Culture

Trade secrets, &c.

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

I don’t know why President Obama understands that free trade is beneficial. There is so much he does not understand. And support of free trade seems to contrast with his overall ideology.

But maybe I shouldn’t question — and just be glad.

When I was coming of age, Republicans had to fight for free trade against populist demagoguery. Now a considerable amount of that demagoguery comes from the Republican party itself. Kind of weird.

Once, Phil Gramm, the Texas senator, told Bill Buckley that he (Gramm) did not bring up free trade on the campaign trail. Gramm had taught economics, and was an ardent free-trader. “Why don’t you bring it up?” asked Bill.

Gramm answered, “Because almost everybody benefits from free trade, and they don’t know it. A few people are disadvantaged by free trade — and they all know it.”

An important insight into politics, and kind of a depressing one, too.

‐Mark Helprin has written a major piece on American defense: here. He says we have allowed our military to get dangerously weak. I have no doubt that every word he says is true.

And his piece made me sad — for this reason: I don’t think many people care, even if they know the truth. It is very hard to arouse people on the subject of defense. The wolf has to be at the door, for people to wake up.

No, it’s not enough for the wolf to be at the door. The wolf has to be inside the house before people bestir themselves and say, “Oh, this is kind of bad.”

Anyway . . .

‐I thought of Mark (Helprin) when reading this article — which is about an appearance by Jerry Seinfeld on Late Night. Seinfeld explained to the audience that he had refused to do a pre-interview. They obviously let him on the show anyway.

It has been many years since I did television, but I used to dislike the pre-interview a lot. Staffers of the relevant show — usually very nice and apologetic — take time out of your day to interview you in advance of the show itself.

I’m sure that TV people have their reasons. I know they do. But what a pain, the pre-interview, and a spontaneity-killer. And sort of an insult.

Years ago, Helprin told me this was a big reason he basically stopped doing television: He hated the pre-interview. They would want to interview him — or pre-interview him — and he’d say, “No, I’ll happily answer questions on the show.” This did not sit well with some TV folk.

Mark must be one of the few people in America who don’t so lust to be on television that they’ll submit to anything.

He’s damn good on television, by the way (as in print).

‐This headline really got my attention: “Carter: US must boost military exercises to counter Russia.” I thought, Whoa. What has gotten into Jimmy? Some lead returning to his pencil after all these years?

Then I remembered that the new defense secretary is named Carter (Ash Carter). I’m glad he’s in there — we could do worse, a lot worse.

(That article, by the way, is found here.)

‐I thought of Thomas Sowell when reading this story — a horrific story. I’ll explain in a minute.

The story begins, “A journalist has reportedly been burned alive in India after publishing allegations of corruption and land grabs against a local politician.”

A few years ago, I talked with Sowell, and wrote it up for National Review, here. Let me do a little quoting:

Sowell is a veteran India-watcher. He classifies India as one of our “fictitious countries.” What does he mean by that? Well, “people in the West who discuss India, discuss an India that bears no resemblance to the country actually located in Asia.” We think of Indians as spiritual, peaceful, and gentle, unlike us crass and violent Americans. This is nonsense. “To think that India had the chutzpah to join the worldwide protest against apartheid in South Africa. If an untouchable in India had the choice to be a black under apartheid, he would take it in a New York minute.”

‐I find it a particular pleasure to watch Prime Minister’s Questions these days. There are a number of reasons.

First, Nick Clegg is no longer sitting behind the prime minister, David Cameron. Cleggie was the leader of the Liberal Democrats. And, from 2010 to last month, they were in coalition with the Conservatives. Therefore Clegg was deputy PM. Now the Tories have it to themselves.

The sight of the absence of Nick Clegg is wonderful, to me.

Also, Ed Balls is no longer sitting opposite Cameron. A Labour MP, he was the shadow chancellor. Cameron once allowed that he found Balls “the most annoying person in modern politics.” Balls lost his seat last month to a Conservative.

