The year is not yet over — we still have three more months, and two of them have 31 days — but I think I have my Comment of the Year. My Comment of 2019. It comes from Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. After his team beat the Detroit Lions in rough fashion, he said, “Hey, not all of Mozart’s paintings were perfect. . . . The end result, though: That sucker’s gonna sell for a million dollars!”
It reminded me of a line from a Dan Jenkins novel. I mean, if he had heard it, he would have incorporated it, somewhere. He could not have improved on it.
I mentioned this to his daughter, Sally, the prizewinning sports columnist at the Washington Post. She had noticed the comment before I did. We got a huge kick out of it.
So, hats off to Coach Reid (and damn him for beating my Lions). (Damn the other teams, too.)
• An article in the Guardian began as follows:
Donald Trump disputed that Russia was behind the attempted murder of a former Russian spy in a tense call with Theresa May, it has emerged.
Despite the widespread conclusion that Vladimir Putin’s regime was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last year, the US president is said to have spent 10 minutes expressing his doubts about Russian involvement.
According to the Washington Post, Trump “harangued” May about Britain’s contribution to Nato in a phone call with Britain’s then prime minister in the summer of last year, before disputing Russian involvement in the Skripal case.
“Trump totally bought into the idea there was credible doubt about the poisoning,” said a figure briefed on the call. “A solid 10 minutes of the conversation is spent with May saying it’s highly likely and him saying he’s not sure.”
For the complete article, go here. Do you doubt the Post’s account? If so, you and I know different Donald Trumps.
The Russian embassy in London retweeted the Guardian article, saying, “Best evidence that no evidence of Russian involvement exists.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a time for choosing, as a future president once said (Ronald Reagan in 1964): Are you with the Kremlin and its various lies and machinations? Or with democratic forces that oppose all this?
• Talking about the current furor in Washington, Putin said, “They have already been using any excuse to attack President Trump. Now it’s Ukraine.” Putin and Team Trump sound exactly alike. This does not mean they are wrong, mind you — but if I were a Trump man, and anti-Putin (which is possible, right?), I might blush a little.
• In 2017, I went to Sweden, to report on a particular development: That country is getting more serious, militarily, in response to a Putinized Russia. For my report, go here.
A week ago, this report caught my eye. It was published in the Guardian, out of Gothenburg:
Sweden’s navy HQ is returning to a vast underground cold war fortress designed to withstand a nuclear attack, in what has been seen as a defensive move against a resurgent Russia.
After a 25-year absence, the navy will once again be commanded from beneath billions of tonnes of granite as the country strives to build up its defences in response to the perceived threat from Moscow.
I should say.
• This report in the New York Times was chilling, riveting, barbaric. Read it, if you can stand it:
Evidence that the Paris police department missed warning signs about an employee who slashed four colleagues to death at its headquarters on Thursday is prompting demands for a leadership shake-up.
At a news conference on Saturday, France’s antiterrorism prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, said the killer, a 45-year-old computer technician who worked in police intelligence, had tried to justify to a colleague the killings in January 2015 at the magazine Charlie Hebdo and had done the same for other radical Islamist killings.
The disturbing statements he made after a dozen people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris were reported to higher-ranking officers, a police union official said Saturday, but nothing was done.
The fact that this and other potential clues — including a video the killer posted on Facebook that imitated throat-cutting — were missed by the police administration that surrounded him, at the heart of an organization dedicated to fighting terrorism, has shocked the ranks of the national police.
A true tale of our times — resembling other tales in other countries, including the United States (think of the Fort Hood massacre in 2009).
• At the White House, there was something dubbed the “Young Black Leadership Summit.” The president said, “African Americans built this nation. You built this nation. You know, you’re just starting to get real credit for that, okay? I don’t know if you know that. You’re just starting to get — you built the nation. We all built it. But you were such a massive part of it — bigger than you were given credit for. Does that make sense? Right?”
Forgetting the question of who built America, what do you think of the word “you”? Did the people assembled in the East Room build America? Are people in the past, who had roughly your skin color, “you”?
This is a big question in America, and not just in the White House.
• From a New York Times report:
When Ms. Nielsen tried to get him to focus on something other than the border, the president grew impatient. During a briefing on the need for new legal authority to take down drones, Mr. Trump cut her off midsentence.
