Impromptus

An undergrad who knew, &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

This is sort of interesting. Tom Cotton wasn’t a dolt in college — like everybody else — so a Democratic campaign is trying to punish him for it. Cotton is familiar to readers of this column: I did a series on him a year ago, before he was elected to Congress. (For the four parts of that series, go here, here, here, and here.) Now he represents the Fourth District of Arkansas. Cotton is a Republican, and he’s gearing up to challenge a Democratic senator, Mark Pryor, next year.

While an undergrad at Harvard, Cotton did a lot of writing for publication. That included a book review for The Harvard Salient — a review of that magnum opus America in Black and White, by the Thernstroms. They came out with the book in 1997. (By the way, I like referring to Steve and Abby as “the Thernstroms,” because it’s parallel to “the Myrdals.”)

In the course of his review, young Cotton noted that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were “race-hustling charlatans.” No change there. He also said, “If race relations are better now than at any time in our history and would almost certainly improve if we stopped emphasizing race in our public life, what would the self-appointed ‘civil rights leaders’ have to do with themselves?” Spot on.

Anyway, the Mark Pryor campaign has been sending this review around to friendly media — the campaign has a lot to choose from — in order to indict Cotton. He’s supposed to be a racist or something (natch). In my estimation, Cotton was wiser and more capable as an undergrad than most Democratic senators are ever.

Has Barack Obama ever stopped being an undergrad? Has he progressed beyond collegiate, or grad-school, leftism? Just when I think he has, he goes and says something like, “We discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.” The “fact,” huh? He said this after meeting the Vietnamese “president,” a party leader named Sang.

A certain kind of American has always claimed that Ho was really a Jeffersonian at heart. In truth, his heart belonged to Marx, Lenin, Mao, and the rest of the destroyers. He was in their image. Sure, there were little nods to Jefferson — for Western consumption, Western fools.

I think of a point I have often made, since Barack Obama began his national career: He thinks like someone rather older than he is — like someone who went to college in the ’60s or ’70s, rather than the ’80s. He’s got New Left beliefs that someone his age really shouldn’t be saddled with (and the New Left is getting rather long in the tooth — they’re in their 70s now).

Consider this: Jefferson enslaved a relative handful; Ho Chi Minh and his comrades got their hands on a lot more.

Consider this, too: Ho called the half of Vietnam he got his hands on the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” Since he called it that, how could he have been anything other than Jeffersonian? Maybe that’s what our dimmer undergrads and grad students thought.

Back to the Thernstroms and the Myrdals for a second — parallels between the two couples. The Myrdals were Swedish, of course, and so is Steve — a Swedish American. And the two couples chose to concentrate on some of the same subjects, most prominently race. But our couple, needless to say, is much wiser than Gunnar and Alva.

Incidentally, I learned a lot about the Myrdals when I was preparing my history of the Nobel Peace Prize. Alva shared that prize, in 1982. Gunnar had won the econ prize in 1974 — sharing it with his opposite economic number, Friedrich Hayek. Gunnar Myrdal would later say he regretted accepting the prize. The prize should never have been established, he said, if it was going to be awarded to the likes of Hayek and Milton Friedman.

When Shakespeare gave his girl Miranda the words “brave new world,” I wonder whether he knew we would be repeating them for centuries. See what you think of this headline in the Telegraph: “Gay chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s best creation? A baby boy.” The subhead is “Yotam Ottolenghi, perhaps the most fashionable and modern of cookery writers, has had the most modern of babies.” And here are the first few paragraphs:

Ottolenghi, who is openly gay, has described having a second coming out. This time as a father.

He and his partner Karl Allen paid at least £65,000 to a surrogacy clinic in California for their sperm to be used to fertilise the eggs of a donor. Six months ago — and five years after first embarking on a plan to have a child — their son Max was born in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ottolenghi and his partner are now raising the boy at their home in London.

(The article as a whole is found here.) I realize I am not “progressive,” as those who do political defining define that word. But I wonder whether even “progressives” are comfortable with this new world, which strikes me as not so much brave as reckless.

