Thanks for another avalanche of correspondence on matters major and minor. Some readers concluded from the end of this piece that the upcoming Mann vs Steyn trial of the century was beginning to get me down. Shona Hammonds writes:
I'm constantly awed by your bravery in this. I too would have preferred to read your stuff from before this. I hate it that they're taking your life and talent.
All my consideration
Steady on, Shona. I did manage, in the last week alone, to guest-host Rush, get interviewed by Ed Driscoll, and write about the Battle of Monte Cassino, the missing Molly Norris, the condemned Meriam Ibrahim, the real war on women, Dinesh D'Souza, Nigel Farage, Charles Aznavour and the film Hotel Rwanda. So my "talent", such as it is, is just about holding its own.
I was trying to convey to a correspondent (a somewhat irksome one) what it's like when you're a defendant in a lawsuit in America, where "justice" is protracted and expensive. Especially a lawsuit about reputation, which is all a writer has. If I lose to Dr Mann, I will be over. So I guess I have to win. I'm pleased to say, thanks to your continued support through the Steyn store, it looks like we're going to be able to expand our investigation of Mann.
In last week's Mailbox, it was suggested that the climate enforcers' hockey-sticking of Lennart Bengtsson was not "climate McCarthyism" but climate Torquemada-ism - the Mannish Inquisition and all that. Simon Brockwell of Sydney appreciated my Mel Brooks reference:
Just a short note to record my appreciation that I'm not the only person in the world who thinks "You can't Torquemada anything" is a Brooks gem. Send in the nuns ... then the Esther Williams routine ... priceless cinematic comedy genius.
Did you ever review A History of the World Part 1? (Did you know that it was a little known John Hurt who played Jesus?). I doubt whether that film or Blazing Saddles would survive the PC censorship if released now. Could you please do a retrospective review of the latter as well? Take your mind off the Mannfare
Sydney, New South Wales
I'm not sure I've reviewed either of those films. I have interviewed Mel Brooks a couple of times, so maybe we'll dig one of those out for an audio special. But I did know John Hurt played Jesus. He got the part because a year or two before he'd played the title role in The Elephant Man, which was the first film produced by a studio called Brooksfilms - ie, Mel Brooks, who set up the company because he thought a poster saying "Mel Brooks presents The Elephant Man" might misdirect audience expectations.
While we're on the subject, about 20 years ago Brooks was a guest of mine when I was hosting "Kaleidoscope" on BBC Radio, which if memory serves used to go out live at four in the afternoon back then. He arrived about 20 minutes beforehand with Jo Lustig, Brooksfilms' man in London. Jo was one of those old-school showbiz types that are hard to find these days. They'd been pals since Mel was a broken-down stand-up act in the Forties and Jo was a Broadway press agent. Jo toured with Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, and then came to Britain with Nat "King" Cole for the Royal Variety Show and figured London could use someone like him so decided to stay. He got into the local folkie scene, and promoted everyone from Nico to the Chieftains. Some BBC types found him not to their taste, but I liked him enormously. If he was keen on an idea, he'd say, "You'll need Frank for this! And Ella!" Showbiz was full of people who claimed they could get you Sinatra or Fitzgerald, but Jo actually could. And yet his anecdotage extended in unexpected directions: Jack Kerouac, for example, wrote a terrible, unproduceable play about him. Anyway, I enjoyed his company immensely, and owe a lot to his generosity: he opened a lot of doors for me.
So on that particular day Jo and Mel Brooks walk in, and Jo introduces us, and Brooks and I go into the studio and start chit-chatting. And about ten minutes before we go on air Jo strolls in from the control room, and says, "You know about the pre-record, don't you?"
And I, thinking he's misunderstood, say, "No, no. The show's live..."
And he says, "No, we're pretending it's pre-recorded." And he explained that it was the eve of Yom Kippur and he didn't think it would look good if Brooks were on the air doing live interviews before the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. I believe there's a prohibition against labor, although whether or not being interviewed on the BBC counts as labor I leave for the theologians. So, not wanting to lose the interview, Jo had decided we'd pretend it had been recorded a couple of days earlier. He'd mentioned it to Mel in the car on the way to the BBC, but Mel had forgotten all about it and not relayed it to me.
So I said, "Sure, whatever." And Brooks and I sat down and worked out that, instead of me saying, "Hey, Mel, an honor to have you with us live in the studio", and him saying, "Great to be here, Mark. What a beautiful day in London", I'd instead say, "A few days ago, I spoke to the actor/writer/director/producer Mel Brooks and asked him what was his first comedic inspiration", or whatever. And, after a micro-second delay, he'd start cold, "I remember going to the Pantheon in Brooklyn when I was six", or whatever - as if it was one of those taped interviews with all the pleasure-to-see-you schmoozing chopped off the front. And Jo made us rehearse it a couple of times, just to make sure we'd got it right.
