Politics & Policy


Go, Moammar? A right man. What do you mean, "Impromptus"? And more

If I were a truly good person — not to mention a truly good journalist and “public citizen” — I would be rooting hard against Libya’s ascension to the chairmanship of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (!). But, you know, I find it hard to root hard — or to root at all. There’s something appropriate about Ghadaffi’s regime presiding over a U.N. commission on human rights — it points to the near-total fraudulence of the whole operation (meaning the United Nations).

Let us bear in mind the Solzhenitsyn point: These are not so much the united nations as the united governments, or regimes, and therefore only as good as those regimes — which, sadly, are not very good.

I’m not saying, “Go, Moammar!” I’m just saying: Figures.

Instead of wailing and gnashing my teeth, all I can do is quote, merrily.

You’ll be happy to know, folks, that the Stanford Alumni Association is offering a Young Alumni Expedition . . . to Cuba. Care for some highlights?

According to the Association’s website, the Stanford faithful will get to:

“Visit the Cuban Museum of the Revolution and view the Granma, the boat that brought Castro, Guevara and other revolutionaries to Cuba in 1956.” So cool!

“Meet with a local chapter of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution to discuss with the members their views of the U.S. and our foreign policy.” Super-cool! Members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution!

“Learn first-hand about Cuba’s long history and political, social and cultural accomplishments of the past forty years.”

Oh, yes: And will those “accomplishments” include the exile of thousands, the ruination of a once-vibrant and promising country, the imprisonment and torture of dissenters, the denial of basic rights, and the suppression of the merest democratic peeping?

The great dissident and memoirist Armando Valladares once told me that, when the regime collapses, it will be like the immediate post-Nazi period, when news of the concentration camps and so on got out, and many people were shocked and ashamed.

I must differ with this great man. It will not make a smidgeon of difference. No one — none of the pro-Castro apologists, none of the fantasists, none of the fellow travelers — will be ashamed. They will defend the “revolution,” and therefore themselves, forever. All the Hollywood stars who have made pilgrimages to Havana to sit at the dictator’s feet will go blithely on. No one will pay any penalty.

Consider: The most honored historian — probably the most honored scholar, and one of the most honored men — in all the United Kingdom is Eric Hobsbawm, a gent who remains not only a proud Communist but a proud Stalinist. (For David Pryce-Jones’s masterly dissection of Hobsbawm in the current New Criterion, please go here.) Has he paid any penalty? Is there a decoration he hasn’t won, an honorary degree he hasn’t received?

By the way: For $2,495 — and a couple of credentials, I guess — that trip to Castro’s Cuba, obviously heavily Potemkinized, can be yours. Double accommodations.

Jon Stewart, the late-night guy, made the following, witty remark (and I paraphrase): “Al Sharpton is black, which, by the way, is the opposite color of the snowball’s chance in hell he has of becoming president.”

Sure, that’s true — but let’s not pretend that Sharpton is precluded from the presidency because of his race. Is it inconceivable that Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice could be elected president? Of course not. What’s interesting or distinctive about Al Sharpton is not his color. What’s interesting and distinctive about him is that he’s a demagogue, a liar, and an inciter to murder (see Freddy’s Fashion Mart).

Those little nuggets should be borne in mind — whether you’re a late-night comedian or not.

(For a detailed indictment of Sharpton — if your stomach can take it — consider this.)

Salon magazine carried an article about “human shields,” those men and women who strike various poses in defense (ultimately) of Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein, and other beauties.

I will point out one instructive thing about this article: The author, Janelle Brown, interviews one of these “shields,” a Matt Horton. About his venture to the PA, she says, “Horton had to enter Israel under false pretenses, pretending he was a backpacker going to party at the beaches. Once he got past suspicious immigration officers, he went straight to a training session with pro-Palestinian activists in Tel Aviv.”

In Tel Aviv. This one fact is worth a thousand articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict. It says almost as much as one needs to know about the horrible differences between Israel and its enemies.

Pro-Israel training in Damascus, anyone? Get real.

I pause to point out that, if you would like to receive Impromptus in your in-box, you may do so by using the sign-up box at right. This will e-mail to you a link, every time a column appears. Or you can continue to check for it via the site. In either case: I’ll try to provide something of interest!

So glad to see my friend — and fellow NR-nik — David Frum’s book climbing atop the bestseller list. I’m not surprised, either. The Right Man is a wonderful book. It’s an engrossing memoir from a White House insider, but it’s mainly a study of George W. Bush: just as the title promises.

David is one of the great generalists on the scene today. He knows everything and can write (authoritatively) about anything. We often speak of Paul Johnson’s talent as “protean”; the same word can be applied to David’s. Some people regard him as an economics writer. Others regard him as a legal writer. Still others think of him as a social critic. The truth is, he is all those things, and amazingly more.

Back when I moved from Washington to New York — to begin work for NR — I was telling a friend about this development. She was, and is, a musician. She asked, “Now, what’s National Review?” I explained that it was a conservative opinion journal, founded in the mid-1950s by William F. Buckley Jr. She got a quizzical look on her face and said, “Not the spy novelist?”

