We honor this septet of infamous names for recently achieving headlines by daring to go against the grain”€”for better or worse. Gaze upon high society’s ballsiest members who are now permanently inducted”€”whether they like it or not”€”into Takimag’s Daredevil Hall of Fame:

Speaker of the House and fulltime crybaby John Boehner still says he’s flying commercial to and from his Ohio district to DC instead of using the jet designated for him. He gets a nod for daring to underplay Nancy Pelosi’s $1,000,000-a-year Air Force flight bill, but someone better tell American Airlines to stock up on their Kleenex.

Don”€™t cross America’s self-proclaimed “€œMost Courageous Congressman.”€ Rep. Dennis Kucinich settled with the House of Representatives cafeteria for selling him a veggie-wrap sandwich with an olive pit in it which he says caused dental damage. Gutsy move, sure, but he did actually get money out of the eatery. Kucinich asked for $150,000 and received an undisclosed amount one week later. If you can’t rip off taxpayers one way, try, try again.

John Paulson earned a cool $5 billion last year”€”or $13.7 million a day”€”for his shrewd hedge-fund managing and by anticipating the mortgage market’s collapse, which is still paying off two years later. He even topped his personal haul of $1 billion in 2007. It’s enough to resent any man in finance, but give credit where’s it due: We should all be as diligent”€”or sneaky”€”as the 55-year-old man following in Warren Buffett’s shoes. And remember this lesson: Always bet on gold.

Adam Dell wants to go toe-to-toe with Top Chef beauty Padma Lakshmi and is fighting for full custody of their young daughter. Lakshmi’s reportedly fuming that Dell, whom she was only casually dating when she got pregnant, is taking such an interest in their child. At least he can afford the priciest lawyers. He’s Dell computer founder Michael Dell’s brother, but since Lakshmi’s currently dating gray-headed billionaire Teddy Forstmann, money’s no object. Dell needs all the luck he can get for this courtroom tango, as Lakshmi’s an old pro with getting out of awkward situations”€”remember her what-was-she-thinking marriage to Salman Rushdie?

Taco Bell thought outside the bun and published full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times saying “€œThank You for Suing Us”€ in response to the class-action lawsuit claiming their meat is only 35 percent beef. The company is fiercely defending their product. But look very closely and the fine print will remind you: Even if it’s full-blown beef, the spicy beef burrito still tastes like a slightly higher-end dog food.

Ted “€œGolden Voice”€ Williams has dropped out of rehab after only two weeks, preferring to overcome alcoholism on his own, despite pleas from his mother for him to continue getting help. Williams was corralled into rehab by the ultra-pushy Dr. Phil, who used him to juice up ratings for his daytime talker. Williams says he didn”€™t feel right about the shrink’s requests for follow-up interviews. Only a brave man crosses the spawn of Oprah, but Godspeed, Golden Voice. Run far and fast from Dr. Quack.

Finally, the award for the century’s most indomitable celebrity goes to…Charlie Sheen! Like a big boy, he “€œvoluntarily”€ checked himself into rehab, yet his good behavior didn”€™t last long. In a text to RadarOnline (what, TMZ’s inbox was full?) the hard-partying louse wrote: “People don’t seem to get it…Guy can’t have a great time and do his job also? Bunch of turds.” Only an Evel Knievel-level daredevil would insult their friends and loved ones while shrugging off their tryst with four porn stars and a cocaine-filled briefcase as a mere “€œgreat time.”€

Daredevil Honorable Mention of the Week goes to the staff at Sheen’s center. Can you imagine trying to get that man sober? A trembling, cranky, horny Sheen squirreled away from his drugs and women is not going to be a pretty picture.

A global scandal erupted last week after someone complained about the manner in which a grocery store in Mountain Home, Arkansas was displaying an Us Weekly cover featuring sextuagenarian songbird Elton John, his widow-peaked “€œpartner”€ of 17 years David Furnish, and their month-old bioengineered son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John”€”who may or may not be gay, nor, as far as I can tell from that cover photo, even alive.

After spotting the magazine on display at a Harps regional grocery-chain outlet, a local Arkansas native Tweeted that she was “€œshocked”€ and “€œhorrified”€ at what she”€™d seen and publicly inquired whether anything could possibly be done to rectify this clearly unacceptable and morally abhorrent situation.

