ere in ol New York, our junior senator, Hillary Clinton, has come out strongly against a pay raise in the Senate. Indeed, why would a girl with an $8 million book contract want a pay raise? Self-sacrificing thing. She could vote for a raise for the sake of some less affluent colleague. A modest rancher from out West or something to whom the Senate salary isnt peanuts.
On the subject of money, we know that Arafat has over a billion stashed away (Im talking dollars, not whatever they spend in the P.A.). A former top Arafat aide, Jawad Ghussein, has spilled the beans. He escaped the P.A. within an inch of his life, going to Jordan with Israels help and then on to London. Because he has fingered Arafat as a thief, Ghussein is now being denounced by the PLO as a thief himself. Thus do these goons behave in time-honored Soviet fashion.
Remember the name of Jawad Ghussein: a man of some conscience from the Palestinian ruling class.
The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the army may not use Palestinian civilians as human shields. They had been doing this: putting Palestinians in bulletproof vests and sending them up to the doors of known terrorists.
Oh, hang on: They put on bulletproof vests first? The Difference Between the Israelis and Their Enemies, Lesson 2,331.
Its been a while since I praised Rumsfeld directness and Rummyese been about, oh, two columns so hear this: The SecDef was talking about an al Qaeda-linked terror group in Iraq. A reporter asked him whether the group operated with the knowledge and protection of Saddam Hussein.
Rumsfeld answered, In a vicious, repressive dictatorship that exercises near total control over its population, its very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of whats taking place in the country.
Made a difference that W. survived in Florida, huh?
Liz Smith, the New York gossipeuse, has written about the multiple birthday parties given in Marthas Vineyard for Bill Clinton, her friend. At one, Clinton, looking trim and fit, was his usual brainy and interesting self. No doubt. Liz mocked the current president for his mockery of white-wine-sipping elites in those rare precincts. She twitted him thus: Down in Crawford, just a stones throw from the super-Baptist town of Waco, no doubt they serve Dr. Pepper at 10, 2, and 4 just like in the good old days.
Its funny. Liz, originally a Texan, would obviously rather die than go back there. (A super-Baptist town. To her, it must surely be Hell.) Her friend, the Man from Hope, would obviously rather die than go back to Hope. George W. Bush, scion of an Eastern family tot of Walker Point(e?) long ago had his fill of Martha Stewartish living. To him, the Crawford ranch is better. Clinton is still wowed by his post-Arkansas life: New York City, the Vineyard. One of his parties was in Jackie Os old house, hosted by Caroline!!!
A lot depends on where you came from, wouldnt you say? Not the profoundest observation ever made, but itll do for mid August.
Speaking of Martha Stewart: She (or so it seems) put out the word that those dirty-minded Republicans were set to investigate her sex life. It seems that she took a page from the Clinton playbook, whereby you demonize your enemies as sex-crazed, anti-privacy perverts and induce Maureen Dowd to write super-stylish (but not super-Baptist) columns about it.
It was a nice try, but in Martha Stewarts case, it didnt work. (Is she the Martha of the Vineyard? Never mind.)
Peter Jones is a fascinating guy, a journalist and a classicist, the author of several books that explain to you how it was, way, way back then. In The (London) Spectator, he has a column called Ancient and Modern, wherein he draws analogies from todays news to classical times. He never misses a week, in every sense.
Recently, he had a column on Hannibal the Hannibal, not the man-eater because, as he wrote, two American film companies are evidently racing neck-and-neck to bring out a film about the great Carthaginian general. He further informed, The word on the street is that one of the companies is proposing to cast a fashionable black actor in the lead. Thats the stuff, boys. Africa! Cuddly Blacks v. Wicked Anglo-Saxon Romans! Great box office!
But the truth the historical truth is sadder: Hannibal wasnt black. But never mind. Hannibal probably shouldve been black, in a world truer than the boring old real one. Black Athena and all that. Everyones gotta have his hero.
Many years ago, a film was made of the life of Sadat, starring Lou Gossett Jr. That was the problem. Gossett was quite black; Sadat himself was the son of a Sudanese (black) mother. He didnt bruit it about much, though. And the Egyptians are very protective of this awkward little skin fact. And that film, starring Lou Gossett Jr., was banned in Egypt.
But as long as we get Samuel L. Jackson as Pushkin, well be okay.
Thought you might like to hear about that high-ranking Cuban defector, Alcibiades Hidalgo, who barely made it to Florida on a raft, just like the hoi polloi (and if anyone even dares write me that hoi means the, therefore you just cant say the hoi polloi, Ill block you from my e-mail for life. Just try me). Hidalgo was Cuban ambassador to the U.N., deputy foreign minister, chief of staff to defense minister Raúl Castro, and a lot of other things. But few here care about him, because, you know: Hes anti-Castro, pro-democratic, and therefore insane.
The AP ran a report on him, however, and here are some of the points he made:
The political élite of Cuba is nervous, guarding against a social explosion. Food is scarce. The top brass of the military say that, if theres an uprising, theyll use force, Tiananmen style. Any officer balking will regret it.
And, sure, Cubans have access to the countrys free health-care system but theres no medicine there, and hasnt been for years. (In Cuba, of course, theres strict medical apartheid, where certain hospitals and clinics are only for the elites.)
Mans first right, said Hidalgo, is the right to independent thought and thats one of the main things that drove him out.
Finally, any lifting of the U.S. travel embargo would be, in Hidalgos words, a gift for Fidel.
But what does he know, Alcibiades Hidalgo? Must be a Batista stooge, anyway. (Those Batista stooges are getting pretty old, dont you think?)
