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Impromptus
A free vote, stellar performances, blunter still, &c.


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Shall we start with some Carol Moseley Braun? Just the way you like to start your day, and columns, I know.

In response to accusations that her presidential candidacy was meant to thwart Al Sharpton, she said, “No one has encouraged me to get into this race with any reference whatsoever to Reverend Sharpton’s campaign. [Doesn't that "Reverend" just kill you, every time?] The black community is not a monolith, and to suggest that black voters have to get behind a single black candidate seems to take the community for granted.”

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Ah, that would be music to my ears — if not for that “have to get behind a single black candidate.” If only she had said, “The black community is not a monolith, and to suggest that black voters have to get behind a single candidate — black or white — seems to take the community for granted”!

When she talks like that, we’ll be able to hail progress. (Don’t hold your breath, incidentally — at least for Carol MB.)

CMB was so corrupt a politician that even Peter Fitzgerald could beat her — barely.

I have been tracking in this column the plight of Jian-li Yang, the Chinese human-rights hero. He has vanished in China — the government has done something with him — and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) recently wrote Colin Powell a letter urging that our government see to the “physical integrity” of Jian-li.

He has received a letter back from an assistant secretary, assuring that “[s]ince his retention last April, we have raised Mr. Yang’s case publicly and privately on almost a weekly basis.” (Jian-li is a “permanent resident” of this country, incidentally, and his wife and kids are citizens.) The letter says, “Mr. Yang’s case is a priority for us” — so, thank God for that.

I will remind you once more of the relevant website: It is here.

I know that the anti-French stuff is a little silly: renaming French fries “freedom fries” (reminiscent of the rechristening of sauerkraut “victory cabbage” in the Second War); pouring champagne down toilets; etc. But a little venting of steam is harmless and even right. We don’t express our displeasure through, say, a surgical strike on the Sorbonne; we just munch our “freedom fries.”

The AP reported that a WWII vet “has returned a certificate of thanks he received from France two years ago, saying he is upset the country he helped liberate isn’t supporting America’s efforts to disarm Iraq.” The man, Angelo Pizzuti, 80, said, “When France betrayed us, that was a terrible thing — stabbing us in the back.”

This point of view is legitimate. And I will only add that exercising a veto is one thing; lobbying other governments against the United States is another — more hostile. As our Rick Brookhiser says, France may not be an enemy (yet), but it is an unfriendly.

In the New York Sun, Adam Daifallah had a piece saying that Richard Perle was suing Seymour Hersh, over the article Hersh did for The New Yorker — alleging all sorts of screwy stuff concerning Perle’s business dealings. Perle said — with characteristic directness — “It’s all lies, from beginning to end.” This reminds me of something Henry Kissinger said regarding Hersh’s reporting about him: a “slimy lie.” (Not very diplomatic — but robust.)

Richard Perle is responsible for one of my favorite college moments. Actually, I was in graduate school. Perle gave one of the greatest, coolest (in the sense of “coolness under fire”) performances I have ever witnessed. The crowd was unbelievably hostile, of course. One guy heckled him, calling him a liar, and Perle said, calmly, “You’ll have your turn in the Q&A.”

In the Q&A, the guy said that the CIA and FBI had determined that Perle was an Israeli spy. (This was nonsense, obviously.) Perle gave a perfectly reasonable and sober answer. And then, at the end, he put on a coda — almost an afterthought. He said, “Oh, by the way, I just want to say: Your faith in the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies of this country is rather touching.”

That was about the most devastating remark I’d ever heard in public, because the kid was a clear leftist who, in any normal circumstance, would revile the FBI, the CIA, and the U.S. government at large.

The greatest forensic performance I have ever seen? I’ll save that for another day. But it was by Jerry Falwell — yes, Jerry Falwell — at the Harvard Law School. The kids had arrived with a lynching mentality. I swear, there was a brownness (as in shirts) in the hall that day. And Falwell handled them brilliantly: with humor, tact, deftness. Amazing.

Bill Bennett wasn’t bad, either, in debate against Derek Bok (then the Harvard president and a stiff and conventional man — he never stood a chance against a nimble education secretary).

I could make my point at great length, or I could make it briefly — and, for your sake, I’ll choose briefly: It is disheartening — sickening, in a way — that the United States has to pretend (sort of) that Israel isn’t an ally, and that other countries, that don’t act like allies, are allies. Shouldn’t you take your friends where you can get them, particularly among the democracies — even if a friend is abhorred by Syria, Iran, France, and other lovelies?

Several months ago — maybe over a year now — I argued that Thomas L. Friedman was the most important columnist in the world. Why? Because he is the number-one voice on the Middle East in the number-one newspaper in the world. (It’s simply true — no sense disputing or muttering over it.)

The other day, Howard Dean was finally challenged on his repeated use of the word “unilateral,” to describe the effort against Iraq. How did Gov.-Dr. Dean choose to answer? “I’m not so sure how inaccurate [the word] is. Tom Friedman used that word to describe [Bush's] actions today in the New York Times. And Tom Friedman knows a lot about foreign policy.”

So there. What more need be said? That’s what three Pulitzer prizes’ll do for you, I tell you.

Pardon me while I cry.

All right, you want to hear something unbelievably partisan? (I mean, even more partisan than what you’ve already heard?) It’s almost enough to make me ashamed.

