I had a little jolt the other day when I clicked on the Drudge Report. There was an ad for CNN at the top, with a picture of Christiane Amanpour. And with her picture was the word “Truth.” Actually, “TRUTH.” That’s a pretty strong claim, don’t you think? Fox News took a lot of grief for saying that it was “Fair and Balanced.” It seems like what CNN is doing requires a lot more chutzpah — and with the visage of Christiane Amanpour, of all people. She is a woman with strong opinions, and she obviously has something to say. But, when you think of her, do you think of objective, just-the-facts-ma’am truth? Um, me not.
‐This article began, “Iran claimed Wednesday that a newly built U.N. station to detect nuclear explosions was set up near its border so that world powers could spy on the country.” My reaction: If only it were so. The U.N. has shown all too little interest in ascertaining the truth — the daunting truth — about what the Iranian regime is up to.
‐These are heady times in Iran, what with revolution — or call it counterrevolution — in the air and underfoot. Great days to be alive, possibly. The Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri — than whom few are sharper about the Middle East — is one who thinks the regime’s days are numbered. What a pleasure it would be to watch that beast fall: before the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
*#*As this article says, in a blunt first sentence, “Liu Xiaobo lobbied to abolish a vaguely worded Chinese law against subversion, but now it appears the high-profile dissident will stand trial for that very crime.” We further learn that “the evidence against Liu includes six essays he wrote and posted online as well as a bold appeal he co-authored that calls for sweeping democratic reforms, known as Charter 08.”
One of the signers of Charter 08 is Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing lawyer. He said of Liu, “He hoped society would be better. What’s wrong with that?” What indeed?
‐One of the saddest, most vexing things about American political life is the romance of black elites with Fidel Castro and his Communist dictatorship on Cuba. That romance is now 50 years old, pretty much exactly. I wrote about this in a piece to be found here: “In Castro’s Corner: A story of black and red.”
Something significant occurred recently: Sixty U.S. black leaders signed a document entitled “Acting on Our Conscience: A Declaration of African-American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba.” The occasion is the imprisonment of Dr. Darsi Ferrer, an Afro-Cuban civil-rights leader. (Of course, the Castros’ cells are filled with Afro-Cuban dissidents and democrats.) Among the signers of the declaration are Cornel West, Jeremiah Wright, and Ron Walters.
This is late. But it is very welcome. Also, the declaration has gotten under the dictatorship’s skin — all the better. Isn’t it nice to contemplate good news, for a change?
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: Originally I’d said that Jesse Jackson was a signer of this document. I’d read that in an article. It turns out to be untrue (which I am of course sorry about).
‐Okay, have a little news of the va-va-voom variety. This report speaks of a new exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. In the 5th century B.C., a man named Philonides gave a vase to a flute player named Anemone. As the report says, the lid of the vase “bore a picture of male and female genitalia.” And, “to avoid any misunderstanding, Philonides and Anemone’s names were inscribed next to the appropriate parts.”
Well, that’s good! (The avoidance of misunderstanding, I mean.)
‐A reader of ours has heard a dog not barking. Let me explain. Or rather, have him explain:
I am aware, through my love of folk music, of the massive number of protest songs spawned by the Vietnam War. I am also aware of several songs that were written during the Reagan years, e.g., “El Salvador” by Peter, Paul, and Mary, or “Biko” by Joan Baez. I can’t think of any for the current wars, despite the rampant bloviating by Hollywood types. Am I missing something? Why do you think this might be?
I can’t think of any such songs either (although I am detached from the folk world, aside from enjoying A Mighty Wind). As to why the absence of such songs — I don’t know. Which is kind of a dumb thing for a columnist to admit, right?
(I do know that Peter Maxwell Davies, a British composer, wrote a string quartet meant to depict and decry the Iraq War. But that doesn’t count.) (And, without words — a piece of music can mean whatever a listener wishes it to mean, or nothing at all.)
‐Let’s do a little language. Was there ever a greater fount of language than Louis Armstrong? I doubt it. He delighted in words and locutions as much as he delighted in notes. I recently read, and reviewed, Terry Teachout’s new biography of Armstrong. (The review will appear in the next issue of National Review.) (Hope you subscribe!) May I point out a couple of things about language?
I had a dear friend — a native of Waycross, Ga., born in about 1920, and the son of a sharecropper — who’d say, “That’d be too much like right.” Give you an example. Out on the golf course, I might say, “Herb, why’d that guy in front of us not rake the trap?” He’d say, “That’d be too much like right.”
Well, I was pleased to find, in Teachout’s biography, that Armstrong said it too. I myself have used the expression several times, in writing. I remember, particularly, a comment I made in one of my “Salzburg Chronicles” for The New Criterion. Hang on, let me Google it. Okay, found it. This sentence, from 2008, concerns a production (execrable) of Dvořák’s opera Rusalka: “You will not find a moon . . . when Rusalka sings her ‘Song to the Moon’ — that’d be ‘too much like right,’ as my old southern friend would say.”
