Ignorant or hateful? Books and covers. Sing me an opening! &c.


What’s the most despicable thing you’ve read in, oh, the last six months? I know I have my candidate. It came in a movie review by David Denby published in the Nov. 11 New Yorker. Here goes: “People who are convinced that Eminem is destroying America might want to consider the delicacy of the white-black friendships in ‘8 Mile.’ (Perhaps the spectre of such friendships is what right-wingers actually hate most.)”

That’s right: We’re trying to keep blacks and whites from being friends of each other, when we’re not trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant.

David Denby is either a very, very ignorant man — does he know any conservatives? does he ever get out? — or a bundle of malice, in the Sidney Blumenthal/Lewis Lapham mold. How such a sentence could have been published — certainly in 2002 — is a mystery. The New Yorker, a great magazine, and David Remnick, its editor, and a great journalist, should really be ashamed.

• A reader writes, “Thanks for using ‘Michigander’ instead of ‘Michiganian’! The latter term was something imposed on us, like the metric system and soccer.”

• Another letter: “Like you, I grew up and went to school in Ann Arbor, and while I suspect we have little in common politically, other than a distaste for obvious buffoons, I always enjoy your reminiscences of the place as the slacker theme park it is. A couple of years ago I took my Southern Belle wife to Ann Arbor and her comment was, ‘My oh my, I have never seen such a number of people just sitting about — and all of them have such nice teeth!’ Maybe you have to hear her say it, but it still cracks me up.”

• Another: “Your thoughts on Chambliss vs. Cleland in Georgia — and on the tactics of John Kerry — brought to mind a tale about a post-Civil War candidate. He was going on at length about his experiences:

“‘I marched hundreds of miles, through the rain, sleet and snow; hardtack and salt pork alone sustained me, and the cold, hard ground was my bed. I stained four battlefields with my blood as I followed the colors . . .’ And a heckler breaks in from the crowd: ‘All right, we see: You’ve done ENOUGH for your country already! That’s why I’m voting for the other guy — you go on home and rest!’”

• Another: “I enjoyed your comments on not judging a book by its cover, when it comes to a person’s politics. It reminded me of some of my own thoughts in 1968. I was a cadet at West Point and, for a project, I surveyed approximately 100 other cadets about their preference for president that year. Perhaps surprisingly, the results were mixed. About 40 percent were for Nixon, about 40 percent were for Humphrey, and the balance were for [Eugene] McCarthy (as I was).

“At the time, we marched in the Armed Forces Day parade in New York City. We always had to be briefed on how to handle protesters if they chose to assault us (we were to protect the flag and our rifles, but otherwise to endure any attack). There were no assaults during this parade, but there was a clump of protesters along the route, and they were shouting in unison something or other. My thought as I passed them was that we in the same uniform all thought differently, while they, dressed in a wide array of clothing, all thought the same way.”

• “Mr. Nordlinger: I’ll accept certain liberals’ contention that only those with combat experience should pronounce on Iraq if they will agree that only those who pay income taxes can decide on what the rates should be and how the money should be spent.”

• “Jay, I’m a native Southerner and an assistant professor of chemistry in Virginia. As a frequent reader of your Impromptus, I know you’re from Michigan, so I find it interesting how often you use the word ‘y’all.’ I think it’s an excellent contraction and a much better candidate for you-plural than ‘youse,’ for example. [We certainly need a you-plural — other languages have them, but we don’t. That’s why I say “y’all” or “you-all” or “you guys” — but mainly “y’all” and “you-all,” not just Southernisms, but necessities, for understanding’s sake.] Nevertheless, I thought you might be interested in the following:

“At a recent conference, I had a conversation in which I mentioned the utility of ‘y’all.’ Another scientist — one at a university in Texas, no less — said, ‘“Y’all’ won’t become widely used because it’s too politically incorrect.’ I was stunned by this assertion and asked him how in the world this inoffensive term could carry such baggage. He replied, ‘Because of all the atrocities that have happened in the South.’

“I had no idea how to respond to this comment. Perhaps this fellow should listen to any current rap album: The use of the word ‘y’all’ in the lyrics would offend him more than the violence and misogyny.”

• Okay, sports fans, what you’ve long been waiting for (some of you): Great First Lines. The nominations come from readers, and the project — or whatever it has been — is now closed (thank you very much). As you may recall, my two favorite first lines are these: from Marchette Chute’s The Search for God, “Job was not a patient man”; and from one of P. G. Wodehouse’s golf stories (can’t remember which one, just now), “It was a morning when all nature shouted Fore.”