For diversity in testimony, &c.

New Yorker film critic David Denby


When visiting the current Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, Carter remarked on the “reverence” with which the people “look upon their leader.” Let me give you a paragraph from my history of the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter won this prize in 2002.

Even some Carter fans and defenders were unsettled by some of the things he said in and about North Korea — specifically about Kim Il-sung, the self-styled “Great Leader.” Kim was one of the most monstrous dictators in all history . . . Carter said of Kim, “I find him to be vigorous, intelligent, surprisingly well informed about the technical issues, and in charge of the decisions about this country.” You can expect them to be in charge, absolute rulers of totalitarian states. Carter further said, “I don’t see that they,” the North Koreans, “are an outlaw nation.” He said that he had been able to “observe the North Koreans’ psyche and their societal structure and the reverence with which they look upon their leader.” Pyongyang, he enthused, was a “bustling city” where shoppers “pack the department stores.” He was reminded of the “Wal-Mart in Americus, Georgia.” In truth, North Korea was a starving and pulverized nation. A Potemkin village had apparently struck Carter as real.

An Associated Press article begins, “The poor rich.” A little snarky for a wire-service report, but that is not my main point here. My main point concerns the third sentence of the article: “President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress say the wealthy must pay their fair share if the federal government is ever going to fix its finances and reduce the budget deficit to a manageable level.”

“Fair share.” What does the AP mean by “fair share”? It’s one thing for demagogic politicians to throw this phrase around. But what does the wire service mean? What would the “fair share” of the “rich” be?

I guess my peeves are showing, again.

In the new Standpoint, I have a review of a big new biography of Benjamin Britten. It’s by Paul Kildea, an Australian musician and scholar. This is the strangest book review I’ve ever written. It is possibly the strangest book review anyone has ever written. I will quote the final two sentences: “I haven’t disliked a book so strongly in ages. But it deserves to win some big prize and, if I were on the jury, I’d vote for it.”

Reading the book, I took note of some words I didn’t know. And I thought I’d share a few with you. (Bill Buckley used to do this. I remember he once devoted a whole column to words he didn’t know — they came from a John Updike book.)

There are a couple of Australian words. One is fossick: “to search for any object by which to make gain: to fossick for clients”; or “to hunt; seek; ferret out.” Another is larrikin: “a street rowdy; hoodlum.”

There is a British word I’ve heard now and then — to twig, meaning “to look at,” or “to perceive,” or “to understand.” This next one is also a Brit thing, I believe — to be on exeat. “To be absent from a college or university,” with “official permission.”

Then there is charabanc, “a large bus used on sightseeing tours, especially one with open sides and no center aisle.” Totally new to me.

Should we end on a little golf? We did yesterday (golf mixed with tennis). This is getting to be a habit. After last week’s tournament, the Honda Classic, Tiger Woods said something that cracked me up. In the 2012 tournament, he closed with a blistering 62. This year, he closed with a feeble 74. After this most recent round, he said, “I passed 62 somewhere around 12” (meaning, of course, the twelfth hole).

Reminds me of an old line: “I had 68 today. Then I made the turn.”

Anyway, hit ’em straight, and stroke ’em confident, and I’ll see you soon.

To order Jay Nordlinger’s 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.