Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the ...

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Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg: Barack Hussein Obama

September 18, 2014

No, it's not the full moon, that's an election rising on the horizon. Lock your doors. As the witching hour approaches, the paranoids start coming out of the woods on the lookout for easy prey, so we can all be afraid, be terribly afraid, together. In uncertain times -- but I repeat myself, for when have the times ever been certain? -- a new crop of true believers is waiting to be cultivated by the kind of demagogues who always have the simplest explanation for any and all of the uncertainties out there:

  • Paul Greenberg: The Scottish play

    September 17, 2014

    It's an old superstition among actors, who tend to avoid calling one of Shakespeare's tragedies by its name, which is supposed to invite disaster. It's like the way they avoid wishing each other good luck opening night lest they jinx it, preferring to say something like Break a Leg -- but here's hoping that Thursday's referendum on independence for Scotland will prove a flop, and a resounding one. So this issue can be settled definitively, and stay settled. Instead of being decided by the razor-thin margin some of the polls have predicted. So it won't hang around indefinitely, like Banquo's Ghost, showing up at the most inopportune times. Like now and forever. And the United Kingdom can stay united, Scots and Englishmen and the rest, all Britons together.

  • Paul Greenberg: And in conclusion ... there wasn't one

    September 12, 2014

    How say anything clear about a presidential address to the nation that wasn't?

  • Paul Greenberg: Against certainty

    September 10, 2014

    Man cannot bear too much uncertainty. We like our problems spelled out as clearly as possible, the choices before us arranged neatly, maybe with little boxes beside each to check For and Against, for nothing seems to frustrate us like being handed an indeterminate sentence and told to persevere. As patience runs out, making a bad decision may come to seem better than making none at all. At least it would end the suspense.

  • Paul Greenberg: The Hollow Men

    September 9, 2014

    This is the way the world ends

  • Paul Greenberg: A stillness in the city

    September 8, 2014

    Just a few blocks away from Little Rock's snaggle-toothed skyline, its intersecting interstates and rush-hour traffic, an island of respite opens in the middle of downtown. It's an exhibit of photographs taken between 1995 and 2012 in and around sleepy little Wilmot (Pop. 550) down in Ashley County. That's in L.A., or Lower Arkansas, the southernmost part of the state, which is about as Southern as it gets.

  • Fever chart: A report from Arkansas

    September 5, 2014

    Remember the good old days when political campaigns and the general hysteria they kicked off didn't begin to mount till after Labor Day? It wasn't just customary, it was almost official -- like the beginning of football season or the college term. Or even an astronomical fact, like the autumnal equinox. There were some parts of the good old days that were actually good, like waiting till the official end of summer to turn up the political heat.

  • Paul Greenberg: Words in vogue

    September 3, 2014

    The scholar H.W. Fowler described and diagnosed many a linguistic malady in his classic study, "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage," back in that very modern year 1926. The Roaring Twenties were a study in modernity, and 1926 marked a high point in every field of fashion. Just catch a glimpse of the flivvers and flappers in "Downton Abbey."

  • Paul Greenberg: In the news

    August 29, 2014

    Sometimes all it takes is a single snippet in the news to open a world of insights. Consider this small item the other day: It seems two golfers in North Union Township, Pennsylvania have been charged with assaulting each other while arguing about the rules at a golf course there. North Union Township is clearly not on this side of Mason-Dixon's line, just as these two alleged golfers are just as clearly not gentlemen. For in the course of their disagreement over the rules of the game, one of them was said to have struck the other in the head with a 3-wood.

  • The lessons of Ferguson -- and Cincinnati

    August 28, 2014

    O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

  • A labor of love

    August 28, 2014

    On this Labor Day weekend, like most Americans, I come to praise labor, not indulge in it. Has there ever been a people that speechified more about the joys and satisfactions of work and the work ethic, yet was so enamored of labor-saving devices?

  • Paul Greenberg: Plague strikes in Arkansas

    August 27, 2014

    Ebola isn't the only plague in this troubled world. Another one is called hysteria, and it's just shown up in little Harrison, Arkansas -- which is in the most picturesque part of the state, up in the Ozarks. It's got mountains, it's got streams, it's got forests -- and the nicest, most welcoming people. Ordinarily. But now the town has come down with a bad case of the jitters. And it sounds just about beside itself. ("Harrison tells Ghana group: Don't come/ City cites Ebola fears..."--Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 24, 2014.)

  • Paul Greenberg: The anatomy of terror

    August 25, 2014

    The on-again, off-again war in Gaza and Israel is on again, with a massive barrage of rockets fired at whatever targets Hamas can hope to reach in the Jewish state -- Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, anything and everything in between. The Israelis then strike back with an air assault that, by all signs, will be followed by their next land invasion of the Gaza Strip, their third of the decade. Or maybe fourth or fifth. It's not easy to keep count.

  • Paul Greenberg: Two for one

    August 20, 2014

    Lauren Bacall's death at 89 got front-page coverage complete with picture in the New York Times, and it deserved to. Like so many American images and voices in our vast celluloid memory bank, she may have been more familiar than famous -- if the definition of fame has something to do with greatness rather than just exposure. But familiar she definitely was, at least to the generation of American moviegoers who grew up with movies the way their grandchildren now grow up with the Internet.

  • Paul Greenberg: Down here on a visit

    August 19, 2014

    It was one of those faux Ye Old English Tea Shoppes serving tidbits as inauthentic as its spelling and typography, neither of which would have passed muster in Shakespeare's first folio. But any port in the downpour outside, and there wasn't a Chinese restaurant in sight, my usual island of serenity in a passing storm.

  • The end of Iraq (cont'd)

    August 15, 2014

    "I think this is going to take some time," our president warned last Saturday as he took off for a vacation on Martha's Vineyard, maybe because he felt he had to offer some explanation as Iraq collapsed along with his foreign policy in general. What was once Iraq is now divided, like ancient Gaul, into three parts -- Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish -- all of which are themselves crumbling. So now Barack Obama tells us that it may take some time to put Iraq together again after it fell apart in record time once he withdrew American forces there in such haste. And according to a purely arbitrary timetable he considerately announced well in advance, lest the enemy be surprised.

  • The Buddha in the TV room

    August 13, 2014

    It was just a snippet of conversation overheard in a crowded restaurant: "... and we put the Buddha in the TV room."

  • Gentlemen of the club

    August 12, 2014

    There are certain rivals who may differ on the issues, and in style and background and even basic attitude, yet understand and respect one other. For they belong to the same club -- the fraternity of the great.

  • Leading from behind -- way behind

    August 9, 2014

    Only now, after the latest offshoot of al-Qaida has emerged out of the desert in fanatical strength, cut through whatever is left of the Iraqi "army," and allowed to advance in all directions, has the supposed commander in chief of this country's armed forces been heard from. Vaguely.

  • Paul Greenberg: Waiting for the dark

    August 6, 2014

    "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground

  • Paul Greenberg: Fanaticism needs no reason

    August 4, 2014

    It made no sense, not from any rational perspective. Even as Gaza was falling in all around it, Hamas kept firing rocket after rocket in the general direction of Israel, no matter how many might hit or miss or go completely astray, as when they fell inside Gaza itself -- as many did.

  • And the war came

    August 1, 2014

    The innocent American could only read the headlines and shake his head sorrowfully at the continuing carnage in Gaza -- a pillar of fire by night and a cloud of smoke by day. How did this happen again? Simple: Hamas renewed its indiscriminate attacks on Israel through overhead rockets, underground tunnels, words and deeds -- and Israel finally responded in force.

  • The beauty of blight

    July 31, 2014

    It's not every day that the New York Times blog devoted to photography -- it's called Lens -- runs a piece about Pine Bluff, Ark. (pop. 47,000). But it did just the other day when Evelyn Nieves' blog post featured the work of William Widmer, a photographer out of New Orleans who was driving through Pine Bluff on his way back home from an assignment in Kansas City, and was stopped cold by what he saw. The town had captivated him. The photographer would wind up spending the rest of the day in Pine Bluff walking its streets, snapping photos, and trying to figure out how soon he could get back. So he could take more pictures of what can't be pictured, only felt.

  • Paul Greenberg: Can we do this again

    July 29, 2014

    It's the highlight of my year: a visit to Governor's School at Hendrix College in Conway, which brings together promising young people from every corner of the state during the summer between their junior and senior years in high school. It's something for an old man to anticipate, then enjoy, and most important of all, learn from. I always leave refreshed, cheered, buoyed. There's hope after all.

  • Like a hotel burglar . . .

    July 25, 2014

    Our president and his crew of Great Minds have managed to "reset" relations with Russia, all right -- all the way back to Cold War times.

  • Paul Greenberg: Going home

    July 23, 2014

    SHREVEPORT, La. -- "Goin' Home." It keeps going around and around in my head as we drive around my old home town -- the slow, sweet musical theme Dvorak used for the largo in his New World symphony. By writing lyrics for it, a gifted pupil of his turned it into a kind of modern Negro spiritual, putting into words the plaintive, elegiac spirit of the music -- and the longing felt by anyone homesick for an irretrievable past:

  • Quick, hide the past

    July 22, 2014

    "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."

