Don’t Be Seduced by the Sequester


An aircraft carrier

It’s understandable that Republicans are tempted by the prospect of allowing the “sequester”—the automatic cut to defense and domestic discretionary spending agreed to as an enforcement mechanism for the 2011 debt ceiling deal—to go into effect on March 1. It’s understandable because Republicans are in favor of cutting domestic spending. It’s understandable because Republicans are desperate to secure what they think could be a political victory over Barack Obama and Harry Reid. It’s understandable because going to the trouble of fixing the sequester would be difficult, and the effort to do so will create strains within the Republican conference.

But what’s understandable isn’t always responsible. Allowing the sequester to go into effect would be deeply irresponsible.

It’s true that the sequester will cut domestic discretionary spending. On the other hand, it will do so ham-handedly, with no reforms to ...

John Brennan

Brennan’s Evasions


John Brennan is no Chuck Hagel. That much was clear from the confirmation hearings on Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. Unlike Hagel, who stumbled and mumbled through his performance, Brennan demonstrated a deep knowledge of his brief and answered (or gamely parried) tough questions with ...

A drone launches.

Drone On


During World War II, a small number of German Americans fought for Nazi Germany as members of the Waffen-SS. Does anyone think the U.S. military would have given a second thought to whether it might kill those traitors—whether they were found on the battlefield, in a ...

Senator Menendez (D-NJ)

Culture of Corruption


Caribbean-based company ICSSI had seen its lucrative contract to X-ray the cargo entering the Dominican Republic languish for years when, in 2011, it began searching for an investor with political pull. Perhaps someone with the right connections would be able to pressure the Dominicans into ...


The Complete Package

Ronald Reagan, the great narrator.


Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan

In February 1981, President Reagan was searching for ways to win support for spending cuts. He’d been president less than a month. The national debt was closing in on $1 trillion and Reagan wanted the public to grasp the danger of owing that much money​—​and thus the need to slash government spending.

Reagan had come upon a tantalizing nugget of information: A stack of $1,000 bills totaling $1 trillion would be 80 miles high. But when he informed his speechwriters of this, they were skeptical. They checked with the U.S. Mint. By extrapolating from measurements of $1,000 bills, ...

John Brennan

The Unchanging CIA

Technology and spies go well together.


John Brennan’s nomination to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency has sparked another debate about Langley’s priorities and deficiencies. Brennan, the king of drones at his counterterrorist perch in the White House, could ...

President Barack Obama

Not a Real Olive Branch

Obama’s phony compromise on contraception.


The Obama administration pulled another fast one last week, announcing its much-anticipated “compromise” on the free-birth-control rule as it affects religious employers opposed to contraception. There was hope in some quarters that the administration would back off its narrow religious ...

Obama's supporters

A Temporary Majority

The problem Democrats can’t solve.


A tradition after each national election, presidential or midterm, is for the pundit class to pontificate on whether and how the results point to a realignment. This exercise dates back at least to the publication of The Emerging Republican Majority by Kevin ...

This governing thing—it’s harder than we thought, sir.

Egypt Against Itself

A society on the edge of chaos.


This week marks the second anniversary of the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Two years after the refrain “the people want to topple the regime” filled Tahrir Square, it is now Egypt itself that is toppling. Street violence has pitted various groups against each other—anarchists ...


We, the Grand Jury

An education in American citizenship


Anderson Jury

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution gave its name to the protection against self-incrimination, and it also contains three other famous (and these days somewhat battered) guarantees​—​against double jeopardy; against deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and of just compensation when private property is taken for public use. But before any of these, in pride of place in the very first words of the amendment, comes perhaps the least thought-of protection in the whole Bill of Rights: the assurance that no one will be “held to answer” for a serious crime unless indicted by a grand jury.

I recently finished serving on a homicide and major-crimes grand jury in Washington, D.C. It met every day for five weeks. Since grand jury proceedings are secret, I am not free to report with any specificity on the most memorable parts of the experience​—​the dynamics among ...

Neighbors-to-be? Hamas rally, left, and Fatah, right.

Better Late than Never?

Obama’s trip to Jerusalem and the ‘peace process’


President Obama will make his first presidential visit to Israel in March, and Secretary of State Kerry will make his own trip even sooner. The White House is trying to dampen the inevitable speculation about a possible breakthrough to peace negotiations, and its spokesman has said the ...

Books & Arts

Here's Looking at Euclid

Why geometry matters in the life of the mind.


