Politics & Policy

Cate, Kate, Che, and More

A word about the Oscars? Okay, just a quick one. I didn’t watch them terribly closely; but I wanted to make four points to you, of which I can remember only three.

The first is . . . hearing Cate Blanchett speak, in her own voice, reminded me that she is indeed Australian. It occurred to me that I always hear her in other accents–British, American. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her in a movie where she is free to be her Australian self. (I’m probably just forgetting.)

I can’t say I’m happy she won that award, because her Katharine Hepburn annoyed me–which is just as well, because Katharine Hepburn, herself, annoyed me. That was not my favorite persona–and Cate probably got it to a tee.

Is that acting? Or impersonation (if there’s a difference)? Is giving an award to Cate Blanchett for doing Kate Hepburn, or to that guy for doing Ray Charles, a little like giving an award to Rich Little? Probably not. Just a question.

Second issue (Cate Blanchett counts as only one): Introducing two busty babes, Chris Rock said something like, “Please welcome all four of them.” That reminded me of one of Dick Cavett’s best anecdotes: He was working on the Tonight show, when Jack Paar was host. All the writers were asked to come up with their best introduction of Brigitte Bardot. And Cavett won by penning, “Here they are, Brigitte Bardot.”

Last, a lot of readers have asked me to say something about Che Guevara–about Salma Hayek’s tribute to him as a “youthful idealist,” and about that musician’s wearing a Che shirt. All I have to say is . . . but what can I say that I haven’t said ad nauseam, in this column and in my Che piece for NR? (Here is where you find that–but a subscription is required.)

Certain Che admirers can be educated–they’re merely ignorant. But others actually know about Che, and like what he stood for. And, had they the power, they would have you and me in a camp, or dead. (Guevara did establish the Cuban gulag–his major legacy on the island.)

It would be nice to get used to seeing Che’s face on a T-shirt. But one never does, does one (or “do one,” as Fats Waller would say)?

‐I’m flipping through U.S. News & World Report, and here’s what I read: “Alberto Gonzales has a refreshing approach to his new job as the nation’s attorney general. Rather than being the heavy known just for jailing bad guys, a role filled so well by former AG John Ashcroft, he wants to be the ‘people’s lawyer.’”

I don’t know about you, but I rather like an AG who’ll jail bad guys. For me, that’s not being the “heavy”; that is, in fact, being the good guy. Which John Ashcroft is.

‐But I also learned from U.S. News that President Bush has seen Hotel Rwanda — twice. He is deeply affected by the movie. He met with the man–the hotel manager–on whose experience the movie is based. Apparently, he told this fellow, Paul Rusesabagina, that he will act on Darfur.

I also wish to commend to you Mark Steyn’s review of Hotel Rwanda–an extremely positive, and interesting, review. A couple of excerpts:

. . . it was the Hutu energetically hacking the Tutsi into oblivion, while the parties who could have prevented the slaughter–notably President Clinton, the Pain-Feeler-in-Chief–gave a massive shrug of indifference: Toot, toot, Tutsis, goodbye! When I first heard about Hotel Rwanda, I didn’t think you could pull off a movie “about” this subject. It’s really an anti-story–it’s about the cavalry not showing up. And how do you find any human interest in it? These fellows killed nearly a million of their neighbors, in the lowest-tech way possible–with machetes–and taking especial care over the murder of the children, to wipe out the next generation of Tutsi. . . . It’s a story of lack of human interest. . . .

It’s hard to watch [Nick Nolte, playing Colonel Oliver] without having total contempt for the U.N. and their feeble blue helmets in a hue that seems expressly chosen to communicate that they’re not real soldiers. . . .

My enthusiasm [for the movie] is tempered only by the bleak thought that in ten years’ time we’ll be seeing Hotel Darfur.

We are given to believe that President Bush is determined that that movie not be necessary.

‐In The New Yorker, I spotted the snottiest little piece to come down the pike since . . . the last time I read The New Yorker. It is about some West Point cadets, who were taken to the Metropolitan Opera to see Turandot. Civilize ‘em, you know–make ‘em less beastly, less embarrassing to their fellow Americans who work for or read The New Yorker.

