July 19, 2007
For an outsider, there are always going to be hazards associated with trying to explain America to Americans .... The formula is by now so well established that Garrison Keillor not so long ago derided Bernard-Henri Levy’s account of his journey in Tocqueville’s footsteps, American Vertigo, as yet another example of “the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists.”
~ Louis Theroux in The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures
Apropos of American Freaks and Fanatics, Mike Sykes referred me to an article by Johann HariIndependent UK, “Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening.” Mike said that something I wrote made him think it was relevant, but he didn’t specify what it was I said. He wrote, of
This reminded me of the horror I felt when, at the time when American hostages were being held by Iran, a taxi driver taking me to Philadelphia airport suggested that the US should nuke Teheran ~ That'd show 'em!
He thinks perhaps all the decent Americans (by his “somewhat liberal standards”) are atypical. I don’t know if I’m in his decent category or not. I like to think I’m fairly decent, and I wouldn’t call myself a neocon or anything else, being a registered independent. I’m not for nuking Teheran (unless they start it), but the bombing of the World Trade Centers horrified me more than the taxi driver’s verbal recklessness. Iran building nuclear bombs horrifies me, along with their stated goal of annihilating Israel. Mike and I have different horror triggers.
Anyway, Johann Hari went on a cruise sponsored by the National Review magazine. I myself wonder what kind of people spend big bucks on a cruise with a political theme, when they’re not making a living off it as does Hari. Apparently everyone he talked to was horrifying, or else an idiot, although it’s important to note that two of the major speakers on the cruise had major political differences. Read the article, and let me know which of those people on the cruise I most resemble. Here are a few highlights, but you have to read the original for all the incriminating quotes.
/// In his first sentence Hari referred to “the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans” yet they were all a bit starchy, which was a good thing since everyone seems to have been old and/or ugly; he frequently referred to their unattractive physical features. (Sometimes I go in for polite chit-chat.)
/// The cruise ship was staffed by Filipinos who worked hard while “wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.” Do people still use sun parasols? So 19th-century Empire of them. How would Hari’s ideal cruise be staffed? (I have a Filipino carry my parasol for me.)
/// At the cocktail reception he found “a tableau from Gone With the Wind” gone grey, by which he meant old women were talking ~ “flirting” he said ~ with old men, but it was starchy, only handshakes and pecks on the cheek. Yet imagine his horror if these saggy old people had been more effusive! Ick. (If it weren’t for Fred, I’d flirt with younger men, but in a starchy way.)
/// Hari asked a Canadian judge, who founded Canadians Against Suicide Bombing, if there would be many members of Canadians for Suicide Bombing. The judge suggested there would be. And in fact, according to recent surveys, lots of people in Canada and the U.S. (let’s not assume they’re Muslims) do think it’s a good idea. (I’m against it.)
/// Everyone, including Hari, asked why liberals hate America. When the others couldn’t answer readily, Hari concluded, “I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation.” ( I find the people he described to be cartoon-like. But we’ll have no fatwahs for unflattering cartoons.)
/// Hari asked editor William Buckley if he felt like a parent whose children all grew up to be serial killers (that is, all the readers of the National Review over its 50 years of publication). (I guess ... fighting a war is like being a serial killer?)
/// Hari said the one black person there, Ward Connerly, was “shilling” for the magazine “that declared at the height of the civil rights movement that black people ‘tend to revert to savagery’, and should be given the vote only ‘when they stop eating each other’.” Can it be true that the National Review published that? (It wasn’t me.) A Google search for these quotes turned up only bloggers quoting Hari’s article, except for a June 2007 article referring to the savagery of Palestine’s Fatah (Arabic for “sudden death” spelled backward). Also, this black man was a dubious character because he expressed empathy even for KKK members. Connerly led an anti-affirmative action campaign in Michigan. Hari did not discuss the pros and cons of affirmative action.
/// He did not discuss immigration policy either, but assumed that the cruisers hate Latinos (except as service-providers on their vacations). When they docked in Puerto Vallarta, Hari wanted to walk around to see the “real Mexico”, meaning the barrios ~ the poor people who are more real than the upper-class Mexicans whose policies create the economic desperation of millions. (How did The Velveteen Rabbit become real? Not through being loved, but through being poor and oppressed. One does not hate everyone who is not in the U.S. legally, just as universities do not hate everyone who’s not admitted, employers don’t hate everyone they don’t hire, and so on.)
/// Hari said writer Mark Steyn looked like a pimp because he was dressed like a tourist, and was not as starchy as the others (the “apostles of colostomy conservatism” ~ doesn’t that remind you of Spiro Agnew’s famous epithet for the left, “nattering nabobs of negativism”, the alliteration, the repeated vowels, the meter?). (I often wear Hawaiian shirts.)
/// Finally, Hari watched “these tireless champions of the overdog” say their starchy goodbyes. “Overdog” was clever, don’t know if it’s his originally, but I wonder if he considers himself an under or over. Judging from his photo, he’s an under. (I’m neither.)
A quote of the day from Garner’s Word of the Day:
A teacher of English would be well advised . . . to regard himself more of a logician than a grammarian, and to cherish the belief that his pupil cannot think clearly unless he can express himself clearly; and conversely, that he cannot express himself clearly unless he can think clearly.
~ Philip Boswood Ballard, Teaching and Testing English ix (1939).
Several guys wrote about the “No Engine Brakes” sign and explained it all in detail, and I tried to do some-cross-connecting, but mechanics is not my beat. I’m now posting PO on my Café Lit blog, so people can enter long technical explanations in Comments. I still want you to write directly to me, though.
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