  • The Israelis are back, or: One round trip to Gaza, please

    July 21, 2014

    Despite their reluctance, the Israelis are back in Gaza -- for the third time in a decade, and for who knows how many times to come. It's become almost a regularly scheduled round trip by now. Their reluctance is understandable; Gaza has been a trap since the old days. Specifically, the Old Testament days. ("The Philistines are upon thee, Samson!" --Judges 16:20.)

  • The fragmentary South

    July 18, 2014

    Years ago, a decade ago, an old friend emailed me a classic Southern news story. It went down straight. Neat. Like a shot of Early Times. The story came out of the Mobile Press-Register in Alabama back when it was still a daily.

  • Try it, you'll like it, Or: Economics for beginners

    July 16, 2014

    Do you like convenience, service, simplicity, competition, more jobs and all the other features of a free market that stays free and ever productive?

  • Paul Greenberg: Like a coiled spring . . .

    July 11, 2014

    Is there any book so derided as being antiquated and irrelevant, and that remains so contemporary and pertinent as the never really Old Testament? For once again, for the third time in less than a decade, the Israelis stand at the gates of Gaza, the ancient capital of the Philistines, and prepare to invade. Just as its leader at another time, Samson ben Manoah, seeing Israel harried by her enemies, finally chose to take the offensive. You can read all about it in the Book of Judges. Nothing ever seems to change, at least not in that part of an ever uncertain world.

  • Paul Greenberg: A word for the Kurds

    July 11, 2014


  • Paul Greenberg: The office

    July 9, 2014

    The scene would be familiar to those of us of a certain age: a gray sea of metal desks at which clerks sit from 9 to 5 clacking away at typewriters or old-fashioned adding machines, making carbon copies (remember them?) of letters or records that no one may ever look at, or recording rows of figures to be filed away.

  • The alien patriot

    July 7, 2014

    Americans have many blessings to count, not least among them the foreigners who come here to learn from us and wind up teaching us. The most insightful of them understand us better than we do ourselves, can see us more clearly than we see ourselves, and in their own way become more American than the Americans.

  • A blow for liberty, or: The Supremes choose life

    July 3, 2014

    Just in time for the Fourth of July, the Supreme Court of the United States struck a blow for religious liberty. Specifically, the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment. By the narrowest of margins, five justices to four, it held that Americans who choose to start a business need not check their religious convictions at the door. But only if it's a "closely held" business, a definition that will surely lead to some equally interesting cases in the future.

  • Howard Baker, man in the middle

    July 2, 2014

    The news that Howard Baker had passed at the age of 88 set off a kaleidoscopic swirl of memories, impressions, recollections and reflections -- so many it was surprising, for he was not a particularly memorable politician, and certainly not a colorful one.

  • Law 2, president 0

    June 30, 2014

    It was a good week for the rule of law in the never-ending case, challenge and general struggle of U.S. v. Obama, which is sure to be continued. Thursday the Supreme Court of the United States ruled -- unanimously -- that a president of the United States can't make recess appointments while, as it happens, Congress is not in recess.

  • June 28, 1914: Armageddon, Act I

    June 28, 2014

    It started as a day like any other a hundred years ago, but before it was out, it would have ushered in a century of war, revolution, terror and mass murder like no other.

  • The paranoids are back

    June 27, 2014

    "American politics has often been an arena for angry minds." So begins "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," a classic work that the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1964, another time of deep division and mutual suspicion.

  • Shale gas, the silent revolution

    June 24, 2014

    Remarkable. But typical. This administration has just released a 42-page advertisement for itself that it calls a report. In it, Barack Obama & Co. take more than full credit for the dramatic change in this country's energy prospects -- from the long years when they were increasingly dismal to how radiantly bright they have become today.

  • Paul Greenberg: Iraq agonistes

    June 23, 2014


  • Paul Greenberg: Marriage and its discontents

    June 18, 2014

    There are good people on both sides of the current debate over letting homosexual couples get married -- and good people in between who aren't sure just where they stand. And may never be. Lots of them are all in favor of according homosexuals all the financial benefits that go with marriage, and the social and legal standing, too. From pension and inheritance rights to hospital visitation privileges. It's only right -- and about time. And they want to do the decent thing.

  • Quality education -- for all

    June 16, 2014

    A trial judge in California has now delivered a resounding decision in the great tradition of Brown v. Board of Education -- yes, the case that sounded the death knell for Jim Crow in public schools after half a century of legally established and maintained racial segregation.

  • Paul Greenberg: An appointment in Samarra

    June 13, 2014

    Another day, another country left to the tender mercies of terrorists. Going by his own arbitrary, purely political deadline, this president and now only nominal Leader of the Free World has been intent on pulling American troops out of one country after another in the (always) troubled Middle East, with the result that one country after another is swallowed up by the all too familiar forces of chaos, terror, death and destruction.

  • Call it Obamacare for vets

    June 11, 2014

    Fast on the uptake as ever, the speaker of the U.S. House, the permanently tanned if not taxidermied John Boehner, has delivered his judgment on the ever-unfolding scandal at the Veterans Administration: "The fact that more than 57,000 veterans are still waiting for their first doctor appointment from the VA is a national disgrace." Ya think?

  • Paul Greenberg: Remember the real tomato?

    June 10, 2014

    Homegrown tomatoes,

  • Just wait a minute, willya?

    June 9, 2014

    Welcome home, Sergeant, and you're under arrest. Which sums up the two polar reactions you can see and hear all over the papers, news channels, Internet, talk shows and Washington, that other swirl of confusion. All of 'em are bustin' out all over with fact-free, equal-but-opposite opinions about what th' heck to do with Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, United States of Agitation.

  • Another time, another scandal, or: it all sounds so familiar

    June 6, 2014

    Talk about déjà vu. Once again the party out of power is demanding an investigation. To which the administration responds: (a) There's nothing to investigate because, (b) we've already investigated and explained it, (c) too much time has been wasted on it as it is, (c) the country has more pressing problems that need our attention, and (d) any or all of the above. Or, to put it in more concise fashion: Move on, there's nothing to see here.

  • D-Day, the Sixth of June: 'He don't know where, he don't know when'

    June 6, 2014

    A scrap of childhood doggerel has become only a memory of a memory by now. They say that's the way the little gray cells record and re-record memories, taping over the previous one and changing it here and there each time it's rehearsed.

  • Paul Greenberg: A general's farewell salute

    June 2, 2014

    Eric Shinseki spent a lifetime serving his country before being ill served by a vast bureaucracy with deep-seated dysfunctions beyond even his ability and dedication to cure.

  • Uncertain trumpet, or: The president sounds retreat

    May 30, 2014

    . . .

  • Paul Greenberg: Europe remains Europe, more's the pity

    May 28, 2014

    Others may have taken a three-day weekend for Memorial Day, but the news never stops. Especially out of Europe, which continues to produce more bad news than it can safely absorb, which may explain why it was the origin of two world wars during the last century. Europe has long had enough calamity to export it worldwide.

  • Separate but ... equal? Or: Civil unions vs. gay marriage

    May 27, 2014

    So there I was, reading a guest article in our newspaper here in Arkansas and nodding not just in agreement but admiration. And why not? For the guest writer was going right down the list of points I'd made over the years in favor of civil unions as an alternative to homosexual marriage.

  • Paul Greenberg: The forgotten massacre

    May 23, 2014

    Strange, the once obscure villages that war makes unforgettable, forever resonant with the echoes of battle. Gettysburg. Hastings. Lexington and Concord. The fate of nations, and of freedom, was determined by what happened at such places. And their names became indelible. So it is with the names of massacres, too, names soaked in blood and shame. Names like Fort Pillow. That was the Union post in Tennessee just north of Memphis where black troops wearing the uniform of the United States Army were slaughtered. It wouldn't be the first time.

  • The great bobwhite question, or: In defense of the American vernacular

    May 22, 2014

    What's happening to all the bobwhite quail Arkansas used to have? It's a question that has stumped many a sportsman, bird-watcher and environmentalist in the Natural State, not to mention a mere newspaper columnist like me. But the other day I was informed I've been using the wrong term for the bird. And that the bobwhite quail, contrary to my innocent editorial assumption and the common Arkansas vernacular, is not a bobwhite quail at all.

  • The morning after in Arkansas

    May 21, 2014

    Dawn doesn't break the morning after an election in Arkansas, but just kind of eases up over the horizon, as if afraid to shine a light on the results. It doesn't come like some hoot owl that can be heard a way off. And by the whole neighborhood. That's not its style this morning. Today dawn comes like a scooch owl, slowly, creeping almost imperceptibly closer and closer and closer to its prey ... until you look down and there's no more prey, only remains. Much like the results of an election carefully recorded in small type on the inside pages, column after column, precinct by precinct, in neat rows, like graves.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright lives again -- in Arkansas

    May 20, 2014

    Sometimes a single news story will illuminate more than just the usual darkness all around, bringing back a brighter past and, with it, hope for a brighter future. Like the latest announcement from Crystal Bridges, a not so little museum located in a little town in the heart of the heart of the country: Bentonville, Arkansas, which is up in the northwestern corner of the state. That's where a little company you may have heard of has its headquarters: Wal-Mart.