The story soon went viral, along with the sad, predictably uptight bleatings of pharisaical outrage among faceless, small-minded commenters:

“€œ[W]e’re still horrified that this even happened in the first place…offensive…disgraceful…appaling [sic]…twisted…wrong…outrageous.”€

Many of the comments crossed the line from simple moral indignation to violent threats and outright hate speech:

“€œThis makes me very, very stabby…die off…move to a big fucking island somewhere and leave us…alone!!!!…people like you should just spontaneously combust for the sake of our society…you should be eradicated…you should be like, beaten up and raped…seriously go kill yourself.”€

Kindly note that all those unhinged and morally totalitarian quotes were from gay-rights supporters, not gay-bashers.

The sequence of events at Harps Marketplace way up in the Arkansas Ozarks went roughly like this: The magazine featuring the gay duo and their possibly gay baby was put on the racks. According to store management, “€œseveral”€ customers complained about it. The manager, following standard protocol when customers complain, decided to put up what is known as a “€œFamily Shield“€ covering most of the magazine in order to “€œprotect young Harps shoppers.”€

It was the Family Shield”€”not the in-your-face-and-down-your-throat gayness”€”that “€œshocked”€ and “€œhorrified”€ local woman Jennifer Huddleston, who, at the risk of stereotyping, looks like a typical fag hag who owns a lot of cats.

The gay-friendly Huddleston decided to get TWICE as offended as the anonymous local homophobes. She hopped onto Twitter beseeching the help of the ACLU, GLAAD, Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, the shrieking orange cunt-monster Kathy Griffin, and the rest of the gay-friendly digital world, which came out in force to prove that they were far more technologically efficient at getting offended than a smattering of fundamentalist queer-baiters in the Arkansas hills.

“€œIt seemed normal for Elton to be weird; what seems so weird are his half-cocked and possibly senile attempts to be normal.”€

It was during this furious and well-orchestrated backlash that we got a glimpse at how truly tolerant and accepting the gay coastal urban blogosphere is toward those whom they perceive as fundamentally “€œdifferent”€ from them:

Bible thumping inbreds…bible beating mouth breathers…fuckin rednecks….They can’t live in a world where people are different…its fucking ignorant white trash hicks like you that make this country so fucked up…white trash baby mommas with no baby daddy in sight who live on Hi-C and Doritos, smoke no-name brand cigarettes and scream at their kids 24/7….The SCARIEST part is that these midwestern YOKELS have the same voting rights we do. There must be so much METH in the air they breath [sic]…uneducated, idiotic, hate-mongering, ignorant…backwards ass hillbilly fuckholes….truly dumbfuck, missing tooth people….They would give their only tooth to fuck Elton….Yes the south is the butt of so many jokes because they have all taken one dip too many in the same gene pool.

The story was picked up by ABC, NBC, and CNN. It soon found its way into the UK’s Daily Mail, the India Times, and the Sydney Morning Herald. The international press made blanket headline statements about how the magazine was “€œCensored In US”€ or “€œCensored in Arkansas,”€ as if what happened was more far-reaching and culture-damning than a single incident at a single store in a single small American town.

Within a day, Harps executives relented to media pressure, removed the Family Shield, and issued a groveling apology about how “€œour employees and our customers come in all shapes and sizes, beliefs and preferences….Harps has never and would never discriminate.”€ With triumphalist jubilation, major media declared that one brave girl had “€œshamed”€ a backwoods grocery store into removing the odious Hate Shield.

I remember back when public shaming was largely aimed at the homos. Nowadays it’s the homos and their sob sisters who are eagerly doing most of the “€œouting”€ and public shaming. Either way, I”€™ll pass.

After decades of insisting that the government get out of their bedrooms, gay activists are now insisting on their natural-born right, even if they have to hop in bed with the government to accomplish it, to drag their cum-spackled waterbeds straight into small grocery stores in rural areas where the majority of people might not want their four-year-olds to see it.

Not that anyone asked, but I preferred gay males when they were cultural outsiders who seemed impossible to offend. Nowadays they scream for mainstream acceptance and get offended at everything. Tsk-tsk, ladies! As outsiders, they used to see clearly through the idiocy of mass-culture moral panics. Now, as they squiggle and squirm to be accepted as “€œnormal”€ rather than “€œdifferent,”€ they fabricate their own humorless moral panics. Frankly, the fags have disappointed me. If they keep up this pace, it will soon be impossible to distinguish them from the lesbians.

