Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thomas Friedman, November column

Here (a month after the fact) is an essay by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

The piece appeared in November, and is called “America vs. The Narrative.”

“The Narrative,” Friedman writes, “is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“The general public didn’t exactly understand what we were going after.”

A belated update to the posting, below, concerning the planned burnings-in-effigy, in Danville, Virginia, of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello. The event didn’t take place.

The organizer, in discussing the cancellation, argued that the event had been “misinterpreted.”

Actually, I'm guessing many people understood, quite properly, how offensive the idea was.

Greg Sargent, a blogger, wrote the following, about the cancellation:

Nigel Coleman, chairman of the Danville Tea Party, says the local property owner hosting the rally asked him to pull the plug.

“We will not be going forward with the plan,” a crestfallen Coleman told me by phone...“We had to cancel it. The property owner won’t allow us to do it. The media attention was something that he didn’t want.”

Coleman said he was upset that people had gotten the wrong idea about his plan. “I’m disappointed that the story got out of hand and people misinterpreted something we thought would be a little historical lesson. They made people believe that we were committing an act of violence,” he said, adding that the “they” in question were the “liberal blogs.”

Last week, Coleman defended the plan as reminiscent of the American Revolutionaries, a historical comparison that’s somewhat tenuous, given that the revolutionaries were rebelling against a monarch, while the Tea Partiers are protesting a plan created by a government that was elected by a sizable majority.

But Coleman said he didn’t feel that his right to free expression had been tread upon, blaming himself for not anticipating the backlash.

“It was a mistake not to see beforehand that this would be controversial,” he allowed. “The general public didn’t exactly understand what we were going after.”

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some people really need to consider decaf.

Tea Party organizer vows to burn Pelosi and Perriello in effigy

From CNN web site, November 14th, 2009, Posted at 11:28 AM ET

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The organizer of a "Tea Party" protest in Virginia says he intends to move forward with plans to burn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Tom Perriello in effigy next weekend at a rally to protest Democratic health care legislation.

The event is scheduled for next Saturday in Danville, which borders North Carolina and sits at the southern end of Perriello's congressional district. Perriello, a Democrat, narrowly won his House seat in 2008 and is considered a top target of Congressional Republicans in next year's midterm elections.

When news of the rally surfaced Friday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen condemned the plans as "shocking and despicable."

But Nigel Coleman, the organizer of the Tea Party, told CNN he doesn't see what all the fuss is about. The attention, he said, should be on the Democratic plans to overhaul the health care system.

"We're not going to actually set Perriello on fire or Mrs. Pelosi on fire," Coleman said. "But we have been trying to months to get our point across just how vehemently we are opposed to this health care legislation. For the House vote to come so close and to know that Mr. Perriello is on the other side, it's a kick in the stomach that a lot of people couldn't take."

Coleman said none of Perriello's potential Republican challengers have been invited to the event, which he expects will draw about 100 people.

"Something shocking and despicable is how they've handled this health care legislation," Coleman said, responding to Van Hollen's statement. "Going behind closed doors, writing a bill that is going to fundamentally change what America is. More people are going to be killed by this health care legislation than this bonfire."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


People ask me, now and then, why I turned to vegetarianism (next month it will be eighteen years), and it’s not always asked in an entirely friendly way. There’s an edge, at times, to the question; some people regard vegetarians as being somehow alien. I usually mention, when asked, that my decision did not have to do with health concerns, but that it was because of the animal issue.

I think my favorite response to questions about vegetarianism came from the Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer. I have read different versions of the story. One of the versions, roughly, is this: Singer was at a dinner, and was asked if he had declined to eat the chicken which was being served “for health reasons.” Yes, he said—for the health of the chicken.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Remembering, with continuing sadness, the catastrophe of September 11th...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Recommended Reading

Two remarkable books, both about the Holocaust:

1. The novel The Last of The Just, by Andre Schwarz-Bart. It was published in France in 1959, and was brought out in America in 1960.