  • Paul Greenberg: Shut up, they explain

    May 14, 2014

    Condoleezza Rice, our former secretary of state, is the latest public figure to be chased off a university campus by the bullies, formally known as student protesters. She had been scheduled to deliver this year's commencement address at Rutgers, but decided to call it off rather than face the mob. So she gets to join the ranks of heroines who have been sacrificed to the type of "thinkers" whose response to any idea they don't like is not to debate it but censor it.

  • Church 5, State 4

    May 9, 2014

    The First Amendment won one this week before the Supreme Court of the United States -- by one vote. The close vote in the case brought to mind the old story about the corporate board of directors that approved a resolution wishing its CEO a speedy and complete recovery from his heart attack -- by a vote of 9 to 8.

  • Paul Greenberg: 'Be not deceived...'

    May 7, 2014

    Still another smoking gun has surfaced in the investigation of the continuing tragedy and scandal known as the Benghazi Incident, this time in the form of an email from a White House political operative telling one of the usual suspects just how to cover the administration's tracks. Somehow this memo was overlooked when a House committee subpoenaed any and all documents having to do with the well-planned attack on our compound in Benghazi -- an attack that took the lives of four brave Americans, including that of the most dedicated, enterprising and promising envoy in our whole diplomatic corps.

  • Good thug, bad thug

    May 5, 2014

    You know the technique. In police work, it's called good cop, bad cop. A couple of detectives team up to work on a suspect. The good cop wants to be our suspect's friend, offering all kinds of inducements if he'll do as the cops say -- like provide information or just straighten out his act in general. If he'll do that, his friend the good cop assures him, he'll get lenient treatment, maybe even a reward. And won't be left to the less than tender mercies of the bad cop. And there's no telling what the bad cop will do to him if he doesn't cooperate. (In diplomatic circles, this is called deterrence, and it's been known to have considerable effect.)

  • Paul Greenberg: Holocaust Day again

    April 30, 2014

    Another year, another Holocaust Day -- just as there's another Earth Day, Groundhog Day, Tax Day, Valentine's Day ... you name it. It had to happen to the Holocaust, too. It's become a Day.

  • Paul Greenberg: Very well, alone!

    April 8, 2014

    It's enough to make a tear appear even on the usually stony face of Clio, muse of history, who you'd think would be used to having her works -- and their lessons -- ignored by now.

  • Death comes to the bishop

    April 8, 2014

    There are bishops and there are bishops. Indeed, the Diocese of Little Rock had four of them before a priest named Andrew McDonald came out of Savannah, Ga., to become the fifth, and Lord willing there will be many others to come after. Yet when people in these parts referred to the bishop, there was no doubt whom they meant. For the bishop would spend 28 years here in Arkansas, and many had known no other. Yes, there were bishops before the Very Rev. Andrew J. McDonald and there would be other bishops after him, but there was none like the bishop. He was singular.

  • Paul Greenberg: A blow for liberty

    April 7, 2014

    The people yes

  • Poor Paul's Almanac

    April 3, 2014

    (With apologies to Poor Richard's Almanac -- and a colonial printer named Ben Franklin.)

  • Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

    April 1, 2014

    My mother's yahrzeit came twice this year. Yahr-zeit: Literally, time of year. It's shorthand for the anniversary of a death in the family. According to Jewish custom, it's observed for a husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister or, God forbid, a child.

  • The shoals of equality

    March 31, 2014

    How might a captain's log of the good ship America read? The pages would surely include accounts of halcyon skies and smooth sailing, however turbulent the times seemed at the moment. As well as episodes of peril, even shipwreck, as the grand old lady was tossed and turned, even torn asunder. See 1861-65.

  • Paul Greenberg: Program notes

    March 27, 2014

    The appetizer can be the best part of a festive meal, as violinist Meredith Maddox Hicks and pianist Tatiana Roitman demonstrated Thursday evening at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

  • Where does the South begin?

    March 25, 2014

    Ever wonder just where the South starts? I used to think I knew: at the bottom of Cantrell Hill here in little old Little Rock, Ark., for every morning I leave the highlands and pines, and wind on downtown, where the hardwoods and Dixie start. It starts there because Southernness is a function of mean altitude above sea level. The lower the altitude, and therefore the more black soil and traces of the old plantation economy and culture, the more Southern. It's a geological, not just a cultural phenomenon, Southernness.

  • The axe vs. the icon

    March 24, 2014

    . . .

  • Of sex, age and politics

    March 21, 2014

    Asked to comment after a record number of women signed up to seek office on the Republican ticket this year in Arkansas, Joyce Elliott -- a Democratic state senator from Little Rock -- started off fine. She noted that young mothers tend to put off entering politics (not to mention other careers) till their children are older. That figures. Just ask anybody with little kids at home. They get priority, and need to. We all have our priorities, and children tend to change them. And how.

  • Paul Greenberg: What changes and what doesn't

    March 20, 2014

    LITTLE ROCK -- When a retrospective of Carroll Cloar's works opened here, I asked a local art dealer how he would explain Carroll Cloar's appeal.

  • And the band plays on

    March 17, 2014

    She noticed. Talking about Moscow's not very disguised invasion of Crimea, Hillary Clinton made the obvious comparison with Hitler's seizure of one piece of Europe after another in the 1930s:

  • Back by popular demand: Tyranny

    March 14, 2014

    Ham and eggs, dictators and plebiscites, tyranny and sham elections, they all go together. So it was wholly to be expected, which means it was wholly a surprise to our ever-alert administration, when the latest tsar decided Crimea was ripe for the picking and sent in the Cossacks (sans identifying insignia for now). As usual in these matters, the local bullyboys, formally known in press reports as militias, backed up the not very well disguised Russian troops. With that little formality out of the way, Vlad the Annexer ordered a plebiscite (and its usual result) for immediate delivery, specifically Sunday, March 16, 2014. Satisfaction Guaranteed.

  • Paul Greenberg: Faceoff in Arkansas

    March 11, 2014

    LITTLE ROCK -- Mark Pryor (Very D-Ark.) is this state's senior senator, and he should be thanked for making the choice in this fall's election for the U.S. Senate here in Arkansas more than crystal clear.

  • Playing tonight: Mahler

    March 10, 2014

    Tuesday night's chamber music concert at the Clinton Library, which have become a mainstay for music lovers here in Little Rock, included a Mahler piano quartet. Good choice. At some point in his travels, Gustav Mahler would naturally have come to America, mother of exiles. He already had an impressive record in Vienna, where he'd come from his East European shtetl to attend its famous conservatory. Ah, turn of the century Vienna, brimming with new music and old charm, good coffee and your choice of newspapers -- one for every taste from cosmopolitan to barbaric. A haven for both the latest Hungarian arriviste and the last Habsburg.

  • The Cossacks are back

    March 5, 2014

    My mother was puzzled. As she regularly was by this strange country and haven, where they did things differently from the old country, thank God. So she asked my older brother to explain something to her. "Irving," she was saying, "I know the Army fights on the land, the Navy on the sea, and the Air Force in the air. But what do the Marines do?"

  • Paul Greenberg: 1936, the sequel

    March 4, 2014

    What an Oscar-winning production: No sooner had the Olympic torch been doused at Sochi than Russian troops, in uniform and out, began landing in Crimea. The script was as familiar as "Casablanca" as key points are seized, highways blocked, airports occupied, parliament buildings taken over, and the flag of the once and future Occupying Power raised everywhere.

  • Paul Greenberg: An innocent abroad

    March 3, 2014

    Dear Guide in Tashkent,

  • Back to the '30s: The great American retreat

    February 28, 2014

    It happens after every war. America disarms. And so invites the next attack, and next war. The same haphazard pattern is emerging now -- even before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over, much as this administration pretends they are in order to cut the defense budget.

  • Paul Greenberg: To an old friend . . .

    February 25, 2014

    Your Honor,

  • Is this good news or bad? Politics and the English language

    February 24, 2014

    . . .

  • Paul Greenberg: Opinions in a flash

    February 21, 2014

    (With apologies to Walter Winchell)

  • Meet Sid Caesar: For those who never saw Your Show of Shows

    February 17, 2014


  • They call it Darby Day

    February 14, 2014

    It was Darby Day in Fort Smith, Ark., one Friday this snowy month, and the students at Darby Junior High held their annual observance in honor of the school's namesake.

