Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

The Pasty Little Putz, Friedman and Kristof

June 29, 2014

MoDo and Mr. Bruni are off today.  The Pasty Little Putz thinks he knows something about “Stopping Campus Rape.”  He tells us that there are changes colleges could make in campus life that would address the root causes of sexual assaults.  He’d love to regress to the 50s, when I guess he thinks rape never happened.  In “Arsonists and Firefighters” The Moustache of Wisdom says some argue that it is not inevitable that the Middle East erupt in sectarian conflagration.  In ” ‘Jane’ Didn’t Get the Help She Needed” Mr. Kristof says “Jane Doe” has a life story at the age of only 16 that is a good example of how the juvenile justice system is failing many of those most in need.  Here’s The Putz:

In the debate over sexual violence on college campuses, two things are reasonably clear. First, campus rape is a grave, persistent problem, shadowing rowdy state schools and cozy liberal-arts campuses alike.

Second, nobody — neither anti-rape activists, nor their critics, nor the administrators caught in between — seems to have a clear and compelling idea of what to do about it.

The immediate difficulty is that what many activists want from colleges — a disciplinary process that leads to many more expulsions for sexual assault — is something schools are ill equipped to offer. As Michelle Goldberg acknowledges in a judicious article for The Nation, dealing with serious crimes in a setting that normally handles minor infractions risks a worst-of-both-worlds scenario: a process whose lack of professionalism leaves victims more “devastated than vindicated,” even as its limited protections for the accused lead to endless lawsuits claiming kangaroo-court treatment.

The deeper problem, which applies for courts of law as well, is that even with a near-perfect justice system, sexual assault on campus often happens in a context that by its nature defies easy adjudication. Most campus assaults involve incapacitation, usually involving alcohol, rather than brute force; most involve friends and acquaintances and partners and exes; and most women assaulted while under the influence do not themselves use the word “rape” to describe what happened. As long as these patterns persist, it is difficult to see any disciplinary or legal change that would inspire substantially more formal accusations, let alone clear and airtight verdicts.

But this does not mean our society is helpless against sexual violence on campus. Rather, we’re searching ineffectively for better after-the-fact responses because we aren’t willing to deal with some of the root causes, or upset the underlying legal and cultural status quo.

As examples, here are three shifts I suspect would, in combination, do more to reduce the rate of sexual assault than any disciplinary change being contemplated. The first would require action by legislators; the other two, by administrators. Probably none of them will happen; all of them, in theory, could.

First, our lawmakers could reduce the legal drinking age to 18 from 21. The key problem in college sexual culture right now isn’t drinking per se; it’s blackout drinking, which follows from binge drinking, which is more likely to happen when a drinking culture is driven underground.

Undoing the federal government’s Reagan-era imposition of a higher drinking age is probably too counterintuitive for lawmakers to contemplate. And obviously it wouldn’t eliminate the lure of the keg stand or tame the recklessness of youth. But it would create an opportunity for a healthier approach to alcohol consumption — more social and relaxed, less frantic and performative — to take root in collegiate culture once again.

Second, college administrators could try to break their schools’ symbiotic relationship with the on-campus party scene. This is not an easy task, mostly for financial reasons: The promise of Blutarskian excess often attracts the kind of well-heeled kids whose parents pay full freight, and the “party pathway” through academe involves two intertwined phenomena — big-time sports and wild Greek life — that basically define college for many deep-pocketed alums.

But what Murray Sperber has dubbed the “beer and circus” atmosphere around college athletics, combined with what Caitlin Flanagan’s recent Atlantic article terms “the dark power” of (some) fraternities, are the deep forces shaping the vulnerable trajectory of many campus nights. Weaken those forces, rein in their often-misogynistic excesses, and what’s lost in alumni dollars would probably be gained in lower rates of sexual violence, and a safer campus over all.

Finally, colleges could embrace a more limited version of the old “parietal” system, in which they separated the sexes and supervised social life. This could involve, for instance, establishing more single-sex dorms and writing late-night rules that apply identically to men and women. Bringing a visitor to your room after 10 p.m. or midnight might require signing in with an adult adviser, who would have the right to intervene when inebriation seemed to call consent and safety into question.

This need not represent a return to any kind of chastity-based ethic. The point would be to create hurdles for predators, clearer decision points for both sexes and —  in the event that someone sneaked an intended partner in, and the encounter ended badly  —  a reason short of a rape conviction to discipline or expel.

Colleges have gestured in this direction with programs encouraging bystanders to step in if a pairing-off seems to be turning sour or violent. But taking on a formal, chaperone-like role themselves would cut against the ideological spirit of the modern university, and no doubt would be widely denounced as puritanical, heteronormative, reactionary.

Embracing such a role, though, would probably make the typical campus a place of greater safety than it is today.

So as this debate continues, it’s an alternative worth pondering. There are ways, apart from ineffective tribunals, to reduce sexual violence on campus. We just aren’t ready to embrace them.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

What’s the real fight in the Middle East today? Is it just sectarian (Sunnis versus Shiites) and national (Israelis versus Palestinians and Arabs versus Persians)? Or is it something deeper? I was discussing this core question with Nader Mousavizadeh, a former senior United Nations official and the co-founder of Macro Advisory Partners, a geopolitical advisory firm, and he offered another framework: “The real struggle in the region,” he said, “is between arsonists and firefighters.”

There is a lot of truth in that. The sectarian and nationalist fires you see burning around the Middle East are not as natural and inevitable as you may think.

“These are deliberate acts of arson,” argues Mousavizadeh, “set by different leaders to advance their narrow and shortsighted political, economic and security objectives.” In the West, he warns, “a mix of fatigue and fatalism is in danger of creating a narrative of irreversible Sunni-Shia conflict. This is historically false and releases the region’s leaders from their responsibility to wield power in a legitimate and accountable way.”

To be sure, he added, the sectarian divides are real, but it is “not inevitable” that the region erupt in sectarian conflagration. It takes arsonists to really get these sectarian fires blazing, and, “unless they set them and fan them and give them fuel,” they will more often than not die out.

How so? Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, is an arsonist. When confronted with a nonviolent, grass-roots protest against his tyrannical rule, he opened fire on the demonstrators, hoping that would provoke Syria’s Sunni majority to respond with violence against his Alawite/Shiite minority regime. It worked, and now Assad presents himself as the defender of a secular Syria against Sunni fanatics.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is an arsonist. The minute America left Iraq, he deliberately arrested Sunni leaders, deprived them of budgets and stopped paying the Sunni tribesmen who rose up against Al Qaeda. When this eventually triggered a Sunni response, Maliki ran in the last election as the defender of the Shiite majority against Sunni “terrorists.” It worked.

Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt launched a violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, killing, wounding and arresting many hundreds, and then he ran for president as the defender of Egypt against Muslim Brotherhood “terrorists.”

The Palestinian extremists who recently kidnapped three Israeli youths were arsonists, aiming to blow up any hope of restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to embarrass Palestinian moderates. But they had help. Radical Jewish settler supporters in the Israeli cabinet, like Naftali Bennett and housing minister Uri Ariel, are arsonists. Ariel deliberately announced plans to build 700 new housing units for Jews in Arab East Jerusalem — timed to torpedo Secretary of State John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy. And they did.

There are firefighters in all these places — people like Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres in Israel, former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Mohammad Javad Zarif in Iran and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq — but they are now overwhelmed by the passions set loose by the arsonists.

It is hard for people who have not lived in the Arab world to appreciate that Shiites and Sunnis in places like Iraq, Lebanon or Bahrain often intermarry. Those that do are jokingly called “Sushi.” Sectarian massacres are not the norm. A poll just released by Zogby Research Services, conducted in seven Arab countries, found that “strong majorities in every country favor U.S. policies that support a negotiated solution to the conflict [in Syria], coupled with more support for Syrian refugees. Majorities in all countries oppose any form of U.S. military engagement” or arming of opposition groups.

I recently gave the commencement address at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, in Kurdistan. Its student body is 70 percent Kurdish, and the rest are mostly Shiites and Sunnis from across Iraq. With the right leadership, people in the region can and do get along. It is why for all the talk of breaking Iraq into three parts, it is has never been the preferred choice of most Iraqis.

As one of my Kurdish hosts remarked to me, “The Shiites of Basra still long for the famous yoghurt of Erbil,” Kurdistan’s largest city. “When Ramadan comes, the Kurds will feel deprived if they cannot break the daily fast with the famous dates of Basra.” And Kurds have come to enjoy “shisha,” smoking water pipes, which are a tradition they got from the Arabs. There are more ties that bind than don’t. You actually have to work at burning them up.

To be sure, harmony between different sects requires order, but it does not have to be iron-fisted. Iraqis just last April held fair elections on their own. They can do it. These societies need to go from being governed by iron fists “to iron institutions that are legitimate, inclusive and accountable, and strong enough to hold the frame of society together,” argued Mousavizadeh.

That requires the right leadership. “So when the region’s leaders come to Washington to plead for engagement and intervention, ask for money or ask for arms,” he added, “Let them first answer the question: Are you an arsonist or are you a firefighter?”

And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

If you want to understand just how miserable a childhood can be, 16-year-old “Jane Doe” is a good place to start.

That’s what the authorities in Connecticut call her to protect her identity. She was removed a few days ago from an adult prison where she had been confined by herself for two months — not as punishment but because the state said it had nowhere else to put her that would be safe.

Now Jane is in a girls’ detention center in Middletown, Conn. She’s one of almost 70,000 American youths incarcerated on any given day — and a reminder of how ineffective our programs for troubled children are.

Like many detained kids, Jane has been through hell. Because her father was in prison and her mother was a drug abuser, she was raised by relatives. At age 8, she says in an affidavit provided to the courts, her cousin began to rape her anally, causing her to lose control of her bowels.

“My grandfather made me sleep outside on the porch for two days because I couldn’t hold my stool and had an accident,” she recounts. “He told me, ‘only animals do that,’ and if I didn’t stop he would treat me like one.”

A history of abuse is common for troubled kids. One study of 2,500 people sentenced to life imprisonment while juveniles found that almost half had been physically abused. Among girls, 77 percent reported sexual abuse.

More than 60 percent of incarcerated youths in America are confined for nonviolent offenses. Two-thirds are children of color.

Jane, who is Hispanic, seems to have had little help as a young child, when social services are most effective. But at 12, she says in the affidavit, she was placed by state authorities in a school for troubled youths. Even after coming under state supervision, she recounts repeated sexual abuse by staff, relatives and other youths.

Jane was particularly vulnerable because she is transgender. She was born male but identifies as female.

At 15, Jane was living on the streets. A pimp sold her for sex, she says; she eventually escaped but continued to sell sex herself.

“All I wanted was someone to tell me they loved me, that everything would be all right,” she says in the affidavit. “But that never happened.”

She was periodically violent to staff and girls in the youth centers she was sent to, court documents show. Connecticut cited that history of violence, and a need to protect others, in isolating Jane in an adult prison beginning in April. “It was devastating for her,” says her lawyer, Aaron J. Romano. (Connecticut officials deny that it was so grim and say that she had educational opportunities.)

Now that Jane is out of prison and in youth detention, the aim is to provide her care that, both her advocates and the state say, would ideally lead to placement in a loving foster-care family, with outside support to help the transition.

“We’re already looking for an appropriate foster family,” Joette Katz, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, told me.

Through her lawyer, Jane answered questions I sent to her. She was scornful of the juvenile justice system: “It doesn’t work,” she said flatly. But she spoke poignantly of her desire to become a nurse and a mentor for other transgender children. “I would love to be a role model for young trans kids,” she said.

The larger lesson is the way we systematically over-rely on the criminal justice toolbox to deal with youths, rather than on social services or education. The United States incarcerates children at a rate that is 10 or 20 times higher than in some other industrial countries.

A generation ago, perhaps it was plausible that the shock of juvenile detention would scare a kid back to the straight-and-narrow path. Now that’s not tenable. Robust research shows that incarcerating kids often just turns them into career criminals.

The cost of detaining a youth is about $100,000 a year. And one study found that the cost to society of a high-risk 14-year-old who doesn’t straighten out is at least $3.2 million over his lifetime.

Thus it would be economically efficient, as well as humane, to invest in interventions from the beginning of life that reduce delinquency. That means home visitation to at-risk families, lead abatement, early education, and schools for low-income children that are as good as those for the middle class.

As a result partly of costs, youth detention rates are dropping since peaking in about 1995. But we still fail systematically to invest adequately in children like Jane, who is a reminder that it’s much easier to help a child at 6 than at 16.

“Everyone thinks I am some kind of wild animal,” she wrote despairingly from prison last month. “If this is helping me, then I’m all set with being helped.”

Friedman, solo

June 25, 2014

The good news is that MoDo is off.  The bad news is that The Moustache of Wisdom isn’t.  In “ISIS and SISI” he’s decided to tell us why two Arab governing models are doomed.  “Robert Eller” had this to say in the comments:  “How ironic that Thom Friedman, an American, and Orit Perlov, an Israeli, are pointing fingers at hyper-religious and hyper-militaristic states like Iraq and Egypt, and predicting their doom.”  Here’s TMOW:

The past month has presented the world with what the Israeli analyst Orit Perlov describes as the two dominant Arab governing models: ISIS and SISI.

ISIS, of course, is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the bloodthirsty Sunni militia that has gouged out a new state from Sunni areas in Syria and Iraq. SISI, of course, is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the new strongman/president of Egypt, whose regime debuted this week by shamefully sentencing three Al Jazeera journalists to prison terms on patently trumped-up charges — a great nation acting so small.

ISIS and Sisi, argues Perlov, a researcher on Middle East social networks at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, are just flip sides of the same coin: one elevates “god” as the arbiter of all political life and the other “the national state.”

Both have failed and will continue to fail — and require coercion to stay in power — because they cannot deliver for young Arabs and Muslims what they need most: the education, freedom and jobs to realize their full potential and the ability to participate as equal citizens in their political life.

We are going to have to wait for a new generation that “puts society in the center,” argues Perlov, a new Arab/Muslim generation that asks not “how can we serve god or how can we serve the state but how can they serve us.”

Perlov argues that these governing models — hyper-Islamism (ISIS) driven by a war against “takfiris,” or apostates, which is how Sunni Muslim extremists refer to Shiite Muslims; and hyper-nationalism (SISI) driven by a war against Islamist “terrorists,” which is what the Egyptian state calls the Muslim Brotherhood — need to be exhausted to make room for a third option built on pluralism in society, religion and thought.

The Arab world needs to finally puncture the twin myths of the military state (SISI) or the Islamic state (ISIS) that will bring prosperity, stability and dignity. Only when the general populations “finally admit that they are both failed and unworkable models,” argues Perlov, might there be “a chance to see this region move to the 21st century.”

The situation is not totally bleak. You have two emergent models, both frail and neither perfect, where Muslim Middle East nations have built decent, democratizing governance, based on society and with some political, cultural and religious pluralism: Tunisia and Kurdistan. Again both are works in progress, but what is important is that they did emerge from the societies themselves. You also have the relatively soft monarchies — like Jordan and Morocco — that are at least experimenting at the margins with more participatory governance, allow for some opposition and do not rule with the brutality of the secular autocrats.

“Both the secular authoritarian model — most recently represented by Sisi — and the radical religious model — represented now by ISIS — have failed,” adds Marwan Muasher, the former foreign minister of Jordan and author of “The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism.” “They did because they have not addressed peoples’ real needs: improving the quality of their life, both in economic and development terms, and also in feeling they are part of the decision-making process.  Both models have been exclusionist, presenting themselves as the holders of absolute truth and of the solution to all society’s problems.”

But the Arab public “is not stupid,” Muasher added. “While we will continue to see exclusionist discourses in much of the Arab world for the foreseeable future, results will end up trumping ideology. And results can only come from policies of inclusion, that would give all forces a stake in the system, thereby producing stability, checks and balances, and ultimately prosperity. ISIS and Sisi cannot win. Unfortunately, it might take exhausting all other options before a critical mass is developed that internalizes this basic fact. That is the challenge of the new generation in the Arab world, where 70 percent of the population is under 30 years of age. The old generation, secular or religious, seems to have learned nothing from the failure of the postindependence era to achieve sustainable development, and the danger of exclusionist policies.”

Indeed, the Iraq founded in 1921 is gone with the wind. The new Egypt imagined in Tahrir Square is stillborn. Too many leaders and followers in both societies seem intent on giving their failed ideas of the past another spin around the block before, hopefully, they opt for the only idea that works: pluralism in politics, education and religion. This could take a while, or not. I don’t know.

