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Impromptus
Oh, Jayson! A trio of flags. What makes you "far right"? And more


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Who would have thought the Blair in the news these days would be, not Tony, but Jayson? (For those of you not caught up: Jayson Blair is a reporter fired by the New York Times for a career of spectacular falsification.) The Times has performed excellent damage control — but that’s a little too grudging. The paper has not only engaged in (necessary) damage control, it has conducted itself admirably.

Still, a couple of observations on its big spread in yesterday’s edition. One observation is smallish, the other quite big.

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First, Blair is quoted as saying, “My kindred spirits are the ones who became journalists because they wanted to help people.” This is the wrong attitude, if I may, and an often-destructive one, in the field of journalism. A journalist — a reporter, let’s say — ought to want to perform the relatively mundane task of finding things out and letting others know about them, coolly and factually. In this process, many people will be helped (and hurt). But one’s aim ought to be less Mother Teresa-like and more workaday, in my view.

It’s like the old story concerning Oliver Wendell Holmes, to whom Learned Hand (allegedly) said, “Do justice, sir, do justice.” Holmes replied, “That is not my job. My job is to apply the law.”

Okay, more Jayson Blair. The Times said, “Mr. Blair’s . . . supervisors and [University of] Maryland professors emphasize that he earned an internship at The Times because of glowing recommendations and a remarkable work history, not because he is black. [Amazingly defensive, this — but necessary. And nobody had brought it up! The Times was anticipating, clearly.] But The Times offered him a slot in an internship program that was being used to help the paper diversify its newsroom.”

Okay, but which is it? Was he hired on the merits or as a “diversifier”? Or does the Times mean that he was extremely well qualified — perhaps the best — within a pool of black applicants only? In the paragraph quoted above, the paper sort of gives with one hand, and takes away with the other.

Finally, a big and awful question is, Would Blair have been treated as he was — with jaw-dropping indulgence — if he had been white? We really can’t know that — except through our common sense and experience of life. And even those might not be good enough.

Someone should have sniffed that something was awry just by that spelling of Jason.

Let me provide a little vignette from Europe — Munich, actually. A group is walking down a prominent street, and there is a booth, selling souvenirs and such. Is that a Palestinian flag? Why, yes it is. They can be seen all over the Continent (in Old Europe, I should say). And next to the Palestinian flag is a Che Guevara flag (the old killer’s lissome face being imprinted on it). And next to that is a flag that says “peace,” in several languages.

A neat little distillation of a current European mentality: two symbols of “revolutionary” violence and then another banner that speaks “peace” — when there is no peace, of course (thanks not least to the likes of Arafat and Guevara). (And let us have no blather that that Palestinian flag stands for innocent sufferers, not for the PLO and its works. The Europeans who raise that banner know what they are doing, believe me.)

Take a quick visit to the latest Frank Rich column: 1) It quotes Robert Novak as saying, “Could Joe Lieberman get into a jet pilot’s jump suit and look credible?” Then Rich says, “Against the cultural backdrop of war-on-terrorism America, it doesn’t matter that Senator Lieberman is Jewish; what does matter is that he’s short.”

Oh, oh, make no mistake: George W. Bush is short. He just carries himself tall (which is wonderful).

2) Rich refers to the 2000 Republican convention — at which the GOP featured boatloads of blacks and Hispanics — as a “minstrel show.” Now, that convention has been called a “minstrel show” . . . what? A thousand times? A million? Surely so rich a writer as Rich can do better than that smelly little trope.

3) He writes that Bush, during Vietnam, was “safely at home as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, a k a the Champagne Unit for its high quotient of Houston society sons.”

Before we get smirky about W., what did Rich do in the Vietnam war, to beat back the Beast and spare the future Boat People? What was his service, that makes him so scornful of Bush’s? I have no idea how old this columnist is. I simply say: Don’t be so judgmental, please, and recall that there were less dangerous ways of serving than jumping into fighter jets, whether stateside or not.

4) This is a lightish one. Rich writes that “the Republicans were [clueless] when they let Richard Nixon go before a camera without makeup when debating John Kennedy in 1960.”

Actually, Nixon was about to have makeup applied, when the other candidate was asked whether he himself desired makeup. He said no. (He had just been to California, I believe, and had a glowing tan, making TV makeup superfluous, evidently.) Nixon, not wanting to be seen as a pansy, declined himself.

Big mistake, what this vanity — or pride — led to.

In USA Today, Sen. Byrd said, “I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan.”

Hmmm. I have a memory of 1984. Fritz Mondale has shot an ad of himself on an aircraft carrier. I believe that, as a senator, he opposed the building of that carrier. So Reagan — in the second debate (which went much better for him) — says (something like), “If Mr. Mondale had had his way, he’d have been standing in some pretty deep water.”

Nice.

Rep. Clay Shaw, Republican of Florida, has offered a Social Security plan that avoids privatization but “bolsters the trust fund,” as its supporters say. (The details aren’t important to the particular point here.) In a favorable — indeed, boosting — piece in the New York Times, Fred Brock wrote, “Ideologues on each side may object, but [the Shaw plan] could appeal to the broad center of the political spectrum.”

Brock has asked the congressman, “Would [you] continue to fight for [your] proposal if the White House opposed it?”

“Absolutely,” answered Shaw. “If the far right is driving the agenda, I might find myself at odds with the White House.”