  • NYT shocker: Times scribes discover editorial page is dull, pointless

    February 12, 2014

    The natives are restless. That's the word from the New York Observer about the atmosphere in the newsroom of the once good gray New York Times, which in its financially troubled old age has adopted the showy ways of a left-leaning tabloid. For in recent years the grande dame of American journalism has taken to exposing national secrets like some junior Edward Snowden. And in the process has collected a raft of Pulitzers in exchange for doing what it can to let al-Qaida's planners know how to get around the NSA, FBI, CIA, NYPD and such spoilsports. There have been days when a copy of that morning's Times could have served as a manual on how to exploit American vulnerabilities.

  • The key to it all/ Lincoln's birthday, 2014

    February 12, 2014

    An Italian exchange student once asked me what he should know in order to understand America. The best I could come up with on the spot was the U.S. Constitution, jazz and baseball.

  • Paul Greenberg: Mobs I have known

    February 11, 2014

    It was long ago in a different South -- the days of freedom riders and freedom songs, of SNCC workers and sit-ins. The bad old days of Orval Faubus and George Wallace and Ross Barnett. They were the good old days, too -- the days of Martin Luther King, when the choice between good and evil, law and defiance of it was clear, when justice rolled down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. And we would overcome some day.

  • Death of an artist: The actor of his generation

    February 6, 2014

    It's a succession of sensations Americans have come to know all too well in these sad cases: shock, then grief, then the details nobody really wants to know. A detail like the needle found in Philip Seymour Hoffman's arm when a couple of his discovered the actor's body over the weekend.

  • Paul Greenberg: Holden at 65

    February 5, 2014

    (With apologies to J.D. Salinger)

  • Paul Greenberg: You can almost hear this one squeal

    February 4, 2014

    LITTLE ROCK -- Only one of this farm state's U.S. representatives voted against this year's swollen ($100 billion a year) farm bill? Naturally, it would be Tom Cotton.

  • State of the Union: All drift, no real direction

    January 30, 2014

    How sum up the president's speech Tuesday night? It's not easy, since the president himself didn't. It seemed to have no focus, no single theme, no unifying thread. It was the political equivalent of a long shopping list composed by a not very well-organized househusband. The warp and woof weren't so much interwoven as thrown together in no particular pattern that left no particular impression, except to make the evening drag on approximately forever. ("Is it over yet?") It seemed like midnight when it was still the shank of the evening.

  • Newspeak spoken here

    January 28, 2014

    George Orwell's nightmarish vision of the future in his novel "1984" didn't end on its last page. For it left behind a whole language with its own rules, vocabulary, purpose, and still continuing relevance: Newspeak.

  • Paul Greenberg: Selfies

    January 27, 2014

    The first cell phone I ever saw -- though I had no idea what was going on at the time -- was in Florence not far from the Ponte Vecchio, the fabled old bridge across the Arno. It must have been an early spring morning in the 1980s along one of the arcaded streets that line the Piazza della Signoria.

  • The death of the editorial (It was done in the conference room with a dull knife)

    January 24, 2014

    Who killed the great American editorial?

  • It could have been worse

    January 22, 2014

    The good thing about our president's talk at the Justice Department last week is that it was mainly talk. Its subject: How to limit the National Security Agency -- or maybe just national security. Thankfully, he didn't actually do anything to abolish that spy agency's vast collection of mega-data and connect-the-dots algorithms, and so leave the country open to another surprise attack.

  • The Dream

    January 22, 2014

    I was attending a party of some sort. Maybe a diplomatic reception. In a large well-appointed room full of people and din. Everyone was talking. In French. There were tables and chairs but all were standing -- over at the bar or picking and choosing off the buffet in the most careful, cultivated way, à la française. Elegant.

  • Beyond all that changes: The unchanging Lee

    January 19, 2014

    Dear Alert Reader,

  • A man for one season

    January 14, 2014

    As if the president's Signature Accomplishment, aka Obamacare, doesn't have enough problems, it's been put on hold by a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who recognized still another obstacle it faces: religious objections. These were raised by an order of Catholic nuns in Colorado. It seems the Little Sisters of the Poor run a nursing home and hospice there, and they don't want to sign on to Obamacare's requirement that they help provide contraception, sterilization or abortion through their health insurance plan.

  • Last of the old lions: Scenes from a life -- and death

    January 13, 2014

    The life of Ariel Sharon, better known in Israel as Arik, has ended at long, long last after eight comatose years lost to everyone but himself. It was a life almost co-extensive with that of the State of Israel, or at least its army. And some would argue he was just as vital a factor in Israel's survival.

  • Paul Greenberg: A purge for the books

    January 9, 2014

    Kim Jong Un, aka Outstanding Leader, is still seeking to consolidate his hold on power in the horror state formally entitled the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- a quadruple irony, for it is really none of the above. Its current tyrant is busy conducting a classic purge of his rivals, or just those he suspects might be someday.

  • Paul Greenberg: In today's mail

    January 7, 2014

    Dear Critic,

  • Paul Greenberg: The way we were -- and are

    January 3, 2014

    There are certain passages in much loved and much read and re-read books that have the power to show us how much we have changed while they've remained the same.

  • Paul Greenburg: 1927, the American year

    January 2, 2014

    A great diva could sing the names in the phone book and it would come out like Puccini. A talented writer like Bill Bryson could take any year in American history and make it fascinating. Doing the usual round of interviews after his latest book came out, "One Summer: America, 1927," he was asked why he would choose to write about so ordinary a year, one without a great war or depression or discovery or . . .

  • Paul Greenberg: Predictions of things to come

    January 1, 2014

    Dear Reader,

  • Paul Greenberg: Lost in the maze

    December 27, 2013

    "Simplify, simplify, simplify!"

  • Peter O'Toole: The chronic actor

    December 27, 2013

    Seamus Peter O'Toole was an alcoholic and actor but, thankfully, not in that order. He would win worldwide recognition after he played the title role in David Lean's magnificent "Lawrence of Arabia," which was not only a grand spectacle but historically accurate in its broad outlines.

  • Peter O'Toole: The chronic actor

    December 26, 2013

    Seamus Peter O'Toole was an alcoholic and actor but, thankfully, not in that order. He would win worldwide recognition after he played the title role in David Lean's magnificent "Lawrence of Arabia," which was not only a grand spectacle but historically accurate in its broad outlines.

  • Paul Greenberg: A word from the wise

    December 25, 2013

    Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

  • Paul Greenberg: It's a wonderful life

    December 19, 2013

    To many Americans, the season wouldn't be complete without at least a few scenes from "It's a Wonderful Life." The movie wasn't a box-office hit when it was released in the 1940s, but it's become a seasonal favorite since -- and even acquired some critical acclaim along the way.

  • Paul Greenberg: Here' the real issue

    December 17, 2013

    It's simple. Or so they say. Amidst the dismay over the continuing debacle known as Obamacare, the growing frustration in the country prompts a simple, widespread reaction: "Whaddya expect? It's a government operation."

  • Paul Greenberg: The empire strikes back

    December 16, 2013

    The evil empire, Ronald Reagan called it when Détente was in fashion and it was not done to call things by their right names. The tyrant might be offended, and his rage could prove almost as effective back then as the left's fashionable condescension. It was enough to call an aging B-movie actor with presidential pretensions a radical to dismiss him. That way, when he said the obvious, he could be ignored instead of answered.

  • Paul Greenberg: Two Africans

    December 11, 2013

    "I'm only human," people say to excuse their faults. Only human? To be human, and, more impressive, to remain human is no small thing. Think of Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag, or Bonhoeffer in a concentration camp. Being only human isn't an excuse; it's our glory.

  • Paul Greenberg: Where we are now

    December 10, 2013

    A real crisis was looming, not the kind that today's headline-writers regularly invoke, and so devalue. ("Red Sox Face Pitching Crisis") No, this was a real crisis -- the Crisis of the House Divided, when the Union was about to be riven by the one issue that the country had failed to confront squarely year after year, decade after decade, compromise after unsatisfying compromise. At its heart lay the long accepted, deeply ingrained evil some Americans referred to as The Peculiar Institution rather than call by its right name: human slavery.

  • Remember the energy crisis?

    December 9, 2013

    Who says the news is always bad? It's just that a discouraged editor on the night shift or a reader picking up her paper from the doorstep next morning may have to search for the good news between outbreaks of the other kind. Sometimes it helps to just pause and notice what's not there anymore, what's missing. Like any mention of what used to be a sad staple of the news, decade after decade: the Energy Crisis.

  • Paul Greenberg: Remember Pearl Harbor

    December 7, 2013

    Some memories never fade, and shouldn't.

  • Showbiz and politics: Always the twain seem to meet

    December 3, 2013

    Old-timers may recall the old days when Canadian politics were not just dull but almost blank. As empty as a modern white-on-white canvas depicting some vast snow belt in the featureless depths of Arctic winter.

  • Paul Greenberg: Of honors and honor

    December 2, 2013

    Foreign honors and imitations thereof don't seem to thrive on this side of the Atlantic, prestigious as they may be back in Europe.

  • Time for a new Contract with America

    December 2, 2013

    Does anybody remember the Contract with America besides historians?

