Impromptus

A new Rowling opus, &c.

J. K. Rowling in New York City, 2016 (Andrew Kelly / Reuters)
The Harry Potter novelist vs. Jeremy Corbyn; the U.S. and its allies; and more

Three days before Christmas, J. K. Rowling delivered herself of a striking opus. It was not as long as one of her Harry Potter novels — but it was possibly just as good. It was a 16-part “thread” on Twitter, concerning Britain’s Labour party, including its unblushing anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn. Rowling titled her opus “The Visitation of the Corbynites: A Festive Thread.” In language of the King James Bible, she declared that she could no longer support Labour, her longtime political home.

Here is Part 9 of the 16:

“‘Speak not of the Jews!’ cried the host. ‘Why must thou speak so oft of the Jews?’ ‘Yea, I must speak,’ said she, ‘for when Jews no longer feel safe in Labour then I too must leave.’ And one of the host did shout something about the Rothschilds …”

And here is the 16th and final part:

“And the host did despise and condemn her, and many did tell her to f*** off and join the Tories, and before they did depart one of their number cried unto her, ‘it’s because he’ll tax you more, isn’t it,’ and she did sigh and wished him a Merry Christmas.”

I believe that JKR performed a public service, and in style.

• Like you, maybe, I am pretty hard to shock — and becoming more unshockable with every passing year, even month. But I did not call, I must say, President Trump’s defense of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”

In truth, the Soviets went into Afghanistan in order to prop up a Communist regime that was under threat. In so doing, they were adhering to the Brezhnev Doctrine, which declared: Once Communist, always Communist. Jimmy Carter responded with alacrity, and so did Ronald Reagan after him.

If Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat — or any other Republican, really — made a statement about the Soviets and Afghanistan similar to the one that President Trump made: What would conservatives say? Is there any reason to say anything different now?

• In talking of our present allies, Trump was belittling: “They tell me 100 times, ‘We sent you soldiers, we sent you soldiers.’” They have indeed been at our side in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The U.S. is the biggest and indispensable force, no question. But our allies are not insignificant, and neither are their casualties: The Brits have had more than 450 killed in Afghanistan.

Trump’s comment gave me some memories of long ago. Democrats and lefties used to belittle our allies in the Afghan and Iraq wars. Robert Scheer, the journalist, spoke of “nations you can buy on eBay.” Mark Shields, another journalist (and often a delight), made a crack about how Albania was now on board — whew! Al Gore, in a joint appearance with Bob Dole, said, “Fiji sent one person.” Dole replied, “Well, they’ve only got three!”

Hold that thought.

I was talking with — interviewing — the secretary of defense at the time, Donald Rumsfeld. I brought up this issue of our allies and their size. He was adamant: Yes, some of the countries were small, but maybe they were committing a high percentage of their troops, and maybe it took “political courage” and “personal courage” to do so.

That could apply to Fiji — dinky Fiji — right?

Many years later, I was talking with — interviewing — a Latvian foreign-affairs official, Andrejs Pildegovic. Talking of NATO, he referred to “the Three Musketeers principle”: One for all, and all for one. That is what Article 5 of the relevant treaty demands.

Let me quote from the piece I wrote, please:

Latvians have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have gone even farther afield, too. Pildegovics puts it catchingly: “Can you imagine the Latvian parliament, here at the 56th parallel north, giving unanimous approval for our soldiers to go to sub-Saharan Africa to fight Boko Haram?” Latvians have been to Mali and the Central African Republic on U.N. and EU missions. They are also back in Iraq, as trainers. They remain in Afghanistan, for that matter.

“We are not shy about fighting shoulder to shoulder with Americans,” says Pildegovics. “We consider it a matter of burden-sharing.”

Not to be snorted at, in my opinion.

• Before we leave the subject of NATO, let us consider costs — the burden of defense (including self-defense). Americans have been on Europe about this for a long time, not just starting with Trump. (What is different about Trump is that he seems not to get the worth of NATO — and its importance to the United States — costs aside.) President Obama often complained of “free riding.” And I sometimes quote his defense secretary Robert Gates, speaking in Brussels in 2011:

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

About a week ago, Harold Brown died. He was Carter’s defense secretary — brilliant man, as this obit makes clear. Shall I quote from the obit?

Concerned that America’s allies were not sharing enough of the defense burden, Mr. Brown repeatedly urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Japan and South Korea, to increase military spending, but with limited success. He had sharp valedictory words for the allies: “They need to behave as if their military security is as important to them as it is to us.”

• A team of Associated Press reporters — Dake Kang, Martha Mendoza, and Yanan Wang — investigated slave labor in East Turkestan, or Xinjiang Province. This is the region in China where Communist authorities have rounded up a million Uyghurs, throwing them into a gulag. The AP team published its article on December 19.

They found that products from one factory were going to a company in North Carolina called “Badger Sportswear.” Three weeks later, the company announced that it would no longer accept products from this source. (For the AP report on this decision, go here.)

