s Norman Mailer still worth bothering about? Lets bother about him a little anyway. According to the New York Sun the superb new newspaper in this city Mailer participated recently in some conference on the Cold War. And he said get this that he and other American writers in the early days were like the Russian dissidents.
A certain type of person always does this, dont you think? Latch on to the achievements and sufferings of others. This is the worst kind of pretending. Mailer and his ilk were nothing like the Russian dissidents. They were free to write and shout and they got rich and famous. And, of course, they were in effective political opposition to Russias dissidents, whose aim was to expose and weaken the Soviet system. One aim of Mailer et al. was to bolster and legitimize the Soviet system, or at least advance the notion that it was no worse than Americas free and democratic system.
Everything about Mailers statement is untrue and obscene and typical and unsurprising. Now that the Cold War is over, of course, we all admire those Russian dissidents (and some of us even pretend to have been like them). But do you remember when they were poisoners of détente, extremists, and all-around nuisances?
An earlier note of mine about Tiger Woods and racial classification prompted a reader to share this experience: I was at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last summer to participate in a workshop. In order to get a security pass, I was asked to fill in a form, which included a race section. Another participant in the workshop commented on the historical irony of this. I simply put on the line that said Other: human being. Ah, my hero.
And this reader had more: I know a gentleman from the Old City of Jerusalem who was once filling in a similar racial-classification form somewhere in the U.S. and was told by an officious official, You, sir, are not Caucasian to which he replied, Of course I am: Im Armenian! (Armenia, of course, being part of the Caucasus).
Speaking of race: The mayoral election just concluded in Newark, N.J., was one of the ugliest in memory. It involved the old, entrenched mayor, Sharpe James, and a saner, more moderate upstart, Cory Booker. Both men were black, of course but some of the most vicious racial politics in this country are intra-black politics. The likes of Sharpe James always play blacker than thou and this is a matter of mouth and posturing, not shade.
James derided Cory Booker as neo-black (which is cute, I grant you). The James campaign slogan was The Real Deal everyone in Newark knew what it meant, trust me. James said that Booker was a mere tool of the Right, and of whites. (Both men, naturally, are Democrats but Booker is open to such notions as school choice and non-theft in government.) The New York Sun reproduced a cartoon that the James campaign had purveyed: It showed a factory, at which neo-black politicos were being made. In succession were Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and the challenger, Cory Booker. Two white men were in the foreground, chomping cigars and grinning. They were labeled right-wing foundations. One was saying to the other, Theyre so popular, we cant produce them fast enough. The other was saying, I hear they always sell out.
James won, of course but only with 53 percent of the vote, which should give some cause for hope. The entire (white) Democratic establishment in New Jersey was behind him.
On the subject of racial politics intra-black politics I remember very well a mayoral race in Detroit. It pitted Dennis Archer, who became mayor, against a woman named Sharon McPhail. Now, McPhail was a very, very light-skinned woman freckles and all. She probably could have passed. And her entire campaign was geared to the idea that Archer who was infinitely darker than she wasnt black enough. She talked constantly of Archers (alleged) white support (not that such support, even if it had existed, wouldve mattered a lick in Detroit). I thought this was a stunning example of racial politics: that Sharon McPhail should try to out-black Dennis Archer and get away with it, really.
And I always suspected, too, that one reason Archers predecessor, Coleman Young, was so aggressive, crude, and racist was that, as a light-skinned man (also with freckles), he was always trying to prove his credentials. No one could out-black him. Young may have been the most vilely racist man I ever witnessed although he has some stiff competition.
The other day, I was talking about first hearing the terms politically correct and politically incorrect. Some on the left are now trying to pretend that these terms were concocted by conservatives in order to mock the Left not so. I remember. I was there, as Bob Dole once said.
A reader writes, I remember the first time I heard the term PC. It was at the VC, sophomore year, when Leslie and I were buying chocolate chips. [The VC refers to the Village Corner, a leftist grocery store in Ann Arbor. How can a grocery store be leftist? you ask. Ah, you havent spent much time in a university town, I gather. This one wore its leftism on its smock even to the point of enjoying the different connotations of VC.] Nestlés cost more but melt better than generic brand. The sales clerk asked if we were sure we wanted those. We said yes, as we were having chocolate fondue. He said he wouldnt buy them because they werent politically correct. I said we were eating them, not voting for them. It took several years before I found out that he was alluding to the alleged Third World wrongdoing of the Nestlé Corp.
Im surprised that the reader hadnt been indoctrinated in the evils of Nestlé: I had that before I learned what the capital of Michigan was, I think.
We were talking, too, about ideological grading. Says a graduate of Ohio State, In my senior year, 1982, I was taking a public-speaking class. One of our speeches had to be a special-circumstance situation for example, nominating somebody for a position or resigning from public office. I decided to be an assistant secretary of state resigning over Reagans policy in El Salvador. Now mind you, I was a big Reagan supporter, but because of the controversy over his policy in El Salvador, I thought it would be an interesting speech. Besides, I couldnt think of anything else on short notice. I had a million other things to do that week, so I didnt give that speech the same effort as my previous speeches.
