Archive for December, 2008
The biggest problem in writing for a weekly newspaper is that by the time you get to your readers, anything you’re going to say has probably already been said by somebody else. That wasn’t a problem, oh, 20 years ago. But the Web can provide instant access to the opinions of just about everyone with a keyboard, from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists to bored office workers to the poor guy hunkered in his bomb shelter or safe room.When it comes to the Middle East, meanwhile, anything you’re going to say not only has been said by somebody else – but has been said before the event in question has even taken place. Mideast punditry has become the foreign affairs version of “Mad Libs” – the basic story lines stay the same; you just have to plug in new proper names, dates, and locations.
Still, there are plenty of folks writing about the Middle East whose opinions and reportage remain fresh and even surprising. And in a week like this one, with events moving quickly and chaotically, I rely on them to make sense of the maelstrom. The following list of such pundits and reporters is not exhaustive, and I’ll make room for readers’ suggestions in future columns. (more…)
This headline and story says something about Israel — what, exactly, I can’t tell:
Tel Aviv: Dozens rally in support of Gaza op
Several dozen people, most of them Likud activists, rallied across from the Defense Ministry’s Tel Aviv headquarters in support of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The offensive entered its fourth day Tuesday.
Jonathan Pollard’s advocates tend to be on the Right, but the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a reliably liberal group, has joined those asking President Bush to commute the convicted spy’s sentence:
Writes Rabbi David Saperstein:
…Mr. Pollard’s sentence is grossly disproportionate to sentences that others have received for comparable espionage offenses. Only those who spied for enemy nations have received life sentences. No other individual convicted of disclosing information to an ally has received such a sentence.
For more than 20 years, Mr. Pollard has remained in prison, including significant time spent in solitary confinement. In the interest of justice, it is now time to commute Mr. Pollard’s sentence to time served.
So here’s my finished poem. Total time: 3 hrs. 27 min.
This year’s like the joke: Two guys, each a Jew.
One says to the other,”How’s things by you?”
His friend replies, trying to hold back a tear,
“Certainly better than they will be next year.” (more…)
I admit I never heard of the late Charles Winters, the Florida man just pardoned by Bush:
Winters, who died in the 1980s in Florida, was in the airplane business after World War II…. He later started helping his Jewish friends who were shipping arms to Jews trying to found their own state in the Middle East…. Winters, a Protestant from Boston… was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act, fined $5,000 and sentenced to serve 18 months in prison.
Good for Bush, good for Israel, good for Winters’ kin, and good for Steven Spielberg, who lobbied for his pardon.
Hey, rabbis: The Library of Congress wants your sermons.
Okay, I’m slowing down. I was at the poem for about an hour today, and only mnaged to add these few stanzas:
While Hamas and Fatah, the bitterest of frenemies.
Could agree on just this: That Jews were their enemies.
Iran was itself, up to things deleterious.
In need of a hug, Olmert said, “Let’s get Syria’s.”
The stock market crashed, the economy’s frozen,
A crooked investor took a bite from the Chosen.
Lenders got stingy, Detroit’s in a crisis
Even Blagojevich had to lower his prices.
In an Iowa plant that was meant to be kosher,
Its managers’ style became gaucher and gaucher
In a workforce of hundreds, it seems the majority
Had a beef with Rubashkin’s hire authority.
I’d like to get the whole thing done around 3.
UPDATE: It’s 2:55 and I think I’m done. We’re at 479 words, which is plenty. I’ll post the whole thing after it’s proofread.
Part two in my poetry challenge. This one took about 36 minutes. Not great stuff, but it’s usable:
The race for the White House was laced with ill humor
As we choked on the bile of every fresh rumor.
Obama’s religion, his birthplace, his pastor –
Every new email brought hints of disaster.
And who would decide the election’s big winner?
Maybe Florida’s Jews — over early bird dinner?
Or would we all board McCain’s Straight Talk Flotilla,
And sail on with him and the gov from Wasilla?
At last came November, and we voted like mad
And most Jews admitted, Barack ain’t so bad.
And as if to thank us for ignoring the spam,
He offered us Hillary, Kurtzer and Rahm.
So last year’s poem was about 500 words. I’m already up to about 300 words, and I’ve been at it a total of 64 minutes.
I’m pretty sure this is how Milton worked.
Every year for the past three or four years I’ve written an end-of-the-year poem in the NJJN. (See here and here, for example.) I admit I was inspired in part by those “Greetings, Friends!” poems that Roger Angell used to write for The New Yorker.
“Greetings, Friends!” is back this year, Mr. Angell said, because he missed writing it and because he had a few flashes of inspiration while on vacation in Maine last summer. “I got a few lines down,” he said. “And once it gets going, it’s terrific fun to do.”
After some months of tinkering, and asking younger New Yorker colleagues for help with some of the poem’s more up-to-the-minute references (Suri Cruise, Sergey Brin), Mr. Angell took the results to David Remnick, the magazine’s editor.
“After SOME MONTHS of tinkering”!?!
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve written my poems on deadline day, and while the finished products could have used a little more tinkering, I still managed to rhyme “Abbas” with “impasse,” “Condoleezza” and “amneeza,” and “Mearsheimer and Walt” with “Israel’s fault.” I know Angell wasn’t working on the poem full-time, but could it really have taken months to rhyme “Bernanke” with “Yankee”?
So here’s what I am going to do. It’s Monday morning, 9:31 a.m. My poem is due tomorrow at around 2 or 3 p.m. That’s longer than I normally devote to my column, but I’m going easy on myself. I’ll be working on the poem between now and then, and posting stanzas as I finish them. I’ll keep a stopwatch going and post how long it took me when I’m done. If you have suggestioins for rhymes and topics, send them in.
So here’s the first installment — about 28 minutes worth of work in total. Remember this is a draft:
This year’s like the joke: Two guys, each a Jew.
One says to the other, “How are things by you?”
His friend says, trying to hold back a tear,
“Certainly better than it will be next year.”
You heard of B. Madoff, that number one shvantz? He
Concocted a scheme that was worthy of Ponzi.
He robbed from the rich, and made the rich poorer,
Reducing the mighty to the ranks of the schnorrer.
And speaking of shvantzes: Poor J.J. Putz.
The Mets’ new reliever is gonna need guts.
When he blows a big game at some crucial junction,
The crowd’s bound to blame projectile dysfunction.
In Israel folks marked their sixtieth year
With more agita than unbridled cheer.
‘Cause more than the peace plan seemed to unravel
As its prime minister feared the rap of a gavel.
And Hamas and Fatah, the bitterest of frenemies.
Could agree on just this: That we were their enemies.