Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cambridge

Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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Obama on 9/11: Get Over It

Obama’s remarks on 9/11 were about what you would expect from a president who has ridiculed his countrymen for overreacting to the most lethal terrorist attack on our soil and who can’t manage to utter the worlds “Islamic fundamentalists” or “jihadists.”

Really, let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, he tells us. “On this day, it’s perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning — images that are seared into our souls. It’s tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly.” Yes, it is tempting — because that is what the day is all about, to recall the diabolical work of our enemies and recommit ourselves to the defense of our civilization. But no, in his book, it’s about diversity training: “They were white and black and brown — men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world.”

As for the Islamist fascists who killed so many and made orphans and widows of many more, he has this to say:

It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Oh, good grief. Yes, it was a religion — fundamentalist Islam that attacked us. Al-Qaeda is one organization but the jihadists attack because of religious beliefs. And they are anything but pathetic or, as he put it, “sorry” — they did slaughter thousands, after all. And one cannot but wretch at the moral equivalence — just as we condemn Islamist zealots, we must rebuff those who don’t appreciate the desecration of “hallowed ground” ? Also, notice the sleight of hand: the Pentagon chapel he refers to is not a mosque, not the exclusive providence of Muslims but an interfaith facility that bears no religious monikers. (Hey, why not the same at Ground Zero?) His tone is one of condescension, revealing that his mission is to talk Americans out of their righteous anger.

It should shock no one that this is what gets Obama’s juices flowing. Reporters complain that Obama can’t muster the same enthusiasm and passion for the economy that he does for his Muslim outreach and his ongoing lectures about tolerance (e.g., the Cambridge cops were “stupid,” we must accommodate the mosque builders, etc.). Unfortunately, Obama has plenty of passion for the wrong things. At a high-school graduation this June, Justice Scalia reminded us:

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction. … In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not wise and who is terribly out of sync with the ethos of the American people. It is most troubling that the leader of the Free World has a zeal for bad causes. Not even the electoral wipe-out of his party, I fear, will change that.

Obama’s remarks on 9/11 were about what you would expect from a president who has ridiculed his countrymen for overreacting to the most lethal terrorist attack on our soil and who can’t manage to utter the worlds “Islamic fundamentalists” or “jihadists.”

Really, let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, he tells us. “On this day, it’s perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning — images that are seared into our souls. It’s tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly.” Yes, it is tempting — because that is what the day is all about, to recall the diabolical work of our enemies and recommit ourselves to the defense of our civilization. But no, in his book, it’s about diversity training: “They were white and black and brown — men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world.”

As for the Islamist fascists who killed so many and made orphans and widows of many more, he has this to say:

It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Oh, good grief. Yes, it was a religion — fundamentalist Islam that attacked us. Al-Qaeda is one organization but the jihadists attack because of religious beliefs. And they are anything but pathetic or, as he put it, “sorry” — they did slaughter thousands, after all. And one cannot but wretch at the moral equivalence — just as we condemn Islamist zealots, we must rebuff those who don’t appreciate the desecration of “hallowed ground” ? Also, notice the sleight of hand: the Pentagon chapel he refers to is not a mosque, not the exclusive providence of Muslims but an interfaith facility that bears no religious monikers. (Hey, why not the same at Ground Zero?) His tone is one of condescension, revealing that his mission is to talk Americans out of their righteous anger.

It should shock no one that this is what gets Obama’s juices flowing. Reporters complain that Obama can’t muster the same enthusiasm and passion for the economy that he does for his Muslim outreach and his ongoing lectures about tolerance (e.g., the Cambridge cops were “stupid,” we must accommodate the mosque builders, etc.). Unfortunately, Obama has plenty of passion for the wrong things. At a high-school graduation this June, Justice Scalia reminded us:

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction. … In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not wise and who is terribly out of sync with the ethos of the American people. It is most troubling that the leader of the Free World has a zeal for bad causes. Not even the electoral wipe-out of his party, I fear, will change that.

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Shirley Sherrod for White House Adviser

The Shirley Sherrod uproar is a quintessential example of the summer news story. Like last year’s story — the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and President Obama’s calling the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police action “stupid” — it has made the Obama administration look stupid.

The historian’s old standby, a timeline, is handy here. Last March, Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the Agriculture Department who grew up in the Jim Crow South and saw her father’s white murderers get away with that murder, gave a speech to the NAACP in which she recalled her own evolution on race.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative provocateur, used a short clip from the speech to make it seem as though Ms. Sherrod were a racist, working hard for black farmers and indifferent to the problems of white ones — thus, evidence of anti-white racism in the Obama administration. I have no idea if Breitbart knew he was being intellectually dishonest or not. But he was doing what provocateurs do: provoking.

The clip went viral, and the Obama administration panicked big-time. The White House told the Secretary of Agriculture to fire Ms. Sherrod. She had to pull over to the side of the road while he did so. She received not a scintilla of due process. Indeed, she wasn’t even asked what her side of the story was. The NAACP, which had a tape of the whole speech, didn’t bother to review it and piled on. It seems the administration was terrified that Glenn Beck would eat it for lunch unless it moved immediately. Beck must love that.

The Obama administration’s firing of a black employee because of racism against a white farmer was irresistible journalistic catnip in the midst of the summer doldrums, and the cable channels ran the Breitbart clip over and over.

But there was another side of the story. The incident in the clip had taken place 24 years earlier, when Ms. Sherrod was working for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, not the federal department, and she ended up saving that white family’s farm from foreclosure. She had merely been using the incident to show the lessons on race that she had learned from it. The farmer in question backed up her story. Both the Obama administration and the NAACP backtracked and apologized to her. (Obama called her personally.) And she has been offered another job at the Agriculture Department.