  • Paul Greenberg: The Pilgrims and us

    November 28, 2013

    Don't anybody be shocked, but those Pilgrims being celebrated today weren't just cardboard cut-outs. They were part of the Religious Right. Or maybe the Religious Left, since the Pilgrims emphasized communal organization as much as they did individual rights. But right or left, the Pilgrims were definitely religious.

  • Peace in our time

    November 27, 2013

    What's going on between Washington and Teheran of late? Here are a few quotations from the files that sum up the whole, old story:

  • What is Chanukah?

    November 27, 2013

    It's starting to look a lot like ... Chanukah.

  • The end of the filibuster: Another American institution abandoned

    November 25, 2013

    It was a sad day -- Thursday, November 21, 2013 -- when another tradition died in the U.S. Senate, which was once known as the world's greatest deliberative body. Thursday it didn't so much deliberate as obliterate. The result was the end of an American institution, the filibuster.

  • Today

    November 22, 2013

    There's a certain slant of light

  • Paul Greenberg: 272 words at Gettysburg

    November 19, 2013

    Actions, they say, speak louder than words, and they have a point -- up to a point. But what if the words are so apt and enduring, so altogether fitting and proper, so well-timed yet timeless, that they become deeds themselves, outlasting what they commemorate?

  • Paul Greenberg: One saving moment

    November 19, 2013

    One after the other, the witnesses rose to testify to the bloody wreckage the notorious murderer had made of their lives.

  • Paul Greenberg: Can this presidency be saved?

    November 18, 2013

    Everybody knows this president is in political trouble, even the president himself. For he faces a growing crisis of confidence, and it's got his name all over it: Obamacare.

  • The soul has a music of its own

    November 15, 2013

    It is only a week away. Next Friday will be November 22nd and the 50th anniversary. Dallas is steeling itself for the attention, the crowds, the people everywhere with their smartphones taking pictures. Nothing is real now till it is becoming an image. Not even that unreal day half a century ago now.

  • Paul Greenberg: Church, state and the Supremes

    November 14, 2013

    It's not just the American economy that has a deficit problem but American law. Call it a deficit of common sense.

  • Paul Greenberg: John Kerry hits a bump

    November 12, 2013

    Everything was all set. The scenery had been painted, the lighting arranged, the actors given their lines and put through their paces. The proper air of suspense had been maintained throughout the opening acts, and now the curtain was about to rise on the grand finale. The management wasn't quite ready to admit it, maybe even to itself, but the Happy Ending had already been written. All the players had to do was follow the script.

  • Scattered returns: As New Jersey goes, Virginia doesn't

    November 11, 2013

    Only the most addicted political buffs will read much into the results of this year's off-off-year elections. But to the commentators, critics, climbers and just fans hooked on politics, a most powerful hallucinogenic, there may be all kinds of deep meanings hidden in last week's scattered returns. Political junkies need only peer into the murky depths and call forth deep significance -- like a gypsy fortune teller examining your palm and finding portents galore therein.

  • Paul Greenberg: Two brothers, two heroes

    November 7, 2013

    We don't spend much time examining the underpinnings on which our lives rest. We remember the cops and firefighters and EMTs when we need them -- and when we need them, we really need them -- but otherwise, we've got things to do, or think about doing, or get out of doing. We may volunteer to do some work for our church or political party or civic club. Or maybe not. We may vote, or not.

  • Two brothers died so that we can continue our routines

    November 7, 2013

    We don't spend much time examining the underpinnings on which our lives rest. We remember the cops and firefighters and EMTs when we need them -- and when we need them, we really need them -- but otherwise, we've got things to do, or think about doing, or get out of doing. We may volunteer to do some work for our church or political party or civic club. Or maybe not. We may vote, or not.

  • 'Shield' for journalists? Thanks but no thanks

    November 5, 2013

    Here we go again. Every time an administration is caught spying on the press, it professes to be "shocked, shocked." As shocked as Captain Renault in "Casablanc"a on learning that Rick's Café Américain is actually a gambling joint. The captain's order to shut the place down is interrupted only briefly by an obliging waiter. ("Your winnings, sir.")

  • Paul Greenberg: Better the president shouldn't know

    November 2, 2013

    The list of things this president didn't know continues to grow:

  • Now playing: Obamacare, a tragicomedy

    October 30, 2013

    Step right up, folks. Immediate seating. Orchestra, mezzanine, balcony, it doesn't matter. There's not a bad seat in the house. Hear every crash and clunk and lightning-fast excuse for it. No need to rush. This is an indefinite run. But you won't want to miss it. It certainly won't miss you sooner or later or now. A thrill, a chill, a spill and splash a minute, if not faster. See the impossible before your very eyes: trying to buy insurance in this wacky game that everybody is talking about . . . .

  • Paul Greenberg: Hooray for snooping

    October 29, 2013

    . . .

  • Obamacare: The latest from Glitches R Us

    October 28, 2013

    Only now does Obamacare's namesake call the press to the Rose Garden, which is much better tended than his signature program, to acknowledge what everybody already knows: There are, well, a few problems with his signature program. Problems are now known as glitches in the specialized language used to minimize politicians' mistakes, however colossal. As if they were but technical problems. Just press 4....

  • Paul Greenberg: A tale of two cities

    October 28, 2013

    Cardinals Meet Red Sox in World Series. It was headline news in 1946, too. Which wasn't the only similarity between now and then. Because it was the best of times, the worst of times, like a lot of other years in always bubbling and simmering and broiling history, especially the American kind. We didn't come to this New World to stand still.

  • Paul Greenberg: A tale of two cities

    October 28, 2013

    Cardinals Meet Red Sox in World Series. It was headline news in 1946, too. Which wasn't the only similarity between now and then. Because it was the best of times, the worst of times, like a lot of other years in always bubbling and simmering and broiling history, especially the American kind. We didn't come to this New World to stand still.

  • Nuclear talks with Iran: How the game is played

    October 21, 2013

    It may be fall but everything's coming up roses in Geneva -- and in every press release about how swimmingly negotiations have been going in that picture-postcard-perfect Swiss spa. (How come diplomatic conferences are never held in Gary, Indiana, or East St. Louis, Illinois?) The subject of last week's meetings in picturesque Geneva: how to work out a deal over Iran's nuclear weapons program. That's right, the vast program that doesn't exist, never existed, and will be halted if only the West would be so kind as to lift its sanctions on trade with that country and theocracy.

  • Paul Greenberg: The shutdown shuts down

    October 18, 2013

    So what have we learned from the (not so) Great Shutdown of 2013?

  • Paul Greenberg: Ecclesiastes on a bicycle

    October 16, 2013

    The old boy walked the bike out the door of his house in Little Rock and into Heaven, aka October in Arkansas. In all its burning-tree glory.

  • And the game goes on, or: High popalorum and low popahirum

    October 15, 2013

    A single scene at the World War II Memorial in Washington last Sunday summed up the whole, disgraceful spectacle that is the Great Shutdown of 2013.

  • And the winner is ... Alice Munro!

    October 14, 2013

    . . .

  • The beauty of simplicity

    October 10, 2013

    How simple a great idea can be. Once a great thinker explains it simply. A thinker like Ronald Coase, the economist, teacher and sage who has just died at the remarkable age of 102.

  • The slick salesman from Teheran

    October 9, 2013

    A man "may smile, and smile, and be a villain," to quote a play of some renown called "The Tragedy of Hamlet" (Act I, Scene V). This suave new "moderate" president of Iran smiles and smiles, too. Experienced and worldly diplomat that he is, His Excellency Hassan Rouhani dispenses ever more rhetorical softsoap, the kind guaranteed to ease and smooth, all the while winning time. And time is the one invaluable, irreplaceable commodity in that other great tragedy, the one called Realpolitik. Or sometimes The Great Game of Nations. And his excellency's skill at it is undeniable, for he's played this game before. Expertly.

  • That was then ... when politics required thought

    October 4, 2013

    It was so long ago that a new young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama might have been mistaken for an idealist.

  • Dim sum for the mind: A selection of tidbits spicy, sour and sweet

    October 3, 2013

    The president might have been able to get a joint resolution through Congress backing his policy in Syria if only (1) he had been able to hold on to the support of the president, and (2) had a policy.

  • Half a loaf, anyone?

    October 1, 2013

    As the midnight hour loomed, the Shutdown Standoff continued and the danger mounted hour by hour. The political cowpokes were still ambling along toward the OK Corral, the women and children huddling behind closed doors, and law-abidin' citizens slowly shaking their heads at the whole spectacle.

  • One writer, indivisible

    October 1, 2013

    We come, we go. So quickly it's not easy to keep up. "You never know who's here anymore," my big sister once complained when we were trying to remember whether a character actor in the movies we used to watch years ago was still living.

