• This just in: Cory Booker says he took an extra packet of sugar at the diner this morning — and he’d do it again!
• Donald Trump appointed a serious, credentialed jurist to the Supreme Court — a man so mainstream that Elena Kagan hired him when she was dean at Harvard Law School — and at his hearing, Democrats immediately proceeded to beclown themselves. Serious discussions of law were few and far between. Instead, Democratic senators grandstanded to try to postpone the hearing, Democratic protesters shouted to interrupt the proceedings (more than 200 were arrested), and Democratic activists smeared Kavanaugh as a perjurer. By the end of the week, Kavanaugh’s good name had been dragged through the mud in a futile effort to block a confirmation that was essentially a done deal the instant Harry Reid killed the judicial filibuster in Obama’s second term. But the Democrats’ base wanted a fight, and so fight the Democrats did — without regard to decency or the truth.
• There is no more transparently ambitious and comically insincere politician today than Democratic New Jersey senator Cory Booker. Prone to make up dramatic stories, fond of self-valorizing gestures, and possessed with a persecution complex, he put all those vices on display during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. The most amusing moment came when he publicly “released” documents that he claimed he wasn’t allowed to release. Risking “expulsion from the Senate” — in his telling — he proudly declared that he was having his “Spartacus” moment and produced emails that showed that Kavanaugh opposed racial profiling. In other words, he dramatically “disclosed” documents showing that Kavanaugh supported Booker’s own political position. Then it was revealed that Booker was actually cleared to release the documents. He broke no rule. He took no meaningful stand. But don’t tell that to Cory Booker. He spent the next day or so shouting into any camera he could find that no, really, he was a rulebreaker. Soon enough, even fellow Democrats rolled their eyes. If the hearings were an early 2020 test, Booker failed miserably.
• Zina Bash is a top-flight conservative lawyer who clerked for Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Court of Appeals (and for Justice Alito on the Supreme Court). She aided Kavanaugh in his recent confirmation hearings and sat behind him. On social media, people accused her of making a white-power symbol with her hand. Her husband, John Bash, a U.S. attorney, issued a powerful response on Twitter: “We weren’t even familiar with the hateful symbol being attributed to her. . . . Zina is Mexican on her mother’s side and Jewish on her father’s side. She was born in Mexico. Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors.” Need any more be said? Only this: With all the actual racism and hatred in the world, anyone who would pick on Zina Bash, of all people, should get a life.
• Anonymous, an as-yet-unknown cog in the Trump administration, took to the pages of the New York Times to reveal that Trump is an unguided missile, surrounded by disloyalists who try to guide him for the good of the country. The tease of facelessness, and the offer of inside dope, set Washington chin-stroking about mores: Should the piece have been written? Not unsigned — quit, and stand by what you know. Should the Times have published it? Dish like that — of course. More interesting, and more wounding, were the revelations in Fear: Trump in the White House, Bob Woodward’s latest. Woodward’s lifetime batting average is as good as it gets for such journalism — say, .750. When Trump denied that aides had swiped a letter canceling a trade deal with South Korea off his desk lest he sign and send it, Woodward countered by producing a copy of the letter. Trump’s supporters and critics love and hate the same thing — his damn-the-torpedoes style. But the real Donald Trump is also an inattentive skipper running a loose ship.
• How should a president mark the passing of a political foe? This is what Andrew Jackson had to say in 1835 after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall, several of whose landmark decisions he had criticized or ignored: “Having set a high value upon the learning, talents and patriotism of Judge Marshall, and upon the good he has done his country in one of its most exalted and responsible offices, I have been gratified at seeing that sentiments equally favorable have been cherished generally by his fellow citizens . . . even [by] those who dissent from some of his expositions of our constitutional law (of whom it is perhaps proper that I should say I am one).” Jackson maintained his own views while saluting the merits of a great man who had disagreed with them. This is the definition of magnanimity. President Trump, who says he admires Jackson, had a chance to emulate him on the passing of Senator John McCain. He did not.