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Howard Dean, obviously following the Obama line, tried to make it sound like Fox News had been part of the problem. Chris Wallace, in an unusually heated exchange, would have none of it. He pointed out that Fox did not carry the story or mention Ms. Sherrod’s name until she had been fired. It then ran the Breitbart tape, naturally, as part of the story. So did all other cable news channels.

So Fox, it seems to me, is blameless — it was reporting the news, which, after all, is its job. Breitbart was after attention and, perhaps, wanted to frighten the Obama administration into acting foolishly. If so, he sure succeeded. And the Obama administration has egg all over its face, contributing to the growing impression that it is incompetent.

The only hero here is Shirley Sherrod. She told her own moving story about how she managed to move beyond the racism of the past and enter the post-racial world that Barack Obama promised and has, rather spectacularly in this case, failed to deliver.

Maybe President Obama should fire one of the Chicago gang at the White House and replace that person with Shirley Sherrod. It seems the administration could use a little common wisdom and dignity around there.

The Shirley Sherrod uproar is a quintessential example of the summer news story. Like last year’s story — the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and President Obama’s calling the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police action “stupid” — it has made the Obama administration look stupid.

The historian’s old standby, a timeline, is handy here. Last March, Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the Agriculture Department who grew up in the Jim Crow South and saw her father’s white murderers get away with that murder, gave a speech to the NAACP in which she recalled her own evolution on race.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative provocateur, used a short clip from the speech to make it seem as though Ms. Sherrod were a racist, working hard for black farmers and indifferent to the problems of white ones — thus, evidence of anti-white racism in the Obama administration. I have no idea if Breitbart knew he was being intellectually dishonest or not. But he was doing what provocateurs do: provoking.

The clip went viral, and the Obama administration panicked big-time. The White House told the Secretary of Agriculture to fire Ms. Sherrod. She had to pull over to the side of the road while he did so. She received not a scintilla of due process. Indeed, she wasn’t even asked what her side of the story was. The NAACP, which had a tape of the whole speech, didn’t bother to review it and piled on. It seems the administration was terrified that Glenn Beck would eat it for lunch unless it moved immediately. Beck must love that.

The Obama administration’s firing of a black employee because of racism against a white farmer was irresistible journalistic catnip in the midst of the summer doldrums, and the cable channels ran the Breitbart clip over and over.

But there was another side of the story. The incident in the clip had taken place 24 years earlier, when Ms. Sherrod was working for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, not the federal department, and she ended up saving that white family’s farm from foreclosure. She had merely been using the incident to show the lessons on race that she had learned from it. The farmer in question backed up her story. Both the Obama administration and the NAACP backtracked and apologized to her. (Obama called her personally.) And she has been offered another job at the Agriculture Department.

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Howard Dean, obviously following the Obama line, tried to make it sound like Fox News had been part of the problem. Chris Wallace, in an unusually heated exchange, would have none of it. He pointed out that Fox did not carry the story or mention Ms. Sherrod’s name until she had been fired. It then ran the Breitbart tape, naturally, as part of the story. So did all other cable news channels.

So Fox, it seems to me, is blameless — it was reporting the news, which, after all, is its job. Breitbart was after attention and, perhaps, wanted to frighten the Obama administration into acting foolishly. If so, he sure succeeded. And the Obama administration has egg all over its face, contributing to the growing impression that it is incompetent.

The only hero here is Shirley Sherrod. She told her own moving story about how she managed to move beyond the racism of the past and enter the post-racial world that Barack Obama promised and has, rather spectacularly in this case, failed to deliver.

Maybe President Obama should fire one of the Chicago gang at the White House and replace that person with Shirley Sherrod. It seems the administration could use a little common wisdom and dignity around there.

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Tuning Out Obama

One problem among many that Obama has is that the public has learned not to take him seriously. Part of this problem, of course, stems form his overexposure. The urge to tune him out is inevitable when he is everywhere opining on everything from Cambridge race relations to basketball to global warming. (By the way, not much remarked upon but noteworthy was his snidely delivered defense of climate-control hysteria in the SOTU. This is not a man amenable to any course correction when confronted with new data that conflicts with old assumptions.) And part of the problem derives from repeating things that aren’t so. Americans don’t think we can cover millions more with expensive health care run by the government and save money doing so. They don’t buy that “engagement” is a credible policy with Iranian state sponsors of terror. They don’t think everything is George W. Bush’s fault.

So when Obama comes up with a plan that has a kernel of a good idea, the public isn’t interested. They assume he’s peddling snake oil. (Statistically, it’s not a bad bet.) Rasmussen reports:

One of the key new initiatives in President Obama’s State of the Union speech is a three-year freeze on discretionary government spending, but voters overwhelmingly believe the freeze will have little or no impact on the federal deficit. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just nine percent (9%) think the freeze will reduce the deficit a lot. Eighty-one percent (81%) disagree, including 42% who say it will have no impact. Another 39% say the freeze in nearly all areas except defense, national security, veterans affairs and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will reduce the deficit a little.

In other words, more than eight in ten think it’s not going to do much and more than four in ten say it’ll do nothing. Now, they don’t mind the idea. In fact a majority say “go ahead and do it.” But they are unwilling to be taken in by the bravado of this being a grown-up response to the spending spree that Obama and his Democrats have been on for a year. Meanwhile Obama’s overall approval rating continues its downward skid.

