In China, a student asked President Obama, “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” You and I might have said, “Yes.” President Obama began, “Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter. My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.” He went on, “I should be honest. As president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely, because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time.” Yet “in the United States, information is free.” And “I have a lot of critics . . . who can say all kinds of things about me.” And “I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”
You could argue that this is a clever, nuanced answer — not too brash. But isn’t the answer weirdly me-centric, Obama-centric? And doesn’t he argue from pragmatism — “It makes me a better leader”? How about principle: the principle of free speech, freedom of expression?
I really think a simple “yes” might have been better.
One more thing: Obama said, “There are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely.” Did he mean that, or was that just a matter of rhetoric?
‐Speaking of what our president means and doesn’t mean: You might have said that the bow to the Saudi king was just a slip-up — some sort of presidential Tourette’s, a weird, anomalous moment. But the bow to the Japanese emperor: That shows us that Obama really, really means these bows. Which is frankly bizarre. I can think of some national leaders — in Israel, Honduras, and Eastern Europe — who do not require bows. Just a little presidential respect.
‐Obama was asked about his new strategy for Afghanistan. He said, “This decision will put us on a path towards ending the war.” I might have liked it better if he had said, “put us on a path towards winning the war.” But perhaps Obama — like many others — thinks that “winning” is the wrong concept for Afghanistan, and an unreasonable one.
‐We can agree — can’t we, conservatives? — that the federal government spends money on things it has no business spending money on. The Constitution often seems an afterthought, at best. Bill Buckley used to scoff at “free false teeth”: The government would spend money on “free false teeth or whatever.” It was one of the great WFB dismissive lines. But we can agree that, if federal dollars can be spent on anything, they can be spent on the wars we fight — such as in Afghanistan. That’s why it is so vexing to hear the Obama people fret about the cost of the war in Afghanistan. Apparently, this is a big part of their deliberations.
These are people who are spending zillions on everything they can think of, through the “stimulus” and other gargantuan schemes. But war is actually a federal responsibility. And they get all green-eyeshadey in this area? You may well oppose the war in Afghanistan, for sound reasons. But if this is a war worth fighting, and winning, it is worth spending on. And you can get your savings through fewer false teeth . . .
‐Speaking to American Indian leaders, Obama said, “I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten, and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.” Nice. But, it seems to some of us, if there are two things Barack Obama has never been, it is ignored and forgotten. As for the “struggle”: Well, who can really know the lives people lead?
‐The headline read, “Death of an Iran prison doctor raises suspicion.” And the article began, “An Iranian doctor who treated victims of torture at Tehran’s most feared prison has died, amid conflicting reports of a heart attack, a car accident or suicide — raising opposition accusations that the 26-year-old was killed.”
Um, what do you think, dear readers? Heart attack, car accident, suicide — or something else? Don’t bet the ranch on anything other than “something else.” (You recall those poor people in the Communist bloc who pushed themselves out windows, right? And the ones who shot themselves in the head — three or four times?)
‐I should not point out a beautiful name in a discussion so grim — but the author of the above-cited article is Scheherezade Faramarzi.
‐According to this article, Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is planning “to bring a bill through his committee calling for the government to study the issue of reparations to descendants of slaves.” Conyers said, “This is not just a feel-good measure. This is very serious business.” A “very serious business” is one way to put it, yes — you might also think of the word “racket.”
‐I think this is a good idea. The ad says, “Support Freedom of Expression: Buy a Banned Book.” And the ad is for a “human-rights book fair” at the Fordham Law School, New York City, on December 3. I learned about this via Human Rights in China, here.
“Buy a banned book” — yes, a good idea, I think.
‐Is this a good idea? “Beverly Hills, LA councils ban declawing of cats,” the headline said. And the article reported, “The Beverly Hills City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to approve a declawing ban, except in cases of medical necessity. The Los Angeles City Council also gave final approval to a similar ordinance Tuesday.” It seems to me we have a clash of rights: pets’ rights and owners’ rights.
Again to quote the article, “The California Veterinary Medical Association opposed the declawing ban, saying pet owners should be responsible for declawing decisions in consultation with their vets.” I believe I agree.
By the way, on November 11, Veterans Day, a little boy of my acquaintance woke up and said to his father, excitedly, “Happy Veterinarians Day!”
