Unembarrassed, &c.


With almost no attempt at subtlety, President Obama is tailoring the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to the Democrats’ electoral convenience. This ought to embarrass Democrats coast to coast — in Hollywood, in the news media, in academia, etc. Are they embarrassed? If not, why not?

I heard John Derbyshire quote someone once — I think it was Mick Jagger. Some rockers had trashed a hotel room or something, and Mick was asked whether they were embarrassed. He answered, “They don’t embarrass easy.”

In our latest podcast, Mona Charen and I have a special guest: Richard Pipes, the historian of Russia. There are few so equipped to comment on the present situation in Ukraine. Pipes has lived an extraordinary life, which he chronicles in his memoirs, Vixi. (The title is Latin for “I have lived.”) I reviewed this book when it came out, in 2003: Go here. I would like to cite two of my favorite tidbits about Pipes.

He was a national-security official in the White House in 1982, when Brezhnev died. It fell to him to go to the Soviet embassy, where he was asked to sign the condolence book. He was torn: He hated Brezhnev and Communism, but he was there in an official capacity. Thinking fast, he hit on a solution: He signed his name, but completely illegibly.

For my second “tidbit,” I’d like to quote the last two paragraphs of that 2003 review:

At the dawn of 2000, we [National Review] published our “millennium issue,” consisting of big-think pieces by big thinkers, including Pipes. In his essay, Pipes cited a book by Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (on ancient Near Eastern religion and society). He had the g in “gods” down — in the lower case — but, as it was in the title, I, of course, as editor, put it up. He insisted on its being put back down. “I am a Jew,” he said, “and there is one God, and I will not have the plural word capitalized.” “But Professor Pipes,” I pleaded, “I am as monotheistic as anyone, but this is a matter of style, and to have the word up doesn’t imply any idolatry: It’s just a word in a title, like ‘table’ or ‘chair.’” No, no, said Pipes, it could not be up, title or not.

So, that’s how it appeared in the magazine: Kingship and the gods. It looked weird, and wrong (because it was weird, and wrong) — but, in the Pipesian world, it was really wonderful, and right.

Just one more thing, a third “tidbit”: Pipes, age 16, laid eyes on Hitler. The Nazis had invaded Poland, and Hitler had come to Warsaw, Pipes’s hometown, to take a victory lap. “He rode in an open Mercedes, standing up in the familiar pose, giving the Nazi salute,” writes Pipes in his memoirs. “I thought how easy it would be to assassinate him.”

Care for a Minneapolis journal — a short one? I was in that city over the weekend — St. Paul, too, I suppose (sometimes it’s hard to tell) — and I have some notes for you. Just a few.

For example: Someone told me that, to reach my destination, I needed to cross the river. So I headed for what I thought was the right bridge. As I neared it, I thought, “No, that’s not a bridge over the river. It’s over a big parking lot or something like that.”

But I had forgotten — forgotten that the river was frozen solid. I was looking for something that flowed. This was very different.

Walking around the University of Minnesota campus, I came upon the football stadium — which features the school colors, maroon and gold. These are some of the best school colors anywhere, I think: distinctive, attractive.

I’ve written about this before: The University of Michigan, in my hometown of Ann Arbor? Our colors are supposed to be maize and blue. But, in recent years, those colors have been bright, neon yellow and blue. Yuck, blech.

I walk past the “People’s Center Medical Service.” (I may have the name slightly off.) This gives me a memory. Years ago, when I lived in Washington, D.C., we had a chain of stores called People’s Drugs. A visitor remarked, “Isn’t that sort of, like, commie?”

I see a castle — it looks like a real-live, bona-fide castle. Turns out to be the University of Minnesota Armory.

Lots of kids are walking around with skis — I mean, carrying them, in a case. I see one guy in shorts. It’s 28 degrees. That’s warmer than it has been here in a long time (I’m told).

On the façade of Hillel, there are banners: “Shalom.” “Come to Hillel, even though your mother told you to.”

Next to Hillel is Baldy’s BBQ: “Are you ready for some BBQ?” I have a standing answer to that question. (It’s not no.)


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