Politics & Policy

Joe Citizen, &c.

Now and then, I feel within me a conflict between a journalist’s impulse — which wants everything revealed and talked about — and a citizen’s impulse. The latter impulse is almost always stronger.

Here is a headline from yesterday: “Inside the spy unit that NYPD says doesn’t exist.” Well, I wish it were still under wraps.

At some point in the mid-2000s, I was at Davos, making some comments on the War on Terror. I said that I was not a “neutralist” in this matter — that I was on a “side”: the side of the United States and civilization against barbarism. I also said that I was a citizen before I was a journalist.

The gasps in the room were audible, as were the groans. As was the scorn. I think one or two people may have had heart attacks. I had simply scandalized the room — which seemed so weird.

Long ago, I read something somewhere — don’t know whether it’s true. I read that Edward R. Murrow had a sign in his London office, saying, “It is more important to win the war than to report on it.”

Sounds right to me.

‐Part of me sort of admires President Obama’s determination to go ahead with his Martha’s Vineyard vacation. He is a liberal elitist. And that’s what they do: spend August on Martha’s Vineyard. He wasn’t going to let political considerations deter him from this.

Bill Clinton, you may remember, took a poll to decide where he should go on vacation in 1996. That was his reelection year. Like a good liberal elitist, he had vacationed on the Vineyard. But he decided that he needed to do something a little less posh for the reelection year.

So he went to Jackson Hole.

Dick Morris tells the following story. The president calls him one day and says, “Can Chelsea go whitewater rafting?” Morris says, “Well, sure — I’ve done it, it’s not that dangerous.” The president says, sternly, “No, that’s not what I mean.  You know: ‘Whitewater’?”

In other words, would the media make jokes about the rafting excursion and the Clinton scandal known as “Whitewater”?

This year is not President Obama’s reelection year. Next year is. We’ll see whether it’s still the Vineyard. If it is: The man is stubbornly heedless of political exigencies, which makes me kind of smile.

Here is an Associated Press report out of Tripoli. It begins,

Libyans on Wednesday wept over the graves of those killed in their six-month war against Moammar Gadhafi, then celebrated their newfound freedom with morning prayers and joyous chants in the capital’s main square — bittersweet rituals marking the start of a major Muslim holiday.

A little more from the article:

Women in black robes ululated, rebel fighters fired guns in the air and people burst into spontaneous chants of “Hold your head high, Libya is free!”

In one corner, five rebel fighters formed a reception line, like at a wedding, and civilians walked up to them, shaking their hands in gratitude.

And just a little more:

Adel Taghdi, 47, choked back tears as watched the festivities. Having spent long years in Canada, he said he had felt no sense of belonging when he saw Gadhafi’s green flag. Now, he said, he is proud of Libyans and his country.

“I never felt that way before,” said Taghdi, who owns a tile shop in the capital. “We just want to live free.”

‐Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about some “fun facts.” Qaddafi was apparently smitten by Condi. His son Mutassim paid Beyoncé a million dollars to sing at a party. Bin Laden was obsessed with Whitney Houston. (Well, join the club.)

‐Mutassim had a Dutch girlfriend, a nudie model. Here is a snippet from a Telegraph article: “The hedonist son also had ambitions for power, inspired by his father’s example. ‘He worshipped his father,’ Miss Van Zon said. ‘He talked a lot about Hitler, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez. He liked leaders who had a lot of power.’”

Oh, yeah.

By the way, what must a certain class of liberal think, when they see their heroes Castro and Chávez grouped with Hitler?

‐Preparing a piece for the next National Review, I reacquainted myself with the case of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor. These are the people whom the Qaddafi regime accused of infecting Libyan children with AIDS. This was a lie, of course.

They tortured these people beyond human description. Rape, dogs, electricity — more than an ordinary human mind can imagine. One woman, in her desperation, tried to kill herself by chewing the veins in her wrist. She had no other recourse.

‐Speaking of torture: This article will tell you what the Syrian regime is doing, to men, boys, and others. Genital mutilation seems a particular specialty and delight.

Syria is an emergency. The overthrow of that dictatorship is an imperative — an urgent requirement — of this day.

‐I hear some people saying, “If the new Libyans in power are so great, how come they’re not returning Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, to Britain?” First, it remains to be seen what Libyans will hold power, and what their character is.

Second, I’m reminded of some taunts I received shortly after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. People would write me and say, “Your beloved Iraqis are not recognizing Israel. Ha ha ha!”

The only rational answer is: You should not expect a new government to commit suicide off the bat. (Would that be a suicide squeeze?) We must be adult. And those who style themselves “realist” have a special responsibility to look at the world realistically.

This was a weirdish headline, and story: “Ultimate Frisbee lands in North Korea.”

‐Here is another story: “A Congolese prison official says that two Norwegians who have been condemned to death were caught attempting to escape via a tunnel they had dug on the prison grounds.” What got my attention — besides that — was that another prisoner caught them and reported them.

What in the world did that prisoner have against the Norwegians?

‐Let’s have a little language. It is a curious fact that British people say “try and” instead of “try to”: “I’m going to try and make your party, but I may have to watch the kids instead.” They all do this: including the most literate and erudite. (I know this as an editor, of many sparkling Brits.)

I was reading a Q&A with the novelist Howard Jacobson in the Financial Times. Asked, “How physically fit are you?” he answered, in part, “I try and walk.”

As I said, curious.

‐You know what’s an absolute scourge, a menace? “Advocate for” — I mean the verb “advocate,” followed by “for.” It used to be you were an advocate of democracy. As such an advocate, you advocated democracy. But this “for” has crept in like crabgrass.

I was reading an article yesterday about a new Obama economic adviser: who “has advocated for hiring tax credits for businesses and increased government spending on infrastructure . . .”

Ay, caramba! What ugliness and grotesquerie! When did this happen? Can this “for” be killed, or is it too late? (I know the answer to that one: In matters of language, it’s pretty much always too late.)

‐Often, you don’t learn of someone wonderful until he dies. I was that way with George C. Devol, whose obituary in the Financial Times I wanted to share with you. I find I can no longer get it, on the Web. So I’ll link to the obit in the New York Times, which I haven’t read. The one in the FT was a total delight.

Devol was the inventor of the robotic arm, and the “father of robotics.” He seems to have been a merry, genial type, smart as hell, of course, with many wise things to say about America, industry, and life. He was a benefactor of millions — whether they (we) know it or not.

One of the things about growing up, for me, and leaving Ann Arbor and that mindset behind was the realization that benefactors of mankind are not necessarily non-profit types. Barry Commoner is not the only model of man. Do you know what I mean?

Here is a point I have made before: When people want to praise Bill Gates, they tend to talk about all the money he has spent on charity, through his foundation. Almost never do they say, “Think of the invaluable software that he made available to the entire world, for cheap!”

I don’t know why this point is “right-wing,” but, so help me, it is.

‐Let’s end with a name. A reader writes,

Hi, Mr. Nordlinger,

May I direct your attention to Mr. Josh Earnest, who is the White House deputy press secretary? This is a perfect name for a person in that job. He can be earnest, or he can josh, as the situation requires.

Sweet, and nicely observed.

But may I say goodbye with a viciously partisan point? An old friend of mine used to say, “I be so happy when the Celtics lose, I don’t know what to do.” In that spirit: I’ll be so happy if Obama loses next year . . .

P.S. Do we for sure have a horse who can do it?




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