• Steve Bannon is a stormy petrel of politics, with an eye for outsiders, insurgents, cretins, and creeps. His career in this country blew up with the failed Senate campaign of accused sexual harasser Roy Moore, but he has moved on to Europe, where he communes with the forces unleashed by its immigration crisis. Yet Bannon off-and-on has his finger on the pulse; his new friends occupy positions of influence and power. He is a proper subject for journalistic investigation, which is why The New Yorker chose to interview him at its fall festival. A gusher of staff objections, and threatened cancellations from other attendees, however, caused the magazine to rescind its invitation. Malcolm Gladwell, disappointed staff writer, got it right: “I would have thought that the point of a festival of ideas was to expose the audience to ideas. If you only invite your friends over, it’s called a dinner party.” The cartoons are still nice.
• Under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has announced its intention to rescind the Obama administration’s ill-conceived guidelines for handling allegations of sexual assault on college campuses. The previous guidance used Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination to mandate that accused individuals be convicted of sexual assault based on a “preponderance of the evidence” standard rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a process prone to unjust outcomes. The Department of Education has not yet announced its new guidelines, but if done right, this reversal should enable the federal government to enforce Title IX while still ensuring that campus administrations respect the rights of all students involved in sexual-misconduct cases.
• “Congress is good at two things,” Representative Billy Long (R., Mo.) told Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. “Doing nothing and overreacting. We’re about to overreact.” Zuckerberg had been hauled in front of Congress — again — to be leaned on by lawmakers asking questions intended not for him but for the cameras. The brimstone whiff of bipartisanship is in the air: Democrats are angry at Facebook et al. because they blame “fake news” and Russian monkey business for Donald Trump’s win in 2016; Republicans are sour on Silicon Valley in general because they believe, not without reason, that conservative content is discriminated against by Facebook, YouTube, and others; and nobody is especially pleased by privacy breaches such as the Cambridge Analytica affair. In keeping with the dignity of the current Congress, Senator John Kennedy (R., La.) told Zuckerberg: “Your terms of service suck.” Well. Zuckerberg has affirmed his company’s support for some regulation, such as the Honest Ads Act, which is intended to bring more transparency to digital political advertisements, and one industry insider suggested that Facebook and the other big companies might support broader regulation, because they already have to deal with it in Europe, and because they have the means to shape it and to comply with it more easily than smaller would-be competitors. Our guess is that the average member of Congress can’t change his Twitter settings without help from his grandkids, and that heavy-handed federal intervention is likely to make things worse.
• Jeff Bezos has finally made it. He is sometimes the world’s richest man, depending on the fluctuations of the market, but now that Amazon has displaced Walmart at the top of the Left’s enemies list, he is truly on top of the world. Senator Bernie Sanders, the daffy socialist from Vermont, has introduced a bill called the Stop BEZOS Act (that’s “Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies”; if we put a heavy tax on dopey acronyms, we could balance the federal budget), which would impose a tax of $1 for every $1 in welfare benefits collected by any employee of a firm with 500 or more of them. This is, amazingly enough, even dumber than the average Sanders proposal. There are people who are poor, and who receive public assistance for that reason. Some of them wish to be less poor, and so they get jobs. And, because we do not wish to punish the poor for trying to better their lives, our welfare programs are structured so as not to dock beneficiaries $1 in benefits for every $1 they earn. Amazon is a good employer that, among other things, provides excellent benefits for its work force. It also offers its workers something that Senator Sanders and the welfare state cannot and never will: a way forward, and upward.
• We’ll breathe a sigh of relief when the NAFTA renegotiation concludes: the sooner and more amicably, the better. The agreement has provided an enormous boost to the economies of North America, and while modernizing the 24-year-old pact is not inherently a bad idea, this has been an unnecessarily contentious process that has put the entire edifice at risk. At this writing, Mexico demands an end to the steel war before the new agreement is signed, and Canada is still in discussions to determine whether it will even join. Meanwhile, Trump’s goals for the process are a mixed bag: His obsession with overall trade deficits is ill-informed, for example, though he’s right that China shouldn’t be able to evade trade restrictions by routing car parts through Mexico. (To be covered under the preliminary agreement with Mexico, cars will have to be made of 75 percent regional materials, up from 62.5 percent before.) Hopefully the final arrangement keeps trade on this continent at least as free as it was before, and hopefully negotiators succeed in keeping Canada on board.
