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Impromptus
The forgotten 13. Denis Thatcher holes out. The agony of affirmative action — and more


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Tired of hearing me talk about terrorists, Israel, and the New York Times? Yeah, me too, but I’m going to keep going, for a second here.

I read with interest (if you can call it that) James Bennet’s piece in Friday’s edition. It concerned Ahmed Jubarah, a killer released from jail (by Israel). In Jerusalem, he killed 13 people, and wounded more than 60 — this was in 1975.

Now he is out, and totally unrepentant. The article paints him in a largely favorable light — at least that’s what I got out of it, with my (terribly) biased self.

“To Israelis, [Jubarah] is a mass murderer.” Only to Israelis, huh? What about to all the other people who can recognize mass murder when they see it? “But Mr. Jubarah — now 66, the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner, the parent of children he barely knows and the grandfather of children he has never met — was released three weeks ago, in a concession by Israel to encourage a new peace process. Since then, he has emerged as the symbol of a popular Palestinian movement for the release of prisoners.”

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Well, that’s really lovely. But would it have killed the New York Times to name the 13 people this man killed? The terrorist gets a nice photo, walking the street with his wife and all. No doubt the 13 killed would have liked to walk the street with their own loved ones — to know their own grandchildren, to fulfill their own destinies. (Now I’m engaging in emotional rhetoric — see how capable I am?)

Anyway, I realize that it’s easier to name and feature one live terrorist than 13 dead, innocent victims. But, in reading about the now-fêted Ahmed Jubarah, I just couldn’t help wondering about that dozen-plus-one.

Many years ago, a conservative lawyer lectured my class: “Case law is case law, darn it. Constitutional law is constitutional law. There’s a difference between constitutional law and case law.” Well, for many liberals — and for many others — case law has been, in fact, constitutional law. I’m afraid your average person is perfectly prepared to believe that Roe is the inevitable law of the land, mandated by the Constitution — “right to privacy” and all. And any judicial nominee who comes before Sen. Leahy and his like will be told: “If you don’t believe in Roe, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You are, in fact, an enemy of the Constitution — ready to shred it.”

Well, well, well: Consider the just-decided sodomy case. This, indeed, overturned previous case law. So did those six “shred” the Constitution? Or redeem it?

I guess we think the decisions we like are constitutional — and that the decisions we dislike are just plain nutty case law, waiting to be overturned by a more enlightened bench. I simply wish liberals would think of that when they attack our nominees as anti-constitutional for agreeing with (for example) the late Democratic justice Byron White that Roe was a travesty.

I collect Bush talk, as you know (along with Rumsfeld talk and some other choice verbal specimens). I’m sure I was not alone in enjoying what Bush said when asked about a terrorist “ceasefire” in the Middle East: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Blunt, honest, easily comprehensible, Trumanesque: That’s Bush talk. I love the eloquent speeches, written by those marvelous speechwriters. But I love just plain, unadorned, from-the-gut W. talk, too.

Speaking of language: I noticed a little controversy highlighted by James Taranto in his Best of the Web (at OpinionJournal.com). Justice Scalia wrote, “Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means.” Scalia was jumped on — or snickered at — because it appeared he said, “I have nothing against homosexuals” (shades of Seinfeld). What he actually said — what he meant — was, “I have nothing against their promoting their agenda” (through normal democratic means).

It would have helped if the justice had written his sentence as follows, awkward as it may appear to the . . . dare I say untutored? “Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals’, or any other group’s, promoting its agenda.”

That’s the way to do it, homies. (End of Strunk & White act.)

P.S. You do “its,” because “group’s” — a singular — comes after “homosexuals’.”

(Okay, this is the real end of the Strunk & White act.)

There is a group called the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and, of course, they have meetings, and, of course, the Democratic candidates flocked to the latest one. But the administration got into the act too, sending Hispanic officials such as White House counsel Al Gonzales. I wish they wouldn’t do that, the administration. I mean, this is the sort of balkanization that should be kicked in the pants. What the hell is this, South Africa (old South Africa, that is)? Can’t elected and appointed officials simply be elected and appointed officials — American ones?

But you have heard me sing this tired, angry song before, and my throat hurts.

I wanted to alert you to a couple of interesting and valuable things on the market. First, Adam Bellow has written a book, In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History. I have not read it yet — being burdened by other things — but I look forward to it, and I know it’s fantastic, because it was written by Adam. Mr. Bellow, you may remember, was NR’s literary editor, and now he is a prince of publishing, cutting a swath through Manhattan, being featured in the New York Times — the whole bitsy, as my grandmother used to say.

