A November wish, &c.


I noticed the cover of The National Interest. Bearing a photo of Neville Chamberlain, it says, “Appeaser!” Then it says, “Paul Kennedy on the Most Abused Word in History.” Munich gave appeasement a very bad name, it is true. (That was a lesson taught to me by a history professor of mine, who otherwise wasn’t worth much.)

But I believe that, quite possibly, the most abused word in history — where politics and world affairs are concerned — is “peace.” And then, possibly, “fascism.” Of course, the most abused word of all time — any sphere — is “love.”

A little language? I saw a headline I liked very much — I’m not used to hearing the Minnesota Vikings referred to as the “Vikes.” So I just smiled over, “Harvin Out of Hospital, Back with Vikes.” I will try to work the term into my own writing. (But how? The Vikings don’t come up much, in my work. Maybe a reflection on Fran Tarkenton? Hey, I have an idea: a piece or note on Alan Page’s jurisprudence?)

I was doing a little Googling about Whitman’s Chocolates — because I was mentioning them in a piece — and I saw an ad from 1918. I think it is my favorite ad of all time now. “In peace times a pleasant luxury. In war times a fighting food.”

A little memory of James Jackson Kilpatrick — Kilpo — who died recently. A memory of him and his wife, Marianne Means. They were both newspaper columnists. Kilpo was a righty, Means a lefty. They were a Carville-and-Matalin couple, though not nearly as well known for that. They married quite late — second marriages, I assume. In their seventies (I believe). When we lived in Georgetown — back in Washington days (obviously) — I would see them kind of toddling on the sidewalk, and I found this sight rather touching. Here was an elderly couple much enjoying each other’s company, or so it seemed.

I bet Kilpatrick had not struck most people as the kind of conservative who would marry a liberal — and a professional, public liberal at that.

Spent a few days in Toronto recently. A few observations? The people seemed exceptionally nice — but maybe not exceptionally nice for Canada. On the street, a man bumped into me and said, “Excuse me.” I thought, “Baby, you ain’t in Manhattan no mo’.” (I jest — Manhattan is a perfectly friendly place. In a way.)

Thought of a song lyric: “I had the time, the time of my life. I saw a man who danced with his wife, in Chicago . . .” I was bumped into by a man who said, “Excuse me,” in Toronto . . .

The ushers in the ballpark were very, very nice. “Thank you for coming. May I help you find your seat?” Holy mackerel — it wasn’t like this in Tiger Stadium when I was growing up, I can tell you.

Back in Michigan, back then, the Canadian dollar was kind of worthless. It wasn’t a real dollar; it was a toy dollar, worth 75 cents or something. I worked at golf courses, and sometimes Canucks would come in and try to pay their greens fees with Canadian dollars. We would just laugh. Hey, hoser, might as well offer up beads, eh?

Well, who’s the joke on now? I found, in Toronto, that the American dollar is worth less than the Canadian. Great, just frickin’ great.

On one of the Canadian bills, I saw a picture of Queen Elizabeth. It was good to see her — a “beautiful old lady,” as Charles Moore called her, correctly, in a recent column. And I had forgotten about Canada’s connection to the British crown. One can do that.

On the flip side of that bill was the legend, “Would we know each other the slightest without the arts?” Oh, for heaven’s sake. I like music and painting and all, but let’s not get carried away.

A beggar held a sign the likes of which I’d never seen before: “Broke and Ugly.” Was funny. Strange thing was, the man wasn’t ugly. Broke, I’m pretty sure.

Liked a billboard, by the side of the road: “Hey texty, pay attention!”

Would you like some music? Because you know, without it, we wouldn’t know each other in the slightest. For my “New York Chronicle,” in the current New Criterion, go here. And that whole issue, of course, is stuffed with arts-and-letters goodness.

A little more music? At the Toronto-Detroit game, they played the William Tell Overture, and I loved the thing all over again. Perfectly crafted, clearly inspired — touched with a really intelligent spirit. I wish Rossini could know the enduring popularity of it. Wonder if he does.

I have often quoted one of his statements — a statement he made about his posterity. He said (something like), “I hope to be survived by Act III of Otello, Act II of William Tell — and all of The Barber” (of Seville).

Memo to itchy-fingers: Please don’t write me to say that Verdi, not Rossini, wrote Otello. Rossini wrote one too. Thank you!

I went with a friend, a couple of years ago, to a concert that included Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. My friend said, “An old joke has it that an intellectual is someone who can hear the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. Well, I can’t hear that concerto without thinking of Bill Buckley.” The concerto’s third movement — a trumpet showpiece — was the theme music of Firing Line.

But you know that, glorious NR-niks and Buckleyites! (Nixon used that term, in the 1960s, and not kindly: “Buckleyites.”) Thanks for joining me today, and us every day.