Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.
So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.
The Drudge Report remains one of the most accurate barometers of what’s happening right now.
But can we augur near-future trends by sifting through that site’s headlines?
Lately, Drudge has posted lots of news stories about “the devil” and “exorcism”:
Camera captures exorcism performed on shrieking woman “possessed by devil:
Church Turns to Exorcism to Combat Suicide Increase… Archbishop: “Satanism has spread among young people”
BILLY GRAHAM: In Our “Lawless and Wicked Age We’ve Taught Philosophy of Devil”
Aside from the uptick in stories like these, I’m not sensing a resurgence in interest in all things diabolical, a new version of the “occult” fad that helped make the 1970s so miserable, and led to the “satanic panic” of the 1980s that was almost as bad.
Peter Bebergal doesn’t agree.
According to him, “we’re currently experiencing ‘an Occult Revival in rock music and popular culture.’”
He’s penned one of the year’s most talked-about books, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.
“My argument is that the spirit of rock and roll — the essential rebellious instinct of rock and roll — is certainly social and sexual and political, but it’s also a spiritual rebellion,” Bebergal explained. “And the way in which it expressed that spiritual rebellion was through the occult imagination.”
That “occult imagination” conjures everything from Ouiji boards to Christian and Jewish symbolism to LSD trips to “alternative spiritual practices.” Bebergal says it ultimately helped rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath save rock from sounding too poppy, sappy and mainstream.
Some jokes are always funny. Then again, after 2500 years, some jokes are just really, really gross and weird. The ancient Greeks and Romans may have laid the foundations of the Western world, but — and this is weirdly comforting — they loved fart gags. The comedies they put onstage were about as mature and sophisticated as a Judd Apatow movie, and just as filthy. So if you were sure sex was invented in 1963, hold onto your petticoats: this is a tour through the deepest gutters of the ancient world, ranked from naughty giggles to outright smut. Read on for a sampling of, quite literally, some of the oldest jokes in the book.
The Greek comedian Aristophanes loved big, dumb, gross-out gags, but he also loved political satire with more of a bite. In Wasps, he put them together. In the play, a father and son are arguing for and against Cleon, Athens’ political hotshot. The dad, Philocleon, basically has the hots for Cleon — Philocleon is Greek for “love Cleon.” The son, who thinks Cleon’s a dirtbag, is called Bdelycleon — which means either “disgusting Cleon,” or, more appealingly, “fart Cleon.” Essentially it’s as if Rush Limbaugh changed his name to “Obama-is-a-fart.” Which, come to think of it, would be hilarious.
On November 9, 2006, as the free world celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise, an 83-year-old man died in a peaceful slumber at his home in the German capital city. The man was Markus Wolf, who during the Cold War led the foreign-intelligence section of East Germany’s secret-police apparatus: the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit), known colloquially as “the Stasi.” The Stasi’s most renowned spymaster, he controlled thousands of agents, whose purpose was to infiltrate important Western institutions and government positions. Often mistaken as the inspiration for John le Carre’s shadowy Karla character, Wolf for years remained a mystery to Western intelligence services, who didn’t even have a picture of him until the late 1970s—several decades into his career. Historians have marveled at his success in leading the Stasi’s foreign wing, known as the HVA, or Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung. Perhaps his most well known accomplishment is having one of his agents, Gunter Guillaume, become a trusted aide to Willy Brandt, the West German chancellor.
Seven years after Wolf’s death and twenty-five years after the Wall’s, the West still doesn’t appreciate the breadth and depth of the Stasi’s brutality. (The KGB still reigns in the popular imagination as the ultimate secret-police force.) Formed after the Second World War in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, the Stasi grew to become the most potently effective Eastern bloc intelligence organization. They possessed a more impressive informant network than even the KGB. When East Germany crumbled, the Stasi employed upwards of 190,000 unofficial informants. By 1989, approximately one out of every 90 East German citizens was a Stasi informant. Referred to as inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (“unofficial collaborators”), most were simply ordinary German citizens, tasked with reporting everything they could about possible (real or imagined) anti-regime activity, as well as details about family and friends. Even children were involved in spying on their parents.
