Politics & Policy

A president with conscience, &c.

Yesterday, the president spoke at the rededication ceremony of an Islamic center in Washington. He spoke pretty well, I think you’ll agree. Referring to Islamism, he said,

Men and women of conscience have a duty to speak out and condemn this murderous movement before it finds its path to power. We must help millions of Muslims as they rescue a proud and historic religion from murderers and beheaders who seek to soil the name of Islam. And in this effort, moderate Muslim leaders have the most powerful and influential voice.

He wound up his speech with,

So today, in this place of free worship, in the heart of a free nation, we say to those who yearn for freedom from Damascus to Tehran: You are not bound forever by your misery. You plead in silence no longer. The Free World hears you. You are not alone. America offers you its hand in friendship. We work for the day when we can welcome you into the family of free nations. We pray that you and your children may one day know freedom in all things . . .

Hear, hear (and for the full text of the speech, go here).

I know we’re all supposed to hate President Bush, what with amnesty and all — but I can’t. He is a great man, who has done great things. And history, if it (she?) has half a brain, and heart, will recognize that.

‐Incidentally, when I said “(she?),” above, I was thinking of Clio — Muse of history.

‐I thought you might like to be acquainted with a Cuban political prisoner — one more, out of hundreds. This one is Dr. Luis Milán Fernández, a member of the Independent Cuban Medical Association (and anyone seeking to be independent in Cuba is in grave danger). He and his brave wife, a dentist, signed a manifesto in 2001, calling for basic freedoms. He was arrested in the “Black Spring” of 2003.

He is now in Boniato Prison, in Santiago de Cuba — suffering miserably, of course. They have confined him to a psychiatric ward, where he is caged with prisoners who are severely mentally ill (one recently mutilated himself). And Dr. Milán’s own health is deteriorating badly.

This is an old, old story, of course — it’s just that, once in a while, it’s nice to name a name or two. And for more information, about Dr. Milán and others, you may wish to go to the blog of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women: here. They are constantly keeping an eye on prisoners, finding out what they can. This is a group that deserves some kind of award, if America has one to offer. They are a “point of light,” for sure.

By the way, if you care to see a picture of Luis Milán: here.

‐Just one more Cuba item, if I may: Dr. Emilio “Millo” Ochoa was the last living member of the Constitutional Assembly of 1940. He has now died in exile. U.S. representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart said,

I have never admired anyone more than Millo Ochoa. His patriotism, ultimate integrity, and transparency — and love for his fellow man, as demonstrated by his love of service — were absolutely remarkable. Millo Ochoa will be forever remembered as one of the most admirable Cubans in all history.

I have never admired anyone more — that’s quite a statement, from that source.

‐A letter from a reader reminded me of something mirthful — sad and mirthful. At the Winter Olympics in 2002, an American woman won a gold medal in the bobsled. She happened to be the first black woman ever to win a gold medal in the Winter Games.

But the TV network (NBC) could not relate this fact. Why? Because, apparently, they were forbidden to say “black” — they had to say “African-American.” So they resorted to saying, “She’s the first African-American woman from any country to win a gold medal”!

The letter from the reader?

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Recently, I listened to an announcer refer to Lewis Hamilton, the rookie sensation Formula 1 driver from Hertfordshire, England, as African-American because there was simply no other acceptable way to refer to him.

Yup — both comedic and tragic. Comi-tragic, I guess.

‐Let me share with you the Greatest Column Ever Written. It is by Charles Moore, of the Telegraph (and The Spectator). His theme is: What if Alan Johnston had been kidnapped by Israelis? (Alan Johnston is the BBC reporter who has been held in captivity by Palestinian militants since March.) That is a brilliant idea for a column. And Moore carries it out brilliantly.

And I wish to quote the final paragraph, which is general, not specific: “As for Israel, many sins can be laid to its charge. But it is morally serious in a way that we are not, because it has to be. Forty years after its greatest victory [in the Six Day War], it has to work out each morning how it can survive.”

Oh, and yes: The column is here.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I issued a cry against The New Republic. They have published a vicious, disgusting piece about an NR cruise. And my comments about it provoked a fair amount of mail, which I’d like to touch on.

First, many readers wondered: “Hmm . . . the cruise took place in November; the piece was published in almost July. Why the delay?” I don’t know — if the editors were uneasy, that suggests the presence of a conscience, somewhere. But, of course, they published anyway.

Second, many other readers said, “Oh, Jay, The New Republic is always like that — they specialize in insults, vituperation. They are playground-mean, nasty-mean. It is sort of like their trademark. Where’ve you been? Don’t be so shocked.”

Then, I heard from some people who were on the November cruise itself: and they baldly doubted some of the facts alleged in that piece. Which leads me to a final point:

Many readers said they were reminded of an earlier New Republic piece: the one by Stephen Glass, about CPAC. (CPAC stands for Conservative Political Action Conference.) Glass, you will remember, was the New Republic star who made things up, and was eventually caught. The CPAC piece was spectacularly vicious.

And it was full of lies, of course — a complete fiction. And I don’t say that the present piece, about NR, has any lies, technically. But as I said yesterday: The piece is so slanted and misleading, it amounts to a lie — a lie about the NR cruise that actually took place.

