Politics & Policy

Great Lakes Journal, Part II

Welcome back to this journal, some jottings on a cruise upon the Great Lakes, or some of them — three of the five, to be exact: Huron, Superior, and Michigan. For Part I, go here. And let’s sail on (if you’ll pardon the cheesiness) . . .

We glide into Whitefish Bay, on the eastern tip of the U.P., i.e., the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Soon, I see a flock of wind turbines. I’ve been grousing about these things for the last several years now. They’re a blight upon landscape after landscape. They produce comparative squat for energy. They are feel-good projects of the enviro-Left.

But you didn’t come to this journal for political rants, did you?

One more thing — my current favorite stat: 27 percent of a wind turbine’s blade is petroleum. Heh.

‐A guide tells us that this area — Whitefish Bay — is one of the great cranberry capitals of the world (or country, or state — I forget). I think, “They must be thankful for Thanksgiving.”

‐The Tahquamenon Falls are a jewel in Michigan’s crown. This is the area of The Song of Hiawatha, I believe — Hiawatha, who built his canoe “by the rushing Tahquamenaw.”

I grew up with a great deal of hype about northern Michigan — “God’s country,” “as beautiful as it gets,” “the equal of anywhere in the world,” blah, blah, blah. I remember a man saying that the drive around Grand Traverse Bay was like the Amalfi Drive.

Then you get about the world a bit, and you realize — eh, maybe this is a lot of home-state boosterism. I mean, have you ever been to Switzerland? Ever take a Norwegian cruise?

And yet: The Tahquamenon Falls would impress anyone, from anywhere. Not because they’re big, like Niagara — but because they’re so beautiful. Being in this spot makes me sort of proud to be a Michigander.

May I get you a hankie? (An air-sickness bag?)

‐A guide in the park tells us that they reduced the price of admission, to all the state parks, by more than half — and generated more revenue. John Fund and I look at each other and murmur something about Reaganomics.

‐Our group is taken to a shipwreck museum — which strikes me as just a little odd, given that we are people taking a cruise. You know how they don’t show air-disaster movies on an airplane?

When I was a child — you may have had the same experience — I sometimes thought, “Why are they showing this to children? Why are they showing something so scary, in a movie, play, or TV show, to children?” I remember, in particular, having the bejesus scared out of me by the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I thought, “Damn it, isn’t this movie supposed to be for kids? WTF?”

I’m not sure we had the initials then . . .

‐I see a distinguished conservative on the beach. He’s wearing a blazer. I think of Nixon’s wingtips.

‐A postcard reminds me of our state motto — which I always thought had to be the coolest state motto conceivable: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” (Never learned the Latin.)

‐George Gilder is interviewed by John Miller. Long ago, George worked for centrist or liberal Republicans: George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits. John asks him why. George says, in sum, that he was for civil rights — that he was for full and equal rights for blacks. And Goldwater, unfortunately, had been on the wrong side of the bill, whatever his reasons.

And how did George get to be a Reagan-style conservative? Well, for one thing, “The black family managed to survive Simon Legree, but it could not survive LBJ.” George, like others, saw the consequences of the “Great Society.” My impression is, his political views have always been responsive to the question, “What works best for people?”

Incidentally, George says that Mitt Romney is a brighter and abler man than his father (who was plenty bright and able).

‐You can make fun of Mackinac Island, another of Michigan’s crown jewels — maybe the central one. It’s so pretty, maybe a little prissy . . . But, you know? It is really an extraordinary and beautiful place. You’d have to have a heart of stone to reject it. Again, proud to be a Michigander . . .

Tell you what I’m not so high on: horses instead of cars. Michiganders are very, very proud of this. On Mackinac Island, no cars are allowed, except for emergency vehicles. You go by horse — more like horse-and-buggy — or bike. People would have it no other way.

But with horses comes poop — and this can make the island unpleasant, even if they have people sweeping and hosing like mad. When you take a walk — just a simple walk — you do so amid horse poop and its odor.

I see a young man hauling a cart behind a bike. The cart has some kind of supplies. The cart tips over, and then the bike and the young man go over. He is really frustrated. And I think, “It’s so unnecessary. Really unnecessary. Just a dumb, sentimental conservatism.”

Personally, I would be in favor of cars on the island — a limited number of cars, and cars of a particular type. I would be strict about regulations. But I would allow cars, and have fewer horses.

Again, however, people would consider this absolute heresy, and they would erect a stake.

‐Doud’s Market bills itself as “America’s Oldest Grocery Store.” True? A wonderful claim, regardless.

‐Aboard ship, on a panel, John Fund makes a moving statement. He has been to Greece lately — to Thessaloniki. He saw something he’d never thought he’d see: men in business suits, pawing through garbage cans. They had left home as though they still had their jobs — dressed for the office. Maybe they were pretending to their families that they still had the jobs. Maybe they were pretending to themselves.

In restaurants, they mixed ketchup with hot water, fashioning a kind of soup.

This is very, very serious stuff. Conditions are ripe for a takeover by extremists — by fascists or Communists (same diff, basically). Sensible reforms must boldly come forth (easy to say).

‐Charlevoix, high on our northwest coast (Lower Peninsula), is a pretty, pretty place. Plenty of money here, too. Why wouldn’t there be? I see any number of cool, unusual cars. Man toys. A red GTO convertible is especially amazing.