Unfortunately Obama seems oblivious to his credibility problem and exacerbates it by repeating untruths. The stimulus saved two million jobs. His health-care plan lets you keep your current  insurance. The Supreme Court is going to allow “foreign entities” to control elections. None of it is accurate. The public is learning not to trust their president. On one hand it is refreshing and heartening that Lincoln’s adage about fooling all of us is as true today as it was in the 19th century. But it’s more than a little disturbing and sad. We were hoping for a new kind of politician. Instead we got the very worst of the old.

One problem among many that Obama has is that the public has learned not to take him seriously. Part of this problem, of course, stems form his overexposure. The urge to tune him out is inevitable when he is everywhere opining on everything from Cambridge race relations to basketball to global warming. (By the way, not much remarked upon but noteworthy was his snidely delivered defense of climate-control hysteria in the SOTU. This is not a man amenable to any course correction when confronted with new data that conflicts with old assumptions.) And part of the problem derives from repeating things that aren’t so. Americans don’t think we can cover millions more with expensive health care run by the government and save money doing so. They don’t buy that “engagement” is a credible policy with Iranian state sponsors of terror. They don’t think everything is George W. Bush’s fault.

So when Obama comes up with a plan that has a kernel of a good idea, the public isn’t interested. They assume he’s peddling snake oil. (Statistically, it’s not a bad bet.) Rasmussen reports:

One of the key new initiatives in President Obama’s State of the Union speech is a three-year freeze on discretionary government spending, but voters overwhelmingly believe the freeze will have little or no impact on the federal deficit. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just nine percent (9%) think the freeze will reduce the deficit a lot. Eighty-one percent (81%) disagree, including 42% who say it will have no impact. Another 39% say the freeze in nearly all areas except defense, national security, veterans affairs and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will reduce the deficit a little.

In other words, more than eight in ten think it’s not going to do much and more than four in ten say it’ll do nothing. Now, they don’t mind the idea. In fact a majority say “go ahead and do it.” But they are unwilling to be taken in by the bravado of this being a grown-up response to the spending spree that Obama and his Democrats have been on for a year. Meanwhile Obama’s overall approval rating continues its downward skid.

Unfortunately Obama seems oblivious to his credibility problem and exacerbates it by repeating untruths. The stimulus saved two million jobs. His health-care plan lets you keep your current  insurance. The Supreme Court is going to allow “foreign entities” to control elections. None of it is accurate. The public is learning not to trust their president. On one hand it is refreshing and heartening that Lincoln’s adage about fooling all of us is as true today as it was in the 19th century. But it’s more than a little disturbing and sad. We were hoping for a new kind of politician. Instead we got the very worst of the old.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Susan Estrich writes ostensibly on the brewing controversy over new standards for mammography: “The longer answer is that you practice medicine on an individualized basis. While certain things may be true as a matter of ‘public health’ — like the costs of early mammograms outweighing their benefits — that doesn’t mean they’re true for you.” That, of course, is the best argument there is against ObamaCare and other like-minded government-run health-care schemes.

This didn’t take long: “After four years of grappling with how to appeal to voters, a group of top Republicans believe they’ve found a winning formula for 2010. Call it the McDonnell Strategy. The shorthand: run on economic policy, downplay divisive cultural issues, present an upbeat tone, target independent voters and focus on Democratic-controlled Washington—all without attacking President Barack Obama personally.”

Marty Peretz writes on a potential silver-lining in the civilian trial of KSM: “This is also likely to evoke from the millions and millions of enthusiasts of true jihad demonstrations of fidelity and enthusiasm. That is also a good thing. Otherwise, we will still be stunned every time Muslim terror strikes.” Well, the other option is that when Muslim terror does strike — as in Fort Hood — officials and mainstream media refuse to call it a Muslim terror strike.

Another Democrat refuses to play dumb: “Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said after a briefing from Pentagon and Army officials that his committee will investigate how those and other e-mails involving the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, were handled and why the U.S. military was not made aware of them before the Nov. 5 shooting. Levin said his committee is focused on determining whether the Defense Department’s representative on the terrorism task force acted appropriately and effectively. Levin also said he considers Hasan’s shooting spree, which killed 13 and wounded more than 30, an act of terrorism.”

A smart take on Obama’s Asia trip: “The problem with President Obama’s recent swing through Asia cannot be boiled down to the kowtow, the collapse of Copenhagen, or the rebukes in Beijing and Tokyo. Lack of success does not automatically add up to failure. The more damaging outcome of the trip for Obama is the entrenchment of the perception at home and abroad of the president as a pied piper of American retreat in the world.”

Obama tries to play defense: “President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Americans to show patience over the economy and argued that his just-concluded Asia trip was critical for U.S. exports, countering criticism he had returned empty-handed.”

James Pinkerton on health-care reform: “So what we have seen, and what we will continue to see, is the gradual peeling back of all the rationing and rationing-esque ‘reforms’ dreamed up by the national policy elites. Those elites are plenty smart, but the grad-school group is committed to an intellectual model that the American people reject. Think of it as the health-care equivalent of cap-and-trade–that is, a too-clever-by-half scheme that works well on a Cambridge chalkboard, and nowhere else.”

Her story and sticking to it: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a yes for debating health reform, but a no for the public option, and she and fellow centrists are making clear they expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scrap his current plan for a government-run insurance program.” But if  a government-run health-care reform passes, which Lincoln’s constituents hates, she’ll have a tough time convincing them that she wasn’t responsible. After all, she could have stopped it in its tracks.

Voters can register their objections in the 2010 senate race: “Just 35% of New York State voters agree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and five other suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City rather than before a military tribunal. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds that 55% are opposed to that decision, which is part of the Obama administration’s effort to close the terrorist prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.”

