Please Don't Surprise Us! 

     Have you ever noticed? When the media praise a 
supposed conservative for "surprising friend and foe 
alike," you can be pretty sure the surprise has been a 
lot more pleasant for his old foes than for his old 

The Anniversary of "No Doubt" 

     The fourth anniversary of the Iraq war has come, and 
I don't think even the doomsayers expected it to go on 
this long. I know I didn't. I objected to it on 
principle, but for all I knew it might be the "cakewalk" 
its advocates so confidently predicted. Even if it was a 
turkey shoot, as in 1991, one had to think of the poor 

     It was about five years ago that Vice President Dick 
Cheney assured us: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein 
now [!] has weapons of mass destruction." He added the 
prediction that the Iraqis would welcome Americans as 
"liberators." Condoleezza Rice still had her head in the 
mushroom clouds.

     And of course Colin Powell was among those Bush 
apparatchiks who kept intoning that there was "no doubt" 
about the Saddam threat. In fact, he was easily the most 
respected of them; even liberals who were skeptical of 
the Unholy Trinity of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld trusted 
Powell. In that sense he may bear more responsibility for 
this war than anyone except Bush himself. And judging by 
his recent public silence, he realizes this.

     It is almost as if a whole generation has passed 
since September 2001. Bill Clinton now seems as remote as 
the George H.W. Bush he succeeded. Powell is gone, as are 
many others who were mighty then.

     Of these, the one I miss most is Michael Kelly, the 
most prominent journalist to die in the war. He supported 
the war that took his life; he was a sort of Catholic 
neoconservative. But he was also a gifted writer and a 
very brave and honest man, always worth reading and 
absolutely independent. Nobody has taken his place; 
nobody could. His death is sufficient reason to curse 
this war. I don't dare say that had he lived he would now 
oppose Bush's war, but he would have given us a unique 
view of it. Losing him was like losing George Orwell; 
there is no compensation or consolation for it.

     TIME magazine's current cover features a doctored 
photo of Ronald Reagan weeping at what has become of 
American conservatism, which Fred Barnes says Bush has 
"redefined" (and improved!). "There's no need to reclaim 
the Reagan legacy," writes Paul Krugman in THE NEW YORK 
TIMES: "Mr. Bush is what Mr. Reagan would have been given 
the opportunity." Well, there's no need to deify the 
Gipper either; but he had too much common sense to get 
into a mess like the Iraq war, and he pulled out of 
Lebanon pronto after a suicide bomber killed 241 Marines. 
He saw a quagmire coming, and chose not to "stay the 
course," thank you very much.

Lincoln and Booth 

     Abraham Lincoln and the man who murdered him had one 
thing in common: a love of Shakespeare.

     All the world knows that an actor named John Wilkes 
Booth shot Lincoln in Ford's Theater, in Washington, 
D.C., on Good Friday 1865. What is less well known is 
that Booth was a very popular star -- and one of 
Lincoln's favorite actors. Though not highly educated, 
Lincoln loved Shakespeare and, with his wife, attended 
the theater often. His speeches contain phrases from 
Shakespeare and the Bible. He could take for granted a 
certain level of literacy in the American public. And he 
liked to read Shakespeare aloud to his friends.

     Lincoln's favorite play by far was MACBETH, and he 
may well have seen Booth play Macbeth and other 
Shakespearean roles. We know that Booth starred as 
Macbeth, Brutus (in JULIUS CAESAR), Hamlet, Romeo, 
Othello, and other parts, mostly tragic. His father, 
Junius Brutus Booth, and his elder brother Edwin were 
among America's most famous actors. (Edwin Booth was 
later honored in the Hall of Fame of Great Americans.) 

     Lincoln occasionally invited actors to the White 
House, and in November 1863 he sent an invitation to 
Booth, after seeing him perform brilliantly in a comedy. 
But Booth hated him and failed to respond, snarling to 
the messenger that he would "rather have the applause of 
a nigger."

     The nation was shocked when, less than two years 
later, Booth killed Lincoln. It was almost as if Sean 
Penn had shot President George W. Bush. Booth even saw 
himself in Shakespearean terms: as a heroic Brutus 
assassinating a tyrannical Caesar.

     That is how he expected history to remember him. He 

     A final coincidence. Years later, Lincoln's eldest 
son Robert was nearly killed when he was accidentally 
pushed off a crowded railway platform as a train 
approached. But someone grabbed his arm and pulled him 
back just in time. When he thanked his rescuer, Robert 
found that it was Edwin Booth.

As the Twig Is Bent ...

     Years ago, when the excellent actress Mia Farrow had 
her stormy split with Woody Allen, it was reported that 
she had returned to the Catholic Church, in which she was 
raising her many children, most of them adopted.

     Why did she do this? I think I have a clue. While 
browsing through my personal library the other night, I 
ran across a book I'd never gotten around to reading, by 
a one-time Hollywood director. The book was DAMIEN THE 
LEPER; the author, John Farrow. Mia's father. 

     The basic story is well known. In the 19th century, 
Fr. Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest born in 1840, was 
given permission to go to the Sandwich Islands (as 
Captain Cook named Hawaii), where, with astounding 
courage, diligence, heroism, and sanctity, he ministered 
to a leper colony. Shortly after his death in 1889, he 
was venomously slandered by a Protestant minister named 
Charles McEwen Hyde, who had praised him lavishly only 
four years earlier. Now Hyde accused Damien of several 
sins, including loose relations with women, and blamed 
his death from leprosy on his own "vices and 
carelessness." Hyde even denied him any credit for 
improving the lot of the lepers in the colony.

     Reading Hyde's words now, one is reminded of 
Christopher Hitchens's smear of Mother Teresa, complete 
with the gratuitous lewd innuendo.

     Hyde's lies, printed in a Sydney newspaper, provoked 
a furious and crushing response from Robert Louis 
Stevenson, which Farrow quotes in full in chapter XVII of 
his book, to stunning effect. Stevenson's renowned 
defense of the holy man stands as a classic refutation of 
an incredibly foul attack, calling the world's attention 
to the merits of the intended victim; and it would be 
Hyde's only claim to fame today, had not Stevenson (by 
coincidence!) named the monstrous title character of one 
of his most famous stories "Mr. Hyde" in 1886.

     At any rate, something tells me that Damien's story 
and Stevenson's role in it, as recounted in John Farrow's 
book, made a deep impression, many years later, on 
Farrow's daughter. 

                 +          +          +                  

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