We tend to make every story about us. But this is not all about us. To be sure, we’ve done plenty of ignorant things in Iraq and Egypt. But we also helped open their doors to a different future, which their leaders have slammed shut for now. Going forward, where we see people truly committed to pluralism, we should help support them. And where we see islands of decency threatened, we should help protect them. But this is primarily about them, about their need to learn to live together without an iron fist from the top, and it will happen only when and if they want it to happen.

Friedman, solo

June 18, 2014

The good news is that MoDo is off today.  The bad news is that The Moustache of Wisdom has more “ideas.”  In “What To Do With the Twins?” he’s weighing all the options and the complicated dynamics at play in Iraq and Syria.

There is much talk right now about America teaming up with Iran to push back the coalition of Sunni militias that has taken over Mosul and other Sunni towns in western Iraq and Syria. For now, I’d say stay out of this fight — not because it’s the best option, but because it’s the least bad.

After all, what is the context in which we’d be intervening? Iraq and Syria are twins: multiethnic and multisectarian societies that have been governed, like other Arab states, from the top-down. First, it was by soft-fisted Ottomans who ruled through local notables in a decentralized fashion, then by iron-fisted British and French colonial powers and later by iron-fisted nationalist kings and dictators.

Today, the Ottomans are gone, the British and French are gone and now many of the kings and dictators are gone. We removed Iraq’s dictator; NATO and tribal rebels removed Libya’s; the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen got rid of theirs; and some people in Syria have tried to topple theirs. Each country is now faced with the challenge of trying to govern itself horizontally by having the different sects, parties and tribes agree on social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens who rotate power.

Tunisia and Kurdistan have done the best at this transition. Egyptians tried and found the insecurity so unbearable that they brought back the army’s iron fist. Libya has collapsed into intertribal conflict. Yemen struggles with a wobbly tribal balance. In Syria, the Shiite/Alawite minority, plus the Christians and some Sunnis, seem to prefer the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad to the anarchy of the Islamist-dominated rebels; the Syrian Kurds have carved out their own enclave, so the country is now a checkerboard.

In Iraq, the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — who had the best chance, the most oil money and the most help from the U.S. in writing a social contract for how to govern Iraq horizontally — chose instead, from the moment the Americans left, to empower Iraqi Shiites and disempower Iraqi Sunnis. It’s no surprise that Iraqi Sunnis decided to grab their own sectarian chunk of the country.

So today, it seems, a unified Iraq and a unified Syria can no longer be governed vertically or horizontally. The leaders no longer have the power to extend their iron fists to every border, and the people no longer have the trust to extend their hands to one another. It would appear that the only way they can remain united is if an international force comes in, evicts the dictators, uproots the extremists and builds consensual politics from the ground up — a generational project for which there are no volunteers.

What to do? It was not wrong to believe post-9/11 that unless this region produced decent self-government it would continue to fail its own people and deny them the ability to realize their full potential, which is why the Arab Spring happened, and that its pathologies would also continue to spew out the occasional maniac, like Osama bin Laden, who could threaten us.

But the necessary turned out to be impossible: We didn’t know what we were doing. The post-Saddam generation of Iraqi leaders turned out to be like abused children who went on to be abusive parents. The Iranians constantly encouraged Shiite supremacy and frustrated our efforts to build pluralism. Mosques and charities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar continued to fund preachers and fighters who promoted the worst Sunni extremism. And thousands of Muslim men marched to Syria and Iraq to fight for jihadism, but none marched there to fight for pluralism.

I could say that before President Obama drops even an empty Coke can from a U.S. fighter jet on the Sunni militias in Iraq we need to insist that Maliki resign and a national unity cabinet be created that is made up of inclusive Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders. I could say that that is the necessary condition for reunification of Iraq. And I could say that it is absolutely not in our interest or the world’s to see Iraq break apart and one segment be ruled by murderous Sunni militias.

But I have to say this: It feels both too late and too early to stop the disintegration — too late because whatever trust there was between communities is gone, and Maliki is not trying to rebuild it, and too early because it looks as if Iraqis are going to have to live apart, and see how crazy and impoverishing that is, before the different sects can coexist peacefully.

In the meantime, there is no denying that terrorism could be exported our way from Iraq’s new, radicalized “Sunnistan.” But we have a National Security Agency, C.I.A. and drones to deal with that now ever-present threat.

Pluralism came to Europe only after many centuries of one side or another in religious wars thinking it could have it all, and after much ethnic cleansing created more homogeneous nations. Europe also went through the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Arab Muslims need to go on the same journey. It will happen when they want to or when they have exhausted all other options. Meanwhile, let’s strengthen the islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kurdistan — and strengthen our own democracy to insulate ourselves as best we can.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Bruni

June 15, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz, in “The End of Iraq,” babbles that the facts on the ground are shredding the official maps of Iraq and the region.  In the comments “mancuroc” from Rochester, NY had this to say:  “That’s a mighty strange timeline from Douthat.  Sykes-Picot, 9/11, and a succession of maps, 2006-2013. Wasn’t there an invasion in 2003? Oh, wait, there was that oblique reference to “recklessness”, as if it were the moral equivalent of “neglect” by the current administration.  The proper lesson to be learned is that more neglect and less intervention and recklessness in the middle east on the part of the west would have been to the mutual benefit of both.  The “stability” train left the station the minute shock-and-awe was launched in Baghdad, and it’s no use pretending otherwise.”  MoDo is riding one of her favorite hobby horses.  In “When Will Hillary Let It Go?” she snarls that America is entranced with the frozen kingdoms of two polarizing queens.  The Moustache of Wisdom has seen fit to present “5 Principles for Iraq” in which he tells us there are many questions that need answering before the U.S. considers intervening.  Lest we forget exactly who and what Friedman really is, here’s a reminder.  Mr. Bruni, in “Naked Confessions of the College-Bound,” says the raw and relevatory admissions essay reflects the blinding competition to get into elite schools.  Here’s The Putz:

Every so often, in the post-9/11 era, an enterprising observer circulates a map of what the Middle East might look like, well, after: after America’s wars in the region, after the various revolutions and counterrevolutions, after the Arab Spring and the subsequent springtime for jihadists, after the Sunni-Shiite struggle for mastery. At some point, these cartographers suggest, the wave of post-9/11 conflict will necessarily redraw borders, reshape nation-states, and rub out some of the lines drawn by Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot in a secret Anglo-French treaty almost 100 years ago.

In 2006, it was Ralph Peters, the retired lieutenant colonel turned columnist, who sketched a map that subdivided Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and envisioned Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite republics emerging from a no-longer-united Iraq. Two years later, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg imagined similar partings-of-the-ways, with new microstates — an Alawite Republic, an Islamic Emirate of Gaza — taking shape and Afghanistan splitting up as well. Last year, it was Robin Wright’s turn in this newspaper, in a map that (keeping up with events) subdivided Libya as well.

Peters’s map, which ran in Armed Forces Journal, inspired conspiracy theories about how this was America’s real plan for remaking the Middle East. But the reality is entirely different: One reason these maps have remained strictly hypothetical, even amid regional turmoil, is that the United States has a powerful interest in preserving the Sykes-Picot status quo.

This is not because the existing borders are in any way ideal. Indeed, there’s a very good chance that a Middle East that was more politically segregated by ethnicity and faith might become a more stable and harmonious region in the long run.

Such segregation is an underappreciated part of Europe’s 20th-century transformation into a continent at peace. As Jerry Muller argued in Foreign Affairs in 2008, the brutal ethnic cleansing and forced migrations that accompanied and followed the two world wars ensured that “for the most part, each nation in Europe had its own state, and each state was made up almost exclusively of a single ethnic nationality,” which in turn sapped away some of the “ethnonational aspirations and aggression” that had contributed to imperialism, fascism and Hitler’s rise.

But this happened after the brutal ethnic cleansing that accompanied and followed two world wars. There’s no good reason to imagine that a redrawing of Middle Eastern borders could happen much more peacefully. Which is why American policy makers, quite sensibly, have preferred the problematic stability of current arrangements to the long-term promise of a Free Kurdistan or Baluchistan, a Greater Syria or Jordan, a Wahhabistan or Tripolitania.

This was true even of the most ambitious (and foolhardy) architects of the Iraq invasion, who intended to upset a dictator-dominated status quo … but not, they mostly thought, in a way that would redraw national boundaries. Instead, the emphasis was on Iraq’s potential for post-Saddam cohesion, its prospects as a multiethnic model for democratization and development. That emphasis endured through the darkest days of our occupation, when the voices calling for partition — including the current vice president, Joe Biden — were passed over and unity remained America’s strategic goal.

But now that strategy has almost failed. De facto, with the shocking advance of militants toward Baghdad, there are now three states in what we call Iraq: one Kurdish, one Shiite and one Sunni — with the last straddling the Iraq-Syria border and “governed” by jihadists.

This means that Iraq is now part of an arc, extending from Hezbollah’s fiefdom in Lebanon through war-torn Syria, in which official national borders are notional at best. And while full dissolution is not yet upon us, the facts on the ground in Iraq look more and more like Peters’s map than the country that so many Americans died to stabilize and secure.

What’s more, we pretty clearly lack both the will and the capacity to change them. It is possible, as The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins has argued, that a clearer Obama administration focus on Iraq, and a more effective attempt to negotiate a continued American presence three years ago, could have prevented this unraveling. (Little about this White House’s recent foreign policy record inspires much confidence in its efforts in Iraq.)

But now? Now our leverage relative to the more immediate players is at a modern low point, and the progress of regional war has a momentum that U.S. airstrikes are unlikely to arrest.

Our basic interests have not altered: better stability now, better the Sykes-Picot borders with all their flaws, than the very distant promise of a postconflict Middle Eastern map.

But two successive administrations have compromised those interests: one through recklessness, the other through neglect. Now the map is changing; now, as in early-20th-century Europe, the price of transformation is being paid in blood.

It’s like he’s studying to be Bloody Billy Kristol, whose chair he took over at the Times…  Here’s tiresome old MoDo:

No one wrote about blondes like Raymond Chandler.

“There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare,” he wrote in “The Long Goodbye.” “There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.”

There’s the pale, anemic, languid blonde with the soft voice. “You can’t lay a finger on her,” Chandler notes, “because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading ‘The Waste Land’ or Dante in the original.” And when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith, he writes dryly, “she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.”

None of his descriptions, however, conjures the two regal blondes transfixing America at the moment: Hillary and Elsa.

Those close to them think that the queen of Hillaryland and the Snow Queen from Disney’s “Frozen” have special magical powers, but worry about whether they can control those powers, show their humanity and stir real warmth in the public heart.

Just as Elsa’s coronation suddenly became fraught, so has Hillary’s. Like Arendelle, America is frozen: The war still rages in Iraq, the Clintons still dominate the political scene and Hillary still obsesses about money, a narrative thread that has existed since she was thwarted in her desire to build a pool at the governor’s mansion in poor Arkansas and left the White House with a doggie bag full of sofas, rugs, lamps, TVs and china, some of which the Clintons later had to pay for or return. Even Chelsea was cashing in, getting a ridiculous, $600,000-a-year scion salary from NBC, far greater than that of many of the network’s correspondents.

As a Clinton White House aide once explained to me, “Hillary, though a Methodist, thinks of herself like an Episcopal bishop who deserves to live at the level of her wealthy parishioners, in return for devoting her life to God and good works.”

After feeling stifled at times and misunderstood, after suffering painful setbacks, the powerful and polarizing Elsa and Hillary proclaim from their lofty height that they’re going to “let it go” and go for it. (Although Elsa’s wolves are not as fierce as the Fox predators after Hillary.)

“I don’t care what they’re going to say,” Elsa sings at the climactic moment when she decides to let down her hair, ratchet up her star power and create her glittering ice palace. “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway!”

Hillary had a similar cri de coeur in her interview with Diane Sawyer. When Sawyer asked her about the focus on her appearance that once kept her so “scripted, cautious, safe,” Hillary replied: “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly. I mean, it is just never-ending. And you get a little worried about, O.K., you know, people over on this side are loving what I am wearing, looking like, saying. People over on this side aren’t.

“You know, your natural tendency is how do you bring people together so that you can better communicate? I’m done with that. I mean, I’m just done.” She continued: “I am over it, over it. I think I have changed; not worried so much about what other people are thinking.” She vowed to now “say what I know, what I believe, and let the chips fall.”

It would make a great Idina Menzel anthem, but it’s not believable that Hillary Rodham Clinton will suddenly throw caution and calculation to the wind. Having market-tested the gender-neutral model in 2008, this time Hillary is presenting herself as a woman who has suffered the slings and arrows of sexism.

Her apology for being “wrong” about voting to authorize W. to invade Iraq took 11 years to spit out, and she told the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday that she “could not have predicted” the success of Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents in seizing control of Iraqi cities. If some bold voices had fought going into a patently unnecessary war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 — a war, waged ignorantly for silly, macho reasons, that was never properly debated or planned in the White House — America would not be in a global crouch now, and Iraq would not be a killing field.

Hillary’s new memoir, like her last one, is a testament to caution and calculation. It doesn’t feel written so much as assembled by a “Hillary for President” algorithm. All this excitement is being ginned up, but nothing exciting is happening. There isn’t one surprising or scintillating or provocative word in the whole book. “Hard Choices” is inert, a big yawn.

In her “If they’d listened to me” mode, she is distancing herself from the president on Syria, Russia and the Bergdahl trade because she does not, as Republican strategist Matthew Dowd puts it, want to be defeated by Obama twice.

The opening of her book tour/presidential campaign has featured some stumbles, causing some commentators to wonder if she has grown rusty and tone-deaf, isolated in the ice palace she erected to keep out the loathed press.

No one doubts that Hillary is tough and knowledgeable. But the question of how scarred and defensive she is, given all the fights and rough times she has gone through, and how that affects her judgment now, is a legitimate one.

Has she given up the my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness that doomed her health care efforts? Has she toned down the defensiveness that exacerbated the Whitewater affair? Has she modified the ends-justify-the-means mind-set that allowed her to participate in the vivisection of young women she knew Bill had been involved with? Has she tempered the focus on political viability that led her to vote to allow W. to scamper into a vanity war? Has she learned not to surround herself with high-priced mercenaries like Mark Penn and Dick Morris?

In the last few days, two women interrogators have rattled Hillary’s ice palace gates with questions that were obvious and reasonable.

With Sawyer, Clinton said she hadn’t known enough to know the Benghazi outpost was unprotected, despite what Ambassador Chris Stevens had called “never-ending security threats.”

On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Clinton grew testy when Terry Gross pressed her on whether the decision to finally publicly embrace gay marriage was a personal evolution or a political “calculus” — now that it’s not as much of a political liability and now that the court has dismantled the dreadful Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband cravenly signed into law in 1996. Clinton said she couldn’t do it as secretary of state. But the vice president was not constrained from saying what was in his heart and pushing the president in the right direction.

What Elsa discovers at the end of “Frozen” is that her powers can actually be used for good, once her heart is filled with love. She escapes from her prison, leaves behind the negative things that held her back, and leads her kingdom to a happy and prosperous future.

Can Hillary?

In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “If it’s a choice between any Republican and Hillary, well, there’s really no choice. It won’t matter if Hillary is flawed, manufactured, calculating, tainted by big money and a reformed Bush enabler. But it’s a sad commentary on the Democratic party that the bench is so shallow that Hillary is the only option. There isn’t a passionate, untainted voice out there, with the possible exception of Elizabeth Warren. At least she seems to stand up for her beliefs, and for the middle class, without equivocating, or finessing the message.”  Amen.  Now we get to The Moustache of Wisdom, eponymous creator of the Friedman Unit:”

The disintegration of Iraq and Syria is upending an order that has defined the Middle East for a century. It is a huge event, and we as a country need to think very carefully about how to respond. Having just returned from Iraq two weeks ago, my own thinking is guided by five principles, and the first is that, in Iraq today, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy. Other than the Kurds, we have no friends in this fight. Neither Sunni nor Shiite leaders spearheading the war in Iraq today share our values.

The Sunni jihadists, Baathists and tribal militiamen who have led the takeover of Mosul from the Iraqi government are not supporters of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, the only Iraq we have any interest in abetting. And Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has proved himself not to be a friend of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq either. From Day 1, he has used his office to install Shiites in key security posts, drive out Sunni politicians and generals and direct money to Shiite communities. In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk. Besides being prime minister, he made himself acting minister of defense, minister of the interior and national security adviser, and his cronies also control the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry.