If the “far right” is those of us who favor Bush-style Social Security reform — which proposes the independent use of a puny percentage of Social Security money — then “far right” has ceased to mean anything plausible. A grandson of FDR stood with Candidate Bush to support this reform of Social Security. Millions of others, from both parties and in various walks of life, favor it. Are they — are we — all far rightists?

Guess so. Pathetic.

You may be wondering whether things have changed for the people of Iraq. No, because you’re a sensible person, you know that things have changed. But just how much? Consider this.

César G. Soriano tells us in USA Today about the U.S. Civil Military Assistance Center, “a place where Iraqis can voice their complaints about coalition forces.” He quotes Spc. Rena Brownridge, a 27-year-old University of Maryland student. (Classmate of Jayson Blair? Never mind.) “We’re very patient with people. We listen. Sometimes they yell. Iraqis are a very passionate people. But when they finish, they’re usually happy we listened to their story.”

Just like under Baath rule, huh?

My message: Don’t let anyone — the Dowds — spoil your joy over what has been accomplished for this battered people.

Is Michael Jordan a victim of racial discrimination? It has been suggested that he is — but then, such victimization is always suggested (when it is not asserted). He was let go by Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who was evidently tired of a team in the dumps. Get this from an article in the Times:

“John Thompson, the former Georgetown coach and N.B.A. analyst [and one of the worst racial whiners and dividers and accusers in American sports], used his afternoon radio show to draw a disturbing parallel, likening Jordan’s dismissal to Pollin sending Jordan back to the plantation after reaping profit from his labor.”

The Times writer feels compelled to say, “The image did not mesh with Pollin’s history of philanthropy in Washington. Only a few years ago, he was the lone N.B.A. owner to employ a black coach (Bernie Bickerstaff) and general manager (Wes Unseld) at the same time.”

Whew. That’s a relief!

I will tell you about a conference on Solzhenitsyn — marking the 25th anniversary of his great, and notorious, Harvard commencement address — some other time. But I’d like to say, now, that a dinner with Richard Pipes, the historian of Russia, reminded me of his greatness — of Pipes’s, that is. (And isn’t this truly the hour of his son, Daniel? Daniel Pipes was on the Muslim-extremist beat when it seemed slightly kooky, to the unknowing, to be so.) Richard Pipes has a new book out, a historical thriller — a non-fiction historical thriller, if you will — called The Degaev Affair.

I’d like to draw your attention to a review of this book by our David Pryce-Jones. It appears in Commentary, and it is a model — isn’t it always? — of beautiful prose and exceptional understanding. P-J (“Peej”) writes

Late-19th-century Russian revolutionaries became a byword for terrorism in much of the world. Self-declared socialists and Marxists, they were utopian in outlook but nihilist in method. . . . Pipes has reconstructed [Sergei Degaev's] career, giving us a real-life thriller that is also a cautionary tale rich with insight into depths of the human psyche that most of us have the good fortune to know about only by hearsay.

Makes me sort of shudder.

In a Times article yesterday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote, “[Rick] Santorum inflamed long-simmering tensions when, in an interview with the Associated Press, he likened homosexuality to incest and bigamy.” That’s not the way I remember it, do you? Did Santorum “liken” homosexuality to those things? Or say, simply, that if you declare that no consensual sex may be forbidden in law, you have to think it through — way through?

Maureen Dowd wrote, “The Democrats never had the nerve to press the administration on the right stuff — when the Bushies exploited 9/11 to hype the case against Saddam, or when the president and vice president cloaked themselves in the mantle of Caesar with their pre-emption policy, or when the Bush crowd kept all its empire plans secret, or when Dick Cheney repaid the favor and gave Halliburton ever-bigger windfalls on Iraqi contracts.”

I’ve read this passage about three times, and wish to see if I understand: Halliburton knew about the administration’s “empire plans,” and kept its mouth shut, whereby Cheney “repaid the favor and gave” the company these contracts? All by himself? Wow. But then, Maureen Dowd and her friends could have put out those fires all by themselves, no doubt. And if we — if the U.S., Halliburton, etc. — hadn’t put out those fires, and immediately? Why, we would have been not only museum looters, but environmental despoilers!

The lead article in Thursday’s USA Today begins, “Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate . . .” Now, he may be, though I have my doubts. But should this view be accepted in toto, and placed in the lead (not “lede,” please) of a news article? I mean, should a newspaper be free to say “a moderate” the same as it says “age 54″ or something?

A little weird, if you ask me.

I’ve just returned from one of my favorite cities, all-time — New Orleans — and let me just say that: well, the Weberian work ethic is not exactly in evidence there, is it? Lawzy, do the people take their time in the Big Easy. Hotel clerks, cabbies, skycaps — everyone. They are in no hurry. They must live forever. And I hope they do.

You never know how nice it seems
Or just how much it really means . . .
Glad to be, yessiree, where welcome’s free,
And dear to me,
Where I can lose
My Basin Street blues.

Speaking of Louisiana: Sen. Long, ol’ Russell B., is dead, and he was one of the members of Congress I watched most, when I started watching Congress. He was dull and steady — which I guess he should’ve been, because he was the son of Huey and the nephew of Earl, and the Long family was due for a little peace and quiet. And competence and legality and sweetness.

I liked him, a lot.

Later, y’all. (P.S. Basically the only time you say “Or-LEENS” is in songs, e.g., “Way down yonder in New Orleans, in the land of dreamy scenes” — you need the rhymes. Otherwise, “New Orlins,” please — and “N’awlins,” if you want to get fancy.)



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