Politics & Policy

“I am Al Pacino’s assistant.” A night at the opera. Race games (cont.) — and more

As you know, there are a great many people — in Iraq and elsewhere — who refuse to believe that the Hussein kids are dead. (There are many who refuse to believe that Arab terrorists committed 9/11 — but that’s another story. Albeit a related one.) Anyway, Saddam — or “Saddam,” we should write — has now confirmed those deaths in a taped message. Will this persuade the doubters? Or is Saddam — if it is Saddam — in on the American/Zionist/neocon conspiracy, too?

If the Conspiracy has recruited him: Wow, do they do impressive work.

Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us that we landed men on the moon.

Remember the moon-hoax film that featured O. J. Simpson? It was a pretty good movie, actually, as I recall (or maybe my standards were lower then — which I doubt). Incidentally, I was in an airport the other day, and I heard one man say to another, “Yeah, and I had to do an O. J. Simpson to catch the plane.” I was reminded that “to do an O. J. Simpson” used to mean to run very fast through an airport, as “Juice” himself did in those Hertz commercials. Now, “to do an O. J. Simpson,” to my mind, means to commit a double murder.

Or is that a tiny bit cynical?

I don’t know why this item tickles me: but it does. As Reuters tells it, “. . . the [Malaysian] government’s senior religious adviser has decreed that Muslim men can legally divorce their wives through text messages from their mobile phones. Islamic law permits a man to divorce his wife by declaring ‘I divorce you’ three times. Text messaging ‘is just another form of writing,’ [the adviser] was quoted as saying . . .”

That logic, my friends, as far as I’m concerned, is unimpeachable. I think of Jimmy Carter’s great line from the ‘76 campaign: “We must adjust to changing times with unchanging principles.” (Despite my levity, I think that is one of the best things ever uttered in the political arena.)

Several years ago, a close friend of mine explained that, in any country where Napoleon set foot — where Napoleonic law took root — you cannot leave your estate to persons or entities other than your offspring. In other words, as my friend put it, “You can’t disinherit your children [much as you might like to]. You can’t leave your millions to the cat home.”

I thought about this when reading another Reuters report, from Britain (where Napoleon never had much luck, except possibly as a dessert):

An elderly British man who lived in a run-down house, bought second-hand clothes, and watched television at his neighbor’s to save on electricity left a million pounds to a dog charity, newspapers reported on Friday.

Joseph Leek, who died at 90, left 1.1 million pounds ($1.77 million) to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, but nothing to his two daughters who had no idea of their late father’s wealth.

“We couldn’t believe he had such a fortune. He wouldn’t do any repairs on the house and he wouldn’t spend on anything that he considered unnecessary,” daughter Patricia Pilgrim told The Times. . . .

Pilgrim said she and her sister Josephine were disappointed to have missed out on their father’s legacy, but respected his decision to give the money to charity.

“What he has given them is marvelous and I’m very proud of him.”

Leek secretly amassed his fortune in the stock market.

Three comments: Go, stock market. At least guide dogs are a fine cause. The daughters seem to have taken it very well — at least as revealed in their dealings with the press.

Speaking of items that tickled me: This one, I found roll-on-the-floor funny, and I wonder if you will too. It’s the kind of thing that can’t be explained, or elaborated on. It’s just the type of thing that strikes you, immediately, as screamingly funny or not.

Al Pacino, like most stars, apparently has an “assistant,” and that assistant was throwing his weight around recently. According to one of the New York Post’s gossip pages, the guy said, “Don’t you know who I am? I am Al Pacino’s assistant!”

I find that priceless.

I must disappoint all opera fans: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have made a movie called Gigli. But, no, it is not about the late, great tenor, Beniamino — although Gigli would have been plenty flattered to be played by Ben Affleck. (Gigli was, er — not very Hollywood in his appearance.)

Okay, some good news for opera fans. Recently, the Kirov Opera was here in New York for a mini-festival, and one of their offerings was — almost inevitably — Eugene Onegin. At the center of their production was the soprano singing Tatiana, Irina Mataeva. Miss Mataeva is . . . well, let me quote the review I wrote: “Seldom has Nature so favored a single person.” She is an excellent singer, an intelligent musician, a convincing actress . . . and a looker and a half. She could, in fact, succeed in Hollywood as much as in her own medium, one would think.

