I wonder what people, generations from now, will think about our current obsession with — not to say hysteria over — global warming. Paul Johnson, for one, thinks that people will think we underwent a bout of mass madness. I imagine they will. Senator Stabenow, from my home state of Michigan, has said, “Climate change is very real. Global warming creates volatility. I feel it when I’m flying.” This is the type of thing that kindergarteners might say, before being gently disabused by their parents.
And what about the secretary-general of the United Nations? In a recent speech, he said, “We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet.” (If you’re interested in the full speech, go here.)
Here is my question: How do the global-warming people expect to be taken seriously when they talk that way? How? Who can take them seriously? I know they want to rev people up, and don’t mind a little exaggeration. But how can they go as far as they do without losing all credibility — indeed, without appearing less than sane?
If only people were as alarmed about Iran’s nuclear program as they are about global warming . . . Come to think of it, there’s probably not a lot of global-warming hysteria in Israel.
‐Betsey Wright is in the news again — a real blast from the past. She was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff in Arkansas, as you recall. Also a key operative in his ’92 presidential campaign. She was a tamper-down of what she called “bimbo eruptions.” This is when women who were supposed to keep mum, talked.
Well, Betsey Wright is now “facing 51 felony charges of attempting to smuggle needles and knives onto Arkansas’s death row,” in the words of one report. Holy Moses. And we are reminded what a carnival the eight years of Clinton were.
In a 2001 interview, then-senator Phil Gramm told me, “The good news is that, in eight years, Bill Clinton did America relatively little harm.” His domestic agenda was thwarted by a surprise Republican Congress. And though his foreign policy was “weak,” “without Ivan at the gate, it didn’t make any difference.” (Pure Gramm.)
For many conservatives, Clinton’s carnival years may wind up preferable to Barack Obama’s sober, state-aggrandizing years. Me, I’ll have to think about it . . .
‐I always marveled, a bit, at that spelling of Betsy: “Betsey.” And I was having to tell someone the other day — when the subject of surgeons general was in the air — that it was “Joycelyn” Elders — Joy-celyn — not the traditional “Jocelyn.” It still did not seep into my friend.
‐Have seen it a million times — all my life. Perhaps you have too. There is a type of American who is loath to make any criticism of any other country or culture, without at the same time knocking his own. This type is scared to death that he will be ethnocentric, racist, imperialist, colonialist, and every other Bad Thing. Remember when our U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, said that he could not really criticize the holding of political prisoners in other countries, because America held political prisoners of its own? That is the impulse, the psychic necessity. Even if you have to lie, you can’t say or imply that your country (if it is America) is better than any other, in any respect.
Africa is a tragicomedy of corruption: electoral, financial, etc. So, while on that continent, secretary of state Hillary Clinton had to say, “Our democracy is still evolving. You know, we had some problems in some of our presidential elections. As you may remember, in 2000 our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of one of the men running for president was governor of the state. So we have our problems too.”
Sister, Jeb didn’t have one thing to do with it. And, in a very few months, the Obama administration has appalled in a thousand ways.
There was a time when I thought like Hillary Clinton — and the mid-’70s Andrew Young — too. But then I turned, like, 19. And I repeat an old, mean point of mine: So much of contemporary liberalism seems to be never having grown up. I’m sorry for the insult, but that has impressed me as true throughout my adult life. And I keep seeing the impression reinforced.
‐Speaking of “wrong” spellings: What about “Hillary”?
‐Was somewhat amused by this story, and maybe you will be, too:
A former top official for Voice of America was indicted Friday on corruption charges, accused of taking thousands of dollars in concert and sports tickets in exchange for favors to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Horace Cooper, who is also a one-time aide to former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is accused of defrauding the government after getting choice seats to see ’N Sync, the Dixie Chicks, and Bruce Springsteen, among others.
I don’t know anything about ’N Sync, I hate to tell you. And I know fairly little about the Dixie Chicks and Bruce Springsteen. But aren’t the Chicks and Bruce supposed to be sworn enemies of the Republicans, and vice versa? Nice to see that this Cooper separated his political views from his art. (Art!)
‐Slightly surprised they don’t spell it “Dixie Chix” . . .
‐Barack Obama is an utterly orthodox, hidebound liberal Democrat, and long has been, whatever his pretensions to interesting thought. The guy is simply a mossy McGovernite, with a gift for rhetorical uplift. (At least some think so.) During last year’s presidential campaign, he was sometimes asked how he departed from liberal-Democratic orthodoxy. And he would always say something about annoying the teachers’ unions.
You know, I’m inclined to believe him. I was somewhat comforted to read, “The National Education Association pointedly criticized the Obama administration, saying the president is relying too heavily on charter schools and standardized tests in his attempt to overhaul the nation’s schools.” (Full article here.) Good. And maybe I should say the president is an almost utterly orthodox, hidebound liberal Democrat.