The AP reported that

Rep. Frank D. Lucas lost a tooth and cut his lip when he butted heads with a 250-pound heifer while putting an identification tag on the cow. . . . Lucas underwent an emergency root canal on Sunday after he was injured at his ranch near Cheyenne, Okla. Lucas, a 43-year-old Republican, returned to Washington a day after the surgery.

Okay, here’s what I want to say: That was a Republican injury. You can hardly imagine a Democrat having it. And when Reagan’s commerce secretary, Mac Baldrige, died, he did so in a rodeo accident. That was a Republican death — you can’t quite imagine a Democrat going out that way, can you?

I’m sorry, but at least I warned you: That was maybe the most partisan Impromptu I’ve ever written. And, of course, the competition is stiff.

Nina Bernstein published a depressing piece in the New York Times. It was depressing to me, at least. It was about young Germans, and their view of the United States. That view is negative, to say the least, and it is also demented. She quotes kids as saying that the U.S. committed the Sept. 11 attacks itself. And one boy said, rhetorically, “Did you think that Americans were really on the moon?”

But here’s the kicker. Bernstein ends, “Their views, more outlandish than realistic, were bolstered with selective history. Next, the students were going on a school field trip to learn more about America. They were off to see ‘Bowling for Columbine,’” the Michael Moore documentary.

Of course. Of course.

Also from the Times, this one a piece about the execution of a Texas Death Row inmate. It begins, “. . . Texas is planning a Wednesday execution of a black man convicted by an all-white jury 23 years ago of killing a white 16-year-old and fleeing with his car.”

Okay, okay: Have you ever seen a story saying that a defendant had been acquitted by an all-black jury — in Washington, D.C., for instance? Or that an all-black jury had acquitted a black defendant who had killed or injured or otherwise harmed a white person?

Just wondering. I haven’t. Of course race is ever with us, and not to be ignored, but the mainstream media — particularly in crime-related stories — lay it on a little thick. But then, sometimes they don’t. At all.

Strange.

Sorry, just wondering: O.J.’s still looking for the real killers, isn’t he? Isn’t he?

Dear Jay: “You were talking about how blunt Paul Johnson is. You quoted the following from his Forbes column: ‘Lesson One: We have been reminded that France is not to be trusted at any time, on any issue.’ But you missed a subsequent lesson that was equally straightforward: ‘Lesson Three: . . . [M]ore than half a century of experience shows that the U.N. is a theater of hypocrisy, a sink of corruption, a street market of sordid bargains and a seminary of cynicism.’

“Don’t you wish Johnson would just come right out and say what he means?”

“Jay, I went on a Disney cruise with my family last summer. One night our ship came to a complete stop in the middle of the dark sea, because a small rowboat with a handful of Cuban refugees had been spotted. They had apparently been at sea for several days, and had run out of food and fresh water. One old man looked very near death. The passengers on the ship cheered when these poor souls were provided with food and water, and brought aboard the ship. We all cheered again when the U.S. Coast Guard arrived to take custody of the refugees. I don’t think I was alone in assuming that these men had escaped Castro’s gulag. And I was very happy for them. The whole event was very exciting, and I took the opportunity to talk to my two children about how precious freedom really is.

“Imagine my disgust when I learned later (via a press release on a Coast Guard website) that my government had handed these poor people back over to Fidel within days. Why would we do that?”

And what do you think happened to them when they were returned?

“Mr. Nordlinger, you were talking about ‘subtle linkages,’ and I found one in a reading from the Air War College correspondence course I’m taking: ‘. . . But leadership for what? A focus on means divorced from ends makes people — especially intellectuals — ill at ease. They hardly want to be in the business of training future Joe McCarthys or Hitlers or Idi Amins.’

“Hitler, Amin . . . and McCarthy! And this is part of a military-leadership course! Do you love it?”

Yeah — in that sense.

(Speaking of linkages, I grouped France with Syria and Iran, above — but did so knowingly and polemically, thank you very much.)

“I want to thank you for mentioning Maureen Dowd’s incredibly nasty column on Bulgaria. I am a private lawyer who employs six young Bulgarian professionals in my international law practice. They are among the most capable, energetic, and thoughtful people I have ever met. They epitomize the ‘new Europe.’ One of them saw Dowd’s article and told me he was ‘stunned.’ By stunned I don’t think he meant insulted, but stunned by the vicious ad hominem nature of the piece and its frivolous tone, on a matter that calls for serious discourse.”

Another reader, concerning Eastern Europe: “I saw something tonight that ought to interest you. I was watching a documentary on the making of the movie Amadeus, part of the two-DVD director’s-cut release. The very first item in the documentary talks about how the crew was filming one of Mozart’s opera sequences in Prague’s Tyl Theatre on July 4, 1983, using a number of Prague citizens as extras. Just before the cameras rolled, without any prior warning, the folks from Prague unfurled a huge American flag and began to sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ All but about 30 or so Czech secret police joined in. The documentary shows pictures of the flag hanging from one of the theater’s balconies.

“A very moving tale, especially in light of the stories you’ve related recently of how Eastern Europeans haven’t forgotten what we’ve always stood for and how we helped make them free.”

Last, “Your recent discussion of ‘I could care less’ brought to mind an old story about playwright George Kaufman.

“On the television show This Is Show Business, a young Eddie Fisher, complaining that girls wouldn’t date him because of his youthful age, asked Kaufman’s advice.

“Kaufman replied, ‘Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars up to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the construction of the Mount Palomar telescope, an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope.

“Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to detect my interest in your problem.”

But I’m interested! Good weekend, y’all.



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