The edition I read was published by MJF Books of New York, as part of its “Library of the Holocaust.”

2. Holocaust, by the poet Charles Reznikoff. Published in 1975.

From the back cover of the book: Reznikoff’s "source materials are the U.S. government's record of the trials of the Nazi criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal and the transcripts of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. None of the words here are Reznikoff's own: instead he has created, through selection and arrangement of the courtroom testimony, a poem that unfolds in the voices [of] the perpetrators and the survivors of the Holocaust themselves. He lets the terrible history lay itself bare in history's own tongue."

Friday, August 14, 2009

An essay by Menachem Rosensaft, in The Forward

Here is an essay, titled "Analogies Have Consequences," by Menachem Z. Rosensaft, from The Jewish Daily Forward ( Rosensaft is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Analogies Have Consequences
By Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Published August 10, 2009, issue of August 21, 2009.

In 1995, right-wing Israeli demonstrations opposing any political accommodation with the Palestinians featured posters depicting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the uniform of a Nazi SS officer. The message was duly received. On November 5, 1995, Yigal Amir, a far-right Israeli law student, assassinated Rabin at a Tel Aviv peace rally.

Members of Israel’s mainstream right-wing political parties, some of whom had spoken at the demonstrations in question, were quick to distance themselves from Rabin’s murderer. This was not what they had intended, they said. They did not see the posters. They could not be held responsible for the insane behavior of a deranged extremist.

We should keep the Rabin assassination in mind as Rush Limbaugh, arguably the most influential ideologue of today’s American conservative movement, compares the Obama administration’s health care reform initiative to Nazism and the president himself to Hitler.

“Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook” and “Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did,” Limbaugh told the millions who faithfully tune in to his radio show. The president “is sending out his brownshirts to head up opposition to genuine American citizens who want no part of what Barack Obama stands for and is trying to stuff down our throats,” Limbaugh continued, and “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.”

Limbaugh is not alone in making the Hitler analogy. Demonstrators disrupting town hall meetings on health care reform have brandished images of President Obama with a Hitler-like mustache and signs with “Obama” written under a swastika. Earlier this year, the president of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County in Maryland wrote on the group’s Web site that “Obama and Hitler have a great deal in common.”

From the outset, the strategy of some Republicans has been to delegitimize Barack Obama by depicting him as somehow dangerous and “un-American.”

First they brayed his middle name, Hussein, and noted that Obama sounds a lot like Osama. Then they called him a Muslim. When that didn’t stick, they accused him of “palling around with terrorists,” and then of being a socialist and a communist, all to no avail.

That was conventional politics, albeit of the gutter variety. By comparing President Obama to Hitler, however, Limbaugh is sending his national audience a subliminal but clear message of a wholly different sort. He may just as well be shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, has condemned the Nazi analogies in the health care debate as “outrageous, offensive and inappropriate.” Americans, he believes, “should be able to disagree on the issues without coloring it with Nazi imagery and comparisons to Hitler.”

Foxman is right, of course, but he does not go nearly far enough in his criticism. The problem is not just one of civility in political discourse. The real issue is that Limbaugh, with the tacit acquiescence of his corporate sponsors and the GOP establishment, is calling for sedition and worse.

If Limbaugh in his radio broadcast had made, in the words of the relevant federal statute, “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States,” he would have been thrown off the air and would be awaiting trial on felony charges. But his likening of Obama to Hitler is the functional equivalent of calling for an act of violence against the president of the United States.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, a plurality of Americans consider Limbaugh to be “the main person who speaks for the Republican Party today.” John McCain sees Limbaugh as “a voice of a significant portion of our conservative movement in America” who “has a lot of people who listen very carefully to him.” Mitt Romney calls Limbaugh “a very powerful voice among conservatives. And I listen to him.” Rudy Giuliani has said that “to the extent that Rush Limbaugh energizes the base of the Republican Party, he’s a very valuable and important voice.” And Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has anointed Limbaugh “a national conservative leader.”

