Culture

Knowing right from wrong, &c.

Harvey Weinstein at the 2017 Academy Awards in Los Angeles (Reuters photo: Mike Blake)
Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Saoirse Ronan, Josh Rosen, Leonard Bernstein, and more

In Vanity Fair, Adam Ciralsky had a fascinating article on the last days of Harvey Weinstein. By “last days,” I mean the days leading up to his exposure in the press — his exposure as a sexual harasser (or worse).

I was struck by something he said, to his company’s head of publicity. As the publicist recalled it, Weinstein said, “Everything’s going to be fine. I didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, I might have done some things that are immoral. But I didn’t do anything that was illegal.”

You may think I’m too cynical, but … I’m amazed that someone like Weinstein — that someone in those circles, someone today, someone modern — might even think in categories of “moral” and “immoral.” Frankly, I found it almost refreshing and reassuring.

‐Recently, I was watching the Christmas edition of University Challenge, in which alumni of colleges and universities compete for their alma maters. (I can pluralize it that way, can’t I?)

University Challenge, I should say, is a British quiz show.

One of the contestants was Frederic Raphael, the writer, a graduate of St John’s College, Cambridge. “Between 1950 and 1954,” he said, “I studied classics and moral sciences.” You know? I had never heard the term “moral sciences.” Ever. But it was a common university concentration, or major — a counterpart to “natural sciences,” see?

Something bygone …

‐A couple of the contestants said that they had gotten a “Desmond.” Let me explain.

In Britain, there are different classes of undergraduate degree. There are “firsts,” which are really good. Then there are second-class honors, third-class honors, and “ordinary degrees” (in other words, you passed).

But those second-class honors? There are two types of them: upper and lower. An upper is known as a 2:1; a lower is known as a 2:2. Or two-two. Or Tutu.

You got a Desmond, get it? Desmond Tutu, the South African leader.

Golfers are great coiners of words and phrases. My friend Hersh would say, “You hit it Otis.” Out of bounds, or “OB,” in golf parlance. “OB” leads to “Otis Brown.” So — you hit it Otis.

I could go on. (We called a triple bogey a “Welborne,” after Tripp Welborne, of the University of Michigan football team.) (“I was playing pretty well, but then I hit it in the water and wound up Welborning, which killed my round.”)

‐These are strange political times, including on trade. At Davos, a Canadian prime minister named Trudeau advocated free trade. Meanwhile, a U.S. president imposed tariffs. Also at Davos, the Indian leader, Modi, said that a protectionist mindset “cannot be considered less dangerous than climate change or terrorism.”

You see what I mean?

‐I’ll tell you something I like about Trump — his occasional bursts of candor. You remember when he fired the FBI director? His flacks said he did so because the director had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly and all that. Trump said, Hell no — I fired him because of the Russia probe.

I appreciated that candor.

Similarly, his flacks said he was going to Pennsylvania to participate in an “economic event” at a factory. Then Trump tweets out, “Will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to RICK SACCONE, running for Congress in a Special Election (March 13). Rick is a great guy. We need more Republicans to continue our already successful agenda!”

It was a campaign event, see? And the president blurted out the truth.

Which was refreshing.

‐Something else I like about Trump — this side: “A lot of people go to the gym and they’ll work out for two hours and all. I’ve seen people … then they get their new knees when they’re 55 years old and they get their new hips and they do all those things. I don’t have those problems.”

Heh.

‐Trump has long had his Tower in Manhattan, and Barack Obama will get a tower, too — in Chicago. It will be the centerpiece of his presidential center. Blair Kamin panned the original design as “ponderous and Pharaonic.” Mr. Kamin is the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune.

The design has now been tweaked, and the result, says Kamin, is “taller, slimmer, and even more monumental.” (I’d like to be taller, slimmer, and even more monumental myself.)

I’ll say this about Obama’s center and tower: They are an improvement over his setting in Denver, when he accepted the 2008 Democratic nomination — that plywood Greek temple. And I suggest a name: “Obama Tower” (though it lacks the snazzy alliteration of that tower in Manhattan).

‐The way Bret Stephens began a column — a wonderful column — reminded me of the late, great John Gross.

Here’s Bret:

Until his dying day, my dad’s Uncle Bern was a communist sympathizer. I remember him as an affable old man with a gracious wife who made a modest living selling antique lace. He probably wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Yet he found much to admire in the most murderous ideology of the 20th century, responsible for tens of millions of deaths from the killing fields of Cambodia to the gulags of Murmansk.

If you’re Jewish in America, chances are there’s at least one Uncle Bern somewhere in your family tree.

