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“France Would Appear Ridiculous,” &C.


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Friends, I got something I know you’ll like. A pal of mine–Yank who lives in Europe–sent it to me. Comes from a John Vinocur column, in the International Herald Tribune. Check it out:

In a new book about his time as foreign minister, called “Les Cent semaines,” [Dominique de Villepin] is portrayed through a series of negative anecdotes as “immeasurably pretentious.” In one account, the book tells how the foreign minister was informed at a meeting at the Quai d’Orsay that the American-led war against Saddam Hussein would likely be a short one. His response: “That is not desirable. France would appear ridiculous.” There is a long silence. Another diplomat says, “The Americans and British are our allies.” Villepin ends the meeting.

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Isn’t that great?

Well, at least the French had the war’s aftermath.

But now they have their own problems on their hands, and related ones at that.

The other day, Mark Helprin posed an interesting question: “If you could put Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court, or risk her becoming president, what would you do?” Well, let’s think about this: You put Hillary on the Court, she’ll be there, oh, 25 years. And she will be the heart of the Left bloc. But you’ll ensure she’ll never be president. (No fair saying, “But she could resign, to run for president.” That’s not part of this game.) Otherwise, leave her off the Court–put a nice Federalist Society bloke on it–and run the risk that she’ll be sitting in the Oval, nominating her own Supreme Court justices.

What would you do?

Me, I’d put her on the Court in a heartbeat. Let Clarence, Nino, Sam, and the rest of the boys deal with her. She’s just one vote–a Souter with a more colorful past.

Mark disagrees: He’d keep her off, and face her down in the electoral arena.

Just in case you wanted a parlor game for a sunny Wednesday (or whatever the weather happens to be where you live) . . .

Saw a bumper sticker in a parking lot the other day. It said, “Be Patriotic: Vote John Kerry.” (The car had Vermont tags, by the way–just to complete a perfect picture.)

I know this is a long-running theme of mine, but can you imagine if we Republicans did a similar thing? “Be Patriotic: Reelect President Bush.”

We’d be run out of town as McCarthyite thugs.

And, you know? To say “Be Patriotic: Vote George W. Bush” would be wrong (even if you believed it).

But the Left can never act McCarthyistically, for reasons we have long discussed and accepted . . .

Was amused, and a little disgusted, to see that White House staffers have been forced to take “ethics classes”–keep ‘em from leaking classified information and so on. I always thought ethics classes were kind of insulting, an emblem of this age, which might be called a post-moral one.

I’m sure I’ve told you this story before: I’m in college, and Adm. Hyman Rickover (Uncle Hymie) comes to speak. The crowd is insanely hostile, of course. During the Q&A, one girl–think she has a mohawk–asks whether it would be a good idea if nuclear-physics students were required to take ethics classes.

Rickover looks a little nonplussed. “No,” he says. “They should go to Sunday school or temple.”

Alarm, outrage, hisses, etc.

Wonderful.

Want a little good news from the Arab world? I know it seems impossible, but consider this AP report:

CASABLANCA, Morocco–Tens of thousands of Moroccans marched through Casablanca to demand the release of two Moroccan Embassy employees reported kidnapped in Iraq and threatened with execution.

Demonstrators chanted “No to terrorism” and “Islam is a religion of love, not hatred” during Sunday’s march. The Moroccan government has condemned the kidnappings and called for the hostages to be released without any conditions.

“All Moroccans feel targeted by this kidnapping,” said Mohamed Benhammou, one of the march organizers.

A relief, to read such things.

I have said before that you can tell a lot about George W. Bush by the pardons he issues, at the end of the year. They’re just the kind of pardons you’d want–thoughtful, merited, and occasionally touching.

Well, you can tell a lot about him by the Presidential Medals of Freedom he awards, too. This year’s batch is wonderful. Robert Conquest is a winner, as well he should be–one of the great truth-tellers of our time. (He’s a wonderful joke-teller, too–a man as amusing as he is wise and brave.)

Three years ago, I wrote an appreciation of him, and it can be found elsewhere on the site today: here.

And Jack Nicklaus! He’s a winner, as he is in every respect. I have a memory. About 15 years ago, a group of us friends–golf-course rats–were sitting around, talking about whom we’d like to have dinner with, of all historical figures. Everybody’s fair game: from Adam on. One of our guys said Jack Nicklaus–and none of us thought it ridiculous.

He is not only our favorite golfer, but one of our favorite people.

And Paul Harvey, and Sonny Montgomery (probably Bush the Elder’s favorite Democrat), and ‘retha Franklin (Detroiter–heard a lot about her when I was growing up)! And Paul Rusesabagina, the “hotel manager”–you know, the figure in the Rwandan genocide, featured in that movie.

Here’s how a piece I wrote last May began:

President Bush saw the movie Hotel Rwanda, twice. This is the movie that depicts the genocide in that country, and in particular the refusal of the U.N.–which had troops there–to lift a finger. Deeply interested, Bush arranged to meet the man on whose personal story the movie is based: the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina. They talked in the Oval Office, mainly about Darfur, Sudan. Rusesabagina said that what had occurred in Rwanda was occurring in Darfur. Bush said that he would do all he could to stop it. It is too late for some–for up to 400,000–but not, of course, for all. We may say that it is never too late to stop genocide while there are people left standing.

