Your Death Row meal, &c.

On food, goons, China, Russia, Trump, music, and more

I was in Milwaukee recently and had my Death Row meal (as I call it). In fact, I had it twice — twice in three days. It’s at Northpoint Custard. It’s a grilled-cheese sandwich — made with cheddar — a vanilla custard shake and a Diet Pepsi. Over the years, I’ve mentioned this, and people have said, “Diet Pepsi? For your last meal?” Well, I like it.

What do you like? What’s your Death Row meal, so to speak, or last supper? (A reader told me, “Keep eating grilled-cheese sandwiches and vanilla milkshakes, and it will be your last meal.”) On Twitter the other day, a man said, “Mine is meatloaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, and peas.” (By the way, I had a great meatloaf sandwich at County Clare Irish Hotel & Pub in Milwaukee — made with potato bread.)

Again, what’s your Death Row meal? If you’d like to tell me, write We can have some fun with this.

I have other last meals, besides the Northpoint Custard bliss. Anything made by my sainted mother, of course. And most anything made by a variety of friends, including Cristina Cox, who will top off some fantastic meal with carmelitas, food of the gods.

(Do you spell “carmelita” with a capital C? Not sure.)

Anyway, here is my Mecca:

• That particular Northpoint is in the Milwaukee airport. This airport is also the home of my favorite sign, as I’ve mentioned before. You see it right after you get through security, when you may have to put yourself back together. This is a perfect, perfect example of American vernacular, particularly in my native Midwest:

• Well, life is not all vanilla custard shakes and charming signs. In 2015, I wrote a piece called “A Question of Honor: As the wolves circle, Iraqis who helped us are pleading for visas.” I had forgotten about that piece, and that issue, frankly. It all came back when I read Yeganeh Torbati, a reporter for Reuters. First, I read a tweet. She tweeted, “Final numbers just provided to me by @statedept show that 51 Iraqi refugees with US affiliations (e.g. former military interpreters) were allowed into US in FY 2018.”

Fifty-one. And the year before? That number was 3,051. And the year before that, 5,129. And the year before that, 7,122. An interesting and terribly important issue. To read a full piece by Torbati on it, go here.

• You may have seen that Senator Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, were hounded out of a restaurant in Washington, D.C., by protesters. (For a report, go here.) This is abhorrent. This kind of thing is happening more and more. Are we a nation of goons? I think of actos de repudio, in the Castros’ Cuba. (“Acts of repudiation.”) What happens is, pro-government mobs surround a person’s house, shouting imprecations, throwing things, beating all within reach. Are we so far away? Almost above everything else, I despise a mob, and I despise bullying. Bullying and mobs go together. Moreover, mob behavior is un-American and illiberal.

We must save ourselves . . .

• Earlier this year, I was talking with Jerome A. Cohen, the veteran China scholar. (I wrote a piece about him, here.) He mentioned that a certain police agency had started to hold people on the ground floor — because too many were jumping out of windows, to spare themselves torture to come.

I thought of this when reading this report from Radio Free Asia. It begins,

The Uyghur editor-in-chief of a state-run literature magazine . . . has committed suicide “out of fear” of being detained in a political “re-education camp” . . .

Qeyser Qeyum, the 55-year-old editor-in-chief of Literature Translation magazine, . . . killed himself by “jumping out of the 8th floor” of his office building . . .

If you know what is happening in Xinjiang Province (East Turkestan), you know why they’re jumping out of windows. For a report I did on Xinjiang earlier this year, go here.

• I spotted a headline from the Associated Press. I thought it was significant — grimly so: “China, Russia take up globalism mantle as US sheds it at UN.” (Article here.) If the U.S. retreats to its corner, others will not remain contentedly in their own corners. They will sally forth — and we will not be untouched. It has been that way for a long, long time. And bitter lessons have to be relearned, and relearned.

Here is an item from Russia — with a striking headline: “Russia’s Brief Taste Of Political Liberalization Drowns In Pig’s Blood.” What?

On the morning of September 25, 34-year-old Nadezhda Zagordan, a member of the municipal council of Moscow’s Izmailovo district, opened her apartment door to find a bloody, severed pig’s head on her doorstep with a knife sticking out of its skull.

The previous morning, the same surprise was waiting outside the apartment door of Zagordan’s mother. Police, so far, have not opened a criminal investigation.

I bet not. And there have been more pig’s heads, as the story explains.

• Do you know who Zhanna Nemtsova is? Lovely young woman. She is the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian democracy leader who was murdered within sight of the Kremlin three years ago. Zhanna is a reporter for Deutsche Welle. She is also the founder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom.

Recently, she penned an op-ed that began, “Being young and liberal in today’s Russia is no easy feat.” That is a prize understatement. She continued, “With a government bent on curbing freedoms and an economy in decline, options for the country’s democratically-oriented youths are limited. Yet while many young Russians are fleeing a nation that has left them with little hope, some are determined to stay and fight.”

A highly interesting read, here.

• This is interesting too: Putin calendars. The AP reports, “What will it be this year? Vladimir Putin without a shirt astride a horse? Putin posing for a selfie with two jubilant brides? Or Putin cuddled up with a baby leopard?” This year, the AP explains, “Russians have been given a full range of choice in newly-published annual calendars featuring the Russian leader.”

For millions, apparently, Putin is a combination of czar and Bieber.

