Pundit Wire

Potato, Potahto, Monogamy, Polygamy

cohaset_narrowsFive of us sat at a lunch restaurant at a fishing village in Massachusetts, I think Cohasset. You can’t find a more congenial setting.

Three of them came from Sub-Saharan Africa, one from Tunisia. All were jurists on a study tour of the American court system. The Tunisian had been haranguing the three others for two weeks, proselytizing monogamy for their countries. They would have none of it. Polygamy suited them just fine. No woman was present to argue the other side. Nor, said one of the Sub-Saharan Africans, would they if they had the chance.

Read More »
Posted in International | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Immigration Hysteria: From Franklin to Trump

5440002785_7b1ed0ac3e_b“Why,” fulminated Franklin, “should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or our Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”

Does that sound familiar? Wait, there’s more.

Read More »
Posted in History, Politics, Race & Ethnicity | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Doubting Data and the Debate on Education

Heiwa_elementary_school_18America’s war between the progressives and populists is well into its second century with no resolution in sight.  Despite changes in rhetoric and technology, the basic tension about who can be most trusted to decide what’s best for us — the experts or we voters — shows no sign of abating.

Public education has always been central to the American vision and an important part of this debate.  That’s what inspired the Scopes Monkey Trial and more recent controversies about creationism. And there’s been a endless debate about whether American education is good enough and, if not, what need be done to make it better.

Read More »
Posted in Education, U.S. | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The National Academy of Sugar

Fale_-_Barcellona_-_194You might think an outfit calling itself an academy would be, you know, academic. But as Jon Stewart put it, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is as much an academy as the “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product” called Kraft Singles is cheese.

The last time the academy was in the news, it was for taking an undisclosed amount of money from Kraft in exchange for giving Kraft permission to put the academy’s “Kids Eat Right” logo on Kraft Singles. When nailed for this, the academy denied that this amounted to putting a stamp of approval on Singles. What it really was, they claimed, was an ad for the academy’s Kids Eat Right initiative. If this were true, it would be the first time in the history of the world that an advertiser received money for placing an ad, instead of paying for it.

Read More »
Posted in Health, U.S. | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cable to Nowhere

Palacio_presidencial_de_HaitiContrary to a generosity of spirit in America, both our political parties have shown disdain for the underdog in foreign policy, kicking them in the teeth when empathy might be more in character. Bipartisan annoyance at the suffering of foreigners seems to twin our Left and Right.

Faced with the slaughter of a million Biafrans in 1967-70, Lyndon Johnson sided forcefully with Nigeria’s central government, saying of the Biafrans, “Get those [n…] children off my television set.”

Read More »
Posted in History, International, National Security | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great James Baker

Baker JamesLots of Middle East peace meetings had failed, but this was “post-Oslo,” so there was some hope something might come of it this time.  There was cautious optimism all around.  We knew that none of the parties wanted to be there, but also that James A. Baker had forced them, one by one, into the room by persuasion and a little intimidation behind the scenes.  I think all the negotiators wanted the talks to fail, but no one wanted to be the one to blame if they did.

The Great Baker had gotten them together, and clutched them in his bullying embrace.  I remember him with his hands stretched out on the table in front of him, head poised like a reptile about to strike, glaring at every delegate individually with intense eye contact.  He looked like a pterodactyl about to pounce and kill.  A fearful silence took over the room.  Only Baker could pull this off.

Read More »
Posted in History, International | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton and Corbyn: The Fine Old Art of Dissembling

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo. You don’t hear the verb ‘to dissemble’ so much these days, although Edgar Allan Poe knew just when to use it. Its synonyms include pretend, deceive, feign, masquerade, sham, bluff, pose, and counterfeit. It’s all about projecting a false if not dishonest impression, with a view to misleading.

Dissembling may have drifted towards desuetude, giving way to the more robust idea of ‘lying’, but the practice is alive and well. This week sees momentous examples from two ambitious politicians on either side of the Atlantic, both with a problem. How to deflect public attention from what they have really been doing, as their doings look embarrassing when subjected to closer scrutiny?

Read More »
Posted in Campaigns & Elections, Political Rhetoric, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bernie has it. Trump has it. Joe has it. Does Hillary?

I respect and admire Clinton. So do many of Biden’s potential backers. They’re just imagining the damage that could be done when billions of dollars’ worth of attack ads drill “Hillary thinks the rules don’t apply to her” and “Hillary thinks she’s above the law” into voters’ brains. Accuracy will be irrelevant. They will be attached to a narrative “out there” purporting to connect the dots between Whitewater files that rematerialized, misremembered Bosnian sniper fire, Benghazi and, now, documents that weren’t classified that she didn’t send on personal email and didn’t scrub from her personal server.

What Biden has, what nervous Democrats fear Clinton lacks, is authenticity, the new It factor. The old It was ideological (Do they hate big government or racism as much as I do?), positional (Are they with me on guns or climate change?), demographic (Do they care about people like me?) and personal (Who I want to have a beer with?). The new It is ontological: Who’s real?

Read More »
Posted in Campaigns & Elections, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment