New Year's Day

To teach is always to be in the middle of the next story. This realization strikes me anew every autumn, as the days lose more light and my students accelerate into the end-of-semester scramble. Then, suddenly, it’s finished. But, as the old year breathes out all around me in a welter of regret, missed opportunities, and diminished returns, I already have my eye on the next class, the next batch of students, the chance to do it all again—maybe better.

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New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite holidays—not so much for the champagne and crowds, but for the call to renewal that it brings. As a child I was an avid New Year’s resolution-maker, always with an eye toward self-improvement: I would pledge to write in my diary more often and keep my room neater. By now, I’ve given up on both of those endeavors, but, this year, I thought I’d try giving the classic New Year’s resolutions a literary spin. Let’s see how these play out over the course of the year. 1. Lose weight. OK, not literally.

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Why We Won't Get Along

In the wake of the most productive lame-duck congressional session in years—the crux of which was a grand bargain between Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama, who until recently seemed as if they could cooperate on absolutely nothing—devotees of bipartisanship have renewed their flagging hopes.

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Crime Conundrum

In December 2008, just a few months after the U.S. financial system imploded, New York City was hit by a flurry of bank robberies. On the Monday before New Year’s, four banks were attacked in an hour-and-a-half; one daytime raid took place just steps from the Lincoln Center in downtown Manhattan. The week before, San Diego had seen four bank holdups in a single day. Criminologists wondered if the holiday spree was the first sign of a looming crime wave in recession-battered America.

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Last Friday’s news that Groupon, the two-year-old online coupon company based in Chicago—and the “fastest growing company ever,” according to Forbes—turned down a $5 billion-plus offer from Google prompted me to take a slightly closer look at their e-mails that pop up in my inbox every morning. I have to admit that I rarely scan below the headline, but closer inspection revealed some pretty Dada literary stylings—the type of text that Yoda might produce if he was dropped into an advertising agency.

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Democrats in the 111th Congress still have an unfinished agenda. Republicans, quite sensibly, are using the clock as a weapon; at this point of the session, even a filibuster that doesn’t have the votes to block cloture can still be enough to derail something. What weapons does the majority have to fight stalling? Well, there’s one big one that Harry Reid should be at least threatening, and if necessary invoking: he can add more hours for the Senate to work its will. He has already scheduled a Saturday session last week, and he has already said that, like last year, he’ll go up to Christmas.

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My new year's message yesterday told of a video about humming birds. To watch, click on http://tinyurl.com/25taeh7 to view a short video produced by the PBS on the beauty and uniqueness of humming birds, who, as you know feed on sweet nectar from flowers. Besides showing the stunning ways in which technology (in this case high-speed photography and filmography) can have a huge impact on our scientific understanding of the natural world, and as well as being an instance of the importance of public funding of science and science education, it is also a blessing for a sweet and happy new year.

This was my mother’s greeting for the Jewish new year. It wishes you and all of its receivers health, livelihood and deep gratification in life. It’s in Yiddish. So there’s heart in it. Among some younger Jews in both Israel and the U.S. there are some hipper salutations. “May you connect with yourself,” said a friend as I left Tel Aviv for Ben Gurion Airport. Alas, this struck me as ponderous and didactic. An Israeli friend sent me a little new year film clip of hummingbirds eating honey. Oh, I have this clip somewhere in my e-mail. But I can’t find it now.

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The Four Seasons

The Rags of Time By Maureen Howard (Viking, 238 pp., $26.95) If we are moved to tears by B movies instead of operas, have we missed anything? The question nags Maureen Howard in the first installment of her great sequence-novel in four parts, of which The Rags of Time is the last, because in her universe the point of ambitious art—which her series is—is not at all a given. One character settles into an old age of embroidery and television, another takes Moby-Dick out of the library.

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Somewhere in the White House or Capitol Hill, I imagine, is a whiteboard that looks like this: August recess September Columbus Day Thanksgiving Christmas New Year's State of the Union Valentine's Day St. Patrick's Day And now passing health care reform by St. Patrick's Day, which is next Wednesday, seems impossible.

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