• In a recent Impromptus, I wrote, “We get a steady stream of stories that portray refugees in a negative light. It shouldn’t kill us to look at a positive story or two — just for semi-balance.” In that spirit, how about this report from the Washington Post? The headline clues us in: “This small town, devastated by floods, welcomed Syrian immigrants. They’re now paying it back.”

This story from the Post, on the Brett Kavanaugh drama, had a cameo appearance by the 43rd president of the United States. I thought it was interesting:

Trump’s options are somewhat limited, White House and Capitol Hill aides say. The key votes — Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — are not easily swayed by the president, these people say. At least some of these members have received calls from former president George W. Bush in recent days, aides say.


• The Kavanaugh drama involves the issue of drinking. And a couple of days ago, President Trump said, “I’m not a drinker. I can honestly say I never had a beer in my life. It’s one of my only good traits. I never had a glass of alcohol. I never had alcohol, for whatever reason. Can you imagine if I had? What a mess I would be. I would be the world’s worst. I never drank, okay?”

To me, that is the most charming, endearing thing that Trump has said or done since, during the campaign, he invited a lady from the audience to come up and pull his hair, to test its authenticity.

• Did you meet Morton Katz? He was introduced — to me, at least, and to the nation at large — in this article: “Lawyer, 99, will retire ‘when they carry me out of here.’” What a gent, Morton Katz. His charm and other aspects of his character jump off the page. When I hailed him on Twitter, a lady responded, “That’s my dad.” Great.

• The news moves with great, great speed. You remember when the burning item — not very long ago at all — was, “Who wrote the op-ed piece?” Meaning, the anonymous op-ed piece that spoke of a group within the administration trying to protect the country from the president. People demanded to know the identity of the author. We were supposed to find out within days, because who can keep such a secret? And now, it seems to me, the question has been forgotten.

• More about speed: Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) was a bête noire of the Trump Right about two seconds ago, it seems. The names he was called — head-spinning. “Cuck” and “globalist” were two of the kindest. And now he is a darling of this Right. And tomorrow? People are so, so fickle.

• Last month, I had a journal from the New York State Fair. A reader has now sent me a report from, by Douglass Dowty. (Interesting spelling of that first name: Named after Frederick? Or maybe it’s a last name in the family.) The report is about crime at the fair, including some . . . well, funny crime.

A guy demands to be led away in handcuffs, to keep his “street cred.” The police refuse. So he takes a swing at one of them — and then they cuff him, just as he wants.

A woman has a fight with her boyfriend. To get revenge, she tells the police that a stranger has stolen her purse. Then she gives a precise description of her boyfriend, down to the T-shirt.

And how about this?

Two adults, who hurled vulgar insults at each other, were arrested after a brawl at the Mighty Mouse roller coaster, troopers said.

Ana McKee, 36, of 102 E. Beard Ave., and William Ruckyj, 51, 307 Meadow Road, Geddes, were each charged with harassment after a brawl that led to drastically different accounts by the two parties and their companions.

Ah, America.

• Speaking of America — let’s return to Milwaukee. Here is a shot of Lake Michigan, as cold autumn settles in:

(Jay Nordlinger)

This is kind of a pretty little tableau, isn’t it?

Here is a place that looks to me a bit like a sand castle:

Out on the curb — note each sign:

• More on America: I passed Tony Bennett on the street in New York last week. He was coming one way, and I was going the other. I recognized him from at least 50 yards away. He was walking carefully, holding on to a companion — but he was still himself, for sure. Handsome and starry. That noble Italian face. Viva Tony.

• A noble, valuable life was lived by Walter Laqueur, the historian (and all-purpose analyst of world affairs). As the New York Times said in its obit, Laqueur “fled Nazi Germany as a teenager and, without a college degree, became a distinguished scholar of the Holocaust, the collapse of the Soviet Union, European decline, the Middle East conflict and global terrorism.” He was “a prodigious author who spoke a half-dozen languages and wrote scores of books, novels and memoirs as well as his writings on geopolitics, in which he could be prescient.”

I learned a lot from him — particularly through Commentary magazine — and so did others, far and wide.

• Shall we end on some music? Vivien Schweitzer, a critic, pianist, etc., has written A Mad Love, which, as the subtitle says, is “an introduction to opera.” Joyce DiDonato, the great mezzo from Kansas, has commented, “This is the perfect starting point if you’re a beginner, and an ideal landing point if you need to be reminded of why you fell in love with opera in the first place!” I have not yet read the book, but I feel sure that Joyce D. is 100 percent right.

Speaking of opera: I had a little post on Aida yesterday. And here is my “Salzburg Chronicle” from the October New Criterion.

Ready for a new song? Some new lyrics, at least? Larry Shackley, a composer in South Carolina, sent me an e-mail:

Hello, Jay!

I have been so disgusted by the atmosphere on Facebook during the Kavanaugh fiasco that I thought we might need a little Broadway tune. Hence, I wrote new lyrics for an old favorite [from The Fantasticks]. I have also been merrily taking names off my Facebook news feed.

Behold what Larry has wrought:

Try to remember the kind Facebook members
Who sent you pics of kids and daisies
But in September they caught some distemper
That turned them into raving crazies.
Now each new meme’s like a hoarse primal scream
And the folks you esteem they would fain dismember.
Don’t lose your temper, just block each offender:
Unfollow, ollow, olllow ollow ollow ollow ollow . . .


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