Flag Day (posted 4/10/03 6:24 p.m.)
It's déjà vu all over again. The Bush team, under-estimated and under-fire, emerges triumphant, its carping critics routed and embarrassed and pretty much unrepentant. Yet as was the case after it swept to victories last election day, the message is the same: no gloating. But why? Modesty in winning is one thing; but if its purpose is to appease the losers, what has really been won?
Or take the knee-jerk reactions to the momentary display of the American flag atop the Saddam statue that was about to be toppled. When you come right down to it, has there ever been a more meaningful symbol of freedom than the Stars & Stripes? The Statue of Liberty, maybe, but it's a little difficult to carry it into battle or to plant it atop Iwo Jima. Triumph or no, our dominant culture remains skittish about who were are. Think it's make any difference to the bullies on Arab Street whether it's an American flag they see atop Saddam or an American tank yanking him down? Besides, they've been shocked and awed enough. For all we know, they're more likely at this point to see our flag as a comforter.
Could it be the nervous nellies are still at the stage so memorably captured in Whit Stillman's film Barcelona in which an American naval officer is not allowed to wear his uniform in public for fear of upsetting local sensibilities (in a NATO country, at that!)? How pathetic.
Moving on to what might be termed the "Now They Tell Us" category, we can already measure the Arab Street reaction by Thursday's lead op-ed in the New York Times. The American flag is the last thing on its author's mind. His name is Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian who writes from the safety of London. Why no anti-American outbursts in the Arab world during the recent war? Because, Mr. Fandy explains, "most Arabs' hearts were not in this fight." Anyway, it was old news. "No one was shedding tears as Mr. Hussein's statues came down," he continues. "They knew about the nightmare suffered by Iraqis during his 32 long years of oppressive rule. The orgies of violence of Uday and Qusay, Saddam Hussein's two sons, have been widely reported." For a moment you suspect Mr. Fandy might really, really likes us.
Certainly more than most members of the Western left. The one thing they won't talk about is that U.S. troops liberated the mass of Iraqis from barbaric, dictatorial rule. The experience of freedom is not worth the death of a single civilian, in their calculation. Maybe it would be easier to respect what's left of the left if it argued that it would have been better for the Iraqis had they overthrown Saddam & Co. on their own. But when's the last time the left called for the overthrow of any anti-Western strongman?
The German novelist Günter Grass was recently profiled in the N.Y. Times. As the Cold War ended, he showed his true colors by opposing German reunification on the grounds that West Germany was too corrupt. Evidently he would have been happy to keep the miserable East Germans walled in. Now he dislikes the U.S. maybe even more than he did during the Reagan years (at least he never compared Reagan to Osama bin Laden, as he now does Bush), and he is part of the new wave that considers the bombing of German cities late in WWII a war crime. But listen to his argument:
He said he also believed the bombing was counterproductive. "The Allies tried to break the resistance of the German people by killing hundreds of thousands of people, but the resistance grew," he said. "Like today with the Iraqi people. Perhaps many of them hate Saddam Hussein, but they will defend their country because of this bombing. It's so stupid."
He's wrong on all scores. By most accounts, once the U.S. crossed into Germany local resistance crumbled. What resistance remained was directed, for good reason, against the vengeful Red Army. But more ridiculous is the analogy to Iraq, where because of "this bombing" locals are now happy to hate Saddam openly. Most appalling, though, is the refusal of Grass types even to attempt to make a distinction between the indiscriminate bombing of cities during WWII and the precision bombing of today. Smug, willfully ignorant piety is all they seem to bring to the table.
But just to be on the safe side, if Günter Grass ever comes calling, make sure you've put your American flag away.
Titles for Mrs. C. (Posted 4/9/03 12:24 a.m.)
Who said American literary life is moribund? Or that compassionate conservatism is nothing more than a campaign slogan? What an outpouring of book title ideas you've provided on behalf of the most overpaid blocked woman writer in the United States Senate. The finest of those first offerings are now posted. But, I fear, there are more pouring in. Don't some of you think maybe you're taking this charity work a bit too far? But not to worry: all entries that missed today's postings will be studied and focus-grouped. A subsequent posting will follow before week's end. I'm confident Sen. Clinton would have me thank all of you for your abiding interest in her pathbreaking career.
Coaching Genius (posted 4/8/03 2:27 a.m.)
