In Fort Lauderdale, I see one of the groan-makingest puns ever. I see it on a boat. It is the name of the boat: Hugh-Manatee.
To quote an old line, Oh, the Hugh-Manatee!
A bunch of us — hordes of us, actually — board a ship for a Caribbean cruise. This is National Review’s biennial post-election cruise.
I meet a man from North Carolina. He tells me a Buckley story. The gist of it is, he got Bill Buckley and Jim Buckley mixed up. He thought he was talking to Bill; he was talking to Jim. He was never so embarrassed in his life. That was many years ago.
Jim Buckley — Senator Buckley, Judge Buckley — is aboard this ship. He is a guest speaker of ours. A delight and a sage. I’ll have more to say about him “in due course” (as Brother Bill frequently said).
In the first few days, I meet several people who immigrated to America from troubled countries — countries afflicted by socialism and worse. They are worried about the future of America. “Been there, done that,” one says.
These people are alarmist, you might say. You’d probably be right. But their concerns aren’t totally stupid, in my opinion.
I think of something Marco Rubio said in his convention speech. He was talking about the basic Obama worldview. “These are tired and old big-government ideas that have failed every time and everywhere they have been tried. These are ideas that people come to America to get away from.”
Upon the stage, I interview Bing West and Daniel Hannan. Bing is a Marine, a writer, and an hombre. Dan is a writer, a British member of the European Parliament, and a YouTube sensation. (An hombre in his way.)
You might think that Dan would have the most interesting and enjoyable accent on the stage. But that honor may go to Bing, who has a classic Boston accent. An accent that is dying out, I’m afraid. We should enjoy it while we can.
Thinking about Dan Hannan, I think about all the writers who have entered politics over there — over in Britain. One second, Michael Gove was one of my favorite writers (certainly one of my favorite journalists). The next second, he was in Parliament. The second after that, he was education secretary.
People are talking about him for prime minister. (I’m one of those people.)
And consider Boris Johnson! BoJo. Just plain “Boris.” Although there’s nothing plain about the mayor of London. He too may wind up in Number 10.
I, on the other hand, could not be elected dog-catcher — unless I ran in a very odd jurisdiction. Now that Mia Love has lost in Utah, is there any territory left for us?
Hannan is quite moving when he talks about Anglo-American civilization, and the need to press on. He quotes Tennyson and Kipling. He also provides his own poetry, so to speak — poetry in the prose that is natural to him. The Brits and their fluency: I ask for the millionth time, what’s in the water over there? Some special fluoridation?
Paul Revere could not have said, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” says Hannan. Why? Because people in America considered themselves British. It would have made no sense for Revere to say, “The British are coming!” What he said, according to Hannan, was, “The Regulars are coming!”
Huh. If I knew it, I forgot it.
Another lesson from Hannan: At Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Lincoln was reaching way back, says Hannan — back to Wycliffe and his Bible of 1384. This was a Bible, said Wycliffe in his prologue, “for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.”
Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was sealed? In his “constituency,” says Hannan (constituency meaning parliamentary district). (Incidentally, British people say “Magna Carta,” by and large, while we Americans place a “the” beforehand: “the Magna Carta.”)
This document was sealed in 1215. Century after century, there was no monument in Runnymede. One was finally erected in 1957 — by the American Bar Association.
Hannan’s point: Americans often care more about British history than Brits do.
I wonder whether they love Churchill as much as we. Who could?
Will we soon love the National Health Service as much? Never mind, will think about that another day . . .
British elites may feel closer to Europe than to their American cousins, says Hannan, but that is not true of British people in general. I think of something Paul Johnson says: The English Channel is wider than the Atlantic Ocean. “When I land somewhere in America, I feel I’m at home — with my own kind.”
Our ship lands in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I have always had a very romantic view of Jamaica — of Ocho Rios in particular, frankly. I’ll have to come again sometime, to try to regain a romantic view . . .
Over the years, I’ve seen some aggressive vendors and would-be providers of services. I’ve seen some tenacious and obnoxious swindlers. I’ve seen harassment on an appalling scale.
I think of India. I think of Egypt. I think of the Pyramids, in particular! There are people there who are determined to spoil your time.