Susan Estrich writes ostensibly on the brewing controversy over new standards for mammography: “The longer answer is that you practice medicine on an individualized basis. While certain things may be true as a matter of ‘public health’ — like the costs of early mammograms outweighing their benefits — that doesn’t mean they’re true for you.” That, of course, is the best argument there is against ObamaCare and other like-minded government-run health-care schemes.

This didn’t take long: “After four years of grappling with how to appeal to voters, a group of top Republicans believe they’ve found a winning formula for 2010. Call it the McDonnell Strategy. The shorthand: run on economic policy, downplay divisive cultural issues, present an upbeat tone, target independent voters and focus on Democratic-controlled Washington—all without attacking President Barack Obama personally.”

Marty Peretz writes on a potential silver-lining in the civilian trial of KSM: “This is also likely to evoke from the millions and millions of enthusiasts of true jihad demonstrations of fidelity and enthusiasm. That is also a good thing. Otherwise, we will still be stunned every time Muslim terror strikes.” Well, the other option is that when Muslim terror does strike — as in Fort Hood — officials and mainstream media refuse to call it a Muslim terror strike.

Another Democrat refuses to play dumb: “Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said after a briefing from Pentagon and Army officials that his committee will investigate how those and other e-mails involving the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, were handled and why the U.S. military was not made aware of them before the Nov. 5 shooting. Levin said his committee is focused on determining whether the Defense Department’s representative on the terrorism task force acted appropriately and effectively. Levin also said he considers Hasan’s shooting spree, which killed 13 and wounded more than 30, an act of terrorism.”

A smart take on Obama’s Asia trip: “The problem with President Obama’s recent swing through Asia cannot be boiled down to the kowtow, the collapse of Copenhagen, or the rebukes in Beijing and Tokyo. Lack of success does not automatically add up to failure. The more damaging outcome of the trip for Obama is the entrenchment of the perception at home and abroad of the president as a pied piper of American retreat in the world.”

Obama tries to play defense: “President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Americans to show patience over the economy and argued that his just-concluded Asia trip was critical for U.S. exports, countering criticism he had returned empty-handed.”

James Pinkerton on health-care reform: “So what we have seen, and what we will continue to see, is the gradual peeling back of all the rationing and rationing-esque ‘reforms’ dreamed up by the national policy elites. Those elites are plenty smart, but the grad-school group is committed to an intellectual model that the American people reject. Think of it as the health-care equivalent of cap-and-trade–that is, a too-clever-by-half scheme that works well on a Cambridge chalkboard, and nowhere else.”

Her story and sticking to it: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a yes for debating health reform, but a no for the public option, and she and fellow centrists are making clear they expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scrap his current plan for a government-run insurance program.” But if  a government-run health-care reform passes, which Lincoln’s constituents hates, she’ll have a tough time convincing them that she wasn’t responsible. After all, she could have stopped it in its tracks.

Voters can register their objections in the 2010 senate race: “Just 35% of New York State voters agree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and five other suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City rather than before a military tribunal. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds that 55% are opposed to that decision, which is part of the Obama administration’s effort to close the terrorist prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.”

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Bookshelf

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, I spent most of the past two weeks working on an opera libretto (about which more later) and writing the concluing chapters of my latest book, Rhythm Man: A Life of Louis Armstrong, which is now finished (you can read all about it here).

My world has thus been far more narrowly circumscribed than usual, and so it was a relief to read about something completely different the other day, the something in question being the life and music of Sir Edward Elgar, one of my favorite composers.

When I last wrote about Elgar for COMMENTARY four years ago, I speculated that a revival of his music might be in the offing:

My own guess is that Elgar awaits a generation of charismatic young performers who will do for him what Leonard Bernstein did for Mahler in the 60′s. It has long seemed to me that his best music is ripe for revival, not least because of its individuality. “I hold nothing back,” he said, and it was the truth. All that he thought and felt went into his compositions, which are so unguarded at times as to make the reticent listener squirm.

Alas, it hasn’t happened yet, though Hilary Hahn, the most gifted and satisfying young violinist to come along in years, did release a remarkable recording of Elgar’s B Minor Violin Concerto later that year (DGG B0003026-02GM) and play the piece in concert with the New York Philharmonic. I heard her performance and wrote that it was “so beautiful that I expect to remember it as long as I live.” One recording does not a revival make, but it doesn’t hurt, either, and neither did the publication that same year of The Life of Elgar (Cambridge, $26 paper), a penetrating brief life by Michael Kennedy that is the best short discussion of Elgar that has been published to date.

While I don’t expect to see Kennedy’s book bettered any time soon, Elgar was big enough, both as an artist and as a man, to profit from being viewed from multiple perspectives. Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait (Continuum, $33), a collection of essays edited by Nicholas Kenyon, offers several different and provocative points of view from which to consider Elgar’s achievement. I was especially pleased that Kenyon invited a number of performers to contribute to the book. It is always valuable to hear from working musicians about the works they perform, and Tasmin Little’s essay about the Elgar Violin Concerto, in which she talks about what it feels like to play that exceedingly English piece with a foreign orchestra and conductor, is highly instructive. So, too, is Stephen Hough’s thoughtful essay on the composer’s Catholicism, in which he discusses how The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar’s dramatic oratorio after the poem by Cardinal Newman, alienated those who heard its first performance at the Birmingham Festival in 1900: “England was a deeply Protestant country, and such a subject choice would be a little like selecting a Talmudic text for an Islamic festival commission.”

