Impromptus

What Shaq knows, &c.

Shaquille O’Neal on Inside the NBA, June 20, 2021 (NBA on TNT via YouTube)
On TV commentary, Biden abroad, Andrew Yang in New York, faces without masks, and more

On Inside the NBA two days ago, Shaquille O’Neal was asked who he thought would win Game 7 of the Milwaukee Bucks–Brooklyn Nets series. After thinking a second, he said, “I don’t know.”

As a rule, “I don’t know” is not permitted on television.

Ragging Shaq, Charles Barkley said, “That’s not an answer. They don’t pay us to say ‘I don’t know’ on TV, fool.” Ernie Johnson, the host, quipped, “Apparently they do.”

These few moments brought back a bunch of memories to me.

The brightest, wisest, most experienced people I know say “I don’t know” a lot. Dimmer (and less secure) ones almost never say it. Often, the more expertise you have, the less sure you are. The less you know, the surer you are.

You know the expression “Often mistaken, never in doubt?” That applies to a lot of people.

I frequently say that it’s hard enough to analyze the present or the past — forget about predicting the future. In political journalism, I think John McLaughlin, the host of The McLaughlin Group, had a lot to answer for. Now, I loved the show. “Jay and I worship in the Church of McLaughlin.” Mike Potemra said that, in about 1985.

We had moved across the hall from each other, in graduate school. Later, we both became editors of National Review.

Anyway, McLaughlin would end his show by demanding predictions of his four panelists. It was a good television idea, part of a good formula. But — commentary (or analysis) and prophecy are two different things. Often, McLaughlin would ask for a prediction — on this or that — in the middle of the show. Jack Germond would say, “I haven’t the foggiest idea.” At least once, someone said, “That’s cheating.”

But Germond was being honest. He was a very experienced, very good political reporter. He knew that not everything was predictable.

(Bob Novak was a conservative panelist, Germond a liberal one. They loved each other. I wonder whether those friendships still exist in journalism, or other areas of life. I kind of doubt it.)

I once had a chance to ask a former head of the Mossad, Efraim Halevy, about Cleo Noel. Noel, as you recall, was the U.S. ambassador to Sudan who was killed on orders of Yasser Arafat. (Vernon Walters told me that he, personally, listened to the intercepts. Walters was at the CIA at the time.) I asked Halevy, “Why doesn’t my country hold it against Arafat that he had our ambassador murdered?” Halevy answered, in all sincerity, “I don’t know.”

Back home in New York — I had been in Israel — I related this exchange to Bill Buckley. He said, “‘I don’t know’ can be a powerful answer.”

In my observation, young people — recent college grads — are very sure. They know everything. I have a feeling I was like that, when I was young: insufferable (even more than now). If you disagree with a young person — no matter how much experience, knowledge, or wisdom you have — you’re a dolt.

Maybe you are. But, you know? Maybe you aren’t.

Okay, back to Shaquille O’Neal and Inside the NBA. Before the segment was out, Shaq said, “I’m going with Brooklyn.” Ernie Johnson said, “Took a little time, but it was worth it.” I wish Shaq had stuck to his guns: his “I don’t know” guns. (And I’m sure that Ernie — who is very wise — agrees with Bill Buckley that “I don’t know” can be a powerful answer. I bet that Charles — also very wise — agrees too.)

In any event, Brooklyn fell to Milwaukee, 115–111.

Who’s going to win the NBA Finals? I don’t know. I mean: the Bucks, for sure.

• Said Joe Biden, “How could I be the president of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights?” This comports with my idea of the American presidency, too. (Obviously, it does not comport with everyone’s.)

Another statement from Biden, who was relating a conversation he’d had with Vladimir Putin: “I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country.”

I agree with that, too. But I wonder whether most Americans, at this point, do.

You will recall that Donald Trump’s first trip abroad as president was to Saudi Arabia. On landing, he said, “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

That was music to dictators’ ears. Because, as they see it, their job is to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, etc. In other words: to dictate.

