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Impromptus
Dr./Sen. Narcissus? Cliff Roberts's legacy. A little Bible thumpin'. And more


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So, I’m sitting here looking at a news photo of Bill Frist. He’s in his new suite, showing around Howard Baker, his fellow Tennessean. And on the closest surface is… a photo of Bill Frist. All stylized and fancy.

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Swell. Just swell.

Just did a lil’ piece for the magazine on the Augusta National controversy. Found one fun fact I didn’t get to squeeze in. The controversy, as you know, pits the venerable club against feminists, led by Martha Burk, “chair,” as she calls herself, of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

Much of the Left likes to say how awful Bobby Jones was (when in fact, of course, he was a great man — not just a great athlete, but a great man). The man who co-founded Augusta with Jones was Clifford Roberts, an irascible, dictatorial type — very unlike Jones. Roberts was a disturbed man, too, who wound up killing himself — on the grounds of Augusta National, even.

Anyway: Roberts left the bulk of his estate to Planned Parenthood — because he despised children. (In fact, he kept one prospective member out of Augusta National because the man had five children, and “anyone stupid enough” to have that many offspring, said Roberts, “isn’t smart enough to belong to Augusta National.” Roberts, I might add, came from a family of five children.)

My point? Martha Burk and her brother feminists may hate Augusta National — but they should just remember ol’ Cliff’s will.

I’m afraid I have to turn to something sad now. Same old stuff. Regular readers have seen my jottings about Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, the blind lawyer and political prisoner in Cuba. He is the president of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights.

Well, a letter from him has just been smuggled out of Holguin prison. The situation is extremely bad. Gonzalez Leiva has good reason to believe that his food and drink are being poisoned. His family is being seriously harassed and threatened. He fears for “the physical integrity of my loved ones.” He suspects that his cellmate is an informer. Gonzalez Leiva’s health is atrocious.

What can I do? Just get the name out, his supporters ask. Remind people. Just let them know of his very existence, and struggle.

Okay. That I can do. And I can also provide the name of one of the many, many laudable groups dedicated to helping such as Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva: the Coalition of Cuban-American Women.

Friends, this would be so much easier if Castro didn’t have so many admirers and apologists in the Free West. Say what you want about Kim Jong Il’s regime: At least you rarely hear a good word about it on these shores. Barbara Walters doesn’t go drool on the Beast of Pyongyang — only on the Beast of Havana.

Now a “point of light,” as a former president would say. Well, not just a point of light, but an academic and journalistic beacon: The Harvard Israel Review, founded and edited by Rachel Zabarkes, a super-brilliant chick who was a National Review intern last summer. Rachel and her cohorts have just put out another issue, the contents of which can be found at HIR’s website.

This journal is measured, informed, and, in the present climate — certainly on campuses like Harvard’s — brave. I commend it to all, and I toast all of them.

In a previous Impromptus, I wrote of a conflict about whether to see Steven Spielberg’s latest movie — a conflict within myself. I dislike mixing art and politics, and I’m not much of a boycotter. But I’m a guilty non-boycotter. And seeing as Spielberg gives Castro — that oppressor, murderer, and torturer — great cover, I have a pang or two about continuing to see (and enjoy, of course) his movies.

Got a letter from Terry Teachout, the magisterial and virtually all-knowing critic and author. He said, “This isn’t exactly a solution to your dilemma, but coming as it does from one of the great art-for-art’s-sake guys of the 20th century, it has some force.” Then he supplied a statement from Clement Greenberg, to wit:

There are, of course, more important things than art: life itself, what actually happens to you. This may sound silly, but I have to say it, given what I’ve heard art-silly people say all my life: I say that if you have to choose between life and happiness or art, remember always to choose life and happiness. Art solves nothing, either for the artist himself or for those who receive his art.

A tonic, really. Good for Clement (whose brother, Martin, is a contributor to The New Criterion).

Speaking of The New Criterion: If you haven’t leapt on its January issue, you must. It’s a feast, as usual — maybe even more than usual. The New Criterion’s website is here, and I must recommend in particular Roger Kimball’s essay “Why the West?”; David Pryce-Jones’s awesome takedown of Eric Hobsbawm, the celebrated, decorated, adored Stalinist (really) historian; and Hilton Kramer’s review of Terry’s just-published biography of H. L. Mencken (Hilton’s verdict, in brief: Wonderful book, not-wonderful man — meaning Mencken).

Only a few of The New Cri.’s pieces are online. It must be subscribed to. There’s a gift — to oneself or others — that surely will not disappoint.