My old political philosophy teacher Professor Yusuf Ibish outlined the conditions he thought would lead inevitably to revolution. They included the population’s impoverishment, denial of dignity, and repressive rulers who used torture and false imprisonment. I asked him where conditions would create such a revolution, and without hesitation he answered, “€œEgypt.”€ He said this in the spring of 1973. The Egyptian people are thirty-eight years late.

The question is not so much why Egyptians are out in the street demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak’s kleptocratic torture chamber as why have they waited so long. As anyone who has visited the land of the pharaohs knows, the Nile flows so slowly you can barely notice it moving. Egyptians are as patient as the river, but they flood into the streets when the ruling class dams them up without a release valve. Like the British were surprised on Black Saturday 1952 when the Egyptians burned down their clubs, hotels, and banks, the United States did not see this tide building into a wave of anger. The 1952 Cairo riots erupted on January 26, almost fifty-nine years to the day that Egyptians came out again to oust Mubarak just as they”€™d forced the Egyptian Army to dethrone King Farouk. Farouk tried the same ploy that Mubarak is using now: dismissing his government and appointing a new one. The protestors did not care about government ministers then and don”€™t now. Farouk had to go, and now so must Mubarak.

The Egyptians are not a vindictive people, as their patience and their famed humor prove. They let Farouk sail out on his yacht, the Mahroussa, with his family and some of his wealth. If the Army acts to remove Mubarak, they will undoubtedly afford him a similar courtesy”€”far more than he did for opponents whom his police have shot and killed over the past twenty-nine years.

“€œLike the British, the US misunderstood Egypt. It mistook patience for permanent acceptance.”€

General Mohammed Naguib, titular head of the Free Officers Movement that overthrew the king in July 1952, stated the revolution’s motives in terms that would apply to Mubarak today:

Egypt’s reputation among the peoples of the world has been debased as a result of your excesses in these areas to the extent that traitors and bribe-takers find protection beneath your shadow in addition to security, excessive wealth, and many extravagances at the expense of the hungry and impoverished people.

Like the British, the US misunderstood Egypt. It mistook patience for permanent acceptance. Getting Egypt wrong is a constant in American foreign policy. The US never understood that the new Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, wanted independence not only from Britain, but also from the US and USSR. The CIA’s Kim Roosevelt thought he could bribe Nasser with a cash-filled suitcase, which Nasser courteously accepted and used to construct a monument visible to all of Cairo that his aides allegedly called el wa’ef Rusfel, i.e., “€œRoosevelt’s Erection.”€

The Israelis got Egypt wrong, too. They thought they could drive a wedge between Nasser and the US by planting bombs in American institutions in Egypt that would be blamed on the Egyptians. The Egyptian police apprehended the Israeli spies responsible, and the damage was to Israeli-American relations. It was one of several Israeli attacks on Americans, like 1967’s bombing of the USS Liberty, that have been written out of history.

The biggest celebrity implosion of the week comes courtesy of Charlie Sheen. He was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday for what some say was a hiatal hernia caused from”€”wait for it”€”laughing too hard at the TV. Others say he was partying with a briefcase of cocaine and five porn stars. They could all be true! Porn stars like sitcoms, too. But in any case, Sheen voluntarily checked himself into rehab on Friday, and production on his hit show Two and a Half Men has been halted. Thank god young Disney starlet Demi Lovato left rehab today”€”those are two stars whose paths need never to cross.

Oh my, that Chelsea Handler likes to keep the boys and gossipmongers guessing. After tweeting flirty photos of her in bed with 50 Cent”€”and apparently breaking his heart before the holidays, refusing his pleas and presents to get back together”€”the foul-mouthed comedian cozied up to handsome hotelier Andre Balazs while the pair was in Sundance. Don”€™t read on, Fiddy: The new maybe couple was spotted making out. We doubt it”€™ll last long as both are known to play the field, with Balazs once linked to Uma Thurman and Courtney Love.

Oprah has a secret”€”and no, it has nothing to do with Gayle. Although, now that we think about it, O’s BFF might not be so happy about the new woman in the talk show queen’s life. On her show this week, Oprah revealed she found a half-sister, Patricia Johnson, whom she never knew existed. Shockingly, Patricia knew about her connection with Oprah for years, but never took her story to the tabloids, instead trying to reach out to the daytime talker in any way possible. Of course, they”€™re now both mugging it up for the cameras, but it’s all still sort of sweet in its own way.

