have almost given up talking about the Middle East, trying to persuade people on it, because it seems futile. Either you see the Middle East clearly more specifically, the Arab-Israeli conflict clearly or you dont. I am in the persuasion business the opinion-journalism business and probably have no business making such an admission, but here I am. I have found, in the last many years, that trying to persuade people about the Middle East is like trying to persuade people about religion: a fools errand. People find out for themselves, by various ways (which may include your talking), or they dont.
As regular readers know, I was quite the little Arabist when I was young, immersed in an Arabist environment; but I gradually came to see that the Arabs Palestinians, in particular had no intention of co-existing peacefully with Israel, or co-existing at all. I read Commentary and David Pryce-Joness stuff and some other things and the daily newspaper, of course but I had no single discussion, read no single book or essay, that opened my eyes. It was the accumulation of learning and reality. It is certainly true that there are individual Arabs maybe millions, all together who are willing to live with Israel; but they are pathetically swamped by their fellows.
Over and over in this column, I have talked about a false evenhandedness with regard to the Middle East, and have cited examples of it. (You can find an example in just about everything Colin Powell says, just to take one U.S. official. U.N. officials, like Kofi Annan, are less evenhanded: They are outright pro-Arab, which is now, sadly, tantamount to being pro-terrorist.)
Yesterday, James Bennett began his analytical piece in the New York Times as follows: Beyond Israels shattered hotel banquet halls and the trampled Palestinian cities . . . There you have the neat equivalence, de rigueur in our media, a prerequisite for wisdom.
I was perhaps not the only one who watched Israeli tanks plow into PLO buildings over the weekend and thought, This is the way it is: Palestinians blow up little girls at their bat mitzvahs and people sitting down to their Passover seders; Israelis knock over empty buildings; and the world calls it a cycle of violence, and demands restraint on both sides, but particularly the Israeli. Arafat always seems to be the victim, doesnt he? He calls the State Department, he calls CNN, he calls the New York Times: and they all rescue him.
Did your hear him scream at Christiane Amanpour, You are talking to General Yasser Arafat? Well, if he is a general, then he is leading his troops in a war, and the general (who is also the democratically elected prime minister) on the other side should do the same. If this is a war and the repeated wanton slaughter of civilians normally triggers a war lets get on with it. No government can stand by while its people are slaughtered, no matter how tight a leash it is on from a foreign government and patron. Some days, George W. Bush seems to understand this, other days, not.
Later in his article, James Bennett touches on this issue of evenhandedness: Part of the terrible symmetry of the impasse is that each side rejects the idea that symmetry exists. To each, it is the other that uses cruel and unnecessary violence, the other that is a captive of extremists, the other that will not accept a reasonable settlement as it pursues absolute victory.
Yes, but what if one side is right and the other side wrong? This is, Im afraid, a matter of fact, not a mere matter of opinion. The Arabs have been offered compromise ever since 1947, again and again, most recently in 2000 and they have rejected it, in favor of war and murder.
Solzhenitsyn speaks of the 50-50 fallacy. As usual, he is right. But then, the Times has never had much use for Solzhenitsyn (about which I may write a full essay later).
A final comment on this subject: Impromptus-ites know that I am frequently exasperated with the Timess Thomas L. Friedman, finding that the most important columnist in the country (if not il mondo intero, as Alfredo sings) should write more responsibly. More than a few have even suggested that I start a Friedman Watch, which I reject, because I have always found such watches slightly Orwellian, bullying, creepy, and wrong.
But since I have hit Friedman so hard in this space, I thought it was only just that I point out that his column yesterday was wise and true in its every sentence.
One of the glorious things about President Bush has always been his forthrightness, his candor, his come-what-may attitude. I will do whats right, and if other people dont like it, the hell with them, he has always said, or at least implied (actually, he has said it, more often than not). Thats yet another reason many of us were disappointed in, not only his signing of the campaign-finance bill, but the manner of his signing it: a quick scribble in private, then a flight out of town. If he really thought he were doing the right thing, he would have set up a ceremony, with 8 million pens, beaming legislators, the whole bitsy, as my grandmother would say.
There are a zillion things to say about this bill, and I have said many and I hope the courts will say more but one of them is that if the thing had been worth signing, it would have been worth signing openly, proudly, even defiantly.
As you well know, Im not anti-politics. Im not a naïf whos just wandered in from Sunnybrook Farm. But the signing of this disgusting and anti-constitutional legislation was not necessary. It made the steel deal look principled.
