Culture

Oscar agonies, &c.

The headline in one newspaper read, “Oprah Winfrey marches on Selma as race row grows.” (Article here.) What did that mean?

Oprah and others associated with the new movie Selma marched in the Alabama city of the same name over the Martin Luther King holiday.

Okay. What about the “race row”? Selma received two Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. But some people believe the movie should have received more. They said that racism was responsible for the “snub.”

It so happens, the current president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a black woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs. She gamely said, “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization. . . . And, personally, I would love to see, and look forward to seeing, a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

As I see it, there are two solutions to “race rows” such as this: equanimity in the face of disappointment, or quotas. There is no way Academy voters can defend themselves against charges of racism.

Should there be black slots at the Oscars? “Goals and timetables,” as Mary Frances Berry used to say? (She was known as a “civil-rights spokesman,” or “spokesperson.”) These are terrible, painful questions — forced on us by American reality.

Like Selma, American Sniper received a Best Picture nomination. Like Selma’s director, American Sniper’s director did not receive a nomination. Was Clint Eastwood “snubbed” because Hollywood is biased against conservatives?

Probably, only sports — and individual sports, at that — are free of these “rows.” If you run the fastest time, that’s that. If you shoot the lowest score (on the golf course), that’s that.

You know? Thank heaven for pure, meritocratic sports. Everything else leads to Grievance City, it sometimes seems. (And sometimes, of course, grievances are perfectly justified.)

‐An ISIS-inspired American plotted to bomb the U.S. Capitol. The speaker of the House, John Boehner, said, “We would never have known about this had it not been for the FISA program and our ability to collect information about people who pose an imminent threat.” (“FISA” stands for “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”) The speaker further said that law-enforcement officials and surveillance programs had “helped us stop this person before he committed a heinous crime in our nation’s Capitol.”

To that, I say whew (in a word). As I understand it, President Obama’s friend Bill Ayers, who bombed the Capitol in 1971, was unavailable for comment.

‐I often hear that Republicans have to be careful not to be “scary” — we must not scare the public. (I say “we” because I am a Republican.) I find this sort of strange. Consider:

Republicans have a huge majority of the state legislatures. We have a very big majority of the governors. We have a huge majority of the U.S. House. And we have a decent majority in the Senate.

We have to be careful not to scare the public? Why isn’t it the Democratic party that is worried?

You know?

(I acknowledge that the presidency is the big enchilada — that is the sad, annoying truth.)

‐Not long ago, I was looking at a Life magazine from 1942. (I could explain why.) There was an article on Tojo. About his eldest son, it said this: “Hidetaka, having got away with an unorthodox disregard for the family’s military tradition, now works for the Oryokko Electric Power Co. in Keijo, Korea.”

Keijo was the Japanese colonial name for Seoul. But that’s not what I want to talk about. That word, that name, “Korea” looks so strange to me. All my life, there have been “North Korea” and “South Korea” (sadly).

Bear with me for a second: Until I was in my mid-twenties, there was no “Germany.” There were “West Germany” and “East Germany.” When “Germany” came into being — back into being — that word “Germany” seemed so strange to me. So very strange. And old-fashioned — from another era.

Now it seems perfectly natural and modern, of course. I look forward to “Korea.” Think we’ll get it? When?

‐A week or so ago, an editorial was passed around here at National Review. I responded, “A study in temperateness. And excellent.” I had to force myself to write that word “And.” The right-winger in me wanted to write “But excellent.”

I think only my fellow righties will understand …

‐Walking on the East Side of Manhattan the other day, I saw a banner, for some kind of exhibition. It said “Justify Your Existence.” I then noticed two cops under the banner. It happened I was walking by Temple Emanu-El (a very large and historic synagogue).

I wondered: “Gee. Do cops have to stand outside of mosques, to protect them from attack?”

‐There was an ad on a bus. It showed a youngish woman, grinning. She was holding up her hand. There was a “tan line,” if that’s the word — a whitish ring — where a wedding band once was. Alps, I think, were in the background. Some beckoning environment. The slogan said, “Go find yourself.” The ad was for a show called “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

I thought, “That is a perfect expression of the modern ethos. Absolutely perfect.”

‐Let’s have some language. Recently, I wanted to describe a stretch of a Hindemith opera as “edgy.” I meant “anxious,” “nervous,” “on edge.” That’s what edgy always used to mean. Lately, however, people don’t mean that.

Which is slightly irritating to me, because edgy was such a good word. Now it means cool or something.

Ah, well — cool had other meanings too! (And has.)

‐In 2010, I had an essay in National Review called “‘Barack and I’: What’s in a first name?” (To read it, go here.) The essay was prompted by the habit of the vice president, Joe Biden, of referring to the president in public as “Barack.” I think that is unique in the annals of the presidency, or vice presidency.

I remembered this essay when reading this article last week. It was about a fundraising letter, sent out by Biden. It began, “Friend — Tonight, Barack will give a State of the Union address to the last Congress he’ll serve with — and it’s gonna be good.”

So, so weird. And if a white Republican politician referred to the president as “Barack”? Oh, my gosh: Armageddon.

‐Stick with names: A headline in the Detroit Free Press said “Justice Hayes won’t return to Michigan football.” He is going to play for another team. But shouldn’t he be on the Supreme Court, someday? As Justice Justice Hayes?

Wasn’t it a good thing, by the way, that Learned Hand was learned? (Very.)

‐I was reading an obit of Toller Cranston, the Canadian figure skater — and found out something interesting: He was a nephew of Alan Cranston, the California senator.

I remember several things about Alan Cranston. 1) He was very liberal. 2) When he ran for president, he dyed his hair, to look younger. 3) He also ran wind sprints on a tarmac, to prove to the press how vigorous he was.

But I have saved the most interesting thing for last: 4) When a young man, he was sued by Hitler, or Hitler’s publisher. Cranston was a journalist, and this had to do with Mein Kampf. Interesting story.

Richard Helms, our CIA director? He interviewed Hitler, as a journalist. (I loved Helms — one of my favorite people in public life.)

‐I was fascinated to read about the 2015 New Criterion Poetry Prize — won by Michael Spence. “After earning his B.A. in English from the University of Washington, Michael Spence served four years as a naval officer aboard the USS John F. Kennedy. Soon afterwards, he began his three-decade career as a driver of public-transit buses in the Seattle area.”

America, what a country.

‐Speaking of which: Yesterday, I was in Central Park, in the middle of the day. Hundreds of little kids were out, with their parents, sledding (and otherwise frolicking). The kids had the day off, and so did their parents — on account of the snow. Norman Rockwell would have blushed at the scene. It was so American.

Sometimes, I think we’re gonna be okay. Other times …

Anyway, thanks and see you!

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