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Impromptus
The GOP of Lincoln (Chafee). The Greatest Title Never Used. A little language-rasslin'. And more


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Every now and then, you find a statement that encapsulates everything — or something — perfectly. I found one such statement from the mouth of Lincoln Chafee, the senator from Rhode Island.

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Here’s what he had to say about the Bush economic program: “I can’t see giving away any more of our revenues, which we’re doing in tax cuts.”

Ponder those words: “giving away” (which is socialist-speak for taking less of a person’s income); “our revenues” — the very ownership of that money.

Folks, this is just too perfect. Hang on to it.

On the front page of yesterday’s Washington Post, an article contained the following sentence: “The new House has 229 Republicans, 205 Democrats and one left-leaning independent.”

And who might that “left-leaning independent” be? A Socialist, Bernard Sanders of Vermont. (And note that capital S: That is to denote a party member.)

“Left-leaning independent” is kind of a delicate phrase, don’t you think? It might more accurately describe one of Vermont’s senators, James Jeffords. (Actually, what are the political differences between Sanders and Jeffords?)

A lot of us -wingers like to recall the press’s treatment of Angela Davis. Davis was — is, I imagine — a Communist, of course, and she was even on the CP’s presidential ticket, as the vice-presidential candidate under Gus Hall. And yet she would be described in the press as “the liberal Angela Davis” or “the ultra-liberal Angela Davis.”

Our political taxonomy is so screwed up now, we’ll never set it right, I fear. Remember: “liberal,” by and large, means statist or socialist — illiberal; “conservative” means . . . well, never mind. This is a long, long essay (slash rant).

I’ve been reading a little about Joe Lieberman, and I want to reveal to you The Greatest Title Never Used. What do I mean by that? Well, editors at magazines sometimes make up fake titles for pieces, ones we could never use, but which amuse us. I’ve come up with some doozies, I like to think.

Anyway, several years ago at The Weekly Standard, we had a piece about a new book concerning the Young Americans for Freedom. It (the book) was called The Other Side of the Sixties — and the review was written by Jonah Goldberg.

One of our managing editors, Richard Starr, gave that piece an unforgettably marvelous, but, of course, unusable, title:

“Goldwater: Our Kind of Jew.”

Thank you.

Amid my animadversions on the New York Times, I should single out for praise the Iraq reporting of John F. Burns. I want to highlight a couple of sentences from a recent piece: “In modern times, other nations in the grip of totalitarian leaders — Mao and Brezhnev, for example — have stood by helplessly as the hierarch’s abilities failed toward the end of a long period of unchallengeable power.”

Amazing that you could get away, in the New York Times, with calling Mao and Brezhnev totalitarians. But, of course, they’re safely dead (and, in the case of Brezhnev, his state is dead too).

Another sentence, or clause: “. . . a rare public protest by mothers who had lost sons to Mr. Hussein’s gulag.”

“Mr. Hussein’s gulag”? Pretty good. Pretty obvious for anyone else, but awfully good for the Paper of Record.

And I’d like to cite a couple of further things from a terrific and moving piece on Iraq by the Times’s Neil MacFarquhar. Check out this anecdote:

“When the last two passengers holding up a plane from Amman to Baghdad were stopped at security, the officer rummaging endlessly through their bags asked the airline agent, ‘Are they journalists?’ ‘Of course, they are journalists,’ the agent shot back. ‘Who else would want to go to Baghdad?’”

And check this out:

“No doubt Iraqis dread the deprivations another war would bring, and few would want to be American colonial subjects. But in unguarded moments — in parking lots and elevators and amidst grocery store shelves — they will suddenly let rip with an unvarnished opinion.

“‘If it weren’t for the Americans, the prisons would not have been emptied,’ said one man, referring to the general amnesty the government granted in October.”

Damn right. This ought to be shoved in the face of anyone opposing the war on the truly ridiculous grounds that it would be harmful to the Iraqi people. No, it would be harmful to the dictator and his regime.

You may recall an Impromptus item, several weeks ago, that concerned the King of Greece. The king, or former king — whose name is Constantine — won a legal judgment against the Greek government, for recovery of some of his property. I commented that Athens is still refusing to let him set foot in the country — and what could it hurt? Is Greek democracy so insecure, so flimsy, that it would go “Eeek!” if the guy returned to have a look around and renew some old acquaintances?

Anyway, further on the royal front, Victor Emanuel was let back into Italy, for the first time in over 50 years. The man is now 65. He took with him his son, 30, who’d never been in the country at all. They stayed for five hours. Asked for his reaction, Victor Emanuel said that he lacked the words to describe his emotions.

I believe it.

You know that nothing drives me nutser than official language bodies, like the French Academy, and unreasoning hostility abroad to English. In fact, one of the best things about English is its willingness to absorb — indeed, its delight in absorbing — contributions from all over.

Well, I didn’t know about Brazil. Here’s some news:

“The Education Commission of the Brazilian Senate has just passed an amendment which would prohibit the use of foreign terms in government communications, as well as in private businesses. Within a year, all businesses which use these foreign terms in advertising would have to provide a Portuguese translation along with the terms, in the same size print. Special commissions would be set up to write glossaries of suggestions of acceptable equivalents in Portuguese of foreign terms in fast-growing scientific or technological fields.

