A few days ago, I read a story that reminded me of something — first, the “something,” then the story. In 2010, I wrote about two men: Michael Mukasey and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. They could not be more different. Judge Mukasey was an attorney general under George W. Bush; Mohammed was . . . not. In February 2008, Mukasey visited our facility at Guantanamo Bay.
He looked at many of the high-value detainees on video monitors. But he did not see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Mohammed wasn’t in his cell. He was off having a Red Cross visit.
Mukasey did see the exercise room, adjacent to Mohammed’s cell. And he noticed something interesting: Mohammed had the same elliptical machine that he, the attorney general, had back home in his Washington apartment building. Only there was this difference: Mukasey had to share his, with other residents; there was a mad scramble in the morning to get to it. Mohammed had his machine all to himself.
Bear in mind that he was the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people. That he was the beheader of Daniel Pearl. And so on. I wonder how much more tenderly America’s critics expect us to treat such people.
I’ll leave the commentary to y’all . . .
Earlier this month, I wrote about a bad mistake by the Obama White House. Which one, you ask? I’m thinking of the release by the press office of the name of the CIA chief of station in Kabul. That name was on a list distributed to some 7,000 people. If the George W. Bush White House had done this — if any Republican White House had — what would the media reaction have been?
On Friday, I wrote about a statement signed by hundreds of Cuban democracy activists. One of the things they were pleading for was a continuation of U.S. sanctions on Cuba (i.e., the Castro dictatorship). At the time, there were over 550 signatories. Now I see that the list is over 800. On Friday, I wrote,
The list includes some of the people I admire most in all the world — starting with the first name, Antúnez, the moniker of the leader who has been in and out of prison more times than I can count, and who has had the living hell beaten out of him (his wife has, too), and who never, ever breaks (neither does she).
There ought to be a statue of Antúnez somewhere (of Iris, too). If I had the nerve and the ability, I’d do it myself.
Antúnez and his wife have, once more, been arrested. And brutalized. State security agents told Antúnez that he had become a barrier to the normalization of relations between Havana and Washington. He was strangled and lost consciousness twice. He was also injected with an unknown substance. Before he was released, he was told that he is more at risk than ever. Which is believable.
In Cuba, opposition to the lifting of sanctions is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The 800-some signatories have risked this. I wish that our anti-embargo people here in America would remember this risk, once in a while. Maybe remark on it. They are free to express their view. People such as Antúnez have a different view — and they are not free to express it. If they do, they are strangled, one way or another.
Cuban democrats are, honestly, some of the bravest and best people on earth. I hardly have the words to express my admiration for them, or to express my contempt for their enemies.
Okay, let’s lighten up — and indulge in a little U.S. politics. In the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus wrote about Hillary Clinton, her wealth, and the coming presidential campaign. Marcus said that Hillary “is no Romney; as much as Republicans may try to paint her as such, her weakness is not apt to be that she is out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.”
Ruth Marcus and I agree: Hillary Clinton is no Mitt Romney, not by a long shot. The odd thing is, Marcus means that as an insult of Romney.
And the notion that Romney is “out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans” is absurd. His experience in business, politics, and charity is vast. He has helped people with his own hands. He has been the governor of a state. He has campaigned among Americans, asking them questions, listening to them, over and over.
If Ruth Marcus and I lived 200 years, we would not meet as many Americans, from various walks of life, as Romney has. The idea that she or I or Hillary Clinton or you know more about “ordinary Americans” than Romney is both a conceit and an offense.
(My item here wasn’t very light, was it? But lighter than the Cuban one . . .)
At the U.S. Open, Matthew Fitzpatrick, the U.S. amateur champion, called a penalty on himself. This occasioned some praise in the press, as it should, really. But I couldn’t help thinking of Bobby Jones — who in the 1925 Open called a penalty on himself. He wound up losing the tournament by a stroke. Praised for his honesty and sportsmanship, he bridled, saying, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”
In other words, “I am not a cheater.”
In Friday’s Impromptus, I had a note about Frederick the Great, calling him “a serious flute player and composer.” Later, I had a parenthetical aside:
(And by the way, I said “flute player” in order to avoid the flutist/flautist debate. “Flutist” is a perfectly good word — and the word I prefer — but there’s always some nudnik who says, “Isn’t it ‘flautist’?”)
I got some mail on this. Several readers cited Jimmy Galway, or, more formally, Sir James Galway. He likes to say (some version of), “I play the flute, so I’m a flutist, you see? I’ve never played a flaut.”
I also heard from some people who wanted to know about, or remark on, the word “nudnik.” Well, I’ve quoted this before, and I’ll quote it now. In his latest novel, In Sunlight and in Shadow (so great), Mark Helprin writes,
A nudnik is a person — male, usually below middle age — who is simultaneously annoying, demanding, irritating, preposterous, cloying, deeply limited, insistent, energetic, needy, innocent, crafty, amusing, clueless, destructive, distractive, disconnected, monomaniacal, totally without self-awareness, off-putting, magnetic, haunting, whiny, horrible, exasperating, and, most of the time, Jewish. That’s the short definition.
Reading an obituary of Chuck Noll, the NFL coach, I thought of Maestro James Levine, I swear. Why? Because Levine says that he is a “teaching conductor.” The only way he can conduct is to teach, as he goes. This is not true of every conductor; in fact, I believe it is on the rare side.
Anyway, from the obit:
[Andy] Russell, the linebacker who played in seven Pro Bowls as a Steeler, marveled at Noll’s ability to teach.
“He would teach new draft choices who were all-American guards how to get in a stance,” Russell once told ESPN. “In his first year, we won our first game and lost 13 in a row. He said, ‘We will get worse before we get better because I’m going to force you to play the right way.’”
Asked by Sports Illustrated in 2007 how he wanted to be remembered, Noll replied: “A person who could adapt to a world of constant change. But most of all as a teacher.”
In a recent Impromptus, I celebrated the word “talmbout,” as in, “That’s what I’m talmbout” (“talking about”). A reader says, “Yes, and don’t forget ‘Ahmo’ — the shortened form of ‘I am going to.’ ‘Ahmo drive down to the store now.’ ‘Ahmo whup your tail.’”
Invaluable. Thanks, everyone, and see you.