Impromptus

‘No one can say anything,’ &c.

Megyn Kelly attends the NBCUniversal Upfront presentation in New York City in May. (Mike Segar / Reuters)
On Megyn Kelly, the question of influence, a prisoner of Putin, and more

One of my themes lately — hell, one of my themes lifelong — has been “No one can say anything.” The country is filled with snowflakes and Jacobins. With hysterics and silencers. Megyn Kelly, the TV journalist, stepped in it on race. Does she deserve the death penalty, professionally?

(If you’re not up to speed on this story, you may get up to speed here.)

From what I can tell, Megyn K. is a decent, competent, and elegant woman. Also human. Human beings make mistakes, as you may have noticed. Even you and I, possibly.

If America can’t tolerate Megyn, whom will it tolerate? You and me? Are you sure? Can any of us ’scape whipping?

Apparently, Megyn Kelly was intolerable to Fox News because she noticed obvious truths about Donald Trump. Now she is apparently intolerable to NBC. I think a little more toleration all around would go a long way toward becalming and improving our country.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone wrote — unjokingly, mind you — “shut up jay.” That’s the spirit. (You may remember this line from Ring Lardner: “Shut up he explained.”)

Others said some version of “She has a multimillion-dollar payoff, so boo hoo.” Okay, money’s great. But there are other things in life: such as reputation, dignity, fairness.

I’ll tell you something related — not the same, but related. I’m on a stretch of the Gulf of Mexico, which is experiencing that lousy “red tide.” Walking along the beach, I didn’t see anyone in the water. I said to a member of a work crew, “Sorry, but I’m a tourist, and would you tell me: Is it all right to swim in this water? Or should we stay out?” The man would not look at me and he seemed either annoyed or afraid. He said, “You’ll have to ask one of my bosses about that. I can’t answer any questions.”

All I wanted was a little local knowledge. And the man was afraid to speak, afraid to be a human being, having a normal conversation with another human being. Probably thought I would sue, if I entered the water and something went wrong. (Litigation is America’s national pastime.)

No one can say anything! You know?

• Have you noticed that Halloween has become a political hot potato, a political minefield? A few years ago, Yale University melted down over the issue of Halloween costumes. L’Affaire Kelly relates to Halloween costumes. Maybe we should just suspend the damn holiday until such time as the country regains some maturity.

On Twitter, Dan Hannan circulated a funny clip from Reason TV, about hysteria over Halloween costumes. Check ’er out. A little humor can strike blows for sanity.

• Here’s another of my themes — one I was harping on last Wednesday, as a matter of fact: Are individuals solely responsible for their actions? Or do influencers share a degree of responsibility? This is a tricky question (and important).

Of course individuals are responsible for their actions — but no man is an island. All of us are influenceable (and some very much so). Influencers play their part. Demagogues, rabble-rousers, and inciters are a curse of the earth. One can acknowledge this while holding to individual responsibility.

Right?

I said that “influencers play their part.” Most of us accept that people can influence others for good. Does it not follow that they can influence others for bad? In my book, it’s blameworthy to give a drunk a drink. Yes, he drank it. But you gave it to him — and should not be off scot-free.

Let me quote something I wrote a few years ago:

No man is an island. No one lives in a vacuum. No one is hermetically sealed. What is poured into people’s ears matters. And not just theoretically.

Take the easy example of Germany. (I know you’re not supposed to.) The German people did not wake up one morning and say, “Hmmm. Why not kill all the Jews among us?” For years, they had been told, by people in authority, that Jews were both subhuman and threatening.

In the West Bank and Gaza, kids don’t come out of the womb wearing suicide belts, ready to kill Jews. They are “carefully taught.” They have lies drilled into them from the cradle. They are made into murderers, by all the authority figures in their lives: parents, imams, schoolteachers, political leaders.

Etc., etc.

By the way, I was quoting Oscar Hammerstein’s apposite lyric, “You’ve got to be carefully taught” (South Pacific).

Now that I have quoted Hammerstein, let me quote Dan Foster, my old colleague at National Review. With the baseball-practice shooting and the recent pipe bombs in mind, he tweeted, “Two attempted mass murders of political enemies in two years, zero fatalities. We won’t be this lucky forever.”

Sobering. True.

[Editor’s Note: This column was written before the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.]

