Let me lead with something happy — very happy indeed. I wish to quote a news article:
On Wednesday the Iranian embassy in Prague organized an event at a well-known hotel in the Czech capital. Prior to the event, a senior embassy official was shocked to see an Israeli flag flying high at the head of a line of flags situated near the entrance to the hotel.
The diplomat spoke to the hotel manager and demanded that the Israeli flag be taken down, but the manager, an Arab-Israeli from Nazareth, rejected the request.
“The (Israeli) flag will remain at the front of the hotel always,” the manager told the Iranian official. “If you don’t like it, you are welcome to hold the event at another hotel.”
The angry Iranian diplomat had no choice but to accept the hotel’s position, and the event was held as scheduled.
An exemplary man from Nazareth — beautiful.
Here are some exemplary women: the Ladies in White. They are a protest group in Cuba, formed after the Black Spring of 2003. They are the wives and relatives of people imprisoned in that crackdown. The prisoners have now, eight years later, been released. But the Ladies in White will continue their protests, in behalf of other political prisoners. For a news article, go here.
Incidentally, the Ladies in White won an award from the European Parliament in 2005: the Sakharov Freedom of Thought Prize. These women have endured much, and are very brave. They are exemplary — examples to us all — indeed.
You may have heard of Alan Gross — he is an American aid worker, imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009. I have an article about him and his case in the current National Review: “The Castros’ American Prisoner: A tale of U.S.-Cuban relations.” Worth a look, I think: very interesting, as well as an outrageous, case.
Can a pissant Caribbean dictatorship pick up an American aid worker, throw him in prison, and fear nothing from the Sole Remaining Superpower? Yes. Oh, absolutely. The United States can really seem what Nixon warned it must not be: a pitiful, helpless giant.
I’ll tell you something Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said to me. (She is the Cuban-born chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.) She said, and I paraphrase, “Why would you expect the Cuban government to pay a price for holding an American aid worker in prison? They paid no price for shooting down two Brothers to the Rescue planes, in international airspace, killing three U.S. citizens and one permanent resident.”
That’s putting it starkly. The Cuban government shot down those planes in 1996, when Bill Clinton was president. Would they have done the same from January 2001 to January 2009? As Lincoln Diaz-Balart and others told me, when I talked to them about the Gross case, Fidel Castro is a very good reader of American presidents. He has had over 50 years of practice — starting with Eisenhower. He knows how far he can go, with any president.
Otto Reich — who, like Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart, is Cuban-born — remembered a maxim of Lenin: “Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed. If you encounter steel, withdraw.” What must the Castros feel where Barack Obama is concerned?
As I write, Jimmy Carter is visiting Cuba, in part to look into the Gross case. I hope he succeeds — succeeds in springing the prisoner, that is. He has long had warm relations with Fidel Castro. They were fellow pallbearers at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral. As I understand it, Trudeau chose all his pallbearers. Can you imagine being a leader of a great liberal democracy, Canada, and choosing as one of your pallbearers a totalitarian dictator, Castro? That says as much as anything about the heart and mind of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Another man who has offered to go to Cuba, to negotiate the release of Gross, is Jesse Jackson. His relations with Castro have been even warmer than Carter’s — they are very, very warm indeed. Do you remember this? At the University of Havana, Jackson once hollered, “Viva Fidel! Viva Che Guevara! Long live our cry of freedom!” Castro returned the compliments, saying, “Jackson’s main characteristic is honesty. He is sincere, and there is not a single bit of demagoguery in his conversations.”
I know that you, too, feel the same way about the reverend.
Referring to Gross, Jackson told the Associated Press, “I hope that Raúl and the governing officials see the advantage of letting him go.” So much about that statement is head-spinning. (I went into it some in this column.) Also, Jackson wrote an article that began, “I appeal to His Excellency President Raul Castro . . .”
Anyway, I hope Gross gets out, by whatever means.
In the current NR, there is an excellent piece on Texas governor Rick Perry, by our Kevin Williamson (himself a Texan). I kind of wish he’d run for president. (Perry, I mean, but Kevin would be even better.) Where is people’s ambition? So many people who might run, aren’t. And that leaves the field open to candidates who would be C-list, at best. (I’m not really knocking them — I myself am more like Z-list.)
Some people say, “Well, Perry can’t run for president, because the country isn’t ready for another governor of Texas — another Texas governor as president.” I don’t know. Could be. In politics, you never know. I do know this: You gotta want it.
Bill Clinton did not have a glittering perch to run from: governor of Arkansas. The Bush campaign, in their desperation, ran an ad depicting Arkansas as a hellhole of failure. But, by golly, Clinton was determined to be president — and he willed himself into that position.
I’m not saying I admire such willfulness, but . . . whole lotta Republicans demurring this season.
As regular readers know, I grew up in southeastern Michigan — and, over the years, I have written about the agony of Detroit. Let me quote from this article, published last week: “The flight of middle-class African-Americans to the suburbs fueled an exodus that cut Detroit’s population 25% in the past decade to 713,777, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday. That’s the city’s lowest population level since the 1910 census . . .”
When I was growing up, I heard about “white flight,” and how rotten it was: how racist, how damnable. I did not quite believe it. I figured that these were decent people, at least ordinary people, not wanting to live in a city where they had to be afraid. There is not only white flight, there is “black flight.” Are these ex-Detroiters racist too? It seems to me that people vote with their feet, whatever the color of those feet — and the feet aren’t necessarily racist.
I wonder, in light of recent developments: Can the white fleers of Detroit get an apology, for being tarred — for so many years, and so passionately — as racist?
A reader sent me a February 2010 article from the Wisconsin State Journal — here you go. It says that the highest-paid city employee in Madison is a bus driver: a Mr. Nelson, who in 2009 made $159,258. I thought of my great-grandfather, who operated a streetcar in Kalamazoo. When buses came in, he drove those. We could have been rich!
The article explains that the union contract “lets the most senior drivers who have the highest base salaries get first crack at overtime.” Ah, yes. I’m reminded of an old saying — one usually uttered with a cluck and a sigh: “The rich get richer.”
Not being totally unethical — only partly unethical — I don’t review my friends. But I’d like to mention something, here in Impromptus, about a recital given by Heidi Grant Murphy, the soprano, and her pianist husband, Kevin Murphy. This was on Friday, at Adelphi University in Long Island.
They performed a varied and appealing program, consisting of Debussy, Brahms, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, and spirituals. All of it was done at the usual Murphy level — very, very high. The Rachmaninoff songs were dizzying. But I’d like to say something in particular about the spirituals.
I grew up with recordings of Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, Leontyne Price, a few others. Then I heard, in assorted concert halls, Leontyne, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Kathleen Battle — all of them.
I don’t think I have ever been more moved than I was by HGM, Heidi Grant Murphy, this white girl from Bellingham, Wash. Spirituals, of course, belong to all Americans, and to all people. They are universal, transcendent, and immortal. I wish you had heard HGM sing “Give Me Jesus,” particularly. Thought I might lose it.
Anyway, I’ll be seeing you. (There’s another song!) And, before I go, I thought I’d say something — kind of pluggy — about the below-advertised book (speaking of plugs). Last week, a lady asked me to inscribe a copy to her father, for Father’s Day. That’s planning ahead! Maybe people will want copies for Mother’s Day first?