Our president keeps calling Guantanamo Bay a “recruiting tool,” something that causes Muslims to join up with the jihad. The other day, he said, “Make no mistake: We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national-security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
Uh-huh. What is not a recruiting tool? Think of them, these tools: The existence of the United States. The existence of the Free West. The existence of Israel. The American-Israeli alliance. An Iraq striving toward democracy. The air itself. Did terrorism against us begin when Gitmo became a holding place for jihadists? Of course not. There has always been something, there will always be something.
If you are “tool”-minded, you could suggest that the following are tools: American vacillation, timidity, uncertainty. A refusal to say “war on terrorism.” A refusal to say “terrorism.” The resort to euphemisms such as “overseas contingency operations” and “man-made disaster.” (In full political correctness, shouldn’t that be “person-made disaster”?) Apologies to the “Muslim world” for American sins, real or imagined. Civilian trials, with endless opportunities for theater, as against military tribunals.
You get my drift.
One more thing: Obama said, “That was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” referring to Guantanamo Bay. The president should be awfully careful not to suggest that a terrorist group will call our shots. The American-Israeli alliance is an “explicit rationale” for these groups, too. But we don’t deep-six that alliance because of that, right?
‐Reading about Obama’s campaign promises, and the stark un-transparency of the health-care legislating, I thought of a famous story about Earl Long: Shortly after being elected in Louisiana, he broke some campaign promise. His press secretary said, “They’re asking about this. What do I tell ’em?” Earl shrugged and said, “Tell ’em I lied.”
‐The other day, I was doing some writing about Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese intellectual and dissident who has just been sentenced to many years in prison. He was the principal force behind Charter 08, the document calling for democracy, human rights, and other basics in China. I said something like “freedom-loving literature professor” (in relation to Liu). And I thought how odd that would sound, in the American context.
Is that too McCarthyite for you?
Incidentally, the fact that the Chinese government is scared to death of bespectacled literature professors such as Liu? Good news, in a way.
‐I loved the word “adjust” — the word “adjust” in a New York Times article, here. The article is about Harold E. Ford, the former Tennessee congressman who may well run for the U.S. Senate in New York. (He has already run for the Senate in Tennessee.) The Times: “Mr. Ford, who lives in Manhattan, represented a conservative Southern state and, if he runs, may . . . have to adjust some of his positions, like his opposition to gay marriage, to appeal to New York voters.”
“Adjust” — lovely.
‐Let us wade into the American psyche about race, a troublesome realm. This article is about the U.S. Census, and a controversy over one of its racial questions. A resident of Newark, N.J., Derri Gowns, is quoted: “I’m an American. What’s wrong with just being an American?”
Oh, my dear Derri Gowns: You are singing my song, and I am with you 100 percent. But we are at variance with “the culture,” I’m afraid. Race is where it’s at. Colorblindness and One America-ness is — well, out of favor, to put it gently. May it rise victorious one day.
And here is an article about the Chicago Police Department, and whether it will do away with its entrance exam. (As the article tells us, “dropping the exam would bolster minority hiring and avert legal battles.”) We are informed, “As of last year, one in four patrol officers were African-American, but just one in 12 Lieutenants were of color.”
Interesting, the switch from “African-American” to “of color.” Who is judged “of color”? What color? Is there some gradation scale we could use?
‐I commend to you an article by Ron Radosh, the invaluable analyst of the Left (and once a luminary in that camp himself). (No one knows the Left better than its former members — the “god that failed” crowd has always been a priceless gift.) Ron’s article is called “The American Left Takes a New Look at Cuba.” Not a day too soon, don’t you think? The Communists seized power in Cuba in 1959, more than half a century ago. I learned many things from the article, including this, about Yoani Sánchez, the magnificent democratic blogger in Cuba: “Cuban official websites now refer to Sanchez with a swastika and the word CIA written after her name.” But of course.
Does it make me a McCarthyite to say that this behavior reminds me of many of the students, teaching assistants, and professors I knew in college? Maybe, but it’s still true.
‐I learned something from Jonathan Mirsky’s op-ed about Liu Xiaobo. He wrote,
Beijing does not engage in arguments. [That I knew.] It simply bullies to discourage others. [Ditto.] Zhang Zhixin, a young Chinese woman, was executed in 1975 for “opposing the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao, opposing Mao Zedong thought, opposing the revolutionary proletarian line and piling offense upon offense.” To ensure that Ms. Zhang could not cry out at her execution, her vocal cords were cut.
Yes, that’ll do it.
‐Reading an article by Barry Rubin, I was struck by a statement about ideology and demagoguery: “To put it bluntly, ideology and demagogic leadership turned the lovers of Mozart into the builders of Auschwitz.” That’s putting it bluntly, agreed: and clearly and well.
‐Did you see this article in The Economist? It is a wondrous thing — sort of a hymn to America, and an explanation of America. Or at least a partial explanation. The magazine says, in a subheading, “The greatest strength of America is that people want to live there.” That is something that Paul Johnson (the great British historian) says over and over: He’ll start to worry about America when people from all over cease to want to live there (or here, rather).