(By the way, when you say “Turandot,” go ahead and pronounce the final “t.” Many don’t, in the mistaken belief that French is in order. Turandot is an Italian opera about a Chinese princess. Pronounce the “t”–if you can stand to be corrected incorrectly. I would bet most of the tea in Turandot’s China that the author of this snotty little article pronounces the name incorrectly.)

Let me cite the last line of the article: “Ernest Lee [a cadet], descending to the coat check, declared his intention to develop his newfound taste for Puccini at the first opportunity. ‘I want to get the soundtrack,’ he said.”

Ha, ha, ha–dumb soldier said “soundtrack,” as though the opera were a movie. Journalists have extraordinary power, for good or ill. I think about this a lot. By some artful arranging of sentences and so on, you can make anyone–even an Einstein–look stupid. I hope I don’t do it (too often).

‐Was reading about Michael Kergin, the outgoing ambassador from Canada. (When I say “outgoing,” I don’t mean he’s a lot of fun, which he may be–I mean he’s leaving Washington.) About meeting President Bush, he said, “I guess the expectation I had was that he’d let his heavy-duty cabinet players do the talking. But these very powerful personalities around the table spoke only when spoken to. That surprised me a little bit. He was very much in charge. He carried the conversation. He was very well briefed on the issues.”

Yup, yup. But the comedians’ image–the Jon Stewart/Bill Maher fiction about Bush–is very hard to break. “Cheney’s really in charge, Bush is an idiot,” all that. I hope that we will reach the point when only idiots believe that. But it took our elites a long time to get straight about Reagan. And, even now, they’re not all that straight.

‐Speaking of Canada: They have “opted out” of our anti-missile defenses. Prime Minister Martin says that his country opposes “the weaponization of space.” All right: but what if missiles are heading toward Canada? Can the U.S. president possibly not shoot them down? Can he allow the preventable slaughter of millions? Is he supposed to say, “Yes, I could stop these missiles, but I respect Canadian sovereignty, and the Canadian people have spoken, and they have a right not to be protected, and . . .”

What a nightmare. Or a joke.

‐According to an article in the New York Sun, an al-Jazeera commentator called Hillary Clinton a George W. Bush “clone”! How about that? She really is moving rightward, gearing up for ‘08. The commentator, Mr. Sam Hamod, also said that Hillary and John McCain “rushed” to Iraq “to do the bidding of [Ariel] Sharon and his Zionist friends in NYC and in the Senate.”

I think al-Jazeera’s understanding of America is as subtle as Vladimir Putin’s.

‐I’ve had this in my Impromptus notes for a while now, but it’s still a goodie. Andrew Sullivan had the following up on his blog: “MORE FAMILY VALUES: A seminary president is fired for marrying his own daughter. Because she’s gay.” When I read, “a seminary president is fired for marrying his own daughter”–I thought, “Well, that is pretty bad! I mean, come on! How ‘progressive’ can you be!” But turns out this was a cleric presiding over . . .

‐Have you noticed that Michael Jackson has become a black man? That is, now that he’s gone to trial, he’s all of a sudden black? (After all that work!) “No Blacks on Jury!!!” was a headline I saw. You remember when O. J. Simpson went on trial?

But those are days we mustn’t relive.

‐I hope you saw an article published at OpinionJournal.com about Amartya Sen and his extraordinary comeuppance. (If you missed it, the article is here.) Sen is a big pooh-bah in England and elsewhere, and recently he was pronouncing on health care in Mao’s China. How great it had been during the Cultural Revolution! he said, and privatization must not be allowed to efface this historic Red achievement.

Deliciously, there was a Chinese man in the audience who had actually endured the Cultural Revolution, and been a “barefoot doctor” in it. He could set Sen straight–and did.

I bring all this up because it gives me the opportunity to mention one of the best books I’ve ever read (seriously). I speak of Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard, by Fan Shen. I reviewed it in NR last summer. Like this corrector of Sen, the author was a “barefoot doctor”–someone playing at medicine, because what is bourgeois learning and experience after the Revolution?