And at that point the BBC producer got wind of what was going on and came in from the control room and said he thought pretending to be on tape when you're sitting there live was ethically dubious, especially when there are other guests around the table who'd be leaking to Londoner's Diary in The Evening Standard that they were sharing a joke off-air with Mel Brooks but the moment the microphone light went on they had to pretend he was back in the synagogue in Beverly Hills. The producer was also worried that it might be perceived as some hierarchical thing and, if the Hollywood A-lister got to pretend he was on tape, the B-list Brits might insist on the same right, too, and then everyone would be pretending to be pre-recorded. So he and Jo Lustig argued for a bit, and then, after some negotiation, agreed on a form of words that would make it unclear whether Mel was live or on tape. I would say something vague and non-specific like "Mel Brooks is the acclaimed director of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein", and he would start in with "I remember going to the Pantheon in Brooklyn...", as if he were a clip from the BBC archives.
By now we were a couple of minutes from air time, so we sat down, and I used the old Ned Sherrin line that we had to listen to the news bulletin at the top of the hour in case I was planning to insult anyone who'd just died. And so the BBC newsreader came on and reported that some Church of England vicar had been removed for getting a little too frisky with the choir master. Then the announcer said, "And now here's Mark Steyn...", and I was about halfway through my painstakingly negotiated non-time-specific non-live-corporeal-presence-specific intro of Mel Brooks, when he interrupted me and said, "Hey, Mark, did I just hear that news story right? Some vicar's been defrocked for..?" And he did two minutes of live Anglican shtick, after which pretending we'd taped it last week no longer made much sense. So not only was he not home on the eve of Yom Kippur but he was out giving in-depth interviews on the Church of England.
So that's Mel Brooks. You couldn't Torquemada being live.
On Monday I marked the 70th anniversary of the terrible Battle of Monte Cassino, with a SteynPost focusing on the Kiwi contribution. We are about to observe Memorial Day in the United States, so, as a complement to our pieces on American sacrifice, here are a few letters from various allies:
I'm a New Zealand reader of your column and purchaser of your books! Really looking forward to seeing you in combat 'man to mann' shortly. I'm not sure adding an additional 'n' to his name will give him any advantage.
In any event, in response to your column today my dad was at Casino albeit not with the Maori Battalion. After fighting Rommel in North Africa he was sent to Casino and along with his farming mates did his bit for God, King and Country. Like most men who returned from that hell he didn't talk about it directly that I can recall.
Seventy years later, I'm not sure we could muster a battalion of new recruits that would get out of bed for God, or for King, let alone country. He would however be proud of his growing family of descendants who love liberty and are committed to its maintenance for future generations.
Well, I hope you're right, Brendan. But I think a lot about the words of a guy I quoted in After America - Oscar van den Boogaard, a Dutch gay humanist (which, as I always say, is pretty much the trifecta of Eurocool):
I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it.
We're good at enjoying it. But I wonder if that's enough. George John writes:
Just read your column on the Monte Cassino battle. You wrote "Other Commonwealth forces from Britain, Canada, India and elsewhere took part, but the Kiwi casualties are always sobering to me, and from a tiny country with a population just a tad over one and a half million."
My father was one of 2 1/2 million volunteers in the Indian Army during WW2. He is 95 now, and still going strong. He lives with me in the US now, and it is amazing that virtually no one remembers or acknowledges the sacrifices of these men. Do take a moment to read Eaten by the Japanese by John Baptist Crasta, who was one of the tens of thousands of Indian POWs. To my horror, the title wasn't metaphorical.
I know you meant no slight, but it is as they never really took part in that struggle. I do wish I could get him a "WW2 veteran" but that is only for US servicemen, I gather.
The 4th Indian Division lost over 3,000 men at Monte Cassino - one lousy battle a long way from home. I can't speak for anyone else, but they're not forgotten by me. I was at an event with Daniel Hannan a couple of years back at which he and I both acknowledged the contribution of the phenomenal number of the King's Indian soldiers. And, while there is certainly some truth to what you say (a lot of people don't even think of India as being "in" the Second World War), I would say at least some of the diminishment of that contribution derives from post-independence chippiness about it from Nehru & Co.
Speaking of forgotten sacrifices, South Africa's three-decade absence from the Commonwealth sidelined their stories, too:
My uncle died at Monte Cassino as did other South African and Commonwealth soldiers. The New Zealanders suffered immense casualties. I still have his maps used in the battle, marked with positions etc.
