We may have some 120 allies in the global fight against climate warming, according to our president, but how many of these nations’ leaders knew just what the hell he meant when he told them at the UN the other day, “There should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate.” “Plate? What kind of plate? Dinner plate? Metal plate? Plastic?” the simultaneous translators puzzled. Anyway, our guy is one to talk — only thing he ever steps up to is a tee. No doubt, he pronounced his UN speechathon a slam dunk. Darryl Dawkins, for those of you who remember him, would have characterized it as an “in your face disgrace.”
“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” Bill Clinton testified in 1998. Or did he?
Instead of ridiculing him as a gauche concealer of past sins, perhaps we should embrace the 42nd president as a prophet revealing future sinners. Might we have mistranscribed a cryptic verbal warning about the “the meaning of the word ‘ISIS’”?
One of Clinton’s successors won’t say “ISIS” — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, preferring “ISIL” — Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Some journalists, who Barack Obama often plays ventriloquist to, now say ISIL, too, as though the president referring to the UK as Grape Britain might similarly alter their use of language.
Many people, even alleged conservatives, blame the West when it comes to explaining Islamic terrorism. If it wasn’t the crusades, it was the end of World War One, when Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), among others, carved up the map of the modern Middle East.
But if the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of modern Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine (eventually Israel) were a cause of movements like ISIS, why was the region relatively quiescent after the First World War? Indeed, Lawrence, in 1922, predicted that even among the ever restless Arabs, there would “be no more serious trouble for at least seven years,” which, in those territories for which Britain was responsible, proved broadly true. In 1935, he wrote to Robert Graves, “How well the Middle East has done: it, more than any other part of the world, has gained from the war.”
Hundreds of thousands marched in New York recently for climate “justice” in “The People’s Climate March,” convinced that human industry is heating the earth to apocalyptic levels.
Naturally there was a religious auxiliary to the Global Warming jamboree in the form of the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change, sponsored by the World Council of Churches, among others. And of course it included earth-friendly worship at the flamboyant Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, whose theologically provocative services some critics have labeled earth worship.
Those critics would have found vindication at the cathedral on Sunday, where “The Religions of the Earth Multi-faith Service” paid homage to Mother Earth by asking worshippers to pile stones on the altar to confirm their climate commitment. Over a thousand concerned religious activists filled the pews, praying for and at times seemingly to the earth, beneath two giant sculptures of feathered phoenixes that soared overhead in the huge gothic worship space.
Grim forecasts released separately on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization say that by the end of January, the Ebola epidemic engulfing Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia will explode to at least 100 times its current size. An estimated 550,000 to 1.4 million people will be infected compared with the 5,347 so far. Scientists now report that 70 percent of infected patients are dying, up from 50 percent in previous reports.
Shockingly, the Obama administration is pouring a staggering $750 million into only one of these three countries, Liberia, over the next six months. Why only Liberia? He’s playing favorites. His buddy Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Liberia’s president. But scientific evidence shows our tax dollars would save more African lives if the money were spent equipping the nations in Ebola’s future path with laboratory tests, gloves, other equipment and expertise before the disease hits them. And it will hit. Oxford University researchers predict that migrating fruit bats will likely carry the virus to fifteen more African countries.
Erev Rosh Hashanah. First day Tishrei (first month of the Jewish year), maybe it is a coincidence. The paper of record happens to carry a lot of Jewish-related news, none of it cheerful. Israeli army officials reported the IDF located the murderers of three teenagers – the crime that started the chain of events leading to last summer’s Gaza war – and killed them in a brief gun battle. Not the sort of thing you want to cheer on Erev Rosh Hashanah, a day that among other thing celebrates the beginning of God’s plan.
Are Jews the witnesses of this plan, the guinea pigs? Maybe both. You have to wonder. It is okay to wonder. Job did. He refused to complain, but he wondered, or how would we have his story? What are humans for? To obey the law and walk a righteous path through life? Or to murder one another?
The last few months a consulting job in the Chicago suburbs has taken me out of my writing rhythm. At the same time my Miami-Chicago commute has me traveling the Sotloff-Foley axis. In South Florida, where Steven Sotloff’s family are prominent in the Jewish community, his grim fate is the subject that most engages the man and woman in the street. In greater Chicagoland the talk is of James Foley, who was an alumnus of Northwestern University. The beheadings of these two journalists by the murderous band known as ISIS have sparked a fierce debate over the level of response such barbarism should draw. In my travels I hear passionate presentations by the advocates of the vying views.
There is a far-left approach that argues for no action to be taken at all. Our behavior should be dictated by our own conscience, not by provocateurs goading us into radical reactions. We should protect our citizens to the extent possible but retaliation in the form of violence is never warranted by the brutality of those who do not share our enlightenment.
Mz. Hillary would have us believe she’s trying to decide if she wants to run for president. If you’ll believe this, you’ll believe the Sun is trying to decide if it wants to come up in the east tomorrow.
It’s a wonder La Clinton has even a moment to ponder this momentous decision, considering how much time she’s spending running for president. Her travel schedule is as heavy now as when she was secretary of state. (We all remember those four years when she nagged the entire world, not just Bill.) Most recently she was in Iowa, doubtless a state chosen entirely at random.
One of the down-sides to running for president, or in the present case deciding whether one wishes to run for president, is that one has to appear with all manner of folks in one’s own party. Including dodgy folks one would normally give a wide berth to. In Mz. Hillary’s case, this includes the mercurial Charlie Crist, who is running for governor of Florida as a Democrat, even though he has been a member of that party for less than half the amount of time the first lady of Chappaqua was secretary of state.
America was divided, seemingly irreconcilably so. On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took the oath to begin his second term as President of the United States. In the presence of an audience that included both his soon-to-be assassin John Wilkes Booth and the abolitionist, one-time slave Frederick Douglass, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. A speech that would exceed in eloquence even his own Gettysburg Address. Both are today inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.
Jack E. Levin, whose first book Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Illustrated was reviewed here back in 2010, has once again delivered a remarkable line-by-line examination of a Lincoln speech central to American values.
The Kreutzer Sonata Variations: Lev Tolstoy's Novella and Counterstories
By Sofiya Tolstaya and Lev Lvovich Tolstoy
(Yale, 384 pages, $40)
A month or so ago, This American Life host Ira Glass landed in hot water for casually tweeting “Shakespeare sucks.” Well, Glass deserved it; still, the backlash provoked a kind of counter-reaction in me. There’s more to say for Shakespeare, one hopes, than polite applause, and an audience with only that probably isn’t worthy of him.