And how many are left standing now? One’s attention wanders . . .

Speaking of awards: “Britain’s crime writers’ club on Tuesday awarded its ‘Dagger of Daggers’ to John le Carré, picking ‘The Spy Who Came In from the Cold’ as their top book of the last 50 years.” (That bit of reporting is from Reuters.)

I know that, as the Cold War progressed, le Carré descended into awful moral equivalence; I know he descended even further, to become one of the most vulgar of the America-bashers–on the Pinter level. Such books as The Tailor of Panama are inexcusable, soiling their author’s legacy.

But that crime writers’ club is right: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is a great little book, almost diamond-perfect.

Want to know why I like Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota? (He’s a young Republican, though not a Young Republican–maybe he was, I don’t know.) In an interview at the end of October, he said that he’d be “lucky to get reelected” next year. Minnesota is a “tough state” for Republicans, and the national GOP is “on the ropes.” Previously he had said that he’d stick with George W. Bush, even if the president were polling at “2 percent.” Why? Not merely out of “blind allegiance”: “Politics is smarmy enough without people bailing out on friends just because times are tough. That’s a weenie move. I’m not going to run away like a little chicken from [Bush], just because he’s unpopular.”

Yes, I like Tim Pawlenty–not one to engage in weenie moves.

Robert Mugabe is too atrocious to call a weenie. Yesterday–in a rhetorical blast at the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell–he said, “Mr. Dell, go to hell.” Frankly, I believe that, Jesse Jackson-like, he liked the rhyme.

The other day, I was writing about Vladimir Feltsman. (He had played a recital in Carnegie Hall.) I took a little walk down Memory Lane, recalling that this pianist was a figure in the late Cold War, too. Some of you may remember his story.

In 1979, he applied for an exit visa–he was denied, making him a refusenik. The Soviets killed his career, prohibiting him from playing in his own country, and forbidding him to leave.

In 1986–the Reagan administration was doing this kind of thing–our ambassador in Moscow, Arthur Hartman, invited Feltsman to play a recital at the ambassadorial residence, Spaso House. Shortly before the recital was to begin, “someone”–the KGB, surely–sabotaged the piano, breaking three strings. The recital was almost prevented from going forward–but the piano was repaired, and Feltsman played.

When he was at last sprung, in 1987, Feltsman went straight to the White House, for another recital. One of his encores was The Maple Leaf Rag–in tribute to the country that fought for him, and took him in. I looked up what Reagan said on this occasion, and here it is:

Well, Vladimir Feltsman, one critic has called you “extraordinary, brilliant,” while another has written, “He must be counted among the great musicians of the world.” Well, after listening to your performance this evening–well, if anything, those critics were guilty of understatement. But on this, the occasion of your first concert in the United States, I know that everyone here wants to join Nancy and me in extending the warmest congratulations.

I called this your first concert in the United States, but that isn’t quite accurate. Your first concert took place five years ago at Lincoln Center. As a spotlight shone upon an empty stage, an audience listened to recordings of your music, because you had not been permitted to leave your own country for that performance. Your request for immigration led to artistic exile in your homeland. Long and difficult years followed. And of these long years you’ve said, and I quote, “I worked very hard. I studied a lot of music I had never played before, like ‘The Maple Street Rag’ [laughter]–and God knows I had the time for it. I had nerves and fits of depression, but the experience taught me a lot. I now understand life and the nature of people and the values of real friendship, which means, also, that I understand music better. In all honesty I can say that I’m playing better now than eight years ago.”

Well, Vladimir Feltsman, that you manifest no bitterness, that you speak instead of the good you found in the midst of your suffering, this proves that you’re not only a great musician, this proves that you are a hero of the human spirit. And, Vladimir, with all our hearts, we welcome you and Anna and Daniel [Feltsman's wife and son] to the United States and to freedom. And God bless you.

Nice to hear his voice again, isn’t it?

Speaking of music, have some criticism from the New York Sun: For a review of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and for a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Mikko Franck (with Gidon Kremer, violin soloist), please go here. For a review of The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera, please go here. For a review of the pianist András Schiff, please go here. For a review of another pianist, Ivan Moravec, please go here. And for a review of the Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor–and for a review of an all-Shostakovich concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center–please go here.

That oughta hold you (big-time).

A little of my perpetual–certainly yearly–theme, “Christmas” vs. “holiday,” or rather, “holiday” against “Christmas”? Try a letter:

Mr. Nordlinger,

I’m currently a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology, pursuing my master’s degree. Last week we had a student call, where the leaders pass on information to the student body. I thought the following story would please you, as it concerns the C holiday.

The assistant dean had the lieutenant in charge of the upcoming “holiday” party come forward. The lieutenant said he was working on the upcoming Christmas party and needed volunteers. The colonel corrected him and said, “I think you mean holiday party.” “No, it’s the Christmas party.” Again, the colonel corrected him to say holiday party. He finally relented–after all, how far can a lieutenant push an issue with a colonel?

However, there was quite a bit of hissing, grumbling, etc., from the audience. I chimed in with an audible, but not loud, “Which holiday are we celebrating?” Not everyone was happy with a “holiday party.”

Obviously, please leave off my name if you use this. I don’t want to make a trip to the dean’s office.

We hear you! And if you care to see my December ‘04 piece on this sad subject, please go here.

See you later, guys.



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