More Cuban news: Four Cuban acrobats, visiting with a national dance troupe, have defected in Aruba. Funny headline, isnt it? Cuban Acrobats Seek Asylum in Aruba. But its deadly serious business. Theyre hanging on for their lives. This follows the defection of Cubans in Canada, where they were allowed to go for the Popes visit.
Castro still lets em out once in a while but they get while the gettins good, so many of them. But dont let anyone tell you thats indicative of anything except, perhaps, the iniquity of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Finally, the regime allowed a rap concert in Havana a few days ago, where a couple of teenagers sang (rapped? talked?), Im tired of the routine. How long is this going to last? According to the AP, they told the audience that on their way to the concert they were stopped by police officers and asked for their identification a process they said Cuban youth experience almost daily. The AP further advised that the Cuban government has become increasingly tolerant of complaints about the system as long as they remain generalized.
A neat phrase: as long as they remain generalized.
Every day, I hear of fresh horrors in Cuba, and I comment on very few of them. Cubas like a vast, ugly thing on the side of the road, that you strain not to look at, having seen it a few times, and recoiled. But, now and then, you have to gulp and stare. I must do more of it.
A Cuban-American friend of mine told me something Ill remember forever: that, merely to be a decent human being in Cuba, you have to have a martyr-level courage: not to steal, not to lie, not to spy, not to debase oneself, or exploit the self-debasement of others.
There are many, many books to be written. Let the floodgates open once the old SOB kicks or is kicked.
They may not love Castro in Cuba, but they certainly love him in Ann Arbor, my dear old hometown, from which I have a story. Actually, the Ann Arbor News Pravda West, as we used to call it had a story. As you probably read in NR, there is a referendum in Berkeley, Calif., on whether to ban coffee thats not fair-trade coffee, or organic, or ultra-left-wing or something. Mr. Folger might be confused on the details (he just died, by the way that Folger. Saw his obit).
This has some Ann Arborites in a tizzy, because theres no such referendum there. The News ran a story titled, Just How Liberal Is Ann Arbor? Some Wonder If City Has Grown Conservative or If It Always Was. Said the report, While Berkeley continues its headline-making ways, some wonder if Ann Arbor has lost its reputation as a liberal mecca. [Mind you, by liberal they mean Stalinist.] Others insist its simply become more diverse and tolerant to other views. [I love that sentence. I could kiss the News for it.] They note that Ann Arbor still joins Berkeley in penning progressive city ordinances; both cities are among only seven municipalities across the country that have challenged the USA Patriot Act.
So, Ann Arbor has Berkeley envy. Mirror, mirror on the wall, whos the leftest of them all?
But that last bit, about the Patriot Act, reminded me of something. Years ago, when cities like Ann Arbor were declaring themselves nuclear-free zones as if Cap Weinberger were just dying to put bases there I wished that such people could somehow opt out of the American nuclear umbrella. What I meant was, these people benefited from the protection of that umbrella, that deterrent, all the while declaring it evil. And it would have been neat, in a sci-fi, fantasy way, if that protection could have been withdrawn from them, leaving Ann Arbor, for example, naked, but Cody, Wyoming, say, protected.
You could apply that to individuals too. Anyway, as I said, just a fantasy and by now quite dated.
More from Ann Arbor? Okay. Got this letter the other day. Ill simply reprint it without comment:
A female law student got her a** kicked by a homeless man in the law quad on Saturday here at U of M. A coworker of mine called Campus Security to hear a report of what happened, as we work in the law quad. I was the only one confused to hear, in the report, the homeless man being referred to as RESIDENTIALLY CHALLENGED. Christ.
On Tuesday, I had a little riff on the question of ethics and ethics classes, and this drew this extremely thoughtful response:
Thought you might like an ethics profs two cents. Actually, ethics profs are pretty anti-relativistic, in my experience. Too much so, actually, as I think a moderate relativism is warranted (moderate relativism: certain moderately important, not crucial, values are culturally relative, whereas all the crucial ones are absolute, not relative). Your loony relativists are in English, sociology, and Womens Studies departments. On the other hand, there is a good helping of philosophy profs who think morality is just meaningless hollering, which puts them roughly in the loony-relativist camp. But they arent ethics profs. They teach logic, metaphysics, epistemology, usually very well. Anyway, the point is that if you send your kid to a university ethics class, Id bet the prof will not be relativistic but rather too dismissive of nuanced versions of relativism.
Second, and equally important: Ethics classes are, as you say, pointless if increasing ones morality is the goal. Like any philosophy class, they teach critical thinking, so when you do face an ethical issue, youll be smarter at handling it. But contrary to what ethics profs besides me believe, philosophical ethics has made zero progress since the Greeks and has nothing substantive to offer students. Ethics remains, thankfully, in the arms of common sense.
Even better than that letter, I liked the professors follow-up: Just to be clear: Ethics profs are lefties. They arent relativists, but theyre lefties.
Someone reminded me of this Philip Larkin chestnut: Not being a political thinker I suppose I identify the Right with certain virtues and the Left with certain vices. . . . Thrift, hard work, reverence, desire to preserve those are the virtues, in case you wondered: and on the other hand idleness, greed and treason.
Idleness, greed, and treason. What a classic trio one worth remembering, like Tinker to Evers to Chance, and So-and-so, So-and-so, and Fish. (Sorry, cant remember the first two of FDRs troika.) (Still, it was worth remembering.)
Want to stick with poetry? In that previous Impromptus, I reflected on the wonderful American word boughten, and someone sent me a little Robert Frost:
Theres lots more to say, but wouldnt it be classy to end this flea-bitten column with two poetry-related items? I agree.