I was reminded of one of my favorite anecdotes — one I have used many times. A veteran concertgoer brings with him to the concert hall a newcomer. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf — famously described as “the most glamorous woman in Europe” — walks out, and the guy gasps to his friend, “And she sings, too?”

By the way, after this performance of Eugene Onegin, Irina Mataeva came out for her bow, and she did a demure little dip, before rushing to join the line (of others). The audience was screaming its head off, and she could have milked her bow for several minutes. A friend of mine and I turned to each other and said — simultaneously, as if rehearsed — “Modest, too!”

I’ll give you a shot of Tiger Woods. The report of his recent clinic at the Buick Open in Michigan was so delightful, it should be quoted in full — here it is, from the AP — but this little bit will suffice:

“Some in the crowd had jitters when Woods aimed over their heads with an iron to show how he could shape a shot. ‘Don’t worry, I’m a trained professional,’ he said before hooking a shot over their heads and just short of his target.”

I wanted to report on two human-rights heroes who have been mentioned frequently in this column. I should have placed this item much higher — but here goes.

Marta Beatriz Roque is the Cuban economist and democracy activist who was rounded up — along with about 75 others — by the regime on the eve of the Iraq war. She has been transferred from a prison to a military hospital because her health has seriously declined. (A story may be found here.) Of course, this is what tends to happen: Cuba’s political prisoners suffer gross physical degradation. Roque’s family and friends are obviously worried about her, and the world should keep an eye on her, and her fellows.

Also, you know about Jian-li Yang, the great Chinese scholar, Tiananmen Square leader, and democrat: It took well over a year for his family and lawyers to confirm that he was alive. He is. And on Monday, he’s to go on trial for espionage carried out on behalf of Taiwan (a characteristically absurd charge). The trial will be secret.

Again: The U.S. government should not take its eye off Jian-li, even as it trades smooches with the evildoers who are persecuting him. (I thought George W. Bushian language would be appropriate here — just to remind him of his own principles and values.)

(N.B. One recent report on Jian-li may be found here.)

I’d like to clarify something from my column yesterday. Apparently, I made a point quite badly, because a great many readers — judging from the mail — misconstrued it. I was talking about Saddam Hussein’s evocation of Islam, once the going got tough for him. He is not a religious man, as we know: He is a Baathist, secularist monster who worships power and himself. I wrote,

Funny how Saddam — if it is Saddam — is heavily playing the religion card. This old-time Baathist socialist is now Mr. Muslim — talking about how his sons died for Allah in the glorious jihad, etc. Do any real Muslims buy it, do you think? They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel (although, in my experience, scoundrels are more likely to be found in the fields of anti-patriotism). Must be that religion is the last refuge of an encircled Arab dictator.

I don’t recall that Hitler extolled the glory of the Lutheran Church as he and Eva undertook their final embraces. (Of course, Stalin did discover Russia — when his back was to the wall — as against International Communism and the New Soviet Man, didn’t he?)

Okay. Roughly 8 million people wrote in to say, “Hitler wasn’t a Lutheran, what have you have been smoking?!” No, no, no — that wasn’t my point at all. Of course Hitler wasn’t any kind of Christian, or any kind of religious man. What I meant was: A dictator may invoke the national religion — the dominant religion of the nation — to save his own murderous, tyrannical, pagan skin.

Cool? All rightie — back to today’s programming.

A brief word on a couple of bumper stickers: Saw a preening leftie — you may know the type — in a fancy car with a bumper sticker that said, “In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” (The words are Orwell’s.) Yeah, baby, yeah: but not in the way you might think.

How did I know this guy was a leftie (aside from the preening)? Oh, trust me — sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. As I once heard Harlan Ellison say, if there’s a lady with a brass bra and a laser weapon on the cover, it’s probably not Indian poetry. (At least I think it was Ellison.)

The other one? “Think . . . it’s patriotic.” That’s cute — because, as is blindingly clear, none of us who support the administration in its war on terror could possibly have thought!

To my readers: It’ll be a while before I do another Impromptus — I have other responsibilities elsewhere. If, sometime in August, you happen to be at the Salzburg Festival, and would like to attend some of the (English-language) symposia — I would be happy to greet you. Otherwise, I’ll see you, on this website, as August starts to fade.

