I’d like to start out with kind of a funny item — on just a fragment of a sentence. I have not read the piece on Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair (here); I intend to read it later. But I’ve read the little blurb that precedes the piece. Actually, I’ve read just part of the opening sentence of that blurb.
The sentence begins, “Despite her disastrous performance in the 2008 election, Sarah Palin . . .”
Okay, was it? Was Palin’s performance disastrous? There were bad moments and incidents, to be sure — particularly the Katie Couric interview, as I recall. (I thought that the Charles Gibson one was not nearly as bad as some other people thought. I also thought that the interview reflected far worse on Gibson than on Palin.) But Palin had some very, very good moments — starting with that boffo, electric acceptance speech. And she was generally good — quite good — on the stump.
Also, consider this: John McCain has had about 3,000 debates on the national stage, running for president all those years. Palin has had exactly one. Who did better: the GOP presidential nominee, in his three debates last fall, or the vice-presidential nominee in her one — in her maiden effort?
Just sayin’ . . .
‐You always suspected that my reading consisted of fragments of sentences, right? (Don’t answer, please.)
‐So, President Obama has hosted a gay-rights event at the White House. Does it matter, much, that his position on gay marriage is the same as Carrie Prejean’s? (His stated position, I mean.) I was interested to note that the president said to the crowd, “I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.”
I find that an intriguing sentence, particularly the “you guys.” If another president had used those words, to another interest group . . .
‐On the subject of ways to save energy, Obama said, “I know light bulbs may not seem sexy, but . . .” Oh, Mr. President, you know you can make anything sexy. Just ask your press corps.
‐Dick Cheney has found a way of crystallizing what a lot of us have been saying, and writing, for years. He said, “I hope the Iraqis can deal with it,” meaning the American pullback. “At some point they have to stand on their own, but I would not want to see the U.S. waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point.”
Exactly. I and others have said just that, in a thousand different ways, for years. I have particularly written about the specter of Vietnam (which I’m afraid “haunted” me — forgive the cliché — when I was on Iraqi soil itself). He is valuable, Cheney, in office and out.
‐Stories about the Khmer Rouge are hard to read. But you may want to spend a second with this one. A man named Chum Mey was tortured unspeakably, and he lost his wife and child. “Lost” is a euphemism: They were murdered by the Communists. His life was spared, it seems, because his torturers figured out that “he had a useful skill.” (I am now quoting the article.) “He was put to work fixing his jailers’ cars, tractors, sewing machines and typewriters.”
Some lives in the Holocaust were spared for similar reasons.
Like many others caught in the Khmer Rouge nightmare, Chum Mey was accused of working for the CIA. And, in court recently, he turned to a former prison official and asked why this was so. The man’s name is Duch. Here is the linked-to article:
Duch remained silent until a judge ordered him to speak. The 66-year-old calmly answered that the term CIA was used to refer to anyone who opposed the Khmer Rouge — but it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
“The real CIA is different from people accused by the regime of being CIA,” Duch said. “You were identified as someone who opposed the regime, that’s why we called you CIA.”
Funny, but I grew up with some people who did that: called what they didn’t like “CIA.”
‐A man named Chris Leggett was doing humanitarian work in Mauritania, an “Islamic republic” in northwest Africa. He helped run a school that teaches computer skills to prisoners. On June 23, he was murdered by Islamists — Qaeda types.
At the beginning of this week, his parents released a statement saying, “In the spirit of love, we forgive those who took the life of our remarkable son . . . and we ask simply that the law be applied to those who killed him.”
Boy, that was fast: the forgiveness, I mean. (For a news article, go here.)
‐Ladies and gentlemen, this is a story you would not ordinarily read — but you read such stories from Khaled Abu Toameh, the indispensable and well-nigh unique Palestinian journalist. He wrote,
Egyptian border police guards last week shot and killed another African migrant who tried to infiltrate the border into Israel.
