I can vaguely remember a time when there were no security checks whatever before getting on a commercial jet. You showed your ticket and walked onboard. When was that? I’m not sure. Maybe in the early 1970s. I remember when National Airlines, under Lewis “Bud” Maytag’s innovative leadership, had an arrangement whereby his perky, up-for-anything stewardesses grilled steaks in the Boeing 727 galley between Miami and New York. I have not been able to document this, however. Maybe I dreamed it. That’s possible. Anyway, Maytag had some interesting and suggestive ad campaigns highlighting his stewardesses and Miami hijinks.
All that is history. Now we are under a kind of siege when it comes to air travel. A few days ago a good friend sent me an Ann Coulter article. My friend calls himself a conservative. Coulter calls herself the same thing. Her article complained about Muslim terrorists and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s new pat-down policies and invasive body scans in response to Muslim terrorists. Coulter is keen on propagandizing the self-destructive “War on Terror” like every other neocon apparatchik, but she is against the TSA’s new policies”which are, ironically, part of the same war. She is in the business of fighting fire with gasoline.
This is all so stupid. My conservative friend regards Coulter as brilliant and not dopey. I told him that she is too skinny. She should stop exposing her bony shoulders and long arms. She needs to cut out wearing miniskirts and using sex to sell her silly books. I was dining in a Palm Beach restaurant not long ago and heard Coulter’s distinctive squawk nearby. She was on a date, discussing politics. “Right!” and “Right!” were her conversation’s highlights. She is having fun and it is all a game, and I can’t blame her for that. Like Limbaugh and Hannity, she is making a fortune out of it. She’s a current-events freak, a fan of her own voice and blonde hair.
I’m so sick of slick pundits, goofs, and war profiteers such as Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. If you are not Old Right, you’ve been misinformed. Neocon dupes and flag-wavers such as Coulter promote a mindless, knee-jerk anti-Arab policy regarding Israel and the Middle East. This makes them popular, if not exactly original. Their policy, which is essentially Washington’s policy, which is essentially Tel Aviv’s policy, has gained America nothing but hatred and contempt from the Arab/Muslim world, leading to negative repercussions that include terrorism and 9/11 itself. But when the consequences of our foreign policy become grotesque, such as at the airports, the mainstream so-called conservatives put on their “limited government” hat and insist that Washington not bother us. Just check swarthy young men like the 9/11 hijackers. Not the rest of us. But the trick is to avoid the entire problem to begin with”or at least stop exacerbating it! Such an idea does not seem to have occurred to the talk-show conservative blowhards or anyone in authority. One wonders why not.
In outline, The King’s Speech sounds like a Wayans Brothers spoof of a Weinstein Brothers prestige film: an Oscar-bound movie where the King of England, a victim of society’s prejudice against stutterers, is empowered by an impudent immigrant therapist to overcome his stiff upper lip just in time to rouse his countrymen to defeat Hitler.
Here, though, practice does make perfect. The King’s Speech is delightful: fast-paced, funny, touching, and extraordinarily well-acted.
Veteran TV-movie screenwriter David Seidler (who finally has written a cinema hit at age 73) is aware that overcoming one’s fear of public speaking isn”t an exceptionally edifying Triumph of the Human Spirit story, but it’s something with which almost everybody can identify. The British Royal Family remains of broad interest because it plays out on a grand stage such human-scale dramas as speech impediments and engagements.
The King’s Speech illustrates G. K. Chesterton’s 1905 insight that hereditary kingship is “in essence and sentiment democratic because it chooses from mankind at random. If it does not declare that every man may rule, it declares the next most democratic thing; it declares that any man may rule.” Colin Firth portrays that “anyman” as King George VI (reigned 1936-1952), father of the current queen, a man who was callously raised as the unimpressive spare to the glamorous heir, his older brother Edward VIII.
Firth, who played Mr. Darcy in both Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary, has the kind of handsome-but-wide face that seems to strike many women as that of the ideal husband to settle down with sometime after age 30. In contrast, as the dashing but unreliable Edward, the high-cheekboned Guy Pearce (Memento) steals every scene, even in this all-star cast.
Sickly, shy, and a bit slow, the little prince had developed a stammer about the time he was forced to convert from left-handedness to right-handedness. After serving bravely in the Royal Navy at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, the Duke of York had few duties in the 1920s other than to make speeches and small talk. Unfortunately, his disfluency (the threat of an upcoming “k””as in “king””would leave him speechless for many seconds) made oral communication painful for both royals and subjects.