When he was about finished, I suggested to Adam — I’m sure I wasn’t the first — that he have his father, Saul, blurb the book. You know? Blurb a book on nepotism? Cute, huh?

Too cute, apparently.

I also want to say a word about Eric Felten. One of the pleasures of living in Washington was the opportunity to hear him, frequently. He is a trombonist, singer, and bandleader. The Penguin Guide to Jazz observed that he “has music in his genes.” (Jeans, too — he can sway and swing.) (But then, I’ve never seen him in jeans!)

Well, here’s some good news for Felten fans: He has a new album out, called Nowhere Without You. And his PBS concert — which first aired two years ago and is titled The Big Band Sound of WWII — is available on video. This is delightful, spiffy, polished music-making by a delightful, spiffy, polished man.

In a previous Impromptus, I wrote of Kathy Boudin, the Weather bomber and Brinks murderess who’s always up for parole. At her latest hearing, she talked about how guilty she’d felt that she was white. (You remember: “white skin privilege.”) I said what she ought to feel guilty about is killing people — including Waverly Brown, the first black police officer on the Nyack, N.Y., force. It took forever to get him there. And then Kathy and her friends took him away.

Anyway, my homegirl Michelle Malkin wrote me to say that a scholarship fund had been established in his name, along with that of Edward O’Grady, another officer murdered by the Boudin crew. Money goes to students who pursue careers in law enforcement. Checks can be made payable to: O’Grady-Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 1024, Nyack, N.Y. 10960.

As MM says, “Fight left-wing domestic terrorism. Send your check today.”

I was chagrined — and also surprised — to read that Morgan Fairchild had participated in some kind of enviro hate-Bush fest. Am I dreaming, or was Morgan Fairchild a Republican, back in the day? I know Cheryl Ladd was. (Ah, Cheryl Ladd . . .)

And is The Liar still married to her?

(Note to Impromptus-ites, itchy-fingers in particular: I frequently make pop-culture references, without elaboration. And I get annoyed mail saying, “What gives? Why don’t you explain?” Well, the sorry truth is, I don’t want to pause to explain, most of the time. If it’s anything important, I will tell you — promise. For example, I made a reference to a moment in Bend It Like Beckham the other day, which made those who got it exult and those who didn’t . . . simply scratch their heads. So, I’m sorry — but not that sorry!)

Denis Thatcher has died. I loved him, mainly for his modesty and his wit. I loved it when he said “Hear, hear” as his wife spoke. And I loved him for his devotion to golf. Check out this from his obit: “On the day he became a baronet, he accepted congratulations, saying: ‘Thanks. But more important than that, I have just been elected a member of the Sunningdale golf club.’”

When I take my occasional golf trip, my colleague David Pryce-Jones — a Londoner — will say, “Going to do your Denis Thatcher act, huh?”

Dunno, just get a kick out of that.

May I retail a joke from Conan O’Brien (whom I see in Riverside Park occasionally — big fella)? “Former president Clinton is very unhappy. In a speech yesterday, he complained that the Bush administration is erasing all of his accomplishments. Today the Bush administration said, ‘Hey, all we did was steam-clean the rug in the Oval Office.’”

Last Thursday, trying to make an adjective out of Scalia, I wrote “Scalia-an.” This brought a lot of mail, of which I provide a sample below.

“How about Scalia-esque? Or Scaliaesque, if we can do without the hyphen?”

“Iowa, Iowan. Scalia, Scalian.” (I liked the logic — a lot.)

“Surely it is Scalicious. Or Scaliarrific? Or (forgive me) Scaliarighteous!”

“Scaliaic (skahl ee AY ick).”

“I propose that we call people who rap Scalia ‘rapscalians.’”

Folks, this concludes the normal Impromptus (normal as Impromptus ever gets, I acknowledge). What I’m going to do now is let the tape run a little on some mail — specifically some letters responsive to my column on affirmative action last week. This is an important — and, unfortunately, searing — topic that inspires many significant observations, etc.

And let me say what I find myself saying from time to time: I don’t have time to look at all my mail, or most of it, much less answer it. I apologize for this, sincerely and irritatedly, for I would love to do it, and, in a perfect world, would. Thanks for understanding (assuming you do!).

