Stumping For Arlen, Boosterism in Seattle, a Killer Kakutani Review, &C.


I hope the president’s nose is broken–or at least hurting pretty bad. I mean, from campaigning for Arlen Specter, and having to hold that nose.

Our friend–NR’s friend–Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky of Princeton University sent me something funny. It was a notice of a speech by Alexander Sanger, “chair” (of course) of the International Planned Parenthood Council. He is described as “the grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth-control movement more than 80 years ago.”

But the funny part? Carlos’s comment to me: “Isn’t it strange that the chairmanship of Planned Parenthood should be a semi-hereditary position?”

File this under the heading JUST IN CASE YOU FORGET WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE WE’RE DEALING WITH. The Daily Telegraph tells us that “the body of a police special-forces officer who died when Islamic terrorists blew themselves up in Madrid was taken from its grave, mutilated, and burned yesterday.

“The coffin and body of special agent Francisco Javier Torronteras were pulled from the tomb in Madrid Sur cemetery in Carabanchel and pushed 1,000 yards in a wheelbarrow before being doused with petrol and set alight.

“The body was found with a pick driven into its head and a spade dug into its chest.

“Although no motive was immediately apparent, police speculated that it could be the work of sympathizers of the Moroccan terrorist group that carried out the train bomb attacks in the Spanish capital on March 11, killing 192 people and injuring 1,900.

“The interior ministry said the act of desecration could have been part of ‘an Islamic rite of revenge.’”

Etc. Again: just in case you forget.

Would you like to read someone who could never forget? I mean Barbara Amiel, the Canadian journalist who is otherwise known as Lady Black, wife of the (embattled) publishing magnate Conrad. She is bracingly unillusioned about Islamic fanaticism, and she understood the death of the latest Hamas big for what it was. Try her column here.

As usual, Bill Clinton wants it both ways, talking out of two sides of his mouth. He told a crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria, “Do I think this is a good thing, this Gaza proposal? I certainly do. On the other hand, when the music starts and you go out on the dance floor and you dance alone because you don’t find an attractive partner, you’re still dancing alone. How long are you willing to wait for another partner to get on the dance floor?”

Yup, that’s our Bill–still defending the Oslo process, which led to nothing but mayhem and murder and the wrong sort of hopefulness: the hope for a one-state solution (with Israel null and void).

Said Clinton, “The fundamental decision remains in the hands of the people of Israel. What will the future look like? Can it be shared?” I think he’s got it bass ackwards: The fundamental decision remains in the hands of the Palestinians, as it so long has. What will their future look like? Are they willing to co-exist? The Israelis will take peace in a heartbeat. They would take it yesterday, and the day before, and in 1982, and in 1973, and in 1967, and . . .

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ITEM IS FOR POLITICAL COGNOSCENTI ONLY. I saw that the Teacher of the Year is a Rhode Islander–a woman named Kathy Mellor. The White House has held a ceremony for her (about which I’ve read no details). Hope Karl Rove remembered to invite Senator Chafee!

(Okay, an explanation for non-cognoscenti: A few years ago, the Teacher of the Year was a Vermonter, and the White House didn’t invite Vermont senator James Jeffords to the ceremony. The senator later cited this as a grievance when he bolted the GOP, throwing the Senate to the Democrats. Karl Rove was faulted for mishandling Jeffords. Lincoln Chafee? He is a quite liberal senator, from Rhode Island; some have speculated that he might jump ship à la Jeffords. So there you go.)

As some readers know, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is trying to end “social promotion” in schools. To that end, he is trying to ensure that third-graders pass a standardized test. Needless to say, the usual suspects have been doing everything possible to thwart this effort–this is The Blob at work. (Bill Bennett nicknamed the education establishment “The Blob.”) Also needless to say, The Blob has damned the third-graders’ test as . . . you guess ‘er, Chester: racist.

To learn more, check out this report in the New York Sun, along with this editorial.

Last, I’d like to mention a photo: According to the Sun’s caption, “Third-graders and their parents held a rally at the Department of Education’s headquarters.” One little girl is holding a sign that says, “I’m a kid, not a score.”

Don’t you hate it when adults put political placards in the hands of children? Makes me wanna spit. Makes me spittin’ mad.

My colleague John Virtes alerts me to a New York Times piece on the charter school founded by Andre Agassi in Las Vegas. I would call this–as the first President Bush might–a point of light. Way to go, Andre, studly off the court as well (and I refer to more than his long and gaudily successful amorous history).

