Sunday, February 3, 2013

Happy Candlemas (or Brighid’s Day). By Adam Garfinkle.

Happy Candlemas (or Brighid’s Day). By Adam Garfinkle. The American Interest, February 1, 2013.

Groundhog Day: A Movie For All Time. By Jonah Goldberg. National Review, February 14, 2005.


Well, February 2 is a significant date in the Christian calendar. It’s Candlemas Day, which is also known, with slight variations according to religious tradition, as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. But the Church calendar appears to be coincidental with or, more likely, an overlay on much, much older Celtic agricultural observances. It has to do with a very ancient, astronomically linked celebration called Imbolc, which later became Brighid’s Day and even later, after Christianization, Saint Brighid’s Day. There is a great deal of lore and legend associated with Imbolc, much of it involving Cailleach, the hag of Gaelic tradition. And yes, that lore and legend very much includes weather prognostication and careful observation of the emergence from hibernation of badgers and snakes. Imbolc is about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and markings on ancient megaliths testify to its origins in astronomical observation. It was a time thought to be a harbinger of spring on account of the onset of ewe’s lactating in expectation of spring lambs, and the blossom-setting of certain plants, principally the blackthorn (itself associated with much lore).

In Hard Economy for All Ages, Older Isn’t Better . . . It’s Brutal. By Catherine Rampell.

In Hard Economy for All Ages, Older Isn’t Better . . . It’s Brutal. By Catherine Rampell. New York Times, February 2, 2013.

Deadly Deserts. By Ralph Peters.

Deadly Deserts. By Ralph Peters. New York Post, February 2, 2013.


Violence in Allah’s name in northern Africa won’t end in my lifetime — and probably not in yours. The core question is: To what extent can the savagery be contained?

From the Atlantic coastline to the Suez Canal, struggling governments, impoverished populations and frankly backward societies struggle to find paths to modernization and to compete in a ruthless global economy. Religious fanatics for whom progress is a betrayal of faith hope to block development.

Still, if the only conflict was between Islamist terrorists and those who want civilized lives, the situation could be managed over time. But that struggle forms only one level in a layer cake of clashing visions and outright civil wars bedeviling a vast region. Much larger than Europe, the zone of contention encompasses the Maghreb, the countries touching the Mediterranean, and the Sahel, the bitterly poor states stretching down across desert wastes to the African savannah.

The Sahel is the front line not only between the world of Islam and Christian-animist cultures in Africa’s heart, but between Arabs and light-skinned tribes in the north, and blacks to the south. No area in the world so explicitly illustrates the late, great Samuel Huntington’s concept of “the clash of civilizations.”

If racial and religious differences were not challenge enough, in the Maghreb the factions and interest groups are still more complicated. We view Egypt as locked in a contest between Islamists and “our guys,” Egyptians seeking new freedoms. But Egypt’s identity struggle is far more complex, involving social liberals, moderate Muslims, stern conservative Muslims (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) and outright fanatics. The military forms another constituency, while the business community defends its selfish interests. Then there are the supporters of the old Mubarak regime, the masses of educated-but-unemployed youth and the bitterly poor peasants.

Atop all that there’s the question of whether the values cherished by Arab societies can adapt to a globalized world.

The path to Egypt’s future will not be smooth — yet Egypt’s chances are better than those of many of its neighbors.

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Two years after the revolution, angry masses crowd the streets again, this time to protest against the latest man-who-would-be-pharaoh, democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi rushed to pack as many senior government positions as possible with fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood without worrying about competence. Now he heads an inept government and resorts to heavy-handed means to quell unrest.

The Muslim Brotherhood made a strategic error in grasping power too quickly, instead of aping the creeping Islamization underway in Turkey. While the Brotherhood had the Chicago-style organization to turn out the illiterate masses, it utterly lacked the wherewithal to halt the economy’s downward spiral. And, in the end, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Even fundamentalists have to eat.

By overplaying their hand so eagerly, the Muslim Brothers have lost credibility. Will they be able to hang onto the power they’ve sought for almost a century? They won’t give it up easily, but Morsi has gone from confidence to fear in record time. The action (or inaction) of the military may be the crucial factor in determining Egypt’s future — which remains very much in question.