• The Justice Department has sided with a group of Asian-American students in their lawsuit challenging Harvard University’s affirmative-action policies. In a court filing, the department notes Harvard’s receipt of millions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer funds, and argues that the school has failed to meet its burden of showing that its race-conscious admission policies don’t illegally discriminate against Asian applicants. As the brief states, the evidence presented in the case thus far “shows that Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race; uses a vague ‘personal rating’ that harms Asian-American applicants’ chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to make admissions decisions.” Federal law states that federally funded colleges may not discriminate on the basis of race, and it’s about time courts started enforcing it.
• In the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian included a simple maxim within the Digest of Roman Law: “That which someone does for the safety of his body, let it be regarded as having been done legally.” Eventually, this presumption made it into Anglo-American law, where it remains sacred to this day. But not, apparently, in Arkansas, where a mother is being prosecuted for saving her own life — and the life of her unborn child — with a gun that she was not legally entitled to use. Last December, Krissy Noble shot and killed an intruder who broke into the apartment she shared with her husband. The shooting itself was deemed justified by police, and, at first, the case was dropped. Subsequently, however, prosecutors discovered that Noble had a drug conviction in her history that had rendered her ineligible to use a firearm, and charged her with illegal possession. On its face, this is absurd: In almost every state, Justinian’s rule is observed and the circumstances surrounding an act of self-defense are considered irrelevant. But when one adds in to the mix that the gun was not hers but her husband’s, and that she grabbed it only in extremis, the suggestion that Noble in any meaningful way violated the state’s “possession” law falls swiftly apart. If one cannot legally use any tool to hand in order to repel an intruder into one’s own home, then one is not really free.
• “QAnon” is a conspiracy theory and a movement. In brief, they allege that President Trump and the U.S. military are engaged in a glorious shadow war against a global pedophile cult, which prominently includes top U.S. Democrats. One of the QAnon leaders is Michael Lebron, who goes by the one-name moniker Lionel. He is a radio personality and a contributor to RT, the Kremlin propaganda outlet. He recently had his picture taken with President Trump in the Oval Office, at the Resolute desk. Lebron circulated the photo far and wide, with QAnon-related hashtags. He said that meeting the president was “an awesome transcendental moment.” Let us hope that no such moments are repeated.
• Florida has long been considered one of the freest states in the union. Now the Democrats want to put a socialist in the governor’s mansion. Nominee Andrew Gillum, currently the mayor of Tallahassee, has been dogged by an ongoing FBI probe into corruption in the state capital. His agenda isn’t any more promising. Gillum is a dedicated opponent of gun rights who supports a ban on “assault weapons” and municipal gun restrictions that flout state law. Republican nominee Ron DeSantis is far closer to the typical Florida voter’s position on guns, which is to say that DeSantis treats the Second Amendment as if it were part of the Constitution. Gillum also wants more government involvement in health care, an especially implausible proposal in the state with the country’s largest geriatric population, and has proposed a steep corporate-tax hike. The race may turn out to be a competitive one, but the nomination of a hard-left candidate in a state that has benefited from conservative reforms for a generation is a depressing sign of the continued radicalization of the Democratic party, with no end in sight.
• So Florida is poised for a clash of ideas? Not if the press has anything to say about it. On the first day of the campaign, DeSantis praised Gillum’s political acumen but proposed that Florida, which has both an unusually low unemployment rate and an unusually low tax burden, would be damaged by his ideas. “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction,” DeSantis argued. “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.” Immediately, the word “monkey” was removed from its innocuous context and recast as a racial slur, with many headlines — and Gillum himself — suggesting that DeSantis had suggested that to elect a black man such as Gillum would be to “monkey this up.” So much for reasoned debate.