McCain, Romney, Giuliani and Steele should now either unambiguously repudiate Limbaugh’s ugly rhetoric or be deemed to condone it. To paraphrase the old labor movement song, we are entitled to know which side they are on.

It is time for Republican leaders to take responsibility for Limbaugh’s words before they have dire if not tragic consequences.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Magazine piece

A fascinating, impressively-written story about whales--and about remarkable and mysterious interactions between whales, and humans--appeared in the 7/12/09 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

The piece, "Watching Whales Watching Us," is by contributing writer Charles Siebert, and can be found at this link:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recommended Reading

Finished reading, this week, a deeply moving, beautifully written work—the Civil War novel “The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara. The novel, awarded the 1975 Pulitzer Prize, concerns the Battle of Gettysburg.

Here's an link:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WBZ Radio, and Morgan White, Jr.

Last Thursday night/Friday morning (between 1 and 2 a.m.), I appeared by phone on Boston’s WBZ NewsRadio, with guest host Morgan White, Jr. While I have been previously interviewed by Morgan on WBZ about my book about early television, during this conversation we spoke not about the book, but about a particular issue: hate crime laws. Morgan feels such laws are not necessary—that current law can sufficiently address such crimes. I’m on the opposite side of the issue, and so we had a debate, of sorts, about the topic.

Above: a 1999 op-ed piece I wrote about the issue, which appeared in The Boston Globe. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Minnesota Supreme Court, and Al Franken

Headline today on

"Minnesota's Supreme Court has declared Democrat Al Franken the winner of the state's disputed U.S. Senate race."

This is, of course, a victory not only for Franken, but for the Democratic party.

It is also a victory for people like Rush Limbaugh, because it gives them something to get outraged about. People like Rush Limbaugh--and so many of their listeners--love getting outraged about things.

The Franken story, for Limbaugh, should be good for at least two days worth of shows.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Globe

If The Boston Globe dies, it will not simply be sad. It will be a cataclysm--for New England, for the paper's readers throughout America, and for journalism.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Yorker cover, 4/27/09

I love this drawing, on the cover of the current New Yorker. It's called "Bo," and it's by Bob Staake.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

President Bush, Thinking "Long and Hard"

It is not news that in leaving office, President Bush will leave behind, for many, a certain impression: that he is not, really, a man of reflection—and that as President he seemed to govern, frequently, from the gut, from instinct.

Perhaps out of a desire to counter such an impression, Mr. Bush has, on a number of occasions,
declared that he has spent much time in thought.

For years, he has used a certain phrase—one he repeated in his press conference last Monday (January 12th).

During the press conference, he said, of Hurricane Katrina:

“I’ve thought long and hard about Katrina—you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.” He said: “The problem with that…is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission…”

It is the initial part of that answer—the phrase “I’ve thought long and hard”—that has for some time been a part of the Bush lexicon.

During an October, 2000 debate with Vice President Al Gore, then-Governor Bush noted that he had “thought long and hard about the honor of being the President of the United States.“

In a March of 2003 press conference, before the start of the Iraq war, Mr. Bush said: “And so I—you know, obviously, I’ve thought long and hard about the use of troops. I think about it all the time…”

From an April, 2005 press conference:

Q: Sir, you’ve talked all around the country about the poisonous partisan atmosphere here in
Washington. I wonder why do you think that is? And do you personally bear any responsibility in having contributed to this atmosphere?

Bush: I’m sure there are some people that don’t like me. You know, Ed, I don’t know. I’ve thought long and hard about it. I was—I’ve been disappointed…

In the summer of 2005, Bush said, of anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan: “I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes…and I’ve thought long and hard about her position.”

In January of 2007, interviewed by Jim Lehrer of PBS, Mr. Bush spoke of sending additional troops to Iraq. He said: “And I thought long and hard about the decision, Jim…”

I will give Mr. Bush this: on certain issues, his judgments have had merit. I do not know, for
example, whether he has in fact “thought long and hard” about Hamas—yet his defense of Israel’s right to defend itself, against Hamas’s missile attacks, has been sound. Similarly, over time, he has evinced an essential understanding of the danger that radical Islamists present to the United States (and the world entire).

