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Mark Steyn on the Bow, the I-pod, and the Sting

Friday, April 3, 2009
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HH: On every Thursday we are lucky when we can welcome to the program Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World. Mark, greetings, good to talk with you.

MS: Good to talk with you, Hugh.

HH: Now I never thought that anyone would ever get another bad picture with the Saudi Arabian king after George Bush held hands with him and that got on film. But now there is a picture on the internets that has President Obama apparently bowing to the Saudi Arabian king. Have you seen it yet?

MS: Yeah, I haven’t seen this picture. I have heard of it. It’s interesting to me when you look at their meeting with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace where Michelle Obama and Barack Obama did not bow, and Michelle Obama did not only not curtsy, but apparently embraced the Queen, which is, you’re not meant to hug the Queen, and you’re not really meant to touch the Queen. It’s official protocol, but it’s also the sort of thing you shouldn’t really need to have put down in writing. So it’s slightly odd when you see the way they were concerned not to bow and curtsy at Buckingham Palace, with what this picture with King Abdullah is rumored to be like.

HH: Well, I have seen it. It’s available at www.freerepublic.com and a number of other websites, and it is a pretty deep bow by the President. And I just don’t understand what their protocol office…how about the I-pod to the Queen, Mark Steyn?

MS: No, but just to go back to that, I think there is a serious thing. I think if you’re…for example, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are clear about this, that if you don’t want to do the full bow, you can just give a sort of polite nod. And if you don’t want to give a polite nod, and you just want to hold out your hand, she’s quite happy to do that, too. So there’s something odd in the way that you can do flexible protocol with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, but you have to do things the Saudis way when you’re with King Abdullah, who’s basically just the grandson of some kind of itinerant Bedouin of no fixed abode, who happened to be lucky enough to be sitting on a bunch of oil that he couldn’t get out of the ground himself, but that a bunch of sophisticated Westerners were prepared to do for him. If that picture is as you describe it, Hugh, I think that sums up everything that’s wrong in the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

HH: I’m so confident you’ll find that it’s everything I’ve described, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it in the Steyn, the subject of a Steyn column in the not too distant future. Will the I-pod make it into a Steyn column in the not-too distant future?

MS: (laughing) Well, I do think apparently there’s no room on there put in anything the Queen herself would like. I mean, I don’t know if the Queen listens to the Jonas Brothers or whatever, but if she does, she can’t put it on there, because it’s filled up with Barack Obama’s speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. Now I understand he wowed them at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I can’t actually see the Queen when she’s going jogging at Windsor Castle listening to Obama addressing the adoring masses at the Democratic Convention. It seems an odd gift.

HH: A very odd gift. By the way, the lead story at the American Thinker by Clarice Feldman, very, very good writer, includes the now, what I’m going to say is going to be a very infamous picture for Barack Obama with the King. Let’s turn to the general nature of the summit, Mark Steyn. As you watch this, what kind of impression are you taking away from this?

MS: Well, I think there was a lot of misdirection going on. You know, there are serious differences between the U.S. and Europe, and indeed between the U.S. and Europe on the one hand, and China on the other. And in a sense, because they couldn’t address those honestly, they engaged in a lot of misdirection. For example, this thing announcing that they’re going to clamp down on offshore tax havens, you know, the Turks & Caicos and the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and so forth. I think that is absolutely irrelevant to the global economic crisis. And more than that, I think free people should have the right, for if Barney Frank and John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi and the rest of them so arrange affairs that doing business in the United States is no longer competitive, I think you are entitled to open a post office box in Bermuda. And the idea that these world leaders announcing that as a big priority to clamp down on it, I think is frankly absurd.

HH: Have they done…another massive infusion of cash out of nowhere on the international stage, I think the number is $5 trillion today…

MS: Right.

HH: …taking us close to $20 trillion dollars of invented money, I like to say, in the last six months.