When the critics and scholars speak in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait, it is to no less valuable effect. Best of all is David Cannadine’s “Orchestrating His Own Life: Sir Edward Elgar as a Historical Personality,” which takes a hard-nosed view of Elgar’s relationship with the British ruling class, with which he claimed, not unconvincingly, to be at odds:

This was the man who married for money (one hundred pounds a year) and status at least as much as for love and reassurance; who sought and cultivated aristocratic and plutocratic friends to promote his music and his cause; who did all he could to ingratiate himself at the courts of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V; who never refused an honour and who was disappointed not to receive more of them; and who hoped “some day to do a great work-a sort of national thing that my fellow Englishmen might take to themselves and love.”

The only essay in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait that disappointed me was Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscence of the composer, which is full of his usual vaporous blather. Otherwise the book is a gem, smart and concise and entirely to the point.

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, I spent most of the past two weeks working on an opera libretto (about which more later) and writing the concluing chapters of my latest book, Rhythm Man: A Life of Louis Armstrong, which is now finished (you can read all about it here).

My world has thus been far more narrowly circumscribed than usual, and so it was a relief to read about something completely different the other day, the something in question being the life and music of Sir Edward Elgar, one of my favorite composers.

When I last wrote about Elgar for COMMENTARY four years ago, I speculated that a revival of his music might be in the offing:

My own guess is that Elgar awaits a generation of charismatic young performers who will do for him what Leonard Bernstein did for Mahler in the 60′s. It has long seemed to me that his best music is ripe for revival, not least because of its individuality. “I hold nothing back,” he said, and it was the truth. All that he thought and felt went into his compositions, which are so unguarded at times as to make the reticent listener squirm.

Alas, it hasn’t happened yet, though Hilary Hahn, the most gifted and satisfying young violinist to come along in years, did release a remarkable recording of Elgar’s B Minor Violin Concerto later that year (DGG B0003026-02GM) and play the piece in concert with the New York Philharmonic. I heard her performance and wrote that it was “so beautiful that I expect to remember it as long as I live.” One recording does not a revival make, but it doesn’t hurt, either, and neither did the publication that same year of The Life of Elgar (Cambridge, $26 paper), a penetrating brief life by Michael Kennedy that is the best short discussion of Elgar that has been published to date.

While I don’t expect to see Kennedy’s book bettered any time soon, Elgar was big enough, both as an artist and as a man, to profit from being viewed from multiple perspectives. Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait (Continuum, $33), a collection of essays edited by Nicholas Kenyon, offers several different and provocative points of view from which to consider Elgar’s achievement. I was especially pleased that Kenyon invited a number of performers to contribute to the book. It is always valuable to hear from working musicians about the works they perform, and Tasmin Little’s essay about the Elgar Violin Concerto, in which she talks about what it feels like to play that exceedingly English piece with a foreign orchestra and conductor, is highly instructive. So, too, is Stephen Hough’s thoughtful essay on the composer’s Catholicism, in which he discusses how The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar’s dramatic oratorio after the poem by Cardinal Newman, alienated those who heard its first performance at the Birmingham Festival in 1900: “England was a deeply Protestant country, and such a subject choice would be a little like selecting a Talmudic text for an Islamic festival commission.”

When the critics and scholars speak in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait, it is to no less valuable effect. Best of all is David Cannadine’s “Orchestrating His Own Life: Sir Edward Elgar as a Historical Personality,” which takes a hard-nosed view of Elgar’s relationship with the British ruling class, with which he claimed, not unconvincingly, to be at odds:

This was the man who married for money (one hundred pounds a year) and status at least as much as for love and reassurance; who sought and cultivated aristocratic and plutocratic friends to promote his music and his cause; who did all he could to ingratiate himself at the courts of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V; who never refused an honour and who was disappointed not to receive more of them; and who hoped “some day to do a great work-a sort of national thing that my fellow Englishmen might take to themselves and love.”

The only essay in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait that disappointed me was Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscence of the composer, which is full of his usual vaporous blather. Otherwise the book is a gem, smart and concise and entirely to the point.

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Bookshelf

• The perfect non-fiction book is one that tells you everything you really need to know about a given subject, be it large or small, in 250 pages or less, and does the job with style. That was the yardstick I used when writing my brief life of George Balanchine, which is 185 pages long. I leave it to you to judge whether I succeeded, but even if I didn’t, I know such books when I see them, and Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today (University of Chicago, 248 pp., $18 paper) fills the bill—perfectly.

One of the many disheartening things I’ve learned after four years as a drama critic is that most contemporary productions of Greek tragedy are exercises in theatrical futility. Why do they go wrong, and what makes the good ones good? Until I read How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today, I was unable to answer those questions save by way of guesswork and instinct, not having had the benefits of a classical education or seen very many stagings of the Greek classics in my wasted youth. Henceforth, though, I’ll know what I failed to learn in school, thanks entirely to this priceless little book.

Goldhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at Cambridge, is realistic about the vast cultural distance that separates us from the plays of which he writes:

Greek drama is a wordy genre. Whenever any character says, “I have told the whole story,” that is always the beginning of more stories and a lot more laments. There is little action, at least for those brought up on action movies. There are few people who run in Greek tragedy, fewer explosions, and rarely even any physical contact onstage—though when people do touch, it is explosive.

How to reduce that distance? Though Goldhill is no literal-minded antiquarian, he understands that part of the paradoxical answer to this difficult question lies in paying close attention to the circumstances under which Greek tragedies were originally produced. As he explains in his introduction:

The book highlights what I regard as the six most pressing problems that face any company that chooses to produce a Greek tragedy. Each of the six chapters . . . looks first at whether we can learn anything from the ancient world, and then discusses how modern companies have tried to solve these difficulties in the theater, and analyzes their successes and failures.

