Politics & Policy

“How original,” &c.

You probably saw it in the news the other day: Hugo Chávez called José María Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain, a fascist. And Aznar, of course, is the opposite of a fascist: He is a decentralizer, a deregulator, a free-marketeer, a democrat — a liberal (classical liberal). When Chávez called Aznar a fascist, he may have been projecting — or do the shrinks call it transference? I always forget.

We have discussed this in Impromptus many times before: the labeling of anti-collectivist democrats as fascists. The perversion of the word “fascist” is all but complete. Like every other Reagan conservative, I have been called a fascist many times. Usually happens before breakfast; sometimes the defamers wait till lunch.

And, of course, when people say “fascist,” all they mean is, “I sense you are right of center, and I hate you.” They don’t really mean “fascist”; they have no idea what the word means. One result is, when a real fascist appears, there’s no word left for him — which is a pity, if not a tragedy.

When a modern college-educated American calls someone a fascist, I assume that the person who has been attacked in this way is some sort of Jeffersonian — in other words, an anti-fascist. Like José María Aznar. Aznar actually believes that liberal democracy should be defended against Islamists who wish to kill or subjugate us. Hence, he is a “fascist.”

Earlier this week, I was telling John Derbyshire that I had lately been denounced by some ignoramuses as a fascist. And his response was priceless: “How original.” I wish you could have heard him say it. His manner — insouciance, fatigue, light contempt — made the remark even more priceless.

‐A reader sent me a link, showing how NPR handled George W. Bush’s award of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Oscar Biscet, the Cuban political prisoner. In a way, I wish I had never received the link.

The NPR person tells us that “the dissident’s views are . . . closely aligned with the Bush administration’s position”; that “Biscet’s opposition to abortion, which is practiced widely in Cuba, makes him a hero to the pro-life movement”; that the prisoner “also agrees with the Bush administration that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba should be maintained until there’s major democratic change on the island.” And so on.

At least the guy admits that Biscet is “a genuine political prisoner — jailed for his defiant opposition to Fidel Castro’s regime.”

Nonetheless, this NPR report — or commentary or whatever it is — is incredibly grudging about this honor for Biscet, and even irritated about it. The reader who sent me the link said he found the report “nauseating.” That is exactly the word. Dr. Biscet has been tortured in a totalitarian dungeon — and what our government radio does is sniff.

Please tell me, once more, why the United States, founded as a liberal republic, has government radio? And if we have to have it — does it have to be like this?

‐One of the biggest problems with Middle East Studies in the U.S. has been the Middle East Studies Association — MESA. I grew up under MESA-ites, was educated by them (or miseducated). Longtime readers may remember my accounts of misspent days in a Middle Eastern Studies department. MESA, as a whole, is dedicated to a left-wing, illiberal, Islamist-excusing position. Martin Kramer wrote an entire book about this.

At any rate, two excellent and independent thinkers — Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami — have formed a new association: the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. (You can read about it here.) The purpose of ASMEA is to break the monopoly of MESA — to provide an alternative. But we all know that monopolies do not like alternatives. In fact, they fear and loathe them, and often try to crush them.

Here’s to the prosperity of ASMEA, and to everything else that Lewis and Ajami do. They are two of the most valuable men we have.

‐In a column last week, I wrote of John Bolton’s new book, and said I found poignant the manner of his going off to college. He lived in Baltimore, went up to Yale. His father — a city firefighter — could not get the day off to take him there. John took a Trailways bus.

Why do I bring this up again? Because a sensitive and knowledgeable reader sent me a relevant picture by Norman Rockwell: here. It’s called Breaking Home Ties. If you were educated as I was, you were told that Rockwell is trite and laughable. Instead, he is talented, insightful, and wise.

‐I would like to hail two of the best pieces of journalism I have read in all of 2007. The first is by Mark Steyn, and appears in the current New Criterion: It figures in the magazine’s symposium on Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, whose 20th anniversary is being celebrated. Mark writes about music: the effects of rock and roll on all of us. Back in the late ’80s, a lot of people thought the worst chapter in Bloom’s book — indeed, the only bad one — was its chapter on popular music. Some of us thought it, not only the most important, but the best one.

If I started quoting that which is wise and delectable about Steyn’s piece, I would wind up typing out the whole thing. Let me confine myself to a couple of sentences:

Most of us have prejudices: we may not like ballet or golf, but we don’t have to worry about going to the deli and ordering a ham on rye while some ninny in tights prances around us or a fellow in plus-fours tries to chip it out of the rough behind the salad bar. Yet, in the course of a day, any number of non-rock-related transactions are accompanied by rock music.