Let’s move to the world of sports for a second: An article about a Tigers-White Sox baseball game noted, “The Tigers wore jerseys that said ‘Tigres’ while honoring the contributions of Hispanic and Latino players.” Is that really necessary? To honor a racial or ethnic group within a sport, even such a large group? Especially such a large group?

Don’t they “honor” themselves simply by showing up and performing? Furthermore, don’t they perform as individuals, or team members, rather than as members of a racial or ethnic group?

The wearing of a “Tigres” jersey is perfectly harmless and fun, I’m sure. But racial- and ethnic-consciousness is way overdone, a threat to the country, and something to be watched (is all).

One more thing: What other minorities, in what other sports, should be “honored”? And how?

I don’t read or write about European anti-Semitism as much as I should — I mean, today’s anti-Semitism. I glance in, shudder, cry out in some column or article, then look away. The issue is almost unbearable.

I’ll give you someone who is willing — more than willing — to look this evil in the face: Manfred Gerstenfeld, a scholar I have known for some years. Let me quote from a bio: Gerstenfeld “was born in 1937 in Vienna, grew up in Amsterdam from 1938 and moved to Israel in 1968 from Paris.” He has seen and experienced a thing or two.

And he has now written a book called Demonizing Israel and the Jews. It is about what is taking place in Europe this very day. Gerstenfeld does not look away — and neither should we.

Looking away from European anti-Semitism is kind of a specialty of people at large, isn’t it?

A word about Gerstenfeld’s name: which means “barley field.” And his first name reminds me of Schumann’s music, accompanying Byron’s poem. “Manfred Gerstenfeld” is a most distinguished name, to go with a distinguished career.

In airports all over America, I can’t get away from the sound of CNN. This has happened for years. And I have griped about it in this column for years. As soon as you move out of earshot of one monitor, blaring CNN, the next monitor takes over. You’re trapped.

Well, I had a new experience at O’Hare not long ago. I heard the sounds of Rush Limbaugh. Yes, Rush. It was on a bus — a shuttle between terminals. The driver was listening to him. (The driver was a black woman, incidentally.)

Now, I don’t think political opinion should be imposed on a busful of people at an airport. The same goes for departure lounges — and there’s a lot of opinion on CNN (from the anchors and correspondents, I mean).

Still, it was kind of an interesting, unexpected, and novel experience. Pleasant, too.

Let me give you a musical note — a note on both music and European anti-Semitism. In recent months, I happen to have reviewed two pianists who studied with Adolph Baller: Jerome Rose and Lara Downes. Baller is not a household word, but he was an interesting man. And his students have the highest regard for him.

He was Viennese, essentially, and when the Nazis got a hold of him, they beat him to a pulp. They crushed his hands (knowing he was a pianist). They kicked him in the face, knocking an eye out of whack.

Later in 1938, as I understand it, he was able to get to America. He regained the use of his hands. He lived and taught in the Bay Area. For many years, he collaborated with Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist.

Baller’s students say he gave them a deep and refined musical tradition. They also say he gave them an example of courage and perseverance.

All this reminds me of György Cziffra, the Hungarian pianist. In 1950, he tried to escape to the West, along with his wife and son. They were caught, and Cziffra was sentenced to three years’ hard labor — where his jailers and overseers made sure to torture him via his hands and wrists. He survived that, though, and survived a lot more.

When the upheaval came in October 1956, Cziffra was able to escape, with his family, and he went on to have a brilliant career.

Speaking of brilliant careers: You ever hear of Tony Gaze? I learned of him in an obit:

The archetypal dashing fighter pilot, Gaze shot down at least 11 enemy aircraft; escaped from enemy occupied France with the aid of the French Resistance; and was three times awarded the DFC — one of only 47 men in the Second World War to be so honoured. He also became, in the latter days of the war, the first Australian to shoot down a German jet before becoming the first Australian to fly the RAF’s first jet fighter, the Meteor, in combat.

In addition,

he was the first Australian to compete in a World Championship Grand Prix, and in 1956 was only denied victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix by Stirling Moss. Not content with jet aircraft and racing cars, in 1960 he became the first Australian to compete in the World Gliding Championships.

Etc., etc. Feel lazy? I do. Anyway, have a good one, and see you soon.