• Howard Jacobson on Rekindling Hanukkah   The "bare bones" of the Hanukkah story may be familiar--the Maccabees defeat the Syrian-Greek army and reconsecrate the temple with oil that should have run out in one day but lasted eight--but The New York Times contributor asks whether modern Jews "truly feel this narrative as their own." Whereas Christmas is a "brilliantly marketed" holiday (Jesus and presents!), Hanukkah "is a seasonal festival of light in search of a pretext"--and though the menorah is beautiful, Jacobson is less sure about the dreidl, with the attendant "horrible imitation of shtetl simplicity."  He dryly suggests that the holiday should either merge with Christmas (which he admits, would almost certainly never happen) or be "spiced up with the sort of bitter irony at which the Jewish people excel." His proposal: "give the kids their own cars for Hanukkah, in memory of the oil that should have run out but didn't." A final note of seriousness:

I've seen it argued, too, that those Christmas doughnuts that Germans call "Berliners" in fact are direct relations of the oily cakes and fritters Jews bake at Hanukkah to celebrate "the miracle of light." That Hanukkah would thus have gone on being unknowingly remembered in Germany even when all the Jews had gone from it is a victory of sorts. I'd light two candles to that.
  • George W. Bush on the Global Fight Against AIDS  Today is World AIDS Day. On World AIDS Day in 2005, two young children came for a White House visit to meet George W. Bush. Both were HIV-positive and had recently undergone treatment. This moment made a lasting impression on the ex-president and in The Washington Post he urges policymakers to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the world. Although "considerable progress" has been made a treatment for the disease is still elusive. "In the meantime, there are millions on treatment who cannot be abandoned," Bush writes. Although Congress is pressed with thousands of issues each day, "there are only a few that you will want to talk about in retirement with your children," he notes. "The continuing fight against global AIDS is something for which America will be remembered. And you will never regret the part you take."

  • Ed Kilgore on Why Obama Won't Face a Primary Challenger  In the innaugural edition of his New Republic column, Kilgore suggests that it's time to "smack down" any talk that the president will face a formidable challenger from his own party in 2012. Not only would this candidate have to "pry" away a significant amount of the president's African-American support, he or she would have to contend with Obama's still very high (85 percent) approval rating among rank-and-file Democrats. Also, there's a question of which big name will actually run against him: Hillary Clinton and Al Gore can be counted out. Who's left? Only fringe candidates, figures Kilgore. "More serious comers will be chased away by the hard, cold reality of what it would take to mount a presidential campaign against the White House in places like Iowa and Nevada and New Hampshire and South Carolina," he writes.

  • A. Cornelius Baker on Bringing the AIDS Fight Home  In the past few months alone, the world has witnessed a number of breakthroughs in the fight to stop the spread of HIV, writes the HIV/AIDS expert at the Academy for Educational Development in The Boston Globe. But for all of the good work America has done fighting AIDS in other countries, this country still has a serious problem of its own. Baker acknowledges not every member of the community will be thrilled by a frank and specific discussion on avoiding HIV. "Some will argue that anyone living in the United States should fully know about the risks of contracting HIV through unprotected sex, and take full precautions." The problem, according to Baker, is that so many people don't. "Think for a moment about a 17-year-old gay youth," he writes. "HIV is invisible in his community. He may not know it. ... Now imagine if he gets infected with HIV ... In many places in the United States, this young person can’t receive drugs that can save him and has to join a waiting list." His conclusion: "As we think about how to respond to HIV, we must face the fact that we have yet to do so in full force in all of America's towns and cities. That needs to change."
  • Josh Kraushaar on Democrats' Diversity Dilemma  As if Democrats don't have enough to worry about these days, the National Journal columnist says that--with the exception of that president guy--the party's leadership lacks diversity. Upon closer examination, the much-vaunted strong racial record of Democrats is "somewhat misleading, with its advantage in electing minorities mostly a result of House districts specifically drawn to elect minorities. Of the 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships, only nine represent majority-white constituencies--and that declines to six in 2011." The GOP's success this midterm electing minority candidates reflects an "inconvenient reality" for Democrats. Kraushaar explains: "The vast majority of black and Hispanic members hail from urban districts that don't require crossover votes to win, or represent seats designed to elect minorities. They are more liberal than the average Democrat, no less the average voter, making it more difficult to run statewide campaigns." Democrats need to figure out how to start electing minority candidates with a broader appeal.