Politics & Policy

Remember The Moon! &C.

In the past few columns, we’ve been sort of mocking the global-warming craze–the itch to attribute every event under the sun to this new phenomenon, or theory, or whatever it is. For example, I published a letter in Tuesday’s column reading, “Back in the early Sixties, the common explanation for violent weather was H-bomb testing.”

Another reader adds this:

“Sir: We lost our house in Hurricane Camille in 1969 (Gulfport, Miss.). I was nine years old. I remember many times hearing that the reason was our ‘messin’ ’round up there on the moon.’ We had only landed there a few weeks before. This came from a number of surprisingly educated individuals, and I think of it when people talk about that ol’ sorcerer Bush. Damn his weather machine!”

Isn’t that priceless? I thought you’d agree.

‐And I have another letter–cheeky, but fun:

“You write that global warming has become an all-explaining phenomenon or theory. Not quite: It’s actually better than that. By ‘global warming,’ what is really meant is U.S. culpability. Global warming is used to blame the U.S. for all weather that is bad. I have yet to hear anyone talk about a beautiful weekend and thank America for it.”

A neat point.

‐Major magazines and newspapers have been taking polls asking, “Do you think we should cut back on Iraq spending to help rebuild the Gulf Coast?” and, “Do you favor a partial withdrawal of troops to help with the storm damage?” Funny how the media immediately linked Hurricane Katrina to the Iraq war. There is no proper link.

What excited people, initially, was the news that a third of the Louisiana National Guard were in Iraq. That lost its potency when it was understood that the two-thirds who were in Louisiana were not properly deployed at all. It was as though 100 percent were unavailable.

But I have yet to see a poll that asked (for example), “Would you favor a cutback on farm subsidies to provide federal aid to New Orleans?” You can almost see media folk sitting back and asking themselves, “What do I hate? I know what I hate: the Iraq war. Therefore, I’ll ask people whether they want to take from the Iraq war to give to New Orleans.”

In my piece in the current issue of NR, I recall one of my favorite political cartoons of all time. Forgive me, Impromptus readers, for you have heard this before.

In the first panel, Tip O’Neill has his arm around Reagan and is asking, “Do you know how many hot school lunches your $100 million in aid to the Contras would buy?” (In the 1980s, everything was hot school lunches.) In the second panel, Reagan answers, “Yes, Tip–half as many as your $200 million in aid to Northern Ireland.”

If you want to make the case for spending, you should do so on the merits. I think. And if you hate the Iraq war, you should say that–and why. But, please, let’s not pretend it has anything to do with Katrina.

‐I am struck by how media-driven the president’s agenda can be. I mean, there is no reason–no real reason–for Bush to be on the ground in New Orleans. But the media knock the heck out of him for not being there. So he shuttles down there, as he tries to juggle foreign leaders in New York, for example. That doesn’t do him much good, media-wise, because then they all say, “Yeah, a little late, don’t you think?”

Sure, the presidency is a big job, and you have to “multi-task” like mad–but, often, Americans act like big babies. And they look to the president as Daddy to take care of them. We are to be a self-reliant people, and governments below the federal level have roles to play, too. The president can’t be responsible for the fall of every sparrow. Grownups know this. But we have gone a long way toward infantilization.

An old point, I realize–made brilliantly by Bill Bennett and others–but I thought I’d just sound it, a bit.

‐A friend of mine was saying yesterday that he can’t tell the difference between the reporting columns and the editorial columns in the New York Times. The line has been so blurred as to be invisible. I’m afraid this is true. With the departure of Howell Raines, we don’t have quite so many articles trying to get the Augusta National Golf Club. The current executive editor is not a guilty or preening southern liberal. But has Keller resurrected the wall between reporting and editorializing?

I’ve had a clipping in my file for several weeks. It is of an article by Steven Erlanger, the Times’s guy in Jerusalem. (By the way, when is Bush going to keep his promise and move the American embassy to the Israeli capital? But that’s another argument.) Erlanger refers to Likud as a “rightist” party–which I guess is all right, except for this: I don’t ever see Labor referred to as “leftist,” and if you call a democratic conservative party like Likud “rightist,” what language do you have left over for, say, Franco?

Worse, the article also says, “. . . early elections in Israel would mean a post-Gaza halt to any significant progress in relations with the Palestinians and a likely turn to the right by Sharon to protect his base.”

Now, a lot of people don’t think that disengagement means progress with the Palestinians. Other people do–it is a matter of opinion.

Why, oh, why should it be embedded there, in a news story, as an accepted truth?

Because the article’s in the New York Times, that’s why.