When communism collapsed in Moscow, Prague and Belgrade at the end of the Cold War, ethnic nationalism surged to the surface in all three nations and tore them apart into 24 countries.
Economic nationalism is now resurgent across Europe. And it is hard to see how a transnational institution like the European Union, run by faceless bureaucrats, and the 16-nation eurozone it created long survive.
As of Monday, Greece and Ireland had been bailed out—Greece with $145 billion, Ireland with $89 billion. All eyes have now turned to Iberia, to Portugal and Spain, where bond prices are sinking and interest rates are rising, and investors are eying the exits.
Monday’s stock and bond sell-off across Europe testifies to a belief that this storm is far from over.
Why cannot a series of bailouts, cobbled together by the EU and International Monetary Fund, contain these serial crises?
Two reasons: populism and a return of economic nationalism.
Consider two telling comments from the Irish about the terms of the bailout of their country.
“(S)enior bank bondholders are to be protected, while the lowest paid and those most vulnerable people dependent on public provision are to be crucified,” said trade union leader Jack O’Connor.
“I think the government should default on the bonds,” said writer Valerie Wilson. “We are suffering so the bondholders don’t suffer. It’s capitalism gone mad.”
Translation: Put Irish people first, before any foreigners holding bonds.
Angela Merkel, whose Germany is fronting much of the bailout money, has been demanding that bondholders take a haircut—lose some of the face value of their bonds—in all future bailouts.
Sunday, the EU agreed to consider it for all bailouts after 2012. But we may not get there before nervous investors decide to dump their bonds first and the European house of cards comes crashing down.
Sometimes a story brings an era into focus, and that story now is the saga of fake Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. He was ostensibly a senior Taliban official, and American bureaucrats thought they were negotiating with him. “But now, it turns out,” Carlotta Gall and Dexter Filkins wrote in a brilliantly understated New York Times report, “Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all.” Wait. It gets better. An unnamed Western diplomat “probably American”told the two journalists, “It’s not him. And we gave him a lot of money.”
It’s moolah for the mullahs, and there’s nothing to show for it. By U.S. standards in Afghanistan, the impostor received chump change. His fee was something in “six figures” for disembarking from U.S. helicopters at Hamid Karzai’s presidential palace like a minor celebrity at a nightclub opening. His pittance was probably smaller than what a motel pays Paris Hilton to endorse its vibrating beds. It is certainly less than the cash-filled suitcases Iran delivers to Karzai. It’s nowhere near the backhanders that Karzai’s brother receives from Kabul’s Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. has been giving its Afghan allies far more money than it gave the turbaned poseur, from Karzai on down to the police chiefs and army commanders, and guess what? They still hate us. And those are the guys on our side.
Perhaps General David Petraeus believed he had finally found someone to trust in Afghanistan, even if it was someone from the other side. In fact, being from the other side might have been an advantage. Few doubt that the Taliban are more honest than Karzai, his ministers, his brother, and his business associates. However, since Mullah Akhtar was not Mullah Akhtar after all, he might as well have been another con man from Karzai’s coterie. The invariably astute Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times, “The West was putting planes and assets at the poseur’s disposal, and paying him a sum in the low six figures….Everybody is lining up for Western cash, treating America, the British and NATO like suckers.” You can hardly blame them. The U.S., Britain, and the rest of NATO have been treating Afghanistan like a video war game for nine years, so the Afghans might as well ask for something in return for the landscape rental.
The Afghan pimpernel’s unmasking also reveals the contrast between American and Taliban claims about negotiations. The Taliban consistently declares its refusal to negotiate until foreign troops have left their country. The Americans and their increasingly hostile Afghan clients insist that they have been negotiating with the Taliban all along. Many of us who oppose Afghanistan’s American-NATO occupation assumed that the U.S. was simply lying, as it has lied about its other foreign wars. It turns out we were wrong. The U.S. was doing something worse: It believed a deceiver. It bartered with a fraud who told them, as most of their torture victims do, what they wanted to hear. Did they check his identity? Sure. They went to the prisons and showed his photographs to Taliban detainees. These guys know when to say yes. If it saved them another dousing in the water trough, why not confess this is our old buddy Mullah Akhtar? And so they did. It is not clear whether the U.S. officials pulled the hoaxer’s beard to make sure it was real. No one has said he had the full-body scan that American travelers endure. But he turned up at several sessions with U.S. officials to offer, in Filkins and Gall’s words, “surprisingly moderate conditions for a peace settlement: that the Taliban leadership be allowed safely to return to Afghanistan, that Taliban soldiers be offered jobs, and that prisoners be released.” Hey, war’s over.