Over the past three years, more than 60 African nationals, including women and children, have been shot and killed and hundreds others wounded or detained by Egyptian police guards in the Sinai Peninsula.
Most of the migrants were Christians from Ivory Coast, Sudan and Eritrea.
They were not trying to smuggle weapons to Hamas. Nor were they trying to smuggle drugs. They were simply on their way to search for work and good life in Israel.
One of the victims was a seven-year-old Eritrean girl who was shot to death by the Egyptians as she and her mother tried to cross the border into Israel. The mother was arrested and sent to prison in Egypt.
The crackdown on the African migrants, which began about four years ago, raises many questions as to the way the Egyptians are handling security matters along their borders.
This story is virtually unknown throughout the world. If the Israeli government were handling African migrants this way — do you think the story would be virtually unknown? (Yes, I specialize in the easy points.) (For the whole article, go here.)
‐I have written before about Joel Beinin, once a professor of mine. You might say he epitomizes the Middle East Studies Association, and, indeed, he has been president of that organization. A piece about him appears under the aegis of the Hudson Institute. And I link to it in part for this reason: It is written by a journalist who has one of the great names in this profession, and, indeed, in all of life: Cinnamon Stillwell.
‐I was reading Roger Kimball — one of the most rewarding things I know to do — and was pleased to see a statement by Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana. He refers to Obama’s programs as “shock-and-awe statism.” Just so. Also, Roger provides a Hayek quotation of screaming relevance:
“It may sound noble to say, ‘Damn economics, let us build up a decent world’” — through socialist programs, in short — “but it is, in fact, merely irresponsible.”
Find this particular Roger column here.
‐A reader says that he recently picked up a 2008 reprint of Chesterton’s Everlasting Man. And our reader was surprised to find a disclaimer by the publisher on the title page:
“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work.”
And here I’ll let our reader take over:
As my father-in-law would say, this is ludicrous! It is wrong in so many ways I don’t know where to begin. In the first place, it is an act of cowardice on the part of the publishers. If they were ashamed of the content, why did they print it in the first place? It is also an act of arrogance: How dare they presume to know how Chesterton would have written his book today? Or to apologize on his behalf? Somehow, I find it difficult to imagine that Chesterton would have been cowed by the strictures of political correctness. . . .
If the publisher had included a preface that properly discussed the issues they fear may be of concern, that would be one thing. But to print a cigarette-packet-style warning so that parents can prepare their children for the “horrors” ahead is unseemly.
Very modern. Very dumb.
‐Let’s have a little language: I saw a headline that said, “Judge calls crimes ‘extraordinarily evil.’” The story was about Bernard Madoff. I don’t believe that the word “evil” should be modified by a word such as “extraordinarily.” Evil is evil. It is, as Norman Podhoretz once said, “the strongest of all epithets.” It is cheapened, somehow, by such modifiers as “extraordinarily.” At least I think so.
David Axelrod, President Obama’s political adviser, said, “I think the president’s sense of solicitude with those young people has been very, very clear . . .” He was talking about Iran and its protesters. “Solicitude” works. But I actually think Axelrod meant to say “solidarity.”
In my column Tuesday, I discussed the phrase “going commando” — which means, or can mean, to go without underwear. This elicited a ton of mail. The mail included many pop-culture references to “going commando.” A reader sent me clips from Friends (here and here). Another reader says,
Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer went commando? Greatest line in the episode (courtesy of Elaine): “You mean there’s only one layer between us and . . . him?”
‐Quick Che item — or rather, a Che-related letter. A reader has one of those Reagan T-shirts done Che-style. And he says,
I’ve worn the shirt in Manhattan from time to time, and the reaction has been pretty negative, especially on the Upper East Side, where I used to live until I moved to Westchester. I’ve even gotten grief from a black passerby on Park Avenue who said I should be ashamed to wear a shirt that glorifies the man who did so much to keep black folk down. (I’m a black man myself.) I would have given him a witty response, defending the president, but I don’t think my critic was in a debating mood.