‐On this general topic, I was somewhat moved by what Simon Heffer wrote in The Spectator recently. He was remembering the late Maurice Cowling:

As a sometime journalist . . . Maurice understood keenly Carlyle’s dictum about the new priesthood resident in the columns of newspapers. He had been acutely aware of the press’s ability to influence politicians, and at the expense of the role of political scientists. He said he had ‘no objection of principle’ to ‘the aggressive, prejudiced journalism of the large circulation newspapers’, whereas he felt ‘the greatest distrust’ for ‘newspapers . . . which affect impartiality and superior wisdom and presume to show by rational or disinterested consideration what all right-thinking men must obviously want’. . . .

[J]ust as Maurice knew that political science had its limits, so too, he knew, did journalism. He didn’t mind it trying to influence opinion, but he did mind ‘the pretension to preach’.

Isn’t that great?

‐I’ll tell you something else that’s pretty great. Check out a news snippet about the Afghan president:

Karzai defended the electoral lineup, saying voters need to make careful decisions. “It is up to each of us to vote for a good person. . . . Don’t vote for bad people,” he said. “Don’t be afraid during the elections. There is only you and God in the polling booth. . . . No one can force you to vote a certain way.”

That which is most basic can be sweetest.

‐Care for a little language? An idiom I had never run across? Guy named Garrett Willis won a golf tournament in Utah the other day–the Nationwide Tour (kind of Triple A ball). He said, “I was shaking like a 50-cent ladder on that last putt.”

Quite nice.

‐In response to my recent little holler about I, me, and myself, a reader wrote:

“You reminded me of the hilarious scene in the first Austin Powers movie where our hero meets Dr. Evil’s right-hand man at a blackjack table in Vegas and pompously blurts out, ‘Allow myself to introduce . . . myself.’”

Don’t remember that one. But I remember other Austin Powers lines!

‐My hat is off to Buick–or its ad agency–for a good slogan: “The cars you’ve been dreaming of are the cars we’ve been dreaming up.” A winner.

‐A reader plays an oldie-but-goodie: “I saw an ironic job posting for chief legal counsel: ‘Duke University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.’” Yes, that is an emblem of our age: as though you could be both an equal-opportunity and an affirmative-action employer. Just about no one bats an eye.

But you do, Impromptus readers!

‐Speaking of Impromptus readers, we’ve been talking–in the last few columns–about naming children Reagan. And, judging by my mail, about half of you do! Sons and daughters! And there are some Margarets/Maggies, too. And some George Walkers (already).


‐On the subject of children, please listen to a reader from Sterling, Mass. (“which voted for Bush by 51-49 in the last election”):

This spring, I’m coming home on the train, tired, hungry. There are few people at my end of the train, but I hear this woman talking at a very high volume about why there’s no need for large families today. “You know, they needed large families when people lived on farms, but today, there’s no excuse: No one needs to have more than two children,” blah, blah, blah.

When my stop comes, I just go up to her and say, “Lady, since the whole train just heard your conversation, I want to tell you: I have six children, and you are just plain full of *%$@! Well, not the most articulate response, but my rage was pure and somewhat justified by her 45-minute speech to a captive audience. As I was saying this, several women in front of her were smiling, giving me a low, quiet thumbs-up.

I felt bad. But not that bad.


‐A hard-hitting one:


Why is it that everything has to be racialized? Here’s the headline over an Associated Press story: “Texas Black Woman Scheduled for Execution.” “Texas Black Woman”? Why not just “Texas Woman”? She murdered her family. What does her race have to do with it?

‐A related–semi-related–letter:

Dear Jay:

You were talking about sports and race. Well, I saw something in the Washington Post last week. Dontrelle Willis had just won his 20th game–he’s the young lefty for the Florida Marlins with the exaggerated leg kick–and the Post informed us that he was “the first National League 20-game winner since X and the first black 20-game winner since Y.”

Especially given that many of the greatest pitchers in memory are black, who gives a rip what color or ethnicity or sub-sub-ethnicity Dontrelle is?

‐End with a little Americana. I was just visiting with some friends who spent some time in Nogales, Ariz. In that town–they swore–was a combination tire/lingerie store. That’s right, they sold tires and lingerie.

Now, on my block, there’s a cheese-and-antiques shop–fairly well known, in these parts. People think it’s an unusual, remarkable combination. But cheese and antiques are exactly the same thing compared with tires and lingerie!

My friends were also amused that, in Tucson, a sushi place was right next to a bait shop. They wondered, In which direction does the product travel? From the sushi place to the bait shop, or vice versa?

Anyway . . .


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