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Impromptus
What's in a mural? The ugliest face of protest. Oscar talk — and more


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Like many others, I shuddered on seeing the mural in Iraq celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center. But, also like many others, I was unsurprised. Every day, we see one of David Pryce-Jones’s points borne out: that the Arabs are in the grip of a death cult, glorifying acts of murder — the more spectacular and gorier, the better — and rejecting life.

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You may remember the “suicide bomber” attack at the Sbarro’s pizzeria in Israel. What you may not remember is the celebratory display that was put on at Bir Zeit, the leading Palestinian university. They had a replica of the pizzeria, blown up, complete with body parts and slices of pizza strewn about. The Palestinians looked at this with awe and joy. Again: This was a university. The leading one.

Pryce-Jones is right about something else, too: Unless the Arab world frees itself of its death cult and its psychosis, no peace is possible, and anything like a normal life is out of the question, for Arabs.

Incidentally, the Iraqi mural in question was on the country’s military headquarters at Nasiriyah. Maybe the willful aren’t convinced of a link between 9/11 and the Iraqi regime; but who can deny that they liked it?

Speaking of the very, very ugly: You may have seen the banner that “antiwar protesters” carried in San Francisco: “We Support Our Troops When They SHOOT Their Officers.” So let us put to rest the notion that all of the protesters want only the “safe return of our boys”; that they are simply gentle, high-minded peace-lovers.

It reminds me a little of the Vietnam era. After the fall of Saigon — and after reports of reeducation camps, boat people, and mass murder reached the West — the Left said, “All we wanted was for our boys to come home, to be out of harm’s way.” I’m sure this was true of many activists. But a great many of them were openly pro-North, pro-Ho, pro-Communist, pro-American defeat. This was a fact that got greatly obscured, in later years. Jane Fonda, for example, was in no significant sense antiwar: She was for the victory of the Communist North against the America-backed South.

Although it has long been impolite to say that.

Incidentally, you probably noticed that I put “antiwar protesters” in quotes above. That is because some of these people are hardly antiwar, more closely resembling the Fonda of yore.

What to do about the media? Their variety is great. When I read the New York Post, for example — which is exuberantly pro-American, and boosterish — I see one war. When I read the New York Times — or listen to NPR or the BBC, if I did — I see another. Which is the true picture? Probably they all are. But who has the time to consume everything, thus arriving at balanced conclusions?

This, if I may, is where the New York Times falls down. It ought to be the newspaper of record, sort of one-stop shopping for the busy. But it has gone hard opinionated, and slanted. Some days, I swear, the news columns read like Impromptus.

To its credit, the Bush administration was very, very careful not to say — or even imply — that Gulf War II would be a breeze. The only major figure who did was the immediate ex-president, William J. Clinton. Two weeks ago, he said, “This war is going to be over in a flash.” That was just before he said, “You can always kill somebody next week. You can’t bring them back next week” — because, as we all know, the main intention of the allied powers is simply to kill people. Preferably innocent.

We’re supposed to “get over” Clinton, I realize. But if he continues to be disgraceful, are we not allowed to point out that he is disgraceful?

It’s one thing if some armchair pundit predicts — no, declares, definitively — “This war is going to be over in a flash.” But someone who was President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces only two years ago? Please!

Longtime readers know that I’m sort of a Tiger Woods-ologist — and an admirer of the young man. (For my April 2001 piece called “Tiger Time,” please go here. That piece was also published in a book called The Tiger Woods Reader, from DaCapo Press. For a sort of follow-up piece — published in NR last September — please go here.)

Anyway, it did nothing to decrease my admiration for TW to read the following statement, found on his website:

“I have great respect for the men and women fighting overseas to protect our way of life in Iraq and other parts of the world. As the son of an Army officer, I understand the strength, courage and discipline required to successfully carry out their missions in hostile environments and feel tremendous pride they are representing us.