Yet one asks: has Mr. Bush, as he has repeatedly asserted, “thought long and hard” about issues and decisions? Or has this been an essential part of his failure as President: that far too often (e.g., Katrina, the economy, undertaking/planning the war in Iraq), there has simply not been the long and hard thinking one would have expected?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 6th Thomas Friedman column, New York Times

From the op-ed essay, "The Mideast’s Ground Zero," by Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times on-line, January 6, 2009:

"Hamas’s overthrow of the more secular Fatah organization in Gaza in 2007 is part of a regionwide civil war between Islamists and modernists. In the week that Israel has been slicing through Gaza, Islamist suicide bombers have killed almost 100 Iraqis — first, a group of tribal sheikhs in Yusufiya, who were working on reconciliation between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and, second, mostly women and children gathered at a Shiite shrine. These unprovoked mass murders have not stirred a single protest in Europe or the Middle East."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bernard-Henri Levy essay, 1/9/09

From The New Republic:

Liberate The Palestinians From Hamas

What to remember once the fighting stops.

By Bernard-Henri Levy, The New Republic Published: January 9, 2009

Not being a military expert, I will abstain from judging whether the Israeli bombardments of Gaza could be better directed, less intense.

Not being able for decades to distinguish between the good dead and the evil dead or, like Camus used to say, between "suspect victims" and "privileged executioners," I'm also deeply disturbed by the images of the Palestinian children who have been killed.

This being said, and taking into account that certain media outlets have been carried away on the winds of folly once again--as is always the case when Israel is involved--I would like to remind everyone of certain facts:

1. No government in the world, no country other than the vilified Israel--dragged through the mud, demonized--would tolerate having thousands of shells falling on its cities year after year. The most remarkable thing in the affair, the true surprise, is not Israel's "brutality"; it is, to the letter, its restraint.

2. The fact that Hamas' Qassam and, now, its Grad missiles have caused so few deaths does not prove that they are artisanal, inoffensive, etc., but that the Israelis protect themselves, that they live burrowed in the caves of their buildings, under shelter: a nightmarish existence, suspended, with the sound of sirens and explosions. I have been to Sderot: I know.

3. The fact that, inversely, the Israeli shells create so many victims does not mean, as protesters have angrily proclaimed, that Israel is engaging in a deliberate "massacre," but that the leaders of Gaza have chosen the opposite attitude and are exposing their populations, relying on the old tactic of the "human shield." Which means that Hamas, like Hezbollah two years ago, is installing its command centers, its arms stockpiles, its bunkers, in the basements of buildings, of hospitals, of schools, of mosques. Efficient but repugnant.

4. There is a capital difference between the combatants that those who want to have a "correct" idea of the tragedy, and of the means to put an end to it, must acknowledge: The Palestinians open fire on cities, or in other words, on civilians (which is called, in international criminal law, a "war crime"); the Israelis target military objectives and cause, without aiming to, horrible civilian casualties (which is called, in the language of war, "collateral damage"--which, even though it is hideous, points to a real strategic and moral dissymmetry).

5. Because we must dot the I's, we will again recall a fact that, strangely, the French press has rarely reported and of which I know no precedent in any other war, or on the part of any other army: During the air offensive, the Israeli army systematically called residents of Gaza who live close to military targets and invited them to evacuate--an Israeli minister said 100,000 calls were made. That this does not alter the despair of families whose lives have been broken in the carnage, it is obvious, but this is not a detail totally deprived of meaning.

6. Finally, as for the famous complete blockade imposed on a starving people, who are lacking of everything in this "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis: Again, this is not factually correct. From the beginning of the ground offensive, the humanitarian convoys ceaselessly crossed the Kerem Shalom passage. According to The New York Times, on Dec. 31--in one single day--nearly 100 trucks carrying food supplies and medicine entered the territory. And I invoke, only to preserve the memory of it (for this goes without saying--but perhaps it would be better to actually say it ...), the fact that Israeli hospitals continue, even as I write, to accept and care for wounded Palestinians every day.