  • The quiet man speaks up

    September 30, 2013

    It was unheard of. Mainly because it hadn't been heard before: the sound of John Boozman shouting. The junior senator from Arkansas must be the most soft-spoken member of the U.S. Senate. A big man with a tender manner, a teddy bear inside a grizzly, he was reported to have shouted in the course of last week's Republican caucus in that chamber. At least that was the astounding word from Politico, an inside-politics publication that might best be described as a not always reliable source. Some of us would like to have heard the sound of John Boozman shouting. Just before spotting a legendary ivory-billed woodpecker, aka the Lord God bird, somewhere on an Arkansas bayou. Just once.

  • Gettysburg at 150: The show's over, the ghosts remain

    September 30, 2013

    Muffle the drums, furl the flags. The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the great battle is concluded, this year's faux battle lost and won, the hurly-burly done. The crowds and tumult are gone, and once again the grass is allowed to grow in peace. I am the grass; I cover all ... Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work. This place is outside a small town in southern Pennsylvania just north of the Maryland line where two ridges parallel and Robert E. Lee determined to fight the decisive battle of The War. He did. It was.

  • Peace is proclaimed

    September 30, 2013

    It's all settled. Russia and the United States have agreed that Bashar al-Assad's impressive arsenal of chemical weapons will be inventoried, secured and destroyed by the middle of next year, give or take a few months. Or maybe a few decades if appeasement bears its usual poisoned fruit.

  • A whole different ball game

    September 30, 2013

    It was the national pastime that didn't include all the nation. Black ballplayers, whether they were stars or run-of-the-mill, weren't allowed in the major leagues back then -- or many minor ones for that matter. They were consigned to their own leagues, separate but unequal. Which was the case with a good many other American institutions at the time.

  • We leave Egypt tonight

    September 30, 2013

    Psst, pass it on. Tell the other slaves: We leave Egypt tonight.

  • Simple gifts, or: Boston in Little Rock

    September 30, 2013

    After great pain, a formal feeling comes --

  • Easter, the gardener's version

    September 30, 2013

    But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

  • Save the filibuster

    September 30, 2013

    The majority leader of the U.S. Senate was being himself again, unfortunately. That is, a bully. If the Republican minority in the Senate wouldn't go along with a slate of nominees to high federal office that the president wanted confirmed, well, Czar Harry would just do away with the whole institution of the filibuster in this instance. And maybe any others in the future.

  • Washington emerges: Across the river and into history

    September 30, 2013

    In the course of human events, one thing remains certain: We forget. Somewhere over murky time, Washington's Birthday faded away, and was absorbed into another three-day holiday with no distinguishing marks except maybe ... Giant Sales! It is the American way. By celebrating all presidents equally on some made-up Presidents' Day, we now celebrate none in particular. Definition is lost; a generalized fuzz takes the place of the history that made us. And we forget.

  • Keep talking, senators: Of filibusters and Chuck Hagel

    September 30, 2013

    Not since the eminently forgettable and now justly forgotten Louis A. Johnson was chosen to dismantle the country's military budget after the Second World War -- just in time to leave this country woefully unprepared for the Korean one -- has a nominee for secretary of defense represented so clear and present a danger to the national security.

  • Another day, another pharaoh

    September 30, 2013

    The revolution that overthrew Egypt's last pharaoh and installed a new one in his place now has been overthrown itself -- by military decree. As fully expected. Chaos breeds a demand for order, for clear authority, and what could be more authoritarian than military rule?

  • What's in a name? A lot when a pope chooses it

    September 30, 2013

    Habemus Papam! We have a pope! That was the word, or rather the words, from St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday, and it wasn't just a worldwide church that had awaited the news, but the world itself. And the news was good, as in the Good News. For suddenly the air in Rome and far beyond seemed filled with a hope that was almost palpable.

  • He's great out of the country

    September 30, 2013

    Speaking in Capetown, South Africa, our president did himself and the United States of America proud. This is what he told his hosts, among other uplifting things:

  • The trainwreck called Obamacare

    September 30, 2013

    "I just see a huge trainwreck coming down." That's not a quote from one of our old editorials or from any of the other critics of what has become known as Obamacare. It's a quote from one of its key backers, one of its designers, one of its advocates and defenders. It's a quote from Max Baucus, senior senator from Montana and Democratic stalwart on the Senate Finance Committee.

  • Brother to a Dragonfly

    September 30, 2013

    The dead speak. If you're listening. It happens every day -- every day the paper publishes obituaries. They speak whole lives. Some of them can invoke a whole era, which suddenly becomes more alive, more real, than what passes for reality in the drab present. All it takes is a name in the headline above an obit. And you're transported. It all depends on whose name it is, and what life he lived. Suddenly you're back there.

  • The silence of the lambs

    September 30, 2013

    Kermit Gosnell. If you don't recognize the name, that's understandable. His trial in Philadelphia -- on multiple counts of murder -- has been covered extensively by the local papers. But beyond that, it's as though a news blackout had been declared on the major networks and newspapers of the mainstream denomination.

  • Just one small point ...

    September 30, 2013

    . . .

  • The second pope

    September 30, 2013

    The wire services routinely refer to Benedict XVI, now the pope emeritus, as the first pontiff to abdicate in modern times. But few of the news stories go into the classic example of a papal abdication, and explain just who this earlier pope was, and why he chose to end his papacy. Which is understandable. The big story of 1294 is scarcely breaking news today. But it's a pity more attention isn't paid to the abdication of Celestine V, now St. Celestine, aka Celestino. Because history can prove instructive.

  • Close down Gitmo? Why, sure

    September 30, 2013

    Again with Guantanamo.

  • Shoptalk, or: What makes a columnist?

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Old Timer,

  • Monumental mistakes

    September 30, 2013

    The surest reflection of the present is its view of the past. History turns out to be the most contemporary of the plastic arts. For we're always remaking it in our own image. Which may explain the great wave of mediocrity now sweeping over Washington in the form of new public monuments.

  • Too big to save

    September 30, 2013

    Occasionally there is an opinion piece in the papers so clear in its analysis of a problem, so convincing in its argumentation, and so authoritative in its judgment that, on finishing it, a reader is tempted to just stand up and cheer.

  • The awakening: America stirs, but will we lead again?

    September 30, 2013

    Back in the long-ago year 2007, when Gen. David Petraeus was putting into action a whole new strategy called the Surge, an integral and indeed indispensable part of his plan was the Awakening, a revolt of tribesmen in Anbar Province against the forces terrorizing Iraq. The general foresaw that revolt spreading throughout Iraq with American support.

  • When words lose their meaning

    September 30, 2013

    The editors at the Associated Press made news themselves last week when they announced that their stylebook would no longer approve the use of the phrase Illegal Immigrant to describe illegal immigrants. To borrow some newspeak from George Orwell's classic dystopia, "1984," down the memory hole the phrase must go. For it makes the folks at AP feel doubleplusungood when they see badspeak.

  • The cover-up unravels

    September 30, 2013

    Now we know. Or at least we know more than we did about what happened at Benghazi, and, even more telling, what happened afterward. And there's doubtless more to come. With each congressional hearing, with each appearance by another whistleblower, the picture becomes more complete. And it's not pretty. It's more like that Portrait of Dorian Gray hidden away in the attic that, when it is finally uncovered, shows every dirty deception, every scabrous half-truth that is even worse than a lie, all of it detailed in those emails that are today's equivalent of the Nixon Tapes. It could be the 1970s again.

  • The old lady in black

    September 30, 2013

    The most vivid memories aren't those carved in stone but the ones etched in the mind. Memory deepens with the years, the way a river carves through rock, slowly creating canyons, revealing old layers, unveiling pain you'd kept decently covered before, bringing it all back. Sometimes the river cannot be contained and will overflow its banks. You feel the emotions swelling. Maybe on an anniversary, or when you hear a certain song, or for no discernible reason at all. And it all comes back, the joy and anguish of the past cresting in your mind.

  • Higher education, R.I.P.

    September 30, 2013

    What ever happened to the medium once known as Little Magazines? This country once had a select group of literary and political journals that represented the vanguard of American thought and art. Some were both literary and political. High Culture, it was called when there was still such a thing.

  • The way it was

    September 30, 2013

    August 28, 1963. I remember it well. And how wrong I was to be worried about how it would turn out. Hundreds of thousands of protesters massed on the National Mall in the sweltering heat of late August in Washington? Visions of the nation's capital in flames danced through my head -- a spectacle that would set the civil rights struggle back another hundred years. For despite all the tough talk about how the only language these racists would understand was violence, I knew Americans reacted, strongly, against any protest movement that resorted to it. Then came the march itself, and . . . .

  • What was that he said?

    September 30, 2013

    Just what is the country supposed to make of our president's rambling stream-of-consciousness billed as a Major Policy Address at the National Defense University last week?

  • Voice of America

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Fellow Fan,

  • Remember the name

    September 30, 2013

    Creditanstalt. Remember the name.

  • Styles in role models

    September 30, 2013

    . . .

  • That's the Middle East -- and the West, too

    September 30, 2013

    The bloody war-by-proxy continues in Syria. It pits the embattled, increasingly desperate but still determined and far from defeated dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad against a disorganized amalgam of rebels, aka the Free Syrian Army. Each has its own array of sponsors, enablers or just cheerleaders behind them. The cast of this tragedy also includes a multitude of not-so-innocent bystanders waiting to see how it will end, if it ever does.

