hen the United States sends delegations, envoys, secretaries of state to the Middle East, it can only mean one thing: pressure on Israel. Only Israel responds to U.S. calls, sometimes agreeably, sometimes grudgingly and angrily. Historically, and certainly recently, Arabs have used U.S. envoys only as propaganda tools and props.
But the sending of such people allows U.S. administrations to say that they are doing something. You know, Dont just stand there, do something even though the doing something may make the situation worse. Action is seen as noble as at least trying even if that action is futile or worse.
I have a suggestion that might save our government a little money: Just give your orders that Israel stand down by telephone, and forget the charade of dispatching envoys to influence both sides.
For many years now most of my life I have been flabbergasted at how Arabs, and Palestinians in particular, can turn any stunt or horror into a propaganda victory. Hundreds of Palestinian gunmen and terrorists flee into the Christian church at Bethlehem, and Israeli forces, naturally, surround the church. This allows Yasser Arafat to say, My God, the Israelis are assaulting the church! and the world, stupid world, responds.
Palestinians send their murderers to Israeli communities via ambulance. Nice, huh? So Israeli authorities stop them, of course, and Arafat then cries, My God, the Israelis are stopping our ambulances and the world, stupid world, responds.
George W. Bush has now asked no, demanded, because he is U.S. president, which means that he is Israels boss that Israel ensure that Palestinians are free from humiliation at checkpoints. Well, thats just super such a nice talking point. But to hell with humiliation: Israel needs to ensure that Palestinians are free from explosives, meant to slaughter yet more Israelis by the hundreds, at checkpoints.
And do you know what? We Americans including my own sainted mother arent free of humiliation at checkpoints, in our airports. I could relate many a humiliating moment, and others, particularly women, I would say, could relate more. For heavens sake, a veteran U.S. congressman John Dingell of Michigan was forced to take his pants down at National Airport. In Arizona, a creaky Medal of Honor winner was forced to hand over his medal. But we understand, I guess. Cant the administration understand a little Israeli, er, nervousness about what Palestinians are bringing into Israel, seeing that a fair number of them are bringing their explosives belts?
Speaking of those lovely belts: On Thursday, Israel seized 40 of them in a factory located in the West Bank town of Salfit. But, of course, President Bush demands that Israel cease its incursions. So, no more explosives belts will be seized. Instead, they will be strapped onto young people, who will use them to murder more Israelis.
Will we then say that we have a certain responsibility for Israeli blood? Should we?
The countrys number-one Republican, Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas, said the following at Westminster College:
I was about to say, DeLay for President!, but thats too easy. Lets just say that DeLay is right which is quite enough.
In recent months, Impromptus-ites and I have spoken of lexical feats in politics feats such as pro-choice and tax giveaway. A reader has the following to say about Middle East policy:
How about the use of the word restraint in discussions of the terrorist war on Israel? The word seems so neutral in tone. But when you stop to think about it about what restraint means and why Israel should practice restraint the sheer enormity of using the word becomes clear. Why is Israel being asked to restrain itself? Why should it need to do so? Of course, its not restraint thats being called for when the Bush administration and others demand that Israel restrain itself. Its submission: submission and inaction in the face of unrestrained terrorism and war.
Another reader writes, Quick question: These peace activists who are volunteering as human shields to protect Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians: Where were they when Janet Reno stormed the house where Elian Gonzalez was holed up? Where were they when the ATF had the Branch Davidian compound under siege? For that matter, where were they when NATO was bombing Slobo and the gang?
Naturally, these arent peace activists: Theyre supporters of the Palestinian war on Israel, who want the war to succeed. Only Israel, with U.S. cooperation, can see to it that that war not succeed.
We have delighted, many, many times, in the language and the leadership, too, but I like to concentrate on the language (which is very much related) of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Earlier in the week, a top al Qaeda operative was delivered into our hands, one Abu Zubaydah. He will have many useful things to tell us, and he should be made to do so. The information he has will surely save lives, almost surely lots of them. In connection with Zubaydah, some have mentioned truth serums; others have even used the T-word, torture.
And what does Rumsfeld have to say? There is no question but that having an opportunity to visit with him is helpful.
That has to go down as a classic in understatement, or perhaps sarcasm, or a mixture of the two: an opportunity to visit with him just as though we were talking about Aunt Sadie, for a glass of iced tea.
Bryant Gumbel, that personification of what we rustics, paranoids, and boobs call media bias, is set to step down from his latest network morning show, CBSs The Early Show. Highlights from Gumbels oeuvre are endless, but I will relate only one, which I came across when preparing a piece on John Ashcroft. As you recall, one of the sticking points in Ashcrofts nomination was his handling of the case of Judge Ronnie White, a Missourian who was denied a Senate confirmation thanks largely to the opposition of Ashcroft.
Gumbel questioned his guest, Judge White, as follows: What do you think Senator Ashcrofts distortion of your record and tarnishing of your good name says about his character?
Thats our Bryant. Thats our press. But let no man call it media bias. (Gumbel, bear in mind, is not an opinion commentator, à la Bob Novak, but a network-news anchorman and host. Those are jobs that only left-liberals get, to judge from watching and listening to them.)
In related news, Phil Donahue is returning to television but at least theres an acknowledged opinion commentator, with no pretense that hes a straight newsman. And, oh, did we all love That Girl, whom he, of all men, married.
I wonder whether you spotted an intriguing news item related to Hungary. A leading politician, Laszlo Kover, was speaking to a crowd, and he blasted those Hungarians who opposed a bid to host the 2012 Olympics: If we are such an incapable people, then its not worth living, and we should all go down into the cellar and hang ourselves.
