I thought you’d get a chuckle out of this: A reporter on television was discussing the recent hurricane. She said, “So far, 34 deaths are being blamed on Israel–I mean, Isabel.” Now, it so happens that, when I heard this remark, I was standing with a big-time media mogul. We just looked at each other and grinned. The statement was so perfect–encapsulating so much. It was practically foreordained.
#ad#Now, it’s almost certainly true that “Isabel” looked a lot like “Israel” on that lady’s cue card. But we are awfully used to blaming deaths–and everything else that’s wrong with the world–on Israel!
It was a natural.
‐Believe it or not, I’ve gotten more than one e-mail exactly like this. I believe this is the third:
“I was driving home from work, and saw the following two bumper stickers on the same car: ‘Attack Iraq? NO!’ and ‘Free Tibet.’”
Ah, it’s so, so true. If only Iraq contained persecuted Buddhists! I think it’s wonderful that Tibet is an anti-Communist human-rights cause that Hollywood (and liberals generally) will support. But I wish it were because they had wakened to the evil of Communist dictatorship generally, and not merely because a few movie stars are interested in Buddhism.
And have you ever heard the Dalai Lama say a word for Cuba? Maybe he has. That would really be something, wouldn’t it? The Dalai Lama laying into the Cuban regime. A Hollywood actor would hardly know what to do–torn between his reverence for the Dalai Lama and . . . well, his reverence for Castro!
‐In my previous edition, I mentioned a mistake that Gov. Gray Davis made on the stump. He said that California harbored “sons and daughters of people from every planet.” If Quayle had said that, he would have been skewered as a dope. And if George W. Bush had said it . . . same thing.
A reader now points out to me that Ted Kennedy, on the floor of the Senate, said, “. . . before we write an $87 billion blank check.” Now, a check made out for $87 billion wouldn’t be blank, would it?
I, of course, knew what the senator meant. And I’m not even sure that he made a mistake, in the non-literal sense. Still, my old reflexive, defensive, nearly obsessive point remains: If Quayle had said it . . .
‐Like a lot of other columnists and general mouthers-off, I have been chronicling hysteria (Attorney General Ashcroft’s apt word) about the Patriot Act. Rarely has such gleeful misinformation been spread about so critical and helpful a piece of legislation–or about anything. And have I got a beaut of an example for you (courtesy a reader).
First, I should say that I’m a fan of David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA. I appeared on a panel with him once. I’m certain he’s done a good job running that league. He is also a distinguished lawyer, formerly of Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn.
But here’s what he said when asked whether Kobe Bryant should continue to play for the Lakers this season: “Absolutely. We don’t have a Patriot Act in the NBA. That means that you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
I believe that Stern was just grandstanding. He knows better. But, of course, which is worse?
‐”Dear Jay: I thought you might enjoy this. I work for the People’s Republic of Massachusetts and received an envelope today addressed to the ‘Dept. of Africulture.’ It is obviously a typo, but can that department be too far off?”
‐How about this? I cherish it, and hope you will too: “Jay, I heard an anti-school-voucher ad this morning that referred to the rich as ‘people of money.’”
Do you love it? America–as I keep saying–is very hard to parody.
‐”Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I am a junior at the Naval Academy, and I thought you might appreciate this anecdote. Tuesday night we had one of our more famous alumni, David Robinson, lecture the entire Brigade. After the speech was finished and the floor opened for questions, one upperclassman asked Mr. Robinson, ‘You’ve earned three rings in your lifetime. Which one do you wear the most?’ Presumably this mid was hoping to hear about Robinson’s class ring (class rings are a big deal at our school). Instead, the answer was, ‘My wedding ring.’”
‐Uh-oh, back to Patriot Act hysteria/BS: “Mr. Nordlinger, check out this beauty from a Sacramento Bee article that appeared on Sunday: ‘The FBI is counting mosques, and law enforcement has asked hundreds of libraries about your reading habits.’ This showed up about five days after John Ashcroft disclosed that not a single library record has been ’snooped.’”
But I do have a serious point: If this is what the American media are peddling, can you blame the public for being hostile, or skeptical, or confused? And yet, the public is still for the act, by and large! (Maybe that says something bad about the public. Then again, maybe they just distrust the media.)
‐I had a few precious minutes with the glorious Leontyne Price on Tuesday evening. She was being honored for lifetime achievement by Gramophone magazine. I could yak about this for hours, but let me just give you one little tidbit. She was saying that–shameful as it was to admit–she enjoyed her recordings, and listened to them “on the weekends.” I said, “Well, I don’t wait till the weekend to listen to them–I listen to them all week long.” She said, “Bless you. I do, too, but I thought that would be rather too much to say!”
Seventy-six years old (as she noted several times), and still glorious and regal and fun and absurdly talented and divine. I wish you could have seen her, heard her, soaked her in.
Oh, one more thing: She said, “I vocalize every day, in the shower.” I said, “I’d like to cup my ear at the door.” She sort of leaned in and said: “Next time.”