• Rick Scott is, we hope, on his way to the Senate, but before he leaves the Florida governor’s office, he ought to correct a lingering injustice: the incarceration of Frank Fuster, a victim of the “satanic ritual abuse” panic exploited by the late Janet Reno, the Florida prosecutor who would go on to do great harm as Bill Clinton’s attorney general. Fuster is not a categorical innocent — he served time for homicide and later received two years’ probation for fondling a nine-year-old girl — but he is almost certainly innocent of the crime in question, because the crime in question almost certainly did not happen. As with many similar cases in which children told fantastical stories about being transported by spaceship to be sexually abused in orbit or having their heads cut off and reattached, Fuster’s case involved wild allegations (in this case, raping children with drills and snakes) for which there was no evidence. His wife was abused — held in solitary confinement, kept naked, hosed down, denied basic hygiene — until she offered a confession implicating him, and even then she denied the truth of it as it was being submitted to the court. Fuster was convicted in part on the strength of that confession and in part on “recovered memories,” an article of psychological folklore for which there is no scientific evidence. Dozens of people were charged and convicted in these cases, most of which were subsequently thrown out. Frank Fuster is Janet Reno’s last victim.
• Could the summer of shame in the Catholic Church end with the fall of Pope Francis? After the emetic details from the Pennsylvania grand-jury report, and the historic removal of Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, publicly accused Pope Francis of knowing McCarrick’s reputation for preying on seminarians, but rehabilitating him and making him an adviser helping the Vatican reshape the American episcopacy. The Viganò letter accused nearly a score of high Church officials of being inveterate liars, dissenters on doctrine, or morally unfit for office, before calling on the pope to resign in disgrace. American bishops not named in the letter have called for a full investigation into its claims, and Rome has, as of this writing, refused to deny the main charge, that Pope Francis knowingly lifted some kind of sanctions put on McCarrick by Pope Benedict. Pope Francis initially told reporters he would not comment on the accusations until he was ready. But ever since, his homilies and audiences have been full of colorful vituperation for those who “seek scandal.” The accusations are simply unprecedented in the modern Catholic Church. Unless and until the Vatican makes available documents showing what Popes Benedict and Francis knew of McCarrick and when, the Church will continue to burn in scandal, with cardinals and bishops divided into two camps; those who dismiss the Viganò letter and those who find its allegations of corruption at the highest levels of the Church all too believable.
• In a late-night tweet while apparently watching television, President Trump directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to closely study” the issue of land expropriation in South Africa, as well as the supposed “large scale killing of farmers” there. The media responded with alarm bells: Trump was trafficking in white-nationalist talking points, they said, and dissembling about a nonexistent crisis. There is scant evidence of large-scale killings, but the situation in South Africa is indeed dicey. The ruling African National Congress — the party of Nelson Mandela — has promised a more equal society since the end of apartheid; yet inequality, usually fueled not by white farmers but by political leaders and their cronies who have gotten rich off graft, has only worsened. As popular support grows for the radical, left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is drifting toward a policy of land seizures without compensation. That is an extreme step that would have devastating economic effects, as in Zimbabwe, and could exacerbate racial tensions both there and elsewhere. The situation in South Africa is a subject of legitimate concern.
• With two successive moves, the Trump administration hardened its stance on Palestine. First, the State Department withdrew all funding from a United Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees. The U.S. had been providing more than one-third of its funding, but the U.N. uses the agency for negotiating purposes: Palestinians have long insisted upon the so-called right of return for refugees, and the agency operates with a definition of “refugee” that is far too expansive. Days later, national-security adviser John Bolton announced the closure of the Washington, D.C., office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. That is in keeping with the 1987 Anti-PLO Terrorism Act and follows increasingly fervent calls by the PLO for international sanctions against Israel. The unfortunate reality that peace talks between Israel and Palestine are for now nonexistent owes mostly to the demands of the Palestinian side. The Trump administration’s actions, tough but necessary, serve the just principle that the existence of a Jewish state is not a contingency that can be negotiated away.
