My first visit to Conrad Black’s house should’ve been my second.
Back in the previous century, my gang of Toronto anarcho-peacniks had talked about trekking up to his Bridle Path manse and pouring blood (or something like it) on his front steps.
I don’t recall the reason why. (It was 20+ years ago and I was drunk.)
No doubt one of the newspaper baron’s dailies in the Hollinger chain had printed something “offensive” again.
With his aristocratic bearing, conspicuous wealth, hollow-point vocabulary, and equally imposing wife – glamorous, fiery journalist Barbara Amiel – Black was an easy, all-purpose target.
Thanks to years of lazy misuse, his name had become a meaningless shorthand curse word for Canadian leftists.
Anyhow, I don’t think that nasty plan was ever carried out.
I do know that it was all I could think of many years later — 2006, to be exact — as I tottered up Lord Black’s long, dark driveway in my painfully new, too-high shoes, headed toward a party in honor of Mark Steyn and his then most recent book, America Alone.
I’d been sober for five years, I mused; did that mean I owed Black an “amends” for something I’d only half-thought about doing?
Was it too late to turn around and go back home?
It was. My husband had already driven off into the creepy, silent darkness that is “Millionaires’ Row” after sundown, with orders to rescue me three hours later.
As my heels clicked loudly along the asphalt, I tried to keep my pace steady by humming along to their taps:
I’d joked that this party was going to be “the whitest thing ever,” so imagine my surprise when the first guests I saw were two brown guys and a blind Asian lady and her seeing eye dog.
The two distinguished fellows introduced themselves to me as a Muslim professor and an Indian-born (Christian) doctor, both readers of my blog.
The blind Asian lady, they informed me, was the wife of George Jonas, the Hungarian refugee, race car driver, poet, and pundit who also happens to be Barbara Amiel’s — I mean, Lady Black’s — (second) ex-husband.
(Jonas literally wrote the book about the Munich Olympics massacre, which formed the basis of Spielberg’s 2005 movie. Earlier this year, his wife, Maya Jonas, ran the Boston Marathon and was, thank God, uninjured during the terrorist attack.)
Liberal Toronto brags about how sophisticated and “multicultural” it is, so how ironic, I thought, that the most “multicultural” event I’d attended since moving to the big city in my twenties was a “do” at the home of a supposedly “racist,” “fascist” right-wing millionaire.
Then I spotted the painting of Hitler.
Yeah, it was very abstract and postmodern and all that, but that painting — amongst the very, very many paintings on the living room wall — it was Hitler, right?
For the sake of my tenuous sanity, I’m grateful that one of the other guests at this party, singer-songwriter Tal Bachman, later independently confirmed my observation.
In fact, Bachman’s account of this evening — and especially his primer on why so many liberals at home and abroad hate Conrad Black and gleefully celebrated his “fall,” with some even wishing prison rape upon him — cannot possibly be improved upon.
“Tall poppy syndrome” has been blamed to the point of banality, but there is a touch more to it than that chronic, crippling Canadian disease, as Bachman explains with admirable economy:
[T]here is something even more Shakespearean about Black’s fall from the top of the business world into a cell in a Florida penitentiary.
During the tenure of Prime Minister of Jean Chretien and the Liberal Party, the Canadian Conservative Party was in disarray. To make a long story short, for years, the only real viable national opposition to the ruling Liberal Party was Conrad Black’s newspaper, The National Post. And it was the Post which was at the forefront of critiquing — and exposing scandal in — the Canadian Liberal Party. Chretien — a mean, petty, miserable man — ended up hating the Post, and Black, for just those reasons.
So when the British government offered Black a seat in the House of Lords, Chretien decided to stick it to Black, and in unprecedented fashion — simply to wound Black personally — officially objected. The British government, respecting protocols, then withdrew the offer pending Black’s adoption of British citizenship — something only possible if Black renounced his Canadian citizenship. So, that is what Black did. He was then made Lord Black of Crossharbour and given his seat in the upper chamber of the British parliament.
This would come back to haunt Black; having renounced his Canadian citizenship, he had no grounds once convicted to petition to serve his sentence in the much laxer Canadian prison system — after all, though he’d been born in Canada, he was no longer a Canadian.
How his enemies manage to sustain their spittle-flecked fury at the man I really have no idea, especially when I watch things like this — a segment taped as part of the Canadian equivalent of The Daily Show.
I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself to Mark Steyn.
We’d corresponded, and I knew he read my blog, but I was still petrified.
He waved me over while he was talking to an editor at the National Post, the Black (sort of) -owned paper Steyn had by then stopped writing for, under foggy circumstances.
I dutifully tottered across the impeccably decorated room, miraculously managing not to fall over onto anyone or anything.
“Now see here, Doug,” Steyn said to the fellow next to him after I finally completed my trek. “Instead of begging me to come back to the Post, you should just hire Kathy Shaidle here.”
This really happened:
“Doug” looked me up and down with disgust, gave Steyn a dirty look, then walked away without a word.
After around a decade or so, Steyn managed to mutter, “Well, that went well.”
Worst key party ever, I thought.
Luckily, Lord Black himself came to our rescue, stepping up to toast the guest of honor.
I don’t remember a word Black said, but anyone who’s seen and heard him in action can pretty much conjure up the general effect.
He’s a very imposing, distinguished fellow, hyper-articulate but oddly soft spoken, a combination that renders that formidable vocabulary all the more intimidating.
And I was witnessing the Lord of Crossharbour in “gracious host” mode.
I’d hate to see him angry, I mused…
Not long after that party, Lord Black was tried, imprisoned, released, reimprisoned, and released again.
He’s taken back up what many, friends and foe alike, have considered to be his “real” vocation all along: that of amateur, autodidact historian.
Given my overall sympathy for Black, what shocks me (far more than any Hitler painting ever could) is that so many of his ideas about history and such are just plain wrong.
How any thinking person could call FDR a “champion of freedom” is confounding.
(I still haven’t finished The Forgotten Man because every few pages in, I’m compelled to throw the book across the room in disgust.)
Black recently dismissed concerns — expressed by the likes of that former guest of honor, Mark Steyn — that Islam poses “a mortal threat”:
Of course the terrorists and militant Islam generally are a terrible and often tragic nuisance, but try as demographers might to conjure up the proliferation of swaddled terrorists as an existential threat, the Islamic countries do not remotely possess the ability to endanger the entire West and other more or less civilized areas such as India and China, as Nazism and Soviet Communism did. The post–Cold War United States made a few purposeful noises, such as George H. W. Bush’s “new world order” (reviving a phrase of Hitler’s from the Thirties, which Roosevelt dismissed with the comment that it “is not new and it is not order”).
Again and again, Lord Black gifts us with impeccably written, dauntingly researched, hugely entertaining takes on history and the news — and then somehow manages to draw precisely the wrong conclusions.
Which brings us to his latest book (which is sure to display more than a touch of his famously unrequited love of the United States of America): Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership.
But my thoughts on that one will have to wait until next week.
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