MS: Yes, and in fact, the best point on this was Angela Merkel’s, the German chancellor, she made the point that there’s a difference. The United States is sticking it to its kids and grandkids. I’m the demography bore, but I was pleased to see Frau Merkel essentially make my point that the Germans and the Japanese and a lot of other people cannot simply add to the national debt in the way that Obama is doing, because they have this demographic crisis. And in effect, you know, Germany and Japan and Italy and Russia are in net population decline. There’s going to be an ever-smaller number of people around in the next generation to try and pay off this debt. And the important point about that is that the sinister foreigners out there who buy a lot of debt in the United States, the Chinese for example, the Chinese well understand the reality of that situation in Germany and Japan. So I think the idea that simply governments can borrow their way out of this crisis, that these aren’t Keynesian times.

HH: And moreover, they don’t have what we have, a population to ourselves which is relatively easily assimilated. In fact, I talked about your concerns with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett this week in a long conversation about his book, Great Powers.

MS: Right.

HH: And it turns out he is not as critical of you as it sounds like in the book. But on the other hand, he is very much an optimist on how Europe can assimilate the North African population. I just don’t think we can see any evidence of that.

MS: No, I don’t think so. I think they’re, in fact, disassimilating. They’re self-segregating. And in effect, the European real estate is assimilating with the immigrants. If you look at Yorkshire, for example, it’s essentially adopted the same patterns of marriage, first cousin marriage, as Mirpur in Pakistan. If you go to Bradford, Yorkshire, which was a convention English mill town thirty years ago, now 75% of the Muslim residents of that city are married to their first cousins. You have grade schools in Bradford where a majority of the children in the class are the children of first cousins. That is, I understand Dr. Barnett is by nature one of life’s optimists, but it is not possible to be optimistic about the demographic scenario in Europe. And furthermore, I think that’s why this makes this actually more of an existential crisis than the Depression of the 30s, because I think when you factor in the economic situation with the, say, the median age in Germany or Japan, which is 43 and rising now, there’s simply not enough young people to pull the country out of recession. I’m far more optimistic…Iceland went kaput a couple of months ago. It was one of the first to sort of go belly up. But in the long run, I’ll bet on Iceland being a fairly sort of irrelevant but prosperous nation ten years down the road. I’m not sure Germany’s ever coming back.

HH: Interesting. Mark, I want to switch to a little entertainment couple of questions, because today, I’m going to do something for the first time in the history of this show. We’re going to have one of my Amaze.fm bands in.

MS: Oh, great.

HH: …to actually play, you know, young, unsigned singer/songwriters, great, great kids…

MS: Right.

HH: …and generated just from the web, new music paradigm, et cetera. But last night, I was watching, re-watching for the first time in 30 plus years The Sting with Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

MS: Right.

HH: And my wife turns to me and said not a movie at this pace could ever be made again, this complicated, slow set up that requires a lot of thinking. And I thought I’d ask you, do you think she’s right?

MS: Yes, I think she is. I think a good way to compare that is to look at Quantum Of Solace, the new Bond film, which is all hectic, cross-cutting, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Everything’s happening from every which way, every different angle, cutting every couple of seconds. You compare that with Goldfinger, which I think was the third Bond film, and the golf match that Sean Connery plays with Goldfinger in that movie, and no Bond film today would be confident enough to have that slow-paced golf match at an English country club in the way that they did then. And I think actually this is one of the reasons why Hollywood is in big trouble, because it’s losing the ability to tell stories at the tempo the story demands. And that is what places a big question mark over the future of the form, I think.

HH: And I think that’s why Deception with Julia Roberts and Clive Owens got panned by some people, because it tried to tell a complicated story at a pace that simply can’t support complication.

MS: No, I think Hollywood, in a sense, has reduced itself. It’s got more professional and expert. You know, if you go to film schools, they’re expert at teaching formula – what you need to do, when you need to do it. The problem with that approach is that it’s reductive. It narrows the kind of stories you can tell, and it obliges every story to fit into a narrower and narrower mold. And I think it is not, I think it hasn’t been good for Hollywood, and more to the point, I think it’s actually in danger of destroying motion pictures as a form of value. I mean, obviously, you know, Hollywood, they’ll still pump out some films that’ll make a bit of money, but it has changed, and it’s changed particularly badly since The Sting in the 70s.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com.

End of interview.

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