“Obviously, no one likes war. Our Congress and President tried hard to avoid the use of force, but ultimately decided it was the best course of action. I like the assertiveness shown by President Bush and think we owe it to our political and military leaders, along with our brave soldiers, to be as supportive as possible during these difficult and trying times. I just wanted to take this opportunity to let our forces know that I am thinking about you and wishing you and your families the best.”

How ‘bout that, sports fans?

While I’m on the subject of my favorite people in public life, consider Don Rumsfeld. He confirmed what I would not shrink from calling his greatness when he was asked, a few days ago, whether the U.S. would “encourage” uprisings in Iraq. He said that he was “reluctant” to do so: “I guess those of us my age remember uprisings in Eastern Europe back in the 1950s when they rose up and they were slaughtered.” Therefore, “I am very careful about encouraging people to rise up. We know there are people in those cities ready to shoot them if they try to rise up.” He added, however, “Anyone who’s engaged in an uprising has a whole lot of courage, and I sure hope they’re successful.”

Many of our pundits and others are perpetually embarrassed by what Rumsfeld says. I think he’s a paragon of honesty and clearsightedness. It doesn’t get better in government than this, folks. It just doesn’t.

Speaking of embarrassment, a lot of people are embarrassed by the renaming of French fries “freedom fries” and so on. I have commented on this before — quite recently. But let me have another whack at it, because I was with some friends last night who were clucking over the “stupidity” of such actions.

To me, they’re harmless — they’re an innocuous venting of steam, by people who are not unjustified in their steam. And what do they do in Europe when they want to get something off their chest? Oh, I don’t know: beat some Jews with bars; carve a Star of David into some girl’s wrist; burn a few synagogues; deface a Statue of Liberty copy; defile a 9/11 memorial.

You read the papers, don’t you?

If they’d simply rename foodstuffs, I wouldn’t utter a peep. In fact, it would be a relief.

My homie Emmy Chang pointed out that French’s, as in French’s Mustard, felt compelled to issue a press release — found here — assuring that their company had nothing to do with that country Over There. No, French’s was named after its founder, R. T. French, and “there are not many more American brands than French’s Mustard,” said the company’s current president. “The brand was launched by RT French Company almost 100 years ago at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, along with the hot dog. Since then hundreds of millions of American consumers have enjoyed French’s at cookouts, schools, and restaurants and at home. The brand is 100% American with homegrown roots stronger than most. French’s is an American icon and the only confusion in consumers’ minds is about the brand name and not the brand heritage.”

Now, a lot of people will find this press release silly — more embarrassment from those boobish Americans. But I rather like it — consider it charming.

Another NR homie, Aaron Bailey, pointed out to me that Saddam Hussein is an honorary citizen of Detroit — the largest city in our home state. (Aaron and I are both Michiganders.) You can read all about it here. Like a benevolent dictator, Hussein gave a Chaldean church $170,000 in 1980 — to retire its debt.

My question: Where’d he get that dough? Did he earn it, manufacturing widgets in Tikrit or something? No — you know where he got it. I would have felt funny about accepting it.

Come to think of it, I’ve known worse citizens of Detroit.

In Wednesday’s Impromptus, I quoted a stirring statement by the president of Rwanda, who is foursquare behind the American effort in Iraq. I also said that I had recently seen a liberal commentator mock this Rwandan support, but couldn’t remember who or where. A great many readers pointed out that it was Thomas L. Friedman, on AndrewSullivan.com.

In a letter to Sullivan, Friedman wrote, “Upon reflection, I think what our argument was about was that you believe (and this seems to be true of the Administration as well) that because we have allies in this war — from the serious, such as Britain and Poland, to the absurd such as Rwanda — it is the same as having U.N. approval.”

Now, this statement is defensible insofar as any Rwandan military contribution would be absurd. In fact, it would be imaginary. But that does not mean that Rwanda doesn’t have a contribution to make, morally and philosophically, if you like. Even practically, because they’ve had very recent experience of genocidal beasts, and of the consequences of U.N. indifference.

An Impromptus reader says, “I know it was Friedman, because I read it, and it infuriated me. I just don’t understand why people like him don’t understand why the support of a country like Rwanda means more to me than a that of a country like Denmark. I mean, bless the Danes, but they didn’t have huge amounts of their population recently slaughtered while Kofi Annan stood blithely by.”