The last few times out, I’ve been talking about “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas,” and related matters. Have a sample of mail:

“Dear Jay: Someone wrote you to say, ‘I can beat everything with a sign I saw: “Happy Significant Days.”’ Well, I think I can beat that. My department here at the University of Minnesota had an event last month: the ‘Winter Recognition Event.’ How do you like that?”

Pretty good. Pretty good.

From another reader: “While watching a video of my three-year-old’s Christmas pageant, I was startled to hear the familiar tune of ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ being sung as ‘We wish you a Happy Holiday.’ I tried telling my son that the correct words were ‘Merry Christmas,’ but he responded, ‘No it’s not, Dad, it’s ‘Happy Holiday.’ Oh boy, I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

I’ll say!

Another: “I heard a radio spot a few years back that went something like this: ‘B93 FM wishes you a Merry Christmas. To our Jewish listeners, Happy Hanukah. And to our atheist listeners: Have a nice day!’”

A few columns ago, I wrote about Patrice Lumumba University, in Moscow, and wondered what had become of it. A reader sent the following, very informative dispatch:

“Greetings from a fellow Michigander. I’m now a resident of Moscow. I am serving as a missionary with the Lutheran church.

“You may be pleased to know that Patrice Lumumba University has changed its name to Druzhba University (Friendship U.). No, I don’t know who thought that one up!

“You might also be interested to know that, as I attempt to improve my Russian, I’ve taken to watching a talk show called ‘Vremena’ (literally, ‘The Times’). And the host of this program is . . . none other than our former USSR PR flak Vladimir Posner! He is now a reborn ‘democrat’! In fact, from what I gather, he is aligned with the ‘liberal’ forces here (which means he is fairly close to being a Republican, if I may be so bold). I’m expecting Georgi Arbatov to show up any day now telling us he only pretended to be antagonistic towards President Reagan.

“I believe you also mentioned in an Impromptu a few months back the old statue of Dzerzhinsky standing outside the Lubyanka. Well, as I recall, it is now in what amounts to a Communist-statue graveyard across the street from Gorky Park. As an old Reaganite, I enjoy walking through this park and reminiscing (‘Ah, there’s Brezhnev over there, and look, there’s Stalin’s statue lying on its back!’). The old party days (Nov. 7 and May 1) still bring out the ‘true believers,’ but the numbers aren’t so impressive anymore. They are growing older and dying off.”

And not a day too . . .

Never mind.

One more letter, before a little language:

“Jay, thanks for slamming the old ‘perception is reality’ line [a reference to this column]. I used to work for a company where it became a management mantra, repeated endlessly in meetings and presentations, driving me batty.

“Finally, one day I’d had enough. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘here’s a deal for you. I’ll drop all you guys in the middle of the Sahara desert, without supplies. But, don’t worry: You can drink all the water you perceive.’

“Like I said, I used to work there . . .”

I have to report something strange: Twice, now, I’ve used in this column the word reverence, as a verb — “to reverence” something. And each time I got about a thousand letters accusing me of desecrating the language. “Can’t you use the word revere?” they said. “What’s the matter with you?” This last time, some guy wrote me to say, “If William F. Buckley Jr. were dead, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

Would you people kindly go soak your heads? Reverence — used in this way — is a very old and honorable word. An entirely evocative one, too. It is found chiefly in religious writing, not least in the Bible (you remember that?).

Try a couple of verses:

“Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus)

“And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him.” (Esther)

“But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.” (Matthew)

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians)

Okay, that’s enough. Memo to itchy fingers: Don’t write me crazy letters, please, and if you’re tempted to do so — at least consult a dictionary before typing.

Okie-dokie, artichokey (as the former First Lady said)?

This ain’t Biblical, but I like it a lot: I was with an NR bigwig, and he was describing a spill he took in the street: “So there I went, ass over tea kettle.”

Loved it. Immediately told David Pryce-Jones, in London. He said, “Here, we say ‘ass over t*t.’” (For some reason, I think the second word is more bleepable than the first.) David knows everything, of course: wars, literature, slang expressions — doesn’t matter.

Finally, I was steaming recently over bilingual education, that crock. A lot of it is not bilingual education, of course: It’s monolingual education, in Spanish.

I used to work at a biggish firm, and when we put boxes and things out that we wanted thrown away, we were to write “BASURA” on them — that’s the Spanish word for “garbage.” The throwers-out, of course, would be Hispanic.

And this infuriated me. So we’re going to keep them in a linguistic ghetto? How will they ever be more than janitors, then (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld and his friends might say)? They’re in this country: Let us write “BASURA” in Guatemala. And let us write “TRASH” in America.

Never got anywhere. And the amazing thing is: These white liberals thought they were being kind to Hispanics.

I think I took to writing “BASURA/TRASH” — a regular Berlitz, me! And a Schweitzer, too!



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