I’ve noticed that people who back when shook their fist at Dylan’s lyric, “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” didn’t take too well to being on the other side of the generational equation. (They’re most often the same people who still get chills over Blowin’ in the Wind.)

Similarly, I’m looking forward to when Amanda Marcotte has a teenage daughter. Hilarity, I’m betting, will not ensue.


A long time ago, as a young man far, far away, I stepped off a train in Marseille, France, with my then girlfriend, a long-haired blonde, both of us wearing down jackets and, of course, backpacks. (I also carried my guitar for accompanying her, something we did quite lucratively in streets, subways, and clubs, thanks to her amazing voice.) I forget where we were coming from or going to, but for the next few days we’d be in Marseille and in need of a cheap hotel.

As we walked along the platform toward the street, a middle-aged woman ran up to me and in a fevered whisper leaned in to ask, “Juif?”—Jew. Naïve as I was, I said “Oui, pourquoi?”

Because, she explained, Marseille was filled with Arabs and, outside of certain areas, not safe for Jews. I laughed—scoffed, actually—as if such a thing could be true so many years after the end of WWII (though not, in retrospect, as many years as it seemed to me at the time). Right on cue, three Arabs in full dress passed.

Aside from a somewhat prominent proboscis, I’d never considered myself particularly “Jewish looking”—and in 21 years my ethnicity had never been either an asset or a burden—so I asked how she’d pegged me as a Jew.

Her eyes widened as she shot me a look that roughly translated to: You idiot. (Indeed, some weeks later we arrived in Morocco, where young Arab men constantly asked me “Juif”? And I, in my still touching naiveté, always answered, with pride, Oui.)

The woman insisted that we follow her to a “safer” part of town, and I insisted it wouldn’t be necessary; we’d be fine anywhere we decided to stay. Besides, I assumed that “safer” meant nicer, and our budget didn’t accommodate nice.

When at last she recognized that I wouldn’t listen to reason, she broke away, throwing up her hands in exasperation. My girlfriend, who didn’t speak French, asked what all the commotion was about. I said it was the ravings of some mad old woman.

Well, I thought of that not-so-mad and not-so-old woman and her ravings this morning when I read this story about a French girl, 16, arrested on her way to join ISIS in Syria. Ponder this terrifying nugget:

Among the youngest French people ICM surveyed — ages 18 to 24 — the favorability rate for Islamic State was even higher: 27%.

I also thought of that woman as I read this story about the precipitous increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence across France.

Just as I thought of her when I read this story about rising anti-Semitism all across Europe.

For decades now France has had the third largest Jewish population in the world, behind the U.S. and Israel. But for how long? Jews are history’s canary in the coalmine, and they’re abandoning France in record numbers. Meanwhile France, a frequent battlefield in civilizational wars, is becoming increasingly Islamized. This does not seem like a recipe for ushering in another belle époque.

The last words that woman said to me before hitting the wall of my stubbornness seem unusually prescient: “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

No, I didn’t. But she was old enough to know better—to know that those few, those happy few, years were a holiday from history made fewer by naïve people like me who wanted to believe what we wanted to believe, all evidence to the contrary.

Unlike my naiveté back then, naiveté today is fatal.

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Anyone who’s ever tried to build a brand will tell you how hard it is. And anyone who’s ever lost a brand, or tarnished one, will tell you how easy it is. A misstep or two and suddenly your century-old Coke is New Coke and then, in a scramble, Classic Coke.

Which brings us to the formerly hilarious John Cleese, he of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and A Fish Called Wanda, among other things.

Among those other things, Cleese also played Q in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films. But it seems he’s no fan of the Daniel Craig Bonds, calling them humorless.

“The big money was coming from Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that’s why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it’s a fundamental flaw,” Cleese said. “The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humor or the class jokes.”

I, as it happens, am a huge fan of “subtle British humor,” and for decades yielded to no man in my affection for Cleese’s comedic talents. So much so that a few years ago the wife and I bought tickets for his one-man show that had been mounted, he cheerfully admitted, to make back some of what he’d had “stolen” in his latest divorce.

The theater was nearly full, and before Cleese came out there was a giddy buzz, everyone anticipating an evening of frolic and merriment. Total strangers were sharing favorite moments and scenes from his oeuvre.

Alas, the preshow buzz was the evening’s highlight. Cleese walked out on stage and explained that he’d had dental surgery that day and “might” still be under the influence of the drugs. He’d have canceled the show, he said, but couldn’t afford to because of the divorce.