It used to be a big deal to have a college education. Back in 1960, about 8% of the population had one, and this chosen few deserved their popularity in the job market. The baby boomers decided this was unfair, so when they seized control of education in the 70s and 80s, they removed all the hard parts and rewarded themselves handsomely in the process.
Today, nearly four times as many Americans have degrees, despite students being expected to shell out upwards of $120,000 for a Mickey Mouse diploma that is totally useless in the real world. If you went to art school in the 1950s, you graduated knowing how to do photorealism with oils. If you got your art-school diploma last year, you graduated knowing how to put a tampon in a teacup. When education allows dissertations on Lord of the Rings, we end up with a culture where The New York Times sees nothing wrong with telling us to think of sanctuary cities as “where Keanu Reeves was trying to get to in “The Matrix”.”
How did we get here? Because people who say the following things are in charge of our education:
1. ERNEST HEMINGWAY IS NOT AN ERNEST HEMINGWAY EXPERT
In an American Literature class, the professor told us The Sun Also Rises was boring on purpose. Apparently, Hemingway was trying to capture Europe’s useless frivolity from the 1920s”or something. I had read elsewhere that Hemingway loved every minute of his time over there, and when I said as much the teacher replied, “In this class we go through the author’s intentions and into what the book actually was.”
What I learned: Hemingway should have taken a Hemingway class.
2. THE UNIVERSE IS 90% WATER
With the death of math came the arrogance of liberal arts. Suddenly, sociology professors were telling students about complex astronomy as if it was all common sense. In attempting to prove we are all the same, a professor uttered the above quote. I think she was headed for “Humans are all 62% water” and took a sharp left turn at “I have no idea what the fuck I”m talking about.” As she rambled on, the rest of us sat back in our chairs and wondered things such as, “Wait, isn”t the universe 99.999% nothingness?”
What I learned: “Water” is loosely defined and can include gas, solids, and antimatter.
3. YOU DON”T EXIST
Though I received a BA in English, I took a lot of math courses in college because it made my parents happy. These classes were rational for the most part, but one time our professor went off on a tangent about how we don”t exist.
He told us that when something is infinitely small it is the mathematical equivalent to zero. When compared to the ever-expanding universe, he said we are infinitely small. Therefore, we don”t exist.
What I learned: The nine senses that insist we exist are full of shit.
4. OF COURSE, THIS IS ALL DONE WITH LASERS NOW; BACK THEN ALL WE HAD WAS A CATHODE RAY TUBE
This is the ONLY sentence I understood in a Philosophy of Science class where the professor mumbled unintelligibly like Uncle Monty for hours at a time.
My dad has a degree in physics, and when I showed him some of our assignments he ran to the Dean in a rage, only to discover the senile old coot had created an impenetrable force field of tenure for himself and his entire department. “There’s not much I can do about that, Mr. McInnes,” the Dean told my old man. “It’s the Flat Earth Society over there.”
What I learned: Professors are always right and cannot be challenged by anyone, including their boss.
5. SEXISM CANNOT BE QUESTIONED
In a Philosophy of Feminism class (I know, I know) a young girl had the gall to put up her hand and say she grew up with six male siblings and never saw any kind of latent misogyny lurking around the male brain. Other students seemed excited about this idea and one asked, “If women do the same work for less money, why wouldn”t corporations hire them exclusively?”
The professor rolled his (yes, “his”) eyes and told us, “If you don”t accept that women are systematically and seriously oppressed in this society, you cannot be in this class.” The debate ended there.
What I learned: Women don”t choose the lives they lead and if they say they do, they”ve been brainwashed.
One of my favorite television programs is “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel. The documentary series shows “how the everyday objects people use become the things they are.” From ketchup and flip-flops, to nail clippers and snare drums, to NASCAR engines, hydraulic cylinders and motor homes, the show takes viewers on wondrous autobiographical journeys of the mundane products we too often take for granted.
Though it originated in Canada and has become a global phenomenon, “How It’s Made” is largely a tribute to individual American ingenuity and American entrepreneurs. The show’s myriad episodes spotlighting U.S. inventions also serve as potent antidotes to the government-centric vision that reigns in the White House these days.
Last summer, President Obama opined that the proper role of private entrepreneurs is to fulfill “the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy”—and that “at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Last month, Vice President Joe Biden boasted that “every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive.”
