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Impromptus
Against "modernity," against Molly Ivins, a lesbian in every pot! &c.


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A couple of comments on the Moroccan bombing. First, as you know, Jewish sites were targeted: a community center, a restaurant. Morocco is just about the only Arab country left with even a tiny Jewish community. These communities have been “cleansed” from all others. (The great Jewish scholar Elie Kedouri, for example, came from Baghdad.) This is one reason I get a little nervous when commentators go off about the “settlers” — those little Jewish enclaves in the disputed territories (excuse me, on sacred, inviolate “Arab land”). Of course, there are 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel — they have full rights, serve in the Knesset, etc. But Jews in the territories are evidently an intolerable offense. Does that bode well for a Palestinian state — a 23rd member of the Arab League that will be scrupulously Jew-free?

Anyway, about these Moroccan atrocities: A government spokesman in Rabat said that they were carried out by “enemies of Morocco and of democracy and modernity.” Enemies of modernity — that is one of the bluntest, and truest, statements I have ever heard from an Arab official. His name is Nabil Benabdellah, by the way.

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And then, a spokesman for King Mohammed said, “The acts perpetrated in Casablanca are the work of blind international terrorism. Morocco is determined to punish terrorist acts without mercy.” Yes, one can imagine. What the Moroccans will do to those killers, if they find them, will make Guantanamo Bay look like a picnic — which it is, of course. A picnic with great laundry service, Korans for all, and the best food and medical care.

Reading the latest story about a mass grave in Iraq — containing the remains of luckless Kuwaitis — I was struck by the following sentence: “Before they were allowed to leave” — “they” is the drivers who transported the victims to the killing site — “they were warned that if they ever talked, Iraqi intelligence would find them and kill them.” Talk about the “Republic of Fear” (the title of Kanan Makiya’s invaluable book). The more you read about Iraq, the more it reminds you of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia — and all of their imitators and analogues. (Ba’athist Iraq, of course, was a prime imitator of Nazi Germany, with its “national socialism.”)

And may I share with you a letter?

“Dear Jay: After reading your May 16 column I thought I would tell you about my Iraqi neighbor. I live in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho or Iowa!). [I didn't know there was a Moscow in Iowa.] I ran into my neighbor one morning right around the time the war ended. He held his hands up and took a deep breath (like he was breathing fresh air) and, looking to the sky, said, ‘Freedom! Thank God my people my are free.’ He said ‘Thank you, America,’ several times. It brought tears to my eyes to see his expression of joy. He has been out of Iraq almost 30 years and yesterday he told my wife he is flying back to Baghdad in June! Granted, it is one man’s opinion, but, wow: that expression of joy and hope. I wish I had a picture.”

We got the picture.

Regular Impromptus-ites are familiar with my complaint about the Democrats’ use of “Taliban Republicans,” “Hezbollah Republicans,” etc. Maureen Dowd is a particular offender (as offense is her specialty — mine too, for that matter, but mine is salutary, as you know). (At this point, I’d make one of those Internet smiley faces, if it weren’t so dorky.)

Well, it gets worse — or rather, it stays the same. A reader says, “I was reading Molly Ivins’s column yesterday and came across a new one. Discussing the Texas state legislature, Ivins referred to members of the GOP as ‘Shiite Republicans.’”

Of course, of course — it was just a matter of time. But isn’t it against Molly Ivins’s religion to insult other religions? That is, non-Christian ones?

Ladies and gentlemen, let me call to your attention an extraordinary report, called to my attention by one of our readers. The report was filed by Brad Edwards of KFOR television in Oklahoma City. It concerns local panhandlers, and how they operate — and what they do with the money that charitable citizens give them. (Hint: They don’t exactly go down to the grocery store and buy staples.)

A piece like this should be done much more often, because it is a public service. It clears up a murky question. We are often faced with this dilemma: whether to give or not to give. When he was mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani implored citizens not to give to panhandlers, saying that they had plenty of public services, with all of their needs taken care of by already-committed tax dollars. Any additional dollars would go to habits not good for the panhandlers themselves. And yet, it’s hard for some — with some — simply to walk by, with a shake of the head.

Anyway, this Brad Edwards has his story nailed, for which he should be thanked. The lengths to which people go to con others out of their money are abominable.

So what else is new, huh?