Maliki had a choice — to rule in a sectarian way or in an inclusive way — and he chose sectarianism. We owe him nothing.

The second principle for me derives from the most important question we need to answer from the Arab Spring. Why is it that the two states doing the best are those that America has had the least to do with: Tunisia and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq?

Answer: Believe it or not, it’s not all about what we do and the choices we make. Arabs and Kurds have agency, too. And the reason that both Tunisia and Kurdistan have built islands of decency, still frail to be sure, is because the major contending political forces in each place eventually opted for the principle of “no victor, no vanquished.”

The two major rival parties in Kurdistan not only buried the hatchet between them but paved the way for democratic elections that recently brought a fast-rising opposition party, that ran on an anti-corruption platform, into government for the first time. And Tunisia, after much internal struggle and bloodshed, found a way to balance the aspirations of secularists and Islamists and agree on the most progressive Constitution in the history of the Arab world.

Hence my rule: The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them — when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm. Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth. It is the early 21st century, and too many of them are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century. It has to stop — for them, and for their kids, to have any future.

Principle No. 3: Maybe Iran, and its wily Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, aren’t so smart after all. It was Iran that armed its Iraqi Shiite allies with the specially shaped bombs that killed and wounded many American soldiers. Iran wanted us out. It was Iran that pressured Maliki into not signing an agreement with the U.S. to give our troops legal cover to stay in Iraq. Iran wanted to be the regional hegemon. Well, Suleimani: “This Bud’s for you.” Now your forces are overextended in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and ours are back home. Have a nice day.

We still want to forge a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from developing a bomb, so we have to be careful about how much we aid Iran’s Sunni foes. But with Iran still under sanctions and its forces and Hezbollah’s now fighting in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, well, let’s just say: advantage America.

Fourth: Leadership matters. While in Iraq, I visited Kirkuk, a city that has long been hotly contested between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. When I was there five years ago, it was a hellish war zone. This time I found new paved roads, parks and a flourishing economy and a Kurdish governor, Najimaldin Omar Karim, who was just re-elected in April in a fair election and won more seats thanks to votes from the minority Arabs and Turkmen.

“We focused on [improving] roads, terrible traffic, hospitals, dirty schools,” and increasing electricity from four hours a day to nearly 24 hours, said Dr. Karim, a neurosurgeon who had worked in America for 33 years before returning to Iraq in 2009. “People were tired of politics and maximalism. We [earned] the confidence and good feelings of Arabs and Turkmen toward a Kurdish governor. They feel like we don’t discriminate. This election was the first time Turkmen and Arabs voted for a Kurd.”

In the recent chaos, the Kurds have now taken full military control of Kirkuk, but I can tell you this: Had Maliki governed Iraq like Karim governed Kirkuk, we would not have this mess today. With the right leadership, people there can live together.

Finally, while none of the main actors in Iraq, other than Kurds, are fighting for our values, is anyone there even fighting for our interests: a minimally stable Iraq that doesn’t threaten us? And whom we can realistically help? The answers still aren’t clear to me, and, until they are, I’d be very wary about intervening.

“ScottW” from Chapel Hill, NC has a question for Tommy in the comments:  “Any thoughts of ever admitting you were wrong in cheerleading the U.S. to invade and destroy Iraq back in 2003?”  [crickets]  And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

The Yale applicant had terrific test scores. She had fantastic grades. As one of Yale’s admissions officers, Michael Motto, leafed through her application, he found himself more and more impressed.

Then he got to her essay. As he remembers it, she mentioned a French teacher she greatly admired. She described their one-on-one conversation at the end of a school day. And then, this detail: During their talk, when an urge to go to the bathroom could no longer be denied, she decided not to interrupt the teacher or exit the room. She simply urinated on herself.

“Her point was that she was not going to pull herself away from an intellectually stimulating conversation just to meet a physical need,” said Motto, who later left Yale and founded Apply High, a firm that guides students through the admissions process.

And his point in bringing her story up during a recent interview? The same as mine in passing it along:

When it comes to college admissions, our society has tumbled way, way too far down the rabbit hole, as I’ve observed before. And in the warped wonderland where we’ve landed, too many kids attach such a crazy degree of importance to getting into the most selective schools that they do stagy, desperate, disturbing things to stand out. The essay portion of their applications can be an especially jolting illustration of that.

It’s an illustration of something else, too: a tendency toward runaway candor and uncensored revelation, especially about tribulations endured and hardships overcome, among kids who’ve grown up in the era of the overshare. The essay is where our admissions frenzy and our gratuitously confessional ethos meet, producing autobiographical sketches like another that Motto remembers reading at Yale, this one from a male student.

“He wrote about his genitalia, and how he was under-endowed,” Motto told me. “He was going for something about masculinity and manhood, and how he had to get over certain things.”

Motto, who was an assistant director of admissions at Yale from 2001 to 2003 and evaluated applications part time from 2007 to 2008, said that essays as shocking as those two were a small minority. Other people who have screened college applications or coached applicants through the admissions process echoed that assessment.

But they also noted, as he did, an impulse in many essay writers to tug readers into the most intimate corners of their lives and to use unfiltered frankness as a way to grab attention. In some of the essays that students begin to draft and some of the essays that they actually wind up submitting, there are accounts of eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction. Sally Rubenstone, one of the authors of the “Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions,” has called this “the Jerry Springer-ization of the college admissions essay,” referring to the host of one of the TV talk shows best known for putting private melodrama on a public stage.

Stephen Friedfeld, one of the founders of AcceptU, an admissions consulting firm, told me that in the essay of a student he and his colleagues worked with this year, he encountered a disorder he’d never heard of before: cyclic vomiting syndrome. And Friedfeld and his colleagues huddled over the wisdom of the student’s account of his struggle with it. Would it seem too gross? Too woe-is-me?

Their solution was to encourage the student to emphasize the medical education that he’d undertaken in trying to understand his ailment. They also recommended that he inch up to the topic and inject some disarming humor. Friedfeld said that the final essay began something like this: “In my Mom’s car? Yep, I’ve done it there. As I’m waiting in line to eat my lunch in school? Yep, I’ve done it there.” The “it” was left vague for a few sentences.

Right now, during the summer months between the junior and senior years of high school, many kids who’ll be putting together their college applications in the fall start to sweat the sorts of essays they’ll write. And as they contemplate potential topics, some of them go to highly emotional places.

“Being a little vulnerable can give great insight into your character,” said Joie Jager-Hyman, a former admissions officer at Dartmouth College and the president of College Prep 360, which helps students assemble their applications. “I’ve had successful essays on topics like ‘my father’s alcoholism’ or ‘my parents got divorced because my dad is gay.’ ”

She’ll shepherd students through four or more drafts. Michele Hernandez, another prominent admissions counselor, runs one or more sessions of an Application Boot Camp every summer in which roughly 25 to 30 kids will be tucked away for four days in a hotel to work with a team of about eight editors on what she told me were as many as 10 drafts of each of three to five different essays. The camp costs $14,000 per student. That doesn’t include travel to it, the hotel bill, breakfast or dinners, but it does include lunch and a range of guidance, both before and during the four days, on how students should fill out college applications and best showcase themselves.

Hernandez, Jager-Hyman and others in the booming admissions-counseling business try to steer students away from excessively and awkwardly naked testimonials, which can raise red flags about students’ emotional stability and about their judgment.

“Admissions officers pay as much attention to students’ choice of essay topic as they do to the details in their essays,” Motto told me.

He added that admissions officers can sniff out an essay that a student got too much help on, and he told me a funny story about one student he counseled. He said that the boy’s parents “came up with what they thought was the perfect college essay,” which described the boy as the product of “an exceptionally difficult pregnancy, with many ups and downs, trips to the hospital, various doctor visits.”

“The parents drafted a sketch of the essay and thought it was terrific,” Motto said. Then they showed it to their son, “and he pointed out that everything mentioned happened before he was born.” He ended up choosing a topic that spoke to his post-utero life as a math lover who found a way to use those skills to help patients at a physical rehabilitation center.

THE blind spots and miscalculations that enter into the essay-writing process reflect the ferocious determination of parents and children to impress the gatekeepers at elite schools, which accept an ever smaller percentage of applicants. Students are convinced that they have to package themselves and communicate in entirely distinctive fashions.

“We argue that one of the ways to help your case is to show that you have a voice,” said André Phillips, the senior associate director of recruitment and outreach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But in that effort, sometimes students cross the line. In trying to be provocative, sometimes students miss the point.”

Motto said that one Yale applicant “actually described himself as one of the world’s great Casanovas” and said that his amazing looks inspired envy in other boys and competition among girls vying for his affection.

In response to several essays about emotional trauma, Motto contacted the students’ secondary schools to make sure that the applicants were O.K. He said he called the guidance counselor at the school of the girl who had urinated on herself, expressing concern about the essay and about whether she might be sabotaging her own application. He said that the counselor was aware of the essay and as baffled by it as Motto was.

The girl didn’t get into Yale, Motto said. Neither did the boy who mulled his genitalia. And neither did Casanova. There were apparently limits to the reach of his legendary sexual magnetism, and the Gothic spires and ivy-covered walls of a certain campus in New Haven lay beyond them.

Friedman, solo

June 11, 2014

The good news today is that MoDo is off.  The bad news is that The Moustache of Wisdom isn’t.  In “The Real War of Ideas” he tells us that the religious extremists and the committed environmentalists both want a Middle East without borders, but for very different reasons.    Here he is:

The takeover Tuesday of the Iraqi city of Mosul by Sunni extremists who spilled over the Syrian border underscores the clash of world views that is underway in the whole Eastern Mediterranean, which I saw close up during my visit to Kurdistan a few days ago. And it’s not what you think.

It is not the elected Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki versus the Sunni extremists. Maliki is a tyrant who’s governed Iraq as a Shiite chauvinist, just as much as Sunni militants promote Sunni chauvinism. Both are losers. No — the real of war of ideas, the only one worth taking sides in, is the one between the religious extremists (Sunni and Shiite) and the committed environmentalists. Both are actually trying to erase the borders of the Middle East, but for very different reasons.

 Both the extremists and the environmentalists believe that their vision will triumph only if you imagine that the borders of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon don’t exist and you govern the region as a single political system or ecosystem. If the extremists win — and right now they are winning — this region will become a human and ecological disaster zone. If the environmentalists win, it will be because enough people realize that if they don’t learn to share this space, either they will destroy each other or Mother Nature will soon destroy them all.

 While in Kurdistan, I hung out with some of the environmentalists. What an eye-opener! Their view is that the Middle East may be divided into separate states, but it can be managed today to the benefit of the most people only if one thinks of it as a single hydraulic and biological ecosystem that is increasingly threatened by natural and man-made disasters.

 For instance, in the 1990s, Iraq’s Kurdistan region found itself under double sanctions — the United Nation’s sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Saddam’s sanctions on Kurdistan. As a result, the Kurds massively deforested their hillsides to burn wood for energy, wiping out the native Kurdish oak and the food chain that sustained megafauna like the Persian leopard.

 That’s why, said Azzam Alwash, president of Nature Iraq and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his efforts to save the Iraqi Marshes, the one place where the Persian leopard still survives today is on the Iraq-Iran border, which is still forested with land mines, “so hunters can’t go there.” And while occasionally a leopard tragically steps on a mine, the minefields have so limited human activity that nature has again flourished there. Alwash wants to keep the mines, create safe hiking routes and call it a “peace park.”

 The real problem, though, said Alwash, is water, which is becoming so prized that it now costs about twice as much per liter as the leaded gasoline Iraqis use in their cars.

 “The majority of the world think Iraq is oil, desert and war,” he explained. “My Iraq is the snow-capped mountains of Kurdistan and the majestic valleys that take the water and soils of these sacred mountains down to southern Iraq. If we are what we eat, we Iraqis are all made from the minerals of the mountains of Kurdistan — Kurds, Shia, Sunnis, Yazidis, Turkmen and Christians.”

 The primary headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are, indeed, in the largely Kurdish-populated mountains of eastern Turkey and Iraq. However, more droughts, diesel pumping, water needs for farms and a growing population in Turkey, plus rising demands for water by the oil industry in Iraq, have all combined to slow the flow of both great rivers across Syria and Iraq. Turkey has built some 20 large dams and hundreds of small and medium dams to control the flow of the rivers for electricity and irrigation. Turkey also isn’t keen on sharing water with anti-Turkish Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria, and Turkey now has hostile relations with Syria’s regime.

  The net result is that “agriculture is dying in the land where it was born,” Alwash said of the Iraqi river basin.

As for the extremists, The Financial Times recently ran a map of the Middle East titled “Fighters Without Borders,” with colored arrows showing the flow of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish fighters back and forth across the whole region, from Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq and down to the Gulf, irrespective of borders. Indeed, the Sunni group that led the seizure of Mosul is called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. No border.

The environmentalists think of this region without borders because only by managing it as an integrated river system and water basin — from Turkey, through Syria and Kurdistan and down to the marshes of southern Iraq — can you sustainably manage its resources for the good of all. The extremists want to erase the borders because only by linking up with their compatriots in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan and Turkey can each sect or ethnic group hope to escape being ruled by the other.

The environmentalists start with the “commons” and try to get everyone to think about what they share. The extremists start with “exclusion” and try get everyone to think about whom they fear. The Eastern Mediterranean will have a future only if the “ism” it opts for is environmentalism — not pan-Shiism, Sunnism, Turkism, Kurdism or Islamism.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

June 8, 2014

In “There is No Alternative” Putzy tells us that only Hillary Clinton can hold together the Democrats’ political coalition.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston has this to say:  “Another dispatch from the outer rim of conservative fantasy-land, a magical place where Republicans make worthwhile policy innovations, and where the Republican Big Tent welcomes all races, colors, creeds and genders. Douthat actually believes that the benefits of conservatism are self-evident, and that those who are blind to its charms have something wrong with them. Only this would explain the little sneer as he lists the members of the Hillary coalition: minority voters in general and African-Americans in particular, waitress-moms, middle-class whites, Bill Clinton nostalgics, and people who actually recognize real political service. He can’t understand why middle America wouldn’t prefer some social-safety-net destroying austerity scold with an anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-minority coalition of Tea Party zealots and Christian conservative climate-change deniers.”  MoDo has decided to tell us more about pot…  In “Pot Rules” she howls that as it moves past the old “Reefer Madness” caricature, the reefer crowd in Colorado gets mad at the prospect of almost any regulations.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Obama on Obama on Climate,” says the president explains in an interview why the new E.P.A. rules on carbon are so pivotal.  Mr. Kristof poses a question in “Madam Secretary Made a Difference:”  Did Hillary Clinton accomplish much as secretary of state? Yes! She helped change the diplomatic agenda for the better.  Mr. Bruni says “Dear Millennials, We’re Sorry.”  He asks how dare we malign kids or pretend to care about them when our habits and spending endanger their future.  Here’s The Putz:

If the excerpts currently circulating in the press are any indication, Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir will resemble pretty much every recent political memoir from a potential presidential candidate: That is, it will be chloroform in print.

Which no doubt troubles its “author” not at all. Clinton has every incentive to bore us, sedate us, lull us to sleep — to hit the snooze button, in effect, for as long as our politics makes possible. She is the rare presidential hopeful who has nothing whatsoever to gain from making news. Leading the Democratic presidential field by a Secretariat-esque margin; leading every potential Republican candidate by around 10 points; running far ahead of President Obama’s job approval numbers … if she had her way, all the months from here till 2016 would be consumed by devouring time without anything altering her current image.

And her desire converges almost perfectly with the interests of her party, even if not every liberal quite realizes it yet. That’s because Clinton’s iconic status is, increasingly, the only clear advantage the Democratic Party has. If her position is weakened, diminished or challenged, the entire coalition risks collapse.

Liberals don’t see this clearly yet because they tend to regard the Obama coalition as a left-of-center mirror-image of Nixon’s and Reagan’s conservative majority — a natural, settled and, thanks to demographic trends, growing presidential majority (if not a congressional one) that should deliver the White House to their party reliably for cycles to come.