The Economist’s article opens in a Korean restaurant in Annandale, Va.: “A mother addresses her college-age daughter in Korean; the daughter replies in English. A muscular man with a buzz cut reads a Korean newspaper; his T-shirt proclaims, in English: ‘Support our Troops’.”
We then meet Joshua Lee, who emigrated from Korea to America in 1990, at 27:
When he arrived, Mr Lee was astonished by how rich nearly everyone was. He recalls his first dinner with Americans: the huge bowls and immense portions. He was startled to see lights left on in empty rooms. He is still impressed: “The roads are so wide, the cars so big, the houses so large — everything is abundant,” he says.
Yet this is not why he came, and it is not why he stayed and became a citizen. For Mr Lee, America is a land that offers “the chance to be whatever you want to be”.
I’m going to keep quoting, if you don’t mind:
He eats Korean food every day, but not for every meal. He attends a Baptist church where services are in Korean, but the Sunday-school classes are in English. [Very important, where assimilation is concerned.] He retains what he loves about his native culture — the work ethic, language, spicy cabbage — while shrugging off the rest.
For example, he never liked the way his neighbours in Korea stuck their noses into each other’s business. Everyone knew how you were doing in school. You could not get a good job without connections. There was constant social pressure not to lose face. When Mr Lee went back to visit, he remembers slipping into the old straitjacket. He wanted to pop out to the corner shop, but realised he would have to put on a smart shirt and trousers, despite the intense humidity. What would the neighbours think if they saw him in shorts and flip-flops? In America, no one cares.
Have just one more slice, please:
In Korea, he says, to express an unusual opinion is to court isolation. In America, you can say what you think. To relax, Mr Lee listens to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two combative right-wing pundits. “Maybe you don’t like these people, but I really [do],” he says.
I could keep going, and going — you see why — but I’d like to give you a few more impromptus . . .
‐Over Christmas, I received an e-mail from a friend who said, “I’m at my mom’s in Shorewood, Wis. (quick! which Supreme Court chief justice grew up here?), having a very peaceful Christmastime.” I had no idea. But I did a little cogitating, and guessed Rehnquist. Here’s why: He practiced law in Phoenix, and relatively few people are native Phoenicians. This was even truer way back, when Rehnquist practiced, than now. And “Rehnquist” is a Scandinavian name. The Upper Midwest is rich in Scandinavians. So . . .
She said — my friend said — “Right! Well done.” A lucky guess, though. I realize this item is sort of braggy — peculiar as well — but I thought you might find it semi-interesting . . .
‐A reader writes, “Jay, I must share with you the ultimate absurdity of political correctness that I heard on ESPN on Christmas Eve.” An announcer referred to the period as “Holiday Eve” — apparently without irony. Makes sense, though, in the context of new protocols . . .
‐This column on Wednesday led with an item about Evgeny Kissin, the Russian-born pianist who is now a British citizen. He did a remarkable, and brave, thing: He wrote a letter of protest to the BBC, saying its coverage of the Middle East was disgraceful. Specifically, he said that its treatment of Israel was “painfully reminiscent of the old Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda.”
Readers may further be interested to know that what decided him in writing to the BBC was a report by Tom Gross, who is well familiar to readers of National Review Online. That report is here: about the BBC’s Persian service, which perpetuated a “blood libel” in claiming that — get ready — Israel was harvesting Palestinian organs for transplants.
Would that the BBC were as interested in sickeningly plausible charges of organ-harvesting by the People’s Republic of China.
‐Something lighter (much)? On Wednesday, taking off from that day’s Impromptus, I had a lil’ Corner item in which I told a joke about sopranos. A reader wrote to say, “Jay, I’m a retired wedding-band drummer, and I’ve had a little experience. Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a ‘chick singer’? You can negotiate with a terrorist.”
‐Also in that column — Impromptus two days ago — I had a little fun about the Cracker Barrel menu: which lists, under “Low-Carb” meals, a half-pound bacon cheeseburger. I was ignorant. I received several e-mails, one of which was this:
Not to bring too much seriousness to a light item like your Cracker Barrel one, but a half-pound bacon cheeseburger is definitely low-carb. And that’s important to us diabetics. Leaving the bun aside, I say, “Bacon cheeseburger? Why yes, I’ll have two!”
‐Care for a little language? A reader writes,
I write from deep south Texas, ranch country. Last night I was sitting at the bar of the local diner/watering hole. An old cowboy was next to me. He was straight out of Central Casting; gruff whiskey/cigarette voice and a crumpled cowboy hat. One of his friends came up to greet him. The old cowboy asked him, “Are you gonna have supper, or did you done did it?” Sounded beautiful coming from him.
‐How about a name? A reader writes, “Traveling through Moorhead, Minn., the other day, I saw a sign for a chiropractor’s office. Presiding was Dr. Will Tickel. A fine name for a chiropractor, if you ask me.”
Americana’d out? I’ll see you!