Freedom House, that sterling organization, has issued its annual report on press freedom. (For the group’s website, please go here.) Here’s the basic news: “Among the most serious developments were major setbacks for press freedom in Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela.” And who would be boss in Venezuela, currently? Castro’s protégé, Hugo Chavez, democratically elected, but undemocratic forever after.

“Overall, [the Freedom House study] reveals that 11 countries — Armenia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela — declined in [press freedom], while only two countries — Fiji and Sri Lanka — increased.”

Well, boola boola for Fiji and Sri Lanka.

Turn now to Frank Rich’s column, if you can stand it. It’s called “Tupac’s Revenge on Bennett,” and it’s one long chortle at the Virtues man, which is to be expected. But it is not really an honest or smart chortle.

He writes, “In 1995, Mr. Bennett, serving as America’s self-appointed cultural commissar, made a target of Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and other practitioners of gangsta rap. They were public enemy No. 1 in his relentless battle against what he was fond of calling ‘the filth, sewage and mindless bloodletting of the popular entertainment industry.’”

Yup, and he was absolutely right — his own gambling habit does nothing to negate that.

Rich is pleased because “the puncturing of [Bennett's] dishonest public persona is a huge nail in the coffin of the disgraceful national culture wars in which he served as a particularly vicious commanding general during the 1980′s and 1990′s.” You see, it’s not just Bennett whom Rich dislikes — he dislikes the entire effort to make our culture less obnoxious and corrosive. He has used Bennett’s disgrace to discredit the very idea of cultural attention or concern.

Rich continues, “The hypocrisy [Bennett] has long practiced as a cultural warrior inflicted damage far beyond his immediate household.” In fact, he did inflict damage, on the Tupacs and the Annie Sprinkles (and, in a way, on the Frank Riches) — which is all to the good, and which cannot be overturned, even post-exposure.

The columnist essentially calls Bennett a racist for going after “gangsta” rappers in particular. It should go without saying that the main victims of the gangsta mentality are black Americans themselves. Come to think of it, if we were to play the same game as Rich, we might say that it is racist — racist! — to laugh off the gangsta subculture as just one more charming tile in our gorgeous cultural mosaic. Rich sneers at Bennett for his warnings about “superpredators.” Well, easy to say if you don’t live in the superpredators’ neighborhood.

Says Rich, “It’s not clear that Mr. Bennett ever really cared about culture, scholarship or any of the other ideals he pretended to be defending against the onslaught of the heathen hordes.” If this isn’t clear to Frank Rich, then he has no business popping off in our most important newspaper.

But such treatment, we all have to expect. Bennett — to quote Nixon — “gave them a sword.” And they are using it, with glee. But there are so, so many more intelligent ways to criticize Bill Bennett. And his own problems don’t make anything he ever said one whit less true.

As we were talking about this in the office the other day, two old spirituals came to mind:

“Done told you once, done told you twice: Y’ain’t never get to heaven . . . a-shooting dice.”

And, “Silly man, he gambled and fell, wanted to go to heaven but he had to go to . . .” Marian Anderson wouldn’t actually sing the word: She’d just suck in her breath, appalled.

I can quote a spiritual for anything, as my friends will tell you, annoyedly.

Last week, the post office in Hoboken, N.J., was named after favorite son Frank Sinatra. His daughter Nancy, on hand for the ceremony, quipped, “My dad has his picture hanging in every restaurant, dry cleaner, and bar in town. I’m not sure he’d want his picture hanging in the post office.” That, according to the AP’s report, was an allusion to his mob ties. And it was an utterly charming and clever thing to say. And that’s about the only praise you’ll ever see in this column for a Sinatra.

And, please, I beg you: no mail. We’ll talk about it later. Maybe.

An op-ed piece in the New York Times was headed, “A Relationship That’s Past Its Prime.” The column asked, “Is the connection between blacks and Jews over?” I didn’t read the column, but I had to wonder: Excuse me, is this a column from 2003 or, say, 1983? I mean, geesh: What are they going to think of next? That maybe we should be concerned about Islamic terrorism? Or AIDS?

Didn’t the New York Times read Commentary two decades ago? They might should have. (No comment on my colloquialisms, please.)

