Some days ago, I was talking to a young friend of mine, who had been invited to a wedding — in Miami. My friend lives in New York, and so do the bride and groom. The bride is from Arizona; the groom is from Ireland. They are having their wedding in Miami because Miami seems relatively convenient for everybody: There are direct flights from New York, Phoenix, and Dublin. Presumably, one and all will stay in hotels.
I thought about the past. Time was — I can remember, pretty much — when you married someone from your hometown. Maybe your high-school sweetheart. You both lived in your hometown, i.e., the town you grew up in.
The wedding was in a church, and the reception was perhaps in the church basement. Or at the Knights of Columbus. Or in the bride’s home, supervised by the mother. She may well have made the cake.
Most of the guests lived in town as well. There were a few guests from out of town, and they tended to stay with friends or relatives in town — not in motels or hotels.
Honeymoons? I think of my own family. The weddings were in Michigan. One honeymoon was to Bowling Green, Ky. (I believe the honeymooning couple stayed with relatives, or family friends.) Another honeymoon was to French Lick, Ind.
Today, it is routine to go abroad, isn’t it?
I wonder: Was there as much complaint, back in those days, as there is today? Complaint about material lack? I have a suspicion not. What happened?
• A few days ago, I was talking to a different friend of mine. He was making a general point: These days, many things are cheaper — televisions, kitchen appliances, and the like. But three things — three big things — are not cheaper: housing, health care, and education. And these Big Three tend to wipe people out, or keep them from getting started.
Anyway, there are thousands of books and millions of articles on this subject, and I am skipping along in this breezy lil’ column of mine . . .
• Over the past few years, I have praised RFE/RL — the news organization that combines Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. This is a jewel in the American crown, and a boon to mankind. (I wrote a magazine piece about the organization in 2018, here.)
I would like to draw attention to one article from RFE/RL: “‘Unthinkable Things’: Documenting the Scars of Ukraine’s Prisoners of War.” The text is hard to read, and the pictures are harder to look at it. But it is all so very important.
A deep bow to the men and women of RFE/RL.
• Have you been keeping up with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia? Their religion is banned and members are being imprisoned and tortured.
Here is one excerpt from a Reuters report: “Law-enforcement officers in the city of Chita, six time zones east of Moscow, put a bag over Vadim Kutsenko’s head, drove him to a wooded area where they beat his head and legs, put him in a chokehold and used a taser on him, lawyer Artur Ganin said.”
There are such reports virtually every day, in a sickening stream.
• The French president, Macron, called for better relations with the Kremlin. Fair enough. I’m sure he has his reasons. But I liked the response of Garry Kasparov (the former chess champion, now a democracy champion): “Duck wants better relationship with alligator, alligator says thank you.”
• Sam Donaldson is back in the news. The longtime ABC correspondent and commentator — now 85 and retired — came out for Michael Bloomberg for president. For many years, I watched Donaldson — and George F. Will and others — on the David Brinkley show. Donaldson would always divulge just one vote in his life: his vote in ’64, for Goldwater. All the others, he said, he was keeping secret.
An interesting personality.
My favorite story about him, or from him, involves Will. Donaldson always said, “George Will is the smartest person I know.” Someone else said to him, “But Sam, you disagree with him on everything. What does that say about you?” Donaldson would tell audiences, with a grin, “I should probably stop saying that George is the smartest person I know . . .”
• This report on the GOP Senate race in Alabama is amazeballs, as they used to say — a fascinating, gobsmacking look at Republican politics today. All the candidates are competing to be the Trumpiest of the Trumpy. One candidate, a congressman, is complaining that “Hillary still ain’t in jail.”
• On to the Democrats — I have a theory about Joe Biden, though I can’t prove it. Democratic voters aren’t rejecting him because they dislike him or disagree with him. No, not at all. They are rejecting him because they fear he is past it, unable to carry out the necessary, in 2020 and beyond.
Can he turn his fortunes around? I doubt it, but politics is certainly fluid.
• Some people ask, Why is Pete Buttigieg doing as well as he is, given that he is the ex-mayor of a dinky town, a politician no one had heard of until two seconds ago? My answer is: This is not the 19th century. No way the ex-mayor of South Bend could have been considered for the presidency in the 19th century. But we live in an age of mass communications. People can see the candidates and hear them. Daily. Hourly, if they want. And a lot of Democrats like what Pete Buttigieg is saying and how he says it.
