Sunday, December 20, 2009
Our sails are set, our work is done.
Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
We'll go ashore and have a run.
It's high time to leave her!
Right Time, Right Place has been out for six months, and will march on I hope for much longer. But now this blog goes to sleep. I will post any future thoughts or publicity in The Corner.
Thanks to all who wrote in. And to any who haven't bought the book yet, it's only a click away.
12/20 07:26 PM Share
Friday, December 18, 2009
WFB's Choice for NRO's Care to Shop
"You know," [the headmaster] said, "we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term!"
"I thought that would be about the number."
"As you know I'm an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the 'complete man' any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?"
"Oh yes," said Scott-King. "I can and do."
"I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn't conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?"
"Oh yes. Often."
"What I was going to suggest was — I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?"
"But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead."
"Then what do you intend to do?"
"If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world."
"It's a short-sighted view, Scott-King."
"There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take."
This is the climactic dialogue of a story — "Scott-King's Modern Europe," by Evelyn Waugh — that WFB praised numerous times. It was my introduction to Evelyn Waugh (see pp. 29–30 of Right Time, Right Place). I could quibble with Scott-King, but it is still a terrific story.
12/18 12:14 AM Share
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
‘Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.’
And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.
Tom Guinzburg, old Yale friend of WFB and Van Galbraith, recited these lines from Idylls of the King at Van's memorial service, April 24, 2008, at the Colony Club, 20 days after WFB's memorial mass at St. Patrick's.
12/17 10:48 PM Share
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
My first editorial conference was the summer of 1976.
When we finished Bill assigned each topic to a writer, consulting the scratchings — he frequently asked [his sister] Priscilla what it was he had written — of his notes. To me he assigned a labor union matter, items on Chile and Cambodia, and the obituary of a historian I had never heard of. He ended the meeting by lightly slapping the table and saying, "Entonces" (Spanish for "Well, then"). We returned to our desks to start writing.
. . . . I was told I would be getting clips from the research library, a three-man staff in yet another office: articles cut from the major newspapers, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.
(Right Time, Right Place, p. 36.)
Since then, I estimate I have written five thousand NR editorials and paragraphs. One of the three men of the research library, and the only man of that library for the last decade or so, who supplied the clippings and checked the facts of me, and every other writer, was John Virtes, who attended his last editorial conference this Monday, and whom we celebrated at a party tonight around the corner from our offices at Cask Bar + Kitchen (167 E. 33rd St.).
John not only rode herd on our editorials, he checked the assertions of every article, book review, and brain wave in the magazine. He did it with diligence, stubbornness (necessary: writers are an arrogant lot), and patience.
You can work at a place for one-third of a century and still not know its secrets. Only tonight I learned that John had a list — in his head, but I am sure as graven as the Tablets on Mt. Sinai — of writers who needed special attention (i.e., they were careless and sloppy). The names on that list remain secret.
We wish John a happy retirement, but what does the future hold for us? Who will spell Peter Orszag? Zbigniew Brzezinski? Will Rich, unreminded, think that the Yankees are a so-so baseball team, or Mike decide that Proust is a boring old poufter?
None of us will forget what a pleasure it was to work with John, and what he did for us. Well done, and thank you.
12/16 11:16 PM Share
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
. . . a venerable Right World sport. My colleague Kevin Williamson recently bowled an inning on the Corner:
Psychotherapy is pseudoscience. At its least destructive it amounts to idle chatter; at its worst it is a reality-displacing religion substitute . . .
One of the lone defenders of Freud in NR's pages was Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, motivated in part, I suspect, by Austrian patriotism. But Erik also appreciated Freud's anti-utopian view of human nature.
I suggest my own views of psychoanalysis on p. 56 of Right Time, Right Place:
". . . psychoanalysis [is] an old-fashioned, if not dying art. Now the science heads and the insurance companies give us hierarchies and pills to make us free and happy."
For Jung, see p. 71. For Bill and Pat's encounter with a Rorschach card, see pp. 88–89.
12/15 10:12 PM Share
Monday, December 14, 2009
Best Song Ever
I describe singing it on p. 29 of Right Time, Right Place, and now a friend has sent me a clip.
You can hear it, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fidlTS8o-Vc.
12/14 11:01 PM Share
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Run to the New-born God
WFB included one of his favorite essays on Christmas, "Christmas in Christendom," by Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, in Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?, his 1970 anthology of 20th-century conservative thought. Here is the first graf.
A note of haste sounds clearly in the staggering text of St. Luke: the shepherds run to the new-born God as would an army of men, upon the breaking out of peace after a long war, run to their hearths and to their own.
Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? has 25 pieces by 24 authors (Whittaker Chambers wrote two). As a young conservative and WFB fan, I read the book as if it were a sacred text, and the authors a tag team of evangelists. In time, I would get to know and know of many of them: I would work with Jim Burnham and Jeff Hart; I would see a fair amount of Ernest van den Haag, Harry Jaffa, and Garry Wills; I would meet Hugh Kenner and Russell Kirk; and I would come to know one of Brent Bozell's sons and both of Frank Meyer's.
Frederick Wilhelmsen's contribution was enjoyable, and irksome. "Christmas in Christendom" begins with a strong lede, moves on to a history of the holiday, then ends with a swipe at Cotton Mather and colonial Massachusetts that is about as intelligent as H. L. Mencken. Wilhelmsen's piece first appeared in Triumph, the rejectionist Catholic magazine of the late sixties. Triumph did not believe, with Mel Gibson, that the throne of St. Peter was vacant, but it had no use for American theory or practice. The earthly incarnation of its ideals was Carlism (don't ask).
I have described the impression that WFB's (and NR's) Catholicism made on an outsider in Right Time, Right Place (pp. 46–7, 202–3). Bill picking "Christmas in Christendom" for a book that might be read by, say, Protestants, was just part of the mix. Triumph had no use for WFB, of course; to them, he was a kind of RC Uncle Tom. Bill, taking no offense, accepted Wilhelmsen's piece into his mental universe.
Yet one of the first pieces in Bill's anthology was "E Pluribus Unum: The American Consensus," by John Courtney Murray, the American Jesuit who introduced the Catholic church to American constitutionalism, including religious liberty, thus laying the groundwork for Vatican II. Now Murray believed he was showing a family resemblance between American ideals and beliefs that his church had long held. Until I am enlightened, I will stick with the more obvious, America-centric interpretation of events: There was a missionary effort, if not by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, then by its 18th-century heirs and their neighbors. The Catholic church, and the world, benefited.
That was the catholicism of Bill's Catholicism. He could appreciate Wilhelmsen's poetry, but he inhabited Murray's world (and James Madison's).
12/13 10:04 PM Share
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Pleased that I got my copy of Pops, by Terry Teachout, which I will read this weekend. (Do you have yours?)
Proud of a passage he showed me ahead of time:
[Armstrong] knew true happiness and shared it unstintingly with his fellow men, who responded in kind. Richard Brookhiser tells of how, when doing battle with cancer, he was unable to listen to any music other than the Goldberg Variations and Louis Armstrong: "Bach said everything is in its place; Armstrong said the sun comes shining through." It was a response that Armstrong would have appreciated.
So Pops is the first book to cite Right Time, Right Place. What fine company to be in.
12/09 11:36 PM Share
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Evening at the NYHS
After gracious intros by Dr. Louise Mirrer, Rich and I had a fine talk about WFB, NR, and Right World then and now.
Rich asked a question that had never come up in the six months since Right Time, Right Place was published: Describe Bill as a New Yorker. I spoke of his run for mayor in 1965, the occasion for one of his best books, probably my favorite: The Unmaking of a Mayor. His race was in part a stunt, in order to get the brand out. But it was a stunt with a serious core, because Bill saw a city that was just entering the valley of the shadow of death that would stretch right up to 1993, and decided: It does not have to be this way, and here is it how it can be better. This showed his practicality, and his ability to seize an occasion. Urban policy was, to put it mildly, not high on the agenda of the conservative revival. Barry Goldwater famously said New York should be sawed off and floated out to sea (he was speaking of the politics of Nelson Rockefeller, but still . . .). Bill worked here and lived here much of the time, and he wanted to address the problems he saw before him.
The most interesting question from the audience came with a note of disappointment. The questioner showed his Right World birth certificate, saying that he had read Up From Liberalism when he was 17. But hadn't conservatism gone downhill since Ronald Reagan? I found myself giving two answers, one timeless, one occasional.
Timeless: The control of the House by Republicans, mostly conservative, from 1994 to 2006 resulted in a lot of corruption: trimming, pork, K Street connections, Don Sherwood strangling his mistress. (Kevin Williamson memorably said at one editorial conference, "Don't strangle your mistress." This has the simple gravity of George Washington's Rules of Civility. "Strangle not your mistress, neither kick nor bruise her, for it shows an ill temper.") In order for those years to be something more than a failure, they must also be a lesson. Conservatives are men, men are prey to temptation; there will always be sins, but watchfulness can make them fewer.