But that is the least of this enthralling, perfect book.

‐Care to read an understatement? Okay, this, from a piece by Jonathan Sumption in The Spectator: “The resources of the earth have proved to be more elastic than Malthus foresaw.”

‐Some music criticism from the New York Sun: For a review of the Brentano String Quartet with the poet Mark Strand (yes), and for a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Lorin Maazel, please go here.

‐Some mail?

Sir,

While reading today’s Impromptus I was reminded of watching the debate between Howard Dean and Richard Perle on C-SPAN last weekend. Each debater was given 15 minutes to make an opening statement, and about eight minutes into Perle’s a man threw a shoe at him and called him a liar (among other things). This was not the only thing that Mr. Perle had to put up with. It was clear that the audience did not like him, and he had to put up with boos and insults all night. Here is what struck me: At no time did Howard Dean ask the audience to be respectful of his opponent and let him speak. I believe that, had the situations been reversed, Richard Perle would have said something.

Ain’t no question. None.

‐Try this, on the Larry Summers controversy:

One subtext of the negative talk about Summers’s “management style” is huge, and I haven’t seen it discussed. Summers is quintessentially an MIT man (of the post-WWII, pre-1980s MIT, after which things changed). This means he focuses at work on solving complex real-world problems in a limited time with available resources. People who are good at this (they can be engineers or scientists) are both extremely creative and completely realistic. They clarify problems, re-framing them in new ways as necessary, aiming for the best solution possible under the circumstances, recognizing that a better one might come along in the future. They have little interest in or patience with talk for talk’s sake, talk that isn’t relevant to actions, talk focused primarily on establishing the speaker’s self-image and status, and they pretty much tune it out. Since this way of thinking and acting isn’t part of the, shall we say, skill set of most of Harvard’s Arts and Sciences faculty, they haven’t a clue where Summers is coming from. So they assimilate his actions into a more-familiar-to-them model of corporate management and complain about his predilection for “hierarchical decision making” and lack of “collegiality.” They focus on process (an essentially bureaucratic perspective, though they have more self-flattering language for it) while Summers focuses on interactions and information that produce solutions to problems.

Summers is like a blogger trapped in an Old Media world, and I’ll be surprised (and pleased) if he survives.

‐And one of the best (of many) letters on Wal-Mart:

Your comments on Wal-Mart and its role as an anti-corporate target remind me of an experience I had a couple years ago at a scholarly conference in Sweden. During an excursion, another American participant chose to offer our Swedish hosts an impromptu tutorial on the evils of Wal-Mart, based on her having taught for a semester in Arkansas in the course of which she encountered the evil retailer at first hand. She described it as a lily-white, redneck, Bible-toting establishment, simply against everything a progressive person like herself stood for. I said, that’s funny, because when I go into the Wal-Mart in my New Jersey town, I hear all sorts of languages, including Spanish, Jamaican-accented English, and Polish, and by the way, the prices and selection are great. The Swedes were thrown into confusion, because they simply had never heard any conflicting views along these lines. I then went on to explain the brilliance of Wal-Mart’s inventory and logistical systems while my progressive colleague sat by in a snit. Then a McDonald’s appeared on the horizon, and taking the opportunity to redirect the conversation, my colleague said how horrible it was to see that blight of low American cuisine on the Swedish countryside, to which I remarked that the Swedish franchisee who chose to open it there must have discovered a demand for it, since the parking lot was full. It was a fun trip.

I bet!

‐And this to end on:

Jay,

I saw the letter you posted from the parent who has a daughter attending Chico State, where we do not get Presidents’ Day off, but where Cesar Chavez’s birthday is a holiday. Aside from the fact that this is the first time I have seen my school mentioned on NRO, I wanted to comment on the nature of Cesar Chavez Day. Chico has the reputation of being a party school, and the administration here has done much to try to stifle that reputation, including all but stamping out the traditional party days of Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. So it has fallen to Cesar Chavez Day to be the new “designated party holiday” in Chico. Some good has come of political correctness!

See you soon, y’all.

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