Okay, here’s John:

In my youth — I was born in 1935 — every self-respecting Jewish family in England had at least one Uncle Morrie. …

… we in fact boasted not one but three, and among them they covered a nice span of Jewish possibilities. One — he was actually a great-uncle — was a minor official of the United Synagogue, the association of Orthodox congregations in London … Another, also a great-uncle, was the oldest of the family’s Communists. As a schoolboy I once tried to get a rise out of him by telling him that I had heard that there was a particularly good book about the French Revolution by Edmund Burke. He immediately shot back, “Edmund Burke called working people ‘the swinish multitude,’ and that’s all I need to know about him.” Since my own knowledge of Burke at the time was virtually nonexistent, I was completely floored.

John Gross became just about the most knowledgeable man around. And a total prince. Loved him.

‐Aren’t you glad you can criticize the judiciary? Even insult it? I thought of this when reading this news story, which began, “An Egyptian court convicted former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and 19 others on Saturday of insulting the judiciary, sentencing them to three years in prison in a court session aired on TV.”

Yes, we are very lucky, to live in a free and democratic country.

‐From another story — out of Beverly Hills — we have a lovely illustration of cultural differences. Get this:

Saoirse Ronan is eyeing the lobster salad at Spago in Beverly Hills and has a difficult decision to make regarding cherry tomatoes. She doesn’t like them, but she also doesn’t like asking for special accommodations.

“It’s so Irish,” Ronan explains. “In Ireland you feel so guilty for requesting something to not be in the dish. No one would ever do it. But I like that they do it over here. I like the gutsiness!”

After a moment of deliberation she decides to go full American and ask the waiter whether or not it might be possible to hold the cherry tomatoes.

“Absolutely,” he says without pause.

“America,” she sighs, smiling.

Heh. I’m a Midwesterner, and it took me forever to work up the nerve to actually send something back in a restaurant. (It took some nerve to split that infinitive, too.) In the old Midwest, you would rather slit your wrists than send something back. (Well, in the first place, you wouldn’t be eating out.) But gradually I grew a little — a little — bolder.

‐Apparently, Josh Rosen, of UCLA, is the greatest college quarterback on earth. So the hapless Cleveland Browns would like to pick him. Being the worst, they’ll have the No. 1 pick. And apparently Rosen is not too happy about becoming a Brown.

I’m relying on this story by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

Our Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in 2009 — and I say “our” because I’m a Detroit Lions fan. The Lions were then hapless. Stafford made us happier — a lot happier. Did he ever balk at coming to us? Would he rather have gone to a better and more glamorous team?

Asked about this a few weeks ago, he said he never hesitated. It’s an honor to be picked No. 1, and you go make the best of it.

To read MattStaff’s full remarks, consult the article linked to above.

I loved what Stafford said, and I loved what Glover Quin, our safety, said. He was talking about the issue generally.

“Later-round draft picks, they don’t have a choice. But if you’re going to be the No. 1 pick — ‘I don’t want to go to Cleveland’ — do you draft him? Do you draft him and make him come if he done told you he don’t want to be here? Or do you say, ‘Well, if you don’t want to be here, I don’t want you here’?”

I’m glad the Free Press left those remarks in the vernacular — a wonderful American vernacular. “… if he done told you …” That’s exactly the way it should be.

I wrote an essay about just this subject in 2011, when people jumped all over an Associated Press reporter for quoting President Obama in a folksy mode. There is nothing — nothing — shameful about a folksy mode, if I say so my own bad self.

‐On a recent Jaywalking podcast, I touched on the question, “What does music mean, if anything?” Music without words, that is. A correspondent of mine wanted to know more. At the end of his e-mail, he said, “I live in very rural East Texas and I assure you there’s not a soul out here with whom I could talk about this.”

I wish he could find someone, or ten someones! There are surely people in the area who have the same thought as he.

Let me link to a recent piece of mine in The New Criterion: here. I address the issue at the top. Also, do you remember, or know about, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts? He did 53 of them, on television, from 1958 to 1972. And guess what the very first one — in January 1958 — addressed? It addressed this very question of meaning in music. Bernstein handles the issue superbly.

On YouTube, it is in four parts, the first of which is here.

‐Another correspondent — a fellow Michigander — writes,

Do you, like me, hear music in the mundanities of life? For example, when I’m driving on the highway and a semi-truck whizzes by, I swear I hear an opera aria. Or when a breeze rushes through the trees, could that be a violin concerto? And what about hearing an old-timey crooner while I pass a new construction project?

Perhaps it’s a brain tumor, but these small, unexpected moments bring a certain sweetness to my days.

I must say I don’t experience those, but I’m glad our correspondent does!

‐Another one writes, “Suggestions for music to soothe a battered and weary soul? The type of thing to sedate a frenzied mind and restore a wounded heart? (Yeah, it’s been a really bad day.)”

Hmmm. Many answers come to mind. Take two playings of the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony and call me in the morning.

READ MORE:

The Hollywood Conspiracy of Silence

Hollywood’s Diseased Culture

After Weinstein, a Cultural Revolution

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