“The print news media would be able to use foreign words in these fields for a maximum of one year after the elaboration of applicable glossaries. After this time limit, the use of the word or expression in a foreign language would be considered injurious to the Brazilian cultural heritage and punishable by law. The amendment does not specify what penalty would be imposed on violators. Neither does it specify what would become of Latin expressions used in the legal field, such as sine die and habeas corpus.”

The correspondent who forwarded to me this information says, “I have to admit that in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, the use of English words sounds clunky to me, and gives me the impression that the people are unimaginative and overly admiring of foreign words, kind of like French people must feel when they see us borrow their words unnecessarily. But if you were in government, wouldn’t the kind of cultural heritage you would want to preserve include a strong sense of free speech?”

That’s putting it mildly. Of all of Brazil’s problems, they have to go hound and cuff someone for saying “screen saver.”

Tells us a lot.

Every now and then, a buzz phrase will take over Washington political and media circles. Words and phrases harden into cliché. For example, people in Congress rarely say “later” or “in the future” — they say “down the road.” I don’t know why, but they just do.

And you know what I’ve been hearing a lot lately — meaning, for the last few years? “Kabuki dance.” Everyone loves to trot out that term. Everything — any routine, any ritual, any negotiation — is a “Kabuki dance.”

I was reminded of this when I read the following in the New York Times: “Every two years, as their Senate colleagues are defeated or retire, some of the most powerful men and women in America begin a ‘Kabuki dance,’ in the words of one aide, in which they gingerly — and sometimes not so gingerly — negotiate with one another for these spots.”

That’s an okay usage. But, boy, I’ve heard that thing a lot, and it’s tiresome. Especially because I doubt that these people have ever seen a Kabuki dance or know what one is. But that doesn’t matter now: Usage, or overusage, is ruling.

Speaking of the rule of usage: In my column the other day, I referred to an editor and her “cohorts.” I hesitated to write that word, because I knew that people would write in and say, “What, you say cohorts? You, of all people?”

And, sure ’nuff, I got some “You, of all people!” mail. They want me to use cohort only in its original sense, meaning — I’m quoting Merriam-Webster’s here — a band or group. Here’s the first definition: “One of 10 divisions of an ancient Roman legion.” Then, “A group of warriors or soldiers.” Then, “A group of individuals having a statistical factor (as age or class membership) in common in a demographic study,” e.g., “a cohort of premedical students.”

But there is a more modern usage, and that I don’t shrink from: companion or colleague. “Edna and a few of her cohorts decided to form an all-girl band.”

Conservative that I am, I think you have to live in the world that you live in, and, in our world, cohort is used in that newer sense — along with the older one, too, of course. “She arrived with a cohort of pals.” I could say that. But I would also feel comfortable and unguilty saying “She and her cohorts . . .”

For me, it’s rather like decimate. Sure, way back, it meant to kill every tenth man. But so what? A lot of things meant a lot of things way back — way, way back. If you start down that road, there’s no end to it. None. You can’t speak. You’re paralyzed. Decimate now means to devastate or destroy, and that’s okay. Look, if I can get used to the contemporary sense of “conservative” — very often meaning liberal — then I can get used to anything.

I know a super-bright and well-educated girl who goes nutso when people use medieval to mean benighted or backward. She thinks it’s a slander on those who lived in the Middle Ages.

But, you know, when we use medieval in the now-accepted sense, we’re not slamming anyone — we’re just talkin’. And, as the Clinton people would be happy to remind us: Sometimes we just have to “move on.”

Folks, I was going to devote a whole half-column to “ass over tea kettle” and its cousins — but I see I’ve been windy. I gotta go. So, let’s just have, oh . . . maybe two letters, to tie things up.

“In a weekly department meeting during a season of layoffs, our supervisor at work noted, ‘We don’t call it downsizing anymore. We call it rightsizing.’ I disgustedly said, ‘What’s next? Capsizing?’

“That is what is known as a CLM — career-limiting move.”

“Hey, Jay: About Augusta National and its antagonist, Martha Burk: She is the head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, which is an organization of women’s groups (just as the name says). I am curious about how many of these groups have women-only memberships. For example: One of the organizations Ms. Burk represents is the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. This is a federation of local women’s clubs. My wife is a member of the Junior Women’s Club of Columbia (S.C.), a club affiliated with the General Federation. I have seen their membership application. Quite obviously, there is no place on the application to indicate one’s sex. I am certain that if I tried to join, I would be turned down because I am a man. I imagine the same holds true with numerous other organizations represented by Ms. Burk.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I applaud it. I myself graduated from The Citadel, when it was all-male. I am a big proponent of single-sex education.

“My wife even wrote a letter to our paper here supporting Augusta and telling the editor that one of the reasons she joined that club was fellowship with other women and that if it were not a women’s-only club she wouldn’t be a member.

“Anyway, I think it is hypocrisy on the part of Ms. Burk and her group to be clamoring against Augusta while being perfectly content to represent ‘women’s organizations.’”

Finally, I just have to tell you that the image of Sparkle — here you go — got a big reaction. Poor Sparkle was the mascot for Pittburgh’s “Sparkle Season,” now defunct. (Sparkle Season took the place of Christmas, I guess.) Anyway, many, many readers commented that Sparkle looked like — I’m only quoting now — “a gay Klansman.” Someone else said he (or whatever) looked like a flamboyant, blue Hershey’s kiss.

Can’t beat ol’ Santa!



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