The president made several recess appointments over the weekend, among them Gerald A. Reynolds as assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department. (People named Reynolds are bad news for Democrats: Remember William Bradford Reynolds from the Reagan administration? The media did their best to convince us he was Bull Connor.) Gerald Reynolds is black, which you have to know, because the Left goes particularly ape when a black person who is also a conservative, or at least not a doctrinaire liberal, is given any sort of power, or rises above knee level, in American life. It is too severe a challenge to the notion that race equals ideology, that the color of your skin determines the thoughts or convictions in your head. That is why Clarence Thomas is a special threat, that is why this Reynolds is a special threat, and thats why Teddy Kennedy and his ilk (as Bob Novak would say) get foamy over them both. For many liberals, Thomas and Reynolds are worse than Toms: They are living refutations of what the liberals believe, about themselves, not least.
And these black conservatives are, of course, among the bravest people in the country. They need the steadfast and loud support of all of those who value what they do (not forgetting the sacrifices they make). Clarence Thomas said, famously, during his confirmation hearings, that the Left feared and vilified uppity blacks (he must have sanitized the phrase for television). Well, I say: Get uppity.
The administration invited Oprah to Afghanistan, and the Big O stiffed them, of course. Republicans never learn. Theyre sort of like the geeks in high school who want to be liked, who want the approval of the cool kids, and always stumble, looking all the more foolish for their efforts. Early on in this administration, the Interior Department asked Robert Redford to participate in some event! And Redford, as any dolt could have foreseen, used the occasion to denounce the department as an Earth-destroying Nazi machine (or something).
Woo the Reagan Democrats or the high-techies or the Hispanics or whomever but not the entertainment world, please.
You may not have heard, but Castros Cuba has banned the computer: Ordinary citizens are no longer allowed to buy them, or parts for them. An article in Wired magazine here it is speculated, The rise of independent journalists in Cuba, who published articles on the Internet criticizing the Castro regime, may have something to do with [the ban]. The correspondents, who risk jail time for their subversive reports, send their stories by fax, e-mail or phone dictation to supporters in Miami. Of course, I along with all other journalists who care rely on such reports. And now Castro has made them even harder, riskier.
I spoke before about brave people. I know of none braver than the Cuban democracy and human-rights activists. They make the rest of us seem lazy, indifferent, and small.
Is it ever too late to say youre sorry? Probably not. Its nice to see Switzerland sweet little neutral Switzerland, with the chocolates and the dogs with the booze around their necks fess up to its role in abetting the Holocaust. To quote the first line of an AP report, Swiss authorities knowingly contributed to the Holocaust by turning back Jewish refugees to face their Nazi persecutors, according to a five-year study funded by the Swiss government.
You know whos eloquent on this subject, of what the Swiss did? The late conductor George Solti, who addresses the issue in his memoirs (published about four years ago). Solti fled to Switzerland during the war; he survived; but he saw, up close, how the Swiss handled this critical, character-determining situation.
I must tell you that Soltis memoirs are not only probably the best musical memoirs I have ever read, but among the best memoirs from anyone, in any field I have ever read. He was, in fact, at least as good a memoirist as he was a musician (uh-oh, here comes the mail: heavily from Chicago, no doubt). Those memoirs were the last act of Soltis life; as though in a movie, he put the final touches on them on the very day he died. This is an extraordinarily powerful, wise, enlightening, beautiful book.
Was I talking about the Swiss? God, this is a weird column.
Jonathan Alter has just published a big brief for the post-presidential Clinton and Clinton generally in Newsweek. I could talk for two hours about this article, or two seconds. Mercifully, Ill do the latter.
Alter records that Clinton went shopping for bikinis and sarongs with Anthony Hopkins in Brazil, and that the ex-president says he was shopping for his daughter, Chelsea.
Has any father in the history of the universe shopped for bikinis for his daughter? Maybe so. Maybe I know much less about the world than I imagine.
Also, Alter writes that Clinton is now insisting that the war on terrorism, while important, is not like World War II at all and will eventually be seen in the context not of the Bush presidency but of Clintons global achievements.
As an old joke ends, Beautiful, just f***ing beautiful.
The Times reports that Doris Kearns Goodwin the historian under fire for gross and repeated plagiarism has assembled around her a damage-control team, consisting prominently of Bob Shrum and Ted Kennedy. Shrum is the longtime worker/ghostwriter/courtier of the Kennedys, showing up at every key moment. (He has also spent a career calling conservative Republicans racists. To defeat Ward Connerly in California, he put up an ad showing David Duke and a burning cross.)
