Two of the biggest stars in my personal firmament — Napoleon and Stanley Kubrick — may still get together.
Last week I mentioned that I had been asked to translate a letter from a 20-year-old German bookstore employee writing to his American pen pal in 1933. As it turns out, that wasn’t the only letter. A couple of days ago, I was asked to translate another letter he wrote to his pen pal in August 1933.
Mostly, the letter is just a description of his hometown, but it includes this passage (my translation):
Just as in America, a change in the nation’s leadership has taken place in Germany. Since January 30 of this year Adolf Hitler has been our chancellor and he has in that time rebuilt the country from the ground up. In my next letter I will report to you about the laws that have resulted so far. Today I will just tell you that Hitler’s measures already have made a distinct improvement. I know that many untruths have spread about Hitler and his ideas in foreign lands. For this reason, I have enclosed the opinion of an English officer about Hitler’s Germany. It would interest me very much to know what one thinks in your homeland about the new Germany.
The enclosure was a piece of propaganda from Graham Seton Hutchison to the effect that Hitler’s intentions were both peaceful and justified by the punitive Treaty of Versailles. “No man possessed of the least knowledge of the Hitler movement can speak of it as one lustful for war,” he wrote. “Hitler’s aims are, above all, German life and German culture.”
That must have been a relief for the 20-year-old.
The wife and I had a couple of free tickets to see Lisa Lampanelli here last night, so we went. Our bad.
I don’t mind coarse humor and am occasionally guilty of it. We get HBO. I’m a big Bill Maher fan. I think Lewis Black is funny not despite his profanity but in large part because of it. It flows naturally from the incessant outrage that makes up his on-stage character (but not the real guy, I hope).
But jeez. How many jokes about private parts can you fit into a two-hour show and still be funny? And jokes about Donald Trump’s hair? And jokes about amputees needing only half as many shoes?
The underlying cynicism of it all wore me down. There was this whole attitude: I can say whatever I want because everybody knows I have no brakes. I can make racist jokes because everybody knows I’m not racist. I can say awful things about people because everybody knows I’m not an awful person. I can use all the foul language I want because everybody knows that words are just words and never a cause for offense.
OK, I get it. Words are just words. But if your whole act is based around that sort of language, what’s left after you have extracted all of the meaning from the words? “Celebrity Apprentice” jokes, I guess.
When I told my wife that I could have managed the whole rest of my life without hearing another joke about Donald Trump or “Celebrity Apprentice,” she pointed out that lots of Lampanelli fans are also probably “Celebrity Apprentice” fans. She’s probably right.
So the last laugh may have been on Lampanelli. Two girls in the row in front of us spent the whole show talking and texting on their cell phones. I’m not sure they heard a single joke. But it was all just words, right?
Everybody was talking about Bob Woodward’s claim that the White House threatened him. Typical Obama bullying, the right-wing pundits all said, then Michael Smerconish, that insanely fair-minded guy, read the actual email. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so threatening. I’ve seen more ominous threats on mattress labels.
The interesting part was hearing right-wingers defend Woodward while a lot of liberal blogs went after him. That seemed kind of a reversal. But then it struck me how little I have liked Woodward all these years. I read the Watergate books, “All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days,” and thought they were OK. At least they relied on information that had been pretty well confirmed by the time the books appeared.
Then I tried to read “The Brethren,” his book about the Supreme Court, and gave it up about halfway through. I just was not willing to accept his ubiquitous use of anonymous sources whose reliability I had no way of determining.
A few years later, when I was temporarily a member of the Book of the Month Club, I accidentally ordered a copy of “Veil,” his book on the CIA. I’ve tried several times over the years to give it a read but have never gotten more than a few dozen pages into it. Again, I just am not willing to trust Woodward as much as he wants me to. I’ve never attempted another of his books and probably never will.
Last week’s flare-up did nothing to cause me to reconsider.
Local Republicans are continuing their investigation into allegations that Chairman Jennifer Olsen posted a racist joke on her Facebook page, I suppose, but we already know enough to be assured that she won’t escape without some culpability. Here are the possibilities, as I see them, in ascending order of culpability.
1. She didn’t post the joke but handled the accusation badly. Forgivable. A teachable moment, perhaps.
2. She posted the joke but deleted it as soon as she came to her senses. Forgivable, I suppose, but it would still leave one to wonder what sort of things go through her head. We all do stupid things, but if she can’t come up with a better explanation and apology than she has managed so far, then she ought to resign.
3. She posted the joke and then lied about it. Pretty hard to forgive. All politicians lie, the saying goes, but this is really pushing it. She should resign.
4. She posted the joke and then lied about it by alleging that someone else posted it. Absolutely unforgivable. She’s done as a political figure, or ought to be.
Which possibility is correct? Perhaps time will tell; it had better.