Mark Steyn’s ethnomusicology, Macarthur Park, global warming, Iran and Andrew Sullivan, not necessarily in that order.
HH: We start off as we do most Thursday when we are lucky with Mark Steyn, columnist to the world, www.steynonline.com. And Mark, the Society of Ethnomusicology has denounced torture today.
MS: Yes, they’ve come out against using music as torture. So it’s part of the constant redefinition of torture, Hugh. In the good old days, when you could just tear out people’s fingernails, or clamp the electrodes to their more sensitive parts, it was fairly clear. Then sleep deprivation became torture, then sensory deprivation, then people were concerned that we were making people stand up for too long at Guantanamo. The Society of Ethnomusicology has come out against torture, because they reveal that in 2003, the U.S. Army used the song I Love You by Barney the Dinosaur in the interrogation of Iraqi detainees, repeatedly playing the song at high volume.
HH: Well, I think I might go along with the society on that one.
MS: Well, if that isn’t in the Geneva Conventions, it certainly ought to be.
HH: But now, what I get to immediately is that you and John Podhoretz have launched a string of bad music torture jokes, and Podhoretz says how many music ethnomusicologists does it take to thumbscrew in a light bulb? Answer, that’s not funny. And you’ve been taken to task by Andrew Sullivan preemptively.
MS: Yes, he launched a preemptive attack on my sense of humor.
MS: He’s…I’ve got to be careful about what I say about Andrew Sullivan, because I’ve been shocked to discover he’s one of my colleagues, he’s now one of my colleagues at the Atlantic Monthly. Apparently, he…
HH: Yeah, what happened there? Did they saw a hole under the ice over at Time Magazine?
MS: I’m not sure about that. (laughing) But so, I’ve got to be a bit careful, because obviously, you know, I don’t want to mock Andrew Sullivan as a humorless stiff, in case the Atlantic decides to fire me for mocking the new star guy, the new big man on campus.
HH: (laughing) But it is his own version of the Bush doctrine, preemptive opining.
MS: Yes, exactly.
HH: You hadn’t really come out before against the Society of Ethnomusicologists, had you?
MS: No, I had no position on the Society of Ethnomusicology’s position on using Barney the Dinosaur as a form of torture.
MS: You know, even if you’re in the professional opinion business, you can’t have an opinion on everything, and I, to be frank, I don’t follow the Society of Ethnomusicology as closely as I might.
HH: Well, I think he’s attributing to you a general disdain for people you’ve called in the past Nancy boys.
MS: Well, let’s put it this way, that I think there’s actually nothing wrong with making a lot of cheap jokes about most of the subjects that come up in this context.
MS: And I put a quote up at the National Review’s website, from the Ayatollah Khomenei, which is I think one of the all-time great quotes, in which the Ayatollah says there are no jokes in Islam, there is no fun in Islam. This is something he wrote, and appears in his big volume of collected writings that was published in the holy city of Qum in 1990. And I love it. It’s a fantastic quote, because it points out one of the big differences between us and the enemy, which is that the enemy is totally humorless. And I think it’s rather disturbing that Andrew Sullivan, who mocks so many of the rest of us on the right as theocrats, is, in fact, turning into a bit of a, you know, theocrat-wise, he’s getting close to the Ayatollah Khomenei in his sense of humor.
HH: I know, it’s gone. Now I do…you’ve given me a great transition, though it wasn’t where I was going…let me give you a couple of headlines. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has test fired missiles on Thursday: Commanders Said Could Sink Big Warships In The Gulf, number two, Iran’s Elite Revolutionary Guard Has Successfully Test Fired a New Russian Made Air Defense Missile System, Headline number three, Iran’s Supreme Leader Said Thursday That If the United States Were To Attack Iran, the Country Would Respond By Striking U.S. Interests All Over the World, cut number four, Iran Is Said To Have Identified 100 Spies Working For the United States and Israel In Border Areas of the Islamic State, and cut number six, Ahmadinejad Has Objected Strenuously To the Israeli Attempt To Rebuild a Bridge To the Mosque On the Temple Mount. Lots of Iran news today, Mark Steyn.