You’ll be happy to know that one of Richard Gephardt’s daughters is gay — at least, his campaign is pretty jacked about it. According to an item in the New York Post, Chrissy Gephardt “is expected to be far more aggressive than Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, Mary, in exhorting the lavender legions [it's the Post, folks, and God bless it] to pull the lever for her father. Roll Call reports that the Gephardt campaign is ‘very interested’ in finding a media outlet to do an extensive interview with Chrissy . . . Her sexuality has so far only been alluded to in a Boston Globe story about civil unions and in her biography on the Gephardt campaign website.”

Ah, identity politics: Ain’t it grand? Ms. Gephardt will soon be the subject of a People magazine feature. Can the TV movie be far behind? This is how it goes, as the Democratic primaries heat up. John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Sharpton, and the boys will just have to rummage for lesbians of their own.

Check out some mail: “Dear Mr. Nordlinger: This is truly about as trivial as it gets [that's okay], but I would love to hear your opinion on it.

“When a medical doctor describes his line of work, which answer do you find more appropriate: ‘I’m a doctor’ or ‘I’m a physician’? My friends and acquaintances in that profession seem to always use the latter, and it strikes me as a little odd for some reason. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s for the same reason that ‘attorney’ strikes me as more pretentious than ‘lawyer.’”

Well, maybe people say “physician” instead of “doctor” so as not to confuse what they do with what drama majors bearing Ph.D.s do — dunno. As for “attorney” instead of “lawyer” — I agree. Pretentious, for some reason — though of course not inaccurate.

We can’t do without “physician,” however, as “Doctor, heal thyself” simply sounds wrong. So does “lawyer-at-law”!

Some words on postal abbreviations, about which I’ve been discoursing. (I’m not nuts about the “new” two-letter abbreviations, preferring the older variety.)

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I go postal on postal abbreviations employed in any non-postal context. The United States Postal Service (nee Post Office) only prefers (but does not require) its customers to use postal abbreviations for its convenience of handling. It is plainly incorrect (mechanically speaking) to employ postal abbreviations in any non-postal context.

“That injunction, though, seems to have no effect on the general population, which wrongly inserts postal abbreviations in commercial signs, term papers, and newspaper articles. How is it that the United States government, which failed to impose metrics on the citizenry, was able, without even intending so, to transform the nation’s abbreviation customs?

“Here in West [By God] Virginia, everywhere I look I see ‘WV,’ when ‘W. Va.’ is correct. To my unspoken delight, a small irony exists on the threshold of the main post office in our state capital. It declares, ‘U.S. Postal Service: Charleston, W. Va.’”

“Dear Jay: I picked up a copy of my seven-month-old daughter’s birth certificate yesterday. It’s a fairly neat-looking document with fancy writing and all, but something just looked wrong. The certificate shows that her lovely mother was born in ‘England’ and that I, her proud father, was born in ‘OH.’ Not ‘The Great State Of Ohio,’ not ‘The Birthplace of Woody Hayes,’ but just plain ol’ ‘OH.’ It just looks so cold.”

I know what you mean. But, hey: Bo Schembechler was born in Ohio, too!

Do you recall my item from Friday’s Impromptus about the teenager in Britain fined for calling a policeman “fat”?

“Hi, Jay: If I got $160 for every time someone called me ‘fat,’ I would be a wealthy, wealthy, man. What is surprising to me is that a relatively average-weight person was chosen to receive this ‘prize.’ It seems to me, if you really don’t believe yourself to be fat [as the policeman didn't], the insult carries that much less weight. (Sorry, I could not resist.) At 450 pounds, I can tell you that every time I am in a bookstore and some parent’s little angel tugs at his mom’s skirt and says, ‘Look at that guy! He’s so FAT!,’ it hurts. I feel like knocking that parent out because I know that’s where the bigotry comes from.

“I used to run and hide when incidents like that happened, but now I generally say something to the parent like, ‘Great job you’re doing raising your kids,’ or else I say something to the child like, ‘Yes, I’m fat, but you’re rude, and I feel sorry for you.’

“But I still don’t get $160.”

I was going to publish more letters on President Bush’s height — I received roughly 4 million of them — and some letters on girls who spell it “Marion,” instead of “Marian” — but I think we need to wrap up.

Let me leave you with this gem, contributed by a reader: “What’s the difference between a sycophant and a Sikh? One curries favor.”

He said he thought that up while driving on the New York Thruway. I have to admit, when I’m on the road, my thoughts are far less sophisticated and witty! They’re more like: Will there be an Arby’s soon?



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