Here’s a pet theme of mine (I know, I have so many pet themes, I could fill a kennel, or zoo, or something): You should not have to sacrifice your children to some kind of educational-political ideology. You should not have to send your children to public schools, if those schools are failing — or even if they’re not — in order to prove your fealty to public education.
I knew people, when I was growing up, who viewed sending your kids to private schools as an act of disloyalty — to the community. I also remember a potent fact — believe it comes from the 1980s: Forty-three percent of Chicago public-school teachers (that is the number that sticks in memory) were sending their kids to private schools. These were the people who knew the public schools best.
Anyway, why am I yakking about this? Bill Cosby has done much, much good in recent years. And this article talks about his recent visit to Detroit. There is a movement called “I’m In” — as in, “I’m in” the public school system. I’m sticking with it. And Coz went around trying to convince parents to forget charter schools and the like and “support” the regular old public schools: by sending their kids there. He was extracting pledges, in a way.
The issue is not cut-and-dried. But here is a rule: A school that has to beg you to attend it — a free-of-charge school that has to beg you to attend it! — is probably not one you should be keen to go to.
‐Another pet theme, or pet peeve, of mine has to do with “safe zones” — my recent term for zones free of partisan politics. (These might include concerts, church, city tours . . .). A reader wrote me to say that he was sick of the intrusion of politics into the sports pages — hear, hear. Been singing this song forever. Those politics always — always — come from the left. And it’s easy to see why. More about that in a sec.
Anyway, my reader was irked in particular about this column, concerning Tiger Woods. The columnist wanted Woods to be more open to the media. And he wrote, “It’s not like we’re trying to pull President Obama aside for a couple of questions while he’s trying to save our country from itself.”
Yeah, yeah. Okay, here’s my theory: The sports guys are a tiny bit embarrassed — at some level — to be sportswriters. And they need to prove they’re every bit as serious — every bit as left-wing, every bit as “engaged” with the world — as the news and editorial guys. “Hey, don’t look down on me because I write about sports: I hate Bush too!”
‐Recently, I was riding through Nîmes with Tony Daniels. (I know, that’s a show-off sentence.) And he was pointing out the imposition of the ugliest, most repulsive buildings in the middle of this elegant and beautiful old town: an act of cruelty and disdain. Wanton incongruity, vandalism, in a way. To point this out is not to express a dislike of the modern. It is to express a dislike of the stupid, offensive, and destructive.
Over the years, Daniels, David Pryce-Jones, Roger Kimball, and others have made me more attentive to this. And, walking through Manhattan the other day — golf range to office — I snapped this picture. It shows an old bank (not so old, compared with Roman Nîmes!) next to a newer gray box. Why would you put one building next to the other? Why, in fact, would you erect a hideous box at all?
An old friend of mine had an expression: “It makes my eyes go yuck.” So many moderns have been dedicated to making people’s eyes go yuck. (Ears, too.) What has happened to humanity, artistically, in the space of a couple of generations? Was there nothing left to do but ruin? To “subvert,” as the cool people say?
I think I’ve told you my favorite piece of art criticism ever. On a National Review cruise — the Rhine — Paul Johnson was approaching the Cologne Cathedral. Catching sight of the recent monstrosities around it, he muttered under his breath, “Barbarians.”
‐A language question: Is all muttering under your breath? I don’t think so.
‐In a column last week, I wrote about a man named Che — not Guevara, but the new principal of my old elementary school in Ann Arbor, Mich. (His name is Che Carter, to boot!) A reader wrote, “Che is a name I hate, but should I? Maybe it should be confined to the one and only Che. Somewhat like Adolf.”
Have I ever told you this story? I think I have. Wait a second, let me Google. Okay, I’ve done it: I did tell it, in October 2002, when Adolph Green died. Here is my story:
About three seasons ago, I was in Carnegie Hall. It was halftime — but the lights were dimming, and people were scrambling back to their seats. I heard a woman say, “Adolph?” I thought: “Adolf? How unfortunate to go through life with that name. It couldn’t be other than a quite old man. In fact, I bet it’s Adolph Green.” I turned around, and there was Adolph Green, being called by his wife, Phyllis Newman.
Mind you, my thought process — or whatever you want to call it — took about 1.5 seconds. But it sort of amused me. It had to be Adolph Green. I couldn’t have even told you that he lived in New York.
(Green, incidentally — pardon if this is condescension — was a prominent writer of song lyrics.)
‐So, you want to hear about Diane Watson? Plenty of readers do. She is the congresswoman from L.A. — Democrat (really?) — who recently heaped praise on Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, the Cuban health-care system — you know the drill. Couldn’t be more typical. I commented on it in the Corner, here. If you can stomach wading into these subjects once more — knock yourself out.
‐From MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, comes a report of a beauty pageant in Saudi Arabia. Bear with us. MEMRI translates an Arabiya report, saying, “Female beauty is no longer dependent on looks alone. This has been replaced by moral values and conduct — the new criteria in the first contest of moral beauty queens in Saudi Arabia. In the contest, which was organized by a women’s festival, several girls competed for the title.”
The clip shows a bunch of ladies sitting around in burqas. It’s pretty funny, I suppose. But, you know? I kind of like the idea of this contest — kind of admire it. I think my record against “the Saudi way” is pretty clear (and extensive). This, I kind of like, and can see the point of. Is that terrible? Well, if so, so be it.
‐Al-Azhar University in Cairo is the center of Islamic learning and teaching in the world. (Certainly where Sunni Islam is concerned.) And MEMRI brings us a nugget from this esteemed place, here. It has to do with premarital etiquette, and is not for the fainthearted, or faint-nosed.