But the Jamaicans I encounter take a backseat to no one. If you are minded to enjoy the country, they will make it very hard, some of them.
I have a variety of tricks to shake off swindlers: charm, shame, maybe a tantrum. (An artful tantrum.) But what about a more mild person, not raised in the vicinity of Detroit, as I was? How do these lambs get by?
Let it be said, though, that there’s no one more charming than a charming Jamaican. The English is primed with charm. They have a head start.
“What are your plans?” someone says to me, insisting on walking along with me. “Oh, far too private to tell you,” I say. This shuts him up for a second or two. Then he pipes, “Oh, you want girls?”
“Slow down!” everyone says. They mean, don’t walk so fast — you’re not an easy enough mark. “You’ll get a speeding ticket!”
Many, many offer knuckles — you know that kind of handshake, a “fist bump” — and say, “Respect” (often with the “t” dropped off).
There is a steel-drum band, with accompanying dancers. One woman is shakin’ her booty — but it is a booty with an addendum, an extension. Something tucked under her skirt. (Trust me.) That thing can really swish.
As a rule, girls and women here wear perfume, I find. Nice.
The sexuality is very open, and by “sexuality” I mean come-ons, leers, and the like. A drunk is semi-harassing some schoolgirls, who are in smart uniforms. One girl, maybe twelve years old, bends down, picks up a rock, and makes to throw it at him. That shuts him up. I can tell she’s had practice.
I have very often seen school uniforms in the “developing world” — more than at home. I always find this sight welcome. You?
A less-welcome sight: electric wires sagging low, a few feet from the ground. This is in front of a kindergarten. (Seriously.)
Another welcome sight: peacocks. I think, “Could there be a more apt phrase than ‘proud as a peacock’? The alliteration is just a bonus.”
Another welcome sight: butterflies, much bigger than the ones I’m used to, back home. Better too. (No offense to the small fry.)
A couple of hours later, I see the same woman, shakin’ her booty, with its extension, in the same way. I hope and trust she has had a rest . . .
She seems unflagging, actually. The thing sort of goes by itself, like the pendulum in a grandfather clock.
There are many Christian symbols and slogans and T-shirts and bumper stickers. More than I have seen, I think, anywhere outside the American South.
Back on the ship, on the stage, Mona Charen, Midge Decter, and I do a little show. Mona is, as usual, a model of poise, grace, and good sense. Midge is, as usual, a powerhouse — stating the facts of life, unanswerably. You simply have to say, “It is so.”
I’m reminded of possibly my favorite story about Midge. Years ago, she was speaking at an AFL-CIO event (I believe), burning up the joint (for sure). George Meany leans over and says to Lane Kirkland (I think), “Who is dis goil?”
At one point in our session, Midge says, “For the first time in my life, I’m going to disagree with Jay Nordlinger.” Later, she does so a second time.
I say, “If Midge Decter disagrees with me on an issue — I’d damn well better reconsider my position on the issue. That much, I know.”
For many years on these cruises, I’ve been known as a writer (or whatever). On this one, I’m known as Mona Charen’s podcast partner — which is nice.
Should have hitched my wagon to that star years ago . . .
Peter Robinson, Rob Long, and James Lileks are along. One night, late, they do their podcast. They invite a variety of guests to sit in. It’s a rollicking good time.
One of the guests is John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor. The Left doesn’t like him much — despite his place of employment. They consider him the Blesser and Authorizer of Torture in the Bush administration (Bush 43, natch).
The podcasters joke — I think they’re joking — that John should run for mayor of Oakland. Lileks says that, on second thought, he should run for Water Board.
There is silence for a second or two. Then laughter. Then an explosion of laughter. This must be one of the wittiest, quickest things I’ve ever heard.
In the course of my little guest stint on this podcast, I praise Rob Long, which is one of my favorite pastimes — there is so much to praise. I eventually get around to calling him “a gift to mankind.”
This has his friends hooting for hours. I mean, hours. “A gift to mankind!” they keep repeating. (Can you “keep repeating”? I think so.) They then shorten it to “GTM.”
Listen, I just call ’em as I see ’em. And I’ll see you tomorrow, for more “Cruise Journal.” In the meantime, knuckles and respect.
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.