Have another expression, which I picked up from Terry’s book: “Mike Fright.” “We were all Mike Fright,” scared. And “skip the gutter” — hurry up. What a wonderful language we have, not just English, but our American English, with its regional and generational flavorings.
‐A little more language: In my Monday Impromptus, I spoke of “punkin’ chunkin’,” that deeply — and bizarrely — American sport. And I quoted the complaint of a friend: “The phrase is really ‘pumpkin chucking’ — they just changed ‘chuckin’’ to ‘chunkin’’ so as to have something to rhyme with ‘punkin’.”
Oh, did I get mail on that. Here’s one note: “Hey, ‘chucking’ and ‘chunkin’” are the same thing, depending on where you grow up. My brothers and I often would go out and chunk rocks — in the water, at each other, wherever.” And another note: “When I was a child growing up in Florida in the late ’60s, we always used the word ‘chunk’ to describe a certain type of chaotic heaving of rocks. ‘Ma, he chunked a rock at me!’ was a very common phrase in my neighborhood.”
‐Here’s an interesting letter, about the fading out of something bad. See what you think.
One of your correspondents said he thought the “N-word” might disappear. I want to offer you this food for thought. Two years ago, my wife and I hosted a high-school exchange student from Poland for the entire school year. We got our share of people asking how we handled the inevitable “Polack” jokes. Amazingly, this came up only among those over 40, our peers. Our Polish “son” encountered not one problem. I repeat, he never faced anything even remotely negative concerning his nationality.
I’m not saying that the N-word will in fact die, or even that the issues are comparable, but I’m encouraged by the apparent death of the “Polack” business.
And this letter is related, I think — slightly. Anyway, check it out:
I am coordinating with a partner in my firm’s Tokyo office to have some work done for the Japanese subsidiaries of a client. The Tokyo partner suggested that the work start the week of December 7. It took all of my professional reserve not to send an e-mail back with Pearl Harbor references.
Then it got even better. The partner sent me the name of the manager who will lead the work in Japan for my client: Hideki Yamamoto! Can you believe it? Yamamoto is conducting work for me beginning on December 7! I could not take it any longer. I drafted a dozen e-mail responses peppered with Pearl Harbor, Midway, and other Pacific War references that I had the good sense not to send.
The moral of this story for me: It’s amazing how the world can change, for good or ill, in the space of 70 years or so.
‐Couple of weeks ago (was it?), I ran several items — in Impromptus and the Corner — on “mixed names.” Names with a first name from one tradition (let’s say “José”) and a last name from another tradition (let’s say “Chatterji”). I said I would not run any more examples, and I won’t. But I liked what this correspondent said: “I think of one of my favorite lines from Pulp Fiction. Bruce Willis has just fled the prizefight he’s failed to throw, and is making small talk with the driver of the getaway taxi. She asks him what his name means, and he replies, ‘I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean sh**.’”
Hear, hear. Another correspondent wrote me this — and if you bridle at the word “Oriental,” please don’t read it:
I chuckled at the incongruous names this wonderful country provides. What I have to say is not about names, but I think it demonstrates the same beauty in a different way. A few years ago, I was working at the Graves County (Kentucky) Public Library, which is in the small town of Mayfield. As I approached the front door, a young Oriental lady also approached. I held the door open for her, and she said in a thick southern drawl, “Whah, thank yooo.”
I love that. I have countless reasons to love this country, and that moment is among them.
‐Well, I have to tell you this. I opened an e-mail from an Impromptus reader yesterday, and his name is: Jacques Casanova. It’s one thing to be called Casanova. But to have that first name, Jacques? The expectations for such a person must be extraordinary. Quite a billing to live up to, don’t you think? “Jacques Casanova.”
‐Let’s end with a little Christmas — want to tell you a bit about Christmas in New York (Manhattan, I mean). Elsewhere in the country, you drive somewhere, go out into the forest, cut down a tree, put it on top of the car, and take it home. Very romantic. Even better if there’s a good amount of snow. In Manhattan, you walk down to the corner and buy a tree from a very friendly Quebecker. They come down for the season, starting just after Thanksgiving. Then you place that sucker on your shoulder — the tree, I mean, not the Quebecker — and walk it back to your apartment. Inhale that marvelous smell, the Christmas-tree smell. Is there anything like it?
Anyway, I think this procedure — the New York procedure — is almost as good as going out into the forest and chopping down your own. Well, faster, certainly. And still nice.
When you put up your Christmas decorations, and everything’s just set, you’re not real eager to take them back down again, are you? I’m not. I know you’re supposed to do it January 1 (not that there’s a law). But I was thinking of an extension — to the Super Bowl? No, that is really lazy. Maybe Martin Luther King Day? Could be a compromise.
Anyway, no sense talking post-Christmas when it’s almost too early even to discuss Christmas. This is Nobel Day — and we honor the wisdom of the Peace Prize givers in Oslo . . .