The Spine

Reconsidering Obama
September 25, 2006

Maybe you read my Spine, "Not Just Anyone," posted on September 22. If you haven't, here it is. It was occasioned by John McWhorter's piece in The New York Sun about Barack Obama. McWhorter's point was that Obama was high on the list of Democratic favorites for president because was an African American. I thought that is probably the case and said so. But, on reflection, it occurs to me that many candidates for president or for a party's nomination for president are popular for what are certainly--and strictly speaking--extraneous reasons.

Win, Lose, Or Draw
September 24, 2006

I received the letter below from an Israeli friend who has a sharp analytic mind and is willing to see when facts have gone wrong for his side. I should also say that he is extremely knowledgeable both about the situation on his side of the armistice lines (and that's what they are, dating back to 1949) and on the other side(s). And, without actually naming him, let me tell you that he was in this last war, up to his neck but not over his head--not by a long shot.

Rules Of Evidence
September 22, 2006

Just before noon yesterday, Thursday, The New York Times released online a dispatch telling us that U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton ruled against the prosecutor in the trial of Scooter Libby on how much and what classified information could be made public in the proceedings. I know that this will distress so-called civil libertarians, because they don't want Libby to be able to exercise his procedural rights. On the other hand, and especially with prosecutions in terrorist cases, these same civil libertarians want the defendants to know absolutely everything.

Campus Politics
September 22, 2006

David Sanger's informative piece in yesterday's New York Times (to which I linked yesterday) begins with a tiny mistake. The Bush administration thought that its policy of containing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would keep him in New York and at the United Nations. But, Sanger asserts correctly, the Iranian president had a different plan, plan B. He did have that, and he exercised his freedom to speak (that he terrorizes citizens of his country into not exercising) at a deflated Council of Foreign Relations session at the Intercontinental Hotel. So far correct.

Not Just Anyone
September 22, 2006

The distinguished linguist John McWhorter has written for The New Republic (here, here, and here), and for our Open University blog (here and here). I appreciate the sharpness and bravery of his thought. He has now written a piece, "The Color of His Skin," for The New York Sun, arguing that the only reason there is great support for Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for president is the color of of his skin.

Show Of Force
September 22, 2006

DEBKAfile, an intelligence Internet site put together daily by ex-Mossad staffers and other former Israeli security personnel, has often been on target and prematurely so. Sometimes it has been wrong. I don't know whether what seems to me to be the quite plausible report on a military alliance cemented at the 14th conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana earlier this month is reliable or not. The coalition--uniting Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela--seems to be taking shape at the initiative of Hugo Chávez, but with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad providing the show weapons.

Venezuela's Top Chomskyite
September 22, 2006

As for President Chávez, he did his hero Noam Chomsky a big favor by holding up his book, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, at the General Assembly podium. Now, Chomsky is no stranger to big audiences. But this kind of attention ... that may be a bit heady even for him. On the other hand, according to Helene Cooper in yesterday's New York Times, Chávez later lamented at a news conference that he hadn't met Chomsky before the great linguist died. Well, Chomsky is alive and, I assume, well. It's his ideas that are dead, dead, that is, intellectually.

Darfur's U.n. Fantasy
September 22, 2006

Poor Darfur. The African Union (AU) will stay in the region. Many people around the world will then think that there is a robust peacekeeping force preventing the Sudanese military and its bloody Janjaweed allies from murdering their designated enemies, the black Muslims of Sudan. The AU says they will only be there until a U.N. mobilization arrives, better equipped and with more soldiers. This is a fantasy that will never happen, and both the AU and the United Nations know it. The Khartoum government won't allow them to enter the country.

Holiday Wishes
September 22, 2006

I write as the sun goes down over Manhattan, where I am this weekend to mark, with my children, the High Holy Days of the Jewish new year and the Day of Atonement. This is a period of penance, reflection, and prayer. The penance of individuals towards each, to the community, and to God. And, let me state that, as the great Yiddish poet Jacob Glatstein wrote, "der got fun mein nishgloybikeit is prekhtik" or, rendered in English, "the God of my unbelief is magnificent." This is the basic foundation stone of most modern Jews, though they can't always articulate this.

French Connection
September 21, 2006

The last time I was at New York's Supper Club, off Times Square, was to hear Yo-Yo Ma with the Buenos Aires-New York Connection, and what they were playing in this very chic nightspot was the great tango music of Astor Piazzolla. Last night, I went again to the Supper Club to hear Arielle Dombasle, a remarkable film actress and true French chanteuse. But the fact is that she was born in America and brought up in Mexico. OK, so she is an international chanteuse. I'm not exactly an expert on the genre.