Let’s skip any language nonsense and close with some choice letters:

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I read what you wrote about Mrs. Maritza Lugo, the Cuban activist [now in the United States]. And then I read what you wrote about the execrable U.N. Human Rights Commission.

“Now, you and I both realize that the UNHRC is pretty much just a symbolic body anyway, not a serious group to which we need to send a professional diplomat. So, wouldn’t it be just delicious if President Bush were to send someone like Mrs. Lugo to represent us?

“Sure, Castro’s delegation would throw a fit, along with their fellow-travelers in the U.S., but what would be the worst they could do? Boycott the commission? Oh, darn . . .

“I know, it’s just a dream, but it’s a nice one. So much of what the U.N. does is pure symbolism, because (thankfully) the organization has little real power. Some countries seem to realize this, and make all kinds of symbolic gestures through the U.N. We don’t seem to play that game as well, but we should.

“Anyway, just a thought.”

It’s a good thought too — and one that Ronald Reagan acted on. As president, he sent Armando Valladares — author of the shattering prison memoir Against All Hope — to Geneva, to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Just another part of Reagan’s brilliance, and heart.

“Dear Jay: I think the president should add Ward Connerly to his list of future appointees to the Supreme Court. Whether he’s a lawyer or not, he’s the most clear-thinking man I have heard on racial problems since I started paying attention to them 60-plus years ago. Not only that, but he’s been an absolute winner in everything he’s ever done. His voice would be one of excellent reason to add to the Court.”

“Jay, about this racial-preferences business: What about those of us who are adopted and don’t know our race? Without boring you with the details, I was born to an unmarried woman in Germany and it’s clear I am not exclusively one race (who is?). Yet since I am adopted and the birth certificate doesn’t name a father (and I have never searched for either biological parent), I will never know what race I am. Surely there must be some legislation before Congress so I can properly identify myself and regain my self-esteem. If the government is going to continue to make race an issue, then there must be a commission formed to study the suffering of folks like me who were racially neutered. I am a man without racial identity and I need a telethon or something.”

“Dear Jay: About a year ago, a pollster phoned me, and after we waded through the sex, age, and income questions, she got to the race box. When I answered ‘human,’ she answered, quick as a flash, ‘Thank you, we already have enough data on that group,’ and hung up.”

“Jay, for some time, my girlfriend and I have been discussing the impact race will have on our kids. You see, my girlfriend is Indian (the kind Columbus was looking for, not the kind he found), and I’m a British mutt (little English, little Scottish, little Irish, but no Welsh as far as I know). So our kids will have the deck stacked against them. It’s a particularly sensitive subject for her as she left India primarily to escape its reservation system.

“Your writing has inspired us to pursue creative solutions. The kids, presumably born in America, will of course be Native Americans. If push comes to shove, it’s also relatively easy to show that they are indeed American Indians. So our kids should be okay when it comes to admissions.”

“Jay, my wife and I applied for our marriage license in early 2000. Behind the counter at Town Hall, a dried-up, cranky woman pre-filled the ‘race’ question for me. She checked the box marked ‘Hispanic.’ I asked why, and she replied, ‘Because of your name.’ When I asked her why it was required at all, she gave the well-rehearsed answer: ‘because the State requires an answer and you-can’t-get-a-marriage-license-without-it.’

“I filled out a new application and checked ‘Caucasian.’ After all, the question was race, not ethnicity. She sneered and said, ‘When people check that box, I always ask them what part of the Caucasus Mountains they hail from.’ I retorted, ‘I’ll tell you as soon as you can show me Hispania on a map.’ She dried up a little more and quietly processed the application while my then-fiancée tried not to fall on the floor laughing.”

“Hey, Jay: When it comes to indicating race on forms, what about Jews? Originally we’re from the Mideast, and in our formative years we spent significant time on both sides of the Asia-Africa rift, but now we are descended from people who lived all over the world.

“My father, o’b’m’, was not enough of a white European to get into Cornell in 1946. My son might be too much of a white European to get into Cornell in 2003.”

“Dear Jay: I always says I’m Black Irish.”

On that creative note . . . catch you later.

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