Open University

Only The Benign Part?

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By Richard Stern

Yesterday, I emailed the following Letter to the Editor:
Re. the removal of five benign polyps from President Bush's colon, would it be infra dig to recall Evelyn Waugh's comment on the excision of a benign tumor from Randolph
Churchill: "Odd that they removed Randolph's only benign part"?

The Times has a more benign collective nature than this correspondent who, for a witticism, even someone else's, knife's his more tolerant opinion of our chief exec. G.W. is no more malign than the next fellow, only more harmful; his deficiencies are of another order, some of which can be explained by Lord Acton's most famous observation. After all these years as prexy, G.W.B. still displays the awkwardness of little girls dressed up in mommy's shoes and skirts. All presidents since Jefferson have exhibited some of this awkwardness, but all I know anything about (I've read biographies of Filmore, Tyler, Garfield, Bush's ancestor, Pierce, and the underrated Chester Arthur, as well as most of their betters) outgrew it in a year or so.

I'm reminded of the proprieties of institutions and offices by an email from the writer, John Coetzee, suggesting that I suspend judgment about his forthcoming (in January, 2008) novel because the layout of the New York Review of Books did an excerpt of it a "disservice." In book form, two or three different streams of text will run parallel across the page whereas in the NYRB's four column layout, the two streams were cut off--or dammed. (I wonder if the fugal set-up will have more of the quality of Mallarme's "Un Coup de Des n'abolira jamais le hazard," than of Faulkner's alternation of chapters from two narratives, "The Wild Palms" and "Old Man." We'll see next January. I suspect we'll be on to another Coetzeean invention, one closer to that section of Roth's Sabbath's Theater in which the main narrative is "undercut" by one in footnotes.

There is ten thousand times more noise generated by the three or four week vacation the Iraqi parliament will soon be taking unless the noise from our vacationing senators, representatives and--unfortunately--unvacationing tv and editorial commentators shames them into comparing themselves unfavorably with the coalition troops trudging through danger and 130 degree heat with backbreaking backpacks.

Perhaps G.W.B. ought to sacrifice his vacant days in Crawford and/or Kennebunkport as another mark of his sacrifice, sympathy and understanding.

A final and historical note on the surprising sympathies of men in power: after Hitler's murder of Roehm and a couple of hundred others in the "Night of the Long Knives," an admiring Josef Stalin, ten years the Austrian's senior, said to Mikoyan, "Some fellow that Hitler! Splendid! That's a very skilful operation."

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