Occasional: Between 1989 and 1991, Soviet Communism collapsed. I describe the great days on pp. 161–2 and 164–6 of RTRP. Great days, and great shocks, for what would come next? We are still figuring that out. Many Communists remain, of course (in China they are Cronyists). Putinistan, a/k/a Russia, is still a bad actor. How bad was Saddam Hussein? We fought two wars against him. Should we have? NR and most conservatives said yes, though there was debate. Then there is 9/11. That week, I saw that this was the new Thirty Years' War. But knowing that does not determine strategy and tactics. James Burnham spent almost 40 years, from his break with Trotsky to his stroke in 1978, trying to game-plan the struggle against Communism. Many, many of us will spend many, many hours and days doing the same for the Jihad.
Some occasion. I signed books and greeted fans of NR past and present. A good time was had by me, I hope by all. And so to bed.
12/08 11:01 PM Share
Monday, December 07, 2009
Who: Me, Rich, and WFB (in spirit). Where: New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (@ 77th St.). When: Tuesday, December 8; 6:30 conversation, 7:30 signing of Right Time, Right Place.
12/07 12:29 PM Share
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Be There or Be Square
Rich Lowry and I will have a conversation about Right Time, Right Place on Tuesday, December 8, at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (@ 77th St.). We talk at 6:30 P.M.; book signing afterwards.
How soon our lives becomes history. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
12/02 12:13 AM Share
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
No more meals at the Chicago Water Grill in Jonesville. It burned (hat tip: Tracy Simmons).
12/01 03:18 PM Share
Sunday, November 29, 2009
So David Brooks Likes Bruce Springsteen
Then he agrees with Eric Alterman, who threw his sneakers onstage at a Springsteen concert sometime in the late seventies. That proves that these two are a crucial handful of years younger than I am, since the only Springsteen song I own is his duet singing "Pink Cadillac" with Jerry Lee Lewis on Last Man Standing: a CD which I did not buy to listen to Bruce Springsteen.
My own tastes were set in stone in 1965–66, and I describe the effects in Right Time, Right Place (p. 20) — including pastiche (p. 57). I believe I could recognize every Top 40 song from those years. Then my interest in rock simply shut off. I continued to notice musicians as newsmakers, but apart from accidents — watching MTV for the first month that my wife and I had cable, thanks to which I heard Madonna — they passed in silence. The antics of the industry (grossness, seriousness) had something to do with the death of my interest, along with the poverty of the form and the lack of talent of most of the practioners. Most, not all. Good music gets written, here and there, but the odds running the other way are immense: like a salmon swimming up the Columbia River, if the Columbia River were only eight inches wide.
The Hillsdale student who drove me to the airport after my gig two weeks ago said he was a senior, a political philosophy major, and a fan of classic rock. Does classic rock go back as far my period, I asked. He said it did, and we deplored the ubiquity of lousy Beatles covers that you hear in every coffee house. Then, he said, he had had to examine his preferences in light of Plato's analysis of music and its power over the soul. I could hear the thrumming of the Straussian Interstate as he spoke, and I warned him to be always mindful of Plato's envy of artists: He can't stand the fact that Homer is a better writer than he is, and he may have the same resentment of musicians.
Which may mean that I argued against myself. Rock on.
11/29 10:22 PM Share
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
With Rogue in Vogue . . .
. . . it's fair to re-ask Bill Moyers's question: Is Sarah Palin like WFB? Moyers asked it critically, but many conservatives have asked it in a sympathetic spirit: What would WFB think of the former governor?
I answered Moyers by talking about Palin as a political force of nature. I did not address the planted axiom of his question, which is that politicians should be intellectuals. Why?
Whether you define "intellectual" austerely (philosopher, artist) or in the marketplace (advocate and arbiter of ideas, as WFB was), it is not at all clear that intellectuals do well in politics. Bill Moyers worked for Lyndon Johnson, but LBJ was not Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Johnson got his start in politics as a follower of Franklin Roosevelt, but FDR was not John Dewey, or even H. L. Mencken (boy, wasn't he). The most recent American intellectual politician was probably Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of WFB's cross-ideological friends. But his career was a long betrayal of his thoughts.
The founding era saw a crop of intellectual politicians: Franklin, Jefferson, and all the authors of the Federalist Papers held office. So did the Progressive era: Wilson, TR. So the bright guys have batted .500: great for baseball, not so great for dollars and cents and life and death.
11/24 10:14 PM Share
NR Scooped WaPo by Thirty Years
Today's Washington Post has a story on the strange new respect for nuclear power.
Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world's most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.