‐I’ve been hearing the name Stupak so much, I’m thinking he should form his own political action committee — the Stu-PAC.
‐This article here is all about the greatness of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or at least her popularity and funkiness. There is a “Sotomayor Mambo,” composed by Bobby Sanabria. I’m almost certain I’d like the “Sotomayor Mambo” better than Sotomayor jurisprudence. There is also a song, composed by Arturo O’Farrill, called “Wise Latina Woman.” Hmmm, sounds promising . . .
‐In Tuesday’s Impromptus, I had an item about names carved in stone — and what if you happened to misspell a name, or word? Readers sent me many examples of such mistakes — on buildings and on tombstones. Some of the misspellings on tombstones are pretty sad. One reader referred to such mistakes as, not “typos,” but “engravos.” And I thought I’d publish one related letter — which contains, at the end, another neat word:
The next time you drive south on I-95 you may notice a building over the entrance to the great Ft. McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore. In the lobby of it (the East Vent Building) is a large bronze plaque congratulating those who had a hand in making the tunnel “happen.” My name is on it — misspelled. When I mentioned this to the structure’s inspector, he said he’d talk to the Baltimore City people about getting some “bronze-out.”
‐Care for a bumper sticker?
Yesterday I pulled up behind a car that had an incredible bumper sticker. It had the oh-so-lovely Darwin fish symbol and the words, “We have the fossils, so we win.” Win what? I wondered. The game of hostility, perhaps? Why must people be so unfriendly and angry?
‐A little language?
This may be old news to you, but I hadn’t heard it. My oldest daughter is about to graduate high school and is visiting colleges trying to find the right fit. As we listened to the admissions presentations, I kept hearing the term “first years” and did not understand what they were referring to. It finally dawned on me that the schools had seniors, juniors, sophomores, and “first years” — not “freshmen,” to avoid offending female students.
We are all used to PC revisions to our language — but that one’s a little hard to swallow, I think.
‐Earlier this week, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Republican from Miami, gave a speech on the House floor. It was on a topic familiar to readers of this column: the ignoring of Cuban dissidents by the American media; the ignoring of gross abuses committed by the Cuban dictatorship; the strange indifference of American journalists to journalists persecuted in Cuba — where is solidarity? I commented on this speech in our Corner two days ago. If you would like to see this comment — which includes a link to a video of the speech — go here.
I also published a letter — which I’d like to republish here. Reader said, “Just wanted you to know that I care about Cuba . . . I don’t have any particular reason to care, I suppose — I’m as WASP as they come — I just love freedom and hate tyrants.”
Is that not one of the most beautiful and simple things you’ve ever heard?
‐Let’s end with another reader letter — a lovely and eloquent one, about a “safe-zone violation”: about the intrusion of politics into an area that ought to be politics-free. Check her out:
Dear Mr. Nordlinger,
. . . I recently bought a home in a historic area of Atlanta. There are many old tall oaks and other trees in my yard and I am frequented by birds of all kinds. Since moving in I have thoroughly enjoyed watching and studying the birds who come to the five feeders placed by the previous owners. My interest grew and I began buying special seed, suet, and fresh fruit. I purchased three books on identifying birds and a pair of binoculars. Currently I am hosting cardinals, brown thrashers, robins, nuthatches, blue jays, chickadees, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, and a catbird. They are all very fat as I have no doubt been overfeeding them.
Unfortunately, my time is limited and while I want to indulge this new hobby, I have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot become an Audubon and instead will remain a dilettante. Imagine my thrill upon finding a book for someone like me called The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds by John Yow. Best of all Mr. Yow is from Georgia so I knew we would have some of the same birds. Overall it was a wonderful book, but right in the middle of a chapter on a particular bird there was a commentary on George Bush’s election and how he certainly was not a conservationist. It was jarring and strange, as if an editor had just stuck it in randomly. The statement was completely unsupported, just baldly made.
I have no idea how President Bush felt about backyard birds, but I cannot imagine that he would have wished them any harm. I really believe that such things are a form of rudeness. I loved this book right up until that unnecessary comment. That comment diminished my joy.
Thanks for joining me today, guys, and, by the way, if you can help it: Let nothing diminish your joy!