Friends, a week ago I put some notes on WFB in Impromptus. (That column is here.) Want a few more notes? Just a few more?
You know that he loved peanut butter. Ate it every morning of his life. Took it everywhere he went (because sometimes you couldn’t get it). But did you also know he had a thing for coffee ice cream? Yes — a real jones for it. I introduced him to Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch — one of the best things on the planet.
(Yes, I know that they are communists or whatever. Just eat the ice cream.)
Note 2: Years ago, I had a spot of trouble finding housing in Manhattan. And he said to me, “Do you know I’m a closet George-ite?” He meant the 19th-century American economist and social thinker Henry George (author of Progress and Poverty).
Note 3: A friend of mine reminded me of this, and urged me to tell it. Okay: It was New Year’s Eve. No, it was the evening of New Year’s Day. We were at Stamford, and the household staff had the day off. We were on our own for dinner. Bill said he’d just discovered this marvelous new place in town: Kentucky Fried Chicken. He related this as though it were novel and exotic. He would go pick up the grub.
When he came back, he said he’d had trouble understanding the young lady behind the counter. She’d said, “Do you want unnnh or hnnnh?” (I wish you could have heard Bill say this.) He had her repeat it — still couldn’t understand her. Then he had the wit to say, “What’s the difference?” (She might have been asking about regular or extra crispy — I’m afraid I don’t know.)
That story is not so funny on the page, I see (at least as I have typed it). But, at the time, it was funny as hell, trust me.
And a P.S.: Pat did the dishes that night. She really did — and did so elegantly.
‐A conscientious reader forwarded to me an article last week, and had but one comment to make: “I am sickened.” That speaks for me, too. The article was headlined, “Chertoff scolded for lack of staff’s diversity.”
Remember how 9/11 was supposed to change everything? From then on, we were supposed to concentrate on important things, and be one America. We were to leave behind the frivolous racialism that had preoccupied us in the past. We had bigger fish to fry.
No way. Six and a half years have gone by, with no further serious attack. So we can afford to revert, or so people think. We can afford to go around with clipboards checking the biological makeup of Homeland Security employees.
One passage from the article: “In what appeared to be a sort of diversity sting operation, Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, led off his questions to Mr. Chertoff by demanding that the secretary’s staff stand up to be scrutinized.” Why didn’t he demand that they give blood samples?
You will be happy to know — or not — that, regardless of 9/11, America is still America. Not only did 9/11 not change everything; I’m not sure it changed anything at all.
‐Be sure you know the name of Eliécer Ávila Sicilia. He is a computer-science student in Cuba, and amazing. He did something unthinkable: He questioned Ricardo Alarcón, head of the sham legislature known as the Cuban National Assembly, in a public forum. This young man asked Alarcón why Cubans are not allowed to travel abroad. He also asked why they are forbidden to enter certain hotels on the island. (They are foreigners-only.)
Alarcón, disturbed, both ducked the questions and lied. He said that, in the U.S., Hispanics are kicked out of stores, because of their appearance. In any case, how does that address the “tourism apartheid,” as it’s known, in Cuba?
If you want to see a video of Ávila Sicilia, questioning Alarcón, go here. Shortly after this event, the young man was arrested by State Security. And shortly after that, he issued a kind of recantation — you can read about it on Marc Masferrer’s blog.
In any event, Eliécer Ávila Sicilia: a name worth remembering.
‐And bless the name of Bjork, the Icelandic pop star. At the end of a concert in Shanghai, she sang a song called “Declare Independence” — and yelled “Tibet!” several times. Afterward, the Ministry of Culture declared, “We shall never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from China and will no longer welcome any artists who deliberately do this.”
Oh, Bjork, you are good. Thank you. None of the other foreigners who go to China — pop musicians, classical musicians, businessmen, etc. — utter a peep. Ever.
Again, thank you.
‐Was very amused by something a friend sent me. He cited a New Yorker piece on Michelle Obama: “. . . she is not a repressed intellectual, in the mode of Teresa Heinz Kerry.” He said, “Huh??? Did we all miss something four years ago?”
Well, that election is over, so it’s safe now, you see?
‐I was reading an airline magazine, and there was a feature on Elle Macpherson. You naturally turn to that. And she gave her “holiday reading” (I don’t know what the holiday was): The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook (natch). And anything by Noam Chomsky.
Oh, Elle. Come on! My hope is, she has never heard of Chomsky — or the Survival Handbook — and that these readings were supplied on Elle’s behalf by some leftoid PR man.
Again, that is my hope . . .
