Politics & Policy

Man on a pedestal, &c.

Edward Snowden, Mitt Romney, Billy Martin, Bill Buckley, and more

In New York earlier this week, some fans of Edward Snowden put up a bust of him in a park. Park officials soon took it down. Snowden is the “NSA leaker,” as you know. He is now a guest in Russia, as Kim Philby and others were before him. (Is that unfair? Unpardonably unfair?)

Personally, I’d rather see Snowden in the chair than on a pedestal (opponent of the death penalty though I am). But this incident in New York brings up an interesting question: Whom would you like to see on a pedestal? Whom would you honor, in a park, if you could?

Well, I would be inclined to put up a bust of William F. Buckley Jr. I would also like to honor Armando Valladares, the ex-prisoner in the Cuban gulag who became President Reagan’s ambassador for human rights.

Anyway, a parlor game, for others to play.

Look, if it were up to me, Che Guevara wouldn’t be on a billion T-shirts. I would rather see the visage of, say, Valladares, or the late Oswaldo Payá (a Cuban democracy leader whom the dictatorship almost certainly killed).

Maybe someday Snowden will get a statue in a New York park — a statue that stays. Come to think of it, he probably won’t have a better chance than under the current mayor. The mayor, Bill de Blasio, adores the Sandinistas and spent his honeymoon in the Castros’ Cuba.

‐Mitt Romney’s brackets were almost perfect. That is, he predicted the results of the NCAA basketball tournament almost perfectly. He tweeted, “Should have put $10,000 on my bracket. Congrats, Coach K and @DukeU.”

I very much like the grace, the humor, and the class of Mitt Romney. And when I say “class,” I’m not talking about money.

You may remember what he said in a debate with Rick Perry and others. Perry made a particular accusation against him. Romney said, “No way.” Perry said, “Way” (in essence). So, Romney stuck out his hand and said, “Rick, I’ll tell you what. Ten thousand bucks? Ten-thousand-dollar bet?”

This was thought to be a terrible faux pas on Romney’s part, because ten grand is such a rich guy’s sum. I say, So the heck what? My sister used to stick out her hand and say, “Dix dollars” (“Ten dollars” in French). It’s the spirit that counts.

Anyway, Romney poked fun at himself in that basketball tweet: “Should have put $10,000 on my bracket.”

In a recent issue of National Review, I had a piece called “A Tragic National Pastime: America and its race rows.” I’m not changing the subject, I promise you. To read the piece, go here.

It begins,

A friend of mine was saying that she had seen Selma, the movie about the civil-rights era, and loved it. She was indignant, however: because it had been shut out of Academy Award nominations (she said). And there was an obvious reason for that: good old-fashioned anti-black racism.

I said that Selma had indeed been nominated for an Academy Award: two of them, including Best Picture. She said, “No, it hasn’t.” I said, “Yes, it has.” There was another round of this. Then my friend stuck out her hand and said, “Betcha a hundred dollars.” I stuck out my hand and said, “Five hundred.” She demurred.

Then I cited a Bill Buckley line: “Never argue over anything factual. Argue over taste or opinion — but not about something that can be looked up.”

In my piece, I go on to explain that I couldn’t blame my friend for thinking that Selma had been shut out. (“Snubbed” was the popular word.) A million people and articles had said so, or implied so.

But I was talking about betting! And Romney! I wish we were in the third year of his presidency. But I wish a lot of things and don’t no one care (usually properly).

‐In Vienna, the cry “Kill the Jews!” is heard. I figured that I would see and hear a lot of things in my life. I did not think that “Kill the Jews!” would be heard again in Vienna, at least not so soon. Other places, sure. But not there. And here we are.

For an article on the subject, go here.

‐I was reading a review of a biography of Billy Martin, the baseball manager, and thought of Yefim Bronfman, the pianist. Bear with me.

The reviewer writes,

Buck Showalter, later the successful manager of the Yankees and three other teams, was a Martin protégé as a young coach in 1988. “I felt like I had never seen a baseball game before,” he told the author. “He taught me to have my eyes darting everywhere, looking for something to use later in a game.”

Many years ago, I went to a master class taught by Bronfman. He was teaching two very, very familiar pieces. I felt I had never heard them before, when he started discoursing on them. Extraordinary. (For my write-up of that class, go here.)

