The flame-haired, &c.

Actress Jessica Chastain


Let me start today with an offbeat subject: redheads. I was interested in an article by Ed West in the Telegraph. He asked, “Is gingerism the last acceptable prejudice?” That was a new word for me: “gingerism.”

Accompanying his article was a picture of Jessica Chastain (the actress). And that leads to this point: I certainly have a prejudice, or bias, concerning redheads. Long have. I’m for.

West talked about the apparently quite serious subject of “anti-ginger bullying.” And I thought of Paul Johnson (the great historian). I have heard him say several times that he was picked on at school for having red hair. Kids would pick fights with him, Paul would respond (of course) — then he’d be the one who got in trouble.

It was the red hair, Paul says: Teachers and other adults assumed that he was the fiery troublemaker (instead of the fiery responder and self-defender).

One more word on this subject: Tip O’Neill was not my favorite person, as readers may know, but he said one charming thing, as far as I can recall. This was when he was leaving the speakership, to be replaced by Jim Wright of Texas. He made some comments on Wright, all favorable, of course.

But then he said, “Watch it, he has a temper. He’s a redhead. He flares.”

I’m paraphrasing, but I have it almost verbatim, I think. And I thought that was charming: the old-fashioned and very un-PC association of red hair with “flaring.”

Anyway — maybe we can talk about Molly Ringwald later . . .

Stick with the Telegraph, and an article by the great Janet Daley (who was born and raised in America, but whose career has been British). The article was called “A moment of truth on the welfare state.”

She wrote, “Abandoning the ‘safety net’ principle meant that instead of treating poverty (or ‘want’, as Beveridge called it) as an emergency in need of temporary assistance, it would be regarded as a permanent condition caused by endemic social ‘unfairness’ (as Gordon Brown called it) in need of everlasting support.”

I remember something Reagan used to say: “They used to call it ‘relief.’” He also used to quote FDR, in a way that drove Democrats crazy. FDR, Reagan knew, described welfare checks as “a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”

Oh, did Democrats hate to hear that quoted! (Reagan also drove Gorbachev crazy with Doveryai no proveryai, “Trust but verify.”)

Last year, I wrote an article about Susana Martinez, the new, or newish, governor of New Mexico. Here’s a little excerpt:

“So,” I ask her, “are you a so-called compassionate conservative?” This is a dread term for many on the right. She gives me a pleasant stare, then says that she resists any and all labels. “I’m compassionate, absolutely,” she says. She believes that government should step in when people are desperate and have nowhere else to turn. But she does not believe that welfare should become a way of life. She thinks that government, ideally, should lend a person a “helping hand,” pull him back onto his feet, and send him on his way.

When I wrote my article, a colleague of mine chided me. “Who thinks that welfare should be a way of life?” he said. “That’s just a conservative talking point.”

Oh, I don’t know. I think there are a lot of people who don’t mind welfare’s being a way of life. Who aren’t too concerned about it. Isn’t that fair to say?

Back to gingerism for a second: In our country, wouldn’t that be thought of as a preference for the girl who was not Mary Ann?

Back to FDR for a second: This is what he said in his Annual Message to Congress, January 4, 1935 — hold on to your socks:

A large proportion of [the] unemployed and their dependents have been forced on the relief rolls. The burden on the Federal Government has grown with great rapidity. We have here a human as well as an economic problem. When humane considerations are concerned, Americans give them precedence. The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers.

The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.

I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further sapped by the giving of cash, of market baskets, of a few hours of weekly work cutting grass, raking leaves or picking up papers in the public parks. We must preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destitution but also their self-respect, their self-reliance and courage and determination.

How you like them apples? For the full speech, go here.

This article may interest you. It’s about Hosni Mubarak and his relationship with Al-Ahram, the state newspaper. I have run up against Al-Ahram many times in my life, as anyone who concentrates on, or dips into, the Middle East does.

More than a decade ago — in May 2002 — I wrote an article about MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute. Here’s a taste of it:

Ibrahim Nafi’ is editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, the government daily in Cairo. In October, he wrote that U.S. forces were dropping their food for desperate Afghans in minefields. He further suggested that this food had been “genetically treated,” with “the aim of affecting the health of the Afghan people” (for the worse, naturally). Therefore the Afghans would be unlucky either way: blown up by mines or poisoned by America’s food gifts. We should bear in mind that Nafi’ is not some “crazy” spouting off in a renegade organ, but the equivalent of the principal editor of the New York Times, although appointed by the head of state.

I have long asked a question, in plangent tones: How are the Arabs to make progress if they are lied to constantly, by the authorities in their lives?