I clearly remember seeing my professor with a big smile as I announced why I was resigning. Since I had barely rehearsed the speech, there were a few stutters and awkward moments. Not my shining moment as a public speaker. You can imagine my surprise when I received an A. My professor noted that my awkward moments had added to the realism of the speech. Of course, I didnt complain, but years later I was really ticked off. In hindsight, I wish my speech had been one to announce the closing of the arts endowment. I suppose then I would have received a failing grade.
Have another: I had a speech class many years ago. We all gave speeches in front of the class, and were graded on delivery and content. In the persuasion phase of the course, I chose to address Nixons place in history, attempting to persuade my audience that historians might look more kindly on Tricky Dick in the future, once the wave of Watergate emotion had completely passed. I do believe I convinced myself, if no one else in the class. The instructor interrupted me half-way through, giving me a loud scolding, peppered with such phrases as You cant possibly understand and I lived through it. [Lived through it! So did I, for that matter so did everyone alive.] Of course, she made no attempt to rebut the substance of my presentation. Eventually, she allowed me to finish. My grade? A-minus for delivery, C-minus for content (I was a straight-A honors student).
Oh, an interesting part of the story I left out: This was in high school. I was 16.
Allow me to direct attention to a feisty and gutsy website, devoted to stopping the Church Council of Seattle from abetting tyranny in Cuba. There are many useful links, and much food for thought.
Care to hear about a sign of popular unrest on Castros island? This tidbit comes from an oppositionist in Guantanamo, speaking to supporters in the U.S. on May 26: This week, various signs have been posted in the city of Caimanera with anti-government slogans, including Down with Fidel and Long Live Cuba. . . . According to State Security, despite the extreme amount of vigilance that is maintained in this municipality, they have not been able to apprehend the perpetrator of these brave and peaceful acts. With each passing day, the residents of Guantanamo are losing their fear of Castros regime, which is presently going through its most agonizing days.
I like to throw in some names now and then if only to remind one and all (including me) that real persons, on each side, are involved. One brave oppositionist is Cecilio Ruín Rivera, a member of the November 30th Frank País Democratic party. This is the same party to which Maritza Lugo, whom I profiled for NR, and her still-jailed husband belong. On May 14, Ruín Rivera was summoned by a State Security official named Carlos Barreto. Barreto warned Ruín Rivera that if he kept up his oppositionist activities, he would be detained and sentenced to prison.
Thats all. Thats all I wanted to say wanted, basically, to record a couple of names, one on each side.
Back to glorious Seattle. Relates a reader, I was living in Seattle and driving an airport shuttle van, and getting along great with my co-workers. The first day of April in 1993, I went home after a graveyard shift and by the time I returned that evening all Hades had broken loose: The shuttle company, which placed advertising posters on the vans, had accepted advertising from the local talk-radio station for the month, and the station, of course, had decided to use the name and image of its most prominent star, Rush Limbaugh. Seeing these posters on the vans, the drivers staged a near-mutiny, threatening to refuse to drive the vans unless the offending posters were removed. The company president then issued a memo calling for peace and order, and assuring drivers that he was working with the radio station to get a different set of posters. I wasnt going to let this display of leftist bullying go by without protest. I got into several discussions in the following couple of days with co-workers over one issue: Liberals accuse conservatives of being narrow-minded and censorious; what on earth do you call this behavior? If the radio station had been advertising head-banging heavy metal or an outspoken leftist, I could have been counted on for a smart remark or two, but I certainly wouldnt have refused to drive the van. Like your experience in college, I had a few scurriers express their agreement with me, but relations with my co-workers were never the same: Once it was known I was a conservative and willing to stand up and say so, I was off the reservation. Fortunately, I soon got a much better job and never looked back.
I must say, I was touched and tickled by that story: Rush on a van; the drivers refusing to drive. Seattle. America.
In a previous Impromptus, I commented on one Anne Martindell, whod been profiled in the New York Times. Mrs. Martindell graduated from Smith College at age 87. Shed raised a family, then had a political career, then went on to obtain her undergraduate degree, at that advanced age. A remarkable story. But it chagrined me to hear her comment to the paper, I didnt do anything real until I was 50. What is unreal about raising children?
A reader writes, This reminds me one of the best parenting movies ever made: Mary Poppins. The mom is so involved with her political activism that she totally ignores her kids. So here comes ol Mary, strict and fair and fun and loving she is the perfect mom, except she is not the mom given to these kids by God; so the whole plot is the transformation of, dare I say, dysfunctional parents and therefore their children into the complete family.
I hadnt thought of it that way; I was only mesmerized, at that age, by Marys beauty (and I still am, to be sure).
Writes another reader: Since I am responding to the Anne Martindell item, you might guess that Ive done a bit of procreating myself. While it is no longer acknowledged that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, the truth remains. To two little people, I am a trinity of Jesus, Cindy Crawford, and Einstein. The influence I have!
Yesterday I was sick and forced to stay in bed. My four-year-old daughter brought me my favorite cup and saucer full of milk and a pretty plate of food with a cheery napkin. Perched on my bed she fed me herself and looked on me with great floaty eyes filled with love.
Liberals often cite their motivation in doing what they do as a desire to make the world a better place. Done that.
A bit of a tear-jerker, yes, but tears should be jerked now and then, and I love that phrase floaty eyes.
I apologize once more, but it should be reiterated for the inability to read, much less respond to, all letters. Thanks for your understanding (if you have it). And I should announce that Ill be out of the Impromptus business till the second week of June, or so. Catch you later.