  • Time, the best judge

    September 30, 2013

    In 1793, the first administration of George Washington -- indeed, the first administration of the United States under its still new Constitution -- respectfully asked the country's Supreme Court for some help and guidance:

  • Behind all the hullabaloo ... the secret about those budget cuts

    September 30, 2013

    There's a secret lurking behind all that weeping and wailing over those across-the-board cuts in federal spending now going into effect -- and beginning to filter through the economy:

  • The forgotten war

    September 30, 2013

    The Forgotten War, it's called. Which is why it was so good to have it remembered so ceremoniously and extensively this past weekend on the 60th anniversary of the tenuous armistice -- certainly not peace -- that has uneasily endured on the Korean peninsula ever since.

  • God save the queen

    September 30, 2013

    God save our gracious Queen

  • Just follow the numbers

    September 30, 2013

    Data-mining is the sophisticated mathematical analysis of large masses of numbers in search of telltale patterns. I won't pretend to know how it works. At the first mention of algorithms, to borrow a phrase from the late great Sam Goldwyn, that master of the malaprop, include me out.

  • There goes Iraq -- again, or: Depart in haste, repent at leisure

    September 30, 2013

    This week's news from Iraq isn't good, though when has it ever been? Well, maybe at those exceptional times when Washington was paying close attention and American troops were being given the support and leeway to do their job right. Indeed, superlatively. As they can given their head and led by field commanders like David Petraeus, a thoughtful leader who had prepared himself -- and our whole military culture -- for a new kind of warfare called counterinsurgency.

  • Program notes

    September 30, 2013

    It is customary now to go to a concert of classical music and hear ... a talk.

  • On leaving the hospital

    September 30, 2013

    It was just a little sunspot that needed removing. That's what my dermatologist told me. She'd been monitoring it for months, maybe years, and now a biopsy had confirmed her diagnosis and recommendation. It had to go. It was just minor, routine surgery, she assured me. Minor, routine surgery to her. And to the competent, expeditious surgeon she'd recommended. But it was my little sunspot, and my minor, routine surgery, which meant it wasn't little or minor or routine at all. No, I'm not a nervous patient. Not much.

  • Shut up, he explained

    September 30, 2013

    There was something familiar, eerily familiar, about the stories that a reporter named Robert Huber recounted in his piece for Philadelphia magazine called "Being White in Philly." They were largely stories from white folks who lived in or near largely black neighborhoods and didn't feel free to speak their minds lest their neighbors accuse them of being racist.

  • The nation's doctor

    September 30, 2013

    The surgeon general of the United States needn't be a surgeon. And he may be a general -- or admiral -- only in name. The rank is essentially a civil office -- despite the dress whites and gold braid. Indeed, it was largely an honorary title before Ronald Reagan chose a physician by the name of C. Everett Koop for the appointment.

  • Annals of illiteracy

    September 30, 2013

    The abuse of language is probably as old as language itself. They go together like matter and anti-matter. And thoughtful observers have pointed out the danger of corrupting the language at least since Milton.

  • Sic semper tyrannis

    September 30, 2013

    What? Do even Latin American caudillos die? Apparently, according to the latest and last medical bulletin on the health (or lack thereof) of Hugo Chavez, perpetually re-electable president of Venezuela.

  • And there arose a prophetess in the land...

    September 30, 2013

    . . .

  • The customary crisis

    September 30, 2013

    Here we go again. And again. And again. ... For in Washington, every day is Groundhog Day. And now, once again, the country is speeding toward the dreaded ... Fiscal Cliff! Not to mention Catastrophe, Chaos and Collapse. Or maybe Stalemate, Train Wreck, Dysfunction or whatever your favorite cliché may be. So quick, get the scare headlines back in type. The Great Tax vs. Spend Debate is on again, if it ever went away. With each side blaming the Coming and Constant Crisis on the other.

  • Ah, Russia!

    September 30, 2013

    The news out of Russia never seems to be new. The names change, not the essence. Nor does the reaction of Russia-watchers: a deep, hopeless, wordless sigh. As if to say: What's to be said? Ah, Russia!

  • Obama in Berlin

    September 30, 2013

    There are times when all a president of the United States must want to do is to get away from it all. Far away. An ocean away. Not just for a weekend at Camp David or a fundraiser in San Francisco. But off to some place where it really doesn't matter what he's talking about so long as it isn't anything relevant, at least not to his troubles or the country's. Yes, some place where people aren't concerned with American domestic politics and its presidential scandals. And if there isn't such a place any more in this internetted and globalized 24/7 blogosphere, it needs to be a place where POTUS can at least pretend nobody knows or cares about the trouble he's in at home.

  • Suicide of a newspaper

    September 30, 2013

    When a city, or a state, loses its daily newspaper, something of its soul is lost with it. It's as if ancient Athens had lost its agora, the forum at its center where scholars taught and great debates were held. Or if Jerusalem lost its Western Wall, its last standing connection with the ancient Temple where sacrifices were offered and prayers still fill the air.

  • Mencken and me

    September 30, 2013

    A friend and critic here in Little Rock -- well, definitely a critic and I hope he's still a friend -- submitted a guest column not long ago reciting my many sins. (Whose sins are few?) And we were happy to run it on the op-ed page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which we like to think of Arkansas' Newspaper. It says so right on the front page. To cap off his encyclopedic review of my faults as an editor, columnist, gadfly and sorry excuse for a human being in general, our guest writer ended his philippic by comparing me to . . . H. L Mencken.

  • When a coup isn't a coup

    September 30, 2013

    Riddle: When is a military coup not a military coup? Answer: When it suits this country's interests to call it something else.

  • The times we live in

    September 30, 2013

    The president of the United States, being a gentleman and a man, paid a compliment to California's attorney general -- Kamala Harris -- when both of them appeared at a Democratic fundraiser in that state. Indeed, he paid her several compliments when he addressed the crowd.

  • Edith Bunker, 90: Death of a fictional character

    September 30, 2013

    "She was a lovely woman." I can almost hear my big sister Lillian's distinctive voice summing up Edith Bunker, matron and linchpin of the Bunker household on the popular "All in the Family" television series back in the 1970s.

  • False identity

    September 30, 2013

    Talk about the ideal public servant, just glance at Richard Windsor's résumé at the Environmental Protection Agency. For three consecutive years, the EPA named him "scholar of ethical behavior," and he's got a diploma as scholasticus decentia to prove it.

  • The Boy Scouts and us: A guide to the perplexed

    September 30, 2013

    Arkansas has been ground zero for news about the Boy Scouts of late. But unlike most news about the Boy Scouts, this news hasn't been the good kind. Note how CNN covered the story about the Baptist church here in Arkansas that canceled its charter with the local Boy Scout troop. It seems the church disagreed with a decision by the national Boy Scouts of America to tolerate homosexual boys in its ranks. The church's leaders decided it would violate their principles to continue sponsoring the Scouts, so the boys were shown the church door.

  • The general and me/ Dept. of Rebuttals and Ruminations

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Critic,

  • A murk called law

    September 30, 2013

    One of the great justices of the U.S. Supreme Court -- yes, there was a time when the court had great justices -- once said of the court: "We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final." --Robert H. Jackson.

  • Roger Ebert at the movies

    September 30, 2013

    He was the fat one, Gene Siskel was the other one. That's how lots of us thought of them when they teamed up to review the movies and bicker with each other, though not necessarily in that order, back in the long ago ... when was it, the otherwise undistinguished Seventies?

  • The rise of the neo-Birchers

    September 30, 2013

    A cancer is eating away at a once Grand Old Party, and if the party doesn't wake up and take precautions, it may wind up only a shadow of its better self -- a hollowed-out refuge for haters and paranoids and the kind of ideological parasites that can reduce a major party to a minor one.

  • The state of the language

    September 30, 2013

    What ever happened to the once strong, vital, unique American language? It hasn't been seen in some time. Maybe because it's been completely covered by the thicket of "you knows" and "whatevers" and various other verbal tics that by now have overwhelmed the poor thing. The way kudzu, given sufficient time and neglect, will completely hide a great oak.

  • Murrey Marder, 93

    September 30, 2013

    His was once a familiar name to the kind of political junkies who followed every twist and turn of the sordid period of American history called McCarthyism -- a term of invective then and now. But to its namesake, the junior senator from Wisconsin at the time, McCarthyism was "the battle for America."

  • The loveliest game

    September 30, 2013

    It's an annual ritual yet always different. Like spring itself. Like the first taste of matzah at the Passover seder. It marks renewal. It brings past memories and future hope together in the pure, unblemished present. Like a blank page waiting to be imprinted.

  • Here comes the long stall

    September 30, 2013

    And so it begins. Call it The Long Stall -- and, no, that's not the name of a Raymond Chandler detective novel. It's the name of the oldest trick in any world-class aggressor's book. And its secret is simple: Keep promising the suckers peace and they'll follow you anywhere, even, soon enough, into a disastrous war.