More news on the Bristol Palin front. She played coy on a radio show earlier this week about a new boyfriend, but halfway admitted she’s seeing a 20-year-old Alaska pipeline worker (who, judging by his job and the fact that he hasn”€™t yet posted for Playgirl, probably passes muster with Bristol’s Mama Grizzly, Sarah). The 20-year-old also said she’s been pestering Levi Johnston to give up parental rights for his son, Tripp, but Johnston won”€™t budge, despite only seeing him “€œat most”€ three times since her Dancing with the Stars stint.

Further proof that Tracy Morgan is just playing himself on 30 Rock: While live on a TNT airing of Inside the NBA show, Morgan commented on former VP candidate Sarah Palin, saying, you know what, she’s “€œgood masturbation material.”€ Charles Barkley thought that was a knee-slapper of a comment, but TNT didn”€™t. The network apologized to viewers for Morgan’s “€œlack of judgment.”€ Sarah Palin, as of yet, has not weighed in.

One of fashion’s most revered faces may be unrecognizable in its current state. Diane von Furstenberg, wife of Barry Diller and head of her multimillion-dollar fashion empire, had an unfortunate fall while skiing in Aspen and suffered a broken nose and facial fractures. “Some Brazilian man, who could not ski, lost control and went straight at me, hitting me badly on my face and ribs with his camera,” von Furstenberg said. We have a feeling the Brazilian looked”€”or at least felt”€”worse for wear after the high-powered couple was through with him. Von Furstenberg is now recuperating in Los Angeles.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, part-time philanthropist, budding comedian? Rumor has it the tech whiz might guest star on Saturday Night Live this weekend. Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg is hosting, which could mean it’s the first time the two curly-headed nerds meet face-to-face. Come 11:35pm, expect Facebook walls to be blowing up if Zuckerberg actually drops in.

Prince William and Kate are doing it old school. Save-the-date faxes have been sent out to the senior members of the royal family invited to the royal wedding. The guest list has yet to be finalized but King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece are said to have received the save-the-dates, and Prince Alexander and Princess Katherine of Serbia have RSVPed. Something else likely on the couple’s radar: Lifetime is planning a made-for-TV movie of their royal romance, from their time as students at St. Andrews to, well, now. Relative unknown Nico Evers-Swindell will play Wills. Kate has not been cast. And surely every brunette with a passable Brit accent is now flooding the Lifetime casting agency with headshots.

This would cause anyone’s wallet to clamp itself closed. Diddy has been sued for one trillion (yes, trillion) dollars. Valerie Joyce Wilson Turks says the rapper”€”who oh-so-conveniently has a hit record out now”€””€œknocked down the World Trade Center,”€ and, in turn “€œknocked her children down.”€ Uhhh”€”what? Oh, and Diddy’s also the father to her son, that’s where $900 billion of the lawsuit comes from (lost child support). That’s sure to be one interesting court hearing on January 31.

Songstress Nicki Minaj debuted her newest music video this week, and, true to form, the chameleon with a mike is still a mystery. She marries her real-life boyfriend, singer Drake, in the video for “€œMoment 4 Life”€ and glams herself up as Marie Antoinette and Cinderella. Overall, it’s pretty amusing, and is at least a good time-killer until Lady Gaga’s back later this year.

Obama’s State of the Union speech was a smashing rhetorical success, as the New York Post conceded in its editorial the next morning, because it expressed the movement-conservative truth of “€œAmerican exceptionalism.”€ The Post quoted Obama’s statement about the US being “€œthe first nation to be shaped for the sake of an idea.”€ The president went on to affirm the USA’s moral, political, and economic superiority over any other country at any time, thereby demonstrating his capacity for moral growth. At last we discover, according to the Post‘s editorialists, that “€œAmerica is exceptional even in Obama’s eyes.”€  His stress on this patriotic theme indicates that he’s “€œmade notable progress”€ from the time he believed that “€œthe country he leads is no better than any other.”€

What is omitted from this account is how Obama stole the rhetorical clothes off the backs of the GOP and the neocons when they weren”€™t looking. His performance included most of his usual shtick about amnestying illegals, throwing public funds at favored commercial interests, and keeping his health plan from being significantly amended. But he devoted his speech mostly to telling us how good we Americans are, how we”€™ve been about ideas rather than any ethnicity since our glorious history’s beginning, and how people unfortunate enough to live outside the American sphere all “€œdream”€ of enjoying a democracy such as ours. Although Bush’s speechwriters David Frum and Michael Gerson might have gone beyond this in their rhetorical effusions and their call for democratizing the galaxy, clearly the neoconservatives have acknowledged that Obama last night sounded like them on the “€œvision”€ thing.