Needless to say — I hope needless to say — the whole symposium is worth reading, and so, for that matter, is the whole magazine. The editor, Roger Kimball, is another contributor to the Bloom symposium. And he is magisterial, as always.

The other piece I wanted to spotlight is by the aforementioned John Derbyshire, who wrote satirically about the upcoming Beijing Olympics. He suggested a number of demonstration sports, for example organ extraction:

A test of speed and skill in wielding surgical instruments. A succession of convicted criminals, or members of obstreperous religious sects, are strapped to operating tables and their organs are removed without anesthetic, to be sold to intermediaries for transplant into wealthy foreigners. Points are awarded based on the total market value of the removed organs.

That the International Olympic Committee is holding the Games in a police state is a bitter shame. How do you deal with this, if you have a conscience? You can cry against it, and should. And you can also resort to wicked fun, or gallows humor — which Derbyshire has done brilliantly. Frankly, his little web job is one of the most striking pieces of journalism I can remember reading.

‐One of the things Steyn says in his New Criterion piece is that, if you don’t know classical music, you can’t enjoy jokes and such about classical music. This may be obvious, but is no less true for that. Mark talks about Looney Tunes: When a character was in a cave, the soundtrack would give us The Hebrides Overture, also known as Fingal’s Cave (Mendelssohn). How many people would get that joke now? (Realistically, how many people got the joke then?)

I thought of this when a dear friend sent me this link, showing Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye, jiving it up. They sing about dozens of composers, sounding their names, punning them — “Put Liszt on that list!”

And before I leave the subject of Danny Kaye and other artists: You may want to see Beverly Sills in action with him — here. Frankly, I believe that Sills had the greater comic gift (to go with all her others).

‐Take a little more music, in the form of reviews from the New York Sun: For the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, under Gustavo Dudamel, with Emanuel Ax, piano soloist, go here. And for the New York Philharmonic, under Xian Zhang, with Vadim Repin, violin soloist, go here.

In the latter review, I branch out from the concert to discuss an extraordinary ad, appearing in the New York Philharmonic’s program booklet — and those of the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and pretty much everyone else. The ad is very prominently placed, opposite the page giving the initial information on the performance in question. And it’s pretty much straight soft porn. A pubescent girl lies naked, her swollen red lips widely and vulgarly parted.

Above, I said this was an “extraordinary ad,” but “extraordinary” was a bad word: It is closer to routine. A few years ago, Bill Buckley wrote a long and eloquent essay about the “mainstreaming of porn.” Here is an example of it. It seems almost unfair to pick on this ad — if you’d like to see it, go here — because of its very commonness. Still, in a program booklet, when all you and your grandmother want to do is see what the orchestra is playing?

Come on.

‐Let me lighten up a sec: Did you read about the toilet king of South Korea — the guy who has made a fortune in lavatory construction and improvement? Furthermore, did you see the picture of the house he’s built — a house built like a commode (just in time for the inaugural meeting of the World Toilet Association)? No? Have I got a treat for you.

‐The other day, I identified Meredith Willson as “the composer of The Music Man.” And a reader wrote, “You had to explain who Meredith Willson was — argh! Mark Steyn is right about culture (and just about everything else).” Just about? The reader added, “My friend was the little girl in the movie who points and shouts, ‘The Wells Fargo Wagon!’”

Lovely. And I’ll leave you with my book-promo spiel — which commits the sin of identifying Meredith Willson. See you soon.

‐Friends, I’m afraid I have a book to flog. At the beginning of December, National Review will bring out Here, There & Everywhere: Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger. The book contains almost 100 pieces, on a great variety of subjects. It’s a little over 500 pages long, with a generous — and, I hope, useful — index. It is dedicated to Bill Buckley. It costs $24.95 — but we’re running an “NRO Special”: $21.95.

If you would like the book inscribed, that’s free. Or — to use an old line — you can have a “rare uninscribed copy”!

To order, please go here.

Maybe I should tell you a little about this book. It’s a grab bag, with eight chapters: “Society,” “Politics,” “People,” “The World,” “Cuba and China,” “Music,” “Golf,” and “Personal.” The pieces were written over the last dozen years: 1995-2007. Most are from National Review, but many appeared in The Weekly Standard, and some appeared in yet other publications. There are speeches, too. (Speeches, but no pontificating — I think.)

