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The Cold War in Retrospect: How Historians Still Get It Wrong

By 12.2.14

Myths of the Cold War: Amending Historiographic Distortions
By Albert L. Weeks
(Lexington Books, 154 pages, $76)

Are Western historians going soft on the Cold War that the Russians waged against the West for 45 years? A new look at trends in this gray area of history indicates that many writers and younger generations now contend the threat of hostilities, including nuclear exchanges, can be blamed primarily on American post-war posture, not solely on that of the Russians.

But historian Albert Weeks, a former State Department official and long-time academic, has produced a concise and polemical book to confront this “lamentable historiographic distortion.” Now 91 and retired in Florida, he seeks to set the record straight.

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A Further Perspective

Opinions Versus Facts

By 12.2.14

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. But, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “You’re entitled to your own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Soon after the shooting death of Michael Brown, this 285-pound young man was depicted as a “gentle giant.” But, after a video was leaked, showing him bullying the owner of a store from which he had stolen some merchandise, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed displeasure that the video was leaked. In other words, to Holder the truth was offensive, but the lie it exposed was not.

Many people who claimed to have been eyewitnesses to the fatal shooting gave opposite accounts of what happened. Some even gave accounts that contradicted what they themselves had said earlier.

Fortunately, the grand jury did not have to rely on such statements, though some in the media seemed to. What the grand jury had, that the rest of us did not have until the grand jury’s decision was announced, was a set of physical facts that told a story that was independent of what anybody said.

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Ben Stein's Diary

Flying Into Integration

By 12.1.14

So, a roundup of the week. On Monday, wifey and I flew to Atlanta. The people at LAX looked as usual — frantic, worried, frightened, angry. They took their seats and kept on looking tense. I fell asleep for most of the flight.

Except — I awakened and looked at the fine Delta in Flight Entertainment choices. To my delight, there was a film called Nixon on Nixon. It was highly edited, wildly biased, not at all representatives of what Nixon supposedly thought and believed, based on the tapes.

The excerpts themselves were a total scream. I liked especially the parts where the authors of the film tried to make Nixon look like an anti-Semite. Yes, indeed, they had a ton of Nixon quotes calling Jews familiar derogatory names.

But they also completely forgot to mention that most of Nixon’s top policy choices were Jewish — including Arthur F. Burns at the Federal Reserve and Henry Kissinger as National Security Adviser. They also forgot my dear old Pop as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

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A Further Perspective

St. Louis on My Mind

By 12.1.14

As I watched the news coverage of the sad events in Ferguson, MO, a north side suburb of my hometown, St. Louis, countervailing emotions take hold.

St. Louis missed the violence and riots of the late 1960s and early 1970s for reasons we really do not understand. It has always been a binary community, blacks on the north side, whites on the south side. The old French and German culture is vestigial while the Italian influence is discernible mostly in the fantastic number of excellent restaurants in town. This self-sorting of the races continued out from the very restricted boundaries of the City to the suburbs, a black track heading to the north and northwest and a white track to the west, south, and southwest. This, no doubt, was one of the causes, along with affluence, of the rapid expansion of St. Charles County, just across the Missouri River, now a Republican stronghold. Many of the former and current white residents of the north side suburbs, like Ferguson, were Irish-Catholic and Democratic. An oft-quoted joke: a Democrat crossing the river became a Republican voter almost overnight.

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The Obama Watch

Is He Out of His Narcissistic Mind?

By 12.1.14

There is nothing like watching politicians utter the naked truth. So rare it defies belief. Like Cidinha Campos, the blunt Brazilian Congresswoman from Rio de Janeiro, who points the finger at the bad political apples with justified and refreshing outrage. The late Ohio Congressman Jim Traficant had nothing on her.

It is worth watching Brazil’s Campos for a few minutes on the floor of the Brazilian Chamber before reading the brief translations (here). Referring to a corrupt congressman who did himself in, while citing specific violations of legal codes, she said:

I want to discuss those who shamelessly take from the public purse.

He is more corrupt than his politician father. Corruption is in the DNA of our politicians instead of being addressed by the legal system.

This corrupt thief appointed himself to the Treasury. I see their cynicism. The more corrupt they are, the more simpatico they come across to people.

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In Memoriam

P. D. James, An Appreciation

By 12.1.14

Novelist and life peer P. D. James, since 1991 Baroness James of Holland Park, died peacefully at her Oxford, England home Thursday at 94. It’s fitting that she should leave us on Thanksgiving Day. Readers and friends of civilization everywhere have reason to be thankful for her long, productive, and well-examined life. And thankful for the literary riches she leaves behind.

