Politics & Policy

A city strikes again, &c.

So, San Francisco has banned plastic grocery bags (as you can read here). Do you think maybe S.F. should save time and put out a list of things that aren’t banned? In any case, I remember, years ago, a column by Warren Brookes on “Paper or plastic?” This was the question a grocery-store clerk had asked him, and when he said, “Plastic, please,” she made a face at him (of course). (Brookes might well have been shopping in my hometown.) He then explained to her why plastic was better.

To my sorrow, I can’t remember the explanation — but I would take Warren Brookes to the bank.

‐I would also take Congressman Frank Wolf to the bank — certainly when it comes to human rights. He has called for the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, on grounds that said ambassador has not done enough to help persecuted Catholics. (A news story is here.)

Readers of my Davos journal last January may remember my encounter with the prime minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung. He and his crew — cabinet folk — were quite eager to say that they had just been to the Vatican, where the Pope gave Vietnam a clean bill of health, religious rights-wise. In fact, they said he had praised Vietnam as a model nation in this respect. (The relevant journal entry is here.)

And readers of National Review may remember that I did a piece on congressional champions of human rights. (That article was written in April 2005, and it may be found here, though a subscription is required.) These champions include, on the Republican side, Wolf, Chris Smith, and the Miami Cuban Americans: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers. There are a precious few Democrats, too, chiefly Tom Lantos and Eliot Engel.

Anyway, if Wolf says our guy in Vietnam should do more — I’m inclined to believe him.

‐I like the way President Bush is selecting his commencement addresses — I mean, the venues for those addresses. He is not addressing fancy-schmancy schools, at least not this year (and he is a man who attended the fanciest-schmanciest schools extant: Andover, Yale, and Harvard). He will speak at a service academy, as the commander-in-chief must. (This year it will be the Coast Guard Academy.) And he will also speak at Miami Dade College and St. Vincent College. (That latter institution is in Latrobe, Pa., home, of course, of Arnold Palmer.)

(You may read a news story here.)

Again, I like these choices. Bush is a man who knows that America is not only his own cohort. In fact, he doesn’t much like ’em.

‐Friends, do you come to Impromptus for the obvious? If so, I will reward you: You know those reports of rioting in the Paris train station? Battle between “youths” (ahem) and police? We will be getting a lot more of those reports, as the years roll by. A lot more.

See, I told you I could deliver the obvious.

‐I wanted to share with you this story, simply because it was touching, on a number of fronts.

BEIJING (AP) — The world’s tallest man has married a woman who is more than 2 feet shorter than him, a Chinese newspaper reported Wednesday. [Don’t get all snippy about grammar.]

Bao Xishun, a 7-foot-9 herdsman from Inner Mongolia, married 5-foot-6 saleswoman Xia Shujian several days ago, the Beijing New[s?] reported.

Bao’s 28-year-old bride is half his age and hailed from his hometown of Chifeng even though marriage advertisements were sent around the world, it said.

“After a long and careful selection, the effort has been finally paid off,” the newspaper said.

Bao was confirmed last year by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest person.

He was in the news in December after he used his long arms to save two dolphins by pulling out plastic from their stomachs. The dolphins got sick after nibbling on plastic from the edge of their pool at an aquarium in Liaoning province. Attempts to use surgical instruments to remove the plastic failed because the dolphins’ stomachs contracted in response to the instruments, Chinese media reported.

A man who might be thought of as unmarriageable marries. Uses his extraordinary physical endowments to save dolphins.

As I said, touching.

‐I was interested to read a book review by my friend David Klinghoffer. (You will find it in Hadassah magazine.) David reviews Zev Chafets’s latest, A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance.

Mouthful of a title, huh? Interesting, too.

Anyway, Chafets had a big impact on my development. As regular readers of this column know, I was raised a perfect little anti-Israelite. (Not by my parents, I hasten to add — by my teachers and the general culture around me, including the media.) And when I was in college, Chafets came out with a book called Heroes and Hustlers, Hard Hats and Holy Men: Inside the New Israel. This book kind of de-demonized the country for me — taught me about it, made me see it afresh, understand it.

I can’t say that I turned on a dime — but on a quarter, or a 50-cent piece, maybe . . . (The discovery of Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary — and of the real world generally — helped, too.) (So did close encounters with Middle East radicals — not excluding Israeli leftists.)

‐You want another mouthful of a title (and an interesting and fetching one)? I just read a review of a book called You Cannot Live as I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This: The Thoroughly Disgraceful Life & Times of Willie Donaldson.

Nice, huh?

‐Let’s have a little music: For a review of the pianist Louis Lortie, go here. For a review of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier at the Metropolitan Opera, go here. And for a recordings roundup, go here.

These reviews were published in the New York Sun. And that roundup discusses Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil., Yue Deng and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (playing music of Claus Ogermann), and (the late, great) Boris Christoff.

Knock yourself out.

‐Thanks to the Internet and, in particular, my e-mail inbox, you know what my favorite word in all the world is? “Unsubscribe.” Oh, how I love you, “unsubscribe”! (Not that I ever subscribed in the first place — they just dumped what I consider spam on me.)

‐A perceptive reader contributed the following, on Iraq terrorists: “It is worth remembering that the people who used children to place a car bomb are the ones Michael Moore compares favorably to the Minutemen and whose success he predicts and hopes for. I do not recall any leading liberals criticizing this or disavowing Moore.”

Oh, you don’t? Me neither. I do remember that President Carter invited Moore to sit with him at the last Democratic national convention. Carter said to Moore (according to the latter), “There’s no one I’d rather sit with.” And I recall that Carter declared Fahrenheit 9/11 his favorite movie of all time, along with Casablanca.

How can you love a freedom-loving movie like Casablanca and also a nutso, conspiracy-mongering documentary like Fahrenheit 9/11?

I guess you have to be Jimmy C.

‐The other day, we were talking about European anti-Americanism, and how it didn’t begin with George W. Bush. In fact, it didn’t begin with the founding of the Republic — it flourished beforehand.

At any rate, a reader mailed me this article, headlined “In Europe’s Eyes, Americans Become Uglier and Uglier.” The Seattle Times published it on April 9, 2000.

‐And a foreign reader sent me this:

Hi, Jay,

When I was a young Australian travelling in Europe in the mid 80’s, what I found most striking about the anti-Americanism was not its existence — I was a 22-year-old university student after all — but the patience and politeness with which the American students responded.


And I don’t mean just the fellow travellers. I met a number of students who were clearly Republicans, but they dealt with the vitriol and bile with good grace and humour, and a genuine interest in listening to what was said to them. The latter quality was, I can recall, pretty thin on the ground on the European side.

I’ll bet. And that was the secret of that Borat-in-America movie, right? The comedian abused them, but they generally responded with the qualities the letter-writer mentions: patience, politeness, etc.


‐In this column, I mentioned Santa Monica’s plan to put its squirrels on birth control (yes). And a reader wrote, “Birth-control shots for squirrels? Don’t those come out of .22’s?”


Now, before you shoot me, know this: This reader is a pastor at a Midwestern church.


‐Friends, it may be a while before I write to you again. Doing some traveling, some other work. Should be back at you in mid-April or something. And if you happen to be in Salzburg on Saturday, drop by the Sacher Hotel at 11:30.


That is, if you want to hear me talk about the music being performed this year at the Easter Festival. If you don’t — don’t!


See you.


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