Mine is not a sophisticated analysis, but I believe it is true, or in the ballpark.
• Out on the trail, Pete said that addressing the national debt and the federal budget deficit is “not fashionable in progressive circles.” It is not fashionable in conservative ones either — trust me. All talk of fiscal sanity and responsibility ends as soon as Republicans are in charge.
• Last week, I was having a discussion with Sally Jenkins, the famed sports columnist of the Washington Post. We were talking about Steph Curry, the best shooter in the history of basketball, by consensus. Sally said that Steph’s hands are remarkably calloused up — she has inspected them personally.
In 2016, she wrote,
Curry shoots around 2,000 shots a week: He takes a minimum of 250 a day, plus another 100 before every game. It’s a counterintuitive fact that a player with the supplest shot in the NBA, whose overarching quality is feel, has the hands and work habits of a woodchopper. “My hands are actually kind of rough,” he says after practice at courtside. “I got a lot of callouses from the shooting.” He turns his palms up. The wrists and fingers are narrow and tapered, but the palms are gnarly and hardened, with flaking slabs of skin coarse to the touch.
I’ll tell you a story, as I told Sally: Many years ago, a couple of fans asked Jessye Norman, the great soprano, “How do you breathe?” She told them to put their hands on her waist — and she showed them.
• Andre Drummond, the great center of the Detroit Pistons — a future Hall of Famer — was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He tweeted, “If there’s one thing I learned about the NBA, there’s no friends or loyalty. I’ve given my heart and soul to the Pistons, and to have this happen with no heads-up makes me realize even more that this is just a business! I love you Detroit.”
I thought of Blake Griffin — traded to the Pistons by the Los Angeles Clippers in January 2018. The Clippers had told Griffin he was their franchise player. So that Griffin could envision the future, they held a mock ceremony, raising his (retired) jersey to the rafters.
Griffin found out about his trade to the Pistons on Twitter.
LeBron James made a great point, which I will paraphrase: When players like me leave a team, people cry, “There’s no loyalty!” Trust me, there’s no loyalty from the other direction either.
• The headline in the New York Times read, “Frederick Koch, Who Spurned Family Business, Dies at 86.” The subheading was, “The oldest of four boys, he had little interest in his brothers’ conglomerate or politics. Instead, he collected art and restored manor houses.” To read the obit, go here.
I knew Fred Koch a little — through music circles. Salzburg Festival circles, in particular. I always found him interesting and enjoyable. He used his millions to gorge himself on the arts — and to enable others to gorge on the arts as well. (I am speaking of his philanthropic endeavors.)
He was somewhat shy, I think, preferring to stand off to the side of a gathering. When I last saw him, he was sitting by himself, on the fringes of a gala fundraiser. I sat with him and we exchanged opinions. He was very bright and lively.
We never talked about business or politics, that I remember. Only the arts, and chiefly music (with a little bit of painting thrown in).
He was a very gracious host, Fred Koch. He had a castle in Austria: Blühnbach. It had been Franz Ferdinand’s hunting castle, and then belonged to Gustav Krupp, the steel magnate, who stood trial for war crimes at Nuremberg. Krupp was excused, however, on grounds of dementia.
Anyway, Blühnbach is a terribly interesting place, and Fred was a superb guide to it, of course.
His life was not easy, I’m sure — money be damned. He was apparently an outcast from his family. I jotted a little note about him on Twitter. Someone else replied, “Sometimes very different apples fall from the same tree.”
I thought that was beautifully observed.
• Clayton Williams, too, has passed away. What a Texan — straight from a storybook. He ran for governor in 1990, as you remember. Lost to Ann Richards. Williams was one of the most colorful candidates ever to come down the pike.
Once, I gave a little talk in Midland, his town — and the Bushes’ town (one of them) too. (Slogan: “The sky’s the limit.” W. used that in his 2000 presidential campaign.) Afterward, Williams came up to me and paid me one of the greatest compliments of my life. You have to hear it in his voice, though. He said, “You one smart . . .” — and the “son-of-a-bitch” was left unspoken.
Hope you’re having a happy week, ladies and gents. I’ll see you soon. Thank you.
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