Impromptus

Spice up your dating life, &c.

Mussolini and brood — good for conversation, if nothing else
A useful book, the gun debate, the GOP, Trump and Putin, Zell Miller, Pete Peterson, the baseball season, March Madness, and more

I’m going to begin with a book, and the book is, unfortunately, by me, so I’ll begin self-referentially, which is terrible, but — here goes anyway:

A reader writes,

I attended one of your book-signings for Children of Monsters in 2015, threw it on my pile of books to read, finally got around to reading it in early 2017, and have been thinking about it and talking about it semi-regularly since then. . . .

As a single guy, I go on a decent amount of first dates. In this dating-app age, a lot of first-date conversation is “basic information”–type questions: Where do you work? What do you do for fun? How’d you end up in this city? What’s your family like? Etc.

When I mention that I read books as a hobby and get the inevitable “Read anything interesting lately?” follow-up question, I always mention Children of Monsters, even though I’ve read other books since early 2017. It’s a unique book, and its themes make for much more engaging conversation than the typical first-date chatter.

Usually I get a second date if I want it, and your book is definitely part of making first-date conversation interesting. So thanks for that!

Heh, my pleasure — a full-service author.

• For many years, I’ve had good words to say about gun-controllers who advocate the repeal of the Second Amendment, or who raise repeal as a possibility. Repeal or reform (by which I mean, an amendment of an amendment). This seems to me much more honest than ignoring the Second Amendment, or minimizing the huge obstacle it presents to gun control.

So I was pleased to see John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court justice, come out for repeal. If the debate can proceed on these grounds, or similar grounds, I think our debate will be more honest and more meaningful.

• A few days ago, I was thinking about Senator Marco Rubio and the role he has played in the gun-control debate. He went to a televised forum on gun control. This was right after a school massacre in his home state (Florida). He didn’t have to go. The forum was easily duckable. But I imagine his thinking went something like this:

I represent Florida, statewide. I signed up for this job. And, yeah, I should go.

So he went, and faced the music. Specifically, he faced kids who had survived the massacre, and, worse, family members of some who had not. This can’t have been easy for a foe of gun control, such as Rubio. I think the senator showed spine.

After the forum, he became a villain of the gun-control movement, a veritable hate-figure.

Anyway, I mentioned this on Twitter the other day — that I thought Rubio had shown spine. And the reaction was fierce. Left and Right dumped on Rubio, and they did so in equal volume and with equal venom. This gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to be him — to be a conservative of his stripe.

You are caught in those pincers, constantly.

To the Left, Rubio is like an accomplice to homicide. He’s got blood on his hands. He’s an NRA stooge. The Right faults him for not being an NRA stooge. He’s a good-for-nothin’ squish, a RINO, etc. (You know the vocabulary.)

From what I can tell, Rubio views himself as a legislator, charged with trying to work out solutions, especially to difficult problems, such as guns and immigration. It’s so, so much easier to blog and tweet and whatnot. It’s so much easier to be a down-the-line, 24/7 partisan.

But we can’t all be, and keep a functioning country, can we?

• In the Washington Post, Ashley Parker had an interesting analysis of the Republican party. She quoted Raj Shah, a White House spokesman: “This is President Trump’s Republican party.” I think that is essentially correct.

She also quoted Senator Bob Corker, who spoke of the support Trump enjoys among Republicans: “It’s more than strong, it’s tribal in nature.” Corker also reported what his colleagues tell him, fresh from the campaign trail. They say, “Look, people don’t ask about issues anymore. They don’t care about issues. They want to know if you’re with Trump or not.”

Other politicians have reported the same thing, and it is surely true.

• You’ve heard about Trump’s phone call to Putin — congratulating him on his latest “election.” (Those quotation marks are strictly necessary.) His aides had advised him not to congratulate Putin. (“DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”) They also advised him to condemn Putin’s latest poison attacks in Britain. Trump went ahead and congratulated Putin. (Sometimes all-caps are of no avail.) And he declined to condemn the attacks.

Okay — Trump is president. He calls the shots. If the aides think they know better, they can run for office. The buck stops with the president. But the aides did know better.