• Do you know the name Oleg Sentsov? He is probably the foremost political prisoner of Putin’s Kremlin. Sentsov is a filmmaker and writer from Crimea. Just now, he has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, by the European Parliament.

Many worthies have been awarded this prize — including several Cubans: Oswaldo Payá, Guillermo Fariñas, and an entire group, the Ladies in White. No Cuban has won the Nobel Peace Prize. (That will be a great day, if it comes.)

Will the Sakharov Prize do Oleg Sentsov any good? I think so. The more a political prisoner is noticed in the world, the harder it is for the imprisoning regime to kill him.

• You may have learned, the term “fake news” has gone around the world — in English, I mean: “fake news.” Last week, Octavio Ferraz circulated a video of a speech by Jair Bolsonaro. Ferraz is a scholar at King’s College London; Bolsonaro is the rabble-rousing Brazilian politician who is set to be the next president of his country. Toward the end of his speech, Bolsonaro uses the term “fake news” — twice.

And the entire speech gives a strong flavor of his character.

I also noticed this, from an article in the New York Times about the Hungarian state and the arts — opera, in particular:

“There was really silly fake news about our ‘Porgy’ production,” Mr. Okovacs said in the interview, switching briefly from Hungarian to English to employ a favorite phrase of Mr. Trump’s.

A phenomenon (global).

• Two items out of the East. First, this headline: “China-Japan drawing closer amid trade pressure from US.” (Article here.) That’s bad news bears (to allude to an old movie).

Second, and worse, “Australia abandoned plans for Taiwanese free trade agreement after warning from China.” (Article here.) Taiwan is a plucky little democracy, an example to all, especially to China. Will it survive? With the West so lily-livered, so kowtowing to Beijing, will Taiwan survive?

A lot depends on the spine of the United States . . .

• Now and then, I said of President Obama, “He’s on top of the heap, yet he acts like a victim. He’s full of grievance.” I thought of this when reading a tweet from the incumbent president, issued last Friday:

Twitter has removed many people from my account and, more importantly, they have seemingly done something that makes it much harder to join – they have stifled growth to a point where it is obvious to all. A few weeks ago it was a Rocket Ship, now it is a Blimp! Total Bias?

President of the United States — and worrying about the number of your Twitter followers. This must be deeply human: a sense of grievance, a sense of victimhood, even if you’re on the very top of the heap.

No exemptions! (Except for the saintly, surely.)

• Oh, this was an amazing news story. Did you see it? “Mom with ‘gut feeling’ stops school shooter before planned attack.” Thank heavens for that gut feeling, and law enforcement’s response. (Go here.)

• This was so, so embarrassing — embarrassing for us Red Wing fans: “Arby’s has changed the rules of a long-standing fan giveaway, because the Detroit Red Wings are having trouble scoring.” (Here.)

• Recently, I was talking to Mona Charen about the peculiarities of my speech (some of them). For me, there is no L — no pronounced L — in “golf,” “wolf,” “folk,” etc.

And there is no L for any of us in “yolk.” Right? Or “Suffolk.” Right?

A reader from Virginia sent me an e-mail, saying,

Longtime residents here pronounce the second syllable of “Norfolk” with a short U. Newcomers generally use a long O, and sometimes even pronounce the L.

I believe that people who use a place-name tend to contract it to the pronunciation of least resistance. Thus we get charming localisms like Nawlins, Ballmer, and Loovuhl.

That would be “New Orleans,” “Baltimore,” and “Louisville.”

You know the Norfolk Cheer, don’t you? (This was a staple in our household, taught to us by my dad.) “We don’t smoke, we don’t drink: Nor-FOLK!”

• A little music? For some notes on a recital by Elina Garanca, the Latvian mezzo-soprano, go here.

• I think I mentioned Halloween earlier. Well, I was talking with a Cuban immigrant in Tampa, and the discussion turned to Halloween. He said, “In Cuba, no Halloween. Communism.” He said it as though no further explanation were necessary. I wish you could have heard his tone — classic.

• You know what two things don’t go together? Florida and Halloween. I mean, look at this. Florida is just not scary enough for Halloween. You need Sleepy Hollow or something.

• You know what’s kind of easy on the eyes? A Mercury Comet convertible. White top, red body. This is not a good picture, but you’ll get the picture.

• You know what’s also easy on the eyes, very? The Gulf of Mexico.

• One more shot. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and love to you all, in these trying times (like most times, frankly).

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