By the way, www.AndrewSullivan.com is even more valuable in wartime than it is normally.

A couple of quick comments on the Oscars, which now seem an eternity ago, I know. I was disappointed that Jack Nicholson didn’t win Best Actor, because I believe his performance in About Schmidt was astounding. I have always rather resisted Nicholson, because I’ve found him personally distasteful and because he was so popular — I was reluctant to be a bandwagoneer. But his acting is simply overpowering, not least in its understatement.

I fear that he did not win because he has won so much. And people figure, “Well, he’s had his turns — let’s give the trophy to someone else.” This happens in music prizes, too, and in many other things. Sports: now there’s the true meritocracy. No one says, “Tiger Woods has won too much — let’s give someone else the trophy” (or green jacket). No, if Tiger goes lowest, Tiger wins — whether folks like it or not.

In respect of Nicholson, I think it’s a shame that his 2001 film, The Pledge, sank like a stone. Nicholson was magnificent in it, and he got insufficient credit for it. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen better film acting (note the chosen word, and go easy on the mail, would you?). I believe I know, however, why the movie was unpopular: It doesn’t “end right.” That is, it doesn’t end happily. Good doesn’t triumph. Nicholson’s character is a truth-teller, and the world doesn’t recognize it. There’s no all-revealing moment. The movie ends in the character’s defeat, humiliation, and disorientation.

Think how unbearable it would be if Emilia didn’t blurt out the truth, about Othello and Iago!

Next: I am sometimes accused of being Cotton Mather, but we shouldn’t flinch from speaking frankly about Roman Polanski. I don’t care if he’s the greatest creative genius since Picasso (another brute). I, for one, never knew the details of his “statutory rape.” I thought he simply seduced an underaged girl. No, he drugged and raped an underaged girl, and he raped her viciously, evilly. (Not that there’s ever a virtuous rape, mind you.)

As is often the case, TheSmokingGun.com has the goods (here). But there’s no need to linger over the details. It’s really disgusting that the man has been able to live out his life in comfort, glory, and honor, on that Continent.

I’ll give you one Moynihan story. On the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Goldwater was complaining that classified information was being mishandled by “a**holes.” Sen. Moynihan said, “Barry, smile when you call me an a**hole.”

To my dear Readers: From time to time, I complain that I’m unable to read, much less answer, the mail I get. At the same time, I apologize for this dereliction. I especially feel it in extraordinary periods such as this, when so many of the letters are intelligent, informative, and moving. So, I say once again: I’m sorry, and I hope you understand.

That said, I’ll publish a few letters, just running the tape, so to speak, without commentary:

“Hi Jay: Just wanted to drop you a line regarding a planned Rally for America, scheduled to take place on Friday, April 4th, here in Toronto. The website is www.friendsofamerica.ca. Please let your readers know that some of us north of the border still respect, admire, and fully support the best and truest friend freedom ever has ever known.”

“Dear Jay: You said, ‘I shudder to think, however, that The Nation is a conservative publication, in the worldview of the Ann Arbor News!

“You’re right about the News. As a child in A2 in the 50s and 60s, I recall hearing my parents refer to the News as ‘conservative.’ Naturally enough, I thought the News was conservative because my parents said it was. But, putting that together with the fact that my mother (now 92!) voted for NORMAN THOMAS nearly every time he ran for president (until she finally decided that FDR would do) causes me to realize why she thought the News was conservative! Talk about messing with a child’s brain!”

“Jay, I know the ‘BASURA’ issue has long since passed, but here at the Estee Lauder offices in Melville, N.Y., the issue has intersected with the war. As I went to leave yesterday, by the usual place people leave boxes to be thrown out, the items were marked ‘BASRA.’ At least we know the war is indeed seeping into our national consciousness!”

