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Best Behavior

Starting a new column, especially for the first issue of a new magazine, poses certain problems. It’s like the first date with a girl you’ve had your eye on and pined for throughout those junior proms but never had the courage to ask out. Mind you, in my case, it is more likely to be someone I noticed in an old folks home, as I’m on the wrong side of sixty. As when out on a first date with one you’ve loved from afar, the thrill and fear are all consuming, until – dare I say it? – boredom sets in or another sweet young thing comes into focus. It is now 32 years that I’ve been writing, having been given my start by William F. Buckley Jr. at National Review. I’ve been a columnist for the London Spectator for twenty-five years, along with columns in the London Sunday Times, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the New York Post, the New York Press, you name it, I’ve written for it, and every time the panic has been the same.

Still, I thought this one would be easier as I am part owner and co-editor, but actually it’s much harder. Being on my best behavior makes me very nervous. When anxious to impress one tends to fumble. Starting anew makes one want to summarize, to reach some kind of conclusion, to say something grand. But saying something on a grand scale is what fools or pompous pundits usually do. As in falling in love, starting a column is being in its most vivid state, and as far as I’m concerned, nothing is more vivid than falling in love or starting a new column.

Although English was not my first or second language, I believe that good writing should include nuggets of good sense, eccentricity and unrepentant prejudice – things which are as much fun to write as they are to read. Here’s one of the entries of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton competition of purple prose, one I hope not to imitate or emulate: “The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sticky fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog’s deception, screaming madly, “’you lied, you lied!’” When I read it I thought it was Alan Dershowitz, or John Podhoretz, but then I realized neither of them possess such talent to amuse.

Some years ago I reviewed Peter Brimelow’s book Alien Nation very favorably. A review of my review by one New York hack was not so favorable.

“Taki is an immigrant himself and wants to shut the door once he and his buddy Brimelow are in,” or words to that effect. Well, yes and no. Peter is a well-educated Brit who has added to the intellectual life of this nation. I am no egg-head, but I did fly over to these shores once my father had begun his shipping business over here, building his ships in Newport News, Virginia, employing American labor both in building and sailing his tankers. In fact, he built the largest American flagged vessel, National Defender, during the late Fifties, and had named one of his ships General Patton, after the greatest tank commander of World War II. We were hardly on welfare when we moved. My take on immigration is simple: My main aim is to remind Americans that since we are a predominantly white society rooted in Christianity, our responsibility to immigrants is to bring them into our culture, not the other way around. If we have open borders we will be Brazil in no time, with most of Brazil’s problems but without their genius for soccer. Be that as it may, every vibrant country such as the United States needs immigration, but it needs to be controlled.

Unlike Holland, for example. Here’s a warning. An asylum seeker was recently warned that he would go to jail in Holland for having smelly feet. Teunis Teun fell foul of Dutch law after taking his shoes off in a public library in the University of Delft. The odor was so appalling that he was charged with a breach of the peace after refusing to put them back on. When he appeared in court in The Hague he slipped off his shoes again, leaving the lawyers present gasping for breath. It was utterly unbearable, said an official, so bad that the court had to be cleared. The presiding judge was the first to flee the scene. Teun was fined 250 Euros ($245) – a sum he was unable to come up with – and a two-year probation order was imposed. He was warned that if he ever took off his shoes again in public he would be sent to prison for six months. Teun, needless to say, lodged an appeal, although it had to be in writing as the court had emptied out. Now what I’d like to know is what happens to thieves and murderers in jail if and when Teun decides to flout the law and take his shoes off in public again. After all, even criminals have rights, and no one should have to inhale such appalling odors as those that emanate from Teunis Teun’s feet. I wonder what the ACLU would do about such a case if Teunis decides to immigrate over here?

I think most of us have seen the movie “The Fountainhead,” starring the great Gary Cooper, but how many of you know who John Galt is? Galt was the hero of Ayn Rand’s second novel, Atlas Shrugged, which according to Gore Vidal is the one novel that everybody in the U. S. Congress has actually read. Rand was the radical capitalist who told us that that “One man’s need is not another man’s obligation.” Among other things, she also said that “There are just three ways of getting money: earn it, steal it, or beg for it.”

My father, a benevolent capitalist if there ever was one, was a great admirer of Rand’s, although he never adhered to her maxims. (Whenever his workers pushed the envelope too far he would quote her ad nauseam, but that’s about it).

Rand’s philosophy was quite simple. There are no rights except life, liberty and property. Having crawled out of the Soviet Union in 1921 with $300 in her pocket, she made it to New York alone, and the rest is history. She hardly spoke English upon arrival. Every form of taxation was theft, according to Ayn, something even my old man did not go along with. John Galt urges the talented and successful people in business, science and the arts to go on strike against the state, withholding their services from society, thus bringing about its collapse. A bit drastic, I agree, but food for thought.

The one of Rand’s I liked the best was, “No man can ask another man’s brain to do his thinking, any more than he can ask another man’s lungs to do his breathing.” More food for thought for Teddy Kennedy.

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