Obama also had seated in the congressional chamber “€œexceptional”€ people, that is, those who are particularly representative of our uniquely propositional country. These were recipients of stimulus money who had made something of their government favors, a few visibly uncomfortable entrepreneurs, members of featured minority groups, and a noticeably gay couple in uniform who were presumably beneficiaries of the new congressional act opening up the military to self-described gays.

All of this talk and demonstration of exceptionalism caused me to come up with my own example of American uniqueness. Let us imagine a Latino who, while trying to sneak into the US in a plane, falls out and loses his/her arm in the ensuing accident. This differently abled “€œundocumented”€ may become what Obama hopes other of the “€œundocumented”€ will become if only we give them a chance”€”namely, “€œdoctors, engineers, and scientists.”€ The illegally arrived amputee, having escaped the border police, may eventually perform pioneering scientific work in the prosthetic-limbs field. Having finished this task, he/she may then volunteer to serve in the military with his/her gay lover and be given a special standing as a special-needs gay soldier. Soon, our hypothetical person and his/her lover’s exceptionalness would result in a personal invitation to a State of the Union speech given by a Republican president trying to reach out.

“€œIt just took a while before we got as good and as sensitive as we are right now.”€

Flights of fancy aside, it seems that Bam has learned something else from the neocons apart from yammering about American exceptionalism, or, according to Bill Lind, acting “€œas if the laws of nature don”€™t really apply to those residing within the borders of the US.”€ He has learned that one can be an exuberant America-booster, telling the world how great we Americans are, without having to sacrifice one’s progressive or leftist politics. It’s all quite simple. Once we”€™ve defined our country as some kind of propositional thing, then the leader is free to identify what the country is and how to force its citizens to comply with that proposition. The proposition has to be inclusive, universal, and egalitarian, like the neocon emphasis on democratic equality and human rights. No other kind of proposition is going to work any longer in a place as diverse and culturally fluid as today’s America. But once you enunciate the “€œidea,”€ then you can fit your own program into it, e.g., launching wars to spread democracy or throwing tax money at one’s favorite donors such as teachers”€™ unions.

This propositionalism can be applied to the country’s founding as well as to its present state. Apparently the one big truth was always there but required time to be realized in our everyday lives as a universal nation. As benighted as the American past may seem to admirers of present-day America, the good “€œidea”€ was always bubbling up in our civic life. It just took a while before we got as good and as sensitive as we are right now. It’s not the present that’s the aberration. It’s the past that was wrong before it came to resemble the present.

This belief goes down the public gullet better than having blacks whine about prejudice, something that Michelle Obama did during her hubby’s presidential campaign. And the neocons still engage in this gauche practice when talking about all the anti-Semitism that raged in the US before they came into their own. Why the hell dwell on those bad old days when you and your friends are doing so well? It’s better to celebrate America as an exceptional place held together by an “€œidea,”€ as long as you get to define that idea and use it to push your own stuff. Who says that Bam can”€™t learn?


When the modern-day eminences grises in grey suits from St. James’s gave the nod of approval to William and Kate’s marriage, only the most hardened cynics were heard groaning in Old England’s republican boroughs”€”them and the Bishop of Willesden, that worthy prelate who had censured the royal family as “philanderers.” On this the church is clearly divided, the Archbishop of Canterbury referring to the marriage as a symbol of hope.

The grey suits’ role in recent royal weddings has been woefully inept both in terms of judgment and advice, representing a shameful dereliction of duty. Quite what these feckless Fellows were thinking as they trawled through Burke’s and Debrett’s for a suitable bride is anyone’s guess. Perhaps these happy volumes have been put aside now that HELLO! magazine is on hand to replace them. In the case of Princess Diana, born at Park House, a stone’s throw from Sandringham, everyone in Norfolk had lived through her mother’s scandalous affair with Peter Shand Kydd, an affair conducted with such shameless indecorum that even her own mother Baroness Fermoy denounced her daughter as unfit to be a parent. Cherchez la femme! Kate Middleton’s mother, former air hostess Carole, seems a perfect choice by comparison. Merely because she wears shocking clothes and has a brother who takes drugs is neither here nor there; it’s simply representative of modern times.

