The Spine

September 17, 2010

This is the eve of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Introspection is the order of the day. The Jewish tradition divides sin into two categories, sins against God and sins against man, and insists that God can forgive the former but not the latter, because only the sinned against have the power to absolve the sin. This is why the asking of forgiveness is an act of supreme importance in this season. I myself have much to ask forgiveness for, and much of this asking will be done in private, as is appropriate.

China Undercuts Sanctions Regime Against Iran: Another Triumph of Obama Diplomacy
September 16, 2010

For more than a year, President Obama and his whole State Department team had been trumpeting our diplomacy--both in the United Nations and through intermediaries--to stop Iran's march to nuclear nirvana. There was much pretense in the effort, what with every rebuff by China (and other less powerful but more portentous states) treated by the White House and Foggy Bottom as another step to the grand agreement.

You Cannot Blame 2009 on President Obama
September 16, 2010

It is an awful narrative: According to the New York Times this afternoon the Census Bureau reported that “the poverty rate rose sharply in 2009.” To be precise, it rose to exactly 14.3%, a shift from 13.2% in 2008. The Times story is by Erik Eckholm who makes these statistics real by telling you what is counted in the numbers and what is not. Being above or below the poverty line is a matter of more-or-less arbitrary exclusions and inclusions. But long-term economic consequences are a function of policy over the long run. I don’t mean to shift the entire burden to President Bush.

The Republican Right Wins. Or Does It?
September 16, 2010

It’s a cliche already, and it’s only been one day. Well, the Republican right did continue its victory streak by winning the party primary for the U.S. Senate in Delaware and the G.O.P. race for the gubernatorial nod in New York. Both were big upsets. But it’s my guess that the ultimate outcome of these successful tea parties—and the prior ones: Alaska, Kentucky, Nevada, and Florida—will be very disappointing to those who are celebrating now.

An Apology
September 13, 2010

Nicholas Kristof and I do not see the world—and America's role in it—in the same way. I have sometimes expressed my disagreements with his opinions vociferously (vociferousness is my business). But in yesterday’s The New York Times, he quotes two sentences that I recently wrote—one of them genuinely embarrasses me, and I deeply regret it. The embarrassing sentence is: "I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse." I wrote that, but I do not believe that.

Robert Gates and Pastor Jones
September 10, 2010

Both General Petraeus and President Obama have made the argument that if Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation of Christian haters actually make their Koran bonfire Islamist fanatics will take it out on our troops on the Afghan (and Iraqi) war front. As it happens, I don't think that the First Amendment protects this ghoulish horror walpurgisnacht. Indeed, the founding fathers could not have intended the protection of such infamy as a cardinal principle of the constitution. So, yes, I am an originalist in that the grotesque discourse of burning some one else's bible was never a thought in Th

The Sweet New Year Nectar: A Postscript
September 09, 2010

My new year's message yesterday told of a video about humming birds. To watch, click on 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.

Gezunt, Parnosseh, Nachas
September 08, 2010

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.

Get An Injunction
September 08, 2010

The Dove World Training Center in Gainesville, Florida and its pastor Terry Jones plan a Koran bonfire on the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center-Pentagon enormity. There are indications that other churches, the message of which is love, of course, are joining in the extravaganza.  It is just possible that Islamist Muslims, fanatic Muslims who also burn bibles and alien religious texts and flags, will be reminded of how disgusting the practice is. But don't count on it.  But it is disgusting.