I don’t believe that the purpose of reporting should be to effect change. I think the purpose of reporting should be to find out and tell the truth. But if this finding out and telling leads to positive change — halleloo.

All honor to the AP team.

• Did you catch Sisi, the Egyptian strongman, on 60 Minutes? For some reason, he agreed to be interviewed — and then the Egyptian government asked the network, CBS, not to air the interview. The network said, “Nothing doing.”

In the interview, Sisi said there were no political prisoners in Egypt. None at all. “We don’t have political prisoners or prisoners of opinion.” In fact, they have about 60,000 of them.

Years ago, the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, said there were no homosexuals in Iran. Sisi’s claim is equally laughable (but no laughing matter, of course).

• Ladies and gentlemen, I am very animal-rightsy — more than the average person, I imagine. But let me present you with something.

A lion killed a young worker at a wildlife center Sunday after it got loose from a locked space, the center said.

Alexandra Black, 22, of New Palestine, Indiana, was killed Sunday after being attacked by the lion in an enclosure that was being cleaned at the Conservators Center …

This was in Burlington, N.C. For the complete article, go here.

The lion was shot and killed “after attempts to tranquilize the animal failed.” The executive director of the center — for whom I really feel — said, “This is the worst day of my life. We’ve lost a person. We’ve lost an animal. …”

I can’t quite get with that.

• Let’s have some language. English is a notoriously hard language to pronounce. How a foreigner ever learns it — learns these pronunciations — I have no idea. A foreigner once said to me, “Just consider your first two numbers: ‘one’ and ‘two.’ How in the world do you get those pronunciations out of those spellings?”

Beats me.

A friend of mine sent me a video, wherein a poem is recited — a poem that speaks to this issue splendidly. Maybe you know it already. I hadn’t.

• A little music? I have a story — it comes from a violinist I met in Asheville, N.C. A Detroiter, she played in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Antal Dorati, among others. Dorati was one of my favorites — a Hungarian American who lived from 1906 to 1988. “What was he like?” I asked the violinist. “Splendid,” she said.

She recalled one incident. Dorati gave her what might have been interpreted as a bad look. He said, “Sorry, take nothing from it. When my face assumes a natural countenance, it is sort of scowling, for some reason — unfriendly. But I don’t feel that way.”

Remarkable.

• A little basketball? Ish Smith is just about my favorite player in the NBA. “Ish” stands for “Ishmael” (as in “Call me”). A point guard, he plays for (my) Detroit Pistons. He plays with extraordinary joy and élan. He’s one of the speediest players in the league, too.

Well, I love him even more now. You’ll see why, reading this article from the Detroit Free Press:

The Detroit Pistons have struggled since Ish Smith was sidelined with a torn adductor muscle.

Since Smith limped off the floor Dec. 5 at Milwaukee, the Pistons have gone 4-11.

With Reggie Jackson struggling and Jose Calderon showing his age, it’s clear Smith’s services are needed.

Smith doesn’t see it that way.

In fact, he hates the notion.

And he hates seeing players take joy at a team’s struggles when they are absent.

“It bothers me when people not playing and they not all in for their teammates, cheering for the team,” Smith said earlier this week after a second loss at Milwaukee. “You got to be all in. We’re in this!

“Some the guys I’ve played with in the past, want to see their team struggle so they can be needed. Forget that. That’s for the birds. That’s some B.S. We’re in this foxhole, we’re in this foxhole together.”

Smith, who has played with 10 NBA franchises, is clear he’s not referring to current teammates.

But he challenges the notion the team would be doing better if he were available.

“Who says if I’m out there and healthy right now, we wouldn’t still be going through the same struggles?” Smith said. “We got our butts beat by Oklahoma City, we got our butts beat by Milwaukee and I was there. We’ll be fine, we’ll figure it out. We just got to be consistent in what we’re doing, and we’ll be all right.”

See? (For the complete article, go here.)

• Peter Masterson, the writer and director — and father of Mary Stuart Masterson, one of the most beautiful girls/women ever — has died. I cherished a story that concluded the obit in the New York Times.

At the intermission of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Masterson approached a theatergoer. “Excuse me,” he said, “I wrote and directed this play. Would you like to ask me anything?” “Yeah,” the man said. “Where’s the men’s room?”

• Let me give you a little language — a little more. In some parts of the country, “mash” is used to mean push, press, apply, etc. “Mash your brakes.” “Mash this key on the clarinet.” I was in a Cracker Barrel in Gaffney, S.C. Was fiddling with the credit-card machine. The lady behind the counter said, “You got to mash Enter.” So I did.

• Another story from Gaffney: On Christmas Day, a regular customer went to Starbucks. He belongs to a prominent business family in town. He tipped $100. He came in the next day and tipped $300 — because Christmas Day tips were only for those employees who worked that day. Tips the next day were for everyone.

Thanks, y’all, and have I said happy new year? Is it too late? I trust not. See you later.

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