There is no Labour leader yet, but Harriet Harman, a veteran MP, is standing in. It was she who led the questioning of Cameron last week. And she rebuked him in an interesting way.

“Last night,” she said, “the House agreed that there should be an EU referendum.” Labour had opposed such a referendum year after year, but Harman made no mention of that. She just glided over it, to attack Cameron on who would be eligible to vote.

“Why won’t he let 16- and 17-year-olds vote? This is about the future of our country.”

Cameron replied, “Well, first of all, can I thank the honorable lady and all those Labour MPs who joined us in the division lobby last night? After five years of opposing a referendum, to watch them all trooping through — it was the biggest mass conversion since that Chinese general baptized his troops with a hose pipe.”

The PM then went on to say that the House should decide the issue of voting eligibility. His position, he said, is that the minimum age should remain 18 — but the House should have its say.

When it was her turn to speak again, Harman said, “He doesn’t need to do ranting and sneering and gloating. He can just answer the question. And, frankly, he should show a bit more class.”

I thought this was highly interesting from the (acting) leader of the Labour party. Class? What class? Working class? Upper class? Eton and Oxford? Are Etonians and Oxonians more polite and gracious than the working stiffs whom Labour pols like to sing about?

The joke’s supposed to be on Cameron, of course. But if I were one of those Labour-backing — Labour-commanding — union leaders, I might have a word with Harman. “Whaddaya mean, ‘class’?”

‐Let me move to another parliament — the Polish parliament. Our old friend Radek Sikorski has resigned as speaker of the House (in essence). I say “our old friend” because he used to write for NR, and we have cheered him through his successes in a post-Communist Poland.

Last year, he was caught in a bugging scandal, saying very impolitic things — and true things. Such as about the reliability of the United States as an ally. (Don’t count on ’em — or rather, us. You can get lots of testimony, from people of various nationalities, on this question.)

I for one thought Radek’s words were bracing, and almost thrilling. But I am not the Polish electorate. In any case, I look forward to a glorious rebound from him. You can’t keep a man like that down.

‐How about some sports? For a while, Seve Ballesteros was the greatest golfer in all the world. Then, he could barely break 80. It was a mystery. Physically, he seemed to be fine. Why couldn’t he play anymore?

In the mid 1990s, I had an opportunity to interview Curtis Strange, another golf champion. I asked him about Seve. And he gave me an answer that startled me. He said, “I think Seve’s going to have to quit.” The great Spaniard was just tormenting himself, in his attempts to come back.

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time, I thought, “Tiger may have to quit.” Speaking of glorious rebounds — I would love to see one from him.

‐How about some music? At The New Criterion, I’ve done a post that features George Walker, a nonagenarian American composer. Go here. I’ve also done a post on a pet peeve of mine: the bios published in concert and opera programs. They stink. For the post, go here.

‐Some language? Okay. For eons, it was perfectly clear: You prohibit someone from doing something, and you forbid him to do it. Prohibit from and forbid to.

In the last ten or fifteen years, I’ve seen “forbid from,” repeatedly. Indeed, “forbid from” is gaining masses of ground. The other day, I spotted a headline that read “Judge Forbids Woman From Using Cellphone For Two Years.”

Blech. Forbid to, please, and prohibit from! Am I being too prescriptivist?

‐A Buckley story to end on? Okay — but this one won’t be about Bill (William F., Jr.). It will be about his sister Priscilla — who was NR’s managing editor under Bill for many years. And a wonderful writer (and person) (and golfer).

Last week, I was in front of Grand Central Station, and I noticed that the sun was making it hard for me to see. It was sort of disorienting, the sun, on that stretch of sidewalk.

I remembered a story that Priscilla told. She fell in front of Grand Central. She told the policeman standing over her, “I was dazzled by the sun.” (She often used words in their older meanings.) “I’ll be all right in a minute. I am able to walk just fine. I fell because I was dazzled.”

The cop said, “Was it my beautiful blue eyes?”

I wish you could have seen Priscilla’s own beautiful eyes — blue, I think — twinkle as she told that story.

Later, gators.

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