• There is a joke making the rounds in Turkey — a dark and apt one. A prisoner goes to the prison library, hoping to borrow a particular book. The librarian says, “We don’t have the book — but we do have its author.”
• The People’s Liberation Army Navy — Communist naming conventions never change — is nearing the completion of an aircraft-carrier group. China’s first carrier was purchased in the 1990s from the Soviet Union under the amusing pretext that it would be used for a casino; its first domestically built carrier was completed last year, and the battle group could be complete by 2020. The U.S. Navy is not at risk of relinquishing global supremacy anytime soon. But we are spread more thin than are the Chinese, whose major goal is to control the South and East China Seas. China’s buildup in amphibious capability should not have us panicked, but it should have our attention.
• British politics, hitherto a byword for calm and good temper, is becoming a most uncertain rough-house. The Conservative party doesn’t yet concede that effectively it has split into two factions not on speaking terms, one for and the other against membership of the European Union. Normally such division plays into the hands of the opposition. Not this time. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party since 2015, is busy refashioning it into a Communist party in all but name. A thuggish assortment of Stalinists, Trotskyites, and anti-capitalists are purging colleagues who do not agree with them. Corbyn’s long record of attacking Israel and its supporters has introduced anti-Semitism into the practice and the ideology of the party. The pushback threatens to split this party as well into two irreconcilable factions. One of the most distinguished members of Parliament for almost 40 years, Frank Field, has just resigned the party whip, in protest against what he describes as the party’s “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation.”
• Late last year, two reporters for the Reuters wire service were reporting in Burma on atrocities committed by the state against the Rohingya minority. Those reporters were arrested. They have now been sentenced to seven years in prison. They are Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28. After the sentencing, Wa Lone said, “We know we did nothing wrong. I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy, and freedom.” Would that the Burmese government did too. Its civilian leader is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who was once a world heroine. The imprisonment of two reporters seems as nothing compared with the mass rape and murder of the Rohingyas, and the razing of their villages, but it is still outrageous and telling.
• While empires were rising and falling in Europe and the Middle East, people in the Western and Southern Hemispheres were busy making their own history. A trove of the cultural heirlooms from which scientists and anthropologists have been reconstructing what the natural environment and human civilization in South America looked and felt like over the centuries was concentrated in the National Museum of Brazil, an estimated 90 percent of whose 20 million items went up in flames on September 2, less than three months after its 200th anniversary. Among the items destroyed in the fire were mummies, Incan artifacts, specimens of extinct insect species, dinosaur skeletons, and possibly the skeleton of a woman who lived 11,500 years ago in what is now Brazil. The scope of the loss is staggering. Some Brazilians sought to politicize it, demonstrating against austerity measures and spending cuts that they say kept the museum’s sprinkler system in disrepair. A street sweeper near the site in Rio de Janeiro told a reporter that, while government corruption makes him sick, “the feeling I have about the museum is sadness.” Roger that.
• And here comes . . . rapid-onset gender dysphoria. A study published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed journal, documented cases in which parents told of children who suddenly come out as transgender, usually after a friend or a mentor does. “The onset of gender dysphoria seemed to occur in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all of the friends have become gender dysphoric and transgender-identified during the same timeframe. Parents also report that their children exhibited an increase in social-media/internet use prior to disclosure of a transgender identity.” Example: “A 14-year-old natal female and three of her natal female friends were taking group lessons together with a very popular coach. The coach came out as transgender, and, within one year, all four students announced they were also transgender.” (Usage note: natal female?) This is familiar territory, previously seen in cases in which young people looking for something to belong to embrace an unlikely new identity, often a sexual one, e.g. the phenomenon described by the wry campus epithet LUG (“Lesbian Until Graduation”). But unlike mere sexual adventures, adventures in transgenderism may involve irreversible consequences, as when hormone treatments and surgery are performed on minors who may not entirely understand what they are getting themselves into — a questionable practice at best. One may at the same time sympathize with people who are distraught at their sex and maintain that we should proceed, if at all, with extreme caution.