On Twitter, Trump said that George W. Bush had lacked the “smarts” to deal with the Russians, and that Obama and Clinton had lacked the “energy or chemistry.” I believe Trump would be better off refining his own Russia diplomacy than attacking his predecessors’.

For eight years, a lot of us slammed Barack Obama for slamming his predecessors. Trump is even more habitual — and, of course, cruder — about it.

• Cambridge Analytica is in the news for its connection to Facebook: the “mining” of personal pages, the better to win elections. There is other news about Cambridge Analytica too, including this nugget from Latvia: In that country’s elections of 2006, Cambridge Analytica thought it would be a good idea to exploit tensions between ethnic Russians and ethnic Latvians.

All’s fair in politics, sure, and the Latvian caper is hardly the most suspicious thing about Cambridge Analytica — but in playing such games in the Baltics, the company played with fire indeed.

This may be good fun for foreigners (Cambridge Analytica is a British firm), but other people have to live there. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Yeah, and some men stink.

• I’ll never forget Zell Miller’s keynote address at the 2004 Republican convention. He was a Democratic senator from Georgia — but he supported President George W. Bush against the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. This was mainly because of defense and foreign policy.

Miller gave an old-fashioned speech, a stemwinder. It was expertly crafted. And the delivery was arresting, even electrifying. Miller plowed through his points, not waiting for applause, and he did not try to be “telegenic.” He did not try to be warm or “relatable.” There was righteous anger in his voice, and on his face.

I remember talking with Bill Kristol about the speech. We marveled at how un-modern it was — at what a throwback it was. And, of course, we loved it.

It was one of the best political speeches I have ever heard. (So was Sarah Palin’s, in 2008.) I think a lot of us used the headline “Give ’Em Zell.”

Anyway, the Great Zell has died, but not in memory, obviously.

• For an obituary of Pete Peterson, published in the New York Times, go here. He was a fixture of the “establishment.” People love to knock the establishment. I don’t, necessarily. The “establishment” is composed of individuals, some of whom are great, some of whom are not.

That’s the way it is with people.

Peterson was born to Greek immigrants in Kearney, Neb. (Original name: Petropoulos.) They ran a diner (of course) (!). Pete worked the cash register at age eight. He rose to be a titan of business and finance. He was in Nixon’s cabinet. He founded, chaired, or co-chaired a thousand commissions, trying to improve our public life — trying to get the federal government to spend sensibly, for example. He gave away more than a billion in charity.

Yeah, he was a fixture, or a prince, or a king, of the establishment. But he was also a prince. The country is better because he lived (and because his parents came here).

• Baseball season has begun. As a Detroit Tiger fan, I’m pretty relaxed — because we’re told we’re going to lose 100 games this year. We’re going to be one of the worst teams in baseball. Someone told me about a wicked line, published in some article: The Tigers are “in a rebuilding decade.”

There is a certain freedom in this — because you have no expectations. You’re not contending, so your gut doesn’t churn. Every win seems like a bonus, a result of grace. And you look at a player and think, “Huh — I wonder what he’ll develop into.”

Now, if you’re a fan of a powerhouse or a contender — you may be nervous. Your expectations are high. That, of course, is very, very exciting (though maybe not relaxing).

• In college basketball — after the first two rounds — you have the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, and the Final Four (then the championship game) (the Titanic Two?). “Sweet Sixteen” is a fine name. “Final Four” is unbeatable. I’ve never liked “Elite Eight,” frankly — I think it should be “Elegant Eight.” The rhythm, the cadence, is better.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone wrote, “If you wanted to go French, it could be ‘the Elite Huit.’”

Heh.

• A little music? In National Review magazine, I had a piece on the Vienna Philharmonic under the conductor Gustavo Dudamel at Carnegie Hall — “A Shocking Flopperoo.” Here.

#*#A little language? John Kennedy, not the late president but the senator from Louisiana, commented on the recent spending deal: “This is a Great Dane–sized whiz down the leg of every taxpayer.”

Long live Louisiana, not least for its color of expression.

• I walked by a church in a Florida town — the New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. I enjoyed the marquee, which read, “GPS: God’s Plan of Salvation.”

• Which reminds me: I have an Easter gift for you: here. Thanks, and see you.

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