Politics & Policy

Senator Reid’s vocabulary, &c.

If you’re tired of the Harry Reid controversy, I don’t blame you — and you know what controversy I mean: “Negro dialect,” “light-skinned,” and all that. But I’d like to add a few words, if you don’t mind.

I thought I heard a dog not barking — see if you agree. Once upon a time, Jesse Jackson was the President of Black America. That was a title conferred on him by political journalists and others. But he has long since been supplanted. For one thing, the actual president of the United States is black (or at least partly so). In the old days, Reid would have run to Jackson for absolution, as white politicians were always doing. Seeing Jackson, or calling him, was the equivalent of going to black Americans at large. No longer, which is gratifying.

Did Reid seek out Jackson, for his absolution? Not that I noticed. He did, however, seek out Al Sharpton — which must have really stuck in Jackson’s craw, and delighted Sharpton.

Interesting that Sharpton should be thought of as Chief Black. (Sounds like a name for an Indian, doesn’t it? Don’t mean it to be.) I have little use for him, as readers of this column well know, and am largely immune to his charms. But he amuses me, now and then. You recall when Senator Biden called Candidate Obama “clean”? Said he was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”? (“African American” — at least Biden got the lingo right.) Sharpton retorted, “I take a bath every day.”

In the old days — before he went all respectable — Sharpton was hell on black moderates, and I don’t necessarily mean moderate in politics: I mean moderate in temperament. Let me quote from a 2000 piece I wrote about Sharpton (which may be found, incidentally, in the collection advertised at the end of this column):

He likes to say that he agitated from the beginning: “I yelled when I was hungry. I yelled when I was wet. I yelled when all those little black bourgeois babies stayed dignified and quiet. I learned before I got out of the maternity ward that you’ve got to holler like hell sometimes to get what you want.”

“Black bourgeois babies” — a lovely phrase.

Another excerpt:

When he at last took to full-time rabble-rousing, he did so with a ferocity, lashing out at “faggots,” “cocktail-sip Negroes,” and even black Marxists — those who carried “that German cracker’s book under their arms.”

“Cocktail-sip Negroes” — there’s one for Senator Reid to tuck into his vocabulary.

One more thing: Remember when Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court? In a press conference (I believe), he used the word “Negro,” which caused a gasp or two. You tend to stick with what you grew up with, or arrived at, I think. And Reid’s word choice was not sinful.

Of course, if he were a Republican, he’d be toast — a leper in public life. But that is an old, old story . . .

‐Concerning the matter of Google and China, National Review Online has produced an editorial: here. I don’t have much to add to it. But I have a little, if you don’t mind. (I’ve said that before, haven’t I?)

Four or five years ago, Google went into China. In doing so, it cut a deal with the devil, so to speak: It agreed to censor its search engine. Otherwise, the Chinese government would allow nothing. So, in China, if you Google “Tiananmen Square” — you will not get what you would get in the rest of the world.

Google’s reasoning was that it was better for the Chinese people to have something rather than nothing — and that was a fair point. (Also, there was money to be made. For decades, Western companies have thirsted after “the China market.”) Still, the behavior of Google bigs rankled, and I expressed some of this resentment here in Impromptus. Remember Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO? He said, “There are many cases where certain information is not available due to local law or local custom.”

Yeah, “local custom.” Usually, when we speak of that, we mean native dress, dancing, maybe arranged marriage. Google was talking about a police state.

In any case, Google’s ire has now been roused. Why? Last month, the Chinese government, doing what comes naturally, attacked Google’s “corporate infrastructure,” as the company says. What they were mainly trying to do was get into the e-mails of human-rights activists and their supporters. So Google is threatening to pull out of China altogether — and is saying that it is no longer willing to censor its search engine.

That is an amazing and beautiful development. (To see Google’s official statement, go here.)

There has long been a debate about police states and technology. I have participated, a little, in this debating — I think in particular of an afternoon in a Davos forum. Technology is doubled-edged, as we know. It helps dissidents and freedom fighters, who can find and communicate with one another through technology; who can learn about the outside world through technology; who can communicate to that world through the same. And it helps a dictatorship: to identify, catch, and thwart the “troublemakers.”

On balance, however, it seems clear that technology is a friend to dissidents, and a threat to police states.

Internet freedom may seem a minor issue when it comes to China. After all, we’re talking about a country with a gulag — a country against which all-too-credible charges of organ harvesting have been made. But it is an issue all the same.

Governments, including our own, are unwilling to take on China, in any serious way. Amazing, that it is an Internet company that is doing so. Sure, Google cannot shake China. Sure, a hundred companies would rush to take its place and do anything Beijing wanted. Sure, the Chinese people benefit from search engines, even censored ones.

But still: Hasn’t Google done something new and kind of thrilling?

‐Every time those scientists move the big hand of their “doomsday clock,” I tell a story — I hope you will bear with it again (or have forgotten it). If you have never heard it: I have a lil’ story for you.

When I was a freshman in college, I took a course in diplomatic history, from a distinguished historian. On the last day of class, he said approximately the following: “The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has nudged the doomsday clock a minute or two closer to midnight. Ronald Reagan is a dangerous nuclear cowboy, who has turned his back on détente. He threatens to blow up the world. I can’t be optimistic that you will grow into full adulthood.”

