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Impromptus
As we drone on . . ., New York goes south, when war is good for children, &c


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A lot of people were skeptical about Hans Blix when he was first appointed. I wasn’t — I mean, I was skeptical, sure, but I didn’t assume the worst. Others contended that he would do anything to block U.S. action. That his main purpose would be to thwart war against Saddam Hussein, giving that dictator endless excuses, cover, and time. The French and Russians had handpicked Blix: What more did you need to know?

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I thought this was a bit extreme. But now that he has practically hidden that drone, and those retooled rockets, I wonder. I wonder. Certainly American security is too important a thing to be left to the scrupulosity of the good Swedish doctor.

We can say at least that much, can’t we?

Paul Johnson is not only one of the best writers in the world. He is also one of the bluntest. I mean, he makes me, in Impromptus, look almost delicate.

Prove it, you say? Okay. Here’s what he writes in a Forbes magazine column, about the lessons of Iraq: “Lesson One: We have been reminded that France is not to be trusted at any time, on any issue.”

Remember that, the next time you think Impromptus a little . . . straight-ahead, shall we say!

I’m looking at the lead (not lede, please) from an article in the Daily Telegraph, reprinted in the New York Sun: “Four Islamic extremists trained in Al Qaeda bases deliberately targeted Christian symbols in an effort to ‘terrorize civilized society,’ a judge [in Germany] said yesterday after convicting them of planning to bomb a Christmas market in Strasbourg.”

Well, it’s nice to know — to be reminded — that they don’t hate only the Jews, eh?

I saw a story in the New York Post that said Duke University was staging a film festival devoted to flicks from the “Axis” countries: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. They’re also showing films from “a trio of countries designated by the State Department as ‘rogue states’ — Cuba, Libya, and Syria.”

Fine, fine, but here’s what I love about it (meaning, “love”). A professor in charge says, “We know how Bush sees the Axis of Evil. How does someone from the Axis see everyday life?”

What disturbs me about that is: What makes the professor think that people in those countries are free to make movies about what they think about everyday life? I mean, come on!

Also from the Post, this item (under the clever headline “Let the shooting begin”): “The Pentagon has enlisted Hollywood to present its daily briefings to the world. Fresh from the latest Michael Douglas film, one of Tinseltown’s top art directors has been hired to create a $200,000 set for Gen. Tommy Franks and other U.S. commanders to give daily updates.”

I’m not a square. I understand the modern world. I know all about image, and adaptation. But still: This is depressing, at some level. Why can’t we leave that falsity — that veneer — to other countries, or at least to other administrations?

You may not know it, but the City Council of New York is working on an anti-war resolution. Or — as the New York Sun words it, in a smart and passionate editorial — “the Council, sitting only yards from Ground Zero, is preparing to pass a resolution against the war in Iraq.” Later, it says, “The president of America is backed by two bipartisan congressional war resolutions giving him authority to exercise his judgment, and the City Council of the leading city in the land wants to go on record as demurring.”

That’s pretty pathetic. And it didn’t take long for the effect of 9/11 to wear off, did it? At the time, everyone said, “This changes everything.” It did: for a day or two. Then it was back to the same old nonsense, the same old positions, the same old attitudes. (As some of us predicted, I’m tempted to say.)

What’s the most despicable thing you’ve read or heard all week? I have a nomination — it comes from the always-nominatable Howard Dean: “The risk for us to unilaterally attack Iraq is that other nations will adopt our policy, and I can very easily see perhaps the Chinese saying one day, ‘Well, Taiwan presents an imminent threat, and therefore we have the right to attack Taiwan.’” This is the sort of thinking that takes place in the mind of a kindergartner, or a college professor. It should be disqualifying in a candidate for president. I wouldn’t even think that such a mind would be fit for governing Vermont.

I have written several times in this column about Brothers to the Rescue, one of the most admirable and inspiring organizations in the country (not that it will ever win many awards for its work). It spends its life patrolling the Florida Straits to rescue Cubans who are fleeing persecution in their homeland. Some of the Brothers’ pilots, of course, have been shot down and killed by Castro’s forces.