‐A couple of NRs ago, I had a piece called “Sing It, Dorothy.” It’s about a speech given by Dorothy L. Sayers, the British writer, in 1938. To read my piece, go here.

Her speech is entitled “Are Women Human?” It’s about individualism and collectivism, essentially. It’s about what we would later call “identity politics.” A brilliant, even an exciting thing (the speech, I mean, not identity politics).

I’d like to publish a letter from a man in Vermont:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

You had not encountered Dorothy Sayers before, but I had: I read every one of her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. So I had a particular reaction to your piece.

The mysteries and lots of other books were lost when our house burned in 2004, and I have not replaced many. But I’ve just decided to do so with Dorothy Sayers. In 1992 my wife and I and our six-year-old son followed the paths through Kirkcudbright and Auchencairn, Scotland, that DS laid out in Five Red Herrings. My wife, who is no longer living, was a talented artist, and we vowed to return with her portable easel. Didn’t happen.

I may download Sayers’ translation of The Divine Comedy while I’m at it.  

So should I.

‐Please let me recommend a column: Mary O’Grady’s “Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers: The Organization of American States is now open to dictatorships” (here). Maddening, and very important.

‐Let me also recommend a column by Daniel Hannan, here. It’s about wealth and poverty. Many years ago, Bill Buckley said, “Alan Reynolds is a young man born to understand and explain economics.” (That is almost verbatim, I believe.) The same is true of Dan Hannan.

‐I was reading this article about Peter Thiel and other “tech titans.” I got a semi-kick out of this passage:

It was 2004 and Thiel had recently made a tidy fortune selling PayPal, which he co-founded, to eBay. He had spent what he wanted on himself — a posh penthouse suite at the Four Seasons Hotel and a silver Ferrari — and was now soliciting ideas to do good with his money.

If I can snark a little: Are there non-posh penthouse suites at the Four Seasons, in whatever city the hotel happens to be?

‐Recently I walked through Times Square and then past the Empire State Building. I was sort of nauseated by the people hustling the tourists — trying to sell them things and so on. It bordered on harassment. How are tourists supposed to enjoy their visits?

I thought of my visit to the Pyramids, which was almost spoiled by the constant and aggressive hustling. And I was with a native Egyptian, so should not have been easy prey. Losing one’s temper works for a while, but a) it’s embarrassing and b) the positive effect doesn’t last.

‐Also in New York, I saw a billboard for a storage company. It said, “Oh, yeah, you’ll fit right in in Connecticut.”

Humanity’s highest aspiration: to fit in. Humanity’s greatest fear: not to fit in.

‐A banner on a church said, “Open Minds. Open Hearts.” Very sweet. But I thought of something Bill Buckley liked to quote — some version of “The purpose of an open mind is to close it on some matters.”

Once, at Yale, someone said, “There are no closed questions at this university.” Bill said, “Oh? How about the desirability of democracy over Nazism?”

You can only swallow hard or stutter after that one.

‐A young woman, bearing a clipboard, stood on the sidewalk. She said as I passed, “Do you have a minute for Greenpeace?” “No, but have a good one,” I said. She then said to the person behind me, “This guy cares!”

So supporting or “having a minute for” Greenpeace equals “caring”? And not supporting or having a minute for Greenpeace equals not caring?

Sometimes I hate the Left so much I worry about myself.

‐At NR some years ago, we had a young man from Brazil. He recommended to me the movies of Manoel de Oliveira, the Portuguese director. He even gave me a couple on DVD.

I thought of that former NR-nik when reading Oliveira’s obit, here. He has died at 106. In a striking phrase, the obit said that he was “almost as old as cinema itself.”

‐Care for some music? To read my “New York Chronicle,” in the April New Criterion, go here. For a review of Murray Perahia, the pianist, in recital, go here. For a review of a Don Carlo (Verdi) at the Metropolitan Opera, go here.

‐Care for some golf? I had this thought the other day: At the range, everyone likes to “end on a good one.” Sometimes you’ll be there all day before you can end on a good one. Sometimes the best you can do is to end on a better one.

See you! (And I hope I’ve ended on an okay one.)

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