  • The growing case for life

    September 30, 2013

    The jurisprudence of Her Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, may be only mediocre at best, but her candor deserves the highest praise. Every few years she'll pull back the judicial curtain and tell the rest of us what she thinks is really going on at the court. And shock anybody who can still be shocked at the court's motivations.

  • The more Egypt changes...

    September 30, 2013

    It's as though the local police department here in Little Rock -- and police departments all across the country -- had opened fire on those Occupy protesters in city after city. Remember the Occupy "movement"? It came and went so fast it's now just another blip in American memory. If it has still has any significance, it's only as an example of the tolerance with which a free and open society deals with youthful spirits and dissent in general. Nothing smothers it so effectively as patience, forbearance and respect for differing opinions.

  • Hope rises -- in Iran!

    September 30, 2013

    What's this -- different news, hopeful news, real news out of Teheran? A candidate described as a "moderate" has won a bare majority of the millions of votes cast in that country's presidential election over a splintered coalition of the usual reactionaries, fanatics and nutcases.

  • Deja vu all over again

    September 30, 2013

    "We're not going to have another Watergate in our lifetime. I'm sure."

  • Scandal watch

    September 30, 2013

    The apologists for this administration in the press corps responded predictably enough as one scandal after another was unfolding in Washington: They went after those who revealed the scandals, not those who perpetrated them.

  • The missing element: Constancy of purpose

    September 30, 2013

    There are times when this administration's foreign policy brings to mind the weather here in Arkansas: If you don't like it, wait a minute. It'll change. See the president's latest decision about how to deal with Russia -- or rather how not to deal with Russia -- because he's just canceled a summit with its president/tsar.

  • She was part of our lives

    September 30, 2013

    She was the girl who made a term like The Boys on the Bus obsolete for the flock of reporters condemned to trail a president or wanna-be president around like a posse on the hunt for the slightest slip.

  • The foreign policy that was

    September 30, 2013

    How sum up the shambles -- as far as the eye can see -- that remain of American foreign policy after the past few weeks of zigs and zags, of appeals to high principle followed abruptly, even in the same presidential speech, by a headlong abandonment of it?

  • Of Athens and Jerusalem

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Scholar,

  • The president forgets something

    September 30, 2013

    Our president just can't resist commenting on what all too many people seem unable to stop themselves from commenting on: the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial in Florida. You may have noticed the story in the news. The story in the news? There were so many of them -- an endless stream, a flood, nothing but. How could anyone have missed the deluge?

  • For the record, or: The art of airbrushing history

    September 30, 2013

    There he was again, making a cameo appearance at another historical commemoration, grabbing a sliver of the limelight before it moves on. He's become the man who's always in the background but so clearly, achingly would rather be in the forefront: The Hon. William J. Clinton, former president, former governor, former everything but straight-shooter.

  • The 1930s and us

    September 30, 2013

    "Thank you for writing; I learn most from my critics."

  • Scandal of the day

    September 30, 2013

    As it goes with these things, every day there is another drip. Which becomes a trickle, then a stream, and soon enough a flood. Maybe even a whole monsoon season. Scandals tend to multiply. It's not that some folks suddenly go bad, as an old boy once told me, it's that they're suddenly found out.

  • Their revolution and ours

    September 30, 2013

    It's happening again. The revolution that overthrew Egypt's long-time dictator is now being overthrown itself. One revolution leads to another, one dictatorship to another. The game never ends; the revolving door just keeps spinning.

  • 'We win, they lose'

    September 30, 2013

    Here we go again. The most impressive, or maybe just depressive, aspect of the current debate over what to do about Syria is the air of unreality about it. Words, words, words about Syria -- but only words, no action -- filled the daily news and diplomatic communiques out of this week's G8 Summit. The extensive coverage of the summit came with the usual pictures of World Leaders solemnly conferring. Not to mention the usual doses of sage commentary churned out by the usual foreign policy wonks.

  • Free Gen. Helms: The U.S. Senate takes a hostage

    September 30, 2013

    For every action in American politics, there is not just an opposite and equal reaction but an opposite and more than equal over-reaction.

  • 50 ways to beat the heat

    September 30, 2013

    It's definitely time, past time, to update this annual list of heat-beaters. Feel free to clip and save, mix and match, or add your own.

  • They're . . . BACK!

    September 30, 2013

    You knew this would happen. So did anybody else who's followed how this administration operates. Sure enough, those four State Department types singled out for their roles -- or lack thereof -- in protecting our diplomats at Benghazi are now back on the payroll. Not that they were ever off it. After a lick-and-a-promise self-investigation by State, they were formally suspended with pay, that is, given a paid vacation till the scandal blew over, and the American people could be expected to forget all about that late unpleasantness.

  • Lost places

    September 30, 2013

    My soul is in the streets

  • How to be an emir

    September 30, 2013

    The year was 1898. He was a 23-year-old subaltern fresh out of Sandhurst serving the British raj on the Northwest Frontier of the Indian subcontinent. Always restless and eager for action, and bored playing polo back at base, he volunteered with the cavalry when the Pashtun tribes grew restive near the Hindu Kush, long a pressure point in the Great Game that empires had been playing in that part of the world going back to the Mongols. And even Alexander. A deadly serious game that goes on to this day.

  • Tell it to the Marines

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Ex-Marine,

  • Today's dirty word: Coup

    September 30, 2013

    When is a coup not a coup? When it's "a complex and difficult issue." That was the unconvincing word from White House press secretary Jay Carney when he was asked about Egypt's latest coup. Poor Jay Carney. He may be the least credible White House press secretary since Ron Ziegler, who had the sticky job of defending the indefensible Richard Nixon as the truth closed in on his boss during the late unpleasantness known as Watergate.

  • Death of a young writer

    September 30, 2013

    The word came in an email even before another simmering hot August workday here in Arkansas had really begun. The message had been expected for some time, but that didn't make it any easier to take. Chris Battle had died. His long struggle with cancer was over, thank the Lord. But we didn't feel thankful. You never really do when the news first arrives. Maybe you know you should, but it's all abstract that first day, maybe that first year. Before the flood of healing memory has a chance to cover you, and wash away the immediate pain.

  • St. Patrick's Day at Riley's

    September 30, 2013

    With sincere apologies to, and selective quotations from, Finley Peter Dunne, creator of the immortal Mister Dooley, the Irish barkeep and political sage who first noted that politics ain't beanbag.

  • How to save Obamacare

    September 30, 2013

    "You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission."

  • Onward to ... drift! Or: On waging war by committee

    September 30, 2013

    The young bodies wrapped in white linen winding sheets. Dozens of them. No blood, no sweat, no tears. Not a mark on them. Completely unmarred, just as God made them. Still lifes. The expression on their young faces almost angelic. Not at all like the jumbled masses of naked victims piled high in the Nazi death camps, their expressions still those of (barely) recognizable human beings writhing in agony, still clinging to each other, the men, women and children. They were told they were being taken for showers. But not these latest victims of modern, oh-so-antiseptic science. These bodies have everything. Except life.

  • What a magazine should be

    September 30, 2013

    What a difference a publisher can make. Like the difference between a publication that's going down fast and one that's back on its feet and showing every sign of life. And maybe becoming not just a magazine but an institution, one that reflects the literary tradition -- as well as the music and art -- of a whole distinctive American region, like the South.

  • Ethics vs. professional ethics

    September 30, 2013

    Another one bites the dust

  • Familiar territory: Haven't we been here before?

    September 30, 2013

    For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

  • 40 Americans

    September 30, 2013

    It was one of those morning flights. Routine. The ETD went up on the computer screens along with all the others.

  • Memo to an applicant

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Job Applicant,

  • Hold the panic

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Excitable,

  • A president adrift

    September 30, 2013

    . . .

  • My Bill Mauldin story, or: A tale of two vets

    September 30, 2013

    Dear Vet,

  • Labor omnia vincit

    September 30, 2013

    The old man had long ago given up fixing shoes and tried other businesses, always at the same location, and usually with the same customers. But he never found any other work that gave him as much satisfaction as putting a couple of nice new leather soles on a pair of old uppers. Or putting a pair of Cat's Paw heels on shoes that still had a lot of wear left in 'em, as he would assure the customer. He did it neatly, surely, carefully -- to last. And he guaranteed his work. He knew lots of these folks in from the country on a Saturday to buy provisions didn't have money to spare, and he hated waste. The same went for those from the Bottoms, the black neighborhood not far away.

  • Shakespeare knew all about deniability

    September 30, 2013

    It's called deniability. By keeping a president out of the loop, his loyal aides can hope to insulate him against any accusation that he knew of the dirty tricks being played on his opponents. That doesn't make the tricks any cleaner, or that the chief executive is any less responsible for what is done by his administration. But by keeping him in the dark, his aides can claim he knew nothing of all the skullduggery practiced in his interest.



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