In a TV interview, Prof. Sabri Abd al-Rauf says, “The mother [of the bridegroom] and other female relatives may look at the bride’s hair and neck, and may smell her private parts.” The interviewer says, “Smell what?!” (Good question.) The professor says, “Her armpits, for example. Some women and girls sweat, and there are men who are nauseated by this.” Interviewer: “So the mother may check to make sure.” Professor: “The mother may go near the bride, in order to check whether she smells good or bad. There is nothing to prevent this. But the groom is forbidden to look at any part of her except her face and hands.”
Just in case you were wondering.
‐When I read this story a couple of weeks ago, I felt some shivers down my spine. (Does that sound too much like Chris Matthews on Obama?) The headline, “Hungary remembers picnic that cracked Iron Curtain.” The article begins,
It was a picnic that changed the course of history.
Twenty years ago Wednesday, members of Hungary’s budding opposition organized a picnic at the border with Austria to press for greater political freedom and promote friendship with their Western neighbors.
Some 600 East Germans got word of the event and turned up among the estimated 10,000 participants. They had a plan: to take advantage of an excursion across the border to escape to Austria. . . .
One of the key factors allowing the Germans to escape: the decision by a Hungarian border guard commander not to stop them as they pushed through to freedom.
His name was Bella (appropriately).
Once the initial group got through hundreds more East Germans joined them. Still vivid in Bella’s mind [were] the reactions of the Germans, including many young people and families with small children, once they were on the other side.
“They embraced, they kissed, they cried and laughed in their joy. Some sat down right across the border, others had to be stopped by the Austrian guards because they kept running and didn’t believe they were in Austria,” Bella said. “It was an incredible experience for them.”
If you want to be amazed and gratified, I think this humble wire-service article might do the trick.
‐I don’t know about you, but, when I was growing up, I was taught that East Germany — “the German Democratic Republic” — was a benign, and even an admirable country: some blend of “Western” “political rights” and “Eastern” “social rights.” What a crock.
‐Care for a little language? An editor friend writes, “Jay, the use of ‘hair-brained’ really bugs me, too. Reminded me that an especially snobby editor at the press I worked for wrote ‘baited breath.’ [Typical — the snobby ones are usually dufuses.] And here’s another one: ‘a real trooper.’”
‐A reader writes,
Hi, Mr. Nordlinger,
I was amused by something in the New York Times today. In a review of True Blood, Ginia Bellafante writes, “. . . it was easy to assume [the show] was a metaphor for late-stage capitalism gone haywire.” “Late-stage capitalism”? Sounds like she’s describing a disease, and here I thought that Communism was the malignancy.
Maybe the New York Times can explain to us at some point what its writers mean by “late-stage capitalism.” But we know, don’t we? Just the usual Marxian claptrap.
‐Painful, painful to see that Jack Nicklaus is going to be the ceremonial starter at the Masters — hitting a drive on the first tee, the way Gene Sarazen and others did when they were rickety. Can it possibly be? Nicklaus and Palmer are known as “honorary” starters, not “ceremonial” ones. I don’t care if they call it a ham sandwich, they’re still ceremonial starters, and that Jack should be in this position now: Well, it’s almost too much to bear.
I guess I think he should be winning Masters tournaments. But that’s a silly thought. Leontyne Price should be singing Aida somewhere next week too.
‐Want to hear some more about the Salzburg Festival? I’ve been dribbling nuggets in recent columns. As usual, I did some public interviews for the Salzburg Festival Society — seven of them. We had Gerald Finley, the Canadian baritone. He defended the festival’s screwy Mozart productions, and did so gamely — as ably as one could. No sale with me, but at least he’s a believer, and a very intelligent one. Then we had Isabel Leonard, the young New York mezzo sensation. She is the complete package: intelligence, talent, glamour, down-to-earthness, etc., etc. Nature simply rained goods on her.
Who next? Gabriela Montero, the Venezuelan pianist, known in particular for improvisations. She proved a 100 percent delight. Then Steven Isserlis, the British cellist, and Joshua Bell, the superstar Hoosier violinist. (They were playing chamber music together at the festival.) Bell said something very funny: He was talking about how it’s hard to get a sound on the violin, and less hard to get one on the piano. He cracked, “Playing the piano — you might as well be typing.” He was kidding, mind you — but very, very funny.
We had Joseph Kaiser, the young Canadian tenor. He said the two best singing experiences he has ever had are singing the national anthem at Montreal Canadiens games — he is bidding fair to be the Kate Smith of the Canadiens — and singing in his parents’ synagogue. Very touching. Then we had Markus Hinterhäuser, the festival’s debonair director of concerts. He is a particularly big fan of Leonard Cohen — very interesting to hear. And, finally, we had the Emerson String Quartet — two members, Eugene Drucker, a violinist, and Lawrence Dutton, the violist. Both very, very thoughtful guys.
Two funny things from Dutton: He said, “The standard definition of a string quartet is one good violinist [the first violinist], one bad violinist [the second violinist], one former violinist [the violist], and one guy who hates violinists [the cellist].” At some point, I said to him, “Larry, why do they tell viola jokes? Why do they pick on viola players?” And he gave an awfully surprising answer — at least surprising to me. He said, “Because the quality of viola playing has been so poor. The jokes are deserved.” Even now, said Dutton, the violinists are a much better crop of musicians than the violists.
Whoa, I’ve gone on a long time in this column, and you’ve got pre-Labor Day Weekend work to do! Thanks for joining me, and see you, dearhearts.