Programming note: I'll be keeping my regular Monday date on "Tucker Carlson Tonight", live at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific, with a rerun at midnight Eastern. Hope you can join me. Meanwhile, a few thoughts at the start of another week:
~I saw the new film Chappaquiddick over the weekend, without any great expectations. But about half-an-hour in I realized I was rapt, and that it was a very fine movie, with an excellent performance by Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and a marvelous supporting cast. I'll have more to say about it in a few days' time over in our motion picture department.
My one regret is that the film was not made in the senator's lifetime. In all my years in America, I have rarely been so revolted as by the grotesque evasions that accompanied Kennedy's passing, by not just the usual diehard Camelot courtiers but a thousand lesser suck-ups, burnishing the legend like car-washers waxing a rusting upturned Olds. As I wrote in my column that week:
We are enjoined not to speak ill of the dead. But, when an entire nation – or, at any rate, its 'mainstream' media culture – declines to speak the truth about the dead, we are certainly entitled to speak ill of such false eulogists. In its coverage of Senator Edward M. Kennedy's passing, America's TV networks are creepily reminiscent of those plays Sam Shepard used to write about some dysfunctional inbred hardscrabble Appalachian household where there's a baby buried in the backyard but everyone agreed years ago never to mention it.
In this case, the unmentionable corpse is Mary Jo Kopechne, 1940-1969. If you have to bring up the, ah, circumstances of that year of decease, keep it general, keep it vague. As Kennedy flack Ted Sorensen put it in Time magazine:
'Both a plane crash in Massachusetts in 1964 and the ugly automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 almost cost him his life.'
That's the way to do it! An 'accident,' 'ugly' in some unspecified way, just happened to happen – and only to him, nobody else. Ted's the star, and there's no room to namecheck the bit players. What befell him was a thing, a place. As Joan Vennochi wrote in The Boston Globe:
'Like all figures in history – and like those in the Bible, for that matter – Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.'
Actually, Peter denied Jesus, rather than 'betrayed' him, but close enough for Catholic-lite Massachusetts. And if Moses having a temper never led him to leave some gal at the bottom of the Red Sea, well, let's face it, he doesn't have Ted's tremendous legislative legacy, does he?
Oddly enough, that bit turns up in the new movie. Joan Vennochi's words are put in Ted's mouth: He says defensively that all men are flawed - "Moses had a temper, Peter betrayed Jesus". And my cheap crack is put in the mouth of Ted's outraged cousin Joe Gargan: "Moses didn't leave a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea."
You can read my Kennedy column in full here. It concludes:
If a towering giant cares so much about humanity in general, why get hung up on his carelessness with humans in particular? For Kennedy's comrades, the cost was worth it. For the rest of us, it was a high price to pay. And, for Ted himself, who knows? He buried three brothers, and as many nephews, and, as the years took their toll, it looked sometimes as if the only Kennedy son to grow old had had to grow old for all of them. Did he truly believe ...that his indispensability to the republic trumped all else? That Camelot – that 'fleeting wisp of glory,' that 'one brief shining moment' – must run forever, even if 'How To Handle A Woman' gets dropped from the score. The senator's actions in the hours and days after emerging from that pond tell us something ugly about Kennedy the man. That he got away with it tells us something ugly about American public life.
The readers of The Orange County Register, among many others, did not care for the cut of my jib. I'm glad to have this film to correct the record, and I urge you to go and see it.
~Happy 90th birthday to Teddy's fellow Harvard man Tom Lehrer. A half-century ago, Lehrer was America's leading musical satirist - and then packed in showbiz to go back to teaching mathematics. He returned to public performance, if memory serves, on just one occasion - an all-star tribute to impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh about twenty years ago in the presence of HM The Queen. He sang two songs that had been included in one of Cameron's early hits, a West End revue of Lehrer's work under the droll title of Tom Foolery. Lehrer's politics are not mine, and they seem to have got lefter and harder over the years. But his rhymes are dazzling - going all the way back, speaking of his alma mater, to his Gilbertian laundry list on "The Elements":
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard
And there may be many others but they haven't been discarvard.
Which is a perfect rhyme in a Ted Kennedy accent. As for the political satire, he recognized its limitations: He quoted to me a favorite line of my old BBC "News Quiz" comrade Peter Cook. Peter had founded his comedy club in London in the spirit of "those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War". Wits generally lose to the humorless - because the latter mean it.
I last spoke to Mr Lehrer for what would have been another man's 90th birthday, Noël Coward - so you can figure out how long ago that was. If you've read Broadway Babies Say Goodnight, you'll know that Lehrer told me he thought it absurd to regard Coward's songs as social commentary: "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" "doesn't say anything except it's hot and mad dogs and Englishmen don't go inside. The rest is dressing." But he loved "the dressing" because it was delightful:
But Englishmen detest a
For the same reason he preferred Beatles songs with true rhymes to Beatles songs with false ones. So he thought
Died in the church
And was buried along with her name
was better than:
Picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream...
I agreed. When we talked about Noël Coward, I expected him to like all the clever stuff - "Mad Dogs", "Stately Homes of England" - but I was surprised when he drew my attention to this line from a fragrant Coward ballad, "I'll See You Again":
Though my world may go awry...
"That's lovely," said Lehrer. "What other songwriter of the time would use a word like that?"
Ever after, I have always been touched when I hear that line, and touched that he drew it to my attention. It made me wonder what non-satirical songs he might have in him. Happy birthday to a brilliant man, artist and scientist.
~While we're in a musical mood, here's a tongue sarnie (as they say in Britain) from Leonard Bernstein.
~Social media's war on white male cis privilege is stacking up a lot of collateral damage. Last week it was a female vegan Iranian refugee enraged by YouTube's "de-monetization" of her. Now two black women have fallen afoul of Facebook. I met Diamond & Silk at last year's Independent Women's Forum awards, when I was honored, along with Kellyanne Conway as "Woman of Valor", as the year's "Gentleman of Distinction". Somewhere or other there's a lovely picture of me and Diamond & Silk that I can't put my hands on at the moment. They're spirited personalities full of fun and loaded with moxie. And they became big stars on social media ...until one day they noticed something strange: "The reach of their posts on Facebook were reduced significantly."
After the usual stalling by Big Social, the ladies got an answer:
The (Facebook) Policy team has come to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community.
"Unsafe" means they're black women who like Trump. Which means they're not really black at all, but, for the purposes of Facebook safeness determinations, might as well be shaven-headed neo-Nazis. "Social media" is becoming ever more explicitly anti-social, which was never likely to end well even before last week's vegan shoot-'em-up. I was struck by this portentously quasi-judicial bit:
Facebook's ruling is not likely to change, the conservative personalities said, as the social media giant told them that the "decision is final and it is not appeal-able in any way."
Chief Justice Zuckerberg of the Social Supreme Court has pronounced: it's res judicata, and that's that.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with my thoughts on the right to self-defense, "An Englishman's home is his proportionately responsive castle", and winding up with a song for baseball season. In between came a centenary celebration of William Holden, and the launch of our very latest audio adventure for Mark Steyn Club members, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Click to hear Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Part Four will air later this evening. If you were busy over the weekend, we hope you'll check out one or two or even all of the above.
You can find more details about The Mark Steyn Club here. Or, if you're personally antipathetic to me but the lady next door's more partial, why not sign her up for a Gift Membership, or treat her to a SteynOnline gift certificate?
See you for Tucker telly and audio adventures in a few hours.