The South African 6th Armoured Division probably had more decorated soldiers than any other fighting unit in WW2 despite the reluctance of SA commanders to recommend medals for bravery. It was a battle-wise outfit, bold and aggressive against the enemy, and willing to do whatever job was necessary. In fact, after a period of severe day and night fighting, the 6th had in an emergency gone into the line as infantrymen. When the snow stalled their armour they dug in their tanks and used them as artillery to make up for our shortage in heavy guns.
Whenever I saw them, I was impressed by the large number of decorations and honours they had earned the hard way. Their attacks against strongly organised German positions were made with great Ã©lan and without regard for casualties.
Despite their comparatively small numbers, they never complained about losses. Neither did Smuts, who made it clear that the Union of South Africa intended to do its part in the War â€“ and it most certainly did.
And finally, from beyond His Majesty's Dominions:
I greatly appreciated your column regarding the battle of Monte Cassino, and the intrepid Commonwealth forces, particularly the New Zealanders, that fought to take the abbey from the Germans. One of the reasons why I enjoy reading your columns is the fact that you seem to be very much aware of the role played by Central European history in the shaping of the modern world, which is unusual for an Anglophone author.
As such, I think that whenever Monte Cassino is mentioned, the role of the Polish II Corps should always be mentioned. Monte Cassino was one of the most multinational efforts of the Second World War, and eventually the battle included American, British, French, Moroccan, Indian, New Zealand, South African, Gurkha, and Polish troops to push out the Germans. But the role of the Poles has always struck me as being the most poignant of the entire war.
These were men who had gone through Stalin's prison camps (the "lucky" ones who hadn't been executed outright), fought their way across North Africa, up Italy, across France and the Low Countries, jumped into hell itself at Arnhem during Market Garden. And then, at the end of all that, they were pretty much sold down the river at Yalta and Potsdam. They could never go home, since the Stalinist regime considered them "counter-revolutionary" elements.
Most of them ended up living out their days in Edinburgh or Dublin, conspicuous in their taking their tea without milk. There were actually a couple of lads I played rugby with in Dublin whose grandfathers had been in the Polish Army during the war. It might be useful for people in today's Britain and Ireland, when they start moaning about "the Poles" who are swamping the place, that the original Polish immigrants to Britain were folks who did a hell of a lot for Britain, from the Battle of Britain, to El Alamein, to Monte Cassino, Normandy and Arnhem, and they got basically F*-all for their efforts, if you pardon the expression.
Richard J Drake
You're right. Which is why the Poles were given the honor of being the first men into the ruins of the abbey after the German defeat - and had pride of place at last weekend's ceremonies. Your recollection of tea-drinking Poles in Dublin stirred my memory, too. About the time of that Mel Brooks interview, I was living in a flat in South Kensington. Way up in the attic was a wiry, wizened ol' Pole who'd come to London as part of the Polish Government-in-Exile. Unlike the French Government-in-Exile and the Dutch Government-in-Exile and all the other Governments-in-Exile, he never got to go home. And so he stayed on, holding meetings with other Polish "officials" in Polish clubs and restaurants. For him, the Second World War never ended - or not until 1989, at any rate.
In my column on the capriciousness of US justice, I wrote:
I'm often asked why I live in far northern New Hampshire. And I usually reply, well, it's only 40 minutes from the border, and you never know when you might have to leave in a hurry.
John Turner says good luck with that:
Mark, you may be only 40 minutes from the border but the drones can hit 'moving targets'!
And anyway, there's nowhere to go:
Forty minutes to the border? But will it matter?
Several years ago I was thinking of establishing a small business in New Zealand or Switzerland and running it for a few years for the express purpose of getting the right to stay in a foreign country permanently, should such an option become necessary in order to avoid any unpleasant economic or political events here in the U.S.
But now, why bother? The nations of the West may be on different roads, but they all lead to the same destination. Gun laws are a good example - I don't trust anyone who wants to disarm me; show me a country whose government does not either currently keep its citizenry disarmed or does not aspire to such an end? That's just a litmus test, but where is the free, reasonably honest country that can be expected to remain so for the next twenty years?
No such animal, anywhere, at the moment.
However, once the feds start to default on interest payments, then I suspect we may be on the brink of a few new births - births of new nations, out of the ruins of the one I currently live in.
Whoa! If you want to sum it all up, Norm Bowers thinks a phrase I used in my Nigel Farage profile is of more general application:
I think the term at the end of the Nigel Farage article says it all, describing why we are in such trouble: "Lunatic Mainstream."
