The National Symphony

Last week cellist Mstislav Rostropovich died. Rostropovich was the conductor of the National Symphony when I worked there about 25 years ago (and long after I left). I was the Data Processing Manager for the National Symphony, hired to set up an IBM System/34 minicomputer donated to the Symphony. My office was a former broom closet — albeit a very large one — on the edge of the suite of Symphony offices deep backstage and upstairs in the Kennedy Center. The glamor and grandeur of the Kennedy Center largely stopped at the backstage elevator.

The interview for that job was the most grueling of my life. My soon-to-be boss, John Berg, was — probably, still is — a mild-mannered, good-natured gentle man. For the interview, he was joined by Mr X, whose name I suppress. X worked for the donor and took it upon himself to test me during the interview. So, as John asked the usual questions, X kept interjecting rapid-fire questions and comments, often interrupting me mid-sentence, seeming not to care at all about my actual response. After the interview, I walked numbly along the huge exterior balcony with its magnificent view of Memorial Bridge. I’d been through the ringer. Later, John confided that after I left, X said, “there’s your man,” believing I was even-keeled and unflappable. While no one who knows me would call me unflappable, I am mostly steady, a trait that has served me repeatedly in the classroom. I know for a fact I flapped more than once at the Symphony.

Conductors have longer lifespans than any other profession. It helps to be rich and pampered, but there is no question that the physical and mental exertion — and the adulation — keep one strong.

Though I saw Rostropovich conduct the Symphony many times and play cello a few times, I only met him once. I don’t recall the occasion, but staffers gathered in an office with him. We each downed a shot of vodka and greeted Rostropovich one at a time. I can imagine he kissed everyone on both cheeks. mjh

Church and State

Did Justices’ Catholicism Play Part in Abortion Ruling? By Robert Barnes, Washington Post Staff Writer

Is it significant that the five Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold the federal ban on a controversial abortion procedure also happen to be the court’s Roman Catholics? …

[On the other hand,] last week, four of the five Catholics were in the court’s minority in voting to uphold death sentences in three cases from Texas. Capital punishment is another issue to which the church is opposed, although it hasn’t held the same political currency as abortion.

Undoing the Damage Done by Neocons & BushCo

Pentagon to End Talon Data-Gathering Program, By Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer

Less than two weeks after being sworn in as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr. is moving to end the controversial Talon electronic data program [Threat and Local Observation Notices], which collected and circulated unverified reports about people and organizations that allegedly threaten Defense Department facilities. …

Talon, launched in 2003 with an eye toward Sept. 11, 2001, came under public scrutiny in December 2005 with the disclosure that it had collected data on anti-military protesters and peaceful demonstrators. More recently, the American Civil Liberties Union released an internal Pentagon report showing that, as of 18 months ago, Talon had about 13,000 entries, of which 2,821 involved reports on U.S. citizens. …

In answer to questions before his confirmation hearing, Clapper, who has worked for 43 years within military intelligence, said: “The history of the intelligence community is replete with instances of abuse of civil liberties — well intended, but abuse nonetheless.” He said it is “important that the proper balance be struck between the counterintelligence mission, on one hand, and the protection of civil liberties, on the other.” …

The agency’s size and budget are classified, but congressional sources have said that CIFA [Counterintelligence Field Activity, which was established in September 2002 by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz] had spent more than $1 billion through last October. One counterintelligence official at that time estimated that CIFA had 400 full-time employees and 800 to 900 contractors working for it.

The King of Blind Cynics

Dick, You're Fired!Oh, how I hate Dark Lord Dick. It’s amazing he doesn’t choke and stroke on his own duplicity. He believes any opposition to the War Without End is unthinking and motivated solely by power-plays. The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight (but shoots constantly) judges the rest of the world by their own view, that winning is all that matters — domestically and in places there will be no win, like Iraq. Now that they’ve pissed away their dreams of a generation of Republican power, as Karl Rove ‘architected’ it — now they struggle to maintain any relevance at all. Step one: shut up. Step two: don’t prolong it — end it. Bush started it. If he were a leader, he’d finish it. Instead, he’s AWOL and leaving it for the next president. “Here’s the keys to the quagmire.” Just imagine what Cheney and the Radical Wrong will say when a Democrat is president — they’ll be counting the days until Impeachment. mjh

ABC News: Cheney, Reid Spar Over Iraq Policy By ANNE FLAHERTY

“Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics,” Cheney told reporters at the Capitol after attending the weekly Republican policy lunch. “Senator Reid himself has said that the war in Iraq will bring his party more seats in the next election.”

“It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage,” Cheney said. – Cheney blasts Reid’s ‘defeatism’ By Klaus Marre

The vice president called it “cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage. Leaders should make decisions based on the security interests of our country, not on the interests of their political party.” [mjh: you gotta admit every misstep BushCo makes is bad for their party — and the nation.]

Kucinich: Cheney impeachment effort ‘practical’, by Sabrina Eaton, Plain Dealer Bureau

Washington- After hinting for weeks that he would initiate impeachment actions against the Bush administration, Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Tuesday introduced three articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney.