May I try something out on you? I think we’re suffering from praise inflation–grade inflation, yes, but praise inflation too.

Let me give you a lil’ example. When an orchestra comes to New York, the home paper of that orchestra is liable to write up what the New York critics said. This is a little bit sad: I mean, who cares what the New York critics said?

Anyway, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra came to Carnegie Hall a couple of weeks ago, and an article duly appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the critical response to the concert. My review was mixed: certainly not thoroughly complimentary (because it was a lousy concert, in some respects), but mixed.

The Post-Intelligencer article took an injured tone, saying that “Jay Nordlinger, writing in the New York Sun, had very little good to say about Schwarz [conductor Gerard Schwarz] except for his trumpet playing, which he abandoned decades ago. Unpleasant adjectives and adverbs such as ‘blunt,’ ‘obvious,’ ‘clunky,’ ’stiffly,’ ‘plodding,’ ‘thumping’ filled the review.” Unpleasant? What is this, a tea party or something? How about true? This is criticism, for heaven’s sake, not a note to my Aunt Minnie, thanking her for the tie.

The Seattle article continued, “He [I] had mixed feelings about the Sheng [a work by the composer Bright Sheng], calling it ‘energetic,’ ‘competent,’ ‘cinematic’ and ‘a bit kitschy.’ He liked [soprano Jane] Eaglen’s singing, her bad diction aside. While the Strauss came in for the harshest criticism, the Sibelius did somewhat better, even earning some scant praise.”

Even earning some scant praise. Well, let’s consider. In my Sun review, I said, “. . . the scherzo had its necessary verve, and the Finale–like the slow movement–was accorded a sensible tempo. Mr. Schwarz gave this movement both lift and grace, two very important elements. And climaxes were brought off with relaxed majesty, which is just what the doctor–what Sibelius, actually–ordered.”

This is scant praise? What, pray tell, is adequate praise? A big juicy kiss on the conductor’s cheeks?

An article in the Seattle Times was similarly snarky and injured-sounding.

Memo to music critics: If you don’t want to be considered hicks, act as critics, and not as hometown boosters. Okie doke?

SPRINGTIME FOR MOAMMAR? Something has obviously gotten into the Libyan strongman. From the AP: “Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has called for the abolition of Libya’s three-decade-old Exceptional Courts, whose verdicts could not be appealed, and other strict laws criticized by human-rights groups. . . . Colonel Qaddafi had also called for an end to torture and arrests without warrants.”

Not just military and foreign-policy changes, but domestic ones. A regular Albert Schweitzer, our Qaddafi!

Finally, I want to say something nice about the New York Times. I have, in the past, lambasted its chief book critic, Michiko Kakutani, who–to cite just one offense–has been beastly to the colossally great David Frum. But she had a review the other day absolutely eye-popping in its political (and thus literary) incorrectness. Staggering–that such a thing should be published in the New York Times. That the Times would countenance employing a woman who could write such a review.

It was of the latest novel of an untouchable–or an author I would have thought untouchable, in any publication such as the Times: Alice Walker.

Allow me to quote the first few paragraphs of Kakutani’s review:

“If this novel did not boast the name of Alice Walker, who won acclaim some two decades ago with ‘The Color Purple,’ it’s hard to imagine how it could have been published.

“‘Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart’ is a remarkably awful compendium of inanities. There are New Age inanities: ‘She had an instinctive understanding, perhaps from birth, that people and plants were relatives.’

“Feminist inanities: ‘She had seemed to feel, and to wonder aloud, about the possibility that only women, these days, dreamed of rivers, and were alarmed that they were dry.’

“Flower children inanities: ‘What would happen if our foreign policy centered on the cultivation of joy rather than pain?’

“And plain old bad writing: ‘The moment I stood in front of any one of his paintings, she elaborated, my bird nature became activated. I felt I could fly!’”

This review concludes: “In the end ‘Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart’ is less a novel than a cloying collection of New Age homilies, multicultural pieties and trippy Carlos Castaneda-ish riffs, hung like politically correct Christmas ornaments on the armature of [the main character's] tortuous journey from self-pity to self-congratulation.”

Man, oh, man. The millennium has been rung in.

But watch Kakutani: She will have to counter this was a fire-breathing slam of some conservative or conservative-leaning book. William Raspberry and Richard Cohen–two Washington Post columnists, as it happens–do this: If they publish a column that is a little right-leaning, or that may give comfort to conservatives, they make up for it with about three wildly left-wing columns in a row.

Anyway, just a guess.

As the young people say (or so I gather): Laterz.