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Impromptus
Getting your insults right. Ah, the Times. Confucius say . . . &c.


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By now, you’ve probably heard about Eric Alterman and Rush Limbaugh. (I learned about it from Kathryn “Lopes” Lopez on The Corner yesterday.) Alterman is, of course, the Nation writer, and Rush is . . . The Great One.

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In an interview with Esquire, Alterman said, “I hate to say it, but I wish the guy would have gone deaf. I shouldn’t say that, but on behalf of the country, it would be better without Rush Limbaugh and his 20 million listeners.”

So much to say — but may I start with a language point? I know, I can make a language point out of anything. But I’m awfully tired of the locution “I wish the guy would have gone deaf” (for example). It’s “I wish the guy had gone deaf.” If you’re going to wish a life calamity on a great man, at least do it in proper English, for heaven’s sake.

I hear all around me: “If only I would have known” (again, for example). Fittin’ to drive me nuts.

I listened to a tape of Rush reading and discussing Alterman’s remarks. After he read the remarks . . . he laughed. Laughed it off, really. That’s just like Rush. He also mentioned that, when John Candy died, some liberals said, “Why couldn’t it have been Rush Limbaugh instead?” (Maybe they actually said, “I wish it would have been Rush Limbaugh instead”!)

(John Candy was a quite overweight actor, and this was before Rush underwent his big weight loss.)

Rush went on to say: And they call us mean-spirited?

Of course, there are heartless types on every side. But very few have the platform(s) of Alterman — including our beloved NRO, eh?!

(By the way — further on Alterman’s statement — don’t even get me started on “on behalf” and “in behalf.”)

I was talking about major weight losses. The other night, I was at the Metropolitan Opera, reviewing the new production of Les Troyens. The Aeneas walks on, and I say, “Holy sh**, I thought they were having [the Canadian tenor] Ben Heppner in this role.” I looked in my program to see whether I could find a substitution slip. But then I remembered. I’d read it somewhere: Heppner underwent a huge, huge weight loss. He was unrecognizable.

As I wrote in my review, he’s half-a-Heppner now. Amazing.

May I point out a couple of things in the New York Times? Thank you. On Monday, there was an article by Emma Daly on the alliance between Washington and Madrid, Bush and Aznar. The article said, “Although European leaders tend to a more nuanced sense of history, Mr. Aznar has no problem in seeing the Iraq crisis as a choice between Saddam Hussein and George Bush”!

This is a news article, mind you — not an opinion piece. Although European leaders tend to a more nuanced sense of history . . . You’d be afraid to put that into a parody.

The article also said, “On the streets of Madrid, noisy demonstrators have waved ‘Toxic Texan’ banners [those are the good guys], but in the Moncloa Palace complex where Mr. Aznar lives and works, the center-right Spanish government dominated by his Popular Party has always offered a warm welcome — in the only foreign language spoken by Mr. Bush.”

Okay. But how many languages did Clinton, for example, speak? English and Arkansan?

(Dear residents of Arkansas: Please don’t write me. I love Arkansans. And, as my regular readers know, I love regional speech — so lay off me.)

Ah, the Times. The Europeans and their “nuanced sense of history.” Why is it always the unnuanced Yanks who have to come and bleed and die and help them out?

If you’re looking for one book on the debate over the current situation, I recommend The War over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, by Lawrence F. Kaplan and Bill Kristol. In fact, you might want to give it to your skeptical friends. After they have read it, they should say, reversing Joschka Fischer, “Excuse me, I am convinced.”

A reader writes, “I was having a conversation at a party recently and the conversation turned political. Long story short, I mentioned what a tyrant Castro is, and the person I was talking to said, ‘Oh, yeah? Bring back Batista!’ How do you respond to that type of comment?”

Well, the first thing to note is, they always say that. In fact, they’ve been saying it for over 40 years now. Batista was overthrown in 1959. In the rhetoric of the Left, every Castro opponent — every democrat, dissident, and human-rights activist — is a right-wing Batista stooge. It’s a standard slander.

As you may recall, I did a couple of reports on the jailed oppositionist René Montes de Oca. Some in the left-wing press charged that Montes was . . . a Batista stooge! Thing is, he was born after Batista was deposed.

Anyway, the choice is not between Castro and a right-wing dictator. The choice is between Castro and democracy. The rest of Latin America has democratized — but this one island remains in the hands of a brutal totalitarian regime.

But the Left, and those who don’t know any better, will always mention Batista. Just as, when you talked about the Ortega brothers and the hope for a better Nicaragua, they always said “Somoza.”

But they had to deal with a democrat, Violeta Chamorro, poor babies.

You may recall a story I told in my Davos diary last week. I was introducing a panel, and I said, “Each member will rise to say a few further words about himself.” And the first member — a lady academic — said, “I’m not a ‘himself,’ I’m a person.” Another woman burst out into vigorous, and lone, applause.

A college student writes, “Today I went to a class on Japanese culture, getting there a little early, and I saw the teacher mapping out the class content for the day on the board. The subject of the class was Japanese religions and philosophies. As I took my seat, the professor was writing down ‘Confucianism: A philosophy of ethical behavior. A dualistic system on the basic nature of man.’ She then took a step back, cocked her head, and proceeded to erase ‘man,’ replacing it with ‘humans.’