What do you buy a royal couple who already have enough to buy a country?

When Mark Antony married Cleopatra in 36 BC, he gifted her much of the Middle East, Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, and Crete. As part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry in 1661, Charles II of England was presented with the North African town of Tangiers, while King Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun gave her husband the Little Golden Shrine, a fabulous series of panels depicting the royal couple in domestic scenes which ultimately accompanied Tut to his tomb.

Money and jewels never go out of style. When Washington Post owner Ned McLean married Evalyn Walsh, he famously gave her the “Star of the East” diamond necklace, 94.8 carats of diamond supported by a 34.5-carat emerald. Tom Cruise, the people’s prince and heir to the throne of Lilliput, bought Katie Holmes a Fred Leighton oval-shaped diamond ring worth $275,000 for their engagement. Now it is rumored that a group of Saudi Arabian billionaires are trying to buy William and Kate the Rainbow Collection, the world’s finest assortment of colored diamonds, currently the property of Antwerp jeweler Eddy Elzas. A similar rumor was circulating at the time of Prince Charles’s 1981 wedding to Diana.

“What do you buy a royal couple who already have enough to buy a country?”

When Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip in November 1947, she received many jewelry items from the royal family including the “Girls of Great Britain and Ireland” diamond tiara, still displayed on England’s bank notes, the Cornwall ruby and diamond bracelet, and a breathtaking necklace from the Nizam of Hyderabad. From ordinary well-wishers, they received over 2,500 random presents including 500 cases of tinned pineapple, copious tins of salmon and boxes of crystallized fruits, a refrigerator, 76 handkerchiefs, 148 pairs of stockings, 30 scarves, and 16 nightgowns. Generous maybe, but lacking balance. Even if the royal couple were to share the stockings, 148 pairs seems excessive. It would help if there was a wedding list in Harrods now that the store is once more safe in which to venture.

Today it has become fashionable among the elite to ask that money be given to a charitable cause instead of gifts.

I pride myself on choosing appropriate wedding presents, and as William appears to be a praiseworthy royal compared to the motley collection of also-rans who make up the rest of the family, I was happy to spend part of last weekend dogging out a fitting gift. To that end I pointed my shoes in the direction of my friend Deepak Patel. Patel runs one of the main branches of Boots, the super-conservative High Street chemist chain where I initiated my search. My aim: to find something useful for the royal couple as they start life together. My own parents had a marvelous apparatus on their bedside table called a Goblin Teasmade, an alarm clock and tea maker rolled into one. It always struck me as a perfect way to start the day, and I thought one of these could be just the ticket. Patel, however, was dismissive, almost scathing.

About fifteen years ago I received a very polite letter from Belgium asking me to list three of the most pompous and self-important people in the UK. It came with a self-addressed return envelope and stamp. The writer was known as l’entarteur, a man who would approach the pompous and vainglorious and shove a pie in their face. He would never insult the victims nor use foul language—in fact, he always remained silent—and he assured me in his letter that he used only the finest ingredients and freshest milk in his pies.

The first potential target who came to my mind was Edward Heath, but I immediately took his name off the list. Heath was too bloated, his face too red, and the last thing I wished was for him to have a stroke while covered in a lemon-meringue pie. L’entarteur agreed, and we started a lively correspondence. One of the candidates I submitted was not a Brit, but Algerian-born Frog Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom my Belgian buddy had already pelted with pies on at least three occasions. Four is a good round number, suggested yours truly.

One month later at the airport in Nice Lévy got blasted by l’entarteur like never before. The pie was giant size, and the cream made him look like a Yeti while he fumbled around and screamed bloody murder. Then les gendarmes interfered and arrested my friend, who offered no resistance. One thing the onlookers noticed was that the fuzz had trouble making the arrest because they were laughing so hard. Led in front of a judge, my NBF promised he would no longer throw pies on BHL (as the pompous Lévy is known in the land of cheese) and was let off with a fine for disturbing the peace. We lost touch with each other after that.

“There are those, mind you, who take Lévy seriously—French image-makers, PR hucksters, and other such modern pests—but serious people do not.”

