John Kelly, then and now, &c.

President Trump with then-Chief of Staff John Kelly at a White House briefing in October 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
On an ex–presidential chief of staff, ‘No blood for oil!,’ Vladimir Bukovsky, Tiger Woods, pop lyrics, and more

Something that happened a week and a half ago reminded me of something that happened two years ago. Maybe you remember too? In October 2017, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was then the president’s press secretary, tangled with a reporter from CBS News. At the time, John Kelly was the president’s chief of staff. Sanders said to the reporter, “If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you.” She added, “I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, that’s highly inappropriate.”

Here in America, we can debate whomever we want, even military officers with stars on their shoulders.

But just recently, the current press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.”

What a difference a year or two makes, right?

Incidentally, when Ms. Grisham hailed Trump’s “genius,” I thought of Nicolae Ceausescu, the late dictator of Romania, whose party — the Communist party — dubbed him “the Genius of the Carpathians.”

• Communist parties around the world have certain hallmarks. They are nearly unvarying. Total fealty to the leader. A personality cult. The hailing of the leader as a “genius.” The subordination of any principle to the leader’s whim. (When he zigs, you zig; when he zags, you zag. No previous position matters.) The insistence that any news at odds with the leader’s claims is false. Special venom for apostates. The condemnation of said apostates — or dissenters, or critics — as “human scum.” Etc.

Stay away from Communist parties, for they are rotten.

• Evidently, President Trump has decided to pull U.S. troops from Syria, except to protect oil fields. This occasioned some interesting comments from Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator. Trump is the kind of foe you want to have, he said, because Trump is transparent. Previous U.S. presidents talked about freedom, democracy, human rights, and all that other garbage. But they were really interested in oil, only. About President Trump, said Assad, there is no pretense.

To listen to Assad, go here.

The Washington Post quoted a man in northeastern Syria who said of U.S. troops, “So they are leaving us for oil? We heard for years that all America cared about was oil, but we didn’t believe it, and we thought the Americans were our friends.”

Nope. “No blood for oil!” was a great cry of the American Left, in the early days of the War on Terror. I saw a bumper sticker on the car of a friend of mine. How many lives per gallon? It made my blood boil. I thought it was a grotesque lie.

Maybe I was stupid . . .

This very interesting article is headed “A presidential loathing for Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.” Yes. Ukraine is one of the dividing lines of our time. Ukraine is struggling to establish a liberal democracy as Putin’s Russia makes war against it (literally). Putin, Orbán, and their like detest Ukraine, of course. And so do their supporters and allies. Others of us are rooting for Ukraine to join the Western family of nations, as a majority of Ukrainians want to do.

To be continued, for better or worse . . .

• In America, conservative tastes have shifted. They have kept up with the times, so to speak. Not long ago, I think, we would have made pin-ups of Robert Mueller, William Taylor, Alexander Vindman — decorated combat veterans; patriots; straight arrows. What happened? This has been the subject of books, and it will be the subject of many more. Have you read Tim Alberta (late of National Review, now with Politico)? Fascinating reporting and analysis.

• According to this article, Queens, N.Y. — Jackson Heights, in particular — is the linguistic capital of the world. The place with the greatest diversity of languages. Who knew? Maybe the people who live there. (I should get out more, but, like most people who live in New York, I cut a line between home and work, and vast swaths of the city are terra incognita to me. Have lived here for more than 20 years. Have never been to Coney Island. Or Staten Island. Or . . .)

(Years ago, I asked a colleague — the music critic Allan Kozinn — whether he would cover a particular concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He said, “No — I don’t really go off-island.” He meant Manhattan. I loved that expression, “off-island.”) (Allan later moved way off-island — indeed, out of state.)

• Vladimir Bukovsky, the great Soviet dissident, has died.

“All Soviet dissidents are legendary, to one degree or another. Vladimir Bukovsky is especially so. He is held in awe by people whom the rest of us hold in awe. I’m speaking of his fellow dissidents. Bukovsky is a dissident’s dissident, so to speak.”

This is the way I began a series on Bukovsky, earlier this year. (The four parts of this series are at the following links: I, II, III, and IV.) I had visited him at his home in Cambridge, England. We sat on his back patio for a fascinating couple of hours.

He sat in a wheelchair, as I remember. I can’t remember whether he was hooked up to tubes. He had long hair and long fingernails. I thought of Howard Hughes. He (Bukovsky) chain-smoked and chain-drank, so to speak. His cigarette cartons were marked with terrible images of disease and death. He occasionally paused to use an inhaler, to aid his breathing. I wondered how long we would have him — and he was enormously lovable.

A gruff Russian bear? Sure, on occasion. Bukovsky was no violet. You don’t take on the Soviet state while being a violet. But he was immensely lovable, and I count the afternoon I spent with him as one of the privileges and joys of my journalistic life.

I will have more to say about this remarkable character later on.

• Tiger Woods has now caught Sam Snead — 82 PGA Tour wins. That’s how many such wins Woods and the late “slammer” have. Jack Nicklaus is third with 73. He and Slammin’ Sammy ain’t adding any more. Whether Woods can, we will see. (Of course, Tiger’s winning percentage — which is a strange phrase, and a strange statistic, for golf — is off the charts.)

• The latest episode of my Music for a While is here. In it, I play some Beach Boys — yes, some Beach Boys, and “Good Vibrations,” in particular (sung by the King’s Singers). How did this come about? I tweeted, “Quite possibly, my favorite lyric from any pop song is ‘I don’t know where, but she sends me there.’ It is borderline nonsensical — but so wonderful.” Roger Kimball — the great Roger Kimball, the editor of The New Criterion — replied, “Borderline, maybe, but the right side of the border! Wasn’t it Wallace Stevens who said that poetry resists the intelligence almost successfully?”

Yes. Stevens begins a poem — “Man Carrying Thing” — as follows: “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.”

My friend Rahul chimed in with a lyric of his own — I mean, a lyric he thought of: “Praise the grammar police, set me up with your niece.” That comes from “Transport Is Arranged,” a Pavement song.

Do you have a favorite lyric? One that is a little nonsensical — or a lot so — but wonderful or memorable nonetheless? Lemme know —

• By the way, if you would like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — lemme know, at that same address.

• My latest “New York Chronicle” in TNC (The New Criterion) is here. If you would like to receive music writings by e-mail — again, lemme know.

• On Saturday, I went up to Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., from Manhattan. A train trip along the Hudson River on a sun-splashed fall day? I wonder if there’s a train trip more beautiful. I’ve been on a few, over the years, here and there.

• Gonna keep this Impromptus on the short side, because you have so much to read. Who has time to linger? Let me leave you with a photo — Halloween at my house, or at my building, which is always colorful. So, here’s a little color . . .

And a little witch, in “Please sir, may I have some more?” mode.

And a little portrait I title “Defiantly Ghoulish.”


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