Well, his opponents twisted this statement, making it seem as though Kover had said that all those who differed with government policy should hang themselves. A demonstration was duly organized, at which protesters wore nooses around their necks, in mockery of Kover.
But I rather liked what he said liked the spirit of it. Its about time that Hungary, one of the great European civilizations not least musically got back on the world stage.
Its hard to make fun of the European Union weve all tried, but they keep outdoing us. A few years ago, we had some laughs over the EUs edict on condoms: They had to be a particular size, Europe-wide, no variations. But what about the relative endowments of Frenchmen, Germans, Swedes, Italians (or northern Italians and southern Italians), Bulgarians, Laplanders, and so on? Surely the euro-condom would be too snug for some, too roomy for others? But socialism cant think of such things. Socialism decides in offices, regardless of the realities among people.
Then the EU issued a decree on the curvature of bananas (pardon the relation): We kid you not. Our David Pryce-Jones used this as a jumping-off point for a lengthy and excellent article on the bullying, Orwellian, and demented nature of the European Union.
The problem is, as I mentioned, that you cant make up stuff about the EU, can scarcely joke about it. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Timess brilliant music critic, Bernard Holland, had a piece on Europes crackdown on noise, including the sounds made in concert halls. The EU is threatening to impose a workplace decibel limit of 85 without earplugs, 87 with them. This limit does not go far enough for some, who favor 83.
As a result, European musicians are not happy, as Holland (the critic, not the country) says. The director of the Association of British Orchestras protests, It will virtually stop us playing any loud repertoire whatsoever. But musical considerations leave Brussels unmoved. Said one of its health and safety spokesmen, Noise is noise. It doesnt matter whether its Tchaikovsky or a power drill.
Its both chilling and flattering that more and more Europeans, if they want to live and work in something like freedom, have to come here, to the United States (French techies in Silicon Valley, for example).
And now for a little Cuban news, never good. A headline from the Christian Solidarity Network says, Blind Christian Human Rights Activist Beaten and Imprisoned in Cuba. Cant do worse than that, can you I mean, beating up and imprisoning blind Christian human-rights activists? (The full story is found here .)
And this, from CubaNet: Police in Candelaria [in Pinar del Rio province], dressed as civilians, descended from two cars and a pick-up truck with tourism license plates and raided a group of peddlers on March 5, beating and arresting them. The peddlers, most selling agricultural produce or homemade foods, were taken to the Candelaria police station. They were fined 500 pesos and their merchandise was confiscated [gee, wonder in whose bellies that went?]. Police came back March 12, in civilian clothes, and suddenly attacked other peddlers, among them a 60-year-old woman, said Alberto Hernandez, a local dissident. Peddlers here try to make a few bucks by selling simple foods or produce, but the government calls them illegal because they dont have licenses. The peddlers themselves and many residents say they supply items that are otherwise unobtainable.
Okay, Im working toward a punchline, believe it or not. A friend of mine said this story should have been headlined: Sixty-year-old Woman Beaten in Apparent Effort to Safeguard Potential U.S. Agriculture Sales!
The news is not always bad: Several liberal parties in Sweden conferred a democracy prize on the Association of Independent Libraries in Cuba. Hail Sweden (a phrase one doesnt find oneself writing often, at least not when one is me)! What pains the Castro regime more than anything is any international recognition of dissenting, freedom-loving Cubans. It threatens the picture the regime wishes to paint (but not, sadly, among U.S. elites).
For the amazing and revelatory saga of a Cuban ship held near The Hague, Netherlands, go here.
Finally, I alert you to a couple of recent Cuba-related columns by two of the best columnists in this country, Paul Greenberg and Jeff Jacoby: For a priceless Greenberg, go here; and for a typically sharp Jacoby, go here .
A column or so ago, we talked about the homeless as an extremely successful euphemism (as so many of the homeless are not truly without shelter, but bums, hobos, derelicts, etc.). A reader wrote in to say that his favorite term was urban outdoorsman.
In the category of lexical feats, a reader proposes an obvious one, one Im embarrassed not to have thought of: the speedy transition from gun control to gun safety. Yes, that was a brilliant, and characteristically underhanded, tactic. Of course, for many decades, Americas leader in gun safety has been the NRA. They practically invented gun safety, truly speaking.
In the previous Impromptus, I told an Al Haig anecdote, touching on his inimitable use of language, and a reader wrote to say, I will never forget the press conference in which Haig said that two Libyan jets that had fired on our F-14s had been rendered noncombatant. Beautiful.
Also in the previous Impromptus, in celebrating my confrère David Horowitz, I celebrated Horowitzes generally, including Vladimir and Winona (Ryder, that is, who was born a Horowitz). Many readers wrote in to say, How could you have forgotten Mo, Curly, and Shemp, those Stooges whose real name was not Howard but Horowitz? Yes, how could I have? Remember I faw down?
PC language, we will always have with us, apparently. A correspondent from greater Washington writes, I went to an exhibit on public transportation at the National Building Museum. We were duly informed that one of the glories of public transportation is that one can listen to ones walkperson while riding.
Oh, yes. I recall that, when I lived in Michigan, it was perfectly natural for me to refer to the mayor of Detroit as Coleperson Young. It was also perfectly natural it just came out of my mouth to say, Well, if thats not the pot calling the kettle African-American!
But this takes the cake, from a reader in Colorado: Years ago, I was driving to work in southern California, listening to KUSC, a classical-music station. The announcer introduced the next piece by saying, Now we will hear the Fanfare to the Common Person, by Aaron Copland. Couldnt believe it. I am not a violent person, but I could have hit him.
Well, we just did, sort of.