. . . . . . . . . .

The bottom line? Unified international action, as in Mali (or Somalia), can push back Islamist terrorists. But the fractured nature of local societies, low levels of development, corruption and, not least, traditional hatreds guarantee unrest for decades to come. We’ll be engaged, whether we like it or not. Instead of defaulting to idiotic slogans like “Lead from behind!” we need to think ahead.

The Real ‘60 Minutes’ Revelation. By Michael Tomasky.

The Real ‘60 Minutes’ Revelation. By Michael Tomasky. The Daily Beast, January 29, 2013.


I can actually see, to some extent, the point of conservatives’ complaints about the Obama-Hillary 60 Minutes interview. It was softbally, and Steve Kroft’s one real question—to Clinton, about whether she felt any guilt or remorse over Benghazi—she totally didn’t answer. But here, conservatives, is what you are missing and what you need to reckon with. Americans—except you—like these two people. Most Americans look at the pair of them—this black man who is still remote in some ways and this so-familiar woman who is now aging before us and allowing herself to look just a little frumpy—and feel reassured. Most Americans are cheering for them, and hence, most Americans probably wanted a softball interview. We have thus passed an important portal in American politics: Democrats are now the regular guys. Conservatives are the weirdos.

. . . . . . . . .  .

Obama and Clinton talked, in other words, like mature adults, and they sold it as genuine because it was genuine. And I’d contend that it made most people watching feel something like: Well, these are very smart and self-assured people, and they’re mostly pretty likable, too, and agree or disagree with this or that decision they make or action they take, I feel like my country is in pretty good hands with them. And yes, to invoke the hackneyed litmus-test question—I’d drink a beer, or a pinot, or in HRC’s case a shot of Crown Royal, with them. To everyone but right-wingers, that was the vibe Sunday night—a victory lap, and a victory lap that no one begrudged them.

They’re the real Americans now. It’s not that they have changed, but that America has. The measures for real Americanism are no longer clearing brush, hunting elk, hopping on top of various animals, dropping one’s g’s (in speech, I mean), and speaking in intentionally ungrammatical apothegmatic frontier “wisdom.” The new measures? Not completely sure yet. But we do have now the collective realization that those were fake measures—some Harvey Mansfield–inspired Potemkin Village of “real America.” Also, the collective realization that it’s probably on balance not at all a bad idea for the president not to be “just like us,” which was the folk wisdom of a decade ago, but in fact a little smarter than most of us.

The Republicans? It’s not just the extreme ideology. Of course it’s that, but it’s more. The whole shtick is old. Where once the Middle American ear may have been soothed by that low Cheney rumble belching out its grave assessments of the world situation, today it is accosted by all those caliginous Southern accents warning of socialism and collapse, and thinks: will these people ever shut up? Georgia Congressman Paul Broun told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that Obama “upholds … the Soviet Constitution.” On any given week, I could fill a whole column, or two, with such nuggets. Enough already.

While Obama and Clinton were speaking, so was Paul Ryan, to a conservative gathering, where he said: “There are two ways to respond to defeat: Either you can deny it, or you can learn from it. I choose to learn from it. The way I see it, our defeat is all the more reason to lay out our vision with even more specifics—and with a broader appeal.”

What he’s saying there, and throughout the speech, is that the GOP isn’t going to change its stripes a bit. “Broader appeal” means I suppose better (read: more dishonest) packaging for a bunch of reactionary policies that Americans don’t want.

Conservatives, you can call me and others like me all the names you want, and you can whine about the evil CBS all you want. But Kroft and his network were actually in touch here with the pulse of the country, which wants Obama to succeed and Hillary to go have a nice long rest (and, maybe, get ready for 2016). Meanwhile, even Roger Ailes has gotten sick of Sarah Palin. Get the picture?

Obama and Clinton: The 60 Minutes Interview. 60 Minutes. CBS News, January 29, 2013. Also find video here, here, and here.

Mark Kelly and Wayne LaPierre Defend Both Sides of the Gun Control Debate.

Mark Kelly and Wayne LaPierre Defend Both Sides of the Gun Control Debate. Video. Fox News Sunday, February 3, 2013. Also find it here and here. Transcript here.