Politics & Policy

Pulling The Plug, &C.

A couple of quick words on the Miers nomination, that saddening debacle. First, if the plug is pulled, I think it should be done before the hearings. You don’t want to pull the plug after the hearings have begun. Why? Because you don’t want the plug-pulling to be seen as a reaction to how Miers performs in the hearings. The wisdom or unwisdom of her nomination is really independent of the hearings.

And what standards should we use? That is, by what standards should senators abide when questioning Miers? Should they do what they were pleased to do with Ruth Bader Ginsburg–i.e., let the nominee say that she will not comment on anything that may impinge on her work as a Supreme Court justice? Or should we have another standard: grilling about key cases when the nominee is presumed dumb?

And a third point: I’m reading a lot of liberals who say, “What an embarrassment this nomination is, after the brilliance of the Roberts nomination. He, of course, was unimpeachable.”

Funny, they weren’t so respectful of him at the time. Many of them said that Roberts wasn’t common enough–too privileged, too exceptional. And Miers? Too common, apparently.

‐I imagine, up above, that some of you thought of Macbeth: “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.”

Well, I did too.

‐And I think I mentioned Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Not long ago, she said that, when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, just “any woman will not do.” How so? Because, you see, there are “some women who might be appointed who would not advance human rights or women’s rights.”

Ponder her meaning: and watch out for any judge or justice who believes his job is to “advance human rights or women’s rights.” By the proper interpretation of the Constitution and law, those rights may well be advanced. But if you aim for that, you have aimed illegitimately.

Which used to be axiomatic in our national life. I mean, it was Civics 101. And even if you didn’t believe it, or endorse it–you pretended to. Particularly when you were a Supreme Court justice, I would have thought.

‐I hope you saw the recent article by Claudia Rosett with the arresting title “The Good China.” It’s about the relationship between Taiwan and the United Nations (or rather, the non-relationship). CR tells a wonderful story:

Borrowing a page from George Orwell, the U.N. . . . celebrated its [60th] anniversary with a poster in the lobby of its famous but decrepit headquarters, on which it advertised a display of “Original Signatories of the U.N. charter.” Except they weren’t. The original signatory for China of the U.N. charter was the Republic of China. In the 2005 U.N. version, the signatory listed was “China, People’s Republic of.” Informed of this Turtle Bay twisting of history, [the Taiwanese ambassador to the U.S.] wrote to U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor, noting, “It is hard to imagine how the U.N., perhaps the world’s most important international organization and one which is widely counted on to preserve the truth, could allow itself to blatantly deviate from history and misinform the world about something so fundamental to its history.”

The U.N. did not write back, says [the ambassador, Andrew Hsia], nor did the U.N. correct the mistake. Instead, in the finest tradition of Orwell’s memory hole–the poster simply vanished.

Well, at least it vanished.

‐I’ve heard some snorting about Secretary Rice’s trip to Alabama with Jack Straw. I’m glad she went, to show her British counterpart around her hometown, Birmingham: to visit her old school, and the church that was infamously bombed. (Four girls died, including one whom Rice knew.) Condi ‘n’ Jack also attended a University of Alabama football game, in Tuscaloosa.

(I had an Alabamian swear to me once that real fans chant “Roll, Tide, roll”–not leaving off that final “roll,” as others do.)

In the words of one news report, “[Rice] explained that the unusual trip signaled a new policy to invite foreign ministers to see parts of America besides Washington and New York. Secretaries of state seldom take official trips within the United States, but Ms. Rice said guiding foreign officials on such visits would help give them a greater appreciation and understanding of the nation.”

I think that’s right. Don’t you?

‐I pause for an old, terrible Groucho Marx joke: Why is it easier to get the ivory from the elephant in Alabama? Because, there, the Tuscaloosa.

‐Doesn’t “Jack Straw” sound like a name from a British children’s tale? Kind of nice that all foreign secretaries don’t have to be Chauncey Rockingham IV or something.

‐A law-school friend of mine sent me this notice: “The Isabel and Alger Hiss Government Misconduct Internship has been made possible through the generous gift of the Estate of Isabel Johnson Hiss.” My friend asked, “DOESN’T THIS BOTHER ANYONE?”

Well, it does me–if I count as anyone!

Look, I started being bothered way back when Bard College set up its Alger Hiss Chair in Social Studies.

