Politics & Policy

A Repugnant Timepiece, a Great Story, An Endangered Word, and More

I don’t mean to start–or continue–a Guevara Glorification Watch, but a reader did send me something interesting: and outrageous.

Behold a bauble sold by the New York Public Library: here. It is a wristwatch featuring the visage of Guevara, and the word “REVOLUTION.” The text reads as follows: “What goes around . . . the Ché Guevara Revolution Watch.” Gee, wonder what they mean by “What goes around . . .”? And that accent in “Che,” incidentally, is wholly unnecessary. The text continues: “Revolution is a permanent state with this clever watch, featuring the classic romantic image of Ché Guevara, around which the word ‘revolution’–revolves.”


The watch “has a quartz movement and a one-year warranty.”

Now: Does it matter that the New York Public Library, presumably one of our most important cultural and intellectual institutions, celebrates Guevara this way? (And did you know that the library had a gift shop?) I suppose so. But opposition seems so futile, and tiny.

A lot of people–I hear from them–are comforted by the fact that this Communist killer and enslaver has become a capitalist commodity. “Don’t you see the irony, Jay?!” If it is comfort, it is cold.

‐Some good news on the Cuban front: James Cason, our man in Havana–the American mission chief there–is still knocking ‘em dead. To draw attention to Communist persecution, he constructed a mock isolation cell in his (our) backyard–this was some months ago. And now he has done this: He has decked the roof with Christmas decorations, including a huge lit sign reading “75″ (for the 75 democrats and dissidents Castro locked up in the spring of ‘03). To see this inspiring display, go here.

At last, our government standing for something, showing some cojones in the face of brutes. Could this have happened under Kerry? Uh . . .

‐Friends, I have a story you might enjoy. I certainly enjoyed it. You’ll recall that, in the weeks leading up to the election, I had several items on buttons: Kerry-Edwards buttons, to be specific, which seemed almost required wearing in Manhattan, where many of us NR-niks live. Night after night, I’d go into a concert hall or opera house, and there they were–as if someone might forget that these people were for Kerry and Edwards.

Anyway, in the course of writing about buttons, bumper stickers, and the like, I received a letter from a fellow New York journalist, which went like this:


There’s a man who walks his dog mornings in Central Park who wears a T-shirt reading, “Another Dalton Parent for Bush-Cheney.” [Dalton is a tony East Side school. It’s doubtful that more than a handful of the parents are Republican, and it’s doubtful that any of the teachers is.] My first instinct was to congratulate him [on his courage]–and then I found myself in full New York mode, edging away from him, thinking, “What if something’s wrong with the poor guy?” Now I look the other way.

Well, I did a little essay for National Review–for the print magazine–and I included that letter. Some days later, I received the following:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

So there I was, standing on the platform waiting for my train, reading your article “Button It,” when I came to the part about your fellow journalist and the “man who walks his dog.” Your friend should have gone over to speak to that guy: He is my wonderful brother. His shirts drove people crazy, absolutely crazy. He gave me a “Dalton Aunts” shirt to wear, and although I was never physically attacked, I’m fairly certain that I left more than one person on the Upper West Side with severe indigestion. So happy the election is over!

P.S. You should see his post-election shirts.

Small world–and the Internet makes it infinitely smaller. But hang on: It gets sort of better. I left something out.

In between receiving the letter from the journalist and hearing from the sister, I spotted a guy in Central Park, walking his dog. This was after the election. He wore a very loud shirt that said–incredibly–”BUSH WINS! Electoral Vote Final: Bush: 286; CBS News: 252.” You have no idea–none–how incongruous that is in Central Park, unless you live here. It’s sometimes said that you can get away with anything in New York, that the city is so big and diverse and wild, no one notices. Baloney. If you had worn a Bush-Cheney button in Carnegie Hall–people would have noticed. (You should have been wearing a Kevlar vest too.)

Anyway, I assumed that this shirt-wearer was the “Another Dalton Parent” guy. It was.

Here is the end of the story: He sent me a boxful of his shirts, of which these are some of the highlights:

“BUSH WINS! Protecting Your A** Whether You Want Him To or Not.” (That’s my favorite–profound, actually.)

“BUSH WINS! ‘I can’t believe that some uneducated southern redneck’s vote counts as much as mine’–Anonymous Upper West Sider, 9/20/04.”

“I Dun Voted for Bush. I Iz Stew Ped!–Dartmouth College, Class of 1973.”

And “Dalton Parents Congratulate Bush/Cheney on Their Election Mandate!”

Oh, what a glorious spirit, this dog-walking shirt-maker. He is a bright feather in the cap of a city that likes to pride itself on its diversity–and that could, in reality, use gobs more of it.

‐Last week, I did a piece on the Indian Americans, for the current National Review. When I say Indian Americans, I mean South Asia, not the rez (those are “American Indians,” unless you like “Native Americans,” but that’s a whole “nother” piece). Indian Americans are probably the most prosperous ethnic group in the country, and they are among the most successful however you measure them. They are becoming increasingly involved in politics–and are thought ripe for the Republican party.