Some of Goldhill’s problems will make immediate sense to most readers: what do you do with the chorus? Others are subtler: in what ways did the architectural design of Greek amphitheaters influence the way in which Greek tragedies were written? And how do you play those long, long speeches?

Finding the right level of expression is always an actor’s problem: but Greek tragedy poses this problem in the most acute form, because there is no small talk. It is because of this that so many actors fall back on “grandeur” or “magnificence,” although grandiloquence so rarely leads into the heart of any role.

Without minimizing the formidable difficulties posed by the genre, Goldhill shows how a modern production that pays no heed whatsoever to ancient precedents is likely to run into trouble, whereas a director who keeps those precedents firmly in mind will often find that his six problems have a way of solving themselves. Though he is not a “theater person,” he has looked closely at countless contemporary productions—some of which, like The Gospel at Colonus and Deborah Warner’s 2001 staging of Euripides’ Medea, will be familiar to American playgoers—and analyzes them with a shrewdness that no critic will fail to envy. His approach is at once deeply informed by the best academic scholarship and no less deeply rooted in a commonsense understanding of what works on stage. The result is one of the most instructive and lucidly written books about theater to have been published in recent years. No one whose interest in drama is more than merely casual should pass it by.


• The perfect non-fiction book is one that tells you everything you really need to know about a given subject, be it large or small, in 250 pages or less, and does the job with style. That was the yardstick I used when writing my brief life of George Balanchine, which is 185 pages long. I leave it to you to judge whether I succeeded, but even if I didn’t, I know such books when I see them, and Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today (University of Chicago, 248 pp., $18 paper) fills the bill—perfectly.

One of the many disheartening things I’ve learned after four years as a drama critic is that most contemporary productions of Greek tragedy are exercises in theatrical futility. Why do they go wrong, and what makes the good ones good? Until I read How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today, I was unable to answer those questions save by way of guesswork and instinct, not having had the benefits of a classical education or seen very many stagings of the Greek classics in my wasted youth. Henceforth, though, I’ll know what I failed to learn in school, thanks entirely to this priceless little book.

Goldhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at Cambridge, is realistic about the vast cultural distance that separates us from the plays of which he writes:

Greek drama is a wordy genre. Whenever any character says, “I have told the whole story,” that is always the beginning of more stories and a lot more laments. There is little action, at least for those brought up on action movies. There are few people who run in Greek tragedy, fewer explosions, and rarely even any physical contact onstage—though when people do touch, it is explosive.

How to reduce that distance? Though Goldhill is no literal-minded antiquarian, he understands that part of the paradoxical answer to this difficult question lies in paying close attention to the circumstances under which Greek tragedies were originally produced. As he explains in his introduction:

The book highlights what I regard as the six most pressing problems that face any company that chooses to produce a Greek tragedy. Each of the six chapters . . . looks first at whether we can learn anything from the ancient world, and then discusses how modern companies have tried to solve these difficulties in the theater, and analyzes their successes and failures.

Some of Goldhill’s problems will make immediate sense to most readers: what do you do with the chorus? Others are subtler: in what ways did the architectural design of Greek amphitheaters influence the way in which Greek tragedies were written? And how do you play those long, long speeches?

Finding the right level of expression is always an actor’s problem: but Greek tragedy poses this problem in the most acute form, because there is no small talk. It is because of this that so many actors fall back on “grandeur” or “magnificence,” although grandiloquence so rarely leads into the heart of any role.

Without minimizing the formidable difficulties posed by the genre, Goldhill shows how a modern production that pays no heed whatsoever to ancient precedents is likely to run into trouble, whereas a director who keeps those precedents firmly in mind will often find that his six problems have a way of solving themselves. Though he is not a “theater person,” he has looked closely at countless contemporary productions—some of which, like The Gospel at Colonus and Deborah Warner’s 2001 staging of Euripides’ Medea, will be familiar to American playgoers—and analyzes them with a shrewdness that no critic will fail to envy. His approach is at once deeply informed by the best academic scholarship and no less deeply rooted in a commonsense understanding of what works on stage. The result is one of the most instructive and lucidly written books about theater to have been published in recent years. No one whose interest in drama is more than merely casual should pass it by.


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The Friends of Lyndon LaRouche

Several days ago on contentions, I pointed out that Robert Dreyfuss, Senior Correspondent of The American Prospect, once worked as the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review newspaper. This is not news—nor is it a secret—but, to my knowledge, no one at The American Prospect has publicly addressed concerns that one of their writers has ties to the LaRouche organization. The only reason I brought it up was to point out the irony that a Prospect writer would express so much fascination with and heap ridicule upon the LaRouche movement, not seeming to understand that one of her work colleagues has a long history with the demagogue and cult-leader.

But the radio silence from The Prospect and its writers in response to my post has been rather odd. Here are some very simple questions for the Prospect (and the other publications for which he writes, not limited to The Nation and Rolling Stone), an answer to any of which would be warmly appreciated:

Did you know about Dreyfuss’s ties to the LaRouche movement when you hired him?

Has he in any way refuted his past work for LaRouche?

Why do you endorse and hawk his LaRouche-published book, Hostage to Khomeini, on your website?