Quickly, let's hope, the fighting will cease. And very quickly, let us also hope, the commentators will regain their wits. They will discover, on that day, that Israel has committed many errors over the course of many years (missed opportunities, a long denial of the Palestinian national demands, unilateralism), but that Palestinians' worst enemies are the extremist leaders who have never wanted peace, have never wanted a State and never conceived of one for their people other than as an instrument and as a hostage. (Consider the sinister image of Hamas supreme leader Khaled Meshal who, on Saturday, Dec. 27, when the scale of the greatly desired Israeli response was becoming clear, only knew to declare a return to suicide missions--and this during his comfortable exile, his cushy job in Damascus ...)

From two choices, one. Either Hamas leaders re-establish the truce that they broke, and, while they're at it, declare null and void a charter founded on the pure rejection of the "Zionist Entity": In doing so, they will rejoin the vast party for compromise that has not ceased--God be praised--to make progress in the region, and peace will be established. Or they will only, obstinately, consider the suffering of Palestinian civilians in terms of its fueling of their annealed passions, their insane hate, nihilistic, beyond words. And if that is the case, it is not only the Israelis, but the Palestinians, who will need to be liberated from Hamas' somber shadow.

Bernard-Henri Levy's new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against The New Barbarism, was published in September by Random House.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Two responses

In July of 2008, while visiting the Israeli town of Sderot, presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke of the many rocket attacks, from Gaza, that the town had been subjected to.

Mr. Obama said: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that." He added: "And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."


An interview with Fareed Zakaria, the foreign affairs analyst and Newsweek columnist (and host of the Sunday CNN program "Fareed Zakaria: GPS"), was posted on on Wed., January 7th.

Zakaria said: "Israel should end its campaign within a few days. It has achieved most of its major military goals."

In the interview, CNN asked Zakaria: Was Israel right to attack?

Zakaria: I think it was perfectly justified. No society could tolerate the continued rain of rockets falling on their civilian population...

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Defense of Israel, Washington Post op-ed essay, 1/1/09

Here is an insightful, well-written defense of Israel's military campaign against Hamas.

The piece, by Robert J. Lieber, appeared in The Washington Post on January 1st, before Israel's ground assault began.

Lieber is a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh, that George HWB...He's such a kidder...

Former President Bush touts son Jeb for top job

By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer, Sun Jan 4, 2:46 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Another President Bush?

Perhaps so, says former President George H.W. Bush, who has already seen one son, George W., serve in the Oval Office. The nation's 41st president said Sunday that he would like to see a second son, Jeb, be president one day.

Jeb Bush is the current president's younger brother and a former popular governor of Florida. He is mulling a run for Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla.

Asked in a broadcast interview about Jeb Bush's consideration of the Senate seat, Bush 41 said: "I'd like to see him run. I'd like to see him be president someday."

When asked if he was serious, he said: "Or maybe senator. Whatever. Yes, I would. I mean, right now is probably a bad time, because we've had enough Bushes in there. But no, I would. And I think he's as qualified and able as anyone I know on the political scene. Now, you've got to discount that. He's my son."

To read the full story:

Friday, January 2, 2009

"CBS Evening News" piece about "The Elephant Sanctuary"

Steve Hartman is a CBS News reporter, whose series "Assignment America" airs each Friday on "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."

The following piece appeared on the January 2, 2009 newscast. It's a very beautiful story about the friendship between an elephant, and a dog, at "The Elephant Sanctuary," in Tennessee.

The video of the piece can be found at the top left of the story:

The web site of "The Elephant Sanctuary" is:

From the web site: "The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, founded in 1995, is the nation's largest natural habitat refuge developed specifically for endangered African and Asian elephants. It operates on 2,700 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee - 85 miles southwest of Nashville."