When I was a kid and first fell in love with dinosaurs, they were lumbering, cold-blooded beasts who died of stupidity. So much of the past keeps changing:
Carrying around an exoskeleton of bony armor is hard work. But armored ankylosaurs figured out a way to shoulder the load and stay cool. These Cretaceous dinosaurs had “Krazy Straw” nasal passages that helped them air-condition their brains, according to a new study.
“These heads are just covered with bone they just look like rocks with eyes. And yet, when you look inside, they have these noses that go all over the place,” said Jason Bourke, a doctoral student at Ohio University who presented his findings on ankylosaurus noses Nov. 8 at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology in Berlin.
It gets better:
The airway discovery is interesting, Bourke said, because most modern mammals and birds have their own method for warming air headed to the lungs and for cooling exhaled air: They have respiratory turbinates, or blood-rich structures in the nasal cavity that warm and humidify the air coming in.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to show that an animal that doesn’t have these turbinates found another way around heating the air up or cooling it down, just by making the airway superlong and then curling it around,” Bourke said.
Duck-billed dinosaurs, or hadrosaurs, have similarly loopy noses, he said, which have been linked with helping the dinos create resonant bellows. It’s very likely that, in both hadrosaurs and ankylosaurs, the structures served a dual purpose: warming and cooling air, and amplifying sounds, Bourke said.
I’d like to see one of these skulls 3-D printed into the world’s biggest, loudest conch shell.
“…the stage where Johnny Rotten unveiled his baleful stare has given way to a Harry Potter section.”
The venerable St. Martins School of Art having moved to a new campus, another esteemed institution took over its old building this year:
Traditionalists grumbled that this new Foyles was altogether too slick, nowhere near as dusty and quaint as the original store.
But when discussing this doubly-historic move, the one talking point almost everyone settled on was revealing.
St. Martins School has, over the course of 150 years, produced a number of distinguished graduates.
Its sculpture department was once called “the most famous in the world.”
Yet headlines trumpeting the famous building’s transformation from respected art school to glossy media megashop were almost all variations on a single theme:
“Foyles to open new flagship bookstore on site of Sex Pistols’ first gig”
To know where you’re going, it helps to know where you’ve come from. We’re all the result of decisions made by previous generations. But everything has to start somewhere, even political arguments.
Yuval Levin has done a great service to political junkies everywhere, then, with his recent book The Great Debate. It’s an attempt to trace today’s liberal vs. conservative divide back to its origins. As he explains in the subtitle, Levin finds the roots in the differences between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke.
The only problem is that, while Burke is certainly a suitable (and often celebrated) figure on the right, Paine’s ideas don’t translate well into modern liberalism.
To begin, consider Paine’s views on intergenerational relationships. “Every human individual in every generation has the same relation to society as every other person in every other generation,” he thought, according to Levin. “The political actions, decisions, rules, and achievements of past generations do not constrain the present or define it.”
Well, that’s actually the very opposite of modern liberal thought.
I can be a little hard on feminists sometimes, but that’s because the brand has been so largely destroyed by the bizarre priorities of those using that moniker from the 1960s to present. As time has gone on, it has just gotten worse. Don’t get me wrong, however — I have a lot of respect for the women who got things done in the beginning.
Here are some women who really made a difference.
5. Susan B. Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony worked for social reform in America on several fronts. Like other women working for equality, she was passionate about abolition, collecting anti-slavery petitions at age 17. She went on to become the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
When she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, they joined forces. Together, they began the American Equal Rights Association, campaigning for the rights of women and blacks. They began a newspaper in 1868, The Revolution, which went into issues of women’s rights. The next year, they founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Unfortunately, women’s suffrage had yet to pass when Anthony went ahead and cast a vote in 1872, and she was arrested. Six years later, Anthony and Stanton worked for Congress to be presented with an amendment granting women’s suffrage, and it was finally passed in 1920 as the 19th Amendment.