“Kirstjen, you didn’t hear me the first time, honey,” Mr. Trump said, according to two people familiar with the conversation. “Shoot ’em down. Sweetheart, just shoot ’em out of the sky, O.K.?”
(Full article here.)
Eliana Johnson, formerly of National Review, then of Politico, now the editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon, tweeted, “Not the only female cabinet secretary called ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart,’ either.”
I do not stand in judgment of Kirstjen Nielsen, the former secretary of homeland security. We all make choices, for various reasons — personal, professional, and so on. Perhaps Ms. Nielsen had the interest of the nation in mind. But, assuming the report is true — and does it comport with the president you have known and loved? — I don’t know why she didn’t tell Trump to go to hell.
Or, as Johnny Paycheck sang, “Take this job and shove it.”
• For reasons I could explain, I overheard Charles Percy and William Webster, two old pros, talking in the early days of the Lewinsky scandal. Percy had been a longtime U.S. senator; Webster had been director of the FBI, director of the CIA, etc.
“I think he’s gotta go,” one said to the other — the “he” being President Clinton. The other said, “Yup.” And yet, Clinton brazened it out. Almost certainly, Trump will do the same.
Shamelessness can enable truly extraordinary things.
• This headline should give us pause: “As Steelmaker Shuts Plant, Governor Points to Tariffs.” The article is from Bloomberg and it begins, “Bayou Steel Group filed for bankruptcy Monday, threatening hundreds of jobs after the company ran low on cash and defaulted on its debt.” It continues,
Bayou Steel is “particularly vulnerable” to tariffs because it uses imported scrap metal, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement following the layoffs. Scrap steel was not included in the broad steel tariffs imposed by the Trump administration last year. But the administration has hiked tariffs on a wide range of scrap metal products from China as part of its trade war.
American steel companies are supposed to be a big beneficiary of protectionism, right? Yet the world is interconnected — as protectionists tend to forget. The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone; the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone . . .
You know the song — and economics, I’m sure.
• Several items above, I linked to an unbearable article. Here is another one:
A five-year-old student began wetting himself in class after he was subjected to antisemitic bullying over the course of four months, while a 12-year-old student was forced to kiss the feet of a Muslim child and was physically assaulted.
Both Jewish students, who have asked to remain anonymous, had to leave their public schools because their families felt the principals did not provide them adequate support.
(Complete article here.)
What is the alternative to eternal vigilance? None, that I can think of.
For 50 years after her fiancé was seized by the Gestapo and she became a fugitive, Diet Eman remained largely silent about her role in the Dutch Resistance during World War II.
After the war she abandoned Europe for the Americas to escape the memories of friends and families lost, of unspeakable barbarism, of spineless collaboration, of the moments her religious faith was tested to its very limit.
“I wanted to forget,” she said — “to start a new life in a country where there were no memories and never talk about that time again.”
Eventually, however, she divulged her memories. “What a woman,” I remarked.
“‘What a woman!’ is absolutely right!” a reader e-mails me.
After reading her account of those years of hiding Jews in Holland (Things We Couldn’t Say), I wrote to her, especially wondering how she ever found the courage to do what she did. Unfortunately, I have lost her return letter, but she basically said God enticed her into her acts of courage; one small step led to another slightly more risky step, which led to another. In other words, God snookered her in!
• I have written a reminiscence of Jessye Norman, the great soprano, who passed away last week. Just a little note, and personal. To read it, go here.
• If you care for a music podcast, the latest episode of my Music for a While is here.
• A Hollywood item? I don’t do those very often. This one is linked to the world news, and it concerns Tom Cruise — who gave a wonderful answer. An answer I assume is a stock answer, given by him hundreds and hundreds of times.
Cruise was meeting the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. When the actor walked into the room, the president exclaimed, “You’re good-looking!” Cruise laughed and said, “It pays the bills.”
(For a news story, go here.)
• Speaking of funniness — this past weekend, Saturday Night Live touched a racial nerve. Check ’em out.
• I like names, as regular readers know — and that includes spellings of names. I saw something new — new to me — in the Milwaukee airport yesterday. A young man who worked at an eatery wore a name tag that said, “Zackery.”
Thanks for joining me, Impromptus-ites, and good to see you. If you wanna write to me, try firstname.lastname@example.org. No blue Monday for you, or me — and have a good week.