I have a friend — a firm Republican — who’s undecided about whom to support in the presidential race. She says, “I want to know who Thomas Sowell’s for. Whoever he’s for, I’m for.” Her husband said to her, “What if it’s Ron Paul?” She hesitated for about a half-second, and said, “So be it.”
I understand that kind of respect for Sowell. I share it. So, Tom — who’ll it be?
met privately Monday with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, one of Washington’s most outspoken critics in Latin America. Neither Spacey — who has won Academy Awards for roles in “The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty” — nor Chavez spoke to the press after the nearly three-hour encounter in the presidential palace in Caracas. They shook hands warmly on the red carpet as Spacey left after a dinner with Chavez.
I’m sure it was very warm indeed. Other celebrities have trooped to Chávez, too: for example, Sean Penn. And Castro, of course, has had a parade of Hollywood celebs for decades: Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Steven Spielberg . . . Carole King sang “You’ve Got a Friend” to him.
Does he ever have friends.
Look, I’m a patriot, and I think there is much good in America. But there is undeniably a sickness in our culture — a sickness that causes our glitterati to bend the knee to the worst dictators and tyrants, as long as they’re left-wing. It is one of the most grotesque and frustrating phenomena I know.
‐Speaking of our glitterati: Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, had Evo Morales as a guest. You can learn about it from this article. Bolivia’s collectivist darling said, “Professionals and intellectuals are not the only ones who can be presidents. Indigenous people can also be president.”
“‘In Bolivia,’ Stewart deadpanned, leaning forward conspiratorially. ‘In America, it’s a little rigged.’” (I have quoted the AP.)
Stewart couldn’t possibly know this, but America is a country that has given as much opportunity to as many people as any society in history. That’s why dregs the world over have sought to come here. They have voted with their feet; and they are not stupid. How many people seek to immigrate to Bolivia?
And if you want to talk merely about U.S. presidents: The Bushes are from old, established families, sure. But Clinton came from nothing. Ronald Reagan came from nothing — his father was an alcoholic, itinerant shoe salesman. Ford came from nothing (his father split when Ford was a couple weeks old — he was a violent man, anyway). LBJ came from nothing.
And shall we mention Clarence Thomas, an associate justice of the Supreme Court? But he is unmentionable: because his beliefs, which are conservative, cancel out any credit he might receive for rising from black southern poverty.
Last, America is a country that has made Jon Stewart rich and famous. If that’s not an indictment . . .
Quite possibly, I had the same kind of education that Stewart did: I was taught that America was a land of injustice, controlled by the rich and privileged — that America was, in fact, “rigged.” But I grew out of it, by the time I turned about 20. For such as Stewart, isn’t it about time?
‐Speaking of rises from poverty: Jim Nicholson grew up in brutal conditions, out West — he had no indoor plumbing, very little food. I was reminded of this when I read yesterday that Nicholson is resigning as veterans-affairs secretary. (An article is here.) I met him when he was chairman of the RNC. And, knowing his background, I said, “Hey, aren’t the Republicans the party of the rich? What’s the matter with you?”
We had a good laugh about that — but a laugh tinged with some bitterness, I would say. Or if not bitterness, frustration.
A footnote: I remember working at golf courses, making minimum wage, and being told by wealthy liberal customers that I belonged to the party of the rich. They had no self-awareness whatsoever.
‐At the U.N., President Bush did what decent people should do regularly — point up the absurdity and outrageousness of the U.N. Human Rights Council. This dictator-filled panel, he said, “has been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel.” That’s about the least he could say — but I’m glad he said it.
‐Speaking of brutal dictatorships: There is one tiny thing you can do for the Burmese, at this perilous hour: sign an Internet petition, here. And if the regime cracks down, killing thousands, as in the late 1980s? The world will barely break stride. But at least we can keep an eye out.
‐A quick language note: President Bush is one of the few world leaders who use the name “Burma,” rather than “Myanmar” — which is another thing to applaud him for.
‐Did you read about the grandma Minuteman who’s causing a ruckus in Kansas City? Frances B. Semler was appointed to the parks board. But she belongs to the Minutemen, having firm views on illegal immigration. (She’s against, and thinks that people should do something about it.) When the National Council of the Race — aka, La Raza — and the NAACP found out about Mrs. Semler, they threatened to boycott the city. Natch.
I was quite charmed by the lady’s description of the Minutemen: They “sit on lawn chairs with binoculars and a can of Coke or something and watch to see if anyone is coming across [the border].”