Susan B. Anthony was the first woman (after a representation of Lady Liberty) to be featured on a U.S. coin.
For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been running updates on the Hot Gossip from Heaven – feuds, fights, and sex scandals from Mount Olympus, ancient Greece’s mythological celebrity nightclub. This week, we’ll push the clock way forward to see how much our own celebrities have in common with the A-listers of Olympus. These are my top five: the sexiest stars and starlets from the ancient world, and the modern mega-celebs who could easily play them on TV. They’re ranked (of course) from hot to hottest – so read on for the good stuff.
1. Persephone: Miley Cyrus
Persephone was the original good girl gone bad. It wasn’t her fault: in her younger days she was “the girl with a face like a blossom,” blushingly beautiful and demure. But that’s exactly why Hades, the slime-bag god of death, wanted to get his grubby hands on her. He kidnapped her, trapped her in the underworld, and force-fed her magic fruit so she’d have to stay down and become his captive wife. From then on she was a dark terror, the “dreaded” queen of death who fulfilled the curses of the gods. To say she went Goth is an understatement. (Homeric Hymn 2.8; Homer, Iliad 9.457)
Debbie Harry’s ex-boyfriend and Blondie co-founder Chris Stein has just released a photography collection, featuring his lifelong muse.
And why not? No less an authority than rock photography guru Bob Gruen famously said, “You can’t take a bad picture of Debbie Harry.”
Unfortunately, Stein marrs the collection with a stunningly multi-level-stupid comment, regarding his famous picture, above.
UK tabloids don’t push the limits of credibility any more than their American counterparts, but in a way they got there first. Here, Debbie is reading about sexism under the ayatollah.
Get it? Decades of well-documented, sharia-inspired violence against women in Iran was probably exaggerated, according to Stein, because it was reported by a lower class “red top” English tabloid back in the 1970s.
Stein further ingratiates himself with his British host by slagging stupid, hysterical American “yellow journalists,” too, for no apparent reason.
Factor in the word “sexism” as his mealy-mouthed synonym for “rape, torture and murder,” and it’s quite breathtaking how much smug “enlightened” ignorance Stein managed to squeeze into two just sentences.
Especially the same week that Iranian authorities executed a woman for killing her rapist.
All this from a man I feel safe in presuming voted for Obama twice, and whose views on every subject are reliably, predictably “progressive.”
But of course!
If you’re still operating under the false notion that pop culture doesn’t have a real impact on everyday life, take a look at America’s oldest example, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
When Washington Irving penned The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon, he probably had no idea that his short story would inspire the beloved town of his youth to turn itself into a living homage to his tale. Settled in the late 1600s, the village was originally an agricultural and manufacturing zone of Tarrytown, New York. Nicknamed “Sleeper’s Haven” by early Dutch settlers, Washington Irving picked up on the Anglicized version of the name, “Sleepy Hollow” when staying with family in the area as a boy. Eventually millionaires like John D. Rockefeller would build mansions around the industrial zone that would become known as North Tarrytown at the turn of the 20th century. But it was Irving’s story that proved eternal when, in 1996, the village voted to rename itself Sleepy Hollow.
Street signs are orange and black, as is one of the village’s fire trucks. The Headless Horseman is the school mascot who, dubbed the nation’s “scariest high school mascot”, runs through every football game at half-time. Police cars and fire trucks also bear the Headless Horseman logo with pride. Halloween is celebrated throughout October with haunted hayrides, street festivals, a parade encompassing both Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown’s main streets, several ghost tours and performances of the Washington Irving legend. The Great Jack O’Lantern blaze puts Christmas light spectaculars to shame and Horseman’s Hollow turns a 17th century Dutch mill into a gory homage to the headless Hessian.