Because of this confidence, many Democratic partisans assume that 2016 will inevitably be better for their party than the looming midterms, and many analysts assume that the Republican Party is a long, long way from mounting a substantive challenge to liberalism. My friends on the left have an extensive list of things that the right simply “must” do before the G.O.P. can be relevant at the presidential level again (crush the Tea Party, then move left on immigration, then move left on everything else …), and they express a certain condescension toward the recent stirrings of conservative policy innovation: Nice effort, but you’ll have to move a lot further in our direction if you expect to win the White House back.

But there’s a big flaw in their historical analogy. Political skill builds majorities, but popular policy successes cement them — and that is what has consistently eluded Obama. He resembles Reagan when it comes to electoral-majority building, but he’s a Reagan without the economic boom, without the foreign policy achievements and without the high approval ratings.

As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in the latest issue of National Review, while “the Democrats of the 1980s had to respond to a country that was largely happy with Republican governance and to specific conservative policy successes,” today’s electorate “is persistently unhappy” with the direction of the country, and “liberal policy successes are too hard to detect to be the basis for concessions” by the right. And liberalism’s current forward-looking agenda, such as it is — immigration reform, climate-change regulations, some jaw-jaw about inequality — doesn’t really align with those unhappy voters’ immediate priorities.

Which means that Obama’s coalition, while real enough, may not be durable — and that a Republican comeback at the presidential level might be more likely than many Democrats currently assume.

Especially since the liberal coalition’s extraordinary diversity also offers many potential lines of fracture. To invoke an example from this year’s grim centennial, the post-Obama Democratic Party could well be the Austro-Hungarian empire of presidential majorities: a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement, one major crisis away from dissolution.

But this is where Hillary Clinton comes in. If her party is Austria-Hungary, she might be its Franz Josef — the beloved emperor whose imperial persona (“coffered up,” the novelist Joseph Roth wrote, “in an icy and everlasting old age, like armour made of an awe-inspiring crystal”), as much as any specific political strategy, helped keep dissolution from the empire’s door.

I really have no idea what proposals Clinton will run on, what arguments she’ll make. But as with Franz Josef, it’s not her policies that make her formidable; it’s the multitudes that “Hillary” the brand and icon now contains. Academic liberalism and waitress-mom populism and Davos/Wall Street/Bloomberg centrism. Female empowerment and stand-by-your-man martyrdom. The old Clintonian bond with minority voters and her own 2008 primary-trail identification with Scots-Irish whites. And then the great trifecta: continuity with the Obama present, a restoration of the more prosperous Clintonian past and (as the first … female … president) a new “yes we can” progressive future.

Like the penultimate Hapsburg emperor with his motley empire, then, she has the potential to embody a political coalition — its identities and self-conceptions, its nostalgias and aspirations — in ways that might just keep the whole thing hanging together.

But without her, the deluge.

Next up we have MoDo:

In the last chapter, I covered how not to get high. In this one, I will cover how to get high.

After my admission that I did a foolish thing in Denver — failing to realize that consuming a single square, about a quarter, of a pot candy bar was dicey for an edibles virgin — many in the pot industry upbraided me for doing a foolish thing.

But some in Mary Jane world have contacted me to say that my dysphoria (i.e., bummer) is happening more and more in Colorado.

Justin Hartfield is the California founder of Marijuana.com and Weedmaps.com (a sort of Yelp for pot), and an entrepreneur involved in some of the nation’s top marijuana-technology companies. As The Wall Street Journal noted in a profile last March, the 30-year-old former high school pot dealer wants to be “the Philip Morris of pot.”

“Your experience points out a significant need for standardized dosing, testing and labeling,” he told me, recalling a similar vertiginous paranoia spiral when he and his wife split a pot brownie in Amsterdam in 2008.

On Friday, Marijuana.com launched an ongoing guide to “the best practices towards both consumption and sale of edibles.” It urged every dispensary in Colorado and throughout America to follow Amsterdam’s lead and put up signs warning about the dangers of oversampling psychotropic treats. (Other websites, from Vice to Vox, also weighed in with helpful safety tips on edibles.)

Hartfield said Weedmaps is providing pamphlets, posters and video to dispensaries and users, including an “Edibles Education” pamphlet with headings like “Start Small,” “Wait” because edibles take two hours or longer to take effect, “Don’t Mix” with alcohol or other substances, and keep “Out of Reach” of children.

“Edibles are not the best delivery device in general for marijuana because it’s notoriously hard to control the titration in your stomach,” Hartfield said. “When you smoke it’s so easy. You have a hit, it affects you immediately. Then you can decide to take another if you want to get higher. With edibles, it hits your stomach all at once, and holy Nelly!”

Some Colorado pols are nervous about stories like that of the Longmont mother who found her 2-year-old daughter eating a pot cookie in front of their apartment building and the two 10-year-olds in Greeley who were caught selling and swapping pot purloined from relatives. (Not to mention the new British study suggesting there may be a correlation between smoking cannabis and a temporary change in the size and shape of sperm.)

“It’s kind of shocking in a way that the states that approved it have not had more oversight and consumer information,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman of Harvard Medical School, who favors legalization. “The horse is out of the barn, so to speak, and there’s a responsibility to consumers and particularly young people. THC is a serious substance. It has increased by 5 to 15 times in today’s plants compared to the 1960s. It’s a long time since Upton Sinclair. Now consumers have to know: Is it pure? What is the concentration? What are the hazards?”

On Wednesday, the state task force met to forge a rule denoting 10 milligrams as a serving, so that the dosage is clearly demarcated. And on Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation proposing a banking solution for the mainly cash pot business, but the Federal Reserve will need to sign off on it.

Because the Colorado law was approved by referendum, it’s like a Wild West statute, where things are getting filled in underneath, with a haphazard application of the regulatory process.

“One major reason I got involved in the movement was so that consumers could have basic access to information about the products they’re consuming, which was totally impossible under the prohibition that created the black market,” said Tom Angell, the founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority. “So it’s particularly disappointing to see that some companies in the legal marijuana industry — which our years of advocacy allowed to exist — are falling short of those principles. It seems basic labeling and consumer information hasn’t been a chief priority, but hopefully now it’s starting to change.”

He wants budtenders behind the counter to be trained so they can give customized guidance to customers of varying tolerance levels.

As the black market comes into the light, the hang-loose community can be uptight about any moves to regulate or put contours around the sale of pot to better protect neophytes, teenagers and children. Perhaps because they have spent so much time fighting to move past the old “Reefer Madness” caricature, the reefer crowd gets mad at the suggestion of any regulation, no matter how small or helpful. The clubby community that long existed in the shadows can have a countercultural reaction to rules.

Also, as one Colorado political aide pointed out: “There’s so much money involved. This is a group of people who probably never thought about money, and now a lot of people just have dollar signs in their eyes.”

Laughing, he noted, “The weirdest thing in the world is to hear from an angry pothead who finishes a tirade about rules with ‘dude.’ ”

Now we come to The Moustache of Wisdom:

When it comes to dealing with the world’s climate and energy challenges I have a simple rule: change America, change the world.

If America raises its clean energy standards, not only will others follow — others who have hid behind our inaction — we’ll also stimulate our industry to invent more of the clean air, clean power and energy efficiency systems, and move them down the cost curve faster, so U.S. companies will be leaders in this next great global industry and American consumers will be the first to benefit. That is why the new Environmental Protection Agency rules President Obama proposed last week to curb carbon emissions from power plants are so pivotal. You can’t make power systems greener without making them smarter — smarter materials, software or design. One new ruling will not change the world — and we have to be careful that this one doesn’t replace our addiction to coal with an addiction to natural gas alone. But coming at a time when clean energy technologies are becoming more competitive, and when awareness of climate change is becoming more pervasive, this E.P.A. ruling should give a real boost to clean power and efficiency innovation and make our country more resilient, healthy, secure — and respected.

Several weeks ago, as he was drawing up these new emission rules, I interviewed President Obama in the White House library about climate and energy. Following are highlights. (The interview is also featured in the final episode of Showtime’s climate series, “Years of Living Dangerously” airing on Monday.)

For starters, Obama is aware that we can’t just keep burning oil, coal and gas until they run out. As the International Energy Agency warned, “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050” — unless carbon capture and storage technology is widely deployed — otherwise we’ll bust through the limit of a 2 degree Celsius rise in average temperature that climate scientists believe will unleash truly disruptive ice melt, sea level rise and weather extremes. The rest has to stay in the ground, and we need to steadily find cleaner alternatives and more energy efficiency. I asked Obama if he agreed with that analysis.

“Science is science,” he said. “And there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that’s in the ground right now that the planet’s going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.”

So we can’t burn it all?

“We’re not going to be able to burn it all. Over the course of the next several decades, we’re going to have to build a ramp from how we currently use energy to where we need to use energy. And we’re not going to suddenly turn off a switch and suddenly we’re no longer using fossil fuels, but we have to use this time wisely, so that you have a tapering off of fossil fuels replaced by clean energy sources that are not releasing carbon. … But I very much believe in keeping that 2 [degree] Celsius target as a goal.”

If that is so, your environmental supporters wonder why you keep touting how much we’re still exploring for oil, coal and natural gas?

“We have got to meet folks where they are,” said Obama. “We’ve gone through, obviously, in the last five years, a tough economic crisis. … I don’t always lead with the climate change issue because if you right now are worried about whether you’ve got a job or if you can pay the bills, the first thing you want to hear is how do I meet the immediate problem? One of the hardest things in politics is getting a democracy to deal with something now where the payoff is long term or the price of inaction is decades away. What we’ve tried to do is continually find ways in which we can make progress, recognizing that we’re not immediately going to get people to abandon the old gas-guzzler” [because] “they can’t afford an electric car.”

Every morning you get a security briefing from the intelligence community on global threats; do you now also get the same on environmental threats?

“I do,” said Obama. Science adviser “John Holdren typically makes presentations when there are new findings,” and his reports show that environmental stresses are now impacting both foreign and domestic policy. For instance, wildfires are now “consuming a larger and larger portion of the Department of Interior budget. And if we continue to fund fighting fires the same way we’ve done in the past, all the money for everything else — for conservation, for maintenance of forests — all that money gets used up.”

But the area he’s just as worried about, said Obama, “is how climate change could end up having profound national security implications in poorer countries. We’re obviously concerned about drought in California or hurricanes and floods along our coastlines and the possibility of more powerful storms or more severe droughts. All of those things are bread-and-butter issues that touch on American families. But when you start seeing how these shifts can displace people — entire countries can be finding themselves unable to feed themselves and the potential incidence of conflict that arises out of that — that gets your attention. There’s a reason why the quadrennial defense review — [which] the secretary of defense and the Joints Chiefs of Staff work on — identified climate change as one of our most significant national security problems. It’s not just the actual disasters that might arise, it is the accumulating stresses that are placed on a lot of different countries and the possibility of war, conflict, refugees, displacement that arise from a changing climate.”

Syria couldn’t manage a four-year drought when it had a government, and that drought helped fuel the uprising there, because the government did nothing for the people. Imagine what will happen if they have another prolonged drought and they’ve destroyed half their country?

“Which gives you a sense of what happens in a lot of these countries that are just barely hanging on,” said Obama. “They don’t have a lot of margin for error, and that has national security implications. When people are hungry, when people are displaced, when there are a lot of young people, particularly young men, who are drifting without prospects for the future, the fertility of the soil for terrorism ends up being significant. And it can have an impact on us.”

What is the one thing you would still like to see us do to address climate change? Said Obama: put a price on carbon.

The way we’ve solved previous problems, like acid rain, he noted, “was that we said: ‘We’re going to charge you if you’re releasing this stuff into the atmosphere, but we’re going to let you figure out — with the marketplace and with the technology’ ” how best to mitigate it. But “you can’t keep dumping it out in the atmosphere and making everybody else pay for it. So if there’s one thing I would like to see, it’d be for us to be able to price the cost of carbon emissions. … We’ve obviously seen resistance from the Republican side of the aisle on that. And out of fairness, there’s some Democrats who’ve been concerned about it as well, because regionally they’re very reliant on heavy industry and old-power plants. … I still believe, though, that the more we can show the price of inaction — that billions and potentially trillions of dollars are going to be lost because we do not do something about it — ultimately leads us to be able to say, ‘Let’s go ahead and help the marketplace discourage this kind of activity.’ ”

Where does natural gas fit in?

After all, it can be a blessing and a curse. Natural gas emits only half the carbon dioxide of coal when burned, but if methane leaks when oil companies extract it from the ground in a sloppy manner — methane is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — it can wipe out all the advantages of natural gas over coal.

Natural gas, the president said, “is a useful bridge” to span “where we are right now and where we hope to be — where we’ve got entirely clean energy economies based around the world.” Environmentalists, he added, “are right, though, to be concerned if it’s done badly, then you end up having methane gas emitted. And we know how to do it properly. But right now what we’ve got to do is make sure that there are industry standards that everybody is observing.” That doesn’t “necessarily mean that it has to be a national law,” he said. “You could have a series of states working together — and, hopefully, industry working together — to make sure that the extraction of natural gas is done safely.”

Do you ever want to just go off on the climate deniers in Congress?

“Yeah, absolutely,” the president said with a laugh. “Look, it’s frustrating when the science is in front of us. … We can argue about how. But let’s not argue about what’s going on. The science is compelling. … The baseline fact of climate change is not something we can afford to deny. And if you profess leadership in this country at this moment in our history, then you’ve got to recognize this is going to be one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country faces and that the planet faces. The good news is that the public may get out ahead of some of their politicians” — as people start to see the cost of cleaning up for hurricanes like Sandy or the drought in California — and when “those start multiplying, then people start thinking, ‘You know what? We’re going to reward politicians who talk to us honestly and seriously about this problem.’ ”

The president added: “The person who I consider to be the greatest president of all time, Abraham Lincoln, was pretty consistent in saying, ‘With public opinion there’s nothing I cannot do, and without public opinion there’s nothing I can get done,’ and so part of my job over these next two and a half years and beyond is trying to shift public opinion. And the way to shift public opinion is to really focus in on the fact that if we do nothing our kids are going to be worse off.”

The trick, I argued, is to find that fine line between making people feel the problem is urgent, but not insoluble so they just say: If the end is nigh, let’s party.

“The most important thing is to guard against cynicism,” responded the president. “I want to make sure that everybody who’s been watching this program or listening to this interview doesn’t start concluding that, well, we’re all doomed, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s a lot we can do about it. It’s not going to happen as fast or as smoothly or as elegantly as we like, but, if we are persistent, we will make progress.”

Well, that was lengthy…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

When politicians have trouble spinning their own glories, that’s a problem.

So it was bizarre that Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked at a forum in April about her legacy at the State Department, had trouble articulating it. That feeds into a narrative — awaiting her memoir on Tuesday — that she may have been glamorous as secretary of state but didn’t actually accomplish much.

In fact, that’s dead wrong, for Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.”

No, her legacy is different.

For starters, Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations. She didn’t fully deliver on this “pivot” — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them — but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue.

More fundamentally, Clinton vastly expanded the diplomatic agenda. Diplomats historically focused on “hard” issues, like trade or blowing up stuff, and so it may seem weird and “soft” to fret about women’s rights or economic development.

Yet Clinton understood that impact and leverage in 21st-century diplomacy often come by addressing poverty, the environment, education and family planning.

It’s not that Clinton was a softie. She was often more hawkish than the White House, favoring the surge in Afghanistan (a mistake, I believe) and the arming of moderate Syrian rebel groups (a good call, but one vetoed by President Obama).

Yet she grew truly animated when discussing the new diplomatic agenda. A couple of times I moderated panels during the United Nations General Assembly in which she talked passionately — and bewilderingly, for some of the audience — about civil society, women leaders and agricultural investments.

Pinstriped foreign and prime ministers looked on, happy to be considered important enough to be invited. They listened with increasingly furrowed brows, as if absorbing an alien language, as Clinton brightly spoke about topics such as “the business case for focusing on gender in agricultural development.”

Clinton was relentless about using the spotlight that accompanied her to highlight those who needed it more. At one global forum, she went out of her way to praise Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning entrepreneur of microfinance, who was being persecuted by the Bangladesh prime minister. On trips, she found time to visit shelters for victims of human trafficking or aid groups doing groundbreaking work.

She may hide it, but Clinton is a policy nerd. Ask about microfinance, and she’ll talk your ear off. Mention early childhood interventions, and she will gush about obscure details of a home visitation experiment in Elmira, N.Y., that dramatically improved child outcomes.