To my knowledge, based on thorough internet searches, Dreyfuss has never renounced his past official affiliation with the LaRouche organization. So, for all we know, he still thinks favorably of LaRouche, having moved onto more ostensibly respectable work at The American Prospect. His journalism, however, characterized by unoriginal conspiracies about neo-con domination of American foreign policy, does not appear to have changed much from the tinfoil hat stuff characteristic of LaRouche. Perhaps the leading lights of the liberal blogosphere can explain why they aren’t troubled by The American Prospect’s employing a man with ties to what the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, liberal watchdog group Political Research Associates refers to as a “fascist movement.”

Several days ago on contentions, I pointed out that Robert Dreyfuss, Senior Correspondent of The American Prospect, once worked as the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review newspaper. This is not news—nor is it a secret—but, to my knowledge, no one at The American Prospect has publicly addressed concerns that one of their writers has ties to the LaRouche organization. The only reason I brought it up was to point out the irony that a Prospect writer would express so much fascination with and heap ridicule upon the LaRouche movement, not seeming to understand that one of her work colleagues has a long history with the demagogue and cult-leader.

But the radio silence from The Prospect and its writers in response to my post has been rather odd. Here are some very simple questions for the Prospect (and the other publications for which he writes, not limited to The Nation and Rolling Stone), an answer to any of which would be warmly appreciated:

Did you know about Dreyfuss’s ties to the LaRouche movement when you hired him?

Has he in any way refuted his past work for LaRouche?

Why do you endorse and hawk his LaRouche-published book, Hostage to Khomeini, on your website?

To my knowledge, based on thorough internet searches, Dreyfuss has never renounced his past official affiliation with the LaRouche organization. So, for all we know, he still thinks favorably of LaRouche, having moved onto more ostensibly respectable work at The American Prospect. His journalism, however, characterized by unoriginal conspiracies about neo-con domination of American foreign policy, does not appear to have changed much from the tinfoil hat stuff characteristic of LaRouche. Perhaps the leading lights of the liberal blogosphere can explain why they aren’t troubled by The American Prospect’s employing a man with ties to what the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, liberal watchdog group Political Research Associates refers to as a “fascist movement.”

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“A mean and nasty and bitter attack”

At a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remarked that the murder of some 3,000 people by al Qaeda terrorists was a “mean and nasty and bitter attack” resulting from a “failure of human beings to understand each other and to learn to love each other.” He has since defended his remarks, telling a radio interviewer that, “I was taught in my church that all violent attack is a failure of human understanding.” The city of Boston, it ought to be remembered, played a tragic role in the attacks of September 11, as both planes that destroyed the World Trade Center had originated from Logan airport.

Governor Patrick’s rhetoric—”mean and nasty”—is more befitting a schoolmarm scolding a misbehaving second grader than a political leader condemning the worst attack ever on American soil. And it is more the language of a Cambridge city councilor than a governor. Thankfully, neither plays a role in the shaping of American foreign policy.

At a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remarked that the murder of some 3,000 people by al Qaeda terrorists was a “mean and nasty and bitter attack” resulting from a “failure of human beings to understand each other and to learn to love each other.” He has since defended his remarks, telling a radio interviewer that, “I was taught in my church that all violent attack is a failure of human understanding.” The city of Boston, it ought to be remembered, played a tragic role in the attacks of September 11, as both planes that destroyed the World Trade Center had originated from Logan airport.

Governor Patrick’s rhetoric—”mean and nasty”—is more befitting a schoolmarm scolding a misbehaving second grader than a political leader condemning the worst attack ever on American soil. And it is more the language of a Cambridge city councilor than a governor. Thankfully, neither plays a role in the shaping of American foreign policy.

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The Hypothetical Atheist

One of Christopher Hitchens’s favorite evangelists of atheism is Pierre-Simon Laplace, the French mathematician. In God is Not Great, the Anglo-American polemicist takes special delight in retelling the story of how Laplace was asked by Napoleon why his great Treatise on Celestial Mechanics made no mention of God. “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse,” Laplace is supposed to have replied. (“Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”) This incident is the occasion for one of Hitchens’s diatribes against the Judeo-Christian God—though I am bewildered as to why a mere superfluous hypothesis should arouse his odium theologicum.

However, there are a few problems with the way that Hitchens uses this anecdote to bolster his argument. In the first place, Laplace was dealing with a specific scientific problem—the instability of the solar system—rather than with the general question of God’s place in nature. A century earlier, Isaac Newton, who was a theist of a very esoteric kind, had believed in the necessity of regular “corrections” by God to preserve cosmic equilibrium. Using much more accurate observational data, Laplace showed that no such interventions by the divine clockmaker were necessary. In his paper Does God Play Dice? Stephen Hawking commented: “I don’t think that Laplace was claiming that God didn’t exist. It is just that He doesn’t intervene, to break the laws of science.”

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One of Christopher Hitchens’s favorite evangelists of atheism is Pierre-Simon Laplace, the French mathematician. In God is Not Great, the Anglo-American polemicist takes special delight in retelling the story of how Laplace was asked by Napoleon why his great Treatise on Celestial Mechanics made no mention of God. “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse,” Laplace is supposed to have replied. (“Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”) This incident is the occasion for one of Hitchens’s diatribes against the Judeo-Christian God—though I am bewildered as to why a mere superfluous hypothesis should arouse his odium theologicum.

However, there are a few problems with the way that Hitchens uses this anecdote to bolster his argument. In the first place, Laplace was dealing with a specific scientific problem—the instability of the solar system—rather than with the general question of God’s place in nature. A century earlier, Isaac Newton, who was a theist of a very esoteric kind, had believed in the necessity of regular “corrections” by God to preserve cosmic equilibrium. Using much more accurate observational data, Laplace showed that no such interventions by the divine clockmaker were necessary. In his paper Does God Play Dice? Stephen Hawking commented: “I don’t think that Laplace was claiming that God didn’t exist. It is just that He doesn’t intervene, to break the laws of science.”