The Old Dutch Church, Ichabod Crane’s presumed safe haven, stands guard over a vast “garden cemetery” designed to allow Victorian families to picnic with their dearly departed. Tours of the cemetery can be taken both day and night and feature stops at the graves of Washington Irving and those who inspired characters in his tale. A fair runs every weekend alongside the cemetery, providing tour groups with the opportunity to walk the grounds with alcohol in hand. The gas station on the other side of the infamous bridge hawks t-shirts and other assorted Headless Horseman souvenirs. And if you’re hungry, there’s always The Horseman Restaurant, a hole in the wall diner that promises you’ll “lose your head” over their milkshakes.
Last week in the divine tabloids, we saw the stars and starlets of Mount Olympus get frisky. For this week’s issue, we’ll watch them get deadly. Celebrity firefights on Twitter are minor tantrums compared to the way the Greek gods could throw down — if you were stupid enough to get in their way, you were in for a world of hurt. From goofy to gruesome, starting with minor mayhem and ramping up to all-out war, here are ten gods who could make you wish you’d never been born.
1. Artemis: no boys allowed
Artemis was the goddess of the hunt: she’d gore you with an arrow as soon as look at you. She’d also sworn off men. This was bad news for Actaeon, a hapless little doofus who went hunting and wandered randomly into a grove where Artemis was taking a bath. There she was, full frontal, and Actaeon accidentally got a glorious, extremely forbidden peek. Artemis turned him into a stag, and “his own hunting dogs feasted on their former master,” ripping Actaeon apart and devouring him alive. When it came to the whole “vow of chastity” thing, Artemis didn’t kid around.
(Callimachus, Athena’s Bath 114-5)
Daily Mail reports that the image above is our best estimate of the true appearance of King Tut:
In the flesh, King Tut had buck teeth, a club foot and girlish hips, according to the most detailed examination ever of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh’s remains.
And rather than being a boy king with a love of chariot racing, Tut relied on walking sticks to get around during his rule in the 14th century BC, researchers said.
A ‘virtual autopsy’, composed of more than 2,000 computer scans, was carried out in tandem with a genetic analysis of Tutankhamun’s family, which supports evidence that his parents were brother and sister.
The scientists believe that this left him with physical impairments triggered by hormonal imbalances. And his family history could also have led to his premature death in his late teens.
On the plus side, he had a condo made of stone-a.
How, The Atlantic asks, did Stalin become Stalin?
The article’s subhead reveals what even amateur students of history have long known. It reads, “Russian archives reveal that he was no madman, but a very smart and implacably rational ideologue.”
Anne Applebaum has done a job here which I can only describe as “typically damn good,” as I’ve long been a fan of her work. It’s good stuff; read it.
The only thing I could possibly add is my own wonderment that anyone still has any wonderment about supposed “madmen” achieving murderous pinnacles of power. Of course Stalin was an “implacably rational ideologue.” So was his stepfather, Lenin. So was their German cousin, Hitler. And their southeast Asian protege, Pol Pot. And Stalin’s peninsular nephew, Kim-il Sung.
I could go on, but I trust you got the idea years before I started typing these words.
Demented madmen rarely — ever? — achieve heights of power. We might call them, the Stalins and the Lenins and the Hitlers, “demented.” We might wish they were madman.
But no. They were implacably rational. They were ideologues. And they had the tools of all-powerful states at their disposal.
And that is why our Founders saw fit to cobble the State, so that implacably rational ideologues might never grab ahold of all-powerful levers.
In ancient Greece, the gods were the hottest celebrities in town. Mount Olympus, where they lived, was essentially a bangin’ nightclub where everybody who was anybody came to drink, party, and bicker about whose pet army of humans would slaughter more enemies. The Greeks loved to gossip about them — Aphrodite, the iconically gorgeous starlet; Apollo, the dreamboat rockstar; Hephaestus, the misunderstood black sheep. And nothing hit the tabloids faster than a divine sex scandal. The Greeks wrote myth after myth spilling all the raunchy details of their gods’ heavenly escapades, which could have made Paris Hilton look as pure as the driven snow. From least to most outrageous, here’s the dirt on the ten most sinful scandals ever to hit heaven.
