September 2007: Nobody asked me, but…

Campus free speech, Clinton and Shakespeare, and other observations…

With a tip of the ballcap to legendary New York columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

SEPTEMBER WAS A STRANGE MONTH FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ON AMERICA’S COLLEGE CAMPUSES. Columbia University invited the president of Iran—a Holocaust denier, Israel hater, and all-purpose enemy of the West—to share a stage with its president, Lee C. Bollinger, who proceeded to hector and insult Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the Iranian spoke.

Bollinger apparently forgot both his manners and the old saw that trying to teach a pig to whistle is a waste of time—it only annoys the pig. True to form, Ahmadinejad “debated” the issues by evading all direct questions and informing the audience that, among other things, Iran had no homosexuals.

As Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield points out in the Weekly Standard, Bollinger focused his criticism on Ahmadinejad’s noxious actions, not on his noxious ideology—undercutting Columbia’s stated public purpose in inviting the Iranian president, which was supposedly for an exchange of ideas.

Meanwhile the University of Florida campus police tasered a student (one Andrew Meyer) who had the temerity to ask the hapless Senator John Kerry if he was a member, like President Bush, of Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale. (The much-played “Don’t tase me, bro” YouTube video of the incident is quite bizarre). The answer to Meyer’s question, by the way, is that yes, Kerry and Bush are believed to be members but, according to the rules of the club, are not supposed to say so.

KATIE COURIC PROVIDED SOME COMIC RELIEF DURING THE Ahmadinejad circus, letting it be known that her mnemonic for pronouncing his name is “I’m a dinner jacket.

IN THE LATEST HARVARD MAGAZINE, STEPHEN GREENBLATT relates an intriguing story about former President Bill Clinton. Greenblatt had attended a White House poetry evening at which Clinton mentioned that his first encounter with poetry had been memorizing passages from Macbeth in junior high school. Greenblatt then writes:

After the speeches, I joined the line waiting to shake the president’s hand. When my turn came, a strange impulse came over me that I cannot adequately explain and certainly cannot justify. This was a moment when rumors of the Lewinsky affair were circulating, but before the whole thing had blown up into the grotesque national circus that it soon became. “Mr. President,” I said, sticking out my hand, “Don’t you think that Macbeth is a great play about an immensely ambitious man who feels compelled to do things that he knows are politically and morally disastrous?” Clinton looked at me for a moment, still holding my hand, and said, “I think Macbeth is a great play about someone whose immense ambition has an ethically inadequate object.”

I was astonished by the aptness, as well as the quickness, of this comment, so perceptively in touch with Macbeth’s anguished brooding about the impulses that are driving him to seize power by murdering Scotland’s legitimate ruler…

Clinton then recited one of Macbeth’s soliloquies, leaving Greenblatt to conclude that he had”missed his true vocation, which was, of course, to be an English professor.”

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A SCORNED ANCHORMAN, or so it seems as Dan Rather has launched a legal assault on CBS over his departure from the network after the Memogate debacle. The key question: if the courts accept the civil suit (no sure thing), is Rather determined to get a public airing, or will he accept a monetary settlement to go away quietly? Stay tuned.

JOURNALIST JUAN WILLIAMS HAS AN AMAZING GUEST COLUMN in Time magazine sure to ignite further debate over the health of African-American culture. Williams, who is black, wrote the piece in defense of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who had been criticized for his comments on the topic. What is startling about Williams’ essay is his blunt assessment of the problems facing the black community.

The most pernicious damage being done by the twisted presentation of black life in pop culture is the self-destructive message being beamed into young, vulnerable black brains. Young black people, searching for affirmation of their racial identity, are minute by minute being sold on the cheap idea that they are authentically black only if they imitate the violent, threatening attitude of the rappers and use the gutter language coming from the minstrels on TV.

The lesson from the rappers and comedians is that any young brother or sister who is proud to be black has to treat education with indifference, dismiss love and marriage as the business of white people and dress like the rappers who dress like prisoners — no comb in the jail so they wear doo-rags all day, and no belts so their pants hang down around their butts.