I believe that, to the extent possible — to the extent consistent with coping in a nasty, dangerous world — the United States should be on the side of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Along with that, Americans ought to keep an eye on the political prisoners. As we conduct our diplomacy and so forth, we should occasionally pause to wonder — as Vladimir Bukovsky said — “How will it look to the boys in the camps?”

(Again, all this is very controversial.)

• I have never been a Yang Ganger. (Sorry if that came off dirty.) I was not enamored of Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign, and I have not been high on him as a candidate for mayor of New York. I am much higher on him now. In a debate, Yang said that the mentally ill do not belong on the streets — should not be living on the streets. It’s bad for them, and bad for the rest of the city.

He was knocked for this, after the debate. “You’re being insensitive to the mentally ill,” he was told. But the candidate stuck to his guns. The mentally ill need help, he said — they should not be on the streets.

Amen. That’s mayoral mettle, IMO.

• “In New York, crime spike is top of voters’ minds,” reads a headline from the Christian Science Monitor. Indeed. No one — I don’t care who you are, or what your politics are — wants to live in fear of crime. This should be a unifying issue. Without crime control, nothing else is possible. Without physical security, nothing else matters.

This is Job One, when it comes to government.

(To read the above-mentioned article, go here.)

• A tweet from Sean Hannity: “Mike Pence Heckled With Calls of ‘Traitor’ at Conservative Conference.” I’m not sure about the word “conservative” there. In America, what conservatives have long wanted to conserve is our Constitution, our system, our way of life. Anti-democratic rightism, or populism, is very different from conservatism. But, in the public understanding, the difference is being erased.

# Did you see this story? “GOP congressman refuses to shake hands with D.C. police officer who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6, officer says.” “Back the blue” can be a little conditional.

This story? “In secret recording, Florida Republican threatens to send Russian-Ukrainian ‘hit squad’ after rival.” Outsourcing? Globalism? America First, baby!

• Where I live, masks are coming off — and some people, I am seeing for the first time. I mean, full in the face. It’s amazing how much difference masklessness makes — more than I would have thought. There are some people I’ve known for a year — only since April 2020 or so. I am speaking of service employees, for example. People I have seen over and over, for a year or more. And when I saw them for the first time without masks — really, it makes a difference.

One young woman, I did not recognize at first. Only when she spoke did I say, “Aha!”

Personally, I look better with my mask on, but that’s another story. (Full burqa?) (Tough in the summer, though.)

• Every night, where I live, there is an onslaught of unmuffled motorcycles — motorcycles and other vehicles, I believe. Roaring through, waking the dead, being a public nuisance, flexing their muscles, waving their . . . hands around. From what I hear on social media, this is a phenomenon throughout the country.

There oughtta be a law, say I (dammit) (plus a harrumph).

• I wonder what you think of this: For years now, I have followed sports via my phone, via YouTube — absorbing highlights and summaries. I believe this has harmed my ability to watch whole games, or rounds of golf, on television. I have kind of forgotten how to do it. The ol’ noggin has been rewired.

Anyone know what I mean, by chance?

• For 40 years, Steve Chapman has worked at the Chicago Tribune. (I have known him for about 25.) He is an editorialist and a columnist. Steve has written close to 4,000 editorials. He is now leaving the Trib, although he will still have a syndicated column. A sterling career.

• Tim Alberta worked for us at National Review. Then he went to Politico and is now with The Atlantic. There is no better political reporter, particularly on the Republican Party. Last week, he tweeted, “I’ve been waiting to coach Little League since the day I learned my wife was pregnant and tonight is my team’s first practice and I just had to cancel because my flight home was delayed three times. Kind of feel like crying.”

Forget the cancelation. There’ll be many practices, many games. Think of the sentence “I’ve been waiting to coach Little League since the day I learned my wife was pregnant . . .” That is one for the hall of fame, I think — a sentences hall of fame.

• May I offer you a music podcast? The latest episode of my Music for a While. Betchou’ll like it. Thanks for joining me today, and I’ll talk to you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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