See if you’re charmed too — here. And see whether you side with Mrs. Semler or the National Council of the Race.
(By the way, you can think of Raza as Spanish for Volk.) (Heil!) (I mean, Viva!)
‐In case you were worried, “Khmer Rouge Leader Gets Top Care in Jail.” That’s the headline over this article. Nuon Chea “will get cable TV and regular visits from doctors while in detention — amenities out of reach for most impoverished Cambodians.”
Well, you know: It’s only fair. The Khmer Rouge treated citizens — including its opposition — no worse . . .
‐For several years, NR senior editor David Pryce-Jones has said that Eastern Europe’s progress is retarded by a refusal to face up to the Communist past — an extremely recent past. The same is true of Russia, of course.
I thought of P-J’s point when reading this item, which tells us, “Poland on Tuesday began publishing a list of public figures who either collaborated with or were spied on by its old secret police before 1989.” Good for Poland — and keep going.
‐President Bush, in the person of his press secretary, has rapped Egypt for its abuses of troublesome citizens — i.e., those who advocate reform. (A story is found here.) Will these raps be felt on Mubarakian knuckles? Hard to say. But they must hearten those who are abused.
And, as I have been saying for years: Wouldn’t it be swell to have Saad Ibrahim or Ayman Nour at a forum like Davos? Invite the government too, by all means. But how about democratic reformers, in an age that’s allegedly hot for democratic reform?
‐An arresting headline: “Hungry Zimbabweans Try to Eat Giraffe” (over this story). It is comical-seeming; but it is, of course, deadly serious. Zimbabwe is one of the most desperate places on earth, which is saying something.
In places like my dear hometown of Ann Arbor they have, for decades, been celebrating African “liberation” leaders like Mugabe. And the only thing they have succeeded in liberating is people from their money, hope, and very lives.
Is Ali Mazrui still around to explain how it’s all the West’s fault?
‐In this column, Nat Hentoff gives President Bush hell for agreeing to attend the PRC Olympics. I couldn’t agree more. And I’ll be adding my own hell, in coming weeks and months.
‐This may be the most curious story you’ll read all fall — I mean, this. Nike has designed a special shoe for American Indians — “an effort aiming at promoting physical fitness in a population with high obesity rates.”
More of this story: “The Beaverton-based company says the Air Native N7 is designed with a larger fit for the distinct foot shape of American Indians, and has a culturally specific look. It will be distributed solely to American Indians . . .”
Why is the shoe called N7? The name “is a reference to the seventh generation theory, used by some tribes to look to the three generations preceding them for wisdom and the three generations ahead for their legacy.”
Now, the design of this shoe “features several ‘heritage callouts’ as one product manager described it, including sunrise to sunset to sunrise patterns on the tongue and heel of the shoe. Feather designs adorn the inside and stars are on the sole to represent the night sky.”
There’s a lot packed into this story — and I’ll leave it to readers to ponder, rather than commentate at them. (Commentate!) But I will say this: What ails American Indians, especially on reservations, is not so much physical as spiritual and mental. Of course, of whom is this not true?
‐Kate Couric has unloaded on the subject of Iraq. (Read all about it.) At the National Press Club, she said, “Everyone in this room would agree that people in this country were misled in terms of the rationale of this war.” I’m sure everyone in that room would!
And here’s Katie on the atmosphere following the 9/11 attacks:
“The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying ‘we’ when referring to the United States and, even the ‘shock and awe’ of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the ‘Today’ show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this?’ And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.”
The idea that “anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic” is just garbage. It’s merely something that liberals tell themselves in order to feel martyr-ish. They want to be victims of McCarthyism, even when none exists.
And if she thinks it’s a journalistic sin to wear a lapel flag or to say “we” when referring to the United States — her journalistic values are way out of whack. Here’s a woman who thinks it’s necessary to be neutral between the United States and al-Qaeda, or the United States and Saddam Hussein. But she apparently feels no compunction to be neutral between the Democratic party and the Republican party.
And, incidentally — as far as war is concerned — she would really have hated her news division, CBS, during World War II. They were actually and demonstrably and demonstratively on the American side.
In my ideal world, major-network anchormen wouldn’t express their views on politics and policy. They would remain above it all, in splendid Olympian fashion. At the same time, if we’re going to have partisan media, we might as well let it all hang out, instead of pretending.
