A Small Case, but Interesting

by Jay Nordlinger

Matt Drudge highlighted a blogpost, and it deserves highlighting. Written by Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post, it’s headed “D.C. orders ‘Dirty Asian’ punch off bar’s menu.” Before I continue, a little recent history:

Marion Barry was elected mayor of Washington, D.C., four times. I used to discomfort certain friends of mine by referring to him as “the four-time mayoral nominee of the Democratic party.” Barry is now on the city council. Earlier this year, he said, “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

So, a bar started to offer a drink called “Marion Berry’s Dirty Asian Summer Punch.” Why the spelling of the councilman’s last name? The drink had fruit in it. Incidentally, there was a member of Congress from Arkansas, Marion Berry — kind of confusing.

There is a lot in Mike DeBonis’s write-up, and I won’t try to capture it all here. But the upshot is this: The bar owner, Tony Tomelden, wanted to poke fun at Barry, and call him to account. (“He gets away with this stuff continuously.”) To advertise the drink, he put up a sign featuring a crude Asian caricature. (Tomelden himself, if you’re interested, is part Filipino.) A city agency, writes DeBonis, “threatened to drag Tomelden before the D.C. Commission on Human Rights in a rare display of the city’s little-known power to regulate speech in places of public accommodation.” Inspectors came to the bar, warning of sanctions.

The bar owner felt he had no choice but to capitulate. “I have three kids, and I’m just too tired to fight City Hall. I’m not really a giant crusader or anything like that.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t mean to go too dramatic on you, but we’re a free country, right? Washington, D.C., is the capital of our free country, right? What in the world is going on? I just don’t understand this. Marion Barry can talk about running out Asians and their dirty shops, but Tony Tomelden can’t poke fun at him for it?

And how about that term “human rights”? The D.C. Commission on Human Rights! Like hell. When I do “human rights” stories, I’m talking about men and women in Cuba, China, Syria, and elsewhere who are tossed into dungeons and tortured, sometimes to death. (In the case of Falun Gong practitioners, routinely to death.) Their crime was to write a poem or request an exit visa or possess a Bible or what have you.

Tony Tomelden, proprietor of the Pug bar, is a human-rights violator? Again, like hell.

If we go, we should not go quiet — we should scream against stuff like this. We should do, somehow, collectively, what Tomelden can’t: fight City Hall. We should sing “Kung Fu Fighting” at the top of our lungs.

“Kung Fu Fighting”? Mark Steyn highlighted this story, for me and many others. A bar singer on the Isle of Wight was investigated for singing this song, allegedly offensive. I did a little scribbling about it, referring to Mark, here. Maybe the singer from Wight can travel to the Pug to recite the greatest hits of Marion S. Barry? (The “S” is for Shepilov, Dmitri Shepilov, a Bolshevik theoretician. Now there was a man who knew how to crack down on human rights.)

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