1. Zeus and Danae: one way or another . . .
The king of the gods could pulverize mountains, but he couldn’t keep it in his pants. How he had time to chase so much tail while running the universe is among the great mysteries of ancient Greek theology. But he always got the girl. Princess Danae was deadbolted inside a bronze cell, under the freaking ground, but Zeus managed to knock her up anyway. He turned into a shower of gold, then poured in through the ceiling straight “into her womb.” It’s unclear how Danae felt about all this, but it’s a good bet Zeus was pretty pleased with himself.
(Apollodorus, Library 2.4.1)
In Iraq, ISIS threatens the Baghdad airport. Meanwhile, in the U.S, theatergoers get to watch people frantically scrambling to be on the last flight out of Vietnam.
Not everyone is eager to relive America’s last great foreign policy disaster—even cinematically. But Rory Kennedy’s new film, Last Days in Vietnam, offers a stunning history lesson as it depicts the anguish at the end of a badly waged war. The documentary revolves around the last chaotic days before the fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.
In 1973, under the Paris Peace Accords, the U.S. agreed to withdraw all its combat forces. In turn, North Vietnam agreed to “respect the independence” of South Vietnam.
Peace didn’t last long.
U.S. President Richard Nixon promised the South Vietnamese government he would rush in support if conflict resumed. But, with Nixon’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal, North Vietnam decided to test Washington’s resolve, launching a major incursion into the central highlands. When Congress refused to support additional aid, the invasion expanded rapidly south. By May 1975, enemy troops closed in on the capital.
Wanting to show a brave face of support for the South Vietnamese, Graham Martin, the American ambassador in Saigon, pushed off evacuation planning until the last minute. Even then, the official policy was to remove only U.S. citizens, leaving behind many thousands of Vietnamese officials and their families who worked closely with the Americans.
I am not one of those people who reflexively think European goods are superior to American ones—you know the kind of people I’m talking about—but boy do I sometimes wonder about the coffee in this country. The average American takes his or her daily caffeine in the form of a tepid, mud-like beverage that delis, diners, and commercial chains have chosen to call “coffee.” Is it? It can’t possibly be. Even the coffee at Starbucks, which is supposed to be something special, more often than not tastes like the business end of a drainpipe. It’s a shame so many people have been duped by words like “venti” and “macchiato.”
This dislike of mine has nothing to do with snobbery. I don’t care about price, brand, origin, or other markers of prestige. I know precisely nothing about the agriculture of coffee beans or the chemistry of brewing. I do know, however, that the proof of the coffee is in the drinking, and the motor oil served at most American establishments is barely potable.
I suspect I’m not alone in this judgment. If not, follow me, dear reader, on a mental trip to the beautiful city of Lviv, in western Ukraine—a place where I found some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. This was after I had tried the product of Vienna’s famous Cafe Hawelka. In fact, to imagine what Lviv is like, picture Vienna, only not as well preserved, with extra grit and grime on the buildings, and with occasional glimpses of drab Soviet architecture.
My PJ colleague Walter Hudson published a compelling argument regarding physician-assisted suicide in response to the ongoing dialogue surrounding terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard. His is a well-reasoned argument regarding the intersection of theology and politics, written in response to Matt Walsh’s Blaze piece titled “There is Nothing Brave About Suicide.” Both pieces are a reminder that, in the ongoing debate over whether or not Maynard has the right to schedule her own death, little has been said regarding the role the medical profession plays in the battle to “Die with Dignity.” Walsh argues:
None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.
It’s a simplistic comment that ignores a very real medical fact: Death can come on your own terms. And that doesn’t have to mean suicide.
My mother was a nurse for 20 years. During that time she worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to private practice, to nursing homes. Much like Jennifer Worth, the nurse and author of the Call the Midwife series, my mother practiced at the end of Victorian bedside nursing and the dawn of Medicare. As a result, the abuses she witnessed in the name of insurance claims were grotesque. For instance, if a patient required one teaspoon of medication, an entire bottle would be poured into the sink and charged to that patient’s insurance company. This was just the tip of the iceberg of unethical practices that would become priority in the name of the almighty “billing schedule.”