It has been 13 years since the last new nuclear power plant opened in the United States. . . . The Obama administration and leading Democrats, in an effort to win greater support for climate change legislation, are eyeing federal tax incentives and loan guarantees to fund a new crop of nuclear power plants across the United States that could eventually help drive down carbon emissions.
Thirty-one years ago Bill Buckley asked me to assemble an issue of National Review devoted to nuclear power. The background was the oil crisis of the late seventies. The centerpiece of the issue was a long interview with Bernard L. Cohen, professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh; we had many other pieces besides, analyzing the economics of nuclear power and the insufficiency of other alternative energy sources. The issue appeared in February 1979. Next month the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania had its famous accident.
I describe the fall-out (so to speak) in Right Time, Right Place, p. 81.
There were no deaths or injuries at Three Mile Island (the Soviets would show us how that was done at Chernobyl). But the accident made nuclear power a hopeless cause. The Village Voice reported a glowing fish in the Susquehanna; the New York Post ran with the headline A CLOUD MOVES CLOSER. The China Syndrome, a thriller about the evil nuclear power industry, would be nominated for four Oscars. The work National Review did was true and important, but futile.
Opposition to nuclear power became a left/liberal touchstone. It was an easy spin-off of the No Nukes peacenik campaigns of the late seventies and early eighties. I have no doubt that the Soviets did whatever they could to encourage it (laughable, considering their own command-economy incompetence). But the animus continued, under its own green power.
Until now. WaPo quotes some old British enviro who is now pro-nuke. "Climate change is the bigger threat, and nuclear is part of the answer." Pardon me if I don't say welcome aboard. The science has not changed in 30 years. The fears of the anti-nuclear-power crowd were always overblown. France and Japan used nuclear power extensively and safely, even as we slammed on the brakes.
You read it here first.
11/24 09:54 AM Share
Monday, November 23, 2009
Rich Lowry and I discuss WFB and RTRP December 8 at the New-York Historical Society. Details TK. (And don't forget that hyphen.)
11/23 09:45 AM Share
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Pat Buckley Gun Club at Hillsdale . . .
. . . for young ladies? There is talk of it. I will keep you posted.
BIll and Pat were responsible for my first 20-gauge (RTRP, pp. 238–9). I think she would be pleased by Hillsdale's memorial, and also say, "They'd better be effing good shots."
11/19 08:55 AM Share
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
What a Friend We Have in Cheeses
As I bid farewell to Hillsdale, I bid farewell to the cuisine of southern Michigan. Right Time, Right Place describes the fare at Paone's back in the day (pp. 36–7), which was neither simple nor light, but this was something else. There are cheese-free zones: Hillsdale College itself; the Chicago Water Grill in Jonesville; El Cerrito and the Coffee Cup Diner in Hillsdale. If you come, seek them out.
I am grateful for the hospitality of everyone at Hillsdale, and for the attention and eagerness of my students: Casey Cheney, Michal Elseth, Cory Ewers, Mark Hensch, Joshua Rice, Maria Schmitt, Catherine Simmerer, Betsy Woodruff, and Marieke van der Waart. À la prochaine.
11/18 11:15 PM Share
Stimulus That Works
I saw one of my Hillsdale journalism students last night and asked her how the assignment I had given on Monday was going. She said she was leaving it until the deadline (Wednesday afternoon).
There spoke the true journalist: We don't stir until the gun is at our heads.
For an account of a three-legged race involving Colin Powell; John O'Sullivan, Linda Bridges, and me; and a 1:00 PM deadline from NR's printing plant, see p. 197 of Right Time, Right Place.
11/18 01:59 PM Share
Qs at Hillsdale
Sarah Palin; Who is the new WFB? WWWFB Do about NY-23? I gave my talk on Right Time, Right Place at Hillsdale, the exoteric face of the journalistic lessons I am imparting to my students. Many of the questions had come up before. When asked about Sarah, I answered with Cole Porter: "She's got that thing . . ." The question is, how will she do the work of self-education that Ronald Reagan, and George Washington — who, in their different ways, also had that thing — did? We shall see.
Who is the new WFB? Nobody, I said, repeating myself. Autres temps, autres Merlins. New messes require new wizards to show the way to heroic action.
What would WFB think of the race in NY-23? One more time, with feeling: This was the kind of race the Conservative Party of New York State was meant for. I see that Doug Hoffman has unconceded. Good luck to him, now or next year.
The most interesting question was, Was Right Time, Right Place meant to express a sense of alienation from my mentor, my friend, my (lost) leader? I almost cut off the gentleman who asked it. Surprises, disappointments — these are not set-ups for alienation, but incidents of adulthood.". . . the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time."
The place, and the people.
11/18 12:03 AM Share