The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls in April was the kind of issue Clinton was out front of. She understood that educating girls isn’t a frilly “soft” issue, but a way to transform a country to make it less hospitable to extremists. No one argued more presciently that women’s rights are security issues.

“Those who argue that her championing of outreach to women and girls and her elevation of development was not serious miss a central reality of international politics in this century,” notes Nicholas Burns, who was undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush presidency. “These issues are now mainstream globally.”

“I disagree very strongly with those who charge that Hillary Clinton was not successful,” adds Burns, who is now at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “A fair-minded view is that she was, in fact, highly effective.”

Clinton was pioneering not only in the way she expanded the diplomatic agenda, but also in the tools she forged to promote it. She pushed government-to-people relations and people-to-people ties.

Some of this was pioneered in the George W. Bush administration, but Clinton greatly escalated public diplomacy with a rush into social media.

“She was very clear about it: This is the 21st century, and we’re fools if we don’t use it,” recalls Michael McFaul, who became ambassador to Russia in this time. McFaul then had no idea what a tweet was, and there was strong resistance from senior diplomats. “I said the boss wants to do this,” McFaul recalls, and he ultimately became a champion tweeter.

Today it’s routine to use social media in multiple languages to communicate American diplomatic messages to the world.

So, sure, critics are right that Hillary Rodham Clinton never achieved the kind of landmark peace agreement that would make the first sentence of her obituary. But give her credit: She expanded the diplomatic agenda and adopted new tools to promote it — a truly important legacy.

And, anyway, she may have grander dreams about how her obituary should begin.

Last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

Among Americans age 40 and older, there’s a pastime more popular than football, Candy Crush or HBO.

It’s bashing millennials.

Oh, the hours of fun we have, marveling at their self-fascination and gaping at their sense of entitlement! It’s been an especially spirited romp lately, as a new batch of them graduate from college and gambol toward our cubicles, prompting us to wonder afresh about the havoc they’ll wreak on our world.

We have a hell of a lot of nerve, considering the havoc we’ve wrought on theirs.

For decades they’ll be saddled with our effluvium: a monstrous debt, an epidemic of obesity, Adam Sandler movies. In their lifetimes the Atlantic will possibly swallow Miami Beach (I foresee a “Golden Girls” sequel with dinghies and life preservers) and the footwear for Anchorage in February may be flip-flops. At least everyone will be saving on heating bills.

The Obama administration did unveil a bold climate-change measure last week. Or, rather, it signaled its intent to act: We’ll have to wait and see whether Congress figures out a way to foil the president or the courts gum things up. The plan as it stands would cut carbon pollution from American power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

But that may be too little, too late, according to an assessment last year by John Podesta, now a counselor to President Obama, in an interview with Harper’s Magazine before he joined the White House staff in late 2013.

In the interview, excerpts from which were released only last week, Podesta apparently reviewed what had been proposed and actually done in terms of carbon emissions and the like.

“But 50 years from now, is that going to seem like enough?” he said. “I think the answer to that is going to be no.” And that’s chilling, given the stakes. As the title of a book by Al Gore observed, the earth itself is in the balance.

The country’s slowness to deal with swelling seas and melting glaciers is just one manifestation of our myopia, just one metaphor for our failure to reckon with the future that we’re visiting upon today’s children, who get more lip service than legislation from us.

“If you’re going along with the status quo, it should be a crime to say that you care about our children and grandchildren, because you’re not putting your money where your mouth is,” Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who governed Nebraska for four years and represented that state in the Senate for another 12, told me recently.

This subject haunts him more and more. “If we’re trying to figure out how to advance the next generation’s future, we need to be spending more on the next generation, and we’re spending it on yesterday’s generation,” said Kerrey, 70. “I am not the future. My 12-year-old son is. But if you look at the spending, you’d think I’m the future.”

Kerrey is referring mostly to Social Security and Medicare, which, along with Medicaid, are the so-called entitlements that claim a larger and larger share of the federal budget.

He’s fixated on those sorts of numbers: According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid totaled 6.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 1990. By 2010, they were 10 percent. And by 2038, such spending may represent 14.3 percent. It’s hard to see how that leaves much money for discretionary spending on infrastructure, on education, on research, on a range of investments that safeguard or improve the America that today’s young people will inherit.

And there’s too little money for that even now. Talk to physicians and other scientists who have long depended on research grants from the National Institutes of Health to keep the United States at the forefront of invention and innovation and they’ll tell you how thoroughly that spigot has closed over the last 10 years. They’re defeated, despondent.

The Urban Institute released a report in 2012 that looked at figures from 2008 for the combined local, state and federal spending that directly benefited Americans 65 and older versus spending that went to Americans under 19; the per capita discrepancy was $26,355 versus $11,822. Julia Isaacs, a senior fellow at the institute, told me that while data for subsequent years hadn’t been analyzed yet, it wouldn’t show a significant change in that gap.

Isaacs also drew attention to a follow-up report released by the institute last year. It projected federal spending in 2023 and envisioned that entitlement payments to older Americans would rise to 46 percent of the budget from 40 percent now. Interest payments on the debt would be another 14 percent. That would leave well under 50 percent for everything else, including the military.

She noted that the population was aging. Meanwhile, there’s a resistance to tax increases. “That makes me very worried that children will be squeezed out,” Isaacs said.

“I’m glad that my parents are living longer,” she added. “But it’s creating this budgetary math problem that we’re unwilling to look at.”

That unwillingness includes the predictable pushback from many members of Congress, from voters and from various advocacy groups when proposals are made to limit the growth of Social Security by, say, fiddling with cost-of-living adjustments. Older Americans, who would be instantly affected by such a change, turn out more reliably on Election Day than any other age group. Lawmakers are loath to cross them.

Younger voters need to assert themselves. Perhaps they’re poised to do just that. A recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post showed a significant rise — to 66 percent now from 53 percent two months ago — of voters between the ages of 18 and 39 who said they definitely planned to vote in November.

In Washington last week, hundreds of concerned young leaders gathered for an inaugural Millennial Week conference, devoted to youth-oriented policy discussions. And I’ve noticed more bulletins and agitating from organizations like Generation Opportunity, which crunched May’s employment figures to confirm a much higher rate of joblessness among Americans ages 18 to 29 than among the whole population.

We millennial bashers of course have our stock responses to that. We quibble with the college majors that millennials choose. We question their willingness to hunt for work outside their comfort zones.

We conveniently overlook how much more they’ve had to pay for college than we did, the loans they’ve racked up and the fact that nothing explains their employment difficulties better than a generally crummy economy, which certainly isn’t their fault.

They get our derision when they deserve our compassion and a political selflessness we’ve been unable to muster. While we’re at it, we might even want to murmur an apology.

“Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY had this to say in the comments:  “The zombie lie of generational theft just keeps shuffling along. This column is nothing but warmed-over Bowles/Simpson cat food.  It’s not the Boomers who are stealing from the Millennials, and ruining their future. It’s the super-rich and the polluting corporate welfare queens who are robbing all of us, from the cradle to the grave.”

Dowd and Friedman

June 4, 2014

In “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude” MoDo says Colorado is finding out that it’s not so easy to unleash pot on hordes of tourists seeking a mellow buzz.  In the comments “Rima Rigas” from Mission Viejo, CA had this to say:  “Oh, goodness!  You went all the way to Colorado to try pot and didn’t do your homework on how to consume your pot-candy?  Wow!”   The comments are exceptionally delicious, so here’s “Janice Badger Nelson” from Park City, UT:  “Next time I get the thought to try edible pot alone in a hotel room without knowing what I am truly ingesting, I will remember this column and just say Mo!”  The Moustache of Wisdom is in Sulaimani, Iraq where he was the commencement speaker at the American University.  In “Iraq’s Best Hope” he ponders democratic ideas in young minds in Kurdistan.  I wonder if anyone in Sulaimani had really, really investigated what he was writing back about 12 or 13 years ago…  Here’s MoDo:

The caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child.

Sitting in my hotel room in Denver, I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more. I figured if I was reporting on the social revolution rocking Colorado in January, the giddy culmination of pot Prohibition, I should try a taste of legal, edible pot from a local shop.

What could go wrong with a bite or two?

Everything, as it turned out.

Not at first. For an hour, I felt nothing. I figured I’d order dinner from room service and return to my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.

But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.

I reckoned that the fact that I was not a regular marijuana smoker made me more vulnerable, and that I should have known better. But it turns out, five months in, that some kinks need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.

Colorado raked in about $12.6 million the first three months after pot was legalized for adults 21 and over. Pot party planners are dreaming up classy events: the Colorado Symphony just had its first “Classically Cannabis” fund-raiser with joints and Debussy. But the state is also coming to grips with the darker side of unleashing a drug as potent as marijuana on a horde of tourists of all ages and tolerance levels seeking a mellow buzz.

In March, a 19-year-old Wyoming college student jumped off a Denver hotel balcony after eating a pot cookie with 65 milligrams of THC. In April, a Denver man ate pot-infused Karma Kandy and began talking like it was the end of the world, scaring his wife and three kids. Then he retrieved a handgun from a safe and killed his wife while she was on the phone with an emergency dispatcher.

As Jack Healy reported in The Times on Sunday, Colorado hospital officials “are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana” and neighboring states are seeing more stoned drivers.

“We realized there was a problem because we’re watching everything with the urgency of the first people to regulate in this area,” said Andrew Freedman, the state’s director of marijuana coordination. “There are way too many stories of people not understanding how much they’re eating. With liquor, people understand what they’re getting themselves into. But that doesn’t exist right now for edibles for new users in the market. It would behoove the industry to create a more pleasant experience for people.

“The whole industry was set up for people who smoked frequently. It needs to learn how to educate new users in the market. We have to create a culture of responsibility around edibles, so people know what to expect to feel.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Legislature recently created a task force to come up with packaging that clearly differentiates pot cookies and candy and gummy bears from normal sweets — with an eye toward protecting children — and directed the Department of Revenue to restrict the amount of edibles that can be sold at one time to one person. The governor also signed legislation mandating that there be a stamp on edibles, possibly a marijuana leaf. (Or maybe a stoned skull and bones?)

The state plans to start testing to make sure the weed is spread evenly throughout the product. The task force is discussing having budtenders give better warnings to customers and moving toward demarcating a single-serving size of 10 milligrams. (Industry representatives objected to the expense of wrapping bites of candy individually.)

“My kids put rocks and batteries in their mouths,” said Bob Eschino, the owner of Incredibles, which makes candy and serves up chocolate and strawberry fountains. “If I put a marijuana leaf on a piece of chocolate, they’ll still put it in their mouths.”

He argues that, since pot goodies leave the dispensary in childproof packages, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids don’t get hold of it.

“Somebody suggested we just make everything look like a gray square so it doesn’t look appealing. Why should the whole industry suffer just because less than 5 percent of people are having problems with the correct dosing?”

Does he sound a little paranoid?

No, MoDo, he doesn’t.  You, on the other hand…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I am a sucker for commencements, but this one filled me with many different emotions.

As Dina Dara took the stage — the student speaker and valedictorian of the 2014 graduating class of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, in Kurdistan — the sun was just setting, turning Azmar Mountain in the background into a reddish-brown curtain. The class was about 70 percent Kurds, with the rest coming from every corner, religion and tribe of Iraq. Parents bursting with pride, cellphone cameras in one hand and bouquets in the other, had driven up from Basra and Baghdad, dressed in their finest to see their kids get their American-style college degrees. Three Kurdish TV stations carried the ceremony live.

“It has been quite a journey,” Dara, who’s going on to graduate school at Tufts, told her classmates. (Since the university opened in 2007, all the valedictorians have been Iraqi women.) “We went through a whole different experience living in the dorms. This evening … we are armed with two things: first, the highly valued American education that makes us as competent and qualified as the rest of the students in the world. And, second, the empowerment of a liberal arts education.” As we “exercise critical thinking techniques that have been the core of our education here, and as we try to move beyond the traditional conventions, beyond what others suggest, we may struggle. But isn’t this how nations are built?”

Sitting near Dara (I was the commencement speaker), I thought: This is how the Iraq story was supposed to end, but hasn’t, not yet. Kurdistan remains the unsung success story of the Iraq war, one thing U.S. veterans can take pride in having helped to create — first by protecting the Kurds from Saddam Hussein with a no-fly zone and second by toppling Saddam, who had tried to wipe out the Kurds with poison gas in 1988.

But it was the Kurds who used the window of freedom we opened for them to overcome internal divisions, start to reform their once Sopranos-like politics and create a vibrant economy that is now throwing up skyscrapers and colleges in major towns of Erbil and Sulaimani. Everywhere I’ve gone here, I’ve met “reverse immigrants,” Kurds who’ve come back to their homeland in northeastern Iraq because of all the opportunities.

Kurdistan represents everything that has not happened in Shiite-dominated Baghdad and the Sunni regions of Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has behaved like a visionless, pro-Shiite sectarian chief and violence remains rife. Maliki was “our guy.” So you could say that we left two big “gifts” behind in Iraq: an American-installed autocrat and an American university that is teaching the values of inclusiveness that Maliki doesn’t practice. In the long run, after Maliki is gone, we can still hope — as partially happened in Vietnam — that our values will triumph where our power failed. It’s still a long shot, but that’s clearly what the American University students are hoping.

Bery Hoshiar, 20, a female engineering student, told me: “People graduating here feel they can make a change. They come here as people bounded by social conventions, and they leave as individuals with values that they implement in their lives. We all believe that we can be future leaders. [Iraq] is not over. We are just getting started. We are building from scratch. It is going to take time.”

Karwan Gaznay, 24, a Kurd, told me he grew up on books about Saddam: “Now we have this American education. I did not know who Thomas Jefferson was. I did not know who James Madison was. So when the government is doing something wrong, now we can say: ‘This is wrong. I have been educated.’ … I ran for student president, and Arab guys voted for me. We are living as a family in the university. I am not pessimistic about Iraq. We can work together if we want to.”

As student president, Gaznay persuaded the Kurdish government to create a special ID card for Sunni and Shiite AUIS students to use to easily pass through checkpoints that protect this region from the rest of Iraq. Isa Mohamed, 22, a Shiite from Baghdad, told me this was why he supported Gaznay: “Any Arab [AUIS] student can now go through all the checkpoints and airports” in Kurdistan without difficulties.

Shayan Hamed, 23, said: “You hear democracy being used by your political leaders, but they are just defining it the way it suits them. But when you really learn what it is about in the real texts, then you realize that this is not the democracy in your country.” I thought Iraq was finished, I said to her. “Germany was not over after Hitler. Russia was not over after Stalin. So why should Iraq be over after Saddam?” she replied.

Mewan Nahro, 23, put it all in perspective: “My dad was in the mountains as a Pesh Merga [Kurdish guerrilla] fighter in the ’80s and ’90s, and now [our family] has gone from him in the mountains to me here at an American University and getting to say what I want.”

Yes, this is an elite school, and Kurdistan is an island of decency in a still-roiling sea. But the power of example is a funny thing. You never know how it can spread. More American universities, please — not just drones.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

June 1, 2014

Oh, gawd…  The Putz is waxing hysterical about unauthorized sexytime again.  In “Prisoners of Sex” he sees, in the Santa Barbara killings, an extreme version of the culture’s all-too-commonplace misogyny.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Oh where to begin? There appears to be no event too benign or too terrible that Ross Douthat can’t use it to lobby against lust. Here he exploits a horrific tragedy, born of a psychotic young man and easy access to guns, as another harbinger of the inevitable doom that awaits us for wanting to have s-e-x without consulting him first.  … In reality, Douthat’s agenda is to complain about people remaining single. After all, they’ll want sex, which they can’t have, which will lead to toxic reactions and mass shootings. Besides, virginity is for weirdos, so everyone should marry, in the Church, and remain yoked to each other forever, no matter what, and have lots of babies (Ross Douthat, “More Babies Please,” 12/1/2012).”  MoDo considers “A Past Not Past” and says as Leon Uris wrote in “Trinity,” “In Ireland there is no future, only the past happening over and over.”  The Moustache of Wisdom just wants to help.  In “Obama’s Foreign Policy Book” he offers up a few working titles for the president’s consideration.  I’m sure that Obama will drop everything he’s doing to see what “Mr. FU” has to say.  Mr. Kristof is writing from Mrauk U, Myanmar.  In “Obama Success, or Global Shame?” he says on this year’s “win-a-trip” journey, one man living under an ignored apartheid sends out a message to the world: We are suffering. Will anyone respond?  Mr. Bruni, in “Full Screed Ahead,” says be it the Isla Vista rampage or the transition at The Times, the event is mere prompt for the exegeses.  Here’s The Putz:

In an ideal world, perhaps, the testimony left by the young man who killed six people in Santa Barbara would have perished with its author: the video files somehow wiped off the Internet, his manifesto deleted and any printed copy pulped.