Last week I almost got on a plane to Paris to help continue my Belgian friend’s good work, but I got lazy and went skiing instead. There is no pie big enough to make the bum BHL mend his wicked ways. His latest outrage involves Stéphane Hessel, a German-born Jew whose father emigrated to France in 1924 when Stéphane was seven. Hessel’s father was the model of one of the two lovers in Jules et Jim, the novel which later became a very popular film. Stéphane served in the French Army, became a prisoner of war, escaped, and joined de Gaulle. Dispatched to France to help organize the Resistance, he was captured, tortured, and sent to Buchenwald. While being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, he escaped again.

After the war he was named ambassador and worked with the United Nations. Honors and awards followed. Late last year—his 93rd—he published his book Be Indignant!, his defense of Palestinians under brutal Israeli occupation. The book became an overnight bestseller, moving 600,000 copies in three months. (Charles Glass Books, an imprint of London’s Quartet Books, has landed the UK rights and will publish it shortly.)

This week’s storm in a teacup was when Chinese pianist Lang Lang played the Chinese song “My Motherland” at a US state dinner for visiting Chinese functionaries. The song is a gushy old patriotic thing”€”you can inspect the lyrics here and see it sung in its original movie setting here“€”from the mid-1950s, when mainland Chinese people were congratulating themselves on having fought the USA to a draw in Korea.

There are all sorts of things to be said about that, beginning with the fact that both China and the North Korean regime they supported were totalitarian despotisms led by megalomaniacal dictators. Among the Chinese who were not congratulating themselves for the Korean stalemate were the million or so country landlords and other “enemies of the people” murdered in Mao Tse-tung’s early 1950s class-struggle purges. After half a century of warlordism, invasion, and civil war, the great majority of un-persecuted Chinese people were glad to be experiencing social order.

So what if Third Uncle’s brother-in-law who owned a bit of land in the next province over had been clubbed to death by angry peasants for being a counterrevolutionary element? So what if the wife’s cousin’s best friend, who’d fought for Chiang Kai-shek, had been sent to a labor camp? There was rice in the bowl and the kids were going to school. In 1956, Maoism’s real nation-gutting horrors”€”the Great Leap Forward, the famines, the Cultural Revolution”€”had yet to occur.

And fighting the USA to a draw was a heck of an achievement for a peasant army racked and impoverished by that half-century of chaos. They liked “My Motherland.” The song hung around long enough to detach itself from its original context. They still like it. I can’t say it’s my cup of tea, but it wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for them.

“€œWhen the Olympics are on TV my wife roots for the Chinese teams. Why wouldn’t she? She’s Chinese.”

So far as I can judge, Lang Lang has no interest in politics or in scoring points off the US president. Now 28, Lang Lang was born in the Manchurian city of Shenyang a few weeks before I passed through the place in 1982. (My main recollection of the city is of a huge socialist-realist monument in the central square, masses of sculpted heroic workers, peasants, and soldiers surging forward to victory, the whole grotesque thing precisely the color of shit.) The China he grew up in is the China I know from having lived there, visited subsequently, and married into”€”my “€œcountry-in-law,”€ as Mrs. D. says. It is a China that can’t be bothered much with politics.

Lang Lang is still a Chinese citizen, actually a resident of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. He is patriotic, and he’s entitled to be. Even if he were a US citizen, it would be perfectly natural and normal for him to have tender feelings toward his motherland. First-generation US citizens generally do, unless they belonged to some subjugated minority in the old country.

Nothing is more human than sentimental warmth toward your birth country and the religion of your childhood. Even I, though less disposed than most to that kind of thing, experience a twinge of affection when I see the queen on TV or hear something equivalent to “My Motherland.” (Vera Lynn singing “The White Cliffs of Dover” will do it.) I wouldn’t live in today’s Britain if you paid me a salary to do so, but if I felt no emotions toward the place I’d be less than human. I nurse similar affection for Christianity, even though I don’t believe a word of it.

To be Oscar-eligible, a movie had to have played for one week last year in Southern California. Last Christmas, I had looked forward to heading down to the ArcLight on Sunset Boulevard to a see The Way Back, a modest epic about an escape from a 1940s concentration camp. It’s the first film since 2003’s outstanding Master and Commander (which starred Russell Crowe as sea novelist Patrick O”€™Brian’s Captain Jack Aubrey) by distinguished director Peter Weir (Gallipoli, Witness, The Truman Show), the leading figure in Australian cinema’s emergence back in the 1970s.

