The senator’s painter, &c.


Perusing the news yesterday, I read that Sen. Conrad Burns, the Republican from Montana, was in some trouble for referring to his house painter as a “nice little Guatemalan man.” Well, so what? He probably was — is — a nice little Guatemalan man.

And I was reminded, somewhat, of something President Clinton said at Davos last January. He described the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, as “that interesting Indian fellow.” Came out more like “fella.” I think that Clinton couldn’t remember Morales’s name at the moment, so that’s what he said.

At least he didn’t say “little,” which Burns might have avoided (I grant).

But still . . .

Isn’t there enough genuine badness in the world without having to worry about “nice little Guatemalan man” and “macaca”?

It has become a running joke: Muslim fanatics commit some atrocity, or are caught trying to commit some atrocity, and the papers come out the next day with, “Muslims Fear Backlash.”

Sure enough, I saw this headline in the International Herald Tribune last week: “British Muslims fear backlash from bomb plot case as 11 face charges.”

But it was a very interesting article, by Serge F. Kovaleski. (Go here.) In his reporting, Kovaleski found Mohamaad Ibrahim, a 33-year-old lighting engineer, jobless, who “said there could well be merits to the government’s case because some young brainwashed Muslims in Britain are in fact tarnishing the sacred name of Islam.”

More: “Ibrahim said that he was resentful of these British Muslims, who, he said, have made it more difficult for him to get out of the ranks of the unemployed.”

And then this direct quote, from Mr. Ibrahim: “The gentle and innocent Muslims are paying the price for the black sheep of our communities. Nobody trusts us anymore. People feel that some Muslim with a jacket full of bombs is going to walk in to a business and blow himself up.”

Quite so. These true and poignant words are enough to make you weep — or fight.

One of the most interesting, wise, and clarifying things I have read in ages comes from Milton Friedman (unsurprisingly). It is a conversation with him conducted by Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College. You will find it here.

I could quote the entire conversation, so taken am I with it, but I will confine myself to a couple of choice bits.

Says Friedman, “I think that nothing is so important for freedom as recognizing in the law each individual’s natural right to property, and giving individuals a sense that they own something that they’re responsible for, that they have control over, and that they can dispose of.”

By the way, one of the great things about this conversation is that it is so basic — it takes us back to first principles, dusts them off.

Friedman on one of the worst aspects of our current situation: “We have a socialist-communist system of distributing medical care.”

But then there is this, overriding: “You hear all this talk about economic difficulties, when the fact is we are at the absolute peak of prosperity in the history of the world. Never before have so many people had as much as they do today.”

And taste the idealism, the humanity, behind Friedman’s lifelong drive for education reform: “It is a disgrace that in a country like the United States, 30 percent of youngsters never graduate from high school. And I haven’t even mentioned those who drop out in elementary school. It’s a disgrace that there are so many people who can’t read and write. It’s hard for me to see how we can continue to maintain a decent and free society if a large subsection of that society is condemned to poverty and to handouts.”

To use Net-speak: Read the whole thing.

And if you will indulge a couple of plugs, since I’m talkin’ Friedman: He and his wife Rose will be our special guests in San Francisco, on September 22. For information, please go here. They will play a similar role on our next cruise, in November — go here.

And go Friedmans.

I was startled to learn, in this article, that Germans are leaving their overtaxed, overregulated country for . . . Canada. Yes, Canada. 

For Koerber, the decision to leave was largely one of taxes. In Germany, where the highest tax bracket starts at 52,152 euros ($66,600), he would have to pay 42 percent of every euro above that level. In addition, the German value-added tax — a kind of national sales levy — is 16 percent, which is scheduled to rise three percentage points next year.

“I only get 25 percent deducted from my salary and that includes everything,” said Koerber of his pay packet in Canada. “And I’m in the highest tax bracket!” The goods and services tax in Alberta is 6 percent, cut from 7 percent in July, he said.

Imagine that: striking off for Canada because it is less socialist.