“Jay, you say, ‘The comforting idea, of course, is that the present discrimination “makes up” for past discrimination . . .’

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) began in Upstate New York in 1830. By 1847 the Church was, of necessity, reestablished in the Utah desert. This was before the Transcontinental Railroad was built, and before any roads existed, and much of the trek was done on foot, with a few falling off between Illinois and Salt Lake owing to the freezing cold.

“All this, because Mormons were threatened, harassed, raped, pillaged, tortured, falsely accused and arrested, and murdered. When will Mormons get the affirmative action they so desperately need?”

“Dear Jay: All this talk of racial preferences prompts me to wonder about the definition of ‘minority.’ How does one obtain the coveted minority status?

“Is it skin color? Dark-skinned people from India don’t seem to rate as minorities. Light-skinned people who have some African ancestry identify themselves as ‘black’ and get minority status.

“Does it have to do with the place where your ancestors were born? My grandfather was born in Mexico. Does this make me Hispanic? My grandfather is as European-white as I am, but he was born in a Latino country. Some popular Latino entertainers are as white as I am and they are still regarded as members of the Hispanic minority group.

“Does it have to do with the way your ancestors were treated? I’m a Mormon. My ancestors were forced from their homes by mob violence in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois before they were forced to be ‘pioneers’ and trek across the plains and over the mountains to find refuge in the area we now call Utah. The federal government, despite repeated appeals, did nothing to protect the civil rights of my ancestors. Can we talk about reparations?

“What do you think: Can I be a minority? Maybe if everyone claimed oppressed minority status, the whole system of minority preferences would crumble.”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: My e-mail today is about Maureen Dowd and her wonderful honesty and integrity and kindness toward her fellow man (for her sake, ‘fellow person’). Her op-ed on Clarence Thomas made me more upset than almost any major newspaper article I have ever read on a political subject. I may only be 19 years old, but I read quite a bit, so that’s saying something. I was just wondering, is there any possible way to get rid of her? I’d boycott the Times, but I don’t get it to begin with. [!] Couldn’t we just rewrite the Constitution the way the liberals do, and find some clause which makes her existence or at least her writings unconstitutional?

“By the way, my family has nine kids, three of whom, including myself, are white. The other six are adopted black kids, and my brother, who is my age, and is black, tells me that almost nothing bothers him more than the liberal condescension toward blacks. Except, that is, for the fact that any black who exercises independent thought is considered to be a house Negro, while those who are more like sheep of the white liberals are thought of as true blacks and free men.”

“Dear Jay: Another reason to make Clarence Thomas chief justice: He reportedly has a sign on the entrance to his chambers that says, ‘Please leave your penumbras at the door.’”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I would like to throw in a comment about affirmative action. I’m female, have a Hispanic supervisor, a black officer-in-charge, an Asian section commander, and a female unit commander. Once again, the military (not the ‘institutions of higher learning’) shows how it’s supposed to work: minorities making the ranks through effort, not quotas.”

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: Today’s Impromptus, particularly your quoting the remark by Concepcion Escobar, caused me to reflect on a similar comment by a classmate during my own time at Michigan Law School (Barbara Grutter would have enrolled with me had she been permitted to attend).

“During a study-group session, a friend commented that he had known he wouldn’t get into law school at Cal because of the state law banning racial preferences in admissions. He conceded that he would not have been admitted to Michigan without affirmative action. This was enlightening to me. I guess I had never really thought that anyone would allow himself to recognize that he was ‘one of them,’ one of the people who got the extra bump because of his race.

“I always wondered why he wasn’t somewhat ashamed by this. It isn’t as though he could comfort himself with the thought that checking the right race box on his law-school application was simply a shortcut for explaining all the adversity he had overcome while growing up. Both of his parents are judges. And I know that he attended some sort of fancy elementary school where all the children are taught in a foreign language (except during English class).”

“Jay, here’s sort of an interesting story — about a friend of a friend. He went to the friend’s college, undergrad. He’s an adopted Korean-American with a very American name. When he applied to medical schools 20 years ago, he declined to fill out the race section of the applications, and was of course assumed to be Caucasian based on his name. This had stubbornly and bravely been his practice since he was a kid. He got accepted to one of the best medical schools regardless, and of course has been practicing medicine ever since. He did not want even the mere possibility of racial preference haunting him for his entire career.”

Of course, checking “Asian” might keep him out today — too many of those, you know. “Overrepresented.”

