Last week, one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning held its 40th year reunion. Members of the Class of 1974 left their corner offices, boardrooms, television studios, summer estates, and – yes – even their comfortably ordinary jobs and homes, to reconnect with old friends and classmates.
The climactic event of the reunion was a series of presentations rather misleadingly dubbed “The Eureka Moment!”. This was not the kind of Eureka moment experienced by Archimedes in the bathtub. Instead, members of this distinguished company vied with one another to present the most distressing, depressing, and often intimate episode of their lives. The format was eerily reminiscent of the old “Queen For a Day” television show, where contestants competed to see whose life was the most pathetic, with the winner receiving a slew of valuable prizes.
What led these successful people to participate in this strange event? Quite possibly, the same compulsions that made them successful in the first place. Continue reading
Daniel Pearl. Nicholas Berg. James Foley. Steven Sotloff.
Four American noncombatants have been beheaded by Islamic fanatics, and the videos of their murders brazenly circulated over the internet for the world to witness. Another Westerner — David Cawthorne Haines, a security expert hired by international aid organizations – faces the same gruesome fate.
Why do they behead us?
The question goes to the method, not the motive, of the madness. Murderers’ motives don’t matter much in the Middle East. In local eyes, there are so many causes to kill for, and so many victims deserving death. But assuming one is inclined to butcher, why do so by the particularly peculiar method of beheading? Why not butcher by shooting, or by hanging, or by detonation?
This is, to put it mildly, a grim inquiry. But it is worth the trouble to explore. For the answer may tell us something about the nature of the evil we face. Continue reading
Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are rarely compared. But the way these two presidents have dealt with crises in the Middle East provides instructive contrasts on the nature of leadership.
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon, a man more associated with skullduggery than leadership. But in October 1973, when his Vice President was resigning in disgrace and the congressional investigation into his own misconduct was moving to its fatal conclusion, Nixon demonstrated how a leader can take command, master events, and shape history.
His example provides a contrast to the current President, whose concept of leadership involves “leading from behind.” To the extent it involves taking initiative, it is the initiative of “avoiding doing stupid shit.” Continue reading
“Then the Philistines seized Samson, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza.” Judges 16:21.
Something about Gaza, and the way its Hamas bosses periodically goad Israel into military action, turn otherwise sensible observers into sightless chumps — incapable of distinguishing between initiating and responding to force, and blind to the difference between attempted murder and self-defense.
We see that day after day after day in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets, which report on the crisis as if it were a contest between two antagonists competing on a morally level playing field. It appears in the television graphics of careful neutrality: charts showing the number of Israeli air strikes compared to the number of Hamas missiles and mortars; comparisons of the number of casualties on both sides; and reports on the relative suffering of the noncombatants.
This is nonsense. Three important principles underlie this crisis, which ought to be evident to anyone with eyes to see. First, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Second, inchoate crimes are still crimes, and in wartime, they are war crimes. And third, “proportionality” has no proper role when thugs are trying to murder your children. Continue reading
The cancellation of the six REDSKINS trademark registrations is not so much a victory for American Indians, as it is a defeat for commercial speech, which means a defeat for the First Amendment.
According to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”), 30% of American Indians consider REDSKINS a disparaging and offensive term. Even assuming that is so — and the flimsy record in the case does not inspire confidence — the decision should alarm Americans of every category. For the logic of the TTAB’s ruling gives any minority faction — regardless of the merit of their position — the power to deprive others of the important governmental benefit of trademark registration, which is a form of constitutionally protected commercial speech.
Many commentators have viewed the case as a contest over respect for Native Americans. But the TTAB ruling transcends the trademarks in question. One does not have to agree that a word with obvious racial overtones like “redskins” is an appropriate choice for a football team, to appreciate the chilling effects of the ruling.
The root of the danger does not lie with the 2-1 majority decision to cancel. It lies with the law they applied. Continue reading
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a liberal. He espouses strong left-wing positions on gun control, abortion, immigration, and climate change. He proposed banning the sale of many sweetened beverages over 16 ounces. He endorsed Obama in 2008.
Last week, Bloomberg traveled to Harvard University, the bastion of American liberalism, and delivered a stinging criticism of liberals.
After the obligatory attempts at joking up the student audience (“I’m excited to be … in the exact spot where Oprah stood last year. OMG.” “Don’t you just hate it when alumni put their names all over everything? I was thinking about that this morning as I walked into the Bloomberg Center.”), Bloomberg turned to the subject of freedom of speech. He began with exaltations of separation between church and state, and references to the McCarthy Scare of the 50s, familiar tropes in any liberal address. “Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness,” he told the students and faculty, “and it is up to us to fight it at every turn.” Bloomberg did not say whom he included in “us,” but most attendees probably thought they knew. Surely “us” referred to liberals – the enlightened ones who have been campaigning against dead Senator McCarthy for 65 years.
But the Mayor threw them a curve ball. Continue reading
It’s May, the season of college graduation ceremonies, when the college careers of seniors terminate at what are paradoxically called “commencement” exercises.
A great deal of attention will be paid to those invited to speak at these ceremonies, even though most of what they have to say will be rich in platitudes and eminently forgettable. In fact, this year’s crop of commencement speakers will probably be better remembered for those who did not speak than for those who did. Ayan Ali Hirsi, Christine Lagarde, Condoleesa Rice, Charles Murray, and Robert Birgeneau are among a growing list of interesting people who have been “disinvited,” or otherwise pressured to stay away, in a misguided campaign to shield undergraduates from viewpoints that might make them “uncomfortable.”
But for those interested in the state of education at America’s colleges, it may be less important to listen to what the elders have to say to the students than to what the students themselves have to say.
Two Ivy League student essays are worth examining, if only to note their starkly contrasting visions. One is an optimistic picture of a world in which success is possible to all, provided only that they are equipped with the right values. The other is a grim picture where victimhood is inescapable, no matter how many blessings one receives. It may be coincidence, but the fact that the first is written by a freshman, and the second by a senior, suggests a troubling explanation: the modern university may be deadening the spirit of its young charges. Continue reading