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The sound of his voice, &c.


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You know how, when someone calls, you say, “It’s so good to hear your voice”? Well, it was really, really good to hear the voice of a caller of mine last week: It was Jian-li Yang, just returned to the United States after five years as a political prisoner in the PRC. I hadn’t heard his voice since 2001; was not entirely sure I’d ever hear it again. He seems his usual, magnificent, invaluable self. And I will have more to say about him later, in a piece for National Review (magazine).

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Yes, it can be very, very good to hear someone’s voice!

We’re all supposed to be down on Iraqi politicians, I know: They miss their “benchmarks,” they go on vacation, they’re just not what we want them to be. But, you know? Every now and then, we should remind ourselves what Iraqi politicians risk.

I myself was reminded when I saw a headline not long ago: “Iraq Governor Killed by Bomb.” Actually, two of them were killed, within about a week: Mohammed Ali al-Hassani and Khalil Jalil Hamza.

With horrifying regularity, Iraqi politicians are kidnapped, maimed, murdered. And the same things happen to their wives, children, friends. Yes, we have our frustrations with them — with those who serve in Iraqi politics. But you know? If you’re an American politician, what’s your biggest concern? Your reelection? That the guy next to you has an office bigger by seven inches?

You surely saw this story about East Germany: An order to kill those trying to escape the socialist paradise was uncovered. The order said, “Do not hesitate with the use of a firearm, including when the border breakouts involve women and children, which the traitors have already frequently taken advantage of.” More than 1,000 people were killed on the border of the Germanys, about 125 of them at the Berlin Wall.

I was reminded of something that made a big impact on me when I was young, trying to figure out the world: figuring out what I thought, where I stood. Caspar Weinberger was secretary of defense, and hated by virtually everyone around me. He made the following point: West German border guards and East German border guards were both facing the same way: east.

What a tremendous, shattering point that was. For that and a million other reasons, I couldn’t remain on the left — any kind of left — for very long. People forget how East Germany was praised in “liberal” circles. I have not. Herr Honecker was thought to have achieved a fine social justice, little seen either in the “capitalist” camp or the communist one.

Anyway . . .

Did you see what Michael Dukakis said the other day? Speaking of the ’08 election, he said, “We’re probably not going to outstrategize them [the Republicans]. And some crazy guy will blow up a building with three weeks to go, you know, and then we’ll be back in Bush-land again.”

What might that mean? That Democrats are ill-equipped to cope with terrorism? That only Republicans care about terrorism? Why is it always assumed that terrorist attacks against us will aid the Republicans, politically? Could it be that even Democrats believe that their leaders are too weak to face them?

A remarkable statement, Mr. Dukakis’s. (For the relevant article, go here.)

I should pause for a brief language note. Two items above, I used two colons in one sentence. I used to be shy about doing this — must have picked up some schoolmarm superstition along the way. And then I noticed that V. S. Naipaul did it in his books. And that, sports fans, was good enough for me . . .

A reader sent me the story about what hackers did to the U.N. website: They broke in and posted statements denouncing the United States and Israel. The reader made the same point I would have: How could anyone tell the difference? How could anyone tell the difference between this vandalism and the U.N.’s regular fare?

Longtime readers will have guessed my reaction to the story about the Seattle Times: When Karl Rove’s resignation was announced, many of its staffers erupted in cheers. They were rebuked by their executive editor, Dave Boardman.

Good for the rebuking. But I am all for transparency and candor in journalism, as in life. We all know that Seattle Times people are partisan liberals — so it is with most of the American press. Why shouldn’t they let it all hang out? Why should they pretend to be neutral or objective? Many of these people are hardly less opinionated, less biased, than those of us who toil in opinion journalism. The difference between us is that we NR-niks — and Nation-niks and so on — are good and labeled.

You are perhaps familiar with my line: The anchorman of CBS News should attend Democratic fundraisers, as Dan Rather did. The Supreme Court reporter of the New York Times should march in pro-abortion rallies, and then report on them, as Linda Greenhouse did. I mean, this is the mind and spirit of CBS and the NYT. It’s the pretending — the faking — that’s maddening.

Let Poland be Poland, let Reagan be Reagan, let National Review be National Review — and let the Seattle Times be the Seattle Times.

I didn’t know Michael Deaver, who passed away on August 18, but I had a little experience of him. For one thing, he asked me to contribute to a book he oversaw — Why I Am a Reagan Conservative — which I did. For another, I had a warm, wonderful encounter with him years before that.

I was working at a law firm, and a client this firm was representing was suing Deaver (I believe). Something about a lease — real estate. Deaver had come to our offices to be deposed (as I remember it). He was sitting in the lobby, and I marched right up to him, to say, “Thanks so much for all you did to elect Ronald Reagan twice.” He smiled brightly and said, “We did the right thing, no matter what Time magazine says this week.”