MS: Yes, because basically, we are at war in Iran. I find it very interesting that people seem to think that we, Bush is planning a war with Iran. Effectively, Iran is already at war with us. There was a story in the New York Sun, a fascinating piece, a couple of weeks ago about how Iran is primarily fomenting and funding both sides of the so-called civil war in Iraq. That’s to say it’s funding the Sunni guys from the Sunni Triangle, and the Shia guys from Southern Iraq, and setting them at each other’s throats. And you think…people like the Baker-Hamilton Study Group can’t understand that, because they think that Iran has a strategic view of its own interest that would approximate to that of a rational state like Norway or New Zealand. But in fact Iran understands, as the Baker-Hamilton Study Group didn’t, that this is about the United States, that all you have to do is cause chaos in Iraq, and it reflects badly on the United States, and it demoralizes the United States, and that’s the target for Iran. Iran doesn’t care what happens in Iraq, and in a sense, total chaos serves its interests, as long as it weakens the United States.
HH: You know, Dore Gold has a new book out called The Fight For Jerusalem.
MS: Yeah, which is an excellent book, by the way.
HH: It is. I had the ambassador on the program. I was unaware of Jerusalem and Temple denial, and how it is now a tenet of modern Islamist fanaticism that the Temple never existed, and David wasn’t there, and Solomon didn’t build anything.
MS: No, and I think this is one of the things that you realize when you talk to people who’ve grown up in those education systems, that they are totally corrupted education systems that they come under in the Middle East, and they often learn things that, and grow up to believe things that are completely, factually false. And again, this is one of the big problems. That’s one of those below the radar problems. I mean, if you take, say, somebody who was educated in a Yemeni school fifty years ago, fifty years ago he would have gained a much broader education, much closer to a traditional Western education than he does now, where you’re basically being raised in a cult of ignorance, which is what a lot of this is.
HH: Well now, speaking of cults of ignorance, I’d like to switch to domestic politics, and John Edwards’ hiring of two anti-Catholic bloggers from the far reaches of the left nutroots. Can he get away with this, Mark Steyn?
MS: Well, he thinks he has got away with it. I mean, these are totally unpleasant people who have made the most vivid and repulsive jokes, really, about religion. Now not just the generalized contempt for religion that a lot of people in the secular world have, but as I said, quite vivid imagery relating to the Virgin Mary having sex with God, and this kind of thing. So it’s something insofar as these rather worthless writers have any talent at all, it’s in, simply, heaping abuse upon people of faith. I can’t think that this is really where John Edwards wants to be at this stage of the political campaign, and I think it makes him look a fool. You know, when he issued his statement, he said you know, it’s going to take, I think he said, it’s going to take boldness and vision and discipline, or something, to take back America. Well, discipline is actually the issue here. These people do not have what I think anybody in public life needs, and that is that kind of, that sort of detector that as the sly, malicious, unpleasant vulgarism rises in your throat, you think yes, this will delight my hard-core fans, but it’s going to offend a lot of other people, and you suppress it, and you hold it down. And everybody who succeeds in public life has that to one degree or another. It’s an instinctive thing. You know when you’ve crossed the line. And these people have put, these two bloggers of his, clearly don’t know that, and he has effectively sided with them. He says he takes them at their word, it was never their intention to malign anyone’s faith. You cannot read the stuff they’ve written and believe that, so it makes John Edwards look like a buffoon.
HH: Here’s one of their excerpts by Amanda Marcotte. “The Pope’s got to tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw.” Now that is, that’s not unintentional, Mark Steyn.
HH: that’s not a slip of the typewriter.