Williams closes his column by excoriating all those who “sell out the history and pride of black people to make a buck.” Tough stuff.

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM: so now we can look forward to a conservative MoveOn.org, an organization called Freedom’s Watch.

ON THE DAY THE NEW YORK METS eliminated themselves from baseball’s playoffs in a collapse of epic proportion, it’s fitting to close with the words of one-time Mets manager Casey Stengel: “Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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The week (April 6th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

As Jimmy Cannon used to say, Nobody asked me, but…

AN ADDITIONAL DELAY FOR THE CAPE WIND project, caused by a slower-than-expected review by the federal Minerals Management Service, means America’s first offshore wind farm can’t expect approval until at least 2008. Cape Wind Associates wants to construct 130 wind turbines in a 25 mile-area of Nantucket Sound, but has faced opposition from local residents who fear the windmills will kill wildlife (birds) and ruin the natural seascape. Some of the resistance, however, is NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard), plain and simple. The company claims its project could produce about 79 percent of the daily electrical energy needs of the Cape and Islands.

All things considered, offshore wind power appears to offer the least-environmentally damaging source of energy—it’s renewable, clean and, according to some estimates, capable of providing significant amounts of energy for the Northeast and West Coast. Wind sure beats coal and nuclear, and Denmark has relied on offshore wind power farms without significant environmental downsides, so it’s not completely untested. if any project ever deserved regulatory fast-tracking, Cape Wind would seem to be it.

IS THE UNITED STATES A GREATER THREAT TO WORLD PEACE THAN IRAN? Apparently 48 percent of Germans think so, if you believe the latest polls there. Claus Christian Malzahn, Spiegel Online’s Berlin bureau chief, calls the current anti-Americanism the “wonder drug of German politics.” He adds:

Not a day passes in Germany when someone isn’t making the wildest claims, hurling the vilest insults or spreading the most outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States. But there’s no risk involved and it all serves mainly to boost the German feeling of self-righteousness.

Malzahn also sees hypocrisy at work: “You can call the American president a mass murderer and book a flight to New York the next day. You can lament the average American’s supposed lack of culture and savvy and meanwhile send off for the documents for the Green Card lottery.”

The strange popularity of David Hasselhoff in Germany now becomes more explicable. The Hoff is now starring in a production of Mel Brooks'”The Producers” in Las Vegas.

IT’S OK WHEN AN AUTHOR DEMONSTRATES INSIDER KNOWLEDGE, but only when he or she shares that with the reader. Lawrence Downes did just that on the New York Times editorial page when he recently wrote about Senator Barack Obama’s Hawaiian upbringing, “For Obama, Estranged in a Strange Land, Aloha Had Its Limits.” Downes also grew up in Hawaii and in discussing the many cultures and races who came to the island tells us that “…A pidgin English field guide would list buk-buks, pakes, buddaheads, katonks, mokes, titas, popolos, yobos, blalahs, haoles and portagees.” But then Downes doesn’t translate the terms for us! Too precious by half.

Here are the translations of these terms (some of which are derogatory), drawn largely from e-Hawaii’s Pidgin English Dictionary: buk-buks (Filipinos), pakes (chinese ), buddaheads (Japanese from Hawaii), katonks (Japanese from mainland U.S.), mokes (large, tough Hawaiian males), titas (female mokes), popolos (African Americans), yobos (Koreans), blalahs (large Hawaiian males), haoles (Caucasians) and portagees (Portuguese).

THE NEW, QUIETER SINGLE FROM COUNTRY DUO BIG AND RICH, “Lost In This Moment” features John Rich’s smooth, distinctive voice; Rich sang lead occasionally for Lonestar, so he knows his way around a ballad.

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK FROM DWIGHT EISENHOWER, whose intelligence, wit, and insight were underestimated by many: “Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels — men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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