• Earlier this month, senior Kaylee Foster was crowned homecoming queen of Ocean Springs (Miss.) High School. Then she doffed her tiara and gown for a football uniform, ran out onto the field, and kicked the game-winning extra point (she had earlier made two field goals). Kaylee’s regular gig is with the girls’ soccer team, but she kicks well enough to hold a spot on the boys’ football team as well. We are impressed with Kaylee’s diverse talents, and whatever the pros and cons of letting girls play on boys’ teams, we like to think that any girl who does so has earned her spot through talent and skill, and would be offended at the suggestion that she needed a quota or relaxed standards to succeed.
• At Stockton University, a state institution in New Jersey, undergraduates can now minor in marijuana (officially, Cannabis Studies). The program is business-oriented, and we’ll spare you the jokes about weeding out underachievers: “As a result of the swift growth in medical and recreational marijuana and the impending debates regarding legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey, Stockton students may find the marijuana industry an attractive one to enter after graduation.” They certainly may. Required courses cover the medical, legal, and business aspects of marijuana (“with opportunities for experiential learning”), and these can be supplemented with courses in such related topics as hydroponics, “social and ethical considerations of business” (always an important concern for drug dealers), “holistic health,” etc. Just when we thought that academic innovations, especially those that end with “Studies,” couldn’t get more ridiculous.
• A couple of months ago, we were lauding Serena Williams for her heroic performance at Wimbledon, and an awe-inspiring career in general. We stand by every word, of course. But her performance at the U.S. Open this year was shameful — not her tennis-playing but the fit she pulled on the court, specifically at the chair umpire. She has lost her temper before, infamously. It is something she ought to root out, even at this late date. The worst thing about her recent performance is that she acted the victim after the tournament, detracting from the achievement of the champion, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who has always idolized Serena and, at the Open this year, had thrashed her. Maybe Serena will see things clearly in coming weeks, own up to her error, and act the champion.
• Aretha Franklin was sent to her reward with a grand funeral, complete with pink Cadillacs. But who was that on the altar among the A-list mourners, alongside Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton? Early in his life Louis Farrakhan was a professional musician himself (his stage name was The Charmer). But he appeared at Franklin’s exequy because of his prominence as a religious leader, in which role he has spewed hatred of all non-black races, which he believes to be the products of breeding experiments on the island of Patmos by the evil Dr. Yacub. He is particularly unfond of Jews, whom his website associates with the Synagogue of Satan. His presence was the fault of no individual. It was the residue of a decades-long embrace by the black community, especially its churches, of a bigot because he speaks well, and evidently expresses, in however extreme a form, their views.
• The Village Voice, New York’s downtown weekly, strove to be the banner of the counterculture, listing whichever way it blew: hipsters, New Left, gay liberation. One of its founders was Norman Mailer, and his contributions were so pot-addled that they read like a joke: a joke he ruefully acknowledged in Advertisements for Myself. But other contributors could be stimulating as well as merely rebellious: Andrew Sarris, film critic; Wayne Barrett, bloodhound of local political scandal; Nat Hentoff, the First Amendment absolutist who, prompted by NR’s James P. McFadden, became a doughty pro-lifer. The Voice also supplied ordinary young people in Gotham listings of eateries and events; Richard Brookhiser met his wife in a Renaissance singing group she joined thanks to an ad in the Voice. But the Internet, like an ever-rolling stream, bore all its ads away. The Voice gave up its print existence in hopes of surviving online, but could not finally manage even that. Dead at 63, R.I.P.