300 is the kind of film that seems too good to be true. It gets us pumped up, but we don’t believe it — not really. The Spartan soldiers in the film stand for Greece’s freedom against Persia’s colossal empire. they do it with elegant nobility and boisterous relish. They lift their spears into the air and charge onward to glory. So most of us in the audience decide it has to be a fairytale. Things as they really are, we think, are rougher around the edges than that. We don’t believe in that kind of slick, glamorous heroism.
But Herodotus, the Ancient historian whose writing is the source material for 300, did believe. He believed the battle in 480 BC at Thermopylae was mythic in its grandeur and titanic in its importance. When he wrote his Histories, that’s what he was trying to preserve: that monumental sense of glory. So even though 300 takes some poetic license, it strikes right at the core of the valor and drama that Herodotus wrote his Histories to convey. That’s why 300, for all of the facts it gets wrong, is more true to Herodotus than any history textbook.
My first memory of thinking about dictators is a day I spent with my grandmother at age six or seven. Staying at her house while my parents worked, I was “reading” my latest edition of MAD Magazine, in which was printed a humorous depiction of such masters of malice as Pol Pot, Augusto Pinochet, Anastasio Somoza, and Hafez al-Assad. I asked my grandmother what this interesting new word “dictator” meant, and she informed me, as best she could to a child, that it was a leader who enjoyed absolute power in a country. Even at that young age, my instincts as an American were strong: I bristled at the idea of tyrannical authority, but naively suggested that the people suffering under these monsters could be free if only everyone agreed all at once not to listen to them.
As the years passed, I learned that I was utterly intrigued by these odd men—all of them bizarre in so many ways, always grotesque morally and usually physically as well.
1. Early feminism had a point. There were actual societal changes that needed to be made.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, feminism was fairly easy to understand. It was a movement of those who believed that women should enjoy the same freedoms as their male counterparts. This included access to the same level of education and freedom in choosing what they wanted from life–marriage, family, a career. Early feminists were fighting for this equality of status, to be seen as equal to men and, if married, to have rights separate from their husbands. Much of this was a reaction against the “feminine ideal” in Victorian society, which argued that women belonged in the home rather than in educational institutions or the workplace. Hooray for these early pioneers of equality!
Tuesday night I had the honor of sharing the podium with Prof. Angelo Codevilla under the auspices of the Claremont Institute at New York’s Yale Club. He is one of the wisest and sharpest strategic thinkers to come out of the Reagan Revolution, and his new book, To Make and Keep Peace is a must read: if you read only one book about politics (and especially foreign policy) this year, this should be the one.
I reviewed the work in the Claremont Review of Books, and my review has been posted at the Federalist website. It is excerpted below.
To Make and Keep Peace: Among Ourselves and with All Nations by Angelo M. Codevilla. Hoover Institution Press, 248 pages, $24.95.
To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, Lady Bracknell observed in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” but to lose both looks like carelessness. To have lost the peace three times in the past century suggests something worse than carelessness in American foreign policy. Woodrow Wilson set the stage for World War II by making the best the enemy of the good when negotiating the resolution of World War I. Franklin Roosevelt’s naïveté about the Soviet Union set the world adrift into the Cold War. And now a succession of mistakes following the fall of Communism has left America flailing. The overwhelming American majority that favored foreign interventions after 9/11 has melted, yielding isolationism unseen since the 1930s. How did it come to this?
One political party or the other may blunder, but disasters on this scale can be achieved only by consensus. Angelo Codevilla contends that a self-perpetuating foreign policy elite, incapable of taking in abundant evidence about all the things it neither knows nor does well, has steered American foreign policy in the wrong direction for the past century. The shrill partisan debates, he argues, obscure an underlying commonality of outlook among the “liberal progressive,” “realist,” and “neo-conservative” currents in foreign policy. All three schools of thinking derive from “turn-of-the-twentieth-century progressivism.”