Spree killers seek the immortality of infamy, and their imitators are inspired by how easily they win it. As Ari Schulman argued last year in The Wall Street Journal, there would probably be fewer copycat rampages if the typical killer’s face and name didn’t lead the news coverage, if fewer details of biography and motive circulated, if a mass murderer’s “ability to make his internal psychodrama a shared public reality” were more strictly circumscribed.

But this is not an ideal world, and so instead of media restraint we’ve had a splendid little culture war over the significance of the Santa Barbara killer’s distinctive stew of lust, misogyny and rage. Twitter movements have been created, think pieces written, and all kinds of cultural phenomena — from Judd Apatow movies to “pickup artists” and Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” — have been invoked, analyzed and blamed.

And in fairness to the think pieces — I have to be fair, because I’m writing one — in this particular tragedy, the killer’s motives really do seem to have a larger cultural significance.

Often you step into the mental landscape of a mass murderer and find nothing but paranoia, nightmare logic, snakes eating their own tails. But compared with the mysteries of Tucson, Newtown and Aurora, this case has an internal psychodrama that is much more recognizable, a murderous logic that’s a little more familiar.  The Santa Barbara killer’s pulsing antipathy toward women, his shame and fury over sexual inexperience  — these were amplified horribly by mental illness, yes, but visit the angrier corners of the Internet, wander in comment threads and chat rooms, and you’ll recognize them as extreme versions of an all-too-commonplace misogyny.

I’ve written before, in the context of the abuse that female writers take online, about this poisoned stream’s potential origins. The Santa Barbara case hints at one such source — the tension between our culture’s official attitude toward sex on the one hand and our actual patterns of sexual and romantic life on the other.

The culture’s attitude is Hefnerism, basically, if less baldly chauvinistic than the original Playboy philosophy. Sexual fulfillment is treated as the source and summit of a life well lived, the thing without which nobody (from a carefree college student to a Cialis-taking senior) can be truly happy, enviable or free.

Meanwhile, social alternatives to sexual partnerships are disfavored or in decline: Virginity is for weirdos and losers, celibate life is either a form of unhealthy repression or a smoke screen for deviancy, the kind of intense friendships celebrated by past civilizations are associated with closeted homosexuality, and the steady shrinking of extended families has reduced many people’s access to the familial forms of platonic intimacy.

Yet as sex looms ever larger as an aspirational good, we also live in a society where more people are single and likely to remain so than in any previous era. And since single people have, on average, a lot less sex than the partnered and wedded, a growing number of Americans are statistically guaranteed to feel that they’re not living up to the culture’s standard of fulfillment, happiness and worth.

This tension between sexual expectations and social reality is a potential problem for both sexes, but for a variety of reasons — social, cultural and biological — it’s more likely to produce toxic reactions in the male of the species. Such toxicity need not lead to murder (as it usually, mercifully, does not) to be a source of widespread misery, both for the men who wallow in it and the women unfortunate enough to be targets for their bile.

Contemporary feminism is very good — better than my fellow conservatives often acknowledge — at critiquing these pathologies. But feminism, too, is often a prisoner of Hefnerism, in the sense that it tends to prescribe more and more “sex positivity,” insisting that the only problem with contemporary sexual culture is that it’s imperfectly egalitarian, insufficiently celebratory of female agency and desire.

This means that the feminist prescription doesn’t supply what men slipping down into the darkness of misogyny most immediately need: not lectures on how they need to respect women as sexual beings, but reasons, despite their lack of sexual experience, to first respect themselves as men.

Such reasons, and the models of intimacy and community that vindicate them, might have done little to prevent the Santa Barbara killer’s deadly spree.

But they might drain some of the swamps that are forming, slowly, because our society has lost sight of a basic human truth: A culture that too tightly binds sex and self-respect is likely, in the long run, to end up with less and less of both.

Next up we have MoDo:

As I walk up to Bobby Van’s Steakhouse to meet Gerry Adams, I’m surprised to see him sitting alone outside. Wearing a dark three-piece tweed suit with a green ribbon on the lapel, the alleged terrorist on the terrace is calmly reading some papers.

As is his practice, he has his back to the wall so he can see what’s coming. Still, given the new death threats sparked by his detention in connection with a gruesome 1972 case — the I.R.A.’s torture and execution of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 suspected of being a British informer — it seems pretty blasé.

“I need some fresh air,” he explains, his Belfast burr turning “air” to “ire,” an inadvertent pun.

Adams believes that he was arrested because his enemies in Britain and within the Northern Ireland police force were trying to stir enough ire against him to hurt the party he leads, Sinn Fein, in the elections just held in Ireland. Some believe there is a secret cadre within the British security apparatus known as “the 12 Apostles” who have pledged to bring down Adams and the peace process — with improved forensics.

Conspiracy or no, the case dramatized Ireland’s struggle to choose between peace and justice. In a nation where the past drags at the future and where neighborhoods and schools are still religiously segregated, bygones are impossible.

McConville’s children, who were scattered to foster homes and orphanages, want vengeance. Adams’s friends, like Niall O’Dowd, an Irish publisher in New York, fear that a politically motivated prosecution would collapse the peace process. “The I.R.A. did terrible things, and so did the other side,” O’Dowd said. “Choosing a hierarchy of hate elevating one crime above all others is not the solution. Adams is not above the law, but he’s equal in the law.”

Despite — or because of — the arrest, Sinn Fein (“Ourselves Alone”) did remarkably well, making unprecedented inroads in the middle-class and leafy suburbs of Dublin, where Sinn Fein sightings used to be as rare as hen’s teeth.

Adams has done something that Michael Collins was murdered trying to do. He has made the “terrible beauty” transition from armed resistance to political power. “He is as close to a Mandela as Ireland has produced — from alleged terrorist to freedom fighter to politician to potentially someday leader of his country,” O’Dowd said.

Some Americans involved with the peace process think that if Adams admitted, at least in general terms, that he was an I.R.A. commander in the “Bloody Sunday” era, as his deputy Martin McGuinness has, that it would gain him more trust with the Protestant side.

Adams came to D.C. to give “a wake-up call,” criticizing the Irish and British prime ministers for a lack of diligence in implementing the peace agreement. He says he was let out of jail after four days because “there’s no evidence,” but there was also a lot of American pressure because of fears that peace would rupture.

He said he wasn’t scared, though two of his “wee” granddaughters were sick over it. The man who survived a gangland-style shooting in 1984 admitted he had been frightened before. “Anybody who’s not scared,” he said with a grim smile, “don’t ever be in their company.”

He slept in a cell on a rubber mattress. “The food was so disgusting, you would have fed it to a dog,” said Adams, who tweeted Friday that he was looking forward to his first post-prison “big, warm soapy suds with yellow ducks & Epsom Salts bath time! Yeeeehaaa!”

Dolours Price was a beautiful I.R.A. guerrilla, once married to the Oscar-nominated Irish actor Stephen Rea. She told Boston College interviewers that Adams was her “Officer Commanding” in the Belfast Brigade called the “Unknowns,” charged with weeding out informers, who became known as the “Disappeared.” She said he ordered her to drive informants from the north to the south. Adams, who thinks the tainted oral history project was a British trap, again denied any involvement in the execution when he talked to me.

Dolours, who had feuded with Adams over disarming the I.R.A., told The Telegraph she was spurred in part by revenge because she objected to Adams’s peacemaking.

“They said I should be shot,” Adams recalled, “that we were traitors.”

During Price’s eight-year prison term for the 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey — which she claimed Adams also ordered up — she was force-fed for 200 days. Adams said that afterward she suffered a “trauma” with drugs and alcohol that led to her 2013 death, implying this colored her recollections.

He said the McConvilles had suffered “a grave injustice” and had the right to know the truth.

Does he know who is responsible?

“No, I don’t, ” he said, adding: “There were dreadful things done. Anyone that thinks the war was glorious or glamorous. …” Trailing off, he shook his head. “It’s about killing people and inflicting horror on people,” he said, adding: “It’s always the poor who suffer most. When you have a nation that is ruptured by partition, that isn’t allowed to govern itself, that can’t shape its own society or aspirations, you’re always going to have this cycle. And we have to break the cycle, so we’re not handcuffed to the past.

“The old thing in Irish Republican resistance was, ‘Well, we did our best and the other generation will carry it on.’ But we don’t want another generation to carry it on. We want this done and dusted. No other kid should have to go to prison, have to kill anyone, be put in an early grave.”

And now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Sulaimaniya, Iraq:

When President Obama sits down to write his foreign policy memoir he may be tempted to use as his book title the four words he reportedly uses privately to summarize the Obama doctrine: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” (with “stuff” sometimes defined more spicily).

Up to now, that approach has not served the country badly — fight where you must, fix what you can, work with allies wherever possible but never forget that using force is not the sole criteria for seriousness, considering, as Obama noted in a speech last week, that the wars that costs us the most were those we leapt into without proper preparation or allies and “without leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required.”

So “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” would certainly work as a book title today. But sitting here in Kurdistan — a true island of decency near the epicenter of what is now the biggest civil war on the planet, between Sunnis and Shiites, stretching from Iran across Iraq and Syria into Lebanon — I think Obama may eventually opt for a different book title: “Present at the Disintegration.”

Obama has been on duty when the world has come unstuck in more ways than any recent president. George H.W. Bush dealt deftly with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton was the first president who had to fire cruise missiles at a person — Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan — in the first battle ever between a superpower and a superempowered angry man. When that superempowered angry man struck our homeland on 9/11, George W. Bush responded with two invasions.

Obama has had to confront the culmination of all these trends, and more: the blowback from both invasions; a weak, humiliated but still dangerous Russia; a drone war against many more superempowered angry men from Yemen to Pakistan; the simultaneous disintegration of traditional Arab states and the nuclearization of Iran; plus the decline of “spheres of influence” dictated by traditional powers from above and the rise of “people of influence” emerging from the squares and social networks below. These Square People have challenged everything from Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine to the right of the pro-U.S. Egyptian military to keep ruling Egypt.

Dealing with all these at once has been a doctrinal and tactical challenge, especially when combined with an exhausted U.S. public and an economic recession sapping defense spending.

Obviously, Obama would much prefer that his foreign policy memoir be called “Present at the Re-Integration” — at the forging of a new, stable pro-Western order. But that is so much harder today than Obama critics allow. Hey, it was relatively easy to be a hero on foreign policy when the main project was deterrence of another superpower. Just be steadfast and outspend them on defense. Where that is still necessary, with Russia and China, Obama has done O.K.

But when so much foreign policy involves dealing with countries that are falling apart or an entire region engulfed in civil war — and the only real solutions are not deterrence but transforming societies that are completely unlike our own and lack the necessary building blocks and we already spent $2 trillion on such projects in Iraq and Afghanistan with little to show for it — the notion that Obama might be a little wary about getting more deeply involved in Syria and is not waxing eloquent about the opportunity does not strike me as crazy.

I never believed that with just a few more arms early on the Syrian “democrats” would have toppled President Bashar al-Assad and all would have been fine. The Shiite/Alawites in Syria were never leaving quietly, and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah would have made sure of it. And does anyone believe that Saudi Arabia, our main ally in the Syrian fight, is trying to promote the same thing we are there, a pluralistic democracy, which is precisely what the Saudis do not allow in their own country?

Yes, being in Kurdistan, it is clear that the metastasizing of the Syrian conflict has reached a stage where it is becoming a factory for thousands of jihadists from Europe, Central Asia, Russia, the Arab world and even America, who are learning, as one Syrian Kurdish leader told me, “to chop people’s heads off and then go back home.” The conflict is also, as an Iraqi Kurdish security expert added, legitimizing Al Qaeda’s shift “from the caves of Afghanistan into the mainstream of the Arab world” as defenders of Sunni Islam. These are big threats.

But when I ask Kurds what to do, the answer I get is that arming decent Syrians, as Obama has vowed to do more of, might help bring Assad to the table, but “there is no conventional military solution” — neither Shiites nor Sunnis will decisively beat the other, remarked a former deputy prime minister of Iraq, Barham Salih. “But walking away is not possible anymore.” Syria is spinning off too much instability now.

The only solution, they say, is for the U.S. and Russia (how likely is that!) to broker a power-sharing deal in Syria between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and their proxies. Repeat after me: There is no military solution to Syria — and Iran and Russia have to be part of any diplomatic one. Those are the kind of unpleasant, unromantic, totally long-shot foreign policy choices the real world throws up these days. A little humility, please.

In the comments “stu freeman” from Brooklyn, NY had this to say:  “So what happens when war doesn’t work and diplomacy doesn’t work? There really is a third alternative- at least for those who are lucky enough to not have to live in west Asia and the Middle East. It’s called “packing up and going away,” and it’s way past time that the U.S. did precisely that.”  And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

As we hiked on a bamboo bridge over a river, past a police checkpoint, by water buffalo, over abandoned rice paddies, and past a hamlet where 28 Muslim children had been hacked to death, word raced ahead of us. Farmers poured out to welcome us from two besieged villages that for two years have been mostly cut off from the world.

One man, a teacher who spoke a bit of English, thrust a handwritten letter in my hands. Puzzled, I asked him whom he had written the letter for. He explained that he had drafted it in hopes that a foreigner might visit some day and transmit news of the villagers’ suffering.

“Many people are by violent wound died,” the letter recounted in painstaking English. “Now our Rohingyas many people are homeless. We do not have home, food and living very difficulty. Now we are to the cage prison sent.”

The villagers are Rohingya, a dark-skinned Muslim minority that is deeply resented by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. For decades, Myanmar persecuted the Rohingya and left them stateless, and in the last few months the authorities have amplified the crimes against humanity — yet the global reaction has been largely indifference.

Since violent clashes in 2012, the Rohingya have been confined to quasi-concentration camps or to their villages, denied ready access to markets, jobs or hospitals. This spring, the authorities expelled the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which had been providing the Rohingya with medical care. Orchestrated violent attacks on the offices of humanitarian organizations drove many aid workers away as well and seemed intended in part to remove foreign witnesses to this ethnic cleansing.

I’m on my annual “win-a-trip” journey, in which I take a university student — this year it’s Nicole Sganga of Notre Dame — on a reporting trip (she’s blogging at nytimes.com/ontheground). We wanted to reach remote villages where Rohingya live, where nobody has much idea what is happening, so we set off by vehicle and then by foot.

What we found is dangerous tension and some malnutrition, but by far the biggest problem is medical care. More than one million Rohingya are getting little if any health care, and some are dying as a result.

In the village of Zeezar, we met a young mother, Saida, 20, whose 10-day-old baby was sickly and losing weight. The baby needed a doctor, but aid workers aren’t allowed in the village, and Rohingya aren’t allowed to leave freely.

In theory, Saida can get a pass to go through checkpoints and visit a clinic. In practice, that sometimes means paying bribes and inevitably means passing the homes of people who have been accused of murdering Rohingya with impunity: For her, it’s terrifying. So she gambled that her baby would recover on her own.

In one Rohingya internment camp, we met Thein Maung, 46, who has AIDS and used to get antiretroviral medicines from Doctors Without Borders to keep him alive. Now he has no source of medication, and he feels his health fading.

Another man, Amir Hussein, had his arm broken two years ago by a Buddhist mob. No doctor was available to set the bone, so his left arm now dangles grotesquely and uselessly at an odd angle.

Rohingya children are also denied an education. In one village we visited, parents had set up a free informal school taught by a 17-year-old village girl whose own education had been stalled.

President Obama, in his address a few days ago at the United States Military Academy at West Point, cited Myanmar as one of the administration’s diplomatic successes. It’s true that Myanmar has made tremendous political gains in recent years — the permission I received to report here is testimony to that — and there is much to admire about the country’s progress toward democracy. But let’s not make excuses for a 21st-century apartheid worse even than the system once enforced in South Africa. As Human Rights Watch has documented, what has unfolded here constitutes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Likewise, another watchdog group, Fortify Rights, cites internal Myanmar documents and argues that a pattern over the years of killings, torture, rape and other repression amounts to crimes against humanity under international law.

