- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Mobster from mom

“Random House and the estate of Mario Puzo have asked a journeyman novelist … to write a sequel to ‘The Godfather,’ depicting the further adventures of America’s favorite organized crime family, the Corleones. A commercially viable book may result, but the essence of the original’s greatness will surely be missing because of an artistic advantage Puzo had that no other author can claim: Mrs. Puzo, his mother.

“‘I never met a real honest-to-god gangster,’ Puzo once said, explaining that he’d had to research organized crime in order to write ‘The Godfather.’ But he didn’t need to study or imagine the underlying attitudes and formative worldview of Don Vito Corleone.

“‘Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth,’ the author later wrote, ‘in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother. I heard her wisdom, her ruthlessness, and her unconquerable love for her family and for life itself, qualities not valued in women at the time. The Don’s courage and loyalty came from her; his humanity came from her.’”

—Bill Tonelli, writing on “The Godmother,” Friday in Slate at www.slate.com

Straussian creed

“Odd as this may sound, we live in a world increasingly shaped by Leo Strauss, a controversial philosopher who died in 1973. Although generally unknown to the wider population, Strauss has been one of the two or three most important intellectual influences on the conservative worldview now ascendant in George W. Bush’s Washington. …

“Despite his life of quiet scholarly obscurity, Strauss has exerted a strong posthumous sway among those who bustle through the corridors of power. …

“While his teachings and books bewildered mainstream American social scientists and drew many hostile comments, students flocked to this odd and beguiling refugee scholar.

“Many would go on to become important academics in their own right, including the philosopher Stanley Rosen (a leading light at Boston University), the historian Harry Jaffa (who later wrote speeches for Barry Goldwater), and Allan Bloom, whose 1987 bestseller ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ would paradoxically bring Strauss’s thought to a mass audience. …

“Some traditional and religious conservatives have become deeply wary of Straussians. ‘They certainly believe that religion may be a useful thing to take in the suckers with,’ notes Thomas Fleming, editor of the right-wing journal Chronicles. ‘Exoteric Straussians are taught to repeat mantras about democracy, liberty, and republican government which the inner-circle Straussians don’t appear to hold to. One of Allan Bloom’s students told me that Professor Bloom had taught them that Plato was just an American-style democrat. This is just absurd. Plato taught the rule of a tiny elite, which is what the Straussians actually believe.’”

Jeet Heer, writing on “The Philosopher,” Sunday in the Boston Globe

Fidel fetish

“Depending on your respective tolerance for living relics of the Cold War and Hollywood mythomaniacs, it may or may not surprise you to hear that in ‘Commandante’ — Oliver Stone’s record of his schmoozefest with Fidel Castro — Fidel comes off lots better than Ollie. Spending four decades in fatigues as Cuba’s Fearless Leader isn’t exactly a recipe for self-knowledge, but compared with his interviewer, Castro is a man on good terms with reality. Watching Stone gush and smirk as if he’s Hemingway posing next to a marlin, you can’t help feeling sorry for the old revolutionary. …

“I used to wonder if [Oliver Stone] could possibly believe the baloney he peddled, but anybody nuts enough to interpret [September 11] as a popular uprising against globalization, as he enthusiastically did in front of a New York audience while Ground Zero was still smoldering, is clearly capable of romanticizing anything.

“Compared with that, lionizing Fidel the heroic rebel like it’s still 1959 … is garden-variety asininity for him.”

—Tom Carson, writing on “Bray of Pigs,” in the June issue of Esquire

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