MS: No, and it’s actually a revolting thought. I mean, if you have been, you know, I’m sure you’ve been in this situation. Most of us, by the time you reach a certain age, you know somebody in your extended circle who has given birth to a stillborn child. It’s an incredibly distressing thing for mothers, and they emerge, psychologically, in a terrible state over it. And why anyone would wish anything as sadistic and revolting as that upon them, I do not know. But why someone, like such as John Edwards, whose whole shtick is this high-minded thing about how he’s not going to descend into the gutter with the other politicians, why he would then think it’s in his interest that these people bring any talent to his campaign, I don’t know. You know, it’s interesting Your colleague at Hughhewitt.com, he made a very, I thought a very good point about the way the old rules used to be, that you know, as he put it, you can’t play blue and then work for Disney. In other words, you can’t have been starring in porn movies and then working on Disney movies. Well, in fact, John Edwards is saying no, you can. He’s changed the rules.
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HH: I brought out the nuclear weapon of ethnomusicologist torture symbols, Richard Harris and MacArthur Park. It’s Hugh Hewitt with Mark Steyn. Mark, this is my all-time favorite bad song. Do you have any other nominees for what we might want to consider putting on the U.N…
MS: You know, I think Richard Harris actually gets a bit of a bum rap, because I think the Donna Summer disco version of that song is actually worse. But you know what’s bad about that song is not Richard Harris doing (singing) MacArthur Park is melting in the dark, but it went all this sort of orchestral gloop before that, in that song, which is like, sort of, it’s like some kind of Reader’s Digest version of symphonic music. I think that’s just completely dreadful. You know, if I was in Fallujah, and I was captured by American troops, and they started playing MacArthur Park to me, I would talk. I would tell them anything. It would be over in minutes.
HH: Now speaking of Richard Harris, was he overrated or underrated as a theater performer?
MS: I think he was, I would say he was overrated, because he’s the kind of actor I like, actually, because he’s got an act, and it’s kind of mesmeric in a way. So I always find Richard Harris incredibly watchable. His singing is a different matter, but even then, as long as it wasn’t a full album. I mean, the trouble with MacArthur Park is it goes on for twelve minutes or something.
HH: Yes, we’ll be playing it repeatedly throughout the day. And what score, what Broadway score would be most effective in breaking the will of the terrorists at Gitmo?
MS: (laughing) Well, you know, I’m tempted to say that the title song of Phantom of the Opera, which I remember when the show opened, one critic said it sounded like a bad version of the music that Sylvester used to creep on Tweety Bird to. I think that would be very menacing, because if you’ve actually never seen that show, you would have…in other words, if you’ve never been exposed to that sort of Andrew Lloyd Webber orchestral bombast, I think that would be pretty terrifying.
Sylvester: Where there’s cheeses, there’s bound to be mouses.
HH: That Sylvester you’re referring to.
MS: (laughing) Yes, that’s the Sylvester. I would also say, though, that this is one of these cultural things, and I think if you are, say, a member of the Baath Party in the Sunni Triangle, you’re a Baathist insurgent, you’re unlikely to have been exposed to a lot of Ethel Merman, and that probably could be quite terrifying.
HH: Now that brings me around to Bashar Assad’s iPod. Now Diane Sawyer went to interview Bashar Assad, and ended up talking to him about his iPod, and not raising the Hama massacre, or the assassination of Gemayel. And I like Diane Sawyer. She was, I actually took her office over. She was a ghost writer for Nixon, and I followed in her place. She’s always been a very serious journalist. What happens, Mark Steyn, to American journalists, even good ones, in the presence of killers?
MS: Well you know, this is why I loved Oriana Fallaci, because whatever people…a lot of people have different view of her, but she was the one celebrity interviewer who used to just go to these big shots, these dictators, she interviewed Castro, she interviewed Arafat, she interviewed the Ayatollah Khomenei, and she was the one who never fell for them. And this thing where they somehow think you’re getting to the real guy when you ask him about his iPod, this isn’t a new thing. When Yuri Andropov became the leader of the Soviet Union after Brezhnev died, the Soviets tried to promote him as a new face of Soviet communism, and went on about how much he liked Glenn Miller. And this idea…I mean, this was a guy who was the KGB hard man.
