Generations of schoolchildren once learned that George Washington was the Father of the Country—a platitude, of course, but one that encapsulated an essential truth. Now an exhibition on the site in Philadelphia where he lived during his presidency will concentrate on his role as a slave-owner. This too is a truth, a tragic one that requires telling. But is this the central truth about our first President—that he hypocritically spoke of liberty while enslaving others?
This question has become urgent with the rediscovery of the first President’s house, where Washington (and later John Adams) lived between 1790 and 1800, when Philadelphia served as the country’s capital. The house was demolished in the early 19th century, leaving behind only a few print images, and its precise form and location became a matter of historical controversy. This was recently settled, and in spectacular fashion, by Edward Lawler, Jr.—not a professional historian but a singer. (Full disclosure: I knew Lawler in graduate school in the early 1980’s.)
Embryonic stem-cell research first became possible with human cells in 1998, and became a political issue immediately thereafter. To derive the cells, researchers had to destroy human embryos, which drew strong opposition from people (like me) who believe that nascent human lives should not be treated as raw materials for research.
Just a few months after the first human stem-cell experiments, President Clinton assigned his board of bioethics advisors, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), to consider the issues involved. Their report, published in 1999, has helped ever since to define the Democrats’ approach to the issue. In light of the headlines today about a new way to produce stem cells without destroying embryos, that report is worth another look.
The commission made a point of taking into account the ethical issues raised by embryo-destructive research. “In our judgment,” the report concluded, “the derivation of stem cells from embryos remaining following infertility treatments is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research.”
Are Jews running U.S. foreign policy from behind the scenes? This is a question lately on many lips, from those of Jimmy Carter to professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, respectively of the University of Chicago and Harvard, on down to David Duke, Ph.D., of the Ku Klux Klan.
One of the pioneers in resurrecting this idea, first put into wide circulation in this country in the early part of the 20th century by the industrialist Henry Ford in his tract The International Jew, is Michael Scheuer. Formerly of the CIA, where he ran the unit responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden, Scheuer has not only kept himself occupied writing books—see my discussion of one of them in What Became of the CIA—he has also been busy on the lecture circuit.
• In a perfect world, we would all read nothing but great books and never become exhausted or bloated. Alas, I spend a fair amount of time in hotel rooms and on planes and trains, and I find myself frequently in need of intelligent but undemanding literary entertainment that stretches my mental muscles without causing me to break a sweat. If you can read Proust on a plane, more power to you: the feat is beyond me. Twenty years ago I read The Bonfire of the Vanities from cover to cover in the course of a holiday plane trip that was made considerably longer by a blizzard. More often than not, though, I resort instead to crime novels, a portmanteau phrase that takes in everything from Ronald Knox to John Grisham.
Neither of those authors, as it happens, is a favorite of mine. On the other hand, I’ve never been a mystery addict, and most of the sanguinary literature leaves me as cold as a week-old stiff. I never could figure out what Evelyn Waugh saw in Erle Stanley Gardner, nor am I capable of reading a single page of Agatha Christie without nodding off. For me, Raymond Chandler and Rex Stout were the quintessential purveyors of mystery-type diversion, and I find their best books to be infinitely rereadable. Most of Chandler’s work can be found in a pair of Library of America volumes that are compact enough to slip into the smallest of bags, as are Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930′s and 40′s (990 pp., $35) and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950′s (892 pp., $35), which between them contain a representative sample of the best non-Chandler hard-boiled mysteries and thrillers of the Golden Age of pulp fiction. As for Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, they’ve all been published in paperback at one time or another, and if you aren’t familiar with the adventures of the orchid-growing savant of West 35th Street and Archie Goodwin, his dapper, wisecracking assistant-amanuensis, you’re missing a treat. I recommend Before Midnight, Plot It Yourself, and Too Many Clients for starters.