Barack ’n’ Hugo, &c.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and President Barack Obama in 2009


Last week, some of us National Review types were in Madison, Wis. Many, many people have remarked, over the years, on the similarity between Madison and my hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. They’re in the same region of the country. They’re homes to universities.

Big difference, though — well, three differences: Madison has two beautiful lakes and a capitol dome — really, really beautiful. Dogs us, I’m afraid.

Outside the capitol, I was pleased to see a statue of Lincoln. But it turned out it wasn’t Lincoln: It was Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian-born Civil War colonel.

On another statue, I saw the word Forward. I said, “Holy-moly, they’ve got the Obama campaign slogan inscribed on the statuary already?” But no — it has been the state motto since the mid 19th century.

Up on the University of Wisconsin campus, I did indeed see Lincoln — for real. Very fine statue too. In his lifetime, he was known as homely — painfully homely. He would make jokes about his homeliness. In my opinion, he is the handsomest man in our history. His inner greatness makes him so.

One little food stand, near the campus, is called “Thai-riffic.”

As in Ann Arbor, the beggars are apparently daily fixtures. They are sort of friendly. They get up in the morning and go to work, so to speak. It’s what they do, every day. They always have fresh crops of students — the guilt has not worn off yet . . .

Met a lady from Mississippi. Has lived in Wisconsin all her adult life. Told her about my visit to Oxford, Miss., last year. Had such a wonderful time in that town.

She is an alumna of Ole Miss. I said, “I walked around the campus. Such pretty girls, by the way.” “Oh, yes,” she said. Then, narrowing her eyes, looking absolutely earnest: “Even the ugly ones are pretty.”

I think I’ve mentioned a couple of friends in this column before: Peder Moren and Phil Stark. They are pillars of Madison business, and pillars of Madison conservatism. Is “Madison conservatism” a contradiction in terms? No, not entirely!

Phil is a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. I sat with him at dinner last week. He told me he went to high school with Lee Hoiby — the late composer, who was a friend of mine. When he died last year, I wrote an essay, or appreciation, here.

I’ll give you a definition of heaven: You’re sitting at The Old Fashioned restaurant, on Capitol Square. The dome is out the window. You’re having a walleye sandwich and cheese curds. Heaven, I tell you.

On to Fond du Lac. A big lake, Winnebago is. Almost a Great Lake. Can we say there are five and a half Great Lakes? Five and a quarter?

At the entrance to a park on the lake is a Spanish–American War memorial: “To Those Who Served in the War with Spain, 1898–1902.” Quite moving. World War I came not many years later. It was so big and awful, it overshadowed the little war with Spain. But the little war was awful too, as all wars are.

In Fond du Lac, there is a Rienzi Road. After seeing it, I could not get Wagner’s overture out of my head. (I didn’t mind.)

I was startled to see something in someone’s yard: a black Sambo, like a lawn jockey. Shocking, actually.

I saw a Mazda, parked on the street. It didn’t seem to me a very old car — kind of a normal car, from the ’70s or ’80s, I guess. But the license plate said “Hobbyist.”


E. J. Hobsbawm, the most influential historian in the English-speaking world, has died. I will not speak ill of him. I spoke ill of him for years, when he was living, working, and influencing, and will again, after a decent interval. He did a lot of harm. Stalinist.

Oops, there I go . . .

A great historian and great man, Gene Genovese, has died. For my profile of him last year, go here.

Barry Commoner, the environmentalist who ran for president, has died. Was a big deal in Ann Arbor, as I recall!

Care for some music? For my “Salzburg Chronicle,” published in this month’s New Criterion, go here.

Back to historians for a minute. I was talking to someone about Jacques Barzun. I wrote a profile of him a couple of years ago. (Here.) He was born in 1907. Lives in San Antonio, Texas. His interest in history was instilled by his great-grandmother, whom he regularly visited. She was born in 1830.

Right today, in 2012, you can see a man in Texas whose career as a historian was launched by a Frenchwoman born in 1830. How ’bout that?

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.