MS: That is not changed by the fact that he likes to go home, put his feet up, and listen to Chattanooga Choo Choo. I mean, it’s an absurd, and it’s actually quite disgusting the way these people think, these interviewers think that somehow it’s getting us a clue to the real man. I’ve mentioned before that Saddam Hussein liked Sinatra. He liked to play Sinatra CD’s. He liked Quality Street Toffees from England, which happen to be my favorite kind of toffees, too. So if I was dating Saddam Hussein, we’d sit there listening to Songs for Swinging Lovers, and eating our Quality Street Toffees, and we’d have a grand old date. But it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a mass murderer.
HH: You know, I saw a fascinating transcript of an exchange that John Burns had with Tim Russert this week, Mark Steyn. Have you seen that yet?
MS: No, I haven’t.
HH: And Tim Russert indulges that oh, they were going to meet us with garlands, and greet us as liberators, and that didn’t happen.
MS: Oh, yes, I did see that.
HH: And Burns rebukes him, and says yes, it did, but we underestimated how brutally that society had been destroyed, that there was no civility left in it. I think he’s the real journalist left among many, many people who are no longer serious about this thing.
MS: Yes, and I think he actually reminds us when he said that, that in fact a lot of the talking points, the stale talking points of this war, are completely false. American and British troops were greeted as liberators in Iraq. What happened then was that in both the American sector and the British sector, there were miscalculations made about managing the transition. But that doesn’t deny the fact that those Iraqis were very glad to see American and British troops marching through their towns in the spring of 2003.
HH: I still remind people you dined alone in Fallujah, and so obviously, there was a period of time in which the security penumbra of the American occupation extended far and wide in that country, and we gave it back. Now Mark, you wrote about global warming for the Chicago Sun this past weekend. I tend to believe, I think that they’ve gone a planet too far in their demands for immediate change. And when I saw Nancy Pelosi testifying today, I thought to myself, no one’s going to buy this, especially with Al Gore inventing scientists who’ve been paid off by the Bush administration to lie. Have they in fact gone a study too far?
MS: Well, look. You can never go too far with global warming. In the words of Richard Harris, MacArthur Park is melting in the dark.
MS: That’s how bad the global warming’s got. And the point here is they think they can basically…if they’re right, if they’re right, was it necessary to peddle so many falsehoods? The fact of the matter is, that after that Chicago Sun Times piece, I’ve had letters from people who represent scientific professions I don’t even understand, like geomorphology, basically a large number of letters from scientific persons, raising all kinds of questions about the science of global warming. There are many different opinions on global warming. And the bullying manner is what is actually completely unscientific about it, because it basically says look, you can’t raise any objections to it. This is just the way it is, and you have to accept that. Well sorry, that’s not science, that’s a religion. That’s a cult.
HH: Dennis Prager raised the question today, my colleague on the radio, and I know you know Dennis. Why does everyone on the right scoff, or at least disbelieve the certainty with which it’s advanced, and everybody on the left embrace it? I thought it was a very interesting question. Why is that, Mark Steyn?
MS: Well, I do think that on the left, there is a kind of ideological vacuum…not an ideological one, but a vacuum of faith, into which environmentalism is the one that’s most easily accessed. And I think on the right, the right is naturally more skeptical. But you know, I have a personal stake in this. People ask me about melting glaciers. Well, glaciers have melted all the time, and it’s just as well, because if they didn’t, there would be no Canada.
MS: The ice shield extended all the way down to Kentucky at one point, so it’s all right for you Americans. You can all still hang out in California and Florida, whereas we Canadians, if it weren’t for global warming, we’d all be under a mile deep sheet of ice.
HH: That’s right. You’ve be pushed south until you were living, well, in New Hampshire.
MS: That’s right.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure. www.steynonline.com, and author of America Alone.
End of interview.