‐And now, a little news about someone Alger Hiss would have hated–the Cuban political prisoner Omar Pernet Hernández. The Cuba-Miami Information Bridge reports,

“The health of political prisoner Omar Pernet Hernández, who’s been on a hunger strike since October 10th in Santa Clara’s Old Hospital, took a turn for the worse . . .”

Actually, I’d like to stop there, simply providing a link to the Information Bridge–a bridge to it, if you will–because they tell you about Pernet and many others, who should not be ignored. They might not have internships and academic chairs named for them, but they are heroic, and in distress.

That link is here.

‐May I tell you a little music story? On Saturday night, I was in Carnegie Hall, to review the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. The soloist was the great Swedish mezzo-soprano Sofie von Otter. Believe it or not, she sang a song by Benny Andersson, co-founder of the blockbuster pop group ABBA. This was a song called “At Home,” from a musical, about a woman named Kristina who emigrates to America. (This is a musical based on a famous Swedish novel–famous to Swedes, I mean.)

Before she sang the song, von Otter explained to the audience that, in the 19th century, some two million were driven from Sweden by famine. Many of these came to America, “this land of opportunity”–that’s what the singer said. And the Carnegie Hall patrons around me laughed.

You see, they found that phrase–”land of opportunity”–comical, or ironic, at best. But von Otter appeared to be serious.

I’ll never forget when a Chinese actor named John Lone addressed the audience at the Academy Awards. He said something about how nice it was to be in America, where you were free to say what you wanted, or create as you wanted. The audience laughed–laughed.

But John Lone wasn’t laughing, and neither was Anne Sofie von Otter, and neither are we, right, dear hearts?

‐Have another music item, most unexpected. An article was sent to me by a reader, concerning Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, guitarist for the Doobie Brothers (and others, but I care principally–no, exclusively–about the Doobies). The first paragraph:

As a member of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and as a session guitarist for Carly Simon, Bryan Adams, Ringo Starr and many others, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter has been a clandestine rock and roll hero since the ’70s. Now, as a specialist in terrorism, missile defense and chemical and biological warfare, he’s also a covert hero for the U.S. military.

He’s currently working for the Department of Defense as an adviser to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and has also served as a top military adviser for numerous congressmen and senators.

You never know. You just never do.

Or as Fats Waller liked to say, “One never knows–do one?”

‐Speaking of never knowing: Most of us are never quite taught that Israel is a markedly multiracial society, a little country bursting with diversity. (It took great effort not to put quotation marks around that word.) I was reminded of this when I saw this photo, of an Israeli border guard.

Not earth-shaking–just noting. (Impromptus, remember.)

‐In my column of last Thursday, I spoke of Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag, Michael Moore and Paul Krugman, and how popular–how wildly popular–they are in Europe. Few Americans realize this.

Well, my colleague and homie Alston B. Ramsay has informed me that Chomsky was just named the world’s top public intellectual. This in a poll conducted by the British magazine Prospect.

But hang on a second: According to the story from the Agence France-Presse, “Voters mainly came from Britain and the United States.”

Yes, let’s not forget the United States.

‐We’ve talked about music already, but have a little criticism, from the New York Sun, regardless:

For a review of the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, please go here.

And for reviews of the Metropolitan Opera’s Così fan tutte, and the aforementioned Royal Stockholm Phil. concert, please go here.

‐Guys, you know that expression “Sometimes a cigar’s just a cigar”? Well, sometimes a typo is just a typo. In my Thursday column, I made one. Compounding matters, it was in a paragraph about language. I wrote, “. . . and than I purveyed an item about Abimael Guzmán . . .”

Many, many readers e-mailed to ask, “Why did you say ‘than’ instead of ‘then’? People are increasingly doing that now, and” blah, blah, blah.

Friends, it was a typo. Into every columnist’s life, I guess, some typos must fall!

‐A quick letter, than out? (Just kidding.) (Actually, I’d typed that–really.)

Dear Jay,

As long as you’re collecting tales of cultural gaffes–”Da Vinci” instead of “Leonardo”–try this one.

I’m 20 years old, ignorant as a post about classical music, but have been given two tickets to a concert by our local orchestra and figure, here’s my chance to really impress a rather more sophisticated girl I’ve had my eye on for some time. I pop the question to her over the phone. Would she like to come to the concert with me?

“Perhaps,” she answers. “Do you have any idea what music they’re going to be playing?”

Uh . . . Furiously scanning both sides of the tickets for any hints, I try to sound offhand as I say, “Oh sure, I think they’re going to be playing something by Mezzanine.”

She laughed, but God bless her, she went on the date with me.

Have a good week, y’all.


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