‐A little fun with inscriptions? A buyer of the above-advertised book said, “Jay, please inscribe it this way: Recommend a cocktail to be enjoyed while reading your book. Or, if you want, give a recipe for one.” I wrote, “Honestly, I would recommend a chocolate milkshake.” Actually, two.
‐NRO published an excerpt from that book called “A Man and His Primer: On (not) learning Greek” (here). And I received a letter I thought you might like:
It has always been an odd fact to me that, the more we pour into education, the less we seem to get in return. My father, now 95, received only an eighth-grade education (in the proverbial one-room schoolhouse) yet supported my mother, my brother, my sister, and me in a good manner. He was able to purchase a small farm and in his retirement, at 72, started a business recycling forklift masts for use on farm tractors. In my youth, his math skills exceeded, sadly, those of some of my teachers.
Like you, I have a penchant for old books, some of which we use in homeschooling our seven-year-old daughter. I recently came across a volume entitled Mathematics We Use, by Brueckner and Grossnickle. This book, from 1948, covers budgets, profit and loss, balancing a checkbook, cost of operating a car, cost of credit, and planning for retirement. If this book had been used in the past three decades, chances are we would not have the current sub-prime and consumer-credit crisis.
I received a fair education until high school. Our high school was constantly the center of racial strife when I attended in the early ’70s, so much so that the only thing I can credit the school with teaching me is how to escape from a riot. I was totally unprepared for college, and refused to allow my parents to send me. I attended the local community college part time for the next six years, obtaining an AS in pre-engineering. I paid the bills by working as a draftsman.
I applied to every school within four hours of my parents’ farm, finally attending the University of Iowa’s College of Electrical Engineering, graduating in ’89 with a BS. I now work as a network consultant in the South.
And I have little sympathy for those who whine that they can’t get an education. It’s there for the taking, but one has to get off one’s posterior and work to achieve that goal, as one must do for any worthwhile investment.
What a wonderful man.
‐A friend of mine sent me an article from the Daily Princetonian, the paper of Princeton University. She said, “Everything you need to know is contained in the first sentence — particularly in the first word, ‘All.’” That sentence? “All Princeton faculty members who have given to 2008 presidential candidates so far have donated to Democrats, according to federal records of donations to presidential campaigns from Princeton University employees.”
Well, it might as well be unanimous!
‐In my India journal — published on NRO from February 19 to February 28, and available in this archive — I quoted a distinguished intellectual, who lives in Bharuch, Gujarat. He attended an American college (Wash U) in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And he loved what he found — including Oklahoma!, the Rodgers & Hammerstein masterpiece. He especially liked the words to one song: “Oh, what a beautiful morning. Oh, what a beautiful day. I’ve got a wonderful feeling everything’s going my way.” He thought that this represented the openness and optimism of America.
My colleague Richard Brookhiser commented, “Marvelous. Of course now his kids, or grandchildren, are quoting Tupac. We don’t realize the power of our forms of expression, high and low, even in India, which has its own thriving media.”
There is a lot of wisdom packed into that brief remark.
‐I thought that this letter, from a reader, was one of the funniest I have received in ages — maybe the funniest:
“I was surprised that you didn’t break out of your Indian travelogue to comment on current events. Castro stepped down, and SDI worked. What stronger Nordlinger lure did you need, an opera about Tiger Woods?”
‐Another letter from a reader:
“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: A few weeks ago, I made the call to 1-800-NYTIMES and canceled my subscription. The person said, ‘But Mr. [Smith], you have been a subscriber for 17 years.’ I thought, ‘I was also a smoker for 17-plus years when I went cold turkey 25-plus years ago.’”
That letter just struck me funny.
‐This is not the sort of letter you will read every day — and I was so glad to receive it:
I read your Davos journal, and you met some very interesting people. But I was particularly jealous that you ran into Dan and Marilyn Quayle. I have such respect for them both and the way they conduct themselves. I have always been furious at the treatment of Vice President Quayle during his tenure. The whole Murphy Brown thing — he was right all along. I preached this (as the father of two girls) to anyone who would listen. Time has proven him wise. I would tell him as much if I met him. He was my hero (and still is!).
‐Finally, I will excerpt a letter from Weirton, W.V. — very cool:
My father-in-law surprised me with an autographed copy of your book for Christmas. You know, it’s probably in part because of you that I have such a wonderful set of in-laws in the first place — I often include what you say in my blog. Said blog caught the attention of my father-in-law, who shared it with his wife, who shared it with her (then) single son, who was living in the no-man’s-land of San Francisco. He returned home to a new job, fired up a correspondence with me, “bumped into” me at church — through no small machinations on his part, I assure you — and here we are in happily-ever-after. Ah, what joys National Review hath wrought!
Marvelous. See you soon.