September 16, 2009
In 1943, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who was living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, wrote “Campo dei Fiori,” his great poem about the coexistence of normality and atrocity. The Campo dei Fiori is the plaza in Rome where, in the year 1600, the heretical philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive by the Catholic Church; “before the flames had died,” Milosz writes, “the taverns were full again.” The same willed blindness could be noted in Warsaw, the poem declares.
What Tyler Perry and Bill Cosby Have in Common: On the Occasion of "I Can Do Bad All By Myself"
September 14, 2009
At a Christmas party in 2004, a cousin asked me "Do you like Medea?" For a minute I was a confused, since it didn’t seem to be the occasion for sharing our impressions of Greek mythology. But it turned out she was talking about Madea, the massive, loudmouthed, pistol-packing black grandmother who Tyler Perry performs as in drag in a series of "chitlin' circuit" touring shows. Perry sells DVDs of the shows on line, and ten minutes after my cousin put one on I was hooked. I’m not alone. Madea was the biggest new phenom in black America until Obamamania.
Cool... But, Yes, Communist
September 10, 2009
He's tall, trim, with shaved head, a confident demeanor, wearing a dark turtleneck, kind 'a funny and Yale Law School. Cool. Co-o-o-l. Or maybe even wow! He's Van Jones, and he resigned on Saturday as what the White House called its "czar" for the environment. There are actually many czars at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in this administration, and I wonder why the historical resonance of the word doesn't just give the Obama crowd the creeps. Unless, of course, they want to govern like czars ... and czarinas. To be sure, Mr.
Jane Fonda, Mary Robinson, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu: They're All Back and They are All Malicious... and Dangerously Malicious at That
September 08, 2009
OK, the Bertrand Russell psychodrama is also malicious but maybe not dangerously so. About six months ago, I came across a web posting announcing the formation of a Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Yes, it was one of those false kangaroo courts in which, from the Stalin era on, convenes not to evaluate evidence but to condemn. In loads of cases the verdicts brought quick impositions of the death sentence. One such process is now unfolding in Tehran, and its backers are Muslim millenarians and western leftists who are prone to support every revolution even if it is decidedly and objecti
Why Reform Survived August
September 07, 2009
The August recess began with critics attacking health care reform because of its high price tag. It ended with critics attacking health care reform because of how reformers proposed to reduce that high price tag. The intervening weeks were nightmarish: Instead of using August to showcase what reform could do for the average American, the White House spent most of its time knocking down rumors of death panels for the sick and elderly. And as the right became energized, the left grew disillusioned, as much by the administration’s backroom deals as by its ineffectual messaging.
September 02, 2009
As if you hadn’t heard, a gaggle of American conservatives is stridently charging that pending health care reform legislation will institute a mechanism for euthanizing selected members of the handicapped and elderly populations--that it would, in Sa
Frankfurt on the Hudson
August 31, 2009
It would be hard to overstate the importance of the Frankfurt School in recent American thought. Philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists like Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Max Horkheimer—to name just the best-known members of the group—helped to develop a subtle and powerful way of thinking about the problems of modern society.
The Best and the Fastest
August 31, 2009
The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome By Christopher Kelly (W.W. Norton, 350 pp., $26.95) Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia From the Bronze Age To the Present By Christopher I. Beckwith (Princeton University Press, 472 pp., $35) The extraordinary reputation of Attila and his Huns requires an explanation, because they had so much competition.
August 26, 2009
On August 4, Haaretz reported that Benjamin Netanyahu called Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod self-hating Jews. A spokesman for the prime minister later denied this, but I have heard from Israeli friends that this conspiratorial explanation is quite popular in the prime minister’s office. I have no reason to believe otherwise. The accusation of ethnic infidelity is an old feature of the political culture of the Likud. The defenders of Greater Israel have values, but the critics of Greater Israel have motives.
Khamenei vs. Khomeini
August 20, 2009
During his August 3 speech formally endorsing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned protesters that “by imitation of Ayatollah Khomeini, they cannot deceive people.” Khamenei was mocking the opposition’s claim to be to reviving “the values of Ayatollah Khomeini”--the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Khamenei’s predecessor as Supreme Leader. Ironically, Khamenei made this statement while seated below a large, framed picture of Khomeini. This scene provides a stark illustration of the fact that politics in Iran are largely defined by attempts to claim Khomeini’s legacy.