The second, far more serious problem, is that Laplace never used the words attributed to him by Hitchens. The encounter took place in 1802, before Napoleon had crowned himself emperor, when he was still First Consul of the French Republic, so Laplace would certainly not have addressed him as “Sire.” Laplace was in the company of Sir William Herschel, the English astronomer, who is our only eyewitness source for the meeting with Napoleon. According to Brandon Watson’s science website Houyhnhnm Land, the anecdote is found in Herschel’s diary of his visit to Paris, quoted in Constance Lubbock’s The Herschel Chronicle (Cambridge, 1933), p. 310:

The first Consul then asked a few questions relating to Astronomy and the construction of the heavens to which I made such answers as seemed to give him great satisfaction. He also addressed himself to Mr. Laplace on the same subject, and held a considerable argument with him in which he differed from that eminent mathematician. The difference was occasioned by an exclamation of the first Consul, who asked in a tone of exclamation or admiration (when we were speaking of the extent of the sidereal heavens): “And who is the author of all this!” Mons. De la Place wished to shew that a chain of natural causes would account for the construction and preservation of the wonderful system. This the first Consul rather opposed. Much may be said on the subject; by joining the arguments of both we shall be led to “Nature and nature’s God.”

Where, then, did the bon mot attributed to Laplace by Hitchens and countless others come from? Watson believes that it was invented by the popular historian E.T. Bell, whose well-known book Men of Mathematics appeared in 1937, just four years after Lubbock’s book. Bell gives no source for the Laplace quotation, and it appears to be one of many that he embellished or simply made up. Bell’s scholarship, incidentally, was unreliable in other ways, too: his book contains odious asides about the “aggressive clannishness” of Jewish academics.

Herschel’s account leaves no doubt that he, like Napoleon, believed in God. What, though, did Laplace believe? One of his two recent biographers, Charles Coulston Gillispie, does not even mention the discussion with Napoleon. Perhaps he regarded the question of Laplace’s views on God as a superfluous hypothesis. But Roger Hahn, another biographer of Laplace, found in his papers a 25-page manuscript detailing his objections to Catholicism, in particular to miracles and transubstantiation. (Clearly this manuscript was not intended for publication until after the author’s death.)

Laplace, who looks more and more like the Talleyrand of French science, enjoyed both Bonapartist and Bourbon patronage. Born in 1749, he was able to publish freely throughout the period from the ancien regime, the Republic, and the Empire through to the Restoration. Briefly Napoleon’s interior minister and president of his puppet senate, Laplace never hesitated to sign the warrant for the emperor’s deposition. He died a marquis, and was buried with great pomp, in 1827. If he was an atheist, he was certainly not prepared to risk his position in society by openly expressing his views. Laplace was a great man of science, but he was a great trimmer, as well. Hitchens and other militant atheists should look elsewhere for their heroes.

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“Crucification” at Cambridge

The editors of Clareification, the student humor magazine at Cambridge University’s Clare College (UK), struck a nerve recently with an issue devoted to religious satire. Indeed, the title they chose for their spoof, “Crucification,” has proved to be a sadly apt description of their own fate.

The magazine included a feature juxtaposing one of the notorious Mohammed cartoons from Denmark and a photo of the president of the Union of Clare Students. The editors appended two captions—“violent paedophile” and “prophet of God, great leader, and an example to us all”—without making clear which one referred to which image. Condemnation and open threats from outraged students and faculty rained down on the magazine’s staff, and one of the editors has gone into hiding for fear of reprisals.

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The editors of Clareification, the student humor magazine at Cambridge University’s Clare College (UK), struck a nerve recently with an issue devoted to religious satire. Indeed, the title they chose for their spoof, “Crucification,” has proved to be a sadly apt description of their own fate.

The magazine included a feature juxtaposing one of the notorious Mohammed cartoons from Denmark and a photo of the president of the Union of Clare Students. The editors appended two captions—“violent paedophile” and “prophet of God, great leader, and an example to us all”—without making clear which one referred to which image. Condemnation and open threats from outraged students and faculty rained down on the magazine’s staff, and one of the editors has gone into hiding for fear of reprisals.

Has Cambridge come to the defense of its beleaguered journalistic provocateurs? Not exactly. The university has cut off the magazine’s funding while mulling further disciplinary action. Worse, local law-enforcement authorities are considering prosecuting the students under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which criminalizes causing “harassment, alarm, or distress.”

That this ferocious and unprecedented campaign has taken place at Cambridge, one of the world’s great universities, says much about the state of free speech in Britain today. One would think a country famed for it rationalist skepticism toward religion (still going strong in some cases) would be a safe intellectual home for such satirical work. But not all religions are equal in Britain today. Mocking Christianity or Judaism is tolerated, even encouraged; mocking Islam, by contrast, supposedly serves only to inspire racial animosity.

Whatever the personal and legal hardships they may suffer, the editors of Clareification have served a serious purpose with their satire. They have highlighted the special protection that Islam now enjoys in the nation that, more than any other, established the modern rights of public debate and criticism. As Melanie Philips documents in her excellent book, Londonistan, Islam is now virtually immune from critical scrutiny by Britain’s educated elite.

Cambridge University’s motto runs Hinc lucem et pocula sacra: “From here, light and sacred knowledge.” In Britain’s current climate, it would be a great blow on behalf of freedom to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter.

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