Look, I believe that Angela Merkel is another Margaret Thatcher, eager to go as far as her ossified and fearful country will allow. But how far will that be?

John Updike has written a novel, Terrorist, and it has prompted essays by two of our best writers: Mark Steyn and Theodore Dalrymple. The former writes a bracing attack on Updike in Macleans (here). The latter takes a far more positive view in City Journal (here). You will want to read both pieces, surely, as I did. And I agree with both, though that may seem impossible. (In reality, it is not.)

One of Steyn’s main points is that a terrorist does not have to be a deeply alienated loner, brooding about. He may well seem like “one of us” — until the moment he walks into the restaurant with his explosives belt.

Dalrymple, like Steyn, writes truth so effortlessly, his prose takes on the character of aphorism. For example, in his Updike piece, we find this: “In the current climate, you can’t fail as a minority: you can only be failed by others.”

And, “It is not the personal that is political, but the political that is personal. People with unusually thin skins ascribe the small insults, humiliations, and setbacks consequent upon human existence to vast and malign political forces; and, projecting their own suffering onto the whole of mankind, conceive of schemes, usually involving violence, to remedy the situation that has so wounded them.”

Yes. And how about this? “One might have expected [Joseph Conrad] to have sympathized with extremists of almost any stripe, but he understood only too well that those who opposed tyranny by terrorism objected not so much to tyranny as such but to the fact that it was not they who were exercising it.”

And, “The crude nostrums of Islamism rush in where the Enlightenment fears to tread.” (Trust me, in context, you will see that this is perfect.)

Finally, oil — Dalrymple beautifully lays to rest the canard that Westerners exploit Arabs for their oil. This claim, on the part of Arabs, “is not merely self-serving; it is patently absurd. If anything, the direction of the exploitation has been precisely the opposite, for merely by virtue of their fortunate geographical location, and with scarcely any effort on their part, the people of the Arabian peninsula and elsewhere have enjoyed a high standard of living thanks entirely to the ingenuity of those whom they accuse of exploitation and without whom the oil resource would not be an economic resource at all.”

Aren’t we lucky, in these high-stakes times, to have Dalrymple and Steyn writing for us?

Speaking of Mark: He writes about a couple of New Orleans songs — including “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” — here. And that reminds me of something my sister told me, shortly after she enrolled in Tulane University. (Actually, I think it was Sophie Newcomb.) How do you pronounce the name of the city? “New Orlins. It’s only New Orleens in the songs.”

And you really need that pronunciation for the rhymes. Take, for example, “Basin Street Blues”: “We’ll take the boat to the land of dreams, steam down the river, down to New Orleans.”

(You may object that the “m” ending and the “n” ending don’t make a rhyme — but object to someone else, please!)

Do you care for a little music criticism (I mean other than the New Orleans bit)? For a recordings roundup, in the New York Sun, go here. I review CDs by Boris Berezovsky (Russian pianist), the St. Lawrence String Quartet (Canadian chamber ensemble), and Ian Bostridge (tall, thin English tenor).

Bostridge sings Wolf songs, accompanied by Antonio Pappano, and he contributes his own liner notes. Let me quote a little:

“The self-conscious mastery of a miniaturist form . . . may well have been a response to Wagnerian gigantism. As Nietzsche put it, recovering from his intoxication with Wagner: ‘What can be done well today, what can be masterly, is only what is small.’”

What an asinine comment (if I have understood it correctly), especially from someone so smart as Nietzsche. Any person with taste admires both the briefest Wolf song and Parsifal.

And, by the way, anyone not at least a little intoxicated with Wagner is a fool.

Friend of mine, who knows a good lead when she sees one, sent me this, from the New York Daily News:

A gang of petite but ornery lesbians pummeled and stabbed a DVD bootlegger in the West Village early yesterday after he tried to pick up one of the women — and then spat on her when she rebuffed his advances, police and witnesses said.”

Oh, yeah, that’s a good’un. No question.

I’ll see you.


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