In a sense, the piece is a spiritual descendant of the Glass CPAC piece — just a smear job on a conservative event.

How proud the New Republic people must be.

Here are two letters, different, interesting, and true:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I enjoyed what you wrote about The New Republic, but it saddened me. It made me think so much of my late father, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Adlai Stevenson liberal. He was also a loyal New Republic reader for decades, and was particularly fond of Richard Strout’s TRB column.

Most important, my father was a gentleman and did not associate with ungentlemanly behavior if he could help it. I can’t imagine him reading The New Republic today, even though he would likely agree with most of their views.

That’s my one real gripe about today’s liberalism. None of them seem to behave like gentlemen anymore. To use a Hubert Humphrey expression, I’d be pleased as punch if these folks would behave a little bit more like HHH.

Ah, yes — a perennial theme of my writing.

And one letter from an NR cruiser:

Hi, Jay,

Every crowd is constructed on a bell curve, and even at the charity-relief meetings of my parish, where many assembled are arguably selfless saints, there is always one or another humdinger of a personality that does not represent the group as a whole. Those who write hit pieces know this, but care more for their circulation or agenda than they do for the truth.

The NR cruise I went on was one of the most enjoyable experiences ever. Intergenerational, stimulating, social, informative, and frankly warm and inviting. Were there a couple of folks I didn’t care for? Sure. There are everywhere I go! But were the vast majority some of the smartest, most interesting, most genuinely engaging folks I have ever had the pleasure of meeting? You bet!

At least two long-term close friends were made on an NR ship, and as a bonus I now get to torture you with my amateur music reviews.

N.B.: I like those.

‐Also in yesterday’s column, I said something about the American Symphony Orchestra League, which has undergone a name change: to the League of American Orchestras. I speculated that what they were most pleased about was having a different acronym (LAO instead of ASOL).

A reader writes,

Hi, Jay,

Your story about the orchestra league reminds me of my favorite acronym story. Several years back, I took an editing job at a small newspaper in Berkeley, Calif. While putting together the local church news, I discovered that the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley (FUCB) was actually in neighboring Kensington. When I pointed this out to my editor, she told me they had changed their name from First Unitarian Church of Kensington because of the unfortunate acronym.

One mo’:

Dear Jay:

There’s a (mostly) liberal Catholic musicians’ organization called the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NAPM). Church folks, especially detractors who felt they were a bit scorched-earth in their preferences, called it “Napalm,” of course. Their solution? They didn’t change the name, but they changed the acronym to NPM. It makes no sense, of course, but hey.

I love the ending of that letter.

‐And what would Impromptus be without more notes on Dopp kit, or Dobb kit, or what have you? But this batch, my friends, will be the end of them — The End.

Here goes:


Having a military background, we always called the shaving-kit bag a RON kit or bag, as the acronym for Remain Over Night. The larger bag, like an old-time doctor’s bag or small carpetbag, with the top opening, was called the AWOL bag, for Away WithOut



Mr. Nordlinger:

A reader of yours said, “My (English) father always referred to his ‘hussif.’” Well, “hussif” is the (old) English pronunciation of “housewife,” found as far back as Shakespeare. The “housewife” in question here is a small bag or receptacle for holding personal items, toiletries, etc. Soldiers in the American Civil War carried objects with the same name, generally small roll-up, multi-compartmented bags in which they stored sewing kits for uniform repairs, small grooming articles, etc.



My wife uses the term “dock kit,” assuming that the bag was used by sailors on shore leave.

Speaking of sailors:

Dear Jay,

Every American sailor knows that your “Dopp” kit is in reality a “douche” kit, as in the kit you take with you to the shower. On the other hand, a “ditty bag” is a rather small cloth bag used in boot camp to hold soiled clothing awaiting the nightly washing by hand (at least in the early 1960s).

You will love this, I know:

Dear Jay,

I was 18 years old and on my first military leave from Navy boot camp. My parents picked me up when I arrived at the Greyhound bus station in Cincinnati. I cannot overstate here what a completely sheltered and ingenuous kid I was regarding anything that involved sex. Strict religious rearing and all that.

On the ride home from the bus station, Mom, Dad, and I were happily chatting when I casually mentioned that I needed to get something out of my “douche kit,” the term I had learned in boot camp. My mother looked away from me in obvious distress and murmured “Oh, Paul . . .” I was confused, but then my dad jumped to my defense and said, “Well, dear, he’s a man now.”

It was at that moment that I realized that the word “douche” had some sinister connotation. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what the word meant, and too embarrassed to explore the subject with my parents. So I sat quietly in the back seat of the car, feeling guilty and pondering all the possible meanings of the word. I still grin to myself, knowing that neither of my parents appreciated what a comprehensive nerd they had raised.

Isn’t that a positively charming letter? And get a load of this, grand-finale-wise:

Dear Jay,

I always understood that my dad was saying “Dop kit” (the spelling eluded me, but the phoneme was right), but I was about 20 when it finally dawned on me that it isn’t “plain geometry” (the opposite of “fancy geometry”) but rather “plane geometry” (the opposite of the non-Euclidian type). This revelation came in handy when I started teaching middle-school math.

See you next week, cool ones — thanks.


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