Kucinich said Congress should oust Cheney from office for “fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” to trick Congress and the public into believing war with Iraq was necessary. He said Cheney also manipulated intelligence to deceive the public about purported links between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaida, the group responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11.

Additionally, Kucinich accused Cheney of threatening aggression against Iran even though Iran has not threatened the United States.

“This goes beyond partisan terms,” Kucinich said. “This becomes a question of who we are as a people.”

Guns Don’t Kill People?

I often think of Iraq as NRA-land. In Iraq, every male over 10 has at least one automatic rifle. (Who makes all the money from that?) Therefore, according to the NRA, Iraq is a paradise on earth, where each man is his own master and personally responsible for his own defense. In Iraq, men do not cower under desks — they shoot!

Curiously, the NRA doesn’t crow in public about this paradise. As strangely, they say nothing about how Iraq also shows the other face of the NRA: the government wants your weapons. There is no question that in Iraq, the government has tried to confiscate weapons. Worse, US soldiers play a major role in this round-up of a freedom-loving people’s last defense against a tyrannical government. How can the NRA remain silent and look the other way? How does the NRA know those soldiers won’t come home and take your weapons next? mjh

Gunmen kill 43 in northern Iraq by Thomas Wagner, The Associated Press

BAGHDAD – Gunmen shot and killed 23 members of an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq on Sunday after stopping their bus and separating out followers of other faiths, while car bombings in the capital killed at least another 20 people.

Ask Gingrinch How He Puts His Foot in His Mouth When His Head is Up His Ass

Think Progress » Gingrich Blames Virginia Tech Tragedy On Liberalism

In the wake of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich laid the blame for the tragedy at the feet of liberals. Here’s what he said:

“I want to say to the elite of this country – the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite: I accuse you in Littleton…of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made, and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have done, and instead foisting upon the rest of us pathetic banalities because you don’t have the courage to look at the world you have created.”

On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked Gingrich if he would apply those same words to the Virginia Tech tragedy. “Yes,” Gingrich said, offering a rambling, nonsensical response that segued into Don Imus and McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform.

Gingrich has a history of spinning tragedy for ideological and partisan gain.

– In 1994, after Susan Smith confessed to drowning her two children in South Carolina, Gingrich quickly blamed liberals, saying the only way to avoid similar future incidents was “to vote Republican.”

– After former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) was forced to resign over his sexually inappropriate behavior towards House pages, Gingrich declared that conservatives didn’t act to stop Foley because they “would have been accused of gay bashing” by liberals.

– At the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, Gingrich blamed the residents of New Orleans’ 9th ward for “a failure of citizenship,” by being “so uneducated and so unprepared, they literally couldn’t get out of the way of a hurricane.”

In Gingrich’s mind, anything bad that happens can always be traced back to the culture created by liberals.

Watch the video at:

Exciting News for Virtuous Pagans — Agnostics Don’t Know and Atheists Don’t Care

Vatican abolishes the concept of limbo By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

ROME — Limbo has been in limbo for quite some time, but is now on its way to extinction. …

That could reverse centuries of Roman Catholic traditional belief that the souls of unbaptized babies are condemned to eternity in limbo, a place that is neither heaven nor hell, giving rise to the popular usage meaning “in between.”

Limbo is not unpleasant, but it is not a seat alongside God. [mjh: and you really do want the best seat for all eternity.]

In his 14th-century work “The Divine Comedy,” the Italian poet Dante famously placed virtuous pagans and great classical philosophers, including Plato and Socrates, in limbo.

Catholic doctrine states that because all humans are tainted by original sin thanks to the experience of Adam and Eve, baptism is essential for salvation. But the idea of limbo has fallen out of favor for many Catholics, who see it as harsh and not befitting a merciful God. [mjh: isn’t that convenient.]

Catholic conservatives criticized any effort to relegate limbo to oblivion.

Removing the concept from church teaching would lessen the importance of baptism and discourage parents from christening their infants, said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a Washington-based columnist for the traditionalist Catholic newspaper The Remnant.

It makes baptism a formality, a party, instead of a necessity,” Wolfe said. “There would be no reason for infant baptisms. It would put the Catholic Church on par with the Protestants.”

It would also deprive Catholic leaders of a tool in their fight against abortion, Wolfe said. Priests have long told women that their aborted fetuses cannot go to heaven, which in theory was another argument against ending pregnancy. Without limbo, those fetuses would presumably no longer be denied communion with God.
– – –

Pope revises limbo, says there is hope for babies who are not baptized By Nicole Winfield

“If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace,” said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. [mjh: holy crap, there goes our monopoly!]

[Rev. Thomas Reese] said the document also had implications for non-Christians, since it could be seen as suggesting that non-baptized adults could go to heaven if they led a good life.

“I think it shows that Benedict is trying to balance his view of Jesus as being central as the savior of the world … but at the same time not saying what the Evangelicals say, that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus is going to hell.”