What’s in Chapter 1, “Society”? Let’s see: my bit on the honorific “Dr.” A piece on racial identification (boo, hiss!). A piece on rap and guns. A piece on the prevalence of Spanish in America. A piece on the verbotenization of “Christmas” — that sort of thing.

“Politics” contains an account of Election Night 2000, a couple of look-backs at Clinton, a piece on the New York Times, an essay called “The Joy of Tokenism.” (That springs from a visit to “Renaissance Weekend.”)

As for “People,” there are about 20 of them — people, that is. These are profiles of, or interviews with, George W. Bush, Robert Conquest, Natan Sharansky, Phil Gramm, Naguib Mahfouz, Condi Rice, Al Sharpton, Garrison Keillor, Maxine Waters, Bob Shrum, Rosie O’Donnell, Donald Rumsfeld, Cap Weinberger, Rodney Dangerfield . . . You want more? There are more!

“The World” has dispatches from Europe — East and West — and from the Middle East. A lot of Davos stuff; a speech on Solzhenitsyn. “Cuba and China” is what you’d expect. People say, “Why do you write so much about human rights in those countries?” And one answer is — because others do not.

“Golf” is a shortish chapter, but — I like to think — one of the best. I talk about Tiger, Hogan, the movies (Tin Cup, etc.) . . . “Music” contains no criticism — no pure music criticism, or practically none. Instead, these are feature pieces, largely about personalities: Pavarotti, Marilyn Horne, Meredith Willson (the composer of The Music Man), Birgit Nilsson, and so on. There are several dispatches from Salzburg. And there’s even a piece on the music of political conventions and presidential campaigns.

Finally, that chapter called “Personal” — which is autobiographical and (consequently!) often a little offbeat.

Anyway, the book, again, can be ordered here. And do you mind if I throw some blurbs at you? This is a terribly immodest act, but . . . so’s book promotion. The blurbs are from Paul Johnson, Mark Helprin, Norman Podhoretz, Mark Steyn, and Rush Limbaugh. Here you go:

Paul Johnson: “Jay Nordlinger is one of America’s most versatile and pungent writers. He is at home in geopolitics and sociology, in sport and music and literature, and to all these topics he brings an inquiring mind, deep knowledge, and an engaging style. This collection shows him at his wide-ranging best.”

Mark Helprin: “Like all great reporters and essayists, Nordlinger seizes upon the essential details that give a story life in the present and years after. What is most striking about these essays is not their integrity, fearlessness, wit, superb craftsmanship, and the long view they reveal, but that Nordlinger is a man in full. When he writes, ‘For me, the personal transcends the national, historical, and political,’ you know immediately how his portrait of our age has transcended contemporary affairs to read like history. And though always written in pursuit of the enduring and the true, his pieces are so dense in fact and sparkling anecdote that to read them is like opening one present after another. A good man is hard to find: You have found him.”

Norman Podhoretz: “No matter the subject — and what subject has he not touched upon? — Jay Nordlinger writes like the great conversationalist he is. The easy informality of his style never fails to engage and delight, the wide-ranging cultivation it reflects never fails to enlighten, and the energy that propels it never fails to amaze.”

Mark Steyn: “Unlike most of us political pundits, Jay Nordlinger has many other strings to his bow. In fact, most of us don’t even have a bow, but Jay does: You’re as likely to find him at Bayreuth or Salzburg as at a political convention. Or at Augusta National. He has what British politicians term a ‘hinterland’ — a vast array of interests beyond politics that most normal people call ‘life.’ He writes brilliantly about music, and profoundly about golf, and very perceptively about those strange little linguistic tics that seem to pop up out of nowhere and catch the spirit of the age. For his fans, this long overdue Nordlinger reader is a virtuoso display of his rare versatility, on subjects from Rummy to Rosie, Cuba to comedy, ethnic cleansing in Iraq to ‘erotic vagrancy’ in Hollywood. He is a Jay of all trades and a master of . . . well, almost all (we have a few musical differences).”

Rush Limbaugh: “Jay Nordlinger is a Renaissance man, and this book proves it. It’s witty, grabbing, and fun. Nordlinger tackles an array of issues, big and small, with rare humor and insight. He also says nice things about me — which counts for a lot. I couldn’t put it down.”

Is there any other personality like Rush’s? Thank heaven for him.

I’m done book-flogging, for now . . .

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