• Burt Reynolds’s final role was that of an elderly movie star, reduced to fragility by time and age, a man with an abundance of regrets but a good sense of humor. The role was not much of a stretch for him. But Burt Reynolds didn’t stretch much: He was a handsome, charming rascal who liked fast cars, booze, and pretty girls, and he played a lot of handsome, charming rascals who liked fast cars, booze, and pretty girls. Some obviously insane filmmaker once offered him the role of James Bond, and he wisely declined. But like a man who did play James Bond, Roger Moore, Reynolds had by the 1980s become a parody of himself, and the two played cartoon version of their stock characters in the Cannonball Run movies, Moore in a tuxedo, Reynolds with that mustache. He had a minor career renaissance after winning an Oscar nomination in the acclaimed Boogie Nights, and kept working until the end, having just accepted a role in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Charles Manson flick. Dead at 82. R.I.P.
• To earn their “daily bagels,” the brothers Simon coughed up one-liners “for stand-up comics and sit-down columnists” before moving up in the world, to write for TV variety shows in the 1950s, as Neil later in life described their early work in show business. Danny stayed in television. Neil had no idea how to write a play but gave it a try. Before he stopped, nearly half a century later, he’d written more than 30 and won Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe, and Pulitzer prizes for his original scripts and his adaptions of them for film and TV. Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, and Brighton Beach Memoirs were very New York but charmed audiences from anywhere who were simply very human. Warmth, a light touch, and relentlessly lively writing proved to have universal appeal. All his success “demeaned” him, he once told the New York Times. “Critically, the thinking seems to be that if you write too many hits, they can’t be that good.” It’s not a problem that would worry most writers. In August, the lights went up, and the curtain came down. Dead at 91. R.I.P.
John McCain, R.I.P.
As long as the history of the American military is told, John McCain will occupy a storied place in it.
Shot down over North Vietnam, grievously wounded, tortured and kept in solitary confinement, he repeatedly refused early release, offered to him because his father was an admiral. McCain kept faith with his comrades, his duty, and his country. If he had done nothing else with his life, he would still have been a legend.
Honor defined him and his politics, as a congressman, senator, and presidential candidate. He was independent-minded, decent toward his adversaries, and always interesting. With his long-time aide Mark Salter, he wrote books that, amazingly for a politician, had true literary value, none more so than his book on his family’s military tradition, Faith of My Fathers. He cared deeply about the U.S. military, and believed in the need for American international leadership. He was a tireless defender of human rights. He loved our ideals and hated our enemies. A devotee of the U.S. Senate and its traditions, he strove for statesmanship at a time when most politicians don’t even seem to be trying.
Perhaps his finest moment in the Senate was his lonely advocacy for the surge in Iraq at a low point of the war. It was classic McCain, who didn’t hesitate to take up an unpopular cause, and who propelled it with his passionate commitment and his credibility on military matters.
That said, we had many differences with him over the years. His signature domestic cause, campaign-finance legislation, was of dubious constitutionality and even more doubtful wisdom — it helped kneecap the party committees. In his insurgent 2000 bid for the Republican nomination, he road-tested a TR-inspired progressive Republicanism friendly to government regulation (though he remained in most respects a conventional Reaganite). After he lost to Bush that year in an honest fight — although the media portrayed Bush’s key victory in South Carolina as underhanded and racially charged — he entered a period of bitter estrangement from his own party.
He was an inveterate supporter of so-called comprehensive immigration reform, and he joined the other sponsors in never appearing to understand why legislation for a large-scale amnesty and higher levels of legal immigration repeatedly failed.
He joked that the media were his political base, and there was, of course, much truth to this. He was irresistible to the press — accessible, jocular, and a good quote. He unfortunately absorbed some of the media’s dismissive attitude toward his own party (see his denunciation of the religious Right in 2000, or his attacks on the Tea Party). When he most needed the press in 2008, having won the Republican presidential nomination after an amazing comeback, it abandoned him for an even more alluring darling, Barack Obama.
It was telling that his final act as a senator was killing off a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. McCain found process reasons to defeat a policy goal he had said he supported, dealing an ideological and political setback to his own side seemingly out of sheer cussedness and pique.
Still, whatever disagreements we had with him, there was no doubting his love for this country and his devotion to public service. The son and grandson of great Navy admirals, John McCain had much to live up to, and did so, with his signature verve and bottomless patriotism. The Senate won’t see his like again and neither will the nation. R.I.P.