“Dear Jay: After reading e-mail after e-mail from my lefty friends about how Bush is positioning himself like Hitler to oppress the homosexuals and kill the Buddhists, or something, I had to let the cat out of the bag and let them know what the administration is really up to:

“‘Dear lefty friends: I have a confession to make. I’ll probably be booted out of the Republican party for this, but it has to be said. First, I would like to congratulate you. You were all very close to the truth with your criticisms of the president. You, however, forgot some important factors in your critiques. We in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy all know the truth. God help us all, here it is: It is about oil, but not for Halliburton. Halliburton’s a load of crap. It’s just a front for the Trilateralists. George H. W. Bush is simply getting his son to grease the palms of his old CIA chums.

“‘But that is simply ancillary. The real reason why we’re going to war is that the Skull and Bones want the skull of Hamurabbi, and the Iraqis refuse to give it to them. Bush, being a Bonesman, is intent to revive the glory of his secret society. It is this Yale conspiracy which has National Review and Buckley leading the fight for the war. Also pulling the strings are the Zionists. Why do you think our own Robbie George opposes the Church and supports the war? It is because the Jews have poisoned his mind with Zionist lies. Plus, since Bush is a born-again Christian, he’ll share the desire to exterminate all Moslems, secretly held by all Jews. Why do you think the Evangelicals support Israel? The holocaust will start with the ‘mad Arab’ Abizaid, our Number 2 man in CentCom. (Keep that one on the DL, he doesn’t know the truth.)

“‘But Trilateralists, Bonesmen, the Elders of Zion, who are they to dictate American policy? They are nothing compared to the real head of state: Bush’s distant cousin, Queen Elizabeth II. When the dust is cleared, and the oil is stolen, the bones confiscated, and the Moslems dead, the Faisal family will be reinstated to rule the region. The English are very chummy with their old allies and want them back in power. That is why we were fighting. (N.B., we on the right are far more openminded than you all think. When the war is over, and Bush is Caesar, he will be assassinated, having outlived his usefulness. We’re handing the country over to Dick Cheney’s daughter afterwards. Very progressive.)’”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I too have seen many a commentator belittling the support of Rwanda, Colombia, and other supporters of the Coalition. And none of these commentators addresses what for me is a central point — why is Cameroon more important than Rwanda? There is much blather about how the international community is not behind us, Exhibit A being the lack of yet another Security Council resolution. But this ‘lack of U.N. support’ is no more than a combination of luck of the draw (to use one of those dreaded cowboy poker idioms) and French perfidy. If Denmark were to replace Germany, Uganda for Guinea, Costa Rica for Mexico, Uzbekistan for Pakistan, Kuwait for Syria, Eritrea for Angola, Rwanda for Cameroon, etc., one could posit that a Security Council vote would have been 12 to 3. And but for the promised French veto, there’s your resolution. Plus, when it comes to terror and tyranny, one could argue that such countries as Rwanda and Colombia just might know what they’re talking about.”

Dear Jay: “Our ‘public’ broadcasters may or may not be harmful, but they are often unintentionally funny. NPR’s music for their special war coverage is an example. It is slightly martial with drums and insistent rhythms, yet so scrupulously careful not to sound triumphant or lusty for battle, that it in fact sounds elegiac. I do hope that the final result was not intentional.

“It’s like the version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ I heard on a PBS children’s show a few years back: ‘For it’s root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s okay.’

“Perhaps I should find this troubling, but I can’t help but find it hilarious.”

“Jay, I was wondering if I’m the only one in America this has happened to. My disgust with the pseudo-intellectual commentary of left-wing rock stars has led me to an unlikely conversion. I’ve become a country-music fan.

“I was surprised at how easy the switch came about. It didn’t involve the grimacing I remember when I went through the process of acquiring a taste for coffee and beer. I just decided to dial in the local country station and, the moment I heard Darryl Worley’s song ‘Have You Forgotten,’ I knew I’d never go back to REM and The Tragically Hip.

“This is most assuredly a ‘two-America moment.’ Those on America’s side listen to country (less the Dixie Chicks).”