They usually aren’t.
‐An Italian-American reader of mine had an interesting reaction to the Ricci verdict and news:
Grew up in KC, Mo., in the Forties and Fifties, and we Italian newcomers were not considered white. I can’t figure out if we got a promotion or a demotion. I mean, just as it’s time to line up for minority benefits, we get bumped to the back of the line for being white. Heck, here in Los Angeles people refer to me as Anglo. Imagine that, in the very place where Rudolph Valentino was the original Latin Lover.
Damn, is this country screwy on race/ethnicity.
‐Have another letter from a reader — responding to an item I had about racial politics in a certain Tennessee congressional district:
I read with interest your column of June 24. We live in Mr. Cohen’s district. (He is, by the way, very liberal and a generous Bush-basher.) [Oh, yeah.] You wrote,
“How about people just elect representatives they want, race aside? How about evaluating candidates on beliefs, experience, and character? How about seeing candidates as Americans, or even mere human beings, rather than as bearers of a skin color?”
My daughter teaches at an elementary school in this district and is the only white teacher on the staff. In the summertime she gets very tan — so tan that her students think she is a “light skinned” black. As the year wears on and she loses her color, her students will ask her if she is white. She refuses to answer, and tells her students that it doesn’t matter anyway. Since these are third-graders, it usually stops there. Not so for the teachers. One asked, “What are you?” They wonder if she is half black or Latino or something. Her reply — “A teacher.” (We are of Scandinavian descent.)
That reminds me of a story. I have a friend whose wife is a beautiful schoolteacher. She is of Italian ancestry, I believe. And she too tans darkish. A black pupil said to her, “Mrs. [So-and-so], are you mixed?” She answered, “No, Darren, I’m white.” The little boy took her arm, examined it, held it up to his own, and said, “I think you’re mixed.” Truth is, he loved her so much, he wanted to share a racial heritage with her.
I love the memory of that story.
‐Care for a little ballet news? Nina Ananiashvili, one of the world’s greatest dancers — one of history’s greatest dancers — has retired. At least she has danced her final performance for the American Ballet Theatre, at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her farewell, on June 27, was in Swan Lake. But she can dance virtually anything.
As I’ve mentioned in this space before, she is one of the greatest artists or performers — any medium — I have ever experienced. She is full of musicality, intelligence, ability, adaptability. She simply has the gift of “knowing”: of knowing how to move, of knowing how to be. She has this knowing, mentally, and she can execute, physically. Therefore, the world is her oyster.
I have frequently said that I often have trouble recognizing Ananiashvili onstage. She seems to change appearance, with every role she dances — or with different acts, within the same role. This is not a matter of costume: It is a matter of — attitude, I guess. It is a mental, spiritual, or theatrical thing. She is almost a shape-shifter, a dancing chameleon.
And she is a model of longevity: Ananiashvili is now 46 — ancient for a ballerina — and is almost cruelly fresh. Cruel because her disappearance from the stage seems unnecessary and premature.
Look, I’m glad I heard Milstein, I’m glad I heard Kubelik, I’m glad I heard Horowitz and Gilels and Leontyne Price and a lot of people. In the same spirit, I am very, very glad I witnessed Ananiashvili.
‐In Tuesday’s Impromptus, I talked about a stamp bearing two rings — two wedding rings. A postage stamp, I mean. It came to me on a wedding invitation. Reader writes,
When I married, I was in the unusual situation (at least I think unusual) of having to make almost all the arrangements. My wife is from the Czech Republic, so was not familiar with everything involved with producing an American wedding.
We went to the post office together to send the invitations and she noticed I used the Ronald Reagan stamp in circulation at the time. She asked why that one instead of more traditional options. “Because without him, we would not be talking right now,” was my reply.
My dear bride-to-be offered no objection. We are now five years into happily ever after.
You can trust this column to mix Reagan and romance, can’t you? Have a great — long, I hope — weekend, and Happy Fourth of July!