I also see plenty of signs such as “Private Club, Members Only”; “Private Beach, No Trespassing.”

As you know — as regular readers well know — I’m a big-time capitalist, property-rights man, etc. But I see signs like that, in a place like this, under conditions like these, and, frankly — a little Marxism burns within me. Isn’t that shameful?

On a still morning, I take a long walk on a private beach — virtually no one else is around — and feel faintly guilty as I do.

‐Dover has white cliffs; we in Michigan have sandy cliffs, all up and down the western coast — i.e., the Lake Michigan coast. Dune country.

‐I talk to a woman who owns a modest-sized apple orchard in Ohio. She is a diligent, smart, conscientious businesswoman. She tells of all the regulations she has to comply with — all the hoops she has to jump through, all the taxes she has to pay, all the forms she has to fill out. She can barely open a window without thinking about the government.

“Why do you bother?” I ask. “Sometimes I wonder,” she says. And many businessmen simply drop out.

‐Approaching Saugatuck, we go through the Kalamazoo River. And the song inevitably floats into my head. (To get yourself started, all you need to do is recite the alphabet: “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got a gal in Kalamazoo . . .”)

‐In the marina, there’s a boat simply called Boat. I like that. Nearby are La Perla and Bellissimo. The latter should really be Bellissima, I think, because boats are girls.

‐Some Saugatuck people greet our ship as we pull in. So friendly, and so American. They wave a grand ol’ flag. They play patriotic songs through a loudspeaker (and it’s about 8 in the morning!). One of those songs is Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” A gazebo dominates the little park, where we disembark.

Norman Rockwell couldn’t have planned this welcome better . . .

‐The Saugatuck area is loaded with golf courses, like Michigan in general. Beneath the “Saugatuck City Limit” sign is another sign, saying, “Home of Saugatuck High School, 2005 State Champions, Boys Golf MHSAA Div. IV.” I’m not really surprised.

‐On the dunes, our buggy driver — more like a pickup driver — is named Ralph. “There aren’t many of us Ralphs left,” he says. “I can’t even spell my own grandchildren’s names. There are no Sam’s, no Mary’s.”

(By the way, I’ll defend those apostrophes with my last breath, so please don’t bother to complain. Unless you want to. Thanks!)

‐I hear someone say, “Lake Michigan is 338 miles long. That’s longer than New Hampshire.” Oh, heavens, we Michiganders could eat New Hampshire for breakfast! (But why are they so influential in presidential nominations?)

‐In Saugatuck, there are many rainbow flags, outside shops and homes. There are even more in neighboring Douglas — more than in Greenwich Village, I think. Years ago, the chant was, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” Oh, I think we’re plenty used to it by now. Are the signs and flags all that necessary?

I think it was Bill Buckley who remarked, “Oscar Wilde said that homosexuality was ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ It has now become the love that won’t shut up.”

‐A car displays a common pairing of bumper stickers: an Obama sticker on one side, the “Coexist” one on the other. The thing about coexistence: Others have to be willing to do it. If just you are — well, you’re SOL.

‐On the cruise’s final night, at our final cocktail party, two men — longtime readers — wear NR ties. A welcome sight. I don’t own one, and don’t know whether they have been made recently. If you have one — perhaps you’re in possession of a collector’s item?

Not that an NR tie, of course, will ever be as hot an item as an Adam Smith one . . .

‐Later in the evening, our ship’s pianist, Nadine, plays the first movement of Op. 27, No. 2 — that’s what pianists who can’t bear to say “Moonlight” call the Beethoven sonata in C-sharp minor that everyone else calls “the Moonlight.” Midway through, I think, “She’s playing this much better than Evgeny Kissin did.”

Allow me to Google up what I’ve written in the current New Criterion. Ah, here it is: “From Kissin, the sonata’s first movement was okay, but it had a plodding, thumping quality. You could feel every bar line. There was no melt.”

Nadine had melt.

‐How great to run around Chicago, our terminal port! I feel like Ferris Bueller or something. Early in the morning, there are many swimmers in the lake. I can’t help thinking, “I’ve seen more swimmers here in Chicago than anywhere else on Lake Michigan — which is kind of a pity, because this must be the least desirable part of the whole, vast lake, for swimming.”

Anyway . . .

‐They call that stretch of Michigan Avenue “the Magnificent Mile,” and that is no mere boast: It really is a glorious stretch. Can anywhere else in America match it?

Take the Chicago Water Works building. I have a question, one I have asked about other structures, at other times: If we wanted to put up such a building today — and that’s a big “if,” given current tastes — could we? Do we have the knowledge, the materials, the artistry? The dough?

‐Walking about, absorbing Chicago once more, I think of the old nickname, bequeathed by Carl Sandburg: “the City of the Big Shoulders.” The name might be hackneyed, but it’s perfect — a perfect description.

‐Friends, I have taken a fair number of European river cruises. Nice jaunts. But, honestly, I can’t say I’ve ever been on a more beautiful cruise than the one here in my homeland.

Thanks for joining me. I’ll see you soon, for the presidential campaign and other pressing business. But let me leave you with a YouTube video — Glenn Miller, Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, the Nicholas Brothers, and the Gal in Kalamazoo: here. Don’t say I never did anything for you.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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