Anyway, in preparing this piece, I talked to the great Thomas Sowell, who knows a lot about Indians, Indian Americans, ethnic groups, politics, and everything else under the sun. No big deal, the man is just a genius.

Unsurprisingly, he had many interesting things to say, e.g., about the role of “racial middlemen” throughout the world. Where there are few of a certain group–where they are perceived as unthreatening–they can flourish. I remember liking to cite the fact that Seattle had a black mayor. (This was in the 1980s.) And Sowell gave me a fascinating tidbit: On some Caribbean islands, where there is great black-Indian strife, the referees of soccer games are Chinese.

Anyway, our conversation turned to the election of Bobby Jindal, the Indian American from Louisiana. On Nov. 2, he was sent to Congress, from the district once the base of Klansman David Duke. Jindal–a Reaganite Republican–won 78 percent of the vote. Sowell said that, when he was young, he “would have bet you dollars to doughnuts” that Jindal could not be elected. “The Marines took me to Atlanta in 1952, and we went to this restaurant. The people called the police.” (Sowell is black.) “Then, in 1974–only 22 years later–I was in Atlanta, and went to this posh restaurant. The place was crowded, so we doubled up at tables–white and black.”

Sowell’s point was that, in America, “the idea that things are fixed in concrete” is nonsense. The pace of change in this country is breathtaking, and nowhere is that truer than in the South.

Nicely observed, huh? By the way, Jindal is the second Indian American elected to Congress. The first was Dilip Singh Saund, a Democrat, who was elected in 1956–in the middle of what was supposed to be the stifling Eisenhower era. Saund was a Sikh immigrant to California, who went door to door in his turban–and won.

Just something to ponder, on this pre-Christmas Monday morning.

‐Speaking of Christmas: It is murder–just murder–trying to find a card that says “Merry Christmas.” You just can’t. “Happy Holidays, “Season’s Greetings,” “The Peace of the Season”–till the cows come home. But “Merry Christmas”? Very, very difficult. Good luck finding a card you desire with that message.

And have you bought stamps? Do you know that they’re still doing–still permitting–Madonna and Child? In the United States? In 2004? How much longer can it last? (I shouldn’t have said anything.)

I’m not going to go on any, or many, can’t-say-”Christmas” tirades this year. That is my gift to you! But I will simply remind you of my tirading last year, which culminated in a piece for NR, “December’s C-Word”.

Enjoy it, and Happy Holidays!

‐As long as I’m referring you to pieces: Here is a review of Chanticleer’s annual Christmas concert, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I get into some C-word stuff at the end.) Here is a review of Rodelinda, the Handel opera now receiving its first Metropolitan Opera performances. Here is a review of the New York Philharmonic, with violinist Christian Tetzlaff (a superb performance of Bartók’s Concerto No. 2). And here is a review of the Manhattan School of Music’s production of Lee Hoiby’s opera A Day in the Country. What a treat (the opera and the performance, that is).

‐I’ve got more, but enough music–let’s get back to Che. I’ll publish some letters on him, then take my leave.

Mr. Nordlinger:

In the talk about Che items, we should consider some anti-Che items. I have a wonderful shirt that says “Commies Aren’t Cool” and that features a slash through Che’s face. I get plenty of glares when I work out in ultra-liberal downtown Olympia, Wash., but I kind of enjoy it. (My husband thinks I’m going to get beat up one of these days.)


Jay, apparently there’s another Che movie in the works–this one by Steven Soderbergh. The Internet Movie Database describes the plot as: “An epic about Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who fought for the people.” That about sums up the Left’s knowledge of Che–”he fought for the people” (except the ones he murdered, of course).


Mr. Nordlinger,

My favorite Che T-shirt is the one that says at the bottom, “I have no idea who this is”! That would be honest!


Hi, Jay,

My girlfriend is a Romanian physicist. She was required to join the Party and spy on her family and fellow students, just in order to continue with her major in college. Yet she stood up to the Party and refused. The revolution came just in time, so there was no retaliation against her, thankfully.

At the American university where she’s a post-doc (and my alma mater), the astronomy grad students tend to have up a lot of leftist posters in their offices. One, at least, is outright communist (“c” or “C,” I don’t know), and often wears his Che shirt.

I’ve had this evil thought of asking my girlfriend to come upstairs to this office on some pretense . . . just to see her reaction when she finds red banners and “Smash Capitalism!” posters pinned to the wall, and Che shirts sticking out from cubicles. If I time it right, this could provide an indoor fireworks display for the Fourth.

On a related note, she and I were walking through Barnes & Noble’s history section and came across Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. I explained why I didn’t recommend that book as her introduction to U.S. history. She shook her head sadly and noted that you found such communists and their fellow travelers in free countries only because they haven’t had to live through tyranny.

P.S. While she was a student in Romania, her economics professor had assigned a paper to write on “universal socialism.” He was not a Communist himself, and this had brought his advancement to a halt, but he still had a job somehow. My girlfriend took that assignment and actually turned in a paper on “universal capitalism”! How she persevered through college, I’ll always be amazed.

What a gal. What NRO readers. Thank you, and I’ll see you.


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