Such command-and-control narcissism is completely alien to the unique American culture and marketplace that have bred so many successful inventors. Consider the electric carving knife that so many of you will use without a second thought this Thanksgiving holiday season. Jerome L. Murray, the New York City man who invented the ubiquitous kitchen appliance, was an insatiable tinkerer from his teens until his death in 1998 at the age of 85. He was driven not by a social justice agenda or by the need to “grow the economy” to boost government employment figures, but by a constant desire to solve problems, cut costs, satisfy his own intellectual curiosities and pursue the profit motive.
I agree with other reviewers that Bruce Springsteen’s album The Promise is incendiary. I mean, Jesus H., has there ever been another collection of artistic work culled together from the cutting-room floor that could be universally hailed as a masterpiece? It’s like walking into a garage sale and finding a recording of Rolling Stones songs cut from Let It Bleed that didn”t fit onto Sticky Fingers. But better. Recorded in the late 70s, it shows Bruce’s experience had finally caught up to his youthful exuberance and he was working at the height of his creativity. This whole record is, like Q-tipping after a shower, an earful of joy.
Great artists often have their finger on the pulse of culture long before the public, so it’s no accident Bruce released this new/old material now. (OK, well, the box set’s also going to make a great Christmas gift.)
For the uninitiated, let’s give the album some context:
After the success of 1975’s Born to Run (he simultaneously graced both TIME and Newsweek‘s covers), Bruce wasn”t about to become a one-hit wonder. He began to work on his follow-up but was caught in a recording-contract clusterjam that resulted in all of Bruce’s earnings from his recorded material being direct-deposited to his manager’s bank account. Nice. So after his hard and well-earned watershed moment, he couldn”t record music, but he could write it. So to keep himself in the black, he wrote and sold songs such as “Because the Night” to Patti Smith and “Fire” to The Pointer Sisters.
When the fiasco cleared, Bruce and the E Street Band finally put out Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978. People were expecting an anthemic, Brill Building follow-up to Born to Run, but what arrived instead was tough music for tough times, with themes of lost innocence, austerity, anger, and defiance.
The Promise is comprised of songs Bruce didn”t use on that album”not because they were lesser works. You could argue that some are superior. It’s just that Darkness was consciously crafted to evoke a specific feeling. But in cutting these songs from Darkness, Bruce stored an amazing album on a shelf. Until now.
Many of The Promise‘s dusted-off tracks are “classic” Bruce”upbeat, soaring, and optimistic”which is why they couldn”t work on Darkness. Listening to the album reminds me of spending summers in the 1980s near Asbury Park, NJ, where Bruce got his start.
This writer was 11 years old when the shocking news came on June 25, 1950, that North Korean armies had crossed the DMZ.
Within days, Seoul had fallen. Routed U.S. and Republic of Korea troops were retreating toward an enclave in the southeast corner of the peninsula that came to be known as the Pusan perimeter.
In September came Gen. MacArthur’s masterstroke: the Marine landing at Inchon behind enemy lines, the cut-off and collapse of the North Korean Army, recapture of Seoul and the march to the Yalu.
“Home by Christmas!” we were all saying.
Then came the mass intervention of a million “volunteers” of the People’s Liberation Army that had, in October 1949, won the civil war against our Nationalist Chinese allies. Suddenly, the U.S. Army and Marines were in headlong retreat south. Seoul fell a second time.
There followed a war of attrition, the firing of MacArthur, the repudiation of Harry Truman and his “no-win war,” the election of Ike and, in June 1953, an armistice along the DMZ where the war began.
Fifty-seven years after that armistice, a U.S. carrier task force is steaming toward the Yellow Sea in a show of force after the North fired 80 shells into a South Korean village.
We will stand by our Korean allies, says President Obama. And with our security treaty and 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, many on the DMZ, we can do no other. But why, 60 years after the first Korean War, should Americans be the first to die in a second Korean War?
Unlike 1950, South Korea is not an impoverished ex-colony of Japan. She is the largest of all the “Asian tigers,” a nation with twice the population and 40 times the economy of the North.
Seoul just hosted the G-20. And there is no Maoist China or Stalinist Soviet Union equipping Pyongyang’s armies. The planes, guns, tanks and ships of the South are far superior in quality.
Why, then, are we still in South Korea? Why is this quarrel our quarrel? Why is this war, should it come, America’s war?
High among the reasons we fought in Korea was Japan, then a nation rising from the ashes after half its cities had been reduced to rubble. But, for 50 years now, Japan has had the second largest economy and is among the most advanced nations on earth.
NEW YORK—Actor Harvey Keitel and I are good friends and we go way back. For any of you who hate movies and Hollywood as I do, Keitel is your man. He was on Broadway for ten years and then made Mean Streets, the first of many gritty films with Robert De Niro depicting young Italian toughs around tough New York neighborhoods. De Niro and Keitel are very close friends, but the latter is a very open person, not at all shy or—God forbid—a Hollywood type.