Weighed against such abuses, Obama’s criticisms of Myanmar have been pathetically timid. Because he is hugely admired here, Obama has political capital to pressure the government that he has not used. Indeed, the United States and other countries have often even avoided the word Rohingya, effectively joining in the denial of a people’s identity. That’s a failed policy, for this deference has led Myanmar to tighten the screws on the Rohingya this year.

The Rohingya gave us the names of some Buddhists who they said had been leaders in slaughtering Muslims, and we visited one of these men they named. A 53-year-old farmer, he denied any involvement in the violence, but it was an awkward, tense conversation, partly because the Buddhists are angry at aid groups and journalists for (as they see it) siding with Muslims. Their narrative is that Muslim terrorists from Bangladesh are invading the country, overpopulating so as to marginalize the Buddhists, and then being coddled by foreigners.

The extremists back up this absurd narrative with intimidation. My Buddhist driver, who sported a nationalist tattoo, was willing to take me into Rohingya camps and villages and had no fear of assault by Muslims. But he was terrified of going to some hard-line Buddhist areas, for fear that we would be assaulted as Muslim sympathizers.

When the authorities found out that we were wandering in the hills, they sent a team of police officers armed with automatic weapons to find and “protect” us. They need to start protecting the Rohingya as well.

Look, I’ve seen greater malnutrition and disease over the years — in South Sudan, Niger, Congo, Guinea — but what’s odious about what is happening here is that the suffering is deliberately inflicted as government policy. The authorities are stripping members of one ethnic group of citizenship, then interning them in camps or villages, depriving them of education, refusing them medical care — and even expelling humanitarians who seek to save their lives.

That’s not a tragedy for one obscure ethnic group; it’s an affront to civilization. Please, President Obama, find your voice.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

We no longer have news. We have springboards for commentary. We have cues for Tweets.

Something happens, and before the facts are even settled, the morals are deduced and the lessons drawn. The story is absorbed into agendas. Everyone has a preferred take on it, a particular use for it. And as one person after another posits its real significance, the discussion travels so far from what set it in motion that the truth — the knowable, verifiable truth — is left in the dust.

The economy of contemporary journalism encourages this. It favors riffing over reportage, and it’s lousy with opinions, including the one expressed here. I sin whereof I speak. I also present this as a confession and a penance.

It’s motivated by Elliot Rodger’s rampage in Southern California, by Jill Abramson’s exit from The Times, even by Cliven Bundy’s antics in the Nevada outback. Utterly different stories, yes. But they share a dynamic: Each event was overtaken by the jeremiads about it; impassioned interpretations eclipsed actual information. Why slow down and wait for clarity when there’s an angle to promote, a grievance to air? Damn the torpedoes and full screed ahead.

This trade and tic were manifest in an essay in The Washington Post last week by its chief film critic, Ann Hornaday. I’m sorry to single her out: She’s an excellent writer merely drawn into the quasi-journalistic sport of the day. She itched to join an all-consuming conversation — and to refract it through her own area of expertise, claiming some of the story’s territory for herself.

So she fashioned Rodger’s violence into an indictment of the movie industry’s domination by men and its prolific output of male fantasies in which the nerdy or schlubby guy gets the sexy girl. Rodger didn’t get the girl, so he got furious and got a gun. Did Hollywood egg him on? That’s what Hornaday more or less asked, and it was a question too far, the tenuous graft of entertainment-industry shortcomings onto a tragedy irreducible to tidy explanations.

But how plentiful such explanations were. Could Rodger’s psychic torment be traced to his biracial heritage? Or was white privilege his problem? Did the killing expose police incompetence, therapists’ blindness, undetected autism, detected autism, the impact of the book “The Secret” on an unsteady mind, or simply common misogyny in uncommon form?

All of this was put out there, and much of it said more about the given theorizer’s existing worldview than about the evidence at hand. Rodger became “the Rosetta Stone that can make all your previous pseudo-intellectual grandstanding fall neatly into place,” in the words of Chez Pazienza on The Daily Banter website, which is in fact one of the many relatively new vessels for such grandstanding.

Grandstanding is booming as traditional news gathering struggles to survive: It’s more easily summoned, more cheaply produced. It doesn’t require opening bureaus around the country or picking up correspondents’ travel expenses or paying them for weeks on end just to dig. So it fills publications, websites and television airtime the way noodles stretch out a casserole, until we’re looking at a media meal that’s almost all Hamburger Helper and no beef.

There wasn’t that much protein in the Cliven Bundy story — apart from his four-legged herd. But on Fox News, Sean Hannity supersized the Nevada rancher into a principled frontiersman taking a last stand against federal overreach: John Wayne with livestock. On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Bundy was repurposed as an example of racism among Republicans, even though most of them undoubtedly found his reflections on the sunny side of slavery as repellent as any Democrat did. He was pulled into the debate about affirmative action; he was yanked into laments about Christian conservatives. And what was he, really, but a nutcase in a big hat trying to cadge free grass?

Shortly after Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, announced the departure of Abramson, who was the first woman to serve as the newspaper’s executive editor, Ken Auletta of The New Yorker posted a story on the magazine’s website with this headline: “Why Jill Abramson Was Fired.” The first reason it floated was that she had ruffled feathers by complaining assertively about a salary supposedly inferior to her male predecessor’s.

Two weeks later, Auletta was revising the narrative by musing that the termination of her employment was “one of those running stories in which reporters peel away one layer only to be presented with another” and that “the situation never ceases to have more complexity, more ambiguity.” But there was nothing ambiguous about what his initial dispatch wrought, about the way in which many commentators and other observers decided to describe Abramson and her ouster. She was an icon for gender pay inequity, held up as such by Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. She was a martyr, felled by sexism.

To write for The Times and to know the principal players was to see this for the oversimplification that it was and to note that we were getting a taste of our own medicine: How often had some of us here emphasized one story line to the exclusion of others in sizing up a candidate or corporation?

But most striking of all was the distance between the chatter and the uncontested facts. That chatter turned a profoundly sad and particular set of circumstances into a parable about female executives’ inability to be both tough and loved, a referendum on all women in the workplace, a report card on the newspaper’s efforts to innovate, a harbinger of its sustained relevance. The event buckled under the weight of the significance piled onto it.

News has always been paired with analysis, and a certain degree of assumption and conjecture rightly enters into the laudable attempt to make sense of things. What has changed over recent years are the platforms and the metabolism of the process. Twitter and other social media coax rapid-fire reactions from a broad audience, whose individual members stand out by readily divining something that nobody else has divined, by fleetly declaring something that nobody else has dared to, by bringing the most strident or sauciest attitude to bear.

And for every journalist peeling away at the layers that Auletta mentioned, there are many more of us pontificating about what’s been revealed so far, no matter how little of it there is, no matter how shakily it’s been established. Americans have seemingly grown accustomed to this. They may even hunger for it. With just a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the remote, they find something to confirm their prejudices, to validate their perspectives. And the gratification is almost instant.

Friedman, solo

May 28, 2014

MoDo is off today, and The Moustache of Wisdom has the place to himself.  In “Putin Blinked” he’s decided to tell us how Russia got just about everything wrong in Ukraine.  Here he is:

There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War:  “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

The crisis in Ukraine never threatened a Cold War-like nuclear Armageddon, but it may be the first case of post-post-Cold War brinkmanship, pitting the 21st century versus the 19th. It pits a Chinese/Russian worldview that says we can take advantage of 21st-century globalization whenever we want to enrich ourselves, and we can behave like 19th-century powers whenever we want to take a bite out of a neighbor — versus a view that says, no, sorry, the world of the 21st century is not just interconnected but interdependent and either you play by those rules or you pay a huge price.

In the end, it was Putinism versus Obamaism, and I’d like to be the first on my block to declare that the “other fellow” — Putin — “just blinked.”

In fact, I’d like to say more: Putin got pretty much everything wrong in Ukraine. He thought the world was still shaped by “spheres of influence” dictated from the top down, when Ukraine was all about the emergence of “people of influence” — The Square People, organized from the bottom up and eager to join their own sphere: the world of liberty and free markets represented by the European Union.

Putin underestimated Ukrainian patriotism; even many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine did not like pro-Putin thugs trying to force them to join Russia. “Ukrainians have said in opinion polls that they want open borders and visa-free access to Russia,” noted the pollster Craig Charney.  “But they also said in those polls — and confirmed with their majority vote for a pro-European candidate in Sunday’s election — that while they think Russia is a nice place to visit, they wouldn’t want to live there.”

And, most of all, Putin underestimated the impact of Western economic sanctions. The world turned out to be more interdependent, and Russia more exposed to that interdependence, than Putin thought.

So he blinked. The first flutter was pulling back his troops from Ukraine’s border and letting the election proceed. Interestingly, he chose to blink this out most directly at last week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s annual conference to attract global investors. “We want peace and calm in Ukraine,” Mr. Putin told the business executives. “We are interested that on our western borders we have peace and calm in Ukraine. … We will work with the newly elected structure.”

After Putin spoke, the ruble rose 1 percent against the dollar, demonstrating just how much global markets will continue to reward his conciliation and punish his aggression. It has not been pretty. Putin has had to spend billions propping up the ruble and making up for lost foreign investment. Reuters reported that Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told some attendees in St. Petersburg that the sanctions are “causing serious consequences for our economy,” which could soon be in recession.

And, because Putin’s aggression in Crimea has spurred Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, Putin rushed to Beijing to conclude a natural gas supply deal with China. The price China extracted is secret and experts “suspect Putin dropped the price of gas significantly for China in a desperate maneuver to ensure a steady cash flow for Gazprom in the face of sinking revenue and Western sanctions,” The Washington Post reported. “ ‘There’s something fishy in the contract,’ ” said Mikhail Krutikhin, an energy analyst at RusEnergy, suggesting that Russia got a bad bargain. Putin blinked.

Let’s add it up: Putin’s seizure of Crimea has weakened the Russian economy, led to China getting a bargain gas deal, revived NATO, spurred Europe to start ending its addiction to Russian gas and begun a debate across Europe about increasing defense spending. Nice work, Vladimir. That’s why I say the country Putin threatens most today is Russia.

The Russian people will have to sort that out. I wish them well. I don’t want Russia to become a failed state. But I want to see Ukraine get where its majority wants to go — toward closer ties with the E.U., but without a break in ties to Russia. That will require not only a new Ukrainian president, but a new Parliament, a new constitution and an engaged network of civil society groups able to hold Kiev’s all-too-often corrupt leaders to the rule of law and to the standards of governance being demanded by both the E.U. and the I.M.F., in return for aid.

With Ukraine’s economy closely tied to Russia’s — Kiev owes Russia $3.5 billion in gas bills — Putin still has enormous power to squeeze Ukraine. The goal of the West should not be to prevent Putin from having any influence in Ukraine. Given all the links, that is not possible or healthy. It is to keep Putin backed off and blinking enough so that Ukraine can be Russia’s neighbor — charting its own balance between the E.U. and Moscow — but not Russia’s vassal.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

May 25, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has decided to tell us all about “The Tea Party Legacy.”  He babbles that the movement’s final chapter hasn’t been written yet.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it’s more terrible when it’s put to use apologizing for ignorance. Douthat is fully aware of the embarrassment the Tea Party has caused this country.  That’s why his column is a litany of false equivalences that tries to balance the justifiable outrage of liberals against the Bush/Cheney wars with the awakening of entitlement-hating, homophobic race-baiting zealots.”  MoDo has written a beautiful reminiscence.  In “Some Like It Hot” she remembers tales of an Arthurian legend who made newspapers crackle.  The Moustache of Wisdom has a question in “Memorial Day 2050:”  How do we motivate people to do something about climate change?  In “Graduate of the Year” Mr. Kristof says send a girl to school and educate a village. Seriously, Tay Thi Nguyen, who went hungry and defied her mother to get a degree, plans to return to her village in Vietnam to teach others.  In “Read These Lips” Mr. Bruni says one gesture above others makes and measures history, bringing us all face to face.  Here’s The Putz:

The Tea Party is finished: smashed, at last, by the power and dollars of the Republican establishment, whose candidates — including Mitch McConnell, the most establishment Republican of all — easily turned back right-wing primary challengers last week.

No, the Tea Party has won: There simply isn’t that much difference between an establishment Republican and a Tea Party Republican anymore, and if grass-roots challengers are losing more races it’s because they’ve succeeded in yanking the party far enough to the right that there isn’t any space for them to fill.

These are the two narratives that swirled around the G.O.P. after last Tuesday’s primaries, and both contain a measure of truth. But there’s a third way to look at the State of the Tea Party, circa 2014, which is that the movement’s political legacy still has a big To Be Determined sticker on it.

To understand why, think about another recent grass-roots movement that reshaped our politics: the netroots/Deaniac/antiwar insurgency, which roiled the Democratic Party between 2003 and the ascendance of Barack Obama.

In a 2008 article for The Nation, the future MSNBC host Chris Hayes profiled some of that insurgency’s activists. He found that while they were (as you would expect) liberal or left-leaning, they were also people who had been mostly apolitical until the Bush era, and who had been prodded into activism by the Iraq-era sense that Something Had Gone Wrong, that an America they took for granted was suddenly imperiled.

This is a useful way to think about Tea Party activism as well. The movement was always essentially right-wing, which is why it was embraced (and, at times, exploited) by the right’s pre-existing network of professionals and pressure groups. But it changed Republican politics precisely because it mobilized Americans who were new to political activism and agitation, and who behaved like people awakened from a slumber to a situation they no longer recognized. Wait, we bailed out Wall Street … ? Our deficits are … how big? And this Barack Hussein Obama, where did he come from?

This mix of passion and paranoia, commitment and confusion, explains why the Tea Party’s precise ideological lineaments were so hard for many observers to discern, why its leaders were so varied — libertarians and evangelicals, entitlement reformers and ex-witches — and why all the attempts to essentialize the movement (as libertarian or authoritarian, anti-Wall Street or pro-Wall Street, pro-military or pro-defense cuts, pro-Medicare or anti-New Deal) didn’t capture its complexity.

Thus Paul Ryan’s green-eyeshaded Medicare blueprints and Herman Cain’s fanciful 9-9-9 plan were both “Tea Party” phenomena. Likewise Glenn Beck’s conspiracy-scrawled blackboards and his teary, apolitical Washington Mall consciousness-raising. Likewise Ron Paul’s and Rick Santorum’s presidential campaigns, in which two ideologically dissimilar Republican politicians both claimed a “Tea Party” mantle.

Likewise Mitt Romney … well, no, actually, the one thing about Republican politics that pretty clearly wasn’t “Tea Party” was the man the G.O.P. ultimately nominated in 2012.

And therein lies a crucial difference between the left-wing insurgency of the Bush era and the right-wing insurgency of the last five years. It isn’t just that the Bush-era Democratic Party didn’t end up as imprisoned by its insurgents’ self-destructive tendencies. (The antiwar movement did not produce a government shutdown, for instance.) It’s also that the Democrats found, in Barack Obama, a liberal politician who could transmute the anger of the Michael Moore/Cindy Sheehan era into a more uplifting message, and transform a left-vs.-center civil war into a new center-left majority.

For Republicans, no such transformative conservative politician has emerged. But — and this is why the Tea Party’s legacy is unfinished — there are several politicians, all elected as insurgents and all potential presidential candidates in 2016, who still aspire to be the Tea Party’s version of Obama: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. And because each embodies different facets of the Tea Party phenomenon, each would write a very different conclusion to its story.

A Rubio victory would probably make the Tea Party seem a little less ideological in hindsight, a little more Middle American and populist, and more like a course correction after George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” than a transformative event.

A Cruz triumph would lend itself to a more ideological reading of the Tea Party’s impact, but one that fit readily into existing categories: It would suggest that Tea Party-ism was essentially the old Reagan catechism in a tricorn hat, movement conservatism under a “don’t tread on me” banner.

A Paul victory would write a starkly libertarian conclusion to the Tea Party’s story, making it seem much more revolutionary — a true break with both Reaganism and Bushism, with an uncertain future waiting beyond.

And what about a Jeb Bush victory, you say? Well, then maybe it will be time to talk, not about the Tea Party’s unsettled legacy, but about its actual defeat.

Here’s MoDo’s reminiscence:

Some people have such a radical vitality, such an electric consciousness, such a lifelong love affair with the world that when they stop breathing, it’s like a wind dying, like the waning and disappearing of a light.

And the world feels duller and dumber and more lackluster without them.

