Politics & Policy

A pox on puns, &c.

Last week, a writer friend and I were complaining, which is what writers like to do — or maybe people like to do. We were complaining about something I’ve complained about many times, including in this column: Does every headline, in every newspaper and magazine, have to be a pun? It’s nice to have a headline be a good pun every now and then — punny headlines are part of the craft. But these headlines became de rigueur about 20 years ago, I would say. And they can be so very, very tiresome.

So, yesterday, I saw an item on Drudge: “Sun-Times Editor Apologizes to Anyone Offended by ‘Fright 214’ Headline.” I was sort of pleased that people had objected to this headline. There had been a terrible crash at the San Francisco airport. Couldn’t we have relief from puns after a fatal crash?

Then I read the article to which Drudge was linking: and found that the objection did not have to do with taste in the wake of a disaster; it had to do with our old friends, race and ethnicity. The flight was an Asiana Airlines flight, and it had come from South Korea. Some people imagined that the paper was mocking the English of Asians: “flight” versus “fright.” Get it?

I should have known: In America, everything is racial or ethnic (when it’s not sexual).

You want to tell the whole country: Get a life. Please.

#ad#‐In a (rare) interview the other day, former president George W. Bush declined to discuss gay marriage. There are only three ways he can “really make news,” he said: 1) “criticize the president, which I don’t want to do”; 2) “criticize my own party”; and 3) “wade in on a controversial issue.”

I’m thinking, “If you can’t do any of those three — what’s the use of talking?”

‐A language note: I kind of like “wade in on” — sounds like “weigh in on,” but makes sense on its own.

‐The other week, some of my brethren were giving me grief for saying that Edward Snowden, the NSA traitor, was a traitor. They were citing technical definitions and so on.

Which made me especially grateful for this column by the invaluable Charles Moore — headline, “Edward Snowden is a traitor, just as surely as George Blake was.”

Thank you, Sir Charles (as he eventually will be, or should be). (Blake, readers will remember, spied for the Soviet Union, as all the cool people in Britain were doing.)

‐There is such a thing as the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and it gives a prize called the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. Many of our favorite people — certainly my favorite people — have won this medal: Bill Buckley, Václav Havel, Robert Conquest, Donald Rumsfeld, many others.

Now another great man has won it: Jianli Yang, the Chinese democracy leader. Readers of this column are well familiar with him. I would like to link to the speech he gave, on winning the Truman-Reagan medal: here.

He said, “China’s peaceful transition to democracy is not only in the interests of the people of China but also in the interests of a peaceful and stable world.”

Very true. Another speaker on this occasion was a prior recipient of the medal: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the marvelous, Cuban-born congresswoman from Miami. Her remarks are here. As with Yang, I’ll quote just a smidgeon — and I’ll quote a remark like the one by Jianli:

“Not only is it our moral obligation to help all people attain freedom and democracy . . . but it is also in our national-security interest to eradicate Communism once and for all from the face of the earth.”

Amen, sister — and thank you (to all concerned).

‐All my life, I’ve heard the following from Euros: “We care more about the arts than Americans do, because our governments fund them, and the arts, in America, have to fend for themselves, poor things.”

Of course, the arts in America have flourished, since the beginning of the 20th century. European artists have flocked to these shores to make their careers here. (Many of them were hounded out by European governments, it is true.)

Anyway, I love the differences — most of them — between America and Europe. That’s one of the reasons I became a conservative in the first place. Everyone around me — they were all on the left — was embarrassed by American exceptionalism, and disgusted by it. Me, I thought it was pretty good: for America and the world at large.

Did I have a point here? Oh, yeah: I was terribly pleased to see an article two days ago in the Washington Post. Its headline was “Yes, Kickstarter raises more money for artists than the NEA. . . .”

Good! (“NEA,” as you know, stands for “National Endowment for the Arts.” Kickstarter is a website where individuals can donate to certain other individuals’ projects.)

#page#‐I thought of Bill Buckley the other night, and I’ll tell you why: I was in the 21 Club, having dinner. It was hot and humid in there. I took off my jacket (as any sane person would). A waiter quickly came over to tell me to put it back on.

I burned.

Why did I think of WFB? He was big on jackets. (I could tell you a few stories.) But he also said, “Politically, I’m a conservative, but, temperamentally, I’m not one of the breed.” I’m sure I have that almost verbatim.

To wear long-sleeve shirts and jackets in hot and humid weather strikes me as — I’m sorry — barbaric.

‐I saw a bumper sticker that was new to me: “Keep Thor in Thursday.” I figured it was a way of mocking the expression “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Funny about those clever mockers of Christians: They never seem to mock the Muslims. Maybe they find nothing mockable about those believers.

#ad#‐Want a little ballet? I don’t have much for you — except that, in The Sleeping Beauty the other night, they had a dancer named Gray Davis. (This was a performance of the American Ballet Theatre.)

I don’t believe this guy was the former governor of California. The ex-guv is probably a little old for those kinds of moves.

‐A little language? I know we had some with W., above, but here’s some more: I was discussing with a friend — one who cares a lot about words — the pronunciation of “surreptitious.” By the look of it, the first syllable ought to be pronounced “sir.” But almost all Americans pronounce it “sare,” to rhyme with “bare.”

My friend is in the “sare” camp. I have said it both ways, in different circumstances.

According to the dictionary — at least the one I use — we’re supposed to say “sir.”

Well, we discussed another word: “renege.” It has always bothered me that people say “renig.” The word looks like “reneg.”

My friend turned out to be in the “neg” category. Again, I straddle. And according to this same dictionary: You can say “renig,” “reneg,” or “reneeg.”

English’ll drive you crazy. How a foreigner copes, I’ll never know.

‐A little food? In Charlottesville, Va., there’s an ice-cream place called Arch’s. Actually, I think what they have is frozen yogurt. Anyway, it’s good, and ice-creamy.

They also have a million toppings — all the usual ones, plus one I had never seen before: “gooey brownie,” served in a pan. You slop some on your vanilla, or whatever.

This is one of the greatest ideas since the wheel. I would like to shake the hand of the man or woman who came up with it.

‐I was reading an obit — of Theodore Reed, who directed the National Zoo. He was in charge of Smokey the Bear, the non-breeding pandas, and other slightly less famous creatures.

“Theodore Harold Reed was born on July 25, 1922, in Washington, the son of Ollie and Mildred Reed. His father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and his older brother, Ollie Jr., were killed in action within two weeks of each other in 1944.”

A reminder — though one is not needed — that even good wars are damnable things.

‐Thanks so much for joining me today, friends. I’d like to close with a letter from a reader. I’ll see you soon.


I was riding to work today down the west side — the “Hudson River Greenway” [in Manhattan] — when I saw a parade of Boy Scouts walking (marching?) to the Intrepid. In the midst of this picture of Americana, one guy traveling northbound on his bike yelled at the Scouts, “Let gays in.”

Is there no end to the politicization of everything in American life? Even if gays are not allowed to be Boy Scouts — I thought they had changed the rules and did let the gays in — what can these tweens and teenagers do about it? Shouldn’t they be working on merit badges and the like and not political activism?

I must confess that part of my reaction stems from my own experience in politics as a precocious teenager. I volunteered on political campaigns for about five years from 1968 to 1973 or so and now feel that my time and energy could have been much better spent. If I could do it over again, I would take the Boy Scouts more seriously than I did and avoid the political types that now seem to me so unhappy, as they lead lives of self-aggrandizement.

Regards . . .

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