‐Care for a little language? A big-time columnist in a big-time magazine wrote “hair-brained” instead of “hare-brained.” A common mistake. Of course, hairs must not have very big brains either . . .
‐Was reading an article in which Daniel Barenboim was talking about his late friend Edward Said. He was dedicating a concert to him. Said’s favorite was Bach, but Barenboim’s program was Berg and Berlioz. Asked why, “Barenboim said he could only respond with some Jewish humor. ‘Why not?’ he answered.”
That is Jewish humor? If so, it has suffered a serious decline in quality.
‐Friends, I have been in Europe for a few weeks — first France for a bit, then Salzburg (where I was working at the festival). Jotted some notes for you — may I give you a few pertaining to France?
I saw signs and such translated into two languages: English and Arabic. When I first started going to France, the only translation was into English, and possibly German. This confirms an important change. (And lest you accuse me of being anti-Arabic, I studied it in college. You?)
‐Anthony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple) cites an ominous development in France: an upsurge in tattooing. Frenchmen are getting tattooed with something like British, downward-spiraling zeal. That should disturb admirers of France, says Tony, and when is he ever wrong? (Seriously.)
(His essay on tattooing — its social import — is one of his greats. Of course, that can be said about dozens of his essays.)
‐Friends served me a piece of veal — and I thought I had ascended to heaven. Now, I don’t particularly like veal. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t hunger for it. This was just about the tastiest thing I can remember. So tasty, I had to investigate: had to find out why this was so. Just a simply grilled piece of veal, I was told. Nothing fancy, nothing added. But I believe I discovered the secret of this taste: the presence of fat — sufficient fat, certainly around this chop (or whatever it was). The word “succulent” was practically invented for this veal.
I guess there is a price to be paid for our lean-and-mean culture — for a culture that goes “Eek!” at the sight of fat. A price in taste. Is that right? I don’t pretend to be Julia Child, or even Julia Newborn. I mean, I’m an appreciator, not a practitioner or knower.
‐So, I’m having a walk in a remote area, in a solid and rather pleasant rain. I was surprised when a family (of vacationers) stopped to ask me if I needed a ride somewhere. Does that still happen in America? I suppose it does. Or maybe we assume the walker is an ax-murderer-in-waiting . . .
‐Saw a lot of long hair in France — long hair on men, I mean. Far more than in our country. You know the expression, “If you got it, flaunt it?” Well, if you can grow it — what the hell . . .
‐I remember, when I first started going to Salzburg, being surprised by some of the taxi drivers: who were pleasant women. You’d want a cab at like midnight, and up would drive this nice, perfumed lady, just as natural as could be. That is not the case in New York (where I live). And no partition in the cab, either! Also, some of the men would be dressed in tweed jackets, with elbow patches — looking for all the world like professors.
Well, in Lyons one afternoon, I had a bus driver — a city-bus driver — who was a very attractive, chic young woman with a nose ring. She did not look at all like Ralph Kramden.
Interesting (to me).
‐Also interesting: seatbelts on French buses. Do we have seatbelts on our buses? I don’t think so, which is odd, given what a safety-mad and litigious society we are.
‐While in Lyons, spotted an Ecole Rockefeller. Those people get around, don’t they? (And spread it around — though not in an Obama way. It’s their own money.)
‐Lyons is known as the gastronomic capital of France — which some people think would make it the gastronomic capital of the world. I did not have a chance to eat a meal in Lyons this time. Had to be at the airport. So there I was, at basically a little Italian food stand, feeling sorry for myself — until I started eating the food from this little stand: a ham sandwich (essentially) on ciabatta; some kind of lemon soda; and, for dessert, a Magnum “double chocolate” bar.
Heaven. Could not have been happier in a starry restaurant downtown. Really.
‐May I walk down Memory Lane for a second? The above words about the gastronomic capital of the world reminded me of something. There’s that little plaque in the ground outside Notre Dame. (The cathedral in Paris — not Knute Rockne’s place.) And I asked a professor (of French), “That marks the center of Paris, doesn’t it?” He answered, with a twinkle, “De l’univers, mon ami, de l’univers!”
‐The Lyons airport, as you may know, is the Saint-Exupéry Airport. And I was thinking: “You may find The Little Prince dorky. But, really, don’t you wish you had written it? It will outlast all those who snicker at it, believe me.”
‐Amazing how, when planes fly within Europe, they often take off early — not on time, but early. Because everyone is on board, and why not go? At least that has been my experience. I don’t recall having such an experience — at least not lately — at home. Was it ever so?
I loved hearing WFB talk about the old days of flying: “Hey, Mr. Buckley, nice to see you. You ready to go?” Of course, I liked hearing him talk about just about anything.
‐Every time I write about Lyons — which isn’t often, granted — a couple of slobs e-mail me to say, “It’s Lyon, not Lyons.” In truth, it is “Lyon” in French, and “Lyons” in English. This column is in English. Please don’t write me.
Unless you can be nice!
Hey, did you miss Impromptus yesterday? Find it here. Bless you, see you!