But The Way Back‘s Oscar-qualifying run was not at the ArcLight Hollywood but at the AMC Covina 30. (I”€™m not sure where Covina is, other than that it is east, presumably, of West Covina.)

Now that The Way Back is finally out in a semi-national release on 678 screens, it turns out that its heroes were the wrong kind of 1940s political prisoners: A Polish Army officer leads six anti-communist escapees out of a Soviet Gulag in frigid Siberia (which will give you a new, favorable impression of global warming) across Mongolia and Tibet and over the Himalayas to India.

“€œThe truth is that a vast number of survivors walked home from Soviet camps in the 1940s and 1950s, including a distant in-law of mine.”€

The well-trod ground of Nazism (1933-1945) automatically accords movies attention as “€œimportant,”€ while films about the fresher, broader topic of communism (1917-1991) must overcome the widespread attitude of “€œWhy do we have to think about that?”€ Exceptional films such as The Lives of Others can overcome this aversion. For merely strong ones, such as The Way Back, Katyn, or last summer’s Farewell, popularity will always lie at the end of a hard road.

Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History and a consultant on The Way Back, notes: “€œWeir told me that many in Hollywood were surprised by the story: They’d never heard of Soviet concentration camps, only German ones.”€ You can see how much Weir had to scrounge for his $30-million budget during the interminable opening display of animated logos for the seven obscure production companies that chipped in, including National Geographic Films, the Polish Film Institute, and Imagenation Abu Dhabi. 

Dear Delphi,

I am a single dad and this morning I found my cute, sweet, 17-year-old daughter passed out in the driver’s seat in our driveway. I am scared to death and angry. What can I do to keep her safe?

“€”Dumbstruck Dad in D.C.

Dear Dumbstruck Dad in D.C.,

There is only one way to change a teenager’s habits”€”FEAR. Unfortunately, teenagers are the hardest people to scare. They are fearless and arrogant. They can do anything they want and nothing bad will ever happen. They are not fearful of being grounded or having privileges taken away so much as they are annoyed and inconvenienced. Showing them gory movies of bloody car-crash victims or reciting random statistics and jail sentences is not going to work. You need to induce some long-lasting, trauma-inducing fear.

You could kill someone, you could be killed, you could get arrested, have your licensed revoked, and go to jail”€”none of this will work.  Call your local police station and explain you need their assistance with fear tactics. Take her to gawk at drunk-driving victims in the morgue”€”the younger, the better. Call the hospital and ask if they have any patients crippled or otherwise gruesomely disfigured in a drunk-driving accident”€”the younger and more crippled, the better. Under no circumstances show her a person who walked away from an accident with a bump on the head and a broken arm! If the hospital and the police refuse your request, you will need to search out victims”€™ families in the area and force her to go talk with families and victims about the devastation the accident caused. Bring her face-to-face with someone who lost their face in a car accident.

Dear Delphi,

My father-in-law recently died and left my husband a lot of money. My husband, who is 50, ran off with his inheritance, leaving the children and I in a cloud of dust. I mean, literally ran off. He is presently in Bali doing God knows what, and who knows when he”€™ll return? What can I do?

“€œThere is only one way to change a teenager’s habits”€”FEAR. Unfortunately, teenagers are the hardest people to scare.”€

“€”Shock and Awe in Aspen

Dear Shock and Awe in Aspen,

Has your husband spent his life struggling to make money? Was he always worried about not having enough? Is he the kind of man who sacrificed his own desires and comforts to give you and the children what you wanted or needed? If it’s possible that this is simply him blowing off years of pent-up financial anxiety, then give him a chance and wait for him to come back and explain himself. Maybe it is a case of “€œmoney adrenaline”€ and he will return to his senses once he has come to terms with his newfound powers and freedoms.

If you don”€™t care what his motives are or you don”€™t think it is money adrenaline but rather a case of “being an asshole” and he is presently impregnating a native girl never to return, take some time and plan yourself a very nice divorce settlement. Talk to lawyers. Find out exactly what he inherited and how much you can get. Then relax and start daydreaming about how you are going to spend his money. Treat yourself to some nice spa days, fine wines, and expensive accessories while you await his possible return.