All regard foreigners as yearning for American leadership. Their proponents regard foreigners as mirror images of themselves, at least potentially. Liberal internationalists see yearners for secular, technocratic development. Neoconservatives see budding democrats, while realists imagine peoples inclined to moderation…. Different emphases notwithstanding, there is solid consensus among our ruling-class factions that America’s great power requires exercising responsibility for acting as the globe’s ‘policeman,’ ‘sheriff,’ ‘umpire,’ ‘guardian of international standards,’ ‘stabilizer,’ or ‘leader’—whatever one may call it.
From Hyperpower to Hyperventilator
It isn’t just that the emperor has no clothes: the empire has no tailors. In the decade since President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech, America has gone from hyperpower to hyperventilater. The Obama administration and Republican leadership quibble about the modalities of an illusory two-state solution in Israel, or the best means to make democracy bloom in the Middle East’s deserts, or how vehemently to denounce Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, everything that could go wrong, has. Europe’s frontiers are in play for the first time since the fall of Communism; Russia and China have a new rapprochement; American enemies like Iran have a free hand while traditional American allies in the Sunni world feel betrayed; and China has all but neutralized American sea power within hundreds of miles of its coast.
America’s credibility around the world is weaker than at any time since the Carter administration. American policy evokes contempt overseas, and even more at home, where the mere suggestion of intervention is ballot box poison, while the Republicans’ isolationist fringe wins straw polls among the party’s core constituents. In 2013 the Pew Survey found 53 percent of U.S. respondents considered America less important and powerful than a decade earlier, the first time a majority held that view since 1974, just before the fall of Saigon. And four-fifths of respondents told Pew that the United States should not think so much in international terms but concentrate on its own problems, the highest proportion to agree with that proposition since the survey began posing it in 1964.
How War Is Like Pregnancy
Codevilla offers a bracing antidote to stale, wishful thinking. A professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, he is one of our last sages, an actor in the great events that brought down the Soviet empire during the 1980s, as well as a distinguished scholar of political thought. Among the modern-day classics he’s authored—including “War: Ends and Means” (1988, with Paul Seabury) and “The Character of Nations” (2000)—“To Make and Keep Peace” is his “Summa,” a tour d’horizon of American and world history crammed with succinct case studies of success and failure in war and peace.
Read the whole review here.
The eight-day Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday, which begins on Wednesday evening, commemorates the Israelites’ 40-year trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. As God commands (Lev. 23:42-43):
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days….
That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt….
Today, many generations later, sukkot—makeshift, decorated huts—sprout all over Israel for the holiday, recalling the ancient Israelites’ rude, temporary dwellings in the desert.
But Sukkot is also an autumn harvest festival, and very much tied to the Land of Israel itself. It occurs in early fall, a wonderfully warm-cool time of year with clear nights, perfect for gazing up at the stars through the thatched roof of a sukkah.
Sukkot is, then, a good occasion to look back at some of the archaeological finds from the Land of Israel over the past year (on the Jewish calendar, running from September to September). I’ve only chosen some of the most striking, since in any given year there is intensive archaeological activity throughout the land and numerous finds. These discoveries link the ancient past to the present and reinforce Israelis’ rootedness in an archetypal landscape.
Oscar Wilde’s 1882 journey to America continues to fascinate, and why not?
Everyone loves a fish out of water story, so the true saga of a Victorian dandy roughing it on the wild American frontier, hanging out with (and winning over) rugged coal miners and cowboys is pretty irresistible.
(That Wilde’s garish velvet get-ups clothed a beefy 6’3″ Irishman perfectly capable of beating up bullies no doubt surprised and delighted his new admirers.)
Now a new book revisits Wilde’s visit to the New World, but with a twist.
David M. Friedman’s Wilde in America presents his subject as the proto-Kardashian:
If that seems unfair to the acclaimed playwright, essayist, poet, children’s author (and gay movement mascot), Friedman reminds readers that when Oscar Wilde stepped off the ship onto America’s shores, he was, in fact, none of those things.