Arthur Gelb, the New York Times editor known as “The Arthurian Legend,” had that constant, overflowing, generous engagement. The world was always putting its hooks in him, and he was always putting his hooks in the world.

Immersed in an “All About Eve” milieu of theater and criticism animated by schadenfreude, Arthur didn’t have any. During my job interview, he told me that he enjoyed being an editor because as a reporter he could think of 17 stories but work on only one at a time, while as an editor he could assign all 17 at once.

He was 17 stories all by himself, the most cultivated ink-stained wretch ever.

Arthur was 90 when he died on Tuesday, and he had written a zesty reminiscence, “City Room,” about the raffish “Front Page” era in journalism. Yet there was nothing fusty about him.

Even in the exuberant age of Abe and Arthur, the tall, kinetic member of the team had a Twitter metabolism and Big Data appetite.

I always associated him with “V” words — Vesuvian, voracious, voltaic. In his imagination, almost any random remark you dropped could be spun into a potential story, causing his eyes to flash and arms to flap.

Once when he invited some reporters to dinner at Sardi’s he spied Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish at a nearby table. “Go interview them!” he whispered to Michi Kakutani, even though there was no news peg and it would run only in the second edition. While she was gone, he had her untouched dinner put in a doggie bag.

The third Eugene O’Neill biography that he wrote with his wife, Barbara, will be published next year. It focuses on the three wives who influenced the playwright and is titled “By Women Possessed.”

That could also work as the title of an Arthur bio. “I like women,” he would say with a shrug.

He especially liked talented, neurotic, operatic women — funny, since his son Peter grew up to be the visionary head of the Met.

Arthur loved getting to the heart of women’s hearts. Once, dining with Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, he asked Farrow how on earth she could be attracted to both Woody and Frank Sinatra.

And there was the time he sent the Times music critic Harold Schonberg over to ask the irascible Wanda Horowitz what it was like to have two demanding musical geniuses in her life — her father, Arturo Toscanini, and her husband, Vladimir Horowitz.

“They ruined my life and they should roast in hell!” she shrieked.

Arthur never tired of telling how he discovered Barbra Streisand in the Village and fell in love with 19-year-old Barbara Stone the day the comely redhead started working with him on the Times copy desk.

As a young theater reporter, he was always getting bewitched by beautiful actresses.

One morning in 1951, he went to a small midtown hotel to interview “a new personality” handpicked by Colette to star in “Gigi” on Broadway.

“She opened the door and she was in her bathrobe,” he told me, “and she looked a little disheveled, and that was very exciting, and I found my heart pounding a little bit because she was so pretty close up. And she was so intelligent and she had humor and a kind of come-hither way when she talked to a man.”

He peppered her with so many questions, she told him they should finish up over dinner at the Plaza.

When he called Barbara to tell her he had to work late interviewing Audrey Hepburn, his irritated bride replied, “You call that work?”

My favorite story, which I made Arthur retell on a BBC radio show a couple years ago, was his “drunken prank” on Marilyn Monroe.

One night in the early 1950s when he was about 30 and was working on night rewrite, he and his fellow rewrite guys took their 10 o’clock dinner break at Sardi’s. Monroe came in with a group and was seated at the next table.

Her dress had a low-cut back, and Arthur said he and his pals were “mesmerized by her back” and her “absolutely flawless skin, very white, very pure.”

“One of us said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to just touch that back?’ And before we knew it, we were talking about who would have the guts, the nerve, the bravery to touch her. We all put up a couple of dollars and said the first person who leans over and touches her will collect the money. And I, with bravado — I was kind of a wise-guy young man — leaned over quickly and just touched her with my forefinger.

“I thought I’d touch her and maybe she wouldn’t even feel the touch. But she swung around and said in the loudest voice imaginable: ‘Who did that?’ And we just went into our clothes to hide. It was just the most horrible moment you could possibly imagine. And her friends said, ‘Come on, Marilyn,’ and they calmed her down and turned her around. I collected the 10 bucks and we got out of there.”

Some like it hot. Arthur liked it crackling.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State in the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously,” when he observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

The question is how do we motivate people to do something about it at the scale required, when many remain skeptical or preoccupied with the demands of daily life — and when climate scientists themselves caution that it is impossible to attribute any single weather event to climate change, even if recent weather extremes fit their models of exactly how things will play out as the planet warms.

Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog last week linked to a very novel approach offered by Thomas Wells, a Dutch philosopher: Since climate change and environmental degradation pit the present against the future, our generation versus those unborn, we should start by giving the future a voice in our present politics.

“Even if we can’t know what future citizens will actually value and believe in, we can still consider their interests, on the reasonable assumption that they will somewhat resemble our own (everybody needs breathable air, for example),” wrote Wells in Aeon Magazine. Since “our ethical values point one way, towards intergenerational responsibility, but our political system points another, towards the short-term horizon of the next election,” we  “should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way.”

Wells suggests creating a public “trusteeship” of nongovernmental civic and charitable foundations, environmental groups and nonpartisan think tanks “and give them each equal shares of a block of votes adding up to, say, 10 percent of the electorate,” so they can represent issues like “de-carbonizing the economy” and “guaranteeing pension entitlements” for the unborn generation that will be deeply impacted but has no vote.

Unrealistic, I know, but the need to incorporate longer time scales into our societal choices is very real — and right in the lap of our generation. Andy Revkin, who blogs at Dot Earth for The Times’s Opinion section, put it well: “We are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we manage infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory, not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite — how can we make a transition to a stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other — is the story of our time.”

One way to get us to act with an intergenerational perspective is to enlarge the problem beyond climate — to make people understand that this is our generation’s freedom struggle. The abiding strategy of our parents’ generation was “containment” of communism in order to be free. The abiding strategy of our generation has to be “resilience.” We will only be free to live the lives we want if we make our cities, country and planet more resilient.

Even if we can’t attribute any particular storm to climate change, by continually pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we are “loading the dice” in ways that climate scientists are convinced will continue to raise average temperatures, melt more ice, raise sea levels, warm oceans and make “normal” droughts drier, heat waves hotter, rainstorms more violent and the most disruptive storms even more disruptive. It is crazy to keep loading those dice and making ourselves more vulnerable to disruptions that will make us less free to live the lives we want. How free will we be when paying the exorbitant cleanup costs of endless weather extremes?

Moreover, acting today as if climate change requires an urgent response — like replacing income and corporate taxes with a carbon tax, introducing a national renewable portfolio standard to constantly stimulate more renewable energy and raising the efficiency standards for every home, building and vehicle — actually makes us healthier, more prosperous and more resilient, even if climate change turns out to be overblown. We would end up with cleaner air and a tax structure that rewards more of what we want (work and investment) and disincentivizes what we don’t want (carbon pollution). We would be taking money away from the worst enemies of freedom on the planet, the world’s petro-dictators; and we would be incentivizing our industries to take the lead in manufacturing clean air, water and power systems, which will be in huge demand on a planet going from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050.

In short, by taking the climate threat seriously now, we’d make ourselves so much more economically, physically, environmentally and geopolitically resilient — and, therefore, more free.

What containment was for our parents’ generation — their strategy to fight for freedom against the biggest threat of their day — resiliency will be for our generation against the multiple threats of our day: climate change, petro-dictatorship and destruction of our environment and biodiversity. Let’s act so the next generation will want to honor us with a Memorial Day, the way we honor the sacrifice of previous generations.

And now we get to Mr. Kristof, writing from Long An, Vietnam:

Tay Thi Nguyen is one of the mightiest people I’ve met, at 94 pounds. She has a towering presence, at a bit more than 5 feet tall. She is so strong that she probably could bench press 25 pounds.

Three times Tay Thi has fainted while here at college, training to become an English teacher, because she starved herself to afford tuition. But she had the strength to persist and soon will become the first person in her village to graduate from college, and she embodies such grit and selflessness that, to me, she’s the world’s college graduate of the year.

Tay Thi, 20, also underscores the principle — especially important in the aftermath of the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls — that the best leverage we have to achieve social change is to educate girls.

The eighth of nine children to an impoverished farming family in the Mekong Delta, Tay Thi shone in school, but her mother demanded — unsuccessfully — that she drop out after primary school and earn money as a live-in housemaid in distant Ho Chi Minh City.

“She got very angry with me,” Tay Thi recalled. In eighth grade, her mom burned her school books to try to force her to drop out, but Tay Thi borrowed books and continued to excel.

Staying in school was possible because of the help she received from Room to Read, an aid group that sponsored Tay Thi and covered her school fees, uniform, books, bicycle to get to school and other expenses.

Tay Thi persevered, even when her parents again burned her books in 12th grade, and, as she graduated from high school, she prepared secretly for the college entrance examination. Her mother found out about this when Tay Thi left to take the exam and lashed out, saying “I hope you fail the exams.”

Other students arrived at the exam location escorted by cheering, doting parents; Tay Thi arrived alone, sobbing. Still, she aced the exam.

With no parental subsidy, college seemed unaffordable, but Tay Thi saved every penny she could. She had long worked every vacation — sometimes in a factory job by day and in a duck soup restaurant by night until 2 a.m. Even during Vietnamese New Year celebrations, she worked in the fields by herself to catch crabs for money — watching the fireworks in the distance.

At college, Tay Thi confined herself to a food budget of $3.50 — per week. Malnourished, she sometimes toppled over in the middle of class in a dead faint.

Professors and students discovered that she was starved and basically penniless — leaving Tay Thi feeling humiliated. “I was so upset about that,” she said, but, in retrospect, it was a turning point because her teachers and classmates responded with kindness, sympathy and help.

Room to Read arranged a corporate scholarship, which gave her a bit more spending money, and Tay Thi managed to eat enough to keep from fainting in public.

Tay Thi shares a small room with two other young women, all sleeping on the floor next to each other. She set up a small reading light that won’t keep the others awake. She studies until midnight, and then sets her alarm for 4 a.m. to resume studying.

She is just as passionate about education for others. First, she encouraged her older brother to return to school, after years of working as a laborer, so he could become a mechanic. When he resisted, Tay Thi went out and registered him as a student, picking his courses and browbeating him until he gave in.

Then she coaxed her younger brother to follow her to college, where he is now a freshman. Even her parents have come around, partly because they see that Tay Thi will soon be an English teacher — and the best-paid member of the extended family.

Tay Thi is trying to arrange to teach in her own remote village school, where she wants to advocate for education. “I would like to change people’s thinking,” she says. “It’s a way of helping children in my community,” she said.

The kidnappings in Nigeria have put a spotlight on girls’ education, and Tay Thi is an example of why the issue is critical. It’s sometimes said that if you send a boy to school, you educate a man; if you send a girl to school, you educate a village. That’s not always true, but empowering girls remains one of the best ways to empower a community. Girls’ education also strongly correlates to reduced family size. When I asked Tay Thi if she planned to have nine children like her mom, she roared with laughter and gave a firm “NO!”

So let’s celebrate the mightiest college graduate of this commencement season, a young woman of incomparable strength who now is thrilled at the prospect of returning to an impoverished farming village to teach children and change the world.

Last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

A kiss is nothing. On the sidewalks, in the park, I see one every few minutes, a real kiss, lip to lip. It barely registers. It’s as unremarkable as a car horn in traffic, as an umbrella in rain.

And yet a kiss is everything. A kiss can stop the world.

The football player Michael Sam recently demonstrated as much. So did my experience last Sunday, in a Broadway theater, of all places.

I say “of all places” because a theater is a progressive environment, and this theater, on this night, was especially so. In the audience were many people who’d participated hours earlier in the city’s annual AIDS Walk, to which the performance was linked. And the performance was of “Mothers and Sons,” a Tony-nominated play about gay shame, gay pride and our steady march toward a less censorious society.

So it wasn’t surprising, or shouldn’t have been, when the woman in the seat beside mine stood to greet the woman who was belatedly joining her with a kiss, on the mouth, that lasted long enough to be unmistakably romantic.

“Did you catch that?” said my own companion.

I most definitely had. And while neither of us was scandalized, we were jolted nonetheless. We marveled — even in the middle of 2014, even on the cusp of a week in which Oregon and Pennsylvania joined the rapidly growing list of states to legalize same-sex marriage — that the couple could do this and would do this in front of so many witnesses, in a setting so public. Others around us had also taken note, their eyes lingering on the two women for a while.

Maybe marriage isn’t the dividing line between equality and inequality, between getting full, reflexive acceptance from the world and getting a piecemeal, willed respect. Maybe that border is traced with kisses: with what Sam did and how those women said hello and the kind of reaction it elicits and whether it elicits any reaction at all.

There’s a rich history of the kiss as frontier. I was reminded of this a few days after the show, as I delved deeper into an excellent book that I happened to be reading, “Pictures at a Revolution.” Written by the journalist Mark Harris, it examines the changes convulsing Hollywood in the 1960s. Chunks of it focus on the trailblazing career of Sidney Poitier, and there were kisses on that trail, beginning with one in “A Patch of Blue,” a 1965 movie about a black man’s friendship, blooming into love, with a young white woman.

The woman is blind, and it’s a measure of Hollywood’s heavy-handedness at the time that she can’t see the object of her affection: Racism is expunged only when skin color is literally erased. What’s more, Poitier’s character isn’t the agent of the kiss, which Harris identifies as the first of its kind in a big mainstream movie. The white woman initiates it, and it stuns him.

Even so, these fleeting seconds of “A Patch of Blue” were cut from the prints of the movie distributed in the South, Harris writes. This was two years before Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that struck down the laws in many Southern states that banned interracial marriage.

In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” released six months after Loving v. Virginia, Poitier again kisses a white woman. And it’s again presented in a manner that suggests its audacity — as a shadowy clutch in the rearview mirror of a taxicab whose driver isn’t prepared for it.

In a famous episode of the television sitcom “All in the Family” in 1972, the black entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., playing himself, defiantly plants a kiss on the cheek of the white bigot Archie Bunker, who is visibly aghast. The kiss is the great equalizer, collapsing the distance between two people, leveling their altitudes. It makes them one and it makes them the same.

A kiss speaks volumes, even when it doesn’t say precisely that. As Maureen Dowd noted in a 1984 story in The Times about Geraldine Ferraro’s historic selection as Walter Mondale’s running mate, Mondale was strenuously advised not to kiss her, lest he seem to treat her with less dignity and ceremony than he would a man. Sixteen years later, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, it was a kiss — an exuberant, extravagant, somebody-please-get-them-a-room kiss — with which Al Gore communicated his passion for Tipper and his passion, period, to an electorate that needed to see it.

In 1993, as a commentary on longstanding tensions between Jews and African-Americans in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, The New Yorker ran a cover illustration by Art Spiegelman of a white Hasidic man enfolding a black woman in a kiss. Many people were shocked.

Now it’s the gay kisses we’re all aflutter about. They’ve been a long time coming. Sandra Bernhard, who played a lesbian on the sitcom “Roseanne” in the 1990s, remembers hearing a director yell “Cut!” as she and the actress Morgan Fairchild stood facing each other under mistletoe and leaned in. “The censors would not let us finish that kiss,” Bernhard told me.

In a subsequent episode, there was indeed a woman-to-woman kiss, though not involving her. But across eight seasons of “Will & Grace,” there were just three man-to-man kisses, according to Max Mutchnick, one of the show’s creators, and the paucity of kisses in “Modern Family” has been a sustained curiosity.

Gay characters who trade sass and sexual innuendo are safe. Public expressions of gay intimacy aren’t.

And they’re still rare enough that the initial, internal reaction that I and many other gay people had to the way Sam clutched and kissed his boyfriend on national TV wasn’t exultation. It was alarm. Had he gone too far? Asked too much?

“We reflexively feel in our core that someone’s going to get punched, and that’s why we wince,” said Mutchnick, 48, noting that he and I and so many gay people spent our youths and maybe portions of our adult lives walking on eggshells, speaking in whispers.

Those eggshells cling. I still sometimes feel panic when my partner, meeting me in a restaurant, gives me a perfunctory kiss on the lips. And yet I feel robbed — wronged — if I sense that an awareness of other people’s gazes and a fear of their judgment are preventing him from doing that.

We shouldn’t be bound that way, and on the day of the pro football draft, in front of the cameras, Sam rightly declared that he wasn’t. He did so with a gesture at once humdrum and heroic, a gesture that connects everyone who has been in love and affirms what every love shares: physical tenderness, eye-to-eye togetherness. It was something to behold. It was something to hold on to.


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