‐Allow me to recommend several recent articles from The (London) Spectator, that great, delicious, and illuminating magazine.
Tom Utley wrote “Madonna of the Pseuds”, which is about pretending to like great works of art, while secretly seeing not much value in them, or deriving little pleasure from them. Many people will nod in appreciation–or self-recognition–when reading this article.
I will give you a perhaps-related phenomenon: pretending to like new music, or new art, when you see, in fact, no merit whatsoever in it. I would say that this is the much more common pretending.
And each form of pretending has to do with herdism and fearing what others might think.
Don’t you agree?
And my hat is way, way off to Charles Moore, for his article on Islam.
I’m going to quote a large chunk of this extraordinary thing:
On Monday, the BBC Today programme decided to start the week of the second anniversary of 11 September with an interview with Abu Omar, a young spokesman for al-Muhajiroun, a London-based organisation which is holding a meeting to celebrate the “magnificent 19″–those who flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and those who crashed in Pennsylvania trying to do something similar.
Mr. Omar said his group has no views of its own: it simply draws attention to the Sharia (Islamic law). The Sharia, said he, makes 11 September “completely justified.” Muslims who disagreed with this were “apostates.” Muslims who served in the British army were also apostates. He went on to say that his was a peaceful organisation: “Our stance towards jihad is one merely of reporting what Islam says.” He added, though, that suicide bombers were good because “Islam supports all martyrdom operations.”
What other cause glorifying murder would be given air-time to do it so directly? Even Sinn Fein/IRA are expected to wrap up their support for terrorism in talk about “removing the causes of conflict.” It is unimaginable that the BBC would invite a supporter of David Copeland, the man who blew up homosexuals and their friends in a London bar, to come on and explain why this was a great idea. It is equally improbable that they would give space to a Christian or a Jew who claimed that his Scriptures justified flying into office buildings to kill the workers inside them. And if, by some extraordinary chance, they did give air-space to such a guest, would they treat him with the almost respectful timidity of the interviewer, whose most challenging question to Mr. Omar was, “Are you not worried that your organisation is treading on a very thin tightrope at this point in time by doing this?”?
Yet I am not sure that Today was wrong to interview this man, because we all know that he represents something in the modern world which matters. It must be true, as Today immediately afterwards allowed the Muslim Lady Uddin to point out, that what he said is rejected by the great majority of British Muslims. And yet we know that if a bloodthirsty Christian were to pop up on the programme, he would stand for nothing significant in modern Christianity in the West, whereas the likes of al-Muhajiroun do stand for something significant about some aspects of modern Islam. It is a horrible distortion, yes, but also a genuine problem. That is why it is surely right, though it annoys many decent Muslims, to speak of “Muslim terrorists.” In their minds, their faith is central to their violent actions.
As a result, people in the West fear Islam more than they like to admit. In Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph, we reported Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition. [Mr. Moore is editor of the Daily Telegraph.] He has “used flayed cows’ heads to represent Christ’s Apostles,” said the report. To represent the “bloody history of the Christian Church, these heads have kitchen knives, scissors and shards of glass and mirror violently embedded in them.” Terribly brave of Damien, of course. But would he, I wonder, be quite brave enough to offer comparable confections about Islam? Suppose, for example, he recaptioned one of his stabbed cow’s heads “The Prophet Mohammed,” what would happen then? Mightn’t the reaction be such as to cast a pall over the glittering private view at the White Cube Gallery, Hoxton Square? When politicians say that “Islam is a peaceful religion” they are not exactly wrong–all the great religions speak of peace as their ultimate attainment–but one can’t help wondering if they would say it quite so often if they were absolutely sure it was true.
Oh, what a marvelous point, that last (like the others)–I wish I had made it.
I did, if I may, make a similar point to Charles Moore’s about Damien Hirst. This comes from July ‘02: “How much money would you pay to see the makers of The Last Temptation of Christ make a similar film about the Prophet Muhammad? How long would they be alive? An hour? An hour and fifteen minutes?”
And last, check out a terrific and chilling report on the Germans by Andrew Gimson, the Spectator’s foreign editor (no, he’s not foreign: He edits things foreign). One quote from it:
“By using this rancid anti-Americanism to win re-election, Mr. Schröder gave his blessing as Chancellor to it. One of the routed German Atlanticists, an eminent member of what used to be the foreign policy establishment, remarked to me on Monday that Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, would have been proud to unleash such hatred of America.”
‐I thank one and all for your support of NR’s new compilation–“We Will Prevail: President George W. Bush on War, Terrorism, and Freedom–and your kind words about it. (For a flavor of the thing, my intro to it is here.)
Wrote one man–relatedly–”Knowing that I hold the President in high regard, my kids thought it would be funny to give me a calendar featuring an egregious Bushism for every day of the year.
“Some are truly atrocious. Almost none are funny. But most are absolutely crystal clear, if not up to Wilson Follet’s very high standard.
“Here’s the entry for September 15: ‘When Europe and America are divided, history tends to tragedy.’”
That is so very true–and very well said.