Stumping in South Carolina on Monday, John McCain unloaded on Donald Rumsfeld, calling him “one of the worst Secretaries of Defense in history.” Funny: I seem to remember that when Rumsfeld stepped down after the fall elections, McCain saluted his years of service.
Alas, this is a familiar pattern with McCain. In some ways he is one of the most admirable men in America. He seems consistent, fiercely independent, and principled. But at other times, he seems eerily reminiscent of Bill Clinton, constantly playing to reporters or to whatever audience he happens to be addressing.
Don’t fret too much if you missed Sunday night’s debut of The 1/2 Hour News Hour. The program—Fox News Channel’s answer to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—was awful, not a real contender against its Comedy Central rival. It wasn’t just that the jokes on the Fox spoof often failed. That’s par for the course in satire, political or otherwise. It’s that the whole atmosphere of the show was grimly, thuddingly unfunny. The question is, why?
For Alessandra Stanley, the chief TV critic of the New York Times, the problem was the show’s conservative slant—that is, its single-minded focus on targets like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and global warming. The debut completely spares Dick Cheney and President Bush, the constant foils for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. As Stanley complained, “The Fox News comedy only leans on the Left.” For his part, the show’s creator, Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s few outspokenly right-wing big wigs, is happy to admit that The 1/2 Hour News Hour is “unabashedly coming from a certain point of view. . . . We’re not looking to be balanced.”
On January 11, China employed a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a communications satellite 537 miles above the earth. Hans Kristensen, a specialist on space warfare at the Federation of American Scientists, called the Chinese action a “major foreign-policy blunder.” China, he wrote, “has severely weakened its own status in the push for international limitations on military space activities.”
What could the Chinese have been thinking? The New York Times editorial page had an answer (link requires subscription). Citing unnamed experts, it suggested “that China’s latest test is intended to prod the United States to join serious negotiations” to limit anti-satellite warfare.
The 21st century’s first blood libel, it appears, was only skin-deep. Ariel Toaff of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, an Italian-born medieval historian and the son of the chief rabbi of Rome, now claims that his new book Pasque di Sangre (“Passover of Blood”) has been misinterpreted. In any case, he says, he never really meant it when he wrote that in at least one case, that of the trial and execution of sixteen Jews in the Italian town of Trento in 1475, there may have been some truth in the medieval charge that Jews killed Christian children before Passover in order to use their blood to bake matzos.
To judge by his quoted remarks, Toaff seems—understandably, perhaps, given the fierce attacks on him in academic circles—a bit discombobulated these days. One minute he is ready to defend his book even “if the world crucifies me” (an interesting association in the context), while the next minute he has withdrawn it from circulation and barred his publisher from coming out with a second printing. And throughout it all he keeps insisting that he never had any inkling of the furor it would touch off. Although it’s hard to imagine a professor at a reputable Israeli university being so foolishly naïve, all the evidence seems to point to his being exactly that.
Eric Hobsbawm was given three pages to write a cover piece about the Spanish Civil War for the review section of Saturday’s Guardian. He produced a paean to the Communist and fellow-traveling intellectuals of the 30’s, who lost the war but won, he claims, a posthumous victory by “creating the world’s memory.”
The passage in which he deals with the handful of pro-Republican intellectuals who criticized Stalin exhibits Hobsbawm’s own relativistic attitude to the truth. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, he says, was turned down by his fellow-traveling publisher Victor Gollancz and given a “critical” review in the New Statesman (i.e., a hatchet job) because, as Orwell himself wrote, Gollancz and his ideological allies believed that “one must not tell the truth about what is happening in Spain and the part played by the Communist party because to do so would prejudice public opinion against the Spanish government and so aid Franco.”