I thought I would let my readers know that Brothers to the Rescue is holding a fundraising event on Saturday, March 22, in Miami. It is called “Feast Among the Planes,” to be held at Miami Executive Aviation.

For more information, please call (305) 477-1868 or write [email protected]. I don’t think I’ve ever urged a charitable contribution in this column (not even for NR and NRO! Shame on me — I herewith urge it). But Brothers to the Rescue is worth a little cup-rattling. I don’t know what better work you can do than rescue the desperate from flimsy rafts on the open, churning, shark-infested seas. Right?

While I’m at it, there’s a website devoted to Jian-li Yang, the great Chinese scholar and democracy activist — who has disappeared into PRC dungeons. I have written about him several times, and met him, before he took a risk that resulted in his current predicament. That website is here. His wife, friends, and colleagues are working and praying to gain his release. That is another mighty cause, the human cause, you could say.

I was in the concert hall the other night, covering a program of chamber music. On the bill was a piece by Chen Yi, who was born in Guangzhou and now works and teaches in Kansas City. Let me cite a passage from her bio:

When the Cultural Revolution overtook China in the 1960s, she was sent for two years of forced labor into the countryside, but took along her violin. A positive aspect of that experience was the knowledge she gained of the wider life and music of her homeland and its people.

Look, everyone is entitled to her own bio. Far be it from me to criticize. But a more striking example of silver liningism, I haven’t seen in a long while. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

At this same concert, the flutist Paula Robison gave a little speech (before playing Halil, a piece by Leonard Bernstein written in memory of an Israeli flutist who died in the 1973 war). She peppered that speech with an anti-war message, to which the crowd responded, of course, enthusiastically. She said how terrible — how wrong — it was when people die in war.

Of course, of course. But what I’ve always wondered is, “Why don’t people of this type care so much about people who are brutalized and killed under tyrannical regimes? When you die at the hands of your rulers, are you less dead than when you die in war?”

I often think of Anne Frank. Which was worse for her: an evil regime or war? What would our anti-war people have said to her? “I’m against war, Anne, so good luck in Bergen-Belsen. Don’t forget to write.”

There was a popular poster in my youth: “War is unhealthy for children and other living things.” No, it isn’t: not as much as evil regimes against which war should be made.

You think I write hot? I think I write hot too, sometimes. But you haven’t seen hot until you’ve read this recent column — here — by Ralph Peters. Save it for when you feel like a good revving-up.

And may I suggest a little Mark Steyn? I know that suggesting Mark to my readers is like suggesting a doughnut to Dom DeLuise (or me). This column is a (typical) model of the genre we might dub “funny-serious.”

Wanna end with a little language? Okay. In the spirit of “Gutter” politics, several readers have let me know that the good folks on NPR — the ones who in the 1980s rolled their r’s in “Nicaragua” — have taken to saying “Gih-NAY,” for Guinea. I wonder if they speak of Papua New Gih-NAY and Gih-NAY pigs, too.

On the (general) subject of BASURA/TRASH, a reader says, “I’m writing from Canada. For five years, I worked for the country’s largest Catholic publishing company, Novalis. We had offices in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Our Ottawa office was located on a Catholic university campus, and therefore had to be extra-, extra-proper about official bilingualism: Femmes/Women on the washroom doors, or Ouvre/Open . . . You get the idea.

“So you won’t be surprised to learn that the sign just outside our Ottawa office read: Novalis/Novalis.”

No, even I am surprised — and disgusted.

From another reader: “Paul Harvey reports that the longest word you can type with just your left hand is ‘stewardesses.’ He offers no word for the right hand, although the longest I’ve discovered is ‘minimum.’ Can you think of a longer word?”

No, actually. But I have a memory, and I’m sorry for dragging you down Memory Lane. I had a basketball coach named Ken Treaster. Wonderful guy. I remember his once remarking that you could type his last name with your left hand alone — something I’ve never forgotten, though I seriously can’t remember this morning (probably for the better).

And last, a reader suggests the perfect oxymoron: “U.N. resolution.”

With that . . .



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