Monday night was a sad one for the University of Kansas, but at least it proved that its clean-cut and seemingly ultra-proper Roy Williams is a real coach. Did you hear what he said to CBS's Bonnie Bernstein in the post-game interview? She asked him if he was now going to take the University of North Carolina job. He concluded his up to then polite reply with this: "I don't give a s--- about North Carolina..." For the first time ever one could imagine how he runs practices and gets his charges to work like the devil.
You have to feel for Kansas. If there's been a constant in the NCAA single-elimination tournament over the years is that the team with star seniors would emerge as the likely winner. Didn't happen this time. Syracuse and its freshman stars held on. To Kansas's credit it came back when most others would have folded. But it was clearly outmanned, and now life goes on. After what he said, it would seem that for Williams it won't be in North Carolina.
A lot will be made of all the missed free-throws that killed Kansas's chances, though the contagion soon affected Syracuse as well, as if to suggest that the first team to hit a free-throw wins. But consider the circumstances. Both teams by then were reeling like fighters who'd thrown and absorbed too many punches. These guys play incredibly hard. After five-plus months of this it's a miracle anyone is left standing.
Actually, two teams still are. On Tuesday night the women of Connecticut will face their rivals from the University of Tennessee. The ball and players are slightly smaller, but otherwise it's the same game, played with plenty of intensity of its own, and probably much better free-throw shooting down the stretch. Though who knows -- Connecticut's star missed two key free-throws in the final seconds in Sunday's semifinal, at a point in the game when she was barely breathing. Parity pops up where least expect it.
Hillary Title IX
Drudge reports that Hillary Clinton is not only late with submitting a manuscript of the memoirs that some $8 million persuaded her to agree to write -- but that she doesn't even have a title for the book. Don't you think we should maybe help? Let's come up with an appropriate title for her. Once she clears that hurdle, the writing will take care of itself. Send your title recommendations to email@example.com. The right choice could win one of us a free autographed copy once the book appears, five or ten or thirty-five years from now.
A New Suffering Situation
From the rugged safety of Wyoming, our Bill Croke today laments the latest signs of leftward drift in his former home state of Vermont. As it happens, progress exacts a price. A story in the N.Y. Times' Sunday Styles section two days ago notes that Vermont's famous civil union laws are causing all sorts of trouble for out-of-state couples who traveled to Vermont to contract a civil union but now want out of the relationship. One year's residence is required in Vermont before such a union can be dissolved. We're not even back in the fifties in this regard, when people could travel to Reno or Mexico for a (relatively) quickie divorce.
Michael Kelly, RIP (posted 4/7/03 1:21 a.m.)
All the good things being written about Michael Kelly are true, even though it's safe to say that the full impact of his horrible death in Iraq will not be felt for another many months and years. He really was that good.
Among liberal reactions a special tip of the hat goes out to the New York Times. An editorial last Saturday noted, "His death deprives us of a man who excelled as a reporter, columnist and editor, as well as the generosity and humor of a cherished colleague." His friend and one-time colleague Maureen Dowd's Sunday column was deeply felt and moving. Only once did she slip into her snide mode, when she mentioned how Kelly "maintained an angry outsider posture in his column even as he was embraced by the conservative mandarins of Washington."
But at least Dowd didn't hold Kelly's political views against him. Not so at the magazine Kelly briefly edited, the New Republic, where several former colleagues posted by and large very friendly tributes to Kelly. Yet at the most human moment possible, those few you even cared to write about Kelly were also very careful to insist on the natural superiority of their own political views to his. "Like many of my colleagues, I found much of Mike's writing politically disagreeable," one wrote. Another said, "If I had known him only as a reader I probably would have hated him." Or this: "The affection that I had for Mike came as a shock to my friends, especially my liberal friends, who knew him through his columns." What is wrong with these people? Here a friend has just died yet they can't help thinking he was some kind of freak.
But even that was nothing compared to the final tribute paid Kelly by a New Republic colleague. For reasons best left to liberals in the privacy of their superiority, the first three TNR'ers passed on mentioning the unpleasant fact that their magazine's owner had fired Kelly for his strong criticisms of indictable and impeachable Clinton-Gore. So leave it to the fourth TNR-er, Gregg Easterbrook in this case, to have brought the firing up in a manner that made him sound like toady of management if not chief enforcer at the magazine's re-education camp. As Easterbrook puts it, there was Kelly's "fiasco at The New Republic, where he was fired after a year, and even those who loved him knew the firing had to happen." It was for his own good, you see. As Easterbrook continues, "Mike examined himself, corrected his own faults, and went on to do unqualifiedly magnificent jobs at both National Journal and The Atlantic." As I say, what is wrong with these people?
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