“Jay, I thought you might be interested in this new verb. During an interview with a local radio station (WSGW) here in Saginaw, Mich., one of our full-time war protesters sought to explain why they are ‘vigiling.’ As Dave Barry would say, I am NOT making this up.

“One assumes that simply ‘keeping watch’ is too passive for these go-getters. Rather, they will ‘vigil’ here and ‘vigil’ there, until we are ‘vigiled’ into seeing it their way. I have always suspected that Saginaw is waaaaayyy too close to Ann Arbor.”

“Jay, did you see this? ‘As the price of war continues to mount, both in lives and dollars, so too do the protests, but the act of protesting may say more about the protestors than it does about the subject they are demonstrating against, according to a study by Texas A&M University’s Laboratory for Studies of Social Deviance. Laboratory director Howard B. Kaplan says protesters may be attempting to reduce negative feelings about themselves that have been caused by repeated experiences of rejection and failure in conventional membership groups. In other words, participation in protests may allow participants to view themselves more positively. The subjects of Kaplan’s study were drawn from a panel of seventh graders studied at several different points between adolescence and young adulthood. The original sample consisted of seventh graders randomly selected from the Houston Independent School District. Data was later collected from the same subjects when they were in their twenties.’”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I have been listening to you for years, with much pleasure. Would you listen to me this once, because your analysis of the anti-America plague is, I think, completely wrong. You find no explanation for it. It is irrational. You really don’t offer insight into it at all. It is, to your thinking, 10 million people being childish, stupid, crazy . . . opaque.

“Let me offer an explanation I think works. There’s a wonderful scene in a novel by William Maxwell where an elderly couple gets lost while driving in the countryside of France. The more lost they get, as these situations usually go, the more intense becomes their argument. Finally they become so caught up arguing that they no longer pay attention to the road signs. I don’t have the book here, but Maxwell’s narrator says something to the effect that the couple, fearful of being lost in a foreign land, have this argument to comfort themselves with the familiar, in this case, an argument that probably has a very familiar pattern after decades of marriage.

“Anti-Americanism is a great comforting simplification for many who are afraid and feeling helpless. There are great reasons to be afraid: the potential for terrorist violence, and, particularly in Europe, the rents in the civil fabric caused by unemployment and the threat of Islamic subversion. The last great surge of European anti-Americanism involved the Pershing missile deployment.

“I am fully in support of the war, but I think the anti-Americanism is inevitable. Arguments about what a monster Saddam is or assertions about the goodness of the United States are all as beside the point as those road signs the elderly couple stopped seeing in the midst of their argument.

“George Bush is a wonderful man, but his administration must do more to comfort the fearful here and abroad if he wishes to reduce anti-Americanism. A small step in that direction would be to get someone out front who has a little warmth and ability to reassure. Only the old Politburo could assemble a group more lacking in human warmth than Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Cheney, and (I’m sorry to say) Bush himself. And yet those people are the public face of this administration. Stay well.”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: On the issue of anti-Americanism: I am a Brazilian journalist living in Washington, D.C. As part of my work I have to read what the Brazilian press publishes about the United States. I have always been appalled by the rampant anti-Americanism in my native country, but what is happening in this time of war is simply unbelievable. I don’t think you will find a more hateful response to U.S. military actions anywhere in the world.

“Just to give you an idea, A Folha de São Paulo — the largest newspaper in Brazil’s most important city — headlines its news about the Iraq situation with ‘Attack of the Empire.’ I have yet to see one editorial favorable to the U.S. position. Most newspapers, nowadays, don’t even talk about war anymore, all they write about is ‘massacre.’ Anti-war protests receive a huge space in print and on the TV news programs, where the ‘experts’ being interviewed are all pro-Iraq.”

As that tiresome Linda Ellerbee used to say — maybe she still does — “And so it goes . . .”

No, no, no! We’ve got to end less sullenly than that. Try this little letter: “Jay, you’ve mentioned ‘all hat and no cattle’ and the British ‘all gong and no dinner.’ How about 2 Peter 2:17? ‘All well and no water.’”

In King James, we have, “These are wells without water.” But “All well and no water” — I’ll take it!



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