'Portrait of Fra Luca Pacioli with a student' by Jacapo de' Barbari (1495)

Many ancient societies knew important mathematical facts, but only one discovered mathematics—which is not a collection of accurate rules of thumb, but a body of knowledge organized deductively, by the radical notion of proof. And Euclid is its prophet. 

The Elements, composed in about 300 b.c., is a landmark of human thought. It has exerted a profound influence on science and philosophy by serving as both a basic geometry textbook (widely used for more than 2,000 years) and an archetype of rigorous knowledge. Accordingly, the ultimate subject of The King of Infinite Space is the life of the mind. Written with David Berlinski’s characteristic mix of hothouse prose and standup comedy, it is aimed at the Intelligent General Reader—though I often found myself wondering what that admirable creature might make of it.

Berlinski begins with Euclid’s ...

Elizabeth Jennings

A Faithful Poet

From the darkness of her existence, Elizabeth Jennings comes to light.


When John Betjeman was charged with helping find a proper recipient for the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1977, he contacted Philip Larkin and suggested Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001), who had befriended Larkin and Kingsley Amis when they were ...

The Emporer Claudius

Universal Empire

All roads, historically speaking, lead to Rome.


Athens and Jerusalem are not the sum of symbolic ancient cities. And in truth, they never have been. Even when Tertullian coined that distinction early in the third century—“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Or the Academy with the Church?”—he did so in the context of Rome: He was the son ...

Constance and her son Cyril, 1889

Wife in Shadow

Oscar Wilde's marriage did not end happily.


Because of the prosecution of homosexual acts and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895, which ended a glittering trajectory through late Victorian English society, most people are unaware that Wilde was actually a family man, indeed initially and enthusiastically so.

He and Constance ...

Masaharu Fukuyama as Detective Galileo in 'Suspect X' (2008)

Tokyo Mysteries

Why Japan's most popular novelist is so popular.


In the popular imagination, Japan is a tech-obsessed cyber utopia awash in neon lights, “bleeding-edge” electronics, and, of course, robots. While there is some accuracy in the clichés, it’s also true that Japan remains a nation of serious writers and readers, and not just of comic books: Its ...

Sylvester Stallone

Geezers With Guns

Is the Activia motion picture past its prime?


The other weekend, a movie starring Sylvester Stallone called Bullet to the Head died at the box office. It made $4 million against a reported budget of $55 million. It was preceded in death by a picture starring Arnold Schwarzenegger called The Last Stand, which made about $6 ...


Ed Koch, 1924-2013

Irwin M. Stelzer on the people’s courtly mayor


Ed Koch

I knew Ed Koch, and Mayor Bloomberg is no Ed Koch. 

That does not mean that Bloomberg is a bad mayor, only that he and others who took over city hall after Koch’s third term failed to reflect New York’s boisterous energy, its chutzpah, its special sense of humor, its grittiness, its optimism, its view of life as a glorious adventure.  

I wasn’t a close friend of Ed’s, but I did get to know him a little. We first met when he asked to drop in to see me at my apartment—and showed up about an hour early, just as I was attacking a plate of fried chicken. He grabbed a chair, joined in the assault, and made his pitch. Few had heard of him then, and he needed some money to buy television time—quite a lot of money by the standards of the day. I agreed to help, maybe because he personified everything I loved about New York.

I had already voted against ...


He’s Richard the Third, He Is

Richard III

As readers may have guessed, The Scrapbook was delighted by the news that the bones dug up from under a parking lot in the British Midlands a few months ago are, indeed, the remains of King Richard (“Now is the winter of our discontent  .  .  .”) the Third of England. 

In the old days, of course, we would have had to be content with relative confidence in his identity: The man under the car park suffered from scoliosis, as any reader of Shakespeare’s Richard III would suspect, and bore unmistakable signs of having been clobbered by a weapon of war (perhaps a halberd) in the skull, shot by an arrow, and abused in his postmortem state.

There was also evidence of a rich diet, especially seafood, indicating what we would call a comfortable lifestyle by the standards of late medieval England. Then, too, the parking lot is located where a church stood centuries ago, the same church where the ...

Media Bias

Media Hypocrisy Watch

There were three interesting data points on media double standards in the last two weeks. First, there was the trial of Nkosi -Thandiwe, who shot three women in Georgia. “I was trying to spread the message of making white people mend [their ways for colonialism],” he ...


School for Scandal

The California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes released a report about the financial mismanagement of the Los Angeles Unified School District last week. No one expects the LAUSD—the second-largest school district in the country—would be a font of prudent ...

ring ring


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