Have a nice life! As I have observed before, my guy had more respect for Brezhnev than he did for Reagan, almost certainly. Anyway, the atomic people are at it again, moving the minute hand, as this article tells us. And, once again, I think of my freshman year, and the anti-Reagan hysteria that was a major part of my political coming of age.

(You don’t mind a little autobiography, do you? I mean, a little. Understood.)

‐President Nixon had many talents, as well as many shortcomings. Little had I realized that perhaps his chief talent lay in art criticism. Get the opening of this Associated Press report: “In newly released papers from his presidency, Richard Nixon directs a purge of Kennedy-era modern art — ‘these little uglies’ . . .” He called New York’s Lincoln Center, then relatively new, a “horrible monstrosity” that shows “how decadent the modern art and architecture have become.” He said that the new art in our embassies was “incredibly atrocious.”

Tell it, RN. Right on.

‐Three cheers for Alistair Campbell, the old Blair aide who was testifying before Britain’s “Iraq Inquiry.” “Do I support that decision now?” he said — referring to the decision to invade. “Yes. I think that Britain, far from beating ourselves up about this, should be really proud of the role we played in changing Iraq from what it was to what it is becoming, and the impact that is having on the region.” For a story, go here.

‐A story out of Baghdad: “Iraqi forces arrested suspected insurgents who allegedly planned to target government ministries and seized a large cache of explosives Tuesday, in a crackdown across the capital that brought parts of the city to a standstill. The security measures demonstrated the ever-present fear that insurgents will carry out more bombings, like the ones against government buildings in past months that killed hundreds, ahead of the March elections.”

That is what the Iraqi government has to face every day — massive attacks by the extremists remaining in the country. Attacks intended to paralyze Iraq, undo progress, and send the country back to the despotism from which it has been released. The government has to succeed all the time, in sniffing out and thwarting these attacks. The terrorists have to “get lucky” only every now and then.

The Iraqi government, it is clear to me, has one of the most important and most daunting jobs on the planet.

‐You might chuckle darkly at this: “The United Nations has cut back sharply on investigations into corruption and fraud within its ranks, shelving cases involving the possible theft or misuse of millions of dollars . . .” Did you know that the U.N. was much into self-investigating in the first place?

‐I don’t know about you, but I was glad to hear that the pyramids were not, after all, built by slaves — as we have always thought they were. No, they were apparently built by free labor. Makes a difference, somehow, doesn’t it? (For a report, go here.)

And I think I have said this in Impromptus before: I was shocked by the pyramids — happily shocked. They proved that some things, in fact, are worth traveling to; that not everything can be gleaned and appreciated through photos, TV programs, and the like. I was staggered by the pyramids’ size and their — for lack of a less trite word — mystery.

Okay, enough of my Egyptology . . .

‐When I saw the headline “Princess Caroline: husband’s slaps ‘symbolic,’” I thought the story concerned a domestic altercation, or altercations — and that Caroline was covering for her man. Instead: “Princess Caroline of Monaco told a court Wednesday that her husband slapped a hotel owner in Kenya as a symbolic reproach over noise from a disco but did not beat the man.”

Ah.

P.S. I saw Caroline at the Salzburg Festival a couple summers ago. Still beautiful. Looks her age. But still beautiful. Princessy, even (middle-age princessy). Don’t know about the husband’s temper or culpability.

‐Mark McGwire’s belated admission of steroid use was greeted cynically and chucklingly by many — by most, I suppose. I must tell you, though, that, as I read this story, I found much to be touched by. Particularly interesting is that McGwire called Roger Maris’s widow, to give his admission personally, in advance of his public admission. (It was Roger Maris’s record that McGwire broke — and the asterisks pile up.)

Henry Aaron — Hammerin’ Hank — showed magnanimity: “He has my forgiveness. If that’s all that stands in the way between him being inducted into Cooperstown, we should all forgive him.”

Anyway, an interesting article, the one I’ve linked to. And it is never too late to come clean.

This is an interesting article, too: It gives the obituary of Miep Gies, who died at 100. She was one of the helpers of Anne Frank and her family — one of the helper-hiders. She was the last living. It was she who saved Anne’s diary, unread, to be presented to Anne’s father later. She explained that she would never read someone else’s diary.

And she “despised praise,” to use old language. She said that others had done the same kind of thing she had, and far more dangerous things. Once, someone, or some group, wanted to make a character study out of her, to teach heroism to the young. She recoiled at this: Young people should not “grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”

I don’t know about that.

‐A little language? I read a headline that said, “Mystery object to whizz by Earth Wednesday.” “‘Whizz’?” I thought. “If they added a third ‘z,’ would the feeling be more whizzy yet?” I was very surprised to discover, via a dictionary, that “whizz” is an alternative spelling of “whiz.” Who knew? Did you? (Probably.)

‐You know the Pepsi symbol — the one fashioned after Obama was elected, and that looks a lot like Obama’s campaign symbol? That red-white-and-blue wavy thing? Well, I saw the Pepsi symbol the other day — and this thought occurred to me: Some Pepsi executives were pretty nervous about how Republicans would respond to the new logo. (I know this to a certainty.) I wonder what Pepsi thinks now — now that the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent.

Maybe it’s a non-issue . . .

‐How to end this kinda long Impromptus? Want a name? Okay. A reader recommends a member of our armed forces: Staff Sgt. Max Fightmaster. Works for me.

Have a good one.

#JAYBOOK#

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