At a news conference after his spirited address to the UN on Wednesday, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela expressed one regret: not having met that icon of the American left, the linguist Noam Chomsky, before his death.
On Thursday, a call to Chomsky's house found him very much alive. In fact, he was struggling through "10,000 e-mails" he had received since the remarks by Chavez, who urged Americans to read one of Chomsky's books instead of watching Superman and Batman movies, which he said "make people stupid."
At 77, Chomsky has joined the exclusive club of luminaries, like the actor Abe Vigoda and Mark Twain, who were reported dead before their time, only to contradict the reports by continuing to breathe.
"I continue to work and write," he said, speaking from his house in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Chavez, while addressing world leaders at the UN, flagged Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, which Chomsky published in 2003, as a must-read. Chomsky said he was glad that Chavez liked his book, but he would not describe himself as flattered.
"We should look at ourselves through our own eyes and not other people's eyes," he said.
Chomsky said he had taken no offense at Chavez's remarks about his being dead. In fact, Chavez's promotion of the book propelled it on Thursday into Amazon's top 10 best sellers.
While retired from teaching full time, Chomsky still goes to his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, occasionally lecturing and also working on a new book.
At the UN, the remarks by Chavez on Wednesday set off a firestorm that nearly overshadowed the visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country has been under intense global scrutiny for its nuclear ambitions. From the podium of the General Assembly, the Venezuelan leader said he smelled lingering sulfur, left by US President George W. Bush, who had spoken there the day before and whom he branded "the devil."
Chomsky said that he would not choose to use the same harsh oratory, but added that the Ven-ezuelan leader was simply expressing the views of many in the world. And he said Chavez's anger was understandable.
"The Bush administration backed a coup to overthrow his government," he said. "Suppose Venezuela supported a military coup that overthrew the government of the United States? Would we think it was a joke?"
Proving that he was still up for a lively debate, Chomsky then went on to talk about income inequality in Latin America, the history of the UN, Iraq, Iran, Fidel Castro and, finally, the man who so fervently admires him, Chavez.
"I have been quite interested in his policies," Chomsky said. "Personally, I think many of them are quite constructive."
So would Chomsky oblige Chavez's wish for a meeting, helping ensure that the South American leader will not have that regret to live with anymore?
"I would be happy to meet him," Chomsky said.
Chavez was due to return to Venezuela today.
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