Politics & Policy

Try ’em already! &c.

A headline earlier this week read, “Charges refiled against accused 9/11 mastermind.” That would be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although that word “mastermind” bothers me, somehow — too complimentary. The news story began, “Military prosecutors have refiled terrorism and murder charges against the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and four other men under a revamped trial process at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba . . .”

I will give you a Simple Simon view: Justice should be speedier.

‐Ollanta Humala has a very good line — I hold no brief for him, heaven knows, but he has a very good line. He is the leftist presidential candidate in Peru — a Chávez ally who, in all likelihood, would Chávez-ize his country. Adiós, democracy. Hasta luego, if we’re lucky.

He is running against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the kleptocratic, disgraced, and jailed former president, Alberto Fujimori (who nonetheless did some necessary and gutty things, against terror). And here is Humala’s line: “There may be doubts about me, but there’s proof about the other side.”

To read about this drama — this campaign — go here.

‐More on Alberto: Pity what corruption does to a man, and those around him.

‐This was an arresting headline — the kind you might have to read twice: “Former enemies live in peace in UN detention block.” Reading the story, I thought, “A playwright could get a really good and interesting play out of this” — see what you think:

Once they were enemies, commanding armies locked in deadly struggles. But together behind bars as war crimes suspects, ethnic hatreds largely evaporate among the men whom Ratko Mladic has joined at a high security U.N. jail to await his trial on genocide charges.

There’s table tennis and group classes in English or computing at the detention unit built within the high stone walls of a jail on the outskirts of The Hague, according to a former detainee and a one-time employee.

‐Another headline: “US, Japanese, German scientists win Israeli prize.” We read, “American, German and Japanese scientists have been named this year’s winners of Israel’s prestigious Wolf Prize.”

I thought back to the Nobel prizes — the early ones, until the mid-Thirties. You may be familiar with a statistic, about Germans and their Nobel prizes. I’ll quote from an article at the website of the Holocaust museum in Washington: “Of the thirty-eight Nobel Prizes won by German writers and scientists between 1905 and 1936, fourteen went to Jews.” Quite a percentage.

Of course, the number of Nobel prizes accorded Germans dropped off very sharply, starting in this mid-Thirties period. Did Germans simply lose interest in science and whatnot?

Up to this day, Jews have won a dizzying — a dizzyingly “disproportionate” — number of Nobel prizes. (You want facts and figures, go here, for example.) This is not because the Scandinavians who choose the winners are biased toward Jews, I can assure you.

And imagine. Just imagine how many more Nobel prizes would have gone to Jews if the Nazis and their allies hadn’t murdered two-thirds of them — a full two-thirds of European Jewry.

Today, there is a Jewish state, and it has given a big prize to a German scientist. The little news article I’ve linked to may seem a nothing — a trifle — but, when you think about it, it contains rather a lot.

‐Okay, here’s a headline that’s totally dog-bites-man: “France probes ex-minister’s orgy claim.” (Article here.)

‐This is an old, old issue, one that I have addressed many times — probably not satisfactorily. Anyway, to a letter:


I have a question for you that is called to mind by what you wrote about George W. Bush and how he causes some people to go crazy — to think and say nutty things. The question is, when do we, as conservatives, put our money where our mouths are and cease to retain the services of providers who spout anti-Bush, anti-Republican rhetoric?

I live in Manhattan and run into this issue constantly. People here are casually anti-Republican and can’t imagine that someone they’re talking to might be a conservative.

My (otherwise excellent) personal trainer started frothing about then-President Bush one morning. That certainly played a large role in my ceasing to be a client.

There follow similar stories about a reflexologist (a new word to me), a masseuse, and another masseuse. The writer continues,

So my questions for you, Jay, are:

1) Is it “ideologically correct” to cease to be a client of any such person, on the principle that one does not want to associate with, implicitly sanction, or financially benefit such folks?

2) When parting ways, is it helpful to tell them the reason? Should these be “teachable moments”?

3) Is it appropriate to inquire into the political views of other service providers, or should one merely wait for inappropriate, or deal-breaking, comments?

I know you can take things too far. I mean, if I engaged in commercial transactions only with people who share my political beliefs, I would not be able to function for a day or an hour in this town.

Yes. I think part of what it means to be a conservative is that you don’t live politically. Leave that to the “other side.” (Sorry for such Manichean language.) I grew up with a slogan: “The personal is the political,” or “The political is the personal,” or whatever it was. Everything was political: what you ate, what you drove, what you wore, the music you listened to — everything.

Part of my maturing was to reject all this. It’s one reason I became a conservative in the first place. (I think I’m a genuine liberal, but those taxonomical debates are long, long over.)

I know I’ve told you this story in Impromptus before: Years ago, a friend and I were talking about whether to buy Ben & Jerry’s. He grew up in Vermont. We both love Ben & Jerry’s. But we don’t love so much what the company does with its earnings, or once did. (I don’t know about present Ben & Jerry’s politics.) They used to back left-wing causes, I’m pretty sure.

And we decided, Of course we’ll buy and eat Ben & Jerry’s, with pleasure. We did not want to be like the Left, allowing politics to rule our decisions, to warp life in general. Ice cream trumped politics, by a lot.

Back in Ann Arbor, when I was growing up, the big company in town — on the outskirts, actually — was Domino’s Pizza. To tell you the truth, I think Domino’s became a big deal only after I was grown, more or less. Can’t remember. Anyway, many Ann Arborites boycotted Domino’s, because the company owner was pro-life, and gave to pro-life causes.