You’ve heard my line a thousand times: The anchorman of CBS News should attend Democratic fundraisers (as Dan Rather did). The Supreme Court reporter of the New York Times should march in pro-abortion rallies, and then report on them (as Linda Greenhouse did). The U.N. Human Rights Council should have the most murderous regimes on it.
It’s all an aid to clarity.
And Katie Couric has recently made things all the clearer.
‐Things are a little weird at Bayreuth. (What’s new?) Katharina Wagner, the composer’s great-granddaughter, who wants to be boss of Bayreuth, has a running mate: Christian Thielemann, the Munich-based conductor. They are running for the leadership of the festival. They are a kind of ticket.
Do they have slogans and buttons and the whole works?
And as you can see by the photo accompanying this article, Ms. Wagner looks rather like a Valkyrie.
‐Speaking of music, I received a surprisingly large amount of mail following this review of John Williams. He conducted the New York Philharmonic, in a concert largely of his own music. People said how much they liked Williams’s music, and that they appreciated a critic’s being positive about him. (What is there not to be positive about?) One reader said, “I consider Williams almost a gateway drug to the world of classical music at large.”
A nice sentence, I thought.
‐Hang on, I meant to say something further about Katie Couric — and this refers to my mailbag as well. In this column, I stated what I thought was a plain fact: that Katie Couric is beautiful (nightmare of political bias that she is). I received a lot of mail, saying, “I’m glad you said so! I think she’s beautiful too. But I’ve always felt kind of guilty about it . . .”
There was plenty of other mail saying, “No, she’s not beautiful — cute or perky, maybe. But not beautiful.” One of these writers — a lady — did allow, however, that Katie “has nice legs.”
‐In this column, I mentioned the phrase “humanitarian needs” (as in, “We’re going to take care of the Gaza Strip’s humanitarian needs”). Why do we say that? What happened to “human needs”?
Many, many people wrote in to say roughly this: “Humanitarian needs” puts the focus on the giver, the helper, the humanitarian. “Human needs” refers to . . . well, the people in need.
As one reader put it, “It’s all about me, me, me!” (i.e., the humanitarian, or would-be humanitarian).
May be something to that.
And the one phrase that really kills me is “humanitarian disaster,” or “humanitarian catastrophe.” What’s humanitarian about that? (The speaker really means “human disaster,” etc. But the word “human” has weirdly gone out of style.)
‐While we’re on the subject of language, I heard the British director Adrian Noble — Shakespeare guy — say something enjoyable the other day. Speaking of a guy who had the hots for a girl, he said, “He fancied her rotten.”
Must be British, and it was new to me, and I like it, rotten, you might say (I guess that doesn’t work).
‐Couple of music reviews? For a review of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, at the Metropolitan Opera, go here. And for a review of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, also at the Met, go here. Both reviews were published in the New York Sun.
Incidentally, NR’s editor, Rich Lowry, was in the house for Lucia. Afterward, he said to me, “I know what you were thinking when Lammermoor Castle security dragged Edgardo off!” I said, “Yeah, of course: ‘Don’t tase me, bro’!” Or, in Italian: Non tasarmi, fratello!
‐A general word about my mail: The most hostile writers can’t go a sentence without using the word “neocon.” And when they’re not saying “neocon,” they’re saying “Zionist.” (Some of the franker ones say “Jew,” which is better.) If it weren’t for those two words — “neocon” and “Zionist” — they would not be able to write. It would be easier for them to do without “and” and “the.”
And, of course, they wouldn’t know a neocon if one kissed them on the cheek. And they have no clearer an idea of a Zionist.
‐Remember I complained, in this column, about puns chronically in headlines — and headline cutesiness generally? One reader wrote,
The worst headline in history appeared in my small-town newspaper. (I work in Memphis but live in Mississippi.) Joe DiMaggio had been seriously ill and had shown some improvement. The headline was, “Mr. Coffee Perks Up.”
Oh, geez — terrible.
‐Friends, this has been an obnoxiously long Impromptus — and I’ve barely scratched the surface! — so I will at last get out. Reader wrote,
I’m in Windhoek, Namibia at the moment. There’s a water-saving notice in the bathroom (this is a desert, after all) and the name of the mayor is something that I’m sure you’d like. Give me a moment here; I’m literally going to haul my laptop over into the bathroom so I can type this up for you.
Cllr Dr B. Graf Finck von Finckenstein
Mayor of Windhoek
How does THAT grab you?
Grabs me great! Thank you, one and all, and see you soon.