“Jay, what would happen to affirmative-action programs if a significant portion of college applicants intentionally misreported their races? Even if most applications were marked correctly, by either dutiful whites or unashamed minorities, a little civil disobedience could introduce just enough margin of error to really bring out the pure intellectual chaos and moral repugnance of affirmative action.

“Think about it: Schools would be forced to visually confirm the race of every applicant who claimed to be a minority. The explicit process of racial classification . . . the naked barbarity of the data collection . . . would render affirmative action politically indefensible. What dean of admissions wouldn’t be a little uncomfortable in front of Fox News cameras turning away a previously accepted student on the first day of orientation because he or she had the incorrect skin pigmentation?”

“Dear Jay: One more absurdity regarding race preferences. My mother is Spanish (not Hispanic, as she would wrathfully remind anyone who used that word), and my dad is a retired RADM, USNR, born in Kansas to a family that came across the great sea around 1700. I have never thought of my self as ‘Hispanic,’ though my name, ‘Luis,’ is Hispanic enough. I was named after my grandfather, Luis Carballo Romero, who was a Spanish aristocrat born in the 1870s and a bit of a rake! I loved that old man, and I love my Spanish heritage, just as someone of Irish, or Italian, or Greek heritage loves his and gives honor to it. I have never been just “Louis,” though I admit that my name does from time to time raise some eyebrows.

“I have also never — never — sought means through which I could gain advantage through my name or my heritage. I am an American, born in Bethesda Naval Hospital, raised in McLean, Va., and that, as they say, is that.

“My daughter is a junior in high school, and I mentioned (jokingly) to my wife that she could, if she wanted to, list ‘Hispanic’ as her ‘race’ on an admissions form and increase her chances of getting into the school of her choice. Not guarantee her chances, mind you, but definitely increase them. How phony would that be? Here is a girl who has never considered herself anything but an American, whose interest in things Spanish is minuscule at best, who looks — if anything — of Northern European extraction, yet who could ‘play the game’ and increase her probability of getting into a school by — not lying — simply twisting an existing procedure to her benefit. She won’t, but I wonder how often that does happen.”

“Nordlinger [really, that's how it begins], although I am a committed liberal, for once I have to agree with you that Maureen Dowd crossed the line of decency, in her race-based attack on Clarence Thomas. There are areas of Thomas’s jurisprudence that are deserving of legitimate criticism, areas that Dowd should have focused on, which makes her race-based attacks on Thomas completely unnecessary.

“I disagree vehemently with Justice Thomas’s judicial philosophy, and there are many aspects of his worldview and ideology that I strongly oppose, such as his embrace of the kooky ideas of ‘natural law’ and the inconsistency with which he applies the concept of judicial restraint. And I am equally critical of Justice Scalia, for sharing the same reactionary worldview as Thomas.

“But what I cannot tolerate are attacks on Thomas simply because he is a black man who holds conservative views. . . .

“I like Maureen Dowd, and I often enjoy her columns. And, as much as it pains me to say this, Dowd’s attack on Thomas was racist. It was racist in the sense that she focused less on the nature of Thomas’s conservative ideas than on the fact that he is a black man who actually subscribes to those ideas. Thomas should be criticized in a race-neutral manner.”

“Dear Jay: I must say I’m tired of hearing what a stylish writer Maureen Dowd is. She reminds me of a very unattractive middle-aged woman I once saw with her hair in pigtails: an older woman somehow thinking it’s very appealing to act like she’s in junior high school. I have never been able to get straight through one of her columns.”

“Jay, she’s tedious, forced, and oh-so-precious — like a pudgy matron wearing a string bikini. At this point, she’s unreadable, and unbearable.”

“My dear Mr. Nordlinger: I’m sorry, but calling Donald Rumsfeld ‘Rummy’ and a few tricks with alliteration hardly qualify one as stylish. I may — and do — vehemently disagree with Ms. Dowd, but I’m also capable of recognizing writing talent regardless of the writer’s political leanings. Ms. Dowd’s columns read like a cross between a society gossip column and something written by a debutante who knows just enough to get mad about an issue but not enough to comprehend it.”

Finally, here’s quite possibly my favorite letter of all time. It came in response to my comment re who qualifies as a “minority” these days and who does not:

“Jay, when I found out Jews were not a minority, I had my first good night’s sleep in two thousand years.”

Night, guys.



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