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Not so cute

Music | Paul McCartney and other stars make public displays of their ignorance

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

In a famous scene from the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, a reporter asks Ringo Starr whether he's a Mod or a Rocker. Starr answers, "I'm a mocker."

Apparently, so is Paul McCartney.

To be fair, nobody ever called McCartney the Smart Beatle. (That was John Lennon.) But nobody ever called him the Stupid Beatle either (that was Ringo), not even when he behaved like one (filming Give My Regards to Broad Street, marrying Heather Mills).

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But when he took the occasion of accepting the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to insult George W. Bush-"After the last eight years," McCartney said in a quip heard 'round the world, "it's great to have a president who knows what a library is"-one couldn't help wondering whether the Cute Beatle's decades of smoking marijuana and not eating meat had taken a toll on his brain.

"There are many things of which Bush may be fairly accused," blogged the Washington Post's Charles Lane. "[But] those who smugly deride his ostensible ignorance often inadvertently demonstrate their own." Lane went on to point out that Bush, besides marrying a librarian, had made increased library funding a top priority as both the governor of Texas and the president.

Of course, neither marriage nor money makes one a bookworm. Reading, however, does. "Mr. Bush's 2006 reading list shows his literary tastes," wrote Karl Rove in a 2008 editorial. "Fifty-eight of the books he read that year were nonfiction. Nearly half of his 2006 reading was history and biography, with another eight volumes on current events . . . and six on sports."

Rove should know: Besides being Bush's deputy chief of staff, he competed with him twice in year-long reading contests. Bush lost the first one 110 to 95, in part because the Bible only counted as one book. His other excuse, wrote Rove, was that "he'd been busy as Leader of the Free World."

Therefore, McCartney was not merely wrong but egregiously so. Unfortunately, among rock stars such cluelessness gushes forth like BP oil.

On the same day that McCartney mocked Bush, the band Los Lobos-four of whose five members are of Mexican descent-announced it was canceling its June 10 performance at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. The reason: the recent passing into law of Arizona's anti-illegal-immigration Senate Bill 1070.

"The new law," read Los Lobos' statement, "will inevitably lead to unfair racial profiling and possible abuse of people who just happen to look Latino. As a result, in good conscience, we could not see ourselves performing in Arizona."

Los Lobos' twinges of conscience followed hard on the heels of similar ones recently suffered by Elvis Costello. "It is a matter of instinct and conscience," wrote the bespectacled singer-songwriter in defense of his decision to cancel two concerts in Israel. The cancellations, he said, were his way of respecting the "sensitivity" of Palestinians "in the wake of so many despicable acts of [Israeli] violence perpetrated in the name of liberation."

Perhaps, like Helen Thomas, Costello would like to see Israel's Jews "go home" to the very countries in which they were once threatened with becoming (to quote the title of an old song of his) "Pills and Soap." And perhaps Los Lobos really does think Arizona police are now authorized to abuse people who "look Latino" the way the Gestapo once abused, well, Jews.

But it seems more likely that they're simply not thinking very hard. Until they do, they should probably quit making like Paul McCartney and start making like George Harrison-the Quiet Beatle.
Email Arsenio Orteza

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