Thursday, September 14, 2006

Premature Treppenwitz...

...seems almost to be a contradiction in terms, but I happen to experience it every now and then. I come up with the perfect line (well, I think so), but don't use it. More often than not, it's because the person who needs to hear it is a humorless leftist (which is usually a redundancy).

Just the other day, for example, I passed by the fashion show tent in Bryant Park, and there were a bunch of anti-fur protestors. "Not wear fur?" I felt like asking. "But what else should we do with the pelts once we're done eating the yummy animals?" Nope. You don't try humor on those types. (One of whom might well be reading this, so I apologize in advance, T.)

More seriously, on Sunday, I passed by Ground Zero on my way to pump some money into the local economy, as they say. The President and First Lady were due to arrive later in the day, and the loons were already out in force. There were a bunch of anti-war (or whatever) protestors with black balloons (huh?) and wearing black, with Arabic lettering (of course) on their shirts. Fools: They'd be the first to be beheaded if they had their way.

But then there was a real loon, ranting and raving in front of a huge banner held by some hangers-on. I caught a bit of it: How the Bush family (!) is responsible for all this country's ills, and how it all started in 1776, when they were on the British side. (Not true, as it happens.) I really wanted to tell him "You know, this really isn't the place for a comedy routine," but he really wouldn't have gotten it.

Later that day, I was re-watching the indispensable 9/11. Something occurred to me that had never really hit home before: The towers are burning and collapsing, and throughout it all, off-duty and even retired firemen are returning to the firehouse, suiting up, and heading down. There's just no words for that sort of thing...those sorts of people.

I have, incidentally, no sympathy at all with the various watchgroups that protested the (re)airing of that movie. Having grown up without a TV, I tend to have little sympathy with them at all, as they seem not to realize that no one is forcing anyone to even own a TV, let alone turn it on. But to pick a fight specifically with this movie is just stupid.

I have even less sympathy, of course, with the Democrats who are howling over The Path to 9/11. Sure, people have a right to protest. But when government (in the form of Congressional Democrats, or even ex-Presidents) does it, it's really crossing a line. Of course, there's a fundamental difference between private and public action that liberals tend to have a hard time grasping in most contexts. But there's a creeping...dare I say fascism, and join Jonah Goldberg, whose not-yet released book seems to hit them a bit close to the mark? Perhaps it's simply a matter of projection of themselves onto others, the same way that it was the Clinton Administration which was involved in writing TV scripts, or how this leftist in Mexico is refusing to abide by election results, or the way that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demands a debate without "censorship." (A nice continuum there.) Kol HaPosel, B'Mumo Posel- it's always the thing you do that you use to criticize others.

Well, let's speak of better things. This time of year waaaaay back in 1989, I was already running into trouble at my new high school, well on the path to a turbulent few years. My parents, sensible people that they are, decided that suspension from school (shiur) on a Sunday was a fine excuse for doing something much better, namely, taking in the "New York is Book Country" street fair in Manhattan. What a wonderful time! (Actually, I'm probably conflating the number of times we went.)

As was usual, Isaac Asimov himself was at the Doubleday booth, signing books. He'd just published Prelude to Foundation (actually in paperback, but the Lamms decided we'd better get the hardcover, seeing as we'd want him to sign it and all), and although I was never such a huge fan, I figured I'd better get it, meet him, and get his autograph. After all, it was Isaac Asimov!(Come to think, I've had more brushes with Great Men than you'd think. Not sure if I shook his hand, though. And, of course, we didn't know that he wouldn't be with us for much longer.)

I walked up to him. "What's your name?" he asked, flipping open the book. "Ummm...Nathan," I answered. When you have two names, you're never sure which one to give.

"Took you a second, eh?" he smiled, signing, "To Nathan, Isaac Asimov" on the cover page. (I'm looking at that volume right now.)

"Schreib nukh a bissel!" ("Write a little more!") my mother called to him in Yiddish, which, of course, he understood.

"I've been writing all day!" he answered, mock-complaining.

"But you're a writer!" she answered. Like I said, always sensible.

"Ah- but I use a typewriter!" he answered.

What a man. Did you know he was credited as a consultant on the first Star Trek movie? (I knew I had to work in Trek, my main love, on its fortieth anniversary.)

It was later I started reading some of his work, such as the Black Widowers. I remember I bought the posthumous sequel to Prelude, but never got into it. I never really got the whole series, although I read some of the Robot stuff. But his I first read some of his science guides, which my brother has, but later got his Shakespeare and Bible guides. Great stuff.

Anyway, why do I bring him up? Because it's September 14th (or was when I started typing this). On the morning of this day, in 1814, Francis Scott Key witnessed the events that would inspire what would later become the National Anthem. And Asimov wrote a wonderful piece on the anthem (along with what looks like a cute story), which I encourage you to read- you can find it here, and all over the Internet.

I first read that piece as part of a full-page ad by Reader's Digest in the New York Times. I still have it tucked away in a drawer. What strikes me in particular are some interesting turns of phrase by Asimov. From the very end:

I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the
next time you have a chance, with new ears.

And don't let them ever take it away.

Now, I'm not sure what he means, exactly, by the last line. I do know one thing: The black-shirted anti-Americans at Ground Zero wouldn't approve.

Even better, from the beginning:
In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over
freedom of the seas. We were in the right.
"We were in the right." Let's not fool ourselves: Asimov was an unreconstructed leftist. But he loved this country with a passion. I'd like to hear- just once- the likes of a Harry Reid or a Nancy Pelosi use language as simple as that. Don't get me wrong- there are liberals in this country- real loons- who sometimes surprise me with their actions and words. I look at some differently after, say, I see them on a USO tour in Afghanistan. But their kind, and those feelings, are more and more rare. I'd like to think it's not just projection of my wishes that thinks that Asimov (braver than I?) would have gone up to that ranting loon at Ground Zero and delivered my premature Treppenwitz for me.

Anyway, that's enough for now. Have a good weekend, all- perhaps I'll be able to write up a bit about the Parsippany story over the weekend- and, of course, go off on who knows how many tangents. Till then!


Gil Student said...

The first Star Trek movie was indescribably horrible. Thank God for Ricardo Montalban or we wouldn't have the great subsequent movies.

Nachum said...

This is true. I have a whole elaborate theory about what was wrong with that movie. Interestingly, it did very well at the box office. Perhaps people were just desperate for some new Trek after ten years.

They say the new DVD improves things greatly, but I have yet to watch it.

thanbo said...

Odd-numbered Star Trek movies are bad, even-numbered ones are good. Although, they stopped numbering them after a while.

1: Vger - rehash of Nomad, much too long.

3) Search for Spock: so-so, draggy

5) Final Frontier: Shat happens.

The named ones varied without pattern. Insurrection was just gross, with the skin-stretching aliens. Nemesis has the guy with the Yiddish-sounding name, Ken-Zayn or something like that.

Nachum said...

The numbering pattern holds up if Galaxy Quest is counted as a Star Trek movie:

7- Eh.

8- Yes!

9- Blech.

Galaxy Quest- Amazing.

10- Bleh.

11- Oh, my.

12- I hope it's good!