Badda-bing, he intended that as a laugh line. Hardy har har har.

From there it got worse. Cleese mixed film clips from the breadth of his career, as well as some autobiographical footage, with alleged commentary. Aside from the pleasure of reliving scenes that we’d all laughed at dozens of times, and could have seen at home for free in our jammies, the show was less funny than open-mic night at the Stockton Holiday Inn.

Had the show been conceived of that afternoon? Maybe. And the performance—well, to call it a performance is an insult to those brave souls at open-mic night. Every syllable was informed by two things: Cleese’s bitterness at having to be out there and his contempt for the people who’d been stupid enough to pay for the privilege.

The final bit concluded with his walking off into the wings, but no one could tell whether that was actually the end. To clue us—at long last!—that it was, he took two steps out and slumped behind a prop while waving (embarrassedly?) for a few seconds.

Tepid hardly describes the applause. And as we hurried out it was clear from the not-so-murmured grumbles that he’d damaged his brand. I suspect I’m not alone in noting that my trusty Python and Fawlty Towers collection of DVDs that I’d returned to at least once a year for decades (upgraded from VHS’s) has since been mothballed.

The day after, I wrote him a letter to the address then listed on his website, in care of his talent agency. The final paragraph:

During the show you said you sweated blood, agonizing over what to say, the night before Graham Chapman’s memorial service. I only wish that your effort last night in front of Cleesionados who’d shelled out $75 a seat evinced half the effort of that unpaid gig for an audience of your peers.

I never heard back. The feeling is mutual.


Maturity isn’t what it used to be. Today’s example: Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was born in 1899, and remained in many ways a man of the 19th century all his life.  Early in 1918—before America’s entry into World War One—he volunteered to become a Red Cross ambulance driver. Sent to the Italian front, he was badly wounded and endured a long convalescence.

At age 21 Hemingway was named a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star and began filing dispatches from all over the Europe that had been changed by the war and was changing still.

Many of those dispatches are collected in his book By-Line: Ernest Hemingway. They are cold, sober, clear-eyed assessments of the (primarily) men and events that would soon be considered history, and while reading you have to remind yourself how old he was when he wrote the words.

I venture to say it’s all but impossible to imagine any of today’s young J-school graduates acquitting themselves as well as this man with a high school education. Why? Because they’ve been through a homogenizing process that ensures conformity. They come out seeing what they believe. Hemingway believed what he saw or had seen, and he’d never seen a unicorn.

In January 1923, three months after Mussolini completed his long, bloody climb to the top in Italy, Hemingway traveled to a conference in Switzerland and encountered Il Duce. At the time, before fascist became a dirty word, Mussolini suffered no shortage of American and Western admirers who considered him Italy’s best hope for peace and prosperity. Pope Pius XI even called him “the man whom God has sent us.”

Here, in part, is Hemingway’s take:

Mussolini is the biggest bluff in Europe. If Mussolini would have me taken out and shot tomorrow morning, I would still regard him as a bluff. The shooting would be a bluff. Get hold of a good photo of Signor Mussolini some time and study it. You will see the weakness in his mouth which forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by every 19-year-old Fascisto in Italy. Study his past record. Study the coalition that Fascismo is between capital and labor, and consider the history of past coalitions. Study his genius for clothing small ideas in big words. Study his propensity for dueling. Really brave men do not have to fight duels, and many cowards duel constantly to make themselves believe they are brave. …

Mussolini isn’t a fool and he is a great organizer. But it is a very dangerous thing to organize the patriotism of a nation if you are not sincere, especially when you work their patriotism to such a pitch that they offer to loan money to the government without interest….

Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. I wish he’d hung on till 2008.


President Obama, sounding the clarion on climate change, plans to take action against this heinous enemy:

President Barack Obama said the curbs on carbon emissions to combat climate change that his administration plans to unveil next week will also help address a growing threat to the nation’s health. . . .

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to announce a plan to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants on June 2. The two-tired regulation will seek reductions in greenhouse gases of as much as 25 percent over 15 years, according to people familiar with the proposal.

Here’s my question: What good does unilateral action by the U.S. do if the rest of the developed and developing world doesn’t also act? A key word in anthropogenic global warming is global, so our carbon reduction alone will do squat unless China, India, etc., join in; and of course, they won’t, because they want to catch up to our standard of living.

But then, call me a skeptic—nay, a denier. I don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change or global warming or whatever today’s proper term is. Why? Well, as a rational human I would believe in it, I promise, if there were actually a good reason to believe—exactly what agnostics say about the existence of a deity: “Show me.”