“I thought to myself, ‘Mr. Nordlinger would be amused!’”

I am — but a little sad, too.

Years ago, there was a suggestion — I believe published in Forbes magazine — that the pronoun “he” be replaced with “he-she-or-it” — to be pronounced “horseshit.”

A reader points out that Siemens has opened a permanent office in Kabul — following a 20-year absence from Afghanistan. Rejoice. The Afghan people are being given life. George Bush et al. done good.

My man Gary Larson from Minnesota — “not your favorite cartoonist,” he likes to say — reports that his grandchildren are half-Norwegian and half-Chinese (and fully American, of course). Therefore, they’d be screwed two ways at the University of Michigan and other schools: as an excluded majority and as an excluded minority!

You just can’t win — or at least they can’t.

A correspondent of mine received the following solicitation from the Clinton presidential library. Or rather, the following “pledge card,” to return:

“Dear President Clinton, I want to be a Founding Member of the Clinton Presidential Library and Center. To ensure your vision is fulfilled, I am enclosing a generous contribution toward the erection of this vital institution.”

If you were “soliciting” for Clinton, wouldn’t you kinda/sorta avoid the use of the word “erection” — a not very common word after all?

The other day, I was griping and laughing over the use of this phrase “rush to war” — the Bush administration is “rushing to war” in Iraq.

A reader coined the word escargotkrieg — “especially applicable to the Franco-German ‘Axis of Two,’ as you said, don’t you think?”

You will recall my mention of my failure to get very far in either Middlemarch or Bleak House, which the eminently authoritative Harold Bloom proclaimed the two best novels in English.

A reader writes,

“My grandma lived a long and full life. She died a few years ago at the age of 92. Some highlights of her life include: playing semi-pro basketball in the ’20s (she also played with Lou Costello in high school); winning trophies in the Milrose Games at The Garden; going to college (a woman in the ’20s); flying in a bi-plane (the pilot passed out drunk when the flight was over); having three children (of whom my father was one); suffering from lupus that left her hands horribly arthritic from the time she was 40 or so, and later causing her to go blind (so she ‘read’ books on tape).

“This woman read constantly. I don’t know of a book she didn’t read. I loved going to her house to borrow books. She had them all.

“She told me a long time ago that if I didn’t like a book I should stop reading it, and not worry about it. She said that she had wasted a lot of time — time that she could have used for other books — in struggling to finish books she didn’t like, because she’d been brought up to finish something she started.

“Don’t feel guilty, Jay. I don’t.”

I love that letter.

You know how I’m always raggin’ on Ann Arbor, my hometown, as a stinky far-Left redoubt?

A reader writes, “I was watching the first chapter of Ken Burns’s documentary on the Civil War last night. In describing the reaction to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers, he runs through a laundry list of states and municipalities that immediately sent large numbers of soldiers to help the Cause. Prominently mentioned was a strong response from the men of — gasp! — Ann Arbor, Michigan! How times have changed.”

Holy Moses. I am stunned.

From an Alpine-knowledgeable reader: “I was in St. Moritz, skiing, while you were jawing in Davos. I think I got the better deal. Anyway, re globalization, anti-Americanism, and McDonald’s [all of which I had mentioned]: St. Moritz has the highest McDonald’s in Switzerland — probably in Europe. It is halfway up Corviglia — St. Moritz’s main skiing mountain — and sits just above Le Marmite [Derb, call your office!] restaurant, which claims to sell more caviar per day than any other restaurant in Switzerland. The point is, while everyone hates the United States and globalization — they can’t get enough of our Big Macs. It’s a very busy fast-food joint. Make mine a Biggie.”

Okay!

“Jay, you talked about ‘rioting for fun and profit,’ and you said that, while you didn’t think the Davos rioters were making a profit, they were clearly having fun. Well, I was recently at a party here on campus (Northeastern University). I somehow ended up talking to this girl about this-‘n’-that when she mentioned that she had at one point been paid to go and protest in support of various lefty causes. The amount was not very much — maybe 50 bucks a day — but I was shocked. Once she saw this, she dropped the matter, immediately. She wouldn’t give me any more details. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

Hmmm.

In a recent Impromptus, I cited the now-famous Mary McGrory column, in which she says, approvingly, that Colin Powell delivered his U.N. presentation in a “strong and unwavering” voice. I said some rude things along the lines of, “Well, what if he had used a weak and wavering voice?” — making the point that the atmospherics of the thing had been way overblown, when what counted was the facts.

A reader writes, “I’m reminded of the less-than-commanding timbre of Harry Truman’s and George Patton’s voices. Both were nasal and reedy, with Patton’s being rather high-pitched. There probably wasn’t a soldier in his army who didn’t do an impression of him, yet they’d follow him down a hell hole if so ordered.”

Excellent.

One more? Okay. A reader vents, “The New York Times can’t even cover an event as enjoyable as the Westminster Kennel Club Show without dragging race into it. The paper said, ‘Had Les [the Pekingese] won, his co-owner John Shaw of Hong Kong would have been the first non-American to own a Westminster best-in-show winner and his handler, Hiram Kenner, would have been the first African-American to handle a best-in-show winner.’

“Two questions come to mind: Who gives a &!$@? and, Why does that matter? Perhaps after all this time I shouldn’t be bothered by this sort of thing, but I am.”

Well, good for you.

And I’m out, y’all.



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