Lady James’ chief claim to our attention and appreciation is her 18 elegant crime novels that have attracted millions of readers across the world from Cover Her Face in 1962 through Death Comes to Pemberly in 2011. Yes, I chose that adjective carefully. Mrs. James proved that crime fiction can be elegant. Also intelligent, insightful, and humorous. (Please excuse this American for using the civilian form of her name, titles in the U.K. having been greatly debased now that every superannuated rocker has Sir before his name.) Her stories not only make good reading, but good viewing as well. Eight of her novels have been made into television dramas.

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Loose Canons

Après Hagel: Replacing the Irrelevant

By 12.1.14

You will hear a lot between now and when Congress convenes in January about how urgent it is that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s replacement be confirmed by the Senate. The president will nominate someone and then shrug his shoulders at the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, noting that things aren’t going well, and asking, “What do you expect? The Republicans are to blame because they haven’t confirmed the new defense secretary.”

It will all be baloney, of course, because we know that the secretary of defense’s job has been neutered by Obama’s White House team and it will remain so as long as he’s president.

We know this from any number of factual emanations from the administration, not the least of which was former defense secretary Bob Gates’s memoir, Duty, in which he whinged at great length about how all national security decisions were made by the president himself or his White House National Security Council. There is no evidence to show that the White House gave Hagel any greater authority or leeway, and there is no reason to expect that his successor will find any change.

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Ben Stein's Diary

My Wife

By 11.30.14

Friday
I have many good things going on. By far the best is my wife, the world’s finest human being — the most patient, most tolerant, most forgiving, most generous. She is a saint. Beyond a saint.

How did she come into my life? It is a story of God’s kindness to me:

Thanks to a wonderful college fraternity experience at the Alpha Delta Phi, I met a lovely girl at the beginning of my senior year at Columbia in 1965. She was a super girl named Mary.

But she was controlling. Great person but controlling.

The summer after that senior year, I worked at the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency within the State Department. My father got me the job.

On July 4, 1966, the State Department hosted the Junior Foreign Service Officers’ Ball. Black tie. Rooftop of the State Department. Unsurpassed view of the fireworks over the Washington Monument. I was thin and cool. I was self-confident.

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Special Report

‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’: An Ignoble Lie for the Ages

By 11.28.14

We never met Michael Brown. Meeting the people who knew him makes us feel as though we had and yet relieved that we hadn’t.

Brown’s mother, 34-year-old Leslie McSpadden, allegedly led a party of twenty-to-thirty people who bum-rushed Michael Brown’s paternal step-grandmother in October for unauthorized sales of Michael Brown memorabilia in the parking lot of a neighborhood barbeque joint. The grandmother quotes Brown’s mother as saying “get her ass.” That the mob did, allegedly striking the on-the-make matriarch in the gauche street battle and stealing several thousand dollars of merchandise and money.

“Burn this bitch down!” Brown’s stepfather Louis Head shouted loudly, and repeatedly, after losing his head over the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson earlier this week. Ferguson denizens and visitors, recently impervious to police instruction, proved particularly obedient to the ex-con’s command.

Brown’s followers, perhaps in homage to the lasting images of him inconveniencing a convenience store owner, looted shops and destroyed local businesses. One can condemn the rioters. One can’t accuse them of betraying Michael Brown’s legacy.

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Ben Stein's Diary

A Ferguson Thanksgiving

By 11.27.14

Thursday
Thanksgiving Day. Here I am in beautiful downtown Greenville, South Carolina. The sky is speckled with clouds and the town is beautiful, It has been a terrible few days. Two days ago was my 70th birthday, and wow, was I sick. Food poisoning? Intestinal flu? Who knows but it was HORRIBLE.

Plus, I don’t like being 70, although the alternative is worse — maybe. Maybe I will be in paradise. No, I am already in paradise. I have my Big Wifey here in Greenville with me. I have my son and my INCREDIBLY beautiful daughter in law, The Kitten, and my cruelly, unbearably cute granddaughter, Coco. Plus I have my dear friend and driver, Bob Noah.

Plus, back home in Beverly Hills, I have my dog, Julie, my dear, dear friend Phil Demuth and my nag, Michael Chinch.

In New York, I have my super sister and her super family. In Idaho, I have my brave Tim and Penny, the people at Bottle Bay and the fab restaurants, the magnificent Vissers, the best looking family on earth, my favorite store on earth, Sandpoint Super Drug, the whole town of Sandpoint, which represents heaven to me. If the eternity were Sandpoint in July, that would be awfully nice.

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