I would believe in it if the people who preach loudest about it didn’t have the largest carbon footprints in the form of multiple giant homes and frequent private jet travel.

I would believe in it if even one of the major predictions about the coming climate apocalypse that have been made over the last quarter century had come true. Not one has.

I would believe in it if the “science” that determines these predictions was actually reproducible and verifiable rather than built on computer models constructed by humans who enter the data according to what may well be their own expectation bias.

I would believe in it if the “scientists” themselves behaved more like actual scientists eager to share their data with the world instead of like Vatican cardinals in the age of Galileo, insisting that they’re above reproach and questioning by heretics. If you don’t agree that that’s going on, you haven’t been paying attention to Dr. Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against columnist Mark Steyn, which should long ago have been thrown out of court on First Amendment grounds.

I would believe in it if many of those who do believe in it wouldn’t insist that the “science is settled” beyond discussion and that those of us who remain unconvinced are foolish “deniers” deserving of being jailed. Appeals to authority rather than rationality reek of fascism at the cost of persuasion. Besides, what science is settled? Certainly not forensic science, nor the science of nutrition; examples abound.

I would believe in it if that widely touted dictum “97 percent of all climate scientists agree that AGW is happening” weren’t so self evidently stupid. Put aside, for the moment, that this has been thoroughly debunked and focus instead on how credulous one has to be in order to consider the statement as fact—credulous enough to believe that there’s a roster kept somewhere of all climate scientists; that some governing body sent each of the scientists on it a questionnaire; and that the term climate scientist has a specific meaning.

I would believe in it if there wasn’t far more money, in the form of grants and research (particularly from the U.S. government) for science that confirms AGW than for science that finds the globe hasn’t warmed for the last 18 years. No wonder data incongruous with the prevailing notion must be hidden. What seems true is that 97 percent of climate scientists are 97 percent sure that 97 percent of their funding will dry up if there’s no climate warming.

I would believe in it if, given all of the above, I hadn’t therefore concluded that AGW is a crony capitalist racket intended to redistribute money from the masses to the favored elite. Labeling CO2, which we all exhale and without which greenery can’t grow, to be a pollutant allows a president who’s so inclined to impose carbon costs that raise everyone’s energy prices. Then those additional monies can be diverted to green-energy startups started up by cronies who aren’t even on the hook personally for those public funds when their companies that wouldn’t have existed without such colossal subsidies sink into the tar pits of marketplace reality. Solyndra is one of too many cautionary tales.

Now, all that said, even if I did believe that climate change/global warming was real and happening, I would wonder why all of these same scientists were so concerned about potential devastation. The history of man on this planet has been, if nothing else—literally nothing else—one of adaptation to the environment. In the beginning he had nothing: no clothes, no fire, no weapons, no tools. Somehow, though, he adapted, and today he has an iPhone.

A species who can do that can certainly find a way to cope with the changes a warming planet might bring and even turn those changes into an advantage, especially if we can recruit all those falling-sky scientists. Or at least 97 percent of them.


Further reporting from the Los Angeles Times today confirms my previous impression that Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter, chose to sustain his own feelings of inferiority. And more than ever I’m convinced that the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department is incompetent to connect even paint-by-number dots.

“Elliot Rodger reportedly became increasingly isolated, sometimes by his own design. He complained that he couldn’t make friends, but acquaintances said in interviews that he rebuffed their attempts to be friendly….

One night last summer, officials said, he went to a party and tried to shove women who were sitting on a ledge. Several men intervened and pushed Rodger off the ledge instead, and he injured his ankle.

He was treated at a clinic for his injuries, and police showed up to interview him. In theory, this was an opening for an official intervention. But the officers determined that Rodger was “not a victim,” a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said Sunday, and that he had instigated the altercation.

In sum, Rodger rejected those who wanted to be friends, which suggests that he chose his own hell of isolation. Whether he did this unconsciously or because stepping out of that prison where he’d lived so long would have been too scary may never be known.

As for the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department, it’s reasonable to say that its investigators demonstrated the perspicacity of Inspector Clouseau and the foresight of Mr. Magoo. When a young man at a party tried to injure some women and was himself injured, they ignored the ankle injury’s precipitating action and focused only on whether to press charges against the male defenders.

If the SBSD had been in charge of the Boston Marathon bombings investigation and found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in that boat, wounded by gunfire, they’d have let him walk after determining he was “not a victim.”

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