This issue: August 11, 2014 (Vol. 19, No. 45)
An unquestionably eminent, manifestly distinguished, and conspicuously bipartisan -congressionally appointed panel has produced a report on the state of our nation’s defenses.
One’s normal response to such a report? Yawn. Eyes glazed over. Get back to me later.
In normal times, that might be reasonable. But as Orwell famously said, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
The good news is that the intelligent men and women of the National Defense Panel have done their duty, and have done it admirably (you can read their full report at www.usip.org). The panel was co-chaired by William Perry, secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, and by General John Abizaid, CENTCOM commander from 2003-2007. Joining them were the undersecretaries of defense for policy under Presidents Bush ...
Another Washington institution diminished.
It wasn’t so long ago that visitors to the National Archives, in Washington, D.C., were expected to ascend. A trip to see the nation’s founding documents was an uplifting experience, literally. A broad flight of stone steps drew visitors up from the summer glare and clamor of Constitution Avenue to a porch high above, and from there through great bronze doors into the cool and quiet of a vast rotunda. Once inside, another rise of stairs brought them in line of sight of the Declaration of Independence, set upright in a bronze display case, and a final group of stairs placed them face to face with the Declaration itself, faded behind glass and washed in a yellow light. The Constitution was there, too, and the first page of the Bill of Rights. A fitting payoff for all that climbing.
The Archives is still one of the premier attractions for tourists in Washington, but visitors no longer make such a grand ascent. They’re not allowed to. As ...
Obama’s ‘economic patriotism.’
When he’s in trouble, President Obama changes the subject to the economy. And in speech after speech, he utters some version of this line: “We know from our history, our economy does not grow from the top down, it grows from the middle up.”
This is ...
Can Elan Carr actually win Henry Waxman’s seat?
Republicans can’t compete in Henry Waxman’s district. Everyone knows that. Someone would have to be either stupid or crazy to try. But Elan Carr is neither stupid nor crazy, so there must be something else going on in California’s ...
Tax driving, not gas.
Everyone involved in the Kabuki theater surrounding the nine-month extension of revenue for the highway trust fund has so far played their parts perfectly.
The secretary of transportation told the media that he would be forced to reduce funding to ...
On catfish, farmed and wild.
There isn’t much left in life that is unregulated and without some degree of government supervision or protection. You get used to it, I suppose. And, anyway, you don’t have much choice. But you do need to pay attention because nothing is off limits.
How many minority students = a critical mass?
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is the affirmative action case that won’t go away. It’s been to the Supreme Court once and may return. It is a case that could well turn on a failure to define terms—“critical mass” being the critical term.
The lessons of World War I
The United States entered the Great War with its eyes wide open. The mechanical slaughter in Europe had already left millions dead. In the trenches, men had to contend with lice, rats, sickness, mud, extreme temperatures, human waste, rotting corpses, and boredom as well as the threats of poison gas, explosive shells, and being buried alive. In 1914, Europe went to war with only the dimmest awareness of the horrors to come. Yet Congress voted overwhelmingly for a declaration of war in the absence of any direct threat to U.S. territory and despite the country’s long tradition of distancing itself from European wars. What could explain both the American government’s decision and the broad and deep popular support for the war?
Today, even a well-rounded college graduate is unlikely to know more about American intervention than the fact that it had something to do with German submarines. Yet why did the United States send two million men ...
The astounding waste, corruption, and self-dealing of university student governments
For anyone who follows national politics, there is no shortage of scandals and harrowing economic figures to buttress the opinion that our leadership is corrupt and incompetent. My own pessimism about government, however, is born of experience. I was foolish once and young; I even ...
The making of a Washington monument
Henry and Emily Folger had a magnificent obsession. They spent a life of virtually indiscriminate acquisitiveness compiling the largest collection of Shakespeare manuscripts and associated arcana in the world—and then gave all that they had acquired to the American nation, wrapped in the handsome library, museum, and theater that bear their name on Capitol Hill in Washington.
When one looks at the ways in which latter-day tycoons direct their disposable income and extracurricular hours, the lives of Henry Clay Folger (1857-1930) and Emily Jordan Folger (1858-1936) offer a sweetly bizarre contrast. Though Henry rose to become president and then chairman of Socony, a division of Standard Oil, and was a self-taught expert in the booming oil business of his time, not a day passed that he and Emily weren’t ...
A second look at General Westmoreland’s strategy
In his often-cited but little-read On War (1832), Carl von Clausewitz observes that “in war, the result is never final.” His observation can be applied to the historiography of war as well. A case in ...
The reconstruction of German society after 1945
The best novel of the 20th century was written as an argument against the ruling French literary critic, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve. He held that a writer’s life was the key to his or her literary work and that the life and letters must be parsed along with the ...
Wounded by scandal, the Bolshoi returns to America
This was the first time in nine years that the Bolshoi Ballet had performed in New York, and rather than bring any of Alexei Ratmansky’s contemporary ballets, which helped catapult the company into the ...
Women rule Hollywood, and men are box-office poison
The age of the male movie star has passed. Welcome to the age of the female movie star.
The most successful performers at the box office of late have all been women, ...
Jonathan V. Last abdicates the Throne
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire might be the most daunting mountain in the history of fantasy fiction. The cycle includes five fat books so far, totaling over 4,500 pages, and Martin suggests that at least two more volumes will be needed to conclude the story. Compared with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series or Asimov’s Foundation books, A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t just Everest—it’s the entire Himalayan range.
Even so, I wasn’t intimidated by it. I’ve spent 30 years reading fantasy and science fiction of every type, from the good (Orson Scott Card’s Ender books) to the bad (Terri Brooks’s Tolkien-knockoff Sword of Shannara series) to the terrible (Douglas Hill’s Galactic Warlord saga, which is more or less The Bourne Identity, in space).
Martin’s series offers multiple pathways for the ascent. There ...
Last week something unusual happened: “Weird Al” Yankovic, the 54-year-old parody singer, captured Billboard’s number one slot with the release of a new album, Mandatory Fun. It’s hard to overstate how weird (sorry) this is. Yankovic’s first hits came in the 1980s with send-ups like “Eat It” (instead of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”). It was great, and Weird Al kept at it, creating a niche for himself in the music biz over the next 30 years. Which is remarkable in its own right, much less in the genre of ephemeral comedy. Only a handful of singers have charted on Billboard’s Top 40 in four straight decades: Among them are Michael Jackson, Madonna, and . . . Weird Al.
The improbable hit single on Weird Al’s improbable hit album is “Word Crimes,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s global megahit “Blurred Lines.” Instead of being a sub rosa celebration of the hook-up culture, Weird Al’s song lampoons the grammar and ...
Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that The Scrapbook wishes Keith Olbermann had never gotten into political commentary. But don’t misunderstand: The problem isn’t his terminal case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, or his feud with Bill O’Reilly, or his unintentionally hilarious and ...
Keith Olbermann’s derisive reference to the “designated kraken” reminds The Scrapbook of a classic anti-designated-hitter article by Christopher Caldwell, published in these pages in April 1998. Longtime readers may yet remember it: “
"So, obviously Israel has a right to self-defense, but . . . ” -(Hillary Clinton, in a July 28 interview on America with Jorge Ramos).
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