The scene could have come straight out of a movie: A dog, barking eagerly, runs up to its owner, who says, “What’s that, Lassie? Two little girls lost? And . . . you want Taco Bell?” Fajitas all around were in order in an Atlanta suburb after two young girls got lost in the woods and a neighbor’s chihuahua (named not Lassie but, inevitably, Bell), though barely able to see over a daffodil, tracked them down. The rescue was reminiscent of an incident in Los Angeles last year when a tobacco shop’s chihuahua chased off two faint-hearted robbers. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
Friends of freedom and partisans of clear thinking paused to celebrate the centenary of the late Milton Friedman, whose scholarship deeply influenced economics and whose popular Free to Choose series of television programs and books provided millions of people around the world with a crash course in liberty. He was a tutor to Ronald Reagan and an adviser to such other heads of state as had the wisdom to take his counsel. (Too few acted on it.) He was tireless in arguing that the chief virtue of the free market is that it is the only reliable method for alleviating the mass poverty that is the natural state of man. He conclusively disassembled the regnant myth of the Great Depression (that it was a failure of capitalism rather than a failure of government policy), revolutionized monetary economics, and invented important statistical techniques in his spare time. His key social insight — “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself” — remains ferociously relevant, perhaps more so now than in his day. When Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics, it was the stature of the prize that was elevated, not his.
John Keegan was a British historian who made people think hard and long about war. In his view, human beings in all eras had fought to settle issues and always would. His books excelled in bringing to life not just the great commanders but the men in the line. He would have liked to have been a soldier himself but as a boy he had orthopedic tuberculosis and had to spend years in hospital. All his life he was in pain, supporting himself with an elegant cane and never complaining. After two decades teaching at Sandhurst, the British military academy, he became the military-affairs editor of the Telegraph. Out of principle he supported the war in Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq, and his opinion mattered because of the historical perspective that informed it. However just a war might be, though, he remained a humanist who deplored the brutality of battle. Aged 78, he died at his home in England. R.I.P.
Gore Vidal’s status as a literary lion was an instance of grade inflation. He managed to persuade literary folk that he knew something about politics, and political folk that he knew something about literature. Yet each pretense was true only up to a certain low point. As a political commentator and historian, he wasted himself on conspiracy theories; his literary oeuvre comprised hackery in various genres — novels, detective stories, screenplays, memoir, essays — only a handful of essays rising to real excellence. He was a tub thumper for homosexuality who sneered at AIDS; a self-styled old republican who shrugged at totalitarians, from Nazis and Japanese to the Soviet Union; an aristocrat who pursued airtime with the zeal of the Kardashians; a wit whose only note was bitchiness; and a creator who created only one character, himself, and that an unpleasant one. Dead at 86. R.I.P.