Here we have an Emperor with no clothes, who is insisting that we all must get rid of OUR clothes because he believes that in 100 years we might be too hot.
...And the masses keep on cheering so as not to be thought of badly.
Many readers weighed in on the plight of expectant mother Meriam Ibrahim and her two-year-old son, both currently shackled to a wall in Khartoum:
This story about the Christian Sudanese woman awaiting her Murder by Islamic Thugs has really disturbed me. It encompasses everything that is wrong in the vast American bureaucracy and the Muslim world.
So much can be done for her by Obama with one phone call, yet he does nothing.
I am ashamed at how much we in the west take our freedom for granted. God bless this woman and her innocent children.
In that column, I wrote:
And the US Government should make plain to its Sudanese counterparts that it expects the entire family on a plane out of there in 48 hours.
Travis Martin takes issue:
My only argument is that I would make it 48 minutes, or there is a Marine Expeditionary Unit forming up and boarding aircraft as we speak to come after them, and you ain't gonna like itâ€¦
Well, Mr Wani lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, and to the best of my knowledge there aren't many direct flights on Basket-Case Airways from Khartoum to Manchester. So I was giving them a bit of time to figure out connections via Cairo or Heathrow or wherever.
Joanne Ross is, like Mr Wani, a legal immigrant:
Just read your column about Meriam Ibrahim. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the American public.
This is just another example of the non-functioning immigration 'system'. As I have long said, those of us us who do the right thing are punished, while those who break the law EVERY day are rewarded.
I am one of the lucky ones and now have a permanent Green Card, after four years, countless hours and thousands of dollars trying to get one, all because I had the temerity to fall in love with an American citizen and want to live here legally.
And Jerry Brown wants to give illegals driver's licenses?
I want to see the reports from 20 years in the future when Meriam's unborn child and toddler have become radical Muslims, all because some paper-pushers are unable or unwilling to do their jobs.
On a classical note:
Re "Where's the Dream Act for Meriam Ibrahim?" the transcriber of the Hitchens interview got it wrong: "Nihil humanem alienurm puto" "Humanem" and "alienurm" aren't Latin.
Publius Terentius Afer (known to us as Terence, lived in the 2nd century BC) wrote "Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto." Literally: I am a human being, I consider nothing human distinct from me. It's from the Heautontimorumenos Act 1, scene 1, line 25.
I know that. I did Latin for 11 years at school. The "alienurm" is the fault, I believe, of Generalissimo Duane, Hugh Hewitt's producer, and I assume is some kind of casualty of trying to transcribe Latin delivered in a Hitchens drawl. But all the rest should be laid at Hitch's door. I heard the interview live at the time, and, when he said it, I thought, hang on a moment... I didn't feel we should rewrite it, any more than those New York Times types who clean up Obama transcriptions, because that's what the guy actually said. Ah, well: When Hitchie met Terry...
Four years ago, after death threats from Muslims, liberal cartoonist Molly Norris vanished from the face of the earth. I contrasted the silence of the wretched American media with the support London luvvies gave to Salman Rushdie a generation earlier. Thomas Lipscomb responds:
You ought to look up MY article on Rushdie in which I took on the cowardice of publishers on the publication of SATANIC VERSESâ€¦. And I said Bush should have been willing to station a soldier in every bookstore if necessary to protect our 1st Amendmentâ€¦
There's no doubt that, as the Rushdie fatwa went on, and publishers and translators and people who had nothing whatever to do with it wound up getting murdered, everyone got squishier. It was summed up for me by the shifty calibrations of Roy Hattersley, the deputy Labour Party leader, who announced that, while he fully supported Salman Rushdie's right to publish The Satanic Verses in hardback, it shouldn't be issued in paperback - and certainly, when it came to soft spines, Hattersley knew whereof he spoke. But I was thinking more of Sir Salman's fellow dinner-party literati, like dear old Fay Weldon: The Koran, she said, "is food for no-thought â€¦ It gives weapons and strength to the thought-police." Can you imagine any London or New York novelist saying such a thing today?
And, finally, Alex Showalter writes:
One minor error in the note from Steven Lent to the Mercury Rising Risibly edition of your Mailbox. The unit of temperature in the Kelvin system is not the "degree kelvin", it is simply the kelvin. As in, "global temperature has risen by 0.6 to 0.8 kelvins".
That's true - and the same with Rankine, I think. But the real reason I wanted to use Alex's letter is because of the headline he gave it:
Six Degrees of Kelvin Bakin'.
I wish I'd thought of that.