The Corner


On Leverage, Etc.

Ensaf Haidar holds a portrait of her husband Raif Badawi as she receives the 2015 Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg. (Vincent Kessler / Reuters)

The first several items of my Impromptus today concern Saudi Arabia. Consider this, for instance: If the United States got prisoners in the Soviet Union sprung — linking trade and so forth to their release — why not do the same with Saudi Arabia? In other words, if we could do it with an enemy (the USSR), why not with a friend (Riyadh)?

Raif Badawi is probably the most prominent political prisoner in Saudi Arabia. In a blog, he asked for democracy, freedom, and human rights — the usual (and the forbidden). He was arrested in 2012, imprisoned, and lashed. He remains in prison. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children are in Quebec. I interviewed her, and wrote about Raif, in 2016 (here). The children have made a video, appealing for their father’s release (here).

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are close allies. We have offered them an arms deal, which they want badly. Why not make Raif Badawi’s release a condition (quietly, if you like)? Would it kill us? If we used our leverage when dealing with the Soviets — why not with the Saudis? It should be easier, one would think.

Impromptus today has many other subjects, of course, including sports. Tell me what you think about this:

A long time ago, I heard Bob Novak say something about a basketball game. (Novak was a basketball fanatic — especially college basketball.) He didn’t like either team. And he said, “That game’s like the Battle of Stalingrad for me.”

I have used that line many times. (Other people say “Iran-Iraq War.”) But what I need is a phrase with the exact opposite meaning. What do you say when you love both teams?

I did not necessarily love both teams in the recent World Series. But I loved the two pitchers on the mound for the final game (what proved to be the final game): David Price (Red Sox) and Clay Kershaw (Dodgers). These are two of my favorite pitchers and two of my favorite athletes.

Not the Battle of Stalingrad. (If you can think of the kind of phrase I’m after, please let me know at

Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers played against each other last night. I like them both, a lot, and, as a Detroit Lion, I had no dog in the fight. Yet somehow, you wind up rooting anyway — as I was doing for Rodgers, for some reason. That’s another subject of my Impromptus: Is it truly possible to be neutral when watching a game?

Last, I’d like to publish some mail, concerning language. Recently, I spoke of dropped L’s, or silent L’s. A reader writes,

A great friend of mine, Lewis, from South Georgia, took a bunch of his buddies to dinner in Panama City, Fla., after a day of golf.

In due course, and after the group had had more than a few drinks, the waitress began to take dinner orders. Several of the golfers ordered salmon, pronouncing the L in that word.

This pronunciation is very common in the South.

Lewis, a very successful businessman, who sees himself as a man of the world, finally had enough of his less sophisticated guests. He stands up and announces, “I’m sick and tired of hearing you rednecks say ‘sallmon.’ Don’t you know it’s pronounced ‘sammon’? The L is silent.”

Whereupon one of his buddies at the end of the table stands up and says, “Shut the [heck] up and sit the [heck] down, Ewis.”

And that’s how Lewis became Ewis . . .

“Meet me in St. Ouis, Ouis, meet me at the fair.”

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