Reading about the Goodwin effort, I couldnt help thinking of the damage control around Ted Kennedy himself, after he drove Mary Jo Kopechne into the water and left her to die. Part of that crew was another liberal Democratic historian sort of an official historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. They all figured out what to do to save Ted Kennedys skin, no matter what the justice, or injustice, to Kopechne and her loved ones.
This is full circle, in a way, or at least a bit of déjà vu (as long as Im reaching for clichés): Official liberal Democratic historians have helped out Kennedys; now Kennedys are helping out them. Its admirable, in a way, that these people are so loyal to one another. But that doesnt mean that they should dominate our national consciousness and record. Does it?
I saw in the Times an article about homeless beggars in Colorado, and the caption under the photo said, Rick Shaw soliciting in fast-growing Douglas County . . . I realized it took a second that soliciting meant begging. I had never seen it used that way. To me, soliciting means trying to sell something door-to-door. Apparently, the Times and other people under the rule of PC arent allowed to say begging, so soliciting has been called into service as a euphemism.
The headline over the article was County Tells Panhandlers to Pitch Woes Elsewhere. Panhandling must be okay, along with soliciting but not begging.
In several previous columns, we have talked about lexical feats in politics pro-choice, tax giveaways, West Bank, settlements, and so on and it now occurs to me that the homeless is one of the greatest such feats ever. Of course, few homeless are truly homeless, and a lack of shelter is often the least of their problems, if it is a problem at all.
Many years go, I saw Walter Williams on television ridiculing this idea of the homeless, saying, We used to call them bums and hobos. I almost fell off my chair. That was my introduction to Walter Williams, one gutsy hombre.
Do you remember how, back in September and October, some people seemed relieved and even gleeful that the anthrax attacks seemed to be perpetrated by home-grown crazies, rather than Middle Eastern ones? People were almost triumphant about it, (all but) saying, See, see? We have no right to judge other peoples or other countries; were just as bad. Plus: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City.
In the last two weeks, there have been reports linking anthrax to the 9/11 terrorists and I can almost feel, around me (though not in my offices, to be sure), the disappointment.
I guess I cant tell the whole story, but for the benefit of those who know it and for those who dont, I apologize for the tease Id like to recite the punchline: Oh, come on, Milton, just take out enough to win.
And thats our little, private, wink-wink celebration of the late, great comedian.
In recent months, we have been talking a lot about foreign aid and ingratitude and backfirings especially in the Middle East so I was particularly struck by this line attributed to another late, great: Billy Wilder: If you give them food, its democracy. If you leave the labels on, its imperialism.
I had always thought of LeRoy Nieman as a sports artist, pure and simple. Remember when the networks would use him to do paintings of the game during the game itself? They would show him working on them as they went into commercial breaks.
Well, on the cover of the Metropolitan Opera program this month, there is a drawing a magnificent, definitive drawing of Falstaff, and the signature to the side of it is Niemans.
Who knew? Maybe everybody. But I didnt.
Watching the golf tournament this weekend, I noticed Chryslers new slogan: Drive = Love.
This is the way I imagine it: The team is sitting around, trying to come up with a great new slogan, and someone the team leader, or the client says, Its got to say, Drive equals love. Yes, the message is: Drive equals love. And someone maybe that same person with a lightbulb over his head, says, Hey! Why not Drive equals love? So they just go with the formula.
Sort of like George H. W. Bushs immortal, Message: I care (reminding me further of his immortal, Dont cry for me, Argentina.)
For some reason stupidity, must be Ive taken to recording embarrassing moments in this column. People seem to enjoy them. But then, they enjoy gladiators and executions.
So, Im walking in Riverside Park this weekend and theres a girl and her father or a man who appears to be her father playing catch. Im walking along a path, and the two throwers are on either side of the path. I have about 30 seconds to watch this catch-playing, before I pass, and I see the girl make about four throws. Shes really, really good. What an arm on her, and excellent form. Shes better than Tatum ONeal as Amanda Wurlitzer in The Bad News Bears. Pretty little girl, too, about ten, with long hair, past her shoulders.
As I pass they stop for a second I turn to the father and say, softly enough not to be heard by the girl, That girl doesnt throw like a girl at all! And the father, who looked confused for a second, says, Hes a boy.
Im pretty sure I didnt say it loudly enough for the boy to hear me. But I proceeded to ask myself, not at all for the first time: Will I ever learn to keep my mouth shut, particularly with strangers?