Keitel enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 17 “with two other Jewish kids from my neighborhood.” Apparently the various D.I.s (Drill Instructors) in Parris Island had never met a Jew before. “This guy would line us up, look at us, shake his head, and move on down the line,” says Harvey. He attends Marine Corps functions every year and keeps in touch with the old gang. No typical Hollywood actor he.
We became fast friends as soon as we were introduced. It went something like this:
Me: “What’s a nice little Jewish boy from Brooklyn doing in the Marine Corps instead of being down in Wall Street?”
Harvey, while bursting out in laughter: “Who is this guy? I like him.”
We’ve been buddies ever since. One night my young son came home and announced he had just seen Bad Lieutenant, where Harvey plays a drug-sodden cop who screws everything in sight while shooting up heroin and chasing bad guys. J. T. went on and on about the film, so I told him to come to dinner next evening at the Monkey Bar. I had Keitel and his wife Daphna for dinner, and when my boy saw Harvey, his eyes nearly popped out. Bad Lieutenant was a very powerful film, as were Mean Streets, Reservoir Dogs, and Taxi Driver–where Harvey played Jody Foster’s pimp—but my favorite is The Duellists, Joseph Conrad’s Napoleonic saga of an obsessed French officer who keeps challenging a brother officer to a duel throughout their careers for no apparent reason. The atmosphere alone is worth the admission price. Harvey from Brooklyn speaks Brooklynese in the film and carries it off.
Keitel seems haloed in electricity as well as authenticity. He reminds me of Bogie for his natural portrayal of daily life as a cop or a gangster. His characters are always beautifully composed and finely worked, a legacy of being onstage, I guess, unlike the rest of today’s mumbling so-called superstars who can’t act their way out of a paper bag. His work doesn’t seem at all studied; in fact, it’s like looking out your window in the Bronx or Brooklyn and observing people.
In the 1960s a kind of sport for us Yanks in Paris was making light of our cheese-eating, surrender-monkey hosts.
Dr. Reginald Kernan led the American Mafia at the Travellers Club. He was on the conseil and made sure that the Frogs kept their part of the bargain that the Club maintain its half-Gallic, half-Anglo-Saxon character and composition.
Reg spoke perfect idiomatic French, if (to the purist ear) with a slightly grating American accent. His idea of a joke was to translate American slang verbatim into French. “Quoi l”enfer donne autour d”ici?” (“What the hell’s going on around here?”), he”d ask as he came into the bar. Or he would say ponderously, “C”est comme Ã§a que le biscuit s”Ã©miette.” (“That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”) In French, neither expression means anything.
Reg was a Boston Brahmin: Milton Academy, Harvard College, a varsity oar, Harvard Medical School. He had been a top doctor at the American Hospital in Paris until he did something that got him sacked, forcing him to sleep in his car for a couple months. Reg was six foot six, slim, and handsome”a dead ringer for Gary Cooper. Before long he was acting in French movies, starring with Simone Signoret and having a love affair with her to boot. He was also more than friendly with the statuesque American model and actress Suzy Parker.
Parker was Chanel’s signature face and the first model to command $200 an hour and make $100,000 a year. She was the rare case of a beauty with wit. Laura Jacobs quoted her in a May 2006 Vanity Fair feature: “I think you can love a man more when you aren”t married to him.” I have an idea this philosophy sat well with Reg. Sadly, her great charm did not radiate to the silver screen. In Kiss Them for Me (1957) with Cary Grant, her performance makes the Tin Woodman look like an Olympic gymnast.
Art Buchwald was the principal literary French-baiter. He had a column on the back page of the Paris International Herald in the days before it was acquired by those mirthless, politically correct bores down on West 42nd Street.
The paper was then owned by Jock Whitney’s New York Herald Tribune and was, some say, the world’s best English-language newspaper. Only about a dozen pages, you could read the whole thing over breakfast. It gave you the feeling of having mastered the world situation. There were the stock tables and the sports scores from America, all the international news, some quirky stuff about Paris, some interesting ads for “private French lessons,” and always an ad for Harry’s New York Bar, 5 Rue Daunou: “Just tell the taxi driver””Sank Roo Dough Noo.””
One of Buchwald’s best columns exposed the myth that the French found big-tipping Americans vulgar. The piece told the tragedy of a maid at the Plaza AthÃ©nÃ©e who burst into tears when she was over-tipped.