Anyway, David is similarly versatile. When he and I were both living in D.C., I used to ask him questions the way a customer in a cocktail lounge throws out requests to the pianist: “Play ‘Misty’!” Only I’d say, “Flat tax or retail sales tax?” “Term limits: Sound and desirable, or an offense?” “Mrs. Rosenberg: Deserving of execution or not?”

And David would “play” every “song” beautifully.

In The Right Man, he performs the remarkable service of describing George W. Bush as he is. There is an enormous gap between the president’s media image and the real, live guy. For example, during the 2000 campaign he was often portrayed as a figurehead, putty in the hands of his strategists, a cipher, a front man: You just wind him up, and he says and does what you want.

As someone once said — I forget who — “That is for to laugh!” George W. Bush was mulish, prickly, questioning, cocky, and utterly in command. Whether he was right or wrong, he was responsible. Far from being obedient, complacent, and malleable, you could hardly tell him anything, according to those best positioned to know!

(By the way, that “dangler” in the last sentence was fully intended — and justifiable — so I don’t want to hear from any of you pains.)

In the same way, it was “for to laugh” when the Maureen Dowds and the late-night comedians (between whom there is increasingly little difference) claimed that it was really Dick Cheney — “Uncle Dick” — who was running things.

Friends, I could say tons more about David Frum’s marvelous book — and may well in the future — but, for now, I can say only, Do yourself the favor of reading it. The pages concerning September 11 and its immediate aftermath are especially moving. David grew up in Canada; on September 11 — the very day — he signed his American citizenship papers.

And you of course have a copy of his sensational tract Dead Right? I keep mine by my bed, right next to the Bible. Sometimes on top.

Good news for Freedom House, that invaluable organization: Jim Woolsey has agreed to be its chairman. Woolsey is about the best thing that came out of the Clinton administration — but that, naturally, is saying far too little. I was always a tiny bit queasy about Bill Richardson’s chairmanship of my beloved Freedom House. (Regular Impromptus-ites know all too well my beefs with the now-governor of New Mexico.) But Woolsey? A wonderful fit, I would think.

Are you, like me, a tiny bit tired of hearing how fat America is, and how fat Americans are? It seems to me that this is just another stick with which to beat the most envied and probably most misunderstood (willfully misunderstood) country in the world.

For most of my life, all I’ve heard is, “You Americans are so fat,” or, “We Americans are so fat,” or, “When I go abroad, I can always tell the Americans, because they’re so loud and fat,” etc. (I once wrote an essay on this general theme.)

The cover of the January 12 New York Times Book Review shows a grotesque figure with 100-dollar bills coming out of its mouth, eyes, and ears. This is to illustrate a review of a book called Fat Land.

I say, go . . . I can’t say what I say, on a wholesome, conservative website. This is a free country, and a prosperous one. We not only have food — plentiful and cheap — we also have choices. We are not on Kim Jong Il’s “Tighten Your Belts — Eat Two Meals a Day!” plan. (That is not a joke, by the way — that was really one of his plans.) If you want thin, visit North Korea or Ethiopia or some other socialist paradise.

Now, I know all about the health concerns, so, please, no mail: It just seems to me that the America-is-fat taunt is part and parcel of the usual envy, resentment, and idiocy — all that anti-Americanism is.

A little language? You know of my interest in the pronunciation of things foreign (see, if you’d like, my “‘Gutter’ Politics”). The other day, I heard my colleague Rick Brookhiser say “Quebec” the English way (the English-language way) — “Kwebec” — and almost hugged him. A few years ago, by my calculation, many of my fellow Americans began to say “Kay-bec,” trying to be French. But these same Americans wouldn’t say “Paree” — they’d of course say “Paris,” just as English calls for.

I’ve also noticed something about Budapest — I’ve been hearing a lot of “Budapesht.” This seems to me brand-new. All my life, English-speaking people have pronounced the Hungarian capital in the English fashion, and now they’re trying to go all native. Very weird. And comical. And wrong.

Here’s a little rule: The same kind of person who condemns America as “fat” says “Budapesht.”

Folks, I have a million more items, but you don’t have the time. Oh, let me end with this.

I got a note from a fellow saying, “I eagerly await your next ‘Impromptus’ — by the way, is that the name of some kinda Roman emperor?”

“Impromptus” is simply the plural of “impromptu.” It should be pronounced “im-PROMP-tooze.” An “impromptu” is, among other things, a piece of music, improvisatory and spontaneous in character. Also brief. Like these items. Sometimes.

A handy musical dictionary says, about impromptu, “A title used for single-movement pianos pieces; it implies a free, casual nature to the composer’s inspiration. Among the earliest examples [of impromptus] are Schubert’s; later composers include Chopin, Schumann, Skryabin [or Scriabin, as I transliterate it, more normally] and Fauré.”

Also, a plain old English dictionary defines impromptu — adjectivally — as “made or done without previous preparation.” I’ll say!

Catch you later.


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