In the Ben & Jerry’s case, I didn’t want to be like that. And don’t. And yet, you have to draw the line: You don’t want to support people who support what you consider wrong, intolerably wrong. Where do you draw the line?

No idea. I think you go by feel.

Now, what about people who offend you politically, day in, day out? Our letter-writer spoke of being surrounded by those who are “casually anti-Republican.” I can relate (as we used to say). As longtime readers know, I have spent my life in left-wing strongholds: Ann Arbor; Cambridge, Mass.; Georgetown, D.C.; and the Upper West Side.

Incidentally, I’ve loved living in all of these places, certainly the last three.

In the Manhattan I know, people tend to be quite alike, though they think of themselves, collectively, as wildly, wonderfully diverse. They read the same paper, voice the same opinions, vote for the same candidates. They worship in the Church of the New York Times.

And they assume that you are one of them, a fellow parishioner, because why wouldn’t you be? You don’t have horns and a tail. But let them know that you may, just may, have voted for Reagan or one of the Bushes — and then the horns and tail become obvious.

Couple years ago, I did a big series on what I called “safe zones.” Here is one column, the longest, I think. By “safe zone,” I mean a zone free of politics, or one that ought to be. These zones, of course, are violated all the time, in the crudest ways. I won’t rehash all this now.

But I remember a particular story — not the worst of them; maybe the most benign of them. A man and his fiancée — or maybe it was his new bride — were visiting New York. They took one of those open-air tours, on a bus. As they were riding past Fox News, the tour narrator trashed that network. He also said something about the U.S. military-recruitment office in Times Square (I believe).

Couldn’t he have kept his politics to himself? No, of course not. Sooner ask a dog not to go on the rug. But then, dogs can be trained, and so can people, although maybe less easily.

Okay, that was one tour guide, and the couple never had to see him again. (They were conservative, I should have said, but you’ve probably guessed.) What about the cases our letter-writer mentions? What about people you have to see regularly, who casually give offense?

Do you dump your personal trainer? Do you have a little talk with him? Do you suffer in silence, hoping that, if you don’t respond, if you don’t join in, he’ll assume you’re not onboard and lay off politics? If you find you don’t want to work with your trainer anymore, do you just go? Do you make some excuse? Or do you tell him why?

As I said before, no idea. I think you have to handle these things case by case. With your gut. I often like to quote the late Abe Rosenthal, who, asked how he edited the New York Times, said, “With my stomach.”

I have a friend who worked in a setting that was toxic to her, politically. They excreted left-wing views and attitudes, all day long. My friend was in the closet, politically. She said to me once, “Jay, you know how children, who suffer molestation, are told to go to a ‘safe place,’ mentally? That’s what I try to do. I try to pretend I’m wrapped in some kind of cocoon and can’t hear it, or can’t be touched by it.”

Now, my friend is no priss. It’s not as though she objects to hearing views not her own. It’s just that this atmosphere was pretty rotten.

I pretty much never make a political remark — I mean, when I’m out and about in life. One reason is, I make such remarks for a living. I have outlets, platforms. If someone does something gross to me, politically, I’m liable to smile and think, “Well, at least it’s more fodder for Impromptus.”

Most people, of course, don’t have outlets or platforms (although, in the Internet age, everyone’s a columnist, right?). Things get pent up. People are dying to talk politics, dying to get things off their chest. Dying to play pundit. I understand that.

Listen, I could go on like this all day, telling story after story, making point after point. This is a rich, rich topic. One could do a book. But let me stop with a little anecdote, a little family anecdote. I just cherish it.

A few years ago, I was riding in a car with my nephew and niece. They were, I believe, about 13 and 9. Nick was making fun of the boy whom Meghan loved above all others: Joe Jonas, of a pop band. (She later overthrew him for Justin Bieber.) Meggie said to him, “I don’t make fun of your people.”

Yes. Don’t make fun of other people’s people (except in the rarest circumstances).

A final word: If a person simply doesn’t know you like Reagan, the Bushes, et al., and casually trashes them, do you tell that person? I think you have to weigh things. But what if the person knows full well you like Reagan and the Bushes, and goes ahead with his trashing anyway?

That really stinks. I don’t care much for Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, I’m here to tell you. But when I’m with someone who likes or loves one of them, or both — it’s, “How ’bout this weather we’re having?” or, “Had any good Thai food lately?”

‐Speaking of the weather — but not of Thai food — I thought yesterday of that wonderful, eternal line from James Russell Lowell: “. . . what is so rare as a day in June?”

‐Let me offer you some music, or rather — not nearly as good — some music criticism: For my latest “New York Chronicle,” in the current New Criterion, go here.

‐Giorgio Tozzi, one of the great basses, or bassos, has passed away. I always thought he was Italian. I learned relatively recently — in the past few years — from my colleague Martin Bernheimer, who knew him well, that he was an American: Chicago-born. Masses of people knew him for South Pacific. Of all the recordings Tozzi made, or was part of, I think I’ll single out the Verdi Requiem — the one conducted by Reiner, with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Jussi Bjoerling, and Viennese forces. One of the great recordings, of one of the great works. Tozzi certainly did his part.

Had enough for one day, one column? Me too. Thanks for joining me, and check you soon.




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