(Time had an anti-Reagan cover, for some reason. This was during the GHWB administration. The magazine probably thought Reagan was responsible for financial catastrophe or something. Or maybe they thought babies were dying of AIDS in the streets on account of him.)

I liked and admired Deaver. He used his political and PR talents for good. He was the victor in a hellacious battle with alcoholism. I’m glad for his life.

Very interesting in The Spectator this week is the diary of John Torode. I especially loved one of its opening sentences: If you are a member of London’s chattering class, “you are more likely to boycott ‘apartheid Israel’ than visit it for pleasure — unless you are Jewish, Islamophobic or Paul Johnson.”

Yes, indeed. Johnson is one of the most extraordinary men in Christendom.

Torode’s diary ends this way, with some passages quoting Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist:

At home, Israel is, according to Amos, living in ‘a time of crisis, with its system of values quaking’. Perhaps that is why he supports a limited settlement with Fatah on the West Bank, leaving Hamas-ruled Gaza to stew in its own juice — ‘supported, thank God, by the food, fuel, medicine and water which we give them free, while they send us rockets in return’. Abroad, Oz envisages his homeland ten years on, menaced by a series of bitterly hostile nuclear states: Iran, an Islamist Pakistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. ‘It is a bleak picture,’ he says, ‘and we had better get used to it.’

Speaking of Paul Johnson, he has an article in this new Spectator on cathedrals: the top ten in Britain. Fascinating reading, of course. A couple of years ago, we — we NR — were doing a Rhine cruise, and Paul was one of our panelists. I said to him, “How do you visit a cathedral?” And he gave the most complete, precise, enlightening answer: You approach it from this side, then you notice this section, etc. I’m afraid I can’t remember a word of the answer. But that’s me: Johnson was brilliant, as always.

And I had given him no clue that I was going to ask that question. We were talking about geopolitics, mainly.

Maybe he has written his how-to-visit-a-cathedral answer down somewhere?

Speaking of NR cruises: Wish you had been on the Alaska one (the first week of August)! And if you were — didn’t we have a good time? For one thing, we had excellent panelists, including John Bolton, who is so crisp and smart — and right-on. Judge Bork was puckish and wise as usual — puckish and wise in equal doses.

But mainly we had excellent passengers, so interesting and diverse and kind. One night, I sat down at dinner next to a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Chicago, and an extremely learned and humane surgeon from Rome, Ga. (home of the first Mrs. Wilson). Wherever you turned on this ship, there was human interest.

There are people who like to mock NR cruises. I say, let them — we’re overbooked as it is. Reminds me a little of people who mock golf. I say, “Oh, great! The courses are full already. You can hardly get a tee time.”

Alaska knocked my socks off, I must say. It’s everything it is cracked up to be — not overrated at all. I had not especially wanted to go to Alaska. What I mean is, it was not on my list of dream destinations. I thought, “I go to Switzerland once or twice a year; I go to Austria once or twice a year. How impressed can I be, by natural beauty?” The answer is: Very, very impressed.

Kate O’Beirne told me they sell a T-shirt in Alaska shops: “I went to Alaska, and I didn’t see . . .” and then there’s a long list: whales, bears, sea otters, bald eagles. Well, I saw them all, I’m grateful to say — and one bear was mighty close! (Too close for comfort — just a yearling, though. And our guide handled the situation superbly.)

By the way, as bald eagles were flying low around us in Ketchikan, a friend there — a local — said, “Yeah, they’re almost like pigeons here.”

Other news: In Juneau, the governor invited us to the mansion for a reception. She is Sarah Palin, a former beauty-pageant contestant, and a real honey, too. Am I allowed to say that? Probably not, but too bad. She is a honey in multiple ways. It was a pleasure to be with her, and her political career will probably take her beyond Alaska. Dick Morris is only one who thinks so.

In Sitka, I saw an intersection — of Lincoln and Jefferson Davis Streets. How common is that, in America? Not very, I’m guessing.

Learned something interesting from my friends in Ketchikan: It seems that this is a fairly insular community, and “everyone dates each other.” There are two sayings: First, “You don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your turn.” And second: “Ketchikan: where your odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

Absolutely loved that.

Would you like a language note, too? During this trip, I learned the word “spendy” — meaning, pricey, expensive. “That hotel is very nice, but a little spendy.”

Liked that a lot, too.

So, after visiting our 49th state, I went to Salzburg. Worked there for two weeks, at the festival. Tell you a little about that? Next time. In the meantime, thanks for joining me, and Happy Week Before Labor Day.



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